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Rated: 13+ · Novel · Sci-fi · #538650
"Love is a greater motivator than fear and force."

Second Quarter: "Quorilax: High Tide, Part 1 [13+]

Hub Folder: "Quorilax [13+]

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

Chapter 11: Regression
~4,253 words

I stared in shock at the window, in total denial of what just happened. I couldn’t believe it! We somehow had the good fortune to be rescued and given a temporary home, and she just threw it all out the window—literally! I wasn’t going to do the same! Then again, I couldn’t let her go out there alone. I told her we were in this together, and I couldn’t go back on my word. I had no idea what to do.

I turned around and looked at the gentle little giant, who remained fast asleep throughout the exchange between Kelly and me despite what must have been a very acute sense of hearing, taking into account his large ears. He had a broad smile on his face as he slept. His dreams were obviously much more pleasurable than mine had been lately. I walked several feet across the pillow so I was in front of the large black nose, then reached out and patted it gently. “I’m sorry you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, Khal,” I apologized to the unresponsive boy, “but I know you’ll be fine. I’m the one I should be worried about.” With that said, I walked away from him toward the bedside table and heaved myself up on top of it, and then I moved to the window and looked over the edge. Sure enough, Kelly gazed up at me expectantly from about twenty feet below. As I lifted myself up onto the windowsill, I looked back at our savior one last time before leaping to the ground, making a perfect landing squarely on my feet.

“I told you I wouldn’t be leaving without you,” she said. “I know you better than you know yourself.”

“I can’t believe I just did that. I’m going to regret this,” I prophesied.

“Honestly,” Kelly replied, “the more I think about it, the more I doubt we would even get all the way back here, once someone less ignorant of Humans than Khalgeth’s family spotted us. His father would probably be lucky to return home alive. Any single Human would fetch a fortune, but you and I, a male and female captured and taken together, are probably worth much more than even the sum of us as individuals. In fact, I doubt anything in the entire universe is more valuable than we are at this moment. People are literally killing and dying to own and control us, and that innocent man could have been the next victim. The best thing we can do for ourselves is the same as the best thing we can do for this family: get far, far away from them. They may not have much, but at least they have each other. I don’t want to upend their lives and ruin that. Khalgeth will be okay if we’re gone, but losing his dad or mom would be devastating.”

I had to admit, she had a good point now. “Maybe you’re right,” I said with a sigh. Sometimes, there wasn’t a choice between good options and bad options; you could only make a bad decision or an even worse one. I just wish I had a better idea which was which at the moment.

“I’m glad you came around. You know, it’s funny—in a depressing, ironic sort of way—that Humans spent so much of our history debating which members of our species ought to be considered property, when it turns out we all are. It would have been nice if we spent more time enjoying the illusion that no Human is a thing to be owned before the curtain got pulled back and we realized we’re just collector’s items for ‘real people’, miniature curiosities to be traded to the highest bidder! We could become the crown jewels in the menageries of the galactic elite or…worse.”

“Worse? What do you mean by that?” I wondered.

“Um…I’ll just say that we’re the chance for people to live the supreme domination fantasy. Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, after all.” She grimaced. “We’ll need to sleep pretty soon, but we should head up the river and put some distance between here and ourselves first so Khalgeth and his parents don’t find us.”

We walked toward the water and entered the thick growth lining its sides, blazing a trail through the vegetation in the twilight of the three moons. As we moved farther away from the house, it faded quickly into the dimness of the night. Continuing our midnight trek through the brush, it seemed that my mouth was open rather than closed for the majority of the time, yawning widely and loudly.

“Are you as tired as I am?” I asked Kelly.

“You actually got some sleep,” she replied in the same drowsy tone. “I stayed awake the whole time waiting for our opportunity to escape, so I’m probably even more tired than you are. We’ve gone a few miles already. Of course, it wouldn’t even seem like a mile to them, but we should still be safe here. This is a good place to stop. Let’s sleep.” I settled down onto the ground, using my arm as my pillow. The weather was very pleasant, with the absence of the host star cooling the desert to just the right extent. It was maybe 65 degrees Fahrenheit, which was a comfortable temperature, even in our state of undress. Kelly placed herself on the ground about five feet away from me.

“Good night, Ryan,” she yawned.

“Good night, Kelly,” I responded in kind, surrendering to the will of my eyelids that so desperately wanted to close for a very long time, despite some fear of what could be lurking out there in the shadows.

The next time I opened my eyes, I could see that it was morning. The host star was already hard at work, roasting the desert with its radiation. Thankfully, we were in the shade of a tree-bush. This stream acted as a lifeline through the desert, and the barren terrain quickly changed into a virtual savanna as it came closer to the river. Being out of the direct sunlight made the temperature much more endurable. I looked over at where Kelly was sleeping, and—wait a minute…no one was there.

I made a visual 360-degree sweep of the surrounding area, but the tall grasses prevented me from seeing very far. “Kelly?” I said. When greeted only with silence, I called out her name again, slightly louder, but I still received no answer. I didn’t want to yell at the top of my lungs, or I might alert some potential predators of my presence. My heartbeat quickened as I frantically searched for her without any results. I got my bearings and headed in the direction of the river, which I could see once I cleared the edge of the grasses. There she was, up to her chest in the water, with her back turned toward me. I rushed down to the edge of the river, and when she heard my footsteps, she turned around.

“There you are,” she said with a smile.

I responded with a stoic gaze. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“What does it look like? I can bathe myself, in case you didn’t know. I don’t need a giant dog boy to help me.”

“Why didn’t you tell me where you were going?”

“You were still sleeping. You looked so peaceful. I didn’t want to wake you up.”

“Screw that. I don’t care about a few minutes of lost sleep. It scared the hell out of me when I woke up and you weren’t there.”

“I wasn’t that far away…it’s not that big of a deal.”

“What if something happened to you, though? Then it would have been a big deal.”

“Gee…I’m sorry. If I knew how much it would upset you, I would have said something.”

“You don’t have to apologize. It’s for your benefit more than mine. You’re still okay, and that’s what’s important. Think about that for the future, though, all right?

“Sure,” she agreed. “Come on in. The water’s nice.”

“Nah, that’s okay,” I declined. “I’m fine.”

“Really? You should love water, right? Wasn’t Minnesota the Land of 10,000 Lakes?”

“Yeah!” I said in surprise. “I’m impressed you knew that. Now I feel embarrassed that I can’t remember Alaska’s nickname.”

“The Last Frontier,” she informed me, rolling her eyes. “What a load of crap.” She was right, and I almost had the urge to laugh at the ridiculous, egocentric claim before the sadness of it hit me. Kelly splashed some water onto me, which felt good as it came into contact with my skin. “Don’t be shy.”

I hesitantly entered the water and moved next to Kelly, whose shoulders remained above the water while mine were covered. I dunked my head under, resurfacing with a new feeling of rejuvenation.

“Isn’t that refreshing?” she asked me.

“It sure is,” I concurred, then immediately walked back out, covered from head to toe in a thin film of water.

“You’re leaving already?” she questioned me, clearly disappointed.

“Who knows what’s under the surface of that water? The less time we spend here, the better. This seems to be the only water for a long way around, so this is where all of the animals live. I don’t want to be here when the horde shows up.”

“What horde? If there are any animals around here, I’m sure they’re small and don’t have a taste for flesh.”

“Yeah, that’s what you said before. Then what do we find? Fifty-foot-tall carnivorous people!”

“The only reason they can live out here is because they can trade for their food. They couldn’t find any meat out here.”

“That’s because the animals out here are probably too small to be worth their time to hunt, but some of those very same animals would be large enough to hunt us.

“Wow, Ryan, you worry too much. Don’t try to plan for every little possibility. You have to slow down and relax. Take things as they come.”

“I’ll slow down and relax when my stomach is so full that I can’t move anymore. Until then, we should be looking for food. There’ll be plenty of time to rest after that.”

Kelly groaned, trudging out of the water. “Okay, I guess you’re right. Let’s go find something to eat.” As we turned to head back to our current camp, I saw a cactus-like plant with long needles protruding from it and got an idea. Walking up to it, I attempted to dislodge one of the spines, and after some effort, I finally succeeded, and then I repeated the process again. I took the two weapons, each of them several feet long, and handed one to Kelly. “Let’s roll,” I declared.

We walked farther down the river, stealthily moving through the growth. I constantly swiveled my head around and peered through the stalks. It was eerily quiet—about the only sounds I could hear were those of our own footsteps on the ground. We casually traipsed along for quite some time, but then it finally happened: I saw something. Something moving, I mean. I swung my free left arm up with the elbow bent at a right angle, signaling to Kelly, who was several paces behind me, to stop. She did just that, and then she looked at me, curious about what I saw. I pointed out the small creature through the tall grass, maybe twenty feet away. It was a rodent-like creature with large, round ears, almost like a mammoth gerbil. Dark silver fur covered the animal’s back and gradually faded to white on its plump underbelly. I gauged the height of its back to be approximately three feet, and it innocently munched on one of the blades of tall grass.

We faced the animal’s left flank but carefully moved around until we were looking at its rear end. I kept a close eye on it as I stalked forward. Part of me felt pity for the thing, which naïvely enjoyed its meal, completely unaware that it was about to meet its end, but another part of me felt the exhilaration of the hunt, and my mouth instinctively salivated. I came within ten or so feet of the creature when its head suddenly perked up and looked to either side. I remained as rigid as a statue until my quarry deemed there was no danger, and then I moved in for the kill. When I took another step, its head jerked up again and turned around, and this time it saw me, giving a startled gaze before darting away. I desperately hurled my javelin at the fleeing target, and it landed a foot or so away, missing only narrowly. Nonetheless, a narrow miss is still a miss, and the creature sprinted away at a remarkably fast speed, considering its girth. I swore at myself under my breath and went to retrieve my weapon.

“I don’t know whether we’ll be able to catch anything out here,” Kelly despaired. “We’re too slow and they’re too fast. I think this is a waste of energy, and we don’t have the luxury to do that.”

“I’m not giving up that easily. Not every hunt is successful, but we’ll get it eventually. Man can’t live by veggie alone.” Meanwhile, Kelly aimed her nose toward the sky, her nostrils flaring in and out like those of a bunny rabbit. “What is it?” I asked with interest.

“Do you smell that?” she inquired.

“I don’t think so.”

“Follow me,” she ordered, leading me to the river, where I saw what must have been the source of the smell: a massive creature lying on its side. It looked to be dead but showcased no markings to indicate a death at the hands of another animal. We ran next to the monstrous hulk, whose size and skin texture were much like a pachyderm. It was larger than an elephant, and it had a horn on its face as well as a ridge of spikes along its back. I climbed the immense carcass, laughing with glee.

“Screw hunting! Scavenging is the way to go! I’m glad we didn’t run into this thing while it was alive!” I said with relief.

Kelly walked over in front of the creature’s mouth and studied it. “I don’t think we would have had anything to worry about. By the looks of its flat teeth, it was an herbivore.”

“Oh well! Either way, we’re eating dinner tonight!”

“Do you think this thing is diseased?”

“Who’s worrying now? There shouldn’t be a problem once we cook the meat.”

“Will we be able to start a fire?”

“Sure, of course! I didn’t plan on eating raw meat. It can’t be too hard to start a fire, right? Since we’re in an arid climate, it should be a cinch. Kelly, you keep an eye out for other animals while I get our food.” I pierced the skin of the behemoth with my spear and dug down into the flesh, preparing to cut away a piece of meat.

Almost no time passed before Kelly spoke up. “Um, Ryan…” she said.

“What?” I asked without looking up, engrossed in my current task.

“We’ve got company,” she said with a hint of fear in her voice.

I glanced quickly in every direction, looking up and down the river and its banks, but I didn’t see anything. I turned to Kelly with an annoyed stare. “That’s not funny, Kelly. Don’t—” but then I saw her eyes locked on the sky, so I followed their path to a lone creature flying toward us. It was silhouetted in the brightness, but it seemed to be some variety of flying reptile, like a pteranodon with a bulkier body and snout.

“Ryan, let’s get out of here….”

“No!” I resolved. “We were here first! This is ours, and we’re not going to give it up! He’s not so big. I can handle this.”

“That’s just the testosterone talking! Come on; we’ll have plenty of chances for this later!”

I tuned out her voice and kept my focus on the unwelcome guest, who now began a descent toward the carcass—and us. The creature had been so high in the air that I underestimated its size, and as it came nearer, I realized its wingspan exceeded thirty feet. It continued to draw closer, so I readied my pike, which was set to impale the intruder if it tried to attack me.

“Run!” Kelly yelled, and I saw the beast’s head turn slightly. I then realized he wasn’t looking at the carcass or me but instead toward Kelly, who fled for cover, ditching her weapon. He was apparently attracted to fleeing prey, since he swerved in her direction, chasing her from behind. She turned her head around and watched as he closed in on her, and when he attempted to snatch her in his talons and carry her away, she threw herself down on the ground, causing him to fly past her. He landed about ten feet in front of her, at which point he turned around and strutted toward her, looking down at her haughtily. She tried to scurry away, but the beast soon leapt upon her, holding his catch down as he snapped his teeth. Kelly fought and screamed, fending off the giant furiously, but she couldn’t do it forever. Until now, I had been standing in place dumbly, watching this event unfold, and I finally sprinted down to where the struggle took place. As I approached the scene, I noticed that the brute was entirely covered in light plating, with one exception: his eyes, each the size of softballs. They currently focused on Kelly, and he was so occupied with her that he failed to notice me.

“Go to Hell, Rodan!” I cursed the animal, which lifted its head up slightly and looked right at me with eyes as black as night, giving me the perfect opportunity to strike. I thrust the spear into one of his eyes with all my strength, plunging it deep into the socket. The assailant released a high-pitched screech as blood spurted wildly from its punctured eyeball, showering us in redness. I pulled out my spear and the invader retreated instantaneously, hoping to preserve the remaining half of his eyesight. I held my chest out in pride as I watched my opponent fly away dejectedly, still shrieking in pain. I gathered some strange feral delight from the blood of my vanquished foe splattered sporadically across my body, and I started to laugh.

“Uh…are you okay, Ryan?” asked Kelly, still on the ground and turning her head around to look up at me.

I was in a state of rapture from my victory over the monster but quickly faded out of the euphoria. “Why are you asking me? Are you all right?”

“I think so,” she said, but I saw several large scratches and cuts on her body. “It would have been a lot worse if you weren’t there. You saved my life…again. That’s two to one, now; you’re in the lead,” she said with a smile.

“Don’t say things like that; this isn’t a contest. I didn’t save your life anyway; I got you into that mess in the first place. You would have never been in that position if I hadn’t been so damn stupid.”

“If that’s the way you feel, you more than redeemed yourself.” She put her hands on my shoulders and leaned down to give me a quick peck on the cheek, and I felt my face getting warm.

I immediately tried to change the subject. “We should finish what we started before more of them come,” I advised and resumed harvesting the slab of meat with my harpoon, which still had blood dripping from its tip. Once I finished, I walked down off the carcass, and we headed farther up the river, looking for a place to camp and build a fire. We eventually came upon a small clearing right near some tree-bushes with large fruit growing on them, and we decided it would be a perfect place to stop. After making our choice to stay in that particular spot, we set out to gather wood, dry leaves, and pieces of the long grass to use as our fuel, and placed them together in the center of the clearing. Once we completed that task, the challenge was to start the fire. Returning to the banks of the river, I found two flint-like rocks and brought them back, striking them over the kindling; however, I didn’t have much success.

“The cavemen made this look so easy!” I fumed. “How did they do it?” I didn’t give up hope, though, and I persisted in my efforts; but before long, I threw down the rocks and threw up my hands in a gesture of futility, turning and walking away from the site of my defeat. “I’m stupider than a damn caveman!”

“Ryan, come on,” Kelly said, coming up behind me. “You’re not stupid. I know that, and I think you do too. Don’t give up! Keep trying!” I humored her despite knowing it would accomplish nothing. After persevering for long enough, however, I was eventually rewarded with a tiny spark that landed on a leaf below. “There! You have a spark!” she jubilated, and she got down on her hands and knees and blew gently on the young fire, nursing it so it soon began to spread, and we had the beginnings of a full-scale blaze. “We did it!” she exclaimed.

“We did, didn’t we,” I said in satisfaction. “We created fire.” After the inferno grew to a healthy size, I tore the meat into two pieces and impaled them on the end of the needle, holding them over the fire like I was roasting marshmallows.

“Just think about it,” Kelly prompted. “That tiny little spark came out of nothing, and it ended up as this enormous fire. It’s really amazing how something so small can grow to become large and powerful so quickly.” After that, we sat in relative silence as I held the meat over the fire.

Some time later, I asked, “Do you think it’s done?” After I pulled the meat out of the fire, Kelly extracted one of the pieces from the spear and tasted it. “How is it?” I queried.

“I think it’s pretty good, considering the equipment we have to work with.”

“Does it taste like chicken?” I joked.

“It actually tastes like pork,” she answered me.

I thought she was kidding, but when I claimed my piece from the stick and sampled it, it did taste like pork. “I think it’s pretty good, period,” I evaluated. “I didn’t know my cooking skills extended past the microwave.” Absorbed in consuming her food, she didn’t respond to that, and I decided I may as well focus my attention on my meal as well. We both ate our shares enthusiastically, and it felt good for my stomach to be full again.

I wasn’t completely satisfied, though. It seemed like something was missing. I went over to the edge of the clearing and looked up longingly at one of the berry-like fruits hanging from a branch of a tree-bush. It was a large, round, dull orange globe about as big as my palm, suspended about nine feet from the ground. I jumped up and down, batting at the berry like a cat pawing at a ball of yarn, trying to knock it from its perch. The object of my desire was out of reach to begin with, and my full stomach only compounded the difficulty of leaping. I glanced back at Kelly, and she looked at me with a clearly amused expression, soon picking herself up off the ground and moving toward me. “You’re still hungry?” she asked in shock. “You know, if you need help, just ask for it. Get down.”


“Bend your knees,” she clarified. I followed her request, and she sat on my shoulders and put her legs around my head. “All right, you can lift me up now.”

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to do that. How much do you weigh?”

“I don’t know how much I weigh on Quorilax, let alone here, but your legs look powerful enough.” I took a deep breath and pushed myself up from the ground. Kelly’s legs clamped around my neck, holding on and squeezing it like a pair of pliers. After some effort, I stood fully upright, allowing Kelly to pluck the fruit from its branch without difficulty, and I lowered myself again for her to disembark from my shoulders. “See, wasn’t that easy?” she said as I hunched over with my hands on my knees, panting.

“Yeah, easy for you to say,” I wheezed while Kelly examined the fruit. It had somewhat of a crease from stem to bottom on either side, and when she pulled the two sides apart, the hemispheres separated cleanly.

“Hmm, that’s convenient,” she said in surprise, handing me one of the halves. “There you go.”

“I hope these things aren’t poisonous,” I said in suspicion. Famous last words. I took a bite out of my piece of the large berry, and the sweet and tangy juice flowing across my tongue reintroduced a welcome sensation to my taste buds.

Chapter 12: Faithfulness
~3,274 words

After finishing our sumptuous banquet, we lay next to each other on our backs. Our abdomens swelled with meat and fruit, and as we recovered from the gorging, we looked up at the stars, which already appeared in prelude to the coming nightfall. We just stared at the great big dome as the fire crackled nearby, but Kelly eventually broke the silence: “Did you have any idea this was how your life would turn out?”

The straightforward question stunned me. “Well, I’d certainly be lying if I said I did. Then again, I never knew how my life would turn out.”

“Well…what was your profession? Or what did you want to be?”

“I never had the slightest idea.”

“Really? You never had any dreams?”

“No. I mean, what’s the point in having dreams when they never come true anyway? If you do that, you’re just setting yourself up for a big disappointment.”

“You never had any ambition? Didn’t you ever want to leave a legacy?”

“No. Everybody always wants to be remembered, and I don’t know why. Why would you care what people think about you after you die? You can’t care about anything once you’re dead.”

“That’s a pretty depressing way of looking at it. You sound like you don’t think your life had a point.”

“It didn’t. No one’s life had a point, but I guess some people’s lives were more pointless than others. I mean, we were born, we toiled through school so we could get a job we hated going to, and when we were finally old enough to retire, we had to struggle through some painful disease before we finally died. Then we made another generation do it all over again—and that was the best-case scenario. That was the good life. In some places, people gave birth to children when they couldn’t even feed themselves. Really, what was the point?”

“You’re forgetting about life after death. That’s what’s so wonderful about Heaven. No matter who you were in life, everybody has the chance to go there, and everyone is equal. No one is bigger or better than anyone else.”

“Why even bother with life before death, then? Life after death doesn’t exist. That phrase itself is completely absurd. It’s an oxymoron.”

“You aren’t religious, I’m guessing.”

“Not the slightest bit. It gets pretty sickening to be a good person and still hear about how I’m going to be tortured for all eternity in the fires of Hell unless I believe in some insecure God who created me just to worship Him. I don’t want anybody telling me I’m a sinner just because I was born.”

“You’re oversimplifying religion there a little bit, Ryan. Hell isn’t about fire and brimstone. Don’t take everything the Bible says literally. It’s man’s interpretation of God’s word, so it has metaphors and allegories, just like any other story. I’ve always said life itself is a lot like a story—there’s more to it than just what your eyes can see. If you don’t look beyond the words on the page, then you’ll miss the true meaning. Believing is seeing.”

“So you’re saying the Bible is a work of fiction?”

“I never said that. I honestly can’t say what’s real and what isn’t, though. It shouldn’t matter. The Bible isn’t supposed to be a science textbook. It’s not about the facts; it’s about what’s behind them. Science and religion are two different worlds entirely. You shouldn’t be trying to get science and religion to agree with each other when you could never even get different religions to cooperate.”

“I can’t understand any of it. Religion just complicates everything. I have enough to worry about as it is; I don’t need to waste my time worshiping something that isn’t there or hear about how I’m going to Hell if I don’t. I don’t care whether God is omnipotent; it doesn’t matter how big or powerful anyone thinks they are. I’m not intimidated by threats. There are far better ways to gain my loyalty. Love is a greater motivator than fear and force.”

We remained silent again for a long time after that. As I continued to look up overhead, I noticed that clouds had moved into view and gradually obscured my sight of the stars until they completely vanished behind the overcast sky. Then I thought I felt a drop of wetness on my nose.

“Kelly, did you feel that?” I questioned her, wondering whether it was just my imagination.

“Feel what?”

Instead of answering, I sat and waited for several more seconds before I felt another drop land on my chest. “There it is again. I think it’s…starting to rain.”

She looked at me skeptically but suddenly flinched, as though something just touched her. “You’re right,” she said, looking back up.

In time, the tempo increased from scattered droplets to a light drizzle, and eventually it became a full strength rain. “Of all the times for it to rain in the desert, it figures it has to be now!” I moaned in frustration. Before long, the fire we worked so hard to create started to weaken and soon died completely, all within a matter of minutes. The storm that came without warning now pummeled us with rain, and without the heat of the sunlight or our fire, we became very cold. I started shivering, so I lay down on my side and balled myself up, bringing my knees to my chest and hooking my arms around them to hold them there. Kelly shifted position and moved closer to me, so her face rested a mere foot or so away from mine.

“When it rains, it pours. We’ll be much warmer if we feed off each other’s body heat,” she explained. It was a perfectly reasonable idea, so we moved closer together, and our faces were right next to one another’s. I shifted my eyes around, trying to avoid looking at her, but our gazes soon met. Those emerald-rimmed pupils had probably been focused on me the entire time. She watched me intently, and her stare had such a piercing quality that I felt her penetrating deep inside of me, looking into my soul. We were still cold and she inevitably moved closer. Not long after that, her face slowly moved toward mine and our lips touched, and she began to kiss me. I didn’t resist, and I moved my lips against hers as well, so she put her arm around my back and pulled me closer, kissing me more zealously while her free hand gently kneaded my scrotum and testicles, and I started growing erect. Before I knew it, I was on my back, and she had risen up on her knees, looming high above, and I had a flashback to looking up at Zar from this angle, as she held me in her hand and lovingly glided me over her physique. Kelly may not have been able to wrap a hand around my entire body, but she had now wrapped one around my manhood, vigorously pumping and further expanding its water-slickened length, preparing to guide me into her.

“K-Kelly…no,” I said, my heart and mind finally managing to override all my body’s instincts, which screamed at me to mate with this woman.

“What?” she asked, sounding slightly embarrassed but still clenching my engorged phallus.

“This…this isn’t right,” I stuttered.

“What’s the matter?” she questioned me, concern in her voice.

“I can’t do this.”

“What do you mean?”

“I want to remain faithful to Zar.”

“Are you talking about your…owner?” she asked in a quiet voice, an expression of dread slowly forming.

I sighed in anger. “You know the proper term is guardian, Kelly.”

Her face contorted into a look of utter revulsion as she leapt up and backed away like I was contaminated, stopping about five feet from me. “I don’t care how you euphemize it! That’s sick!”

“What?” I said, in shock at her sudden change, standing up as well. “No it isn’t! Why do you say that?”

“Because she’s a completely different race from you!”

“So you’re a racist?”

“Oh, you know what I mean! We’re not talking about black and white here! We’re talking about an entirely different species!”

“What’s the difference?”

“What’s the difference? Are you kidding? Humans of different skin colors can mate and successfully conceive; I’m part Alaska Native! We’re designed for that! You can’t do that with a completely different species! It’s unnatural!”

“How can you say that? How is she any different from you or me aside from her physical characteristics?”

“That’s exactly the problem! She’s a freaking giant!”

“Don’t spit out the word ‘giant’ like she’s some club-wielding ogre!”

“So would you prefer juggernaut? Titan? Giantess?” She emphasized the feminine suffix on the last suggestion, as if that would make a difference.

“That’s like me asking whether you’d like her to address you as pipsqueak, runt, or shrimp! She’s a young woman, just like you! Or maybe you can look past her body altogether and simply call her a person! Her height is irrelevant!”

“If she were a hundred inches tall, maybe, but she’s a hundred feet tall! That’s well past the point of being a meaningless difference! You have absolutely no say in a relationship like that, if you can call it a relationship! Do you think you’d be arguing with me like this if I could hold you in my grip?” she challenged, bringing her fist in front of her face in a vertical position, as if she were a medisapien holding a Human. “If all it took was a little shake or squeeze to remind you who’s the boss? Might makes right!”

“Not to her! She’s never treated me like that, and never would!”

“That’s something a lot of women convinced themselves, too, until their partners did start treating them like property! This is like taking that power imbalance and putting it on steroids! And…are you really going to make me ask how you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Come on, Ryan! You’re a big boy! How do you have sex with someone that much bigger than you? Do you hump her fingers? Does she use you as a dildo?” Kelly looked down at my body and visibly shuddered.

I was taken aback. “Of course she doesn’t! And that’s completely beside the point! That’s not the issue here!”

“That’s exactly what the issue is! How can you be unfaithful to someone you can’t make love to?”

“There’s more to love than just intercourse, Kelly!”

“Well, you can’t love her too much to not have intercourse with anyone else if other women are carrying your offspring! We’d be matched for mating eventually too—it’s no more than luck of the draw that it’s not your kid in my belly right now!”

“I only do that as a duty to my species, and you’re already pregnant! If not for us being on the verge of extinction, I’d just have sex with her, if that were physically possible!”

“Do you know how silly you sound? It’s precisely because we’re on the verge of extinction that you learned her species exists and met her at all in the first place, and sex with her is impossible because it’s not meant to happen! How can it be any more painfully clear that you two aren’t meant to be together that way? Anyone who can flatten you beneath her sole wasn’t born to be your soul mate! You aren’t meant to have a crush on someone who could actually crush you with one careless movement!”

“Stop it! What’s gotten into you, Kelly?”

“What’s gotten into you? This isn’t normal, Ryan!”

“Who are you to say what’s normal? Did you conduct a scientific poll or something? You don’t know what anybody else thinks!”

“I know exactly what they would think, which is that you’re seriously confused! What could possibly possess you to think she loves you?”

“She tells me so every day!”

“Not in the way you mean it! You’re talking about when two people love each other, but you’re nothing more than her pet! We’re just animals to them! That’s what we’ve been reduced to, Ryan! We’re not people anymore!”

“How can you say that? You don’t know her! I’m not her pet, and she doesn’t treat me like one!”

“What more could you be? You can’t protect her…you can’t provide for her....”

“Who says she needs me for any of that? She’s a big girl!”

“Exactly! An independent woman wants a partner, not just a reversal of who’s dependent!”

“And I’m a big boy, remember? I can take care of myself! In fact, I think I saved your life…twice!”

“That’s because you’re a free man out here, but you aren’t free in an environment built for medisapiens! They only see us as creatures who can’t help ourselves, much less do anything for them! You couldn’t have carried me out of that ship and saved me if I were a hundred feet tall; you could have only left me to die, and that wouldn’t have been fair to either of us! We can take care of each other, but what can you offer her that a pet can’t?”

“Love and companionship!”

“I repeat: how are you any different from a pet to her?”

“I never had a pet that talked to me and laughed with me and cried with me!”

“This isn’t even funny anymore! Actually, this was never funny, but now it’s just plain sad!”

“It’s not sad! Why can’t you be happy for me?”

“You’re deluding yourself, Ryan! You’re going to have to face the facts sooner or later! They’re breeding us! I’m nothing besides a freaking incubator anymore! I’m tired of having my life controlled! I’m a grown woman, not a little girl!”

“You may not be little by age, but the so-called ‘little’ children on Quorilax play with dolls bigger than we are! It’s not the Quorilaxians’ fault we evolved to such different sizes! Oh, pardon me…I suppose you think evolution is a myth, so that means it must be God’s fault for making his ultimate creation the size of small rodents to the rest of the people in this universe!”

“God created everyone else too, even if they don’t believe it! We were equal as long as we stayed separate from each other on the respective worlds He made us to oversee! If He meant for us to ever meet, He wouldn’t have put so much distance between us! We exist to lead lives of meaning and purpose, and we can’t do that when we’re under lock and key!”

“I’m willing to give up some of my own freedom right now so we survive and our descendants can one day live those lives of meaning and purpose again! Bringing us to their planet was a last resort! For being a superior civilization, the Quorilaxians have treated us more than equally!”

“They’re superior? Listen to yourself! If anyone’s racist, it’s you! Just because you’re denigrating your own race doesn’t make it better! The Quorilaxians play God with us, and you worship them for it!”

“Who was there to save us when the apocalypse came? It sure wasn’t your damn God! It was the Quorilaxians!”

“What did they save us from? Does this look like Heaven to you?” she asked, looking around and making a sweeping gesture with her arms. “If they wanted to do what’s best for me, they should have let me face my judgment like everyone else! That was God’s plan! Everything happens for a reason! You just need to have faith!”

“You think we were meant to die? You worship something that doesn’t even exist, and you think I’m the one deluding myself? I find it absolutely amazing how religion can make Humans so damn stupid!”

She shook her head in disbelief. “So you think you’ve got it all figured out, that you’re smarter than the rest of Humanity? You don’t even know who you are anymore!”

“I know exactly who I am! I’m Orion O’Reilly, a member of the Human race!”

“Then why don’t you stop acting like you’re too good for the Human body God gave you? No matter how hard she tries, she can never fully understand what it means to be Human from inside a Laxian shell! She’ll never know the struggles we face! We share a common bond with each other because we confront the same challenges, and you told me yourself that we’re in this together! I care about you like you’re a person, not my lapdog! You’re supposed to love other Humans, and she’ll find the person God created for her some day, but it’s not you! Some people simply weren’t born to be together! She’s a giant alien, Ryan! She’s not Human!”

“She’s more Human than you’ll ever be!” I shouted at her, and the exchange came to an abrupt halt. Kelly’s expression froze and her eyes practically bulged out of her head. Her mouth gaped, moving slightly as though trying to form words but unable to do so. We stood there and just looked at each other for a moment as the rain continued to fall from the sky. I saw her mouth begin to tremble slightly, and although her face was already very wet from the rain, I was relatively sure I could see tears welling up in her eyes. She turned around and started to walk away from me.

“Kelly, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

“Shut up!” she interrupted, spinning around to look at me, visibly trying to fight back the tears. “I can’t understand you, Ryan!”

“I know. I was stupid.”

“You’re damn right you were!”

“Please, Kelly,” I pleaded. “Will you forgive me?”

“What was said was said! You can’t take things like that back!” She looked at the ground being beaten ceaselessly by the pouring rain. “I honestly can’t even stand the sight of you anymore!” She turned her back and resumed walking away from me.

“Wait!” I yelled, trying to be heard above the rain. “Where are you going?”

“Away from here! You obviously don’t need me! I’m sorry I can’t measure up to your standards! Go enjoy your superior goddess of a girlfriend, and pardon me for being born an inferior, insignificant little insect! Pardon me for being born a goddamn Human!”

I followed her as she continued to walk away. “Kelly, don’t do this! It’s not safe! We need to stay together!”

She turned around abruptly, and her face was right in front of mine again, only this time, her eyes conveyed a look of seething hatred. They looked directly into mine, contradicting her recent comment. “I said stay away from me!” she screamed at the top of her lungs.

She continued to walk away with her face buried in her hands, but I remained firmly rooted in place, watching her as she strode through the downpour and disappeared through the grasses, heading into the darkness. I was left standing there, and as I looked up, I saw a massive bolt of lightning tear the sky asunder, and the loud clap of thunder that followed shook me to my core. Trudging back over to my sleeping place next to the extinguished fire, I lay down, trying to fall asleep and escape my misery. I balled myself up and shivered uncontrollably. It was a cold night.

Chapter 13: Avowal
~2,115 words

When I woke up, light shone brightly on the desert, this morning being a far cry from the previous night. Standing up and looking down at the former site of the fire, I thought I saw a lone ember still burning, but when I blinked, it was gone. I stretched out my legs and reached my arms toward the sky, the host star’s warmth being a welcome change from the cold and damp ground that had been my bed. A chilling feeling returned to my body, however, when I realized I woke up alone for the second day in a row. Kelly was nowhere to be found. It seemed I forgot what transpired the night before. My mind must have made a conscious effort to push it out of my memory. Nevertheless, as much as I wanted to not deal with it, I would have to face her eventually, and sooner was better than later.

I grabbed my spear and went down to the river with the hope that she was engaging in the same activity as the day before. Once I reached the water, I looked up and down its length, but I could see no sign of her. Calling out her name, I only heard silence in response. Racing back to our camp to get my bearings, I headed in the direction in which she disappeared from my view into the night. I journeyed through the grass, all the while saying her name but receiving no reply. With each step I took, I became increasingly apprehensive.

“Kelly, you need to stop hiding!” I announced. “You’ve made your point! I’m sorry! Please, don’t do this!” My simple anxiety changed to an overwhelming sense of dread as I started to fear the worst. Just as I began to think I was on a futile quest, I noticed a heavily traveled path between some of the grasses. I decided to follow it, heading in the direction away from the river. I kept going until I cleared the tallest grasses, at which point I saw something lying on the ground further ahead. I ran out to it, and upon reaching it, my spear fell out of my quaking hand as I beheld the spectacle that lay right before my eyes.

It was Kelly.

I looked down at her lifeless body and nearly vomited at the gruesome sight. Half of her face was torn off, and her left eye completely vanished from the socket, nowhere in sight. Her other eye was wide open and frozen on me, caught in a look of terror, silently asking me, “Why?” Some pieces of her torso had been torn away, but the rest of her body was still predominantly intact, leaving most of her to fry in the desert heat. I wanted to hunt down the monster that killed her, but then I couldn’t help but think I was that monster. Everything was my fault! I was the one who drove her away to be mercilessly slaughtered! Then I tried to convince myself it was her fault. If she weren’t so caught up in her goddamn dignity, then we would be safe—not out here in this deathtrap—and she had no right to say those things about Zar! My mind raced back and forth, trying to place the blame, but soon I stopped, realizing that no good would come of it.

I fought desperately to hold back, but I couldn’t possibly halt a torrent of emotion this strong. Falling to my knees next to her body, I cried more than ever before, so hard that I scarcely had time to breathe. More than five percent of the Human race lay dead in front of me, and I could do nothing about it. Before I knew it, I found myself lifting the cadaver and pulling it close, holding it against myself. As I brought one of my hands up and ran it over her scalp, I felt more bone and blood than hair. With her unresponsive body in my arms, I rocked back and forth. I was in a state of denial when billions of anonymous people died far out of my sight, and I barely shed a tear; but now, as I held the limp, mangled carcass of one simple person in my arms, I was overcome with despair. I cringed when I thought of what her last living moments must have been like, her assailant ripping her apart. I couldn’t handle the idea that her last thoughts of me were ones of hatred.

I released Kelly from my embrace, slowly lowering her to the ground, and I noticed bloodstains on the front of my body. I stood and looked up in fury at the empty sky. “You stupid bastard!” I shouted rabidly. “Are you satisfied now? Is this all part of your great plan, you sadistic asshole? Why did you do this to her? I’m the one who doesn’t deserve to live! I don’t want to live anymore! If this is supposed to be some sort of test, then you have the wrong person! Just kill me! Kill me now!” I hung my head and sobbed, wallowing in an ocean of self-pity. For much of my life I felt isolated, but now, for the first time ever, I was truly by myself. My only company was the howling desert wind and the Grim Reaper. I couldn’t continue…I couldn’t stand to be alone. I had been sapped of all my inner and outer strength, and I collapsed onto the ground next to Kelly, giving up all hope and waiting for death to deliver me from my torment.

It would likely not happen instantly, so in the meantime, I had to endure the torturous thoughts of contemplating my own death. I looked over at Kelly, with her lone remaining eye turned toward the sky. How could I do this to her? Despite our differences, she tried to show me affection—more than any other Human I could remember—and I simply denied her. I didn’t fully appreciate her while she was around, and now she was gone. The loathsome beast that did this scarcely made any use of her, not even deeming most of her fit for consumption. She was rejected, and her flesh was left to rot. She said everything happens for a reason. I wished I could believe that too, but her death was a waste in every sense. I started to think that, even as much as she must have hated me in her last moments, she wouldn’t want me to end up the same way, lying dead next to her, leaving us both to die in obscurity. What about Zar’s father and all of the others who sacrificed their lives over the years defending me from the Zgorbians? How could I just give in and die when I had come this far?

What about Zar? She was always there for me, but when she was in danger, I could do nothing to protect her, forced to watch helplessly as she alone struggled for both of our lives. I may have been priceless, but I felt more worthless than ever. Kelly was right—what could I ever do for Zar? Why was I cursed to be a powerless little runt? I couldn’t bear the thought that something happened to her too! I replayed the scuffle in my mind, feeling a surge of hope when I remembered what the woman did before Zar tackled her: she tossed her weapon away! She could have easily fired that at Zar and doomed her to a similar fate as our koswok, but she didn’t. They made an effort to not kill Zar when they had a clear opportunity! I felt more confident than ever that Zar had survived, but whatever the case, I couldn’t give up; I had to carry on. I gave her my word I would be all right. I may not have done many things right in my life, but at least I can say I’ve never broken a promise!

I got up and looked down at my dead companion. I wished I could give her a proper burial so she could get the dignity she so desperately yearned for and so rightfully deserved, but whatever creature did this horrible deed could still be lurking nearby. I had no time to lose. “Goodbye, Kelly. I don’t know where you are…if you’re anywhere at all…but I hope you’re at peace. I’m not going to let your death be in vain. I’m going to find out who did this to you…to us. I’m not going to forget about you, and I won’t let anyone else either. You’ll get your dignity…

…I promise.”

I gained strength from the fact that a part of her would always be with me—literally. Her blood was coursing through my body, and it would always give me life and keep me going.

Now, I had to decide where I would go. One solution would be to return to Khalgeth’s abode, and I considered that option but then decided against it. For one thing, it was miles away by now, but I also started to have second thoughts about bringing that family back into this mess based on what Kelly said, even if I wasn’t part of a “breeding pair” of Humans anymore. There must be other habitations nearby. I scanned the horizon in every direction. It was a perfectly clear day, and the level of visibility seemed infinite. I could see a plume of smoke rising into the air, away from the river. It must have been coming from a chimney or a fire. It was a sure sign that people were nearby, and it definitely merited further investigation.

I tried to escape from the interior wasteland at one point, but now, strangely enough, I found myself returning to it. Before I set out on my journey, I picked up my spear and went down to the river to drink as much as I possibly could from its life-giving waters. While there, I washed Kelly’s blood off my body, but doing so would never cleanse me of the guilt I felt. Afterward, I bid farewell to her one last time and began my trek inland.

I made my way across the desert terrain, and I got closer to the origin of the exhaust with each step I took. Every time I was about to crest a ridge, I would get a rush of excitement, since I was sure that what I searched for was on the other side, but my destination always seemed to be as distant as the horizon line itself. Assuming the Arquels or another medisapien species was responsible for the fire, chimney, or whatever it may be, it would be much larger in scale than its Human counterpart and would thus give the illusion of being closer.

I began to get that terrible lightheaded feeling again, but surrender was not an option. I couldn’t help but wonder whether I committed a fatal mistake by venturing away from the river as I practically crawled up to the top of the hill in front of me, but when I could see what was on the other side, my eyes leapt from their sockets and I jumped to my feet. No, amazingly enough, I still hadn’t reached the smoke, but I found something just as good—no, actually far better. In front of me was water, a pool of life amidst this desert of death. It would be the size of a pond to a medisapien, but to me, it was a virtual lake. I traveled down to the water’s edge as fast as my weary legs would get me there, but then a discouraging thought crept into my mind. When people get dehydrated, don’t they see mirages? Could this water just be a phantasm? I received the answer to my question when I got on my hands and knees and splashed some moisture onto my face, then dipped my head and drank. This reprieve from death renewed my vigor, and I was determined to reach my objective more fiercely than ever. Walking around the lake meant a small detour, but I wouldn’t let that stop me.

I was bewildered when I began to feel lightheaded again. I just drank about a quart of water! The feeling immediately became more severe, and I developed a pulsating, throbbing sensation in my head. I stumbled along in futility for some time but inevitably succumbed to the pain and collapsed on the ground. There was no doubt in my mind that I was taking my last breaths.

Chapter 14: Escalation
~6,077 words

THE AUXILIARY NARRATOR: The Quorilaxian Armada glided through the emptiness of space, the conglomeration of warships like an asteroid belt stretching as far as the eye could see. Various types of craft comprised the most formidable fighting force in the entire universe, but at the core of the fleet flew the Galdara. The greatest demonstration of engineering by the universe’s grandest race was truly a sight to behold, and it would surely be a daunting task for a Human mind to conceive of it. The Galdara dwarfed even the colossal battleships encircling it, perhaps seeming like a Laxian escort for a Human fleet to anyone who didn’t know better.

In addition to having its own vast array of weaponry, the Galdara acted as a spacecraft carrier, containing a virtual second fleet of ships that could be deployed at a moment’s notice. Still, one could not glean the true magnitude of this floating fortress’s capabilities without traveling far into the darkest reaches of the vessel. Housed deep within the massive hull of the metal giant was something so terrible that Humans could only have imagined it in their nightmares. Five long chambers were lined up parallel next to each other, and each dimly lit cave held a sleeping monster—that is, all of them except for chute number one.

The official name of these behemoths was long and technical, hiding the true nature of their purpose; however, the nickname bestowed upon them was far less ambiguous. Each ballistic projectile, about 560 peskils in length, was like a worm, intended to bore well beneath its target planet’s surface, drill as far as it possibly could toward the core of the victim, and withstand the brutal heat of the planet’s innards until it could detonate its apocalyptic payload. The intended result was wholesale destruction of the planet and extinction of all life forms calling it home, hence the name “Armageddon Missiles.”

Only one planet was subjected to the wrath of a Quorilaxian Armageddon Missile, and many hoped it would be the last. The Quorilaxians did not intend to manufacture any more Armageddon Missiles, and many questioned why more than one—let alone five—were created in the first place. Nevertheless, the destiny of “Number One” was the planet of Zgorb. Afterward, the only memory of that breeder of evil was the asteroid belt its destruction created. That was the only time Quorilax utilized an Armageddon Missile. However, as everyone knows, it was not the only time that such an event occurred. It was the Zgorbians, after all, who first began constructing their own version of the Armageddon Missile and prompted Quorilax to respond to what they saw as an existential threat by having the ability to once and for all remove that threat from existence if necessary. The Zgorbians, meanwhile, did not expect to make it within an acceptable range to launch their deadly weapon on the heavily fortified Quorilaxian Empire. After many years of war, the Zgorbians had a firm grasp of Quorilaxian nature, and they presumed the selfish Quorilaxians, if genuinely threatened, would abandon those whom they supposedly pledged to watch over. Knowing this, the Zgorbians seized the opportunity to make use of their Armageddon Missile on an unguarded territory. The closest planet bearing a sapient race was the planet of the Humans, who called it Earth.

Earth lay just outside the boundaries of the Zgorbian Queendom. The two civilizations lived in extremely close proximity relative to the vastness of the known universe. Still, the Humans, who had only achieved rudimentary space travel, lived in complete ignorance of what lurked in the shadows of the dark void of space. The Humans were perhaps the universe’s most phenomenal race. These tiny people—who were the most diminutive of any known sapient species by a significant margin, able to stand on the palm of my hand—rose to prominence on their planet in a relative instant. No one knew for sure how the Humans developed at such an alarming rate, but their small body size likely played a large role. The surface areas of the medisapien homeworlds did not scale up from Earth’s to anywhere near the same degree as the lifeforms on them did, meaning that Earth was a much more expansive planet from the perspective of its natives. This allowed for a higher population to grow and subsist upon Earth’s resources—to even afford to be somewhat wasteful, in fact—and with a greater number of minds dedicated to innovation, Humans could build upon their technologies at a rapid pace. On a similar note, the great amount of relative space that Earth offered to Humans allowed for them to spread out more and for a greater diversity of cultures to develop, which led to a heightened sense of tribalism and fostered intense competition that further accelerated their ascent. Then again, others claimed that this hyper-tribalistic mentality had reached the point of diminishing returns and kept Humanity from achieving its full potential. Both theories were probably correct, to some extent.

Whatever view one subscribed to, this tribalism clearly did not always serve them well. The naïve Humans could not comprehend what was happening when a missile, whose size would be impressive to a medisapien but must have been downright unfathomable on a Human scale, fell from the sky like a bolt of lightning and crashed into land. The Humans did not know what to make of the projectile as it drilled through the crust and left a massive hole in the ground. The nation within whose borders the missile happened to fall, designated Russia, was in a state of hysteria. The Russians were positive that the object was a nuclear missile that failed to detonate, and they frantically demanded answers from opposing elite nations with nuclear capabilities, who were all equally as paranoid. Other leaders forcefully emphasized that they could never covertly build or hide a weapon so large, but there seemed to be no other possible explanation. What happened after this point is largely a mystery. No one knows which nation fired first, but as soon as the first missile was airborne, it set off a chain reaction. The Zgorbian missile deposited itself deep within the planet, and it exploded not long after the chaos ensued among the Human nations. Mercifully, the entire population of the doomed planet would have been almost instantly annihilated, so they experienced little to no suffering.

Ironically, Humans always held a fascination with the end of their world. They all thought it was something distant—something that would never happen in their lifetime—so it was not a subject to seriously consider. Just as the origin of life and their world intrigued Humans, they found its conclusion equally—in fact, usually more—interesting, and, as with the former, they mainly used it as fodder for myths and stories, postulating different scenarios for the apocalypse. Many Humans thought they would be the cause of their own destruction, and this sadly almost proved true. Even if the Zgorbians’ weapon failed to function, the Human-induced nuclear massacre that surely would have followed in its wake would have been nearly as potent. If an outside force brought about Humanity’s destruction, they were positive it would be a natural object, such as a comet or an asteroid. Just as the animals they called dinosaurs disappeared from Earth by this method, it was perfectly logical to assume it would happen again…just not for a long time. None of them were prepared for what would actually transpire.

The Zgorbians surveyed their handiwork, watching as the shock wave emanated from the rock, which burst like a supernova into countless minuscule fragments. The massive Zgorbian ships sent to fulfill the task felt only a slight tremor as the sonic boom weakened and brushed by them. As advanced as the Humans were, without their Quorilaxian guardians they were helpless to defend themselves against their vicious neighbor. Nearly the entirety of the Human race was left to perish in obscurity, their demise witnessed by no eyes that cared. A remarkable story billions of years in the making was unwritten in a split second.

Of course, none of the members of the Quorilaxian Senate wanted to abandon the Empire’s charges, but they had little recourse. No one still alive had known a time without war, and it had to end somewhere. The majority of the senators argued that countless people had died and would continue to die in defense of beings with no clear strategic value, and the time for this idealistic agenda was over. There was, however, a small group of dissenters, led by the influential Eashairan senator Purlaka, who refused to stand by and agree to this outright renunciation of their oath to protect. Despite this fact, they were hopelessly outnumbered by those who firmly stated that it was not worth putting the security of the Quorilaxian Empire in jeopardy any longer.

When all hope seemed lost for their wards, the two groups reached a compromise. The Quorilaxians would select representatives from each type of flora and fauna that could feasibly be collected to preserve the species, an idea which was adapted from the Human book called the Bible. The Quorilaxians had been intercepting and deciphering radio, television, and other assorted communications from Earth for many years, as well as temporarily abducting individuals and installing nano-scale surveillance and listening equipment in their bodies, and through much work the Quorilaxians decrypted a multitude of Human languages and learned about the Human culture, which absolutely fascinated them. In honor of the Human race, they designated the initiative Project Noah, so named for the character from a story in the Bible who was the inspiration for the plan. As the story goes, Noah collected two of every type of Earth’s animals in a large oceangoing ship to save the species from a cataclysmic flood. The story remained much the same, only now it was not the azure tide of the sea threatening to extinguish the flame of life throughout the universe but rather the crimson tide of war. The Quorilaxians also went beyond collecting only a single male and female of each animal species, as well as including plants, trees, and crops in their efforts.

Many of the senators remained steadfast in their convictions, feeling the idea was implausible, but they decided to let the plan go forward. It was indeed very difficult trying to gather members of the non-spacefaring sapient races. To maintain their non-intervention policy as much as possible, the Quorilaxians did not want to let any individuals, beyond those collected, to know of their presence. This meant they had to seek out some of the most isolated locales on each of the planets. The chosen were tranquilized and brought aboard the ships, where they were given a fitness exam and, if all seemed to check out, they were taken away. They were partially selected based on their youth, which would lead to a larger quantity of reproduction, and they were partially selected because of their strength, which would lead to a better quality of reproduction. Above all else, though, they were selected because they happened to be in the right place at the right time—in other words, they were selected because of their luck.

The elected life forms were to be kept on Quorilax until the Zgorbian threat was neutralized and the tides of war subsided. With their ships free from defending their various protectorates, the Quorilaxians thwarted their enemy before they got anywhere near the heart of the Empire. Fortunately, nearly all of the worlds that in the meantime went unwatched remained undisturbed by any external forces. The chosen few from each of those races were returned to their respective homes, where any stories of a bizarre abduction would have been received with good-natured ridicule by their families and tribes. Many of them probably convinced themselves the incident did not even happen. They were completely ignorant of the monumental role they nearly had to perform.

Only the Humans of the planet Earth were not so fortunate. They were unable to return to their homes and regale others with wild, outlandish tales, because they knew all too well that none of what occurred was a dream. They knew it was all truly happening, and their lives became a waking nightmare, having to cope with torturing feelings of pain and loss on a daily basis. The once thriving Human race was reduced to a mere eleven members. They were simply four young men and seven young women who once lived completely ordinary lives but now faced an extraordinary destiny that would have seemed like a daunting challenge for anyone, let alone those who were, by far, the smallest race of people known. After all, Quorilax could seem big and scary enough when I was a young girl as tall as most adults’ waists, yet if I had set foot on Earth, even at that early age I would have towered over homes the size of dollhouses, except their roofs and walls would not have swung open for my convenience, because inside were not toys for my pleasure, but real people...families, some with daughters or sons my age, whose dreams were as big as mine, even if their bodies were small enough to fit in my playsets. I can only imagine being pulled from that life and thrust into an existence where I stood at the ankles and shins of everyone else, adults and children alike, completely at their mercy, even as a full-grown woman.

The Quorilaxian Empire was conservative in many ways, and that included its immigration policy, which kept the influx of other species to a minimum, much lower than it would naturally be to the civilization widely considered to be the universe’s richest and most influential; a land full of opportunity and possibility, where all citizens were granted a basic income. Zdrenic defectors from Zgorb were perhaps the most welcomed group—once they were heavily vetted, of course—both because of their political significance and the fact that Zdreni, particularly the females, were a close match in size with Laxians. Meanwhile, some other species, like the Arquels, only stood as tall as the middle of an average Laxian’s thighs, which often meant providing or installing aids such as steps and boosters on furniture built large enough to accommodate much bigger people. Even seeing the provision of such minor additional assistance as this would draw scoffs from many Laxians. It was one thing to afford accessibility to members of their own species who had the misfortune to suffer from a physical disability that was out of their control, but quite another that healthy, fit adults should come from other worlds better suited to them and expect to be catered to in this manner. Nevertheless, given Quorilax’s past colonial exploits of some of these weaker races, plenty of others felt that Quorilax “owed” the universe, and providing a path to Quorilaxian residency, and even citizenship, for at least a small portion of these other peoples, and taking some steps to make life in the Empire easier for them, seemed like the least that could be done to make amends. Trying to integrate Humans into Quorilaxian society, meanwhile, would present challenges, both psychological and physical, on quite literally a completely different scale from any other race known, and there were no similar arguments that Quorilax had any debt to Humans; if anything, it was Humanity who was indebted to Quorilax for protecting them for this long, without Quorilax getting anything in return.

Many senators who eventually agreed to support Project Noah did not expect it to reach this point, seeing it as an opportunity to say they “did something” without expecting any more long-term commitments, and they found themselves caught particularly off guard upon realizing that of all the planets that could have been targeted, it happened to be the one home to people so small that those people didn’t seem like they could ever pose a threat to anyone besides themselves. There appeared to be no motivation for doing this to the Humans, other than abject cruelty. Some had argued as early as the planning stages of Project Noah that Humans should never have been included in this endeavor, despite it eventually bearing the name of a member of the Human species. This was not because they thought Humans’ small size made them less important than any other people in the universe—or so they claimed—but beyond the unlikelihood of this especially defenseless civilization being attacked, they cited the hard, unfortunate realities of Human prospects on other worlds due to that attribute. Larger medisapiens accidentally colliding with smaller medisapiens they do not immediately see is not a terribly rare occurrence on Quorilax, but very seldom do such impacts result in serious injuries, other than to someone’s pride. On the other hand, Humans scurrying across busy Quorilaxian streets would meet almost certain death being kicked or crushed by the feet of oblivious medisapiens, and in areas with fewer people, they would be easy targets for creatures ranging from stray koswoks to some arthropods. People being smaller and weaker than bugs sounded like something straight out of a science fiction horror story, not real life.

Many of those arthropods that are dangerous to Humans are mere annoyances to the rest of us, but even the simple pleasures of life that we enjoy could easily become nightmarish from a Human perspective. We hear the boisterous laughter of carefree young medisapien children running around a park or playground, but Humans would hear a cacophony of unpredictable, stampeding colossuses. We see a beautiful, colorful bird of prey perched in a tree, drawing us closer to admire it and photograph it, but Humans would see a fearsome predator that could swoop down and carry them off as a snack in a matter of moments from the time they are spotted. We walk outside and feel a refreshing tropical rain, but such a downpour would pummel a Human’s tiny, easily chilled body, and the relative torrents of rushing, draining water would threaten to sweep them off their feet and into a canal, where they would be almost guaranteed to drown. Humans had evolved to be very successful in the niche, reduced-scale environment they had long inhabited, but that specialization had come at the expense of their ability to adapt to the far different, yet far more typical, conditions of other planets.

Was life truly worth living for sapient beings who would likely need to spend most of their lives on Quorilax under “house arrest” for the “crime” of being too small? Beings who would largely have to be content with experiencing the outdoors vicariously, behind the protection of windows or screens, segregated from an environment where other creatures their size would live short, brutish lives, destined to be preyed upon by greater animals, unless they were cared for as dependent pets and taken on supervised “walks” by their medisapien “prison wardens”? As callous as it would seem to leave Humans to go extinct, this line of thought deemed that people weren’t meant to live—or, perhaps one could say, merely exist—this way, and the most humane course of action, in the event of Earth’s elimination, was to allow the Humans to die with dignity there and save any future person from this unenviable fate of being born a Human on a standard-scale world. Needless to say, the proposal to exclude Humans from Project Noah ended up being defeated, because they had arrived on Quorilax and found themselves in this exact predicament, placed in the custody of so-called “guardians” in what detractors of the program derided as a “pet project” in more ways than one. Such critics found it unsurprising that the director of Project Noah, and one of the most vocal proponents of bringing Humans to Quorilax, was an Eashaira, someone of a race whose wider culture seemed to prize, if not outright fetishize, smallness; a culture in which, all else equal, lower height was seen as a more desirable trait among both sexes, and in which many boys and girls alike took great interest in playing with dolls. Looking at the profiles of the guardians that were ultimately selected for the Humans, one found a group of promising young people—most of them women—with a desire and capability to make a difference. They were creators, entrepreneurs, and leaders in the prime of their lives, the years when they ought to be building the skills that would help them maximize their potential to contribute to society, and finding mates with whom they could build strong families, raising their children to be the next generation of productive Quorilaxian citizens. Even if they chose this responsibility to mind a Human of their own free will, was selecting some of the Empire’s best and brightest for such a distraction a wise move, when they could put their many talents to much better and more consequential use?

It appeared as though the Quorilaxians’ Armageddon Missile achieved its namesake objective. At last, being free of the destructive Zgorbian presence, the universe entered a state of calmness, and the Quorilaxian people could finally experience a respite from the perpetual war that had raged on for what seemed like an eternity. Now, however, something occurred to disrupt the utopian sense of tranquility, for a Quorilaxian fleet was summoned yet again. It was difficult to determine whether there was truly an intention to make use of the arsenal assembled or whether it was merely an ostentatious display of power, meant to reassert the Quorilaxians’ position as the undisputed masters of the universe.

The Quorilaxian Arch Admiral Zifthota held his hands behind his back as he stood rigidly in the massive bridge of the Galdara, calmly gazing out past the other ships at the gloom of open space in front of him. One could tell he was firmly in charge, since nothing about him seemed to indicate otherwise. His intimidating form soared to nearly seven peskils tall, making him almost a head’s height taller than most of those around him. While Quorilaxian civilians typically wore minimal clothing on their upper bodies, when they wore anything there at all, the armed forces provided one example of a departure from this custom. Infantry soldiers donned body armor that covered them from head to toe, but even personnel not directly engaged in combat, male and female alike, wore light uniforms that completely covered and hewed closely to the contours of their torsos, accompanied by matching dress skirts. The arch admiral’s outfit was decorated with symbols of his highest of ranks, and the slightly longer white fur surrounding his mouth gave his countenance an aged and experienced quality. Even with all of these characteristics to distinguish him, something about him truly set him apart: his eyes featured vermilion red irises, a very rare trait among the Laxian population.

The 36-year-old arch admiral had been weathered by innumerable battles. As the Commander-in-Chief of the Quorilaxian Navy, he was arguably the most powerful being in the entire universe, wielding a level of power few could comprehend. How many could understand the ability to lay waste to an entire civilization with the mere vibration of their larynx and the movement of their lips? He knew the feeling, since it was he who gave the final order to fire the Armageddon Missile at Zgorb. The words came out of his mouth so slowly and cumbersomely, which was appropriate, considering the true weight of their consequences. He constantly thought about that moment so clearly embedded in his memory. He never regretted it, of course, but it always weighed heavily on his mind. This encounter would never come to anywhere near such an extreme conclusion, though. It was probably greatly unnecessary to call such a massive fleet, but this entire situation did not add up, and few reinforcements were within a practicable range to call into action. He would not allow himself to be surprised—he wanted to be prepared for anything.

Zifthota squinted and glimpsed a faint grain of sand coming into view far away in the distance. Gradually, the grain of sand enlarged, expanding until his entire field of vision was devoted to its bulk, and as the ships flew closer, they became specks next to the massive sphere. His burning eyes narrowed, becoming cold and austere as they surveyed the scorched world before them known as Alquabor. One enormous, irregular landmass occupied this sector of the world, but at the edge of the visible surface one could see an ocean. The continent’s interior was largely barren, except for two veins of blue each surrounded by a ribbon of green, looking like long, thin emerald serpents. The sources of the rivers were nestled in the mountains of the northwestern and southern parts of the continent, and they joined one another in the center and meandered northeast into the ocean.

At the confluence of the rivers, where the serpents intertwined, a dark splotch appeared, contrasting with the bright desert sands. It was actually a city, and not just any city. It was Alquabor’s capital, Khandermia, which the world’s denizens affectionately dubbed “The City.” With a population exceeding one hundred million, it was the largest city in the known universe and by far the largest city on Alquabor. Somehow, the largest single mass of life in the entire universe managed to germinate in the midst of one of its most barren worlds. Now, however, this desert flower had wilted. Firepower rained down upon the city like acid, reducing much of it to rubble. Swarms of refugees fled the war-torn megacity to the outer regions of the continent, where they struggled to survive, subsisting on the basics. However, Khandermia began to rebuild and was well on its way to reclaiming its former glory.

What the planet lacked in agricultural potency, it compensated for with its copious reserves of minerals. The planet grew rich from its trade with Quorilax, which sold the Alquaborians the food they needed in order to support their flourishing civilization. The Quorilaxians also helped the Alquaborians greatly enhance the strength of their space fleet and assisted in augmenting the planet’s defenses. In return, the Quorilaxians established Alquabor as a military base between the Quorilaxian and Zgorbian dominions, and they obtained versatile substances used in various aspects of their life, such as algonite, which is a strong, lightweight, heat-absorbing substance found in only trace amounts outside of Alquabor, but which is used to create most Quorilaxian body armor, offering superior defense against ballistic and energy weapons alike. The two societies formed a symbiotic relationship, coming to rely on each other over a period of many years.

Grand General Khormez, president of the Alquaborian Republic, sat at his desk eating a meal when he heard an electronic ring emanating from within the metal furniture. He pressed a green button situated to his right and a small hatch opened, allowing a large, flat display to slowly rise from the inside. The inactive screen flashed to life, showing a female Arquel.

“Yes, what do you want?” Khormez said in slight annoyance. “I am eating right now.”

“I think that will have to wait,” the messenger retorted. “He said it was urgent.”

“He? Who is ‘he’?” the president demanded.

“The Quorilaxian arch admiral.”

Khormez wondered what the arch admiral could have to say that was so urgent. Whatever the case may have been, it would be good to hear from his friend and trusted ally once again. “All right,” he consented.

“Connecting you now,” the other Arquel acknowledged and then vanished as the screen went black again. When it came back online, he was faced with the visage of the Quorilaxian arch admiral. Zifthota stood around two and three quarters times as tall as Khormez, but one could not discern that from looking at the screen. These two men had met in person and were thus fully aware of the other’s true size, but the current lack of a reference for scale helped to place them on a more equal footing. Indeed, extending that idea to its perhaps comical extreme, one can imagine how much more persuasive a Human would seem if her face were to fill a massive video monitor on a Quorilaxian conference room wall than if she were among her audience, standing upon a table next to drinking vessels taller than herself.

“Greetings, Khormez,” the Laxian addressed him with an impassive expression.

“Hello, Zifthota,” the Arquel replied, his fur matching the color of the Laxian’s eyes. “State your business.”

“One of our ships has disappeared,” the admiral noted. “Do you have any knowledge of its whereabouts?”

The general was bewildered. “I am sorry, Admiral, but the manner in which you manage your fleet is none of my concern.”

“Perhaps…but how you manage it is a different matter entirely.”

“What do you mean?” the general asked in confusion, unaware of what the admiral was leading up to.

“Satellites located one of our science vessels on the surface of your planet. It seems to have crashed into a remote sector of the Khandermian continent.”

“Then that ship belonged to you?” the general said in surprise.

“It did indeed. So you are aware of this.”

“I will tell you all I know, Admiral. We detected an unidentified vessel in the Alquaborian dominion and repeatedly contacted it and commanded it to identify itself and declare its purpose. After a continual failure to respond, we opened fire. It was not a direct hit, but it was accurate enough to fatally cripple the ship.”

The admiral was aghast at the new development. “You mean to tell me you shot down a Quorilaxian spacecraft and this is the first I am hearing about it? Have any of our ambassadors been notified?”

“I said I would tell you all I knew, and I did. We were unaware of the vessel’s origins.”

“It was clearly marked! Why did you not inform us as soon as you recovered it?”

“The recovery effort is still in progress.”

“What is taking so long?”

“We did not view this as an urgent matter, Admiral. None of this should come as a surprise to you. You are well aware of the regulations in place. We were extremely patient. Asking the vessel to identify itself was a simple request. I do not feel we were overly demanding.”

“We had no knowledge of the ship’s purpose in your dominion! It acted without orders from me or any of my subordinates!”

“If you speak the truth, then this was clearly a rogue vessel, and we performed a service for you as well as ourselves.”

“A service? Quorilaxian agents have disappeared! I am certain they were aboard that ship, and I can assure you they did not harbor any hostile feelings toward you! In addition, that vessel carried some very small but immeasurably important cargo!”

“What might that be?” the general queried.

“Humans! The agents were involved with Project Noah, so we have good reason to believe the missing Humans were aboard that vessel as well!”

The general’s expression immediately became fearful. “These are dire circumstances indeed, but I do not believe Alquabor should be your focus. It seems as though your agents are to blame for this debacle. This is a Quorilaxian matter, Admiral.”

“You are right, General; it is they who should be doing the explaining, but they are now presumed dead! I fail to see what objective they hoped to accomplish, and now that you have almost certainly killed them, we may never know! We have been denied a crucial opportunity to answer many questions!”

“I already apologized to you, Admiral, despite no wrongdoing on the part of me or my people. We are just as shocked and concerned as you are about what transpired here, but Alquabor is not responsible.”

“You fired upon an unarmed vessel and most likely killed Laxians and Humans alike! The Humans were already in grave danger of extinction without your assistance! I am afraid you are very responsible in this matter, General!”

“This is a terrible tragedy, and again, I am deeply sorry for that. I have apologized to you profusely. We will recover the craft and examine it so we can learn as much as possible, but that is the extent of what we can do—we can offer you nothing more. I have been extremely gracious and patient with you, Admiral.” The general became increasingly nervous as the multitude of warships moved within an uncomfortable distance, and he eventually made his feelings known. “You are violating the territory of the Alquaborian dominion. Please leave immediately,” he said with an authoritative voice but not one that seemed overly commanding.

Zifthota’s eyes narrowed, raging like an inferno as he snarled at the audacious remark. “Or else what?”

The admiral’s attitude mystified the general. This was certainly not the rational, even-tempered Zifthota whom he knew. Khormez was extremely tense, but he nonetheless remained poised. He thought carefully about his response and then spoke. “Or else I will have to ask you again.”

The admiral was unimpressed. “So…after all we have given you…this is how you repay us….”

The general, known for his equanimity, finally lost his composure. “We have nothing to repay!” he snapped. “It is our resources you have exploited to produce your technology, build your cities, and fuel your warships! We have been more than generous with our tribute, but in our darkest hour we called on you, and you left my people and beloved city to be ravaged! We will no longer tolerate this! I will ask you once more: leave now, or you will face the consequences of your actions!”

Upon the general’s ultimatum, the fleet did not relent but instead continued to aggressively draw closer to the planet. “As will you,” the admiral chided.

Zifthota pressed the large red button on his display console, and Khormez’s screen flashed and went black, only communicating in large white letters that the communication link had been severed. The general was dismayed at the development but soon realized what must be done. “Do not let it come to this, Admiral,” he pleaded under his breath.

Meanwhile, Khalgeth played near his home in the outback of the Khandermian continent. He still mourned the loss of his beloved pets but would recover before too much longer. After all, he only owned them briefly and did not have a chance to get overly attached to them, or even name them. He was startled when he heard a loud buzzer sounding in short, regular intervals, seeming to come from out of nowhere. Raising his gaze and looking far off in the distance, he saw a cavity suddenly appear on the desert floor. He stood there ignorantly, not knowing what to make of the situation. The abyss continued to widen, forming a huge, circular hole. At last, it finished opening, and the exo-atmospheric artillery emerged from within, rising like a shiny black pillar into the sky. The gun completed its rise from the cavern when the large circular base appeared under the monstrous cannon, covering the hole from whence it came. Khalgeth watched in fascination as the shaft rotated along with the base and angled itself downward in a slow, mechanical fashion, eventually settling and focusing itself on a seemingly random point in the sky. A great mass of energy gathered in the translucent tip, glowing bright white and causing Khalgeth to marvel at the pretty light. Little did he know, this phenomenon occurred at hundreds of locations across the world, where the gleaming ebony spires projected from the dull, lifeless landscape. The Quorilaxians designed and implemented the exo-atmospheric artillery system to aid Alquabor in defending itself from the Zgorbians so the two realms could stand united against their common enemy, but now the Quorilaxians’ brainchild was being turned against them. Zgorb was gone, but the sense of paranoia throughout the universe continued to live on, and even these strongest of allies seemed to be turning on each other. The general was severely outmatched but certain the admiral would soon regain his sanity.

Before Khormez had the opportunity to take any additional action, his display rang again. When the screen came on, he could see the exact same person who transferred him to the arch admiral earlier.

“This had better be good,” the president warned.

“Indeed it is, General,” she responded. “You are not going to believe this….”

Chapter 15: Nadir
~3,079 words

ORION: Upon awakening, I was greeted with a splitting headache so excruciating that I had trouble opening my eyes. Even without looking, I could tell I was no longer nude and that I lay on a comfortable bed, and I already felt the remarkable sensation of a collar around my neck. I grew so accustomed to my collar that it became an extension of my body, so when it went missing, I felt as though I lost a limb. I smiled as I felt the smooth, cool metal pressing firmly against my neck. When finally capable of opening my eyes, I noticed several things about my surroundings. For once, I didn’t seem to be in one of those dark, metal containers I had come to loathe so much; this box felt much more like a real room, with more than ample lighting illuminating its white walls, the one opposite my bed featuring a door about twelve feet tall. I got off the bed and walked over to investigate, seeing two buttons beside the door on the right. They seemed identical, but one was down around my waist, and the other was near my neck. Before I could decide which one to press, however, the door slid open without any action on my part.

I don’t know what exactly I expected to see on the other side of that door, but I know what I didn’t expect, and that’s why, when a person only as tall as my chest walked through the door and bumped into me, I’m the one who toppled backward in shock.

“Oh, good, you are up…or were, at least,” said a female voice. I saw a being with chocolate-colored fur smiling down at me as I lay on the floor. She looked like an Arquel, but…she could have stood on the palm of Khalgeth’s hand. “Forgive me. I would like to help you up, but I have a feeling that would only succeed in helping me down.”

I rose to my feet unsteadily, a bit unfamiliar with the feeling of towering over someone, especially someone who appeared exactly like those who towered over me. If I felt strange about this difference, though, I could only imagine what it must have been like for her to be so dwarfed by members of her own species, people who otherwise looked like her, akin to being a Chihuahua among Great Danes. I tried to reconcile my understanding that Humans were by far the smallest people in the universe with the sight of this person looking up at me. “Where am I?” I asked like I had so many times before upon waking in a daze.

“You are in a facility below the spaceport outside of Khandermia, the capital city of the planet Alquabor.”

I suspected long ago that I was on a different planet, so this didn’t come as a surprise. I looked behind me at the bed. “How long was I asleep?”

“Several days,” she replied. That did come as a surprise.

I continued to march through the list of questions. “What am I doing here?” I asked her.

I now noticed a small tablet in one of her hands, and she pressed some buttons on the gadget, apparently retrieving the information concerning my present situation. “It seems you were found unconscious near the disposal pond of an algonite refinery.”

I recalled my experience in the desert, remembering the sight of that column of smoke emanating from the horizon, always so close and yet never within my reach. “What is algonite?” I wondered.

“It is a heat-absorbing substance whose refining process produces a liquid byproduct. You appear to have ingested an unbelievably large quantity of this fluid.”

I recollected how I drank the water from that lake so voraciously. “Are you telling me I was poisoned because someone dumped this toxic chemical in the water?”

“You see, that is where this becomes very interesting. The substance has no harmful or otherwise altering effects on Alquaborian or Quorilaxian life. It is not a toxic chemical by our standards, so there are no special regulations concerning its disposal. However, it appears to react very strongly with Human biology. That, the heat of the Alquaborian host star, and the algonite all combined to form a reaction that nearly killed you. If we found you any later, you might not be here right now. Your body experienced some damage, but all indications are that it will fully heal in time.”

I was thoroughly relieved. “Then this won’t have any permanent effect on me?”

“Actually, yes—I was just about to get to that. Although not necessarily negative, there was quite an extreme effect. Feeding off the intense solar energy, your body size increased astronomically.” After she said that, I stood there speechless. I was always a bit slow on the uptake, but now even I understood what happened. Not only was this person the same species as Khalgeth, but she was probably quite a bit taller! I had grown! If this was a fifty-foot woman, I must have been around seventy! I experienced an overpowering state of shock that refused to wane. After backing up to my bed and sitting down on its edge, I looked at my body, in disbelief of her claim. I tried to speak but wasn’t thinking clearly, and it came out unintelligibly. I practically hyperventilated.

“Are you feeling all right?” she asked.

“Yes!” I replied. “I feel great! It’s just…this is unbelievable! How could this happen?”

“Your body is exerting itself just trying to adjust to the new conditions, so you should not put any extra stress on it. It would not hurt you to get some more sleep. You will have important visitors soon.”

The Arquel left almost as quickly as she entered, pressing a button on her way out to close the door. I continued to sit on the edge of the bed for a moment but then sprawled out on top of it and stared at the ceiling, feeling so exhausted that my body practically melted into the comfortable mattress. It sure beat sleeping on the hard ground. I closed my eyes and breathed a deep sigh, taking account of everything that happened. So many thoughts raced through my mind.

I took the advice given to me and fell asleep again, but when I awoke, the door to my room was open, and I saw a female Eashaira. Next to her, surveying me with gray eyes, was a male Arquel. What looked to be a mustard-colored military officer’s uniform covered most of the Arquel’s body, contrasting greatly with his red fur. I turned my attention to the Eashaira with reddish-orange fur, who closed the door when she pressed the lower button next to it on the inside of my room. I wondered whether that higher button was meant to accommodate people much taller, like Laxians. I obviously had no idea who this Arquel was, but the Eashaira seemed familiar.

“Purlaka?” I surmised.

“Hello, Orion,” she confirmed my notion. “How have you been?”

“Well…um…” I deliberated, scratching the back of my neck. “Let me see here….”

“Do not worry, Orion,” she said with a smile. “I did not mean for you to tell me everything. If you did, we would be here for a while. Much has happened to you in a very short time.”

“You’re telling me. This can’t happen,” I told her. “This is impossible.”

“If that is the case, then perhaps it is time for all of us to change our notion of what is possible.”

One question came to my mind before any other. “Is Zar all right?” I asked.

“Yes, Orion. Other than some bruising, Zarbaxa was physically unharmed, but stricken with grief that she would never see you again. Between those tears of sorrow and the tears of joy she shed upon learning you were alive, she could have turned the deserts of Alquabor lush and verdant. She is not here with me, but she is alive and well, and she is anxious to see you again.”

A great weight lifted from my mind, and I could finally relax. I felt ashamed thinking about how I had nearly chosen to give up and let myself die despite having someone in my life who loved me to that degree…far more than I loved myself most of the time. I tried to imagine how Zar would react when she saw me like this, but my thoughts quickly reverted to the present situation. “What are you doing here?”

“I have been here for some time, waiting for you to recover. Orion, this is Grand General Khormez, the president of Alquabor.”

I looked at the figure standing next to her. General? President? “Oh, no, what have I messed up now?”

“Perhaps it is I who should be asking that question,” the general spoke in a voice that sounded ancient. “You have done nothing wrong, Orion. In fact, it is a great pleasure to meet you. Quorilax and Alquabor were on the brink of an intergalactic incident when we discovered you. I came to hear for myself what you have to say, because all of us are just as perplexed about the recent events as you must certainly be.”

“How can I possibly help you?”

Purlaka fielded this. “We would like to ask you some questions so we may better understand what happened. You were aboard a spacecraft that crashed into the Alquaborian desert, correct?”

“Yes, I was.”

“Did you see those who abducted you? Could you recognize them?”

“I only saw the exposed face of one, and I didn’t recognize him.”

“He was a Laxian, though?”


“Did he ever give you any indications of his intentions?”

“He fed me some line about how they were protecting us. And the woman who abducted me said she saw me as an equal person, unlike everybody else...right before she snatched me in her grip without my consent, like I was her property. Probably none of this tells you anything, though; I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful.”

“You are doing wonderfully, Orion. Could you tell whether anyone else escaped the wreckage?”

“Kelly Armstrong was the only one I ever saw.”

“Do you know what happened to her?”

“She died…later,” I lamented, looking at my feet in shame.

“Are you...absolutely sure of that?”

“It’ll be burned into my memory forever: her tattered carcass, lying there in the desert.” I closed my eyes and grimaced as the grisly image flashed through my mind again.

Purlaka paused. “I am so sorry,” she said, her voice breaking a bit with sincerity.

I returned my eyes to her again, and a few tears started to blaze a trail down my face. “Why are you sorry? You have nothing to be sorry for. I’m the one who let her die.”

“No, Orion, you did not let her die. You cannot start blaming yourself. All of this was completely out of your control.” Another short pause ensued. “I can see this is getting to be very difficult for you. If you so desire, we can stop this discussion and continue it at a later time.”

“No,” I insisted. “I want to hear whatever you have to say now. I want to know so I can get it all over with and move on.”

“As you wish,” she said, breathing a prolonged sigh, after which she came over and sat down on the edge of the bed next to me. That worried me immediately. “I am beginning to feel as though I am the messenger of grim news, and telling you this pains me more deeply than I ever thought anything possibly could, but…an investigation of the crash site revealed more Human remains.”

I lowered my head and clutched it tightly in my hands as though that would stop the spinning, out-of-control sensation I felt in my mind. Looking back at Purlaka, I asked, “How many?” She didn’t respond, instead continuing to look at me with a sad, wrenched face. She apparently couldn’t bring herself to tell me the answer, instead watching and waiting for me to realize what she struggled to vocalize. “All...all of them?” I asked, and she affirmed. “No…you’re lying!” I said, refusing to believe it.

“I would never dream of lying to you about this, Orion,” she assured me, her eyes locked on mine. Tears now began to cascade down my face, and I wailed as I finally came to accept it. They had all died—Kelly and the other seventeen.

I was the last living Human.

I cried seventeen times harder than when I saw Kelly’s bloody corpse frying in the desert heat and quickly sought to hide my pitiful face, finding refuge in Purlaka, burying my face against her shoulder. She wrapped her arms around me and pulled me closer, undertaking the impossible task of trying to comfort me.

“There was no simple way to inform you of this,” she told me. “I felt it was best for me to personally come and break the news to you, seeing as how I am the one responsible for this tragedy.”

“What do you mean?” I managed to ask. “You aren’t at fault! You didn’t make that spacecraft crash!”

“No, she did not,” the general said. “But I did….”

That comment added to the already extreme sense of confusion plaguing my mind. I pulled my head away from Purlaka’s soaking fur and looked at the Arquel, who I almost forgot was standing there. “What did he just say?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“You misunderstand him,” said Purlaka. “The pilots of the ship carrying you failed to identify themselves as they passed through the Alquaborian dominion, so he had no choice but to fire upon them. He was only doing what was necessary to protect his citizens, Orion. He had no way of knowing you were aboard that vessel.”

“That still doesn’t explain why you feel you’re at fault!” I reminded Purlaka.

“A group of agents involved with Project Noah disappeared at the same time you did. We later identified the Laxian remains within the spacecraft as belonging to them. This action was executed in a highly organized and efficient manner, and only they possessed the collective knowledge and access to perpetrate such a catastrophe.”


“I have no idea, Orion. They disregarded the most important precaution we employed by putting you all in the same place, and based on what little they said to you, it sounds as though they had the misguided idea that they were helping you. Then again, perhaps the rest of us have been just as misguided. Everyone seemed to have their own plan to save the Human race, but none of us ever asked what you wanted. How arrogant of us to think we knew what was best for you…that Human civilization was still not ready to be made aware of its place in the universe.”

“Trust me: most Humans weren’t ready! You’re not arrogant! It was never your job to save us to begin with!”

“That is no excuse,” she maintained. “I refuse to accept that. It was our duty, Orion, and we failed. Now, you and the rest of the Human race have paid the ultimate price for those failures.”

I still couldn’t fathom it. Four and a half billion years of evolution on Earth had arguably culminated in the Human race, which ended with me. That thought would have been enough to depress anybody, and it brought about a new wave of tears, causing me to retreat into the fur again.

“General,” said Purlaka, “on behalf of the Quorilaxian Empire, I must apologize for all of the grief we have caused you. I only hope you will be able to forgive us after this shameful episode.”

“No apology is necessary, Senator,” Khormez dismissed it. “The recent times have taken their toll on all of us. We have all said and done some things of which we are not proud and wish we could take back. I am positive we can repair those wounds, though, and the eternal bond between Quorilax and Alquabor will never die; unfortunately, I cannot say the same for Humanity, and it is all due to my actions. I can never atone for the atrocity I have wrought upon the Human race.”

I pulled my face away from Purlaka, still crying. “Why should you even try?” I questioned him. “You're not the one to blame! If this is anybody’s fault, it’s mine!”

The corners of his mouth turned upward. “A noble gesture, Orion, but there is no need to indulge me. I know what I did, and I must live with that burden for the rest of my life. Do not worry about me. I am very old, so…that will not be too much longer. Farewell, Orion; you are a courageous young Human—no…you are simply courageous.”

“Thank you,” I said to the aged general and then watched as he turned and walked away, holding his head low as he pressed the lower button next to the door and exited the room, where an entourage of heavily armored Alquaborian soldiers surrounded him.

After he left, I started sobbing once again. “I will stay here with you for as long as you desire,” Purlaka told me. “Take as much time as you need.” She clutched me tighter, running one of her hands up and down my back. “Orion, you are the bravest person I have ever known,” she extolled me.

Brave? Courageous? I possessed nothing remotely close to those virtues. I had been a screw up my entire life, but I could take solace in the fact that, no matter what I did, it wasn’t the end of the world. That shows what I know. Everybody could try to convince me it was not my fault as much as they wanted to if they thought it would change my mind, but I wouldn’t be fooled, because I knew the truth in my heart. My actions alone led to the demise of Kelly, the last remaining Human woman, which single-handedly sealed the fate of the Human race. As alive as I may have been, Humanity was dead. Congratulations, Orion; you got exactly what you wished for in your final moments on Earth. You’re alone at last.

Hub Folder: "Quorilax [13+]

Last Quarter: "Quorilax: Ebb Tide & Low Tide [13+]
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