Los Querubines del Mar (pt 2)

The Queru were discovered, among many new species, during the Universal Migration. When it became obvious that climate change was not manageable with Earth’s ballooning population; planet production, discovery and upgrading become big business, and within 50 years everyone who wanted off Earth got off.  Although people were supposedly free to move anywhere, most chose to move to the planet their native country sponsored. Not only was it cheaper and less legalistic, but people, being people, preferred to continue living in a place where they would not have to adjust to a new language and culture along with a 10 hour day or a three mooned sky.

Queru inhabited Nueva Luz. All new life forms were initially called “aliens”, technically an absurdly unfair characterization, as we were the foreigners in the worlds we took over. Nueva Luz, named for its color and its promise, was claimed by Spain when they discovered it in 345 NC (New Cycle). It shone a blazing golden yellow due to the chemical composition of its surrounding gasses.

Because its color implied overwhelming heat and its proximity to its galaxy’s primary star, previous explorers had bypassed it, believing it uninhabitable.

In reality, it is an incredibly healthy planet. 80% of its surface is covered by water and most of the landmasses congregate around its equator, which contributes to its astounding, immensely developed sea- and tropical life. To date no poisonous animals or plants have been discovered and all discovered life forms rely on photosynthesis or vegetation for sustenance. It is an impossibly peaceful planet.

The Queru got so much attention initially because of their humanoid characteristics, but they soon proved an object of fascinating study in many ways. Most similar to Earth’s dolphins, they are friendly and playful. They seemed able to understand us, but we were never able to communicate with them. The Queru life span, which maxes out at five months and averages closer to three, make Queru reproduction and development both subjects of hot debate among scholars. Neither seems to exist for the species. Rather, Queru seem to regenerate through splitting.

After three or four months of life, when it is arguably in its “prime”, the creature seems to consciously decide that it has lived long enough. It grows increasingly exuberant. Its energy levels increase until its body begins to vibrate constantly of its own accord. After a day (roughly 32 hours on Nueva Luz) of this the Queru stops. Two Queru, identical in feature but varied slightly in vibrancy of color, are then visible. After two or three hours the parent dissolves, seemingly into nothing. Despite the most in-depth research, no one can figure out how a complex, multi-celled organism manages to perfectly divide itself into two complete wholes or how the adult disappears without a trace.

Occasionally Los Querubines, when sensing that their population is low, will spawn three or four duplicates upon their deaths. The process expends huge amounts of energy, though, and the parent always expires after the fourth child. The fourth child is also usually an imperfect copy, usually characterized by an elongated face, blotchy skin, sharper teeth, a greater likelihood of being despondent or aggressive, and a refusal to split at the usual 3-5 month marker, seemingly out of fear of death. They are also not usable for consumption. Several human deaths were reported when fluids or meat from this subspecies accidentally got on the market.

Initially researches claimed that the Queru had previously controlled the subspecies, called El Harén del Diablo, like slaves or pets. Until they were studied rigorously no one actually believed that the two creatures were related at all because they were so impossibly different.

It is painfully obvious where this story is headed.

We were greedy.

Not only did Queru heal our every illness, they also made us fabulously wealthy.

We would have worshipped them if we weren’t so busy slaughtering them.

Eventually statutes were put into place. Only licensed boats could fish and only during a certain part of the year. Licenses were impossible to come by without the most intricate chain of connections and even then, a bribe the size of a small planet was usually involved.

Repopulation was vital. Queru-farms were created, but their populations always died or morphed into Harén within a year. Everything we tried to do to save them only killed them faster. We were like children grasping at the miracle of bubbles, wide-eyed and open handed. We could not understand that it was our touch alone that made the slight popping noise and emptied the space in front of us.

Scientists worked madly to figure out how to duplicate the Queru, how to grow them in petri dishes, how to copy and recreate any part of them. But we were aliens and every starting point that was a standard on Earth was folly on Nueva Luz.

Queru only work whole. If one becomes imperfect it dissolves.

And then its nearest companion begins to vibrate.


For six generations, across 3 galaxies and on innumerable planets, we saved ourselves. The blood of innocents kept our cheeks rosy and our breath even. Through the minds of watery children we achieved bliss and mental youth. For six generations.

Our children are susceptible to disease. We watch their skin turn pink and sweat drip down their foreheads.  We listen to them cry and observe as they clutch their stomachs and heads in pain. We don’t know what to do.

We have only ever known one remedy.

No Queru swim into our nets. No Queru are sighted from shore. No Queru bob along the tops of the waves in the middle of either ocean. We sound the depths and they ring up empty of the perfect half-children. Our satellites cannot find them on the ocean’s surface. Neither can we.

Some people claim, with the fear all too clear in their eyes, that the Queru will return one day. That they are repopulating on the bottom of the ocean, taking their time so their faces will stay round and their skin will stay smooth. One day, hundreds of tiny heads and arms will emerge from the deep, bearing sea-flowers of every color, like tiny sheep offering themselves for a massive sacrifice. Their voices will ring out like underwater bells and chimes, muted and silver.

This is what legends are made of.

Reality is made of the increasing hordes of Harén who haunt the shallows.

They glare in our direction.

Their groundless hate is palpable.

Their tiny brows furrow whenever we draw near to the water.

Their generations are passing, too quickly for our comfort, and as they do they change. Gills are fading away from their ribcages. Harén fins slowly split in two and their skin wrinkles as it ages. They groan in the dark and squirm uncomfortably against each other. Infants have joined their midst. They sharpen sticks and play with fire and powders that burn and crackle, always with one eye on our homes, our children. And they don’t vibrate with joy at the end. They cry and scream and grasp their children by their throats and spouses by the hair, begging for two more seconds of air, one more day of hate and pain and suffering.

Once upon a time, the Queru were forced to give their everything to us and we consumed them.

Now they are have become us and they want our blood as we once wanted theirs.

Los Querubines del Mar (pt 1)

They were beautiful.

I watched their tiny, lifeless bodies glide by endlessly.

One corpse would have been sad; two would have been tragic.

Thousands were nothing.

Technically speaking, I knew from the beginning what I was getting myself into.  I had knowingly applied and consented to work at the processing plant.  I knew that “harvesting” the tiny aquatic creatures meant killing them and I knew that it was our responsibility, as employees at the plant, to cut them into pieces and put those pieces into bags and label those bags with packing dates and subspecies before shipping them off in huge, frozen crates.

Inflated to twice my size in my two sweatshirts and raingear, I had known what I was looking at when I watched the fillets glide by on the conveyor belt.  I would reach out a gloved hand and turn them so that they all faced one direction, small end to the right, large end to the left.  They looked like featureless, pink fish swimming down the blue river of the conveyor belt.  Their near-animation had been comical then.  I had stifled many a sick chuckle as I watched the flesh writhe inanimately as the conveyor belt jolted or twisted underneath the perpetual train of meat.

I had washed and vacuumed blood off their decapitated corpses without a second thought.  I had pulled organs out of their bodies and separated the bright egg sacs from those organs without thinking about what I was doing.  I had put frozen pieces of them into plastic bags and put stickers on those, denoting what piece of the creature could be found inside.

None of it had meant anything.  Those were only tiny pieces of an already destroyed whole, baby steps in a larger-than-me process.

Meaningless.

Now they had eyes.

I had been moved up the line and now I had to see them whole.

They had tiny, dimpled arms and cheeks.  Their small, slack faces stared blindly into mine, over my shoulder, or at the hordes of their deceased brothers and sisters, who pillowed each other’s limp bodies, as they came rolling down the conveyor belt from the boats to the front of the line where I waited for them.

Some of their eyes were filled with blood, like helpless, frustrated tears that would never fall.  Every once in a while an eyeball rolled, bodiless, down the steel slide to my left, before its owner made it to me.  A few of them had mismatched eyes, still stuck in their sockets, stunningly bright and a reminder of their former individuality.

After half a day of moving the miniscule, chubby bodies through the soap scum and into the halving machine I locked myself in a bathroom stall and tried not to cry.

Humanoid is not human.

That had been their final verdict.  It might have been different, but the tiny, flawless bodies were more than just beautiful, they were valuable.  The omnipotent “they”, with its consumer and profit driven mind, decided that the pros of mass consumption outweighed the cons of mass destruction.

Los Querubines del Mar, named as such because they resembled tiny cherubic mermaids, were a delicacy and a miracle.

Their tails were healthier than any earthly fish and the meat quite literally melted on a human tongue like chocolate.  On top of that, every part of their bodies was useful.  Their bones, although tiny, rivaled ivory in popularity, beauty and price.  Their skin was tanned and turned into outrageously expensive wallets and shoes.  A small society of jewelers had discovered a process that solidified the tiny eyes and turned them into semi-precious stones.  The uses people discovered for each part of those tiny bodies were as many as they were disgusting.

Worst of all, we found that their blood cured every disease of the body.  Their brain fluid cured every disease of the mind.

Los Querubines del Mar were our key to immortality, perfection and wealth.

Eventually, even PETA shut its collective mouth.  How could it not when cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, rabies, schizophrenia, depression, PTSD, blindness and every other plague humankind has ever had to suffer through was destroyed?

When Querbies, as they came to be called, were first put to use, I even heard of a man who, in an outrageous leap of faith, used his entire life savings to buy a liter of Querby blood.  His left leg had been amputated when he was a child to save his life from leukemia.  Every day he took a tiny dropper of the blood and faithfully massaged it into his stump.  It took a long time, but somehow the limb, 26 years gone, grew back.  It shone with an aquamarine hue, but it grew back, strong and sturdy as though it had never been gone.

That was all in the beginning, though.

Things are beginning to change.

(I started writing this story when I was working in a fish processing plant in Cordova, AK.  I am hoping to complete the story soon and submit it to the L. Ron Hubbard Writer’s of the Future contest/scholarship thing.)

Storm

Four years ago it hadn’t been possible.

Tonight it might be.

The air was heavy and empty; it was thick and yet completely void at the same time.  The darkness surrounded her and night poured timelessly into her window, apathetic to her past, present and future.  She reached out for something with ears and whispered words that got softer as they became more serious.

A rumbling murmurs overhead.  Bright flashes momentarily turn the sky from black to grey.  Then the blackness, in its empty fury, swallows the outlines of trees and bushes once again.  From inside and halfway underground a storm seems more cleansing than it does menacing, she thinks.  There is probably rain but she can’t see or hear it from where she sits; the small trees, rooted in rock, guard her window from that small part of the storm.  Thunder sounds like rolling dice or cracking knuckles…maybe a stomach rumbling or a deep, jovial laugh.  Lightning is degraded to the incessant flipping of a light switch or the flash of a camera.  There is nothing frightening about the storm outside her window.  In fact it seems to whisper shreds of truth through the glass.

First she paced, hoping that movement would encourage the words she needed to come out of hiding.  Three steps forward, turn.  Three steps forward, turn.  Three steps forward, turn.  Pacing turned her into a caged animal.  She sank to the ground, back against the wall, arms propped up on her knees.  She folded and unfolded her hands, as she talked softly to the air.  She railed against the logical parts of her personality until they let her, at least for a moment, talk to the Something in which the world had taught her not to believe.

Sitting on the edge of her bed she stares out her window and watches lightning rip across the sky.  Daylight peeks through thin slits in the inky dome for a moment or two and then snaps the blinds shut again.  The crackling of the thunder is not scary; it is honest, painfully so.  Water that is not rain slides down her cheeks as she realizes that the exchange she almost had the courage to make four years ago still haunts her.  Time, decay and six feet of dirt make it impossible now, but she begs again anyways.

Finally, she had knelt, face down on her bedroom floor, rubbing her wet cheeks against the wax that had spilled there when she used to light candles, snuff them out with her fingers and then light them again.  Words spilled out of her mouth as she begged for leniency and grace and anything else that sounded more like a coma or semi-colon than a period.

Let the clock rewind.  Let years full of grief and emptiness and hollow adventures fade into nothingness, because that is what they were.  Let the people she touched forget her face and her name and be that much better for the loss.  Let the lively tan fall from her cheeks and fade to white and then ash.  Bring him up from the ground and put him back in his chair and let his cheeks brighten from their ashy gray, to white, to pink.  Take the health in her and put it in him.  Put her in the ground and take him out.

Youth had overcome her in that moment, though, and the words to the request she wanted to make stuttered uselessly across her mind and refused to dance off her tongue like she wanted them to.  She knew that the passion in her heart was soulful and genuine.  She was not lying to herself or to Him in what she thought, but the words would not come and whenever she got close to roping them together in the right order, fear overcame her and she would backtrack madly, scattering qualifications like birdseed.

She is serious this time.  Four years is a long time.  Lessons are learned and patterns are set.  She knows the answer to the uncertainty that stayed her hand last time and because of that her doubt has disappeared.  She knows now.  As her disappointment in herself falls out of her eyes she looks to the sky and asks again.

She wanted to be his Atlas.  The grief and pain and shortened lifeline were all things she would take for him if only he could continue to exist and bless and love those around him.  She wanted so badly to ask for those crosses in return for his vitality.  But she couldn’t because on some level she was afraid that of all the requests she had ever made of the Mystery in the sky, this would be the only one granted.

This time she will not waver.  This time she knows that the promise she had seen in the years to come was a lie.  She knows that where he sowed love and understanding, she dropped bombs.  Where he invested himself with such love and care in the lives of others, she only consumed, complained and wallowed.  He was a giver.  She was a taker.  He was deserving.  She was not.

She was too young to die.

He was to good to be dead.

In Heat

He stepped into the shadow and breathed an empty sigh of relief as the temperature dropped ever so sweetly.  He kneeled in the soft, wet grass, a stark contrast to the brittle stalks suffering under the angry rays of sun that jealously pulled moisture away from anything that housed it.

Sweat dripped from his fingertips and down his back.  He brushed his face with the back of his hand, but only succeeded in smearing the thick, clear droplets across his face.  His expression crumpled in mild disgust.  Today was awful. Yesterday was awful.  Tomorrow would also be awful.

He settled himself uncomfortably against the tree’s trunk.  As he readjusted his posture, small bits of bark attached to his skin like apathetic tics.

Across the deceptively beautiful field of grass, sun dappled and bright, he could make out a woman, a boy and a dog.

The dog, wearing the pained smile of heat exhaustion, trotted after the boy and his fluorescent frisbee.  The boy dripped sweat-free liquid from his hair and whirled a waterbottle above his head, sending invisible pearl droplets into the air.  They soared for a moment, lingered as flashing day-time stars for an instant and then fell, giving up eternal life in favor of rebirth.  They pattered coolly onto the boy’s upturned face, recreated as tears and spit and sweat.

The woman was separate and beautiful.  She came from the other side of the park, basking in the buzzing tranquility of a summer that had no sense of scale or moderation.  She walked in such a way that her evenly measured strides seemed like a carefree dance.  Her head turned with easy distraction, seeking out first that tree and then the other.  A glittering temptress of cool sunlight leapt off the surface of the lake and drew her, oh so subtly, in the opposite direction.

He stirred.

Her short, flowing dress was feminine and sweet.  Her feet, face, nails, neck, wrists and ankles were bare:  so unadorned that she almost seemed like a part of the scenery instead of a member of his world. 

Her head snapped in his direction.  Long, ethereal strands, waving loosely, as though they were underwater, flew through the air and swam into her ears.  She cocked her head slightly and her eyes grew unnaturally in both size and color.  The sudden vividness of her eyes shocked him and he felt like an animal, trapped in a beam of light that did not have a right to burn retinas so brightly in the night.

A wordless question reverberated in strings of pastel seaweed that jumped the chasm between the beautiful woman and the bark-speckled man.  It crawled into his ears.

Why would, how did he broadcast knowledge that was not his to know?  How could he tell?  What was her tell?  When did the rebirth of belief begin and how was it allowed to finish?  What audacity was his?  Self-centered and cruel, he was.  A thing to be spit upon and stampeded by ruthless hooves of steel and fire From whence came he?  How knew him she?

Her thoughts started as a trickle and grew in their forcefulness and disorganization.   Thoughts mirrored by brother thoughts came to understand the magnitude of what they were saying through the sight of their brothers.  Their fear and hate grew together and roiled at itself.  They were mob.  They were chaos.

They were a hurricane inside his head.

The heat of the day disappeared as her liquid thoughts tore through his brain with the curiosity of a toddler and the force of fantastic creatures that spit fire and walk on rainbows.

The water faded from her eyes as she understood his naivete.

Dirtied by his mind and gasping for breath, her thoughts dragged themselves out of him.  They shuddered and squealed and, like the scapegoated livestock of old they drove themselves into the glittering wet behind the woman with engorged eyes.  There they could whirl and twist and pirouette the oily, colorless grime of humanity away.

The woman smiled lopsidedly as she stepped backwards into the water.  She kept her gaze locked on the shape under the tree.  Her figure fluttered, glinted and shivered impossibly in the heat.

The man blinked.

The woman, standing straight and proud and up to her waist in the knee-deep shallows smiled to herself and let the lake finish swallowing her whole.  She swam, just another strand, to join the rest of the shimmering thoughts where the ground dropped away, and joined them in play.

Memories of the nothing beneath the tree faded unworriedly, unhurriedly.

She would exist forever.

She would be a dream in a moment.

~*~*~*~

A note or two:

Explanation:  A friend of mine challenged me to write a story and change the font color throughout as a way to add depth to the story, so this is 100% experimental.  I was going to keep it really subtle and close to black throughout the entire entry, because I was afraid that the color changes might get tacky.  (I get visions of emails from children or old people whenever the font is not consistently black…)  However, I decided that because the woman represents something colorful, beautiful and unique, it might be ok to go a little bit crazy when the perspective switched from the man’s to hers….still not sure what I think about it, though.

Request:  When I finished reading this story to my Mum she asked me question after question.  I answered a couple and then made her answer them instead.  I wound up liking what she heard in the story better than what I was imagining when I wrote it.  As such, I’m curious.  Tell me what you think it’s about.