This is a serial novel, so if you’re new to Sol, it’s best to start at the beginning.
Oxide – Day 5
You were right next to us, and then you weren’t. There was nothing we could do. We looked for you, but you were gone. So was the fucking stuffed dog you ran after.
Fitter, the Hensie Governor on Oxide (that’s what I call our new planet), told us that’s how the Ensari retrieve small objects from far distances, both organic and synthetic. He also told me you were probably fine, even though you were in the evil Ensari’s clutches (he always adds ‘evil’ before the word Ensari). He called it some sort of Transwarp Bubble of Diminished or Personal Scope and Size. Translation is something I’ll have to get used to. The engineer in me really wants to know how the whole thing works. The wife in me doesn’t want it to have worked at all.
We didn’t know it, but the attractive alien woman who beckoned to us was most definitely not a Hensie. The Hensie are huge, black, oily beasts. They have four hind legs, each the size of our five year-old, and two arms as thick as your dad’s thunder thighs but twice as long. They drag those arms low to the ground like an ape, and they’re usually covered with remote controls, weapons, or remote controlled weapons. Their heads are triangular with a skull much like a triceratops, but without the horns. Their eyes face forward instead of off to the side like you would expect from such an animal. Their faces are normally even with mine as they walk. That’s until they lift their chest and head to operate machinery or command attention. Then, they’re about 3 feet taller than I am which would mean they’re over 8 feet tall when they’re upright. That’s only the males. The females, I’m told are about 50% larger, but I haven’t seen one. The men have to weigh a literal ton. The women are double that.
For the most part, their immense sausage of a body and stubby tail are naked. The higher ranked Hensie have metallic head plates that cover their protective triangular head. Ceremonial instead of protective, I guess. Their oily skin has a sweet smell that hangs around for 10 or more minutes after they leave. It’s not necessarily bad, but it does stick to the back of your throat like a spoonful of honey. You know how much I hate spoonfuls of honey.
When they talk (if you can call what they do talking), it sounds like a cough filled with gravel followed by snorting and wheezing. Luckily for us, they are sufficiently advanced that every Hensie carries around a translator, but you do have to endure the guttural chewing and grinding of their native tongue to hear the translating speaker strapped to their forearm.
All of this explains why the image of the alien flight attendant’s hologram flickered out shortly after the ramp closed us in. They needed something that was alien but also welcoming to humans. I’d like to know how they hit on sexy stewardess, but I guess it worked. We got on the damn ship. Ray and I found a place to sit on the floor against the rear hatch. As I sat there and as Ray’s strength waned after crying for the better part of an hour, I whispered quietly to her that “it will be okay” and “it will be over soon.” Something I have said for the last 5 Oxide days. At this point, I am pretty sure I say it to make me feel better more than her. We’ll both fake it ‘til we make it.
Ray and I made a friend on the ship. She was sitting down next to us and was obviously alone. Her name is actually Francine, but Ray asked her if she could call her Francy because her earrings were way too nice for that time of morning. You know how Ray gives everything a nickname. She even calls Fitter, Figaro (he absolutely does not know what she’s saying). Francy was quick to agree to the new name. I haven’t asked if she really liked it or she answers to it so she doesn’t feel so lonely. Francy later told us that she had been trying the earrings on when the first gravity waves hit the city (the weapons used against Earth are called gravity wave generators, by the way). It turns out that she was newly widowed and those earrings were the last thing her wife had given her before she died of brain cancer a few months ago. It was only a stroke of luck that she had them on when we escaped. I don’t even have our wedding ring. I do, however, have the cheap digital watch you gave me for my morning runs.
Francy, Ray, and I were quick to become friends. It doesn’t feel like the kind of friendship built out of desperation. It could be, but it feels genuine. If we had met 10 years ago, you and I would have had Francy and Deb (her wife) over for dinner once a month and attended each other’s weddings. She has a sardonic and mischievous sense of humor, seems kind and patient with our little girl when I have run out of both kindness and patience, and she is definitely a touch more graceful than I’ve ever been. In the face of this horrible situation, she maintains a light beatific air about her that I envy and Ray gravitates to. She reminds me of you. That is sincerely uplifting.
It was after Ray and I made a friend that we realized how much the Hensie don’t understand our physical limitations. As they accelerated faster and faster through the atmosphere, we were left to bounce around what was most definitely a cargo hold. Thankfully, Francy, Ray, and I were already pinned against the rear hatch, but others weren’t so lucky. The idiots standing up in the middle tumbled over the smarter, but, still unfortunate souls sitting down in the middle of the floor and slammed into the rear door. Some never got up again. I’m still dispassionate about their deaths. Maybe that comes from the knowledge that billions more died on Earth.
What’s another couple of strangers. Oh, I wish I could erase. What a terrible thing to write down.
The pressure in my back from the G-Forces was so severe that I got really woozy. I think everyone was, so I yelled at the people to put their back’s against the wall and against each other’s knees (always directing others, I know). Some people sat and tried to get into position, but some either thought they could ride this out like they rode the subway while others were too slow to adapt. They flopped around like rag dolls, screaming bloody murder. My body creaked. I didn’t even know it was possible for a body to creak so much, but it did. My jaw still hurts from how much I clinched my teeth. Ray kept making little grunting and panting noises as her breath got more and more shallow. She passed out right before I did. Her little eyes sporting broken blood vessels.
Just as I blacked out, I smelled nutmeg, which I know now is the smell of the Hensie’s atmosphere. Unfortunately for us, the oxygen content is a few percentage points lower than our own atmosphere and makes me lightheaded. That coupled with the extreme maneuvering, caused the majority of us to pass out, me included. I still don’t know how long we were asleep, but it had to have been a long time because when we woke up, we were on Oxide. If I know anything about astronomy (which you know I do not), the nearest planet is light years away, not minutes.
And that is how we ended up on this much shittier planet than Earth, with far worse views.
It’s only just now, as I write you in the same type of notebook I used to use back on Earth, that I realize how much of my own personal accomplishments I left behind. I left 19 years of ideas and drawings from the first discrete circuit I made, a blinking LED controlled by a 555 chip, through grad school’s heady robotic days, and the drawing that spawned ReSister. It’s still not misspelled; the pun was intended. It’s still a great name for a company. I’m pretty sure there is a heart drawn somewhere in my grad school era notebooks with your name inside, but it’s too many years ago and the books are too far away for me to be sure. If it doesn’t exist, I’d draw one now.
It was only luck that I found these few notebooks to write in. When we arrived on Oxide and settled in Rust (that’s the city we live in), there was general confusion and chaos. Someone dropped a green backpack near the gates. I picked it up but couldn’t find the owner. Only later when I opened it (in an effort to determine its owner, of course), did I find the treasure trove inside. I am now the proud owner of one CVS run’s worth of flotsam and jetsom: 4 blank 100 page black and white composition notebooks (graph paper instead of college ruled, but beggars can’t be choosers), a box of blue pens (fucking blue pens, but, again, beggars can’t be choosers), two twix bars, a bottle of blue gatorade, a box of bandaids, nail clippers, and Old Spice Deodorant. There was also a partially filled notebook outside of the CVS bag. Apparently, whoever owned the bag and the stuff inside was a programmer because the first 20 pages were filled up with the typical square box and arrow drawings programmers leave over every whiteboard they can find alongside variations on a logo for a startup called catch.ly (just guessing that it was a startup). I feel a small affinity for whoever drew it, being an entrepreneur myself.
I decided to start below the last hand-drawn logo for catch.ly to preserve the paper I have, because there is no more. That’s an odd thought. There are no machines producing reams of paper for us. There are no trees on this world to make pulp from. Even if we had the machines, hell, even if we had equipment to make it by hand, we just couldn’t. This is what I have. I’ll make the best of it. As The Mother, my new title, I think I’ll need some way to get all of this newfound weight off my shoulders. Writing to you is my only option. I hope one day you’ll be able to read this.
I miss you. Ray misses you.
Love you, Babe.
Continue to Chapter 5
Oxide – Day 5 by Christopher Hazlett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://robotissmiling.com/?p=350.