The Planet Sessesspressny, Andromeda Galaxy, 22nd Century
Anjal Reyes had just about had it with these fucking butterflies. She and Jens had been here for, what, weeks? Months? Who even knew? The suns never set. She rolled off the giant flower petal bed and walked out of the living pod house onto the sentient grass that greeted her by singing, and then she sneered at the rainbow that was forming in morning dew. “Fucking rainbow.” Anjal hissed.
Jens was also emerging from his pod, but that a-hole was smiling and talking to the grass. Ever since they had been flung out the other side of the wormhole into this place that was populated by aliens that resembled butterflies the size of school children, who communicated with sparkles they created by rubbing their wings together, Jens had been weirdly pleasant and easygoing and she wondered if the butterflies had maybe lobotomized him. Which was probably sensible, but fuck! It was strange to see him being agreeable.
“Good morning, Anjelica. It’s another beautiful day, ya?” He chirped, and the grass sang along. He greeted a nearby tree which, as a reply, dropped a round purple fruit directly from its branch into Jens’ open hand.
“Yah, it’s another day.” She snapped and rolled her eyes. She looked up at the tree which had borne the fruit for Jens. “Fruit me!” she commanded, and the tree lobbed a fruit at her rather less gently than it had Jens. Joke’s on you, tree. I played varsity softball for three years, Anjal thought as her hand shot up and caught the fruit like a fly ball in center field. “Reflexes of a cat!” she taunted. The tree shook some leaves onto her as if trying to get in the last word. She shrugged them off and bit into the fruit. Maybe today was the day that the butterflies would explain what was going on and she could get the hell out of here; maybe forget to take Jens with her.
As if reading her thoughts (and she suspected they could!) a gossamer butterfly arrived and nudged her and Jens with its wings, then gestured with its antennae towards an SUV-sized six-legged creature that was long and twig-like. The butterfly flapped its wings at them impatiently until they crawled up onto the giant walking stick. Anjal glared at the butterfly and it turned away, its antennae drooping to half-mast from the silent rebuke.
Jens, Anjal and the butterfly sat atop the creature as it swiftly moved across the grassy, flowery terrain. Finally, they came to a huge hollowed out tree that was peppered with a series of holes that might be windows, out of which light shown. The butterfly instructed the walking stick to crouch near the grass so the humans could easily disembark, then gestured toward an opening in the tree’s trunk with a motion that suggested that Anjal and Jens enter. Once inside, they shot up several hundred meters as if caught in a wind tunnel, then they came to a rest on a ledge that led to a chamber filled with more butterflies, and one non-butterfly. This alien was bipedal although it had several more arms than one generally expected and its face was scaly and teal-colored and it had large yellow eyes, like a snake. It smiled to reveal fangs. Or maybe it wasn’t a smile. Who could say? Did it even have lips?
The Shiva-Snake alien spoke. It was a gravelly, guttural sound that came from its mouth, but another human-sounding, androgynous voice emanated from a sphere it was holding.
“Greeting-word. I am called *click-click-shriek* and I am of Shrupt, a system many light years away. The Gleeze asked me to come here to translate your language with my-“ the alien growl-shrieked something and the sphere said, “apparatus. The Gleeze do not make apparatus.” Anjal looked at Jens who was still grinning like the village idiot.
“I’m Jens!” he said cheerfully, and the alien replied.
“Greeting-word. I will leave you now with Gleeze and *growl—shriek* apparatus.” And then it slithered down the tree shaft and was gone.
One of the Gleeze flitted toward Jens and Anjal and created a cloud of dust which the sphere translated into a lilting voice.
“My friends, I am so sorry to have kept you waiting for so long. We no longer produce our own technology, and I’m afraid it’s been hundreds of years since we’ve had a visitor. Or possibly thousands. I am Jyilla, welcome to Sessesspressny.” The butterfly pronounced its name with emphasis on the second syllable, Yeh-LAH. Anjal brushed the shimmering dust distastefully off of her sleeve.
“My name is Anjelica Reyes. Where are we? Why are you keeping us here?” Anjal demanded. The Gleeze wiggled its antennae a bit and replied.
“You are on the planet Sessesspressny, as I said, and you are of course free to leave any time. We merely wanted to show you hospitality while we waited for a translation device. Did you find your pod dissatisfactory? If so, I can find you another and the dissatisfactory pod will be gently admonished…”
Anjal was getting pissed off that these winged jerks were giving her the runaround. “But how can we leave?” she shouted. The butterfly seemed distressed by her anger, and its antennae quivered nervously.
“Anjelica Reyes. We do not know how you arrived here, so how can we tell you how to depart?” Anjal shook her head.
“So you didn’t capture us from the moon? With the box and the wand and the wormhole?
I thought-” She stopped. The Gleeze had turned around to summon another colleague to confer with the aliens.
“Did you say there was a wand?” The new Gleeze asked. Anjal nodded.
The Gleeze continued, “And which moon? Which star? Which galaxy?” Anjal was stunned. Which galaxy…what the hell?
Jens, who seemed perfectly unaffected by the news that they were no longer in their own galaxy, replied in his typical know-it-all fashion, “Our galaxy is spiral shaped, with four arms and it has a black hole in the center.” The Gleeze summoned yet another butterfly, and the two chattered together, sparkles flying everywhere. One approached Jens.
“Where is this galaxy located?” it asked. Jens described the Milky Way’s local group of galaxies; their sizes (in light years across), their widths, their shapes and when he told the aliens that his galaxy was warped they stopped him.
“You are from Ga-Zanna! Here, look.” This butterfly manipulated the translator sphere with one of its segmented insect-like arms (legs?) which had smaller wispy projections on the end of them, like fingers. Apparently, the translator was actually a multifunction device because a hologram displayed in the air before them and the Gleeze lightly moved its wisps over the sphere until it showed a graphic rendering of the local group of galaxies. “Do you see it?” the Gleeze asked Jens. Jens reached for the sphere and, after taking a few seconds to get the hang of it, used his own non-wispy fingers to rotate the view. Jens pointed to the new graphic displayed.
“This is it, the Milky Way! It is a terrible name. You know, I am lactose intolerant.” Anjal was weirdly gratified to see that the old pedantic Jens was still in there. But the Gleeze grew excited.
“Yes, Ga-Zanna! We are here. Bezza.” And it panned out the view until they were looking at another galaxy.
“Andromeda??” Anjal exclaimed incredulously. “How did we get here? It’s over 2 million light years away from our home.” The Gleeze conferred again, which consisted of the release of massive amounts of sparkle dust and occasionally a meeting and touching of antennae. Anjal sneezed and a cloud of sparkles exploded. Finally, Jyilla turned to the humans.
“We don’t know.” Its wings parted in a kind of shrug. “But we have a suspicion, although it is rather improbable. But, then again, here you are! Must be some explanation for that. Nalla, do we have any idea where the Sacred Cube is hiding?” The Gleeze who had been spoken to rotated one antenna and appeared to be in deep thought for several seconds. Then its antennae snapped up, and it replied.
“I just remembered where it is! I’ll need some time to retrieve it. I’ll have the Moozh transport me swiftly.” It flitted out of the chamber and disappeared down the tree shaft, presumably to mount the walking stick.
Anjal turned to the Gleeze who had been doing most of the talking. “What is the Sacred Cube?” And for fuck’s sake, how long will it take that bug to go get it?
“It is our history and our memory and our conscience.” Jyilla explained. “Our civilization is millions of years old and more history has been forgotten than is known. On occasions where there is a quarrel or a question or decision to be made or just curiosity, we consult the Sacred Cube and it reminds us what happened in the past. I have only consulted the cube once, and that was hundreds of years ago. Possibly thousands.”
“So, you don’t keep time here?” Anjal queried.
“What for?” Jyilla explained that approximately 50,000 years ago (or maybe 100,000, who could say?) the Gleeze left the Milky Way galaxy and retreated from exploration of space and settled into their current corporeal forms after having terraformed this planet into a giant terrarium which met everyone’s need with bio-engineered and sentient or semi-sentient flora and fauna. They no longer had a use for industry or wealth or power. With nothing to do but float, flit, fly, sing, drink nectar, make love, and float some more, who had a use for time? Anjal was aghast. This was essentially a planet populated by horny galactic retirees, except that they didn’t drive giant motorhomes (but they did drive giant insects). She might as well be stranded in West Florida. She subsequently learned of the Gleeze: they were friendly to visitors but didn’t seek them; they were willing to assist their neighbors when necessary, but not as a planned endeavor; they were accepting of new technology and information but made no attempt to obtain either. In other words, the Gleeze had pretty much run out of fucks several millennia ago.
Jens was still at the holographic console of the sphere, trying to locate Earth. He spun the Milky Way up on its edge and enlarged the outer spiral arm that was now on the bottom of the display, magnified again, then pan, pan, pan, magnify. He stopped when he saw a planet that looked like earth, except its star was a red dwarf and it possessed 5 or 6 moons. Using his fingers (as he had grasped the concept of the granular control of this device) he magnified further and was slightly shocked to see orbital space stations at various L-points, and the hustle and bustle of obvious space-faring activity. By this time, the holo display had caught Anjal’s attention too.
“That’s not Earth.” She said, “What is that?”
Jens shook his head. “I don’t know, but it’s orbiting Proxima Centauri.”
“That is amazing.” She turned to Jyilla who was also fascinated by the display. “How does this thing work? This can’t be a live feed.” Anjal said definitively. Jyilla tried to explain that it was connected by something called a “vine” and believed it was happening now.
“Jens, keep looking for Earth.” Anjal ordered. Jens raised his eyebrows and answered, “Yes, Fuhrer.” under his breath, but continued his search. He zeroed in on the Oort Cloud and said, “Almost there.” Then zoomed sun-ward until he displayed the Earth and its moon.
“I have found it!” he announced proudly.
Anjal rolled her eyes. “Nice job, Magellan.” Jyilla peered at the planet/moon combo, trying to evoke a memory of the relationship between this planet and the one on the display when Nalla returned with Sacred Cube.
It was a cube made of metal but not metal, concrete but not concrete. It appeared to be completely solid, and Jens recognized the material immediately. It was exactly like the box he had found on the moon, with the same symbols inscribed into the cube’s sides. Without thinking, he reached for it and tapped it, and the top opened out like the flaps of a cardboard box. This device did not have a display. Instead, there was wire lead with a little nib which Nalla patched to a round port on the sphere. “It requires projection.” Nalla explained. A second display space appeared next to planet Earth. Nalla reached out with a wisp-ended arm and pinched the image of the Earth’s moon, then dropped it on the neighboring Sacred Cube display. The display ran thousands of commands, which appeared as symbols superimposed on a holographic cube that turned over and over every time it executed new commands. Finally, the cube in the display stopped tumbling and exploded out into what Anjal and Jens assumed was text, interspersed with two- and three-dimensional graphics.
Nalla scanned the text and began to read out loud. “Ga-Zanna galaxy…yada yada…small sun and rocky planets…blah blah blah…during the reign of Ebezzneey…” It continued to bob antennae is if reading silently for several minutes. Nalla then pinched a group of symbols from the Sacred Cube display and dropped them onto the sphere’s holo display. A symbol popped up immediately and blinked red. Nalla’s antennae straightened out in surprise and said, “Nectar! The Gleeze were there approximately 50,000 years ago.” Anjal gasped and Jens muttered something in German which the translator shared with the room. Nalla returned to the cube display and continued to read. “Something about a unit that they left behind on the planet’s moon…Nectar! The Iris! It’s you, it’s you!”
“What’s the Iris??!” “What’s us?!” Jens and Anjal shouted at the same time. The butterfly was flapping its wings and hopping on several of its legs.
“The Iris is the gateway that brought you here. The Iris is a gift for your planet, for your people.” Anjal jumped up and hugged Jens, and Jens was spouting in German again.
“So we can go home through the Iris!” Anjal said excitedly. Nalla’s antennae drooped a little.
“Well, theoretically. No Gleeze on this planet has operated it for 50,000 years. Maybe you two can help us turn it on?”