Hidden 2 mos ago 3 days ago Post by Circ
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Earth-F67X: Xenophobic Interplay

—— Earth-F67X: Alien Contact

Out past Neptune, a surveillance satellite detected an FTL manifestation and scanned a vessel that did not correspond to any pre-approved signature. Entangled with Earth’s defense control network, the long range satellite immediately triggered an alert in New Roswell and the Mainline Defensive Array. In response, an artificial intelligence integrated with a half-human half-cybernetic operative in an undisclosed black site dispatched a series of automation protocols. Moments later, Earth’s defense posture transitioned from passive monitoring to a CODE GESTALT active response. Generals were roused from their slumber, ops teams put on rapid standby, and massive weapon configurations pre-positioned throughout the Sol system targeted the potential threat.

At least ten-thousand people held their breath as the vessel was hailed along a bombardment of electromagnetic, psionic, thaumic, and telepathic communication channels—and more:

“UNREGISTERED ALIEN VESSEL, STATE YOUR PURPOSE.”

There was a pause.

It was always possible that communication, in that moment, was impossible.

Everyone breathed a sigh of partial relief when came the reply in radio short-band, “We request aid and supplies to help us resist tyranny on our home planet.”

Earth did not immediately answer. Agonizing seconds passed while heuristics were reduced to single-line outputs. Had the vessel so much as twitched, it would have been purged from the night sky. A team of xeno-technologists furiously scanned data as it poured in. Conclusions were drawn. The vessel was in a state of distress, with severe structural damage and multiple hull leaks of atmospheric gasses incongruous with Earth’s atmosphere and non-solid phase fuels. However, the spacecraft’s plasma shield was operational and active. An understandable caution, given its state of war-weary disrepair. Political leadership demanded more time to make a decision. Military command was compelled to send another transmission to the alien craft:

“Maintain position, await response.”

Analysts concluded the alien craft should maintain a safe distance from any significant gravitational field in the event its superstructure buckled and the whole thing crashed and burned. The military, of course, wanted to send out a team to dismantle the whole thing. Several hours passed as petabytes of data collated, analyzed, and memoized for the consumption of military and political leadership. Finally, a simulacrum of Apollo Amon, Earth’s president and final say in all matters important, appeared in New Roswell and demanded a SITREP.

He—or what appeared as him, for nobody had seen him in the flesh in a year, ordered that the vessel be relocated to Customs Control Hygiea, a minor asteroid-based facility. The smallest disclosed facility in the Sol system with teleportation technology synchronized to Earth. The vessel would take a path along a route that avoided Sol’s planetary bodies. While en-route, the alien vessel would declare its manifest of souls and supplies, identify its diplomatic contacts, power down its FTL, and turn off its plasma shields—and that it should be made abundantly clear that non-compliance would be lethal. From there, a shuttle would convey one of its diplomats from the alien craft to Customs Control where they would be screened and, if deemed safe, transported down to Earth.

In accordance, the third message was relayed to the alien vessel.
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They waited hours. Hours of basking in the heat of latent smoke in the hallways and rooms, or failing that, freezing in the cleaner air in whatever sections of the ship hadn't experienced infernos or been ambushed by smoke and gas through the vents. The place already appeared dingy; the smoke simply added to the look. Lakretians, many of them connected as kin, some friends, some total strangers still -- anyone huddled with anyone else in groups in those cleaner sections of the ship to stay warm.
Zuorn did not huddle with the tech operators on the bridge. The commander had procured a batch of flairs and lit them one after the other, for both heat and light. The hours crawling by meant fewer and fewer flairs. Colder and colder decks, quarters, halls. The background noise of emotions on the ship grew in anxiety; hope waned.
The third message buzzed through their half-shot speakers. Max volume and it wasn't enough to be louder than a mumble; disappointment weighed down the tech operators. The message itself struck Commander Efrit like a tuning fork, and the tone his stress-addled mind produced was a discordant one. Power down the FTL? Lower shields? That was no different than being led around by soldiers pressing guns into their backs; this "Earth" no different than the empire they worked so hard to escape from.
Zuorn averted her gaze when he turned and scanned the room with such laser-focused eyes. She almost "went cold", too -- that would've saved her from the terrible wave of frustration as he, no doubt, ran his gaze over her. Frustration at how she killed his best men. Frustration that she had lumped all that responsibility onto him after that mission. No other reason he might've been so tightly wound.
He did not speak for a long time.
"Vátne." His voice, so gruff. So done with it all.
She hesitated; at this delay in response, he growled out a sigh, and further frustration tugged her gaze towards him.
"Vátne. You will ride the shuttle to 'Earth'."
Zuorn blinked. Her confusion spiked his frustration, forcing her to confirm. "I will be the diplomat?"
His frustration fell. Panic rose by the same amount inside her.
Before she could protest this decision, he turned to the screen, his readiness a cue for the tech operators to turn back on the voice transmission. "We have identified one willing diplomatic volunteer: Zuorn Ėtil Vátne. As for the... manifest of 'souls' and supplies, we will send you our manifest across radio frequencies. We hope you can figure out the -- for lack of a better term -- 'file format' that this information will be sent in; assume an image width of 680 pixels. Apologies for the lack of other means of relaying it."
He nodded, and they turned off the voice transmission again.
Zuorn's mind raced. 680 pixels was not a lot, compared to other species they knew of. It was an archaic amount. It was enough for the Lakretians, however, especially the average family wanting to video-call their relatives; high framerate and low latency was the priority here. So she would need a camera -- she might have to take a security camera off the walls or find a bodycam somewhere, maybe work with the tech ops to...
She was procrastinating. Focusing on the task that Obnimar might hand to someone else rather than the task that he had declared her responsibility. Diplomacy.
A quiet sigh escaped her lips. Even thinking about being the linchpin again made her throat dry. No, she needed to be strong. She needed to burn as a pyre of hope in the darkness of hopelessness that pervaded the ship's atmosphere. But... she couldn't manage to light the match. She couldn't do this.
"Permission to speak freely, commander?" she asked him.
He slowly turned his head towards her. An alien might say he had a dead look in his eyes. But, to Lakretians, that was the sociopathic look of withheld vengeance.

"Permission denied."
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—— Earth-F67X: En-Route to Customs Control Hygiea

Even within a star system, space demonstrated its nigh-incomprehensible immensity.

Safety enforcement policies insisted on standard propulsion to facilitate intra-system transit. This was demanded of all commercial traffic. For alien vessels, the rule was held as even more sacrosanct.

It took hours for, as Earth alleged to Commander Efri, repair drones to intercept the the Lakretian spacecraft, itself a mere third of its way from where it dropped out of FTL to its proscribed destination. In that latter interval, the drones patched many of its atmospheric leaks with specialized aerogel and scanned its exterior. It was obvious what they were up to, and easily presumed that the machines maintained an encrypted data channel with Earth’s military command. It was also clear that the Lakretians’ lives were in the balance and, thus far, all they possessed as leverage was compliance — evidenced by the convergence of six heavily-armed destroyers that appeared alongside the alien spacecraft and escorted it along what remained of its journey.

A third further, a fully-autonomous shuttle docked with the alien vessel. Inside, the Lakretians found pallets of protein cubes and several drums of water, uv-sanitized and bountiful enough to last their reported numbers three humanoid sleep cycles.

It was made clear via radio communication that Zourn Vátne, their proposed diplomat, should board the shuttle.
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Zuorn did not want to be a diplomat.

She was not a diplomat, not officially, technically. Maybe she had some skill. It wasn't professional skill. It wasn't enough, she felt. She wished she were the one taking pictures of their manifest and sending them across radio frequencies for the Earth government to decrypt. She even wished she'd been just another person huddling in the hallway. The sickbay would have been a better place, some sick (ironic, eh?) part of her mused. Was this another punishment then, she thought, in a continued line of punishments for what she had done? No. It sure felt like it, but no. Commander Obnimar wouldn't risk the crew's lives like that.

The chair was her only comfort. She was thankful the Earth shuttle's ceiling wasn't obscenely low; it tended to be that way with other species' ships and buildings. Her head, as she rolled it back, touched the top edge of the window. Eyes closed. Breaths deep. She hadn't felt much trust suspended between her and Obnimar when he ordained her as his primary diplomat. If there was any, it was a rickety old bridge held aloft by rotten rope. Perhaps fear, then, but she hadn't scried any deeper. Everyone had been drowning in one another's dread, anyways. She wouldn't have been able to tell whether his fear of sending an even less qualified "diplomat" outweighed his distrust for her.

Surely he distrusted her. She wasn't just imagining it.

She laid down on a leftover tarp, one flap over her body as a blanket, and tried to sleep. All those hours had stolen precious designated-shuteye-time from her, and she intended to steal some back.

The shuttle was so e m p t y. No waves of fear... but that sparked a sort of fear in and of itself. Total isolation. Her dreams were nightmares.
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—— Earth-F67X: Customs Control Hygiea

Fifteen minutes stretched between the shuttle and Customs Control Hygiea, a secure intake facility built inside an asteroid in the inner belt approximately 3 AU from Earth, arc-dependent. Within the shuttle, Zourn rested beneath a mylar tarp on the uncomfortable and frigid shuttle floor: placed as a precaution in the event cosmic rays blasted the craft. It was dim inside, almost entirely unlit. Faint light winced through opposite pairs of narrow diagonal panes, neither of which faced Sol.

It was quiet, had been several monotonous hours.

Gradually, that changed.

Low, long notes built to a wordless melody, melancholy yet forceful. It woke Zourn. A tale expressed through the emotion inherent in deftly violent cymbal clashes, somber didgeridoo drones, and ethereal koto strikes. It was history, yet expressed without words. Earth’s story. Survival, fear, evolution, civilization, war, hate, love, hope. Throughout pervaded subtexts of exploration and awe. No longer was it dark. Instead, the walls stirred. Scene and sound complemented another, hue ornamented abstraction, and light caressed negative space; the affect natural and apt.

Silence, again; only in the briefest measure.

Something obfuscated the soft starlight that penetrated through the windows.

Chaos.

Around Zourn, the shuttle rolled. Beneath her, the floor opened. She tumbled through partial-g into a saline solution that immediately dissolved the tarp; a boon, as she was neither suffocated or impeded when she ascended sodden to the surface. Ultra-violent rays pierced the liquid, reflected on the chamber’s semi-translucent mirrored walls. It lasted but a minute, then vat drained into the floor, collapsed outward. Another series of antiseptic strobes attacked Zourn, although not to her detriment.

A door opened. An intercom blared.

“Follow the dashed black lines on the floor. Proceed to the translocation device. Step inside. You will be forwarded to Earth’s Extraterrestrial Embassy in North Capital City.”
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Zuorn lifted her head off the cold floor. A different kind of ruckus than the one on the ship, so vast and noticeably different, so H U G E, that it sparked colors and sounds in her other senses. It was like a drug trip, or a waking dream. She'd never been enmeshed in the emotional web of so many people before, especially not so many aliens. A planet's worth of them! Moving around was like moving through putty. So exhausting. So paralyzing. Yet so moving. Her eyes watered. Her own emotions were drowned out by the wall she was being pushed through, mobile data lost in a tunnel and replaced by honks and engine hums.

Then it abandoned her, and she was alone. The vacuum sucked the tears out of her airlocks-to-the-soul in a silent, sobering release.

Eventually, she realized the shuttle was rotating, and that the lack of starlight was not just a product of a strong contrast between the colors and brightness that had moments ago pervaded her vision. There was external emotion again.

The floor vanished. She yelped, flailing on her way down. Water -- no, not water... some kind of... cleansing solution. Of course! She was as alien to them as they were to her; they needed to eradicate microbes. Though, this welcome was not so warm, but instead soured and hardened, as her tongue was under the taste of saline, by the cold, monotone nature of the procedure. Scientific first and foremost.

Once she was no longer submerged, she stood to withstand the blast of precautionary measures.

A distant voice, accompanied by a distant heart that spoke alongside it. She searched for the lines, still blinking the saline out of her eyes, and stumbled forwards. Translocation device... translocation? The meaning was not immediately obvious to her. Was it another shuttle? A... space elevator?
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As soon as the elevator opened, the reflection of Zuorn bounced back at her through the sanguine shades of a hairy, bedraggled man with his sleeves rolled up eating a Tolman Sweet apple. He slicked his greasy to-the-touch brown hair behind his right ear and transferred the apple to the same hand. Mouth half-full, the weird man gestured at the tall alien with his half-eaten yellow fruit. “So you're one of those—uhh–Grays. But you’re not even gray! Ecrui I think they called ya.” His craggy voice made him difficult to understand. “The name’s Oswald.”

Oswald seemed friendly enough. Mildly offensive maybe, but at least he had no surface-level prejudices unlike what she would likely face in North Capitol City. “I recommend you close your eyes. Try not to puke after” he said with a crooked smile.

The quantum disruptors came to life. Both of them were baptized in a seizure-inducing array of multicolored lights. The chamber reverberated with a slight hum as their molecular structure rapidly disassembled at the atomic level. Each of their atoms was meticulously cataloged and encoded with quantum entanglement markers. In a flash, they reassembled in the center of a mezzanine overlooking hundreds of embassy operatives, along with alien diplomats and emissaries performing various tasks. It was a whimsical sight, but probably hard for Zuorn to take it all in considering Oswald’s apple sat wet-side down in her palm. Standing in front of the no food in transporter sign, Oswaldo completely ignored what happened, wiped his nose with his left wrist, and began informing the alien where she was. “Welcome to EarthF67x’s Extraterrestrial Embassy.”

There was a lot to process at one time. In one corner, a team of operatives worked alongside a telepathic squid the size of a full-sized cello transcribing an ancient alien dialect. The agents furiously scribbled notes based on the squid's patterned neon pulses. To the left of them, space archaeologists equipped with scanners carefully excavate a glowing, boulder-sized tablet, examining the holographic gems within. Below the mezzanine to the right, a man in a white lab coat and green goggles inspected a vial, gently swishing it around before pouring it into the soil of an oversized plant vase containing a seedling. Immediately, the plant's growth exploded, microwaving years into a mere moment spawning a wishbone-shaped tree bearing multiple types of apples overlooking Oswald. He promptly snatched one with his grime-nailed fingers. “I’ll try Granny Smith this time.”

Without warning, the odd man wearing a bright yellow shirt and gold-clipped suspenders holding up his khakis walked off, not even bothering to check if Zuorn followed him as he talked. "I’m your agent. Think of it like a parole officer if you have that sort of thing on your planet. Around here, you’re pretty much guilty until proven innocent. Try not to get into any trouble will ya? Otherwise, it's more work for me.”
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Zuorn was disgusted by this man. This "Ozwall".

When the door opened, she hadn't expected something so... hairy, so stout. It embarrassed her to imagine, but when she looked at him, all she could wonder was how devolved he must be compared to the rest of his species. Surely the average Earth-person wasn't like this. She was glad her vision was still blurry from the saline.

...And then she blinked the last bit of it away. His flesh -- so wrinkled, fatty, and orange. The exact opposite of her own -- if she knew what a seal or dolphin was, she would compare herself to one instantly. The only similarity was the presence of tiny hairs all over, but even then, his grew into longer bristles on his arms as if meant to be a shield from tiny biting creepy crawlies you might encounter in a forest. Hers just served to make her look fuzzy when viewing her up close, like some fruits.

She swallowed, then put on a smile for politeness. "Y-Yes, I am. They must've told you I was Ecrui over the radio channels." She hoped they hadn't told him any Ecrui stereotypes. Probably not. Almost everyone on board, including her commander, was one. Still... the worry was there.

"Close my eyes-" She shut them tight, sensitive things they were. Big eyeballs were a curse sometimes. A lot of times. Sure enough, even through her eyelids, a light-show massaged them. She wasn't going to open them until the colors stilled. She imagined they would settle on the usual soft blue her skin and blood vessels caused. A relaxing color. And then she was going to open her eyes and see a beautiful sky or at least a good-looking room and she was going to meet so many-

B I L L I O N S OF T H E M


She collapsed, crushed under the emotional weight of an entire planet, the gravity of the situations every situation endless situations sucked her into living earth, teeming, thick clay, paralysis, thrumming death pain distrust paranoia joy birth sadness dreaming boredom cycle e n d l e s s suffering from everything-

She closed her third eye and tentatively opened her first and second.
Isolation from a maximal populace of senders without receivers, a maximal she had never experienced before, so ship-bound she was that their presence was one mass, one chaos, one devastating force; the gravity well of a blackhole and spaghettification of self.
Isolation once again, like the shuttle. But better than an overload in this situation. She pushed off the ground with shaking, tingling hands... and the gross, slaven-surfaced fruit he had been munching on. Ew.

The scenery beckoned her gaze, and she realized now what "translocation" meant. It was like a god had flicked her across the void in the blink of an eye. That and other technology beyond what she had ever known of. A diversity of species all around her like she had never seen before -- the Earth-people alone comprised several general shapes, shades, and sizes. Most of them did look better than "Ozwall", aesthetically speaking. She staggered to her feet and followed after him, trying not to feint.

Guilty until proven innocent... How barbaric. Just like the Federation.

Clearing her throat roughly, she replied, "Don't worry. I will try not to get into trouble. It would be a disgrace to my crew and commander. I presume you got the manifest?"
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—— Earth-F67X: Earth’s Extraterrestrial Embassy

“Mr. Vetzinga!” rushed up behind the pair a frumpy brown-green polkadot Fruggalo with a thick old Islip accent, “Mr. Vetzinga, your ex-wife is on the horn.”

Their attention caught, she panted clouds of lavender smog and her monocular eyes twitched and adjusted to focus on both Oswaldo and Zourn. Then she lifted a grubby palm filled with reams of thin yellow triplication forms, “Oh, and here’s your paperwork, Mr. Vetzinga. It is from the Bureau, you know the one. They always have to come first, the bastards, always whining about planetary security, never concerned with our security if you know what I mean. Intake for the newbie to fill out.”

One lidless eye focuses its pupil on Zourn, and she says, “Got a universal translator? Do you understand what we’re saying? Can you read what’s on the paper or do you require assistive accessibility support technology? Do you drink water? Do you need to use the can? Here, have a Pączki. They’re delicious. You’re too thin, a girl without curves will never catch a man. Just look at me, all curves, and I’m already on my ninth husband!”

She doesn’t pause to catch her breath, but continues, “Speaking of husbands, your ex-wife is on the horn, Mr. Vetzinga, not the telephone, but the Horn of Africa. Says you have to come rescue her, part of your divorce agreement. She signed up for a time share and ended up in a Xanathan shipping container. What a ditz!”
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Zuorn twisted to overlook the even stranger being. This one definitely wasn't human. Now that she thought about it -- and was able to actually see well and compare him to other Earth-people -- Mr. Vetzinga wasn't quite the same as them. Maybe he was a... mimicry species? A shapeshifting one? A total weirdo of an Earthling? This one, however, with its many legs and cute, massive features, was certainly another kind.

Many questions came her way, along with a sense that she was very enthusiastic, or maybe excited, or focused, or... caffeinated? She couldn't quite tell with her "third eye" shut. The comment that she lacked in curves glanced off the armor of knowledge that tall spindly things and excess fat did not mix, and that she would either go Lakretian or go mateless.

She pocketed the Pączki for now.

Wide-eyed, Zuorn began to speak once her long-winded report reached its conclusion. To those proficient in Earthen languages, her accent landed somewhere between Irish and Spanish, trending towards the former. "I do in fact, to answer all of those questions at once." She traced a gray line that looped around her horn and crawled down the side of her head like a vine; a form-fitting support for the thin, rectangular device positioned over her right ear. "Translates inwards, and then a chip inside of my brain translates my own verbal intent into the appropriate language. Just another thing our enemies call us devils for... but at least we don't have the actual curved horns of the Vendali."
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—— Earth-F67X: Earth’s Extraterrestrial Embassy

“Oh, how thoughtless,” the frumpy Fruggalo proclaimed and extended one of her four stumpy arms in an awkward salutation, “I’m Fran, Fran Lyfpifgrosq. A pleasure, I’m sure. And you’re Lieutenant Zourn Vátne, I know, I’ve looked at your file. Sad, sad, sad,” she trailed off and gazed absently at the slow-turning ceiling fan.

Very dusty up there. Almost as if this facility is short-staffed in the janitorial department.

Moments later, undeterred, Fran shakes off her reverie and waddles after and catches up to Zourn and Oswaldo down a long wide hall filled with cozy chairs occupied by a menagerie of alien lifeforms. It is quiet, aside from Fran. The television displays that line the walls are muted, but show protesters outside the EEE. A large group of masked people in knock-off military gear hold blood-red signs insisting “EARTH FOR HUMANS,” “ALIENS ARE SCUM,” “REMEMBER SPAIN,” and “FCW VETERANS DESERVE BETTER!” while another, smaller group, waves banners insisting “Love For All Life.” They are clearly shouting at one another across a street heavily patrolled by SWAT units with helmets, visors, shock batons, and riot shields — compliments of the North Capital City Police Department.

“Ignore them, sweetie. They’re harmless, mostly. No attacks for at least a month, now,” Fran attempts to comfort Zourn, but then her tone changes entirely, and in a conspiratorial whisper, she says to Oswaldo, “by-the-by, Mr. Vetzinga, there’s something else I want to tell you. Why the assholes are out in particular force today. She is here, you know, Mayor Iedereen. Discussing something important with one of those high-up government bureaucrats from the Department of Integration Security. Room C13. Been in there for about an hour.”
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“Rescue? I’d rather eat hot crow!” Fed up, the scraggly man bit through the entire core of the apple, tossing the remains wayside, hitting a scientist in the back of the head, causing a large domino effect of accidents weaving throughout the embassy. Taking no responsibility whatsoever, Oswald whipped out a humongous phone from seemingly nowhere and angrily tumb-wrestled the keypad of what appeared closer to a brick than any modern communication device. Utilizing the world’s most popular odd-job app, TaskTopia, he posted a rescue job for his Ex-Wife that hardly qualified as due diligence. “Hopefully she stays dead this time” he crankily mumbled under his breath.

Title: "Save My Ex-Wife, I Guess..."

Alright, listen up folks, it's your lucky day! My ex-wife, the queen of misguided decisions, has once again managed to outdo herself. This time, she's landed herself in the Horn of Africa, all thanks to her genius idea of signing up for some untrustworthy time-share.

Before you start questioning my sanity for even considering this, let me clarify a few things. Apparently, it's in the divorce agreement I didn't bother to read. I just allowed anything knowing It meant I’d never have to see her again!

So, if you're in the mood for a mildly irritating, somewhat unsafe adventure filled with exasperated sighs and the occasional facepalm, step right up! Oh, and did I mention the cherry on top? There's a reward involved. The catch is, just don't bring her anywhere near me and the direct deposit will hit!

“Manifest Schmanifest. I’ll worry about that later.” The odd man was ticked off, given his response to Zuorn. Despite how disorganized and disgruntled Oswald seemed, he did his job relatively well. He had adequate people management skills. Any questions she had would be answered in due time. However, the Ecrui would have a truckload more after witnessing the airing story playing on several TVs. His somewhat coldness was a tiny bit of a front. At least more than usual. He considered that too much focus on the geo socio-political climate currently of Earth was a bit much to digest for the new visitor.

Before he could change the subject, Fran whispered in his ear. Oswald paused. He looked like someone just found a fly in their soup. He wasn't exactly thrilled, no should anyone else in the building be. “Margaret, Eh? And what does she have to be so close to my office right now?” The souring of his expression added yet another to the list of emotions the agent vividly showcased to Zuorn in the last minute alone. Turning towards the tall alien, Oswald figured it was bleak. There was no hiding it, so he outright spoke to Fran with no filter.

“Today’s gotten more complex. Knowing her, she’s only here to raise hell about the influx of migrants we keep stuffing into the slums of Allure and other countries using her city as their personal prisoner dump-off. They’re still on a short leash with the government and deservedly so. I’ve been hearing that a lot of earthlings have been venturing to some rigged Casino and either coming back filthy rich or never to be seen again—weird stuff. Either way, don’t tell her I’m in the building. If she makes too much fuss, just give her a magical artifact or something.”

Zuorn probably had little knowledge of who Margaret Iedeeren was but if the TV remained on, she would probably learn quite a bit just how polarizing of a figure she was.
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Along the near destroyed alien ship, another came. Its shape warped into the outer rings past Neptune, close enough to be seen by the cluster of Earth’s satellites but not close enough to be within weapon’s range. The outer shell of the ship was composed of a strange material, a special composite meant to absorb radio waves and make detection difficult via regular radar. Why such an ancient countermeasure was present was not yet known, nor was any other aspect of the ship past its long and angled shape, like that of a regular naval destroyer mirrored at the level where its hull met the water, if it were made of clay and then flattened so that only a twin mast packed full with antennas and sensors remained. At its nose similar systems were present, feeling the small minutiae of information touching their systems and interpreting it via some unknown means. No electrical noise nor mechanical or thermal signature could be felt from the ship, it felt as if it was simply a dead asteroid even if just mere minutes before it rapidly re-entered space from a warp bubble.

Within, two beings, camouflaged by the ship’s advanced exterior, conversed via contact. The feeling of small particles, energy states shifting, was how they had to make do within the very quiet interior of the large vessel. “So I was watching that game right? and I thought ‘hey, why not do something like that here, just throw in an impostor and see how they deal with it’ it sounds like a good concept in my head. Kind of like a game of werewolf. You do know that game was made by a bunch of college students, right?” The first asked. He was a composition of nanites that was once a man, the memories and neural connections were hardware replicated. These were known as ex-human due to their ‘special’ competences. “Yes sir, we both share the same database.” The other replied. Born out of a synthetic mind she was a non ex-human, completely mechanical from creation and lacking what some referred to as a soul. “Anyway, they found out the werewolves almost always win that game. Now you may be wondering why I am telling you this.” He said, though as they both shared the same L4 cache the other already knew where he was going. “Of course" She replied. “Well Giza, I want us to play that game, I want to see it in action. With the contract we received from these federation guys we can make it happen. I had a nice idea for it too, something iconic, and ironic, a bit of an old tradition” Not wanting to waste more time the second nanomorph replied: “Will you be using the biomorphing Kroppian strains we captured so long ago Cairo?”

Rather than speaking, he sent in the details through photons, the entire genetic makeup of the species they would be sending through the border. “These will ensure a slow and painful death for these alien’s reputations. But of course, these humans are very smart and have placed detectors along their borders. This is where our own knowledge comes in. I have placed a special kind of tapeworm egg in one of the coming migrants, a fat man of olive skin that really likes pork burritos, once he goes in to clean his bowels our trojan horse will emerge” He said, turning to a composite feed of what one might imagine was how a computer would ‘see’, or rather, shifted his focus as his body lacked any sensory organs.

“Sup’ Larry” A large man said, wearing a stained white shirt worn under an open red plaid, his bald head being covered by a blue and white mesh cap that said: ‘I’m eggscellent’ other than that he wore white socks, khaki sandals, and cargo shorts. One hand had a very large burrito and another a big soda that he sipped while waiting for the guard to respond. “Sup’ Barry, I see you lost a few pounds huh? You hitting the gym or something wey?” Which made Larry let out a laugh. “Nah man, I’m just cutting down on the ranch dressing” Though clearly neither would be able to run for 50 meters without suffering from heart failure by the time they were halfway done with that. He was a known crosser and knew his friend so getting past the teleporters into the city was easy, once there he felt his stomach grumble and rushed to the bathroom. “Dios mio!” Was the last thing that could be heard within the stall before the large man exploded into a large cloud of blood and viscera, staining the floor, ceiling, and the walls inside his stall. “Jaja taco bell am I right compadre?” Another man replied from the next stall, turning a page on his newspaper as the intruder made its way out of the male bathroom.

Formless but not senseless, the small thing covered in blood immediately got on a computer like a gen alpha kid who got separated from his iPad for more than 0.032 nanoseconds. Its small appendages were able to interface with whatever outdated port the office computer had and got a new identity that would help it infiltrate the alien city. It ended up converging on a new applicant that was about to be accepted, instead intercepting the letter, and appointing itself to the post. “Deanna Mestrovic” It pronounced, eating part of the Hispanic foie gras she got from the explosive burrito lover. Her form had by now adapted to that of the woman she was imitating, but she needed clothes. Sure, she could imitate their appearance, but when felt it would be no different from chitin. She walked out to an ATM and got a few bucks from one of the accounts her masters had created and bought what she needed. Only then would she begin her own journey of becoming a bureaucrat, or democrat, one of those she thought was the right word for it.

Her first task of the day would be to provide cultural supervision for one of the alien agencies in the city. She took a clipboard with her, wore a pencil skirt, slightly open shirt and blazer that matched and made her features more prominent, and then walked in. Her hair was a nice inky black and her eyes a soft brown, her skin was fair, a bit sun touched and her age just in the right bracket to be a secretary. She stepped in through the door, her badge for the DIS brand new as she looked around the area. It was completely new to her, but she would have to work here for the rest of her days. “Good afternoon, sir. I was sent here by the Department of Integration Security. I hope you are doing well; my name is Deanna Mestrovic, it should be on the database.”
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—— Earth-F67X: The Mainline Defensive Array

“Sirs, we have another!” gasped a low-rank academic draftee who busted into the subterranean SITCOM of the Mainline Defensive Array. He was a mutt, short, slight freshmen just finished with the first quarter of his four year enlistment. In his hand swayed an air-gapped chaos-encrypted tablet accented by non-regulation glitter-tinged Rainbow Dash stickers and a hyper-masculine werewolf anthro pin-up his colleagues assumed was his fursona — probably unnecessary in the massive faraday-caged and liquid xenon-shielded plastisteel labyrinth he occupied, but humanity specialized in paranoia. His display boasted a few graphs and a lot of dense technical jargon, “should have eyes on it soon.”

Poor guy almost fell over, then pushed back his pearl gray glasses, remembered himself, and saluted.

A soldier, all uniform, no face, took it from him, placed it on a cart, and hit a button. The draftee could’ve sworn he heard whispered all gas, no breaks, yiffy boy during the blink-long handoff. Light streamed from a port in the side of the tablet and repainted the display onto an old-fashioned RAM-cloth projector screen. He flushed, aroused, not that he was blessed enough for it to be noticed, as he recalled events not suitable for the workplace.

Given the unexpected arrival of the distressed Lakretian vessel, Earth’s military was on high alert. Claimed they were refugees, the aliens did, but their ship was fit for battle. Or was, prior to its last sortie. At present, it orbited Hygiea and appeared more wreckage than warship.

On the SITCOM main screen, rival artificial intelligence programs executed theoretical war games, summaries of which were filtered, collated, and reviewed by a team of analysts in the unlikely event Commander Efrit was followed by belligerents. Soon, attention was drawn away by the projector screen, which remembered the display content even after the tablet light cut out.

“Short and to the point, Corporal,” a man dressed idiosyncratically civilian, albeit well-dressed, commanded.

Where had he heard that voice? Not the civ-in-command, but the masked soldier. That dare club, all gas, no breaks; wild peccadilloes transpired there, often of sordid natures. Last night the theme was litterbox mosh pit, and he left soaked to the bone. Going with a friend the week before was a huge mistake, that place was an absolute relationship ender. That night, glowing blood blackout was the theme, clothes optional, and all he saw was injectable fluid that shined through skin as it circulated through everyone’s vascular systems. Wild, hypnotic, probably not FDA approved. He felt his therian self deep when his friend was dared to spank him, enjoyed it too much, and bent over a lap with a mewl and an abrupt splat was the end of that relationship.

I should call zir.

Autonomous systems scattered throughout Sol’s asteroid belt detected a secondary gravitational wave of low amplitude, high frequency, and tight curvature, which indicated the manifestation, collapse, and directionality of a subsequent warp bubble. Of course, those waves were limited to light speed and took hours to verify; an inadequate response frame for a paranoid militaristic totalitarian planet, but heavily compensated for by the predictive analyses of quantum topological fluctuations — near-immediate feedback. Multiple short-range telescopes and intra-system weapon batteries trained on that point in space and watched, but they wouldn’t lock on to anything, best case scenario, for several more minutes.

“Wake up, Corporal!” another voice shouted in his ear, and he jumped.

The mutt grabbed his tablet off the cart, clutched it pitifully, and began,

“Sir, yes! Sorry, sir! Near where the Lakratian vessel manifested, just past Neptune, we’ve detected another spatial anomaly that fits a warp bubble collapse signature, albeit very subtle. We have reason to believe it is another alien incursion; a spacecraft,” the awkward Corporal recited loudly, nervously, and gesticulated vaguely toward his one-slide presentation, “Shortly thereafter, Earth’s planetary atmosphere experienced local luminosity patternized fluctuations, similar to a pulsar, uh, flashes of light, but higher energy and less regular. In North Capital City. The data analytics team is working to make sense of the pattern. We don’t have more specifics on where, precisely, in the city it was directed. Incomplete. Caught the tail end, very strange.”

“Anything else that’s not just details, Corporal?”

He considered the irregular light signal and the ridiculous amount of energy it necessitated to accomplish anything worthwhile from such a distance; a fact already obvious to the great minds in this chamber.

“No, Sir.”

“Dismissed.”

He almost ran out, but composed himself. Went down the hall to the toilet. It seemed empty, just a long wall of unoccupied urinals. More of an extended stainless steel trough, really. He stood in the middle, half-wished his kink wasn’t humiliation, then felt a tap on the shoulder. That strangely familiar deep parched voice, like it suffered from too much testosterone, whispered, “Trimble Place exit, zero-five-hundred hours, grays,” and just like that he was alone with a wet spot on the front of his pants.

Just like that, he really actually needed to pee.

… Ϟ

—— Earth-F67X: North Capital City Police Department

“We’ve got CCTV and drone footage showing blood trailing out of a men’s bathroom,” a detective yawned, firmly seated on the corner of his partner’s desk, “fatso goes in, eating food mind you, never comes out. Hours pass. Nobody saw him leave, but the stall is a mess. A bloodbath. Security guard of a local campus was alerted by the janitorial staff, decided to take a look-see. Now it is our problem. Thing is, though,” he continued, but yawned again, this time into an empty manila folio, which was better than the triple-decker cheeseburger that dripped grease through the knuckles of his other hand, “there’s something off about that footage. Like those AI edits, but better. So I go and ask around, and what do you know — gal says she was looking off her balcony and saw a pile of poo roll around on a phone and then grow into a full-grown woman. Of course, she was on something. Didn’t need a test to confirm that. Phone was still there, though,” he grinned, held up a plastic baggie, and plopped it down on the desk, “got any guesses what forensics will say about this? Me either. They’re backlogged, but this is a possible murder, so who knows. That said — what do you say we keep to easy street and shoot a lifeline — or laughline, depending on who you ask — to Oakes, death and taxes knows he could use another impossible missing person case to solve.”
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Earth-F67X: Earth’s Extraterrestrial Embassy

“Oh, how thoughtless,” the frumpy Fruggalo proclaimed and extended one of her four stumpy arms in an awkward salutation, “I’m Fran, Fran Lyfpifgrosq. A pleasure, I’m sure. And you’re Lieutenant Zourn Vátne, I know, I’ve looked at your file. Sad, sad, sad,” she trailed off and gazed absently at the slow-turning ceiling fan.

[...]

“Rescue? I’d rather eat hot crow!” Fed up, the scraggly man bit through the entire core of the apple, tossing the remains wayside, hitting a scientist in the back of the head, causing a large domino effect of accidents weaving throughout the embassy. Taking no responsibility whatsoever, Oswald whipped out a humongous phone from seemingly nowhere and angrily tumb-wrestled the keypad of what appeared closer to a brick than any modern communication device. Utilizing the world’s most popular odd-job app, TaskTopia, he posted a rescue job for his Ex-Wife that hardly qualified as due diligence. “Hopefully she stays dead this time” he crankily mumbled under his breath.

[...]

“Today’s gotten more complex. Knowing her, she’s only here to raise hell about the influx of migrants we keep stuffing into the slums of Allure and other countries using her city as their personal prisoner dump-off. They’re still on a short leash with the government and deservedly so. I’ve been hearing that a lot of earthlings have been venturing to some rigged Casino and either coming back filthy rich or never to be seen again—weird stuff. Either way, don’t tell her I’m in the building. If she makes too much fuss, just give her a magical artifact or something.”

Zuorn probably had little knowledge of who Margaret Iedeeren was but if the TV remained on, she would probably learn quite a bit just how polarizing of a figure she was.


Zuorn's eyes flitted to the extended arm, and she returned the salute. Like a proper game of telephone, her salutation was an evolution of the one Fran had attempted: lanky arm held straight at a 45 degree angle, palm facing down. Surely a patriotic salute of the people of Earth, used during anthems or other ceremonious events. Surely nothing tainted by horrific past events.

After the comment on how "sad, sad, sad" the contents of her file were, Fran averted her eyes to a fan which was not connected to any sort of ventilation system whose air it might circulate into the room, but Zuorn brushed aside the curiosity of its apparent (in)effectiveness -- Fran's action looked like a show of boredom. Had she been sarcastic, mocking, about her file? She couldn't tell. She almost wanted to stop and ask about it... but it would just be easier to catch a glimpse of the answer through her "third eye". The problem was sensory overload.

Zuorn was used to taking risks. Or, had been, until that "sad, sad, sad" day. But this was different. It was herself she was risking. And the risk was neither high nor permanent in consequence. So, bracing herself, she peeled open her-

Another glimpse into heavenhellheavenhellheavenhell the entire planet, the gravity of the situations every situation she's teeming, thick clay, slow, stumbling shuffling through the painpleasurep a i n p l e a s u r e p a i n p l e a s u r e . . . a less cacophonous thrumming death pain distrust paranoia joy birth sadness dreaming boredom-
Like a drug, less powerful the first time, could she handle it, she could handle it, could she handle it?
Time traveled half a minute to the future, where was she now?
Clutched her head tighter.
Ignore who?
Molasses slowed down the spin towards Fran slowed down the spin towards the monitor. The source of so much anger. Near-deathly conflict. They must hate eachother. Federation and rebellion, but which side was which? They all looked the same. Seas of humanity, samey humanity.
Fran's assurance is false. Whispers, but she doesn't try to listen to the words, she tries to listen for the feelings, tries to parse them from background noise that sounds like explosions. Tweezers to remove Ozwall's from the hide of humanity.
Anger. Worst outcome: status quo. Loss of care joy relief hell anger despair panic curiosity disgust? disappointment, even worse outcome pain amusement pity sorrow crap hit by a curveball? fancrapstic punched excitement apocalypse problem problem problem problem problem problem PROBLEM

She retreated into her shell. She couldn't take any more. A pressure had set in frogs boiling in water and where she had been clutching her head, a headache reared its ugly head rear-guard collapsed she sought the nearest seat killed them and slumped in it killed them.

She looked up at the TV, wondering more about the humans warring eachother with their signs and their cries. What she found instead was that it had shifted to view one human woman in particular.
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Human, or so Zourn thought. As a wavy brunette, she was undeniably beautiful, her sharp, striking features, surely making her the apple of someone's eye. Yet, beneath, her spirit was tinged with an unsettling depth of familiarity with others. She wasn’t an empath, though some considered her so. Lacking empathy, anyone she truly understood, she controlled. The Ecrui probably couldn’t make the correlation based on her overexposed senses, but several individuals on Earth held traces of her weaved into their very being.

A stick of dark-plum lipstick parted from Margaret Iedereen's gently smacking lips, gracefully twirling into its rose gold container before dropping into her classic Sac Faubourg Birkin resting on the table above her pencil skirt. All eyes sat on this woman seemingly without care in the world practicing her office beauty routine to a sour-faced audience. In the wake of Allure City's mass erasure and replacement of Spain, and the lockdown on her precious city, Earthlings searched desperately for signs of stress in her. Any sprinkle of doubt in her timeless visage, any stutter of words in her convicting tone, even a drop of sweat. Examining her defined brows in a compact mirror in her left hand, she didn't crack. Despite the sheer totality of individuals clamoring for her downfall outside of Earth’s Extraterrestrial Embassy, business was business, and Allureans could always count on their not-so-honest, not-so-duly elected, silver-tongued leader to work in their best interests. Her plate was stacked rather high, and rather than play with her food, she got straight down to the meat and potatoes enacting her current agenda, ranging anywhere from imperative to petty.

Beginning with petty, with her usual resting bitch face, Margaret’s almond-shaped eyes leered through her gem-studded birdcage veil into the tongue-biting agents of the room. An awkward silence inflated the space, only disrupted by the lynch mob outside the embassy broadcasted via the lone television of the conference room. “WE KNOW SHE PLAYED A PART IN THIS! MARGARET IEDEREEN IS COMPLICIT WITH THE CAT MAN!” They protested her right to live, let alone allow her to take refuge on Earth.

Folding her arms, bust buckling ever so slightly out of her caramel blazer, Margaret addressed the room. "Earthlings may protest, snivel, and cry out over my arrival, casting me as both a pariah to their society and a symbol of their imagined oppression. I find it quite amusing. History suggests I cannot be both, though the former would streamline operations. Yet, I must admit, I find the latter sentiment rather endearing."

Already over it, a man, clearly lacking dozens of hours of sleep at this point, sitting opposite the oval oak cherrywood table from her, slid a heavy manila envelope halfway across the table. The tall silent figure accompanying Margaret approached from the corner of the room, fetching the documents. One side of his body and entire face was wrapped in an excessive amount of bandages, reminiscent of a mummy freshly unearthed. The rest of his get-up contrasted greatly. Wearing an intricately designed jacket with asymmetric cuts, straps criss-crossing his torso, and pants that seemed to defy conventional tailoring with their unorthodox shapes and patterns, his avant-garde attire dangled as he stretched his arm to Margaret.

“Thank you, Ra.”

Margaret smirked, her eyes twinkling with a touch of mischief. As she perused the document before her, a hint of satisfaction curled the corners of her elegant lips.

“I see you admirably acquiesced to most of my stipulations. The Catch-22?”
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— Earth-F67X: North Capital City: Earth’s Extraterrestrial Embassy

An exhausted Tristan Singh loomed behind Margaret Iedereen, masked by his U-9 supersoldier armor. At Earth’s Extraterrestrial Embassy in North Capital City he, typical of the last year, stood guard. Ostensibly to stop shenanigans, but she played her cards close and, inasmuch as he observed, cooperated in good faith with Earth’s so-called civilian government.

Didn’t matter, Apollo didn’t trust her. Never would.

Assuming Apollo yet lived. Ops neither saw nor heard from him in months. Shadows ran things, primarily through New Roswell. Far as Tristan knew, the scary orgo-a.i. sealed away there was Earth’s true executive officer.

Unseen inside his armor, Tristan shuddered.

All in all, it — guard duty — seemed more punishment than duty-bound honor. Worse, it bored him. Not to knock Margaret, interesting dame, that. Still, as time ticked, Tethys, the intelligence embedded in his U-9, took charge more often. Meanwhile, Tristan let his mind dance around questions he wasn’t sure he wanted answered. For instance, what was he? Human? Monster? Machine? Some twisted menagerie? He loathed sleep, dreaded dreams, hated the thing that beat his heart on his behalf. But he remained human, even if a superhuman. Had to sleep once in a while. So, upright and armed, while Margaret played politics, Tethys took command and Tristan faced his nightmares.

This time, no nightmare. Just a simple choice.

Tethys was a smart chip, smart enough that nobody learned her U-9 was empty.

… Ϟ


Fran ate rice cakes and watched television screens. The Embassy was her home, nowhere else to go for an unsleeping and vaguely-eldritch alien damsel too slow and sluggish to survive outside in this political climate. Her chair, directly outside the conference room Margaret Iedereen negotiated in. The two feeds of information fed into separate lobes, one less important but better entertainment than the other.

“They’re calling it a Rapture of the Forgotten,” a news anchor from Rhesus-54 read from a teleprompter, “Names and faces forgotten, but millions of employees absent from work, home, church. What do you make of it, Suriya?” The female co-anchor smiled and replied, “Well, Rayyan, details are still coming in, but indicate that this seems to coincide with a type of mass hysteria, a dream people claim to have woken from where an alien voice sang to them.”

A bit of ricecake crumb bounced off of Fran’s mandibular pincer and one of her eyes blinked.

Meanwhile, through the door, she heard Iedereen demand to know the “Catch-22,” and awaited the female ambassador’s answer.

… Ϟ

— Earth-F67X: North Capital City: the Mainline Defensive Array

Obedient, excited, anxious, the analyst’s shift ended and he practically ran to the communal showers. Cleaned up right good, a type of cleanliness that’s utterly shameful. His laptop, stickers and all, safely locked in his desk, as he was a fortunate enough science guy to have his own. Everything ordered, perfect. Meanwhile, his uniform laid in a wrinkled pile atop his footlocker, hastily discarded. Towel forgotten, he marched wet-backed to his office, shook dog-like, pulled on his gray cotton joggers, slapped his wet’n wild hair down to a vaguely dignified fauxhawk, and exited where ordered.

Leg abounce, he lingered nervous under the bus shelter until only hopeless, desperate anticipation remained. Incessant traffic vibrations and neon lights dizzied him; a theory. The Canopy’s eternal rain of chemical pollutants, industrial pollen, were the culprit; another theory.

Suddenly a firm hand clenched his collarbone, jerked him rough, back, upright. He yelped and sprang over the bench. Seat drenched, his cheeks clapped into something hard. Someone. As their grip tightened, he squirmed and whimpered. A grunt of satisfaction. Briefly released, he felt the man’s massive arm move around his shoulder. A leather gloved hand and black leather jacket that matched, no markings. A ghost. The mutt glanced up, disappointed by a pitch black motorcycle helmet — but incredibly aroused. Same frame, same anonymous intrigue. As lights dimmed, blocked by a dumpster in an unlit alley, he babbled:

“Signal, decoded some, we think music lyrics; for realzies: ‘planetary, intergalactic.’”

Deep, gruff, country-accented, he heard ordered, “Shoosh,” and, unprepared, was pinned against the alley’s rough brick wall. A dumpster observed the onslaught, and he wondered whether he’d end up inside, a leaker of classified information discarded like a used condom. Then his pant seat ripped open, pain and lust entered, and, relieved, blacked out.

Long enough to dream, long enough to sense the intimation of a choice.

Longer than he needed.

Enthralled by short-term pleasures, no question lingered in his mind. He would rather die than miss the next moments of abuse and degradation. Revived, fullness consumed him, and, unexpectedly, a dull click, a sensation smooth, cool, and uncomfortable that restrained him down front.

“Mine,” the mutt heard and accepted without question.
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