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