Get ready for the next installment of...
True Tales from University: My Friend June from the Planet Xartex
Though I was, in a way, June’s student, I found myself trying to avoid her.
I felt really bad about it. But I felt really bad about her. I didn’t want to think about what I’d learnt. I wanted to forget about it, actually. In a way, looking back, that’s so hard to believe. I was drawn to the knowledge, but I was repulsed by it too. Everything I learnt, the more it hurt. It could never be me seeing these things. It could only be immortal Xartexans seeing the wonders of the universe.
One of the things June did show me was a guide to Xartexan soul types. I didn’t know you could categorise the soul, but like good little organisers, the Xartexans had invented types for their personalities. I skimmed through the material she gave me, translated into English. When I asked her why it was translated, she said it was to help Xartexans learn the language of their study subjects thoroughly, by using material they were already familiar with.
There were many different types of Xartexan. Sometimes the division depended on age and experience on other planets, but other times it was simple personality traits. ‘This just looks like any old human personality categorisation,’ I told June.
‘No,’ she said seriously. ‘Humans are much more complex. Xartexans are mostly single minded and clearly motivated. Humans, somehow, have become extremely convoluted. For example, did you know, we had no such thing as theatre on Xartex?’
I blinked at June in surprise. ‘No... no theatre? No acting at all? Not even film, or television?’
She shook her head seriously. ‘It never occurred to us to re-enact events in such a way. We would tell stories, yes, but story telling, even if it was a true story, was always, even from our earliest days, a very formal thing. Stories have a specific structure, and they are always told in the third person, as you would say here on Earth.’
I gaped at June. ‘Wow. Are you glad you came to Earth?’
She smiled, and I began to sense, behind the smile, something of the age of June. She was ancient. Her smile was not in the slightest bit patronising, but it had a warm, motherly fondness. ‘I have seen art and drama on other planets, Lou. But yes, I enjoy your human varieties. You see, humans are very talented at acting. You all do it almost every day. I have never seen any sentient species so conscious about the fact that they are acting all the time. Even if they aren’t meaning to be lying or manipulating.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked, feeling a little defensive.
‘Well, for example, the other day I went to the supermarket. The checkout girl was obviously very tired and fed up. But when I came to her counter, she put on a big smile and treated me as if I was the most important person in the world. Now to me, that is lying.’
‘But, she was just –‘
‘I know, Lou. I know humans do it all the time. But it is a form of lying. The last thing she wanted to do then was smile and chat with me. And yet she did. Because you humans have set up a great...’ she paused, and shook her head. ‘No, I shouldn’t say anything else. It is too critical.’
But I knew what she meant. I had only been thinking the same thing the other day. ‘I know what you mean. We humans have set up a great fallacy. If we try really hard in life, and put up a brave face, it will get us somewhere.’ June frowned, and couldn’t quite meet my eye. ‘Are you telling me no other species has fooled themselves in a similar way?’
‘None quite so effectively as you.’
I bit my lip. It astounded me. June seemed to think humanity was the most complex species, psychologically, in the galaxy. Me? I just thought we were, frankly, damn stupid. Hungering for the immortality of the Xartexans, we set up a false system where after we died, there was a place for us to go and live forever in peace.
Surely, the existence of Xartexans, if not disproved, then at least heavily damaged the basis of most earthly religions. Perhaps there was a heaven after all. But why then, did the Xartexans live on? That was one question that didn’t seem to fit in ‘God’s’ creation.
So, with the realisation that humans were perhaps the most messed-up beings in the universe, I carried on reading the Xartexan Personality Types. They were simple enough to classify by motivations.
There was the youngest types of Xartexans. Some started off as the Little Angel Experience. They travelled to other worlds, intent on doing good to all they met. Sadly, not all interference for the better was wise. Sometimes a being had to help itself, and reliance on one of these little healers was addictive. In time, Little Angels changed. Either they wised up, and stopped trying to help everybody all the time, or they toughened up, became jaded, and looked at everything purely objectively in the future.
Surprisingly, I found that some young Xartexans did start off in the Superior Being Experience. These souls immediately considered themselves above every other life form, which would lead to blunders in fieldwork, such as treating sentient beings like animals. If these Superior Beings were not quickly broken in, they could rise against the established peaceful campaigns, and try to take over the galaxy. But it was very rare for any Xartexan, even an SBE, to rebel so hugely against the major Xartexan authority. They were good little citizens. Superior Beings changed in time, sometimes softening up and being more understanding, sometimes growing desperate in their search for other immortal species, or moving to fields of work which didn’t involve direct contact with the study specimens.
Most young Xartexans fit into those two types. As they grew up, they progressed into other sub-categories. Many Xartexans were in the Analytical Watcher Experience. They were most likely to be in the field, getting to know the study subjects. There were other watchers: the Sea-Dream Watcher, who stayed at home in Xartex, dreaming at the bottom of their ocean; the Eternal Watcher, who chose to float through space and dream, communicating every now and again with other souls; the Overseeing Watcher, who usually organised base campaigns for high above in the orbits of planets. There was an Overseeing Watcher in a ship above the Earth, or so June told me. It was his job to take all the information sent up from Xartexan agents, and compile it to send back to those in the Passive Reader Experience. Others were Active Readers, which were the equivalent of teachers. They taught the Xartexans of the first body about the wonderful places in the galaxy that they could visit after death.
This raised an important question for me. I asked June, ‘Since the afterlife is so wonderful for you Xartexans, you must have a lot of suicides on your planet.’
She shook her head gravely, and looked as if she were about to cry. ‘No.’
I was taken aback. ‘But...’
She gulped and looked away. ‘I told you the soul was indestructible. But that was only half true. It can be destroyed. If a Xartexan of the first body commits suicide, when the body is opened, the soul is gone. Completely gone. Whenever a Xartexan dies, their soul must be extracted from the shell. If the soul is ever exposed during life, the Xartexan will die immediately.’
‘So... wait... if you can’t see the soul before death...’
‘Then, yes, it looks as if those who commit suicide never even had a soul. That was a theory, once upon a time, among philosophers. But I know it is untrue.’ She sat down and took my hands. ‘I had a mate, it seems an eternity ago. I only ever had one mate when I was in my shell body. I never found another after him. He committed suicide, right in front of me. He exposed his soul. I saw it, the first soul I had ever seen, shining brightly, the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. And then I saw it fade from existence, and he died immediately.’
I clutched June’s hands tightly. It was a sad, terrible story. The tears showing in her eyes (how could a droid cry? In the back of my mind I was amazed) made me want to cry. ‘I’m sorry, June. You must miss him.’
‘You’ll never know how much,’ she said, warmly.
And she was right. I never would know how much. I might be falling for Silas, maybe. But if he died, even if we were soul mates, at least I had the promise of death waiting at the end of my life. We could be reunited.
June, in choosing to die naturally, meant that she had to stay, forever, on this, the physical plane. She would never see what was beyond it, if indeed there was anything, because she was indestructible.
I had my first breakthrough in a long time, at that moment.
What was the purpose of the Xartexan? They could never join the dead, not unless the universe collapsed in on itself, destroying everything. Then, they would be dead, maybe. And maybe there was something beyond, in that case. Maybe every sentient being did have a non-physical soul. Maybe Xartexans were the only species meant to have an immortal physical soul. They were the watchers. They could watch over the universe, and be the link between every planet with life on it. Maybe they were made for observation, not us.
Was it these thoughts bringing peace to me, or the physical link between June and me as she held my hands? She was so eternally sad, and yet she radiated peace, as she always did. I reached over and hugged her. ‘Thanks Lou,’ she whispered. When she broke away, she went back to her study, and I went back to perusing the pamphlet on Xartexan types.
I read through the whole thing, asking June a lot more questions. I felt more comfortable around her now that I had resolved within me my little dilemma. Yes, it made perfect sense to me. Xartexan second bodies were not ‘souls’, even though they used that word to explain it in English. They were physical manifestations of their personalities, able to navigate the universe for the entirety of its long life. Other species died, and went on to – what? Heaven? Dreamtime? The astral plane? The Xartexans were left behind as the True Observers. Like that documentary that described Earth as a perfect place for observation, the Xartexan body was made for observation. It was indestructible. It could pass through the gaseous substance of stars and come out unscathed, with a wealth of knowledge. That was the role of Xartexans. Just like it was the role of humans to see just how convoluted something as simple as a brain could become.
And if there were roles, that meant there was an orchestrator up above. A God? I wasn’t sure. I was never very strong in my faith, but I felt very high on some nice feeling that day. There had to be something higher than all of us, Xartexans included.
‘What type am I?’
She smiled that motherly smile on me again. ‘Like I said before. It doesn’t exactly work like that. Humans are very different. Your personality types are more accurate for you. These Xartexan types also define our occupations. They’re very exact. I don’t think you can categorise humans to such an exact extent.’
In a better mood, I looked through the pamphlet further. There was the Command Post Experience. Commanders of cells were in this type. The black man I had seen organising June’s cell would have been this type. There was the Expansive Consciousness Experience, where a soul was able, through a gift or through millennia of training, to expand their psychic feelers out and possibly do things that were, to us, supernatural, like telekinesis, or telepathy, or things like that. Super senses were included in this category. So that guy who saw me spying on the cell must have been an ECE.
Then I hit upon the All Angelic Experience. The pamphlet described the All Angels. They had most likely started as a Little Angel, and through time, wisdom, and a little bit of luck, they had become fully developed souls that radiated a sense of peace wherever they went. They could diffuse any situation. They cared deeply for every living creature, and accepted, eventually, the eventual demise of all life forms (bar Xartexans, of course). They could make anyone, anywhere, feel completely understood.
I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that June was experiencing the All Angel Experience.
I was feeling a little more comfortable around June after a week or two, but I still didn’t see her as much as I might have. And this was because I had a boyfriend.
Silas and I had really hit it off. The attraction we had given into so easily when drunk was still there in the sober interactions. I went for coffee with him when we had promised.
It was easier to enjoy myself now that the issue of my ‘soul’ had been cleared up. After all, how could this thing with Silas be explained on a purely animal level? Answer: it couldn’t. Most of our attraction was intellectual. We had very similar tastes in music. We were both into video games. We could both appreciate each others passion for our chosen subjects. He was one of those rare guys who start off a relationship really well. He did all the right things, as if he had read them in a book. For example, he asked me heaps of stuff about me, and I never felt like he was talking too much. He had the right level of interest in me: he wasn’t desperate to hang out all the time, but he wasn’t distant either.
Our next date was at the city observatory. He was trying to take an interest in my interests, but he didn’t have too put too much effort into it. He was naturally interested, one of those eternal student types. The next time I saw him we sat in his lounge watching reruns of ‘The Daily Show’, a news and politics parody show. I was laughing easily at everything, and when I didn’t understand some obscure thing about American politics, Silas was ready with an explanation.
‘Wow, you’re really good,’ I told him. ‘I used to think politics was boring as hell. But I’ve been laughing so much today that my jaw is killing me.’
‘It can be boring, if you don’t know what’s going on. But I reckon it’s really important, you know?’
‘So like, what are you going to do after university?’
‘Try and get into parliament.’
‘Wow!’ I breathed, amazed. ‘That’s extreme. But don’t you have to be good at debating and stuff as well?’
He nodded. ‘I’m in a debating club at uni.’
‘Cool, can I come watch sometime? I mean, I probably won’t understand a thing, but I wouldn’t mind seeing that.’
He grinned, and pulled me into a one armed hug on his couch. ‘That’d be cool. I’d like you to meet some of my friends.’
He kissed the top of my head and stroked my hair. ‘So what does that mean?’ I asked him shyly.
I looked up through my lashes at him. He smiled down at me. Quoting a song in his normal voice, he said to me, ‘I said, do ya wanna be my girl?’
I laughed. ‘Sure.’ I snuggled up to him, and that was that, pretty much.
Next time I saw him was the debating club night a couple of days after. He waited for me after my last class, and wrapped one arm protectively around me as soon as we stepped together.
‘Hi Si.’ I felt eyes on me. People were looking at us together. Why? He was pretty cute, yeah, but why stare at us? Was it the body language, maybe? His arm was around me and he walked with such confidence it bordered on smugness.
Would I have noticed all this if not for June?
We grabbed some cheap dinner – well, actually, he paid for it all – of butter chicken from the food court in the quad. We didn’t sit across from each other, but he sat next to me. I felt a little bit odd in a way. Thanks to June, I was analysing everything. And I felt... what did I feel? I felt like he was treating me a little like a pet.
It was perhaps not the wisest decision to hide my feelings from Silas. I cared for him deeply and I didn’t have plans to break up with him anytime soon. But I did have a little bit of a problem with the way he acted in public. Holding me all the time, buying me dinner... these things were sweet, but problematic.
Or were they? I wasn’t sure what were my thoughts anymore, and what were the thoughts I thought I was expected to think.
Was I happy, or not?
I went with him to the debating club. The pet feeling increased. He was very proud to introduce me to his friends. But he always held me so possessively. He made sure I had the seat closest to his table, because I couldn’t sit with him while he debated.
I didn’t really understand what was going on in the debate. They were arguing about immigration or something. Silas had to argue on the side against open immigration. His points seemed to make a lot of sense to me, but so did those of the other side. Silas was a good debater, at least in my books; he put in equal amounts of passionate rhetoric and cold hard facts. He hadn’t told me whether or not he agreed with the standpoint he was representing tonight.
The debating club became a regular fixture on my Tuesday nights. It was pretty cool watching Silas argue points against others. He was quick witted and played to the audience enough times that he had their support, if not through his position, then simply because of his personality. I felt kind of proud that he was my boyfriend. I felt kind of proud that I was front row and centre, and everyone knew who I was.
There was just one shadow that came across our relationship.
It was a strange confrontation. I had no way of understanding it at the time. I came out of a class I shared with June. We were talking animatedly, and so it was that I completely missed Silas waiting for me. He came up and grabbed my arm. I was shocked at first, but then I realised who it was. ‘Oh, hi Si. Sorry, I didn’t see you.’
‘Who’s this?’ he asked me, looking at June in a none-too-friendly way.
‘This is my friend June,’ I told him cheerily, though already the cogs were spinning away in my head. Did they know each other? ‘June, this is Silas, my boyfriend.’
‘Ah, yes. From the party,’ June remarked, particularly coldly. It was so unlike her. Had he done something to make him dislike her at the party?
‘Excuse us please,’ Silas said, and pulled me away almost roughly.
‘Bye June!’ I waved behind me.
Once we had gotten around the corner, I spoke quietly to Silas. ‘Si! What’s the matter?’
He stopped short and we leaned against the wall. He looked around cautiously before he replied, ‘How much to you know June? I mean really, really know her...’
I stared up into his eyes. They were dark and angry. What was it he knew? I could never tell him what I knew. If I did that, I would die. ‘She’s just a friend,’ I almost squeaked. ‘We’re in a class together.’
‘Stay away from her, Lou. Please. I can’t tell you why. But it’s really important.’
As we walked away together, I was silent. What did he know? Surely he didn’t know what I knew? How could he have found that out?
And what if the Xartexans found out that he knew? I knew the first assumption they would make.
Another thing was worrying me. Was this anything to do with Xartex, or was it actually just that I had somehow got myself involved in one of those scary, possessive relationships? Was this guy abusive? He was definitely the jealous type, I could see that now. But how far did this idea of ownership go?
I said nothing to him about it.
And I said nothing to June about it.
I still saw her, of course. Silas, as nice as he was (most of the time), was not going to stop that. We still had class together. And June was still one of the funniest and most intelligent people I knew.
June said nothing about the strange confrontation outside of class that day when I next saw her. We passed notes in class as usual. Then, as we were leaving, she turned to me, her face grave.
‘Lou? Are you and Si serious?’
‘Serious? I don’t know. Maybe. Why?’
Not meeting my eyes, she grabbed my wrists, and expressed her urgency by squeezing it. ‘You know me,’ she said quietly. ‘You know that I see things about people around me. You believe me when I say those things, don’t you?’ She looked at me now, her eyes like headlights, freezing me.
‘Of course, June,’ I whispered. ‘W…what are you saying?’
Her breath was stifled as she continued. ‘I am telling you, Lou… watch out for Silas. He is a bad, bad person.’
‘Bad?’ I repeated, eyes locked with hers.
‘Yes. Bad.’ And with that she turned on her heel and left the lecture hall.
I stood there, frozen for a few seconds. What kind of bad? Was it true? Had my fears about him been founded? Was he one of those possessive, abusive boyfriends? Would he punish me if I disobeyed him?
It was hard for me to believe. Yes, he acted like I was some treasured pet, and that irritated me. But surely that wouldn’t translate into physical harm, would it?
I was strongly considering hiding then. I was sure he would be outside waiting for me. He had started off so well, not desperate, but now it was like if he didn’t see me everyday he would call or text me incessantly. My initial reading of him as easy-going had been very inaccurate. If only I had June’s powers of judgement.
But then, was June acting on ulterior motives? Was she actually the one being controlling? Did she think that, since I held her secret, she had control of my life now?
No, of course not. June was the All Angel. She loved deeply, but she was not the possessive type. Having lived – I realised I had never asked her just how old she was – as long as she had, she had learnt to let go of the ones she had loved. This warning of hers was no fabrication. She had given it to me as a choice. She hadn’t said ‘or else’, or anything along those lines. She knew I could defend myself.
And defend myself was what I had to do. I couldn’t hide from Silas. I had to walk out there and tell him to back off. Perhaps we wouldn’t break up, not at first, at least. I would tell him to sort his jealousy out, and give him a chance to do so.
I walked out and there he was. He approached me but I backed off. His face fell. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘Just... let’s walk, okay? Don’t hold me too close. It makes me trip up.’
We fell in step with each other. I found it hard, now faced with him, to summon up the words I was roughly preparing in my head. I glanced sidelong at him. He looked a little hurt, but also, he looked as if he was already closed off from anything I was about to say.
‘Si, I just feel like I need to get to know you better. You’re very nice to me, always. But I need a little... you know... independence I guess. I guess what I’m saying is, your chivalry is nice and all, it’s nice that you put in the effort, and I appreciate, really I do. I just need to be able to rely on me, okay? So you don’t have to buy me dinner all the time. And, and at your debating club, you don’t have to always involve me in the conversations. I know you try and make sure I’m always involved in the conversations between you and your club mates. But you don’t have to make me feel welcome. I like being there, and I don’t mind if attention isn’t drawn to me, you know? I’m a big girl. I don’t have to be babied.’
He paused for a moment, and I moved out of the flow of human traffic. He met my eyes after a while, and nodded. ‘I think I understand. I’ll try.’
‘Thanks Si. That’s all I ask.’ I reached for his hand and smiled at him, trying to lure a smile out of him. ‘What are we up to today?’
‘Well, dinner first – it can be your shout this time.’ I smiled at this. ‘And then I thought I’d take you to another one of my social clubs.’
We resumed walking, heading for the central quad again. ‘Man, how many clubs are you in!’ I exclaimed, laughing. But it wasn’t an actual question. ‘Which club is it this time?’
He tapped his nose. ‘A secret. You’ll find out when you get there.’
‘Ooh! I like secrets,’ I said, grinning. On reflection, I wasn’t too sure how accurate that statement really was.
As we walked and talked all the way to the food court, and while we ate dinner, I watched our conversation and body language as if from slightly above myself. Silas really was making an effort to be less possessive. He sat across from me, though his public displays of affection didn’t stop altogether. I bought the dinner that night, which I thought was only fair. I wondered if he really would be able to change, and settle into a more easy-going attitude with me. I wondered if June really had been right in observing that he was ‘bad’. How was he bad, really? I could do far worse.
We went to a computer lounge afterwards and I did some study while he surfed the internet, filling in time between dinner and the mystery social club. Then it was time. Still hampering him with questions and begging for clues as to what the social club actually was, we headed down stairs to the commons.
We headed through the large hall. I glanced at all the various social clubs, trying to guess which they were and whether we were heading to any of them. There were people studying in the commons, which I could never do: it was so damn loud. There were people in language improvement clubs discussing things in any number of languages. There were people playing card games and board games, and not normal playing cards or mainstream board games, more like games with wizards and elves and magic. There was even a knitting and crafting club in full swing. But we headed past all of these.
Dread sunk into my full stomach as we headed towards the group in the corner. They were the last people I would have imagined Silas socialising with. Most of them were very rough looking. Now, I wasn’t prejudiced. I knew a few punks and Goths. But these people all had some strange look in their eyes. It was like they were hungry. What for?
Among the tough members who looked like they might be skinheads or bikers, there were a few smaller people. There was one especially nerdy looking guy, with the thickest glasses I had ever seen. He tapped away at his tiny laptop perched on his knees, and looked completely comfortable beside one old, bearded guy with muscles like tree trunks.
To my surprise, a number of the frightening looking members nodded in a kind of friendly way to Silas as he approached them. I was thankful when he put his arm around my waist, though just a few hours ago I had told him not to. Oh no, on the contrary, right now I definitely wanted to be manoeuvred around. I wanted to have him in between me and these terrifying people.
‘So what kind of club were you saying this was again, Si?’ I whispered, my voice squeaking a little.
‘Just wait,’ he breathed.
So I waited. The other, more normal groups (and yes, I’m counting those Dungeons and Dragons nerds as normal) started to filter away as the night got later and later. Soon all that was left was the very chatty craft group, and they were sufficiently far away that they couldn’t overhear us.
Silas leaned forward. ‘All right team. As you can see, I’ve recruited a new member today. This is Louise.’ I wanted to protest his assumption that I was in this club, but I didn’t dare to. ‘I declare this meeting of the Anti-Xartexan Club officially open.’
Surely he would feel that involuntary straightening of my spine when he said the X word. If he had caught that one little movement, then he probably knew already. But of course, I couldn’t resist bluffing. ‘X-xar-what?’
My eyes found and focussed on the patch on the shoulder of the leather jacket of one of the skinhead males. It said AXC, and it had the picture of the typical, big headed alien with big eyes, with a circle with a cross on it. The message was clear.
Silas was indeed a very, very bad boy.
‘Xartexan,’ the nerd with the inch-thick glasses said, pushing the heavy frames up the bridge of his nose, and giving me a glassy look. ‘As in, a resident or native of Xartex.’
‘And... and Xartex is...?’
‘A planet on the other side of the Milky Way Galaxy,’ a chick with short spiked hair, several nose rings and eyebrow piercings answered me.
I blinked and tried to look as dumbfounded as I could manage. But that was hard. I wasn’t the world’s best liar, I knew that much. ‘Uh... is this a joke?’
‘Silas,’ the older guy with the beard grunted and moved his head to face my boyfriend, the first time I had seen him move all this time. ‘Why did you bring her here?’
‘Because, she’s my girlfriend. And I want to make sure she understands the danger the world is in. The danger that each and every one of us is in.’ He looked at me pointedly then, and explained, ‘Lou. I know it sounds crazy. But there are aliens living among us, disguised perfectly as humans.’
‘And... and what? Are they dangerous?’ I held his eyes, hoping to God that he couldn’t see through my ruse.
‘Very. If they can get you alone, they will kill you, and take over your body. Your own family could be Xartexans, and you’d never know.’
‘This is ridiculous,’ I said, deciding on my path. The only way I could get out of this predicament without giving June away was by pretending I didn’t believe a word of it. ‘This isn’t some sci-fi B-movie from the 50s, Silas.’
‘It’s true, Lou. You have to believe me. They’re among us. You never know who could be one.’
That’s right. You never could know, Si.
‘Oh yeah? Then how do I know you’re not one? How do you know I’m not one? How do you know all of these people aren’t Xartexan?’
‘There are signs, Lou. Xartexans have a mark on their shoulder. It shows the entry point of the Xartexan parasite that takes over the human brain. That’s just one of the signs. They’re also super strong.’
I tried very hard not to panic. He knew about the shoulder thing. He had it all wrong of course, and I tried not to show any emotion as I thought it through. He thought Xartexans were parasites that entered in through the shoulder. On the contrary, the shoulder, the left if I remembered rightly, was the seat in which the Xartexan soul sat in a robotic body. But I recalled one time when June had worn an off the shoulder top to a party. She had no such mark. It was a blatant lie. Someone had been misinforming Silas and his stupid club.
That was good.
He knew about the strength though, but I didn’t know how. How did Silas realise the existence of the Xartexans and still be alive? Anyone they told, anyone they confided their deepest secrets in, was bound by an oath not to betray them. If that person couldn’t be trusted, then their life was forfeit. So how were Silas and his little club even alive?
‘Si, this is dumb. Seriously, why are we here?’
‘I told you, Lou. This is the Anti-Xartexan Club. We protect the world from the aliens that have come to Earth in order to take it over.’
‘This is ridiculous,’ I repeated. ‘I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, okay? I’m sorry you brought me here.’
I walked away. I didn’t look back. I didn’t want to face the rough crowd that Silas had managed to assemble and educate in hatred of a perfectly peaceful species.
But were they peaceful? Really, I only knew about them what June wanted me to know. But I couldn’t in my heart doubt her. She was, really and truly, the All Angel.
But my head was perfectly capable of doubt. And I knew the facts. I was only being given the information others deemed necessary. So my ideas about Silas could be wrong. Or, my ideas about June could be wrong.
Why, why, why did I follow you that night, June?
I made it out of the commons and into the quad, and that was when Silas caught up with me. I wrapped my jacket around myself as the cold wintry air hit me. He grabbed my arm and I swung around, half of me wanting to swing a punch at him.
‘Lou, please. Come and sit with us. Talk it out. I’m sure you will believe me if you just give the facts a chance.’
I looked at my watch. It was nine o’clock. I could see Venus in the west. The sun had set a good while before, but the evening star was very bright and still high on the horizon. She was so bright that not even the skyscrapers could defeat her light. Nine o’clock. On a Wednesday. That meant that Leigh would be home from her last class by now. I could call her, if I needed to. Just for my safety. Just in case something happened. The campus was practically deserted already.
‘I’m not interested, Si. Even if what you say is true, I don’t see what I could possibly do about some stupid aliens. And anyway, I don’t believe you and I don’t ever think I will. Please, don’t call me. I don’t want to speak to you ever again.’
As I began to walk away, I shoved my hands in my pockets, grabbing my cellphone in one hand and slitting my keys between my fingers with the other. Silas called out, ‘Just wait! Look. Look at this.’ I turned around and sighed. I don’t know why I did turn around. I frankly felt sorry for the boy, and all I wanted to do was go home and forget all about Xartexans for just one night.
He took a step towards me and showed me a picture. It was June, in daylight, talking with... was that the Commander? Yes, there was no mistaking his midnight skin. ‘Your friend June,’ Silas hissed venomously, ‘she’s one of them. And I’m worried about you Lou. I’m losing you to her.’
‘You’re only losing me to her because you’re vicious and making up stuff about her. Leave me alone!’
I swung around and started walking fast. He followed, calling, ‘You know! I see it in your eyes! She’s told you what she is! You’re next, Louise! She’ll get you next! She’s not as innocent as you think!’
I broke into a run and brought my phone out. I crossed the quad and brought up Leigh’s number in mere seconds. I pressed the call button and pressed the phone up to my ear. ‘Please pick up, please pick up!’ I whispered.
Two rings in, she did. ‘Hello?’
‘Leigh! Leigh, listen. Things just got freaky. I’ve told Silas to leave me alone, but he’s following me.’
She sounded absolutely shocked. ‘Where are you? Do you want me to call the police?’
‘Not yet. He’s still a far way behind me. But if he catches up and tries anything, if you hear him turn off my phone or yell at me or hit me or anything, please call the police. Please Leigh, just keep me talking. I need you right now.’
‘Where are you?’
I crossed the road between the quad and the park at a run. The road was largely empty right now. A glance behind me. Silas was still pursuing me, a horrible look in his eyes. ‘Where are you?’ Leigh asked me again, her voice desperate.
Not thinking, I stepped in and told her just as I did: ‘I’m in the park.’
‘The park?!’ she screamed in my ear. ‘What the hell are you doing in there?!’
‘Damn, Leigh, I don’t know. I’m just running. I’m not thinking straight right now.’
‘Lou, there’s all sorts of bad people in there!’
‘I’m already in a bit of trouble, Leigh, I don’t think it’s going to get much worse.’
‘Just try and get out of there soon Lou. Please.’
‘Okay Leigh. Stay on the line. Don’t leave me.’
‘I’m here Lou. I’m here.’
She was subjected to the sound of my heavy breathing as I panted, trying to keep up my run. I kept looking behind me. Silas was closing in, calling out for me.
I looked ahead of me. The park at night was a painting again, the dark bleeding out, absorbing the light. The trees were twisted, awful shapes. The grass was crisp and slick like ice. The path was freshly wet, reflecting the lamplight, echoing the distant sky which was, tonight, clear as crystal.
They came, bleeding out of the shadows. A bunch of guys, one with a machete. Hoods over their heads. They were heading for me, running much faster than me.
‘Leigh,’ I choked.
‘Lou? Lou, what is it?’
‘There are guys. In the park. One’s got a knife, there’s another with a baseball bat.’
‘Oh my God! Lou! Lou, run! I’m calling the police right now!’
The phone snapped off. I shoved it in my pocket and tightened my right hand around my keychain. I had wedged the keys in between my fingers and balled my fist up, so that I might be able to damage one of these guys if it came to that. I stopped and got into a defensive stance. Silas caught up with me, and stood in front of me.
‘Get the hell out of my way Silas.’
I swore my head off. ‘I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you, you stupid prick! Get the hell away.’
‘You’re mine, Lou. These guys aren’t touching you.’
I told him in no uncertain terms to get the hell away, but he didn’t budge. But I didn’t have the resolve I thought I had. As they got even closer, I did what he said, and ran away.
And as I did, I mustered up the biggest, most blood-curdling scream I could manage.
I was quite proud of the glass-shattering sound that came out of my mouth. Remembering what I heard once in a women’s self-defence class, I started screaming and shouting the word ‘FIRE!’ Fire was, apparently, the only thing people actually came out to watch. Murder? Rape? Nope. Apparently the human race in general didn’t care much to help people about to be victimised. Maybe the Xartexans should take over the world. They’d probably care a lot more about us than we do.
There were some people coming through the quad now, and they came across the road at my screams. Cars stopped in the road, and a security guard came from somewhere. I could see him running just past the park gates.
Then came an awful sound. I turned around, now that I was close to the gates and the safe lights of the street.
Silas had evidently knocked one guy down. He was sprawled out on the ground. He punched another, and with an awful crunching sound, he hit the pavement.
Then the guy with the baseball bat came and hit Silas around the head. Even from where I was I could hear the crunch of bone.
I was screaming in earnest now. The security guard was racing past me now with his flashlight and baton. The kid with the machete, brainless, mindlessly violent, took one last slash at Silas and then the two conscious hooligans ran off into the bleeding darkness.
I called Leigh, finding myself on my knees. There were others around me now, trying to work out from me what had happened, trying to see if I was all right.
‘Lou? Lou! Are you okay?’
‘We were attacked. Silas is down. There are people all around us now. I’m safe.’
‘Lou, I tried to call the cops. They thought I was kidding.’
‘It’s okay Leigh. Everyone’s here now, calling the cops and the ambulance...’
‘Is he seriously hurt?’
‘Yes,’ I said, not having seen him up close yet. I got shakily to my feet and started over. ‘I’ll see you later.’
‘Do you want me to come?’
‘No. Please, don’t. I’ll see you at home.’
I walked forward, past where the security guard was handcuffing the two unconscious males together to a lamppost, over to Silas. ‘Miss,’ the security guard called out. ‘Miss, don’t interfere. This is a murder investigation scene now. He has no pulse. Please stay away.’
I fell to my knees again. A murder investigation. What had I done? If I hadn’t gone thoughtlessly running into the park, Silas would still be alive. He might have been bad. He might have been crazy even, with his dumb AXC. But he was a human being nonetheless, and he’d been my boyfriend for a few sweet weeks. The events of today couldn’t quite sully that.
I looked at Silas through my eyelashes and my hair, which had fallen over my eyes, a real mess. The security guard didn’t move me, but he stopped others coming to me. ‘Wait for the police to get here,’ he instructed everyone, frustrated.
I lost track of time. I just stared at his body. His head looked caved in on one side, where the bat had hit him. Before he had even fallen down, the guy with the machete had slashed at him and caught him at the very top of his left arm. A pool of blood reached all the way to my knees. I didn’t move.
I wasn’t aware of much at the time. I didn’t hear my phone ringing, or the security guard trying to comfort or move me, or the other students standing around, watching, guarding almost, feeling that this attack was a personal affront to them, to the university, to their safe little lives. I could sense all of this on one hand, but I was pretty numb and it didn’t register at the time. There were some of the Anti-Xartexan Club there, I could have sworn. But everyone was at a distance from me. Even the security guard moved away from me eventually, realising he wasn’t going to be able to budge me. Instead he went over to the two guys handcuffed to the lamppost, who were just beginning to come around. The bastards.
I reflected over the last few days. Silas had annoyed me with his possessiveness, yes. But I had never wanted this to happen. Maybe we would have broken up. But now I never had that chance. I had argued with him but I hadn’t properly broken it off when he chased me. Aside from feeling guilty about causing his death, I felt like I had no closure. Of course, it was very early still. I was in shock. But I felt angry. I had never been able to change his mind. I had never been able to see if it would work out. I had never been able to end it, with absolute certainty, and close that chapter of my life.
Silas’ blood, pouring out onto the black ground, cooled almost immediately. By the time it reached my knees and soaked through my leggings, it was freezing. I could hardly see any colour in it, in the darkness. There was only the vaguest velvet shimmer of red in the stream which spilled from the deepest gash that travelled across from his chest, over his armpit, to just under the shoulder of his left arm. I could see the horrible layers underneath his skin. I didn’t look away. I was repulsed, or disgusted. It had been a few minutes then and I was in a strange mood, totally distanced from all my surroundings. None of it seemed real.
I could see bone, fat, muscle. In the dark it was all dark too, shimmering with the moisture of meat. Reflecting the dim lamppost light.
Shimmering with the inner glow of blue.
I plunged my hand into the wound in his shoulder.