Ottilie Was Not An Angel

Ottilie was not an angel, despite firsthand testimony to the contrary. The eyewitnesses weren’t liars, mind you, they accurately relayed what they saw; they simply hadn’t seen the event in its entirety. Blame it on the limitations of sight from three-dimensional eyes.

As a child, she was fun and full of life, enthusiastic and excited about everything. Blessed with a contagious personality, an infectious laugh, and vivid imagination, she was always in the middle of trying to sort out an illusory problem, usually some trouble she had unwittingly started, running two steps ahead, dragging me and explaining the faux pas while we ran from invisible monsters.

As we grew older, the monsters never stopped chasing her.

Ottilie was never satisfied. Born fortunate and afforded comforts most would have killed for, my sister always yearned for more. Not to have more, but to be other than what she was. Something less limited. In fact, that was a bone of contention between us. She never grasped how I was so contented with my lot and the finiteness of my existence. I tried to explain I had two lives, my own and the one I lived vicariously through the connection we shared; that bond that was more than just mere telepathy, shared consciousness or psychic rapport.

To me, it was far better to be the only ugly entity in a world of beauty rather than the reverse. From my vantage point, whenever I looked out into the world, all I’d ever see would be splendor. And that was what it was like sharing Ottilie’s mind. I tried to present this as eloquently as possible, but somehow her thirteen and a half minute head start in life granted her a gift of expression that I lacked and allowed her to brush my reasoning away with weary disinterest. I never held it against her, though. I knew I had the better view.

Sadly, what made her beautiful to me, made her dangerous to herself. She realized early on what her life could be and her mind would not, could not, allow this world to be enough, so she contemplated and calculated for days on the best way to escape. And those days blossomed into months and those months matured into years. A lifetime of limitation, combined with therapy and drugs—both prescription and street—wore down the tread of her spirit.

To everyone else, she was a woman of secrets and it bothered her that she couldn’t keep those secrets from me. I told her I would never discuss it with anyone and I never did, but she didn’t believe me.

In drugs, she finally found a way to shut me out. Her mind became a shattered prism refracting pieces of wailing mayhem in the blindness. My first and only choice for a sister and best friend became little more than a stranger to me. A clouded reflection trapped beneath a layer of ice too thick for my thoughts to penetrate. For the first time in my life, I truly understood the meaning of the word loneliness and I thought what did I do that could have led to this?

Among the things she dabbled in, philosophy, inventing, and mathematical architecture, Ottilie was not a busker. Yes, she performed in the park, but not for money, merely for her own sanity. I visited her most days when time allowed. I wasn’t quite sure she knew I was there most times. Except for the last time I saw her perform.

On that particular afternoon, the old spark had returned to her eyes. I knew instantly she was off her meds because I felt her consciousness tickle the outer fringes of my mind. Not like it used to be, her thoughts were close yet somewhat far away but I didn’t care. I had been alone in my head for so long I’d gladly accept any crumb or morsel thrown my way, and this was the first time since we were children that I had seen her approach anything near the neighborhood of happiness. She could barely contain her excitement when she told me she finally figured it out.

“Harmonics!” she said, as she danced and twirled around me like a pavement ballerina. “The answer was there all along, hidden in plain sight, staring me in the face, and now I’ve worked out the formula!”

She sat me down on a park bench and sang for me, or rather she sang to me and for herself. Her voice was divine, unmatched; a summer breeze through crystal chimes. People were drawn from their workaday existence. They formed a circle around us, unable to turn away from Ottilie, who sang of theories, both superstring and Bosonic, of manifolds and fractals, octonions and triality, as she strummed vector chords of coordinate geometry on a second-hand acoustic six-string.

What the throng of spectators saw was Ottilie being lifted into the air; her toes brushing the top of the manicured grass as her skin turned a tone so soft and unearthly to the eye that the color defied description, yet radiating like so many suns. The light that enveloped her made all other light seem dark in comparison, for the briefest of moments, before she popped completely out of existence.

What they hadn’t seen was the enormousness her frail frame acquired—probability, enfolded symmetry, phase space—as she ascended dimensions. Her song had given her the freedom she desired all her life and carried her onward and onward until she encountered a barrier that prevented her progress. Thinking quickly, she changed the tone of her song. She no longer sang for herself, she sang for the barrier and what lie beyond. Flattering it with melody, requesting an audience.

That was when a pinhole opened in the outer barrier of everything, allowing the omniverse to kiss my sister. She knew in that instant it was not what she wanted. She tried to flee, but the feverish rush of knowledge feasted on her being without mercy. She suddenly understood everything that was meant to be understood, as well as all the bits that weren’t. This tremendous understanding allowed her to spy the surface of a giant puzzle that contained the ultimate ensemble of every conceivable information pattern, as it was about to be solved.

But she simply couldn’t endure her brief exposure to timelessness. Her bones popped, limbs twisted and organs reformed as she was purged from the omniverse; stripped of her personal dimensionality and the many unnecessary facets of humanity attached to them. Layer by layer. Until all that remained was her core self, a small and insignificant thing that lost all depth, width and finally length, as they imploded within her.

Ottilie was not an angel, but I allowed people to think she was, as I combed the park grass daily, searching for my sister who called out in my mind telling me she wanted to be other than what she was—a zero-dimensional entity.

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Greetings from Europa – Eighteenth Transmission: Digging Up The Past

First Transmission * Second Transmission * Third Transmission * Fourth Transmission * Fifth Transmission * Sixth Transmission * Seventh Transmission * Eighth Transmission * Ninth Transmission * Tenth Transmission * Eleventh Transmission * Twelfth Transmission * Thirteenth Transmission * Fourteenth Transmission * Fifteenth Transmission * Sixteenth Transmission * Seventeenth Transmission

Greetings from Europa!

I’m not sure how much, if any, of the last transmission was broadcast before my transmitter died, so here’s a brief recap to bring you up to speed:

Less than a day out from Dery’Ylok Prefecture, my son, Jampi, and I stumbled upon the crash site of my ship, the Expediter, and I might have missed it completely if not for the five grave markers bearing the helmets of my crew. The last time I set eyes on the place, it was scorched dirt as far as the eye could see, now it nearly resembled a tropical rainforest.

In my excitement, I foolishly explained to Jampi that this was the place I came from, and the boy took off like a shot to the largest grass-covered section of the ship’s wreckage. I followed, trying to warn him to be careful, but if he heard me, it hadn’t slowed him down one bit.

There was an entrance in the wreckage, large enough for me but I was forced to leave the egami carrying the transmitter and uz cu’nal outside as I searched for my son.

The section of the ship I was in used to be stellar cartography and when I eventually found Jampi, I’d make it a point to come back here and scrounge around for a possible alternative power source for the transmitter.

That was when I heard a sound behind me. Thinking it was my son, I spun and saw…the impossible.

A woman stepped from the shadows of the wreckage, bipedal like me, not like the Europans, and said, “Hello, Eddie. Been a while, hasn’t it?” in perfect English.

Besides the sound of my own voice during these broadcasts, I hadn’t heard my native tongue spoken to me in so long that it shocked me, almost as much as seeing the face of the woman who spoke it.

Grinning like the Cheshire Cat was a person who resembled the Expediter’s atomics engineer, electronics and power technician, Dr. Natasha Marsden. The same but different.

Seeing her in this way, reminded me of a program I saw a long, long time ago, in which blind people described their significant others’ faces to a sculptor based on touch alone. And I was amazed that the final sculpts were remarkably close. Not spot on, but close. And that’s what this person was, a remarkably close facsimile of a woman I was about to become intimate with moments before the meteors punched holes in the ship’s hull, damaging life support and navigational systems, as well as the engines.

“It can’t be,” I said. My jaw must have shattered because it hit the floor pretty hard.

“Oh, but it is,” the Marsden-replica answered. Stepping into a shaft of light, she appeared to be wearing a form-fitting bodysuit that sparkled as it caught the sunlight.

“But I saw you die.”

Before she could respond, Jampi burst into the husk of stellar cartography, too close to Marsden, and she snatched him up.

“Marsden—Nat, if that’s who you really are, look, I swear to you that you were dead when I put you in the ground! I checked and double-checked. I would never have buried you alive under any circumstances. So, whatever grievances you have, take them out on me, just don’t hurt the boy, please,” I pleaded.

“Hurt?” Marsden looked genuinely surprised and slightly offended. She knelt and looked Jampi in the eye. “I wasn’t going to hurt you, moppet, you just gave me a start, that’s all.”

I told Jampi to remain calm, that I would explain everything, but he would have to do exactly what I told him. Jampi said that he would.

“You speak their language?” Marsden’s face was full of astonishment.

“Not fluently, but enough to get by. He’s my son, Nat. His name is Jampi.”

“Your son?”

“Adopted.”

“Thank Christ for that. Saves me from having to lie about him having your eyes,” she said to me, then looked at Jampi. “Hello, Jampi, pleased to meet you! My name is Natasha, but you can call me Nat. I’m a friend of your father’s.”

“Father…friend?” Jampi said.

“He speaks English?”

“Only a few words. He’s learning little by little. He’s a bright kid who’s absolutely fascinated with Earth culture, just like his mother and sisters.”

“A wife and kids? Why Alexander Edwards, I never pictured you as the type to go native,” Marsden said.

“Nat, can you please let go of my son? I still haven’t worked all this out and I’d feel better if he was with me.”

“Oh…certainly,” Marsden said as if she hadn’t realized how tightly she was gripping my little boy. She released him immediately and I called Jampi to me, scooped him up, and held him close to me. Something I hadn’t done since he was very little.

“Eddie, I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick here. I’m not angry at you or holding any sort of grudge. In fact, putting my body in the ground was the best thing you could have done.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“Neither do I,” Marsden admitted. “The working theory is that this place is what it is because of a project we thought had failed. The soil you buried us in is saturated with NASA nanotech and for lack of a better explanation, my dead body was terraformed. Now, how my consciousness and soul are still attached to it? We’re still trying to work that bit out.”

“We’re?”

Marsden nodded. “Yes, the rest of the crew. The gang’s all here, Eddie—well, they’re in a nearby village…”

“Dery’Ylok Prefecture?”

“Is that what it’s called? I’m sure they’ll be as happy as Larry to see you again. We’d given you up for dead,” Marsden said.

I hadn’t noticed at first, but she had been inching closer as she spoke. Now, she was right up on me, and there was something about being so very close to a human face that made me homesick. It wasn’t helped by the fact that she was beautiful. I would have gotten lost in her eyes if not for her body.

From a distance, it looked like she was wearing a bodysuit, but up close I saw that she was naked. From the neck down her skin was a different hue.

Marsden caught me staring and said, “Skin 2.0. Most likely a combination of flesh and spacesuit.”

“May I?” I asked, my hand hovering just above her shoulder.

“Touch me? By all means, fill your boots, just keep it respectful, Eddie,” she said. There was a bit of devilment in her voice as she eyed me suspiciously. “Your little ’un’s keeping an eye on everything you do. It wouldn’t do to have him running back to mummy and grassing on us, would it? I don’t fancy the idea of constantly looking over my shoulder for a jealous wife.”

I was about to say that my wife didn’t get jealous, but I honestly don’t know how she would have reacted in this instance.

Pushing that thought aside, I put Jampi down and ran my hand along Marsden’s shoulder. It felt as smooth as silk, soft but not slippery, with the firmness of meat. I couldn’t stop touching her, and part of me didn’t want to stop.

“Ahem,” Marsden cleared her throat when the contact had gone on too long. “Say, who were you talking to before you entered? You were speaking in English—”

“I was broadcasting a message home. I do it on a regular basis, hoping someone will pick up the signal.”

“You have the transmitter?” Marsden asked, her eyes wide as saucers. “We’ve been searching high and low for that thing. That’s why I’m here, to give this wreck one last going over for it.”

“Well, I don’t think it’s going to be much use to you, it’s nearly out of power,” I said.

“Where is it now?”

“Outside in the egami.”

“In the what now?”

“Long story, I’ll explain it to you on the way to the village,” I said.

When Marsden got her hands on the transmitter, she wouldn’t stop going on about the mind-bogglingly bad-patch up job I did and marveled that it was able to work at all. She jury-rigged a temporary fix that’s allowing me to broadcast this message and says she’ll take a proper look at it once we reach Dery’Ylok Prefecture to rendezvous with the rest of the crew.

Until next broadcast, this is Captain Edwards, signing off.

To be continued

Text and Audio ©2014 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Glossary of Terms

  • Abogzons – Gynecological engineers.
  • Agvann – Translation: The will of Nes’Tim; an accident.
  • Alum’Vedca – The day marking the new solar cycle of Peace and Maturity; a tribute to the era when Europans evolved from their primitive prey state.
  • Arcek – A spiritual theologian
  • Biem – A time to show respect for the aged.
  • Biss’ore – Travelers, nomads
  • Bokloryn – An unrepayable debt; an act that places the receiver in a lifetime contract of servitude.
  • Cu’nal – A biological storage unit.
  • Denpa – An envoy equipped with an audiographic memory that can store and recall spoken messages at will in the same voice, tone and inflection of the original person who spoke it, who travels from village to village to deliver messages from other communities both near and far.
  • Egami – A docile mineral-based creatures primarily used for family transportation due to the fact they are virtually inexhaustible.
  • Gates of Juh’holl – Europan afterlife; where souls are released from the flesh to become stardust and rejoin the universe.
  • Grahas – A gerbil-sized creature, resembling a stone armadillo, that emits heat when stroked.
  • Homnils – A warm, yet sad, reminiscence about something in the past.
  • Ipu llqr mwyll xfrr – Abogzon credo meaning “success or death”; satisfaction guaranteed.
  • Isogoles – Europan monthly day of pay.
  • Jampi – Captain Edward’s son.
  • Jbwqnadb – The Europan spelling of lemonade.
  • Jhisal – Meis’lo’s home village.
  • Klanea – Translation: unknown to us; stranger.
  • Mecot’ra – Unterraformed areas of Europa.
  • Meis’lo – The only surviving witness to the murder of  the prophet Nes’Tim.
  • Micdow yl – The vessels of new life; children.
  • Nes’Tim – The most revered spiritual prophet on Europa, slain by a heretic tribe who call themselves Sel’Tab.
  • Pwyll – Europa’s highest mountain.
  • Qik’climajh – Depending on its usage in a sentence, denotes either the act of telling a story, or the storyteller themselves.
  • Sel’Tab – A heretic tribe responsible for the death of the prophet Nes’Tim.
  • Shig’umfu – “Interesting world of another”; a documentary qik’climajh in which neighbors tell the story of a person’s life as learned from casual conversations.
  • Spo – Food.
  • Uz Cu’nal – A biological storage unit used primarily for food preservation.
  • Uz – An unspeakable sexual act; a derogatory term; an insult.

Freedom of Choice

The alien invasion that humans wrote fictional tales, created television series and movies about, and established protocols for, had finally arrived on Earth in the form of a single spaceship and one lone alien.

The alien was a multidimensional being and therefore able to be simultaneously present in all the offices of the two hundred and thirty-two global superpowers, ranking in population from China to Vatican City. Efforts were made, of course, to subdue and in some cases even kill the extraterrestrial, however none of the attempts met with success.

In a demonstration of power, the alien disintegrated all chemical, biological, radiological/nuclear, and explosive weapons of mass destruction, as well as any weapon designed to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive. Once confirmation of the demonstration was verified by the world leaders, the weaponless humans had no other option than to listen to the alien’s demands.

The being from another world had only one:

“Bring this human to me, alive and unharmed,” the alien said in all languages, as it implanted the image in the mind of every human being on the planet of a small African American woman in her forties with a once beautiful face that had been worn down by exhaustion.

The woman turned out to be forty-three-year-old Mary Gladys Stockwell of Highland, New York, and to her credit, she surrendered herself to the proper authorities before any of her neighbors or coworkers could turn her in.

She was transported to the coordinates provided, a wheatfield in Davenport, Washington, to meet face to face with the alien, who arrived via transporter beam.

Mary, never one to mince words or stand upon ceremony, asked the creature, “Why am I here?”

“To decide the fate of your world,” answered the alien.

“I don’t understand.”

The alien seemed to consider his approach carefully, asking, “Do you believe in a higher power?”

Mary answered with pride, “I’m a Protestant and I attend an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church every Sunday without fail. I’m not sure if you understand what any of that means, but the simple answer is, yes, I do believe in a Higher Power. We call Him God Almighty.”

“The universe is rich with entities and energies that exist outside the grasp of even our vast understanding, but as for your world, we populated it with a host of experimental species to see which, if any, could rise to sapience.”

“So, you’re telling me that you’re God? That you created life on Earth?”

“We planted the seed from which life sprouted. How you label us is your own affair.”

“Wait a minute,” Mary said. “Let’s suppose for a minute that you’re telling the truth…”

“You are no threat to us,” the alien said matter of factly. “We have no reason for dishonesty.”

“Then answer me this, why would the Creator wish to destroy His creation?”

“We will answer your question with a question, why is the life we provided for you not enough? Why do you hate? Why do you war? Why do you abuse, torture, and kill?”

After a long moment of silence, Mary was forced to admit, “I don’t have an answer for that.”

“That is why we are here.”

“To clean house?” Mary asked.

“Yes.”

“And you’re putting that decision in my hands?”

“Yes.”

Mary blew out a breath of exasperation. Talking to this alien was like pulling teeth. “What is it I’m supposed to do exactly?”

“Choose whether you live or die.”

“What?”

“If you choose to sacrifice yourself,” the alien explained. “We will spare the human race and erase the concepts of hate and evil from every mind on the planet.”

“And if I choose to live?”

“We will disintegrate every human except you.”

“And I’ll be here alone?”

“Yes. It is the way you prefer to live your life, is it not?”

“Not at the expense of everyone else,” Mary blurted out. “What happens when I die?”

“Then the planet will begin its healing process and we shall see if any of the remaining species can or will evolve into sapience.”

A thought began dawning on Mary, “Is that why I was chosen? Because I’m a loner, a person with no friends or living family members? Or because you somehow know that I’m not an altruistic person?”

“Yes to both.”

“And what if I make no choice at all?”

“We will destroy everything. All species and the planet itself.”

“No pressure, huh?” Mary said. “Look, just because I don’t have anyone in my life, doesn’t mean I want to die.”

“Then choose life.”

“But I don’t want anyone else to die, either. You said it yourself that you could remove hatred and evil from all of our minds, right? Why not just do that? Why play this silly game?”

“We need to see if the human race is worth saving.”

Then it clicked for her. “You’ve read our Bibles, haven’t you? You need proof of our selflessness. Just like in the Old and New Testaments, you require a sacrifice.”

“Yes.” the alien confirmed.

“How long do I have to decide?” Mary asked.

“We will grant you one day. Return to us tomorrow at this time, at this spot,” the alien said before vanishing within a beam of transporter energy.

The car that brought Mary to the wheatfield was parked on the main road as instructed. When the alien departed, the driver picked Mary up and drove her to the Davenport City Hall building.

Mary had been unaware that her entire conversation with the alien had been broadcast into every mind on the planet and when she arrived at city hall, she was mobbed by news reporters, government officials, and the town locals, who bombarded her with question after question. Once inside the building, she even received a phone call from the President of the United States. Everyone wanted to know the same thing:

“What are you going to do?”

“I have to make a choice, I suppose,” was the answer she offered to everyone, which suited not one person.

From then on Mary wasn’t able to get a word in edgewise because the comments came flying at her:

  • “You don’t have no family so you ain’t got nothing to lose!”
  • “We all assumed you’d make the right choice and take your own life.”
  • “What about my wife and two daughters? We’ve always been good people, helping those in need and putting others before ourselves. Don’t we deserve to live?”
  • “I want to assure you that your sacrifice will not be in vain! Tomorrow, when you make the correct and only choice, that day will become not just a national but a global holiday in your memory! We will never forget!”

Then the tide turned ugly and people began getting angry and accusing her of being selfish.

“How am I selfish?” Mary shouted at the crowd. “I haven’t even made my decision yet! It’s oh so easy for all of you to sit in judgment because you’re not the one who has to make the hard choice! Can’t any of you understand how difficult it is to be in my shoes right now?”

And that was when the jeering and racial epithets began. Again, to Mary’s credit, she remained calm, explaining, “Look, all I need is some time alone with my own thoughts without everybody shouting at me what I need to do. I promise I’ll weigh the whole thing out.”

Mary never saw where the first rock came from. It struck her in the back of her head and she wasn’t even aware that she’d been hit. There was a sharp pain, she grunted, and dropped to her knees in confusion. The second rock struck her in the temple, knocking her down to the floor.

Someone in the crowd screamed, but it wasn’t in horror, it was most definitely rage, and it served as the ember that ignited a frenzy that no one could have rightfully explained later on. Bricks, glass bottles, baseball bats, lead pipes, all rained down on the woman from New York, and those without a weapon, spat, kicked and stomped on her body that automatically curled into a protective fetal position.

When the madness eventually passed, and the townsfolk saw in the clear light of day what they had done, some tried to justify it with a “She gave us no other choice!” others couldn’t keep the contents of their stomachs from gurgling up and spewing out, and the rest ran back to the safety of their homes.

Three farmers collected Mary’s lifeless body and placed it gingerly in the back of a pickup truck. They drove to the rendezvous point and laid her body out on the field, making sure to straighten out her clothes and removed the matted clumps of bloodied hair from her face, and crossed her arms over her chest, before driving off.

The following day, when the alien returned, its expression was not what anyone would have expected. The extraterrestrial appeared to be saddened by the sight of Mary Gladys Stockwell’s corpse. It knelt beside her and softly spoke a few words in a language no one understood, a prayer, perhaps. Then the alien carefully took her body into his arms, rose slowly, and said in all languages to all the planetary sapient minds, “You have failed yourselves.”

The alien along with Mary Gladys Stockwell’s cold body, faded in the brilliant light of the teleportation beam, as humans all across the globe began to wilt like flowers deprived of water, until they decayed to nothing but dust, hopefully to be carried off by the wind in order to fertilize the crops for a better form of life to grow.

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

A Kiss Is Just A Kiss

It was early morning when the woman wearing a black backpack walked into the bar. The air was stale with old booze because this was a proper pub, a beer and whiskey joint, with nary a wine glass in sight. The space was narrow with an alcove for a pool table and video poker machine, and it was empty except for the bartender and a sad sack nursing a pint at the far end. She took a middle stool at the bar, not too close to the front door, and the bar mirror directly in front of her so she could keep an eye on what was happening behind her.

“I’ll have an Old Fashioned,” she said to the bartender. “Buffalo Trace Bourbon, if you have it.”

“It’s barely eleven, pretty early for a drink, wouldn’t you say?” said the bartender, who was dive bar attractive. On the cusp of his forties, ten pounds away from a dad bod, but he looked like he could handle himself in a fight.

“Depends on the hours you keep.”

“I suppose you’re right. I’m afraid the best I can do you is Jim Beam White Label,” he said apologetically.

The woman shrugged, “It’ll have to do.”

The bartender made the drink and set it on a napkin in front of the woman. She took a sip and nodded. Even though it wasn’t the bourbon of her choice, it wasn’t a half-bad Old Fashioned. She pulled out a one hundred dollar bill and placed it on the bar.

“It’s too early,” the bartender said. “I can’t change that.”

“You won’t have to, I’ll drink my way through it.”

Two sips later, the woman asked the bartender, “So, what’s his deal?” gesturing to the sad sack at the end of the bar.

“Who Herb?” the bartender said in a hushed tone. “Poor guy’s going through a rough patch. They say bad news comes in threes and sure enough he lost his job, found out his wife’s been cheating on him, and the bank foreclosed on his house yesterday.”

“Hmmm,” the woman said, as she got off her barstool, collected her drink and moved down the end of the bar next to Poor Herb. “Can I buy you a drink?”

Herb, abruptly pulled from his sulk, looked at this woman. Even though she tried to hide herself in baggy clothes, she was, without a doubt, the most beautiful human being he had ever laid eyes on in person. Burnt Sienna skin, willowy, and a face cut right from the pages of a men’s magazine. A real stunner, as his dad used to say.

“What’s the angle?” Herb asked.

“Angle? I don’t understand.”

“This is New York, lady. Women, especially beautiful ones like yourself, don’t buy drinks, they have them bought for them, whole bottles, top-shelf. So, when you offer to buy me, an absolute stranger, a drink, I’m smart enough to know that it doesn’t come free.”

The woman pondered this a moment and said, “I’m Marietta. Our bartender friend here…”

“Bill,” the bartender offered.

“…Bill, tells me your name is Herb. Now, we’re not strangers, are we? Normally, I like to drink alone but I don’t know a soul in town and I’m tired of talking to myself because I already know what I’m going to say. You can say no to the drink and the chat, if you’d rather be alone. That’s fine, I get it. I promise I won’t bother you anymore.” Marietta turned to walk back to her seat.

“Wait,” Herb said. “I’m a jaded New Yorker and a bit of an ass at the moment. If the offer still stands, I’d be delighted.”

“Just a chat,” Marietta said before taking the stool next to his. “I don’t want you getting the wrong idea.”

“Drink and a chat,” Herb said, holding up his first three fingers. “Scouts’ honor.”

“Name your poison,” Marietta said. “It obviously isn’t that beer or the glass would be empty by now.”

“It’s about all I can afford, and I was savoring it,” Herb admitted.

“Well, I can afford better than that, so down that puppy and tell Bill what you’re having.”

“A whiskey sour,” herb offered hesitantly, displaying that he clearly wasn’t used to someone else paying for his drinks.

“Done,” Marietta slapped the bar. “And what about you, Bill, what’s your drink of choice?”

“Dyed in the wool tequila man, just like my Mama,” Bill laughed in a short burst.

“Then set yourself up and let me know when that hundred runs out.”

And so they drank and talked, and in bar chat fashion, one person’s story sparked another person’s story and they compared miseries but not in a competitive way. Then the dam burst on Herb’s series of unfortunate events and after he spilled the entirety of his guts, the bar went silent.

“Words,” Herb finally said after several uncomfortable minutes. “I made my living slinging words but the truth of the matter is there isn’t a single word in any language, active, imaginary or dead, that could describe the pain I felt when my wife told me she’s been having an affair, and that she never loved me. Each syllable was a dull blade that sawed back and forth, tearing at my heart.”

“I know you probably can’t see it now, but you’re better off without her,” Marietta said.

“Listen to her, Herb,” Bill said. “One day you’ll be able to look back on all this and see it was for the best.”

“But what if that doesn’t happen?” Herb asked, eyes welling with tears. “What if I’m one of those people who gets stuck in a moment and spiral into misery and despair until I become a crazy homeless person that’s given up on life? What if I’m all out of rebounds, used up my lifetime allowance of fresh starts, and I never get another chance to rebuild my life?”

Marietta laughed and it was hearty enough for both Herb and Bill to eye her suspiciously.

“What’s so funny?” Herb asked.

“You don’t realize how fortunate you are,” Marietta answered. “Are you serious about that? Starting fresh? Because, Herb, my friend, I can do that for you.”

“You can do what for me?”

“I can put you back at square one.”

“How?”

“By buying your past,” Marietta said like it was obvious. “You sell me your past and you get to start over again.”

“I don’t get the joke.”

“It’s not a joke, Herb,” Marietta said, slipping the backpack off her shoulders. She sat the bag on her lap and unzipped the main compartment, revealing the backpack was stuffed to the brim with bound stacks of hundred dollar bills. “Over two million tax-free dollars in non-sequential bills is yours if you agree to sell me your entire past.”

“Counterfeit bills?” Bill asked.

“Nope, check for yourself,” Marietta peeled a bill off one of the stacks and handed it to the bartender. “I’m sure you’ve got one of those counterfeit money detectors behind the bar somewhere.

Bill took the hundred over to the device right by the register and held it under a UV light. “It’s real,” he confirmed.

Bill started to bring the hundred back, but Marietta waved him off, “Keep that and keep the drinks coming. Things are about to get interesting.”

“Wait wait wait wait,” Herb waved his hands in the air like he was shooing off flies. “I’m a little drunk here and I just want to make sure I’ve got this straight: you’re going to give me two million dollars in exchange for my past?”

“Exactly.”

“I say, Sure, take my past, and you hand me two million dollars?”

“Right after we seal the deal with a kiss,” Marietta nodded.

“Two million for kissing you?”

“And your past, let’s not forget that.”

“Tongues?” Herb asked, embarrassed at how pathetically childish it came out.

“Herb!” Marietta reeled back in shock. “How dare you?”

“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean anything by it, honest! It’s the alcohol and the entire situation…”

“Calm down,” Marietta smiled. “I’m just messing with you. Of course tongues. I’m going to french you like there’s no tomorrow, or in your case, no yesterday.”

Bill returned with the drinks and asked, “You wearing poisoned lipstick, or something?”

Marietta shot the bartender an are you fucking kidding me right now? look. “One: I’m not wearing lipstick. Two: who am I, Mata Hari?”

“Then hell, if Herb won’t take you up on the offer, I sure as shit will.”

“Hey, stop trying to horn in on my deal!”

“So, do we actually have a deal, Herb, or what?” Marietta asked. “If not, I’ll offer it to Bill. It makes me no difference either way. You just seemed like a guy in need of a break.”

Herb pondered the entire situation for a long moment before saying, “I just want to let you know that I think you’re an absolute nutjob…”

“Guilty as charged.”

“…And I’m not buying a word of any of this…”

“Not necessary to complete the transaction.”

“…And I haven’t worked out the scam yet…”

“No scam. It’s just as it says on the tin.”

“…But, without meaning to objectify you, you are drop-dead gorgeous…”

“No offense taken, and thank you. You ain’t half bad yourself.”

“…And all I can think about is kissing you right now.”

“So, we have a deal?”

Herb nodded, “Yeah, we have a deal.”

“Then I need you to say that you, of your own free will, bequeath to me the entirety of your past in exchange for the money in this backpack.”

Herb made the pledge, and Marietta sat the backpack on the floor, rose from the barstool, and took Herb’s face in her hands. “Pucker up, you wonderful man!”

Marietta pressed her lips to Herb’s and she was the aggressor. Her tongue plunged into his mouth, deeper and deeper…and suddenly the logical part of Herb didn’t want this because her tongue was tangy with the threat of mold, but the animal part couldn’t give a tinker’s damn about the taste. It wanted her, all of her, and it wanted her to have all of him. He squirmed on his barstool, fighting in vain to break the kiss and now he had an erection that rivaled the best hard-on from the height of his virility. Her tongue reached the threshold of no return, and knocked, seeking entry. Logic screamed, No! but the animal inside him opened the gates and let her in.

Suddenly, memories of losing the fight with the bank for the house, pleading with his boss to keep his job, and sobbing like a child while his wife laughed at his misery and moved out of the house with her new, younger man, all rushed past him and vanished into the distance, and there was a strange sense of relief.

But then other memories followed:

  • Landing the job of his dreams in the writers’ room of his favorite tv science fiction show;
  • Receiving his first acceptance letter from a publisher for a short story;
  • The time the bathroom light behind Aunty Valerie revealed the outline of her body through her nightgown and the intimacy of the sight made him nervous because it was the closest he’d ever been to seeing a woman naked and he was amazed and repulsed at the same time;
  • Finally standing up to the school bully who later became his best friend throughout his school years;
  • Working alongside his dad as he fixed the family car;
  • Setting up the red cedar Christmas tree with his mom and sisters for the first time…

So many first times; first kisses; first attempts at intimacy; initial feels of new crushes; the early days of falling in love; when his geeky hobby obsessions were brand spanking new; all the excitement, pain, sorrow and happiness… gone, gone and gone.

Herb could feel Marietta’s kiss begin to wind down, and he found himself standing in the theater of his soul, and the seats were all empty now, no one to occupy his memories because he no longer had memories to occupy.

Marietta broke the kiss but held Herb’s face a moment longer. She looked him squarely in the eyes and said with complete sincerity, “You have no idea what a debt I owe you, and it’s a shame that all I can offer for your sacrifice is money.”

She lifted the backpack off the floor, rested it on her barstool and zipped it closed. Then she slid his arms through the straps and secured the bag to his back. “Best you wear this. You won’t believe the number of times I’ve set it down and almost left it behind.”

The bag was heavier than it looked, heavier than Marietta made it seem. Herb figured she must have been carrying it for a long while and had gotten used to the weight.

Marietta gave Herb a hug and whispered into his ear, “If it turns out a fresh start isn’t what you want after all, do what I did. You’re not a bad-looking guy, you can find someone to take you up on the offer. You won’t believe what some people will do for money. Oh, and I intend to make your wife pay for what she did to you, it’s the very least I can do.”

On her way out, Marietta tapped the bar, pointed at Herb and said, “Nice meeting you, Bill. You know, had the bar been empty, that could have been you.” and with that, she left the bar a million times (two, in fact) lighter than when she entered.

The man who used to be Herb just sat there, lost in his aloneness. He knew what transpired in the bar, Marietta left him that much at least, but that’s all there was. This moment in this bar was square one. He would have to build his life up from scratch. He pulled out his wallet and his driver’s license and all his credit cards were blank. He couldn’t even remember his name or the names of his family and friends, or even if he had family and friends.

He did not like the feeling at all.

Then the bartender came into his sphere of attention. Apparently, this man had been talking to him the entire time but he somehow managed to block the guy out.

“Hey, Herb! Are you all right, man?” Bill said, his face full of concern.

Previously-Herb shook his head, “No.”

“Oh man, don’t be going all catatonic on me like that! You had me freaking out for a moment!”

“Hey,” No-Longer-Herb said. “Would you really have traded your past for this money?”

“Pal, she wouldn’t have had to ask me twice.”

“Would you still trade it for the same deal?”

“What, to kiss you?”

Former-Herb nodded.

Normally, any guy who tried to kiss Bill would have gotten five knuckles across the gums, not that he was a homophobe or anything like that, it just wasn’t his practice, and he aimed to make that point clear the best way he knew how.

“You want to french me that way she did you?” Bill asked for the sake of clarification.

“I want to give you two million dollars for your past. Do we have a deal?”

“I’m not gay,” Bill announced for the record.

“Neither am I. Two million, in or out?”

Bill’s fist clenched and unclenched as he worked the situation over in his brain. Who in the hell did this guy think he was, making a proposition like that? Was he insinuating something? Was Bill giving off some sort of vibe that wasn’t aware of? If he was, how many other people were picking up on this vibe?

Then the little voice inside his head cleared its throat and reminded him of how life-changing two million dollars would be, and none of his memories were all that precious, as he tended to live in the now anyway. Not to mention that the bar was still empty, so nobody would ever know…

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Greetings from Europa – Seventeenth Transmission: Crash Site

First Transmission * Second Transmission * Third Transmission * Fourth Transmission * Fifth Transmission * Sixth Transmission * Seventh Transmission * Eighth Transmission * Ninth Transmission * Tenth Transmission * Eleventh Transmission * Twelfth Transmission * Thirteenth Transmission * Fourteenth Transmission * Fifteenth Transmission * Sixteenth Transmission

When NASA first introduced its latest rocket design, the Intergalactic Space Vessel Expediter, and proposed the manned fact-finding mission to Saturn, Alexander Edwards leapt at the opportunity, and former astronaut John C. Roberge backed his play.

Edwards, Eddie to his friends and colleagues, was an AsCan, an astronaut candidate, when he first came on Roberge’s radar. He was bottom of his class and written off as a wash-out, but Roberge saw something in Edwards, a drive, a determination, an unlucky kid who needed a break. So, Roberge took the kid under his wing and watched Edwards bust his hump to rise from last place to top of his class.

Roberge himself was sent to NASA Mission Control Center, located in Houston, Texas, when he was promoted to Capsule Communicator, or CAPCOM, for the Saturn Mission.

The astronauts who successfully made the vetting process were:

  • Dr. Georgina Douglas, physician, surgeon, and biologist.
  • Mr. Leon Powell, executive officer, second pilot, astrogator, astrophysicist, and photographer.
  • Dr. Faith Perkins, biochemist, and hydroponicist.
  • Dr. Ward Smith, semiotician, stores officer, and historian.
  • Dr. Natasha Marsden, atomics engineer, electronics and power technician.
  • Mr. Jude Randall, electronics engineer, chemical engineer, practical machinist & instrumentation man, and cryologist.
  • And Captain Alexander Edwards, commanding-pilot, astrogator, geologist and selenologist, and rocketry engineer.

Roberge wished his friend and protégé, as well as the rest of the Expediter crew, “Godspeed,” as the countdown commenced. The launch was a success and the Expediter was on route to Saturn.

When the message came in that the Expediter had been bombarded by several tiny meteors that damaged the integrity of the hull, Roberge was on duty, and the final message from Edwards before communication ceased completely was that the crew was going to attempt an emergency landing.

Knowing Eddie like the back of his hand and how Eddie thought because he taught the man to think like an astronaut, Roberge used Expediter’s last known position before the meteor strike and calculated their best chance of survival would have been to attempt a landing on Europa.

Roberge attempted to reestablish contact, listening for a reply. He listened and waited, waited and listened. For hours. Those hours became days, those days became weeks, those weeks months, and those months became years. But Roberge, in his role as CAPCOM, showed up every single day and broadcasted signals to his friend who was lost somewhere in the void and listened for a reply.

Eventually, NASA had no choice but to announce the probability that the Expediter and her crew had not survived the emergency landing. Funeral services were held for the brave astronauts but Roberge did not attend because he wouldn’t allow himself to believe they were dead.

Roberge was approaching retirement age, and the top brass planned to use that as an excuse to relieve the former astronaut of his duty, but before that happened, CAPCOM picked up a signal. It was Captain Edwards’s first transmission since the meteor strike. He was alive, and as Roberge suspected, he was broadcasting from Europa.

CAPCOM sent word to Mission Control and in violation of protocol, Roberge fired a tweet out on the Twitterverse.

Roberge attempted to broadcast a message back to Eddie, realizing that the relay time for a radio wave message to reach Europa was between 35 to 43 minutes and another 40 some odd minutes to receive a reply. When none came Roberge suspected the transmitter was damaged in the landing and could only transmit but not receive.

Talks of a rescue mission were underway and NASA was in the midst of designing an updated version of the Expediter model rocket when funding stopped over fears that a manned trip to Saturn was too risky. But now that Eddie managed to get a signal back to Earth, surely the funding would resume.

This, however, was not the case, chiefly because Eddie stated in his broadcast that he was the sole survivor of the landing. The question arose as to whether it was worth spending billions of dollars on a rescue mission to save the life of one man.

Other concerns were that he had made contact with the indigenous life on Europa, mated with one and had hybrid children. If brought back to Earth, what manner of diseases might he be infected with? And being stranded on the moon and forced to embrace alien cultures, how much of his humanity had he retained? Or was he under the influence of some alien superintelligence? And Capitalists were afraid of his power if he returned to Earth. He was now the unofficial ambassador to Europa and if he claimed citizenship all trade negotiations would have to funnel through him.

Still, the public movement to save one of their own had begun and #RescueEdwards became the new campaign of the western world.

Since the first broadcast, Eddie had managed to transmit once a fortnight at the same hour, but after the sixteenth broadcast in which he expressed concerns about a murder that happened in a place called Dairy Elock Prefecture the messages had stopped for a month.

Hope faded again, but Roberge held strong, and transmitted a message to establish contact on a regular basis. Eddie would have to make contact soon, because Roberge couldn’t hold off his bosses from forcing him into retirement.

As he was about to leave for the evening, a burst of static blared through the speakers and a voice fought its way to the surface:

“Greetings From Europa!” the voice said. It was Eddie but the signal was weaker than any of the earlier broadcasts. Roberge recorded the message and grabbed a nearby pen and pad on which to transcribe at the same time.

“This might be my final transmission because the battery indicator on the transmitter is showing it’s on low power mode. It could be a problem with the solar panel, the wire connections or the poor battery itself is at the end of its life. So, I’ll make this brief,” Eddie said. In the background there were chirpy clicking noises that several linguists identified as an alien language which was labeled Europese for simplicity. It was probably the voice of Eddie’s Europan son, Jampie.

“Since my last broadcast, my son and I have traveled through three villages without incident and now we’re less than a day out from Dery’Ylok Prefecture. Ever since we left the last village, I’ve been getting hit with strong surges of déjà vu and now I’m starting to realize why.

Just up ahead, although covered with tall grass are the five grave markers I made when I buried the members of my crew. This place is our crash site. When I last saw it, it was all scorched land, but even at a disaster site, nature persists. And those grassy hills in the distance beyond the graves must be the wreckage of the Expediter.

“Jampi!” Edwards called out and then his language switched to chirpy clicks, presumably as he spoke to his son. “Jampi! Jampi!”

“I am such an idiot!” Eddie said in English. “I explained to my son that those hills are actually my starship, how I came to be on Europa and no sooner than I got the words out, he was off like a shot to investigate it.”

More chirpy clicks but Edwards’ voice sounded worried.

In English Edwards said, “I’m stepping into the domed section of the ship that used to be stellar cartography and I have to admit that I’m filled with a bizarre sense of homesickness and fear. But, this could be a godsend because I’m surrounded by Earth tech, so perhaps I can locate a replacement powercell.”

“Jampi!” Edwards called out more forceful than before and communicated in Europese.

Then there was a sound of metal on metal, followed by a female voice, distant and echoey.

Although faint, Roberge could have sworn it said,

“Hello, Eddie. Been a while, hasn’t it?” in perfect English.

Then the transmission went dead.

To be continued

Text and Audio ©2014 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Glossary of Terms

  • Abogzons – Gynecological engineers.
  • Agvann – Translation: The will of Nes’Tim; an accident.
  • Alum’Vedca – The day marking the new solar cycle of Peace and Maturity; a tribute to the era when Europans evolved from their primitive prey state.
  • Arcek – A spiritual theologian
  • Biem – A time to show respect for the aged.
  • Biss’ore – Travelers, nomads
  • Bokloryn – An unrepayable debt; an act that places the receiver in a lifetime contract of servitude.
  • Cu’nal – A biological storage unit.
  • Denpa – An envoy equipped with an audiographic memory that can store and recall spoken messages at will in the same voice, tone and inflection of the original person who spoke it, who travels from village to village to deliver messages from other communities both near and far.
  • Egami – A docile mineral-based creatures primarily used for family transportation due to the fact they are virtually inexhaustible.
  • Gates of Juh’holl – Europan afterlife; where souls are released from the flesh to become stardust and rejoin the universe.
  • Grahas – A gerbil-sized creature, resembling a stone armadillo, that emits heat when stroked.
  • Homnils – A warm, yet sad, reminiscence about something in the past.
  • Ipu llqr mwyll xfrr – Abogzon credo meaning “success or death”; satisfaction guaranteed.
  • Isogoles – Europan monthly day of pay.
  • Jampi – Captain Edward’s son.
  • Jbwqnadb – The Europan spelling of lemonade.
  • Jhisal – Meis’lo’s home village.
  • Klanea – Translation: unknown to us; stranger.
  • Mecot’ra – Unterraformed areas of Europa.
  • Meis’lo – The only surviving witness to the murder of  the prophet Nes’Tim.
  • Micdow yl – The vessels of new life; children.
  • Nes’Tim – The most revered spiritual prophet on Europa, slain by a heretic tribe who call themselves Sel’Tab.
  • Pwyll – Europa’s highest mountain.
  • Qik’climajh – Depending on its usage in a sentence, denotes either the act of telling a story, or the storyteller themselves.
  • Sel’Tab – A heretic tribe responsible for the death of the prophet Nes’Tim.
  • Shig’umfu – “Interesting world of another”; a documentary qik’climajh in which neighbors tell the story of a person’s life as learned from casual conversations.
  • Spo – Food.
  • Uz Cu’nal – A biological storage unit used primarily for food preservation.
  • Uz – An unspeakable sexual act; a derogatory term; an insult.

I Am A Sentient Black Hole. Ask Me Anything.

I’m feeling a bit under the weather today, so instead of either skipping a day or tossing up some filler nonsense, I’ve decided to invite a guest blogger, who happens to be a character in one of my science fiction novellas.

Please extend to her every courtesy.

– Madd Fictional

Sentient Black Hole

My name is Ganymedorah and I’m a sentient black hole keen to debunk stereotypes. Ask me anything.

The title says it all. In my recent travels throughout the universe, I found that many people know little to nothing about what it’s like to be me. Let’s change that!

saganosity How’d you come to be?

Ganymedorah Wow, a birds and bees question straight out of the gate. Okay, let’s see how to put this. Do you know what happens when two gigantic patches of darkness get so close to one another that they fall into each other? Well, sometimes, if they love each other very much, they take a honeymoon trip together. I am a result of a wild, crazy and uninhibited weekend.

SarahMcL If you had a pet, what kind would you choose and what would you name it?

Ganymedorah If I could own a pet, I’d probably choose an inverted supernova. I’d love to watch the little guy bury the bones of a dead solar system in the yard! And I’d name him Champagne, of course.

justice4hansolo What fact still blows you away even though you’ve known about it forever?

Ganymedorah The universe is filled with empty calories. Seriously. I can eat and eat an incomprehensible amount of matter at an absurd speed and never put on a pound. Well, almost never. Sometimes I manage to put on a little water weight.

syfy4lyf Star Trek or Star Wars?

Ganymedorah Star Trek, original series. Nobody beats Shatner’s Kirk. Nobody. Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga should be sent to Rura Penthe for the way they killed the character off in Star Trek Generations.

winstigator Do you think you could beat Centaurus A in a knife fight?

Ganymedorah Centaurus A is so full of shit, pardon my French, puffing up his chest and boasting that he’s a “giant galaxy.” If he ever looked at me sideways, I’d whup his superluminous central supermassive black hole butt without breaking a sweat.

fullostars What are your thoughts on Brian Cox, Neil Degrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku?

Ganymedorah Imagine that theoretical pub debate! If only I could find a place at the edge of the universe that pulled a proper pint. Time to whip out the old Hitchhiker’s Guide, methinks!

knows.e.parkour Tell us something you’ve never told anyone.

Ganymedorah I pick up broadcast signals all the time. Reality television is my guilty pleasure and I’m absolutely addicted to 90 Day Fiancé. Kirlyam is so friggin’ cute!

K-FitzMat Do you believe in ancient aliens?

Ganymedorah Believe in them? I still see them (there’s a whole weird bendable time thing that runs around and through me). I am totes timey-wimey. Oh, and before you ask, yes, dinosaurs existed and no, they didn’t ride on the ark.

othrwhtmeet Do you like bacon?

Ganymedorah Duh, who doesn’t? Next question.

icanhazeuropa Is there life elsewhere in our solar system, particularly Mars, given the variable quantities of methane in its atmosphere that could suggest bacterial activity beneath the surface?

Ganymedorah Aw, man… y’all are really making me regret spilling the beans on the whole ancient aliens thing. Why would you want me to ruin that surprise for you? Wouldn’t it be better to discover it on your own?

xs10shal What never fails to blow your mind about humans?

Ganymedorah 1) That people always choose to pursue things that are the absolute worst for their emotional and physical well being.

2) That even the most vile among you are sometimes capable of acts of kindness so incredible as to make my gaseous heart feel as if it’s about to burst.

3) The Captain & Tennille divorce. I mean, who saw that coming?

tinfoilhat Conspiracy theorist here. Is there a secret society of black holes?

Ganymedorah If I told you, I’d have to drop you into a gravity well.

trebek2dafutr If you appeared on the game show Jeopardy, how do you think you would do?

Ganymedorah Depends on the categories. I’ve got Space, Science and Potent Potables on lock. Do the kids still say that? But I’d suck (sorry, black hole humor) at Pop-Music, Sports and Math. I would definitely make the first few rounds, especially if I hit a Daily Double but ultimately would lose the Final Jeopardy question. Wheel of Fortune? That’s an entirely different matter.

statnislndmedim What are your feelings on the afterlife, and are you scared to die?

Ganymedorah Without any hint of braggadocio, I, by my very nature, am too much of a good thing to worry about my decomposition and demise. Too much mass, and too much gravity pushed together and collapsed into a single point with infinite density. In-fi-nite. I love the sound of that. Now, if I’m meant to die, I will not go gently into that good night, trust me. As for what awaits me on the other side, who knows? But I love a good mystery, me.

dollylamas Will our minds ever be able to truly comprehend our worth in the vastness of the universe?

Ganymedorah As long as you continue to ponder it. If I could impress one thing on people, it would be to stare into the unknown and unknowable without fear and full of questions.

constellationkate Last night, a 900-foot asteroid was due to streak extremely close to Earth, but it just disappeared, leaving astronomers baffled. Do you know anything about that?

Ganymedorah Yup, and you’re welcome.

Burp.

Oops, pardon me.

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

 

Greetings from Europa – Sixteenth Transmission: News From Dery’Ylok Prefecture

First Transmission * Second Transmission * Third Transmission * Fourth Transmission * Fifth Transmission * Sixth Transmission * Seventh Transmission * Eighth Transmission * Ninth Transmission * Tenth Transmission * Eleventh Transmission * Twelfth Transmission * Thirteenth Transmission * Fourteenth Transmission * Fifteenth Transmission

Greetings from Europa!

Jampi and I stayed in Jhisal long enough to repay Meis’lo and the rest of the village for their hospitality. This was done by sharing our stories and pitching in with the communal chores.

On the morning that we packed our egami and prepared for our departure, two Denpas entered the village, one from the east, the road behind us, and the other from the road ahead.

I recognized Huc’yan, one of the Denpas from my village, who carried word from Kubus and Veron. News concerning the children of Rezter was coming less frequently now because villages grew scarcer the further out they traveled, and when they finally arrived at Pwyll there would be no word until they had completed their pilgrimage and were on their way back.

For now, Kubus and Veron had managed to circumnavigate mecot’ra safely. They encountered biss’ore, a band of travelers, or nomads and after describing their pilgrimage, received an offer of friendship to camp with the group and travel together as they were headed in the same direction, at least for four days.

Huc’yan also had a message from my wife, who was relieved that our son was safe with me. She had never been separated from myself or our children before and admitted that she didn’t realize the value of the things taken for granted until they were gone. This was her way of saying that she missed me and Jampi and it nearly brought tears to my eyes hearing Huc’yan imitate not only my wife’s voice, but the pain in it as well. I made him repeat the message several times, which he did without complaint. I sent word back that neither I nor Jampi ever felt we were taken for granted, and I added, “We miss you, too.”

The second Denpa, the one who traveled in from the opposite direction, wasn’t known to me. He brought news of a terrible tragedy that occurred in Dery’Ylok Prefecture. A young Europan girl was killed (not the word the Denpa used, but my human inference) by the mother of another girl. The two children were playing in the field when they came across a (the Denpa used a word that I had never heard before. When I asked for clarity, no one could help for the word had no translation. It was known to Europans and had never needed explaining before). This object, whatever it was, was so fascinating that the girls fought over ownership of it. Their village elder was called in to arbitrate the dispute and after listening to both girls’ stories, awarded it to the one who told the most compelling tale. This threw the mother of the other girl into a frenzy and she strangled the little poor girl, stole the object and was caught attempting to hide it.

The news was almost too much to process. Fighting over an object? Jealousy and anger? Murder? This wasn’t the Europan way. As I mentioned in a previous transmission, Europan children are considered micdow yl, sacred, the vessels of new life. Something was definitely happening in Dery’Ylok Prefecture and it wasn’t right, and here I was traveling to this place carrying my son in tow.

I voiced my concerns to Meis’lo and asked if I could leave Jampi in his care. The old man agreed without hesitation, but offered a piece of advice:

“This is Jampi’s age of learning and he is with the best teacher, his father. He is safe with you because you will do everything to protect him, and he needs to experience the world, both good and bad.” I let that simmer a long while, and in the end, Jampi and I continued on our way to Dery’Ylok Prefecture. The little scamp would probably have found a way to sneak out of the village and follow me anyway, so it was best that I knew exactly where he was at all times. And Meis’lo was right, I would protect my son with my life, and if agvann occurred, then it would have been the will of Nes’Tim.

Until next broadcast, this is Captain Edwards, signing off.

To be continued

Text and Audio ©2014 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Glossary of Terms

  • Abogzons – Gynecological engineers.
  • Agvann – Translation: The will of Nes’Tim; an accident.
  • Alum’Vedca – The day marking the new solar cycle of Peace and Maturity; a tribute to the era when Europans evolved from their primitive prey state.
  • Arcek – A spiritual theologian
  • Biem – A time to show respect for the aged.
  • Biss’ore – Travelers, nomads
  • Bokloryn – An unrepayable debt; an act that places the receiver in a lifetime contract of servitude.
  • Cu’nal – A biological storage unit.
  • Denpa – An envoy equipped with an audiographic memory that can store and recall spoken messages at will in the same voice, tone and inflection of the original person who spoke it, who travels from village to village to deliver messages from other communities both near and far.
  • Egami – A docile mineral-based creatures primarily used for family transportation due to the fact they are virtually inexhaustible.
  • Gates of Juh’holl – Europan afterlife; where souls are released from the flesh to become stardust and rejoin the universe.
  • Grahas – A gerbil-sized creature, resembling a stone armadillo, that emits heat when stroked.
  • Homnils – A warm, yet sad, reminiscence about something in the past.
  • Ipu llqr mwyll xfrr – Abogzon credo meaning “success or death”; satisfaction guaranteed.
  • Isogoles – Europan monthly day of pay.
  • Jampi – Captain Edward’s son.
  • Jbwqnadb – The Europan spelling of lemonade.
  • Jhisal – Meis’lo’s home village.
  • Klanea – Translation: unknown to us; stranger.
  • Mecot’ra – Unterraformed areas of Europa.
  • Meis’lo – The only surviving witness to the murder of  the prophet Nes’Tim.
  • Micdow yl – The vessels of new life; children.
  • Nes’Tim – The most revered spiritual prophet on Europa, slain by a heretic tribe who call themselves Sel’Tab.
  • Pwyll – Europa’s highest mountain.
  • Qik’climajh – Depending on its usage in a sentence, denotes either the act of telling a story, or the storyteller themselves.
  • Sel’Tab – A heretic tribe responsible for the death of the prophet Nes’Tim.
  • Shig’umfu – “Interesting world of another”; a documentary qik’climajh in which neighbors tell the story of a person’s life as learned from casual conversations.
  • Spo – Food.
  • Uz Cu’nal – A biological storage unit used primarily for food preservation.
  • Uz – An unspeakable sexual act; a derogatory term; an insult.

Duchess and the Anecdote

Duchess

They come from miles around, my characters do, traveling the great distance from the fringes of my mind’s eye, some even making the long and arduous haul from my childhood, just to sit and talk. They do this whenever I’m alone.

As they gather ’round, I cast an eye upon their many and various faces and can’t help but feel the slightest twinge of remorse. Being in my company, locked within the confines of my imagination, is not wholly unlike a purgatory for them. A holding pattern, a waiting room, where they converse amongst themselves in voices audible only to myself, trying to catch my attention in the slimmest hope of being set free. Birthed into a story.

Some are fresh meat, the rest lifers, each easily spotted by the differences in their appearance and the strength of their voices. Fresh meats are gossamers—newly formed characters, little more than a stack of traits—who shout in whispers. Lifers, on the other hand, are as fleshed out as you or I, perhaps even more so, who have acquired the proper pitch and turn of phrase to catch me unawares during the times when my mind idles.

Before the talks begin–serious conversation, not the normal natterings they engage in–a flying thing the size of a butterfly, jewel-toned blue stripes, greenish-gold spots, with flecks of silver on the wings, lands in the palm of my outstretched hand.

“What is that then?” a childlike voice asks from somewhere deep in the crowd, low to the ground. I recognize it instantly.

“It’s an anecdote, Duchess. Come see for yourself.” I reply as the creature’s wings beat softly on my palm.

The throng–my personal rogue’s gallery whose roster includes reputables and reprobates alike–part like the Red Sea, making way for the noblest of all serval cats, The Duchess.

“An antidote? Have you been poisoned?” The Duchess queries as she saunters into the open space, a dollop of concern gleaming in her vivid blue eyes.

I try to not laugh, partly out of respect, but mostly due to the fact that though she is the eldest of my unused characters, she is technically still but a kitten. “No, Duchess, it’s an anecdote, as in a short, amusing, or interesting story about a person or an incident.“

“I know full well what an anecdote is, thank you kindly. I was merely attempting to lighten the dreadfully somber mood with a bit of levity.” Not her best faux pas cover, but it was swift, which should count for something. As casually as she could manage, the kitten turned to see if anyone found amusement at her expense. No one did. They knew better. “May I hold it?”

I hesitate and stare at the leapling. Created on February 29th all those many years ago, it was my rationale–on paper–for keeping her a kitten, seeing as she had fewer birthdays, she would naturally age at a decelerated rate. The actuality is I have an affinity for kittens. For full-grown cats? Not so much. And now the dilemma is if her kittenish nature should come into play, and without meaning to, cause injury to the anecdote, then all this would be for naught.

Her eyes plead with all the promise of being good and I have no choice but to relent. “It’s fragile, so be gentle. Take care not to crush it.” I gently place the anecdote in her cupped paws.

“Why does one need an anecdote?” The Duchess of Albion asked, her nose twitching whenever the creature moves its wings.

“To tell a proper story,” I answer. “More than just a sequence of actions, anecdotes are the purest form of the story itself.“

“But I thought characters are at the heart of every great story?“

“They are and anecdotes connect the hearts and minds of those characters to a story.” I try to feign calm but I can see the kitten’s body tensing up. Her eyes, those glorious baby blues, are studying the creature closely. Was I wrong in my decision to trust that she rules her instincts and not the other way around?

“They also add suspense to your story, giving the audience a sense that something is about to happen. If you use them right, you can start raising questions right at the beginning of your story—something that urges your audience to stay with you. By raising a question, you imply that you will provide your audience with the answers. And you can keep doing this as long as you remember to answer all the questions you raise.“

The kitten’s breath becomes rapid and her paws close in around the anecdote and I want to cry out, urge her to stop, but it’s far beyond that point now. She is in control of her own fate. Canines bare themselves, paws pulling the creature closer to her mouth.

“No!” she shakes her head violently. Her ears relax and her mouth closes as her breathing returns to normal. Then, the oddest thing happens…

The Duchess begins to vanish. All the characters look on in dazed silence, uncertain how to react.

“What is happening to me?” she shoots me a panicked glance as cohesion abandons her form.

“Haven’t you sussed it out yet?“

“No… I’m scared!“

“Don’t be,” I smile. “Look around you. You’re at the heart of a story. You’re free.“

“Truly?” she is suddenly overwhelmed with delight, her expression priceless. “But — but what do I do with the anecdote now?”

“Open your paws, let it fly off.”

She unfolds her paws. Tiny wings beat their path to freedom. Then someone from the back of the crowd gives The Duchess a slow clap. Soon, others join in, building into a tidal wave of applause.

The now translucent Duchess waves a tearful thank you to the crowd, before turning back to me with a request, “Say my name.“

“Why?“

“Because you always simply address me as Duchess and I want to hear you call me by my full name one last time before I g– —“

And just like that, she was gone.

I bid you a fond farewell, Your Grace the Duchess of Albion Gwenore del Septima Calvina Hilaria Urbana Felicitus-Jayne Verina y de Fannia. Enjoy your journey. You will be missed.

Text and Audio ©2013 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

 

Greetings from Europa – Fifteenth Transmission: Death and Rebirth

First Transmission * Second Transmission * Third Transmission * Fourth Transmission * Fifth Transmission * Sixth Transmission * Seventh Transmission * Eighth Transmission * Ninth Transmission * Tenth Transmission * Eleventh Transmission * Twelfth Transmission * Thirteenth Transmission * Fourteenth Transmission

Greetings from Europa!

Meis’lo is old, even by Europan standards, and has a tendency to speak in alien hyperbole, simile, metaphor, and analogy, most of which I understand, some of which I have to extrapolate the meaning from the surrounding story, and others that I take wide stabs at in the dark. I need you to keep this in mind as I translate and paraphrase what he told me he witnessed as a young child at the highest point of the mountain Pwyll, the day the spiritual prophet Nes’Tim was slain.

Before the arrival of Nes’Tim, we, the land and the people, were not as you see it now. We were…less. Different in form, different in thought. Our thoughts were simple: Find food. Find shelter. The world was ice. Food lived in the water beneath the ice. We were not strong enough to break the ice, so we searched for cracks that led to crevasses in the surface to the water below in order to reach food. Many died while trying to capture food and became food themselves.

And then one day a being appeared in our sky. It was unlike anything we had ever seen before, above or below the ice. We had no concept of what it was but it moved as if it was alive, so to our hungry eyes, it was food.

It streaked across the sky and landed on the peak of Pwyll with such a tremendous force that shook the ground. We climbed the mountain and found it lying still, but alive. Whether it was injured before or because of crashing into Pwyll, I could not say, but we all knew it was dying.

When we entered Nes’Tim, I could feel its torture, its struggle to survive. I wanted to feed but I also wanted this being to survive, the others, the Sel’Tab, did not. They wanted to feast on the parts that gave Nes’Tim life and I alone stood in opposition, but I was not enough.

As they began feasting on the heart, Nes’tim released a scream, a noise ringing with tremendous power as it bounced off of the rocks and echoed through our bodies. That was the beginning of Alum’Vedca for us all. This wise and powerful being had called forth its heralds, despite being devoured by we lesser entities, and they covered the lands and all who lived above and beneath the ice with the prophet’s grace. From that moment on, we were changed.

When Meis’lo said they entered Nes’Tim, although I had no visual reference, I pictured him and his people walking into the mouth of a giant space whale. But when he placed a finger to the ground and scratched out in the dirt a rough image of what Nes’Tim’s heralds looked like, my entire perspective changed. His crude drawing resembled one of the terraforming pods launched from Earth.

Then I was hit with a bizarre thought. Meis’lo said that before Nes’Tim, they were less. What if he meant that they were microbes, or some other tiny organisms, tapeworms, even, trying to make a home in a body, the way bacteria does. What if, as they were attaching themselves to Nes’Tim’s body, the terraforming pods landed on Europa and released their biological nanotech payload, which bonded to the predeveloped Europans and the space whale and combined their genetic codes on a subatomic level and repurposed them, initiating the evolutionary process that eventually matured into the beings I have come to know and love?

What if the connection I suspected between the Europans and the land was due to the fact that on a fundamental level, there was no separation between them? Just like the astrophysicists on Earth believe we’re all made of stardust, what if the developed life on this moon was a genetic combination of land minerals, indigenous microscopic organisms, the space whale they called Nes’Tim, and NASA funded terraforming nanotechnology?

My mind hurts. I need to rest and process this.

Until next broadcast, this is Captain Edwards, signing off.

To be continued

Text and Audio ©2014 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Glossary of Terms

  • Abogzons – Gynecological engineers.
  • Agvann – Translation: The will of Nes’Tim; an accident.
  • Alum’Vedca – The day marking the new solar cycle of Peace and Maturity; a tribute to the era when Europans evolved from their primitive prey state.
  • Arcek – A spiritual theologian
  • Biem – A time to show respect for the aged.
  • Biss’ore – Travelers, nomads
  • Bokloryn – An unrepayable debt; an act that places the receiver in a lifetime contract of servitude.
  • Cu’nal – A biological storage unit.
  • Denpa – An envoy equipped with an audiographic memory that can store and recall spoken messages at will in the same voice, tone and inflection of the original person who spoke it, who travels from village to village to deliver messages from other communities both near and far.
  • Egami – A docile mineral-based creatures primarily used for family transportation due to the fact they are virtually inexhaustible.
  • Gates of Juh’holl – Europan afterlife; where souls are released from the flesh to become stardust and rejoin the universe.
  • Grahas – A gerbil-sized creature, resembling a stone armadillo, that emits heat when stroked.
  • Homnils – A warm, yet sad, reminiscence about something in the past.
  • Ipu llqr mwyll xfrr – Abogzon credo meaning “success or death”; satisfaction guaranteed.
  • Isogoles – Europan monthly day of pay.
  • Jampi – Captain Edward’s son.
  • Jbwqnadb – The Europan spelling of lemonade.
  • Jhisal – Meis’lo’s home village.
  • Klanea – Translation: unknown to us; stranger.
  • Mecot’ra – Unterraformed areas of Europa.
  • Meis’lo – The only surviving witness to the murder of  the prophet Nes’Tim.
  • Micdow yl – The vessels of new life; children.
  • Nes’Tim – The most revered spiritual prophet on Europa, slain by a heretic tribe who call themselves Sel’Tab.
  • Pwyll – Europa’s highest mountain.
  • Qik’climajh – Depending on its usage in a sentence, denotes either the act of telling a story, or the storyteller themselves.
  • Sel’Tab – A heretic tribe responsible for the death of the prophet Nes’Tim.
  • Shig’umfu – “Interesting world of another”; a documentary qik’climajh in which neighbors tell the story of a person’s life as learned from casual conversations.
  • Spo – Food.
  • Uz Cu’nal – A biological storage unit used primarily for food preservation.
  • Uz – An unspeakable sexual act; a derogatory term; an insult.

Mind Palace of Imaginary Futures

Dr. Heburn’s expression was serious yet sympathetic as he delivered the news, “Your daughter is currently in a state of unarousable unresponsiveness.”

“You mean my little Hayley’s in a coma,” Mildred Runyon said, rising to her feet and bracing herself for a hard dose of reality. “No need to sugar coat it, Dr Heburn, tell it to me straight. I need to know how severe her condition is, what treatment courses you’re planning to take, and what I can do to help.”

Heburn outlined the standard evaluation and treatment options for comatose children but chose, at this stage, to withhold the facts regarding increased neural plasticity during childhood, associated with the acquisition of motor skills, learning a second language or recovery from injury or sensory loss, which could open the door for severe neuronal hypoxia, a decrease of oxygen supply to the brain, and depolarized synaptic membranes that triggered calcium entry into neurons and a cascade of intracellular events, which could cause cell death by apoptosis or necrosis.

“As for what you can do to help,” Dr. Heburn said. “Talk to Hayley, let her know you’re there and that she is loved. Help her find her way back to you.”

Which was exactly what Mildred did. Every day she took her daughter’s small and fragile hand into her own and reminisced on all their happy memories and when those eventually ran out, she began creating new memories, future memories, of the wondrous times they would have together when she returned. And in the midst of researching coma patient therapies, Mildred fell down an internet rabbit hole and somehow learned about mind palaces. When she visited Hayley the following day, she told her daughter about it and how to build one of her own.

Unknown to Mildred, Hayley heard her mother’s voice and found the concept of a mind palace fascinating. She followed her mother’s instructions to the letter, and began decorating her mind palace in a TARDIS motif, based on her favorite tv show, and filled it with artifacts and treasures from all her mother’s imaginary adventures, in a layout that twisted upon itself in a way that would have driven MC Escher insane with jealousy.

One day, while strolling through her mind TARDIS, Hayley spotted a breadcrumb on the floor, and another not too far away, and another one after that.

The little girl thought, “Hmmm. I wonder where they lead to?”

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys