Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 19

Four Arms had genetic memories. Ones that went beyond instincts, beyond those basic intuitions that most species had that seemed to be encoded in the basic genome. Humans had recorded this very phenomenon with savants; somehow they had knowledge that allowed them do things they couldn’t have possibly learned through experience.

This was something I hadn’t come across before. “How does a trainer release the memories?” Some sort of ceremony?

“I show him once, he knows.” Garjah sliced off another piece of meat. “Doesn’t mean Seedrah is good at it.”

“You weren’t good at your role once upon a time.” Timok raised an eyebrow. “Now look at you.”

“Still stupid, according to you.” Garjah wiggled the fingers on one of his free hands.

Timok’s lips curled up in a smirk. “About many things, yes. Our security? No.”

Watching their interaction was fascinating but their words weren’t reassuring. Timok was very intelligent. I dropped my gaze to my plate, stabbing the food with my fork harder than necessary. A warning? If Garjah was that good at his job, my escape would be much harder.

If it was even possible. Their medical technology I’d glimpsed when I woke up in Timok’s lab was advanced. The weapons definitely were. They looked down on humans. Or our advancement, more specifically our lack of advancement.

They’d found me easily enough in my exosuit once before. I’d come to Ardra to learn about the planet. The Four Arms came here, so they’d know a lot about it. I didn’t even know Bouncer had poison sacks on his claws.

What else could they teach me? Timok said it wasn’t up to him about letting me go. If Garjah was head of security, maybe it was his. Or whoever the overall leader was. Getting away was probably going to be impossible, especially since I couldn’t get off the planet. Somehow I had to convince them to let me go. Garjah was har, so it might take some time.

Time I probably had.  The skimmer was far behind us, Sonez even farther. Timok was smart, but I was smart too. Plans change. I wasn’t in danger, and there was new information to learn. I just had to stick with Garjah.

“What are you doing after the meal?” I asked as I pushed the meat cubes around on my plate.

“Me?” Timok asked. He leaned back.

What did I say? No? Yes? I wasn’t asking him, but….

“You will be back in your lab, studying, running tests, doing what you always do,” Garjah said. “The same old boring thing as always.”

“Essell doesn’t know what I do. And he studies animals and plants for a living, so he does plenty of work of the same type.” Timok finished the last of the food on his plate.

“I was going to take him to his Bouncer. Maybe wake him up.”

I gasped. “Really?”

“He will stay in the cage.” Garjah’s stiff posture and firm words left no room for argument.

“Do you do that often?” I wiped off my fork, setting it aside.

“Do what?”

“Give orders and expect them to be followed without question?”

Timok’s nose narrowed and he grinned widely, showing off those sharp teeth. “Yes, he does.”

“It is my role.”

“Humans don’t work like that.” Well, the military did. But I was a scientist. For me, knowledge was more important than orders. I’d risk a lot for it. Look where that got me. Still… “Bouncer never hurt me. Give me my exosuit. Let me show you. Besides, he’ll be hungry.”

“Yes, he will. Which is why I said he should be woken up. Stasis, safe as it is, can be damaging to cells. We don’t use it on cerops.”

“You used it on me! If you don’t know if it will hurt him, could it have hurt me? Do you even know?”

“Of course I do. I ran extensive scans when you were in my lab. You’re fine.”

“You’re what he’s studying,” Garjah said.

I blinked. “I’m what?”

“We’ve watched humans, we have knowledge of them. Interactions with them? Not many.” Timok reached out and picked up my fork. “Things like these. Alien. Your need for fluids, chewing. Your single pair of arms. Besides, you’ve been studying us just as carefully.”

“I didn’t take lab tests of you!”

“Only because you couldn’t. You know you would, if you had the chance.”

Humans had done such things, many times. Ethical studies weren’t always the backbone of all scientists. But not me. “I—”

“So if I said you could come to my lab and work with me, you’d say no?”

Garjah just watched our interaction, his face impassive. I wanted to spend time with him. I needed to show them Bouncer was safe. I wanted to wake him up, feed him, ensure he was back to his usual self. But Timok’s offer was a nearly irresistible lure, and the bastard knew it.

Four Arms could definitely pull off a smug look.

I narrowed my eyes, tapped the table, then reached for my fork. “How about you go with us to wake up Bouncer, just in case he isn’t okay, and then after I prove how safe he is to Garjah, we go to your lab? I’ll help you further your studies on humans, and you can help me study Bouncer.” I left off study them, but I wasn’t about to show my whole hand.

Garjah’s silence was broken by what I could only call a laugh. It rumbled in his chest and came out without him even opening his mouth, but he was grinning. “Are all humans as wily as you?” he asked.


“You are getting Timok out of his lab, getting your cerops awakened, your sad little suit returned, and managing to insert yourself into scientific studies later when the timing better suits you.” He spread two hands. “Wily.”

He left off spend time with himself, but maybe I’d kept that aim subtle. I shrugged. “I’m considered pretty smart,” is all I said.

Want more flash?

J Alan Veerkamp

Carol Pedroso

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: First Snow


A holiday short story for your Christmas week enjoyment! 

Miguel peered out the window into the darkness. It was rain mixed with slush. The edges of the window were rimed with frost, and he shouldn’t want it to snow, but he did. He had to go back to job hunting in the morning, and his coat wasn’t thick enough to keep out the cold, but could it be worse than the rain? It was still damp from his futile all day trek yesterday, even though he’d left it draped over the vent.

Maybe he should have stayed in Florida, where everything was familiar, where the weather didn’t make his fingers and feet ache with cold. But he needed a fresh start. Take some classes, a job… friends.

He’d figure it out. His mom had always said Miguel was gifted with eternal optimism. And a white Christmas would be amazing. Miguel touched the tiny star on the mini Christmas tree he’d gotten from the one dollar store when he went to stock up on cheap groceries. Yeah, it was one less loaf of bread, but it had lights, which brightened his tiny dorm room.

Totally worth it.

A rapid tap on the door pulled him away from his desk at the window. “Miguel! You’re here, great!”

“Where else would I be?”

Wink shrugged and darted under his arm, somehow dancing into the room without making it look weird. “A lot of students left. It’s super quiet. I wasn’t sure if you would still be here. Yesterday when I knocked, you didn’t answer.”

“I was out looking for a job.”

“You were?” Wink tilted his head. “What kind?”

“The kind that works around my classes and pays me something.” He wasn’t choosy. Miguel sat on the bed.

“I’ll help you, if you want.” Wink turned and practically lit up. “You have a tree! Oh, it’s cute. You like Christmas?” He stood over Miguel’s tiny tree and touched the lights, blue, green, and red reflecting on his glasses.

“Who doesn’t?”

Wink shrugged. “Lots of people. The Christmas spirit can dim, especially for certain ages.”

“Most college kids are probably too mature to decorate their dorm rooms.” Miguel’s face heated. Maybe he should have bought the bread.

A second later, Wink was on his bed next to him. “Your tree is perfect. At home, we always do Christmas up big. Tree, lights, cookies. It’s a thing!”

“So why are you here?” Alone. Like Miguel. He was there because his mom had died and the rest of his family and friends didn’t want him. “Sorry, you don’t have to answer that.” He didn’t want to upset Wink if he had a crappy home he was avoiding too.

“I thought about going back, but I wasn’t sure. I like the people here.”

“You can’t go just for break?” Miguel looked at the thick rain coming down the window. The light outside his window flickered.

“Maybe. It’s hard to leave and come back.”

“Because of snow?” He still had the flakes on his mind. “I bet it’s hard to drive in snow.” Wink had a red car. Nothing fancy, but he’d given Miguel a ride a few times.

“Not exactly. Haven’t you driven in the snow before?”

Miguel shook his head. “I’ve never even seen snow.”

“What?” Wink’s mouth dropped open. “No way! You haven’t?”

“Nope. I’m hoping it’ll snow for Christmas.”

“Maybe it will. It’s cold enough. Hey, do you want to come to my room? We could watch movies? I have cocoa. And pizza.” He tacked on the pizza with a grin, knowing that would get him. Miguel loved pizza.

“Cocoa and pizza?” Miguel raised his eyebrows.

“It’s almost Christmas. Cocoa is always okay.”

And pizza was a food group all on its own. It really did go with anything. Miguel grabbed his hoodie off his pillow. “Okay.”


The pizza was crispy, and hot, and full of meat and cheese. The cocoa was nothing to write home about—as if he would—but sitting on the bed in Wink’s room watching Christmas movies was just what Miguel needed. He sank against the pillows. Wink had tons of them and they were all red and green. A tree blinked on the desk taking up the whole top. Lights framed the window.

It made his little tree look even sadder. Wink definitely did Christmas.

Miguel yawned, then focused on the TV. Jack Frost was zipping around bringing snow and ice. The old shows were his mom’s favorites too. He wondered how Wink knew, like he always did. Came over with food when Miguel was on his bag of noodles. Casual hugs when he missed his family the most.

He’d replaced the best friend who’d turned his back on Miguel when he came out. Became an even better one.

“Hey, hey Miguel, wake up.” Wink shook his shoulder gently.

“Huh?” Miguel wiped his mouth in case he’d drooled. “Sorry. I should go back to my room.”

“No, you should come here for a minute,” Wink said softly. He pulled on Miguel’s hand, hauling him out of the pile of pillows. “Shoes on.”

“Why do I need my shoes?”

“Trust me.”

He did, so Miguel slid his feet into his sneakers. He took his coat. Wink hauled him out by the hand. “I wanted you to see this.”

The lawn was covered in a field of white. Fat, fluffy flakes floated down in the yellow shine of the lamps overhead. The air was somehow warmer than it had been before. It was quiet, calm.

Miguel reached out a hand and caught a flake. For a second, before it melted, it lay perfect on his palm. His first snow. It was beautiful.

“Make a wish,” said Wink.

So he did.

When Miguel opened his eyes, the field was gone, but the snow remained. Christmas lights, trees, and the jingle of bells. Snow fell from a sky light with flickering lights.

“Wow. You brought me home, Miguel. Thank you.” Wink hugged him. “Welcome to the North Pole.”

“I knew it!”

 Merry Christmas! 

Want more flash?

Carol Pedroso

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 18


“I thought you were working.”

“You’re going to eat now, yes?” Garjah filled the doorway.

“I thought Timok was taking me.” I stepped out of my quarters, and the door swished closed behind me. “He was just here.”

“Timok will meet us there. He is getting the food.” Garjah started walking, and before the turn in the corridor I was struggling to keep up and breathe without panting.

He slowed. “I apologize.”

“Fine.” I waved him off. “Just, slow down please?”

“Are you sure? I can carry you.” His lower arms lifted away from his body slightly.

“No! I can walk.”

His thin nostrils flared as his mouth twisted to one side. “Timok said I invaded human body taboos. That you have privacy laws dictating a neutral region of space around your form. Please accept my apologies.” He saluted and bowed, waving me forward. “Please, take the lead. We will go at your pace.”

I blinked repeatedly. That was oddly formal. When I first heard him talking to Timok I’d gotten the impression he was more muscle than brain. Action than thought. But the way the other Four Arms deferred to him and hints of things he’d said was leaving me with the impression he was someone far more important than I’d originally thought.

Not a simple alien stunning things left and right, that was for certain. Though, he still failed to retain some basic facts about me. “I don’t know how to get there.”

His face scrunched again. “But we went there once before.”

“I’m a slow learner?” He probably wouldn’t get the sarcasm. I actually graduated fourth out of thousands, the reasons I was awarded a solo research shipboard position rather than an assistant research role. “I also can’t read those.” I pointed to the guide strips.

Boldly, I reached out and gripped his arm. “Why don’t we walk together?”

“If you wish.” He kept his elbow out awkwardly, his upper arms crossed over his chest. Was he offended by my touch? But he’d touched me. A lot! “This doesn’t bother you?”

“No, why would it?” I tilted my head as we walked to look at his face, trying to figure out his expression. I wished he had eyebrows. With his smooth forehead, it was hard to read his facial expressions when they didn’t include his nostrils or mouth moving.

“You are touching me, and we are walking close together.”

“But I’m walking,” I pointed out. “You’re not carting me around like an invalid. It’s not about touching as much as the intention behind the touching.”

“I will remember that.” Walking at my pace was probably torture for him, but he didn’t complain. He attempted to explain the guides again, but I’d used my wrist unit to help me navigate all the ships, stations, and planets I’d lived on. I could follow a beacon’s directions—that was about it. Garjah seemed to have all sorts of skills and the respect of every Four Arms who crossed our path.

When we got to the dining hall, an entire table was empty except for Timok, though I could see that left the other tables crowded. Four Arms really were large and wide as a group. “Okay, I have to ask. What exactly do you do?”

Garjah ducked his pointed chin into his chest. “I haven’t done anything. You touched me.”

Was he still worried about that? “That isn’t what I meant. Look…” I waved a hand around the dining hall, trying to ignore all the stares focused on me. “I could assume none of them want to eat with me because I’m scary, or contagious, or something other reason l but then they probably wouldn’t be staring like that. So I’m guessing the distance is for you. To show respect. Or fear.” I paused after that last thought tumbled out of my mouth unbidden.

“But you don’t seem like someone who is too scary. At least, not after you stop shooting people and putting them in stasis without any warning,” I said acerbically. I shook off my resentment since it wouldn’t get me the answers I needed. “So who are you? Why do they all treat you this way? Are you,” I swallowed hard, “the captain?”

Timok heard my last question and smirked. “That would be a disaster.”

“As if you could be captain,” Garjah said mildly.

“I wouldn’t want to be.” He shuddered. “Too many people to manage. I’ll stick with my lab and studying life forms, thank you.”

Grateful for the chair pulled up to the table, I eased down to take the weight off. My legs ached and were trembling. I was going to have amazing muscles when I got off this ship. “I know what you mean,” I told Timok.

“I am the security leader,” Garjah said. He took the seat next to me, filling it and more. “I see to the safety and protection of all on this ship.”

“And you’re training Seedrah because….” I picked up the protein cubes, sure of what they were at least. These were spiced differently than before. Bitter, with a smoky undertone. Not as pleasant. I wrinkled my nose, putting down my fork.

“He is the same as I. It is his role.” Garjah sliced off a chunk of whatever slab thing covered his plate and swallowed it down.

“That explains nothing,” I complained. “Why is he like you? Is it his markings? His size? Is he family?”

Timok was watching us closely but didn’t say anything as he ate quietly.

“He was born to it, as I was.”

Pulling teeth… I wanted to scream! “What does that mean?”

Timok finally took pity on me. “Unlike humans, who apparently even have tests they take to find out what they have an affinity to do as a career, we are born to our roles. The knowledge”—he tapped his forehead—“is locked within. We must simply release it with the assistance of a trainer. Once we have matured, of course.”


Want more flash?

J Alan Veerkamp

Carol Pedroso

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Ch. 17

 Hook. Line. Sinker. It was an old line I’d picked up from my nurse. She’d had all these old idioms that made very little sense. I’d never lived near a lot of water, so that one had intrigued me the most. She’d told me stories of fish great and small, and giant white whales—creatures that roamed the depths of the oceans and had been hunted by men in boats dug out from trees, their weapons so primitive it seemed amazing they were able to catch anything at all, much less something so large.

But humans could do amazing things. Like trick aliens. I hadn’t been harmed, but the conversations I’d overheard hadn’t been exactly friendly toward my kind either. It put me on edge and tempered my curiosity about the Four Arms. I’d rather be studying the animals I’d discovered on Ardra.

I clasped my hands together and tilted my head to one side, sitting slumped on the bunk. Small. Two arms only. No suit. No weapon. Just wanted some clean clothes, that’s all.

“Seedrah, please bring the human’s pack to L17.”

Bingo! I resisted the urge to grin but just barely. “I appreciate that.” I hoped showing thanks in their culture wasn’t a bad thing. Garjah had helped me a lot; cultures that took offense to such gestures were usually more stand on your own two feet or flounder. He’d literally swept me off mine several times.

We spent the time waiting for the Four Arms Timok called, Seedrah, by cautiously probing each other. Timok was far more open in his questions about humans. He had a data pad which he used to tap in notes as he questioned me about my preferred planet, diet, and he was beginning on family structure when the alert came.

Just in the nick of time. How to explain absent parents and stand in nurturers?

At least I’d learned more about them. I’d grasped they didn’t exactly chew, but Timok had given me a closer look at his mouth. The jaw really did have a fascinating hinge, and their throat structure was very unique. It made sense why they would eat a diet more focused on protein. What vegetation they ate was usually prepared in strips or came naturally in long, narrow stalks.  

I was hoping to get my fork as well as my clothes. The tongs were awkward, and I was afraid I’d slice my tongue off with the knife.

“The pack you requested, Timok.” Seedrah was one of the Four Arms who had ridges like Garjah. His markings were subtle, faded, and he looked like he was still growing into his limbs.

“Thank you.”

Seedrah saluted with two of his hands and stepped back so the door slid shut. His gaze was locked on me the whole time.

“Is he related to Garjah?” They had a similar intensity.

“Related?” Timok held my pack, the metal frame dangling from one of his hands. “That word has different meanings.”

“Do they share a genetic connection?”

“No. They are both of the same affiliation.”

I tilted my head. “Affiliation?” What could that be that lead to a similar physiology and behavior?

“Garjah is training Seedrah. He will be leader one day. The same as I am training Glovdok to take my place. I must check this,” he said, indicating my pack. “I know security would have checked it, but they do not have the knowledge on humans I do.”

Pressing my lips together, I nodded once. I didn’t like people going through my things, but Timok was at least a fellow scientist. Or a doctor. I wasn’t quite sure of his role. Timok. Glovdok. Garjah. Seedrah. The pattern couldn’t be a coincidence. Four Arms were named based on their roles and their bodies seemed to reflect that similarity.

Was it a genetic memory thing? A rank? Name then rank. Maybe I didn’t hear the separation between the two. I itched for anything to record everything I was learning, but I knew they wouldn’t let me. Maybe there was more to First Contact than I thought.

After rummaging around in my pack, Timok handed it over. “You can change. Low-gravvers struggle in an environment like ours, so after the meal, more rest is recommended until you acclimate better.”

“Can you step out?”

“Body shy? I did not think of that.”

“There’s not exactly anywhere private to go.” The toilet was in the corner, the shower was in the middle of the floor, and the bunk wasn’t going to hide anything.

Timok looked at me suspiciously, but he’d searched my pack. I waited. “I’ll be right outside. The meal will end soon, so please do not take too long.”

I dumped my pack on the bed as soon as the door swished behind him. Clothes, food, my first aid kit, my spare power packs, specimen kits, and small tools. I couldn’t believe they left those in there. With some privacy, I just might be able to rig up something with the tools at my disposal. I’d have to look more at their technology.

Skimming out of my suit, I pulled out a long-sleeved black suit stored in a tiny vacuum pack and undid the top. I shook it out then slid it on. It was snug, but it encased my feet and hooked over my thumbs to cover my arms. It was light enough not to be too warm. It would hide more of my pale skin. I couldn’t do anything about the lack of a second set of arms or my much smaller stature.

I tucked my kit back into my pack, carefully hiding the most useful tools inside my dirty suit, which I buried at the bottom. Trudging over to the door, I fumbled with the controls but eventually got it to open. Time to face the music. I snorted. Well, the room full of aliens who were bound to stare at me.

“Garjah!” My voice rose in surprise.

“Ready to eat?” 

Want more flash?

J Alan Veerkamp

Carol Pedroso

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalgon Chapter 16


I was tempted to irk Garjah by testing the material around Bouncer’s feet. It was molded to his feet like a second skin. I’d seen the same thing holding liquid in the front of the hold, and it was flexible. I had to assume it was to prevent any of the poison they said was in his claws from coming out. Or did he inject it. The curiosity almost made me pick up his front leg and press on the pad, but Garjah’s hovering prevented it.

Besides, what if his claws punctured it. I tilted my head… but then what good would it do? But it was thin, and flexible, just like plastic. Frustrated, I wished for my pack and scanner. I wasn’t into technology, but the Four Arms had very advanced materials. It would be great to get a sample of the clear material because it definitely wasn’t any sort of clear film I knew, and if I could get some readings on the poison Bouncer had, that’d be even better.

After all, his behavior wasn’t going to be indicative of his species anymore but I could definitely study his physiology.

“Are you done touching him?” Garjah asked.

“Hmm? Oh, what? No.” I’d stopped with my hand in the air above Bouncer’s shoulder, contemplating his paws. “Why can’t we wake him up?”

“Do you wish him to be stuck in this tiny cage?”

I stiffened. “Of course not. He could stay with me.”

“No.” Garjah straightened. He locked all four arms together in a weird clinch at his waist. If he was an animal, I’d say he’d taken a defensive posture.

“Of course not because of great and powerful Garjah has spoken. Right? Is there anyone higher in rank than you I can talk to?” I really didn’t like Bouncer being in stasis. This was wrong. Even though he was warm under my touch, his muscles were lax, he wasn’t bouncing, and he wasn’t begging me for food. I missed his energy.


Sighing, I turned away from Garjah. “Sorry, buddy.” I’d try to make them let him go whenever they put me stopped next.

And me too. I wanted off this ship.


Garjah silently took me back to my quarters. The way seemed even longer because I was trying to pay attention, but I was so exhausted my eyes kept closing and I’d jerk them open not knowing how long I’d drifted. Plus I was almost positive we went a different way than we’d taken to the hold, and the guide strips didn’t make much sense.

“Sleep. Recover. Timok will be by after the sleep shift to check on you.” Garjah deposited me on my bunk.

“Just Timok?” I yawned, smothering it with a fist.

“I will be on duty.” Garjah inclined his head. “Rest well.” He left and sleep claimed me quickly.


The next morning, or shift, or just whenever they’d decided I’d slept long enough, Timok entered my quarters and shook me awake. I shouldn’t have been this tired. “Did you do something to me?” I narrowed my eyes, sitting up and scrubbing a hand over my short hair.

“Define do and something,” he said. “I administered a booster to help you, gave Garjah reliable data on humans, helped your cerops…? What more do you want?”

“A ride back to where you picked me up, Bouncer out of stasis, and to go on my way back to my ship,” I answered promptly.

“You are in possession of knowledge dangerous to many should it be shared. Ancalagon should have been safe, but your patrols are getting more bold.”

I snorted. Bold. Needy was more like it. The universe was a pretty big place, but people—humans, aliens, basically all sentient life—bred nearly unchecked. The challenge was finding the resources to support everyone.

“You’ve taken my equipment. I can’t share any proof.” I’d find a way.

“Hmm….” Timok’s expression didn’t change, or I couldn’t see it. “Even so, what happens next is not my decision.” He waved a hand, then slapped it against his side. “Come now, it is time you bathed. You are emitting an odor that is growing steadily more unpleasant, so I assume your species bathe frequently.”

“Of course we do!” I sniffed discreetly, but all I could smell was the salt and metal that permeated the ship and my clothes.

The short-sleeved suit I’d worn under my exosuit was only so good for so long, plus I’d slogged across the planet for some time in it. I probably could use a shower. “Do you have a shower I can use?” I didn’t see another door in my quarters where they’d stuck me.

“Stand here.” Timok indicated a space on the floor with a subtle texture. “Touch here.” He pointed to a small depression on the wall and then another one spaced farther than my fingers would spread. I sighed and used both hands to press the marks. Heated waves radiated down against my head and shoulders.

“Oh!” A sonic shower. “And it does my clothes at the same time? Efficient.”

“Usually you disrobe,” Timok said dryly. “We do have facilities to launder clothing.”

My face went up in flames. “Oh.”

“However, being as you have no other clothing, I can see the confusion.”

Aha! Here was my chance. “I have other clothing in my pack. Can I get it back?”

Timok’s face was easier to read than Garjah’s. The wrinkle between his narrowed eyes said things were sneaking through his brain. Maybe the same things going through mine. I widened my eyes and smiled serenely.

“Garjah didn’t get that for you?”

I hedged, “I was too tired after seeing Bouncer. I’d feel a lot better with my things.” Any biologist knew creatures managed captivity better with familiar surroundings. I’d play on that if I had to. 

Want more flash?

J Alan Veerkamp

Carol Pedroso

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 15

We saw a few other Four Arms on our way to the hold. Garjah exchanged greetings with them, but none of them spoke to me. They stared at me intently, but I studied them just as closely. They all wore close-fitting suits like Garjah did, and they had boots on. The skin I could see varied in shades of green, and unlike Garjah who wore stripes across his skin, their markings varied.

Some had spots, some swirls, a few looked almost geometric. Chevrons, squares, even waves. One smaller being had no marks I could see at all.

Female? None of the Four Arms had hair, but a few had smooth skulls covered in the same markings on their faces and bodies—the parts I could see—while others had dark, almost black ridges with recessed holes or pits in regular intervals along the curving spines going from the middle of their forehead area before flaring wide and over their head.

Maybe those were the females. They all seemed to be smaller than Garjah, who was taller and wider than each we met. Maybe it was his size, or the way he carried me, but they all moved to the side to allow us to pass as well.

The ship had shining walls and lights shone in different colored strips. “What are the colors for?” I asked.

“Guide strips, for those new to the ship. We mirror the night and day cycle on our home planet, and the light cycle is short. Color zones, patterns, and spacing indicate the correct path.”

“So you turn off the lights in the hallway?” That was good to know. If I was going to try to escape, stumbling around in the dark could give me away, but if I could get my suit back, I could use the helmet to help me see.

“It is more comfortable.” Garjah waved his hand to activate a door.

“Is this the—” My question cut off as I gasped, frantically grabbing on to any part of Garjah’s body I could reach. He’d stepped through the door and into an open shaft, and we immediately began to fall.

His grip tightened on me, and I couldn’t even protest. Maybe if he held me close enough, his bulk would protect me when we came to a splat at the bottom of the shaft we were currently plummeting through. I couldn’t even enjoy the feeling of the weight crushing my body easing.

“What is wrong?” Garjah asked.

My heart pounding, the food I’d just eaten rising in my throat, I managed a strangled, “Falling. Gonna die!”

He snorted. “No we’re not. This is a gravity well. There is a cushion at the bottom.”

The light around us flashed, and he bent his knees. A second later we bounced. My teeth clacked together painfully. I panted, my eyes screwed up tight.

“Human? Are you well?”

No. Not even a little. “My name is Essell Deray.” Had I told them my name before? I should have. Probably one of the first things. “What?”

“Are you well, Essell Deray?” Garjah repeated. “Your hold is very tight.”

My face heated, but I hadn’t thrown up and my heart was slowly easing back from its racing pound. Even for the short time we’d been falling, I’d grabbed on so tight my fingers ached when I let him go. “Sorry. And it’s just Essell. That’s my first name.”

“First name,” Garjah said slowly. “And Deray is your second name? Did you get them at different times?”

I huffed. “No. Essell is the given name my parents—the beings who gave birth to me—gave for just me to use, but the Deray is my family name. We share it.”

“But you just said I could use it.” We were moving again.

Spirits save me from literal translations. “A first name is something a family gives to their children when they are born so everyone knows who they are and what to call them as an individual. The last name tells what family they belong to. You have a name, right? Garjah.”

“Garjah is my function, not a name.” No wonder they needed the lights; this ship was huge. We still hadn’t reached the hold.

What if I wanted to talk to him? “How do you know who is who if you just go by your job title? How many Garjah’s are on this ship? What is a Garjah?”

His chin gutted out. “There are no other Garjah. Just me.”

Okay, he was proud of that, clearly. “And that means…?”

“I lead.”

Despite offering to answer questions, Garjah spoke few words about himself. It was akin gathering tiny nuggets of information from a vast database I couldn’t navigate. Frustration didn’t begin to cover it, but I was too exhausted to dig further.

Besides, the next door he opened was to the hold. The cavernous space was filled with crates, bags, binsin sections. Vegetation lay in piles.

And animals. Unmoving, caged, and as much as I hated stressed animals, I hated the look of deathly stasis state more. It also gave me the creeps thinking they’d put me in stasis too.

Or tried.

“Your cerops is over here.”

Bouncer was in a separate area. Garjah leaned down and placed me on the floor. The vibration hummed even stronger here than my quarters. His dark eyes were closed, all four paws pulled in close to his belly. Plastic encased each foot.

I reached in between the bars of his cage to touch one.

“Mind the claws!” Garjah snapped.

“They’re covered. Besides, if you gave me my suit, I wouldn’t have to worry.” I reached up and rubbed Bouncer’s shoulder instead. It disturbed me to see his youthful enthusiasm so stilled. “He doesn’t need to eat or drink?” Bouncer was always hungry.

“In stasis, his body functions are suspended. He is fine.”

At least Garjah called him a he, not it. I'd changed his mind on something. 

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Carol Pedroso

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 14

Whatever I wished to know. I could ask him questions for hours. Who cared about food? I wished I had a recording device. Notes. I needed to take notes. How else could I organize my thoughts or remember everything Garjah told me?

Garjah settled a plate in front of me. It held fairly standard looking protein cubes and some feathery purple stalks. “What are these?” I asked.

“They are safe. Timok had Andulsa program in a human-safe section to the food reproducer. These are your protein cubes, and this is selari blooms from a planet in your sector.”

Not a planet I’d ever visited. “Just because it’s in our sector and humans occupy or visit doesn’t mean the food is safe. Humans adapt but we also avoid.”

“Timok did the research. It is safe.” Garjah settled in front of his own plate, easily twice the size of mine, filled with thick slabs of meat. Real meat, not protein. The seared stench reminded me of a fire I’d once rescued a queme—a small furred mammal that burrowed in woody bushes that grew in tangles on Plensen IX. The rest of its colony hadn’t made it.

“Thank you for not serving me that.” I watched in distaste as he picked up a chunk, bit off a bite and swallowed it whole.

“I am not ignorant,” Garjah mumbled. “Timok does not eat meat either.”

Huh. Another commonality with these alien people. It was hard to study animals, to learn everything about them, love them, and reconcile eating them when perfectly acceptable protein cubes were available. They could even be made to mimic meat textures and tastes, should I wish to be discreet in my avoidance of eating local delicacies. Deciding to show my trust by accepting the meal was safe, I speared a bite with the knife provided. That and a pair of tongs were the only utensils provided.

“Have you ever heard of a fork?” I asked. Not the most pressing of questions, but one that might allow me to eat without slicing the side of my mouth or stabbing my tongue.

Garjah’s tilted his smooth green head. He kept eating with one set of his hands, and the other rested on the top of the table. “What is a fork?” he asked between bites.

I explained it to him between bites as he kept encouraging me to eat, watching in fascination as I chewed the protein cubes and cut up the stalks of the selari and gingerly picked them up with the tongs. “Do you only eat meat?” I asked when he said he would try to get a fork replicated for me. He’d already eaten half the thick chunks of flesh.

“No, but when we have fresh supplies, everyone takes advantage.”

Fresh supplies. Was that why they were on Ardra? A supply run? “What supplies?”

“Food. Water. Oslium mineral.”

My eyes flared wide. “Oslium?” I must have heard him wrong. That was one of the most precious minerals in the known universe, and of course, one of the rarest. “There is no oslium on Ardra.” There was no way the planet wouldn’t have been made Priority One with an entire fleet of mining ships with a military escort surrounding it.

“Your technology is limited.” Garjah gestured with one hand, a lower arm shrug which looked strange. “You use inferior metals, which I assume is due to a lack of detection and processing ability.”

He was talking about my suit again. “We are not some backward society.”

“Of course not.” Garjah shook his head. “But we have a much longer history and have been traveling space for far longer than humans have. Most of the cultures in your Allied space are young.”

“Young?” I goggled at him. “We have been exploring space for thousands of years. The Aeneom have been for longer than humans have a recorded history.”

“And we have been exploring space for far longer.” Garjah did the shrug again. “We have learned to avoid young races, but you are quite prolific and adaptable, Timok says.”

He repeated what Timok said a lot. I narrowed my eyes. “Do you spend a lot of time with Timok?” I asked.

“As much as anyone.” Garjah tilted his head back and swallowed his last bite. He used his tongue—long and thin, pale green like the lighter stripes on his skin—to clean the juices off the hands he’d used to eat. He swiped along each finger, and his tongue literally curled around each one.

I clenched the knife in my hand, then put it down carefully.

Garjah blinked his large eyes. They seemed oversized, beautiful and liquid, set over narrow nostrils with a tiny bridged nose and thin lips that just covered his sharp teeth. He had high cheekbones and a triangular jaw that had flared wide when he opened his mouth to chomp through the meat. He’d watched my every move since he came into my room, frequently glancing at me even when he was getting us food.

“What?” I asked.

“Are you done?”

Half my plate was still full, but my stomach churned. I nodded, then remembered that might not mean anything to him. “Yes.”

He stacked my plate on his. “Come.”

It was a struggle to stand but pushing on the tabletop helped. The gravity on this ship felt even higher than Ardra’s, and the extra weight made it hard to do anything. “Are we going back to my room?” I didn’t have the energy for anything else.

“Don’t you want to go see the cerops?”

“I can see Bouncer?” My heart jumped. “Yes! I want to see him.” I took a step and my knees buckled.

Garjah jumped forward, catching me with two hands under my armpits with my knees barely an inch above the floor.

“I’m fine!” I insisted. Would he refuse to take me now?

“You are not. I will carry you.”

I could argue, or I could go see Bouncer. I didn’t argue.

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J Alan Veerkamp

Carol Pedroso

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Ch. 13

Garjah pressed a spot on the straps and they retracted smoothly. What had he pushed? I didn’t see any button but I could have been free that easy? Not that there was anywhere to go. I didn’t see a way to open the door from the inside either, and the room was small.

I sat up immediately and hissed as my feet touched the floor. They were bare and the pulse of an engine vibrating through the metal disturbed me. “Are we still moving?”

“Yes, but you are awake now so Timok wants me to take you for a meal.”


“He is the doctor from earlier.”

Oh, the biologist, the other alien I’d met. “And Timok is in charge?” I asked, probing carefully. I could do this. I seemed to have forgotten how to engage my brain since the ship blasted over me and Bouncer, but I had to shake off the shock fogging my thinking.

“No.” Garjah’s thin lips spread in what looked like a smile. I reminded myself not all animal behavior that fell into similar patterns could be attributed to the same impulses. The same held true for alien cultures. So a smile might mean amusement, happiness, anger or scorn… or who knew? Emotions weren’t the same for all species.

I needed to treat the Four Arms like I would any new species I came across—form an unbiased opinion based on their behavior.

Not exactly reassuring. They’d stunned me, abducted me into their ship, and took off to locations unknown. What was that adage staff member whatever number used to repeat? “Never get into a spaceship with a stranger,” I murmured.

“What is that?” Garjah asked.

“Oh.” My face heated. I needed to stop talking to myself; these guys could understand me, unlike Bouncer and the bugs I’d collected. “Nothing.”

“Come. Third meal is over, but there is still food.”

“I’m barefoot.” I gestured to my feet. “Can I get my suit?” Step one to getting my gear back; start with the basics. He was still wearing the same tight uniform I’d first seen him in, or a new one that was identical, but he had on thick boots instead of bare feet. “This floor will hurt me if I walk too far on it.” Probably not, but how would he know that?

“No. I will carry you.” Garjah swept me up with his lower arms before I could object, his upper arm waving in front of a spot by the door. Great, another hidden sensor. Or maybe they just responded to Four Arms.

“Put me down,” I protested. I pushed on his chest and squirmed. His hands clamped down on my upper thighs and ribs, and I gasped and quivered.

“What?” Garjah came to an abrupt halt. “Did I hurt you? Timok said you weren’t injured.”

“I’m ticklish and your hand is in a bad place.”

“My apologies.” Garjah promptly brought up his upper arm around my shoulders and tucked me against his chest, darn near curling me into a ball by linking his upper and lower hand. “Is that better?”

This guy was built like an android. Muscles hard as a rock under his textured skin, his uniform was soft against my cheek. That same metallic tang chased by an almost salty aftertaste, as if I’d licked his skin after smelling him, should have rusted metal or old coins, but it was uniquely his. Not appealing, exactly, but not bad.

I wondered what I smelled like to him. He wasn’t snuffling me with those thin nostrils set above his lips. His slit pupils dilated when he looked at me, widening visibly. What did he see?

“I can walk.”

“You are a low-gravver. Plus you were stunned. Let me help you.” He started stamping down the corridor again, so it wasn’t like he was going to put me down because I’d repeated myself. Stubborn Four Arm.

Unable to stop him, I settled in for the ride. “Where are we going? Can I see Bouncer?”

“Your cerops is fine, if unhappy. If you wish, I can reunite you after the meal.” Garjah turned left at an intersection, I think the third one we came to. “And we are going to the crew dining hall on this level.”

This level? How big was the ship? Was the jungle so thick I’d completely missed a starship cruiser? I thought I was dealing with a small crew, maybe a few Four Arms.

Another assumption. I scowled. I had to stop doing that.

“Are you all right? Your face is very wrinkled. And you’re making sounds.” Garjah slowed.

Looking at his chiseled features, feeling his rigid flesh, I could guess Four Arm expressions didn’t vary much. No wonder I confused him. As alien as they seemed to me, I was accustomed to many species. With the Four Arms’ isolation, maybe they weren’t.

“I’m just annoyed. It’s fine.”

“Annoyed.” He paused in front of a door. “At something I did?”

“No, no. Something I did. Don’t worry about it. It’s a human thing.” Well, not solely. Lots of aliens made assumptions, but humans could be blind to much other species found obvious.

As the door opened, Garjah took a step back. “A human thing? Do I need to take you to Timok? He knows about humans. Are you hurt? In danger? Is it the ticklish thing? Did I harm you?” His questions fired more rapidly than I thought Garjah could talk with his slow and steady demeanor before.

“Whoa, calm down! I’m fine.” I stressed the word. “Just confused, worried about Bouncer, and trying to take everything in. And you’re not really giving me a lot of information to go on.”

The dining hall was empty, so we must have missed the meal shift, but I could smell food. My stomach rumbled. Garjah settled me into a chair. “I will get you food, then you can ask me whatever you wish to know.”

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J Alan Veerkamp

Carol Pedroso

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 12


“His mouth was open the whole way here, showing off his flat teeth and that thick, pink tongue of his.”

What? No wonder my mouth was so dry! And my tongue wasn’t thick or my teeth flat. Well, the ones in back were, but my teeth were normal. I glared at him, ready to tell him off with a vicious glare and snarl but then the clear cup of fluid waved in front of my face distracted me.

My arms were too heavy to lift and hold it. The glare dissolved off my face, and I nearly cried. Water, right there, and I couldn’t take it.

“Shh, I’ll help you.” The cup was held to my lips, and I was drowning. Water filled my mouth, and I swallowed as fast as I could, but it overflowed and went up my nose and down my chin. I gasped—at exactly the wrong moment—and choked on the water I inhaled. I violently coughed, spluttering on the water that just kept coming.

“What are you doing? Trying to kill him? Be more careful. Sips. His kind drink slowly.”

“Like the elderly?” Four Arms scrunched his face. “He doesn’t seem old.”

The other one tutted. “He is not. His physiology is different. Remember that thick tongue? They use that to move chewed food and drink to the back of their mouth and then swallow.”

“Truly?” His shock was clear.

Those sharp teeth and this discussion was not reassuring me as to their non-predator nature. Animals who swallowed their food whole were often dangerous. And the few alien species I knew who could do that weren’t so picky about the meat they consumed; it just had to fit.

I eyed his mouth as I coughed, curling in on myself. Even if his jaw unhinged, I was too big to swallow whole. I had to hope the fact they were taking care of me meant they weren’t going to lop off any pieces to eat either.

Dragging in a rasping breath, the coughing finally started to ease. This time when Four Arms gave me the cup, I tried to hold it with him to control the tilt. He let me but supported the weight.

Sometimes I hated knowing so much about predators. I was feeling very much like prey. Even without the extra limbs, these aliens dwarfed me. When I’d tried to stand up to Four Arms when he’d shot Bouncer, my eyes had been level with his mid-chest, and he probably was twice as wide as I was.

“Bouncer,” I gasped. If I’d woken up, had he? I looked around the room, dodging the cup of water. “Where is he?” I struggled.

“Stop before you hurt yourself,” Four Arms insisted. “It’s fine.”

“What is?”

“The beast I brought on board.”

“The cerops is unharmed.” I stilled when the other alien shared that. “Garjah stunned it into stasis, but unlike you, it has stayed that way.”

“How do you know?” I narrowed my eyes and tightened my grip on the cup of water, still not drinking, though my throat burned as I spoke.

“If it had, I would have been called to sedate it. I am the biological expert on this ship. The cerops is in the hold because Garjah’s report stated it imprinted on you. Separating you would not be wise.”

“I fed him.” I stressed him, tired of them calling Bouncer an it. “That’s all.” My voice cut out on all and I choked, coughing again. Four Arms—or Garjah, I guess his name was—urged me to drink more water. I was thirsty, so I didn’t resist the cup pressing against my mouth.

“Cerops would rather eat you,” the one I still had no name for said. “And their claws have a poison from a gland between the toes they can use to immobilize their prey.”

“I had my suit.” The one they totally disdained. “He couldn’t bite or scratch me.” Not that he’d tried very hard. And even though he was bigger and older than most of the animals I’d nurtured over the years, I hadn’t had much qualms about feeding him. He needed food, and I’d given him what he wanted.

But a bond with an animal?

“I’m a biologist. I live on Fleet ships. I can’t have an animal bonded to me.” I blinked and tried to hold in a yawn. Not to mention Ardra was a heavy planet. Bouncer was adapted for that environment. Clearly these aliens were as well, with their heavy bodies and the pressure weighing me down even on their ship.

My lighter physique was doing me no favors. I was exhausted just trying to not slump in Garjah’s arms and drink water from a cup that he was holding.

“That is not something to worry about now.” The second Four Arms waved back at the bed. “Put him down, Garjah. He needs to rest.”

Garjah’s arms tightened around me, but then he stepped back up to the uncomfortable table. I protested the hard surface, but the darkness rapidly overtaking me kept me from asking for a softer place to sleep.


The next time I woke, I was no longer in the medical room on the table. This time I appeared to be in a bunk and webbing was strapped around me. I thrashed, pushing at the heavy straps.

“Stop!” The door slid open and Garjah stomped into the room.

I stilled, panting. “Why am I tied up?”

“You were strapped down for planetary flight.”

Gaping at him, I lost the ability to think, to speak for a second. “Flight? Where are you taking me?” I blurted. Away from my ship? From rescue by the Fleet? I wasn’t aware that the thought was even in my head, but these aliens clearly knew about us even if we didn’t know about them.

And if we didn’t know about them, why were they hiding? Would they take me away to keep their secret?

Want more flash?

J Alan Veerkamp

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 11


Hissing was the last thing I wanted to hear. Did they have me in a medical bay like I thought? Or was I in some sort of zoo or specimen area? If these were unknown aliens and they were harvesting from the planet, maybe they thought I was a native and they’d taken me along with other creatures.

Like that giant, slithering death machine that could swallow me whole.

I did not like legless creatures.

Not at all.

Yes, it was biased of me. Yes, I was supposed to be a scientist—above all those silly fears a child has, able to reason and use logic. All creatures developed based on a range of biological diverse paths and that was just one of them. Not one I wanted to be part of.

Certainly not one I wanted to research from the inside out!

Most space facing species had developed beyond the xenophobic capture and kill all who are different mentality that planet bound species often maintained. So I hoped they were most likely from another planet. The scans that had been taken of Ardra had been clear of technology and civilization. Research could be trusted to do a thorough job most of the time…

And that word was creeping up far too often. Most, most, most. I hoped. If I could just wake up and move. Ask questions. Talk to these beings who’d taken me!

I could talk my way out of most things.

The urge to scream overwhelmed me, and a puff of air escaped my lips. Did I do that? Yes! I focused all my attention on my throat. Pushing hard, I shoved the air I was breathing out and a groan escaped me.

Sound. I was able to make sound.

My fingers twitched.

Movement. I moved. Oh happy day!

Unless they were bringing me around to feed me to that hissing thing. Some creatures only ate live prey. My heart thudded in my chest, but I tried to slow my breathing and not move or make another sound.

There was a reason security accompanied researchers, my mother’s voice reminded me tartly.

Not that it ever stopped my parents. I guessed, if I ever saw them again, I could use that excuse against the lecture they might feel necessary to give their genetic gift to the universe if only to abide by societal expectations. Then they’d then go back to their research, duty achieved.

My ability to feel had grown beyond my face, and the air circulating around the room tickled the hair on my arms and legs. A firm but yielding surface lay under me. The odors intensified.

“Open your eyes, human male.” The voice spoke close to my face, so close the puffs of air escaping with the words assaulted my nose and lips. Intense metal and salt filled my nostrils, and they twitched. A tickle was short warning before a violent sneeze erupted from deep inside my sinuses. I jacknifed up on the table and blinked my watery eyes in the aftermath.

“Auff, grrl.” The same alien who’d shot Bouncer had jolted upright, his face twisting in what I hoped was disgust and not rage. He’d been the one talking to me, and he just got a face full of human snot and spit.

“Sorry,” I tried to say. It came out garbled, more of a wheeze. The air was so dry my nose and throat felt like they were closing up and would bleed if I didn’t get some water soon. “Water,” I tried to say.

The aliens—there were two of them—stared at me. Then looked at each other. “Do I need vaccinations?” asked the one I sneezed on.

“Hey!” I wasn’t some nasty virus spreading contagion. My objection tore up my throat and I started coughing. Oh, that wasn’t going to convince them.

“You’re fine. I already inoculated him to suppress anything he might carry that would be harmful.”

The bigger guy—the one who’d had the gun—began gesturing at his face.

I wanted to object again, but I was too busy coughing and gasping for air. If only they would give me some water. The one talking seemed to be medical, and I had caught enough of a glimpse of my surroundings to calm my fears of being fed to one of Ardra’s native wildlife; I was definitely in a medical lab.

Maybe that thing on the wall. It looked like a sink. The smaller alien had opened a cupboard recessed into the wall of what could only be their ship and produced a cloth, handing it over. While they weren’t paying attention to me, I rolled onto my side. My body was sluggish, and I realized my mistake as soon as I tried to land on my feet at the side of the table.

The gravity in here was too high. My feet hit with a thud, my knees buckled, and I crumpled, destined for another hard fall.

“Gotcha.” A pair of thick arms wrapped around my torso and swung me up. Four Arms tucked my legs up with one arm under my knees. I pointed at the sink urgently. “I think he needs fluids.”

“Ahh, of course. This is a very wet planet.”

“I thought you said he didn’t come from here,” Four Arms said. He hadn’t put me down yet, and the longer he held me the less I minded. It was more comfortable than the table at least.

“Of course not. Humans don’t live this far out, but they are interested in this type of planet due to the similarities to their own preferred habitat.”

“Oh. That makes sense.” He peered down at me. “He does have rather soft skin.”

His was hard where I could feel it, smooth, almost shell-like. It didn’t have segments I could see, but maybe it was armor? They didn’t seem impressed with mine, even if it was state of the art.

Want more flash?

J Alan Veerkamp

Julie Lynn Hayes