Chapter One: Awake
As she pried open her eyes, she immediately realized how blurry the world around her was.
“Hey! Welcome!” came a small but warm voice.
“You’re probably still pretty foggy, huh? Do you remember who you are?” the voice asked.
“R- Riven Ryxling,” she stuttered, distracted by her surroundings which had almost come into complete focus. She was in a small and very fluorescently lit room that reminded her a lot of the hospital she had once spent the night in after getting her appendix out. The lights were that god awful shade of blue-white that just feels cold.
“Good,” said a different, deeper, but oddly hollow voice. “Now, do you have any idea where you are?”
“Hospital?” was the only word she could manage.
“Yeah, I figured you would say that,” the small voice chuckled. “They always do, don’t they?”
“Wha-? Who? Who are you? Where are you? I want to go home,” she whined, feeling more uneasy with every passing second.
As her vision was coming into focus, she glanced around what she had thought was a hospital room and noticed an abundance of items, seemingly medical technology, that she had never seen before. Where there should have been a blood pressure monitor, there was some weird metal stick, and instead of a scale, there was this strange, green spherical hologram that reflected off of the chrome walls. In fact, she had never seen anything that was in the room before.
The last thing Riven could remember was going to sleep. It had been a cold November evening. She had planned on staying with her boyfriend that night, but they had gotten into a fight, and she ended up staying home. She had poured herself a glass of ice water, and climbed into bed.
Chapter Two: Earth I
Poppy woke up suddenly. It was 3:42 in the morning. What the hell, she thought. Poppy always slept entirely through the night. Once she was out, she was out. There was no waking her. But that cold, November night was different.
She had heard something loud. Something that, as she had described it to Aaron, Riven’s boyfriend, sounded like “wow-wow-wow-wow-wow.” She went to Riven’s bedroom, where the sound had come from, and Riven wasn’t there, even though she was almost positive that Riven had in fact stayed home that night. Oh well, she thought. She’s probably at Aaron’s. Poppy put the event out of her head, and went back to bed.
When Poppy woke up against at 11am, Riven was still gone. Poppy decided to try Riven’s phone, but it was turned off, so she sent Aaron a text.
Is Riv at your place?
No, she stayed home last night. Long story. Is she not home?
Heard a weird noise from her room late last night. She wasn’t there, and she’s still not home.
Wtf? Where is she?
Poppy started to worry. It wasn’t like Riven to just disappear. She wasn’t the mom of the friend group. The one who always told their friends to drive safely, and let her know when they made it home. She was the one who always told everyone exactly what she was doing, even if they didn’t ask. None of this behavior was anything like Riven.
Chapter Three: Assimilation
“Where am I?!” Riven panicked.
In the adjacent room, behind a two-way mirror, a figure turned off the microphone, looked to its boss, and asked, “Can’t we just tell her?”
“No,” came the reply. “She is far too delicate. Look at her eyes — the pupils spell fear. You saw what happened to the last one we rushed the assimilation process with.”
“Hello?!” Riven said frantically. “Where did you go? Am I losing my mind?”
The microphone came back on. “No, Ms. Ryxling,” the smaller voice comforted, looking to its’ superior for some direction, before turning the microphone off once more.
“Why is this always so hard? It’s as if she is about to mourn the loss of a dear friend.”
“You can’t hold me hostage! My boyfriend will look for me. He’ll call the police! Just let me go, and I’ll never tell anyone anything, I promise,” Riven tried to rationalize with her captors.
The microphone was turned on again, and the deep voice laughed, “Hostage? Oh, no. No, no, no.”
“Riven Ryxling, from planet 34417, more commonly known as Earth, of the galaxy 382b6, we saved you. After the sanitization process is complete, you will be free to leave this laboratory and never return unless you feel the need,” the small voice said.
Riven didn’t understand. Of course she was from Earth — we all are.
“Where am I?” she demanded once again.
“In due time…” the deeper voice trailed off.
This process — asking questions and receiving only vague replies — continued for hours, until she grew tired. I’m never getting out of here, she lamented.
At the exact moment Riven had given up all hope, the stainless steel door opposite her hard bed slid open, and into the wall. She couldn’t see anything outside the door, because a large figure, unlike anything she had ever seen before, walked through the doorway, pushed a button, and the door closed once more.
Her — his? its? — skin was laurel green. Its eyes were enormous – huge, black almonds residing on a bald head that jutted outward, as if it were encasing a watermelon. Riven was at a loss for words. She simply couldn’t fathom what was standing before her.
“Hello, Ms. Ryxling.”
“Who? What? What are you?” she could hardly form a sentence.
“I am, well… an alien, as your people would call us. Doesn’t make much sense to me. By your logic, everyone in this universe is an alien — even you.”
“Wha?- there are more of you?!”
It laughed, “Oh, yes. Many, many more. As many grains of sand as there are on your Earth, maybe even more.” The alien smiled, and Riven noticed how beautiful it really was. Its skin sparkled like dew on the morning grass, and the eyes that had initially seemed empty, now looked full of compassion. Its’ cheekbones were perfectly sculpted. Its body had a similar build to a human — two arms, two legs, a torso, and a head — except that it was incredibly lanky — its appendages looked stretched. But it was muscular, too, and its legs bowed outward above the knee. It was different, but in its own way, the alien was gorgeous. Riven had considered asking if the alien was a man or woman, but settled on asking its’ name, finding it more polite.
“My name is Dinivian,” it paused, and let out a small laugh, “and I don’t have a gender, not in a sense that you would understand, anyway.”
“How did you -”
“It’s one of the first things humans seem to ask. I don’t get it. I mean, if I woke up in a strange place, I think I’d ask where I was,” Dinivian giggled.
“Where am I!?” Riven asked, coming to her senses.
“You are on Arcturus. We’re actually really close to your home. Only about thirty-seven light years from here to Earth.”
Thirty-seven light years was far from Riven’s idea of close. She wasn’t sure quite how far, but she knew that light traveled very fast, and there was no way that she was really ‘close’ to home.
“Arch-tur-ee-us,” she began slowly.
“No, no. Arc-tur-us. Shares its namesake with our star. You almost said the name of our people, though! We’re the Arcturians. And,” it paused, rolled its eyes, and continued “like I said, we don’t have gender. I know. I know. Shocking.”
Riven had learned about asexual organisms during middle school, but those were always microscopic. Her mind was swimming through a deep pool of confusion, and she couldn’t find the ladder to escape, no matter how hard or far she swam. How could an entire society be without gender?
“How do you -” Riven didn’t want to finish her question, finding it impolite.
Dinivian laughed, “Mate?”
Riven’s cheeks flushed red, and she ran a hand through her mousy brown hair. She was sitting here. Hundreds of thousands of miles away from Earth. Talking to an alien. About sex.
“It’s all really scientific. I think in English you call it a ‘test cube,’ or something like that.”
“Test tube?” Riven offered.
“Yeah, that’s it!” Dinivian smiled.
“So, you’re… it? Or just… she? Or? Uh…”
“Zhe,” Dinivian corrected. “There’s no translation. Here, it’ll be easier if I just show you.”
Zhe turned around, and grabbed a piece of paper and something that, once Dinivian began writing with it, Riven realized was a pen. Zhe drew out a chart¹, and explained the basics of Arcturian personal pronouns.
Riven tried her hand at the pronunciation of the Arcturian language, “So, it’s zhe, zher, zhers, and zhimself?”
“Exactly!” Dinivian beamed.
Two years ago, when Riven was in college, her favorite classes were French and German. She loved the thought of conversing with people from around the world, and wanted nothing more from life than to escape the United States. She never would have guessed, though, that not too far down the line, she would be learning bits and pieces of an alien language. Suddenly, a thought struck Riven.
“You speak English fluently; I can’t even tell that you’re not a natural speaker.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, that’s because of this,” Dinivian laughed, pointing to zhers elf-like ear. Riven hadn’t noticed it before, but what looked like a small computer chip was mounted just behind Dinivian’s ear.
Riven shot a confused look at zher, not understanding why zhe had a chip implanted on zhers skull.
“Oh, I always forget you don’t have them on Earth. Benefits of being in the Federation, huh? Well anyway, it’s basically a universal translator. I can understand any known language in the universe, and anything I say will be translated into whatever language is being spoken around me,” Dinivian smiled.
Riven had too many questions to ask, so she settled on what seemed like the simplest, “Why am I here?”
“You know, I’ve worked with humans my whole life, and your sense of curiosity always astonishes me,” Dinivian remarked. “You’ll find out soon enough. I wish I could tell you more, I really do.”
Riven sighed. It seemed as if she would never truly know how she got here, or why they had abducted her, but she was very tired, and the weight of her eyelids were beckoning sleep.
“Can I go to sleep?” she asked defeatedly.
“Oh, yes! That’s the best thing you can do right now, Ms. Ryxling. Cognitive dissonance is quite hard on the brain.”
As Riven drifted off to sleep, she dreamed unlike she had ever before. She was actually quite sure she had stopped dreaming years ago. Maybe it was from being on a new planet, or in a different galaxy, or maybe it was just from the insanity of the last couple of hours, but for the first time in as long as she could remember, she was dreaming. The world around her was saturated with indescribable colors — color she had never seen before. Everything was so clear; it didn’t feel like a dream. She was zooming through time and space. Every flicker of light was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, and every subsequent one was even more astounding. It was as if she was witnessing every miniscule moment that had shaped history, all at once. And then, suddenly, she woke up.
None of that happened, she thought, keeping her eyes firmly shut. It was all just a dream. Aliens don’t exist. I’m lying in my own bed, and I’m going to open my eyes, and there will be that god-awful Stucco ceiling of my shitty apartment that I pay way too much for. I’m going to get out of bed, go make some coffee, and prepare for another day at a job where I’m completely overworked and undervalued.
What greeted her when she opened her eyes, however, made her heart drop down into the pit of her stomach: a shiny metal ceiling, reflecting the green glow of the hologram thingy in the corner.
“FUCK!” she shouted in frustration.
Chapter Four: Earth II
It had been an entire seventy-two hours on Earth since Riven went missing. Poppy and Aaron were sitting in Aaron’s Chevy pick-up, on their way to the local police station where they would meet Marjorie, Riven’s mom.
“I just don’t understand, Pop. This isn’t like her,” Aaron lamented.
“She’s alive, Aaron. She has to be. I don’t know where she is, but it’s Riven, you know? She’s probably sitting underneath a tree examining the leaves,” she joked, hoping to lighten the mood.
“It’s been three days,” Aaron growled.
“I’m sorry,” Poppy sighed. “I’m just so scared. She’s my best friend. I’ve known her since we were thirteen, when we were both the new kids in middle school. This just isn’t like her, Aaron, and I’m so scared.”
“Fuck, Poppy! What do you think I am, happy? She’s my fucking girlfriend. I don’t care if she’s your best friend, she’s my girlfriend! How do you think I feel? We get in a stupid fight, over what? Absolutely nothing. And the next day, I wake up and find out she’s gone missing? Do you know what that feels like?! It’s my fault, Poppy. It’s my fault that she’s gone.”
Poppy looked out the window, trying to find the words to formulate a response. Riven hadn’t told her that her and Aaron got into a fight. Regardless, it still wasn’t like Riven to go missing. Her phone had been turned off for three days, which, Poppy knew wasn’t a good sign.
“What do I do?” Aaron asked, breaking into sobs. “It’s all my fault.”
“Aaron, it’s not your fault. Has Riven ever avoided a fight? You know how headstrong she is,” Poppy said, trying to comfort Aaron. “I don’t think she did this on her own. She would’ve at least told Marjorie if she was going somewhere, and, clearly, she didn’t.”
“That doesn’t make me feel better at all, Poppy. You’re shit at this.”
“I know. I just don’t know what else we can do. We’re doing everything. We’ve looked and put up posters, we’re going to the police. We just have to stay strong, Aaron. She’ll come back, I know she will.
Chapter Five: The Universal District
Moments after Riven awoke once more, the door to her room opened once more. This time, it wasn’t Dinivian. A larger Arcturian walked in. Though zhe looked quite similar to the alien Riven had met previously, zhe was also very different. Zhers eyes felt cold, as though they were piercing through Riven’s every thought. Zhers skin didn’t sparkle like Dinivian’s; it was rough and calloused in many spots. Nonetheless, she felt comforted to be around it. Zhe felt almost like a father.
“Ah. Welcome back. Did you sleep well?”
Riven recognized the voice as the deep one that she had heard earlier. “Yeah, it was extraordinary. I’ve never had such a dream. I was flying! The colors, oh God, it was so beautiful. I wish I could go back to sleep,” she said, starting to feel much more at ease.
Before Riven had even had a chance to acknowledge the question in her brain, the alien answered, “I’m Dr. Ninav, head of the Department of Human Studies at the Intergalactic College.”
“Human studies? Are you -” she paused. “Are you studying me?”
“Oh, no,” zhe laughed. “The name is a bit of a misnomer anymore. We thought of renaming it the ‘Department of Human Liberation,’ but that seems a bit too radical, don’t you think?”
Riven’s mind, once clear from her slumber, was again trapped in a fog. “Earlier, you said you ‘saved’ me, and now you’re talking about liberation. What does that mean?”
Dr. Ninav sighed, but didn’t speak a word.
“Please? Why am I here?”
Zhe looked back at her, zhers enormous, black eyes locking with Riven’s tiny green ones, and instantaneously, she felt at peace.
Time seemed to stand still in her room. It felt like months, maybe even years had passed. Riven spent much of her free time sleeping. When she wasn’t sleeping, Dr. Ninav and Dinivian were teaching her the basics of life on Arcturus. She learned that many different species of aliens, not just Arcturians, lived on Arcturus, and, overall, life was relatively similar to life on Earth. You get a job, you work, and you have free time. Dinivian had once told her that humans usually worked retail jobs, but Riven didn’t want to work in retail. She worked retail to support herself while in college, where she had spent far too much money and time working towards her dream — becoming a biologist — to go straight back into retail.
“You can go now,” Dr. Ninav told her one day2.
“Go? Where?” Riven asked, not understanding what zhe meant. “Back home?”
Ninav’s thin mouth pressed into a straight line. “No, Ms. Ryxling. That’s not really possible.”
Riven couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She couldn’t go home. She would never see her friends or family again. She’d never see Aaron again, and she loved Aaron. They’d been together since their freshman year of college. He wasn’t perfect, but he made her happy, and that was all that really mattered.
Before Riven could voice her protestations to the situation, Dinivian walked into the room, beaming from ear to ear, which seemed to take all of her worries completely from her mind.
“Ready to go?” Dinivian asked.
“Go where?!” Riven snapped back.
“Just follow me,” zhe said with a wink.
For the umpteenth time since she had been on Arcturus, and Riven didn’t understand why, she felt like she could trust Dinivian. Maybe it was the way the alien smiled at her, or zhers impeccable beauty, but Riven couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that Dinivian was simply good.
She couldn’t hide the smile on her face as she walked out of the small, 9’x9’ chamber she had been confined to. According to Dr. Ninav and Dinivian, it had only been two days, but it had felt like months to Riven.
Dinivian led her down a long hall that, much like her room, was made of shiny metal. Every ten feet or so was a pair of metal doors, one seemingly leading to the sanitization chambers, and one to the rooms that the doctors sat in. Riven knew she wasn’t the only Homo sapien in this building.
At the end of the hallway, she spotted a double door.
“Here we are!” Dinivian said with a smile. “Are you ready?”
“Ready for what?!” she retorted, quickly growing tired of the teasing questions.
Dinivian flashed that gorgeous grin once more, exclaiming, “your new life!” before opening the door.
What Riven saw when those shiny metal doors split apart was something unlike anything she could have ever imagined. She was in a city, but it was the very antithesis of a city on Earth. The sky was purple, and the sun was blood orange. She could also see three different, what she guessed were moons, above her. One of them looked quite like the sun, Arcturus — a giant, orange ball; one was bubblegum pink and had rings around it, much like Saturn; and the final one, looked desolate and bleak, and reminded her of Earth’s moon.
The buildings in the city stretched so high that Riven couldn’t see the tops of them, and their architecture was truly captivating. The traditional, rectangular skyscraper of humanity was replaced by nothing short of art. There were buildings that curved to the left or right, seemingly defying gravity; translucent spheres containing floors upon floors of what looked like office space; and skinny pyramids with acres of leisure area, where hundreds, maybe even thousands, of aliens were relaxing.
It was impossible to count the number of different types she saw. There were short, bald, grey-skinned aliens; tall ones that looked like Dinivian, but with flowing, blonde hair; and aliens that looked like reptiles. She even saw humans scurrying about. Some of them were dressed formally, in clothing that was remniscent of what Riven might see at an office on Earh, and some of them seemed to be relaxing, watching their children play. She couldn’t believe how harmoniously the society seemed to work; so many different species and cultures simply co-existing.
Dinivian saw the look of amazement on Riven’s face and beamed. “Pretty cool, huh?”
“This is amazing,” Riven breathed.
“This, my friend, is Arcturtanis, a sub-city of Arcturus. The whole planet is one huge city, divided into smaller regions, and Arcturtanis is called the ‘Universal District.’ I’m sure you can see why,” Dinivian said.
“Who are they all?”
“So you’ve got the Pleiadians. They’re the ones that look like Arcturians, except they have blonde hair on their heads. We’re closely related. I’d bet you can guess who the Reptilians are?” Riven nodded, and Dinivian continued. “Then you’ve got the short and the tall Greys. They’re similar, but the short ones can be pretty nasty. Totally devoid of emotion. That’s why the tall ones came into existence – they’re hybrids. Part Grey, part something else – usually human, Arcturian, or Pleiadian.”
At every nationality, Riven nodded her head, trying to show she was following, even though she really wasn’t.
“Then you’ve got the Atlanteans. They’re originally from Earth, you know? Left quite a while ago because of war; they just decided to up and leave rather than fight. Over there,” zhe pointed to a group of short, green-skinned aliens, “are some descendants of the last Martians. Don’t mention your cartoons to them unless you want to upset them. Those tall, blue aliens to the left are Sirians, from Sirius. They’re very good merchants, so be careful you’re not getting scammed if you buy anything from them. They could sell a spaceship to a spaceship salesman,” Dinivian laughed.
“So, are they all…” she began, not knowing how to word her question. “I guess, are all aliens without gender, like you?”
“Oh no, it’s just a choice Arcturians make. Going without gender also means going without sex, which allows us to not be blinded by any passions. We can fully focus on our studies and making the universe a better place. But everyone else has genders. The Sirians actually have three genders. One makes eggs, one makes sperm, and one has the womb, kind of like what you humans do with surrogate mothers.”
Riven couldn’t believe how many different types of aliens there were. A few days ago, she hadn’t known that aliens existed at all, let alone such a huge population of completely different species.
She had been so caught up in the people around her that, until she had heard sounds coming from below her, Riven hadn’t realized she wasn’t standing on the ground. When she looked down, she realized she was on one of many levels of walkways that connected the buildings of the city, almost like roads. But further below, past another six levels of paths, was what really caught her eye. At the very bottom of the city sat pure, untouched nature.
Chapter Six: The Terrans
“Can we go down there?” Riven asked. After two days of confinement, she missed the smell of grass and the feeling of wind blowing through her hair. As a kid, she had spent the majority of her time outside. Her love of nature was something unfounded by possibly only the Romantic poets.
“Uh…” Dinivian trailed off. “No. No, we can’t.”
“Well, it’s against the law,” zhe stated.
“But why?” Riven couldn’t understand how being with nature could be illegal. The forest below her was beautiful. The soil — or grass, maybe, she couldn’t tell — was navy blue, and the trees were giant, red mushrooms, almost like that which you would see in a video game. She was quite certain that, although it was much too far to see, there were also animals frolicking in the woods below her.
“About two million years ago, the Terrans – ancestors of us Arcturians — destroyed Terra. That was our original home. Climate change, mass extinction, and the like. They didn’t do anything to stop it. They thought they could get by just fine without nature, but they were wrong. The population was nearly decimated. Wildfires ravaged the planet, and food was scarce. So, they moved. The government built a huge spaceship, and all five thousand Terrans left alive boarded the ship, and set out to find a new home.
“When they found Arcturus, they knew it was perfect. Not only was it in the relative center of the universe, making it an ideal trading hub, it was also a fully developed, self-sustaining ecological system that lacked only an intelligent species. It also has the right type of atmosphere for supporting nearly any type of life. So, they settled down, and the Terrans renamed themselves the Arcturians. All modern Arcturians are descendents of those five thousand Terrans. Before they began to build society up once more, they had to make sure that no one would ever let what happened to Terra, happen to Arcturus. If they were settling, they wanted it to be permanent.
“City planners from across the universe were brought in. While the citizens stayed aboard the ship, forbidden from stepping outside, decades of debates about how to preserve nature occurred. Finally, it was agreed that the city should be built above the planet, so that no one would disturb nature, and the planet could keep on doing its own thing.”
“That’s incredible,” Riven exhaled in disbelief. “If only humans had such respect for nature.”
“And you do,” zhe said. “That’s why you’re here, Riven.”
“No more of that ‘Ms. Ryxling’ stuff now that we’re away from the doctor now, huh?” she winked.
Dinivian smiled coyly, “No, I guess not.”
“Why me?” Riven wondered aloud. “Why am I here? There are millions of biologists on Earth.”
“I just told you, Riven.”
“No, you told me that I respect nature. Well, lots of humans respect nature. Why am I here? What’s so special about me?”
Dinivian sighed. “It’s not really that simple. It’s not that you’re necessarily special, it’s just that you meet the criteria for the Galactic Federation.”
“What does that mean, though?!” Riven demanded.
“I. . . I don’t know, Riven.”
“You have to know. You were the first alien. . . Sorry, person that I met here. You work for the department of Human Studies. You have to know more!”
“I can’t say anything more. I’ve said enough already.”
Zhe spent hours showing Riven around the city, and explaining what the different buildings were, and how things in their society functioned.
“That’s the Civic building. The Federation of Intergalactic Nations lives there,” zhe said, pointing to a building made of many spheres, decorated with cathedral-like spires along the top.
“How many nations are there in the universe?” Riven wondered aloud.
“There are twenty-two members right now,” Dinivian answered. “But there’s something like three- or four-thousand in consideration for membership. There’s not really an accurate way to count, you know?”
“No?” Riven asked, unsure. “Why can’t you just count?”
“Count them?” Dinivian gave zhers biggest laugh yet. “No, it’s not really such a simple process. I mean, sure, we can ‘count’ the number of societies in the universe, but joining the Federation has all these stipulations and requirements. For example, before an invitation of membership, the society has to reach the capability of intergalactic travel.”
“So, how does the Federation know when a civilization is advanced enough?
“Well,” zhe said with a pause. “I mean, they watch. Everything.”
“That’s not creepy at all,” Riven said with disgust. The whole reason she had disliked the United States was because of its imperialistic blatant disregard for privacy.
“You wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that, you know,” zhe seemed to be getting angry. “You’d still be on Earth!”
Riven’s face felt hot, and she could feel a tear in her left eye.
“I don’t even want to be here!” she shouted, finally letting loose all of the emotions she had so neatly kept in a bottle since waking up in that horrid, cramped room. “I want to go home. I didn’t ask to come here!”
“Come,” was all zhe said, but Riven could tell from zhers voice, that she had hurt Dinivian, and that hurt her.
Zhe led Riven along what seemed like miles of walkways; through six different buildings and down too many staircases to count, all the while, never speaking a word. Before she knew it, they were on the bottom-most walkway of the city, which was transparent, allowing her to almost be with nature. It wasn’t the same, but it was closer than she had been in what felt like a lifetime, and that was enough for her.
Riven looked up, and noticed how different the city looked from that angle. It didn’t look quite as beautiful as it had earlier. It felt cold and empty, despite the herds of aliens she could see. As Riven opened her mouth to speak, Dinivian raised a finger to zhers, then grabbed Riven’s hand.
Chapter Seven: The Human-Alien Relationship
As soon as they touched, Riven’s world stopped. Where their hands met, electricity felt as if it was through Riven. It was the most wonderful things she had ever felt; she never wanted to let go. Images began rushing through her mind at hyper-speed. Two children, playing at a park. The brown-haired girl pushing the blonde boy on a swing. The blonde boy chasing the brown haired girl in a field. The blonde boy saying he would see her tomorrow, and never returning.
Just as quickly as the pictures and sensation had started, they ceased, when Dinivian took zhers hand away.
“Do you understand?” zhe asked.
“That was you?” Riven gasped.
Dinivian sighed. “You’re not supposed to know.”
“You were my best friend for almost a year. Where did you go?”
“Home. I couldn’t stay. It was just part of the job,” zhe sighed.
“I don’t understand. You were human.”
Dinivian laughed, “No, I’ve always been Arcturian.” Zhe pressed a button on zhers belt, and morphed into the blonde boy from Riven’s childhood. Almost at once, zhe clicked it again, and changed back into zhers beautiful, green self.
“The Department for Human Studies works very closely with the Federation, and has one goal: liberation. Since 1932, we have been observing your Earth. Twenty years ago, we realized the time for intervention had come. We began selecting those we saw fit for the next stage. Your Earth is dying. Your species is dying. But you,” zhe paused, “are not dying.”
Riven sat down, trying to comprehend what she had just heard.
“You know how I said there were thousands of civilizations awaiting membership to the Federation?”
“Yeah,” Riven replied.
“Well, there’s a reason Earth and humanity aren’t a part of it, right? I mean, your government met one of the Pleiadians in the 1940s when those drunk idiots crashed their vehicle on Earth.”
“Wait,” Riven interrupted. “You’re saying that Roswell was an honest to God UFO?”
“Ugh,” zhe shuddered. “I hate human terminology. But yeah, it was. Anyway, some drunk Pleiadian decided it’d be a smart idea to take a tour of Earth, and crashed outside of Roswell, New Mexico. I mean, he knew it was illegal to go to a planet that hadn’t yet reached the capability of intergalactic travels. Everyone knows that. But, you know, the intrigue of exploring a relatively young planet triumphed over his regard for the law. So the government of the United States of America knows that aliens exist, and we figured it would be a matter of months before the truth was revealed. But they weren’t honest. They covered it up with a pathetic lie. We didn’t understand why.
“Usually, or at least up to that point, when a civilization discovers that they aren’t alone in the universe, they celebrate. Their government tells its’ citizens, and steps are made to make a name in the universal community. But this time, it was different.”
“What do you mean?” Riven asked.
“Well, they’re still denying the existence of other intelligent life forms to this day. They drop hints that we exist all the time, and there are plenty of hidden documents that state that exactly that, but they’re still hiding it. So, we had to ask ourselves why? What motivation did the humans in control have for keeping their people in the dark?
“No one could piece it together. Years and years passed. Some argued that humanity should be let in regardless — your rate of technological advancement was astronomical compared to what was typical. But many, Dr. Ninav included, believed that there was something sinister going on behind the scenes.”
Dinivian paused, almost as if zhe knew that Riven needed a moment to digest. The last few days had been filled with so much information that contradicted what she knew, it was becoming difficult to differentiate between reality and the imaginary.
“And? Was there?” Riven asked after a few seconds, breaking the silence.
“Uranium is one of the most valuable elements in this universe. It’s very hard to find, other than on Earth, but just a little bit – just one, tiny speck — is needed to get from here to the other side of the universe. It’s immensely powerful, and,” zhe sighed, “extremely dangerous, as humanity would find out after the invention of the atomic bomb in 1932.”
“Uranium? What?” Riven wondered aloud. She had followed nearly every last bit of information that had been thrown at her recently, but she could not, for the life of her, figure out what an atomic bomb had to do with any of this.
“When the atomic bombs were tested and then subsequently dropped on Japan, we were watching. We knew there would be death. We had seen war before, but never like this. Never at this scale. Hundreds of thousands of your own people were killed by your own people. Do you see what I’m saying?” zhe took a deep breath before continuing, “Humans are a danger to humanity in and of itself.”
Riven didn’t understand why Dinivian was so upset. This was common knowledge, and it had happened so long ago, did it really matter anymore?
“Don’t you get it, Riven?” zhe begged.
Riven shook her head from side to side quickly, making her brown hair slap her shoulders.
“The universe, as a whole, is scared of humanity. Your people are blood-thirsty. No planet has ever seen the amount of violence yours has, especially violence towards its own people. War, as most of the universe thinks of it, is between two different species. For example, about three hundred years ago, the Great Grey War concluded. I mean, it’s not really over, but my point is that it was a war between Greys and other nations, not a war amongst the Greys, like the wars on Earth are. You slaughter your own people, and you have no respect for nature, much like the Terrans of old.”
“That isn’t me,” Riven said defiantly.
“No, of course not. I didn’t mean you –”
Riven interrupted. “Did you, though? That’s what you said.”
“Riven, I know you. I know you’re not violent or bloodthirsty. I know you love nature. But most humans don’t, and that’s the problem.”
“You’re making generalities, Dinivian. That’s the same as saying all Arcturians are pompous assholes who think they are always right.” Dinivian flinched. “I’m not saying that you’re a pompous asshole, I’m just saying, when you make statements like that about my species. . . well, it’s offensive.”
“Okay, I see what you mean. But my point is that, that’s why you’re here! You’re not like most humans. The people that we select, the people that we bring here are those that meet the ideals of the Intergalactic Federation. No society is perfect, but we seek to rescue those trapped by their own people. That’s why there are some Greys here.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the Greys aren’t really nice. As a whole, they’re feared just as much as humanity. They’re ruthless. They’re the ones that humans envision when they think ‘alien.’ At some point in time after the atom bomb, the Greys realized the immense warmongering powers humanity possessed, and decided to make contact. They made a deal with the government of the United States of America. The Greys would be allowed a set number of abductions each year, which the government would deny, in exchange for technology. And thus, the rapid technological advancement of post-1940 Earth began.”
“How do you know this?” Riven asked.
“We don’t. Not definitely, anyway. No one really knows what the Greys are up to, we can only guess. What we do know, is that some alien species made contact with humanity. It’s against the bylaws of the Federation to interfere with a developing society, so we know it wasn’t one of the members. There are simply too many advantages to being a member, and with surveillance, we would have known if it was one of the members. Plus, the Federation of Intergalactic Nations was formed in part to combat the Greys during the war. That’s why it’s located here on Arcturus.”
“What do you mean?” Riven asked.
“Well, Arcturians have the most developed psychic powers in the Universe. It’s called zhyseil. So, it’s only natural that we can more successfully block psychic interference from the Greys where there is a large number of us,” Dinivian commented, as if it was the most obvious thing.
“I didn’t know you had psychic powers,” Riven commented.
“Oh, come on. You did too!” Dinivian teased. “How do you think we kept you so calm?”
Suddenly, as if a light clicked on in her brain, Riven’s own behavior made sense.
“You’ve been mind controlling me!” she shouted.
Dinivian sighed, “Mind control and zhyseil are not the same thing.”
“Entering my mind, and controlling my emotions sounds a lot like mind control to me,” she coldly.
“Zhyseil is not mind control, Riven. If one is not receptive, it won’t work. But you were receptive — you chose to accept the state of calm we inflicted upon you. If we hadn’t used zhyseil, you would still be in the lab, but in the mental ward instead of sanitization. The sanitization process only takes two days, but usually, humans especially, take much longer, because they feel as if they are literally losing their minds. Your people have great difficulty with information that contradicts what you think you know. So, you were a test subject, of sorts, to see if zhyseil would work, and it did! You’ve entered the Intergalactic world in record time!”
“You lied to me,” Riven said, raising her voice. “I thought I could trust you!”
“It wasn’t my idea…” Dinivian trailed off.
Riven wanted to believe zher, she really did, but the one person who had been a guiding light for her, had been a ruse. She didn’t know if she could trust her feelings about Dinivian. Did she really like zher, or had that been implanted in her brain, too?
“I didn’t,” zhe said.
“You didn’t, what?” Riven snapped.
“I didn’t put anything into your brain. I just calmed you,” zhe sighed. “I haven’t done it since we’ve been on our own. I wouldn’t do it again, not now that I know you.”
The pain in Dinivian’s voice brought Riven back down. She calmed so quickly, she almost thought that zhe was using zhyseil again, but, as she remembered, when that happened, it was instantaneous; in this moment, she felt her anger slipping away slowly, ounce by ounce.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled quietly. Riven didn’t want to admit it, but she was sorry for losing her temper with Dinivian, when zhe had only been honest with her since they had left the laboratory. Dinivian had told her much more than zhe was at license to, at zhers own personal risk. “I know it wasn’t your choice. You wouldn’t do that. I know you.”
At that comment, the smile which she had grown so fond of returned to Dinivian’s face. “Come on, I have to take you home now,” zhe said.
“To Earth?” she asked, disheartened.
Hours ago, returning to Earth was all that Riven could have dreamed of. She would have loved to kiss Aaron and tell him of all the wondrous things she had seen in space. But she had changed. Nothing was as it used to be. Aaron seemed so irrelevant — a speck of dust in the wind. She couldn’t possibly imagine returning to the mundanity of humanity, not when there was an entire universe full of possibility… A universe with Dinivian. Above all else, she couldn’t imagine being one of the only people on Earth who knew the truth. If she spoke out, she would be labelled as crazy by the propaganda machine, because only crazy people think aliens exist. And if she kept quiet, she might actually go crazy.
Chapter Nine: Earth III
Poppy, Aaron, and Riven’s mom sat in the office of a man who looked far too young to be running the Department of Missing Persons. The man looked much more interested in his cell phone than the fact that an actual person was missing.
“Sir?” Marjorie asked.
“Sorry, I was letting the Chief know what I’m up to. Okay, so, you’re here to file a missing persons report, correct?”
“Yes,” Poppy, Aaron, and Marjorie said in unison.
“I’m Pop –”
The officer interupted. “Not your name. Her name.”
“R- R- Riven Ryxling,” Marjorie sobbed.
“And how long has Ms Ryxling been missing?”
Aaron grabbed onto Marjorie’s hand. “Seventy four hours or so,” he sighed.
The officer raised an eyebrow. “And you’re just now coming in?”
“We thought she might turn up,” Poppy said, burying her face in her hands.
“You should have come in sooner,” the officer scolded.
“Can we just get on with the questions? Give us a break, man,” Aaron retorted. “My girlfriend — her best friend, and her daughter — is missing. We all feel guilty enough.”
“Uh, my apologies. Did any of you see or talk to her in the hours leading up to her disappearance?”
Aaron’s eyes glimmered, tears pooling on his lower eyelid. “Yeah. I did. We got into a fight,” he sighed.
“As a child, did she ever run away, Mrs. Ryxling?”
Marjorie was sobbing so hard she couldn’t speak, so she shook her head from side to side.
“This isn’t like her, sir. Please, please help us,” Poppy begged.
“I promise you, I will do everything that we will do absolutely everything in our power to help you find Riven,” the officer said warmly.
Chapter Ten: Zher
“I think I’d rather stay here,” Riven remarked.
“No, not to Earth,” Dinivian grinned. “I’ll take you to the dorms. It’s just a temporary thing, until you find your own place.”
They walked quietly, side by side, up the many staircases, Riven sneaking glances at Dinivian every five hundred feet or so.
“So, does everyone but humans possess zhyseil?”
“Yes and no. Yes, because everyone possesses it. No, because humans, too, can activate their powers. It’s just a little more difficult.”
“Are you serious?” Riven gasped. “So I could, like, bend a spoon with my mind?”
Dinivian laughed. “You know, Riven, I really, really like you, but God, you’re just such a human. Bend a spoon? That’s what you really want to do?”
Riven blushed, not only at her humanistic simplicity, but also at the idea that Dinivian liked her. “Well, no, not just bend a spoon. But you’re saying it’s possible?”
“Of course it’s possible. It takes practice, though, and it’s hard to get started after an entire lifetime of neglect. Zhyseil is like a muscle. If you work at it, it can be impossibly strong. But if you neglect it, it will atrophy.”
The rest of their walk was mostly silent, occupied only by subtle stolen glances. Everytime Riven looked at Dinivian, she felt warm. Whole. Zhe was incredibe. Zhe was smart, unlike any other being she had ever met before. Riven felt as if there was a reason that life had brought her and Dinivian together.
Eventually, the pair came face to face with what had to be the tallest, but most boring-looking building in Arcturtanis. It was the only building she had seen so far that resembled anything on Earth. A square base and walls that stretched straight up, with windows placed uniformly on each level.
“Well, this is it. This is your new home, at least for now,” Dinivian said, smiling.
“Thank you,” she sighed.
“What’s wrong? I know it’s not the prettiest building, but you won’t be there long.”
“This is it, isn’t it? This is goodbye. You finished your job!” she said, her anger returning. “I’m assimilated, and now it’s on to the next one.”
For the first time since they had met, Dinivian actually frowned. It wasn’t a look that fit zher at all.
“I’m sorry,” Riven said, immediately regretting what she had said.
“No, it’s okay. You’re right,” zhe sighed. “Or at least, you’re supposed to be right.”
“I’m supposed to assimilate you. Now that you’re assimilated, I’m supposed to drop you off here, where you’ll be assigned a temporary room. Then you’ll get a job, and immerse yourself in Arcturian society. But I don’t want to just drop you off.”
“What do you mean, Dinivian?”
“I don’t want to drop you off,” zhe repeated.
“Okay?” Riven said, as if it was a question.
Dinivian frowned. “You know what I’m saying, Riven. You know.”
“No, I don’t. Just say it, Dinivian.”
In an instant, Dinivian walked towards Riven, and threw zhers arms around her. The touch of zhers thin, alien lips on Riven’s human lips created electricity. Colors swirled past her closed eyes, and she felt like she was dreaming like she had on that first night she spent on Arcturus. She never wanted to let go of Dinivian.
“I’m sorry,” zhe said, backing away. “This isn’t right. I have to go.”
“It felt right,” Riven yelled after him. “It felt right, and you know it did. You wouldn’t have kissed me if you didn’t feel it.”
Dinivian stopped walking, and turned around, speaking rapidly, “I can’t. We haven’t in years. It’s against our ways. It clouds the mind. We have to stay clear. I can’t.”
“You asked me to question my people, my ways. You told me things I never would have imagined could be true. So why can’t you question your ways for me?”
Riven wanted nothing more than for Dinivian to embrace her again. She wanted to feel the electricity rushing through her veins. She wanted to see the colors again. She wanted to dream again.
“I…” zhe trailed off.
“Please,” Riven whined.
“I need time, Riven.”
“Two days!” she shouted. “Everything I knew changed in two days! Haven’t you thought about it?”
“Of course I’ve thought about it. All Arcturians have questioned their asexuality. But our brains don’t work right. Asexuality keeps us clear, receptive, and in-tune with the universe.”
“What if it’s a lie?” Riven asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Humans think aliens are all evil, but you showed me a whole new world,” she said. When Dinivian didn’t reply, she asked, “How does it work? You said I wouldn’t understand your gender. Try me.”
Dinivian showed a faint smile and said, “Arcturians are not inherently without gender. The difference between an Arcturian and a Pleiadian is in fact nothing more than the rejection of sex. Arcturians choose to cast aside their gender at age one hundred, and focus on improving their mind in some way. Pleiadians are Arcturians who keep gender. Their children can choose to become either or. Arcturians, on the other hand, reproduce similarily to your test tube babies on Earth, and an Arcturian child must become Arcturian,” zhe sighed.
“Were you an Arcturian child?” Riven asked gently. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she could see tears forming in Dinivian’s huge, black eyes.
“I am an Arcturian child,” zhe said quietly. “That’s why I’m studying under Dr. Ninav. In two years, on my one-hundredth birthday, I’ll become a fully-fledged Arcturian.”
“And you don’t want to,” Riven guessed.
“There’s nothing I can do, Riven.”
“Fight it!” she shouted. “You can’t be the only one who feels like this. I’m sure there are others.”
“It doesn’t matter, Riven. Don’t you get it? There are bigger things, more important things to worry about.”
“Like what?!” Riven screamed. She didn’t understand why she was so upset. She had known Dinivian for only two days, but she felt more with zher than she had ever felt with Aaron, or any human. She felt whole.
“I’m in training to become head of the Department of Human Studies,” zhe said.
“Oh,” Riven said. Suddenly, everything made sense. The reason Dinivian knew so much about humans and the Greys, why zhe felt so guilty for thinking of abandoning the Arcturian way. The weight of the future of the Universe was, in some ways, on zhers shoulders.
The two of them stood in the hallway of Riven’s dorm for quite some time, before Dinivian finally broke the silence and began, “What if…”
“What if, what?” Riven asked immediately.
“What if no one ever knew? And what if you’re right? I mean…” zhe trailed off.
“What?!” Riven exclaimed.
“It can’t really affect my brain that much, can it? Sex, you know. The Pleiadians still have zhyseil, and they say that it’s just as powerful. Maybe Arcturians have been lying all these years. Maybe there’s no difference,” zhe rationalized.
“You’ll never know the truth if you don’t try,” Riven smiled.
[missing chapters here]
Chapter Thirteen?: Court
“I just think that we can reach a compromise,” Riven sighed, looking discouragingly at her feet.
“You have been on this planet for less than two-hundred days, Ms. Ryxling. Some of us are hundreds of years old, and we are experts on the matter. Forgive me, but I do think we are a bit more qualified than you,” stated the large, blue Sirian called Trustubus.
The Grey spoke up. “I am quite sure that Ms. Ryxling understands the severity of her transgression, but one must consider her. . . unique situation. And I, personally, must admit, I do think that she has a point.”
Riven looked up, shocked to hear support from Khrelan Ozar, the only Grey in the room. She was standing on floor of the council chamber. Twenty feet above her sat a panel of aliens behind tall, mahogany-colored desks. Each one was a representative of their species in the Court of the Federation of Galactic Nations, and these aliens would decide her fate.
“Khrelan, I don’t think a single member of this committee finds it at all shocking to hear you, a Grey, speak in support of her actions –”
Dr. Ninav interrupted. “Must we always resort to such petty tactics? Can we not deal with the matter at hand, without involving personal, inter-species relations?”
“Of course, Doctor,” several of the aliens agreed begrudgingly.
The room fell silent. Riven couldn’t believe how stupid she was. She knew the Federation watched everything. She knew, but she didn’t really know. At least, not until she had been summoned in front of the Court.
She remembered it was raining, because Riven loved nothing more than when it rained. A storm on Arcturus was very similar to one on Earth, and that’s why she loved it. The only difference was the colors. Instead of turning a dark, bluish-gray, the already deep purple sky would become violet, as if someone had taken a picture and then cranked the saturation up as high as possible. The other amazing part of a storm on Arcturus was how the rain felt. Not hot, not cold. Warm — just right. It reminded her of the many childhood vacations she had spent in Florida, where it rained everyday, but it was that same, warm rain, the kind of rain that didn’t impede your day — it made your day. It made Riven feel free — as if she could do anything under the veil of rain.
“Ms. Ryxling?” Khrelan asked.
“Uh, sorry, what?” Riven had been drawn out of her thoughts, and didn’t know how long she had been absent-mindedly standing there.
“I asked you, can you, in your own words, explain what happened that day?”
Riven launched into her story. “Well, you know, I’m from Earth –”
“We do not need an account of your life, Ms. Ryxling. Please stick to the incident at hand,” the Sirian said.
“Well, I missed home, I guess. That day –”
Trustubus interrupted her once more. “Please be more specific. What day?”
“I think it was the 103rd day of Mafir,” she said with a tone of annoyance. Mafir was one of the four months, or maybe seasons, that Arcturus had in a year. Mafir was 300 days long, and seemed to correspond to Spring; the other seasons she hadn’t experienced, but she knew that they were called Tafer, Rolfer, and Zlumbir. Dinivian had taught Riven a lot about Arcturus, but it was as if she was a child, beginning elementary school all over again.
“So, this was approximately thirty days ago? And what, exactly, happened on that 103rd day of Mafir?”
“It was raining. It reminded me of Earth. It’s not that I want to go back, I just. . . I miss it sometimes, you know?” She looked to Khrelan for some empathy, hoping he would support her like he had before. “Don’t you miss Zeta Reticuli?”
Khrelan mulled over the idea in his head, before nodding slightly.
Enraged by Khrelan, Trustubus quickly spat. “Opinions are not in the scope of this court. Please stick to the facts. Do not personally address another member of this committee, Ms. Ryxling. You’re not helping your case.”’
Riven was blowing it. She had hardly began recounting her story, and she had already pissed the Court off. Fuck, she thought, before saying aloud, “Please, sirs, ma’ams, its, and zhers of the Court, I think if I can tell my whole story, without interruption, you will see very clearly how important this all is.”
The room exploded with cries of, “ I have never, in my eight-hundred and seventy-four years. . .” and “Who does she think she is?!” and “Did she just tell us to be quiet?”
After a few minutes of chaos, Dr. Ninav stood up and roared. “QUIET! Let the girl tell her story. Then, a vote shall be drawn, judgement passed, and we will proceed from there,” zhe paused, and the room grew silent. “Now, Riven, please tell your story in its’ entirety.”
“Oh. Uh. Okay,” Riven said, trying to gather herself together. “Well, it was raining, and that made me miss Earth. I’ve always loved being outside — climbing trees, catching bugs, watching animals. I just missed that freedom, you know? I knew it was illegal, but I just thought, you know, what’s the harm in going down there for just a few a little bit? I wasn’t going to disturb anything or anyone.”
Riven glanced around the room, looking for some sign of compassion. Unfortunately, all types of aliens seemed to have mastered the art of the poker face.
She sighed, then continued. “So, I just went down there. Dinivian acted like it was impossible to get to, but I mean, you just keep going down the stairs, and there’s only one little, tiny gate you have to climb over. . . and then, you’re out. Free. With nature. It was amazing. I couldn’t believe how easy it was stuff. Have any of you ever been down there?” she paused, realizing she had messed up again. “Shit. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to –”
This time, a scaly Reptilian named Vlumberam interrupted her, “No, it’s quite alright Ms. Ryxling. I haven’t been down there. I don’t think there is a single being on this planet who can say that they have, actually. The Biology department of the College ceased their studies down there a thousand or so years ago, if I recall correctly. I’m curious — what did you find?”
Riven beamed, speaking enthusiastically, “Yes, you’re absolutely correct. I guess that’s, at least in part, why I think it is so vital that we resume studying the forest. How can it be possible that the Federation has no idea what has been happening right beneath our feet for thousands of years? Why did we stop?” Riven paused to catch her breath before continuing, “It was absolutely amazing. I mean, you have a general idea when you look at it from the walkways, but it’s so much more than the Mushroom-Trees! Have you ever seen the birds?”
“Birds? There are birds on Arcturus? Birds like, birds from Earth?” chimed in a small Atlantean.
“They’re red, and blue, and green, and yellow. Some are small, and some are big. I mean, they don’t really look like anything I’ve seen on Earth, of course, but they were definitely birds. Wings, feet, and a head,” she trailed off, before remembering, “Oh, I guess a few of them had two heads. It was kind of weird, but so cool. I was only down there for a few minutes, and I saw so much. Why aren’t we studying the forest? What’s down there?”
Vlumberam raised an eyebrow, “Ms. Ryxling, we simply have no need of the Forest. At this point in time, our food is clone-produced. There is no need to hunt or gather anymore, which, I think we can all be grateful for. So I must ask you, what does the Forest hold for us?”
Riven thought back to the that 103rd day of Mafir. Should I mention it? They’ll either freak out, think I’m crazy, or, least likely, believe me. She glanced around the room, at the twenty-two different species of aliens above her. So far, a few of them seemed to be on her side. Khrelan was, but she didn’t know why. There was no question that Ninav was behind her. But there were just as many against her, like the Sirian, Trustubus. And there were even more wildcards, who had remained silent. Here goes nothing, she thought.
“Well, I did see something. . . curious,” she finally said, after minutes of silence.
“Yes?” Ninav asked.
Riven took a deep breath, “I had only been down there for a few minutes, and I had an eerie feeling. I don’t know, it was just one of those feelings. I was looking around, and I saw. . . something. I don’t know what it was, though.”
Riven described how she had been sitting on the step just past the gate admiring Arcturus’ natural beauty, when she spotted a pair of large, black eyes about one-hundred feet away. After a few moments, it moved out of the shadows, revealing itself to be a twenty-foot tall lizard-looking thing. It had spikes running along its’ spine, from its’ head to the tip of its’ clubbed tail. Riven left out the weirdest part, which she thought she should keep to herself. It was like a comfort blanket, of sorts. No one would ever know about the bluebird she saw, the bluebird that looked just like a bluebird from Earth.
“Ah-hem,” coughed the Atlantean. “I am certain that I misheard you, but I think you just said that you sighted a live Attamun? This is simply not possible, Ms. Ryxling.”
“Attamun?” Riven repeated. “Is that what it was?”
Trustubus laughe., “An Attamun? I must agree with the Atlantean, Chktus, on this one — it is impossible. I simply do not believe it. This child is creating stories, fabricating excuses as a way to get out of punishment. An Attamun? That’s really quite funny, I have to admit. How long did it take you to come up with that?”
The entire room seemed to explode into a mixture of laughter and a repetition of the word Attamun.
“Quiet,” Ninav roared, immediately silencing the room. Though the Court had no leader, it seemed as though Ninav was their metaphorical Chancellor.
“Please,” Riven said. “I don’t understand. Why is this impossible? I know what I saw. I wish I could prove it,” she whined.
“Actually,” Khrelan glanced at Dr. Ninav. “She could, you know.”
Dr. Ninav nodded, stood up, and left the room.
“Where did zhe go?” Riven asked.
“Dr. Ninav is on zhers way down to you,” stated Trustubus. “Zhe will use zhyseil to confirm your story, assuming you consent?”
“Yes, of course,” Riven hastily replied. Of course she would allow zher to use zhers powers — she had nothing to hide. She hadn’t even known what she had seen until a few minutes ago.
Dr. Ninav appeared in the doorway opposite Riven. Zhe walked up to her, and reach out zhers hand, “When you’re ready, Ms. Ryxling.”
Riven grabbed zhers hand, and instantaneously felt the tingling sensation she had grown so fond of. But tt wasn’t the same as when Dinivian touched her, though. Dinivian felt warm and loving. Dr. Ninav felt apathetic, disinterested.
Just as soon as she had grabbed zhers hand, zhe released hers. Dr. Ninav looked up to the Court and said that Riven was telling the truth before departing the room.
While zhe made zhers way back up to zhers chair, the different aliens chatted amongst themselves. Trustubus and the Reptilian kept shooting disapproving looks at Riven, but the rest of the aliens looked distraught. When Ninav reappeared, the chatter dulled down.
“Ms. Ryxling,” Dr. Ninav began. “I think we have all that we need. At this time, we would ask you to leave the Court and return in three hours time, at which point a decision will have been made.”
Riven nodded and exited the room. She walked down a long, elaborate hallway, past doorway after doorway, until she reached the door that would lead her out of the building. She wasn’t sure what to do with her afternoon. She had expected to be in court all day without a break. Luckily, it was a gorgeous day on Arcturus. The blood orange star that was also called Arcturus was shining brightly, and there was a warm breeze that blew her hair all over the place. She’d never been one of those girls who minded if her hair was a mess. She smiled, feeling the heat of the day on her face.
After a few minutes of staring absentmindedly over the many stacks of pathways of Arcturus, Riven decided she would drop by the College and visit Dinivian. The College, the Court, and all of the other governmental facilities were in one district, suitably called the Federal District. It was a subdistrict of Arcturtanis, which, too, was only a larger district of the planet-encasing supercity that was Arcturus.
The Federal District was one of Riven’s favorite parts in the city — at least the few parts she had seen in the relatively short amount of time she had spent on Arcturus so far. The buildings were incredibly different from the rest of Arcturus, which looked like, as humans might say, the future.
The Federal District felt homey to Riven. This was likely due to the fact that, for some reason, it was styled after Earth. Every district in Arcturus had the architectural style of a different planet, which was supposed to help each species feel a little bit more at home. The Federal District was like being teleported to 1920s Chicago. Brick buildings stretched hundreds of feet high, but nowhere near as tall as the rest of the buildings on Arcturus. Riven had heard some talk among different aliens that the Federal District was the ‘eyesore’ of Arcturus, but she disagreed completely.
The first time she had come across the Federal District was only a week or two after she moved into her temporary dormitory, even before she had landed her meaningless job watering plants in the Biology department at the College. She had been walking around the city aimlessly exploring. She was near the InterGalacticMall, the IGM, when she spotted brick. At first, she had thought she was mistaken — why would there be brick on Arcturus? She hustled along miles of pathways, making her way towards the reddish-brown building she could see. When she finally reached the Federal District, she was speechless. Riven wasn’t even from Chicago, but, after a month on a different planet, the Chicagoan style felt like home. She had never imagined something as simple as brick could bring her so much comfort.
She had felt, momentarily, sad. It seemed to always come in waves. Most of the time, she didn’t miss Earth. She didn’t miss the stupidity, that was for sure. Not that Federation life was free of stupidity, but it was, for the most part, free of the specific type of stupidity that seems to come with humans. The constantly lying political machine, and the wealth gaps; the way the entirety of medicine functions on Earth; or the inescapable racism, sexism, and bigotry in general. She had seen a bit of racism, but for the most part, all aliens seemed to treat one another with respect. But she did miss her home. She missed her mom, Marjorie, most of all. Riven and her mom had always had a relationship that was more akin to best friends as opposed to parent-child. They told one another everything, and Riven missed that immensely.
Riven was drawn from her thoughts when a group of children scuttled past: two reptilians, a Pleaidian, and an Atlantean. She had been walking on auto-pilot and not really paying attention to where she was at, so she sat down on a metal bench. She watched the children race their MiniHovers, which were kind of like the flying cars that nearly everyone on Arcturus owned, except they only floated a few feet above the ground, and flew no faster than 7.5 miles an hour. She nearly laughed aloud when they knocked over a grumpy, old Sirian that reminded her of Trustubus.
Chapter Fourteen: The Federal District
Riven glanced back, and saw the Court and the rest of the Federal district to her east, which meant she had walked right past the College. She cursed under her breath, stood up, and started walking back in the direction from which she came, when she spied a familiar face. No, Riven thought. Not today.
During the first week in her dormitory, Riven had met her next-door neighbor, another human. She was a woman named Helen, who had been on Arcturus only a little longer than Riven. Initially, Riven had been so relieved to meet another human. Of course, she had seen plenty of humans already, but she hadn’t had the opportunity to actually talk to any of them.
“Hey! I’m Riven, I just moved in a couple days ago,” she introduced herself.
“Oh. Hello,” Helen replied, monotonously. “I’m Helen.”
“So, what do you do here? I mean, I know I have to get a job, of course. But like, what do you do for fun? It’s so cool, though. I’m still not over everything. Can you even believe it?!” Riven said, speaking excitedly.
Helen sighed. “I’m a cashier. I don’t have fun.”
“Oooh,” Riven gasped. “What do you sell? Plasma guns? Alien medicine? Uh. . . oh, I know! Teleportation pods!”
“No. Clothing,” she replied dryly.
Helen never seemed to say more than four words at a time, and she always spoke with the most obvious tones of melancholy. It hadn’t taken long for Riven to learn to avoid Helen. Helen didn’t say much at once, but she had a way of keeping someone around when they clearly didn’t want to be there, and she always put Riven in the worst mood. Unfortunately, Helen had already spotted Riven, so it was too late to escape the inevitable.
“Oh,” Riven said. “Hi, Helen.”
“How are you?”
“You know,” Helen sighed. “Another day at the InterGalactic Mall.”
“Okay, well, have a good day, Helen,” Riven exhaled, speedily taking off towards the college. She had already wasted nearly an hour of the intermission, so she needed to get to the college quickly, before she had to be back in the Court.
After a ten minute’s walk, Riven had arrived at the Department of Human Studies at the InterGalactic College. She walked through the shiny double doors that had birthed her into Arcturian society, thinking about how odd it was to be coming back to the place that had initially terrified her. When she remembered she had been freaked out and thought she was kidnapped, Riven chucked to herself. The thought was all the more funny thirty seconds later, when she realized she actually had been kidnapped, although Dr. Ninav and Dinivian called it ‘liberated.’ She still liked to tease Dinivian and say that she was ‘abducted.’
Riven strode through the chrome hallways as if she owned the place. There was a red-skinned Martian at the reception desk.
“Hello, I’m looking for Dinivian Abrixis,” Riven said authoritatively.
“One moment, please,” squeaked the small alien before scurrying down the hallway past the desk.
Riven took a seat on one of the white, cloud-like sofas in the lobby. Last time she was here, she had been so absorbed in everything she had failed to notice anything, really, that was in the room. There were a few different types of plants scattered throughout the room. One of them, Riven recognized as a Venus Fly Trap, which had always been Riven’s favorite plant. When she first developed an affection for plants, her mother gifted her one on her sixth birthday.
Her mom had told her, “Riven, you have to be very, very careful. This isn’t a normal plant — it can bite you!”
She spent the first few days too scared to get any closer than a foot away. She had no idea that the bite wouldn’t actually hurt her. Two weeks later, she saw it catch its’ first fly and was hypnotized. It was in that exact moment that Riven realized the extent of her love for nature.
“Hey! How’s it going?” Dinivian asked.
“Oh! I didn’t see you there,” Riven laughed.
“No, of course not. You’re always a little consumed by your thoughts,” zhe retorted, showing that infectious grin. Zhe led her down the long hallway which had the many doors to the many sanitization chambers, and they turned a corner, down another long hallway.
“It’s going okay, I think. I think they listened. I’m nervous, though,” she confessed. Finally, they had reached Dinivian’s office. It wasn’t huge, but it certainly wasn’t small. It fit Dinivian well — minimalistic, but functional. The white walls of zhers office were very different from the shiny metal walls of the rest of the building. There was a desk and a chair, with a small loveseat opposite them, and a small refrigerator, all of which were black.
“You’ll be fine. If you told them what you told me, I don’t see how they can possibly do anything but thank you. I mean, an Attamun is nothing to joke about. They’ll have to take you seriously.”
“You knew what it was?” Riven asked angrily. She had told Dinivian about what she had seen, but zhe had acted as if zhe hadn’t had the slightest idea of what it was.
“Of course I knew what it was,” zhe laughed. “It’s an Attamun, Riv. Those things are ruthless. I just don’t understand how it got to Arcturus. They’ve never been sighted here. They’re from Terra. Towards the end of Terra, nearly every inch of the world was polluted. Animals started mutating, and the Attamun was born. I just couldn’t tell you. I didn’t want them to check your memory and see me telling you about the Attamun. Then, they might’ve thought you were making it up. But now,” zhe paused, “Now they’ll have to believe you!”
“Oh. That does make sense. And you’re right — Dr. Ninav used zhyseil to see what I saw. But what do you mean? How does everyone know what an Attamun is if it’s never been sighted?”
“They’re from Terra, Riven. They’re not supposed to be here,” zhe trailed off. “Anyway, I really don’t think they could possibly punish you. I mean, you might’ve broken a few laws, but the safety of Arcturus is a bit more important than legal boundaries. I think, anyway.”
“I really hope you’re right,” Riven sighed. “Do you know the panel members? Khrelan Ozar seems to be leaning my direction, and I’m almost positive Dr. Ninav is on my side. But there are a few that are just nasty. The Sirian, Trustubus. . . well, I have no hope for his vote. He hates me.”
“Don’t take it personally, Riv. That’s just Trustubus. He’s a stickler for the law. He’s very reasonable, though. Don’t count him out,” Dinivian added hopefully.
Dinivian always knew how to cheer Riven up. She still hadn’t figured out if that was a part of zhers zhyseil, or if he was just that great, but she had quickly fallen in love with him, despite how difficult hiding their relationship was.
The two of them had to publicly present themselves as absolutely nothing more than close friends. Initially, Dinivian had wanted Riven to find a fake boyfriend, but Riven didn’t like the idea of stringing some unknowing tool along. Dinivian was cautious, and Riven was reckless. They were polar opposites in nearly every way, but that seemed to be exactly what pulled them so tightly together.
“What’s the sentence for going down there?” Riven asked.
“I don’t know, actually. I don’t know if anyone has really ever broken that law. We don’t really break laws on Arcturus. We all just follow them. No species has as strong a sense of curiosity and rebellion as humanity.”
Riven sighed, worried significantly more than before. She’d been up all morning, and in this moment, while she had just over an hour left, she needed to close her eyes. She laid down on the loveseat and put her head in Dinivian’s lap.
Chapter Fifteen: Sentencing
“Riv? Hey. . . Riven, you need to wake up now. You’re supposed to be back at 4, right? It’s 3:30,” came Dinivian’s voice, drawing her from her colorful dreams. Everytime she fell asleep on Arcturus, she dreamed of colors, like she had on her first night there. She theorized that it had something to do with all the psychic activity on the planet, of which Earth was entirely devoid.
Riven stood up, stretched, and yawned, “I’ll see you later at your place, Div.”
She meandered out of the Department of Humans Studies and across the walkways until she arrived back at the globular building that contained the Court. She took a deep breath in, absorbing all that Arcturus had to offer on the off-chance that she would be banished and have to return to Earth. Riven had no idea how they would punish her if she were to be found guilty, but that seemed like the worst thing that could happen. Anything else, she could bear.
After a minute or two, she walked through the doors and made her way back to the room in which she was previously in. As soon as she entered the room, the roaring chatter died down to complete silence.
“Welcome back, Ms. Ryxling,” Khrelan Ozar said.
“Thank you,” she nodded.
“Well, let’s get down to it then,” snapped Trustubus. “Dr. Ninav, if you will?”
“Ms. Riven Ryxling, from planet Earth, species: human. You are on trial for entering the Forest, of which you have confessed. Is this correct?”
“This panel has found you guilty –”
“What?!” Riven cried before she could stop herself.
“Silence,” Vlumberam growled.
“Sorry,” she said hastily.
Dr. Ninav smiled. “But you shall receive no punishment.”
“What?” Riven exclaimed. “Why?”
“Well it is simply undeniable that you are guilty, but in light of the information you have provided the Federation, we have decided you shall go unpunished,” Dr. Ninav finished.
“But you will be under massive surveillance. One more toe out of line, Ms. Ryxling, and I assure you, drastic action will be taken,” Trustubus emphasized.
“I have personally spoken with the head of the Biology department, and we’ve agreed. You’re right, Ms. Ryxling. It is time to recommence our studies of the Forest. If the Attamun are still alive, there is no denying it. We need to know what else is in that forest,” Dr. Ninav said.
“Thank you,” Riven breathed. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Not only was she remaining on Arcturus, but they were actually listening to what she had said. She could make an actual difference.
“You will help with leading these studies, Ms. Ryxling,” Khrelan smiled.
“Me? No. I don’t think so,” Riven laughed. “I’m 24 years old, there’s no way.”
“Well, there is no denying that you’re young, but you’ve more than proven yourself gifted in the field,” said Dr. Ninav. “You will not, of course, be in charge. You will answer to Renivan, the head of the Biology department. Zhe said you met once, on your first day in the garden.”
“Of course, I would be honored,” she smiled. Riven couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It was as if some kind of a dream came true — a dream which she had never even realized she had. She was going to be part of a crew of scientists who would be the first sentient beings to step foot in the Forest for over a century.
As she walked home, Riven daydreamed about the different creatures and vegetation she might encounter. The possibilities were literally endless, because the Forest was so unstudied. She remembered some of the birds she had seen from that 103rd day of Mafir.
She still hadn’t told anyone about the bluebird. It was the most common thing she had ever seen in her life. The mirror image of a bluebird on Earth. A set of wings; beady, black eyes; and a gorgeous, red chest. She couldn’t understand how a bluebird from Earth had found itself on Arcturus, or how an Attamun, which was supposed to have been left on the desolated Terra thousands of years ago, had made its’ way here. What else was hidden in the Forest?