Djoran sits nervously in the chair, her hands clasped in her lap, trying desperately not to look frightened or confused by these people and their awkward questions.
“When did you last pin back the wings of the Menaus Lytlap?”
“What is the flight capacity of an unladen Galwell?”
“Do you now, or have you ever used illegible performance reports?”
“Can you tell us what it felt like when the plant took root in your solar system?”
“Are you aware that you are no longer Minutiae?”
“How would you describe the taste of Lamial Buds in the moonlight?”
She tries not to shake her head violently at all of these invasive voices coming at her from the dark corners of the room. She can faintly make out the shape of one of her inquisitors, who sits nearest her across the table, on the edge of the harsh light pouring down onto her. She tries to see the shapes of the other people in the room, but she can’t quite make out where they were standing in the darkness.
“We want the names and ranks of all of your co-contraceptualizers, starting with the Quotatious male known as Malas Tree.”
“Where were you when the hijacked brains crashed into the Glyn Flowers?”
“I don’t know any Glyn Flowers,” she blurts defensively, only then realizing she has fallen into their trap.
Suddenly, two figures covered from head to toe in tight white uniforms, completely obscuring their sex and facial features, step forward and take her arms. Holding them out to each side, she strains in their harsh grasp and screams hysterically for them to let her go. The person sitting across the table from her leans forward, and she sees that it is her father, wearing black leather covering him to his neck. She cringes as he sneers and reaches forward quickly, grabbing hold of her loose tunic.
“Father, how can you do this to me? Let me go, I beg you,” she pleads, tears welling from her eyes as his black clad fingers sink low into the neckline of her tunic, grasping the fabric tightly and pulling her to her feet.
“My daughter was a pure Minestrone! I don’t know who you are!”
And with that, he yanks violently at the tunic, which rips away from her skin, leaving scrapes and welts where the fabric has torn apart on her back and arms. Screaming with shock and rage, it takes her a moment to realize that her father is walking around the table toward her.
Standing before her and facing the back of the room, he points menacingly at her bare chest and exclaims, “See what this insidious being tries to hide from us! This monstrosity would have us believe that it is one of us, even going so far as to disguise itself as one of our own. And yet, the truth can barely contain itself beneath the surface of this base deception. Look, all of you! What manner of creature is this?!”
Her eyes move down to see what he is talking about, and grow in horror. There, below her naked bosom, are a series of protrusions forming bubbles under the surface of her thinly stretched skin. Two lines of small sacs bulged from her abdomen, with strange organic forms faintly visible beneath the tightened skin’s surface. She screams and sobs, trying to cover herself, but the uniformed men on either side of her continue to hold her arms up uncomfortably.
Her father, whose features seem to be changing into those of some strange dark-skinned creature with beast-like legs and a shiny metal exoskeleton, reaches forward with one of his wide, slightly pointed fingers and jabs it viciously into one of the growing pustules. The oily fluid inside bursts all over her stomach and breasts, and she howls in pain. The mushy organelle, exposed to the open air, begins to expand and shape itself into a purple speckled bulb, which begins to sprout tiny tendrils from dripping orifices at the base of the bulb.
The tendrils begin to thicken and stretch before her very eyes, growing at a hideous rate to encircle her bare torso. She looks around the room, screaming for someone to stop it, but they merely talk amongst themselves with a mixture of excitement and disgust, while her father, now mutated into a giant beast she almost thinks she recognizes, prods violently at the other pustules. These too reveal growing, heaving, porous bundles of slimy flesh sprouting translucent elastic bulbs, slowly filling up with a milky fluid, like strange udders on a poisoned bovine creature.
The pain in her abdomen feels like fire and knives, and she can almost imagine the organs punching deep fangs inside of her body, draining her of nutrients to feed their growth. She continues to cry and wriggle about, actually pulling one arm free and twisting into the grasp of the other captor. She suddenly grasps the person with both hands, and smoke curls up from under her hands, as milky fluid begins oozing from bulging, porous flesh in her palms and finger tips. The liquid eats at the pristine white of the person’s uniform, causing it to howl in pain as the milk makes contact with the bare skin beneath. The other uniformed being, unaware of the cause, wraps its arms around her and attempts to pull her off. One of the bulbous organs painfully detaches from her body like some sort of cephalopodan creature and attaches itself to the other guard’s arm, and another loud shriek fills the room as it pulls away from her.
The grotesquery that was her estranged father turns to her and waves purposefully at her, which throws up a wave of concussive force that flings her across the room. She crashes hard into the metallic wall and slumps painfully to the floor, her bare flesh landing with the sound of raw meat.
Another of the sloshing organs detaches itself from her body, and another, until all but one have wrenched themselves free from her bleeding, puckered skin. She nearly slips into unconsciousness, but the last organ, placed directly under her bosom, suddenly squeezes itself tight. Her eyes bulge horrifically as she feels the strange fluid being injected into her body, first cold and then hot. She starts to spasm violently as the liquid makes its way through her bloodstream, her veins bulging under her skin.
Another person, dressed in a loose white coverall and strange goggles over their eyes, tries to pass her twitching body to leave the room through the doorway behind her. A burst of heat rushes through her, and she suddenly bounds to her feet and is on the man. She squeezes at his soft arms and suddenly begins heaving, vomiting a thick, milky stream of burning liquid from her mouth and nose. The man falls to the floor, clutching and scraping ineffectually at the substance, gasping and crying out in panic that his skin is burning.
A pair of similarly dressed people, a man and a woman, both with blonde hair and similar features, run at her with their fists raised. Without thinking, she whirls about swiftly and slams her fist into one and then the other, sending both of them falling to the floor. The man rises first and charges at her again, but she merely stands until he is within reach, and then reaches out faster than she can blink to wrap her hand around his throat. At first she squeezes, and feels him gasping and clawing at her hand for air. Then she feels the familiar milky flow through her palms and fingertips, this time cool and smooth. She sees a silvery white liquid seeping down his throat, and his thrashing slowly ceases. The woman suddenly lunges at him to knock him from Djoran’s grasp, but she catches the woman’s arm and whirls her back, reaching out and clutching her throat as well. Soon two sets of eyes have rolled gently up into their heads, bodies gone slack and faces smooth and relaxed.
The giant creature commands the rest of the assembly to recapture her, and though they are reluctant, they begin to shuffle forward. More white-dressed scientists and physicians approach, unprepared for the danger that awaits them. It’s then that the first of the captors, those soldiers in tight white, dances to its feet and looks around the room; The features beneath the burned away portions of uniform are swollen and bleeding, raw, red flesh bulging through. It moves strangely, and before anyone can comprehend the truth, it lunges forward into the crowd of builders and begins beating at them ferociously. The other soon joins it, and the builders howl and scream, begging for mercy, which falls on deaf ears and featureless faces.
The giant turns to Djoran, who stands painfully on one good leg, her right hand clutching her left arm, which is drooping disturbingly from the shoulder socket.
“You, little one, are proving to be a menace to my plans. I can see I shall have to deal with you personally,” he menaces coolly in his strange, alien intonation.
She sneers defiantly at him, but her bravado is leaving her, as she simply can’t imagine what she can do against this creature. She almost fails to notice that the other victims, the twins and the man covered in her strange vomit, are all struggling to their feet as well. The twins move to bar the giant’s way, but he shows no concern. As he prepares to sweep them away, his focus still mainly on her, he overlooks the strangely mutated builder crouching at her feet.
The giant makes another swift gesture, and the twins are swept wordlessly from their feet and sent flying across the room into the dark, their bodies violently colliding with some invisible wall beyond. The creature at her feet tenses, but its broken shape makes it look pathetic and defenseless. The giant clearly doesn’t perceive it as a threat, and fails to react when the demented beast pounces across the room and seizes the giant by the head. It sinks fangs and claws into the giant’s flesh, causing more screams and violent thrashing about. The giant falls to its haunches, and the horribly twisted beast atop him begins to gorge on his flesh, strips peeled from his bones, curls of smoke rising from pitted veins. Sounds of popping and ripping and suckling continue interminably, making Djoran’s stomach churn and wretch painfully.
From out of the shadows, the twins reappear, bruised and bleeding, goggles smashed and uniforms spattered with blood. They both approach Djoran as one, and reach for her solicitously. She recoils in horror, but they merely stroke at her skin, caressing her face and body softly, like children stroking some exotic beast in a menagerie. Like worship.
The soldiers return from their slaughter, huge swathes of blood, matted hair and flesh and bone matter stuck to their no-longer pristine white uniforms. These too reach out to touch her bare skin, touching her more delicately than she could ever imagine them capable of. When at last her feral guardian returns to her side, he merely crouches at her feet while the others surround her, touching her and making soft humming noises at her every smile and sound of pleasure.
Her own eyes continue to flicker closed as she finds herself basking in the gentle ministrations of these strange creatures. One of the soldiers takes hold of her left arm firmly, and before she can object, forces the ball back into the socket. Searing pain shoots through her body for an eternity, but eventually she returns, feeling hands stroking her shoulder and hair, the soldier solicitous and fawning. She reaches up and strokes its cheek, and it preens under her touch, affectionately nuzzling at her hand.
The entire scene suddenly strikes her as odd, but something inside of her makes it irresistible, a part of her craving this worshipful behaviour. It is like nothing she has ever experienced before.
Just then, she hears a soft, feminine voice calling to her from the darkness beyond the doorway. She looks back over her shoulder past her supplicants… her children… the extensions of her self… and sees a woman dressed in flowing white robes hanging open from neck to ground, revealing totally nudity beneath. The woman’s skin is a milky reddish colour, with the texturing and whorls of naked wood. Her features are smooth and perfectly shaped, as if finely carved, with her head covered in wreathes of short, vine-like violet leaves. The woman beckons to her, though her voice is too faint to be heard clearly.
Djoran tries to push the fawning hands away to move closer to the glowing woman, but her erstwhile servants close ranks on her. At first she thinks that they are being overprotective of her, but it suddenly occurs to her that they are desperate to keep her there. They begin clawing painfully at her skin, trying to pull her further away from the soft, pleading voice of the woman. She summons up the last of her strength and knocks the twins away, wriggling out of the soldiers’ grasp and running as quickly as she can to reach the beckoning woman. She hopes this won’t prove to be the proverbial siren’s call.
She runs through the doorway and can feel air rushing against her skin as she hurls herself along in long strides. Her bruised breasts and body bounce painfully in opposite directions, the soles of her feet slapping noisily against the darkened floor. Despite the obvious signs of moving closer, somehow the woman seems to be receding from her, as if the distance between them is growing instead of shrinking. A sense of dread and foreboding fill her, and she dares to look over her shoulder, only to find her unhappy attendants chasing after her desperately.
Her breathing is growing ragged and her muscles have begun to ache horribly, and panic fills her when she realizes she has lost sight of the woman. She keeps running, each step agonizing now and every breath filled with sharp edges. The woman seems to have totally receded from view. Djoran hopes she is still moving in the right direction, running forward, feet pounding like drums, tears streaming from her eyes and small gasps erupting from her lungs. She feels more than sees that her pursuers are almost upon her, and fear seizes her completely as she flings herself forward in desperation, hoping somehow that they will pass her by in their stampede.
Before her onrushing supplicants can trample her, she begins to experience the sensation of falling, and the breath is sucked from her as she tries to scream. Whipping winds rush past her flailing body, and she squeezes her eyes shut to avoid seeing the final impact.
And then, stillness, as if all momentum is lost. Her breath returns and she finds herself gasping painfully. Opening her eyes, she finds herself kneeling on the floor, with no blood or broken bones to mark her fall. Mystified, she slowly drags herself to her feet and looks at the space before her. She is standing in a room covered in curving slabs of raw sienna and burnt umber, smooth and spare, with large shapes patterned into overlapping forms along the wide expanse of wall. The ceiling is a uniform misty red, as of gases swirling above a transparent convex barrier. Brief flickers and sparks glow and ripple through the gases, and the effect is so hypnotic and calming that she almost fails to hear the sound of a throat clearing behind her.
She turns to see a large central terminal, a circular table with deep red light glowing from a central shaft reaching up to the canopy of the ceiling. The table has a multitude of transparent structures, rigidly carved and jutting from both top and bottom surfaces of the tabletop. Just slightly to the right of the central shaft, she sees the woman, basking in the radiance. She looks at the woman carefully, and notes something about her; a face she thinks she’s seen somewhere before.
She walks forward, more on impulse that anything else, her defense mechanisms seemingly silenced. Defenses. She looks down at her own bare skin and notes that she is no longer covered in sores or seeping pores. She is still naked, but no longer feels the slight chill that even her Manusan physiognomy was finding uncomfortable. Interestingly, her own skin has a reddish tinge in this light, and she wonders if the woman truly is red herself, or if it’s just a trick of the light.
Djoran struggles to get her thoughts in order, and finally steels herself to ask the strange lady, “Where are we?”
“We are nowhere… and everywhere. We are wherever we think we are. Right now, we are where I have chosen to inhabit in this place. For the rest, you’ll have to look inside yourself.”
The woman’s cryptic explanation leaves Djoran even more confused, but the matter-of-fact manner in which she said it persuades her to think that this woman at least has some notion of where this nowhere place is. The woman watches her passively, a curious expression on her face, head tilting slightly to one side, as if considering something stranger than this place. And then she smiles softly.
“Do you remember who you are?” she asks in the kindly tone of someone speaking to a child.
© 2011 Lee Edward McIlmoyle