‘The Exile Gate’
Chapter 7: The Parcel
by Duo Radon
Wikus opened his eyes slowly, almost dreading the vacancy of sleep. With his current track record, he should have awoken in a ditch or a dumpster, but he was pleasantly relieved to find himself in the same luxurious bed he'd passed out in. He spread out his arms a little, savoring the silken drapings that covered his bare skin, pressing his hands into cushioning that was even plusher than his own fluffy pelts. Above, colorful tapestries broke up the ceiling and created mottled shadows in the lanterns' light. With no windows or anything resembling a clock, and his comm link tossed to the floor with his clothes, it was impossible to gauge how much time he'd spent with Abayomi....who was, he realized, conspicuously absent.
Frowning, Wikus pushed himself up onto his elbows and had a proper look around. He was certain she'd fallen asleep beside him, yet she, and her garments, were missing. A host of paranoid scenarios ran through his mind until she did appear, fully dressed and accessorized just the same as she'd been when he'd entered the room.
"Good, you're awake," Abayomi said hastily, any hint of the warmth he'd felt before tucked away beneath her formal facade. "Please dress. It's time for you to go."
"Yeah. Saw that coming," Wikus grunted as he sat up. "Not even a-"
"Hush! It's late. You must leave." The Princess moved to stand beside her door, watching her guest expectantly.
Without another word, Wikus dressed, bid the Princess a ceremonial farewell, and remanded himself to the protection of the guards outside her door. At least he could look forward to a warm reception from the green alien waiting somewhere in the Palace.
"Why are you sulking?"
"I told you why."
"Yes, but I don't understand," Yeen replied gently. Safely tucked into Cabin #3 on board Tarzier's cruiser and headed home, the sympathetic drone was doing his best to comfort his sullen human. The pair sat side by side on the edge of the bunk, Wikus studying his boots and Yeen pondering Wikus.
"What's to understand? I told you I couldn't do it."
"You did everything Satu asked."
"And how much more do we know? That they've had the Gate for over two decades. That they could have rescued you guys when you were stranded on Earth but instead, your closest allies left you to twist in the wind for....God knows why...You know, I think you'd be more upset about that."
"I am. But we weren't expecting good news here...."
Wikus slumped over, leaning on his knees. "Can you imagine....I'd still be with Tania. You'd still have Otowek...."
"And we wouldn't be together at all." Wikus raised his head to look into his Sugati's eyes. He didn't need to answer, Yeen could see his mind quite clearly. "It's hard to cope with sometimes, but maybe everything does happen for a reason."
"You think so?" Wikus wondered.
"I prefer to."
"Yeah. So do I."
Wikus straightened and leaned against his friend, enjoying the subtle movements of his plated sides as he breathed. "So tell me," Yeen prodded eventually, "how was it?"
"How was what? The sex?"
"I don't know, man, it was weird."
"Weird? Would it not have been a very natural interaction for you both?"
"Yeah, it should have been, but it wasn't. And that made it ever weirder."
"She is not attractive to you?"
"No, she's very beautiful.....but she's never done anything like that before. It was....like my first time as a poleepkwa...everything was new to her. She'd never even seen a man naked before. I had to tell her what things were called...that got awkward." Wikus sat back against the bunk wall with a huff and rested his hands on his belly. "I wish I was in better shape...."
"I like your shape the way it is," Yeen retorted with a raised brow.
"I know. It's mostly your doing." Wikus couldn't help but smirk at the worker's smug expression. "Ah...it's easy for you guys. It's easy for us. Everyone's the same. Same mindset, same...parts. But with women, everything comes with subtitles; you can't take anything they say at face value. What they want changes from one day to the next....it's complicated."
Yeen shook his head in dismay. "You are undoubtedly the most neurotic alien I've ever met. You've obsessed over this woman for three years, then you finally find her, have intercourse with her, and you're still unhappy?"
"I'm not the kind of guy who does this sort of thing! It would have been nice to get to know her a little, first. Now I just feel...guilty."
"I feel like I used her...just to get her to tell me something she didn't even tell me."
"It sounded to me like she was more than willing."
"What would you expect? I told you, she still has all the urges of a normal woman, just no way to satisfy them."
"Then, by that logic, you should be pleased that you could help her with it."
"Yeah....I guess. Don't know how good a job I did....it's been a while, you know," Wikus muttered into his chest.
"I'm sure you're fretting over nothing. Did she do that thing I do for you, with my finger-"
"You told me you liked it...."
"I do! Fook man, you can't ask a lady to do that on a first date! Especially not a princess...."
"You're saying her fingers are too short," Yeen contemplated, genuinely attempting to solve this riddle.
"You know what," Wikus interrupted hastily, "maybe we shouldn't talk. Talking is always a bad idea."
Yeen squinted and shook said finger at his agitated partner. "Your people are very repressed. It might be the cause of a lot of your social shortcomings."
Wikus pretended not to hear and drew his legs close, curling up in the bunk with his nose to the wall. "In fact...unf...I'm going to see if I can't just sleep the rest of the way."
"For four days?"
"Hm," Yeen smiled, "repressed."
The sparkling cascade of Oolund was a more than welcome sight to the pair of travelers, but they were even happier to reunite with the family. The Gateway was to be kept secret from the public until further details surfaced, so as far as everyone knew, Yeen had intercepted Wikus before he made it to the Palace and their delay in returning had been caused by a lost boarding pass. Wikus's morose attitude was passed off as a bought of Traveler's Sickness, and as soon as everyone was satisfied with the couple's return, Yeen escorted him to the sunny shores of Yotoori, as promised.
They spent a week on the beach and the Earthling's mood lifted as long as he remained distracted. But when it was time for life to return to normal, Yeen brought his partner back several pounds fatter but none the more encouraged. Even a transmission from Commander Ruwala, commending him for his efforts in the matter, did little to bolster his spirits and the following weeks were difficult for them both.
This day had been particularly unhappy for Wikus. It was the sort of day where nothing goes as planned and one frustration just seems to roll into another. After work, the family gathered at a restaurant near the plant as they always did on the last night of the week. It was an exciting eatery for the children as well as the adults, with games and entertainment; a reward for a hard week's effort. But tired and suffering a headache, Wikus opted not to join the merriment in favor of a small, quiet meal at home. As always, Yeen stayed by his side.
"How's your headache?" the drone asked.
"Mm. Almost gone. The soup was delicious, thank you," Wikus smiled contentedly as he stepped over Roly to bring his bowl to the kitchen.
"Tasted good?" Yeen clicked, taking the dish and stashing it in the sanitizing bin.
"Yeah. Just what I was wanting. Hate to miss a night at Zula's, but this was nice."
Darkness had crept over the countryside while the man and his caretaker ate. Somewhere miles to the north, a gentle grumble of thunder hinted at the approach of rain. Wikus reclined on his usual resting spot in the living room; he didn't feel like doing much of anything, yet it seemed too early to go to bed. Yeen made his way from the kitchen to join him until something caught his eye.
"Oh. There was a delivery?"
"Mm..." Wikus replied dully, "...didn't think to look."
The worker switched off the mail bin's green indicator light and pulled a small shipping package out of the tray. "It's for you," he said, antennae wobbling with curiosity.
Wikus sat up on the bench, his interest taken as well. "It's from her," he whispered with an odd sense of premonition.
"You know this? How? I don't see an address..."
"I'm sure," Wikus answered, hopping to his feet and hastily accepting the little crate from Yeen. He opened it, peeked inside, then tipped it over and a little data chip plopped into his open palm. The pair looked at it, then at each other. Clutching the chip, Wikus fiddled with the crate and pulled out the second item jammed inside....a folded bit of white paper. It was a substance he hadn't seen or touched since Earth. The faint scent of perfume clinging to the paper confirmed his suspicion and he unfolded it carefully. It was scrolled beautifully in English by the hand of one well practiced in such arts.
"My Dear Wikus,
I have some very important things to tell you. Firstly, I must impart my sincere remorse at the manner in which we parted. I want you to know that I did enjoy our brief time together. It was largely the story of your courage that motivated me to the course of action I have taken now. I am truly sorry that you and your family have become entwined in this conspiracy, but as it seems there is no way to remove you from the center of it, I am handing over this information. Do with it whatever you see fit.
The chip you hold contains some of my people's most private files. On it you will see every register, report and chart relating to the Majhatughan activity on Earth, including the development and application of Interspecies Cognizance Transplants.
I feel very saddened that I am not able to rectify what my people have done. So I am leaving, again, and I must ask that you not send soldiers out to search for me. I won't forget you, Wikus, and I hope you will not think too poorly of me....
Wikus's thoughts were rapt by the encounter on Keehar that had started his involvement with this only other extraterrestrial member of his species. He couldn't imagine what would drive the woman to put herself in such a predicament again. Baffled, it was Yeen's bizarre expression that drew his attention back to the present.
"They couldn't have...."
"Couldn't have what?"
"Cognizance Transplants..." Yeen mumbled, plucking the data chip from the Earthling's hand and fitting it into the nearby port.
"Yeah, I don't know what that is....did you hear that?"
"It was a thunk....outside..."
"No, not that. Whatever, what is this about, now? It's bad, isn't it?"
"Possibly. Let me look..." Yeen answered absently, unperturbed by the man's impatience.
Wikus had no choice but to stand quietly by the poleepkwa's side, watching a mad parade of alien data slide across the monitor's display. Yeen scanned it quickly, frowning, but offering no further indication as to its meaning.
"Well?" Wikus urged eventually.
"It appears your friend speaks the truth."
"About these transplant things?"
"Yes. You see, for a millennia many different species have been working towards a successful mind-to-body transplant. It means....taking the...how should I say, the person....one's mind, emotions, consciousness....from the body and placing it into a husk body, essentially reanimating a dead body with a new person inside."
"Yeesh. For....what? To live forever?"
"Well, different scientists had different motives, but that was one possibility. It never worked, though. The new host either could not be revived, or died shortly after."
"And the Majhatughans found a way..."
"Yes. Thanks to your species. Humans, it seems, are perfect hosts. Your bodies are extremely resilient, they tolerate a lot of manipulation. That's how you were able to survive your multiple transformations."
"So, wait....they're going through this Gate and sticking alien minds into human bodies?"
"Why? There it goes again, you really don't hear that?"
Yeen ignored the secondary remark. "The Majhatughans have an immense and long standing prison system."
"Yeah. I know, we were there," Wikus grunted, scratching a head that was beginning to ache again.
"Well....some species don't believe in killing their criminals. To them, death is an easy way out. They bring these convicts to Maj instead and pay their wardens to carry out the sentencing. So a human is abducted through the Gate, usually a baby or a young child, and the mind is taken from the prisoner and placed into the human, who is returned to Earth to live out his days with everyone else. The Majhatughans make a formidable profit without having to spend any of it on keeping the subject alive and contained."
"Being a human is worse than the death penalty?" Wikus gaped.
"It's not so easy. The transplant works, but not perfectly. The human body is not strong enough to contain what is often a much more complex species and the alien within wears through over time. It causes all sorts of problems," Yeen practically groaned, flipping through report logs as he explained. "Sometimes the person goes mad, sometimes the criminal tendencies resurface and they become sociopaths again. These human hybrids always live miserable lives in one form or another, with no knowledge of why or how, and usually spread their suffering onto innocents..."
"So the crazy, homeless man screaming obscenities on the street corner is actually an alien in a human body?"
"Not in all cases, but it certainly accounts for some."
"She couldn't stand watching it anymore..." Wikus realized sadly. "That's why she's running."
"It's possible that the Royals felt caring for one of the species in such a lavish way reconciled what they've been doing to the others."
"Hardly! How many humans have they used?"
"I don't know. The records appear to go back at least 1000 years..."
"A thousand years?!" Wikus choked. "What's happened to all these kids? Where do they stash the human minds?"
"Nowhere," Yeen said quietly, his large eyes despondent, "they die."
"I don't..." Wikus struggled to cope with what he was hearing. He rubbed at his forehead wearily and sat in the nearest chair. "What....do we do, Chris?"
"We must get this data to General Tarzier. Aside from that, there's little you or I could-" Yeen stopped short, his hand inches away from the data port, his body rigid as though he'd just been tapped in a game of freeze tag.
Anguished though he was, the strange knocking outside had gripped Wikus's attention as well. "Uh-huh, see? You heard it, too. What is it?"
Yeen's sensitive antennae wavered once, then with silence and frightening swiftness, he scooped Wikus off his seat, tucked him under an arm, and bolted out the side door. Startled and bewildered, Wikus couldn't manage to piece together any coherent speech as his partner carried him into the darkness at top speed. The answer came without an inquiry a few seconds later as their home erupted into a Hellish fireball, splitting the night with a deafening blast. The shockwave threw both man and drone to the ground, where they hurried to protect their heads from the barrage of flaming debris.
Horrified, Wikus strained to look over his shoulder at the burning wreckage that had been their house, but Yeen was already on his feet. He hefted the human again and set off as fast as his legs would take them.
Wikus struggled against the poleepkwa's powerful grasp. "Wait!" he sputtered, "We have to go back! Roly...we can't leave him!"
"He's gone!" Yeen clicked through overwrought breaths. Even though he wasn't sure where they were going, the worker knew they, too, would meet the same fate unless he formulated a plan very quickly.