"Sometimes the only way to truly understand is to understand you can not understand."
Third Quarter: "Quorilax: High Tide, Part 2" [13+]
Hub Folder: "Quorilax" [13+]
This is the fourth quarter of Quorilax—if you have not read the previous three quarters, then click on the “Hub Folder” link above.
Several days had elapsed since the unthinkable happened. It was late, and darkness had fallen on this part of the planet Quorilax. I gauged the length of a day on this world to be perhaps three hours longer than on Earth, and I gradually adjusted to the variation, but still, I should have been just as tired as the person lying in bed next to me, if not more so. Zar had fallen asleep with an arm draped over me, and I carefully slipped out from beneath it so as not to wake her. With myself successfully extricated, I climbed off the bed. I use the term “climb” almost literally since even my new height of approximately 70 feet, while a staggering thought, made me no larger than an average Quorilaxian child. At my size, the equivalent of a double bed offered plenty of room for both of us—not that I minded getting cozy with her, of course.
I made my way to the living room and reached up to slide open a door to the balcony, walking outside and gazing silently at the blanket of stars, causing memories of The Day to resurface in my mind. I remembered how on that evening, so recent yet seemingly so long ago, I looked up at the stars from Earth and wondered whether someone was out there in the distance doing the exact same thing. Now that I stood on the opposite end, I knew what the answer had been, but strangely enough, I once again asked the same question. Earth was so physically insignificant in the boundless universe, but its absence created a great void. Still, I perceived a continuing presence. It seemed as though I was not alone, and that the spirits of all those who were gone, as numerous as the stars in the sky, watched over me. They were so distant, but I could still feel them close by. It almost felt like they could reach out and touch me….
My sense of serenity was interrupted when I felt a hand reach out and touch me on the shoulder, and I was so startled that I actually let out a yelp. I turned around and, as I should have expected, stood facing Zar—her abdomen, to be more specific. The moonlight reflected off her sleek black fur, endowing her with an ethereal, otherworldly glow. Judging by the fact that she stood so tall yet possessed the stealth to touch me before I noticed her presence, I considered myself lucky that she preferred me as a dinner guest to a dinner course. What I once would have considered a foot now seemed more like an inch, so Zar rose just above ten feet in the relative terms I now used—much shorter than she seemed to me before, yet far from unimpressive.
“You scared me!” I craned my neck to her and gasped, trying to regain my composure.
“I am sorry about that,” she apologized. “I thought you heard me. What are you doing out here so late anyway?”
“Thinking,” I told her, looking back up at the sky.
“You think far too much, Ryan, and if there is any time to stop thinking, it is now. It is time to go to sleep.”
“But I can’t sleep.”
“Why not?” she asked.
“Because I’m thinking.”
She smiled. “Therein lies the problem. What have you been thinking about?”
“Death,” I replied.
That quickly changed her expression. “What is troubling you? Talk to me, Ryan.”
“All right,” I acquiesced. “I’ve just been thinking that…I’m worried.”
“As you always are. What is it this time?”
“I’m worried something might happen to you, and…if you were gone, I don’t know what I’d do.”
“Why would you think something will happen to me?” she probed.
“Well…wherever I go, problems seem to happen. One person—no, the entire Human Race—has already died because of me. I’m afraid you might be next.” I’d never told Zar about the argument leading up to Kelly’s death. She’d no doubt hold herself responsible, and I couldn’t do that to her. The ultimate tragedy is that if Zar and Kelly had actually met and gotten to know each other—in bodies of any size—I’m sure they would have been the best of friends.
“You cannot keep blaming yourself for Kelly’s death like this, Ryan. It was completely out of your control. We are both very young. The thought of death should not even enter into our minds at this point, but if you continue to put this burden on yourself, then you will collapse under the pressure. You have no need to fret about me. I will be around for a long time, and I will always be here for you. Just because my empire abandoned you does not mean I will too.”
“Why do you love me?”
“What kind of a question is that?” she asked, thrown off guard. “Why would I not? Is that the type of thing that must or even can be explained in a sentence or two? You have never asked me that before. Why are you asking me now?”
“Because, I’m a freak. At least you could hide me from everyone before.”
She scoffed. “Do you know how much effort it took to keep myself from thrusting my hand into that pouch and hoisting you to my lips whenever I saw another couple freely expressing their feelings as we strolled around? How excruciating it was to have you so close to me yet have to act like you were not there? How much I wished I could have held you proudly in the open to show everyone the man I love, and who loves me? Unfortunately, I knew I never could, because there are too many people who would have looked at us and seen not two people in love, but a lone young woman carrying a valuable piece of property, and they would have tried to steal you for their own gain, not caring or even realizing that you are capable of feeling and loving as much as any Quorilaxian. They would never bother to look past the letters of your genetic code and read the unique story those letters represent, of someone whose life can have as much meaning and impact as theirs even though his font appears smaller on a page. I am proud to be a character in your story, Ryan. I know that it has not been unfolding as we hoped, but I think we can still find a way to write a happy ending.”
I looked up at her, my mouth agape. “Okay…I think that answer will suffice for now.”
“You are not a freak,” she continued; “you are different, and this world needs creatures that are different. That is the source of evolution.”
“But evolution can’t happen if I’m the only Human left.”
“I did not just mean it in the biological sense,” she clarified.
“Didn’t you ever want to have any children?”
“Yes, and I still do.”
“You do realize it’s biologically impossible for us, right?” I looked away and pondered for a moment. “Then again, I thought growing like I have was biologically impossible.”
“Biology is irrelevant if we adopt.”
“Maybe,” I considered, “but it’s not the same as giving birth to a life of your own. Things would be much less complicated for you if you just loved somebody else.”
“Why are you talking like this, Ryan? I want to be with you and no one else,” she proclaimed. “You are my mate. Why is that so hard for you to accept? You are such a kind, loving being, yet you have been forced to suffer far more than any person ever should and persevered through it all. I felt your strength even when you fit in the palm of my hand. Everyone has looked down upon you when they should be looking up to you. You have nothing to prove to any of them. As long as you and I know how special you are, is that not enough?”
“I wish it were,” I sighed.
“What do you mean? Why is it not?”
“Well…I’m going to die someday, and when I do, the Human Race will cease to exist. Humanity is dead, and almost no one seems to care. I’m the only one left alive now, and I’m the only one who can leave a legacy—something to remember us by—but there’s nothing I can do for them; nothing I can do to give Kelly any dignity. I feel as powerless as ever.”
“But Humanity will live on through its art: we have so many of your greatest films, words, and creations of visual beauty. And you speak as though you will die tomorrow. Of course you will die someday—every living thing eventually does—but it will be many, many years from now.”
“How can you be so sure about that? Only eleven Humans out of billions even made it to this planet, and beyond that there are so many other chances I had to die.”
“But you have not,” she emphasized.
“I know, and that’s what confuses me. I should have died several times already, but I haven’t. Everybody is dying around me, but for some reason I continue to live. I almost feel like I’m…immortal.”
“You are not immortal, Ryan,” she reminded me, “but…maybe you do have some form of divine protection. Your God will not stand by and let your species perish easily. He does not want you to go down without a fight. Humanity’s time has not come yet.”
“Nice try, Zar, but it didn’t work. There is no God. You’re the closest thing this universe has to a goddess.”
She turned her head away from me with a bashful smile, and I’m sure she became bright red beneath her black and white fur. “Stop it. You know how that embarrasses me.”
“How can I embarrass you? No one else is listening.”
“I am not even that much bigger than you are anymore!”
“What does that have to do with anything? Aren’t you the one who has always tried to convince me that size is not a measure of significance to this universe? I would love and respect you all the same even if you were the size of my thumbnail, and that’s the true power that makes you a goddess. Brute force is what compelled most Humans to worship gods…the threat of punishment if they didn’t obey. Of course, it was an empty threat, because gods don’t really exist—they’re just an invention. Humans had this strange, innate need to believe in something greater than they were. They just used religion as a scapegoat—”
“Scape…goat?” she interrupted me. “What is that?”
“Oh,” I said as I realized the word probably didn’t translate well. “Um…okay. For example, when Humans couldn’t explain a natural phenomenon, they thought it must have been caused by a god. When Humans were desperate and they had nothing else to give them hope, they convinced themselves a god would reward them with a better life after they died. Some Humans did terrible things, and then they used their religion as an excuse. Humans have a need to explain the unexplainable, and they believe what they want to—whatever is convenient for them. Do you understand?”
“No,” she said, sounding confused.
“Exactly. None of it makes any sense.”
“That is not what I meant. What I do not understand,” she clarified, “is why you are not religious. You said it was an innate Human need. Are you not a Human?”
“I’m Human through and through, Zar. I didn’t say religion was an innate Human need; I said we needed to believe in something greater than ourselves. Not necessarily bigger, just…greater. Religious Humans sought that in a spiritual world, but I knew all along that it was in the physical world, where I could see and touch it,” I said as I ran my hand down the outside of her thigh.
She crouched down and cupped my chin in her hand, tilting my head back as her face descended to lick me several times, before turning to walk back into the apartment’s interior. Before she closed the door, she swiveled her head. “Come inside, Ryan, and you can see and touch all you want,” she teased, beaming down at me one last time before disappearing from sight.
I couldn’t resist that invitation, but first, I returned my attention to the sky, trying to find answers, and soon I spoke to the stars, those balls of fire burning brightly amidst the blackness of the midnight sky. “Hello, everyone,” I greeted my heavenly audience. “I’m Orion O’Reilly. I don’t make a habit of doing this, just so you know. I realize I’m probably only talking to myself, but there’s no one else listening, so I guess I can’t look like a jackass if no one’s around to hear me, right? It’s kind of like that whole tree falling in the woods thing, I suppose. Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah, that’s right. For anyone who doesn’t know yet, I’m the last surviving Human. Yeah, I don’t know how that happened either. I mean, if Humanity were ever going to go down, it should have been in a blaze of glory, firing off big guns and defending our turf...but those bastards probably blew you up before you even knew what was going on. Now, I’m all that’s left. I know…it’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard too. I’m afraid the Human Race will slip away with a very anticlimactic whimper, but I never asked to be put in this position, and I’m sure all of you would feel the same way if you were in my place, so I hope you can just be happy for me as I am. I’ve never been one to make a rousing speech, and I guess this is no exception, because I think that’s all I have to say. So, goodnight.”
I made a move toward the door but then stopped, turning back around. “Oh, yeah,” I remembered. “Hi, Kelly. Are you out there? I know you probably still hate me. I said some terrible things. I hope you can understand that it was all in the heat of the moment. I know that doesn’t excuse it, but…that’s not how I am. I don’t think I’ve ever had anybody actually hate me before, and I don’t like how it feels. I wonder whether you could find it in your heart to forgive me. I don’t want to be tortured like this for the rest of my life. Please…I’m sorry.”
A small tear rolled down my face next to my nose, and I closed my eyes and let my head sink down to my chest, trying to get a hold of myself. I got lost in thought, tuning out what was going on around me, but got a rude awakening when I felt a sharp pain in my side. Reaching down to investigate the source of the discomfort, I winced as I pulled out a small dart. I looked around for the source but couldn’t see anything through the darkness. I didn’t even get much of an opportunity to look at the offending object before a warm feeling spread throughout my body and extremities and I started to feel dizzy. The dart fell out of my numb hands and hit the ground, just as I did several seconds later.
Upon waking, I found myself lying on my back on a cold metal table with my arms next to my body and my legs stretched out. All my limbs were held in place by metallic braces fastened tightly around my wrists and ankles. One was also tight around my waist, much like a belt, and another was around my neck. Needless to say, I was rather securely held to my current position.
I soon heard the sound of a door opening, and moments later a head appeared in front of my face. It seemed to belong to a reptile-like creature, which surveyed me with completely black eyes. I heard and felt the braces being unlocked, and a laser rifle came into my view. The being waved the rifle as though it were gesturing me to get up, which I did so cautiously. I was in a rather small room, the focus of which was the table I had lain on, and I could see another one of these creatures as well. They seemed to be anthropomorphic lizards with the additional quality of being winged, like dragons. While Quorilaxians’ two upper canine teeth protruded from their mouths, these creatures’ entire top row of teeth was prominently displayed. Scales covered most of them, but the areas around their chest and abdomen, as well as the palms of their hands, were composed of a slightly fleshier substance, like the underbellies of an Earth reptile. The wings folded behind their backs reached a few feet higher than their heads, making them seem more imposing. One stood about as tall as my chest and had blue scales and indigo flesh, while the one with green scales and yellow flesh, whom I had seen first, surpassed my height by a thin margin. They didn’t have collars, so when they spoke to each other, I didn’t understand their words, but I was startled to hear a feminine voice from the much taller one and a masculine voice from the one about three quarters of her height. Even though it seemed the taller of the pair was female, she lacked the mammary glands prominent on Quorilaxians, Alquaborians and Humans. Their bright colors dazzled my eyes, but instead of thinking about how stunning their bodies appeared, I concentrated my attention on the rifles they carried. The male walked over toward the door, and the female, clearly the dominant party, waved her gun in his direction and then looked at me expectantly.
“What the hell is going on?” I asked, although it was somewhat rhetorical, given that I wouldn’t get an answer I would understand. After I stood there for a few seconds, the female took the muzzle of her rifle and pushed it into my back. I followed the silent order and walked over toward the male, who responded by opening the door and exiting. I felt the female behind me, occasionally prodding me along with the end of the rifle. I didn’t feel it anymore after a short time, but I still knew she was back there, so I didn’t dare do anything stupid.
We eventually came upon a door, and it slid open as the male pressed the button and moved off to the side. I stood there, waiting for him to lead the way, but I felt a jab from behind, so I walked forward into the large, cavernous room. I continued my procession until I was between two vertical poles perhaps thirty feet in front of a throne, on which sat another of their kind. A dozen more of them stood guard, with half of them framing the path to the throne on each side. My escorts shackled my arms and legs to some chains attached to the columns of metal. While they did this, I observed the creature sitting on the throne. I couldn’t see its eyes well, since they blended with scales as black as coal. Its flesh, on the other hand, was a deep, blood red. After a few moments, it finally rose to its feet and stretched out, spreading its veined, crimson wings at full length. It obviously didn’t intend to fly, so I wondered whether the display was merely intended as a gesture of intimidation. After retracting its wings, it descended from the dais, its tail swinging behind it. As it came nearer, I was aghast at its size. It continued to approach until we stood face to…thigh. I figured it must have been over thirteen feet tall.
“Hello, Orion,” said a voice deep but still very much feminine. “You are a slippery creature, but at last we meet. My, you have grown. Where does the time go?”
“Who are you?” I demanded. “How do you know my name? What are you doing to me?”
“You are an inquisitive young Human,” she remarked, her voice thick with condescension. “I assure you, all of your questions will be answered in due time. You must forgive me for not introducing myself immediately. I am Queen Mazagore, ruler of the Zgorbians.”
As she said that, I stared up at her in shock, and she met my gaze. The two soulless, obsidian spheres stared blankly, the light reflecting off their surface, unable to penetrate the nefarious depths. Ever since The Day, I knew the Zgorbians only by name. Never did I wish to look upon their hideous visage, for I knew the sight of them would only cause more nightmares. I simply imagined them as a bodiless entity of pure malevolence: a nameless, faceless, ruthless executioner. In an instant, that spirit assumed a clearly defined identity. As I gazed into the hateful eyes of this personification of all evil, I thought I would be overcome with fear…but I wasn’t. In fact, I felt quite the opposite.
I never imagined this moment would arrive, and I didn’t know what to say. Little matter, since words were not a sufficient vehicle to convey emotions as strong as what I experienced at that moment. I flung myself toward her, intending to rip her apart, disregarding my restraints and all the other reasons that such an action was futile. I snarled and sprayed saliva like an enraged koswok, straining against my bonds as I tried to break free.
“Settle down, Orion,” she said calmly, perhaps even with a slight hint of amusement. “Struggling will not accomplish anything. You will only hurt yourself.”
“I know! I won’t give you the satisfaction of doing it for me!”
“If you cooperate, then you will not be hurt.”
I was still in complete denial. “How can this be? This is impossible! You’re…you’re supposed to be—”
“Dead?” she finished my sentence. “According to whom, the Quorilaxians? They are not all-seeing, as much as they like to believe so.”
“Why did you bring me here? What do you want from me?”
“We would like to enlist your assistance.”
I couldn’t believe what she said. “Is this some sort of sick joke?”
“No, Orion. We would appreciate your help in procuring a certain substance.”
“And what might that be?”
“Algonite. You are no doubt familiar with it.”
“Algonite? What do you want with that?”
“As you are personally aware, algonite was recently discovered to possess the spectacular quality of causing hyperactive growth under the right conditions.”
“Yes, and one of those conditions is that the subject is a Human! Even if I could safely grow bigger, why would you want me to?”
“Its consequences are not restricted to Humans, Orion. All Earthlings are affected. We all possess an internal biology similar enough to facilitate the reaction.”
“We?” I said in utter confusion, furrowing my brow.
“Yes, all of us. A small taste of the evidence is right before you.” After she said that, I scanned the length of her body in trepidation. Based on my observations of the twelve guards standing nearby and the two who had already left, I determined that the height of the male Zgorbians averaged about three quarters that of the females, but something else had to account for the queen’s exceptional size.
Things were getting even more bewildering. “But you…you’re not—”
“We are not Earthlings, Orion?” she completed my thought again as though she had anticipated everything I would say. “We have as much right to call ourselves that as you do. We lived on Earth many eons ago. Then, at some point, we were forced to leave because an interstellar object was expected to collide with the planet. Indeed, the meeting occurred, and the large majority of our sisters and brothers left behind perished in the fallout. Still, many of Earth’s smaller creatures lived on, and their ultimate product was the Human Race.”
“What? How do you know about—” I started to ask the question, but as I reflected on the enormous reptilian beast standing in front of me, things fell into place. “The dinosaurs? Oh…my…God…” I acknowledged in disbelief.
“You seem so surprised, Orion,” she observed.
“This is impossible! How did you escape?”
“The Mother Race knew the cataclysmic event was about to take place, and they made it their mission to gather the most advanced creatures of planet Earth and relocate them to the nearest life-sustaining planet. Up until very recently, we lived in exile on the world of Zgorb. Earth was our original home.”
“The Mother Race? Are you talking about the Quorilaxians?”
“The Quorilaxians?” she said, disdain evident in her voice. “Hardly! The Mother Race existed long before any of our civilizations, but if they stood here among us right now, even I would be looking up at them! The Mother Planet was the progenitor of every one of us. Quorilaxians, Zgorbians, Humans—we are all their offspring. It is no coincidence that we possess so many similarities. Nothing in this universe is a coincidence.”
“How could you possibly know all of this?”
“They left caches of iconographs across Zgorb, clearly intending for us to find and decipher them. One of these described the story of our exile and pointed us toward our true home. We were only beginning to discover the entirety of these markings before the Quorilaxians obliterated them, forever enshrouding their explanations in mystery and destroying the only legacy of this long extinct species. Even this great race has now vanished into nothingness at the hands of the Quorilaxians! Nothing is safe from their desecration!”
“If Earth was your home planet, why would you destroy it?”
“The Mother Race left us that message because they chose us to lead the universe to glory once they passed! We were the rightful heirs to Earth’s endless bounty! They wanted us to know this so we could someday return and reclaim that which was ours, but Quorilax stood in our way and prevented us from fulfilling our destiny!”
“Oh, I see! If you couldn’t have Earth, then no one could!”
“As famine engulfed our civilization time after time, my people starved! We could only stand by helplessly and watch as our home died a slow and painful death at the hands of its Human usurpers!”
“Maybe you should do better research before you commit genocide! This may come as a shock to you, but plenty of Humans starved too!”
“I know that! What feeds one Zgorbian could have nourished thousands of Humans, yet you were granted the most prolific planet in the universe! The fact that Humans regularly starved only goes to show how preposterously inefficient you were! It is such an unimaginable shame that Earth’s abundance will never again benefit anyone, but sometimes one must kill the host in order to exterminate the parasite!”
“We weren’t parasites! We were people!”
“People who thrived at the expense of their host! It was our duty to thwart you before you escaped from your quarantine and wreaked havoc on the rest of the universe! Humanity was a plague, and we were the remedy!”
“Well, here I am! I’m the last vestige of Humanity! I’m all that remains of the scourge you wanted to eradicate, so why don’t you just finish me off and put an end to everyone else’s misery?”
“You should know we would not have gone to all the trouble of bringing you here if our aim were to kill you.”
“If you already have algonite, then why do you need my help to get it?”
“After Zgorb was destroyed, we lost the greater part of our reserves. We only maintained control of a relatively small amount, which we have largely exhausted in the course of experimenting with its properties and learning to control its violent effects.”
“What exactly do you intend to do once you are grown?”
“The Quorilaxian arsenal will be impotent in the face of our immense size. Our footfalls will shake the ground, and the beating of our wings will blow them from their feet!”
I had long ago envisioned a race of giants colonizing an alien planet, subjugating or exterminating the minuscule natives; I just had the species roles wrong. The Quorilaxians, who never conquered my home world as I had originally imagined, would instead be the ones invaded—by the Zgorbians. For all we know, she was your significant other, I recalled the man from my dream saying after he described the horrible fate of a young Human woman captured by some Quorilaxian soldiers, and I suddenly realized that now, that really could be my girl. I felt sick when I imagined Zar as the one gripped in a giant hand, screaming herself hoarse as a scaly Zgorbian finger probed her body, perhaps while more than one pair of eyes leered down at the lewd act. “Do whatever you want with me! Just leave Quorilax out of it!” I begged. “This doesn’t involve them!”
“How very admirable of you, Orion. My heart is breaking.”
“It would be if you actually had one!”
“You are exactly right about Quorilax. This did not involve them, and that is precisely the problem. They immersed themselves in affairs that were none of their concern. An unfortunate act of nature drove us from Earth, but the Quorilaxians knowingly destroyed our home! We already had so little, and they even took that away from us! The Quorilaxians have spat upon us for long enough; it is time for their reign to end.”
“All right…let me see whether I understand this. You destroyed my planet, my home, my entire species, and now you’re asking me to betray the ones who defended me from you? I can’t imagine anything more ridiculous! I’m not a traitor!”
“A traitor?” she chortled. “You are not even considered a person in the eyes of the Quorilaxians! How can an animal commit treason? Besides, they did not save you from anything; they abandoned you! You have no hope for a future with Quorilax.”
“And what future do I have by assisting you, exactly?”
“Not only would you be spared from our wrath, but you would be elevated to the status of a god. You would earn redemption for your race in the eyes of the Zgorbians, and when the Quorilaxians are reduced to the status of scurrying vermin, our opinion will be the only one that matters.”
“I couldn’t care less what the most despicable race in the entire universe thinks of me! Besides, I don’t want to be treated like a god any more than I want to be treated like I’m inferior! All I want is to be treated like a person, like everyone else! Why is that so hard to understand? And how can I even believe anything you say? As soon as you got what you wanted, you would just discard me!”
“We are not a treacherous people, Orion. Unlike the Quorilaxians, we will not renounce our pledge and abandon you when you become an inconvenience. I have been completely candid with you, and I believe you have been equally forthright with me. It is time for us Earthlings to put aside our differences and join forces to fight against what should be our common enemy.”
“Do you think I’ve forgotten that you committed genocide? I’m not fooled by anything you say! You’re insane if you think I’m going to help you! You’re my fellow Earthling, and you betrayed me! I’ll be damned if I let that happen again!”
“It is Quorilax who has betrayed us both. Are we not their sisters and brothers just as much as you are? They could never see that! Their xenophobic ways allowed them to stand by and watch as my people starved! They would have nothing to do with us when we were dying from hunger, but when we tried to feed ourselves, they would not allow it!”
“So you decided to destroy Earth? Of course; it all makes sense now!”
“The destruction of Earth was in everyone’s best interest…including Humanity’s.”
She said some unbelievable things to me before this point, but that comment was the ultimate insult. “How dare you say that?”
“It will all be clear soon enough. You are aware of the Quorilaxians who abducted you, correct?”
“How do you know about them?”
“They were my agents, Orion; they worked on my behalf.”
I paused for a moment. “What are you saying?” I asked in a shaky voice.
“I am saying I knew long in advance that the Quorilaxians would attack Zgorb. I am saying I knew of Project Noah. I am saying I knew there would be Humans who escaped Earth’s destruction. I am saying I knew where to find you. I am saying I knew everything. It was all part of the plan.”
“That can’t be!” I said in denial. “Why would Quorilaxians ever unite with you? How was that in their interest? How was that in Humanity’s interest?”
“It is simple, Orion. They had the foresight to see what was in the best interest of all life. They could escape the limitations of the narrow-minded Quorilaxian mentality and see the injustice their people have inflicted upon the universe. We were going to establish a new society, free from the corruptive influence of the Empire; a land where a person’s size would not have been her defining characteristic; a society that accommodated and cherished people of all dimensions. If children were not denied the opportunity to grow up together simply because one will only grow up as high as the other’s ankles, they would learn to live together as if it were the most natural thing ever. Even if you and all the other adult Humans had refused to participate in this world, your newborn offspring would not have, never learning a mistrust and hatred for those so much different from them in physical appearance despite so many similarities in mind.”
“You just told me Humanity was a plague! That sounds like hatred to me!”
“Humanity was a plague—Humans were not.”
“Seriously? I don’t have any patience for damn word games right now!”
“They are entirely different concepts, Orion. Once Earth was destroyed, you were no longer a part of the collective consciousness known as Humanity; you were merely individuals without a society. Had we left Humanity to its own devices, it would have driven itself and all that lived on Earth to extinction! It was our duty as the chosen people of the Mother Race to protect and ensure the survival of all the universe’s creatures! It was our duty to save you from yourself! To do that, we needed to wash away the past and make a fresh start. Project Noah—I could not have thought of a more appropriate name myself.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “You drove my species to extinction! Not only that, but you seem to think that did us a favor!”
“That crash was never part of the plan! We had a beautiful dream, but even our Quorilaxian comrades could not completely shake off the inherent arrogance of their species, deciding it was not worth their time and trouble to bypass the Alquaborian dominion!”
“Well, I guess things don’t always go as planned, do they?”
“Unfortunately not, but we have a contingency plan. They can no longer share in our vision, but you can, Orion. Circumstances have changed. We are thinking much…bigger now. You can help us move the universe into an enlightened future, being remembered for all eternity, or you can die in obscurity and let the memory of you erode with the flow of time. It is a simple choice.”
“Humans had dreams too, you know, but you put an end to that! Your dream was a nightmare for the rest of the universe! I would have never participated in your sick vision before, and I sure as hell am not going to do it now!”
“I must tell you, Orion, I expected no less from you. You must clearly possess great will and determination to have survived this long. You are not easily persuaded, even when it means going against what you think is beneficial for you. The light of truth may seem blinding right now, but once you adjust to it, you will see everything much more clearly than you did before. Now that you know, I am certain you will not be fooled by the Quorilaxian rhetoric, and you will take the best interest of the universe into consideration. That is why I know I can trust you to do the right thing.”
“If you trust me so much, then why do you have these shackles practically cutting off my blood circulation?”
“I knew they would be necessary to restrain you earlier, but once I have your full cooperation, you will be released.”
I exhaled slowly and unsteadily. I couldn’t stall any longer. I had to make a decision. “Can I tell you something?” I asked her.
“What is it?”
“Come closer; it’s a secret,” I told her, and she seemed surprised but knelt until her face was only several inches away from mine. I seized the chance to launch a glob of spit at her, which landed near the back of her snout, right between her demonic eyes. The twelve guards all focused their weapons on me simultaneously, and the queen pulled her head away, returning to her full height and staring down at me with indignation.
“You’re right!” I said to her. “The Quorilaxians have spat upon you for long enough! Now it’s Humanity’s turn!”
With an enraged expression, she wiped my liquid bullet away with her left hand, and I met her gaze confidently, not having a single regret about what I just did. Amazingly, her ire quickly seemed to vanish, and she waved off her eager minions. In a strange turn of events, she brought her right hand up to my face and stroked my skin. I watched her skeptically as she proceeded to run the backside of a claw along my cheek. “You are such a beautiful creature,” she complimented me. “It would be a shame to see something terrible happen to you.”
“I’m not afraid of you!” I declared, interpreting her comment as a veiled threat. Sure enough, she took her hand away, but immediately afterward it hooked toward me at an incredible speed and the claws swept across the left side of my face, tearing open my skin. She executed the motion with such quickness that I didn’t even see it coming. I winced as my cheek burned, and as I looked out of the corner of my eye, I could see torn flesh and blood dripping onto the floor below. I returned my eyes to the queen’s diabolical countenance, which watched me, waiting for my spirit to break. As much pain as I felt, I wouldn’t give her any gratification. “Is that the best you can do?” I challenged.
She snarled, furious that her abuse had an effect on me completely opposite of what she intended. “You are absolutely right,” she agreed. “This will not do.” This time, I saw her other hand moving up to strike me on the other side of my face, and I attempted to dodge it by spinning my head away, but to no avail; in fact, her claws came dangerously close to my eye. She surveyed her work with satisfaction. “That is much better,” she evaluated. “There is a sense of symmetry now.”
I felt a searing pain on both cheeks, and I watched as my blood—Kelly’s blood—continued to spill out. “You cold-blooded murderer!” I barked. “You killed her! You killed all of them! They never did anything to you! Does it make you proud to know you slaughtered completely defenseless people? They should all be alive right now instead of you!”
“Have you had enough, Orion?” she taunted me, but I didn’t respond. “Very well; do not say a word! Your silence will achieve nothing except for pain!” She took her eyes off of my face and looked down the length of my body, then she moved into a crouch, and I froze as I felt her fingers around my scrotum. “What do you think now?” she inquired. “Have you changed your mind yet?” I once again remained absolutely silent, and she retaliated by clutching the two globes tightly, starting to screw them around and strangulate them. I couldn’t contain myself any longer, and my anguished moan echoed throughout the room. Tears flowed down my cheeks and into my lacerated face, adding to the already unbearable pain. She brought her face close to mine as though daring me to spit on her again. “Did you say something to me?” she asked as she momentarily ceased the agonizing twisting motion.
I could see the grim sight of my reflection on the jet-black surface of her eyes. My face was horribly disfigured, and I could hardly stand to look at myself, so I closed my eyes, and when I did so, the first thing I saw was Zar. I saw her as she last walked out of my sight, flashing that beautiful smile, and I couldn’t help but do the same. Then I heard Kelly’s voice: “You just need to have faith!” With a renewed strength, I opened my eyes and looked into the face of evil.
“Yes, I said something! I said I hope you rot in Hell, you worthless piece of shit! It makes me sick to think you call yourself an Earthling!”
For some reason, she released my testicles from her asphyxiating grip and sighed, returning to her full height. “I will finish with you later. Right now, I am exhausted and must eat something to replenish my energy.” She reached her hand toward my face yet again, and I squealed as she ripped away a piece of my torn cheek. I watched in horror as she held the bloody strip in front of her face, studying it closely, then tilted her head back, dangling it over her open mouth, and dropped it in there, chewing the severed piece of my body.
“I hope you choke!” I said; however, there was apparently no such luck, since she swallowed without incident.
“The meat is slightly tough but very delicious!” she evaluated. “Would you like to try a piece?” I was at a complete loss for words, not quite sure what to say anymore. She was not only indifferent to my acute torment but reveling in it.
“You won’t be so smug anymore when the Quorilaxians come!”
“Your ‘guardians’ will not save you now! If they think you are the last Human, that means they have already lost! You have outlived your purpose to them! They have abandoned you, just like they did before! Humanity was crying out for help, and we were the only ones who answered the call, but like an insolent child you never understood what was good for you! If living in darkness is what you want, then I shall grant your wish!” She grabbed my head between her hands, and I whimpered as two claws came within inches of my eyes.
Then, as if by divine intervention, the wall to my right exploded with a thunderous blast. The stunned Zgorbians all turned their attention toward the sudden occurrence, but then the wall to my left erupted as well. Shrapnel flew everywhere and mass confusion reigned. Next, there was a brilliant flash of light, so bright that I only saw whiteness afterward. Battle cries came from all directions, and amidst the pandemonium I heard lasers being fired, followed by the screams of beings in the throes of death. By a minute later, the hellish sounds ceased, and although I still heard voices, the loud sizzling of flesh largely drowned them out.
Nearly fifteen seconds after the chaos ended, I still only saw the bright white light. Then, from in front of me, I heard a male voice say, “Hello, Orion.”
I figured I must have died and that this was the “light” everyone always talked about. “God?”
“Not quite. It is just Drabolya.”
I was bewildered. It didn’t sound the slightest amount like Drab. The lower voice was a far cry from the one I remembered. Then again, I hadn’t heard him for a long time and had yet to see him. “Am I still alive?” I wondered.
“Very much so,” he noted.
That settled the most important question, but I still had a major problem. “All I can see is white!” I told him. “I think I’m blind!”
“That is because of the flash bomb,” he informed me. “The effect is only temporary. Your vision will be completely restored within a short time.”
“How shortly will that be, exactly?”
“Now is not the time for explanations. It looks like we arrived just in time. You should get medical attention immediately. Your face looks terrible.”
“Are the Zgorbians dead?” I inquired.
“Yes, they are,” he affirmed. “Consider yourself lucky that you are temporarily blind. I do not think even you would want to see this. It is quite a gruesome sight.” I heard a clicking noise as my braces unsnapped, and then I felt hands lifting me up to carry me. Considering my size and my lack of eyesight, he must have decided that would be the easiest way to get me away from here. I didn’t know exactly where I was, let alone where I was going. The sizzling sound grew fainter, but the smell remained overpowering for longer. Along the way, we occasionally had to step around bodies. At some points, we seemed to meander around the corpses so much that we practically walked in a zigzag pattern. As the floor started to incline and the air around me grew warmer, I realized we were in an underground bunker but drawing nearer to the surface, where a sweltering, oppressive heat replaced the suffocating stench of death until we entered the ship.
Once Drab brought me to the onboard medical area, he took his leave. I didn’t lose too much blood, which was incredibly fortunate, seeing as how there were no other Humans from whom I could receive any. At some point during my healing, my vision started to return, gradually improving until it was soon as good as ever. When my face was completely sutured, I prepared myself for takeoff.
After we escaped the planet’s atmosphere and were gliding through the dark ocean of outer space, I realized how badly I had to urinate, so I got up and scrambled to find a lavatory. Come on, there must be one on this thing somewhere! After running around for a brief period, I happened to encounter Drab. I didn’t identify him initially, but he easily recognized me, of course. I think he may have grown ten inches since I last saw him. He was clad in black algonite body armor, including his tail, so the only parts of him visible were his neck and head, which had much broader and more defined features than I remembered. “What happened to you?” he asked, gazing at me in awe.
“What hasn’t happened to me?” I inverted the question.
“I am not sure! That is why I asked!” He continued to look me over. “You certainly grew up!”
“It doesn’t seem as though I’m the only one, Drab.”
Next, he focused on my leg scar, the length of which would have exceeded that of my entire body at its natural size. “I…did that?” he asked.
“You did indeed,” I replied.
His eyes remained on my scar, and then he bent down, reaching out one of his hands and running his fingers across its length. “I did that,” he said as though admitting it to himself for the very first time. “I do not deserve to live after what I did to you.”
“Don’t talk like that. There was no permanent effect besides this scar, and I try to look on the bright side: I think it gives me some character.”
His eyes stared at me, becoming shinier. Then his face started quivering, and I knew what was about to happen. He began to cry lightly, then slightly harder. I stood there, watching him as he broke down. Then…he picked me up and hugged me.
The gesture completely astounded me, and I held my arms up quickly as he squeezed my midsection…and the bloated bladder within. What do I look like, a teddy bear?
“I am so sorry!” he apologized with all his heart, continuing to weep. “I am so sorry! I want to take it all back! Please, forgive me!”
I brought my arms down and patted his shoulder a few times. “You don’t have to do this, Drab. I understood the pain you were going through, and I forgave you a long time ago. Your debt is absolved…and then some. Come on now; get a hold of yourself.”
“I know, I know,” he agreed, setting me down and giving me some welcomed space. “I am sure my sister still hates me, though. One of the reasons I asked to go on this mission was because I figured that if I helped rescue you, she might not hate me quite as much anymore, and if I were killed, I would have only gotten what I deserved.”
“What? Zar has always blamed herself for what happened, ever since I woke up in the hospital. She doesn’t hate you! She’s never hated you! What would make you think something like that?”
“She called me a Zgorb…” he despaired.
“She…can get a bit carried away when her passions are inflamed. But when was the last time you talked to her?”
“The Day? That was the last time you saw her! That was almost half a year ago!”
“I know,” he acknowledged.
“Why haven’t you talked to her?”
“I am scared.”
“Scared? What are you scared of? Zar? You mean to tell me you just risked your life fighting against the Zgorbians but you’re scared of your twin sister? Come on, Drab; she’s not that tough! I’m sure she’ll be there when we return. If she comes running at you with a wild look in her eyes, just stand behind me, okay?” I joked.
“Okay,” he consented, and a short pause ensued as he just looked at me with reverence. “You know…Zar was right. Humans are amazing. She deserves to have you.”
I didn’t quite know how to feel about the plural “Humans” being used in the present tense, but I pushed it out of my mind for now. “She deserves to have you too, Drab, so give her what she deserves; give her a brother.”
“I will,” he resolved, smiling at me for the first time ever. “Thank you, Orion.”
“You’re welcome. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some important business to attend to.”
“Where are you…” I heard him start to say, but I was already out of range.
After getting some much-needed relief, I asked someone how we could be light years away from Quorilax yet get there so quickly. He had a hearty laugh at my naiveté and simply patted me on my head. Too exhausted from my recent experience to pursue the matter any further, I simply gave up and went to sleep. When I woke up, we were already approaching our destination. I had made it back in one piece—well, except those chunks of my cheek—which was all that mattered. I felt the vessel shake lightly as we penetrated the atmosphere, but it made me feel comfortable, because I knew it was only a matter of time before I would be home, hopefully permanently this time.
Once we landed, I exited the ship and readily discerned that we were at the Quorilaxian Spaceport. I could see the tallest buildings of the capital city rising high into the sky far off in the distance. They seemed so much shorter now, but still tall nonetheless. I looked around, wondering where I was supposed to go from here, and then I heard Drab’s voice. “Come with me, Orion. You and I get to meet the arch admiral.”
I didn’t know who the arch admiral was, but that title sounded pretty important. I followed Drab as he walked toward one of the larger buildings on the premises. As we approached the door, I saw two armed guards standing to either side of it. As soon as we set foot in the large entrance room, I noticed a door on the right and left, each of which had their own pair of guardians. Directly ahead of me was a booth with yet another guard, who looked up at Drab, and down at me, as we approached.
“Enter—the admiral is expecting you,” he said to us, and we walked around his station to another door behind it, with yet another duo acting as sentries. The door opened without any action on our part, and Drab motioned me to walk in ahead of him. The room was very large, so a great deal of space lay in front of me. I walked forward partway into the room, and I found whom I guessed to be the arch admiral seated behind a desk. Standing in front of the desk to either side, framing him, were two other individuals. They turned around as soon as we entered the room, and I got a good look at them. On the left was Purlaka, and on the right was Zar. The admiral wasn’t the only one expecting us.
I studied Zar’s expression as Drab and I entered the room. When she saw us, something about her changed. She got a wild, feral look in her eyes and took me by surprise when she started running toward us. I turned around to see how Drab was faring, and I found him ducked behind me, looking at me with an expression of absolute terror, thinking his worst fears had been confirmed. Zar continued racing toward us with no sign of stopping, and Drab fled to the side of the room. When Zar didn’t deviate from course, however, I realized her target was not Drab at all….
She swept me up and spun around, embracing me with a broad smile on her face. That smile was short lived, however, because that very same face was soon all over mine, smothering me with affection. I couldn’t get a word in. Heck, I could barely breathe.
“Ugh…do you mind?” Drab begged.
“Yes!” Zar noted, momentarily ceasing her action to speak but resuming it immediately afterward. Drab gave up, rolling his eyes.
“Help me, Drab!” I pleaded when finally able. “I can’t hold her off by myself!”
He laughed. “I cannot help you, Orion. I am sorry, but there are some battles you must fight on your own.”
However, shortly after he said this, my “battle” with Zar had already ceased. I looked at her face and followed her line of sight to Drab, who looked back with fear in his eyes, watching for any threatening movements. She moved toward him slowly until they stood right in front of each other, whereupon she set me down on the floor. I was correct about the size differential: Drab was probably a mere fifteen inches shorter than his sister now, slightly under 9 feet tall. Neither of them moved for a few seconds, and he shifted under Zar’s hypnotic gaze. It startled me when she quickly reached her arms around her brother and started hugging him. She did it so fast that he didn’t have time to react, and he stood there helplessly as Zar squeezed him tightly against her. “I am the luckiest girl in the entire universe!” she proclaimed.
“Help me, Orion!” he gasped. “She is trying to suffocate me!”
I turned and looked at the two figures standing by and watching this bizarre reunion unfold. Purlaka smiled in amusement, and even the admiral had a noticeable grin on his face. “You know,” I said to the twins, “as much as I would love for this to continue, I think there are other things to deal with.”
Zar sighed in resignation. “You are probably right,” she said as she let Drab go, allowing him to catch his breath, and they joined me by the desk at the end of the room.
The admiral rose to his feet, showcasing his full height. Like all military personnel, he wore a highly decorated uniform on his torso that befitted his rank. At almost eleven feet tall, he rose above the others in the room, including Zar, and may have even been the tallest Quorilaxian I had seen thus far. The most intriguing aspect of his appearance, however, was his eyes’ brilliant red irises.
“So,” he said in a firm voice, “you are Orion O’Reilly. I am Arch Admiral Zifthota. It is an honor to finally meet you.”
“It is?” I said in shock.
He shifted his eyes to Purlaka. “You did not exaggerate, Senator. He does take modesty to the extreme.”
“How could you be anything except angry at me? All I’ve done is cause you endless trouble!”
“It is quite the opposite, Orion. You actually prevented a great deal of trouble from happening.”
“I did? How?”
“By leading us to the Zgorbian base.”
“How did I do that?” I wondered dumbly.
Purlaka proceeded to explain. “While you were unconscious on Alquabor several days ago, we performed a…procedure on you.”
“What kind of procedure?” I asked, getting worried.
“We implanted a homing beacon inside of you. Had we done so before then, we could have taken quick action to rescue you and your fellow Humans. Project Noah actually did place tracking devices within all of your collars; unfortunately, your abductors knew this and simply removed your collars. This time, we put it directly into your body in case such an event should happen again. As you clearly know, it did, and we followed your signal all the way to the Zgorbian base.”
“How did you know it was the Zgorbian base?” I inquired.
“We inserted a microphone as well. It seems you stalled just long enough for our soldiers to make their way to the heart of the stronghold and rescue you in time, before your injuries became much more severe.”
I began to wonder whether they put anything else in my body. “You listened to every word I said?” I asked in embarrassment.
“Yes. We did not wish to infringe upon your privacy any more than necessary, though, so we only activated the receiver once we knew something was amiss. We were not privy to anything you said before that.”
“So you know exactly what happened, then….”
“Word for word, Orion,” said Zifthota. “We are fully aware of your heroism.”
“Heroism? What heroism?”
“I believe your actions speak for themselves.”
“What actions? No matter what I did, you would have come, and everything would have happened the exact same way!”
“Orion, let me tell you something,” he said, coming out from behind his desk and walking up to me. “Not all heroes lead armies to victory or inspire the masses with charismatic words. Most are much subtler in their influence and, unfortunately, they do not often receive the recognition they deserve. I am sure most people could not begin to cope with what you have experienced. You lost more than any other living being in the entire universe, carrying the weight of your entire species on your shoulders, yet you have handled the recent events with far more maturity than many of us.”
“Do you really think so?”
“I know so; personally, I am embarrassed to say. Thankfully, your perseverance helped to spare us from making a terrible mistake with the Alquaborians. Second chances to do things right do not always present themselves in life, but fortunately, yet again, you have given Quorilax that opportunity...a second chance to make things right for Humanity.”
I had no idea what he meant by that. “Sir?” I begged him to elaborate.
With a knowing smile, he looked to Purlaka, who returned his expression before directing her attention to the belt around her waist, where she unzipped two pouches much like the one Zar had used to transport me before I grew. Speaking of Zar, I realized I had put my hand on the leg of hers I stood closest to, and as I gazed up at her questioningly, she looked down at me briefly. Despite having been standing in this room with Purlaka before I arrived, she appeared to be in a similar state of shock at what was happening, and she set her own hand on my shoulder in support and quickly turned her attention back to Purlaka’s waist, where Purlaka held both her hands, each now containing...a Human. I heard Zar emit a gasp.
Purlaka walked closer to the center of the desk, moving her hands over it and setting them down with palms up, allowing the passengers to disembark upon the piece of furniture, which must have seemed like the roof of a Human-scale office building to them. I blinked quickly, in disbelief at what I saw, and I was sure that one of these times my eyelids would reopen to find the Humans gone...or to wake up to the cruel realization that this was all a dream, and I would find myself back in bed—still with Zar at my side, but yet again alone in my physical humanity in this universe.
I moved closer, and Purlaka backed away, allowing me more space as I now stood directly in front of my fellow Humans. At my height, I did not have to lean down much to be eye level with their faces, which I now studied closely. On the right of the pair stood a young woman who appeared to be of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent, with dark brown skin, and on the left I saw a young man possessing East Asian features, his almond eyes and hers all locked on mine as I looked back and forth between them. Meanwhile, Zar knelt next to me, which lowered her own face to be near the rest of ours, and she put her hand on the small of my back, making it clear that she was at my side for this, before whispering in my ear, “Now you know how I felt the first time I saw you.”
I turned to Zar, seeing her eyes welling up, before looking back at the duo on the desk. “May...may I hold you?” I uttered a question I never expected to ask another person, at least in this context. Holding someone in my arms to comfort him or her? Sure. But holding anyone in the palm of one hand, let alone a fully grown adult, was another matter entirely. Although I did not direct my question to either person in particular, and in fact would have gladly held both of them, the woman nodded and stepped forward, and I held my hand in front of her, whereupon she climbed onto my palm and quickly sat down, her body partially reclining with one arm supporting it so that a tiny hand pressed against my own comparatively gigantic one.
I lifted her and brought her closer, suddenly conscious of the frightening fact that, as she sailed over the edge of the desk, my own hand was now all that stood between her body and a drop of dozens of feet to the floor, when considered from her perspective. I knew from personal experience that she wouldn’t be hurt as badly, if at all, from a fall at this height as she would be on Earth, but still, I wasn’t about to take any chances, and I brought my other hand beneath the one holding her as support, more committed than ever to the protection of this precious being who had quite literally put her life in my hands. Perhaps it was for the best that I only had one person to worry about for now.
As light as she may have been, continuing to simply feel the surreal sensation of this Human body weighing on my hand helped to start convincing me of the reality of the situation, and it was at this point that I finally started to weep from happiness. I felt a brushing against one of my fingers and looked through my tears to see the woman I held running one of her hands up and down its length with a smile. “I can’t believe you’re real,” I said breathlessly.
Her smile grew wider. “Trust me: the feeling is mutual,” she shared her own amazement, although in her case it surely referred not to simply seeing another Human when she thought she was the last, or being held in someone’s hand, but the combination of the two: a member of her own species big enough to bear her upon his hand. Despite being held right in front of four giant eyes gazing upon her in wonder—not just mine, but also Zar’s, whose face by now had similarly turned into a waterfall—the Human woman somehow managed to remain the calmest of the three of us about this whole encounter.
By now, the man still standing on the desk looked almost hurt at being left out of receiving all this loving attention, and Zar, noticing this as well, reached out to him. He eagerly clambered upon her hand, which she then brought next to my own that was little more than half the size of hers, and for a few moments we simply basked in the sight of living, breathing, blinking Human faces—something I thought I’d never see again, other than when I looked in a mirror—before a terrible question came to my mind. “Are you two...and I...all that’s left?” I asked, worried that I had just brought an end to these moments of bliss.
I had no reason to consider until now how my growth would affect reproduction. Obviously, natural impregnation was...not a very viable option between me and a woman the size of the one before my eyes, but as far as artificial insemination was concerned, had the size of my sperm changed too? If so, would they still be compatible with smaller eggs, and even if they were, had my genetics been affected so that I would produce giant offspring that could never gestate in such a small womb? Was I still fertile at all? Luckily, I’m sure the samples of my sperm provided before my growth, not to mention the sperm and eggs of all the deceased adult Humans, had not been discarded, so Humanity would still possess more genetic variety than just the three of us in this room. But our most limited and precious reproductive resources had always been Human wombs, the number of which we thought had dropped to zero when Kelly died, at which point even unlimited sperm and eggs meant nothing. If Kelly had lived to return to Quorilax, the reproductive burden of our species on this planet would have fallen entirely on her. While I know for a fact that Kelly, to put her feelings mildly, would not have handled that well, I doubted that any other woman would have fared much better, and I feared that the prospects for this woman, and by extension Humanity, were still extremely bleak if she found herself in a similar position.
The answer the man provided to my question about our number more than quelled my worries: “Adding you brings our total to seventy-four.”
“Seventy-four?” Zar and I exclaimed in unison, somewhat startling the pair on our hands. I looked over at her to see the delight on her face, then up at the other three Quorilaxians, and it was clear from Drab having as little reaction as Purlaka and the admiral to this news, displaying only a sly, satisfied smile, that none of this came as a surprise to him either. I may have been the only one traveling back from that planet who didn’t realize that Humanity would not die with me, in which case I was quite impressed that all the Quorilaxians managed to avoid revealing the secret. I never imagined Zar and I would rejoice at hearing the Human population numbered seventy-four, but life really is all about perspective, and our perspective had been from the deepest pit of the abyss on this subject.
Purlaka spoke for the first time since she had introduced the other Humans. “Since the Zgorbians and their Quorilaxian allies knew that Earth was their real target all along, they concentrated their collection efforts there. As we clearly see now, a smaller, token fraction of the surviving Humans actually arrived on Quorilax to avoid suspicion; re-capturing the nineteen of you was merely the final step in allowing them to have complete influence over Humanity. Beyond still not wanting to cluster you all too much, despite your higher numbers, we decided that just a couple would suffice in helping you to believe the news, not to mention that many are still working to process these events themselves.”
I looked back at the Humans in our palms, feeling a wave of sympathy wash over me as I tried to imagine what sort of indignities they must have endured at the whims of those savage titans. “It must have been terrible to be the Zgorbians’ captives,” I offered.
“Actually,” the woman countered, “they treated us well. I never saw anyone picked up or held against their will, they fed us plenty, they did not talk down to us—I mean, at least in the figurative sense.”
“Indeed,” Purlaka supported her, “despite all the terrible things the Zgorbians did, including letting you believe you were the last Human when they knew you were not, and leading the Humans in their care to think that we had destroyed Earth and they were Humanity’s saviors, everything we have heard and observed from the others suggests they were not mistreated. The Zgorbians seem to have been honest about their intentions, as far as that is concerned.”
I didn’t know quite what to think upon hearing that the Zgorbians really did seem to see us Humans as more equal to them than many Quorilaxians did. Had I made a horrible mistake in siding with Quorilax? “There may be some Quorilaxians who will think a little more highly of Humans now,” I began, “but I shouldn’t have needed to stand up to the Zgorbians and be what some may consider a hero just to earn our species basic respect. My body shouldn’t have needed to grow like this in order for me to be seen and heard, but since it happened, I’ll take the fullest advantage of it that I can by using my louder voice and increased visibility to show people that all Humans deserve attention, at any size. I got saturated by a substance that nearly killed me, which may have side effects we don’t even know about yet, and I don’t want any Human to feel like going through that is the only way we can ever hope to live fulfilling, dignified lives on this planet. It’s not our responsibility to change who we are to fit narrow definitions of what makes someone a person. Our natural, healthy size is not a condition to be cured. Being Human is not a congenital defect.”
Purlaka appeared stunned by my comments, in a good way. “Everything you said is absolutely correct, Orion,” she agreed, “and I plan to seize this opportunity to personally see to it that the Senate at long last provides a means to naturalize all Humans as citizens of the Quorilaxian Empire and afford you every right that status entails. Hopefully, more and more attitudes will follow in time.”
“Thank you, Purlaka,” I said gratefully. “Thank you so much for all you’ve done for me...including convincing everyone to keep this all a secret until I got back here, where I could share the happiest moment of my entire life with the person I love most in this whole universe,” I said, turning my head to look at Zar. “She said she was proud to be a character in my story, but there wouldn’t have been much of a story without her. She was the light in my darkest moments...the one who kept me from giving up, even when she was only with me in spirit; the one who saw my strength even when she could hold me in her palm,” I said, casting a glance at the people in our own hands. “She’s the real hero here; this is her story, if you ask me.”
Zar looked enraptured by my words. “How about we call it our story and leave it at that, you charmer?” she proposed, before setting the Human man back on the desk, which instinctively prompted me to place the woman down next to him. She looked at the pair and said, “Sorry, you two, but it is much easier to do this with our hands free,” before she wrapped her arms around me and we shared a long, deep kiss.
“Again? Already?” I heard Drab groan, but we ignored him and kept going.
Shortly after that, however, the male Human blurted out, “Wow!” This got our attention, causing us to detach from each other’s mouths and look down at him, still locked in a tight embrace. “I feel like I am watching a close-up in a movie theater from right in front of the screen, but it is life-size and live action! All I need is some popcorn!” I flushed, not even considering until now how big of a show we must have been putting on from where and at what scale our new friends stood.
“Speaking of which,” the woman added, “I feel very strange thinking this about people who could pop me into their mouths like a piece of popcorn, but...you two are so cute together that I could just eat you both up,” a saying which caused Zar to look at me with mild confusion and concern. “I am excited to introduce you to everyone else. You will put a lot of minds at ease.”
“And you are welcome for everything, Orion,” Purlaka responded to my earlier comment, “although I must admit that I also had some selfish motives for wanting to be here to see this; to be a messenger of life instead of a harbinger of death for you. Speaking of introductions, however, there are some other people we brought you here to see...but I fear this meeting may not be nearly as happy.”
Zar and I looked back at each other in confusion. “What do you mean?” she asked.
Zifthota started toward the door, the only thing he said being, “Follow me.” Purlaka collected the two people on the desk into her hands once more, and all five of us walked out of the room and to a door on the left side of the entry room, but not before Purlaka left the other Humans in the care of the guard at the booth. Zifthota inputted some characters on a keypad, after which the door clicked and opened. We entered a long corridor with doors on either side, but we didn’t have to walk far, stopping at the second door on the left, which bore a bright red sign. Through the miracle of the collars and translators we all possessed, I could converse with anyone perfectly, but I was still almost completely illiterate in Quorilaxian language, so I had no idea what the placard communicated. Zifthota submitted another code, and when the door opened, we entered the room, and I looked into cages on either side.
They were not just any Zgorbians, though; they appeared to be infants—nine, from what I could see.
“We recovered them, along with some eggs, when we stormed the compound,” Zifthota told me. “This is not all of them.”
I still couldn’t believe my eyes. “What are you going to do with them?” I inquired.
“That is yet to be decided,” deemed Purlaka. “We are currently trying to determine the best way to handle this. As far as the general populace knows, the Zgorbians all perished. You and Zarbaxa are the first people outside of the government and military to know of this.”
From the right side of the room, I heard crying. I walked over and stood in front of the cage that was the source and looked inside, seeing a wailing Zgorbian less than two feet long and possessing red scales with sable flesh and wings.
“We performed some genetic testing,” Zifthota remarked, “and determined that to be the Zgorbian princess.”
“You mean…the queen’s daughter?” I asked, and he affirmed. I looked back at the child, studying her for a long time, coming to grips with who she was. Her color scheme closely resembled that of her mother, except inverted. “Do you have the key to this cage?” I eventually asked anyone who might.
“Yes,” answered Purlaka. “Why?”
“Can you open it?” I requested.
She hesitated. “You are not planning to do anything malicious, are you?”
“Never. I know how it feels to be small and helpless. I would have been a toy at her mercy just a few days ago,” I pointed out, imagining myself being shaken like a rattle in her grip. “I just want to hold her.”
“Of course, Orion. I was foolish to doubt your intentions.” She approached the cage, pressing a code into the small keypad on the door and retrieving a card from her utility belt, sliding it through a slot nearby, and the door finally opened. Purlaka reached inside, lifting her out and setting her in my arms. After holding another Human, this seemed easy; as fragile as this baby may have been to me, she was about four times as long as that woman. Her two big black eyes leaked tears like sponges being wrung. I looked deep into those eyes, the exact same eyes that belonged to that soulless monster. But this was no monster—monsters don’t cry. I could see a soul within these eyes, albeit a lost soul…one who had no home to which she could return…a feeling I knew all too well. With her wings, she reminded me of an angel—a fallen angel, perhaps, but one who was far too young and innocent to understand all the details of what happened. She just missed her mommy.
I held the little creature, rocking her back and forth in my arms. After some time doing this, her crying faded, and she looked up at me and smiled.
“She likes you,” Drab observed.
The princess continued to hold her gaze on me. “You said you had no plans for them yet?” I asked Purlaka.
“No,” she replied.
“Then…do you think it would be possible for us to adopt her?”
All of the Quorilaxians gaped down at me in disbelief for several seconds, with the occasional glance at one another, as if looking for someone else to know the right thing to say. Of course, Zar was the first to break the stunned silence. “Us, Ryan? I do not remember you discussing this with me.”
“You’re probably right. What a stupid idea.”
“I never said that!” she protested, holding her hands up defensively. “I think it is the most wonderful idea I have ever heard! But…are you sure about this?”
“I’ve never felt more sure about anything in my life. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Because…after all they have done to you….”
“What about you?” I pointed out. “They killed your father.”
“Yes…” she admitted, “but how can you even begin to compare that?”
“They may have done all those things—she didn’t. If I can forgive her for who her mother was, then anybody should be able to. We don’t choose the body we’re born into.”
“Can we afford this?” considered Zar, ever the pragmatist.
“That will not be an issue,” Purlaka insisted, waving her hand. “We will assist you in any way possible for as long as necessary, Orion. It is the least we can do for you. We will work out all of the details soon enough.”
“She is ours, then!” Zar rejoiced, but soon seemed deep in thought. “So…if you are the father of a princess, does that make you a king?”
I recalled the meaning of the name Ryan—little king—and couldn’t help but marvel at how the second part had now become strangely appropriate. “Close enough…my queen.”
Zar giggled and returned her attention to the baby, caressing the side of her head. “I hope her name will be as fitting as yours. Speaking of which, what should we call her?”
“I don’t know. You would probably be better at that type of thing.”
“No,” she persisted, “I will give you the privilege. You have earned it.”
Our daughter focused her attention on me, anxiously awaiting her appellation. I thought for a long time, but I eventually knew what she had to be called. There was really no other choice, as far as I was concerned. “Kelly,” I finally declared. “What do you think?”
Zar lifted me up and held me in her arms as I held Kelly in my arms between us, and I could see tears forming in Zar’s eyes as they looked into mine, before she pulled the three of us into a tight embrace with each other. I felt her body hitching, overcome with emotion, and she was only able to manage barely more than a whisper when she signaled her approval by stating, “I think she has her dignity now.”
EPILOGUE: LOW TIDE
This monument is dedicated in loving memory to Orion O’Reilly. Let his spirit inspire courage and forgiveness in all of us and act as our guide as we strive toward new endeavors.
THE AUXILIARY NARRATOR: That is what is inscribed in several Quorilaxian languages on the base of the memorial. The luminous gray stone rising up toward the sky like a pillar of strength is truly a beautiful sight. He projects out of the rock on two powerful legs supporting a trim, muscular body. The large scars on his leg and face do nothing to faze him, and with his head turned and his chin up he looks out vigilantly across the plaza, ready to protect those whom he loves. He stands here at more than a dozen times my height, allowing me to see him from much the same perspective that he saw me for most of his life. I can only imagine him here now, in the flesh, the size of a fingertip on the statue of himself.
You see, shortly after Father’s incredible growth, it became apparent that the effect would not be permanent. Slowly, but noticeably, he began to shrink. In our first family portrait, I could see him cradling me in his arms. Even in some of my earliest memories, I can still remember him being taller than I was. But as I continued to grow and, like any other girl, tried to make sense of all the changes that adolescence brought to my own body and mind, at the same time I experienced the added, unique confusion of watching my father’s height severely dwindle, to the point that he only stood as tall as my chest...and then my waist...and then my knees...and it did not stop there. I had nightmares that his physical reduction would never end and he would become microscopic; lost to us, even if he somehow managed to survive.
Mercifully, the process ceased once he had returned to his natural size, when I was about five years old, since Father would likely have refused the use of algonite to abate his physical decline, even if it went beyond that point. Some Humans initially felt that this seemingly magical mineral that would give them the ability to grow to a size that would allow them to independently navigate Quorilaxian society with greater ease was a gift to be used by all of them. Father, meanwhile, felt vehemently that algonite was not a solution to anything, on the grounds that it suggested there was something “wrong” with Humans as they naturally existed; that it was Humans who needed to be “fixed” instead of it being Quorilaxian society’s responsibility to adapt to the needs of its most vulnerable citizens.
And that was before we even understood the long-term, negative side effects of algonite, one being that algonite caused permanent infertility. Father’s genes would still contribute to Humanity’s re-population, however, since he had provided sperm samples before his growth. While his infertility meant nothing to the life of our family, its widespread prevalence among Humans would of course not be viable for the species as a whole, especially a species still near the brink of extinction.
The other effect of the algonite was far more personal and tragic: neurological degeneration, which, like the infertility, appeared that it would last permanently and not repair, even once Father had returned to his original size. Limited tests were conducted on some Earth animals, which, despite a more controlled administration of the substance into the subjects’ expanding bodies, corroborated the expectation that algonite was the cause of Father’s issues, which included tremors, seizures, narcolepsy, and, eventually, loss of cognitive abilities. And all this resulted from a single instance of ingestion; one can imagine that continual intake of algonite in order to maintain that enhanced size would only exacerbate the decline. Because of these effects, algonite became strictly forbidden from being used in this manner—not that any Humans, even those who had passed their child-producing years, felt by this point that this restriction was designed to keep them “powerless.” None had the desire to make that tradeoff of decades of their life, long-term mental freedom, and bodily control for the far more ephemeral sense of freedom and control that would come from a few years of being able to walk Quorilaxian streets on their own, outside of protected infrastructure, without worrying about being crushed beneath another citizen’s foot or picked off by a predatory animal. We should never have expected a chemical to allow us to bypass the far more challenging, yet far more rewarding, process of learning to live together with our differences. Perhaps ironically, it is through Humans not growing that all of us are growing together as a society.
I used to hate myself, especially whenever I looked at Father’s face and saw those scars, reminded that they were left there by the being who bore me...the same being who oversaw the ruination of so many other people’s lives. But he reassured me that I should not be ashamed of my identity. I am what I am, and I have no control over that. I would have found those words empty and meaningless coming from nearly anybody else, but we shared a common plight, and it meant so much to hear them spoken by him.
I felt an incredible sadness for Father when I contemplated his circumstances, often thinking to myself how unfair it was that his life was being shortened, both chronologically and in terms of his height; that he would suffer early decline without being able to continue to experience the advantages of his increased size. I felt awful for thinking about his height in that way, as if it were a gift that would have served as any consolation for what would happen to him mentally. Mother and Father wrote a book about their experience together, and with raising me, to show others what Humans meant to Quorilaxian society, and they were often sought after to speak to others in person as well, yet here I was, their own daughter, feeling bad for my Father at having reverted to being a “mere” Human. I kept these feelings to myself, worried that sharing them would only upset him and make him think less of me. Then, one day, as I wept upon my bed without realizing he was nearby, looking up at me from the floor, he asked me if I would like to talk about what was troubling me. So I picked him up—this very same person who could once carry me now sat in my cupped hands—and tried to explain as well as I could.
After I did, he told me that he did not lament his situation at all, having no regrets about ingesting the algonite, knowing that it set in motion the events that would lead to him finding and adopting me, whom he could not imagine his life without. He felt like the luckiest man in the universe to have a daughter as wonderfully caring as I, and to have such an amazing partner in Mother. He was grateful for the opportunities he had to hug and to hold me, and to help with the physical demands of raising me in my youngest years, which I know Mother appreciated as well, even with the help she got from Uncle Drab, who, in addition to becoming the brother whom Mother deserved, became like the brother Father never had. Speaking of Mother, Father was happy to get the chance to wrap his arms around more parts of her body than just her fingers, but they were intensely devoted to each other, at any size. While this was the stature at which he had lived most of his life already, and it was, in fact, his state at the time he and Mother had originally met and fallen in love, I had never known him at this scale, which is why I think I had a difficult time accepting the changes in him at first. But, just as he said that his and Mother’s love for one another did not diminish along with his mass, and in fact continued to grow, since the size of our bodies does not reflect the magnitude of our souls, he told me that no matter how much bigger than him I got, I would never stop being his little angel. Upon hearing him say that, I began to cry even harder than I had before we started talking, but this time the tears that streamed down my face came from an overwhelming joy, and I clutched Father to my heart.
I felt like a weight had been lifted from my spirit and pulled Father away from my chest, smiling down at him in my hands. Our discussion had made me think of all the things he could not only still do at his size, but which he could do better than me or Mother. For example, he excelled at concealing himself when we played hide-and-seek, able to crawl into spaces where I could not even fit my hand. This also made him very good at seeking, especially for objects even smaller than himself, such as when I could not locate one of my favorite earrings, but he found it under my dresser almost immediately. Another advantage of his size, I realized, was that he was very easy to carry because he was as light as...a...feather….
“Daddy, would you like to fly with me?” I asked him hopefully.
He said yes—and Mother approved. Thus began a tradition that continued for much of the rest of his life. Father spent so much time needing to look far above himself, so I loved providing him the opportunity to soar with me above the streets and see everyone else from the perspective that they would normally see him. He could also do that from inside an aircraft, of course, but this way we could be alone and get a chance to bond as I held onto him tightly and beat my wings for the both of us, watching the wonder on his face as the wind rushed through his hair. It was on one of our flights together that I revealed to him, before anyone else, that I was falling in love with someone. I experienced numerous encounters with multiple Zgorbian males throughout my life, laying many eggs as a result, since I accepted my duty to help restore my species, just like Father had. But, my true love and partner of many years was a Human. Mother and Father were not the only people close to me who set an example of finding love between species, however. Uncle Drab’s time in the military brought him to Alquabor, where he met the girl who became my aunt, and together they adopted an Alquaborian son and a Quorilaxian daughter, my cousins. As you can imagine, this meant that our extended family portraits managed to be an even more extraordinary sight to behold than Mother, Father, and I by ourselves, despite the three of us already constituting one of the most physically unique immediate family units on the planet.
My heartfelt conversation with Father made him realize that he and Mother had overlooked a tremendous opportunity to communicate their ideas directly to children, and soon after, they began to co-author a series of children’s stories—illustrated by Mother herself, of course—about Human kids and their lives among their Quorilaxian, Zgorbian, and Alquaborian peers. By this time, anyone who may have still thought of Humans as “vermin” did not dare to openly reveal so in a public venue, but some still casually referred to them using terms such as “toy people” or “doll people,” with the fact that Father’s heroic actions occurred at his comparatively great size only serving to bolster, in their minds, the notion that Humans at their given stature are useful as little more than entertainment for any other race's young sons and daughters. It is no wonder I felt the way I did about Father’s shrinking when this was the attitude that pervaded the minds of so many adults multiple times my age. Mother and Father acknowledged this reality, their tales making it clear that it was natural for everyone to underestimate Humans, including Humans themselves; or that it was okay to like feeling big and powerful around Humans, especially considering that they often delighted in the complementary sensation of feeling small to you too, as long as they trusted you, but it was important for everyone to communicate and be open about how they felt, and to receive consent for handling without applying any pressure. The books went on to become bestsellers and won many children’s literature awards, and now they are a fixture in school libraries. I have heard of many students becoming the teachers to their parents on this subject, ironically needing to be the ones to point out that Humans were not playthings meant for children’s amusement alone. Even if Humans sometimes liked to imagine themselves in such roles in the course of a play session to foster mutually enjoyable interactions with their much larger friends, this did not act as a blanket license to pick them up without warning and permission.
Father lived on Quorilax for over a decade more, dying at about 22 Quorilaxian years old, including the time he spent on Earth, and thankfully, for most of those years, he continued to possess all his faculties and be as large a presence as ever, maintaining that he would not trade the fullness of his life for anything, even if he died that day, and any sadness he felt came from him knowing how much this pained everyone who loved him. Only in the last few years of his life did his mind truly begin to slip away, but Mother, as she promised, was there with him until the end, supported by me and the rest of us who had become his family. She lived another 24 years beyond that, to an age of 45, but is now once more at his side. I, myself, am over 50 years old now, so I am aware that it will not be long before we all soar together again, this time for eternity.
I am perpetually humbled by the splendor of this universe; not merely by the astounding power of what towers overhead but by the intricate beauty of what cowers underfoot. Sometimes we only pay attention to the giants among us, but when we focus more closely, we can see others they rely upon who are not so easily noticed. The lives of these multitudes that scuttle about largely unseen may not be as prestigious as their more visible counterparts, but they occupy roles equally essential, not existing merely to be trampled by those of seemingly nobler birth. No being lives only to serve; all live to serve each other. Even that which cannot command our respect should still receive it.
The future is secure for both Humans and Zgorbians now, with the population of each species on Quorilax numbering over ten thousand. The social network designed for Humans, their guardians, and potential guardians has been a tremendous success, giving humans a safe way to more easily socialize and feel connected on their new homeworld, across vast gulfs of scale and space, but Humans are already working their way into becoming an integral part of society at large—quite a literal term, to them. They are not tiny aliens from across the stars anymore; increasingly they are friends and colleagues, classmates and lifemates, adopted family and adoptive family. In other words, they are us. Humans are keenly aware of where they physically stand in life—at our ankles—so taunting, humiliating, or intimidating them because of that does not prove anything. It does reveal incredible weakness, but it is our weakness, not theirs. We did nothing to deserve possessing such inherent power over them, just as they did nothing to deserve lacking it—short of being born Human, which is something no one should ever be compelled to regret. Meanwhile, if we prove ourselves worthy bearers of that power precisely by almost never using it, only demonstrating it in defense of aggression, and treat Humans with the dignity and consideration that any sapient species deserves—make them happy to be Human—then they will do everything in their power to make us just as happy: working for us, fighting for us, and loving us fiercely, with every fiber of their souls...souls no smaller than anyone else’s, despite the size of the bodies they are packed into. Humans should not have to prove anything to anyone, but believe me, they still will. With our support, they can and will do great things, and the reverse is just as true.
For my entire life I have struggled to understand why all of this death and destruction had to happen to get us to this point. Sometimes, perhaps the only way to truly understand is to understand you cannot understand; nevertheless, I still try. We are really not all that different. I have come to realize that war is an omnipresent force throughout the entire universe that can manifest itself anywhere and at any time. However, I also recognize that there is another force always present, regardless of what planet you are from. That force, of course, is love. Love and war are the universal languages, the two constants of all sapient life, and it is the balance of these that regulates the course of events in the entire universe. Ironically, these two seemingly opposite powers are not always in conflict; in fact, they are often closely intertwined, with one leading to the other in a constant cycle. We will fight for that which we love, but war can unite us and bring us closer together, making us realize what is truly important and worth fighting for. That is how I try to justify all of this suffering.
In my long life, I have been extremely fortunate to never personally be traumatized by the horrors of war. The Quorilaxian Empire has entered a long period of peace. War seems to have disappeared from our lives, but I know better. War will never die; it will only come and go with the ebb and flow of the tide. Who knows what time will bring to the shores of Quorilax? Whatever happens, I am convinced that we will have nothing to fear, for I know he will continue to stand here as a sentinel, protecting the land and the people he loved so dearly, even before most of them loved him in return. The stars that shine on the Quorilaxian Empire will never burn out under his watch.
I do not know what has made me worthy of the privilege of being who I am. It is an honor to know that I, my daughters, and all of their daughters are carrying on his name, and my father’s spirit will live on in us for all time. I am a child of the Human Race, I am a citizen of the Quorilaxian Empire, and I am the matriarch for the dawn of a new era in the history of the Zgorbian people. I am Kelly O’Reilly.
AND A NEW BEGINNING
Bonus Zgorbian fan art! Here’s Kelly O’Reilly, including a comparison with her dad at his natural size:
And here is art of all the Zgorbians described in the story—plus some original characters by the artist:
I am honored to see and share any fan art from those who are artistically inclined, but I also love to simply hear what people think and discuss the story, so please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if I never hear from you, I want to thank you for sticking with me all the way, and hope that I made doing so worth your while.
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