I met the sparse crew as Les led me through endless white rooms. We found Runnucclta 6554 V, lanky and crimson red, as he attempted to make the dinningdining hall presentable. I was told to call him Runn, because all Par shorten their official names in casual settings to speed up conversation. I made the massive mistake of introducing myself to Runn, which resulted in him recoiling from my out stretched hand.
"Do not attempt to practice any of your customs with the Par," was all Les said before taking my arm and leading me out of the room.
Then we disturbed the bright pink Urralysttical 8655 V, Urral, as he worked busily in the medical section of the ship. I did not attempt to broach the subject of names with Urral, or the orange hued Inncassatis 8974 V, who we ran into on our way to the control deck. Wide and foam green, Bryyluccny 3487 V, nearly ran me over as he came careening out of a side room, but Les caught him with his shoulder; forcing him back into the unknown room all before I was aware anything was happening. I heard an apology trailing after us and Les proceed forward without a second glance.
Shurrantyluk 78865 V was the color of midnight with a personality to match. I wanted his approval the moment I caught sight of his rigid frame. Lyttlyack 57992 V towered over me and I could not help by giggle to myself about the irony that only I could understand. Yurrhallana 43526 V stood beside the massive Lyttl and his red body, that was at least two heads higher than my own, appeared tiny in comparison to Lyttl’s yellow mountainous form.
We walked in on Fyddsalat 70652 V, Wynnishon 29976 V, and Cykkliptoo 647789 V tossing differently color spheres into the air in the midst of some kind of game. They all came to a halt as I poked my head into the padded, ivory room. I hopped on the buoyant floor and Les made the introductions. Of the three Par I was captivated by Cykk who was a dull grey in color. He was still covered in the long spines, but his skin had no bright color, and I could not help but stare.
“I wear my poverty like a badge.” Was the statement he made to me as he caught my eye, but Les grunted and pulled me towards the exit before I could respond.
“This is Tikknnerlack 5998 V, Tikk, he is the ship's Time Engineer and one of the best on Qualittia. He is the one that will make it possible to arrive at your planet so swiftly." We had made it to the main bay of the ship.
Tikk was shorter than Les but he was still about seven centimeters taller than me. He was also leaner and bright green. Tikk had had far fewer spikes running along his body than Les and they only covered his spine and the top of his head. I awkwardly smiled at my new acquaintance and pondered what it was they expected me to do at this moment.
All I could think of was what I wasn't allowed to do, so I could only muster, "Time Engineer?" and a slight tilt of the head. I officially sounded as clueless as I was.
What I would categorize as a laugh burst from Tikk's mouth. He smiled and said, "The name is not accurate, and was formed out of a joke. Of course, we cannot create time.” He shifted from foot to foot and glanced at Les as if asking for permission to speak. “Space and light on the other hand, those are things we can control. We can manipulate. That is what I do. I manipulate space so that it takes us less time to get to where we want to go. I believe that is where the name came from. The Kara soldiers didn't understand what we did but they knew we saved them time and so they came up with the idea for the name. I always preferred the formal Space Organizer." We all stared at each other in silence for a while after that. I had not heard any of the other crew members say more than a couple of words to Les. This new male, that was as comfortable in my presence as I was uncomfortable in his, intrigued me. He did not stare at me the way the rest of them did and for that I was instantly drawn to him.
"How do you do it?" I knew the question was vague and stupid the moment I asked but I wanted to elongate the time I had with this new and somewhat friendly Par. I could feel Les’ black-hole eyes pulling me in. I stepped closer to Tikk and said, "I mean, could you explain how it is you manipulate space. Do you kind of fold it?” I used my fingers as a make shift model of two parts of space folding together to touch. “My people had been theorizing on how to do that for centuries but we never really got it right, so we just focused on going faster.”
"The Par's main concern in our search for ways to leap vast distances was the form of energy that kind of technology would require. The Zorb can run on any energy source." Tikk was not looking at me like I was a small child or an idiot. I liked him more and more. "As I am sure you know, space is continually expanding. One day it will stop and start contracting, but for now it is malleable and indistinct, and so with the right amount of energy we can shift space into the shape we prefer. Space wants to be moved, it is looking for direction and so I simply give it what it wants. It is all rather exciting, if you are a fan of physics." Tikk glanced at Les and I could feel him seeking approval.
"I find it fascinating." I spoke as I moved so I was between the two of them, showing Les the back of my head. "I'm far from a scientist but I'd be greatly appreciative of a briefing. What does a Zorb leap measure?"
"Let's start with the basics.” Tikk said. "The device is located right over here. I believe visual is always the best way to learn." He turned around and began to lead me to the right corner of the large room.
We walked across a large eye shaped room that was bare, which allowed the massive window opposite the entrance to monopolize my attention. The only lights on the ship came from the floor. Small orbs every five meters or so shot up tiny beams of white light. My first encounter with the emptiness of a Kara ship was flabbergasting, but I now find little need to clutter a room with excess.
I remember needing to use the toilet. I had pushed the urge to pee to the back of my head and concentrated on Tikk; who was now indicating an area near the right side of a wall. As we approached the wall I noticed a small ball of garbage pulsating over a beam of blue light.
"This?" I pointed at the small spherical object and tried not to sound as disenchanted as I felt.
Tikk laughed, which put me at ease. Tikk laughs in a deep baritone that sounds more like grunting and gurgling but the corners of his mouth stretched towards his jet black eyes as his body shook with joy in a similar fashion to my brother, which brought me great comfort. "When spoken of in that way, the Zorb does not seem very significant. I would like to have been there for your tour, Les. I am sure she made your grand ship into quite a disappointment." I was reminded that Les was standing behind me as the two males caught each other’s eye. I turned to see that Les was not humored by my actions the way Tikk was.
"Yes, she is a vocal female, and does not feel the need to subdue her opinions." Les shifted back and forth and took a deep breath a little too close to my neck for comfort. "She will learn our customs." He shifted away as we all pretended not to be uncomfortable.
"I don't mean to belittle it or anything. It’s just amazing that something so tiny powers your whole ship. How?” I refocused on Tikk. I hoped Les would get bored and go away.
"Do you see these openings on the back wall?" Tikk indicated the area on the wall behind the Zorb and I became aware of two circular holes that I had not seen. "One is hooked up to all the waste receptacles around the ship, and one is connected to our personal waste facilities. The Zorb will consume anything. Literally." As he spoke random objects of different color and texture came flying out to the two crevasses and were immediately consumed by the Zorb. The Par had turned a pile of garbage into a black hole. The Zorb would expand and combust as the objects entered its atmosphere and quickly were consumed.
Tikk continued as gooey waste particles flicked through the air and disappeared. "We could program it to consume anything, even living organisms, and it would, but we realized in the beginning that you cannot program it to only consume dead flesh. If you put our genetic material on the menu the Zorb won’t differentiate between alive and dead. It could consume this entire ship and all of us before I had the chance to change its programing, and so we maintain a specialized program for the Zorb's consumption." He smiled at my terrified expression. "I promise you are safe." He waved his hand around the grey ball and nothing happened, but when an object from one of the holes came bursting out from wherever in the ship it came from the Zorb sprang into action. "The Zorb then transfers the matter it consumes into kinetic energy, and we harvest that energy to power the ship." Tikk gave me a few moments to digest all of this.
"When will we be ready?" Les spoke up and once again I was reminded how close he liked to stand to me.
"No more than eight fractions, Innc found a recently collapsed star, and we are sending a Zorb out to harvest it now. That should give us enough energy and then some for the trip home." Tikk caught my questioning gaze and continued, "We have a total of five Zorbs on board. We had more but they can get worn down over time. The platform in the middle of the room is where our link to the engine is located.”
He nodded towards the middle of the expansive room and I noticed a slight shadow in the area he indicated. If it had not been pointed out to me I would never havehave never noticed it.
“When… no, an explanation will not suffice. Here…" He grabbed the Zorb off the shelf and walked to the back of the room. Another Zorb emerged as he tossed the original toward the darkened area. When it reached the center of the room, a beam of sapphire light froze the Zorb in place. The Zorb, inside the funnel of light, exploded into millions of tiny pieces but remained inside the force field.
Tikk faced me and said, "Now the ship is prepared to fold space and make a jump, but this Zorb only has enough energy stored to take us a short way and so it would be pointless to waste." He reached out and waved his hand up the side of the scattered remnants, which collapsed back into a small ball that he caught in mid-fall. "And there you have it; Zorb travel for beginners." I decided then and there that I was going to be friends with this Tikk fellow.
"I have a not completely unrelated question to ask.” I shifted away from them. “Do you have a toilet, or a place where I could… release some personal waste?" I was trying to be polite.
"Les, you didn't show her where the facilities are?" Tikk tossed the Zorb back towards the wall where it disappeared.
This was my first experience with Par emotion. Les’ eyes flashed pitch-black-blue and crystal white as he said, “I did show her. She said, 'Fine, on to the next random room,’ and walked out. She does not focus when I speak.” The beauty of Les’ sparkling eyes was shaded by my expanding bladder.
"All the rooms on this thing look exactly the same,” I shouted louder than I should have. “How are you supposed to know which is which? You have to indicate where we are with words; not just awkward stares.” I had pushed and jabbed at each of them numerous times during my speech. I was not disgusted by their strangeness or scared by their size. Our ability to share a common language had given me confidence. “So, where are these facilities you already showed me?” I demanded. Les just stared at me. I could see the clear lid of his large oval eyes blinking quickly as his mouth fell agape.
I turned to Tikk who responded, “Yes, of course." Tikk grabbed me by the arm and lead me out of the room. As soon as we turned the corner Tikk began to giggle and said, “I cannot believe you spoke to him like that. He is furious with you."
I stumbled after him and said, "Well, I mean... this place is confusing, and I do really have to go… and..." I was still focused on my bladder but the thought of that massive creature being angry with me was taking my mind off just how much I needed to use the toilet. "Do you think…"
"Here we are." Tikk had turned me into one of the seemingly invisible doorways and we were standing in yet another white cube of a room. "I'll give you a quick lesson on using the facilities. It should sense your needs just as it does ours. Our systems are so similar I'm sure it will just assume you are a Par female."
As he spoke a cylindrical silver tube raised from the floor right behind me. I was correct in assuming this was my new toilet, and despite the lack of real seat, water, or flush, it looked like it would do the trick.
"So you are going to disrobe and sit there to do your business. When you are complete wait for the device to cleanse you. From the facilities on your ship it is clear your species has not figured out metalight cleansing technology yet.” Tikk was standing right next to me and now appeared to be waiting for me to get to it. I was a science experiment; I got it, and I would have wanted to watch him pee if our positions had been switched, but I still didn’t want to give him a show. "Could you leave or turn around or something? I don't think I'll even be able to go with you watching like that."
"I'm sorry." His hands shot up in defense like I was about to smack him. "I'm sorry, I was curious about what you looked like, but, yes, that is rude. I have an issue with this; separating science and a creature’s individual identity." With that he walked out of the room and turned the corner. I pushed the lack of privacy out of my mind and let my thoughts rest on Tikk's words as I relieved myself. An alien creature that I still saw as more thing than individual had just recognized the legitimacy of my existence.
Tikk also showed me the full body metalight cleanser and how to use it. I walked into the bright orange light and allowed the beam to do its job. Even my teeth could be cleaned by the beam of light by simply opening my mouth until a disembodied voice deemed me,”harmful bacteria-free.” I was beginning to appreciate the Parʼs use of colors, and I felt cleaner than I had in many years. This was also the beginning of my hair issues, and Tikk’s fascination with the filaments that sprouted all over my body. I spent a few moments raking my fingers through the tangled mess on top of my head, but I was exitedexcited to keep moving.
Tikk had gotten me some new clothes while I was being cleaned. He did a good job of altering them so I didn't have any excess material hanging down my back.
"The females of our species have very small breasts." Tikk nodded towards my chest as he said this. I was standing naked in front of him at this point, but I had stopped caring by then. "And the majority of them have physical modifications.” He placed his hand on his head to indicate he meant the spikes that decorated the entire crew's chests, arms, and head and said, “More often jewelry. So it would be pointless for them to cover themselves with excess clothing. Also, your species skin is far weaker than our own. You must come from a very hospitable planet. What is the purpose of your alterations; are they purely for aesthetics like the jewels Par females have implanted in their skin?" Tikk reached out and stroked the phoenix tattoo on my forearm. I had not thought of its significance in many years. Tikk continued, “I am sorry. I didn’t mean to pry. Your alterations are very lovely. Very full of color." He pushed the black clothing into my palms.
"Sorry, Tikk, I forget I have these things sometimes." I motioned to the five tattoos that covered different parts of my body. Each represented an aspect of my life that I wasn't ready to get into at that the moment. I grabbed the clothes from him. "Thanks for this." I pulled the tiny shorts on; then lifted the thin black strip of material that was my new top to eye level. I pulled the small elastic top over my head, and the spandex-like material clung to my body. It was and still is the best support my body has ever received. I looked at Tikk and gave him my most dazzling smile in hopes I would win his heart the same way he had mine. I then started to wonder if he in fact had a literal heart, or if he had some other muscle that pumped some unique kind of life sustaining chemical throughout his body.
Instead of asking one of the many biological questions flipping around in my brain I went with, "This material is amazing, what is it made of?"
"The Philex?" He stepped closer and took my arm. "Come I'll take you to a sleep chamber. There is time for you to rest.”
He guided me out of the facility room and down the hallway as he answered my question. "The Philex is harvested from a tree grown on a planet named Trallcore. It was the first planet the Par Scanning Troops came across back when our space exploration program was in its first three hundred years. We were lucky to find a life sustaining planet so early, and one even more hospitable to life than our own."
We stopped abruptly. "This room will do fine." He adjusted me so he was looking directly into my eyes now, “Do not fear your future, Youryour species will survive. Here…” Tikk” Tikk turned me around to enter the room.
A small bed folded out of the wall. “Wait here, I forgot your evening meal." He turned the corner and was gone for a short amount of time, and returned with a glass of thick blue liquid. "This is full of nutrients and will help you sleep. I do not know what you usually consume, but your genetic makeup is similar enough to my own that I know this will support your immune system. Please rest now. You will be sent for once we have reached your planet." He turned and I made one last ditch effort to keep him there. I feared being alone with my thoughts.
"So those spikey things you all have are not naturally part of your bodies?" He turned back to me and tilted his head.
"No, they are for protective purposes. Our species also makes use of vain alterations, but never for coordinates the way you do. Why would you permanently print the location of a dead planet on your foot?"
Every Searcher gets a tattoo of their birth planet and Earth's coordinates before heading into space in hopes that at least the body can be returned if it is found. I looked down at the strange liquid in my hand and my stomach churned. I was starving but the pungent odor of the blue goo was confusing my senses. I knew I had to drink it, but I didn't want Tikk to watch my face as I gagged on his offering.
"Thank you for being so helpful and for the drink. I am really hungry, and really tired now that I have had a moment to think about it." I sat down on the bed.
"Then I shall leave you Elinor. It is thrilling to come into contact with you." Tikk nodded his head and left.
I glared down at the turquoise concoction that smelled like a mixture of rotten eggs and boiled greens. I sighed and contemplated my options. Then I quickly decided that my options were shit and not the best pre-nap-time concentration, and so I focused on the challenge at hand.
Deep breath. Chug it.
It didn't taste as bad as it smelled; it was the chunky texture that was so foreign, but my body was immediately satisfied, and as soon as my hunger was satiated I could feel exhaustion settle in around me. I pulled back a light pink blanket, identical to the one Urral gave me earlier, and curled up on the bed. The soft foam of the mattress contoured to my body. Before I could begin to ponder the meaning of everything that had just happened I was asleep.
- R. T. Kilgore