"The universe would not be the same without the little things."
Hub Folder: "Quorilax" [13+]
This is the first quarter of Quorilax—the correct place to begin the journey.
Chapter 1: Procurement
Waking up in an unfamiliar, dark space with a collar around my neck, I suspected immediately that this day of my life would be unlike any that had preceded it. Before I go any further, though, I suppose I should explain how I came to be in this predicament, because that only added to its strangeness.
The lake grew calm, completing the scene of a beautiful early summer evening in the Boundary Waters, near the border with Canada in northern Minnesota. As I reclined in my fishing boat, looking up at the clear blue sky, I felt the light breeze waft over my face and watched the bobber float lazily on the surface of the pristine water. The fishing wasn’t really my concern, though. I had anticipated this time for practically all nineteen years of my life. After four arduous years of attending high school day in and day out, I had earned this. Finally rid of that socially imposed torture, I was free to choose my own destiny. I didn’t have the slightest idea where I would go from here, but why should I be thinking about that now? I live in the moment; a moment like this. The tranquility filled me with a wonderful sense of calmness, a far cry from battling traffic on Interstate 35 just a few hours ago. I was finally free from all the commotion of the city, alone at last.
Before I knew it, the sun had descended below the tops of the trees, and a fiery halo radiated from the silhouetted pines. The clear sky was light enough that it was still blue, but I could already see the stars glimmering in the heavens. They weren’t this visible from the city no matter what time it was. An utterly sublime feeling overcame me as I gazed up at the boundless dome, and I couldn’t help but think that somewhere among that infinite number of stars, someone else must be looking right back up at me—or would it be down at me? The darkness arrived at a rapid pace, so I decided I should be leaving and save the rest of my philosophical musings for another time. I started back to the shore but lost my sense of direction as what seemed to be a blanket of fog enveloped me. That’s odd—only seconds ago the sky was clear, but now I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t think much of it, figuring I would be out of it as quickly as I entered it, but as I continued to inhale, I started feeling very lightheaded and slowly drifted out of consciousness.
Stirring from my unwitting slumber, I hadn’t the slightest idea as to how long I slept. I immediately realized I was no longer in my boat on the lake but instead in a pitch-black room. Despite my current lethargic state and the room’s lack of illumination, I felt a miniature object lodged in each ear, and something else was fastened tightly around my neck. After reaching my hands up there to examine it, I concluded it was some type of metallic collar. Was this supposed to be some kind of kinky joke?
As my eyes began to adjust to the darkness a little more, I rose from the floor and surveyed my surroundings more closely. I was in a large, cubic room, perhaps twenty feet in each dimension, with no furnishings of any kind. No chairs, no tables, nothing. The negligible amount of light that did enter the room shone through small holes in the ceiling. Only one thought played through my mind at this point: alien abduction. I knew how absurd that was, and I wanted to kick myself for being stupid enough to give it honest consideration. If that were indeed the case, however, then I wouldn’t dare tell anyone else about how a bunch of little green men probed my nether regions.
“Hello?” I called out. “Somebody? Anybody?” I received no response and continued pursuing my futile quest to escape my predicament. Then, without warning, the entire ceiling opened, giving me the shock of my life. The light was so intense that I turned my eyes away, trying to let them adjust. After a brief moment, I looked back, not believing the spectacle I beheld.
Craning my neck upward, I saw the head of a titanic cat peering over the wall. To give you an idea how large it was, let me put it this way: I was bite size. I wanted to scream, but nothing came out; I think my vocal cords were paralyzed from fright, just like the rest of my body at the present moment. This was not a room at all but merely some sort of container! How could I have possibly shrunk? Okay, Orion, retrace your steps. You went fishing…you got surrounded by some weird fog—oh.
By now, I was convinced this was all some horrible nightmare. Nightmare or not, I desperately searched for an escape route, but the only way out was up. Even if I could run away—heck, even if I could drive away—this thing would catch me with a few trots. With nowhere to go, I just stood there, frozen, like a tiny deer caught in giant headlights, staring up at this colossal creature, which looked directly in my eyes. Even at my small size, I’m sure it could smell me and tell that I reeked of fear, and it was probably trying to decide the most amusing way to torment me before I became intimately acquainted with those two massive canine teeth protruding from its upper jaw. I never took my eyes off of the cat, and it likewise never took its eyes off of me. Perhaps meeting its gaze was not the best idea; some animals interpreted that as a challenge. If I acted in a submissive manner by looking toward the floor, it might realize I didn’t need a physical demonstration of my subordinate status. I tried that for about five seconds, but my sight inevitably veered upward once again, for I couldn’t stop myself from examining this behemoth. The predominantly black fur on its head reminded me of a panther, but white fur ran vertically down the center of its face, starting between the eyes. Its head was also sculpted differently from a panther’s, displaying slightly softer features. Then there were the eyes. When I looked deeper into those black pupils rimmed by sapphire irises, the gaze that greeted me seemed almost…Human.
As if the situation weren’t unbelievable enough already, the cat’s mouth moved and I heard a low, booming voice. My jaw dropped as though it had unhinged from my skull. I thought it might be trying to communicate with me, but I couldn’t understand it. The surprise of this event was only surpassed by the next occurrence. Soon after it spoke, I heard a very recognizable word, “Hello,” uttered in a higher pitched voice, by someone distinctly young and feminine. I spun my head around quickly, looking in all directions, at all heights, trying to see whom that second sound came from, but the only thing in sight was the cat. Then it—she?—smiled at me.
At that point, I finally decided this couldn’t be a nightmare; my mind could never conjure up a scene this bizarre. I had been captured by an alien being who wasn’t little, green, or a man; in fact, she was quite the opposite on all three counts. The creature brought her arm over the rim of my enclosure and revealed a hand—that’s right; it was a hand, with fur white in color as if she wore gloves, and digits that were long and slender, much like a Human hand, not short and stubby like a cat’s paw. It was like a cat’s paw, however, in that she had pink pads on her palms and fingers. The hand entered the pen, obviously coming for me since I saw nothing else in my vicinity. As I saw it rushing toward me, I panicked and backed several feet into the corner of the cube. Sliding down against the wall until I hit the floor, I kept looking at the creature. To my surprise, the hand remained about five feet in front of me, not proceeding to seize me against my will, as pitifully effortless as that would have been for her.
I expected her to be annoyed at my resistance, but her expression seemed sympathetic, though she continued to hold her hand in front of me with an upturned palm, as if she wanted me to climb on. Her mouth started moving again, and more alien language came rumbling forth, but then I heard, “Do not be afraid. I will not hurt you.” I couldn’t help but fear a being with fingers the size of my body, but my apprehension gradually diminished. After all, she didn’t seem cruel, and in the event that she was…well, what could I really do about that? She had offered me a chance to approach her voluntarily, and if I didn’t take the opportunity, she would probably start to doubt my intelligence, viewing me as nothing more than a stupid little animal that didn’t understand what was good for it by choosing a cold, hard box over a warm, soft hand. At that point, she would have to either impatiently and angrily snatch me up anyway or close the roof in disappointment and walk away, and the type of person who would respect my wishes enough to choose the latter option was exactly the type of person I would have wished I’d followed immediately after she did so. Deciding that cooperating now could only benefit me, I slowly rose to my feet and moved tentatively toward the waiting hand, an action that elicited a slight smile on the face far above. When I at last stood before the gigantic extremity, I took a deep breath and lifted one leg, then the other, to step upon her palm. At first, the hand trembled below me—a minor tremble, but more than I would expect even from someone whose slightest movements would be noticeable to me. I got the sense that she felt nervousness, excitement, or a combination of both at what was happening. Could this have been an unfamiliar experience for her as well? Once she steadied herself, her hand slowly bore me up like an elevator to the altitude of her face. There, she held me for a time, her blue eyes wide and blinking at a quick pace as if she could possibly be as much in awe of me as I was of her.
I carefully peered over the side of her hand and surveyed a body that must have extended another hundred feet below me, feeling a sense of vertigo at this height from which she gazed down every day. I noticed earlier that her head was black except for the white patch down the center. This trend continued for most of the rest of a body uncannily similar to a Human’s. The milky white ran from between her eyes, across her muzzle, down the front of her neck, flared out below her collarbone to cover her bust, then narrowed in width as it continued down along her abdomen. I could also see a huge tail swinging back and forth behind her, its white tip nearly grazing the floor.
The upper piece of her ensemble was a strapless bandeau of silky blue fabric that covered her breasts. Yes, her body resembled a Human woman’s just that much, and despite how incredible I found this, I didn’t dare take the chance of offending her by letting my eyes linger on that spot for more than a second. Her lower piece of clothing, the same material and color as the one above, was a skirt that ended about a dozen feet above her knees. She also wore a belt featuring compartments that must have been used to carry assorted items, for the rest of her clothing didn’t include pockets, from what I could tell. Like her hands and the lower part of her arms, her feet and lower legs were white in color, making her look as if she wore socks.
Noticing that she wore a collar of her own perplexed me. I didn’t know before what the collar could be for, thinking it may be a collar like one you would place on a pet, but the fact that she wore one too pretty much eliminated that possibility, which somewhat relieved me. Then again, perhaps the collars were programmed so that once they reached a certain distance from each other, an alert would sound to notify her of my whereabouts, or something else would happen to thwart any chance of me escaping. I continued to imagine other purposes for the collars, however, and that’s when another thought came to me. That’s why I heard English! The collar was translating her words, not to mention changing them from thunderous, unintelligible roars to the gentle, girlish voice heard by her own kind. It must somehow measure the sounds and vibrations of her speech and convert it to my language and appropriate frequency. How exactly I could interpret the signal was more difficult to discern. I did notice that I had a small device in each ear when I woke up. Could they be translators that received the signal from the collar, read it, and allowed me to understand it? Whatever the case, the real question was how they knew my language in the first place.
I finally tore my eyes away from the giantess, which was no easy task since she occupied much of my field of vision. The cavernous room in which I found myself seemed like some grand hall to me, but she wouldn’t have seen it as much bigger than a bedroom. There were several tiers of shelves that held boxes, all of them much like the one that previously contained me, differing mostly in terms of size. Each of them bore strange markings that I could only assume were letters of this species’ language. What was in those boxes? More people? I returned my eyes to my captor, silently pleading for answers. I didn’t dare to speak up and ask her why. She had clearly selected me for something, but if I questioned her actions and gave her the impression that I didn’t appreciate the honor, I might be rejected in favor of a more obedient individual and face whatever consequences rejection entailed. Her lips parted to smile, and the gigantic canines were joined by two entire rows of glimmering white fangs. Smiling or not, this display intimidated me more than a little and I started to shudder involuntarily. I saw her left shoulder and upper arm moving, and then the corresponding hand appeared next to me, at which point she ran the smooth topside of one of her claws down the length of my right arm. I watched unflinchingly, tensing up as the object that could slice me open with little effort came in contact with my skin, but I felt soothed and ceased trembling as she carefully stroked my arm.
With that same hand, she reached toward my former container and gently closed the roof. She then reached into one of her belt pockets and retrieved a handheld disc, which, at the flip of a switch, expanded into a thermos-like drinking vessel at least twice my height. After setting the cup atop the box, she reached into the same pocket as before and pulled out some soft-looking sheets, stuffing them into the bottom of the mug, so she obviously didn’t intend to pour any liquid in there. Wait…was she really about to do what I was thinking? She confirmed my fears when she lifted the cup and held it directly below me. “Please forgive the crude mode of transport,” she apologized, “but this is the best way I could think to keep you hidden and still be able to talk to you, because…I am sure you want to talk.” With that, she lowered me into the pit and strutted off with her Human prize.
Chapter 2: Introduction
It’s amazing how quickly and unexpectedly your life can change. One moment, I’m out on the lake enjoying my newfound freedom, and the next, I’m trapped in this prison, trying to figure out what just happened. Had I become the pet of a giant space cat? Once I saw a ceiling give way to blue sky far above me, I knew we had exited the site of my acquisition. I use that vague term because something led me to believe it wasn’t a typical pet shop but more like…a holding facility. Granted, I didn’t get much of an opportunity to look around, but I didn’t see any animals on display, and what pet shop—or any shop, for that matter—would keep all its merchandise hidden from patrons’ sight, not allowing a passing child to spontaneously glimpse a cute little Human and beg her parents to buy him, promising that she’d learned her lesson from the previous two and would be careful not to drop or step on this one?
As much as I wanted to divert my mind from such unpleasant thoughts, I couldn’t find much else to focus on at the moment. I heard many voices outside these walls, but I could only see one face—and I saw mostly the underside of it, at that. Other than an occasional aircraft flying overhead, nothing besides her ever came into my view. This creature I’d never met, from a race I didn’t know existed, had suddenly become everything to me, seeming like a goddess reigning over my cylindrical little world. I struggled to accept that I now belonged to another person, who clearly didn’t view me as a person in kind. This being I marveled at as possessing such Human qualities had casually bought me like a girl might purchase a fashion accessory, demonstrating that my feelings were far from mutual.
My…owner, I guess is what I should start calling her, hardly showed me off like a fashion accessory at the moment, though. Her reluctance to let others see me, along with the nondescript location at which she obtained me, led me to believe the capture and sale of Humans might be illegal here, practiced by few in an otherwise enlightened society. I briefly considered shouting in an attempt to draw the attention of others, hoping they would find me and liberate me from her clutches, but decided against it…for now. After all, I knew as little about how they would treat me as I did about my owner’s intentions. In fact, she could have been one of the few enlightened ones, not liking the thought that she had just claimed a fellow person as her property, but doing so to remove me from the market in a society that routinely traded Humans like goods. I may have very well been destined for a true pet store, or, even worse, a restaurant, to be put on display in a tank like a lobster until a finger pointed at me and I took part in my first—and last—romantic dinner…not as part of a couple, but as part of a couple’s meal. If I revealed my presence, I could end up ruining my owner’s life as much as I would ruin my own.
Not knowing which of these giants to trust, or even if I could trust any of them at all, I’d never felt so surrounded and so utterly alone all at once. I assumed that since I wore a collar just like my owner, she could understand me. Come to think of it, she said she knew I would want to talk, so that must have been the case. I wondered whether our conversation would arouse the suspicion of outside observers, who would only see a young woman seemingly talking to herself, but even if anybody paid that much attention to her, the technology of these aliens had probably advanced to the point that communication devices were practically invisible. She would likely blend in with many others appearing to speak to thin air as they walked down the street.
I mustered all my courage, preparing to speak to her and get a better notion of her plans. I would have to be careful about what I said, though, and not appear hostile. I stood up, my arms barely able to span the width of the cup, which she held at chest height, and brace myself against its sides as it slowly rocked to and fro with each step she took. “Um…hello,” I ventured.
The enormous head tilted downward, and she looked right at me. “Hello,” she returned with a bright smile, much like the one from earlier. “I was beginning to wonder whether you had a voice.” She continued to look at me expectantly, periodically glancing up to watch where she was going. The directness of her gaze surprised me, and I just looked back at her for a while. “Well?” she finally said.
“What?” I asked.
“You said hello. You seemed like you wanted to say something else.”
“Yes…right,” I fumbled. I had an endless list of questions to ask her, but I decided to start with the most obvious one. “Uh…where am I?”
“This is Trestuva, capital city of the planet Quorilax, the heart of the Quorilaxian Empire,” she stated. “My name is Zarbaxa, but you can call me Zar. What is your name?”
That question caught me off guard. “My name?”
“Yes. Am I wrong to assume you have one?”
“Well…no…it’s just…you see…” I stammered, “…on our planet, we give names to our pets.” Then again, I’d never carried on a conversation with a dog.
“What does that have to do with—” she said, stopping in the middle of her sentence to think, and then looked at me quizzically. “A pet? You think you are a pet?” She continued to watch me suspiciously, and I couldn’t tell whether she expected an answer. “A koswok is a pet; a Human is not.”
Even though I didn’t like the notion of being a pet, I very quickly came to accept it, seeing as how I was rather incapable of changing it. Now that she claimed it was not my fate, new thoughts flooded into my mind—new, considerably worse thoughts. “Are you enslaving me?” I asked, becoming more apprehensive.
She looked even more confused now. “I do not intend to belittle you, but…you would make a poor slave here—not that I think people of any size are born to serve me.”
How could I not feel belittled upon hearing that I wasn’t even fit to be a slave? “Are you going to perform experiments on me, then? Dissect me?”
“What? No! I would never do that! If I want to know something about you, I must only ask you, right?”
I had become extremely frustrated by this point. She must have had in mind some strange, alien procedure I couldn’t even imagine. “Okay, then; what are you going to do with me?” I demanded to know.
“I…would rather not talk about that yet,” she dodged, my mind filling in the reality she left unspoken: “And whatever I say is what goes, since you are in no position to make me do anything I do not want to, shorty.”
The abrupt response angered me. “Excuse me? I’ve been abducted from my home planet! Whatever is happening to me, the least I deserve are some answers!”
“I think we all want answers.”
What was that supposed to mean? “Exactly!” I shouted. “I want answers! Do you think my puny little Human mind can’t handle it or something? Just because your brain is probably bigger than my entire body doesn’t mean I’m stupid! If you’re a spoiled brat whose daddy gives her money to buy whatever—or whoever—she wants, just admit it!” Obviously, I had completely forgotten about not wanting to appear hostile, not recognizing in the heat of the moment how unwise I was to be arguing with someone big enough to hold this cup containing me using just a single hand of hers. With nothing more than a twist of her wrist, she could send me sliding out of it to the ground below. If the fall didn’t kill me, I’m sure one of the many feet walking upon these streets would end my life before long.
“My father is dead,” she responded in a faint voice—if any sound uttered by such a big person could be considered faint.
I didn’t relent. “Well, that makes two of us! Even if my parents were still alive, would I ever see them again? Tell me why you brought me here!”
“I…I do not want to say right now, but it is not what you think. I understand how you feel, and—”
“You have absolutely no idea how I feel!” I yelled at her. She looked at me in silence for a moment, and then I could see her mouth begin to quiver before she turned her head away from me. “Zar?” I said. She looked at me again, and I could see her sniffling lightly, while her eyes glistened with a thin layer of tears. She may have had a thick layer of skin beneath that fur, but she obviously didn’t possess the kind of thick skin needed to defend against harsh words. I felt like a complete jerk. “I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to yell at you,” I apologized to her immediately, genuinely regretting that I upset her but also fearing for my life—not that my life meant much anymore.
“No, no, it is not your fault. You are completely correct. I do not understand. I will never know how frightened and powerless you must feel…how monstrous I appear to you. I wish I could, but…I cannot. Please forgive me.” Wait…I screamed at her, but she apologized to me? I thought we would both be better off if I shut up for the rest of the journey, however much longer it took.
About fifteen minutes later, I saw a building rising perhaps a thousand feet straight above me like a sheer cliff, but here, that probably meant only several floors high. Upon entering, I could tell that we ascended three flights of stairs, finally reaching our destination. A door opened, and once we walked through and it slid closed behind us, Zar withdrew me from my confinement, and I looked past the entryway and saw what appeared to be the kitchen of an apartment. In the center of the room stood a table, on top of which I saw a container holding forks with tines the size of long swords, and I could only hope Humans weren’t considered a delicacy here, destined to be impaled upon the ends of those gleaming silver pikes. Zar gingerly set me down near the table’s edge and sat in the nearest chair, leaning forward slightly and resting forearms in front of me. Her eyes remained on me, looking me over. She still appeared to be just as curious—probably more—about me as I was about her.
As she continued to watch me, I became restless, and my eyes couldn’t help darting once again toward the forks that dwarfed me, looming overhead menacingly as if they were eager to climb out by their own volition and pierce my flesh. “You’re not going to eat me, are you?” I asked, point blank. Dang it, Orion! Stop giving her ideas!
“I would never eat anything that has a name, but unless I am mistaken, you have not told me yours yet.”
I studied the smile that followed this comment, and I determined it to be a pleasant one without any trace of a sadistic smirk, so I felt comfortable that she had no intention of making me a part of her balanced diet even if I withheld my moniker, but I decided that the time had come to introduce myself anyway. “My name is Orion. I apologize for not making time to tell you that somewhere between my insults and my accusations.”
“Do not worry about that,” she assured me. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Orion.”
“Actually…most people on my planet call me Ryan. You can too, if you’d like,” I offered, partly because I hoped that the more I familiarized myself to her, the more difficult it would be for her to eventually mistreat me.
“Very well, Ryan,” she approved. “Does ‘Ryan’ mean anything in particular?”
I happened to know its origin precisely: Irish, just like my last name, O’Reilly. “It means…um…little king,” I said meekly. “Only one of those words describes me accurately; I don’t think I have to tell you which.”
Her jaw dropped, and she gaped at me, making me wonder what I had said to cause such a reaction. “I have a king right in front of me! I have hardly been treating you like royalty! I am but a lowly commoner; please forgive me, your majesty!” Her expression remained so sincere that I started to think she genuinely believed I was a monarch, but after several seconds she gave herself away with a giggle.
I smiled. “Apparently I do need to tell you which of those words describes me accurately.”
“There is still plenty of time for you to become a king, though. You look about my age.”
“How old are you?” I inquired.
“Eight and a half,” she informed me.
“Eight and a half what?” I asked.
“Years,” she replied.
I surveyed her in amazement. If she was eight and a half years old, either she was incredibly mature for her age or her species as a whole developed at a quicker pace than mine. A cat of that age, after all, would be well into adulthood, but I had to remind myself that she wasn’t a cat or, I’m sure, even possessed a remote genetic relation to an animal from another planet. Felines were one of the most successful families of predators on Earth, so I decided there was nothing too remarkable about a species evolving similar characteristics independently and eventually becoming the dominant species of this land. “Actually, I’m nineteen; more than twice your age,” I told her.
Her eyebrows shot up after hearing this, but they soon lowered again as she appeared to come to a realization. “Oh…I am sorry; I should have been more specific. I am eight and a half Quorilaxian years old. It takes almost exactly twice as long for Quorilax to revolve around its host star as it does for your planet to do the same. That means I would be about seventeen years old in Earth terms, but my mother tells me I have always been very grown up for my age.”
I’d say a hundred-something feet tall is pretty grown up at any age. I hadn’t considered that the length of her year would be different from mine, but it brought about a whole new set of questions. “How do you know how long an Earth year is?”
“All we have to do is examine the orbit of your planet. It is quite simple, really.” We? Examine? These…Quorilaxians have been observing us? Why? At this point, the entrance of another Quorilaxian into the room distracted me. Zar’s head swiveled when I turned my face toward the new arrival, a male with somewhat broader features and metallic gray fur in place of her ebony coloration. His sex was unmistakable to me not only because of the lack of breasts upon his uncovered chest but also because he wore nothing below his waist at the moment, much too vividly confirming my reasonable assumption that the similarities between our species’ forms extended to what lay—or, in this case, swayed—between our thighs.
“Drab, you know we wear clothing for guests!” Zar complained. The Quorilaxian outlook on nudity must have radically differed from that of my own society, judging from her comment.
The male’s eyes widened as he saw me, and I saw that his irises were of a striking purple color. He snatched me off of the table and brought me in front of his face to scrutinize, his thumb and forefinger holding me by pinching either side of my torso beneath my armpits. I remained as still as possible for fear of falling out of the very insecure grasp. His amethyst eyes then narrowed at me. “You consider bugs to be guests now?”
“Bug?” she gasped. “His name is Orion!”
“You named it?”
“Its parents—I mean, his parents did! Humans are people too!” she said, standing up to confront him. Once she reached her full height, the male’s face and I were only at the level of her chest, despite her not standing on a higher surface. She easily retrieved me from his light grasp and brought me closer, lowering me to right in front of her navel, which could have probably fit my head inside it. “Be careful with him, Drab!” she admonished.
He chortled. “What, do you think he is your mate? You should know that he would avoid you like every other boy does if he could actually get away, so do not mistake that for attraction. Luckily for you, if you keep growing at the pace you have, then before long not even Laxian boys will have a choice! Just wait, and then you will be as tall as a building and can just reach through the windows and scoop them out by the handful!” Laxian? Is that something different from a Quorilaxian?
“Not before I find you and squash you! You are the only bug I see right now! What is your problem?”
“Koswoks make much better companions. Why do we not get another one of them?”
She moved even closer so that she stared almost directly down at him. “Because I already have too many stupid animals to worry about at home!” By her tone and the context, she clearly included him among them. I was caught in the middle of these two living, breathing towers as they stood there opposing each other. Zar severely outmatched the male, though, and rather than tempt fate, he frowned at her before turning and exiting the room. That was quite possibly the most bizarre exchange of words I ever witnessed, which meant that it fit perfectly into the theme of everything else happening today.
“Who was that?” I called up to Zar after he left.
She lifted me to her face. “That was Drabolya, my twin brother. I am sorry you had to see that…and hear that…and feel that. Did he hurt you?”
“I think I’m fine,” I told her, using a hand to massage my neck, which slightly ached from being seized by Zar’s brother and then grabbed back by Zar.
She watched me for a moment. “Are you offended at being held this way? You do not seem upset.”
I looked down at the fingers and thumb wrapped protectively around my entire body below my chest, as they had been since she’d reclaimed me from her brother’s possession, and then I looked back up at her. “Why would I be upset?”
“I just…thought you might feel trapped,” she offered, and I wondered whether her brother’s comment about my powerlessness to escape her had struck a nerve. “I have never held a person in my hand before you, and books discussing the proper etiquette for doing so are rare, at best.”
“Well, no one has ever held me in her hand before, so I guess this will be a hands-on learning experience for the both of us,” I joked, immediately thinking the pun would be lost in translation, but the idea must have come through sufficiently, because she chuckled. “Maybe it’s only because I just got dangled in front of someone’s face between nothing more than two of his fingertips, but right now, I don’t mind feeling like I can’t slip away.”
She smiled. “Why read a book when I have a primary source? Speaking of books, I should be on my way to class. Would you like to come with me?”
I thought for a moment, soon deciding that I could possibly find out something interesting…maybe even what I was doing here. “Sure,” I told her, trying to remain as optimistic about my entire predicament as possible.
“Wonderful!” she jubilated, setting me down on the table and grabbing a pouch that had been resting on one of the other chairs, securing it to her belt on both sides of her navel so it stretched across the front of her waist like an enclosed hammock. She held her hand next to me and asked, “May I?” at which point I lifted my arms, prompting her to coil her fingers around my body and lift me from the table, placing me upon some soft cushions in her pouch before sealing the opening. Just as I prepared to protest that this may cause me to suffocate, I noticed the mesh-like walls, which would not only provide me with fresh air but my first relatively clear view of this great big world.
Chapter 3: Belittlement
We exited the apartment, walking down a path lined with a jungle of flora that bloomed in a kaleidoscopic assortment of colors and attracted buzzing bugs as big as birds. Speaking of swarms, the street in front of us was crowded with people, but no cars. Zar weaved her way into “traffic,” where I saw a diverse assortment of colors and patterns present in the fur and fabric adorning her fellow travelers. Many males simply wore skirts or sarongs and nothing above their waists, while the females showed a greater variety of fashions, largely because they usually wore more, with some donning a lower piece as the males did and separate garments to cover their breasts, like Zar, while others sported one-piece dresses or wraps of various designs. Some materials were opaque, while others were sheer, although in the latter case, I usually, but not always, saw a layer of minimal, bikini-like clothing beneath. I say the females usually wore more, because a number of them had bare torsos, or wore something that didn’t completely obscure their nipples. It seemed the relaxed attitude toward nudity in this society, which I first witnessed from Drab in a private home, extended to the public realm. In one case, I thought a woman was completely nude, but upon closer inspection I realized that her garments matched her leopard-printed fur. Such a pattern of clothing would be considered exotic on Human women, and I laughed at the thought that their Quorilaxian counterpart would seek to achieve the same effect by wearing something in the solid hues of Human skin. The climate here seemed subtropical, and considering their fur and the body heat that beings of such great size must retain anyway, I didn’t question why the immense inhabitants of this world dressed so minimally, as if they were all headed for a beach. Given the relative thinness of much of the clothing that was present, I could understand why I saw many other people wearing the same type of sash-like, compartmentalized belts as Zar, but some also carried purses, backpacks, or other bags as well. Even if Zar’s skirt did have pockets, though, I would have been glad not to be put in one, where I would undoubtedly be flung back and forth or slammed into her thigh with each pump of her legs.
While the majority of people I saw were the same species as Zar, I could now spot other races among the throng, although it could be difficult at times, since they were somewhat smaller, yet even the tiniest of them were still titans to me. Among the most numerous were a canid people, looking something like dogs or foxes, who were “only” about as tall as the bottom of Zar’s skirt. Perhaps the most memorable of the species for me, however, was the one that looked remarkably similar to mice, since their height placed most of their eyes around my position at Zar’s waist, meaning they stood quite a bit shorter than Zar’s people. Yet, somehow, as I watched their eyes pass so close to me yet continue to focus elsewhere, without showing any sort of recognition that I was present, I decided they made me feel the smallest of all. I’m a mouse here, even to the mice, I couldn’t help but realize. I remembered Zar’s brother joking about her becoming much taller than even “Laxian” boys, leading me to believe that was the name for their own species specifically, while “Quorilaxian” would encompass anyone who lived on this planet. Did all these sapient races arise on this single world, or was the universe teeming with people who made Humans look like dolls? For some reason, I found the latter answer to be more likely…and also more terrifying.
Even Zar’s leisurely walking gait must have propelled us forward at about thirty miles per hour. I couldn’t discern her speed very well by looking at the ground several dozen feet below me, a less pronounced version of the effect one would experience when flying in a plane, so this amazing pace became most apparent when people walked by us in different directions. At first, I instinctively braced myself for impact, as if I expected Zar to collide with the other Quorilaxians and produce a deadly result like the car crash that killed my parents. After all, everyone was moving at what seemed to me like highway speeds, yet they did not travel in predictable lanes, with some of them even racing across Zar’s path at a perpendicular angle. But I had to remember that I was not among metal vehicles with pilots of my scale seated somewhere inside the heads, looking out from behind eye-shaped windshields, turning wheels or pushing pedals to control movement; no, these were living beings themselves, covered in yielding flesh and hair, their heads containing not silicon microchips but organic brains, their eyes serving not as viewports for a cockpit but as windows directly to a soul, and I quickly grew accustomed to their incredible reflexes and agility.
Looking up at the stars from Earth before my abduction, I felt small and insignificant in the universe, but I could never have prepared for such a humbling experience as this, being among people whose own bodies seemed the size of heavenly bodies. It amazed me to think that, while we Humans scoured our own solar system for signs of extraterrestrial life of the smallest magnitude, all along there had existed at least one planet where we would be the ones squinted at under magnifying lenses…lenses that hopefully wouldn’t find their way into the hands of someone cruel enough to hold one above us on a sunny day like this and burn us the way a Human might burn ants. I nearly as much dreaded the prospect of one being used to appraise my value, being restrained to a table as a Quorilaxian “expert” assessed my every detail with painstaking precision, an uncomfortably close and magnified eye scanning my body and humiliating me with audible notes about all my physical imperfections and shortcomings. Given that Zar knew so much about Earth, the Quorilaxians must have already had us under a microscope—at least in the figurative sense—for a long time without our knowledge.
The tables had turned, in a way, since Zar was the only giant among this multitude who was aware of my presence in their midst. Hmm...I feel like I should really stop calling her a “giant,” even if it’s just inside my own head. She hadn’t referred to me as “little guy” or something even more demeaning, so I suppose I should show her the same courtesy of not defining her by her dimensions, especially since she was far more in proportion to everyone and everything else around her, besides me. Clearly, size was in the eye of the beholder, not to mention dependent on one’s environment. I thought back to Drab teasing Zar about eventually growing as tall as a building, when in fact both of them, and everyone else I had seen on this planet, already were as tall or taller than most buildings—on Earth, that is. I noticed a young woman with her face pressed against the glass wall of one of the buildings further ahead. Peering into a structure at that height on Earth, she’d no doubt be eliciting screams from terrified Humans on the upper floors of an office tower or high-rise apartment building, but here on Quorilax, I could tell as we passed by that she was only admiring dresses in the storefront display of a ground-floor shop. Since the mannequins modeling the clothing didn’t have heads, I could have easily mistaken them for representations of Human bodies if not for their tails and the often multi-colored patterns upon the dummies, since many Quorilaxians, like Zar, exhibited fur of more than one color. I did, of course, leave out the obvious fact that each of the figures was to scale with the Statue of Liberty.
Everyone went about their business as if this were a completely typical day—which, for just about everyone besides me, it probably was—yet even the most ordinary activity became extraordinary to witness when performed by such prodigious people. Many restaurants lined this thoroughfare, and I happened to be about level with the faces of the al fresco diners. I watched a waitress sashay into view and set down a jacuzzi-size bowl at the center of a table occupied by a group of several young men and women around my and Zar’s age, who laughed and smiled while their hands eagerly dove in and extracted finger food the size of a Human torso—hopefully just by coincidence—which they dipped in colorful sauces before popping whole into their mouths, some more than one at a time.
Tearing my attention away from that feeding frenzy and focusing on the street in front of us, I saw a Laxian woman carrying two bags, one per hand, each of which appeared to contain literally tons of items, yet she walked briskly and gracefully, her lithe arm muscles barely flexing to haul weight that Humans could only hope to transport slowly with cumbersome, hulking machinery. In stark contrast to the way I marveled at this simplest feat of hers, she would probably look upon even our “wonders of the world” with ambivalence. After all, I’d already noted that the Statue of Liberty would have been the perfect height to model Laxian dresses; and the bricks used to build the pyramids at Giza, which required scores of Earthly beasts and men to move, she could have plucked up between her fingers and dropped into her bag, bringing them home and giving them to her child as toy building blocks, stacked and toppled with ease. Speaking of children, a young male, most likely her son, ran nearby with a toy aircraft in his hand, making it perform all manner of dives and spins. Well, I assumed that aircraft was a cheap toy and not once an expensive, functional Human plane taken from Earth as a bonus find when its pilot was abducted. If it was a real aircraft, I at least hoped there wasn’t a living “action figure”—or a dead one, for that matter—being tossed around in the cockpit. The boy was so immersed in his fantasy that he nearly collided with Zar, stopping when his eyes were only several feet in front of my pouch…and looking straight at me. I retreated from the opening, but one eye opened wide and approached for closer inspection. The glistening orb, at least two feet in diameter, flitted back and forth, scanning for me in the darkness of the pouch while I tried to come to terms with the unsurprising but nonetheless still humiliating fact that among this race, even a child who was probably no more than a quarter of my age was already dozens of feet tall, big enough to cause me to cower from him in absolute terror.
“Get away from there!” the woman scolded him, shifting the handles of both bags to one fist as she took the youngster’s hand in the other, jerking him away. “Forgive us,” she apologized to Zar.
“Mommy, I thought I saw a Human!” he exclaimed—whether out of fascination or disgust, I couldn’t tell.
Even the boy’s head started to rise out of view as my altitude dropped, and when I saw a blue skirt and a pair of knees tilt into view below me, I determined that Zar must have been moving into a crouch, which would have brought her face closer to his level but achieved the added benefit of removing me from the vicinity of the little giant’s curious eyes, the latter of which may have been Zar’s primary goal. “My, you have quite an imagination!” she patronized him. “This universe needs more people who spend some time in their own universe.”
The mother, no doubt greatly appreciative of Zar not only tolerating her son but engaging him, decided to confide in her. “He thinks he sees Humans everywhere now; even his dreams are infested with them. It is all because those miserable little pests exist in the real universe that his father no longer does. If it were up to me, I would personally crush them all, like nature clearly intended us to do,” she confessed, and now that I was closer to the ground, I could see her grind the ball of one sandaled foot into the pavement for emphasis. Despite the warmth of my surroundings, I couldn’t suppress a shiver upon hearing someone who could effortlessly end my life express a desire to do so with such terrifying indifference. This came from a young mother, no less, the type of person I would least expect to show such contempt toward a being weaker than herself…a being so much weaker that I didn’t think I could bruise her son’s toe, let alone kill his father, an act which she seemed to imply had been the work of Humans. I couldn’t see the woman’s face from my vantage, which may have been for the best, since I found it difficult enough to listen to that sweet voice speak words of such casual hatred without simultaneously seeing her look of doe-eyed disdain for my existence.
“How brave of you!” Zar commended the woman while slowly standing back up. “I would hop on a chair and scream before they started swarming over my feet!” I had to make an effort to not burst out laughing at Zar’s obvious lie, though her fellow Laxian interpreted the comment as a completely sincere one.
“I might have done the same a short time ago, but with his father gone, I need to be extra strong for my son. It appalls me that some put the welfare of Humans before people. We are wiser than some of those politicians who waste our blood and treasure on idealistic nonsense like trying to protect those vile things instead of focusing on less divisive issues that would make life better for ordinary citizens like us. Once again, I apologize for my son’s behavior.” Okay…is it just me, or did she imply that she doesn’t consider Humans to even be people? Your son ought to apologize for your behavior, I thought, but the energetic boy, who probably didn’t pay any attention to our chaperones conversing high above us, had already impatiently continued on his way, his parent soon following after wishing Zar to have a pleasant day—“free of Humans,” she appended as a departing insult. Plenty of girls in high school acted like I didn’t exist, but for once I was glad—extremely so—that a female person had failed to notice me in the most literal sense.
Speaking of females, even though I saw just as many males among the crowds, I spent a disproportionate amount of time focusing on the women, finding myself drawn to the fairer sex of these species. After all, their differences from Human women were minimal except the anything but minimal size disparity. It was that difference which made the similarities all the more obvious from my perspective, whereas, if my recent encounter offered any indication, most of the Quorilaxian women I saw would deem Humans no less revolting than many of their Human counterparts would consider a small rodent, since, after all, I was a mouse even to the “mice” here. Even the women who didn’t stomp me flat at first sight would probably have a good laugh at me if I disclosed these feelings, pitying me for my quixotic, unrequited attraction to them.
Zar turned and walked into a building along the street, and I assumed that we had arrived at her school. Once we had entered, however, the surroundings seemed relatively quiet. She walked down some aisles that appeared to be lined with shelves before stopping and unsealing the opening to the pouch containing me and placing her hand near me like a platform to climb onto.
“This is a safe space,” she assured me from above with a kind smile, and I trusted her and moved to sit in her palm, at which point she lifted me up to near her shoulder level, and I looked around. Books. Cases full of them, stretching from the floor to above Zar’s head.
“A library?” I asked.
“Of sorts,” she answered. “It is my favorite little bookstore, whose proprietors are a lovely, older Zdrenic couple.”
I gazed up at the ceiling that soared hundreds of feet above me, feeling as though I was in a cathedral. “The largest libraries on Earth could probably fit their entire collections in this ‘little’ bookstore of yours,” I marveled. “That’s…quite a humbling thought.”
“I completely agree. I am amazed to think of all the volumes of Human knowledge and creativity that could fit in this space. So many words that carry no less consequence than anything in here despite being written in a significantly smaller font. Ideas have no mass, but they have a power to challenge the mind and move the heart and soul that does not depend on the scale of the person who conceived them.”
Wow. When I said I was humbled by how many Human books could fit in the same space occupied by a much smaller number of Quorilaxian books, I found that to be humbling for Humanity, but whether Zar had realized that or not, she managed to make me see that she could be humbled by the thought in an equal yet completely opposite manner. “Humans have digital books that don’t take up any physical space at all. You must have something similar, right? Can’t you just load all your books on an electronic device and carry an entire library with you in a pocket or bag at once?”
“I could,” she admitted, “but nothing quite replaces the…‘hands-on’ experience, as I think you called it earlier.”
“I see. So I take it you’re here to pick up some books before heading to class?”
“For class? Oh, no, I have my readings for class already. No, I am here to get something for pleasure. Or perhaps I should say purely for pleasure, as I very much enjoy learning.”
“What sort of genres do you like to read for fun?”
“Some of everything. Non-fiction, mysteries, science fiction. But, as cliche as this will probably sound, right now, I am really in the mood to get lost in a tale where everyone just figures out how to live together happily.”
“That sounds like fantasy,” I observed.
She laughed weakly, looking up at the ceiling. “I cannot argue with that.”
As if on cue from hearing a mention of fantasy, a person whom I could best describe as a dragon rounded the end of one of the bookshelves ahead, walking toward us. I saw his colorful scales and wings folded behind him as he approached. “Zar! How are you?” greeted a voice that I assumed was one of the proprietors but sounded much more feminine than I had anticipated. “I thought I heard you holding a conversation with someone back here, but I must have been imagining things.” It turned out this was actually a woman, and I had misgendered her. She wore nothing on her torso, and I had not seen any breasts, but then again, I now realized she did not possess nipples either…or a navel, for that matter. In keeping with her reptilian appearance, it seemed that she lacked these body parts that would be found on a Human, or a female of one of the other races I had seen that bore a closer resemblance to mammals. The fingers of the hand in which Zar held me had been curled up in a way that I could see the woman through the spaces between them, but she had not located me yet. That changed when Zar unfurled her fingers, leaving no barrier between me and the draconic face that reached Zar’s shoulder level, right in front of me. Upon spotting me, the woman startled and noticeably jumped back, looking up at Zar and then back down at me. At least, I was pretty sure she was looking at me, considering that her eyes were entirely black, with no clear iris or pupil for me to easily pinpoint her gaze. I searched those lenses, trying to find something to connect with, but I must have been failing, as I detected nothing but mortification in the wide-eyed expression I saw; an expression that seemed to say, Get this filthy little creature out of my clean, cozy book nook before people walk in and think I have an infestation! Even though I didn’t feel like I was in any danger, thanks to her apparently being familiar with Zar, who seemed like she could overpower the woman and protect me anyway if this encounter somehow deteriorated to that point, I still physically recoiled slightly at the fear and hatred I felt rushing toward me.
This snapped the shopkeeper out of her trance, and her mood shifted to one of sympathy as she stated, “She must be absolutely terrified of me. Some people even larger than I am have looked at me and backed away like that, but in her case, it feels completely justified.” As if in retaliation for my mental misgendering of her, now this woman had done the same to me. Should I really be that surprised, though? If she had been using bodily contours as her guide, like I did with her, then my somewhat loose shirt did her no favors, and my pants certainly concealed the most incontrovertible evidence of my manhood to an even greater degree. If she took note of my hair length, that was no guarantee of masculinity or femininity, which held all the more true for the furred folks of this planet, in which neither sex grew hair atop their head any longer than over the rest of their bodies.
“Orion is male,” Zar offered the obligatory correction, which prompted a wince of shame and an apologetic look directed my way, “but I would not take his reaction personally. This has already been a difficult day, complete with my own brother calling him a bug and a woman openly stating that nature intended for Humans to be crushed. Mercifully, she never saw him.”
That look of mortification returned to the shopkeeper’s face. “Bugs do not exist to be crushed, let alone people,” she declared, and I felt some level of relief upon hearing her recognize my personhood. After all, even that mother Zar referenced may have strongly agreed that committing violence against other “people” was wrong, but that gave me no comfort when I apparently failed to meet her size requirement, or whatever other arbitrary criteria she set, for me to be considered a person in her mind. “You poor boy. Not all of us want to hurt you. I am so sorry that I frightened you.”
“Th-Thank you, ma’am,” I found my voice, quite cognizant of the sad fact that I now considered someone treating me with care and dignity to be an act of major benevolence worthy of my gratitude. “This is all a bit overwhelming, and I’m still confused as to why I’m here, especially when so many people in this world seem to hate me for living, but Zar has been treating me well.”
I saw the woman’s eyes flick up at Zar right after I mentioned not understanding the reason for my presence on this planet, but they returned to me immediately afterward. “Zar has been coming in here on a regular basis for several years, and I would never expect her to show you anything less than absolute kindness. It has been my privilege to watch her grow from an inquisitive girl into the incredible young woman you see now.”
“Yes, she’s pretty incredible to behold,” I agreed, glancing up at the face of the person holding me before looking back to the shopkeeper and adding, “but then again, so are you.”
“How very kind of you, my dear boy,” she thanked me, “but even though I have just met you, I find you quite amazing as well.” Now she directed her attention back to Zar. “Did you want to stay at all and talk?”
“Oh, I would absolutely love to, but I am on my way to class. I mainly wanted to stop in so Orion got a chance to see some…friendly faces. But I should probably pay for this fantasy novel he recommended before I leave,” Zar said, holding up a paperback that would have occupied a good portion of my studio apartment back in Minneapolis, far larger than any piece of furniture, if it could have fit through the door in the first place.
The shopkeeper surveyed “my” choice. “I have heard excellent reviews for that one,” she approved and smiled at me. “You have very astute taste, Orion.” I returned her expression, but as we made our way toward the front of the shop, I considered how she had addressed me as a boy—twice. While I did not usually think much of being the subject of that term, especially when it came from someone significantly older than myself, I did not fail to notice the contrast of her describing Zar as a young woman, despite Zar apparently being slightly my junior in age, based on what Zar had told me about the relation between Quorilaxian and Earth years. To be fair, since the Zdrenic woman had apparently known Zar long enough to see her mature significantly, she had observed a striking change over time, whereas this was the first time the woman had ever seen me, and she didn’t seem to be very familiar with Humans in general, so she had little to no basis for comparison. Nevertheless, I felt like this served as a subtle sign that even someone who treated me with some respect naturally viewed me as subordinate to my somewhat younger but much, much bigger companion.
Nearing the checkout counter, I noticed what I assumed to be the female shopkeeper’s mate, considering that Zar had said the proprietors were a couple. Either she was very tall for her species or he was quite short, if not both, because he only stood about as tall as her chest, meaning he was more like stomach level on Zar. He scanned the book, and Zar held a device over a payment terminal, completing the transaction. “Thank you very much, young lady,” he said while looking up at her face, then regarded me. “Remember that you and your new friend are always welcome here.”
The woman spoke again. “You deserve everything good that comes to you, Zar. It is people like you who change the world, if not the universe.”
I looked up at Zar and saw her smile and turn her head away. “Perhaps in a fantasy novel,” she said, waving her newest literary acquisition before tucking it into the bag slung over her shoulder, “but…I will try to make a difference in whatever small ways I can.” Now she directed her attention to me. “Are you ready for our next quest together, my lord?”
“Your lord?” I questioned the way she addressed me.
“You are a king…or so I recall you telling me earlier,” she pointed out.
“Oh, right,” I remembered. “In that case, I’m as ready as I think I’ll ever be, my noble steed,” I answered honestly.
She snickered. “That makes two of us who feel that way,” she revealed before lowering me back into my “saddle” at her waist, at which point my mountain of a mount trotted off to class.
Zar’s age would have made her the equivalent of a high school student in American society, but the expansive, open campus of our destination felt more like an Earthly university. Sets of supersized scholars relaxed beneath trees that would have provided shade for entire Earthly skylines. We entered buildings whose halls may as well have been the halls of Olympus, filled with masses of massive young Quorilaxians who could wield a power over me no less absolute than any pantheon. At one point, I noticed a Laxian boy and girl start to make out, eagerly nuzzling, kissing, and embracing each other. Upon seeing such a public display of affection between Humans on Earth, I would have likely groaned and turned away, yet I fixated on this delighted duo until Zar walked past them. Between scenes such as this and seeing the Zdrenic couple in the bookstore, I felt a pang as I started to doubt whether I would ever again live among my own species…whether I would ever get a chance to love a woman who would love me back.
I attempted to listen to what was said in classes throughout the day and pick up clues as to why I was here. I heard discussions of the history of worlds whose names meant nothing to me—Alquabor, Meerill, Zgorb—but what caught my attention were words like “conquest” and “colonization”...and it sounded like the Quorilaxians were the conquerors and colonizers, not the other way around. I suddenly started to fear for Earth’s fate at least as much as my own, even though I didn’t hear any specific mention of them invading Earth. Did they find us, realize we and our planet were too small to be of much use to them, and mercifully decide to leave us alone, other than maybe bringing back a few “souvenirs,” like me? Or did that lead this civilization to find us so worthless that they thought nothing of taking our planet for themselves and may not even end up granting us a paragraph in the history textbooks studied by their descendants? Would most of the students in this school today even know or care what their parents were doing to us? Honestly, why should I expect them to waste time concerning themselves with the fate of tiny aliens from across the stars when the tiny aliens themselves barely paid attention to each other on their own world? Perhaps a nap would help me escape all these depressing thoughts. My makeshift bed didn’t make it difficult to fall asleep, so that happened quickly.
When I woke up, however, I could immediately tell that I was somewhere completely different, in what seemed to be a dark hallway. “Zar?” I called, standing up. “Zar, where did you go? Can you hear me?”
A male voice from behind startled me. “Quiet!” he said in a harsh whisper. I turned around to find a man—Human—staring at me with bulging eyes. He sported a beard and mustache that looked like they hadn’t been shaven in weeks or months. “Do you want to die?”
“Why would you say that? Of course I don’t.”
“Well, you’ll die soon if you keep talking that loud! They’ll hear you!”
“The Giants,” he said, looking up, apparently out of force of habit, because I couldn’t see past a ceiling not too far above our heads.
“Um…I assume you mean the Quorilaxians.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Quorilaxians? Is that what you call those brutes?”
This guy was a real piece of work. “What do you call them?”
“Giants! Don’t you listen?”
“That’s a little vague when everything is giant, don’t you think?”
“Well, when someone talks about ‘giants,’ don’t you assume they mean giant people? I might call them by their proper name if I could just understand their language. Quorilaxians…” he repeated the word, frowning in disapproval. “How did you come up with that? What a horrible name. You sound like you’re choking.”
“What do you mean you can’t understand them? I’ve talked to them! Didn’t they ever give you a collar?”
“Sorry, kid, but they don’t make those in fun size.”
“Sure they do; I have one right—” I felt my neck, finding it bare of a collar. “I swear I had it on before I fell asleep!”
“Right…whatever you say.” He looked askance at me. “Where did you come from, anyway?”
“I…I don’t know how I got here…or even where ‘here’ is, for that matter.”
He smiled and patted my shoulder. “I guess it’s not important. The Human mind can block out traumatic experiences, and there are more than enough of those to go around for us these days. I don’t mind refreshing your memory; we need to keep our history alive in as many heads as possible. This is a duct in a Giant house in Minneapolis—well, it’ll always be Minneapolis to me, at least.”
I had been examining the surroundings, but now my eyes immediately locked on the man’s again. “What? Minneapolis? Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States of America, Earth, Milky Way?”
“Yeah, there’s only one Minneapolis. Well, actually, that’s not true, but this sure isn’t Minneapolis, Kansas, Toto.”
“You mean to tell me this is Earth?” I asked, bewildered. “Not another planet?”
“I know; it’s hard to believe, now that backyard gardens are like jungles. When you see those huge flowers beside our native trees, though, you remember where you are. If only the Giants would let us live beside them like that. I’m tempted to say it’s like the age of the dinosaurs all over again, but it’s even worse, because these people are so big that they could put a T-Rex on a leash and walk it like a poodle, which is to say nothing of their higher intelligence. I mean, they’ve probably got the technology to thwart any asteroid that comes their way, in which case we can’t rely on Mother Nature to do what she did 65 million years ago. Hell, sometimes I wonder if Mother Nature is up there laughing her ass off at the irony of seeing us scurrying like helpless vermin among people who look like animals, some of which we thought of as vermin, assuming that she isn’t the one who brought this fate upon us as some sort of cosmic retribution in the first place. I never liked cats, and that was before seeing what these monsters could do to us.”
“I’m afraid to ask….”
“I don’t blame you,” he told me, shaking his head. “I didn’t initially believe the news reports…figured it was some elaborate hoax like that War of the Worlds broadcast a while back…but the helicopter footage I saw couldn’t have been called a war any more than some sadistic kids kicking down anthills, especially since the Giant soldiers looked like nothing more than teenagers. They had guns bigger than buses slung over their backs, but it’s not like they needed them. One Giant stomped his boots down in front of fleeing crowds, watching as they suddenly changed direction, ironically trampling each other beneath their own feet in a vain attempt to save themselves, and he smiled down at this like it was all a game to him. I guess the cameraperson had enough of that pretty quickly and turned to another Giant studying something in his hand. Turned out that ‘thing’ was a young lady with fiery red hair, which is probably what caught his attention and got her plucked from the crowds in the first place. She looked fresh out of college, ready to be her own woman and make her mark on the world, only to be claimed as a trophy bride of Kitty Kong. That’s what I thought might happen, at least; I wish she’d been lucky enough that all he wanted to do was show her some gentle affection.”
“Lucky?” I asked, surprised at his last sentence.
“Hey, I’ve spent enough time experiencing this so-called ‘freedom’ that I’m not too proud to admit I’d prefer life as a Giant’s pampered pet. Believe it or not, some of them will take us in, care for us, and love us, but it’s hard to find them among the far larger number who see us as disease-ridden pests, lab animals, or…fellows like the ones who tormented her are the worst of all, I think.”
“Fellows? Did someone else show up?”
“Yeah…in fact, two more came to check on what was flailing around in their buddy’s hand. I didn’t see either of them touch her, but they were just as awful for standing there and smirking as their friend reached a finger toward her, which she tried with all her might to push back against, but she couldn’t possibly resist. I’d had enough and turned off the television as I saw her screaming, but it doesn’t take a vivid imagination to fill in the blanks. It would have been difficult enough to watch some B-movie monster on a mindless rampage, but they…they understood exactly what they were doing to her…to us…and they were enjoying it to the fullest. I mean, just think of how on their planet, they were probably ordinary boys, but then they come to Earth, where they’re suddenly like gods looking down on a civilization crawling at their feet, tapping their fingers on glass skyscrapers like we’re just a zoo exhibit for them. Power is like a drug, and if a mind—especially a young mind that’s still developing—is given that much power all at once, it’s bound not to handle it well. I could see them look that poor girl right in her eyes, knowing there was nothing she or anyone who cared about her could do to stop them from having their way with her, but more importantly for their satisfaction, they could see that she knew it too. She was treated worse than an animal precisely because they knew she wasn’t one…because they knew that she could contemplate the incredible unfairness of it all. Her parents…her guy, if she had one…I hope they didn’t witness that. I can’t imagine watching that happen to my wife or daughter. For all we know, she was your significant other. I could hardly blame you for losing your memory over that.”
I cringed. “How did you manage to escape?”
“I saw smoke rising from downtown—which was right where I had my office, but, as fate would have it, I had taken the day off from work, and my wife was a homemaker, sitting there watching all this unfold right alongside me. Sure, the smoke could have been yet another element of a hoax, but we figured we should play it safe and evacuate before some foot crashed through our roof and it was too late. If it were a hoax, we wouldn’t have been the only ones to fall for it, because the schools had already dismissed the students, so I didn’t need to waste time finding my kids and make an excuse for pulling them out of class. Even at full speed, a car would be hard-pressed to outpace a Giant, and we knew the roads would be clogged with traffic, so we decided to flee on foot with nothing more than the clothes on our bodies and a little food. In the distance we saw some Giants approach the Interstate, and even then those fools stayed in their cars and honked at each other like they’d forgotten how to use their legs. At least when I saw automobiles being tossed around and crushed from a half mile away, I couldn’t put a face to the victims, and it was a little easier for me to forget those weren’t Hot Wheels. While the Giants were busy playing with all those shiny vehicles, we continued to run and hide, run and hide. It’s a simple strategy, but it’s worked so far, because all of us have managed to survive.
“It doesn’t seem like the best way to evade detection is to live in their houses with them,” I pointed out, though the fact that I was here, whether or not I knew why, didn’t give me a lot of room to judge.
He shrugged. “Some don’t. But my family and I prefer to take our chances with them instead of the rest of the mega menagerie out there. Most Giants have more important things to do these days than go out of their way hunting for us, so if we stay out of their sight, they’ll grant us the privilege to exist.”
“You said your family has survived. Are they here?”
“Yeah, come with me,” he said, and I followed him through the duct until we arrived near a vent, light streaming through it and illuminating a woman who looked to be in her thirties, a girl who probably would have been in the midst of high school, and a boy of about middle school age. All of them—including the man, whom I could see much better now—had on a sort of white tunic with a belt around their waists. It didn’t take me long to recognize the outfits as nothing more than tissue paper and the belts holding them on as pieces of string as thick as rope, both articles obviously stolen from the Quor—er…Giants. As I walked closer to the vent, I could see into the room below, which looked to be a kitchen, and around a table eating together sat a Giant family—or, to be more clear, perhaps I should say a family of Giants, because they dwarfed the Human family with me only in the scale of their bodies, not in the number of bodies. In fact, the family structures appeared to match one another exactly—mother, father, daughter, and son—yet as I looked back and forth between the two groups, I decided that’s where any similarity between their current lives ended. The Giants wore colorful garments that hid only limited portions of their sleek, athletic physiques, surely a product of vigorous physical activity made possible by an adequate supply of nutritious foods like the ones currently passing between their lips. The mundane dishes and appliances in the vicinity were just about all that kept me from feeling like I was gazing at a council of Egyptian gods discussing the fate of us mere mortals. Not long ago, the Human family probably also gathered around a feast of rich, filling foods and discussed their rich, full lives. Now, however, their suits, dresses, and sports jerseys had been replaced by plain white sheets to cover their gaunt forms, and they nibbled on crumbs the size of golf balls, no doubt retrieved from the floor like manna raining down from Heaven.
The Giants talked to one another, but like us, they wore no collars, so we couldn’t understand them. Then I heard booms of happy laughter, and only now, unable to understand any of their language, did I appreciate how remarkable it was that a laugh sounded the same the whole universe over. “A sense of humor is one of the strongest signs of intelligence,” the daughter mused. “If only they could hear us laugh….”
“Too bad there’s nothing for us to laugh about,” the son snapped.
I glared at the Human boy before returning my attention to the scene outside the vent, where a tremendous grinding noise heralded his Giant counterpart pushing his chair away from the table and rising. The food that remained on the plate he carried across the room would have only been a mouthful or two for him, yet that probably equated to several hundred pounds. I gasped as he calmly, casually scraped the heap into the nearby garbage can, an impenetrable metal fortress the size of a small office building.
“That could have fed us for weeks, maybe even months,” the mother said wistfully, articulating the same thing I and probably the rest of her family thought at that moment. “How is it fair that they’re thousands of times our size and yet we’re the ones starving? They build their homes right over where they destroyed ours and then treat us like we’re infesting their space, disturbing their comfort, and scaring their children! They’re the vermin here, if you ask me! It’s all so…inhumane.”
“Maybe because they’re not Human,” the son said with a roll of his eyes.
The girl sighed at her brother before looking in my direction and smiling, brushing some locks of filthy blond hair behind her ear as she walked closer to me. Despite her disheveled and scrawny appearance, I still found her very beautiful, largely because her eyes appeared full of life and hope despite our seemingly hopeless situation. “So, what is your name?” she asked.
“Me?” I answered none too smoothly. “Uh, I’m Orion.”
“Nice to meet you, Orion. I’m—”
“A Giant!” her mother suddenly screeched as a head eclipsed our source of light, and I saw a pair of surprised eyes watching us through the vent, which flipped open like a trap door to reveal that the Giant was more specifically a giantess: the young female. By age, she may have been the peer of me and the person about to introduce herself, if not slightly younger, but when I glanced over at the parents holding each other tightly while gazing in abject terror at the leering face, I knew that they maintained no illusions of authority over this girl. I turned and started running, but not before seeing a furred hand rush toward the young woman whose name I never learned, and the index finger hooked under her belt and yanked her from her legs. The Giant huntress laughed; not like the cheerful laughs from when she’d been sitting with her family but an unmistakably wicked, malicious sneer at the hopeless plight of her catch, who’d been looking into my eyes and talking to me only seconds earlier and made a brief yet unforgettable eye contact again as she cried and thrashed against her delighted captor’s finger. The monster’s grin only widened at the pathetic, pitiful protests of the prey dangling before her eyes, whose family, powerless to save her or to endure the sight of her befalling an undoubtedly undignified fate, kept running without looking back. I should have followed their example, but I realized too late that focusing on this terrible scene had slowed me up enough that the Giant had enough time to place her other hand in front of me and block my path.
I punched with all my measly might at the palm approaching me, which didn’t even flinch at my attacks. I probably tickled her at worst, judging by more laughter as the titanic fingers began to wrap around me. “No! Let me go!” I shouted uselessly, beginning to resign myself to my fate.
“Ryan!” cried a female voice that could have only been my fellow captive, although I realized I hadn’t told her that nickname. “Ryan!” I heard a voice call again, but this time it sounded more like Zar.
At that moment, I really woke up, realizing I had only been dreaming. Well, let me clarify that “Earth” was just a dream, but my time on the planet Quorilax had been no figment of my imagination, because the cruel eyes I’d been staring into moments before had been replaced by a pair of eyes just as large, yet they peered down at me in alarm past the undulating façade of Zar’s torso, and a hand as humongous as the one that had just grabbed me hovered a mere several feet away. My mind did not have an easy time adjusting to the idea that seeing other Humans my size was becoming something I would only experience in a dream, while the people I now saw on a regular basis stood a hundred feet tall.
“Ryan! Are you okay?” Zar questioned me.
“Yeah…I am now,” I answered. “What happened?”
“You attacked my fingers when I touched you and told me to let you go.” She looked ashamed.
“I’m sorry. I was…not completely conscious,” I explained, leaving out the details of what exactly I’d been dreaming about.
“I see,” she said, a relieved smile crossing her face. “Anyway, as I just said—while you were not completely conscious—I have some friends who are interested in meeting you. Would you like to come out of there?” I answered positively, eager for the chance to move around. She brought her palm to me and I climbed on, whereupon she set me on the table where I’d been earlier in the day. Two other females surrounded it, and together with Zar their positions formed a roughly equilateral triangle around the table. The one on the left exhibited a calico design, and the one to my right was spotted like a cheetah. Zar stacked her forearms in front of me, and they blocked my path like fallen trees. Had they actually been unmoving trees, I could have scaled the barrier with some effort, but they were the mobile limbs of a person large enough to pluck me from her body like a loose strand of fur well before I got that far. Considering that the girls peering down at me were equally enormous, perhaps staring back up at them from behind the living wall wasn’t such a bad idea, even if they didn’t show any indication of being repulsed by the sight of me…yet.
The calico looked amazed. “This is a Human? This is a real person?”
“What did you think they look like?” the cheetah questioned her.
The calico leaned forward, as if to get a better look at me, and grinned. “They are even tinier than I imagined,” she noted, speaking that sentence, and the word “tinier” in particular, with an enthusiasm that unnerved me. At 5’10”, I wasn’t exactly huge among Humans, but I was far from small, so I’d never heard myself referred to in such a way. The Quorilaxians wouldn’t measure in feet and inches, of course, but based on how I sized up against Zar’s hands, I estimated I would seem a paltry three and a half inches tall in relative terms. After a short pause, the calico asked a question whose ignorance would be hard to surpass: “He speaks, right?”
“Of course he does; I was just talking to him,” Zar stated, but both sets of eyes hovered on me, apparently expecting me to prove that Zar hadn’t just been carrying on a one-way conversation with her pouch.
I didn’t really have any idea what to say, but they continued to watch in anticipation. “Hello,” I finally squeaked.
“That is so cute! Zar, can I touch him?” the cheetah inquired, clearly deeming my consent to be handled as irrelevant and going directly to someone whose opinion meant something to her. One hand was already raised, its fingers poised like the talons of a giant bird ready to whisk me into the sky and carry me off the moment my mistress gave her permission.
But that permission didn’t come. “No, I would prefer that you not,” she refused, drawing her arms closer and leaning farther forward above me—probably an instinctive, unconscious movement to her but quite apparent at my scale. “He is very fragile.”
“He does look helpless,” the calico agreed. “He couldn’t even hurt a newborn baby.”
“I think the baby would hurt him,” the cheetah conjectured, and they cackled to each other, clearly finding the extent of my vulnerability amusing. Come to think of it, what would happen to me once Zar bore children? She needed a mate first, though, and based on Drab’s comments, it sounded as if she had yet to acquire one. Once she did, though, would I find myself as a living pacifier in the mouths of her offspring? That’s assuming she even kept me, rather than dropping me off at a shelter or, worse, leaving me in a park somewhere and telling me I was on my own with a shrug before returning to her home and family.
“So, does he do any tricks?” the calico queried, this question managing to exceed the stupidity of her earlier one. I’m a Human being! Does that mean anything to them? In my mind, I imagined myself standing before them with my chest puffed out, declaring with a firm voice that I deserved to be treated better than this, but that fantasy didn’t come to pass. As they gawked down at me from high above with those condescending glares, I couldn’t bring myself to offer a challenge. I swiveled my neck and looked up at Zar for assistance, and she gazed back down at me, appalled. My countenance must have been equally expressive, for she knew exactly what I wanted to say.
“He does not do tricks on command! It is not his duty to entertain you!” she acted as my voice, communicating what I couldn’t at the moment.
“What is he good for, then?” the cheetah wondered. “What is so special about Humans?” She and her cohort glowered at Zar, who now joined me in my loss for words at the notion that I existed just to please them, that I had to be “good for something” that would benefit them. I doubted their respect for me could sink any lower, and I didn’t want Zar to lose her friends over my failure to impress, so just as they seemed prepared to stand up and leave, I did a cartwheel.
“Look!” the cheetah said.
“Do it again!” the calico begged, and I followed suit. Performing a cartwheel didn’t require a great deal of skill and effort, but they apparently didn’t expect anything more of a Human. They marveled at it like it was the most spectacular feat they ever witnessed.
“For claiming to read so much about Humans, I expected you to know better, Zar,” the cheetah criticized my owner.
“Do another one!” pleaded the calico, and I complied. Before long, I didn’t seem to have power over my own actions. They still clamored for more, and I was caught in a terrible cycle from which I couldn’t escape. One of them reached into a bag and tossed me a piece of food, and since I hadn’t eaten anything since my abduction, I rushed at the morsel and picked it up. I didn’t care what it was; it was apparently edible, and I was hungry.
“Enough!” Zar bellowed, and I dropped my crumb, turning to see her standing up with her fists clenched at her sides. “Get out of here now, or I will show you a few tricks of my own!” It was now the others who appeared taken aback, their necks craning as much as mine to gape at the person looming over us, and they gathered their belongings without delay. “Do not dare tell anyone else about him, or you will regret it,” Zar threatened the girls as they beat a hasty retreat from the scene, whispering to each other with eyes locked on Zar, who likewise watched them until they vanished.
Chapter 4: Perspective
With the offending parties gone, Zar returned her focus to me, sitting back down in her chair and lowering her muzzle atop her coupled hands resting on the table about a dozen feet away. Even in that position, her eyes looked down at me, and they did so in clear embarrassment. “I am so sorry,” she apologized.
“For what?” I responded.
“Did that really not bother you? It certainly bothered me.”
“Of course it bothered me. It was absolutely humiliating, but what do you have to apologize for?”
“Not getting them away from you sooner.”
“They’re your friends? I must say, they don’t seem like your type.”
“My type?” she probed.
She managed a half-hearted smile. “I do not feel very intelligent right now. They are classmates, but calling them friends was premature, in retrospect. Finding friends does not come easily to me, so when they appeared to show an interest in learning about Humans, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for me—and you—to make some. I have always dreamed of meeting a Human, and now that it has finally happened, I just wanted to share the experience with others, but not if I knew they would only treat you as a novelty. Just because you fit in our hands, they seem to take that as nature’s permission to handle you as they please. If only everyone’s size reflected their ability to use power responsibly, they would be microscopic,” she said, holding the tips of a thumb and index finger together and squinting at them.
“Too bad that’s not how the universe works.”
“And it never will, which is why it is up to people like me to protect people like you from…creatures like them, but I have done a miserable job. I will not forgive myself for subjecting you to that.”
“You don’t need to apologize for their actions, Zar.”
“But…it was my idea to show you to them in the first place.”
“Fine. If you think you need to be forgiven, then I forgive you.”
She sucked in a breath, looking ready to issue another rebuttal, but then she decided otherwise. “Thank you,” she finally conceded. “As for earlier, when I told that woman I would hop on a chair before Humans started swarming over my feet...I want to make sure you know I did not really mean that. I feel terrible for saying it.”
“Really, Zar? You have even less reason to apologize for that! I thought the way you handled her and her son was brilliant! I knew you just wanted to deflect suspicion.”
“But I wish I would have defended Humans…defended you…rather than taking the cowardly path and avoiding confrontation, allowing her to continue thinking those beliefs are perfectly acceptable and passing them on to her son.”
“I doubt any stranger on the street could have said anything to change her opinion that quickly; if anything, you berating her, especially in front of her child, may have entrenched her mindset even more. And it’s easy to question all your actions after something like that happens, but it’s not so easy to act in the moment. I just froze up when those girls belittled me, even though I was screaming at them in my head, but you…you put on a convincing show. You would make a great actress. I mean...do Quorilaxians even create movies and plays? I suppose I shouldn’t assume that.”
“We do make our own. But, honestly, my favorite films are Human ones.”
That shocked me. “You mean to tell me that you’ve seen Human movies? You’re full of surprises, you know? So, now I have to ask...what is your all-time favorite? Wait, let me guess! E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial? Close Encounters of the Third Kind? I suppose those are comedies to you, given how far off we were in our vision of life on other planets.” I considered cracking a joke about close encounters of the furred kind until I figured that her translations of “furred” and “third” would be extremely unlikely to rhyme with the English words, and my attempt at humor would fall completely flat for her.
“Very cute,” she said with a smile. “E.T. is high on my list, but I am a Wizard of Oz kind of girl.”
“That’s definitely a classic, and the actress who played Dorothy was born in the same state—the same part of Earth—that I was! Really close to where...I was abducted, actually,” I noticed, my good mood souring a bit, and I looked away from Zar. I was so caught up in the surreality of talking about Human cinema with an alien that I had almost forgotten about the Quorilaxian-scale elephant in the room: I had been abducted from my home planet, and I still had no idea why.
The change in my demeanor didn’t go unnoticed by Zar. “Ryan, please look at me,” she requested, and I did. “You have waited for answers so patiently, and I assure you that you will not have to do so much longer. I do not think you are too weak to hear the truth; I am the one who is too weak to share it, and I will need some help. In the meantime, I saw the way you ran at that crumb, so I know you must be very hungry, but your dietary needs are different from mine, and I still need to go shopping for some of your food. Would you like to stay here?”
“Alone, on top of this table?” I asked, looking around and considering how exposed I would feel without Zar nearby.
She chuckled. “No, I meant here at home generally. I have a protected place for you.”
“Oh, in that case, yes, I…just need some time alone to think.”
“I can relate to that more than you know,” she said, rising to her feet. After I settled onto the palm she held in front of me, she cupped her other hand over me and began to wind through the apartment with me held around her navel height. After five to ten seconds, we came upon a door, and once Zar opened it, I could see a bed facing toward us, centered on the opposite wall. To its left stood a cube that reached a slightly higher altitude. On its plateau sat a box, perhaps fifteen feet long in each dimension, with what looked like mirrors for walls. Zar moved toward it, setting me down on the block and kneeling on the floor next to it, which still required me to look up about two dozen feet to see her face.
“This is your room. There is a door for you on the side that you can lock to prevent anyone from opening it, but I can enter a code and open the roof if I ever want—I mean, need to take you out myself. The walls are one-way mirrors to offer you privacy, but you can deactivate them. Do not be fooled about its durability; it is unbreakable, even for weapons.” As if I needed proof of this claim, she clenched her fist and slammed the bottom of it against the top of the structure, apologizing after noticing me flinch at the casual display of immense power she could channel through the very same hands that had held me so delicately only moments ago. “Our koswok should not get into the room, but if she does, you will be safe in here; it is held in place by a magnet, and this base is not going anywhere.” I watched her arms flexing as she reassured me by attempting to push and pull the box and the structure on which it and I rested, and it didn’t so much as rock. “If you need to contact me while I am away, you can call using the communicator on the inside wall. Do you have any questions?”
“What is a koswok?” I inquired. I’d heard that creature’s name several times now; I figured I should find out what it looks like.
“Of course; how silly of me. I have learned so much about your world that I sometimes forget you know almost nothing about mine. I will be right back,” she said, leaving the room. I thought she would actually bring the koswok, but she returned with nothing more than a large book in her hands. She knelt in front of me once again, flipped through the pages until she found what she wanted, and then held the book open in front of her for me to see, pointing to the page on the left. What I saw was an animal that appeared very similar to a lean, strong dog, but its head, while still long and slender, exhibited enough porcine features to make things interesting. I now recalled seeing some of them on the street earlier, being walked by their owners, and Zar represented them very realistically. “I insulted koswoks earlier by implying they are stupid animals like my brother; they are really quite intelligent. Drab is not dumb either, for that matter.”
“Is that actual size?” I asked. It was possible, for the book was around twenty-five feet tall and the koswok filled most of the page.
“Not in this case, but koswoks come in an extremely wide range of sizes. Ours is about three peskils—I mean, around this tall at her shoulders,” Zar said, holding her hand approximately fifty or sixty feet from the floor. “The smallest breeds are about as tall as you; the largest are somewhat taller than I am. Genetically, they could reproduce, but I doubt they even realize that when one is the size of the other’s paws. Just think of how y—never mind,” she said, looking away from me and giggling nervously. After a brief moment contemplating the spectacular sight of an animal that would have stood at least twice as tall as Zar on its hind legs—and feeling my face flush when I pictured one the same size relative to me pondering how to mate with that significantly larger object of its affection—I looked to where she pointed on the opposite page of the book, at a colorful birdlike species whose body measured ten or so feet in length with its tail extending another five. “This animal, on the other hand, I drew at actual size.”
I looked at Zar’s face above the book and asked, “You drew this? All of them?”
“Yes,” she confirmed. “What do you think?”
“They’re amazing,” I told her. “Can I see some more?”
“Of course.” On one of the following pages, I saw a drawing of one of the canid people I had spotted earlier. “This is an Arquel,” she noted before turning to another page featuring one of the massive mouse people, “and this is an Eashaira.”
“And you’re a Laxian, right?” I conjectured. “Is Quorilax the homeworld for all of you?”
“My species are Laxians! You are very perceptive,” she complimented me. “The Arquels and Eashairai who live here would be Quorilaxians, but their homeworlds are Alquabor and Meerill, which are former colonies of Quorilax.”
I recalled the names Alquabor and Meerill being mentioned in her class, and I found some relief in her description of them as former colonies. Maybe they’d mostly left Earth alone after all? She continued to page through the sketchbook, telling me the name of all the beings I saw and pointing out some that were merely products of her imagination. They were all fantasy beasts at this point, as far as I was concerned, but it surprised me to notice the commonalities between Earth and alien fauna. “I have wanted to be an artist ever since I was little,” Zar revealed.
I burst into laughter upon hearing that, and she responded by frowning and looking at the floor beside her, clearly disheartened by my reaction to her opening up to me. I quickly realized that she had misunderstood the reason for my amusement. “No, Zar, I think that’s great! I’m just laughing because…when were you ever little?”
She chuckled upon recognizing the humor and then looked at me again. “I should have known that, but in my defense, I have no prior experience speaking to a person so…” she looked away again, this time clearly searching for a word, “...compact.”
“You’re sweet to euphemize, Zar, but I know I’m small.”
“How do you know that? Have you ever considered the possibility that you are the normal height a person should be and that I am a giant?” she asked, grinning.
I snickered at the self-conscious question. “Actually, that’s exactly how I thought of you at first. But when I’m considering everyone around me to be a giant—even the people from other planets besides this one—I can’t help but think I’m the one who’s looking at everything all wrong.”
“Are you suggesting that we would be right to call you small but you would be wrong to call us giants? I believe that if one is appropriate, then so is the other, and the only incorrect way to see things is to not realize and acknowledge that there are other ways to see them. In fact, I wish more Laxians heard themselves referred to as giants every now and then to remind them that their view of the universe is not automatically the default. Perhaps even I would benefit from it on occasion.”
“In that case, Zar, you’re a giant. A huge, massive, enormous giant!”
She laughed. “Thank you, Ryan. You really went to the stars for me there.”
“Hey, after you called me ‘compact,’ it was the least I could do to reciprocate.”
“Life is all about perspective.” She smiled at me before turning to the next two pages of her book, and I was more than familiar with the beings I saw on them: Humans, both nude. One was a male with short blond hair and blue eyes; the other was a bronze-skinned female with green eyes and flowing black hair that cascaded over her shoulders. These, of course, were not drawn at actual size or even to scale with each other, since I had to crane my neck to see the face of my fellow male, whose full length was drawn at several times my height, while the female, whose mere bust shot filled the entire opposite page, had a face almost as big as Zar’s. As we progressed to the following pages, I saw more pictures of Humans, whose scale and other attributes varied. She did more than just change sex and skin, eye, and hair colors from one individual to the next, though; each of them possessed a distinct look.
Speaking of skin, however, something about the Humans caught my eye. “It looks like you drew them all with tattoos or markings across most of their body. But not all of us have tattoos, let alone that many.”
She cocked her head to the side. “I am not sure what you mean.”
“All those stripes and swirls on their bodies,” I said, pointing to the two Humans I could currently see. “Those are tattoos, right?”
“No, that is their natural skin.”
“But…each Human basically only has one skin color, unless maybe they have some sort of skin disease,” I pointed out, wondering where she got this idea, considering how accurate she had been about so many other aspects of my species. “We don’t come in interesting multi-colored patterns like your fur does.”
“Of course you do; in fact, I feel so plain compared to Humans sometimes. You…really have never seen that?”
“No,” I said with some disappointment.
“I wonder whether Laxian eyes are sensitive to a wider spectrum of light,” she mused, her own eyes going wide at this possibility.
Great. I felt inferior to Zar in so many ways already, so what’s the harm in adding another reason to the list? She evidently saw something remarkable in Humans, though—and I don’t just mean the apparent polychromatic artistry of our skin. “You really like to draw Humans,” I stated the obvious, considering I had seen about a dozen of my kind.
“Yes, I do. I have never used a live model before, though. Would you be willing to pose for me?”
“Nude?” I asked in shock.
“Not if you would feel uncomfortable doing so. I know Humans are shy about that. I would probably feel exposed too if I had such sparse fur on my body,” she said, looking over the hiking pants and long-sleeved shirt covering most of my skin before uttering, “Doo-looth?”
“Wait…what?” I said in disbelief as I looked down at the shirt I had gotten in Duluth, Minnesota, which featured the city’s name along with a representation of its iconic Aerial Lift Bridge that straddled the entrance to its harbor on Lake Superior. “You can read that?”
“I can. I am not sure what it means, though. Is it a place?”
At this point, considering everything else she knew about my planet and my species, I don’t know why it came as such a shock that she could read my language. “Yeah…it’s a town on Earth that I love to visit.”
“What else is that on the shirt, above the words?”
“Oh, that’s a bridge there that lifts to allow ships to pass under it. I’m pretty sure even you could walk beneath it while it’s raised,” I observed, amused by the mental image of Zar wading into the canal, waving to the throngs of people gathered along the piers on other side of her and snapping pictures as her legs churn through the water.
“That sounds impressive,” she remarked. Her words could have easily come across as egotistical or patronizing, if not both, but she sounded absolutely genuine in her appreciation of a part of Earth that meant a lot to me.
“It is kind of neat,” I agreed. “These clothes were appropriate for that part of Earth, but even with my sparse ‘fur’, I’m starting to feel a bit overdressed in this climate.”
“Give me a moment,” Zar requested, looking down at her belt and rifling through one of the compartments before she retrieved what looked like nothing more than a scrap of green cloth between her fingertips, surveying it briefly before offering it to me. I held it up in my hands and performed my own examination, seeing that it was a simple skirt much like she wore—scaled down, of course. “Would you like to try it on now and let me see how it looks? You can use your room. Or I can turn around.”
“Just cover your eyes. I trust you.” She smiled at that and put her palms over her eyes, after which I removed my shoes and socks and pulled down my pants and underwear before stepping into the skirt and moving it to fit snugly around my waist. Finally, I pulled the shirt over my head and tossed it away. I stood up straight with my chest out, not quite sure why I was trying to look powerful, as if my body would impress someone who could probably hold me down with a single finger if she wanted to. “Okay, I’m ready,” I let Zar know.
She lowered her hands and looked down at me, her eyes seeming to light up a bit. “I can see all the unique patterns of your skin now,” she said in wonderment as her eyes darted back and forth across my newly revealed body. While I had already inferred on some subconscious level that I would appear, in Zar’s eyes, to exhibit this same trait that the Humans in her sketchbook did, now that she had confirmed the assumption and I was actually the person three-quarters naked and under her looming gaze, I felt a sudden deluge of self-consciousness, and I reflexively crossed my arms over my chest…over things I didn’t even know were there until moments before. “I am sorry for alarming you,” she apologized, turning her head and closing her eyes. “Trust me; it is nothing to be ashamed of,” she tried to assure me, “but I will not look again until you say I can.”
After just several seconds, I started to lower my arms until they once again hung at my sides, feeling somewhat silly that I reacted in such a way and possibly made her feel bad for nothing more than being enthralled by my appearance. “It’s okay, Zar. You can look. I’m not sure what came over me.”
She looked back at me and resumed visually tracing shapes on my torso. I joined her in examining my skin, which appeared to me as the same light, relatively consistent color it always had. I guess sometimes others see the beauty in us that we can’t see for ourselves, no matter how hard we look. “How does the skirt feel?” she queried.
“Good, but…it will take some getting used to for me. This…isn’t a typical wardrobe choice for males in my culture, to put it mildly. Not even with a shirt.”
“Well, I think you look very masculine and handsome. But I doubt the opinion of a girl of a different species means much, if anything, to you in that regard.”
“How appropriate that the first person to tell me I’m handsome can barely see me without a magnifying glass,” I quipped and looked away, hoping she didn’t see me blushing.
“If I can tell that the irises of your eyes are colored hazel,” she said, and my hazel eyes snapped back to look at her in surprise, “I can see the rest of you well enough, without any visual aid.” The corners of her mouth turned up, and I felt mine do the same, which her obviously keen eyesight probably noticed before she turned her attention toward my room and put her hand on its roof. “There. The roof is locked, and only I, my mother, and—well, only I and my mother know the code to open it. I will return shortly with your food.” She picked up her sketchbook and rose to her full, awe-inspiring height, bounding toward the door with a spring in her step and a swing in her tail, leaving my sight.
Now alone, I gazed around Zar’s vast bedroom, which exceeded the length of a football field in both directions. The wall across the bed featured floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing me a good view of the rooftop of another apartment building a street or two away, which included a garden. With so much distance between here and there, I did not immediately consider that this urban rooftop garden would have seemed more like some primeval jungle to me if I’d been walking within it. This was despite me seeing a Laxian woman walking around and noticing that many flowers reached all the way to her waist, but I found her size to be an afterthought. For once, my first impression of a Quorilaxian had not been as an all-powerful deity but as a regular person. If only more of them could think of me as more than a scurrying bug who should aspire to no higher goal in my existence than avoiding getting squashed underfoot. As if the universe wanted to send me a sign that comparing myself to a bug here was appropriate, I noticed an arthropod clinging to the outside of the top part of the bedroom window, and while I could not say exactly how big it was from this far away, I determined that the main part of its body was easily at least as big as my torso before it spread its wings, whose breadth probably exceeded my arm span, and flew off.
The scale of life on this world remained in sharp focus as I returned my attention to the more immediate surroundings dwarfing me in Zar’s room. On the wall opposite the bed, near the door, I noticed a bookcase somewhat taller than Zar. In the corner of the room closest to the bookcase, a stuffed animal a couple dozen feet tall and looking something like a lemur or koala sat on a chair, leaning against one of the armrests. Zar surely considered the plush toy cute and huggable; I, meanwhile, found it to be an imposing beast with big eyes that stared toward the top of the bookcase as if it were contemplating ascending the structure with a screaming Human woman in hand. The bookcase was nearly full, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Zar had read every single book in that case. From what I gathered, she seemed incredibly bright, and this no doubt played some role in her difficulty in relating to others. With all of the knowledge she possessed, one of the simplest concepts proved to be the most elusive, and that was making friends.
I headed toward my quarters. Outside, near the door, which faced Zar’s bed, I noticed a metal tool about as long as I was tall, but I couldn’t identify its use. Once inside, I saw a bed in the corner diagonal from the entrance, and a tall capsule stood in the corner straight ahead. I approached the capsule, opening the door to find a toilet inside. Since it didn’t feature any plumbing, it was really more of a “litter bowl.” Not exactly the most dignifying thought, but then again, is bodily excretion ever a dignifying action, for anyone? Even if Zar were here relaxing on her bed right now, I’d still have two layers of privacy, and my leavings would be so small to Quorilaxians that they’d be extremely unlikely to offend any of Zar’s senses, whereas she probably worried even about emitting fragrances that would be subtle and pleasant to her own species but would overwhelm me. Closing the door behind me, I decided to put the facility to use.
After exiting the lavatory, I walked over to the communication device on the wall that Zar had mentioned. It was little more than a speaker and a button, which I pressed. Several seconds later, I heard Zar’s voice. “Is everything okay, Ryan?” she asked, sounding mildly concerned.
“Sorry, Zar; I was just seeing how this thing works—and making sure it works!”
She laughed. “I forgot to tell you that my mother and I tested it earlier today, but I enjoy talking to you, and there is nothing wrong with checking in. I am already on my way back home, so I will see you soon!”
“Bye,” I finished, pushing the button and ending the call. Even though the apparatus was essentially no different from a telephone, I found myself intrigued by it for some reason that I couldn’t quite put my finger on yet. I locked the outer door of my chamber, climbed onto my bed, and lay down, settling onto my back and reflecting on my current predicament. Was my stay just temporary, or would I spend the rest of my life in this land of giants? At least Zar referred to me as a person, and, more importantly, her actions supported her words. Perhaps, like the man in my dream suggested, the Quorilaxians fully recognized our comparable intelligence, and that mental equality combined with such physical subordination was part of the appeal in owning us. There may have been a ring of truth to what Drab said when he teased Zar about my inability to escape her. I mean, especially for someone like Zar, who seemed to have trouble making friends among her own race, what could be better than getting a “porta-person” like me who could accompany her anywhere, anytime she wanted, and probably weighed less than most of the other items she toted around? Zar’s Quorilaxian acquaintances could easily fade out of her life as they concentrated on living their own, but I could never hope to lead an independent life here. I was hers for as long as she wanted me.
Had I just been plucked from my planet randomly, or was I chosen specifically off of some Quorilaxian Internet site Zar had visited, where she saw a picture of me, decided my price was right, and pressed a “Complete Your Purchase” button, changing my life from across the stars with a light tap of her finger, like some goddess? Maybe the Quorilaxians had coerced some Humans still on Earth into becoming informants who, in return for being allowed to maintain their freedom, might provide the Quorilaxians information and material like school yearbooks to showcase our strengths—athletic, intellectual, artistic, social, or whatever—which would help determine how much we’d sell for and inform prospective buyers. In that case, I imagine that someone like my high school class salutatorian would be quite a hot commodity. Not only did she get the second-best grades in the class, but she was also the homecoming queen, lettered in both soccer and track, and was a gifted pianist—not to mention that she managed to find a few hours a week to volunteer. Perhaps the Quorilaxians at least had the decency not to steal Earth’s best and brightest like her, though, which would go a long way toward explaining how I ended up taken. They probably figured that since I didn’t show much promise to do anything useful if left to my own devices, they would make me useful by turning me into a glorified, “enhanced” pet for a person who seemed like she might actually accomplish something in her life. I suppose it was fair and fitting that Zar, who wanted to reach for the stars, seemed tall enough to pick them out of the sky like fruits off a tree, while a waste of space like me could defend my existence by pointing out that at least I didn’t occupy much space.
Or could it all be a ploy? I had already observed that Zar was a great actress, so maybe this apparently sweet—too sweet?—girl confiding in me was just a method to build trust and get me to reciprocate by opening up to her with information about Earth, which she’d relay to her government or military. Once I’d served my purpose, I’d probably just be disposed of in some horribly unceremonious fashion, like being flushed down a toilet or tossed into the snapping, salivating maw of a hungry koswok. Then again, the Quorilaxians possessed more than enough power and technology to invade my planet easily. I tried to picture the chaos that would ensue just from Zar calmly traipsing alone through a city on Earth. Her eyes would be cast to the ground, carefully planting each thunderous step so as to not crush any of the property or screaming people who hadn’t wisely cleared a path. But then would come the inevitable distractions, like a news helicopter flying too close to her face or a panicking driver plowing his car into her ankle, and she would stumble onto something…or someone. That would be the cue for the military to open fire, assuming they hadn’t already, and thousands of tiny bullets would sting her like a swarm of angry fire ants, so she could hardly be blamed for exercising her right to self-defense by swatting and squashing the offending pests. Perhaps a missile exploding against her largely exposed body would finally bring her crashing down, collapsing a building or two beneath her weight in the process, but Zar was just one peaceful civilian. I’d seen enough giant monster movies to know how much damage one dumb, overgrown animal could do before being stopped, so how could we ever hope to fend off even a small group of intelligent, highly trained Quorilaxian soldiers stomping into town? Even if they still felt a need to gather intelligence, I probably couldn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know. After all, Zar knew a Human’s dietary needs, and that’s more than I could say for a lot of Humans.
Then again, maybe Zar’s people didn’t need me to provide information about my comparatively helpless homeworld but instead would force me into espionage against enemy nations or planets whose inhabitants’ size rivaled or even surpassed theirs, preventing them from being so easily subjugated through conventional force. One advantage of small size is that I was far superior to a Quorilaxian when it came to stealth. I’d already been watching or within earshot of thousands of them, and even a boy whose eye I could have practically reached out and touched didn’t know for sure that he’d seen me. I pictured myself dressed in black garb, accessing buildings through ducts and other entry points too small for Quorilaxians and eavesdropping on sensitive conversations, carrying tiny surveillance equipment that could transmit to a remote command center. As thrilling as it all may have sounded, though, one slip-up is all it would take for me to quite literally end up in the enemy’s hands. The prospect of torture would be daunting enough even before considering my torturers being thousands of times my size.
Where did Zar fit into that picture, though? Maybe her people figured that I’d be more likely to serve them like Quorilax was my new home if they actually allowed me to live in comfortable surroundings and be treated like part of a family instead of locking me alone in some cage and only pulling me out to fulfill my duties. If so, that wasn’t such a bad strategy, because I honestly found myself starting to like Zar and considered myself lucky to be receiving adequate food, shelter, and friendship from my huge hostess. The vision I had earlier, of Quorilaxians colonizing Earth, could have very well been a glimpse into the harsh new reality of any surviving Humans there, relegated to a role as scuttling scavengers. For all I knew, there could be stray Humans right here on Quorilax, their owners having grown bored with their cartwheels and carelessly throwing them out to fend for themselves. Life on the streets would be hard for anyone, let alone those of us small enough to be trodden upon. I thought about my stroll with Zar through the surrounding neighborhood, by its busy cafes and attractive boutiques, which I’m sure wouldn’t have seemed nearly as inviting if I’d been on the ground and on my own, scrounging for scraps of food to eat and bits of cloth to cover myself while attempting to dodge the crowds’ feet as even the daintiest girl’s footsteps crashed onto the pavement with crushing force. The sea of legs I saw when Zar crouched in front of the boy on the street had been overwhelming enough, and that had been from the safety of a pouch a few dozen feet above the surface. Even if I had become nothing more than a “giant’s pampered pet,” to borrow the phrase I heard in my dream, that might make me one of the most fortunate Humans anywhere in the universe right now.
I was apparently not quite fortunate enough to have been born a Laxian, however. That our species seemed so alike in our thoughts and emotions made it simple to imagine being one of them. If I hadn’t been convinced of the similarities before, then my recent telecommunication with Zar had finally driven the point home, because I realized that nothing distinguished her disembodied voice from a Human’s. At last, I figured out that it wasn’t the apparatus I recently used to speak to Zar from afar that I had found so novel, but rather the nature of the person to whom I spoke through it. Much as in the case of the woman I saw on the rooftop outside the window, without Zar’s overwhelming presence to distract me, my exchange with her seemed as mundane as countless others that I’d experienced in my lifetime, offering no indication that the person with whom I chatted so casually was the very same one who’d held me in the palm of her hand a short time ago. In other words, I found the dialogue remarkable precisely because of how unremarkable it was. I’m sure the effect would hold true on the other end of the line as well, meaning that any Quorilaxians who heard me speak without a body to match to my voice would have no way of knowing they were carrying on a conversation with a being that many of them considered to be vermin. Sometimes, I guess not seeing a person is what it takes to really see them.
I couldn’t understand why body size should so dramatically affect one person’s respect for another, but then again, such an opinion is to be expected—and ignored by others—when you’re the one who drew the short straw for that attribute, which seems like a particularly apt metaphor. How could I appeal to their empathy when they held so much power over me and knew that would never change, that they would be big forever and I never? How could I get them to imagine spending a day in the shoes of someone who quite literally could fit his entire body into their shoes? Perhaps their religions tried to discourage such an attitude, warning that they would be punished in an afterlife for such misuse of the power they’d been granted in this life, but then again, their religions may have been part of the problem, reasoning that their creator wouldn’t have made them so much larger and more powerful than us in the first place if they weren’t born to be our masters and mistresses, using us for their benefit and pleasure as they saw fit. It’s easy for people to say I should accept my place in life when their place is above me in every sense.
Thankfully, Zar didn’t appear to share that mindset. She had not only never flaunted her supremacy over me but seemed almost…guilty that so many of her species did. I got the impression that she felt out of place among Laxians, which may have at least partially explained her fascination with me. She wasn’t attracted to me, though…right? Well, she called me “handsome,” but that doesn’t necessarily indicate romantic interest. I’d never attempted to “pick up” a girl before, let alone one who could pick me up between her fingers, and I feared her reaction if I made any advances, forcing her to either offer some vague explanation that “it wouldn’t work out between us” or to supply responses that would make her sound like some horrible, shallow person for rejecting me on the basis of what I could never rectify. Answers like, “You’re a sweet guy, Ryan, but I want a man who can buy me a necklace, not a man I can wear on a necklace,” or, “…but I want a man who can sweep me off my feet, not a man I can sweep into a dustpan.”
Okay, I doubt she would be that rude, but there’s no kind way to remind someone that he’s a useless weakling. I was extremely fortunate to have ended up in the care of a Quorilaxian who not only believed in my species’ right to live but also respected me as an individual, and I didn’t want to take advantage of that kindness and make her feel awkward around me by giving her the impression that there was anything more behind her treatment of me than common courtesy. I had to stop being selfish and accept that Zar deserved someone who could be at her side through life—and by “at her side,” I mean in a way other than riding in a bus-size bag bouncing against her flank as she sauntered down the street. However, I worried that, unlike the amorous young couple that I saw making out in clear view of everyone in the halls of Zar’s school, Zar and her eventual mate would not want an audience for their expressions of affection, especially at home, and they would grow weary of starting to spontaneously touch and kiss one another until they remembered my minuscule presence and casted withering glances my way before disappearing into more private quarters. Even if Zar didn’t mind, I doubted her partner would tolerate my presence for long, regardless of any unintentionally emasculating reassurances from Zar that he had nothing to worry about from me. It’s possible that she would refuse to be with anyone who was insecure enough to feel threatened by her tiny male “roommate,” but the questions I considered earlier, of how I would coexist with any sons and daughters Zar would likely have, still remained. If it came down to a choice between Zar keeping me or her children, then…well, it’s very generous of me to even call that a choice.
Jeez, I sure sounded like I never expected to make it back to Earth. Did I even want to at this point? Had I developed a bad case of Stockholm syndrome? I had already slept since my arrival on Quorilax, and most of the rest of my day on this planet where everyone and everything was so big had, ironically, been spent in confinement, held in giant hands and packed into other tight spaces, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to move around and try to forget about all my conflicting emotions. After exiting my box, I started jogging circles around it, careful not to stray too close to the edge of the table and risk a fall that would probably result in injury at the least. I doubted the Quorilaxians made tiny treadmills for Humans, so if I wanted exercise equipment, a “hamster wheel” was probably the best I could hope for. When Zar returned, though, I could still request that she place some cushions on the nearby floor and a means for me to climb back up.
After five minutes of jogging, I was so caught up in the rhythm of the activity that I barely even noticed Drab had entered the room, but when I did, I came to an immediate halt on the side of the box out of his clear sight. Though I’d only met him once, it didn’t surprise me that he came in without knocking, or the courtesy of any other sort of announcement. In light of how he treated me earlier, I thought it best not to draw any unnecessary attention my way. I slid down against the outside wall, my chest heaving and my skin sweating, partly from my recent exertion but now mostly from apprehension.
“Zar, where did you put the claw trimmer?” yelled Drab. “I know you had it this morning!” Claw trimmer? Is that what that “tool” outside my door was? As I heard and felt him approaching, it seemed more and more likely. Within seconds, he stood right next to the table, and the claw trimmer scraped against its top as it was lifted. “What are these? Tiny clothes?” Damn it; I left those out there. After several moments of not sensing any movement, I felt a warm breeze from above blowing on me at regular intervals. I slowly craned my neck and found Drab’s face a mere dozen feet above mine, displaying an evil grin.
“Look what I found,” he said. “It looks like Zar played dress-up with her new doll.” I tried my best to hide my tremendous fear, but I was sure some of it showed. “This does not seem fair,” he observed, but then he added with a shrug, “What is?” I just stared at him in silence, looking into the predatory eyes. After a moment of stillness, I made a break for the door to my box, hoping to make it inside before he could react. As I rounded the corner, he launched his right hand toward me. I tried to dodge toward the wall, but one of his untrimmed claws, which might have projected as much as a foot past the end of his thumb, sunk partway into the side of my left thigh, just below where my skirt ended. I screamed and fell to the table, writhing in pain from a huge gash covering nearly half the circumference of my leg, and put my hands on it, trying to endure the excruciating sensation.
Thankfully, it was not overly deep and did not cut any major arteries. Drab simply watched me from above, unmoved, as though I were the proverbial ant under the magnifying glass. Eventually, he grabbed me and brought me to his face about a hundred feet or so above the floor. As I struggled more, his fingers only squeezed me harder, asphyxiating me like a constrictor snake wrapping around its prey.
“Do you feel so special now?” he smirked, taking a perverted delight in my futile efforts.
“What?” I gasped. I tried to speak further, but his grip tightened. Soon, he gave me a respite and eased off, so I didn’t try to struggle anymore. “What did I do?” I asked in bewilderment.
“Do not act so innocent, you furless little vermin!” he said, seething with anger, and I could imagine him foaming at the mouth any minute.
“I don’t understand!” I attested.
“That is correct! You do not! Perhaps you are not as stupid as you look!”
“What don’t I understand?” I asked, frantically trying to ascertain his issue with me.
“Oh, seriously!” he said, getting madder. “Everyone treats me like I am worthless! I am just a runt to them! I have been ridiculed my entire life, but you—you suddenly appear, and everybody adores you! Why is that?”
“I know exactly how you feel, Drab.”
“You do not!” he fired back. “I heard those girls laughing! You did a few stupid tricks, and suddenly they love you! They call me a runt? Look at you! You are the runt! I am a giant compared to you! I could crush you with one squeeze of my hand!” he pointed out, tightening his grip on me again.
I knew all along there had to be a misunderstanding. “No, Drab! You don’t understand! What happened is—”
“Now you are trying to tell me I do not understand? I know exactly what happened!”
He adamantly believed I didn’t understand his plight, so I used another approach. “Who cares what all of them think? You don’t need their approval,” I tried to assure him. I didn’t believe my own words, so I don’t know why I expected him to accept them.
“That is easy for you to say! You already have their approval!”
“Your family loves you, Drab!” I attempted.
“My family? My sister is no better than anyone else, and my father is gone forever all because of you!” I couldn’t understand why I’d already been blamed for the death of two Quorilaxians—if Humans carried a biological agent that could prove deadly to them, then it would be their fault for bringing us here!—but I actually saw a tear clear his eye and make a small trail of wetness through his fur. “You do not care about me! You do not care about what pain you cause! You are only trying to save your own pointless life! Right?” That was a loaded question if I ever heard one, so I chose to remain silent, not considering it wise to answer. “Just as I thought!” he said, interpreting my lack of response as a victory.
Without notice, he released me from his grip, and I thought he would let me plummet to my death, but he immediately caught me by my left ankle, so I found myself dangling upside down like a mouse being held by its tail, flailing about wildly and uselessly in the air. This lion had a thorn in his paw, but unfortunately, for both of us, I couldn’t seem to pull it out. As I looked down, I saw Drab’s other hand still holding the sharp claw trimmer, and my breathing and heartbeat quickened as I imagined it being used to slice off parts of my limbs. “Do you really think you can hurt me with that claw trimmer and get away with it?”
“No. I could feed you to our koswok,” he proposed, leading me to believe my earlier prophecy would be fulfilled, “but Zar will be so much more distraught if she actually sees you and holds your lifeless little body in her palm. That is why I am going to drop you. As far as she will know, you just fell and died like dumb, helpless critters tend to do!” He raised me high above his head and simply watched me for several seconds, basking in his imagined brilliance and relishing his absolute power. This would have been the time to say my prayers, but I was an atheist, so I knew praying to a god wouldn’t help or even comfort me. Only one being in the universe could save me now, and that was Zar. I prayed she would burst heroically through that door right this moment and rescue me from her sinister sibling, but then I started falling. As I approached the ground at an alarming speed, my life flashed before my eyes. Actually, I only had enough time to see the surreal events of the past day go through my mind before my body crumpled.
I couldn’t believe I was still alive after a fall of what could have been 150 feet. I lay perfectly still, trying to play dead, which wasn’t much of a stretch. My entire body felt broken, so not moving was easily done. I felt an excruciating pain from head to toe, and I did all I could to not wince and scream in anguish. Keeping my eyes open ever so slightly, I could see Drab’s massive feet walk away. He thought I was dead.
Once he walked out of the room and closed the door, I tried moving my body. My legs were broken, as was my left arm. My rib cage, pelvis, and other assorted body parts were surely damaged as well—to what extent, I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to know. By some great miracle, my right arm was still completely mobile.
A couple of minutes later, the door to the room opened, and this time I saw Zar. It was the first time I’d viewed her from ground level, and she soared above me like the Colossus of Rhodes. “I am back!” she announced. “I hope you did not miss me too much!” Her eyes focused on my room, understandably expecting to find me in there, but before long she spotted me on the floor, since my light skin contrasted with the dark carpet. Though hundreds of feet away, her legs closed the gap within seconds, each footfall causing the floor to vibrate like a stampeding herd of cattle. “Ryan?” she said, a quaver in her voice as she stooped and reached toward me.
“No!” I barked. If she moved me, my bones would probably crumble to dust.
The hand snapped back as if bitten, and she fell on her hands and knees to examine me more closely, emitting a piercing scream after only a couple of seconds. “What happened?” she asked, surveying me in terror.
It hurt me just to talk, so I figured I should try to be as straight to the point with my answers as possible. “Drab. Dropped me.”
“What? How could he be so careless?”
“No accident. Intentional.”
“He did it on purpose?” she asked in a state of shock. “But…why?”
It was a long story to tell, and I didn’t think I had much time to spare, so I lied and simply replied, “Don’t know.”
“How did you get that cut on your leg?”
“And he just left you here?”
“Thought I was dead. Trying to kill me.”
“How much pain are you feeling?”
“All I can move,” I said, feebly waving my right arm.
“I cannot believe this! How could he do something like this?” She was panicking. “What am I doing? You need help—now!”
From near the door, I heard that voice I had come to know all too well, and if I knew it, then I’m sure Zar knew it. “I heard you scream, Zar. Is something wrong?” Drab asked, feigning concern. He couldn’t fool Zar, though, and now I watched as her face transfigured before me. Her eyes narrowed to slivers, and she displayed all of her dozens of fangs. This time, however, the fangs weren’t revealed from a smile. I could hear a deep, guttural growl from far within her. She channeled all her energy into an emotion of fuming hatred, all directed at one target. With incredible speed, she spun around and sailed through the air, pouncing on Drab and knocking him forcefully to the ground.
“Zar!” he whined, squirming beneath her. “What are you doing? You are hurting me!”
She threw her head back and released a mighty roar, and then she brought her face right above his. “I am not hurting you! You have not even begun to experience pain!” Her tail projected stiffly into the air like a giant, angry cobra ready to strike.
He continued his charade, acting completely innocent. “I do not understand! Why are you acting like this? Get off of me!”
“I will get off of you whenever I choose, you miserable runt!”
“What are you talking about?”
“That is what—who—I am talking about!” she said, pointing behind herself at me.
He looked in my direction and gasped, trying to act shocked. “What happened to him? Is he okay?”
“Ask him yourself, you hideous monster! He is still alive, no thanks to you!” She seized his right wrist and pulled the hand closer to her face. “You did not even wash his blood off! I know what you did, so please stop insulting my intelligence and get him some help! I will deal with you later!” She released Drab from her hold, and he bolted out of sight with a look of absolute dread on his face.
Once Drab left, Zar returned her attention to me, getting down on the floor once again. “I do not understand!” she continued to say in disbelief. “Why would he do this to you?”
Blood still flowed from the wound in my right leg. “Shouldn’t have wasted your time…” I said. My voice was getting weaker, and she brought her head very close in order to hear me. “I think I’m dying….”
“No! I will not let you die! Keep fighting! You can make it!” The end of one of her fingers was near my right arm, and I reached out and grasped its tip with my hand. As I looked up at her, she smiled, and a huge tear fell from her eye, splashing on me like an oversized raindrop. Only once I began to lose consciousness did my hand finally slip away.
Chapter 5: Revelation
I opened my eyes and saw a face hovering right over mine. Well, it at least seemed like it was right in front of me, considering how it dominated my view, but what had appeared to be only a couple feet above me in my groggy state turned out to be closer to a couple dozen feet. I temporarily forgot that those eyes with the sparkling azure irises were, alone, each bigger than my head.
Zar beamed as I stirred. “Hello,” she said. “Welcome back.”
Glancing down the length of my body, I realized that I was almost completely covered in a cast, lying in a foreign room on a relatively small bed. “Where am I? Is this a hospital?” I wondered in slurred speech, still trying to get a hold on my surroundings.
“Yes…and no. This is a veterinary hospital.”
I thought I misheard. “Did you say veterinary hospital?”
“Yes,” she confirmed, looking away as she did so. “I know you must feel humiliated, but I would not dwell on it too much. They are better equipped to handle someone of your size here. You are alive, and that is what is most important.”
As I scanned the room further, it became increasingly clear that this was indeed a veterinary hospital, as I noticed photographs of koswoks along the walls. While some of the happy, healthy creatures did not appear with Quorliaxians, others did, and I could tell from these references to scale that Zar did not exaggerate the variation in koswok dimensions. I saw everything from a koswok big enough that a Laxian girl had mounted its back, like a Human riding a horse, to a koswok that would have been about the size of an actual horse being held in front of a Laxian’s smiling muzzle, with its rear legs standing upon its owner’s palm and its front paws placed atop the person’s nose. This caused me to smile myself, until I thought about the person who had considered making a koswok an accessory to killing me. “Where is Drab?” I inquired.
“He is in civil custody but will probably only be charged with animal cruelty. I thought at least our official laws would recognize you as a person, but apparently not. The principle of that infuriates me, but perhaps it is ultimately for the best, since it means he will receive a light sentence when they should not be punishing him at all; I am the one responsible for this whole mess.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked in confusion.
“I am talking about feeling a stronger connection to a Human I just met than I do to my twin brother! What is wrong with me? I should have known he would hurt you to hurt me, yet I left you alone at his mercy…or lack thereof. I cannot decide whether I am a worse sister or protector.” It didn’t take long for her to answer herself: “Who am I kidding? I am a complete failure as both.”
“Well…it’s a good thing he was so angry with you that he wanted you to see my body, or he may have fed me to the koswok, and then I would have been dead for sure.” After I said this, her eyes welled up, and she buried them in the palms of her hands. How dumb of me to think that would offer her consolation. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to upset you, Zar.”
She pulled her hands away from her moist eyes, but she kept her head low and her gaze cast toward the ground as though she didn’t feel worthy to meet my own. “It is not you who upsets me, Ryan; it is those who would deliberately feed you to a koswok or knowingly crush you underfoot as if committing those actions against a Human is anything less than murder. And I am upset with myself for treating my brother so poorly and adding to all this inexplicable hatred in the universe. At least you have a good reason for hating me.”
“What on Earth—I mean, what on Quorilax—would make you think I hate you?”
“Everything I just said! I should have never left you behind.”
“You didn’t leave me behind, Zar; you asked me what I wanted. I chose to stay, and I chose to leave my protection, like an idiot. I’m not a pet, and you’ve made every effort to avoid controlling me like one. You’ve been wonderful. You’re…a goddess.”
When I said that, she lifted her head, and the ears atop it visibly perked up, each of them around my height. She finally looked directly at me again, albeit with a puzzled expression. “A goddess?”
The word must not have translated. “Laxians don’t believe in gods?”
“Generally not,” she filled me in.
That explained a lot. “No wonder your species is so advanced: you don’t waste your time on that nonsense. But it sounds like you know what a goddess is, so why were you so confused?”
“I am just an ordinary girl. If I had the power of a goddess, do you really think I would have let you suffer like this?”
“No, and that’s one reason why you’re more of a goddess than any so-called ‘real’ god. But I didn’t mean it literally; it’s also a term of great admiration. Not necessarily admiration for the power you have, but for what you do with it.”
“I would still prefer you not call me that. It makes me feel superior to you, and I am worried I will start believing that like most people do, if even you agree with them.”
“Well, you’re far bigger and stronger than I am…and your species is far more advanced…and you can even see things I can’t, so it’s not exactly inaccurate, is it? What purpose do I serve in the same universe that produces someone like you?”
She sighed. “We could be more ‘advanced’ in one way and less so in another, and that is a very subjective word in the first place. If you are speaking of technology, then just because my civilization has invented more than yours does not mean I as an individual am inherently more intelligent than you—or even that Laxians are inherently more intelligent than Humans, for that matter, especially considering that our civilization has a longer history. One of the first things you said to me was that my brain being larger than your body does not mean you are stupid, and I agree that you should trust that initial instinct. In fact, Humans have made discoveries and achieved breakthroughs at a far quicker pace than any other race we know of, so if I had to choose, I would argue that Humans are the most advanced people of all! Even the most brilliant minds in the universe were once children who had to learn to walk and talk like everyone else before they accelerated to their full potential.”
“So…are you saying I’m like a child compared to you?”
“No, of course not! Not on a personal level, at least; you are older than I am! But in the sense of our respective species as a whole…yes, I feel like the analogy is appropriate. It is meaningless to say that an adult is superior to a child; a child is not designed to have the same abilities as an adult.”
“But children are designed to gain those abilities eventually. Meanwhile, I’m a healthy, full-grown, young adult person without any impairments—at least until now—yet I’ve been thrust into a world where even children of other species could make a toy of me, and there’s nothing I could do to stop them. Like you said, I’m completely at others’ mercy…or lack thereof.”
She looked sympathetic. “I can see how that makes you feel like your thoughts and feelings are inconsequential. But they matter to me, and I will defend you from anyone who believes otherwise. I will not treat you as having less value than I do simply because you were born to a mother with a smaller womb.”
“Yeah…when you phrase it that way, it does really sound silly.”
She laughed. “It is as simple as that, Ryan; nothing more than random quirks of the universe and evolution that caused life on our planets to develop at such disparate scales, and a cosmic lottery that determined you would be a Human and I would be a Laxian, instead of the other way around, or instead of us both ending up the same species. I mean...I understand that our minds are a part of our bodies, so if I were a Human, I would be a completely different person, which means I could not truly be anyone besides the Laxian girl I am, just as your thoughts are unique to the handsome young Human man here with me, but...am I making sense, or am I just rambling and arguing against my own claim that this is simple?”
“A little of both, but more of the former than the latter,” I said with a chuckle, my mind bending to imagine what I would look like as a Laxian and how Zar would manifest as a Human. It didn’t escape my attention that she had referred to me as a young man, even while calling herself a girl, and that was the second time she called me handsome in a relatively short period; I started to think she was trying to tell me something. “But imagine there’s an alternate universe where you and I meet, and our minds and bodies seem exactly the same as they are here, except in that reality, Humans are the giants, and Laxians are the normal-sized people,” I mused, intentionally using the terms Zar had employed earlier to describe our relative scales.
“Exactly!” she exclaimed with a smile, clearly happy that I understood the spirit of her comments so well. “You see what I am trying to say. Our physical size difference, extreme as it may be, does not signify anything deeper. I am not superior to you, and you are not inferior to me; in fact, I think those words are completely meaningless and inappropriate when we are talking about something as complex and beautiful as whole people, let alone entire species. Laxians rely on nanotechnology, and our bodies and environment depend on countless microorganisms to function. The universe would not be the same without the little things.”
“I know,” I admitted. “It’s just easy to forget.”
“And I can understand why, when everyone else seems intent on convincing you otherwise. Even I called Drab a runt today! I was so enraged at him that I did not feel like myself, but…I am still ashamed, and I would be even more ashamed if my father were alive to know I used that word. Drab’s size is not relevant, let alone a flaw or something he can control about himself any more than you can! Just because your body does not occupy as much space as mine does not mean that you seek only a proportional fraction of the love I do, or that your affection is any less meaningful to others.”
I looked at her in even greater reverence than before. “Zar, you’re wise far beyond your years—no matter which planet’s orbit you’re using to count them.”
“Age and height are just numbers, after all, and people are worth more than the sum of a set of digits. The size of your body does not reflect the magnitude of your soul.” She set her hand on top of me, stroking my cast gently for a short time before her face began to slowly descend, half-lidded eyes locked on mine all the while, searching for the slightest indication that I didn’t reciprocate her feelings, which had now become unmistakable, even to me. Not sensing any objections to her advances, she licked her lips, and soon, I could feel her breath, which blew on me in a quick, unsteady rhythm. I, meanwhile, had pretty much stopped breathing, in disbelief of what was happening.
Out of my peripheral vision, I caught a glimpse of something brightly colored moving into view, and my gaze couldn’t help but veer away from the lovely face above me to see another Laxian’s face peering around the slightly ajar door to my room. Zar turned her head as well to check on what had diverted my attention and spoiled the moment, but when she saw the other person, she immediately straightened up in her chair with an incredibly embarrassed look on her face.
“Did I interrupt something?” asked the newcomer, another female. “I knocked, but your concentration seems to have been focused on each other.”
Zar answered quickly—perhaps a little too quickly. “No, we were just…I mean, I was just trying to get a closer look at his cast,” she testified. “You startled me; that is all.”
“Ah, that makes sense,” the woman said as she stepped into the room and shut the door behind her, but I noticed a hint of a smile on her face that led me to believe Zar didn’t lie nearly as convincingly as she had before, to the young mother on the street. The visitor’s fur was a reddish-orange color with intermittent black streaks, closely resembling that of a tiger, while her irises shimmered with a golden hue. “Hello, Orion,” she greeted me, towering over the foot of my bed.
“Are you the doctor?” I asked.
She chuckled. “No, I am not that intelligent, but the doctor told me that you should make a full recovery with the aid of some physical therapy. Our planet’s gravity is weaker than what your body is adapted to, so while falling to Earth from the height you did likely would have killed you—and the same could be said of a Laxian plummeting from a similar relative distance above the surface of this planet—you doing that here only resulted in some broken bones. I apologize for not introducing myself; my name is Purlaka. I did not expect to speak to you here, but we must accept what the circumstances dictate. I am deeply sorry for the injuries you have suffered, but your experience underscores the constant threat of danger that we knew your species would face among medisapiens.”
That was a word I hadn’t heard yet. “What are…medisapiens?” I asked.
“Oh, forgive me,” she apologized. “That is the term we use to collectively refer to all species of people who are in the standard range of heights.”
I could see what Zar meant about Laxians treating their perspective as the default. “I take it Laxians are among those of ‘standard’ height?”
“Yes. Although Laxians are the tallest extant race in the universe, with our men averaging nearly 1.5 times the height of Zdrenic ones, Laxian women are shorter than men, and Zdrenic women are taller than men, to the point that Zdrenic women are the tallest females of all by a slim margin, so Laxians are not at all an outlier. Even though medisapien adults average heights within a wide range, from about two to six peskils, all can generally navigate our infrastructure and society independently, without much more than basic accommodations.”
“How many peskils tall am I?”
“About a third of one.”
I did the math in my head, determining that medisapiens would have averaged between roughly 36 and 108 feet tall. “And if you’re all medisapiens, what does that make me?”
“That makes sense, I suppose. And…how many minisapien species have you found in the universe, besides Humans?”
She paused for a moment before answering. “None.”
“Oh. I see.” That was all I said before going deep into thought, reflecting on the implications of this realization. Humans had long thought that we occupied a special place in the cosmos, and it turned out that maybe we were right after all, just…probably not in the way most of us would have expected and wanted. I had learned today that Humans weren’t alone among the stars, but apparently we were alone in the scale of our bodies, at least among the rest of the sapient races. By any objective measure, despite what Zar may have suggested to me, she was no giant; I was a miniature anomaly in a universe where everyone else, “normal-sized” people, stood at least a few dozen feet tall. I was starting to find out that it was a big universe out there…especially for Humans. How would other members of my species take to learning our lowly place among the interstellar community? Was I a “guinea pig” to see how we would fare living among them? My near-death experience probably wasn’t the outcome they wanted, and I couldn’t exactly go back home very easily in my current condition. “So…” I began again, “did you bring me here to help figure out the best way to let the rest of my planet know that Earth is the universe’s dollhouse without sending them all into a panic?” Zar winced and looked up at Purlaka as I said this, and I immediately felt bad at my sharp choice of words.
“Quorilax has long maintained a policy of avoiding revealing ourselves and interfering with the trajectory of civilizations that have not achieved interstellar travel themselves,” Purlaka told me, “but we have always been conscious of the…uniqueness of Humans, and the particular challenges that would come with establishing contact with you. In fact, our discovery of Earth long ago, many generations in the past, was the beginning of our commitment to non-intervention in the affairs of non-spacefaring people, and the realization of your special physical nature was one of the factors leading to that decision…to isolate you from that knowledge until we thought you were ready for it, until it was only a matter of time before you discovered it for yourselves. We did not know at that point that we would not have discovered other minisapien species by now, so it would seem that we came upon Earth at a fortuitous time in our history.”
I was transfixed by all this new information, but I still had questions. “So, since I’m here now, does that mean you’ve decided it’s time for Humans to meet the rest of the universe? I don’t feel like taking us from Earth without notice and our consent makes for the best introduction and reassurance that you see us as your equals, or even as people at all…if you’re looking for my thoughts on the subject, which you seem like you may not completely ignore just because I’m so much smaller than you.”
“Of course I will not ignore you, Orion,” she said before looking off into the distance—at least, as much of a distance as she could inside a hospital room of her scale—and letting out a deep breath. “In fact, I completely agree with you that this has not been the ideal introduction for you, and I wish that we had not come to this point, but we have arrived now, and explaining the reason that we brought you here without warning—a reason that has no direct relation to your status as a minisapien—is why I have come to visit you. Do you think you are ready?”
Well, that was all very sudden. She just scared me out of my wits, but wanting to know why I was here on Quorilax had been at the forefront of my thoughts since I arrived. I wanted answers, but now that I may have been about to get them, I hesitated, especially after Zar claimed she could not handle telling me on her own. “Yes, I believe so…” I eventually responded.
“Very well,” she accepted and then moved toward Zar, sitting down in a chair next to her. “As you know, you are on the planet Quorilax, homeworld of the Laxian people, like Zarbaxa and me, and while our species still accounts for the majority of citizens, other races also call Quorilax and other worlds of the Empire home. I briefly mentioned the Zdreni, who are, on average, the largest medisapiens besides Laxians ourselves. You may have seen or heard about them already.”
“Yes, Zar introduced me to a couple of them,” I noted, remembering the bookshop owners. I had observed that the woman was quite a bit taller than her partner, but based on what Purlaka had said earlier about the relative heights of male and female Zdreni, it seemed like they were an average pair in that regard.
“That is good,” Purlaka stated, looking at Zar and smiling. “The Zdrenic homeworld is known as Zgorb. There was once peace and trade between the Quorilaxian Empire and the Zgorbian Queendom, but they long ago decided to make us their enemy, and we have been at war with one another for centuries. I told you that we did not want to interfere in the affairs of non-spacefaring races, but at the same time, we did not want the Zgorbians or anyone else to do so either, so for all that time we have been acting as your guardians, maintaining a defensive perimeter around Earth and many other planets to protect their people. Do you have any questions so far?”
“No,” I replied, mesmerized.
“As time went on, our thinly spread forces had greater difficulty keeping the Zgorbians at bay, and to make matters worse, intelligence indicated that they were orchestrating a full-scale assault on Quorilax itself. Eventually, the leaders of the Quorilaxian Empire came to the resolution to call all our warships to be used for the protection of the Quorilaxian dominion.” She sighed. “In other words…we abandoned you—you and all those whom we swore to protect. But we realized we could not leave the fate of entire species of people up to the whims of the Zgorbians. That is where I come in. Orion, I am the director of an initiative known as Project Noah, and—”
“Wait…” I interjected. “Noah? Is that…?”
“I know what you are going to say. It is indeed named after the character from the book you know as the Bible.”
I didn’t pay much attention to religious matters, but I knew the story of Noah. Let’s see here: Noah…ark…animals…flood…all but a few people wiped out—oh, no, I don’t like where this is going at all….
Purlaka continued. “While observing Humanity, we have learned much about your culture, and we named the program in honor of your species. The plan was to gather representatives from species throughout the universe—primarily members of the sapient species, but also other animals and plants that could feasibly be collected from the worlds they inhabited—to ensure their survival, especially in the event of a worst case scenario where a world was rendered uninhabitable. That is how you came to be in this situation. We did not want anyone not involved to be witnesses to our actions, in order to maintain our policy of non-interference as much as possible, so we sought out isolated areas of each world. You were not targeted specifically but were mainly chosen simply by coincidence, for being in the right place at the right time, as well as your youth and physical attributes, which would allow for the greatest amount of reproduction and produce the best results in the event that your species needed to be repopulated. In the case of all but one of the planets, our efforts were not necessary since the worlds were not harmed; however, that single exception was Earth. I regret to inform you…” she paused, apparently having to muster more strength to speak the coming news, “…that Earth has been completely destroyed, and there are now only eleven surviving members of the Human race: four males and seven females.”
Everything around me felt like it went into slow motion, and I couldn’t hear anything except the sound of blood pumping in my ears. Purlaka just relayed news of an unimaginable catastrophe, yet I didn’t shed a single tear. I think that at this point I didn’t quite accept it. It was one of those times where something inconceivable just happened and the only way you knew how to respond was to enter a state of open-mouthed stupefaction. I couldn’t comprehend that my life…my world…everyone and everything I ever knew—my high school classmates, Minneapolis, the Boundary Waters, Duluth—was gone. The Human mind wasn’t designed to handle a situation like this. I started to understand why Zar didn’t feel like this was the type of thing she could just drop on me the moment that I first started to demand she tell me why I’d been abducted.
I continued to lay paralyzed—now in more than just the literal sense—in a state of utter disbelief, thinking about what everything meant, and I only paid half of my attention to Purlaka, who gave me some time to absorb the bombshell but soon commenced speaking again. “I cannot ever possibly know the unimaginable grief you must be feeling. Thankfully, you are now safe. We could not allow an unprovoked attack intended to eradicate an entire species of people—let alone the most defenseless people in the universe—go unanswered, so Zgorb, like Earth, is no more, and the queen is presumed dead. I want to make sure you understand that the Zdreni and the Zgorbians are not one and the same. Many Zdreni have lived on Quorilax since before the war between our worlds began, with others fleeing over the years, whether to the Quorilaxian Empire or to worlds further from our influence. Even among those still living on Zgorb, however, I know there were many who wanted peace as much as anyone…not to mention all the children. I am as heartbroken over what we felt we had to do to neutralize the Zgorbian threat as I am over what they did to Earth…what they were capable of doing to others if we did not put a final stop to them once and for all. We never wanted it to come to this.”
Zar’s motivations for stopping in that bookshop, and the female proprietor’s initial reaction upon seeing me there, started to come into clearer focus. Looking for a new book to read was, at best, a secondary objective for Zar. She not only wanted to show me that there were other people like her out there, who would treat Humans well, but some of those good people even belonged to the very same species that had nearly rendered my own extinct. I thought the Zdrenic woman’s comment about sympathizing with my terror at the sight of her had been due to her relative size, perhaps combined with a “scarier” appearance to me than someone like Zar, but she said that before knowing Zar had yet to inform me why they brought me here. The woman’s terror at the sight of me was similarly nothing personal, but because of her realization of what must have happened to precipitate my presence among them.
I was still trying to come to grips with the news. I knew it would hit me like a sledgehammer sometime later. “What’s going to happen to me now?” I asked, still in a daze.
“The first phase of Project Noah, as I have already described, was procuring members of the species involved. We intended the program to be a contingency plan, and this was as far as we hoped it would progress. Since that is not the case for you, the next step is to rebuild your race. This will undoubtedly be a very long phase. We have set up a mating program in order to prevent inbreeding. We do not mean to degrade you; we are simply trying to do what is best for Humanity’s survival. With only eleven of you, we must be very methodical in promoting as much genetic variety as possible.”
“I understand,” I consented, though it wasn’t like I really had a choice. “Where will I be in the meantime?”
“You will be in the same place you have been, with Zarbaxa. Although we are keeping the other species we collected from Earth protected in various laboratories, zoos, and similar institutions, we doubt you would appreciate being put on display in an exhibit, which is why you are living in the private homes of individuals we specially selected as your guardians. Despite what she may be feeling and telling you recently, she is far more than capable of the task. I can assure you that you will be in good hands, quite literally.” She smiled and looked at Zar, who smiled back at her and then down at me. “I am certain this is not the future you envisioned for yourself, but we are trying to make everything as comfortable for you as realistically possible, balancing your need for security with your desire for freedom. You will meet occasionally with female Humans for mating purposes, and your children will be cared for until they are ready to be given a home of their own. As the population of your species increases, we can explore options like building separate, protected communities within our own, where Humans can live together much as before. Perhaps, some day, Humanity can once again be a fully self-sufficient civilization, or maybe even this society will adapt to the point that we can eventually find ways for Humans to safely live, move, and work with and among the other races of Quorilax. I am getting ahead of myself, though; any of this will likely transpire at least decades in the future, so no definitive plans are in place.”
Saying I didn’t envision this future for myself was a vast understatement, but it started to occur to me just how lucky I was to have any future at all. I didn’t feel the same way earlier. I thought my future was gone. It seemed as though I was, at best, nothing more to most of these beings than a plaything to entertain them; or, at worst, vermin. I felt ashamed that I had been so cynical, thinking Zar considered me a lesser creature too. She only withheld the true reason for my abduction in order to temporarily shield me from anguish. Since I could no longer return to Earth, I couldn’t think of a better place for me to be than right here. I didn’t just have a future; I had a purpose. In other words, I mattered. Quorilax was where I belonged. Quorilax was…my home.
Hub Folder: "Quorilax" [13+]
Second Quarter: "Quorilax: High Tide, Part 1" [13+]