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.