There are two large stars in the day sky here, both huge and bright white.
Staring at the nighttime firmament, one is bedazzled by billions of other stars, more than anything you’ve ever experienced back home. The bright sky rivals the city below, a continent-sized land mass beaming with the energy of industry, and swarming with life. From a high vantage point you can view the city lights extending in all directions, as far as the eye can see.
Our continent is the only one of note on this world, and its boundaries are the same as those of the metropolis itself, except those points where the city extends into the ocean basins. Sea to shining sea. It is a wonder like nothing in Solan space.
My name is Erbium Hollister and according to my implant I have been a resident of the world often called Tllorla for seven years.
I don’t know where this planet is in relationship to Sol, but as far as I know this is still the Milky Way galaxy. Keep believing that.
Tllorla is populated by around twenty billion ‘intelligent’ life forms of every imaginative description, but although there are many humanoids, and near humanoids, I have yet to meet or hear tell of another fellow HUMAN human since I was exiled here.
I’d been a volunteer back on Lune, daring to take up the challenge of deep space travel on board one of the first vehicles of its kind in the Solan system- the slip drive interstellar cruiser.
Although I was a pilot, the slip class vessel’s programming was so complex it could only be flown with the aid of per-programmed AI, meaning my job was reduced to pushing a handful of buttons at predetermined intervals- more show than necessity. They could have used a chimp and the result would have been the same. But where is the human pride in that?
I was to be the very symbol of mankind’s next great leap into space. What happened next was in no way my fault, and may not even have been the fault of the AI, or the ship itself.
We’ve seen this bit before a hundred times in fiction, from “Lost in Space” to “Farscape” to “Star Trek Voyager”…
As far as I can tell I’d accidentally hit a region of space that drastically accelerated me well beyond the intended bounds of the experiment.
The intent of the brain trust funding the mission had been to send me as far as Proxima Centauri, a system populated a century ago by human colonists using traditional generation ships, which in their turn, had traveled nearly three hundred years at a significant percentage of the speed of light.
I’d have represented the first in-person contact between the systems since that time, if something hadn’t grabbed my transport and shot it off- somewhere.
Like I said, I assume I am still in the Milky Way, but for all I know I’ve just been making that assumption to avoid losing my mind.
At any rate, I’m here now, and I feel I need to document the things I have seen and experienced here, in this place I find myself, so far from home.
When I’d fallen out of the slip, the ship had been unable to lock on to any familiar constellations and determine it’s location. The stars I’d found myself immersed in were far too close together, leading me to assume I was very near to our galaxy’s center.
*A* galaxy’s center at any rate.
Leaving Na-space I’d basically coasted on our momentum, unable to program such a complicated navigation system for slip myself, and afraid I’d use up my fuel reserves quickly in normal space travel.
I needn’t have worried about that.
Within hours, a ship bigger than old Manhattan on Earth had appeared and quickly took me and the state property I’d been inhabiting and responsible for on board.
From the outside, the cruiser had looked more like an immense, grotesque sea anemone than a ship, but the inside seemed almost familiar. Light. Sounds of repair and maintenance and day to day ship life surrounded by walls carved out of an iron meteorite like many I’d seen before back home in the belt.
The crew was made up of many small pink shaggy creatures, no higher than my waist, who did not attempt to speak with me or even deign to notice me, beyond shuffling me off to a holding cell of some sort. if they wore clothing I did not recognize it as such.
I was not fed, or shown bathroom facilities. A peculiar drumming sound boomed from the walls, which may well have been language. It never stopped but at no time did it seem to be trying to communicate with ME, per se- but I really don’t know.
I may well have been in shock from what I was seeing and experiencing, my memories of those first days in this sector (wherever it is) were and remain, foggy at best.
I probably went fifty hours without being fed or attended to in any way before the green man came.
This creature was taller than any human I’d ever seen, thin and segmented. Each segment had two arms, one on each side of it’s narrow body and totaling ten. It’s lower half appeared to be some sort of insect-like snake.
Its head was fierce, reminding me of a praying mantis with its huge eyes and beak.
It wore a shoulder sash but no other recognizable clothing. Through large, many handed gestures, I was eventually made to understand that i was expected to follow it out of the chamber I’d been held in, and I did so. I was led to a ships hanger like the one I’d seen earlier though there was no sign of my own ship. This bay held many other small vessels nestled among piled black crates.
I won’t begin to try to describe the diverse craft there, the memories are too confusing; there was too much input for me to take it all in. I was tired and hungry, and I had an urgent need to use the facilities but didn’t know how to request these things. Nothing I did or said got a response. I was afraid to do anything drastic for fear of starting some sort of galactic incident, so I just peed in my suit, which was beginning to stink since it was never designed for independent use away from my vehicle.
The green man led me to a shuttle craft smaller than anything else on the deck and bid me enter.
I shrugged and did so.
Tightly packed inside were a variety of alien creatures sitting in rows on benches. Besides the ongoing humming ‘speech’ over the hidden loudspeakers, there was no other sound except the quiet shuffling of the many beings in the tight hold. I sat on the metal bench at the end nearest the entrance, next to a thin creature that had electronics bolted to its head, concealing the features beneath. Its body was clothed in a crinkling plastic sheath, like a tube made of saran wrap.
No one took any particular notice of me.
Shortly there was a thump, and the hatch opened allowing me my first view of this city at night…
I hadn’t even realized we were moving.
It’s difficult to know where to start.
I’d seen cities. The biggest human cities are still those found on earth, where I’ve admittedly never been, but in comparison to what you find on Lune, or Mars… well there’s just no comparison, is there?
BESIDES the thousand story towers, BESIDES the night sky so lit by stars that you could read by them, BESIDES the inferno-like heat of this alien world, were the aliens themselves.
Humanoids with the heads of spiders. Gelatinous blobs pulsing with light. A creature that truly looked to have been crudely carved out of stone and animated.
My first impressions were cut short by my fellow passengers, pushing and shoving to get through the doorway I stood in.
NOW they made noise, chitterlings, clacking, whining, vibrating. they grabbed me and propelled me forward out the door, and into the street, where they themselves quickly dispersed, leaving me standing alone in a crowd of nightmares and dream stuff.
No one approached me. The shuttle lifted off silently and disappeared.
I stood, uncomprehending, taking it all in. Though it was night, the air was as hot as a furnace, and smelled strongly of sulfur. Other odors worked there way into my overloaded sensory organ. A smell like cinnamon, something similar to oranges, piss from my over-saturated fly-suit, onions and motor oil. Around me milled more beings than I could count, some large, some tiny, some fast, some slow.
None showed the slightest interest in me.
I wandered through the crowds, trying not to bump too many others, though that became increasingly difficult as I made my way out of the shuttle port. Already dozens of craft had landed or departed since my first steps here.
Small creatures swarmed underfoot; biological as well as what clearly were machine or robotic in nature. A few other creatures flitted above the mass, from perch to perch like birds, or even large bees or dragonflies. No two were the same.
I’d slept some in captivity but I was still in dire need of rest, not to mention a shower or bath.
I wandered until I came to a canal, upon who’s waters traveled boats and barges, filled with produce, boxes, and other unfamiliar goods. There I crawled underneath the roadway and curled up in the foundations of the bridge, out of sight of the water below.
Ten hours later, I left my hiding spot and crept down to the waters edge. It was still night, and the impossible stars still ruled the sky.
I removed my suit and entered the canal wearing only my under-all, a one piece padded jumpsuit. Once safely immersed I removed that as well and did my best to clean it in the brown liquid. It was as warm as bathwater, and I only hoped it didn’t contain parasites or disease of some sort. Barges floated by as I worked, but I continued to be unnoticed by any of the strange passengers or crew. As soon as I was as clean as I could make myself under the circumstances, I left the water. Stashing my suit where I’d curled up earlier, I went exploring the near vicinity around the bridge in (effectively) my underwear in hopes of finding something to eat.
I’d never gone so long without sustenance. My suits fluid supply I’d finished while I was in the holding cell, and if anything I was thirstier than I was hungry. Bathing had made that problem worse, as I didn’t trust the water to be drinkable, so had consequently forced myself to refrain.
Water, water everywhere…
It really was everywhere. The canal district is immense, I know now, and that water really isn’t safe to drink, though some races inhabit it at least part time.
The sulfur smell I’d noticed was gone, but others remained prevalent. The orange smell grew maddening, but being unable to pinpoint its source I could not be sure that that smell was actually even food. As I pushed my way through the oblivious crowds I was gradually becoming weaker and weaker.
I began to stumble, and eventually I collapsed against a wall, exhausted.
I’d been a test pilot. I’d never been trained even for typical survival scenarios outside the confines of a ship. This situation was clearly anything but typical. Maddeningly, I had no template at all.
Surely these diverse creatures ate? Drank?
I slept again, this time awakening to the glare of a white hot, way too large sun blaring down into the canyon of buildings, filled to bursting with the press of alieninity.
What could all this activity mean? where were all these creatures going, and why? I may have been starting to hallucinate by then, I’m not sure.
I guess I’ll never be sure.
I made myself get up and press on through the indifferent crowd of creatures.
Several times, beings much larger than myself shoved through the multitude. In one case, nearly knocking me down as I tried to avoid a tree stump-like foot. I was bustled aside at the last minute by a being barely larger than myself.
This one had purple fur on all it’s visible skin, but was mostly covered in a black robe that looked like nothing so much as a monk’s robe from Middle Ages old Earth.
It’s face had two faceted eyes, and a mouth, and nothing more. It could have been bipedal, but the hanging fabric concealed any confirmation of that.
It buzzed at me, a four fingered hand on each of my shoulders. The creatures hands didn’t have an opposable thumb. Instead its fingers opposed one another, two against two.
When I didn’t respond to its buzzing, it made several other noises, each entirely distinct and dissimilar, perhaps trying several dialects in its attempt to communicate with me.
“Please,” I begged, my voice cracking with thirst and emotion. I gestured, pantomiming eating and drinking.
It stopped its attempts to speak, and gestured in what any human being would have recognized as ‘come- follow me’.
I did so gratefully.
Maybe the creature was leading me to my death, a small part of me said. But by then I was beyond caring. This was the first being to take any real notice of me since my misadventure had begun. So I just followed.
We shuffled through the crowd together, me slightly behind. Unlike my solo experience here, others made way to the best of their ability for the creature I trailed, and hurriedly closed back in behind us as they went their own ways.
We walked several kilometers together in that fashion, with no further attempts at speech.
The ground rose slightly and we came out from between the glass towers into a flat area, with the taller buildings continuing all around it. This small field perhaps a kilometer across was filled with trees and flowers, a jungle in miniature, but walled off entirely from the street by an immense glass dome. As we progressed around its edge I noticed that this was the least crowded area I’d yet experienced on this world. There were few spectators, standing at the barrier and gazing inward. Others seemed to be almost actively looking elsewhere.
I wondered why the people i continued to pass would take so little interest in so remarkable a sight. I wished I had some way of asking.
Suddenly despite the throngs I became very, intensely, lonely.
Where the hell was I?
Was I going to die here?
I regret that to this day I do not yet have a real answer to either question.
In my seven year’s residence I have often gone to that forest scene to gaze at its wildness, surrounded by a city unimaginable in Solan space. It is dark in there, under the trees that populate that tiny, imprisoned rainforest. Not much can be seen beyond the outer edges of this glass encased diorama.
I often wonder what mysteries are concealed from sight within.
To this day, though I can speak a basic version of what passes for the local pigeon speech, I have never been able to get anyone to answer my questions about that place, that forest in glass.
The beings you ask, if they do not immediately deny any knowledge of it and change the subject, will sometimes go so far as to feign communication difficulties. In one case a little fellow even turned and ran away into the crowd, though he’d been staring into the dome for an hour or more before I dared ask him anything.
The social mores here are like nothing you could possibly face back home. There are complexities shrouded in complexities.
I grew up on Luna, mostly, and by all accounts our Lune has the most diverse population of any other body in the human solar system.
It is the jewel of Solan space (as any resident will happily tell you) and it is the center of life and culture of all kinds system wide.
I’m pretty well read and open to new ideas, and you might think that those things and growing up Lune might help somewhat in my new situation.
You’d be wrong there.
On this world, in my experience (and i could spend a hundred lifetimes walking this city and not see it all) I have never come across any large group of any particular race. Generally each creature I would see was the first of its kind I’d ever seen. Very rarely, two of a species might travel together as a pair. The above remains true seven years in.
My first sixteen months here I kept a journal of the races I’d come across, thinking eventually I’d figure out who the ‘dominant’ race was, learn their language, and somehow communicate my situation. I had this whole impractical plan to do, well something.
I don’t know.
I just really needed to feel like I had a plan.
Well I wrote, and I wrote. I was living in the nushak- (or with it, it doesn’t translate well). It’s like half monastery, half military dorm, half temp agency.
See, the being who’d found me first that day was sort of a recruiter, or a social worker maybe. If there’s a religious element it has never been communicated clearly to me.
But thousands of people like him do wander the street dressed in black robes literally every single day, and it does seem like they’re looking for lost souls to save. From what I can decipher of the public record, there are twenty billion souls on Tllorla, representing maybe more than 14 or 15 billion worlds. There’s a lot of room to be at the bottom in a place like that.
It is easy to get lost here, physically and spiritually.
The nushak takes people in, feeds them, gets them jobs. Most of those are the sort of thing machines would do back home (regular machines, not like the intelligent machines I sometimes work on line with here). Monotonous work, pressing buttons. pulling levers. Only one or the other- you never get two jobs to do. The work is so simplified that I never have any idea what it is we build because I never am privy to the whole process. and all the assigned tasks can all be done without sophisticated communication or intelligence.
Pull *stamp* pull *stamp*, 15 hours a day, every single day. There are no weekends here. Not even weeks that I can determine. But you get fifteen hours off between shifts.
You get used to it.
To tell you the truth, I’m not even sure which of the two visible daytime suns we orbit.
At this point i feel i must stress:
I am not an idiot.
I have college degrees and I was a professional and respected pilot out of Luna Prime. And yet, I spend my days now pulling a lever and my evenings watching unintelligible vid in what I think of as the local tavern.
I’ve learned what I can eat and drink, and what I should avoid. I stick with what I know in that regard. the consequences are too painful if I screw that up, and I’ve never come across such a thing as a doctor, or a pharmacy since I’ve been here.
At least, not that I’ve recognized.
I have tried and tried to understand my situation. I watch any video I come across. I watch them though I comprehend few of the words and in only a few of the languages. I want to know obvious things about local government. For instance-
Am I at the heart of an empire?
Is this world some sort of collective?
Who were the little pink people who brought me here?
Is the nushak state sponsored, or a private organization? A clerical order?
I study other things too. Star charts. Historical documentaries. Music videos.
After two years I figured out that a prominent language in media was often called Grosc. I have never been able to determine its origin, no one race seems to claim it. I’d need a cleft palette to speak it. I can’t read it at all. I suspect I understand spoken Grosc about as well as a three year old human or a smart dog would understand standard Earthan.
It is difficult to follow politics or philosophy with that small a degree of understanding.
I can’t even get an answer to ‘which way is galactic north?’ with my limited vocabulary.
I have tried.
I don’t really expect to ever get back home, but I’d like to know WHERE I am. For my own peace of mind if nothing else. I’m glad I never was able to figure out who was in charge in one way though. I mean, assume I’d found some sort of authoritative body and they’d understood what I needed and agreed to help (somehow)- leading this.. culture? Back to earth would almost certainly be a bad idea. Humans would be overwhelmed and assimilated before they ever had a chance to make an impact on the galaxy.
Again, assuming this is still the Milky Way.
I haven’t even figured out if I can get off of this world.
There’s quite a bit of traffic, ships are continually coursing through our skies, high above the buildings. As far as I can ascertain only certain guilds are allowed to travel freely off world, and I’m not even completely certain what that means.
and really, why go?
I could wander these streets forever and never get bored.
Although the loneliness has never left me.
When I get up from this table, I’m going to leave without paying for anything. I’ve never seen currency changing hands during my tenure on Tllorla. When I leave, I am going to go to the nushak and volunteer for their organization. I will wear the black robe and gesture to lost souls to follow me home.
It is little less alien than the world outside its doors, but the work they do is important.
They are the closest things to friends that I have on this world.
If I can do anything to relieve the loneliness of another being in this crowded, bizarre melting pot, I must make the attempt. I must not let this experience overwhelm me. I have so much to learn.
© 2015, e eric vulgate. All rights reserved.