Prompt: Telepathic aliens kidnap a sample group of humans for a zoo, though some aliens object to their treatment.
They couldn’t read any of the signs. They didn’t even know they were signs. All the imprisoned humans saw were light green bars surrounding their transparent enclosure. They were blank, just like most of the walls. The only details they were allowed to see were each other’s faces and the bits of vegetation their captors had brought from Earth to make them feel more comfortable.
They weren’t allowed clothing or proper lodgings; they were just forty people taken from around the world, of all skin tones and ages, and dumped into an impenetrable box with sixteen trees, one tire swing, almost like a bad joke, and a few stone overhangs for some shade.
Their captors came in great numbers every day to observe. The humans were fed green and yellow squares of protein without any resemblance to actual food. Occasionally, the smaller captors threw crumbs at them. There was only one man without dignity who tried to catch them in his mouth, but he’d been doing that sort of thing long before the aliens showed their strange faces.
Their heads were large, but flat like lily pads. Glowing eyes hung down on stringy stalks, turning in different directions constantly, like those of a chameleon. In truth their minds existed in a hundred parts, and each part, behind an eye, passed thoughts back and forth between the others. They moved about on four suction-tipped limbs and always examined things with great care.
Except, they’d shown little but contempt for the humans. The facility they were trapped in now, a cloaked thing blending in with an icy ring of a distant planet, had thousands of specimens and populations from across the galaxy, all there for the lily-eyes to ogle. Yet the human enclosure was smaller than it should’ve been, looking at all the others.
Maybe it was something about human skin and its accompanying flaking and grease. Maybe it was they way their family units could turn on a dime and destroy each other if one fragile ego faltered. Most of the lily-eyes looked at them and saw hateful things, unworthy of study, with nothing to offer. Human intelligence was weaponized, and sat around like a lit bomb whenever they didn’t have anything to occupy their time.
There was at least one lily-eye who saw their captivity as a harrowing plight. They were young, made impressionable by that and an injury that had severed twelve of their eye stalks. To their own people they were less than an individual, and so saw a kindred spirit in the trapped men, women, and children. They showed up one night, when everything was closed and dark, to speak with the humans, to try and arrange an escape.
They emerged into the open area next to the exhibit, surrounded by the blank panels. The humans slowly rose from their slumber and congregated near the transparent wall; they stuck out their hands. A few of them pleaded with the lily-eye.
I am on your side, the alien projected to them in their tongueless tongue. It waited. As it had feared. There was no response. Nothing about them perked up or changed. They used those strange fleshy holes in their heads to communicate with each other. They used the atmospheric violence of sound waves, a thing most lily-eyes could barely stand. Even now, the barrier between them muffled all their words.
I know you can think, the lily-eye projected anyway. Perhaps some long-lost non-coding fraternal bond was still there. Humans didn’t know about the panspermia that allowed life to diversify, but it didn’t change the fact that everything, across all stars and gaps, was related. You don’t deserve this. I don’t know why the others hate you. I’m going to let you out.
The deformed lily-eye prepared to emit a trigger wave, a psychic signal which would open the side of the enclosure, but they were interrupted by one of their own. A light flashed, one of the eyes of the other activating its bioluminescence. The deformed one turned, presenting its largest eyes out of both surprise and politeness. It was too late though. They weren’t supposed to be there that late. The emotional shock brought all the blank panels around them to life.
The humans saw nothing, just two alien forms standing near each other. They couldn’t understand that the panels were coated in largely inert lily-eye cells and vibrantly displayed information, thoughts, and emotions to any brain that could read such signals. The panels were no longer blank. They were alive with the fires of the deformed one’s shame.
The panels on the other side were quickly extinguished and filled with slabs of stone: the determination of the guard. Nothing the deformed one said could crack them. What are you doing? The guard asked with their mind. Human eyes darted back and forth, never matching up with the alien that actually spoke.
Why these ones? The guard asked, when the deformed one’s intent became clear. Of all the things in here to have sympathy for… these wound-talkers. These things that cage themselves in metal and synthetics. Find something kinder.
Life exists whether kind or not, the deformed one countered. They could not hold up against a healthy individual’s scorn for long though. With their missing eyes, the missing parts of their soul, they had lost fortitude, and, perhaps, the full capacity to understand anything. It showed on the panels, as the fires became a thousand scenes of insecurity, of humans running free and hugging lily-eyes. A stupid dream of a broken creature.
Turn yourself in. We will deal with you later, the guard ordered, shining two bright eyes down on them condescendingly. The deformed one was there to make their impact, because they would never be discussed otherwise. This was perhaps their only chance. They put everything they had into opening the enclosure. Before the guard could stop them, humans flooded out and surrounded them, cracking their knuckles and puffing their chests.
You’re free! The deformed one declared, filling the screens with glittering confetti and victory celebrations, things the humans could not see. They saw only sterile panels, only the glass flask they’d been stoppered in. Your language is different but I know you have souls! You can see what I have done and you can know what it means. We’re friends. We can all be friends just as we were before we were scattered to different planets those ages ago. Join me friends! Tell him you are free! Tell him even though I am not whole I am free as well, and we are all together!
The humans closed in. They made the guard match the deformed one, by ripping off a few eyes. They took the rest. They took everything from both of them, because they hadn’t the slightest idea they’d been helped. All they saw was blank screens and eyes that couldn’t tear up. Whatever muck such foul creatures had been birthed from was clearly cursed.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by Tirri_Mayin during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!