The Aviary Articles - Entry #2
March 8Th, 2021 (Linear Time) - Ch-ch-ch-changes!
So, we’re about a week into our journey from Earth to Lumen. Every week in thread drive travel varies somewhere between 7 ½ to 9 ½ weeks in linear time; something to do with dips in sub-light speeds and gravitational lensing from celestial bodies we pass. I’m told we give the big ones as much space as possible to avoid drastic time dilation effects, but we still skirt a few close enough to get some larger discrepancies. If I’m being honest, I’m a little disappointed it didn’t look like Star Trek warp speed. Instead, it’s just this milky blur when you look at the displays. Granted there aren’t any actual windows on the Osprey, so you could program the display to show streaking stars, I guess. I feel like I might get spaceship-sick if I did that though.
We received our full biotech compliment on the second day and I have got to tell you, that was fucking horrible. Imagine getting an incredibly bad metal splinter that you can’t quite dig out, multiply that by about five thousand, add some absolutely scalding heat, then imagine that all over and deep inside your entire body . . . while caught in a tornado. Yeah. It really, really, reeeeally sucked. But they could give us some anesthesia, right? Nope! The nervous system has to be completely unencumbered by chemicals for the tech to take properly. Thank any and every god there is that it’s a one-time deal. I can’t even go into more detail right now because it makes me nauseous. Ask someone else.
Plus side: I now have a bunch of cool circuit board looking tattoos and I’m now technically a living weapon. Through a combination of special nanites in my blood (couple different types) and this new weaponized tech which essentially builds a synthetic nervous system on top of my organic one, my body harnesses every bit of electrical current it can create, as well as any energy it can syphon from my immediate environment. Excess caloric, heat, kinetic, actual electric sources, etcetera. Not sure I could take getting struck by lightning, but I’d have a way better chance than someone back home. That’s just the tech on its own. We haven’t even received our actual firearms yet, but apparently that won’t be for awhile. We’ve got to learn how to use our enhanced bodies properly first. Turns out some of us have significantly different power thresholds than others. No one seems to know why. Just like how the Lumenarians couldn’t pinpoint why some humans tested compatible with the tech on Earth, but most didn’t. I wish I could say I was in the upper echelon of tech capabilities but turns out my levels are kinda . . . embarrassingly low. I am told my thresholds will get better with time though, sure hope so. Feels like puberty all over again which I’m not happy about.
There’s this South African woman named Elora who lives a couple levels below me who apparently ranks somewhere in the top 0.000001 percent or something of all humans with the tech. She gets this cool sapphire glow along her tech markings that no one else seems to get. Hard to tell yet how that actually translates into ability, but we’ll see. Oh, and she’s pretty much a super model. Beautiful coffee-colored skin, green-blue eyes, looong legs, that sexy South African accent . . . Yeah, I have a crush on her. She’s perfect. Well, on the outside, I don’t really know anything about her yet. One of my neighbors on our top aviary level, a guy named Levi from Israel, said he had mistaken her for her twin sister back home; a bonified Instagram model or influencer or whatever. Even I recognized the name once he said it. He also has a crush on her, so I hate him now. Just kidding . . . mostly. Elora doesn’t carry herself like some highfalutin icon I might add. Maybe she got the shy gene in the family, I don’t know. Though, I wouldn’t actually call her shy, more reserved than anything, stoic even. I make these observations from a distance since I haven’t actually had the nerve to talk to her yet. Holy shit! It is high school puberty all over again. Awesome!
I’m currently on the “night” shift training rotation. Yes, there’s technically no night or day while travelling on a spaceship, but if you were paying attention in my first post, the aviary ceiling simulates it. There are just too many people on board to have everyone training at once. So, we’ve been split up into teams for our rigorous schedules. As someone with no military background, and kind of a lack of discipline (if I’m being honest again), it’s been an adjustment. Eeearly breakfast, physical training (PT), lectures, lunch, combat training, dinner, very limited free time and study, rest and reset. The food is fantastic though, if you can get over the appearance. I had a Gordon Ramsay carbonara yesterday! No, Gordon Ramsay didn’t come along, but they did break down recipes from world famous chefs, isolating their chemical compositions and recreating them in the food processors. Tasted perfect. Looks kind of like blocks of congealed axel grease, with what I would imagine is a similar consistency. Another adjustment.
Today’s class was an interesting one. We learned about more new alien lifeforms . . . that we can eat! Survival flora and fauna 101. Our lectures are held in one of the many large amphitheater-style ready rooms around the ship. Same principle as a Navy boat, where the room is used for mission briefings and such; only for the time being they’ve been repurposed for classes. Pretty rundown and smelly rooms, like your hands after holding a garter snake (hopefully we’d get used to it); they’d obviously seen more than their fair share of bodies pass through the rough mesh seats. The instructor’s name is Thrash, obviously a Lumenarian. Like all the Lumenarians, Thrash is a roughly seven-foot-tall reptilian-like alien with four eyes. A humanoid Raptor with a rounder head, no tail, and more useful arms and hands than a dino's. The translator tech that allows me to understand all other human language also allows me to understand Lumenarian language and its dialects, while simultaneously blocking out their harsher vocal frequencies.
“Let’s see who did their reading last night,” Thrash said, striding to the front of the room and keying up the holographic display. A dark, rocky planet appeared, hovering in the air, and slowly revolving on its axis. The image distorted slightly, and Thrash kicked an already dented section of wall, steadying the image. He shook his head and rolled his two larger eyes, then turned back to the projection. “Stormwater. Not many native species are edible for Earthlings here. But who can tell me three of the most abundant that are?” Several in the class pulsed energy from their tech into their armrests, lighting up their seats to show they had an answer. I knew the answer too but I’m not a fan of public speaking. “Recruit Silva.”
Silva sat more upright in her seat. “Dustlugs, rockrats, and chirpflies, Sir,” she answered.
“Two out of three,” Thrash said, tapping his forearm band and bringing up images of the three creatures. The rockrat in the middle pushed forward and expanded. It was hard to tell whether you would classify it as an animal or an insect; something like an armadillo with long spider legs. “Rockrats contain incredibly high amounts of beta-ODAP. Now, the nanites in your blood can neutralize the compounds before significant excitotoxicity or oxidative stress occurs, but that means shuttling the neurotoxin to the surface and purging through your implants. The bioenergy required to do this is at a substantially higher cost to any caloric benefit you would get from eating them. If you’re facing severe dehydration, which is likely on this particular planet, or near starving, this could be the difference between life and death. So, that’s a negative to the rockrat. Who else for the third?”
Another seat quickly lit up and the occupant replied before Thrash cued them. “Scree-birds,” said the woman named Helena; a very stern Russian both in attitude and appearance. It’d be refreshing to meet an unserious Russian, now that I think about it. Despite not asking her, Thrash smiled and keyed his forearm band. At the front, an image appeared of a stocky mammalian scree-bird, like some sort of aggressive looking penguin that could fly; which I realize doesn’t seem to make sense because penguins look pretty far from flight-capable or aggressive, but it’s what came to mind. They flatten out and elongate significantly during flight. Maybe a flying squirrel would be a better comparison.
“Correct, Ms. Toropova,” Thrash said. “However, I also would have accepted crestlams.” The display showed another creature that resembled a black clam with four legs protruding from the shell. “While scree-birds are technically more plentiful, they tend to habituate at Stormwater’s poles where there are fewer communities, and they hibernate for several months at a time. Crestlams are planetwide but generally harder to find. I personally find crestlams delicious too, but it might be an acquired taste for you.” Thrash chuckled and then continued on with the lesson, covering several dozen more plants and animals that called Stormwater home. The gist of it all seemed to be that Stormwater didn’t look like a very fun planet to visit. Because now that I’m a legit spaceman I should get to be choosy . . .
After the morning PT and lectures, my training section broke for lunch; scarfing down our grey Jell-O that really did perfectly simulate meals from home—in taste but definitely not texture, as I said. A week in and already what I wouldn’t give for something crunchy. Today’s lunch: grey mush lamb korma, grey mush basmati rice, grey mush paneer pakora, and an ashy blob of margherita pizza to top it off. Despite the mouthfeel, it was nice to have such a broad culinary passport at our fingertips.
Bayou and I were starting to gather a small entourage. I say Bayou and I because when someone saves your life on Day One, you tend to bond quickly and stick together. And by gather a small entourage I mean other people from our training squad sat with us at meals and hung out sometimes in our limited spare time. We still didn’t know each other very well. For the most part though, we were shaping up to be a good group as it turns out: Neighbour Israeli Levi; Thai dude named Boon-Mee, but he just goes by Boon; fellow Canuck named Joan from Ontario, I’m trying not to hold that against her; Banji from Zambia, kind of a know-it-all doctor but nice enough; woman named Gerry who hails from Arizona, she’s small, really quick, kinda mousy but cool; and lastly and definitely leastly, because he’s a douche and I seem to be stuck with him, Tim from Australia. Fucking Tim. Oh mate, look at me, I’m really powerful with the biotech and ruggedly handsome too. What’s that, a space spider? Shure, I’ll pick that riiight up, I’m not scaared. I’m a big charming dimwit. Damn Tim . . . *Long pronounced sigh* He actually is a really nice guy though, just sooooo dumb.
“Mate, like my dad used to say,” Tim said between bites of grey mush. “Ya jus’ gotta man up and punch the roo back.”
I stared at Tim for a long moment and narrowed my eyes. “Honestly Tim, you sound like a cartoon version of an Aussie,” I said. “Is that vegemite you’re eating too?”
“And there’s no fucking way your dad ever said that, man,” Banji said.
“I’m calling bullshit too,” Gerry chimed in, grinning.
“Naw mate,” Tim said pursing his lips and shaking his head. “You know that Youtube video of that guy that punches a roo to save his dog?” He glanced between us all searching for confirmation that we knew it. “Well, my dad saw that video too. Said that’s how it’s done.”
Bayou and I shared a head-cocked glance. “So, your da’ say dat once . . .” Bayou led on. “An’ now you say dat’s wha’ he used ta say?”
“He did say it,” Tim said, nodding.
“Once,” Gerry said.
Everyone chuckled. “You’re lucky you’re good looking Tim,” Joan said.
“Cheers Joan,” Tim said with a wink. Joan raised an eyebrow and tilted her head to the side. “What I’m really saying mate,” Tim continued, turning to me, “You gotta just do it. Go and talk to her.” He gestured over my shoulder to Elora sitting a few tables back. I stole a glance. She was stunning. There was also this sort of aura around her, like she was a goddess amongst mortals. I don’t mean that in the Venus razor sort of way, I mean that like there was actual reverence. I’m not sure if it’s because people were a little starstruck and have been confusing her with her social media icon sister or not, but there is some sort of magnetic, effortless charisma about her. If you took a half glance around the mess, you’d see a dozen different sets of eyes glued to her. Could be the sapphire glowing and rippling biotech tattoos too. That probably helped. I definitely can’t get my implants to light up like that.
I turned back to Tim. “I’ll do it when I’m ready.”
“Yeah, fuck off Tim,” Boon said. “He’s playing a long game.”
“Yeah,” Bayou said with a grin. “D playing dat loooong game. Las’ two left inna nursin’ home game.”
I raised my hands to Bayou. “Even you, Brutus?” I said. Bayou chuckled. “And I’m sure that translated, but I actually did say that in Latin by the way, because of . . . well I’m cultured and stuff.”
“Super cultured,” Gerry said with a wink. She held a stare with me for a little longer than I thought normal, and I shrugged awkwardly, then she smiled and looked away. I glanced over at Elora again. Maybe tomorrow I’ll try to talk to her, not like there was a rush. And I don’t need stupid Tim pushing me.
Now we come to the really cool section of our routine, combat training in the sim field. Unprogrammed, the room looks like a big empty shell, something not unlike a vacant warehouse or factory floor back home. Then the magic happens. Trillions of nanoparticles activate to create vivid landscapes and scenarios, fully interactable as if they were real. Even has a water system for environmental settings like rivers, lakes, and different weather conditions. The only thing that ruins it a little bit is the damn sweat/ snakeskin/ iodine smell that seems to have absorbed itself into the walls, like the ready rooms. Hard to appreciate a simulated bluebird day in a park when you’re expecting fresh air and getting that smell. I sure hope we get used to it and stop noticing.
Normally I would say this is my favorite part of the day, even this early on in our training with only the most rudimentary basics being covered. Not today. We lucked out being assigned the Osprey’s Chief of Security for our combat regime, a Lumenarian female named Shine. Shine is a badass, we know that already, but very strict. In the six month-ish “phoney war” period between when the Lumenarians arrived on Earth and when they actually initiated contact with us, they were absorbing every ounce of human culture, down to the marrow. Every language, all our history, different customs, and most importantly regarding this particular time of day, combat forms. What the chief training officers aboard the alien ships had done was create a new hybrid martial art; a combination of techniques harvested from Earth (Krav maga, karate . . . other fighting forms, not my forte) and Lumenarian bio-combat. Shine and one of the other security officers had demonstrated the new forms on our first day of training with an energetic sparring match. First off, it was super cool; secondly, remarkably violent when you add the biotech enhancements into the mix; and lastly, pretty unsettling. I say unsettling because to watch the two massive aliens fight, it seemed highly unlikely we’d ever be able to contend. How were aliens with their technology and physical capabilities getting decimated by this mysterious enemy, the Forsaken? Also, Forsaken? Really? I mean it does have that evil villain vibe, but obviously someone assigning the human language translation equivalents was being real fucking dramatic.
“You!” Shine barked, pointing at me. I stood up straight and stared ahead, an uncomfortable tingle ran up my back. Shit. “And you!” she said, pointing to Elora. Double shit. “Step forward. Simple biotech punch and block demonstration.” Like I said, starting with the basics. Build the muscle memory. Gotta walk before you can crawl— wait, no. “Step to it!”
Elora and I hustled to the front of the class and positioned across from each other, taking our ready stances. I bet any money if I had just talked to her earlier today, I never would have been selected. Damn Karma. But man, is she beautiful. “Remember that it’s all about focus,” Shine said, pacing around us. “The physical motion of striking and blocking is only a small part of it. Fighting without charged biotech won’t do you any good against anyone, especially our enemy. Any surface you are using to strike needs to have tech engagement. What’s more, the longer your tech is ignited, the faster you’ll run out of energy. You need to multitask, and you need to be efficient, especially while your thresholds are developing. That’s much easier said than done.” Shine made a fist and the biotech lines along her right wrist and hand glowed a bright emerald. Then she held up her other fist and transferred the energy down her charged arm, over her shoulders, and into her left fist—like doing a technological arm wave dance move. A very precise application of the tech that required more control and concentration than any of us could muster yet. “Start with basic alternating punches and blocks. Go.”
I raised my hands and nodded to Elora. “Ready?” I asked. “I’ll take it easy on you.” I gave her a shit-eating grin and nervous chuckle. Elora smiled back and nodded, then gestured for me to take the first shot. I shrugged my shoulders quickly a few times to loosen them and bobbed my head slightly, exhaling sharply. I focused everything I could into the tech on my right hand, getting a small flicker of blue light along the markers, and then swung. The tech in Elora’s arms lit up a bright sapphire, outshining my own about a hundredfold, and she swiftly blocked my shot with her forearm. My whole arm went numb, but I shook it off like it ain’t no thang . . . though it very much was a thing.
“You good?” Elora asked. For a second it almost looked like electricity had arced in the whites of her eyes.
"Oh yeah," I said, nodding quickly and gesturing for her to throw her punch. “That all you got?”
Elora’s punch came straight at my face with a wave of heat, but I managed to sweep my arm across and deflect her blow. There was a loud crack and Elora stepped back with eyes wide. “Oh shit,” she muttered. There was a collective groan from everyone watching. I puffed air into my cheeks and stared up at the sim field ceiling, bobbing on my toes for a moment.
Then I looked at Elora. “It’s broken isn’t it?” I asked through clenched teeth. Elora winced and slowly nodded her head. I exhaled slowly and glanced down at my arm. The bones were sticking out mid-forearm and blood was soaking my uniform’s sleeve and dripping to the floor. It was definitely a really low pitch, manly sound I made before passing the fuck out.
The Aviary Articles - Entry #1
December 30th, 2020
Uhhh yeah. So, Day 1 on an alien spaceship. Captain’s log, star-date . . . never mind. I’m going to call these the “Aviary Articles.” Just unpacked all my stuff in what is now my new home for the foreseeable future; or at least the next eighteen months until we get to Lumen. And by all my stuff I mean a few hoodies and sweatpants, a Sherwani for special occasions, a couple of photos, ball glove and baseball, a Steve Yzerman signed hockey puck from the first game I saw as a kid, a Rubik’s cube, my old watch, a ukulele, about a hundred packs of gum (not sure they’d be able to recreate it), my wedding ring, my now-pointless Bachelor’s diploma, and some other sentimental knick-knacks. When you’re only allotted one duffle bag for personal gear you figure that won’t be nearly enough; but realistically when you strip it all down, sort out what’s really necessary, it only seems to be the little totems that take up all the room . . . and the gum.
Anyway, no ass probe yet, so that’s nice. Still pinching myself every now and again to make sure this isn’t some acid trip reverb from back at Shambhala. Nope. Stone cold glorious reality. I mean I can’t say for sure, because Hogwarts isn’t real; but I’m pretty sure walking into the aviary was like Harry seeing the wizarding world for the first time. Some magical-technological shit right here. Oh right! So, for future reference, the aviary is what our Lumenarian hosts have named our living complexes aboard the ships. Just really committing to the bird symbolism. Each complex is like a small city, somewhere north of 50,000 folks per, and there are twelve of them here on the Osprey. The Pelican is a carrier like us, so they have twelve too, but the smaller Albatross warship only has four. Surprisingly though, we aren’t cramped. These ships are massive.
I was fortunate/unfortunate enough to snag a unit on the top level, about sixty stories up. I say unfortunate because I fucking hate heights; but fortunate because when I do muster the courage to really look over the parapet wall I’ll have a helluva view. The Osprey’s aviaries have the unique benefit of hybridized flora, mainly due to its age and how the alien plant species have taken hold. The Pelican, and particularly the Albatross, are newer vessels that weren’t overrun by the native species as much as the Osprey; so they had all their plant life replaced with stuff from Earth. Here, sooty black vines with dark navy and deep maroon flowers wove all along the central housing column that marked the chamber like the iris of an eye if seen from above. The creeping plants also draped from the bridges that connected the middle tower to the various outer levels like the strands of DNA. On the ground level, fields of Bermuda and Kentucky bluegrass have been transplanted from home; and rose shrubs, oaks, maples, and the odd conifer larch sit in small groves and line the paving stone and bark mulch paths. It’s all an elegant symbiosis of old growth alien plant life, Terran species, and space-age construction. Four large ponds filled with an assortment of Earth fish are spaced in the quadrants around the central pillar and they shine cerulean when the simulated sky of the ceiling etches bluebird. Gardening drones dart around occasionally, tending to the horticultural needs of the area and feeding the animals. Not sure how the chickadees and sparrows they brought will get along with those drones though . . . Either way, gotta say, very thoughtful of them to bring a little Earth with us—a comforting tether to the planet we were born on and could very possibly never see again. Something to help keep us grounded and sane in the dark expanse. Ah, those are grim thoughts. But even if I did ever manage to get back, it would be a very different world from the 2020 I’m leaving.
So far I’ve been keeping it together pretty well, I think. That could quickly change when we actually get moving and the blue marble that was home vanishes; but, for the next day or two, while the remainder of human recruits are shuttled up to their assigned ships, Earth will sit visible in the displays. When we do finally leave it’ll be via the Lumenarian “Thread Drive:” a traversable wormhole-creating engine. Unlike that paper-folding description in Interstellar, this drive doesn’t create one big fold from A to B though. It creates hundreds or thousands of smaller folds, propelling us forward at slightly less than lightspeed, and laces us in and out of bridged space and . . . space space. So, it will substantially shorten our travel distance, just not completely. Exotic matter, cosmic radiation, negative mass, stuff like that. Not quite string theory I’m told—because I definitely understand what that is . . . Again, it’s all magic to me but I’m sure some other humans have a better handle on it.
Seems every day closer to departure brings on new doubts and mini-panic attacks. There was this idyllic little bubble leading up to arriving aboard the Osprey that now felt on the verge of bursting. The acid trip threatening to turn sour and dark kind of feeling. Just breathe. What in the holy hell had I signed up for? Yeah, the Lumenarian’s technology was incredible. Yeah, this was writing myself into history books. Yeah, I’d see things no one thought would be possible in their lifetime. Yeah, I was essentially volunteering to become a cybernetic super soldier. Yeah, I was going to fight in a vicious interstellar war that was decimating the far more advanced Lumenarians . . . Holy shit. Holy shit. What have I signed up for?!
Before I knew it, I was on my knees yacking into my toilet. Puking up my last meal from Earth, last meal I would probably ever eat on Earth—French toast, bacon, sausages, hash browns, eggs, way too much maple syrup. It actually wasn’t the worst thing to throw up, but I should have drank more fluids. The toilet was another thoughtful retrofit for the human occupants. Self-cleaning bidet and all. It was nice not having to attach a hose or something. I needed some air.
Stepping out of my unit, I gazed up at the artificial three-dimensional sky, almost within touching distance (if I could dunk a basketball). Even this close, the clarity and detail made it indiscernible from the real thing somehow as if it wasn’t only a few feet above me. Mid-day blue with the odd cotton bloom of clouds drifting by. Even though all the air was recirculated, I had a suspicion they pumped slightly more oxygen or scrubbed the air just a little harder in the common spaces; which would make sense, because it was almost like stepping outside. Oh, and actual trees nearby, that probably helped. Doh! The ringed causeway of the top level was about ten feet wide, cased by the three-foot-high parapet wall. I cautiously edged my way over to the railing to look down into the cavernous middle—the size of several football stadiums. It was bloody high, but I had to get used to it. It would be embarrassing if I hugged the outer wall every time I walked around up here. A step or two out. I leaned over to look down--
Suddenly I was jerked forward by a two-handed shove on my shoulders. “Fuck!” I yelped in an embarrassingly high pitch as the hands pulled me back. I spun and glared at the mother-fucking asshole. A hillbillyish man with a ruddy farmer’s tan in his early thirties grinned back at me with a wide and toothy smile.
“Dat dere was awesome,” he said in a thick Louisianan accent. “No fan a heights, is ya?” He slapped me on the shoulder.
I took several deep breaths and forced out a chuckle. “Nope,” I replied. “Good one though, you really got me.” I could feel my eyes still arched wide from the adrenaline and relaxed my forehead.
“Dey say a little fear’s actually good fo’ da heart,” he said, walking over and leaning on the railing. “Get da blood pumpin’.”
“How about the fear that nearly makes you shit yourself?” I asked, keeping my distance from the edge.
“Yain’t dead,” he replied without looking over. “Where dey recruit ya from?”
He glanced over and raised his eyebrows. “So you’s actually talkin’ English righ’ naw?”
I cocked my head to the side. “Are you?”
He stared at me for a moment and then burst out laughing. “Fair point,” he said, nodding and tapping the translator tech line tattoos on the back of his neck.
“I’m actually speaking Hindi and English to be honest,” I said. “Immigrated with my parents when I was fifteen. Fluent in both, so I’m used to going back and forth. What I’m most comfortable with.”
“Aw yeah,” he said. “Knew I wasn’ imaginin’ the sligh’ dub. From Louisiana myself. Tech filta’s the odd creole, ah ‘magine dough.”
“I barely even notice an accent,” I said with a grin.
“Think we gonna get along.” The American laughed again and leaned backwards, elbows on the parapet; which seemed to put entirely too much faith in the support. I guess if the aliens couldn’t build a sturdy railing they probably couldn’t have built a whole space ship. That being said, the Osprey was old as hell. Unlike images we’d seen on Earth of the Albatross, which was practically factory new, our ship had significantly more wear (could see why it didn’t make the brochure). The odd new panel on the walls, where repair had obviously not done the trick and had required straight up replacement, stuck out sharply against the generally weathered structure. There were scuffs and dents on the floor, some slight water stains around the creeping vines on the walls, doors whined a bit as they opened, even the occasional drone seemed to clunk and whir louder than the others as it flew. Good of me to nitpick and judge an ancient ship capable of travelling lightyears and across whole galaxies. Diva.
“How ya doin’ wit all dis?” the American asked, waving his hand in a circle above his head.
I forced myself to take a few steps closer to the railing and look over, immediately feeling nauseous from the height and stepping back. “Bit of an adjustment,” I said with a shrug and nervous chuckle.
“Say dat again.”
He turned back to the central opening and stared down at the people far below gathered in the common areas. I risked another glance. In the fields a few were tossing a football around, others kicking a soccer ball, some sitting around tables set up around the base of the middle pylon. “Scared shitless,” he said finally.
“Phew. Not just me then,” I said, exhaling with exaggerated relief.
“Be nice when dey git us goin’,” he said. “No turnin’ back den. No choice bu’ two feet in.”
I nodded in agreement. We watched the other recruits mill about in silence for a little while. I could tell this guy was normally a talker, but I knew he had many of the same anxious thoughts flowing through his head as I did, thoughts that were probably better kept inside to keep the quaking at bay. When I felt like those fears were starting to gain a bit of a foothold, I broke the silence.
“Have you met Dex yet?” I asked.
I smiled and turned back to the causeway. “Hey, Dex.”
Suddenly the blue electric stick figure of the Osprey’s AI materialized in front of us in a flash. “What do you want, Tom?” it asked. The sinewy lightning body had a face that fluctuated between a human face and one of the four-eyed Lumenarians, but even through the distortion it looked irritated.
“Aw yeah, met it on tha way in,” the American said. “You mean Codec.”
“Nope, I mean Dex,” I said with a chuckle.
The AI went to speak. “Codec is my official—”
“So, when I first met him, I innocently misheard it as Codex, not Codec, and rather than politely correct me, he was kind of a dick about it,” I said. “So, I’ve nicknamed him Dex. Also the reason he now just calls me by whatever name he randomly decides on. My name is not Tom by the way.”
“Dinnit think ya looked like-a Tom,” the American said.
I cocked my head to the side. “What’d you think I looked like?” I asked, turning to him.
The American sucked some air through his teeth and winced. “Can I gitta hint? Cuz honestly now anythin’ I say’ll jus’ come ou’ racist.”
“It’s an Indian name,” I said.
He froze for a moment and then his mouth spread into a sheepish smile. “Well, Imma plead da fifth on dis one,” he said with a chuckle.
I shook my head and chuckled with him. “Probably a good call. What’s your name by the—"
“I’m still standing right here human,” Dex said.
“Human, Dex, really?” I said.
“At least I haven’t started calling you asshole yet.”
“Honestly, I’m willing to take it if my name for you catches on.”
“It won’t catch on,” the AI replied. “Everyone else calls me Codec. They apparently have fully functioning ears.”
“This is so us, Dex,” I said with fake love. “Beginning of a beautiful thing.”
The American narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms, looking the AI up and down. “Know what?” he said. “You do look kinda like-a Dex to me.” We laughed and high-fived, and the AI just stared at us.
“Did you actually need anything?” Dex asked.
“Nope, just saying hi Dex.”
“Great. Well, please hesitate to call me again asshole,” he said and then disappeared in a flash.
The Yank and I shared another laugh. “Man, dat ting is oddly human-actin’,” he said. “How good an idea ya think it is to taunt an AI?”
“I have no idea,” I replied. “But if a little human like me can push it over the edge, I think we have bigger problems ahead. Also, I don’t know, it’s probably just a nerves thing but I like messing with him. Feel like that’s how we started and now I can’t stop. So, I’m going to keep calling him Dex.”
“Bold move,” he said. “I can git onboard wit Dex. He go all Terminator, it on you dough.”
“Fair enough,” I said. I pulled out a pack of gum and popped a few pieces in my mouth, then offered the pack to the American. “Gum?”
“Cheers,” he said, taking the pack and seeing there were only two pieces left. “Not yo last pieces are dey? Coul’ be last gum ya eva have.”
I chuckled. “No, I have— . . . a few more packs.”
“Well tank ya kindly den,” he said, then held out his hand. “Brad Laboutin, by da way. But friends call me Bayou.”
I shook his hand. “Nice to meet you. I’m—"
“STOP!” someone yelled, and I turned to the sound of sprinting footsteps, but not fast enough.
Suddenly someone slammed into me from behind and knocked me over the parapet wall. For a split second I thought it was all over as my stomach lurched into my throat, the world spun, and my body tumbled through the air. I stopped abruptly and dangled as somehow I had managed to latch one hand firmly onto the ledge. I looked down and saw the aviary floor so fucking far below, and the longer I looked the further it seemed to stretch away. The echoes of several screams and shouts pierced the deafening roar of blood and adrenaline rushing in my ears. An instant later and I felt two hands grip my wrist and forearm. I looked up and saw Bayou staring frantically down at me, straining to pull me up.
“Hold on man!” he yelled. “Don’ let go! Somebody help!” Behind Bayou I could hear the muffled sounds of a struggle and saw several flashes of green light behind his head. He glanced over his shoulder and shouted at someone. “Get ova here! I need help!”
A few seconds passed that seemed way too long; and a large, charcoal, dinosaur-like hand reached down, grabbed me by the bicep, and then hoisted me up and over the railing. The Lumenarian leaned me against the parapet and left. I didn’t even get a chance to see their face. Bayou crouched in front of me and looked me over. “Holy shit man. You OK?” he asked, eyes wide.
I stared back at him in shock for a moment and then clenched my teeth a few times. “I swallowed my gum,” I said flatly, dazedly.
Bayou blinked a few times and then laughed. “Shit. Dat’s gettin’ off pretty easy,” he said. “I woulda pissed myself fo’sho.” I glanced down at my crotch and saw that I had actually pissed myself but wasn’t sure when. Bayou then noticed it too. “Ah . . . well, yeah. Like I said, woulda done da same.”
I closed my eyes for a moment and exhaled slowly, then opened my eyes and looked past Bayou. A little ways down the level, four large Lumenarian security personnel were dragging off an unconscious or possibly dead human. A thin bead of blood trailing behind the body. “What the hell happened?” I asked.
“I was a little distracted wit you but . . .” Bayou glanced over his shoulder and then back to me, his mouth tightening into a firm line. “But pretty sho I heard him yell ‘we are de Onspec.’”
Connor lives in Vancouver, BC with several dead plants. Try as he may, he cannot keep those bastards alive. He's named the plants, whispered loving sweet nothings to them, allowed them to smell his scotch (though he would never waste a drop on them), and has even set upkeep reminders on his phone. What do they do for him? They refuse to survive. But Connor still has scotch. And scotch is good.