My Home, the Hornet’s Nest

I am the gentle grace of a monarch butterfly spiraling the base of a great oak. While coarse familiarity lays in my wake, my antennae point me to the sun, to greater heights and beautiful discovery. Others flock to my presence, awestruck by my stunning, glimmering aura, but saddened as they realize they could never match such splendor. Though, as I reach the pinnacle to the pool of sweet sap, my wings wilt and the mystic charm fades. I am reborn.

I am the fury of a bellowing dragon. Surges of darkness I endured from the deceiver turn to fangs of sizzling embers and fallen elegance. A scaly tail crashes upon them, ruining the imaginary perfection that plagues the youthful minds. They shoot me with their flimsy arrows and cast their immobilizing incantations, yet I still reign. With a roar shattering every unwitting patriot, incapacitating the threads of civil carnage, I land atop an incandescent tower. I am indomitable.

I am the dark of the moon, my enveloping shade sought only in moments of true corruption. As swindlers worship the neon demon they produced, I rest perched above them all. Unfortunate souls scale the entirety of the pearl castle to beg me for forgiveness, to release them from the riot they so callously began. They cry for cleansing tears to wash away filthy ultimatums and neglectful judgment. And I cast them away, for they do not deserve to drink of the everlasting pool. So I continue to rest in the confines of my great oak, sipping of golden sap and broken hearts. I am supreme.

Incubus, Ch. II

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Photo credit: aka Tman

Chapter II
Rapture

I wouldn’t argue that life was completely different; it was merely wearing a different mask. Twenty years ago, I would have never believed the thought would come to mind, comparing the past to the future, realizing the many similarities over the few differences. I suppose it was something one would only believe after their first dance in the star fields.

“Lieutenant, how are you feeling?” Dal’s eyes twinkled bronze and cobalt, tiny supernovae.

“Well, healthwise, I’m feeling a tad nauseous and got a headache from hell. But if you’re asking me about the situation — I’ll be honest — it’s manageable.” Fifteen years in the Defender unit might have taught me how to accurately protect a planetary system from an impending attack from a celestial force and even safely enter a black hole, but lie effectively? No way.

Not surprisingly, Dal was not convinced. He placed his warm hand over my frozen paw, his radiation bringing life to my scarred palm. “You don’t have to protect me, Eyla. What are we up against?”

The tension in my neck lessened and my shoulders slumped. I extended my claw and tapped the glass window, gesturing toward the grand Tryssian cityscape, resembling a miniature block set from space. The synthetic planet was often mistaken for a star from nearby systems from the spectacular light reflecting off the largely metallic sphere. “Got a transmission from Tryssia,” I paused, pointing toward a plasmic cluster that must have been light years away. “Primordials are moving, and they’re not taking prisoners this time.”

“But what about the peace treaty?”

“Primordials respect no one but themselves, much less an agreement.”

“Which one is coming?”

I reposition the transmitter on my hip and pat down the fur that had natted up on my shoulder. “Well, considering the planets he’s leaving are paved gold, I believe we’re dealing with Kuthar.”

Supposed guardians of the sanctums, the Primordic Sentries combed through our system like a parasite. Long ago, they were respected celestial beings, protectors, but the battle for Earth fucked with everything. One planet’s death caused the entire universe to shift off balance.

“Who was it that signed the treaty? Wasn’t that Kuthar as well?”

I shook my head. “Telari. The only one who’s got our backs.” I started pacing the observation deck. “And she never responded to our transmissions.”

“Damn.”

“You got that right. If Kuthar reaches our system, I don’t know what the fuck we can do. Hell, war with the creature isn’t even an option; we’d have the entire Primordic guard to answer to.” I cleared my throat. “So, yeah, other than that, I’m feeling dandy.”

 

Blue Skies

Nothing seemed real after thirteen years in space. The ground felt too mushy, the buildings too large, the people minuscule. This had been Ethan’s second successful mission, the first of which he only spent a few years at ISS so the transition wasn’t that rough, but this time was different.

Ethan watched as his comrades left the station, warm under their family’s embrace. He had been waiting nearly an hour for his beautiful wife Sharon and daughter Beth – the last time, Beth brought him a coffee mug she had painted in Mrs. Gella’s class and Sharon gave him unbelievable sex that night – but they never showed. Suddenly the space exhibition didn’t feel as extensive

It didn’t take long before the taxi arrived. Despite his insistence that Sharon would be there – he needed only be patient – Sergeant Blymh ushered the exhausted astronaut into the yellow cab and called it a day.

On the road, Ethan saw his girls’ faces in everything: they were in the bricks in the sidewalk, they were the faces on the billboards, and they were ripples in the water. Every sound was that of Willie Nelson – not only was he Sharon’s favorite singer, but he woke up to Always on My Mind every morning on the shuttle. It was another way he felt closer to his girls.

The only thing keeping him from going into full panic mode was their crumpled portrait in his pocket. He distinctly remembered taking the photograph during Beth’s seventh birthday party at Giggy’s Pizza – Sharon looked so goddamned beautiful even with a mouth full of pepperoni and his daughter was just as striking.

Suddenly Ethan felt a rise in his stomach: Beth was going to be twenty-one this year. After thirteen years, he wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t even remember him; hell, she’d probably moved away.

“Don’t do this, Ethan,” he thought. “All I need is the driver to think I’m a big-ass cry baby.”

But he couldn’t stop. He imagined Sharon wrinkled and gray. Their corgi Vinnie was probably dust in the ground by now, and, shit, she could’ve sold the house and be living with a tight 20-something surging with stamina and a jawline for days.

What an idiot he was to think things could simply go back to normal after he returned, he thought. He pressed his head against the window and firmly shut his eyes, allowing the darkness to drown him. Obscurity was his only friend. He should have told the doctor during the post-exhibition physical of his night terrors and the depression, but all that was on his mind at the time was kissing his girls.

Ethan’s reservations disintegrated as the car came to a stop. The house looked just as he left it; the only difference was the addition of a purple Volkswagen, but his white Saturn was still parked in his spot.

He rang the doorbell three times to no avail; however, he let himself in with the key concealed under the second stepping stone in the front yard. Sharon should have moved their key to a better location, but Ethan was overjoyed that she kept it there throughout the years. Ethan never felt more welcome.

The interior of the house had been renovated, Ethan’s grandparents’ old furniture had been replaced with a modern leather love seat, and the wall was nearly nonexistent behind a massive plasma screen. He heard footsteps in the back. “Sharon?” Ethan called, heading down the hall near their room. “I’m… Oh –”

Sharon had her back turned, fixing Beth’s golden hair. Ethan could not believe his eyes. The last time he saw Beth, she was picking boogers out of her nose waving goodbye.

“Hello?” A voice piped from the bathroom. It was a man’s voice, and something about it felt familiar to Ethan.

Abruptly, Sharon and Beth turned around – their faces horrifyingly cracked, frosted glass. Tiny whispers and raucous whimpers filled the room. Blazing fingers and checkered tongues swiftly tore through the walls, shattering picture frames and setting fire to the floral wallpaper. Thick gobs of black bile dripped from the ceiling, covering the two women in obsidian vomit. Beth charged, narrowly missing Ethan, before shattering into a million pieces on the floor. Sharon emitted a blood-curdling shriek.

Ethan ran before Sharon could attack him. He whipped past Beth’s old room turned office, and hopped over the chic glass coffee table in the living room. He dodged spiraling silverware and planet mobiles in the kitchen. Burning candles exploded as he past them, covering his shirt in clumpy red and orange wax. Tattered scarves and jackets latched onto his hands and feet. The plasma television sparked and blipped, static scrolling the screen.

Hundreds of pages of Ethan’s graduate research blanketed the floor; one in particular – the third page of his dissertation – caught his eye. Etched in gold ink on the page was a peculiar symbol. He recognized it and had seen it somewhere, but couldn’t remember where.

A covered figure blocked the front door. Ethan tried to run for the back, but was once again met with the same shadowed being. He lunged at the dark entity, hoping this was all a twisted dream he was having in the taxi cab.

But suddenly time stopped. Boiling water droplets and broken pickle jars hung frozen in the air, fragments of their family portraits and knives merely props. Ethan’s short breaths stopped. His heart was in his throat as the figure approached him, its brown eyes cutting into Ethan’s own.

“You really shouldn’t have returned,” it croaked. “You don’t belong here. Or don’t you remember?” The entity dropped its cloak and stroked Ethan’s cheek. It had Ethan’s face. It was Ethan. “Let me help you.”

Ethan was released from time’s grip and he closed his eyes. He couldn’t dare look the monster in its face – his face. It didn’t take long for a wave of relaxation to wash over Ethan. He found solace imagining he was back on the shuttle, alongside Blymh and the others. He missed looking out onto the bright expanse, dreaming of being outside cuddled next to his girls stargazing, looking right back at himself in the shuttle years away. The heavy weight of anxiety and loneliness lifted off his body, Ethan embraced the darkness.

Moments pass and suddenly the lyrics of Always on My Mind graced Ethan’s ears, penetrating the thick silence. He opened his eyes and smiled.

Space Deli

Opal and Samantha did everything together; the twin sisters even coordinated each week so that they would happen to run into each other at the grocery store or the gym. One would be incorrect in thinking they traveled together, however – both knew of the importance of distance. They made it a point not to drive the other crazy; they merely enjoyed the coincidence – albeit planned – of running into the other during their daily rounds.

Each Wednesday, after filling their silver minivans with gas – and remarkably seeing that their better half decided to conveniently do the same – they went back to Opal’s house for afternoon tea, and Samantha brought a desert of her choosing.

Opal greeted Samantha at the door. “Oh, Sam! I wasn’t expecting you today! And would you get this? I just happened to brew some earl gray; it’s on the stove now.” Opal’s smile lit the porch. “Come in, come in!”

Samantha lifted her palm. “Wait one second, dear. I’ve got a surprise for you!”

“Oh, how I love surprises! But you know that already, wouldn’t you darling?” The large woman giggled. “I bet you know more about me than I do!”

“You know it,” Samantha said, drawing a beautiful dish from the van. Amid Opal’s gasps and ooohs, the platter finally got to the kitchen.

“That croquembouche is marvelous, girl! You’ve really outdone yourself this time.”

Samantha wasn’t one to brag, but she knew her friend was right. Other times she brought pies, cakes, and even crème brulee, but neither of them amounted to the effort she put into this dessert. It had to be perfect this time, more so than ever.

The dish stood a foot tall from the table – Samantha didn’t want it to be too extravagant – and the crispy brown caramel filled the air with sugar. It also brought life to the ordinarily dull, olive room.

Opal took the first bite, her expression one of ecstasy. “Mmm! This really tickles my gullet! It’s quite literally like my taste buds just orgasmed.”

This remark caused Samantha to choke on her tea. “Whoa there, missy. Let’s not get too carried away. I haven’t even told you the good news.”

“What can be better than this?” Opal muttered through a mouthful of pastry.

Samantha slapped a sheet of paper on the table. “This!” Waiting for her friend to scan the document, she clarified: “It’s only in its preliminary stages, but I think it can change everything.”

“A space deli? Are you serious?”

“Get this: they only call for a minimum sum of $7,500 from prospective investors, and they’ll randomly select fifteen donators – those drawn will be members of the board of Nalaxia, an upcoming lunar deli!”

Opal sat puzzled. “And who the hell would it serve? And if you say alie-“

“Aliens! And astronauts should they want to make the trip from the International Space Station.”

“Sam,” she said, sighing, “this is a scam, pure and simple. Even if it ain’t, there’s no way a fucking deli would ever make it on the Moon. And if you think I’m gonna let you waste a good seven grand on this, you’re out of your mind.” She shredded the paper. “There – you can thank me later.”

“That was only your copy; I already sent my payment in.” Samantha hands her a receipt of a money transfer. “So I take it you’re not in? I know you have that divorce settlement money just sitting and rotting.”

Opal offered Samantha a plate of croquembouche and refilled her tea cup. “Naw, girl. That money is sitting safe in the trunk under the floorboard in my room, and is all going toward bills. Lord knows I’ve got tons of them.” Suddenly, she stumbles to the floor, her hands cupping her throat.

“See, they sent me another letter saying that if you send in an extra $50,000, you’ll get an automatic place on the board, and board members get to travel to the Moon and stake out the best place for the building. You know how I’ve always wanted to go into space, Opal – this is my chance.”

Opal coughed blood into her hand, suddenly seeing two Samanthas and two towering croquembouches. “Sam…” she wheezed, “what did you do?”

Grinning, Samantha walked over and placed a hand on her friend’s stomach. “I knew you would never see the goodness of this situation I’ve been blessed with. You’re too goddamned stubborn and focused on problems of today that it obscures your future thinking.” She wiped a trickle of spit and vomit from Opal’s cheek. “And I knew you would never pass a good croquembouche.
“You see? We both win; you got to taste the most delicious dessert in your life, and I get a seat on a rocket to space. Surely you forgive me?” But Opal was already gone.

“Looks like I’ll be taking that vacation after all,” Samantha uttered, hauling the trunk full of cash to her silver minivan.

Imminent Eradication

Present is operative VRR-009, initiating phase one of the inquiry into the terrestrial being detailed in the HOMOSAPIEN Profile received precisely at Ventir 071:319 from lieutenant GFA-100. The duty of surveilling familial unit WHITE was delegated to operative VRR-009, and the following comprehensive report is a chronological account of aforementioned observation.

Familial unit WHITE’s leader according to personal notes and letters – all evidence of which has been included and is attached in the form of Stor-Epp chip on the back of this memo – is called Barrett. Consistent with Syn-R-chron analysis, the beginning of Barrett occurred at approximately Nafpi 201:521, or 30 of this planet’s “years” and during that time he acquired a reproductive mate and a clutch of three offspring. Offspring were absent at the time of operative VRR-009’s investigation, however.

Upon entering the headquarters of familial unit WHITE, operative VRR-009’s upgraded exotech was set to mimic that of Canis lupus familiarus, a common entity in the headquarters of the occupied planet. However due to an unfamiliar urge to empty its pristine transistor tube, operate VRR-009’s exotech was damaged beyond repair, resulting in the operative resorting to its Enerboard’s camouflage core to carry out the mission.

Familiar unit WHITE’s leader, Barrett, was observed during the period of 029:012 to 029:014, translating to three “hour” span before the rise of the planet’s singular cosmic heating unit. Details exogenous to the observation, listed in the Perfile, included details of Barrett’s work as a corrector of motorized metal boxes at a failing repair factory. Specifics regarding the correction work are not reported in this document, as the action was deemed insignificant to the master mission set by the Broodmaster.

At the close of the planet’s lunar cycle, Barrett and its reproductive partner are set to resting mode on a thick cushion. As a priority under the Perfile, operative VRR-009 set to test the sustainability of the enemy being’s exotech; the results are alarming at the very least. After prodding the spongy, pigmented exotech with its flexible appendage, operative proceeded to test the ‘tech’s temperature resistance, starting with warmth. Operative heated its Ignotor-500 unit to 250 degrees, as requested, and again prodded the resting leader. Apparently, this being’s exotech is not as durable as once believed, as instantly Barrett’s systems booted up, and it broadcasted a sharp clatter from its alleged feeding hole. As suspected, the sound interrupted operative VRR-009’s camouflauge Enerboard core, leaving the soldier exposed, resulting in a prolonged, louder transmission and finally a strong blow to the cranial sphere.

The blow only rendered operative VRR-009 inoperable for mere moments, as it has been updated with the most recent GUERILLA software appropriated from the investigated beings’ military element, and it was able to proceed to step two of the exotech assessment.

Operative VRR-009 is unhappy to report that the WHITE familial unit leader, Barrett’s exotech failed during the second test, which sought to observe the ‘tech’s force resistance. In Barrett and its reproductive partner’s attempt to exit the resting chamber the operative launched a single, sharpened metal piece at each being, resulting in a loss of life in Barrett, and severely wounding the reproductive partner, who later joined Barrett in passing.

Overall, this species is entirely inept pertaining to a war against our greater technology. Operative VRR-009 would advise the lieutenant that, although operative believes an attack would be successful, more investigation is needed regarding the battle tactics and attack-oriented technology this species keeps hidden. Furthermore, it would recommend directing focus away from minor weaklings, and conduct a deep study involving other qualified soldiers into the planet’s superior frontrunners’ combat strategies.

This is operative VRR-009, signing out and awaiting new orders from the Broodmaster.