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Aliens

Bait

by George Salis

This earth seems like a place you would call home, until you see a cluster of scintillating hooks descending through the sky and disappearing into a cityscape. Minutes later, hundreds of humans, pierced through the cheek, the hand, or even the genitalia, are pulled upward between the buildings and over the skyscrapers, through the atmosphere and into the frigidity of outer space. The source of the hooks is indiscernible, but you get the feeling that this is less an earth than a farm, ripe for the picking. The harvesters, smoke-obscured, are meticulous and methodical. But miscalculations happen, and humans that are pulled up too slowly become bloated and frostbitten, while those pulled up too quickly experience a barotrauma that explodes their eyeballs, prolapses their cochleas, and, on occasion, spontaneously ejects their brains, the parietal bone popping open like a missile hatch. These spoiled humans are thrown back as is, stuck in orbit among satellites and other debris or burnt to a crisp by atmospheric friction. Whether the harvesters discard them because they are inedible or unsellable or unable to be experimented upon is unknown, though it is believed that nutrition, economy, and science all play a role in the harvest. Fluxes of radiation borne of solar flares or other cosmic phenomena sometimes cook the humans as they are being reeled in through space. Yet this product is not thrown back. At such times, humans down on earth can just barely hear a celestial crunching, similar to the crackling of an aurora overhead, but combined with the harshness of something like deep-fried crickets. In response to this din, the humans stopper their ears with the palms of their hands and squeeze their eyelids together, attempting to unsee the imagined rows of serrated teeth, the miasmal burps of pleasure, the unidentifiable remains floating within cauldron stomachs, the defecation of pyramidal pellets containing shards of bone, broken jewelry, tufts of hair, semi-dissolved leather belts, shreds of cloth, and occasionally ellipsoid pairs of silicone.

         Over time, the harvesters will become more accurate in their reaping, and so fewer humans will be thrown back, but presently the earth seems to rain ravaged humans as much as they are ‘evaporated,’ which is one of the euphemisms used by the fearful. To address that issue, humans invent a global fleet of mobile nylon nets used to catch the discarded humans over land or sea. Thus it is discovered that some humans, although not frosted by space or sickened through decompression, are still deemed subpar by the harvesters. Likewise, children below the age of twelve are invariably released, probably in compliance with some intergalactic regulation. The latter are the most resilient, but many ‘recycled’ humans, as they are dubbed, are caught dead, with their brains lobotomized or decorticated by the hooks, their bodies charred from the fall. Yet there is still an abundance of survivors whose stories become a source of terror, wonder, and inspiration.

         A six-year-old boy is caught safely over the Atlantic, but found to have been skinned by the time he passed through the stratosphere, with a part of the adamantoid hook still jutting from his temple like an antenna. His corneas vaporized by ultraviolet radiation, he claims to have seen, up there, ancient astronauts in an inverted nimbus. He saw how their forms dissipate and coagulate at will, becoming tools, symbols, and what might have been their bodies, amorphous structures which echo the pillars of Greek antiquity. These beings are the Cosmic Parents of humans, the Creators and Liberators. “The journey of the hook,” the boy professes, “tests our purity and weighs our sin, for the abacuses of their consciousness can only bear so much darkness.” How can a child know these things? Some think that he is a kind of spy, yet another way to lure them, while others develop a faith in his messages, selling all their material belongings and cutting off every relationship before impaling themselves on the nearest hook, usually through the temple, in the way of the child mystic, the stabbing motion itself as innocent and alleviating as putting one’s head upon a pillow at night.

         When a middle-aged woman is caught in a net at the edge of the Sahara Desert, the velocity causes her epidermis to roll into itself like a sleeping bag, her head at the claustrophobic center. Members of the rescue team carefully unroll her and determine that she was filleted of every bone, but her skin was left intact, except for a hole in her cheek from which globules of saliva dribble. What alarms them is the fact that her left eye gazes out of her right ear canal and her other eye is fixed on what appears to her as an ocean trench (later discovered in the sphincter). More than this, her heart fell to the heel of her left foot, her lungs expand and contract within her right thigh, her bowels are where her brain should be, and all the rest is equally jumbled for lack of a skeletal system. They temporarily patch the cheek-hole with gauze, which helps her say, “I heard them speaking, but not, I heard their actual thoughts, the layers and layers, the calculations. Numbers. That’s what we are to them, numbers in the mind. And me, I was an outlier. An outcast.” She only survives for a few seconds after her enigmatic comment, loose parts of her flipping and flopping from occasional wind, until a simoom nearly blows her away. Caught by her kidney-bulging wrist, a man leads her whipping body through the sandy gusts and folds her neatly in an SUV’s trunk. By being an organ donor, she is able to save other Recycles. At her funeral, she is lowered into the earth inside a matchbox for a coffin. Because of her, the term ‘spineless’ is now synonymous with bravery and resilience.

         These tales of survival fuel a kind of arms race between the harvesters and the harvested. First, a brain trust is assembled by almost every government to determine what exactly attracts humans to the hooks, but this proves futile, for it is a mystery shrouded by amnesia and mythology. Some say you hear a soothing muzak, with coveted items of masscult, like smart phones or sex toys, glistening on the tips of the hooks. Others believe you are pulled in by the sobbing voices of deceased loved ones, finding them spiked through the chest and begging to be saved. A few conjecture there is a sibilant snake coiled around each hook like a worm, entreating you as if you were Eve, offering apples of knowledge, figs of immortality, a feast of the sensorium and the soul. Regardless of whatever temptation, the governments agree on a global law that forbids anyone to be within five miles of a hook and, like a total eclipse, to never look at one directly.

         In the event of a hook cluster, cities are made to evacuate. Strategically placed megaphones rattle buildings’ windows with monotone messages: “The hooks do not have your best interests in mind. Do not approach the hooks.” Families sardined in cars drive past digital billboards that read: Stay Happy & Hookless, with a vintage vista of undisturbed family life in the background. Hazmat teams, with tinted visors that only allow them to perceive the lines of the hooks, sever those ominous parallels using saw-toothed scissors attached to long poles. The grounded hooks are then treated like irradiated bear traps, and so other hazmat team members drive over them in a tank-like vehicle, finding the hooks via GPS and sucking them into a vat of acid. With time, the harvesters reinforce their lines with a plasmid aura that liquefies the scissors. They also infect the billboards and announcements with subliminal messages that equate the hooks with a shortcut to paradise. The humans soon develop meteorology that forecasts the when and where of a hook cluster. Less winds, more lubricating moisture in the air, the presence of fog to hide the hooks, all and more help to determine where they will descend next. This makes evacuation more effective and less haphazard. In response to this, the harvesters eventually deploy decoy clusters of hooks, catching the populations mid-exodus. So continues this game of cat and mouse, until you see a cluster of hooks descending, not upon a city, but a country, then a continent. Across the globe, hooked humans are being pulled through the clouds, the spheres, looking down on a world shadowed by themselves, by an entire species. The few million or so humans who are not caught immediately begin their immigration to an unfinished project, evading falling shoes, hats, glasses, and bodily fluids along the way. At the center of each continent is an incomplete underground metropolis. This will be the final step in the arms race, claimed the world leaders, who are now being reeled in by the harvesters, inhaling between screams the metallic stench of outer space. Here we will live and flourish in peace.

         Due to their intercontinental reaping, the harvesters are forced to incubate and breed humans, then throw them back down in a newly developed shrink-wrap that dissolves by the time they alight on the ground. But in the midst of desolate cities, the test tube humans become savage cannibals, reminding the harvesters of the tainted meat of millennia past. Yet the harvesters are not unwise to the layer of prime crop hidden beneath the surface, and after a century passes, they release a moon-sized chum bucket into orbit that slowly tips over and pours allamones over the earth. Golden spheres resembling dandelion seed heads swirl through the stratosphere and troposphere, the beginning of a nuclear summer. The nostrils of humans twitch amid the balm, the aroma, the perfume, the bouquet, the incense. They emerge from their subterranean safety to witness what appears to be a shattered sun as sparkling sky. Many stick out their dry tongues to let stray flecks settle on their taste buds and melt into a sexual urgency, others take deeper breaths and experience a desperate depression. Some pick up handfuls of the accumulated allamones and grind them into their eyes then use their stained fingers to brush their gums, quivering with euphoric revelation. The final goal of these states of mind are the same: every human skewers themselves on the nearest hook with divine gratification.

         Not many years after, the harvesters net the entirety of the earth and begin to haul it away. The few thousand humans that survived the maelstrom of allamones catapult into the net by the interruption of the planet’s rotation, then press back down to earth’s surface as the net tightens. Eventually the lack of sunlight causes a worldwide ice age, which has the benefit of keeping the meat preserved. If the humans could open their frozen eyes, they would see other netted planets being pulled next to theirs like the trophy heads of colossi.

~

Bio:

George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below. His fiction is featured in The DarkBlack DandyZizzle Literary MagazineThree Crows MagazineMad Scientist Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in IsacousticAtticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook and Instagram (@george.salis). He is the editor of The Collidescope.

Sila

by E. E. King

The Sila lived on a planet of stone. They were round, soft, slightly opaque and formed from silicon. They would have been transparent had they been thinner. Like blobs of jelly, they had no eyes, ears, mouths, noses or appendages. They had no senses, nor did they need them. They lived at a pace so slow they could comprehend that time and space were relative. On their planet, the speed of light was relative too. There were no constants. The only constant, unchanging unchangeables, were the rocks and the Sila themselves. They did not breathe or die. They had no emotions, no hungers, no need to reproduce, or desire for love. They communicated directly, without the need for words, faster than light or sound.

They sent their thoughts out into their galaxy, traversing space, distance and time. Life was, of course, fairly common in the universe, how could it not be? Uncountable galaxies filled with clouds of stars and planets. The life was mostly carbon based: small-minded, ignorant, finite creatures. Creatures who saw little and understood less. Creatures who trusted their limited senses and themselves alone in the vastness of space. The Sila found no reason to disabuse them. These creatures had nothing to teach them.

On all the planets, in all the galaxies in all the universes similarity abounded. There was nothing new under the suns… not even sun. But water, in its liquid state, unfrozen and not gaseous, was rare. So, there was interest when the Sila, probing far, far into the distant lights of the sky found a planet that was 98% saltwater.

Probing beneath its surface, they discovered a huge variety of life, an almost overwhelming multiplicity of species.

A few were free floating, looking like Sila themselves, though they were carbon based. Many lived in colonies, individuals sharing a common skeleton. They had no brains. A loose network of nerves detected light, odor and touch. Each had long, waving, poisonous tentacles. Probing into their calcium depths, the Sila discovered minute organism in each that could turn light into sugar. These tiny alchemists fed their own skeletons with food made from light. 

Deeper still, from the dark water rose the bleached remains of older colonies, some were shaped like brains, others like plates, or horns. These too had once been living, but due to temperature, salinity, or depth, they had died and lay white and silent beneath the waves.

There were other ruins too. Some younger, some older, vast towering made of glass, steel and stone. In them, the Sila found no life.

The Sila believed in light, in time, space, rock and chemicals. They believed in thought and ideas. They believed in communication. They did not believe in spirit or in soul. Souls were the inventions of carbon-based life, created to still the terror of an endless sleep, and to calm the fears of an infinite night.

Then they found them. Beings like themselves, round, pliant, opaque and still, lacking all traces of animation. How could this be? They were obviously not rocks. The Sila had seen too many stones on too many planets to be confused. These were Sila, but devoid of intellect, without life – dead.

They lay, two each, inside of six-foot rectangular squares that had been hewed in the ground many millions of years ago. Some were encased in fragments of metamorphic rock, some surrounded by molecules of rotted cellulose. They sat like soft, large eggs, placed symmetrically inside a curious construction of calcium which reeked of long dead carbon. How had they gotten here, buried beneath Water and Earth? What had happened to them?

The Sila were infinite, and yet, here was death, come to their kind on a planet in a galaxy far, far away. The Sila’s minds were invaded by that first ambassador of emotion; curiosity. It was like a finger pulling aside a curtain, letting in the first small beam of light, and as a shadow follows light, it was followed by a glimmering of fear.

The Sila shivered first collectively, then individually. If death was inevitable, each wanted a soul for itself, an afterlife, a heaven. And so, the Sila separated. Their expansive minds condensed. Their society collapsed. Yet it could have been so easily avoided, if only they had understood the words on the underside of the dead Sila; Best Breasts Allegan Brand.

~

Bio:

E.E. King is a painter, performer, writer, and biologist. She’ll do anything that won’t pay the bills, especially if it involves animals. King has won various awards and fellowships for art, writing, and environmental research. She’s been published widely, most recently in Clarksworld, Flame Tree, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores and On Spec. One of her tales is on Tangent’s recommended readings in 2019. Her books include Dirk Quigby’s Guide to the Afterlife, Electric Detective, and Blood Prism.

Alien Mating Habits: A Brief Overview

by Jim Lee

Author’s Introduction (Note to all Copyeditors: Color-Code this Section in Darkest Brown, for Highly Honorable, Accurate & Valuable Information):

While an unnatural peace momentarily reigns in our arm of the galaxy, The Divine Order of Things and Our Own Species’ aggressive, restlessly expansive nature make future conflicts inevitable. I won’t comment on whether such wars are desirable or not–all right-thinking beings are surely agreed regarding that!

But knowing all your enemies (potential and actual) in as thorough and wide-ranging a sense as possible provides major advantages. Also, I argue that scientific inquiry—gathering knowledge, increasing understanding of those strange beings we share the stars with—is a worthy goal unto itself.

Therefore, I present this necessarily brief overview of all the extant sentient species we’ve encountered in our centuries of space travel for your edification.

I. The Icklanders (Entry in Medium Blue, for Moderately Disgusting Content):

This telepathically-linked species never leaves their homeworld, lest they lose mental contact with the balance of the species and suffer fatal shock reactions. Nonetheless, they helped found the unnatural multispecies military agreement that presently inhibits our continued, Divinely Mandated Expansion.

They employ other species, from other Alliance worlds and occasionally elsewhere, for such tasks as interstellar diplomacy, trade and off-world military action. It must be conceded that their creative, literally single-minded condition has led to advanced and unique technologies. None among us should doubt they would fiercely defend their world upon the defeat of the mercenaries who operate their well-equipped space fleet. But that’s a matter for another essay.

Our concern today (and the true basis of our instinctive distaste toward them—or ‘it,’ since no Icklander has any individual identity) is the reproductive activity of these slug-like beings.

In Mating Season, Icklanders employ their pseudopods to climb their planetary equivalent of trees. Huddled together yet never quite touching, they unleash slimy, grotesque downpours of sperm and soft-shelled eggs (each has both female and male reproductive organs). For several local days, the surfaces of entire continents are coated with sticky reproductive muck, until hatchlings eat their way out of the seminal goo. The adults then slide down, resuming their regular activities without even a backward glance.

II. The Polygens (In Paler Blue, for Slightly Distasteful):

These suitably warlike methane-breathers come in five sexes. The lone female in each family unit bears live young and commands absolute leadership in all things. This blatantly sexist arrangement may offend some sensibilities, yet is considered natural by them.

Successful mating involves one individual from each of the five genders. Deviations occur, though severely punished when discovered—a laudable display of species-wide discipline. One interesting perversion involves having more than one of a given gender involved. However, engaging in sexual activity with less than the normal five is considered the most socially objectionable.

III. The tas’Lenka (In Red, for Mostly Honorable):

Weakened by a series of conflicts with the Polygens before our arrival in their space, these folk put up a valiant if doomed fight. Now enslaved by us for a number of Standard Years, they continue resisting in subtle ways—thereby underlining their courage, intelligence and stubborn honor.

Their mating behaviors are no more or less violent, ethical or comprehensible than our own. We respect them, even if we occasionally have to make an example of some of them—usually a few thousand at a time.

IV. The Prenn (In Yellow, for Somewhat Unpalatable):

Cold-world O2-breathers, their retractable foot-claws (think: natural ice skates) can serve for weapons-free close combat, when necessary. As in other things, they’re very loyal, stable and well-mannered reproductively—boring, in other words.

Unfortunately, they evidence disgustingly excessive levels of tolerance—going so far as to willingly share one small colony world with the most disgusting of all known sentient species (you know who I mean).

V. The Tama Ka’Mor (In Greenish-Yellow, for Slightly Unpalatable):

Another Cygnus Alliance founder, they show fighting spirit if provoked. Yet they sadly lack the drive to prove themselves in the eternal battle for survival and righteous dominance. They usually practice a form of serial monogamy not too much unlike our own—though lacking the rich “Relationship Death Ritual” symbolizing termination of a relationship among truly worthy lifeforms (that is to say: Us).

VI. The Maruts (In Very Pale Red, for Semi-Honorable):

This valiant, long-conquered species, like a certain lifeform whose tragically misguided and self-inflicted destiny is too painful to mention here, breathes fluorine. (And I boldly digress to ask: Isn’t it time that we FINALLY acknowledge to ourselves that ancient tragedy was NOT our fault? How were we to know the freakish creatures would commit species-wide Mass Suicide rather than accept rightful enslavement by us!?)

Disappointingly, the Maruts no longer give us much trouble, despite their fascinating ability to channel electrical impulses through their bodies. They did give us a good battle despite being centuries behind us, so we of course honored them by restricting our war-making tech and tactics to ones no more than a half-century beyond their own.

The result was a glorious, nostalgic struggle.

It’s too bad that their mating traditions are so free-form and chaotic as to defy easy characterization. This demonstrates the underlying lack of focus that (along with being technologically backward) doomed these courageous avians to their status as our most-senior slave race.

VII. The Khensu (In Pink, for Ambiguously Odd):

The last of Alliance’s first five members, they live in a chlorine-based ecology and are renowned as the greatest of all bio-engineers. They’re also peaceful to a bemusing fault, having never even had a word for warfare until encountering other sentients. Strange people, yes—yet their legendary commitment to their beliefs, no matter how evolutionarily inappropriate and opposed to Divine Law, command some degree of respect.

They also display no passion in picking their mates-for-life and reproduce in orderly five-year cycles. Pretty boring, overall.

VIII. The Vayuans (In Near-Purple, for Mostly Shameful):

Oxygen-breathing cowards, these avians mate the same way they spend most of the rest of their lives—in mid-air, gliding along the air currents between their homeworld’s many mountains. Yes, they were bright-eyed primitives when we met. We dealt with them accordingly, our soldiers equipped with but the simplest weapons. Yet in contrast to the Maruts, they surrendered without a fight.

So who gives a damn about their mating habits—or any other aspect of their so-called culture?

IX. The Lintonians (In Pure White, for Utterly Baffling):

What isn’t mysterious about these silicon-based, extraordinarily advanced interstellar merchants? How did they ever evolve? Or did some still-unknown super-intelligence genetically engineer them, as some suggest? They sell all manner of other information (not to mention the arcane hyperspace drives we and all other space-going species use). But even the most basic questions about them are unanswerable at any price.

So until we (or, perish the thought, some rival species!) can reverse engineer their h-drives and force an end to their monopoly on interstellar travel tech, details of the Lintonians’ culture of star-traveling, hollowed out world-ships will doubtless remain obscure.

X. The Humans (In Deepest Purple, for Absolute Maximum Shamefulness):

Finally (and certainly least), we’re forced to consider the most perverted sentients ever known or imagined. While these O2-breathers are approximately as warlike as we are, yet we can rest easily in knowing that is the only behavior we have in common.

They call us Narakans (in typically corrupted dual reference to one of the countless ‘evil’ demons of their ancient mythologies and to our prehensile trunks’ resemblance to a large quadruped mammal (the elephant) native to the ancestral homeworld they ruined in their ever-treacherous insanity). This term they dare apply to us as an ironic insult, in part because we stand quite a bit shorter than the typical human’s skinny, unarmored frame.

And while we, in our perhaps too stern yet always honor-bound view, shame ourselves for our unintended part in the extinction of our first spacegoing opponents in the Divine Contest for Dominance, these monstrous beings barely acknowledge the many lesser species they have destroyed. But the worst and most intolerable aspect of their behavior is the way they treat Each Other!

So I ask, if only rhetorically: What intelligent species makes war, even on itself?

Only one (as we all know) and in their essential depravity, humans place themselves beneath the notice of disciplined, dignified and honorable lifeforms such as ourselves!

~

Bio

Jim Lee comes from a Pennsylvania town better known for producing Olympic swim champ/early movie Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller, pioneer rock n roll DJ Alan Freed and millions tons of coal dust. He’s been a published writer since the 1980s. To date his work has appeared in a wide range of venues in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, South Africa and China. His recent sales include SF stories and non-fiction in issues of the magazine OUTPOSTS OF BEYOND and such anthologies as FANTASY FOR THE THRONE, TOTAL WAR and STRANGE STORIES Volume One. A member of his local library’s Board of Trustees, he has just volunteered to serve as that organization’s new Treasurer.

Progress Note: g’Kuyhelktu, Son of His Holiness, the Czar of g’Ctharta

by Thomas Tilton

Session Information

Client: g’Kuyhelktu

Provider: Alastair Clark, LMSW

Session Date: 09-17-2099                                

Session No.: 648

Session Note

Client oriented x3. Denies SI/HI. Emanating faint pleasant odor akin to burning leaves (r/o: species-spec. pheromone). Appropriate dress & appearance (no visible tendrils). Speech & motor activity appear normal. Neutral affect & depressed mood.

g’Kuyhelktu presents with concerns regarding his seedmother’s upcoming nuptials to His Holiness, the Czar of g’Ctharta, g’Undalyis. Processed g’Kuyhelktu’s initial response to the marriage announcement.

Discussed his refusal to facilitate the marital union of g’Kuyhelktu’s seedmother & His Holiness on their wedding vigil, against g’Cthartaian cultural traditions.

g’Kuyhelktu continues to deny ego-intrusion.

Client asks writer “how would you like it if your mother were marrying him?” Writer provided psychoeducation on g’Cthartaian mating practices & biological incompatibility of g’Cthartaian/human relations. Client responds “to hell with it.”

Writer immediately tore vestments, discarded modesty shield, & cried to the heavens “long live g’Ctharta, long live the czar, praise him, praise him!”

At this point, the czar himself, g’Undalyis, began to live-audit session. Writer placed head under g’Undalyis’ ligula & paired. g’Undalyis spoke as/through writer “fear me fear me o wastrel seed I will spite thee I will break thee I will consume thee I will excrete thee long live g’Ctharta, long live the czar, praise him, praise him!”

g’Kuyhelktu responded (monotone) “never.” Audible tearing sounds, as of a thick fabric. Atmosphere began to shrink, office furniture & accoutrement sucked into the center of g’Kuyhelktu’s head, which began to implode, then rapidly expanded like a balloon & exploded everywhere. g’Cthartaian gore covered office walls, flooring, the entire person of writer.

Writer unpaired from ligula, began rapacious consumption of g’Kuyhelktu’s remains, exclaimed, per custom, “your substance sates me, your substance sates me!”

g’Undalyis offered “perhaps tomorrow.” His Holiness evacuated bowels, rendering a 649th g’Kuyhelktu.

Homework

Read chapter 3 of The g’Cthartaian Wedding Vigil (7th ed.) [trans. Burton Halley]: “Facilitating the Marital Union: The Role of the Cuckold-Son in g’Cthartaian Mating Practices”

~

Bio

Thomas Tilton’s fiction and poetry have appeared in 365 Tomorrows, Disturbed Digest, Scifaikuest, and Star*Line. A native Texan, he currently resides in Michigan with his wife, son, and two dogs.