"Strength and power are not one and the same."
Third Quarter: "Quorilax: High Tide, Part 2" [13+]
Hub Folder: "Quorilax" [13+]
This is the fourth quarter of Quorilax—if you have not read the previous three quarters, then click on the “Hub Folder” link above.
Chapter 16: Devotion
Several days had elapsed since the unthinkable happened. It was late, and darkness had fallen on this part of the planet Quorilax. I gauged the length of a day on this world to be perhaps three hours longer than on Earth, and I gradually adjusted to the variation, but still, I should have been just as tired as the person lying in bed next to me, if not more so. Zar had fallen asleep with an arm draped over me, and I carefully slipped out from beneath it so as not to wake her. With myself successfully extricated, I climbed off the bed. I use the term “climb” almost literally since even my new height of approximately three and three quarter peskils, or seventy feet, while a staggering thought, made me no larger than an average Laxian child. At my size, the equivalent of a double bed offered plenty of room for both of us—not that I minded getting cozy with her, of course.
I made my way to the living room and reached up to slide open a door to the balcony, walking outside and gazing silently at the blanket of stars, causing memories of The Day to resurface in my mind. I remembered how on that evening, so recent yet seemingly so long ago, I looked up at the stars from Earth and wondered whether someone was out there in the distance doing the exact same thing. Now that I stood on the opposite end, I knew what the answer had been, but strangely enough, I once again asked the same question. Earth was so physically insignificant in the boundless universe, but its absence created a great void. Still, I perceived a continuing presence. It seemed as though I was not alone, and that the spirits of all those who were gone, as numerous as the stars in the sky, watched over me. They were so distant, but I could still feel them close by. It almost felt like they could reach out and touch me….
My sense of serenity was interrupted when I felt a hand reach out and touch me on the shoulder, and I was so startled that I actually let out a yelp. I turned around and, as I should have expected, stood facing Zar—her abdomen, to be more specific. The moonlight reflected off her sleek black fur, endowing her with an ethereal, otherworldly glow. Judging by the fact that she stood so tall yet possessed the stealth to touch me before I noticed her presence, I considered myself lucky that she preferred me as a dinner guest to a dinner course. What I once would have considered a foot now seemed more like an inch, so Zar’s 121 feet of height equaled just above ten feet in relative terms—much shorter than she seemed to me before, yet far from unimpressive.
“You scared me!” I craned my neck to her and gasped, trying to regain my composure.
“I am sorry about that,” she apologized. “I thought you heard me. What are you doing out here so late anyway?”
“Thinking,” I told her, looking back up at the sky.
“You think far too much, Ryan, and if there is any time to stop thinking, it is now. It is time to go to sleep.”
“But I can’t sleep.”
“Why not?” she asked.
“Because I’m thinking.”
She smiled. “Therein lies the problem. What have you been thinking about?”
“Death,” I replied.
That quickly changed her expression. “What is troubling you? Talk to me, Ryan.”
“All right,” I acquiesced. “I’ve just been thinking that…I’m worried.”
“As you always are. What is it this time?”
“I’m worried something might happen to you, and…if you were gone, I don’t know what I’d do.”
“Why would you think something will happen to me?” she probed.
“Well…wherever I go, problems seem to happen. One person—no, the entire Human race—has already died because of me. I’m afraid you might be next.” I’d never told Zar about the argument leading up to Kelly’s death. She’d no doubt hold herself responsible, and I couldn’t do that to her. The ultimate tragedy is that if Zar and Kelly had actually met and gotten to know each other—in bodies of any size—I’m positive they would have been the best of friends.
“You cannot keep blaming yourself for Kelly’s death like this, Ryan. It was completely out of your control. We are both very young and healthy. The thought of death should not even enter into our minds at this point, but if you continue to put this burden on yourself, then you will collapse under the pressure. You have no need to fret about me. I will be around for a long time, and I will always be here for you. Just because most of my empire abandoned you does not mean I will too.”
“Why not? Why do you love me?”
“What kind of a question is that?” she asked, thrown off guard. “Why would I not? Is that the type of thing that must or even can be explained in a sentence or two? You have never asked me that before. Why are you asking me now?”
“Because, I’m a freak. At least you could hide me from everyone before.”
She scoffed. “Do you know how much effort it took to keep myself from thrusting my hand into that pouch and hoisting you to my lips whenever I saw another couple freely expressing their feelings for one another as we strolled around? How excruciating it was to have you so close to me yet have to act like you were not there? How much I wished I could have held you proudly in the open to show everyone the man I love, and who loves me? Unfortunately, I knew I never could, because there are too many people who would have looked at us and seen not two kindred souls, but a young woman carrying a priceless piece of property, and they would have tried to steal you for their own gain, not caring or even realizing that you are capable of feeling and loving as much as anyone else. They would have never bothered to look past the letters of your genetic code and read the unique story those letters represent. I am proud to be a character in your story, Ryan. I know that it has not been unfolding as we hoped, but I think we can still find a way to write a happy ending.”
I looked up at her, my mouth agape. “Okay…I think that answer will suffice for now.”
“You are not a freak,” she continued. “You are different, and this world needs creatures that are different. That is the source of evolution.”
“But evolution can’t happen if I’m the only Human left.”
“I did not just mean it in the biological sense,” she clarified. “I also mean it in the cultural sense, of offering different perspectives and ideas.”
“Didn’t you ever want to have any children?”
“Yes, and I still do.”
“You do realize it’s biologically impossible for us, right?” I looked away and pondered for a moment. “Then again, I thought growing like I have was biologically impossible.”
“Biology is irrelevant if we adopt.”
“Maybe,” I considered, “but it’s not the same as giving birth to a life of your own. Things would be much less complicated for you if you just loved somebody else.”
“Why are you talking like this, Ryan? I want to be with you and no one else,” she proclaimed. “You are my mate, and I do not care how complicated my life is, as long as I share it with you. Why is that so hard for you to accept? You are such a kind, loving person, yet you have been forced to suffer far more than any person ever should and persevered through it all. I felt your strength even when you fit in the palm of my hand. Everyone has looked down upon you when they should be looking up to you. You have nothing to prove to any of them. As long as you and I know how special you are, is that not enough?”
“I wish it were,” I sighed.
“What do you mean? Why is it not?”
“Well…I’m going to die someday, and when I do, the Human race will cease to exist. Humanity is dead, and almost no one seems to care. I’m the only one left alive now, and I’m the only one who can leave a legacy—something to remember us by—but there’s nothing I can do for them; nothing I can do to give Kelly any dignity. I may have a bigger body now, but I feel as powerless as ever.”
“But Humanity will live on through its art: we have records of so many of your greatest films, words, and creations of visual beauty. And you speak as though you will die tomorrow. Of course you will die someday—every living thing eventually does—but it will be many, many years from now.”
“How can you be so sure about that? Only eleven Humans out of billions even made it to this planet, and beyond that there are so many other chances I had to die.”
“But you have not,” she emphasized.
“I know, and that’s what confuses me. I feel like I should have died several times already, but I haven’t. Everybody is dying around me, but for some reason I continue to live. I almost feel like I’m…immortal.”
“You are not immortal, Ryan,” she reminded me, “but…maybe you do have some form of divine protection. Your God will not stand by and let your species perish easily. He does not want you to go down without a fight. Humanity’s time has not come yet.”
“Nice try, Zar, but it didn’t work. There is no God. You’re the closest thing this universe has to a goddess.”
She turned her head away from me with a bashful smile, and I’m sure she became bright red beneath her black and white fur. “Stop it. You know how that embarrasses me.”
“How can I embarrass you? No one else is listening.”
“I am not even that much bigger than you are anymore!”
“My neck still aches from looking up at you, so I would tend to disagree, but what does that have to do with anything? Aren’t you the one who has always tried to convince me that size isn’t a measure of significance to this universe? I would love and respect you all the same even if I could hold you in the palm of my hand the way you held me, and that’s true power. Brute force is what compelled most Humans to worship gods…the threat of punishment if they didn’t obey. Of course, it was an empty threat, because gods don’t really exist—they’re just an invention. Humans had this strange, innate need to believe in something greater than they were. They just used religion as a scapegoat—”
“Scape…goat?” she interrupted me. “What is that?”
“Oh,” I said as I realized the word probably didn’t translate well. “Um…okay. For example, when Humans couldn’t explain a natural phenomenon, they thought it must have been caused by a god. When Humans were desperate and they had nothing else to give them hope, they convinced themselves a god would reward them with a better life after they died. Some Humans did terrible things, and then they used their religion as an excuse. Humans have a need to explain the unexplainable, and they believe what they want to—whatever is convenient for them. Do you understand?”
“No,” she said, sounding confused.
“Exactly. None of it makes any sense.”
“That is not what I meant. What I do not understand,” she clarified, “is why you are not religious. You said it was an innate Human need. Are you not a Human?”
“I’m Human through and through, Zar. I didn’t say religion was an innate Human need; I said we needed to believe in something greater than ourselves. Not necessarily bigger, just…greater. Religious Humans sought that in a spiritual world, but deep down, I knew all along that it was in the physical world, where I could see and touch it,” I said as I ran my hand down the outside of her thigh.
She crouched down and cupped my chin in her hand, tilting my head back as her face descended to lick me several times, before turning to walk back into the apartment’s interior. Before she closed the door, she swiveled her neck around. “Come inside, Ryan, and you can see and touch all you want,” she teased, beaming down at me one last time before disappearing from sight.
I couldn’t resist that invitation, but first, I returned my attention to the sky, trying to find answers, and soon I spoke to the stars, those balls of fire burning brightly amidst the blackness of the midnight sky. “Hello, everyone,” I greeted my heavenly audience. “I’m Orion O’Reilly. I don’t make a habit of doing this, just so you know. I realize I’m probably only talking to myself, but there’s no one else listening, so I guess I can’t look like a jackass if no one’s around to hear me, right? It’s kind of like that whole tree falling in the woods thing, I suppose. Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah. For anyone who doesn’t know yet, I’m the last surviving Human. Yeah, I don’t know how that happened either. I mean, if Humanity were ever going to go down, it feels like it should have been in a blaze of glory, firing off big guns and defending our turf...but those bastards blew you up before you probably even knew what was going on. Now, I’m all that’s left. I know…it’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard too. I’m afraid the Human race will slip away with a very anticlimactic whimper, but I never asked to be put in this position, and I’m sure all of you would feel the same way if you were in my place, so I hope you can just be happy for me as I am. I’ve never been one to make a rousing speech, and I guess this is no exception, because I think that’s all I have to say. So, goodnight.”
I made a move toward the door but then stopped, turning back around. “Oh, yeah,” I remembered. “Hi, Kelly. Are you out there? I know you probably still hate me. I said some terrible things. I hope you can understand that it was all in the heat of the moment. I know that doesn’t excuse it, but…that’s not how I am. I don’t think I’ve ever had anybody actually hate me before, and I don’t like how it feels. I wonder whether you could find it in your heart to forgive me. I don’t want to be tortured like this for the rest of my life. Please…I’m sorry.”
A small tear rolled down my face next to my nose, and I closed my eyes and let my head sink down to my chest, trying to get a hold of myself. I got lost in thought, tuning out what was going on around me, when suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my side. Reaching down to investigate the source of the discomfort, I winced as I pulled out a small dart. I looked around for the source but couldn’t see anything through the darkness. I didn’t even get much of an opportunity to look at the offending object before a warm feeling spread throughout my body and extremities and I started to feel dizzy. The dart fell out of my numb hands and hit the ground, just as I did several seconds later.
Chapter 17: Showdown
Upon waking, I found myself lying on a cot in the corner of a small room with stone walls on three sides, with the remaining edge filled by a row of vertical metal bars separating it from a small hallway. I’d never been inside a jail cell in my life, but I knew one when I saw one. I rose to my feet and walked over to the bars, putting my hands around a pair of them and leaning my head out, peering in both directions down the hallway but unable to see anything. “Hello?” I called out.
“Ah, you are awake,” I heard a male voice that sounded like it came from a cell next to mine. “A rude awakening, I am sure.”
“That’s an understatement,” I agreed. “I have no idea why I’m here. Do you?”
“Do you mean whether I have any idea why I am here, or why you are here?” he asked me to clarify.
“Well, I was thinking of you, since I don’t see why you would know anything about me.”
“I am here because I came to my senses and questioned the plan,” he stated cryptically. “I thought our goal was to save Humanity, but she is consumed by fantasies of revenge. We could live out our lives in peace, but we know nothing except war and hatred against them. Where does it end? Does it ever end, before all of us are dead? If she gets her way, I fear it will not.”
I stood there, trying to parse the meaning of all these thoughts, wondering where to even begin with my questions. Who is “she”? Who are “they”? Saving Humanity was the goal, albeit a failed goal, of Project Noah. He’s not talking about Purlaka, is he?
I heard a door open at the end of the hallway and footsteps approaching, until in front of my cell stood two Zdreni, each surveying me with a pair of completely black eyes and holding a rifle. While Laxians’ two upper canine teeth protruded from their mouths, a Zdren’s entire top row of teeth was prominently displayed. Scales covered most of them, but the areas around their chest and abdomen, as well as the palms of their hands, were composed of a slightly fleshier substance, like the underbellies of an Earth reptile. The wings folded behind their backs reached a few peskils higher than their heads, making them seem more imposing. One stood maybe half a peskil taller than I did and had blue scales and indigo flesh, while I found myself below the chest level of the one with green scales and yellow flesh. I heard the voice of the man in the cell next to me again, saying, “Please forgive me, Orion.”
“Quiet, traitor!” the much taller of the guards snapped at him in a feminine voice. I knew the female Zdreni greatly outsized the males, but it could otherwise be difficult for me to tell the sexes apart at a quick glance, as their women lacked the breasts prominent on mammalian species like Laxians and Humans. Their bright colors dazzled my eyes, but instead of thinking about how stunning their bodies appeared, my attention lingered on the rifles they carried.
The smaller guard opened my cell door. “Come with us, please,” requested a male voice, and I hesitantly walked outside, with him leading the way and his partner behind me. From behind the male guard, I took notice of the fact that what looked like feathers ran from the back of his head to the base of his tail. As we passed by the neighboring cell, I looked inside just long enough to confirm that my fellow prisoner, like his guards, was a Zdren, his expression pleading at me, but I soon felt a jab in my back from the muzzle of a rifle and returned my attention to the path ahead.
When we reached the door at the end of the hallway and it opened, I found myself outdoors. Looking around, I could see that this was just one of many buildings in what appeared to be a small town, or perhaps more like a compound, surrounded by tall coniferous trees. Not too much farther in the distance, I saw mountains, although they wouldn’t have been much larger than similar mountains on Earth, in absolute terms. I had learned that, despite other worlds being home to much bigger people, fauna, and flora than on Earth, the planets and their geological features themselves did not scale up at an equal amount, so, for example, the tallest point on Quorilax did not rise to anywhere near a hundred miles above sea level, as it would have were it an equivalent height as Mount Everest relative to the Laxians. I saw people—all Zdreni—going about their days, although some of those closer to me had stopped to look in my direction, often pointing and exchanging words if they were near others. Soon, however, my attention got captured by a pair of Zdreni flying through the air above me, one chasing the other, their skirts featuring many thin strips of fabric in a wide array of hues, which created a riot of color as they whipped in the wind. When I saw them embrace in midair, one body dwarfed by the other, I understood what I was witnessing: a courtship ritual.
A young male voice broke me out of my trance. “Watch your step!” he exclaimed, and I looked down and saw what looked remarkably like a baby elephant scurrying away from my feet. The boy knelt and wrapped his hands around the creature, gingerly lifting it from the ground, earning a trumpet of protest for his efforts, but he set it down with care near a larger herd that it had broken away from. Did my drugging this time include a hallucinogen or something?
We eventually came upon a large building that seemed near the center of the populated area, and when the door slid open and we walked inside, we soon emerged into a large, cavernous room. We continued our procession until I was between two vertical poles, perhaps twenty peskils in front of a throne, on which sat another Zdren. A dozen more stood guard, with half of them framing the path to the throne on each side. My escorts shackled my arms and legs to some chains attached to the columns of metal. While they did this, I observed the creature sitting on the throne. I couldn’t see its eyes well, since they blended with scales as black as coal. Its flesh, on the other hand, was a deep, blood red. After a few moments, it finally rose to its feet and stretched out, spreading its veined, crimson wings at full length. It obviously didn’t intend to fly, so I wondered whether the display was merely intended as a gesture of intimidation. After retracting its wings, it descended from the dais, its tail swinging behind it. As it came nearer, I was aghast at its size. It continued to approach until we stood face to…thigh. I figured it must have been over eight peskils tall.
“Hello, Orion,” said a voice deep but still very much feminine. “You are a slippery creature, but at last we meet. My, you have grown. Where does the time go?”
“Who are you?” I demanded. “How do you know my name? What are you doing to me?”
“You are an inquisitive young Human,” she remarked. “I assure you, all of your questions will be answered in due time. You must forgive me for not introducing myself immediately. I am Queen Mazagore, ruler of the Zgorbians.”
As she said that, I stared up at her in shock, and she met my gaze. The two soulless, obsidian spheres stared blankly, the light reflecting off their surface, unable to penetrate the nefarious depths. As I gazed into the hateful eyes of this personification of all evil, I thought I would be overcome with fear…but I wasn’t. In fact, I felt quite the opposite.
I never imagined this moment would arrive, and I didn’t know what to say. Little matter, since words were not a sufficient vehicle to convey emotions as strong as what I experienced at that moment. I flung myself toward her, intending to rip her apart, disregarding my restraints and all the other reasons that such an action was futile. I snarled and sprayed saliva like an enraged koswok, straining against my bonds as I tried to break free.
“Settle down, Orion,” she said calmly. “Struggling will not accomplish anything. You will only hurt yourself.”
“Then you won’t get the satisfaction of doing it for me!”
“I do not want to hurt you.”
I was still in complete denial. “How can this be? This is impossible! You’re…you’re supposed to be—”
“Dead?” she finished my sentence. “According to whom, the Quorilaxians? They are not all-seeing, as much as they like to believe so.”
“Why did you bring me here? What do you want from me?”
“We would like to enlist your assistance.”
I couldn’t believe what she said. “Is this some sort of sick joke?”
“No, Orion. We would appreciate your help in procuring a certain substance.”
“And what might that be?”
“Algonite. You are no doubt familiar with it.”
“Algonite? What do you want with that?”
“As you are personally aware, algonite was recently discovered to possess the spectacular quality of causing hyperactive growth under the right conditions.”
“Yes, and one of those conditions is that the subject is a Human! Even if I could safely grow bigger, why would you want me to?”
“Its consequences are not restricted to Humans, Orion. All Terran life is affected. We all possess an internal biology similar enough to facilitate the reaction.”
“We?” I said in utter confusion, furrowing my brow.
“Yes, all of us. A small taste of the evidence is right before you.” After she said that, I scanned the length of her body in trepidation. Sure, the female Zdreni were bigger than the males, but something else had to account for the queen’s exceptional size. I thought it may have been something inborn, with a queen being a different biological “caste” from other women, but that didn’t seem to be the case.
Things were getting even more bewildering. “But you…you’re not—”
“We are not Terrans, Orion?” she completed my thought again as though she had anticipated everything I would say. “We have as much right to call ourselves that as you do. We lived on Earth many eons ago. Then, at some point, we were forced to leave because an interstellar object was expected to collide with the planet. Indeed, the meeting occurred, and the large majority of our sisters and brothers left behind perished in the fallout. Still, many of Earth’s smaller creatures lived on, among them the one that would eventually give rise to the Human race.”
“What? How do you know about—” I started to ask the question, but as I reflected on the enormous reptilian beast standing in front of me, things fell into place in my mind. “The dinosaurs? Oh…my…God…” I acknowledged in disbelief.
“You seem so surprised, Orion,” she observed.
“How did you escape from Earth?”
“The Mother Race knew the cataclysmic event was about to take place, and they made it their mission to gather the most advanced creatures of planet Earth and relocate them to the nearest life-sustaining planet. Up until very recently, we lived in exile on the world of Zgorb. Earth was our original home.”
“The Mother Race? Are you talking about the Laxians?”
“The Laxians?” she said, disdain evident in her voice. “Hardly! The Mother Race were magnasapiens who existed long before any of our civilizations, but if they stood here among us right now, my eyes would be level with the waist of a full-grown male, and the same would be true of him in comparison to his mate! The Mother Planet was the progenitor of every one of us. Laxians, Zdreni, Humans—we are all their offspring. It is no coincidence that we possess so many similarities. Nothing in this universe is a coincidence.”
“How could you possibly know all of this?”
“They left caches of iconographs across Zgorb, clearly intending for us to find and decipher them. One strongly suggested that they knew they needed to leave the Mother Planet, but they could not find another world that would support beings of their size. Another described the story of our exile from Earth and pointed us toward our ancestral home. I am sure we had only begun to discover these before the Quorilaxians obliterated the rest, forever enshrouding their explanations in mystery.”
“If Earth was your home planet, why would you destroy it?”
“The Mother Race left us that message because they chose us to lead the universe to glory once they passed! We were the rightful heirs to Earth’s endless bounty! They wanted us to know this so we could someday return and reclaim that which was ours, but Quorilax stood in our way and prevented us from fulfilling our destiny!”
“Oh, I see! If you couldn’t have Earth, then no one could!”
“While my people starved, we could only stand by helplessly and watch as our home died a slow and painful death at the hands of its Human usurpers!”
“Maybe you should do better research before you commit genocide! This may come as a shock to you, but plenty of Humans starved too!”
“I know that! What feeds one Zdren could have nourished thousands of Humans, yet you were still granted one of the most prolific planets in the universe! The fact that Humans regularly starved only goes to show how preposterously inefficient and wasteful you were! It is such an unimaginable shame that Earth’s abundance will never again benefit anyone, but sometimes one must kill the host in order to exterminate the parasite!”
“We weren’t parasites! We were people!”
“People who thrived at the expense of their host! It was our duty to stop you before you escaped from your quarantine and wreaked havoc on the rest of the universe! Humanity was a plague, and we were the remedy!”
“Well, here I am! I’m the last vestige of Humanity! I’m all that remains of the scourge you wanted to eradicate, so why don’t you just finish me off and put an end to everyone else’s misery?”
“You should know we would not have gone to all the trouble of bringing you here if our aim were to kill you.”
“If you already have algonite, then why would you need my help to get it?”
“After Zgorb was destroyed, we lost the greater part of our reserves. We only maintained control of a relatively small amount, which we have largely exhausted in the course of experimenting with its properties and learning to control its violent effects.”
“What exactly do you intend to do once you are grown?”
“The Quorilaxian arsenal will be impotent in the face of our immense size. Our footfalls will shake the ground, and the beating of our wings will blow them from their feet!”
I had long ago envisioned a race of giants colonizing an alien planet, subjugating or exterminating the minuscule natives; I just had the roles wrong. The Quorilaxians, who never conquered my home world as I had originally imagined, would instead be the ones invaded—by the Zgorbians. For all we know, she was your significant other, I recalled the man from my dream saying after he described the horrible fate of a young Human woman captured by some Laxian soldiers, and I suddenly realized that now, that really could be my girl. I felt sick when I imagined Zar as the one gripped in a giant hand, screaming herself hoarse. “Do whatever you want with me! Just leave Quorilax out of it!” I begged. “This doesn’t involve them!”
“How very admirable of you, Orion. But this very much involves Quorilax. An unfortunate act of nature drove us from Earth, but the Quorilaxians knowingly destroyed our home! They have spat upon us for long enough; it is time for their reign to end.”
“The Quorilaxians destroyed your home because you destroyed my home and almost my entire species, and now you’re asking me to betray the ones who saved us from you? I can’t imagine anything more ridiculous! I’m not a traitor!”
“A traitor?” she chortled. “You are not even considered a person in the eyes of the Quorilaxians! How can an animal commit treason? Besides, they did not save you from anything; they abandoned you! You have no hope for a future with Quorilax.”
“And what future do I have by assisting you, exactly?”
“Not only would you be spared from our wrath, but you would be elevated to the status of a god. You would earn redemption for your race in the eyes of the Zgorbians, and when the Quorilaxians are reduced to the status of scurrying vermin, our opinion will be the one that carries the most weight.”
“I couldn’t care less what the most despicable person in the entire universe thinks of me! Besides, I don’t want to be treated like a god any more than I want to be treated like I’m inferior! All I want is to be treated like a person, like everyone else! Why is that so hard to understand? And how can I even believe anything you say? As soon as you got what you wanted, you would just discard me!”
“We are not a treacherous people, Orion. Unlike the Quorilaxians, we will not renounce our pledge and abandon you when you become an inconvenience. I have been completely candid with you, and I believe you have been equally forthright with me. It is time for us Terrans to put aside our differences and join forces to fight against what should be our common enemy.”
“Do you think I’ve forgotten that you committed genocide? I’m not fooled by anything you say! You’re insane if you think I’m going to help you! You’re my fellow Terran, and you betrayed me! I’ll be damned if I let that happen again!”
“It is the Quorilaxians who have betrayed us both. It is they who long ago instigated the aggression against us, when we committed the double sin of refusing to submit to their demands, and then humiliating them in defeat when they tried to force them upon us anyway!”
“So you decided to destroy Earth? Of course; it all makes sense now!” I said sarcastically.
“The destruction of Earth was in everyone’s best interest…including Humanity’s.”
She said some unbelievable things to me before this point, but that comment was the ultimate insult. “How dare you say that?”
“It will all be clear soon enough. You are aware of the Laxians who abducted you, correct?”
“How do you know about them?”
“They were my agents, Orion; they worked on my behalf.”
I paused for a moment. “What are you saying?” I asked in a shaky voice.
“I am saying I knew long in advance that the Quorilaxians would attack Zgorb. I am saying I knew of Project Noah. I am saying I knew Humans would be brought to Quorilax. I am saying I knew where to find you. I am saying I knew everything. It was all part of the plan.”
“That can’t be!” I said in denial. “Why would Laxians ever unite with you? How was that in their interest? How was that in Humanity’s interest?”
“It is simple, Orion. They had the foresight to see what was in the best interest of all life. They could escape the limitations of the narrow-minded Laxian mentality and see the injustice their people have inflicted upon the universe. We were going to establish a new society, free from the corruptive influence of the Empire; a land where a person’s size and species would not have been her defining characteristic; a society that accommodated and cherished people of all dimensions. If children were not denied the opportunity to grow up together simply because one will only grow up as high as the other’s ankles, they would learn to live together as if it were the most natural thing ever. Even if you and all the other adult Humans had refused to participate in this world, your newborn offspring would not have, never learning a mistrust and hatred for those so similar to them in mind simply because of differences in physical nature.”
“You just told me Humanity was a plague! That sounds like hatred of our physical nature to me!”
“Humanity was a plague—Humans were not.”
“Seriously? I don’t have any patience for damn word games right now!”
“They are entirely different concepts, Orion. Once Earth was destroyed, you were no longer a part of the collective consciousness known as Humanity; you were merely individuals without a society. Had we left Humanity to its own devices, it would have likely driven itself and all that lived on Earth to extinction! It was our duty as the chosen people of the Mother Race to protect and ensure the survival of all the universe’s creatures! It was our duty to save you from yourself! To do that, we needed to wash away the past and make a fresh start. Project Noah—I could not have thought of a more appropriate name myself.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “You drove my species to extinction! Not only that, but you seem to think that did us a favor!”
“That crash was never part of the plan! But it turns out that even our Laxian comrades could not completely shake off the inherent arrogance of their species, deciding it was not worth their time and trouble to bypass the Alquaborian dominion!”
“Well, I guess things don’t always go according to plan, do they?”
“Unfortunately not, but we have a contingency plan. They can no longer share in our vision, but you can, Orion. Circumstances have changed. We are thinking much…bigger now. You can help us move the universe into an enlightened future, being remembered for all eternity, or you can die in obscurity and let the memory of you erode with the flow of time. It is a simple choice.”
“Humans had dreams too, you know, but you put an end to that! Your dream was a nightmare for the rest of the universe! I would have never participated in your sick vision before, and I sure as hell am not going to do it now!”
“I must tell you, Orion, I expected no less from you. You must clearly possess great will and determination to have survived this long. You are not easily persuaded, even when it means going against what you think is beneficial for you. The light of truth may seem blinding right now, but once you adjust to it, you will see everything much more clearly than you did before. Now that you know, I am certain you will not be fooled by the Quorilaxian rhetoric, and you will take the best interest of the universe into consideration. That is why I know I can trust you to do the right thing.”
“If you trust me so much, then why do you have me in shackles like this?”
“I knew they would be necessary to restrain you earlier, when your emotions were running high, but once you have calmed down and I have your full cooperation, you will be released.”
I exhaled slowly and unsteadily. I couldn’t stall any longer. I had to make a decision. “Can I tell you something?” I asked her.
“What is it?”
“Come closer; it’s a secret,” I told her, and she seemed surprised but crouched until her face was within spitting distance of mine. I use that term in its most literal sense, because I seized the chance to launch a glob of my saliva at her, which landed near the back of her snout, right between her demonic eyes. The twelve guards all focused their weapons on me simultaneously, and the queen pulled her head away, returning to her full height and staring down at me with indignation.
“You’re right!” I said to her. “The Quorilaxians have spat upon you for long enough! Now it’s Humanity’s turn!”
With an enraged expression, she wiped my liquid bullet away with her left hand, and I met her gaze confidently, not having a single regret about what I just did. Amazingly, her ire quickly seemed to vanish, and she waved off her eager minions. In a strange turn of events, she brought her right hand up to my face and stroked my skin. I watched her skeptically as she proceeded to run the backside of a claw along my cheek. “You are such a lovely creature,” she complimented me. “It would be a shame to see something terrible happen to you.”
“I’m not afraid of you!” I declared, interpreting her comment as a veiled threat. Sure enough, she quickly raked her clawed hand over my left cheek, tearing open my skin. I winced as my cheek burned, and I could see blood dripping onto the floor below. I returned my eyes to the queen’s diabolical countenance, which watched me, waiting for my spirit to break. As much pain as I felt, I wouldn’t give her any gratification. “Is that the best you can do?” I challenged.
“You are absolutely right,” she agreed. “This will not suffice.” This time, I saw her other hand moving to the opposite side of my face, and I tried to evade it, but she did the same with her claws on that side, surveying her work with satisfaction. “That is much better,” she evaluated. “There is a sense of symmetry now.”
I felt a searing pain on both cheeks, and I watched as my blood—Kelly’s blood—continued to drip out. “You cold-blooded murderer!” I barked. “She’s dead because of you! All of them are! They never did anything to you! Does it make you proud to know you slaughtered completely defenseless people?”
“Proud? I did none of this for pride! I never wanted it to come to this!” she attested, and I thought I may have even seen traces of tears roll from her eyes. “Quorilax meddles in the affairs of the universe for their own gain, but they do nothing to intervene as a species sets themselves on a trajectory bound for destruction, either of themselves or others, if not both!”
“Others? I questioned her. “You’re talking about Humans destroying others? We were utterly defenseless against anyone else in the entire universe! We were at the mercy of your children!”
“If we are talking about a single, unarmed Human held in the hands of a medisapien, then of course! There has never been anyone more delicate, more beautiful! But not when we are talking about the Human population far outnumbering any other race…when wars are increasingly fought through stealth, cyber attacks, and weapons whose power greatly exceeds their size! You underestimate the threat you posed as much as Quorilax does! You were developing at a rate like no other civilization known and would have quickly become unstoppable! It is the smallest creatures that are the most nimble, the most adaptable for survival, just as happened on Earth all those millions of years ago! It is the giants of the universe, like the Mother Race, that die out! We wanted to harness your amazing potential for good, to help you—to help all of us! Now…” she said, once more lowering her face close to mine as though daring me to spit on her again, “did you have anything else you wanted to say to me?”
I could see the grim sight of my reflection on the jet-black surface of her eyes. My face was horribly disfigured, and I could hardly stand to look at myself, so I closed my eyes, and when I did so, the first thing I saw was Zar. I saw her as she last walked out of my sight, flashing that beautiful smile, and I couldn’t help but do the same. Then I heard Kelly’s voice telling me, “You just need to have faith!” With a renewed strength, I opened my eyes and looked into the face of evil.
“Yes, I said something! I said I hope you rot in Hell, you worthless piece of shit! It makes me sick to think you call yourself a Terran! You just wait until the Quorilaxians come!”
She scoffed and stood back up to her full height. “Your ‘guardians’ will not save you now! If you are the last Human, that means they think they already lost! You have outlived your purpose to them! They have abandoned you, just like they did before! Humanity was crying out for help, and we were the only ones who answered the call, but like an insolent child you never understood what was good for you!” She waved a hand dismissively. “Take him back to his cell and give him another chance to think long and hard about his future.”
I saw the two guards who escorted me here getting ready to release me and take me away, but then, as if by divine intervention, the wall to my right exploded with a thunderous blast. The stunned Zgorbians all turned their attention toward the sudden occurrence, but then the wall to my left erupted as well. Shrapnel flew everywhere and mass confusion reigned. Next, there was a brilliant flash of light, so bright that I only saw whiteness afterward. Battle cries came from all directions, and amidst the pandemonium I heard weapons being fired, followed by the screams of beings in the throes of death. By a minute later, the hellish sounds ceased, and although I still heard voices, the loud sizzling of flesh largely drowned them out.
Nearly fifteen seconds after the chaos ended, I still only saw the bright white light. Then, from in front of me, I heard a male voice say, “Hello, Orion.”
I figured I must have died and that this was the “light” everyone always talked about. “God?”
“Not quite. It is just Drabolya.”
I was bewildered. It didn’t sound the slightest amount like Drab. The lower voice was a far cry from the one I remembered. Then again, I hadn’t heard him for a long time and had yet to see him. “Am I still alive?” I wondered.
“Very much so,” he noted.
That settled the most important question, but I still had a major problem. “All I can see is white!” I told him. “I think I’ve gone blind!”
“That is because of the flash bomb,” he informed me. “The effect is only temporary. Your vision will be completely restored within a short time.”
“How shortly will that be, exactly?”
“Now is not the time for explanations. It looks like we arrived just in time. You should get medical attention immediately. Your face looks terrible.” I heard a clicking noise as my braces unsnapped. “May I carry you out of here?” he asked, and, given my utter exhaustion and current lack of eyesight, I gladly accepted. I felt him lift me up and hold me against his chest, and I wrapped my arms around his neck, burying my face against his body and crying tears of relief. “I have you, Orion. There is nothing more to fear.” After he said that, it struck me how much his words reminded me of Zar’s assurances to me only a few days ago—I am right here. Nothing will happen to you. You are safe.— and I started to think that just beneath the surface, brother and sister were a lot more alike than they realized. Right after Zar had said that to me, though, I was cruelly ripped away from her, so hopefully history would not repeat itself in that sense.
Chapter 18: Absolution
Once we reached a ship and Drab brought me to the onboard medical area, he took his leave. I didn’t lose too much blood, which was incredibly fortunate, seeing as how there were no other Humans from whom I could receive any. At some point during my healing, my vision started to return, gradually improving until it was soon as good as ever. When my face was completely sutured, I prepared myself for takeoff.
After we escaped the planet’s atmosphere and were gliding through the dark ocean of outer space, I realized how badly I had to urinate, so I got up and scrambled to find a lavatory. Come on, there must be one on this thing somewhere! After running around for a brief period, I happened to encounter Drab. I didn’t identify him initially, but he easily recognized me, of course. I think he may have grown half a peskil since I last saw him. He was clad in black algonite body armor, including his tail, so the only parts of him visible were his neck and head, which had broader and more defined features than I remembered. “What happened to you?” he asked, gazing at me in awe.
“What hasn’t happened to me?” I inverted the question.
“I am not sure! That is why I asked!” He continued to look me over. “You have certainly grown!”
“Does that make me seem to have more value than I did before?”
“No!” he asserted immediately with a distraught face, and I realized then how blunt my question must have come across to him, almost like a challenge. “I mean…I suppose I would have answered differently the last time I saw you. So many other people treated me like I was worth less to the universe because of my size, and I started to believe they were right…that I deserved what I got.”
“And if someone your size was worth less to the universe, then that probably means you thought someone who fit in your hand was completely worthless.”
“Exactly. I realize now how ridiculous and awful it was for me to think that way, but I could not see that at the time. So when I saw you getting more attention from everyone than I did, I snapped and unleashed all my rage on the person who least merited being its target.”
“When did you understand what a terrible thing you had done?”
“Within days, and I have only had more time since then to think about everything and regret my actions to an even greater degree.” Next, he focused on my leg scar, the length of which would have exceeded that of my entire body at its natural size. “I…did that?” he asked.
“You did indeed,” I replied.
His eyes remained on my scar, and then he bent down, reaching out one of his hands and running his fingers across its length. “I did that,” he said as though fully admitting it to himself for the very first time. “I do not deserve to live after what I did to you.”
“Don’t talk like that. There was no permanent effect besides this scar, and I try to look on the bright side: I think it gives me some character.”
His eyes stared at me, becoming shinier. Then his face started quivering, and I knew what was about to happen. He began to cry lightly, then slightly harder. I stood there, watching him as he broke down. Then…he picked me up and hugged me.
The gesture completely astounded me, and I held my arms up quickly as he squeezed my midsection…and the bloated bladder within. What do I look like, a teddy bear?
“I am so sorry!” he apologized with all his heart, continuing to weep. “I am so sorry! I want to take it all back! Please, forgive me!”
I brought my arms down and patted his shoulder a few times. “You can never take it back, Drab, but I understand the pain you were going through. And I know how it feels to live with such guilt. The person whom I wish could forgive me is dead, so I’ll have to carry my woe forever. But just because I do doesn’t mean I desire to make you do the same. I wouldn’t wish this feeling on my worst enemy, and you aren’t my enemy…especially not now, after you came to save me. I can see how genuine your contrition is, so your debt is now absolved…and then some. I forgive you. Come on now; get a hold of yourself.”
“I know, I know,” he agreed, setting me down and giving me some space. “I am sure my sister still hates me, though. One of the reasons I asked to go on this mission was because I figured that if I helped rescue you, she might not hate me quite as much anymore, and if I were killed, I would have only gotten what I deserved, and you and Zar would have received justice.”
“What? Zar has always blamed herself for what happened, ever since I woke up in the hospital. She doesn’t hate you! She’s never hated you! What would make you think something like that?”
“She called me a hideous monster…” he despaired.
“She…can get a bit carried away when her passions are inflamed,” I admitted, “and I’ve never seen her passions more inflamed than when someone has gone after me. But when was the last time you talked to her?”
“The Day? Wasn’t that the last time you saw her? That was almost half a year ago!”
“I know,” he acknowledged.
“Why haven’t you talked to her?”
“I am scared.”
“Scared? What are you scared of? Zar? You mean to tell me you just risked your life fighting against the Zgorbians but you’re scared of your twin sister? Come on, Drab; she’s not that tough! I’m sure she’ll be there when we return. If she comes running at you with a wild look in her eyes, just stand behind me, okay?” I joked.
“Okay,” he consented, and a short pause ensued as he looked at me with reverence. “You know…Zar was right. Humans are amazing. She deserves to have you.”
I didn’t quite know how to feel about the plural “Humans” being used in the present tense at this point, but I pushed it out of my mind for now, trying to focus on more optimistic possibilities and not spoil the moment. “She deserves to have you too, Drab, so give her what she deserves; give her a brother.”
“I will,” he resolved, smiling at me for the first time ever. “Thank you, Orion.”
“You’re welcome. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some important business to attend to.”
“Where are you…” I heard him start to say, but I was already out of range.
After getting some much-needed relief, I asked someone how we could be light years away from Quorilax yet get there so quickly. He had a hearty laugh at my naiveté and simply patted me on my head. Too exhausted from my recent experience to pursue the matter any further, I simply gave up and went to sleep. By the time I woke up, we were already approaching our destination. I had made it back in one piece—well, except those chunks of my cheek—which was all that mattered. I felt the vessel shake lightly as we penetrated the atmosphere, but it made me feel comfortable, because I knew it was only a matter of time before I would be home, hopefully permanently this time.
Chapter 19: Renewal
Once we landed, I exited the ship and readily discerned that we were at Trestuvan spaceport. I could see the tallest buildings of the capital city far off in the distance. I looked around, wondering where I was supposed to go from here, and then I heard Drab’s voice. “Come with me, Orion. You and I get to meet the arch admiral.”
I didn’t know who the arch admiral was, but that title made him sound important. I followed Drab as he walked toward one of the larger buildings on the premises. As we approached the door, I saw two armed guards standing to either side of it. As soon as we set foot in the large entrance room, I noticed a door on the right and left, each of which had their own pair of guardians. Directly ahead of me was a booth with yet another guard, who looked up at Drab, and down at me, as we approached.
“Enter—the admiral is expecting you,” he said to us, and we walked around his station to another door behind it, with yet another duo acting as sentries. The door opened without any action on our part, and Drab motioned me to walk in ahead of him. The room was very large, so a great deal of space lay in front of me. I walked forward partway into the room, and I found whom I guessed to be the arch admiral seated behind a desk. Standing in front of the desk to either side, framing him, were two other individuals. They turned around as soon as we entered the room, and I got a good look at them. On the left was Purlaka, and on the right was Zar. The admiral wasn’t the only one expecting us.
I studied Zar’s expression as Drab and I entered the room. When she saw us, something about her changed. She got a wild, feral look in her eyes and took me by surprise when she started running toward us. I turned around to see how Drab was faring, and I found him ducked behind me, looking at me with an expression of absolute terror, thinking his worst fears had been confirmed. Zar continued racing toward us with no sign of stopping, and Drab fled to the side of the room. When Zar didn’t deviate from course, however, I realized her target was not Drab at all….
She swept me up and spun around, embracing me with a broad smile on her face. That smile was short lived, however, because that very same face was soon all over mine, smothering me with affection. I couldn’t get a word in. Heck, I could barely breathe.
“Ugh…do you mind?” Drab begged.
“Yes!” Zar noted, momentarily ceasing her action to speak but resuming it immediately afterward. Drab gave up, rolling his eyes.
“Help me, Drab!” I pleaded when finally able. “I can’t hold her off by myself!”
He laughed. “I cannot help you, Orion. I am sorry, but there are some battles you must fight on your own.”
However, shortly after he said this, my “battle” with Zar had already ceased. I looked at her face and followed her line of sight to Drab, who looked back with fear in his eyes, watching for any threatening movements. She moved toward him slowly until they stood right in front of each other, whereupon she set me down on the floor. I was correct about the size differential: whereas Drab used to be somewhere around one and a quarter peskils shorter than his sister, only about three quarters of a peskil now separated them. Neither moved for a few seconds, and Drab shifted under Zar’s hypnotic gaze. It startled me when she quickly reached her arms around her brother and started hugging him. She did it so fast that he didn’t have time to react, and he stood there helplessly as Zar squeezed him tightly against her. “I am the luckiest girl in the entire universe!” she proclaimed.
“Help me, Orion!” he gasped. “She is trying to suffocate me!”
I turned and looked at the two figures standing by and watching this bizarre reunion unfold. Purlaka smiled in amusement, and even the admiral had a noticeable grin on his face. “You know,” I said to the twins, “as much as I would love for this to continue, I think there are other things to deal with.”
Zar sighed in resignation. “You are probably right,” she said as she let Drab go, allowing him to catch his breath, and they joined me by the desk at the end of the room.
The admiral rose to his feet, showcasing his full height. Like all military personnel, he wore a uniform on his torso, highly decorated to befit his rank. At about seven peskils tall, he rose above the others in the room, including Zar, and may have even been the tallest Laxian I had seen thus far. The most intriguing aspect of his appearance, however, was his eyes’ brilliant red irises.
“So,” he said in a firm voice, looking down at me, “you are Orion O’Reilly. I am Arch Admiral Zifthota. It is an honor to finally meet you.”
“It is?” I said in shock.
He shifted his eyes to Purlaka. “You did not exaggerate, Senator. He does take modesty to the extreme.”
“How could you be anything except angry at me? All I’ve done is cause you endless trouble!”
“It is quite the opposite, Orion. You may have prevented a great deal of trouble from happening.”
“I did? How?”
“By leading us to the Zgorbian base.”
“How did I do that?” I wondered dumbly.
Purlaka proceeded to explain. “While you were unconscious on Alquabor several days ago, we performed a…procedure on you.”
“What kind of procedure?” I asked, getting worried.
“We implanted a homing beacon inside of you. Had we done so before then, perhaps we could have taken quick action to rescue you and your fellow Humans. Project Noah actually did place tracking devices within all of your collars; unfortunately, your abductors knew this and simply removed your collars. This time, we put it directly into your body in case such an event should happen again. As you clearly know, it did, and we followed your signal all the way to the Zgorbian base.”
“How did you know it was the Zgorbian base?” I inquired.
“We inserted a microphone as well.”
I began to wonder whether they put anything else in my body. “You listened to every word I said?” I asked in embarrassment.
“Yes. We did not wish to infringe upon your privacy any more than necessary, though, so we only activated the receiver once we knew something was amiss. We were not privy to anything you said before that.”
“So you know exactly what happened, then….”
“Word for word, Orion,” said Zifthota. “We are fully aware of your heroism.”
“Heroism?” I asked. “What heroism?”
“I believe your actions speak for themselves.”
“What actions? I just stood there and talked while Drab and all the other soldiers came to save me! No matter what I did, you would have come, and everything would have happened the exact same way!”
“Orion, let me tell you something,” he said, coming out from behind his desk and walking up to me. “Not all heroes lead armies to victory or inspire the masses with charismatic words. Most are much subtler in their influence and, unfortunately, they do not often receive the recognition they deserve. I am sure most people could not begin to cope with what you have experienced. You lost more than any other living being in the whole universe, carrying the weight of your entire species on your shoulders, yet you have handled the recent events with far more maturity than many of us.”
“Do you really think so?”
“I know so; personally, I am embarrassed to say. Thankfully, your perseverance several days ago helped to spare us from making a terrible mistake with the Alquaborians. Second chances do not always present themselves in life, but fortunately, yet again, you have given Quorilax that opportunity...a second chance to make things right for Humanity.”
I had no idea what he meant by that. “Sir, what are you talking about?” I begged him to elaborate.
With a knowing smile, he looked to Purlaka, who returned his expression before directing her attention to the belt around her waist, where she unzipped two pouches much like the one Zar had used to transport me before I grew. Speaking of Zar, I had put my hand on the leg of hers I stood closest to, and as I gazed up at her questioningly, she looked down at me briefly. Despite having been standing in this room with Purlaka before I arrived, she appeared to be in a similar state of confusion at what was happening, and she set her own hand on my shoulder in support and quickly turned her attention back to Purlaka’s waist, where Purlaka held both her hands, each now containing...a Human. I heard Zar emit a high-pitched gasp.
Purlaka walked closer to the center of the desk, moving her hands over it and setting them down with palms up, allowing the passengers to disembark upon the top of the piece of furniture, which must have seemed like the roof of a Human-scale office building to them. I blinked quickly, in disbelief at what I saw, and I was sure that one of these times my eyelids would reopen to find the Humans gone...or to wake up to the cruel realization that this was all a dream, and I would find myself back in bed—still with Zar at my side, but yet again alone in my physical humanity in this universe.
I moved closer, and Purlaka backed away, allowing me more space as I now stood directly in front of my fellow Humans. At my height, I did not have to lean down much to be eye level with their faces, which I now studied closely. On the right of the pair stood a young woman who appeared to be of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent, with dark brown skin, and on the left I saw a young man possessing East Asian features, his almond eyes and hers all locked on mine as I looked back and forth between them. Meanwhile, Zar knelt next to me, which lowered her own face to be near the rest of ours, and she put her hand on the small of my back, making it clear that she was at my side for this without saying a word.
I turned to Zar, seeing her eyes welling up, before looking back at the duo on the desk. “May...may I hold you?” I uttered a question I never expected to ask another person, at least in this context. Holding someone in my arms to comfort him or her? Sure. But holding a fully grown adult in the palm of one hand was another matter entirely. Although I did not direct my question to either person in particular, and in fact would have gladly held both of them, the woman nodded and stepped forward, and I held my hand in front of her, whereupon she climbed onto my palm and quickly sat down, her body partially reclining with one arm supporting it so that a tiny hand pressed against my own comparatively gigantic one.
I lifted her and brought her closer, suddenly conscious of the frightening fact that, as she sailed over the edge of the desk, my own hand was now all that stood between her body and a drop of dozens of feet to the floor, when considered from her perspective. I knew from personal experience that she wouldn’t be hurt as badly, if at all, from a fall at this height as she would be on Earth, but still, I wasn’t about to take any chances, and I brought my other hand beneath the one holding her as support, more committed than ever to the protection of this precious being who had quite literally put her life in my hands. Perhaps it was for the best that I only had one person to worry about for now.
As light as she may have been, continuing to simply feel the surreal sensation of this Human body weighing on my hand helped to start convincing me of the reality of the situation, and it was at this point that I finally started to weep from happiness. I felt a brushing against one of my fingers and looked through my tears to see the woman I held running one of her hands up and down its length with a smile. “I can’t believe you’re real,” I said breathlessly.
Her smile grew wider before she spoke, but I only heard high-pitched squeaking at first, allowing me to understand how a natural-size Human’s voice sounded to medisapiens. Even if she was speaking English, she and I still needed technology to verbally communicate. “Trust me: the feeling is more than mutual,” came her womanly voice in a modulated frequency as she shared her own amazement, although in her case it surely referred not to simply seeing another Human, or being held in someone’s hand, but the utterly novel combination of the two experiences: a member of her own species big enough to bear her upon his palm. Despite being held right in front of four giant eyes gazing upon her in wonder—not just mine, but also Zar’s, whose face by now had similarly turned into a waterfall—the Human woman somehow managed to remain the calmest of the three of us about this whole encounter.
By now, the man still standing on the desk looked almost hurt at being left out of receiving all this loving attention, and Zar, noticing this as well, reached out to him. He eagerly clambered upon her hand, which she then brought next to my own that was little more than half the size of hers, and for a few moments we simply basked in the sight of living, breathing, blinking Human faces—something I thought I’d never see again, other than when I looked in a mirror—before a terrible question came to my mind. “Are you two...and I...all that’s left?” I asked, worried that I had just brought an end to these moments of bliss.
I had no reason to consider until now how my growth would affect reproduction. Obviously, natural impregnation would be...a very delicate process between me and a woman the size of the one before my eyes, but as far as artificial insemination was concerned, had the size of my sperm changed too? If so, would they still be compatible with her smaller eggs, and even if they were, had my genetics been affected so that I would produce giant offspring that could never gestate in such a small womb? Was I still fertile at all? Luckily, I’m sure the samples of my sperm provided before my growth, not to mention the sperm and eggs of all the deceased adult Humans, had not been discarded, so Humanity would still possess more genetic variety than just the three of us in this room. But our most limited and precious reproductive resources had always been Human wombs, the number of which we thought had dropped to zero when Kelly died, at which point even unlimited sperm and eggs meant nothing. If Kelly had lived to return to Quorilax, the reproductive burden of our species on this planet would have fallen entirely on her. While I know for a fact that Kelly, to put her feelings mildly, would not have handled that well, I doubted that any other woman would have fared much better, and I feared that the prospects for this woman, and by extension Humanity, were still extremely bleak if she found herself in a similar position.
The answer the man provided to my question about our number more than quelled my worries: “Adding you brings our total to seventy-four.”
“Seventy-four?” Zar and I exclaimed in unison, somewhat startling the pair on our hands. I looked over at her to see the delight on her face, then up at the other three Laxians, and it was clear from Drab having as little reaction as Purlaka and the admiral to this news, displaying only a sly, satisfied smile, that none of this came as a surprise to him either. I may have been the only one traveling back from that planet who didn’t realize that Humanity would not die with me, in which case I was quite impressed that all of them managed to avoid revealing the secret. I never imagined Zar and I would rejoice at hearing the Human population numbered seventy-four, but life really is all about perspective, and our previous perspective had been from the deepest pit of the abyss on this subject.
Purlaka spoke for the first time since she had introduced the other Humans. “Since the Zgorbians and their Laxian allies knew that Earth was their real target all along, they concentrated their collection efforts there. As we clearly see now, a smaller, token fraction of the surviving Humans actually arrived on Quorilax to avoid suspicion; re-capturing the nineteen of you was merely the final step in allowing them to have complete influence over Humanity. Beyond still not wanting to cluster you all too much, despite your higher numbers, we decided that just a couple would suffice in helping you to believe the news, not to mention that many are still working to process these events themselves, and this would overwhelm them.”
I looked back at the Humans. “Did the Zgorbians hurt you?”
“Actually,” the woman answered, “they treated us well. I never saw anyone picked up or held against his or her will, they fed us plenty, they did not talk down to us—I mean, at least in the figurative sense.”
“Indeed,” Purlaka supported her, “despite all the terrible things the Zgorbians did, everything we have heard and observed from the rescued Humans indicates they were not mistreated, and that they even felt like honored guests. The Zgorbians seem to have been honest about their intentions, as far as that is concerned. Their cruelest act toward the Humans in their care was leading them to believe Quorilax had destroyed Earth, which meant that when our soldiers first found the Humans, many Humans reacted with some combination of screaming, running, or hiding, thinking we were killing their saviors and had come to eliminate the last of them. They were traumatized all over again.” I looked at my fellow Humans, feeling a wave of sympathy wash over me as I imagined the thoughts that must have been initially going through their heads as they cowered from what they believed to be savage titans bent on crushing them underfoot like common vermin.
I didn’t know quite what to think upon hearing that the Zgorbians really did seem to see Humans as more equal to them than many Quorilaxians did. Had I made a horrible mistake in siding with Quorilax? Would Humanity have been happier if they’d been left where they were? I quickly decided that I had made the right call. The Zgorbians should have never needed to lie about who was responsible for Earth’s destruction if they truly felt that they had done it in our best interest, and beyond that, they had ultimately brought this raid upon themselves. I understood exactly what the man in the cell next to me had been talking about now, about how the remaining Zgorbians could have lived out their lives in peace, achieving their stated goal of saving the Human species while putting an end to what they saw as the emerging threat of “Humanity,” were it not for this one last outlandish opportunity to exact revenge against Quorilax presenting itself to them.
Nevertheless, Quorilax had fallen far short of perfection in their treatment of Humans as well, and I felt compelled to speak my mind. “There may be some Quorilaxians who will think a little more highly of Humans now,” I began, “but I shouldn’t have needed to stand up to the Zgorbians and be what some may consider a hero just to earn our species basic respect. I’m the same person I always was. My body shouldn’t have needed to grow like this in order for me to be seen and heard, but since it happened, I’ll take the fullest advantage of it that I can by using my louder voice and increased visibility to show people that all Humans deserve attention, at any size. I got saturated by a substance that nearly killed me, which may have side effects we don’t even know about yet, and I don’t want any Human to feel like going through that is the only way we can ever hope to live fulfilling, dignified lives on this planet. It’s not our responsibility to change who we are to fit narrow definitions of what makes someone a person. Our natural, healthy size is not a condition to be cured. Being small…being Human...is not a congenital defect.”
Purlaka blinked with wide eyes, appearing stunned by my comments, but in a good way. “Everything you said is absolutely correct, Orion,” she agreed, “and I plan to seize this opportunity to personally see to it that the Senate at long last provides a means to naturalize all Humans as citizens of the Quorilaxian Empire and afford you every right that status entails. Hopefully, more and more attitudes will follow in time.”
“Thank you, Purlaka,” I said gratefully. “Thank you so much for all you’ve done for me...including convincing everyone to keep this all a secret until I got back here, where I could share the happiest moment of my entire life with the person I love most in this whole universe, the person for whom I know this moment has meant at least as much as it has to me,” I said, turning my head to look at Zar. “She said she was proud to be a character in my story, but there wouldn’t have been much of a story without her. She was the light in my darkest moments...the one who kept me from giving up, even when she was only with me in spirit; the one who saw my strength even when she could hold me in her palm,” I said, casting a glance at the people in our own hands. “She’s the real hero here; this is her story, if you ask me.”
Zar looked enraptured by my words. “How about we call it our story and leave it at that, you charmer?” she proposed, before setting the Human man back on the desk, which instinctively prompted me to place the woman down next to him. She looked at the pair and said, “Sorry, you two, but it is much easier for us—and safer for you—if we do this with our hands free,” before she wrapped her arms around me, while I wrapped mine around as much as I could of her, and we began kissing each other vigorously, our hands that had moments before been holding entire people now grasping and squeezing at each other’s bodies.
“Again? Already? You two are hopeless!” Drab groaned, but we ignored him and kept going.
Shortly after that, however, the male Human blurted out, “Wow!” Perhaps ironically, this person who was much smaller than Drab immediately captured our attention, causing us to detach from each other’s mouths and look down at him, still locked in a tight embrace. “I feel like I am watching a close-up in a movie theater from right in front of the screen, but it is life-size and live action! All I need is some popcorn!” I felt my face get hot, not even considering until now what a show—a free one, at that—Zar and I must have been putting on from where and at what scale our new friends stood.
“Speaking of which,” his female counterpart added, “I never expected to think and say this about people who could pop me into their mouths like a piece of popcorn, but...you two are so cute together that I could just eat you both up.” This idiom caused Zar to look at me with mild confusion and more than a little concern. “I am excited to introduce you to everyone else; you will put a lot of minds at ease. But while we are on the subject of introductions to cute people, Zar, would you be so kind as to introduce me to your big, strong brother over there once we have taken care of all our business here?” She turned her gaze over and up toward Drab, who seemed shocked and looked behind himself, as if she must have been talking about some long-lost sibling of him and Zar suddenly entering the picture and lurking over his shoulder, but, finding no such person there, Drab retrained his eyes on the woman and pointed questioningly to his chest, causing her to laugh. “Yes, silly, with those gorgeous violet eyes. I mean you.”
Zar smiled widely. “It would be my pleasure.”
“And you are welcome for everything, Orion,” Purlaka responded to my earlier comment thanking her, “although I must admit that I also had some selfish motives for wanting to be here to see this; to be a messenger of life instead of a harbinger of death for you, for once.”
“Speaking of death,” I remembered, “did any Zgorbians survive the raid?”
“Mostly young children and men,” Purlaka told me. “Zgorbians—girls, in particular—were trained with weapons from a young age, so even many of the adolescent females fought to their deaths, doing what they saw as protecting their families. Unfortunately, that leaves us with many orphans.”
I thought for a moment. “Can I see some of them? The orphans?”
Purlaka looked at Zifthota, who said, “Follow me.” Purlaka collected the two people on the desk into her hands once more, and all five of us walked out of the room and to a door on the left side of the entry room, but not before Purlaka left the other Humans in the care of the guard at the booth. Zifthota inputted some characters on a keypad, after which the door clicked and opened. We entered a long corridor with doors on either side, but we didn’t have to walk far, stopping at the second door on the left. Zifthota submitted another code, and when the door opened, we entered the room, and I saw cages on either side.
From the right, I heard crying. I walked over and stood in front of the cage that was the source and looked inside, seeing a wailing Zdren less than two peskils long and possessing red scales with sable flesh and wings.
“We performed some genetic testing,” Zifthota remarked, “and determined her to be the Zgorbian princess.”
“You mean…the queen’s daughter?” I asked, and he affirmed. I looked back at the child, studying her for a long time, coming to grips with who she was. Her color scheme closely resembled that of her mother, except inverted. The question I had heard from the Zgorbian man in the jail cell, asking about the cycle of hatred—Where does it end?—played through my mind, and I immediately knew the answer, at least for myself.
It would end right here. Right now.
“Do you have the key to this cage?” I eventually asked anyone who might.
“Yes,” answered Purlaka. “Why?”
“Can you open it?” I requested.
She hesitated. “You are not planning to do anything malicious, are you?”
“Never. I know how it feels to be small and helpless. I would have been a toy at her mercy just a few days ago,” I pointed out, imagining myself being shaken like a rattle in her grip. “I just want to hold her.”
“Of course, Orion. I was foolish to doubt your intentions.” She approached the cage, pressing a code into the small keypad on the door and retrieving a card from her utility belt, holding it to a sensor, and the door finally opened. Purlaka reached inside, lifting the girl out and setting her in my arms. After holding another Human, this seemed easy; as fragile as this baby may have been to me, she was already over five times as long as that full-grown woman. Her two big black eyes leaked tears like sponges being wrung. I looked deep into those eyes, the exact same eyes that belonged to that soulless monster. But this was no monster. I could see a soul within these eyes, albeit a lost soul…one who had no home to which she could return…a feeling I knew all too well. With her wings, she reminded me of an angel—a fallen angel, perhaps, but one who was far too young and innocent to understand all the details of what happened. She just missed her mommy.
I held the little creature, rocking her back and forth in my arms, feeling the feathers along her back. After some time doing this, her crying faded, and she looked up at me and smiled.
“She likes you,” Drab observed.
The princess continued to hold her gaze on me. “Do you have any specific plans for her?” I asked Purlaka.
“No,” she replied.
“Then…do you think it would be possible for us to adopt her?”
All of the Laxians gaped down at me in disbelief for several seconds, with the occasional glance at one another, as if looking for someone else to know the right thing to say. Of course, Zar was the first to break the stunned silence. “Us, Ryan? I do not remember you discussing this with me.”
“You think it’s a stupid idea…” I realized, disappointed.
“I never said that!” she protested, holding her hands up defensively. “I think it is the most wonderful idea I have ever heard! But…are you sure about this?”
“I’ve never felt more confident about anything in my life. She’ll likely grow to be somewhere around one and a half times my height, but…that probably wouldn’t be much different from the case with her birth father. I think I can handle that.”
Zar chuckled a bit. “I have absolutely no doubt, but that is not quite what I meant.”
“Why else wouldn’t I be sure?”
“Because…after all they have done to you….”
“What about you?” I pointed out. “They killed your father.”
“Yes…” she admitted, “but how can you even begin to compare that?”
“They may have done all those things—she didn’t. If I can forgive her for who her mother was, then anybody should be able to. We don’t choose the body we’re born into.”
“Can we afford this?” considered Zar, ever the pragmatist.
“That will not be an issue,” Purlaka insisted, waving her hand. “We will assist you in any way possible for as long as necessary, Orion. It is the least we can do for you. We will work out all of the details soon enough.”
“She is ours, then!” Zar rejoiced, but soon seemed deep in thought. “So…if you are the father of a princess, does that make you a king?”
I recalled the meaning of the name Ryan—little king—and couldn’t help but marvel at how the second part had now become strangely appropriate. “Close enough…my queen.”
Zar giggled and returned her attention to the baby, caressing her head. “I hope her name will be as fitting as yours. Speaking of which, what should we call her?”
“I don’t know. You would probably be better at that type of thing.”
“No,” she persisted, “I will give you the privilege. You have earned it.”
Our daughter focused her attention on me, anxiously awaiting her appellation. I thought for a long time, but I eventually knew what she had to be called. There was really no other choice, as far as I was concerned. “Kelly,” I finally declared. “What do you think?”
Zar lifted me up and held me in her arms as I held Kelly in my arms between us, and I could see tears forming in Zar’s eyes as they looked into mine, before she pulled the three of us into a tight embrace with each other. I felt her body hitching, overcome with emotion, and she was only able to manage barely more than a whisper when she signaled her approval by stating, “I think she has her dignity now.”
Epilogue: Low Tide
Chapter 20: Reflection
This monument is dedicated in loving memory to Orion O’Reilly. Let his spirit inspire courage and forgiveness in all of us and act as our guide as we strive toward new endeavors.
THE AUXILIARY NARRATOR: That is what is inscribed in several Quorilaxian languages on the base of the memorial. The luminous gray stone rising up toward the sky like a pillar of strength is truly a beautiful sight. He projects out of the rock on two powerful legs supporting a trim, muscular body. The large scars on his leg and face do nothing to faze him, and with his head turned and his chin up he looks out vigilantly across the plaza. He stands here at more than five times my height, which is impressive enough even before considering that I would have seemed more than three times taller to him, from the perspective that he saw me for most of his life. I can only imagine him here now, in the flesh, the size of a thumbnail on the statue of himself.
You see, shortly after Father’s incredible growth, it became apparent that the effect would be quite temporary. Slowly, but noticeably, he began to shrink. In our first family portrait, I could see him cradling me in his arms. Even in some of my earliest memories, I can still remember him being taller than I was. But as I continued to grow, I watched my father’s height severely dwindle, to the point that he only stood as tall as my chest...and then my waist...and then my knees...and it did not stop there. I had nightmares that his physical reduction would never end and he would become microscopic; lost to us forever, even if he somehow managed to survive.
Mercifully, the process ceased once he had returned to his natural size, when I was about three years old, since Father would likely have refused the use of algonite to abate his physical decline, even if it continued beyond that point. Some Humans initially felt that this seemingly magical mineral that would give them the ability to grow to standard size was a gift to be used by all of them. Father, meanwhile, felt vehemently that algonite was not a solution to anything, on the grounds that it suggested there was something “wrong” with Humans as they naturally existed; that it was Humans who needed to be “fixed” instead of it being Quorilaxian society’s responsibility to adapt to the needs of its newest, most vulnerable citizens. And this was before we even understood the long-term, negative side effects of algonite on Terran bodies, one being that it caused permanent infertility. Father’s genes would still contribute to Humanity’s re-population, however, since he had provided sperm samples before his growth. While his infertility meant nothing to the life of our own family, its widespread prevalence among Humans would of course not be viable for the species as a whole, especially a species still near the brink of extinction.
The other detrimental effect of the algonite was far more personal and tragic: neurological degeneration, which, like the infertility, appeared that it would last permanently and not repair, even once Father had returned to his original size. Limited tests were conducted on some Earth fauna, which, despite a more controlled administration of the substance into the subjects’ expanding bodies, caused many beings to simply die, while those that survived corroborated the expectation that algonite was the cause of Father’s issues, which included tremors, seizures, narcolepsy, and, eventually, loss of cognitive abilities. And all this resulted from a single instance of ingestion; one can imagine that continual intake of algonite in order to maintain that enhanced size would only exacerbate the decline.
Because of these effects, algonite became strictly forbidden from being used in this manner—not that any Humans objected to this declaration by the time all of these horrors became painfully clear. None of them had a desire to face likely death or, at best, trade decades of their life, long-term mental freedom, and bodily control for the far more ephemeral sense of freedom and control that would come from a chance to experience a few years of being able to live their lives exactly like everyone besides Humans did. We should never have expected a chemical to allow us to bypass the far more challenging, yet far more rewarding, process of learning to live together with our differences. Perhaps ironically, it is Humans not growing that I think is most responsible for us growing together as a society.
I used to hate myself, especially whenever I looked at Father’s face and saw those scars, reminded that they were left there by the being who bore me...the same being who oversaw the ruination of so many other people’s lives. But he reassured me that I should not be ashamed of my identity. I am what I am, and I have no control over that. I would have found those words empty and meaningless coming from nearly anybody else, but we shared a common plight, and it meant so much to hear them spoken by him.
I felt an incredible sadness for Father when I contemplated his circumstances, often thinking to myself how unfair it was that his life was being shortened, both chronologically and in terms of his height; that he would suffer early decline without being able to continue to experience the advantages of his increased physical magnitude. I felt awful for thinking about his height in that way, as if continuing to possess it would somehow serve as any consolation for what would ultimately happen to him. Mother and Father wrote a book about their life together, and with raising me, to show others what Humans meant to Quorilaxian society, and they were often sought after to speak to others in person as well, yet here I was, their very own daughter, feeling bad for my Father at having reverted to being an “ordinary” Human. I kept these feelings to myself, worried that sharing them would only upset him. He may have thought it would imply that I saw him as something less than me and Mother now, which would in turn make him think less of me, and our relationship would spiral into one of mutual resentment. Then, one day, as I wept upon my bed without realizing he was nearby, looking up at me from the floor, he asked me if I would like to talk about what was troubling me. So, after this very same person who could once carry me in his arms climbed the rungs built into my bedpost like a ladder, scaling this piece of furniture which I could simply slide into but that may as well have been a multi-story building to him, I picked him up in my cupped hands. He said he could feel me trembling as I did so, which made me feel even more ridiculous and cowardly, as if I were scared of my own father, whereas he showed no fear living among comparative “giants” like me. But he simply stroked my hand softly with his own and urged me to continue, saying that I could always tell him anything, so I tried to explain myself as well as I could.
After I finished, he told me how deeply touched he was at my concern, which he did not find silly at all, but said he had no regrets about ingesting the algonite, knowing that it set in motion the events that would lead to him finding and adopting me, whom he revealed he could no longer imagine his life without. He said he felt like the luckiest man in the universe to have a daughter as wonderfully gentle and caring as I, and to have such an amazing companion in Mother, calling us, respectively, his angel and his guardian, a play on a Human concept of divine sentries known as “guardian angels.” He was grateful for the opportunities he had to hug and to hold me, and to help with the physical demands of raising me in my youngest years, which I know Mother appreciated as well, even with the help she got from Grandmother and Uncle Drab, the latter of whom, in addition to becoming the brother whom Mother deserved, became like the brother Father never had. Speaking of Mother, Father was happy to get the chance to wrap his arms around more parts of her body than her fingers, just like with me, but even before he returned to his natural size, he liked to say that he was wrapped around my and Mother’s little fingers. This was apparently a Human expression that had developed—rather prophetically, it would seem—as a metaphor for someone having a large amount of influence over you, well before he or any other Human realized how literally it described their stature relative to people outside their own species. The truth, though, is that Mother and I had become wound just as tightly around Father’s little fingers. We were all intensely devoted to each other, at any size.
While Father’s “reduced” height was the one at which he had lived most of his life already, and it was, in fact, his state at the time he and Mother had originally met and fallen in love, I had never known him at this scale, which is why I think I had a difficult time accepting the changes in him at first. It was all new and scary to me. But, just as he said that his and Mother’s love for one another did not diminish along with his mass, and in fact it never stopped growing, since the size of our bodies does not reflect the magnitude of our souls, he told me that no matter how much bigger than him I got, I would never stop being his little angel. Upon hearing him say that, I began to cry even harder than I had before we started talking, but this time the tears that streamed down my face came from an overwhelming joy, and I clutched Father to my fluttering heart.
I felt like a weight had been lifted from my spirit and pulled Father away from my chest, smiling down at him in my hands. Our discussion had made me think of all the things he could not only still do at his size, but which he could do better than me or Mother. For example, he excelled at concealing himself when we played hide-and-seek, able to crawl into spaces where I could not even fit my hand. This also made him very good at seeking, especially for objects even smaller than himself, such as when I could not locate one of my favorite earrings, but he found it under my dresser almost immediately. Another advantage of his size, I realized, was that he was very easy to transport because he was as light as...a...feather….
“Daddy, would you like to fly with me?” I asked him hopefully.
He said yes—and Mother eventually approved. Thus began a tradition that continued for much of the rest of his life. Father spent so much time needing to look far above himself, so I loved providing him the opportunity to soar with me above the streets and see everyone else from the perspective that they would normally see him, giving us a chance to bond alone as I held onto him tightly and beat my wings for the both of us, watching the wonder on his face as the wind rushed through his hair. It was on one of our flights together that I revealed to him, before anyone else, that I was falling in love with someone. Not just anyone, but another Human.
My heartfelt conversation with Father made him realize that he and Mother had overlooked a tremendous opportunity to communicate their ideas directly to children, and soon after, they began to co-author a series of children’s stories—illustrated by Mother herself, of course—about Human kids and their lives among their medisapien peers. By this time, very few who may have still thought of Humans as vermin infesting “their” world and empire openly revealed this bigotry in most respectable public venues, but more common was to hear Humans casually referred to using belittling terms. The fact that Father’s heroic actions occurred at his comparatively great size only served to bolster, in the minds of those people among this group who were familiar with what happened to him, the rationalizations that he was “special” only because of his growth, which, given that becoming standard scale, even temporarily, ultimately led to his early demise, proved the inescapable “weakness” of the Human body, which at its given stature is useful as little more than entertainment, especially for young medisapiens. It is no wonder I felt the way I did about Father’s shrinking when this was the type of attitude that pervaded the minds of so many supposedly “mature” adults multiple times my age. But once I reached adulthood, it became most painful to hear phrases like “toy people,” “doll people,” or “pet people” pronounced in the high-pitched voices of medisapien children themselves, often said with glee and an innocent smile that did not truly grasp the implications of the words exiting their mouths…words which calmly asserted a sense of their innate superiority over a whole species based upon nothing more than random assignment at birth, sometimes eschewing even the slightest pretense of Human equality by omitting the word “people” altogether, simply calling them toys, dolls, or pets. I knew these impressionable minds were being subtly trained by their elders to continue the cycle of seeing Humans as something closer to property than as individuals who could one day become someone’s friends, lovers, or family—maybe even theirs—and deserved just as much freedom to pursue their goals and dreams as any other Quorilaxian.
Mother and Father acknowledged this reality, their tales making it clear that it was natural for everyone to underestimate Humans, including Humans themselves; or that finding pleasure in the feelings of empowerment engendered by dwarfing another sapient race to such an incredible degree was not something to be ashamed of and hide in and of itself. Those feelings just needed to be channeled toward them in a constructive manner, not used to make them feel “small”—at least in the metaphorical sense, of demoralizing them by making them believe they are useless and their thoughts and opinions are irrelevant. I append that qualifier because the fact is, as long as Humans trust us and feel valued, they often similarly embrace our divergent physical natures, regularly claiming to feel a heightened sense of importance and significance to the universe when they are being held by or are even just near medisapiens who treat them with love and respect, compared to only being in the company of other Humans. However, it was important for everyone to communicate and be open about how they felt, and to receive consent for handling Humans without pressuring or manipulating them into it. The books went on to become bestsellers and win numerous children’s literature awards, and now they are a fixture in bookstores and libraries, particularly school libraries. I have heard of many students becoming the teachers to their parents on this subject, ironically needing to be the ones to point out to the adults in their lives that Humans are not playthings meant solely for children’s amusement—or anyone’s, for that matter. Even if Humans sometimes liked to roleplay in a subordinate manner to make others feel “big” and meaningful to them, fostering mutually enjoyable and empowering interactions with their much larger counterparts, this did not act as a blanket license to exploit their desire to please us by picking them up without warning and permission or otherwise treating them as if they had permanently surrendered all their agency. The fact is, many Humans do love to entertain, to bring a smile to our faces and make us feel good, but we need to allow them to do so on their own terms and not expect them to perform for us on our command like trained animals.
My parents’ names displayed prominently on the outside of their books—Orion and Zarbaxa O’Reilly—sent a subtle yet powerful message before one ever opened the cover. It did not take long for Mother and Father to marry after he officially obtained personhood status, and at that point Mother assumed the name O’Reilly, with the full, enthusiastic approval of her own mother. Laxians have not historically had family names that carry down from generation to generation, and their names would not change upon marriage. This is in direct contrast to many Human cultures, in which a woman usually takes her husband’s surname after they wed. While the Human practice may have been rooted in a patriarchal view that held a woman as subordinate to a man, the notion that Father would ever consider Mother even the slightest bit less than his equal was utterly laughable; if anything, in his most vulnerable moments, he would still question his worthiness to have her as his wife. After all, in Quorilaxian society, it was Humans in general, male and female alike, who now had to overcome widespread perceptions of being a wholly “inferior” species…whatever it even means for one person to be inferior to another. Along with Mother being the one to propose listing Father’s name first as an author of their books, it was she who insisted on adopting Father’s surname to serve as a counterbalance that challenged this prevailing opinion, hoping to make it clear, both to her husband and to the entire Empire, that they were a team, equal partners in their literary works as well as their lives together. Father never forgot the young Arquel—a little boy in terms of age and, by medisapien standards, height—without whose help he may have perished in the Alquaborian desert, and he and Mother dedicated one of their books to Khalgeth, who showed the impact that we can make on the course of the universe with our smallest actions, without always intending to, and sometimes without even realizing it. Sometimes, simply being alive and present in someone’s life can mean everything.
Mother and Father were not the only people close to me who set an example of finding love between species. Uncle’s time in the military brought him to Alquabor, where he met the girl who became his wife and my aunt, and together they adopted an Arquelot son and a Laxian daughter, my cousins. Uncle and the Human woman he met right before seeing me for the first time quickly became friends, then best friends, staying in touch with each other long distance while he was on active duty, both of them almost forgetting during that time, thanks to the equalizing power of seeing each other on appropriately scaled screens, that he could hold her in the palm of his hand. Once Uncle returned to Quorilax, he and his wife welcomed her into their home, and the couple and their children effectively became a family of guardians to her, although her strong personality led them to say, only partly in jest, that she was the real boss of the house. With the relaxation of rules against Humans living with each other, including opposite-sex Humans, she eventually married a Human man who joined the household, and there they raised four children—making for ten people living in the same dwelling, for anyone keeping count—although her husband was only the biological father of one. Such was the continuing reality for the first several generations of Humans living on Quorilax, in order to ensure an adequate foundation of genetic diversity, though even that has reached a point where full Human siblings are now encouraged.
Subfamilies of Humans and medisapiens living in tandem with one another, like Uncle’s household, have come to be known as “demifamilies” and are now the most popular living arrangement for the Humans on Quorilax, acting as a hybrid option attractive to Humans who want “the best of both worlds,” receiving the benefits that dedicated medisapien partners offer them on their formidable new homeworld, as well as the comfort of having a same-scale partner with whom producing and raising biological children together is a possibility. Although the demifamily term is casually applied to nearly any interscale cohabitation situation besides a solo guardian and ward, a true “demimarriage” is a legally recognized union that includes additional protections and benefits, especially relating to a person’s “demichildren,” with many considering demimarriage to effectively be a long-term—ideally, permanent—guardianship commitment between Humans and medisapiens who do not take one another as their primary spouse, such as Father and Mother did. Although a demimarriage can begin with with a single Human and medisapien, either of the same or opposite sexes—some of whom later decide to fully marry each other—demimarriages often begin as triads, with one person joining a pair, like Aunt and Uncle first met and married their demiwife before their demihusband entered the picture, while in other cases, an existing Human couple and an existing medisapien couple will join together all at once to immediately form a married quad. With Humans requiring almost no space and resources to support them relative to medisapiens, their presence in our homes adds virtually nothing to the cost of living for their hosts, and often results in a net reduction of expenses, since most Humans do contribute to their household financially. After all, beyond all the manual tasks becoming increasingly available to Humans, especially crafting products and building and maintaining infrastructure to their scale, they have proven themselves capable of generating ideas just as “big” as anyone else’s, of tutoring and teaching medisapiens concepts that Humans’ Terran ancestors did not fathom, but only because Quorilax had an opportunity to accumulate knowledge on a longer time horizon, not because the small physical size of Human brains meant that they had somehow exhausted their capacity for any additional complex thought. In fact, Humans are able to think and react at a quicker pace precisely because the signals in their brains have so much less distance to travel. Censuses have indicated that there exist demifamily households in which only Humans are employed for monetary compensation, including extraordinary cases of one Human earning the family’s single wage to help support three spouses and multiple children.
All of this only views Human worth through an economic lens, but where Humans add the most value of all to society, I would argue, is in the immaterial realm, filling our lives with just as much love as anyone else does despite filling less room in our habitations. These feelings of devotion manifest themselves in myriad forms: surveys show that some relationships between medisapien and Human demispouses are completely platonic in nature, while other demifamilies feature sexual activity between interscale partners that can range from simply finding pleasure and inspiration in being present and watching as their opposite-scale counterparts express love with one another, to interaction between all partners at once, sometimes with direct physical or even sexual contact between members of the same sex. Indeed, on that note, one of the more remarkable findings from these surveys was the prevalence of increased fluidity in sexual orientation between medisapiens and Humans.
Bisexual feelings have long been known to be somewhat more common between medisapien species than within them. Reproduction is an impossibility even between opposite sexes of our species that come from different worlds, after all, so the sexes of the individuals in interspecies relationships are moot from a procreative standpoint. Our sexuality serves a wider social purpose than merely passing on our genes, and this becomes even more obvious when Humans are involved. On some level, this is understandable, as the difference in scale between medisapiens and Humans means that genital-to-genital contact alone between our two groups, whether opposite sex or same sex, is ineffective for much physical stimulation, so Humans must use their arms, legs, or entire bodies to elicit more significant pleasure for medisapien partners, whose primary means of returning the favor to Humans are with their fingers and tongues, and the sexes do not differ from each other in these areas in any meaningful way. Even those who claim to have never engaged in sexual activity with a same-sex member of the opposite size class nonetheless generally profess seeking and welcoming close physical attention and affection such as stroking, nuzzling, and licking between males and females alike with nearly equal enthusiasm, so it is not difficult to see how that desire to physically bond, regardless of sex, progresses to the next step for many. People typically describe feeling that they occupy a unique “place” or “role” among the partners of a demifamily; that they are all complementing each other, not competing in a zero-sum struggle with anyone else for another partner’s affections.
Clearly, the vast gulf between the dimensions of Humans and the rest of us has introduced a completely new…dimension to our sexuality and relations, to the point that “medisapien” and “minisapien” are not merely indicators of a person’s size anymore; they have been declared distinct new genders within each sex. Gender, after all, describes how our social and cultural roles are influenced by our physical nature, and we long ago developed distinct pronouns to differentiate male from female. And yet, even among my species, in which the average full-grown man only stands as tall as my chest, the differences between how he and I engage with each other and the rest of society seem to pale in comparison to the differences between me and a woman I can hold in my hand, despite she and I sharing a sex. Given that a person’s status as a medisapien or minisapien seems at least as important to who they are as their sexual identity, language has evolved to include pronouns that classify where these traits intersect for a given individual. Even outside of romantic love, our relationships with those who are not of our own gender are often our most unique, special, rewarding, and affectionate bonds of all—much like what my daddy and I felt for each other, and what many other fathers and daughters who are the same species as one another do as well. We have so much to gain through our connections with those who are the least like ourselves—or at least appear that way outwardly—so Humans have an immense potential to enrich our lives, and we to enrich theirs, as their numbers, and consequently their presence in society, only continue to increase.
Speaking of fathers and daughters, it is not merely the adult partners of a demifamily who stand to benefit from the arrangement. Medisapien children raised in a household with at least one Human obviously get an early start on learning to interact with them safely, but studies have also shown these children, on average, as consistently scoring higher on evaluations of various positive personality traits, such as politeness, confidence, independence, cooperation, and attention to detail, throughout their development. This is to say, we have data to support the notion that Humans are making the rest of us better people. Early indications seem to be that the Human children of demifamilies achieve similar results, though the number of Human children living without a medisapien presence at home is currently much lower than that of medisapien children without a Human presence at home, so the difference in outcomes for Human children has been less examined at this point. Having more than two parents present to provide the children of a demifamily with loving attention and guidance allows the adults more time to focus on themselves or another partner without neglecting the children, giving someone the ability to, for example, enjoy an evening date with a spouse or demispouse without needing to recruit a supervising adult from outside the home, renewing not only their appreciation for each other but for everyone and everything else they have to return home to. Most demisiblings develop a lifelong attachment to one another, with many pairs deciding to cohabitate once they leave their parents’ and demiparents’ home, forming the basis of their own demifamilies together, thus continuing the virtuous cycle.
Father lived on Quorilax for over a decade more, dying at about twenty-two Quorilaxian years old, including the time he spent on Earth, and thankfully, for most of those years, he continued to possess a majority of his faculties and be as large a presence as ever, always maintaining that he would not trade the fullness of his life for anything, even if he died that day, and any sadness he felt at his impending decline came from him knowing how much this pained everyone who loved him. Living long enough to see me fully grow up, to become a strong young woman—something Mother’s own father did not get a chance to see her do—was his primary wish, and fate granted him that simple desire. I am convinced that Father had some sort of ethereal protection, like Mother once suggested, in order to not just survive as long as he did but to maintain a high quality of life for most of that time. Only in the last few years of his life did his mind truly begin to slip away, but Mother, as she promised, was there with him until the end, supported by me and the rest of our family. Though her life was still full of love after he died, she never remarried or even sought another mate, and as of this past year, their kindred spirits are now reunited. I, myself, am over fifty years old now, so I am aware that it will not be too much longer before we all soar together again, this time for eternity.
The future is secure for Humans now, with the population numbering over ten thousand. The social network designed for guardians and wards was a tremendous success, giving humans a safe way to more easily socialize and feel connected on their new homeworld, across vast gulfs of scale and space, but Humans are already working their way into becoming an integral part of society at large—quite a literal term, to them. Most Humans favor wearing clothing in bright, reflective hues as a precaution that helps medisapiens see them and fools many potential predators into believing Humans would be a toxic meal like so many of the other small, brilliantly colored creatures that populate Quorilax, but spending an extended amount of time alone and exposed outdoors without putting themselves in significant danger is, unfortunately, a luxury that Humans lost with Earth. Therefore, when Humans do need or want to physically travel outside their home, but they cannot or choose not to rely on medisapiens in their household to transport them, they have long been provided options to ferry them safely to their destination, such as aerial drone “taxis,” medisapien “cargo” cycles that have been modified to provide enclosed seating for Humans in addition to or in place of cargo space, or simply a temporary guardian who will carry them directly. However, we have also begun to build out a miscrosapien ground transport system that will become increasingly necessary to move the growing number of Humans, who, someday in the distant future, are expected to comprise the majority of the Quorilaxian population. Usually running just below street level and separated from the world above by a reinforced glass barrier, these multi-use corridors offer a way for Humans to move around cities independently, protected from the elements, falling debris, and any creatures who may do them harm, including careless or mischievous medisapiens. While space is allocated for walking, cycling, and other small forms of transport, the centerpiece of this network is a rail system, its glass-domed train coaches offering riders a view of the buildings rising along the streets like mountains to them. However, that view is occasionally blocked by fascinated medisapiens standing or crouching next to, and sometimes even right above, the tunnels, watching the activity below them in rapt attention, like they are seeing a model railroad display, except this one carries real, living passengers. While this elicits occasional complaints from some Humans who feel like they are “on exhibit,” even most of them recognize how invaluable it is for medisapiens to have this visibility, for them to be able to see Humans going about their days independently, with their own agendas. As much as spotting mixed families—whether strolling down the street with Humans in hand, sitting together in a park or eating at a cafe, or riding in a full-size train and watching the sights go by—still brings me untold joy and satisfaction, I also want it to be evident that Humans do not “belong” to anyone else, as if they are pets no different from the koswoks that are a part of so many of those very same families, including mine. Yes, my parents and I almost always owned at least one koswok, which made our apartment like so many other traditional Quorilaxian homes, even if so little else about our family was typical…at least at that moment in history, since things have changed very fast, within a matter of only several generations. The remarkable ability of Humans to adapt quickly to their environment has never been more apparent.
Quorilaxian media and art has paralleled our societal evolution, with Humans starting to appear in advertisements, first subtly included among scenes focused on medisapiens, then given more balanced attention, and eventually appearing all by themselves, sometimes on signs and screens at far larger than life size—even Laxian life size. Similarly, Human roles in cinema have progressed from something closer to props than actors, initially being portrayed most often as helpless creatures fought over by medisapiens; to developed supporting characters; to starring, competent roles; to writing and directing films themselves, bringing their truly unique perspective to audiences everywhere. Did art imitate life in this regard, or did life imitate art? I am sure they built upon one another in a positive feedback loop, but either way, my parents were at the vanguard of it all. Humans are no longer tiny aliens from across the stars, exotic refugees from a distant, anomalous world. That world has long since vanished, its obliteration predating the birth of any Human still living, making Quorilax the only homeworld any of them have ever known. They belong here as much as anyone else, and they are increasingly our friends and colleagues, classmates and lifemates, adopted family and adoptive family. In other words, they are us.
Humans are keenly aware of where they physically stand in life—at our ankles—so taunting, humiliating, or intimidating them because of that does not prove anything. It does reveal incredible weakness, but it is our weakness, not theirs. We did nothing to deserve possessing such inherent power over them, just as they did nothing to deserve lacking it—besides being born Human, which is something none of them should ever be compelled to regret. Meanwhile, if we treat Humans with the dignity and consideration that any sapient species deserves—if we make them treasure who they are as opposed to causing them to curse their existence as a punishment by the cosmos—then they will do everything in their power to make us just as happy: working for us, fighting for us, and loving us fiercely, with every fiber of their souls...souls no less grandiose than anyone else’s, despite the size of the bodies they are packed into. Humans should not have to prove anything to anyone, but believe me, they still will. With our support and investment, they can and will do great things, and the reverse is just as true.
I am perpetually humbled by the splendor of this universe; not merely by the astounding power of what towers overhead but by the intricate beauty of what cowers underfoot. Sometimes we only pay attention to the giants among us, but when we focus more closely, we can see others they rely upon who are not so easily noticed. The lives of these multitudes that scuttle about largely unseen may not be as prestigious as their more visible counterparts, but they occupy roles equally essential, not existing merely to be trampled by those of seemingly nobler birth. No being lives only to serve; all live to serve each other, and even who or what cannot command our respect should still receive it. A great Terran Human once said that the true measure of a society is found in how it treats its most vulnerable members, and if that is the case—which I think it is—then Humans have presented the Quorilaxian Empire with an unprecedented opportunity and challenge to prove itself the greatest civilization the universe has ever seen. I firmly believe that our fortunes, tangible as well as intangible, will be inextricably tied to the degree that Humans are given the tools to thrive and contribute in a world, and indeed a universe, that one might argue was not made for them, but which we can make work for them…for the benefit of all of us.
For years I have struggled to understand why all of this death and destruction had to happen to get us to this point. Sometimes, perhaps the only way to truly understand is to understand you cannot understand; nevertheless, I still try. We are really not all that different from each other. I have come to realize that war is an omnipresent force throughout the entire universe that can manifest itself anywhere and at any time. However, I also recognize that there is another force always present, regardless of what planet you are from. That force, of course, is love. Love and war are the universal languages, the two constants of all sapient life, and it is the balance of these that regulates the course of events in the entire universe. Ironically, these two seemingly opposite powers are not always in conflict; in fact, they are often closely intertwined, with one leading to the other in a constant cycle. We will fight for that which we love, but war can unite us and bring us closer together, making us realize what is truly important and worth fighting for. That is how I try to justify all of this suffering.
In my long life, I have been extremely fortunate to never personally be traumatized by the horrors of war. The Quorilaxian Empire has entered a long period of peace. War seems to have disappeared from our lives, but I know better. War will never die; it will only come and go with the ebb and flow of the tide. Who knows what time will bring to the shores of Quorilax? Whatever happens, I am convinced that we will have nothing to fear, for I know Father will continue to stand here as a sentinel, protecting the land whose promise he believed in and the people he loved so dearly, even before most of them loved him in return. The stars that shine on the Quorilaxian Empire will never burn out under his watch.
I do not know what has made me worthy of the privilege of being who I am, to have the parents that I did. They both taught me that strength and power are not one and the same, and Father in particular demonstrated this to me firsthand, because even though I could carry him in my hands for most of my life, he was one of the strongest people I ever met; a true giant among men and women, who helped shape me into the person I became. I cannot help but feel that I have lived in his shadow, even though he never missed an opportunity to remind me that, despite accomplishing so much, his greatest pride in life came from being my father and raising me. It is an honor to consider that I am first among the generations of my descendants who are carrying on his name, and his spirit will live on in us for all time. I am a child of the Human race, I am a citizen of the Quorilaxian Empire, and I am a matriarch for the dawn of a new era in the history of the Zdrenic people. I am Kelly O’Reilly.
AND A NEW BEGINNING
Bonus Kelly O’Reilly fan art! Here’s a picture of her as a young child, including a comparison with her dad at his natural size:
I am honored to see and share any fan art from those who are artistically inclined, but I also love to simply hear what people think and discuss the story, so please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if I never hear from you, I want to thank you for sticking with me all the way, and hope that I made doing so worth your while.
As of now, there are thoughts about a sequel, over two decades after the original story! And yes, in case you’re wondering about the Eashairai, or “mouse people,” who were mentioned in this story but didn’t really play a role, they would be involved.
Hub Folder: "Quorilax" [13+]