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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/538636-Quorilax-High-Tide-Part-1
Rated: 13+ · Novel · Sci-fi · #538636
"We're pawns in some cosmic chess game."




First Quarter: "Quorilax: Rising Tide [13+]

Hub Folder: "Quorilax [13+]


This is the second quarter of Quorilax—if you have not read the previous quarter, then click on the “Hub Folder” link above.



ONE

Less than half of a Quorilaxian year had passed since that fateful June day that changed my life and altered the course of the entire Human Race. For the sake of brevity and because the less spoken of it, the better, it simply became known to both Humans and the Quorilaxians we interacted with as “The Day.” Every time I heard that phrase, I felt scarred all over again. In the meantime, I recovered from the injuries I suffered. Once my bones healed and I could shed my body cast, I gazed upon a horrific sight. I found it very difficult to believe that the person I saw was I. My muscles had atrophied throughout my entire body, making me haggard and thin, as weak and fragile as a kitten—and by that, I don’t mean a young Quorilaxian. When I saw an enormous scar on my left leg, there was no question to whom the body belonged. I knew it was, indeed, my body.

Through intensive and extensive physical therapy, I rebuilt my body from what was not much more than scratch. With the passing of each day I felt stronger, and I made a relatively quick and full recovery, just as predicted. I hoped the Human Race would follow suit. We were off to an auspicious start, with one of the seven women producing twins and all of the mothers and newborns surviving, increasing our population from eleven to nineteen. The children had been fathered by three males—I alone didn’t contribute to the first round of births due to my incapacitation. The only permanent physical change I experienced from that trauma, however, was the presence of my scar, which would serve as a rather intimate and eternal reminder of the events that brought me here. Time could never completely erase that wound, nor would it ever fully mend the mental scars I sustained.

I had only seen two of the other Human females, one at a time, for the second round of impregnation, and I had not seen any of the other males. For obvious precautionary reasons, Operation Noah didn’t concentrate more of us into a small area than absolutely necessary. As far as Human reproduction is concerned, we had no reason to ever meet a member of the same sex, and I wouldn’t see a Human woman except when it came time for us to mate. Given that my seed was all they needed, even direct encounters with women could have been avoided, but the Quorilaxians felt that some level of physical interaction with our own species met the “absolutely necessary” qualification, and mating offered the most practical reason to bring us together.

In regards to the act of mating itself, it’s not as if the Quorilaxians stood over us and watched. They left us alone in a private space, where we could talk to each other and take as much time as we needed beforehand and afterward. None of us were forced to engage in sexual intercourse or even artificial insemination against our will—which proved that Operation Noah valued us for more than just the sperm and eggs inside us—but I and the rest of my fellow Humans put aside any personal reservations we may have had for the sake of Humanity’s survival. When you can count all the members of your species on your fingers and toes, your protective instincts go into overdrive, but there is another drive that intensifies significantly as well. Specifically, I was amazed at how little time elapsed between discussing the awkwardness of the situation with my selected mating partners and lying exhausted next to them, drained in more ways than one, but much more time passed before we finished discussing our lives before and after The Day and signaled that we were ready to leave each other’s company and be returned to our guardians.

Even with the opportunity to meet other Humans for mating, the relative infrequency of that activity still meant that interacting with anyone besides our guardians—and their immediate families, if applicable—was an extremely rare occurrence. It’s not as if we could wander outdoors and meet other Quorilaxians on our own, and even guardians introducing us to anyone besides their most trusted friends was fraught with risk, a lesson Zar quickly learned when she showed me to those two girls she invited to her home on The Day. That being said, I was excited to learn that Operation Noah had already specially made Human-scale tablets and had nearly completed development of an ultra-secure social network that would be open only to Humans, guardians, and Operation Noah personnel, finally giving us Humans an opportunity to connect with each other on a more regular, relaxed basis, if only virtually; not to mention allowing us to do the same with guardians besides our own, whom we could arrange to meet in person, if we so chose.

I should clarify what I mean by “guardians” in this context. Although only eleven Quorilaxians, including Zar, were actually matched with the initial group of Humans, over two hundred people had been placed into the pool of potential guardians, out of thousands who applied—and I learned that, at all steps of the process, the gender mixture skewed overwhelmingly female. It is this group of a couple hundred who would have access to the network, in addition to the active guardians. Guardianship of a specific Human, or even guardianship in general, was not expected to be a lifetime commitment for a Quorilaxian, so he or she could leave that role at any time, with fair notice to the Human, who would need to choose a new guardian, of which there were many eagerly waiting to be called upon. While a Human couldn’t realistically opt to have no guardian, we would be able to initiate a request for a new one; a match between guardian and Human needed to be agreeable to both parties. I couldn’t imagine either me or Zar ever wanting to part from each other, but I suspected that not everybody got matched as perfectly as we did on the first try, considering that Operation Noah had little to no insight into each Human’s personality upon his or her abduction and therefore assigned us to the chosen guardians almost completely at random. Even the guardians, who all volunteered for their role, and who I’m sure were all wonderful people who would treat any of us with the utmost care and kindness, had their own personalities and preferences for what they wanted to get out of the experience, and they would be more compatible with some Humans than with others, depending on how talkative each member of the pair was, how open they were to touching and holding, and so forth.

Just because my guardian and I were happy together, however, didn’t mean that I wouldn’t seize the opportunity to connect with other Quorilaxians besides her; not as potential guardians, but simply as potential friends whom I could trust to see me as a fellow person. I thought about the first time I used the communicator in my room to reach Zar, and how much I marveled at the notion of speaking to her while we weren’t in physical proximity, allowing me to briefly forget our tremendous imbalance in size and power. Soon, however, my default method of meeting new Quorilaxians would be to converse with them electronically, seeing their words and ideas displayed indistinguishable from mine, not in a font twenty times taller, though I think it would be an eye-opening experience for even the most enlightened Quorilaxian if I did occasionally draw attention to our disparate scales, sharing pictures and videos taken from my perspective, letting them see firsthand my view of their world. I felt hopeful that distant, virtual communication like this would, perhaps ironically, eventually be one of the best ways for Humans and the wider Quorilaxian populace alike to come together and focus on our similarities, and to empathize with our unavoidable differences, working to build an integrated society that would overcome those.

At the moment, I lay naked in my bed, trying to fall asleep, but all this thinking probably wasn’t helping me achieve that goal. I came to crave tight, enclosed spaces such as my sleeping chamber, since the cozy quarters made me feel safe and protected. At least I didn’t have anything to worry about within the apartment’s walls once the family koswok became accustomed to my presence. Although I initially grew understandably terrified at the prospect of being so close to jaws that could carry an elephant, Zar held me with a solid grip right in front of the animal’s face, giving me a chance to rub my hands along the end of her snout, and the koswok reciprocated with gentle but sloppy licking from her long tongue like she was the giant dog I never had. She realized quickly that I was to be guarded like one of her own litter, not snatched up and devoured as prey like other small creatures that might scurry across her path. Nearly every night, this animal to which Drab had once considered feeding me lay curled up on the floor below, next to Zar’s bed.

Speaking of Drab, his charge ended up being animal cruelty, as expected. Had I died, his punishment would have been significantly worse, not just because it would have been a greater crime against me but also because my death would have dramatically affected the mating program. My genes would have been lost to all future generations of Humanity, and that would profoundly impact our species’ development, particularly at this critical early stage, when I was one of only four sexually mature Human males in existence. The fact of the matter was that I didn’t die, though, so Drab didn’t face a heavy sentence. After he finished with the small punishment prescribed to him, he joined the military; therefore, he was out of my life, at least for the time being.

Shortly after my arrival upon Quorilax, I learned that Zar’s father passed away when she was younger. I could relate, as both of my parents died before I was even old enough to remember them. Once I learned the reason behind his death, I think it hurt me to hear more than it hurt Zar to talk about it. Her father was a soldier and was killed in the war with the Zgorbians, defending Earth…defending me. I felt guilty, but Zar assured me that I shouldn’t; he died defending those who couldn’t defend themselves, doing what he viewed as his duty, and it was clear that his mission, far from dying with him, lived on with equal vigor in his child. I knew Zar would give her life to protect me, but it pained me simply to contemplate what dreadful circumstances would necessitate that she make such a sacrifice.

Zar’s mother, who shared her daughter’s fondness for me, told me how much happiness I brought to Zar and that Zar’s father would have been proud to know just how much his sacrifice meant to his family, and even if he knew his ultimate fate, he would have done it all over again. If Zar’s father were still alive, I can only imagine the intimidation of proving myself worthy of the love of his “little” girl, but it sounds like I would have passed the test. Ironically, by killing me, Drab would have destroyed exactly what his father fought and died for, even though Drab focused on me as responsible for his death and used that as part of his reason to seek vengeance. Of course, I’m sure he was too blinded by anger at that point to fully consider the implications of his actions. Perhaps part of the reason he joined the military was to atone for his deeds.

From the first day I met Zar, I felt a connection between us that had only grown stronger, quickly blossoming into a passionate love. Zar admitted to me that she never expected this to happen when she applied to become a guardian. As I mentioned earlier, Humans were assigned to a guardian almost completely at random. Potential guardians answered a single question related to matching them with a specific Human, and it pertained to the only clue to our personality that was physically evident: our sex. They indicated whether they would only accept guardianship of people of one sex, if they had a preference to care for one sex over the other, or that it did not make a difference to them, and Zar chose the last of those. When she learned her charge was male, and even when she saw me for the first time, the possibility that she would develop feelings—let alone that I would return them—had still not crossed her mind. To be fair, we got off to a bit of a rocky start. As much as Zar “loved” Humans, reading and learning all she could about us, falling in love with one was another matter entirely. Hearing Zar tell me all of this increased my confidence that she came to love me as a person and man as she got to know me, not simply exoticizing the Human body I happened to inhabit.

I was not oblivious to our physical mismatch and how odd a pair we must have seemed in terms of outward appearance, but our size disparity seldom presented a problem. Though we didn’t get a chance to partake of many of the most basic activities that young intraspecies couples who were roughly the same size as one another typically engaged in and took for granted, like a romantic dinner at a restaurant or dancing at a club, this was less due to my stature in and of itself than the fact that Humans had become extremely rare and valuable, so I needed to stay hidden in public for fear that someone would nab me and try to sell me or hold me for ransom. After all, at home, Zar and I still shared intimate meals, and I could still “slow dance” with her by standing in her palm while she held her thumb up, allowing me to wrap my arms around it like they would have encircled her waist if we were a similar size. There was plenty else we could do as well. Sometimes we would play board games, which served as a relaxing activity for Zar, but I would usually move my own playing pieces and other oversized props, which served as a great method of strength training. Other times she would read to me from her many books, because even if I could pull a two-stories-tall tome from a bookshelf, I couldn’t decipher her written language.

The audio in Quorilaxian films, meanwhile, translated just fine, so I often curled up with Zar in front of the television, gazing at a screen as big as at a cineplex back on Earth, except now I did it from the comfort and privacy of a living room—a home theater in the truest sense. It turns out some themes are universal, like love, war, and—get this—giant monsters. One might think that people who are over a hundred feet tall would have trouble conjuring up beasts massive enough to send them scattering through streets like rats, but that wasn’t the case at all. Just as an alien visitor to an urban area on Earth might have seen few animals besides dogs, cats, rodents, birds, and bugs, assuming from this limited sampling that Humans were our planet’s biggest beings, I had to remind myself on a regular basis that the Quorilaxians were dwarfed by many of the wilder life forms on their world. On an excursion with Zar to a Quorilaxian zoo, I’d witnessed multiple species that moved on four legs yet still rose several hundred feet above the ground at their shoulders, which is to say nothing of the largest leviathans that swam in the seas. When I glimpsed such an animal in Zar’s sketchbook the first time, I noticed a creature a small fraction of its size drawn swimming nearby. My eyes went wide when I realized that creature was Zar, who confirmed that she drew herself and the animal to scale with each other. As I considered that she compared in size to the beast much the same as my size compared to hers, I calculated that it would have reached over half a mile in length and could have sucked me into its gullet whole, as if I were a krill faced with a baleen whale. That was the point at which I decided that the only swimming I ever wanted to do on Quorilax was in a bathtub with Zar, and even then, I preferred to spend most of my time lounging on the parts of her body above the water line. When it came to plants, the thousand-foot urban trees visible outside Zar’s bedroom window didn’t even come close to giving me a sense of being in ancient forests with specimens over a mile high.

Not only did the Quorilaxians make movies featuring giant monsters, but I think they may have made even more than Humans did. Perhaps this was precisely because they were fully conscious of their lofty stature relative to life they’d documented on other worlds like mine, and a curious mixture of fear and wonder lingered in the backs of their minds at the possibility that planets could still exist where the native people and creatures would make them feel as small as I did on Quorilax every day, without the illusion of special effects. Keeping that in mind, I don’t find it so ironic that Zar would be the one of us who, as we watched these cheesy movies, gasped in terror as eyes peered into posh penthouse suites and hands reached inside to seize screaming Quorilaxian starlets, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “window shopping.” As the monsters clutched their quivering quarry, Zar would likewise hold me tightly to herself, telling me not to be afraid. I couldn’t help but smile when I looked up at her and saw her bite her nails in fear, remembering how my first impression of my beloved upon our initial meeting had been that she was a giant monster. Far from feeling “love at first sight,” I felt pure terror upon my initial glimpse of her.

Just because she wasn’t really a giant monster didn’t mean she couldn’t do a fair impression of one when we played hide-and-seek, though. Yes, I said we played hide-and-seek. That game had never interested me before, even as a child, but then again, I hadn’t been so much smaller than the one searching for me, which, I must say, makes the activity exponentially more exciting for the hider. It also greatly increases the challenge for the seeker, who would have to search the smallest nooks and crannies for her prey, but still, Zar still always “won.” She refused to ever give up and admit defeat, so whenever she didn’t locate me in a reasonable amount of time, once she re-entered the room in which I hid, I would dart into plain view, screaming in mock terror just to ensure I didn’t go unnoticed. Upon “discovering” me, she would lumber my way, lifting her legs up high and crashing them against the floor in exaggerated stomps. I didn’t find her act completely convincing, though—not because she was a poor actress, but because seeing her breasts bounce and sway with each ponderous step made me realize that giant movie monsters, whether dreamed up by Quorilaxians or Humans, never seemed to have mammary organs, given that they tended to be either male or non-mammalian in appearance, if not both. I suppose this is because of the dissonance we would feel at seeing a beast rampaging one moment and then returning to her lair to be a caring, attentive mother suckling her young, or vice versa. I think we’d like to believe those two behaviors could not exist within the same being, but even among the Quorilaxians, Zar had encountered a woman on the street who would have had no compunctions about crushing me to death in one hand while holding her young son’s hand in the other.

Despite Zar’s clumsy gait, I couldn’t outrun her even in a dead sprint, but, to be fair, I also didn’t possess much motivation to avoid capture, knowing that it meant I would feel the warm embrace of her hand around my body again. In the unlikely event that I ever found myself alone and outside of the protective walls of my box around hostile Quorilaxians, however, my freedom or even my life could depend on my skill at concealing myself from those against whom I possessed little to no defense besides avoiding detection in the first place; so, like many other forms of play, our games of hide-and-seek served a serious purpose beyond just being a way for us to find some joy amidst the challenges presented by this most notable of the differences between us, which were outweighed by our many similarities. These likenesses never ceased to amaze me, considering that our species arose on entirely different planets light years away from each other. It was almost enough to make me believe we were both part of the same great, divine plan. I said almost enough.

The activity Zar loved more than any of the ones I’ve mentioned so far is drawing, and I, not surprisingly, had quickly become the subject she loved to draw the most. I had satisfied her request to use me as a live model…dozens of times over, most of them nude. As someone whose mate was no bigger than one of her fingers, she experienced the concept of scale in a major, personal way on a daily basis, and it clearly came to fascinate her. She not only drew me alongside relatively small objects to give a sense of my size, but would also practice drawing pictures which employed forced perspective, sometimes featuring those very same objects, to give the illusion that I was bigger. Occasionally, she would make herself be such an object, appearing less prominent because she was further in the background of the scene, though she displayed far more interest in drawing us truly together, which meant that she would be shown in all her glory, cradling me in her palm or letting me roam her body.

But then came images featuring us at equal height, not simply given that illusion through forced perspective. I know this because I saw us embracing, walking hand in hand while looking into each other’s eyes, or performing other simple actions that most Quorilaxian couples could do, and did, without much thought. As if those pages weren't surreal enough, another set of illustrations depicted us in a reversal of our true magnitudes, inspired, Zar told me, by my offhand suggestion to her that perhaps there was some parallel universe where Humans are giants to Quorilaxians. I noticed that these depictions seemed to be the most erotic in nature, with one of the tamer selections, for example, showing her lying seductively upon my palm, her torso arching toward my lips as they descended from above and gave her a full-body kiss.

As powerful and fearless as Zar could seem, I knew from our time together that she was just an ordinary young woman who took on an extraordinary task. I could tell that she cherished her role as my protector and provider, but part of her clearly wished that she could, at least on occasion, feel as protected and provided for as I did. I knew she loved me for who and what I was; she just wished there were more of me to love, and the only place she could ever bring those longings to life was on these pages, because unfortunately, despite all the amazing technology the Quorilaxians devised, they had yet to discover a method to grow organisms to a size beyond the one destined by nature. Perhaps, over the course of thousands or even millions of years of gradual evolution, the Human Race would ever so slowly increase in size with every generation to the point that my distant descendants would stand eye-to-eye with Quorilaxians instead of eye-to-ankle, but that didn’t change anything for Zar and me in the present time. I turned my head to gaze over at my living landscape of a lover asleep on her bed, her nude form illuminated by moonlight streaming through the window. From her soft, pink nose, to the snow-white hills of her chest that rose and fell with each breath, to her sleek onyx legs, her body’s external beauty matched the beauty of the soul within.

Even though Zar and I were mates, I still didn’t sleep next to her in the same bed, for my own safety. She may have been my “other half,” so to speak, but in terms of relative physical weight she was more like my other 99.99%, and we had no choice but to laugh along with the joke nature had played on us, leading me to dub myself her “insignificant other.” The gentleness, kindness, and humility that Zar exhibited toward me in her waking life made it clear that she didn’t truly believe her existence inherently possessed more value than mine by simple virtue of her mass, which allowed us both to find humor in such a term; but at a time like this, as I watched her slumber from dozens of feet away, I sometimes reverted back to my original instinct to see Zar as my superior: a monolithic goddess who, if I dared to lie beside her as if I presumed to be her equal, might unconsciously shift during the night and suffocate me beneath her body, if not outright crush me like an insect. In reality, Zar, far from being an immortal deity, was even younger than I, and recalling that she had for a time, however briefly, been smaller than a pea in her mother’s womb, while I was already a toddler mashing peas into my dinner plate on Earth, helped me keep some perspective.

Given the minimal use of clothing and consequent visibility of bodies in Quorilaxian society—a society in which I learned clothing oneself in public wasn’t a written law but more of a social convention observed for the sake of modesty—it didn’t surprise me that they placed high importance upon maintaining physical fitness, but Zar seemed especially strong, even for her height, which was quite exceptional for a Quorilaxian female, making her taller than most of her male peers and nearly any other woman. When Zar used an online conversion tool that included Human measurements, I discovered that she stood 121 feet tall, while Drab, when I last saw him, would have been about 97. I realized in hindsight that I had received clues that Zar was something of a giantess even by Quorilaxian standards, like when Drab teased her that she’d be able to pick up Quorilaxian boys in her hands before too much longer, but I received few opportunities to view other Quorilaxians from a vantage point besides from within the carrying pouch Zar wore on her waist. When I saw Zar from afar, she usually either stood alone or next to her mother, who, being only a few feet shorter than Zar, still stood much taller than average, meaning that they both literally rose head and shoulders above Drab. I felt sympathy for the poor guy, wondering how with genes like that in his family, instead of growing to make his mother and sister seem petite and dainty by comparison, he managed to accomplish the complete opposite, turning them into veritable Amazons when measured against him.

I wondered until I saw pictures of their family that included their father, I should say. Even though he died when Zar was three Quorilaxian years old—about six in Earth terms—her head already reached his shoulders by that point. Zar gave me a quick lesson in the genetic basis of Quorilaxian height, explaining that they would inherit it primarily from the parent of the same sex, so a mother’s height had minimal bearing on her son’s growth, and a father’s height did little to affect his daughter’s stature. Therefore, even if Zar and Drab’s parents had dozens of children, the chances were slim that just one of the boys would end up bigger than the smallest girl, and the odds of Zar having a brother her size or Drab having a sister his size were close to zero. Despite the siblings’ divergent heights, however, they faced a convergent plight, because just as girls ridiculed Drab for his shortness, Zar’s bodily strength seemed to intimidate most boys as much as her mind did. At least Zar had her mother, a fellow female to confide in who understood the experience of rising above much of the male population and loving a man smaller than herself, whereas Drab’s father could offer him no advice on how to walk tall when he was far from that. Far from tall by Quorilaxian standards, obviously—it’s not like those couple dozen feet of height difference between Zar and Drab mean much to a Human, even though the disparity seemed much greater to me than it did to them in relative terms. Zar was right when she once remarked to me that life is all about perspective. That saying could apply to physical perspective just as well as the mental variety, especially since the former clearly played a role in the latter.

The Quorilaxians’ different attitude toward public nakedness became most evident when they engaged in physical activity, which accounts for almost all the times I witnessed this right exercised, at least when it came to below the waist, since women’s bare breasts were a more common sight. I seldom saw the exposed genitals of a person walking along a street, and even less often inside a public building, but when Zar strolled with me through a park, I would often see skirts, dresses, sandals, jewelry, and any other encumbering ornamentation strewn across the perimeter of playing fields and hung over low tree branches as the Quorilaxians who owned those articles ran, threw, and collided with each other. The conglomeration of bare, firm bodies made me feel like I was watching the ancient Olympics, but their titanic scale made it seem as though the Greek gods and goddesses themselves had decided to participate. Quorilaxians managed to get plenty of exercise outside of sports like this, however, since personal automobiles were non-existent on Quorilax, at least in urban areas, so the residents were forced to move their massive bodies far more often as a part of their daily routine. I considered how much space was wasted on parking lots for cars on Earth, and then I pictured a Quorilaxian-scale car occupying the same amount of land as hundreds of Human cars. Between that mental image and thinking about how much more energy would be required to move that vehicle than a human vehicle while it wasn’t parked, I could quickly see how the Quorilaxians would have decided that designing their cities around that mode of transport was a poor use of space and resources that would have seemed even more scarce to them because of their size. Simply walking on two feet seemed to be the most popular method for Quorilaxians to get around, but I did see pedal-powered cycles, streetcars, and trains as well. I was quite grateful for the Quorilaxians’ transportation choices, as I think I would have been overwhelmed by the sounds and smells of a city where movement was dominated by the roar and emissions of machines as large as naval warships from my perspective.

Even though I couldn’t partake in Quorilaxian sports or safely walk around the city, I found ways of my own to stay in shape, getting plenty of exercise and feeling some amount of independence running around freely at home, among rooms the size of stadiums. I couldn’t miss the sound, sight, and sensation of my three much larger female cohabitants approaching, so I would have received ample warning to dodge them if they strutted around completely oblivious to my presence, but they were far more conscientious than that. Even the koswok seemed to have learned to take special care to watch her step, keeping her head low and panning her eyes from side to side as she padded around, and I did my part to help them out by usually wearing skirts of bright, flashy colors that would more easily catch an eye over a hundred feet above me. I could be found other places besides the floor, though, because Zar installed nets and other aids around the apartment for me to climb and use to reach counters, tabletops, and other soaring plateaus without assistance. The first time Zar entered a room after I started climbing on my own, I could see in her eyes how much she wanted to pluck me from the net and lift me to the summit, so I insisted that she resist her natural inclination to help me in these cases. From that point on, she would often sit, crouch, or bend down nearby and watch in admiration, once telling me that she thought people with the least power in life are often the strongest in character, as I broke a sweat ascending to great heights…great heights she could look down upon simply by standing back up.

Once I closed my eyes, it didn’t take long for me to enter the dream world. My dreams never meant much to me before The Day, but now they did hold a larger significance. I had my memories, sure, but dreams were the only way I could truly interact with the life I lost. I immediately recognized my dreams since they usually involved many Humans and other aspects only present on Earth, so I indulged all of my senses, knowing I didn’t have long to appreciate the experience.

The dream that just began was typical. I stood at the heart of a plaza in the center of a large Earthly metropolis, but I didn’t know exactly which one. It was quite possibly an imaginary city that my mind completely fabricated. On all sides of me, skyscrapers reached for the clouds and Humans rushed around, traveling to their various destinations. I felt strangely relaxed being a single, unimportant person within this hive of life, savoring the commotion that I had so often tried to escape before.

But that is the point at which the typicality ended.

Many of the people no longer moved, but instead stood still and looked upward at the sky. I followed their gaze and noticed a thin, long object shoot across the sky at a high speed. It was not a bird, it was not a plane, nor was it Superman. It soon vanished from view, and all resumed their normal business as though nothing unusual just happened, but soon, I heard a siren. Everyone rushed for shelter—everyone except for me, that is. When I tried to move my feet, I found they were attached to the ground as if held there by some mysterious magnetic force. I couldn’t move and therefore had no choice but to look dumbly around the plaza, which became uncomfortably expansive now that it was empty. I relaxed slightly, but only slightly, when I remembered it was a dream, so I could take some solace in the fact that what was happening was not real and would not hurt me.

It is just a dream, I told myself.

Suddenly, I heard a loud explosion, the ground started to rupture, and then all I could see around me was a blinding light. I seemed to be witnessing a cataclysmic event, but the ground remained firm under me, and I stood there, impervious to any harm. When the sound finally faded and the intense light at last vanished, I stood in a nightmarish landscape. The sky was a blood red, and there were no natural landforms or manmade monuments to break its expanse. In fact, it seemed as though I was standing in the open ocean, but it was not an ocean of water.

It was an ocean of skulls; Human skulls.

I looked down toward the ground near my feet to find myself wading knee-deep in them. I wailed in horror, hearing the bones knock together as I tried to run through the mass. I tried to escape the horrifying sight, but it was no use, since the field of death stretched as far as I could see. I looked all around me, in every direction, but could see nothing except the bloody red sky above the horizon and the macabre white stretch of skulls beneath it.

“Help!” I pleaded. “Is anybody out there? Can anyone hear me? Somebody? Anybody? Answer me, please!” As I expected, my calls went unheeded, and I began to panic. I was completely alone in the middle of nowhere, lost, with no escape. I pinched myself in a desperate attempt to bring an end to the hellish ordeal. When that proved to be unsuccessful, I began mercilessly hitting myself on the head. Nothing worked, and I continued my solitary struggle through the desert of demise.

I wanted the nightmare to be over with, but I could do nothing to elude the situation. “No! I don’t want to be here! I can’t take this anymore! Please! I want this to end! Help me!” As though materializing out of nowhere, something behind me touched me on the shoulder. I spun around, finding myself looking at a cadaverous Human figure. In most places, the skin and hair were missing altogether, revealing the skeleton. Where skin was still present, it was shredded and bloody. One eye was absent from its socket, and the other stared at me widely since there was no lid to cover it. I stood there looking back at it with equally wide eyes, petrified with fear.

“Prepare for the end,” it said in a raspy voice, and I screamed louder than a banshee.

The dream ended there, but the scream carried over to my waking life. Once I finally stopped, I leapt out of my bed and threw my back against the wall, trying to retreat as far away from the bed as possible, looking at the once safe and comfortable refuge as if it were the portal to Hell. I was so drenched in sweat that droplets actually ran down my face, and I panted heavily. I heard loud barking and turned to see the koswok reared up, one paw resting on the table next to my box and the other scratching at my roof.

“I know, girl; I heard him too,” Zar groggily addressed the koswok before turning on the nearby light and peering in at me. I didn’t have to deactivate the one-way mirrors on my walls; I had stopped using those long ago. In fact, Zar and I slept nude for each other’s viewing pleasure as much as our own comfort. As if to highlight that fact, her eyes initially aimed below my face, but they soon rose to meet mine. “What is wrong?” she asked. “Are you okay?” I responded in the negative, so she entered the code to unlock my roof, swung it open, and pulled me from my room, setting me on the palm of her open left hand. With her right, she stroked the koswok’s head and said, “Good girl,” prompting the animal to lie back down on the floor, content that she had done her duty and left me in good hands. Zar pushed herself into a seated position and lifted me to her face, a visage of beauty and beast all rolled into one.

I looked at Zar’s eyes, which I could have mistaken for a Human’s without any reference to scale. This close to her gargantuan face, I could only focus on one of those glossy orbs at a time, so rather than choose a single one, my gaze darted back and forth between them. They vanished behind her eyelids as she yawned widely, revealing her cavernous throat. “I’m sorry for waking you up,” I told her.

Her mouth closed, and her eyes, each of them as deep and blue as the Quorilaxian sky, settled on me once again. “That does not matter to me! It sounded like you were dying, and I would rather lose some sleep than lose you! What happened?” When I tried to speak, I stammered. I must have looked like a complete wreck. “Calm down,” she cooed. “I am right here. Nothing will happen to you. You are safe.” She reached out her other hand and caressed me along my spine with her index finger. Most of my body relaxed at the gentle contact, but my loins reacted to Zar’s touch in the polar opposite manner, rigid and pointing up at her within seconds. Half a year ago, I wouldn’t have guessed the love of my life would surpass my height, let alone more than twenty times over, and I didn’t think my body would ever learn to recognize the comic futility of this response. The mere sight of my nearly instant reaction to her was more than enough to delight Zar, though, prompting a coy smile. “I love you too, Ryan. There will be billions of Humans again in no time if they are all as amorous as you,” she said, tenderly brushing the tip of my penis with her fingertip, causing me to suck in a breath as it leapt at her attention. “What is the problem?”

“I had a nightmare,” I replied, my voice noticeably shaky. Some of that shakiness may have been due to the way she’d just touched me, but it was still mostly a result of fear.

“That must have been a horrible nightmare! What was it about?”

“I…I don’t think I want to talk about it.”

“Really? It helps to talk.”

“I know, but…I can’t stand to think about it again! I want to forget it ever happened!” I said, still trying to get the images out of my mind.

“Do not let your imagination get the best of you. Your only enemy is coming from within.” She brought me closer to her face slowly, but when her snout and I met, it still contacted me with enough force to knock me down, and I landed on my back on her palm. “Forgive me, Ryan,” she apologized, her face looking down at me from directly above. “I am such an oaf.”

“True, but you’re by far the prettiest oaf I know.”

She guffawed. “My, what a charmer you are! Some other girl is going to steal you away from me if I do not keep my eye on you. Maybe I should keep my hand on you too,” she said as her right hand approached from behind and scooped me up, bringing me right to her lips before speaking again. “Oh, and while I am at it, I think I will keep my tongue on you as well.” Now the glistening pink muscle snaked out of her mouth and began to lick me delicately. She pressed me right up to her muzzle, giggling as I returned the favor and tickled the tip of her nose with my own little kisses and licks. I could feel her hot breath blowing against me with all the force of a gale wind while a rumbling purr resonated throughout my body.

I may have filled a hole in Zar’s soul, but her body still ached with a need I could never fully satisfy. Of course, Zar never made me feel inadequate for what was completely out of my control. I gave her all I could, which may not have seemed like much, but she wanted nothing more from me. She didn’t use derogatory words to describe my stature, of course, but then again, she didn’t really use any words to describe my stature in the first place, since neither of us saw a need to state the obvious. Not once had I heard her refer to me as small, tiny, little, or any of the other synonyms that would rehash my shortcoming, however seemingly innocuously. The closest she got was chuckling when I called myself her “insignificant other,” but ironically, the closer I got to her, the less insignificant and meaningless I felt. I mattered to her more than I ever had to any Human I could remember.

After several minutes, Zar peeled me off her face, much to my reluctance. “How do you feel now?” she asked.

“Well…I feel damp,” I noted, having been smothered in a coating of her saliva.

She could have just wiped me off on the pillowcase or bed sheets and left it at that, but I knew she had a better idea when a playful smirk came to her face and she pulled her knee toward her chest, reaching out and pressing me against the bottom of her foot. She then moved me across the pads of her sole, through the space between her first and second toes, along her instep, and over her inside ankle, dragging me through the warm fur of her calf and inner thigh. She teased me by directing me just out of reach of her womanhood, but I could see that she was teasing herself as well, because...well, let’s just say that was the last part of her body that would dry me off right now. Her body, like mine, was confused by its mind’s desires, vainly preparing to mate with a like-sized partner, ready to welcome into her depths a pillar of flesh bigger than my entire being. I wouldn’t say our love was blind, but its eyes certainly had a poor sense of scale.

Zar moved me along her abdominal muscles, which flexed impressively as I grazed them, and puffed out her chest. I sensed the drum-like beating of her enormous heart quicken as she pressed me into the mound in front of it. The erect pink nipple that dwarfed a Human woman’s entire breast made it clear just how enormous even her newborn children would be. Considering that, it was probably for the best that I couldn’t impregnate her, albeit a shame in the sense that I knew she would make an excellent mother; the problem was that I couldn’t be much of a father to Quorilaxian-scale kids. As the fleshy nub came within my reach, I palmed it and squeezed, making Zar’s chest swell with a gasp and causing tons of forgiving, fur-covered flesh to heave into me harmlessly. To think that the force of a bullet shot at her from a Human weapon would have barely made her flinch, yet her entire body spasmed at the gentle, loving touch of my tiny hand. I detected some sort of lesson there—well, a lesson beyond a reminder of why Zar never allowed me between her thighs, since she didn’t trust herself not to lose control and hurt or even kill me, especially after my body had been weakened by my recent injury. To say her conversation with Operation Noah personnel after such an incident would be awkward is a tremendous understatement.

After traveling over the center of her collarbone and against her graceful neck and muzzle, I finally ended up in front of my gorgeous guardian’s smiling face again, having completed the grand tour of her body. “Is that better?” she asked, batting foot-long eyelashes.

Much better,” I said. Despite my small size, my face probably had the biggest grin in the universe on it at that moment.

She giggled. “You make a fine brush. Some day, we will paint a masterpiece together. Now, will you be okay?”

“Yes…I think so,” I replied.

“Are you sure? You do not sound like it.”

“I’m going to be fine,” I said with more confidence. “I promise.”

“That is what I want to hear. Goodnight, Ryan. I love you.”

“I love you too,” I echoed. Zar set me back down onto my bed and locked the roof, smiling at me again before turning off the light. I couldn’t even remember why I’d woken up in the first place; instead, once I wasn’t quite so worked up, my mind lingered on what would happen if it were possible for Zar to bear my offspring. I laughed myself to sleep thinking about the sitcom-worthy misadventures of raising a rebellious adolescent daughter who, in Quorilaxian fashion, took after her mother’s height. Young lady, why was your father trapped inside a drinking glass? I imagined Zar booming in her sternest voice, one hand on her hip and the other holding me in front of a sweet and innocent-looking, yet gigantic, face. Remember whom you get your height from, because it means that when I come home and ground you for twice as long, you cannot avoid punishment by picking me up between your fingers and stashing me in the cupboard next to him!

My dreams were interrupted upon hearing the koswok barking again, and within a second, I saw a flash of light, which was followed by a loud, pained whimper. Meanwhile, Zar had shot up in bed and turned on her lamp, revealing an intruder. I could ascertain little besides the person’s sex due to a black outfit clinging tightly to feminine curves, covering all except her eyes, ears, and muzzle. She presently had a laser pistol pointed downward, where I saw the koswok in a heap, her face melted. In shock, I turned to Zar, who couldn’t afford to mourn at that moment. She hissed and bared her fangs, pouncing and knocking the other woman down just after the latter tossed the weapon away. Zar settled on top, swiping at her pinned opponent.

“Pick on someone your own species!” Zar snarled. Both of us had been so focused on that individual that we didn’t even notice she had a partner, who rushed to her aid from the other side of the room. This one was a male, and he pulled Zar up, holding her in a full nelson. Once the female rose to her feet, Zar delivered a mighty kick to her stomach, propelling her backward and slamming her into the wall, giving me a surge of pride. That’s my girl!

The battered female got up again, baring her teeth in return. She swung her hand at Zar’s face, but Zar suddenly jerked her torso forward and brought the person restraining her right into the path of the female’s nails, which raked across his nose, causing him to roar in pain and release Zar from his hold in the process. Zar looked back and forth at her adversaries before moving toward the male. The female, meanwhile, pulled what looked to be a syringe from her belt and approached from the rear.

“Behind you, Zar!” I screamed, trying to help her the only way I possibly could, and without looking, she executed a rear kick that connected with the female’s crotch. Too bad she hadn’t done that to the male. The recipient of the blow recovered quickly, and now she rejoined her partner in an attempt to wrestle Zar to the bed. When I said Zar was strong, I meant that, because even against two people, one of them male, taking her down took a great deal of effort. I saw the female handling the syringe again, and my heart sank as she plunged it into Zar’s abdomen, whereupon Zar let out an anguished cry and the struggle ended abruptly. The anonymous duo backed away, and Zar turned her head in my direction, reaching an arm toward me with a look of absolute sadness. She pressed her hand against the glass wall in front of me, covering most of it, and I did likewise, my own digits looking like those of a mouse when faced with her prodigious palm. In a cruelly short length of time, her eyes closed and her hand slid away. I felt ready to break down.

The two others, both breathing heavily, turned their attention from Zar to my box. The female, closer of the two, approached until I saw her face directly overhead, looking at the keypad for the lock, not surprisingly entering a combination without success. She made another attempt, and after entering the code this time, the roof unlocked, to my disbelief. I didn’t waste any time considering how she could have done that before I bolted out my door and leapt to the floor, landing on a cushion Zar had placed there at my request to break a possible fall, even though I probably could have dropped several dozen feet onto the bare carpet without suffering injury, the advantage of Humans evolving on a world with higher gravity than Quorilax. Of course, that difference between our planets had put me at a significant overall disadvantage against beings that had developed here, where lower gravity had encouraged life to grow to epic proportions that more than compensated for them being weaker than I was on a pound-for-pound basis. I darted under the bed and felt a rush of wind as a hand swiped for me and narrowly missed, and didn’t stop until I got as far as I could from the foot and sides of the piece of furniture, at which point I turned to see the female on her hands and knees, peering at me in frustration, incapable of squeezing below the bed herself. She stood up, unable to obtain me for the time being, but I knew it wouldn’t be long before the Quorilaxians overcame this mild setback and I exhausted the few ways I could use small size to my advantage, so I seized the opportunity to make a break, hoping they’d be too preoccupied with getting under the bed to notice that I had already moved across the open floor and crawled beneath the door.

For the first time, I found myself wishing Zar didn’t keep her room so neat and clean, because some of her clothes and other personal items left scattered across the carpet between the bed and door could have provided cover for my escape. I wouldn’t have even minded containers of old food that attracted bugs, which on Quorilax regularly dwarfed small dogs, if some mild harassment from them had meant I would escape from these far more dangerous people, who were much bigger, stronger, and smarter than vermin and, worst of all, seemed to possess about the same level of compassion. Both pairs of feet were still on one side of the bed as I started my sprint across the wide open floor, never looking back. I had reached the door and even slithered partway under it, glimpsing the hallway, before I felt fingers pinching my calf.

Those fingers dragged me back into the bedroom, and I flipped onto my back to see the female lying on her stomach, her torso propped up by her forearms that lay flat across the floor behind me, acting as a corral. She leaned forward so her face loomed over me, and she spoke. “You Humans may be small in size, but you have immense spirits.”

“Oh, don’t patronize me!” I said, especially because she sounded like a young woman, probably not much older than I. “You were just lying here, watching me, waiting for the last possible moment to reach out and remind me that I’m nothing compared to you!”

“That is not true,” she attested. From what I could see of her face, she even appeared hurt by my accusation.

“Of course it is! I’ve been on this planet long enough to know what most of you Quorilaxians think of Humans, that you’re bigger and better than we are in every way! I get it, okay?”

“If you understand that attitude, then you are the only one between us who does. I am ashamed for my species if those who see you as an equal person—or a person at all—are the exception and not the norm.” She briefly looked up at the male standing over us impatiently before returning her attention to me. “I had reservations about this, but you have reminded me why it must be done. Thank you.”

Before I could ask what she meant, she had shifted her weight to one arm, and the hand of her other arm approached from behind and captured me in her grip without notice, let alone my consent. So much for treating me like an equal person! She reached the other hand back along the length of her body, producing a syringe that looked ridiculously tiny in her hand but was still about as large as a pogo stick. I didn’t want to satisfy her lust for a sense of dominance by putting up a feeble fight against her fist, but in anticipation of resistance, she said, “This will hurt much less if you hold still.” She tilted her hand so that I lay parallel to the floor and lifted her three lower fingers from my body, exposing everything below my chest, and then gently pressed the needle into my stomach, releasing the fluid into my system. She soothed me with strokes of her thumb, but the substance took action within seconds, and I faded out of consciousness.



TWO

As I awoke, I had an unsettling feeling of déjà vu. Even in my drowsy state, I could tell I was in a room—well, a portable cage to the ones who made it—much like the one that held me when I first arrived on Quorilax. It was a cubic container with air holes in the roof, and it measured about twenty feet in each direction. Judging by the manner in which I’d been stolen, I figured that the circumstances surrounding this incident were not pleasant ones, and my mind raced with thoughts of what would become of me. I rose to my feet and tried to learn what was happening. I couldn’t accomplish much, though. I heard a faint droning below me as though I were in some type of vehicle. Above, I could see light through the air holes, but they did nothing to illuminate the darkness. I walked around, looking upward and studying the holes from all possible angles. I assumed nothing else shared the box with me, so when I tripped over something and almost fell on my face, I got a rude awakening. With no light, I relied on my sense of touch to inform me of what it was. I carefully extended my hand toward the object, grabbing hold of a soft mass and squeezing it. I soon realized I just groped a woman’s breast—Human, obviously—and I drew back my hand, feeling an overwhelming sensation of embarrassment.

“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to do that!” I apologized. She didn’t move. She must have been sleeping…or dead. I shook her to wake her up, but as I should have expected, I received no response. I put my hand to her neck to check for a pulse and was relieved when I felt a steady beat. She was alive but in an unconscious state. Assuming she endured the same ordeal I did, it would probably take longer for her body to process the tranquilizer since I assumed she was lighter than I was, or maybe she just experienced the events more recently.

“Help!” I called to anyone who would listen. “Let us out! We’re trapped!” After some time waiting, I didn’t think I would obtain a response, but then the roof opened up, flooding the enclosure with light, and I saw a Quorilaxian’s face above me. This one, who looked male, had the pattern of a jaguar, but if he was the one I saw earlier, he had removed his bodysuit and mask. Seeing as how I saw no marks on this one’s nose, I doubted he was the same person.

His hand approached me, and I reflexively backed up in a useless attempt to avoid being whisked away at his whim, but his target was my companion, whom he scooped up in his fist, lifting her to his face and examining her body, his eyes crossing slightly to focus on such a small target at such a close range. I had only observed fellow Humans being held in Quorilaxian hands several times before, and seeing the size difference between our species from afar made me feel even tinier than when I would be handled like that myself. The limpness of her body caused her back to arch, her arms to hang down along the sides of his hand, and her chest to thrust out toward his face—not exactly the best pose for a girl to avoid unwanted attention. Unlike me, abducted in my natural state, she at least had clothes on, but as his eyes lingered on his puny prize, I worried he would change that. As if reading my thoughts, he carefully pinched the band stretched taut around her bosom between his fingers and lifted it, uncovering her breasts in my plain sight as if to tease me like a schoolyard bully who had stolen something and was holding it just out of reach in sadistic delight as his victim jumped and grabbed for it. Of course, I saw no reason to amuse him with futile leaps; he didn’t even need to wave her above his head or toss her to someone else in a game of “keep away.” After all, even if he held her right in front of me, I could never hope to pry her from his tightly clenched fist. When there are only eighteen other members of your species, your protective instincts can’t help but go into overdrive, but since I was clearly not equipped to protect this girl, I could only be grateful she wasn’t conscious for this degrading treatment. His predatory impulses would savor the sound of her terrified screams, the smell of her fear, and the sight and sensation of her struggling helplessly in his grip. Perhaps if he weren’t granted the satisfaction of an aware victim soon, he would get bored and release his captive before she could react in the predictable manner upon waking up to find herself in front of a huge, leering face. For the time being, however, he held on to her, pressing against her exposed left breast, his fingertip large enough to cover it entirely.

“Hey! We’re people, not playthings, you oversized pervert!” I yelled, suddenly beginning to wonder whether the woman who captured me, or another female Quorilaxian onboard, had taken the opportunity to enjoy herself at my expense by fondling my body in a similar manner before I regained consciousness. I was hardly in a position to be spouting insults, but I knew he wouldn’t hurt me over it. They wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble to kidnap me only to end up squashing me over a few words. In fact, maybe they just needed a Human to stand up to them before they realized that our two species had as much in common from the neck up as we did below our shoulders. If we just squealed and squirmed in their grasp like any other small animal would, I couldn’t blame them too much for sticking us in the same cages as creatures that didn’t write poetry and discuss philosophy.

Our captor’s eyes shifted from the miniature young woman to me. “I cannot understand what you are saying,” he pointed out, and for the first time I realized my collar was missing, “but I know what you are thinking, and I am merely monitoring her heartbeat. I did not want to remove her from your sight and let you have any doubts about what I was doing with her.” Returning his gaze to the living doll in his grasp, he continued. “She is extraordinarily beautiful, but I would never treat her as an object. It is precisely because others will that she—the both of you—must be protected.” After holding his finger against her for a short time longer, he replaced her covering and then lowered his hand to the floor in front of me, holding her at the ends of his fingers as if offering her back, so I lifted her from his hand and set her down gently. As the roof closed, total darkness enveloped us yet again. Okay, perhaps I was mistaken about his intentions, but still, there was something wrong with this situation.

Some time passed, and I was almost ready to fall asleep again. Being preoccupied by the current state of affairs, I found it difficult to do so, but I could only do so much stuck in a pitch black box. I teetered on the verge of sleep, succumbing to the darkness and the droning hum of the engine, when suddenly I was catapulted into alertness by a powerful jolt, as though something impacted our vehicle. I heard an alert buzzer sounding on and off like the quacking of some giant, robotic duck. That seemed to be a universal signal that something was amiss. This continued for quite some time, perhaps several minutes, and I started to question whether there was any problem at all. I obtained my answer right on cue when I heard a horrible scraping noise and flew off the floor of my box, bouncing violently against its walls. The top of the container apparently broke off, because I spilled out onto the floor outside of the enclosure. I had been tossed about, bruised and battered, but nothing was broken, and I was still completely mobile. Freedom! I got up and looked around, trying to figure out where I could go from here. I was in luck when I noticed that a large strip had been torn out of one side of the room, as though something sharp peeled open the armor like it was aluminum. I made my way toward the opening ecstatically, and then I remembered something: the girl.

I looked around for my cellmate, making my way around some boxes littering the floor. As I should have expected, she didn’t land far from where I did, so finding her didn’t take long. I leaned down and picked her up under her knees and arms as I had shortly before, and then I traveled as fast as I possibly could toward the opening. I could hear the sound of fire, and the room started to fill with smoke, so I knew I had to be quick about what I did. I had a hard time running across the breadth of the room with a person in my arms, but a surge of adrenaline supplied me with the strength I needed to endure it. Once I reached the aperture, I looked down and noticed that the surface was about nine feet below. It was much too far to jump with the added weight of my partner, so I hung her arm over the edge and then leapt onto the barren ground. Once I was out, I grabbed her arm and gently pulled her over the edge, headfirst. After a certain distance, the weight of her body brought her the rest of the way, and she came crashing toward the ground. Fortunately, she landed on top of me, and I bore the brunt of the impact. I picked her up and made my exodus from the flaming wreckage.



THREE

I ran as fast as I could away from the crash. I didn’t turn around and look at where I came from until I was about five hundred feet away, clear of its immediate vicinity. At that point, I put the girl down, and upon closer inspection of the site I just left, I noticed I had escaped some type of aircraft, and it appeared to have skidded along the ground before coming to rest. That tear in the side must have been from a meeting with some sharp rocks in that outcropping I saw nearby.

I surveyed the vista before me. The host star peeked over the horizon of a desolate, windswept land. The only soul in sight was the one who lay at my feet, and I had no idea how long she would remain in her dormant state. For now, I could only rely on myself. I knew I couldn’t stand in this spot forever; I had to find shelter. Conveniently, I saw a burrow in the side of a gently sloping hill about two hundred feet away. I picked the girl up and rushed over to the new dwelling, hoping I wouldn’t find a current resident. Fortunately, the hole was empty, but I knew that could change quickly. I would probably need to move on later, but this would serve as a more ideal place for a temporary rest than out in the open. I set the girl down onto the floor of the cool burrow and checked her pulse to verify that she was still alive. Indeed she was, so I breathed a sigh of relief and sat there next to her, exhausted from my labors, hoping she would wake up soon.

With other things on my mind, I didn’t really have the time yet to look at her very closely. It was dark inside the burrow, but we were relatively close to the opening, so I had ample light. That Quorilaxian was right: she was beautiful. I guessed her to be about my age, and she was a relatively tan Caucasian with shoulder-length brown hair and an athlete’s physique, the lion’s share of visible body fat residing in her bust. I had…um…“met” two Human females so far on Quorilax, but this wasn’t one of them. She would be pregnant now, but that happened too recently for there to be any visible indication. I started to feel guilty about scanning her scantily clad body as she slept, so I decided to give her some privacy, looking out of the burrow toward the clear blue sky.

Before too much longer, I heard some movement and looked at the girl, who began to stir. Her eyelids squinted together and then parted slowly. Once she caught a glimpse of her surroundings, though, her eyes shot open and darted around before eventually settling on me, perplexed and clearly begging for an explanation.

“Please tell me you speak English,” I hoped.

“Yes, but why should it—“ she began but then stopped when she felt her neck, noticing that her collar, like mine, was missing. “What’s going on? Who are you?”

“Orion O’Reilly.”

Her eyes veered down to the lower part of my body, and she got a look of recognition. “Orion! Of course!”

I cocked my head to the side. “Have we met?”

“In a way. I’m the one who donated blood to you back when you got that nasty gash on your leg. Kelly Armstrong,” she introduced herself, reaching out to shake my hand with a strong arm. “Nice to meet you, Orion.”

“You can call me Ryan. So you know exactly what happened?”

She nodded and smiled, chuckling. “Yeah, I’ve never met anyone who got into a fight with a hundred-foot-tall cat and lived to tell about it.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for you. I don’t really know how to thank you….”

“Thank me? There’s no need to thank me, Ryan. We Humans need to be there for each other. You needed blood or you would die, and I was the nearest person who could give it to you.”

“I hope I don’t have to return the favor someday, but that I can if I need to.”

“Unfortunately, you can’t. I’m blood type O, and you’re type A. I can give blood to you, but you can’t give back to me.”

“I don’t understand how that works,” I admitted. “I’m glad someone knows what’s going on, though.”

Her thoughts turned back to the situation at hand. “Speaking of what’s going on…how did we get here?”

I motioned her to follow me out of the burrow, and she stood up…and up…and up. I was shocked to learn that the body I’d seen in that Quorilaxian’s hand not long ago and referred to as “puny” and “miniature” was taller than my own; by a very noticeable margin, in fact. My eyes were about level with the bottom of her chin, so I had to raise my gaze even to see her lips. Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly feel any smaller in this universe.

“Do I have spinach in my teeth or something?” she asked, displaying an unbroken expanse of shiny enamel, and I suddenly realized I’d been staring at her mouth for several seconds.

“I…I’m sorry. It’s just….”

“Relax; I’m teasing you,” she said, smiling and patting my shoulder. “I know it’s not every day that you see a 6’3” girl. A 106’3” girl, on the other hand, is a different story.”

“Well, you see a 6’3” girl any time you view your reflection. Forgive me for gawking…I’m sure that’s gotten old by now. Were you a basketball player?”

“Speaking of a question that got old…and whose answer is no….”

“Volleyball?”

She rolled her eyes. “Hockey. With the boys, that is.”

“Doesn’t surprise me. I mean, not because you look like a boy—jeez, anything but. And I see you didn’t get any teeth knocked out; no wonder you catch so much spinach.”

Kelly laughed as we climbed out of the burrow. Once we reached the surface, I didn’t need to direct her attention to the wreckage lying on its belly yet still reaching hundreds of feet above the desert floor.

“My goodness! We were in there?” She looked down at her body. “That certainly explains the cuts and bruises; I’m thankful it’s not any worse! You saved my life!”

“You did the same for me. Karma, I guess.”

“What happened to them?” she asked me.

“To whom?”

“The Quorilaxians.”

“Well, as far as I know, they’re still in there, in which case they’re probably—”

The aircraft exploded, engulfed in a huge fireball, and we leapt back in the hole, ducking and covering to protect ourselves from a potential shower of shards. “In which case they’re probably dead,” I finished my hypothesis, almost certainly just confirmed.

“What do we do now?” she asked me.

“I’m not sure what they had planned, but something tells me we should get out of here before their friends come to check out what happened. I don’t know what we’re going to do, though. We’re in a desert. We’re not going to survive for long out there.”

“Yeah, but there’s probably not much else that survives out there for very long either.”

I gaped at her. “Wow, that’s a real morale booster! You obviously weren’t a cheerleader!”

“Well, think about it: would you rather be in a rainforest teeming with life that’s larger than life? I think we have a better chance against the heat than something like a spider as big as a car or a King Kong-size spider monkey that’ll carry us up a tree as tall as the Empire State Building!”

She had a point, but I wasn’t entirely convinced. “Tarantulas lived in deserts too…in burrows like this one,” I realized, looking around nervously.

“That’s all the more reason not to hang around here too long. Come on, Ryan. If a person thousands of times your size couldn’t kill you, I don’t know what will. You didn’t cheat death just to shrivel up in a hole, did you?”

“You’re right,” I agreed. We ventured back out of the safety of the nest and panned the horizon for any sign of…well…anything. I meant it when I said this place was desolate. “I have no idea where to go, though,” I admitted.

“Maybe there’s something over that hill,” she suggested, pointing to a very large hill in the direction opposite the host star. The terrain was quite rolling, but that was the largest rise in sight. There was a chance it concealed something.

“That sounds like as good a plan as any,” I accepted without argument, and we started to make our way to our destination, which I estimated to be at least five miles away. As we departed from the crash site, I turned around and observed the plume of smoke rising into the air. Following it upward, my attention was drawn to the moons, which were still visible even though the host star had begun its ascent. Wait a minute…something wasn’t right. “Um…Kelly?” I got her attention.

“Yes?” she acknowledged.

“Do you notice anything…strange about the moons?”

“No, they look pretty normal to me. What’s the big deal?”

“There are at least three of them there. Quorilax only has two moons. I don’t think we’re on Quorilax anymore, Dorothy….”

As she looked up, a worried expression crossed her face. “I think you’re right, Toto.”

I kept scanning our surroundings as we continued to walk. “We’re like sitting ducks out here! I wish there were some cover!”

“Our skin actually blends in pretty well with the ground,” she noted, “so we have some natural camouflage. That’s assuming we’re not towering over the horizon, but in that case I’d say camouflage would be rather unnecessary.”

“What do you mean by ‘towering over the horizon’?”

“Well, think about it: if we’re really on another planet, it could easily be full of animals—maybe even people—that are as small to us as we are to the Quorilaxians. Maybe that ‘burrow’ was more like a big cave on this world.” I had been picturing us walking along from the perspective of this planet’s possible inhabitants, and after spending so much time on Quorilax, I naturally assumed that perspective would have been from a hundred feet above us; but upon processing Kelly’s comment, my mind’s eye zoomed in to inches above the ground, instead imagining people the size of mice—who looked like mice, naturally—taking a dip in a pool at some desert resort, their collective sigh of relief at being cast into shadow on this sweltering day changing to a chorus of screams when they look up and realize there’s still not a cloud in the sky. My complete nudity would probably just make matters worse. Maybe Kelly’s presence would actually help matters instead of doubling the terror they would feel upon seeing me alone, not only because her clothing would make her appear a bit more civilized, but if these people were anything like Humans or Quorilaxians, then, as I had considered earlier, Kelly’s feminine features might create the impression of a gentle, maternal being in their minds. Whether or not that was fair, I wouldn’t complain if it kept both of us from having a tactical military strike launched against us.

I found the notion of me and Kelly swatting at fighter planes whizzing by our heads hard to imagine, though, considering that Zar had told me Humans were the “least massive” of all known people, once again finding a way around describing me as small. The key word in that statement, however, is known, because would the Quorilaxians be aware of alien beings smaller than their fingertips, even if they had flown right over this planet? If those people had developed technology at least on par with modern Humans, building “skyscrapers” dozens of feet tall to light up the night, the Quorilaxians probably would have detected them by now, but what if this planet harbored a primitive civilization that dwelled in huts no wider than a Quorilaxian eyeball? Even in recent times, Humans would find new species of mammals on Earth, and the smallest mammals were like giants to so many insects and other relatively minute organisms constantly being discovered. If Humans couldn’t see so much so close to us, then what might beings as huge as the Quorilaxians be missing in their explorations of a cosmos vast enough to make even them seem like specks? “You know,” Kelly continued, finally snapping me out of the contemplative state into which she’d unwittingly put me, “maybe you won’t have enough time to concentrate on being so anxious if you tell me a little about yourself.”

“There’s nothing to really tell.”

“That’s not true. Where were you from?”

“Minneapolis.”

“Minnesota was a really beautiful place, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was,” I agreed. Was. Was. Talking about Earth meant using the past tense. Minnesota is probably a bunch of barren asteroids floating around in outer space right about now. “What about you?” I redirected.

“Lived all my eighteen years in Fairbanks, Alaska, right smack dab in the middle of nowhere. I always wanted to get out and see the rest of the world. I suppose it’s a little late for that now,” she said with a heavy sigh.

“You’re getting to see more than the world, though,” I pointed out, trying to cheer her up. “You’re getting to see the entire universe.”

“I know. I just wish I didn’t get drugged for each flight. I think I need a new travel agent.”

We continued to drift toward the ridge in the distance. This planet obviously had a very quick rotation, because the host star rose much faster than on Earth or Quorilax. Being from the two northernmost of the United States, Kelly and I were like fish out of water in an environment like this. That was an apt metaphor, considering that I came from a land where water was nearly as plentiful as air. The heat began to overwhelm me, and my throat yearned for water to lubricate its parched walls.

“Man, it’s hot!” Kelly complained. I nodded and looked away for a moment; by the time I turned back, she had removed her brassiere. I stared at her with wide eyes as she left the dark red strip of fabric on the ground behind us. She turned to me and must have noticed my expression, for she quickly crossed her arms over her now bare chest. “I didn’t think you would mind,” she explained. “I can put it back on.”

I decided not to mention that I’d already seen her bare breasts, albeit from not quite as close. “No, I don’t mind; I was just…surprised. Even if I did mind, I don’t have much right to tell you to keep it on,” I said, gesturing at my naked body.

“Well, it seems only fair, especially when just about the only scenery we’ve got out here is each other,” she told me, bringing her hands down and slipping out of her skirt as well. “I shouldn’t get to have all the fun.”

I smiled at the compliment—she certainly wasn’t shy! So much for at least one of us not appearing like a savage to any minuscule municipalities we might stumble across, though. We walked on, and I started feeling lightheaded, like I just stood up too fast and got a head rush, except the feeling wasn’t going away. I lost my balance and stumbled, falling to the ground.

“Come on, you can’t quit now. Get up,” she ordered, helping me to my feet. We crossed more of the bleak landscape, seeing nothing except for an occasional rocky outcropping or some brave plants with the courage to persevere in this merciless environment.

“We’re almost there,” Kelly commented as we neared the top of the hill and prepared to view what, if anything, lay on the other side. I hoped there would be some water, some food, or some shelter—anything that would help us. What awaited us behind the hill could mean the difference between life and death. If we didn’t get some water soon, our hours would be numbered—in the single digits, most likely.

My heart raced with anticipation as we came within several hundred feet of the crest of the hill. Then I noticed something coming over the other side…toward us. Kelly obviously saw it too, because she immediately locked on to me, digging her fingers into my skin as a creature...a person...jogged up the hill and gradually revealed its bipedal form. I couldn’t discern its exact size yet, but I could safely say I was still the shortest person I knew of on this planet. I wanted to reciprocate Kelly’s reaction, but I tried to remain strong. We couldn’t possibly outrun it, so we stood still, watching the colossus stride toward us, hoping we would blend with the surroundings like two pale chameleons. The dingo-like being was male, with white fur on his front that faded to a tan color on his sides and on the bushy tail that swayed behind him. He was relatively small—relative to Quorilaxians, that is. His face would have been about level with Zar’s knees, so I approximated him to be thirty feet tall. He focused on something out in the distance, so although we weren’t overly small, he didn’t see us. Our camouflage worked, perhaps too well, for he was soon upon us with no sign of stopping. We screamed and leapt out of the way in unison, just in time to avoid his foot as it slammed down where we previously stood.

“What?” said an immature voice in surprise, sounding like a Human boy of about nine or ten years of age. The young giant froze his stance and swung his head around, trying to sense from what direction he heard the noise. Then he located us on the ground next to his feet, and his huge brown eyes stared at us inquisitively. “Sorry about that!” he apologized. “I did not see you there!” He lowered his massive body into a crouching position so that we came up to his sternum, then cocked his head to the side and curiously surveyed us. “What strange little animals…” he evaluated, now clearly talking to himself. “What are you? I have never seen you before.” He carefully reached out a hand toward Kelly and started petting her. He seemed particularly fascinated with her long hair, lifting it up and letting it fall back down several times. After he had his fill of that, he moved his finger down along her back, over her rump, and all the way down her thighs and calves. Kelly blushed and smiled at me. She partly seemed to be enjoying the attention, but I had a sense that she mainly felt embarrassment and uneasiness. Before long, the boy ceased his action, but he remained crouching, his gaze shifting back and forth between Kelly and me.

“Excuse me,” I said to the anthropomorphic dingo pup. “Can you help us?” He looked back at me without response. Once again, I completely forgot that Kelly and I didn’t have our collars. He couldn’t understand a single thing we said; my words were nothing more than squeaks to him. We still had our translators, though, so we could understand everything he said. “What should we do?” I asked Kelly.

“Do we really have a choice? He knows where food and water are. We have to follow him.” We both walked closer to the dingo, placing our hands on his leg and looking up at him in a supplicating manner, hoping he would understand the message. He smiled at us and bared his sharp white teeth, each the size of large trowel blades.

“I am going to take you home. I can see what that smoke is later.” I was rather impressed that he could get his “little” hands around our midsections and hold one of us in each—me in his right and Kelly in his left—even though we were about one-fifth of his height. He rose up on his powerful haunches with us in hand and headed back in the direction from which he originally came.

He started out walking but gradually sped up until he sprinted across the landscape, easily traveling at least fifty miles per hour. The wind rushed past our faces like we were dogs sticking our heads out of a car on a freeway. I constantly moved up and down as he bounded along the hilly terrain. I’m sure he meant well, but I soon felt somewhat sick. Add to this that I was quite lightheaded from dehydration, and you have a recipe for trouble. I leaned my head as far as I could over the edge of his hand and vomited. “Eeeeww!” he said in disgust. I glanced over at Kelly, but she seemed unaffected by the turbulent ride.

With the original ridge far behind us, we now climbed another one. As soon as we reached the summit, I saw a river—which was more like a stream on the dingo’s scale—flowing through a small valley. Flanking either side of the stream were moderate amounts of tall grasses and small, sparsely adorned tree-bushes, and I could also see a single house along its banks, which I guessed to be our destination. It was a simple, gray, plain, rectangular-shaped house with a thatched pyramidal roof and walls of rusticated stone and mortar. There was another much smaller building next to it, which, as we approached closer, appeared to be an outhouse, as near as I could tell. I suppose I would have been foolish to expect a luxury condominium in this real estate.



FOUR

We soon stood immediately in front of the entrance to the humongous yet humble abode, where the dingo set me down on the ground since he needed a free hand to turn the knob. I became accustomed to seeing doors that slid open when a Quorilaxian pressed a button, so being in front of a weather-beaten wooden door requiring this boy to turn a knob was a shock. After the door opened, he lifted me back up and proceeded to enter. The inside was just as the outer appearance suggested—simple, almost like a cabin. We entered into the main room, which, among other things, had a central table surrounded by three chairs, a wood burning stove, and some raggedy looking furniture. There didn’t appear to be electrical fixtures of any kind, nor did I see indications of the presence of indoor plumbing, which made sense considering the outhouse. Two doors lined the far wall, and I assumed they led to bedrooms. A female dingo with uniformly tan fur turned and looked in our direction.

“Khalgeth, where have you been?” she asked, worry evident in her voice.

“Mama, look what I found!” he said euphorically, completely ignoring the question and holding us out at his arm’s length proudly as though he were a fisherman showing off the bass he just snagged.

She walked toward us, studying Kelly and me closely. “I have never seen those before. What are they?”

“I do not know. I found them out in the desert.”

“You are bringing wild animals into the house? Whatever they may be, wild animals should be left that way. You know that, Khal.”

“I know…” he admitted, “but they seem very tame. They touched my leg and looked me in the eyes. I thought they needed help.”

“Hmm…well….”

“Please, Mama?” he pleaded. “Can I keep them? I will take good care of them!”

The mother considered. “Let me see one,” she requested, and he looked at Kelly and me, soon thereafter transferring me to his mother’s possession. He clearly seemed to have taken a liking to Kelly—talk about puppy love. The mother inspected me closely, shifting me around in her powerful hands not much differently from how one would evaluate a piece of fruit in a supermarket. “Okay,” she consented, offering me back. “They seem very weak and harmless. I will let you keep them for now, but do not become too hopeful. We will discuss it with your father when he returns. Is that all right?”

“Thanks, Mama!” he said elatedly. “I love you!”

“I love you too, Khal. Make sure they are housetrained, and keep a close eye on them. I can tell that at least the male has not been neutered yet, and we cannot afford to be feeding a litter of puppies.”

“I will be careful, Mama.” Apparently, he’d already learned the facts of life, so to speak.

He began to walk toward one of the doors with us in hand, but then his mother called upon him. “Wait, Khal. We have nearly used up our supply of water. Could you go down to the stream and get some more?”

“Okay, Mama.”

“You should also take your animals to the stream and clean them off,” she added. “My hands are filthy just from touching the male.”

“Yes, Mama,” he said, now with a hint of impatience. After she enumerated all of his tasks, he set us down on the floor and procured a large, shiny metal bowl and a cloth towel from his mother. Once he opened the door, he called us to follow, and we began the short journey to the stream.

Upon our arrival, Khalgeth set the bowl down along the edge of the water. He grabbed me first, holding me above the rushing water and splashing me, trying to rub off some dirt. I enjoyed the revitalizing feeling of moisture finally returning to my sun-baked body. After he washed me from head to toe, he took the towel and dried me off, and the cloth felt good as it brushed against my skin. Once he finished with me, he picked up Kelly, with whom he did likewise, though she fidgeted and grimaced when the young boy’s fingers innocently rubbed her chest and brushed between her legs. After she experienced the same routine of drying I did, he put her back next to me.

“Good as new!” he said, proud of his achievement. Kelly and I stood on the bank and watched as Khalgeth gathered the water into the bowl provided. Upon filling it, he stood up and lifted it with both of his hands, then walked toward the house, calling us to follow. En route to the house, I looked over at Kelly, who held her head low, looking down at the ground continuously for the entire trip.

Once he set the bowl down next to his mother, he picked us up and walked toward the back of the house to one of the doors. Upon entering, I saw it was a bedroom, just as I suspected. It was an uncomplicated space with no adornments, the main focus being a single, neatly made bed in the far corner. A bedside table occupied its namesake position, situated directly below a window that acted as the single source of illumination, flooding the room with light that radiated an aura of warmth to combat the cold, stone surroundings.

He put us down onto the smooth floor. “You stay here,” he told us. “I am going to get you some water to drink.” It wasn’t as though we could go anywhere anyway, since he closed the door behind him upon his departure from the room, and we couldn’t reach the knob, much less have the strength to turn it, even if one of us stood on the other’s shoulders. And we were too big to squeeze between the floor and the bottom of this door, unlike some on Quorilax.

Finally, I could quench my thirst! Neither Kelly nor I drank any water from the river since Khalgeth was too busy washing us. Speaking of Khalgeth, he returned within moments and placed a bowl on the floor next to us. I eagerly ran up to the edge of the bowl and downed some of the cool and refreshing liquid as though I had to drink Lake Superior in a day. It also helped to get the flavor of bile out of my mouth. Water had never tasted so good.

“You were really thirsty!” he realized, amazed at my heroic intake of water. “You must be pretty hungry too. I will see whether I can get you something to eat.” He exited the room yet again, and I continued to chug the water. Once I had my fill, I brought my head out of the pool. It surprised me to not see Kelly somewhere along the perimeter of the bowl, so I glanced back and realized that she was sitting on the floor with her legs folded, holding her head in her hands like a weight, still staring down toward the floor.

“Come on, Kelly! Aren’t you thirsty?” I asked, baffled. She lifted her head and acknowledged me with a blank stare, then slowly rose to her feet, walking toward the bowl in a very heavy and sluggish manner, like she wore a ball and chain around her ankles. Her face, so lovely and radiant before, appeared different, with her mouth in a frown and a profound look of sadness in her eyes. She eventually made it to the bowl, positioning herself about ninety degrees counterclockwise from me and leaning down to take a few sips, but then she just stood there, sniffling quietly, looking down at her reflection in the water. Something was clearly amiss in her world. “Is something the matter, Kelly?” I asked with concern. That prompted the dam to burst, and she started bawling her eyes out, the tears streaming down her face like waterfalls. I walked around so I stood right next to her, at which point she raised her head and looked down at me.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized.

“Sorry for what?” I inquired. “What did you do wrong?”

“I just…I’m not usually like this. I’m not the type of girl who cries at every little thing; I can usually handle myself much better. I know I’m making you feel uncomfortable.”

“No, you’re not. Besides, the way you usually are doesn’t matter; there’s nothing usual about this. Let it out,” I said, trying to make her feel relaxed. “I’m not going to think anything less of you. What’s wrong?”

“What isn’t wrong?” she turned the question around on me.

“I don’t follow you…” I confessed.

“Come on, Ryan! Just look at what we’ve become! We built the pyramids! We painted the Mona Lisa! We composed beautiful symphonies and wrote great books! Now what are we doing? We’re lapping water out of a bowl like we’re some farm animals at a trough! Wild animals? Housetrained? Neutered? Puppies? This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be! Something is horribly wrong with this situation!” Her sobbing somewhat subsided as she spoke, but now the floodgates reopened. She stood there with her arms across her chest and continued looking at her feet. I held out my arms in an offering of support, and she responded by uncrossing hers and lifting them limply into the air. I reached my arms around her and gave her a hug, rubbing one of my hands along the course of her back. She put her arms around my neck and buried her face in the crook of her elbow on my shoulder. I just stood there and held her, trying to calm her down.

“Don’t worry, Kelly,” I attempted to comfort her. “We’re in this together, and we’re going to get through it.”

“First giant cats, then giant dogs! What’s next? Giant mice?”

“Well, for anyone who thinks cats were above dogs in the hierarchy on Earth, I suppose that would be the logical progression. But if dogs are above cats, then we’re rising in the hierarchy, which means the next race will be giant Humans,” I said, keeping a straight face.

Her weeping died down once again, and after she cried a little bit more, she lifted her head away from my shoulder and laughed, her bright smile shining like a rainbow after the downfall. “Giant Humans. That’s pretty funny. With everything that’s happened so far, though, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m sorry for getting snot all over your shoulder,” she apologized, wiping away her mucus.

“Hey, that’s what it’s there for. Think about it, Kelly: things could be a lot worse than this. We were about to die in the desert before this kid saved us. He obviously adores us, and I can’t think of any better feeling in the world than bringing hope and happiness into someone’s life. He seems to have a special fondness for you in particular.”

“Oh, wonderful. Some giant, prepubescent alien boy has a crush on me. Please excuse me for becoming so giddy.”

I facepalmed and raked my hand down in frustration. “The point is that I don’t know all the things some little Human boys did with small animals, and, honestly, I don’t think I want to know. We’re basically all this kid has, though, and he’s not going to hurt us. We’re going to be safe here until everybody figures out what’s going on. Let’s make the best of a bad situation.”

I heard the sound of the front door open, and a pair of feet entered the house. I suspected I knew who it was. “Yes! Papa is home! Papa is home!” I heard Khalgeth proclaim, confirming my expectation.

“What timing,” the mother chimed in. “The food is nearly ready.”

“How is it going, Khal?” the father asked. “What have you been up to?”

“You will not believe what I found today!”

“What did you find?” the father inquired.

“Hold on, I am going to get them now,” he said in excitement, at which point I heard heavy footsteps approach our door. He was thoughtful enough to open it gently and peer around it to make sure we weren’t in the path of the door’s arc before he opened it fully. He walked over to us and bent down, lifting us off the floor and hugging us to his chest, and then he walked out into the main room. The father already surveyed us in complete bewilderment as Khalgeth carried us toward him.

“Here, put them down on the table,” the father said, and Khalgeth obeyed. We stood there on the edge of the table, and I looked up to view the pack assembled in front of us. On our left was Khalgeth, who was approximately thirty feet tall; on our right was his mother, about five feet taller; and in the center, standing between them, was the father, five feet taller yet. The monumental creature’s snowy white fur made him look to be more suited to an arctic environment, seeming out of place in this scorching climate. All three of them loomed above us, studying us closely.

“Do you know what they are?” the mother asked.

The father continued to examine us, looking at us from all possible angles. “I have no idea,” he said in defeat. “I have never seen anything like these before. One of my friends at the market is a pet vendor, and I pass by him constantly. I see the animals he is selling all the time.” His face contorted, indicating a state of deep thought. “I have seen some very strange things, but…I have never seen any of these. Where did you find them?”

“In the desert,” Khalgeth testified, pointing in the direction from whence he brought us.

“Right near our house? That is very, very odd…” the father evaluated, at a loss for answers. “It seems like we would have seen one of them by now. Then again, they have almost no fur, and their skin is relatively pale, which means there is a good chance they are predominantly subterranean creatures.”

Now came the time for the big question. “Can I keep them, Papa? Please? Can I?” Khalgeth implored.

The father kept looking at us. “I do not know…” he pondered. “It is getting dark now. It is too late to do anything about them tonight. Tomorrow, I will bring them with me and ask my friend about them. I suspect that he will know what they are. If he is unaware of them, then I think it would be best to bring them to the authorities. These could very well be foreign creatures that do not belong here and are being sold on the black market. If that is the case, then it is in our best interest to inform someone. We do not want to be accused of harboring illegal animals.”

“You mean I cannot keep them?” Khalgeth asked, crestfallen.

“I did not say that,” the father said, resurrecting a faint glimmer of hope in Khalgeth’s eyes. “It is possible. We need to find out more before we can make a decision about this.” I looked over at Kelly, and, as though our minds were fused into one, she simultaneously turned to look at me, her panic-stricken expression mirroring my feelings. Black market? I had no question in my mind that she had focused on the exact same phrase. It was a reminder of the reality that Human lives were considered priceless, and I didn’t mean that in the warm and fuzzy “everyone is unique and special” sort of way.

“So,” the mother edged her way back into the conversation, “are you two just about ready to eat?”

“Oh, yes, of course!” said the father, who apparently had to be reminded he was hungry. The two males sat down in their respective chairs, and the mother brought the metal bowls over and set the food in front of them. Next, she went back to retrieve her own food and, in addition, returned with a small plate, which she set down on the table in front of Kelly and me.

“I hope they eat meat,” the mother wished. I did, and in fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that before Khalgeth appeared and discredited Kelly’s theory that this planet might be home to people much smaller than ourselves, my rumbling stomach prompted me to engage in a serious internal debate over whether I would eat any of the natives if my alternative would be to die of starvation. I reasoned that I would have needed to consume at least several people at a time to preserve myself, a single person, and just because far less matter would make up their bodies didn’t mean they would matter any less to the ones who loved them. Having a soul mate with a physical form several thousand times larger than my own, I probably understood better than anyone that our souls had no dimensions. Would Zar be happy to get me back if she knew that I’d prevented so many others from ever again returning home to their families? Could my brain continue to think in such metaphysical terms if it were deteriorating from a lack of energy to keep it going? Thankfully, I’d been spared from my moral dilemma. I walked over to the edge of the plate and surveyed the two large chunks of meat covered in some type of gravy, each piece rivaling my foot in its bulk. I lost most of the contents of my stomach when I upchucked earlier, so I was ravenously hungry. I grabbed one of the pieces with both hands and tore into it. “I wonder whether that will be too much for them to finish,” said the mother again.

“I doubt it!” Khalgeth laughed. “The boy one has quite an appetite! He can probably eat more than I can!”

“She needs to eat too,” the mother noted about Kelly, which prompted her to follow my lead and start gnawing away at her own share. “That a girl,” she said, reaching out her hand and stroking Kelly in encouragement.

I didn’t think it was possible to eat so much, but I effortlessly devoured my meal, even having enough room to finish the small portion that Kelly couldn’t handle. After dinner concluded, Khalgeth retired to his room with us, and he sat with his legs outstretched on the floor and his hands supporting his moderately reclined form.

“Why does he have to take you away?” he asked. “You are not hurting anybody.” I felt sorry for the poor kid. He seemed so lonely, and I wondered how he made it through each day. I looked up at his sad face, and I could tell his eyes were on Kelly, who in turn fixated her gaze on the window, probably staring out at some point in the evening sky.

The bedroom door opened, and Khalgeth’s mother’s head appeared. “It is time to go to bed, Khal,” she said in a tone that combined ordering and suggesting; however, he surrendered unconditionally. The host star had nearly completely set, and there was no electricity in this isolated locale, so for the most part, these people probably slumbered when the star did, having little to gain by just sitting idly in the dark. Sleeping was probably one of the most exciting activities here anyway.

“Goodnight, Mama,” said Khalgeth.

“Goodnight, Khal,” responded his mother, closing the door as she retreated. Khalgeth raised Kelly and me from the floor and brought us over to his bed. He settled in and set us down next to him on his pillow. He turned his face toward us, his broad muzzle resting mere feet from my face and surrounding me with warm, humid air as he exhaled.

“Do not worry,” he said to us, his eyes swinging back and forth between Kelly and me. “I am not going to let them do anything to you. They are not going to take you away. I do not know how, but I will think of something.” He sighed. “I wish you could understand what was happening.” Even though we could understand him perfectly, Khalgeth was still right: we didn’t have the slightest idea what was happening to us. He settled his hand on top of us protectively like we were stuffed animals, which helped keep me warm from the cool breeze blowing through the window, and then closed his eyes and settled peacefully into sleep. Having experienced much more than a full day in a very short amount of time, I followed suit before too much longer.



FIVE

I woke up and noticed it was still quite dark. It seemed like something roused me from my sleep, but I looked around in my post-waking stupor and didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. As I set my head back down, I felt something touch me on my arm. This time, I turned around and noticed that Kelly lay immediately behind me, wide awake and staring at me.

“Kelly…” I groaned, “why did you wake me up?”

“It’s time,” she whispered.

“Time for what?” I begged for clarification.

“Time to get out of here.”

I chuckled, causing her expression to darken. “Wait a minute…you’re serious?”

“Do I look like I’m joking? I’ve never been more serious about anything in my life.”

“Okay, let’s see here…” I contemplated, trying to understand. “How do you propose we escape?” She pointed toward the open window. This was the first time I noticed the absurdly simple path lying right before my eyes. It would be no problem to climb from the bed to the bedside table and then to the window. Once there, it was probably no more than a fifteen-foot drop to the ground, which was certainly no small jump. Still, two strong, young Humans could easily do it without breaking anything, especially since the gravity here was stronger than on Quorilax but not up to Earth’s level. “Okay, so we know how, but why?”

“Did you listen to anything they said? When they bring us to the market and figure out we’re Humans—a breeding pair, at that—they’re going to try to sell us!”

“How can you say that? How do you know what they’re going to do?”

“You just proved my point, Ryan; that’s precisely the problem. I have no idea what they’re going to do, but do you really think the father would keep us instead of becoming rich and providing a better life—and better pets—for his family? We’re leaving our fate in others’ hands right now, quite literally. I hate feeling helpless. I don’t know exactly what’s happening, but right now we’re pawns in some cosmic chess game. Do you want to be a pawn for the rest of your life, or are you going to be a king and take charge?”

“Are you asking me whether I want to escape?”

“Yes.”

“In that case, I want to be a pawn.”

“I can’t believe you just said that, Ryan. Do you like the thought of being someone’s pet for the rest of your life?”

“Of course I don’t like it, Kelly, but that’s not what this is about—not by a long shot. The fact of the matter is that we don’t have a choice!”

“You always have a choice.”

“Maybe, but when one of the options likely involves death or serious injury, I don’t really consider it a choice. How are we going to survive out there? Didn’t we already have this discussion?”

“We have a river nearby. It has everything we need. Food…water…”

“And predators! In case you’ve forgotten, we’re at the bottom of the food chain now! We’ll die in an instant out there!”

“Is this really a life worth living? We’re just pets! Our lives are meaningless! If we die, at least we’ll die as free people with dignity.”

“What are you talking about? There’s no dignity in starving or roasting to death! If we’re eaten, we get to come out an asshole as feces! What’s more dignified than that?”

“Ryan, stop it! This is serious!”

“I know it is! That’s why I’m not going to let us make a stupid mistake! I don’t know about you, but I want to get home! If we just stay here, then everything will be resolved!”

“Fine. If you aren’t going to take charge, then I guess I’ll have to do it. I suppose that’s to be expected when the queen is the most powerful piece on the chessboard and the king usually hides behind his castle, but you can’t always sit back in the corner and hope everything works out. Sometimes you have to come out and do something. Sometimes you have to make a decision.”

“I did make a decision, and that decision is to stay here!”

“I’m leaving, Ryan…but I’m not leaving without you.”

“Then I guess you’re not leaving,” I told her. She seemed to take that as a challenge, and she started walking across the pillow toward the edge of the bed, then reached her arms up and hoisted herself onto the bedside table, crossing its surface until she stood right next to the windowsill, where she leaned over and looked down, then beckoned me to follow her with one of her arms. I remained in my position, shaking my head in response. I didn’t know how long she would keep it up, but eventually she would drop the charade and come back to her sanity. After I continually called her bluff, she shrugged her shoulders and turned back to the window. This time, she climbed up onto the sill and looked at me yet again, as though offering me one last chance to come along with her. I stared at her impatiently, trying to tell her, without speaking a single word, that she wasn’t fooling anybody.

And then she jumped.



Hub Folder: "Quorilax [13+]

Third Quarter: "Quorilax: High Tide, Part 2 [13+]
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