#AtoZChallenge: Zoology

Zin looked down from the glowing monitor and made a note on the Labpad on his wrist. All the enclosures were secure. The specimens carried on as normal, oblivious to their captivity.

Each specimen was the inhabitant of a different universe, an entirely separate dimension. They had been trapped into pocket universes that ran on a loop, like a video that restarted after ending. They were all so different, so fascinating to observe.

There were 25 specimens in all, each identified by a letter of the human alphabet. Zin couldn’t remember why that system was chosen above other that were far more suited to categorization, but he had long ago learned to stop questioning such trivial details.

He ran through the subject logs.

Subject A was testing out his simulated city again, reprogramming certain quirks.

Subject B had developed supernatural abilities that transformed her into something else. It was an intriguing development, though Zin was glad she used her new abilities to help others.

Subject C’s ineptitude at his work was amusing. Zin would often play that loop again in his off hours.

Subject D made Zin uncomfortable. There was a lot of darkness to her world and her life. Zin almost wished they had taken a larger slice of her life.

He was intrigued by Subject E. Her story sounded familiar, but he hadn’t been able to find a record of her homeworld or species in the pandimensional archives.

Subject F deeply unnerved him. Zin hoped that he could be terminated, but that wasn’t his decision to make.

Subject G was confusing at first. The lack of color fascinated Zin, though not as much as when the colors finally bloomed in that world.

He made a note to brush up on his Earth mythologies after observing Subject H. He had quite forgotten what those creatures were called.

Zin couldn’t tolerate Subject I for long.

He was reminded of a parasitic race that his own people had once contained when viewing Subject J.

Though he was a detached observer, there was something about Subject K that brought many emotions to the fore. Zin missed his own family. Some days, he couldn’t even remember them and it frightened him.

Subject L posed a dilemma. Were Zin’s people like the doctor in that world, conducting experiments that their subjects never consented to?

He buoyed his spirits again by looking at Subject M’s report. She reminded him of Zela, his wife, in many ways. He made a note to save that report when the experiment was over. Even if he never saw his family again, at least he could keep that as a memory.

Subject N brought a smile to his face. He needed that.

Subject O’s journey was interesting. Zin wondered if any of her kind still existed in any universe. They were supposedly immortal, but time’s erosion could not truly be stopped.

Subject P hit close to home. The leaders of Zin’s world had made compromises in the name of diplomacy and while he was glad of the overall results, he could never forget the lives that were lost along the way.

Zin remembered Subject Q well. They had encountered each other once when the subject phased himself onto Zin’s ship for some nefarious purpose. He had managed to escape, but now Zin could study his methods more closely.

Subject R posed an intriguing mystery and Zin was frustrated about not knowing more. That was a world he would have to revisit on his own time.

The eerie silence of Subject S and her world reminded him too much of the emptiness on his ship. He scrolled past that part of the log fast.

He remembered the chaos that was caused by Subject T and how it had almost caused a total universal collapse. It was fortunate that it had been handled without the intervention of galactic authorities.

Zin liked Subject U. Her story was inspiring, and it made him proud to be a chronicler.

Subject V’s containment was probably best for many people in the universe. Zin couldn’t help sigh with relief.

Subject W was a truly odd case.

Subject X had been the cause of much debate between Zin and his superiors They believed that ancient technology could be resurrected for the benefit of many, but Zin was forced to remind them how Subject X had wound up.

At last Zin came to Subject Y. The monster. The hunter. Whatever it was. Zin didn’t like it. It deserved to be contained.

With his observation complete, Zin logged out of the Labpad.

The stars looked so beautiful outside, suspended in the darkness. Zin could not remember how long he had been out there in that station. He hadn’t run out of rations or fuel, so he must have been within the planned schedule. But it had been so long since he had any contact with anyone from his planet. So long that he had forgotten the original purpose of the containment experiment.

For him, it had become his own private menagerie, full of living exhibits that he viewed at his leisure. It gave him some comfort during the long, lonely voyage.

With a sigh, Zin tore his gaze from the stars and opened up the Labpad again. He tapped the file marked ‘Subject A’ and made his way through the logbook.

Grounded

The stars winked in the night sky, taunting William. They knew he was bound to the earth. He was no pilot or astronaut. He couldn’t soar to great heights or touch the sky. All he could do was stand on the balcony of his apartment and gaze at the celestial panorama above him.

They said the city was most alive at night, yet to William it felt so lifeless. The neon glow that lit up the streets paled in William’s eyes compared to the natural splendor of the stars. William wondered what it would be like to unshackle himself from gravity, to float off into the clouds and see the stars face to shining face. It was a childish fantasy, but it gave him solace on long, lonely nights.

He had no friends in the city, and what little family he kept contact with were also miles away. It was funny, William thought, that he couldn’t see the people that lived in the same country but the furthest stars were always in his sight. He chatted with people on the bus, laughed at his co-workers’ jokes and even had lunch with a few of them, but at night, the stars were his only companion.

As lovers walked the streets hand in hand and friends laughed at each other’s raucous jokes on the way to some late night hangout, William floated through violet clouds tinged with the silvery glow of the moon. That was where he belonged, where he would truly feel at peace. He just knew it. Ever since he was a boy.

William’s father was an amateur inventor and would often spend his evenings in the garage, working on his fanciful machines. On those evenings, William’s mother took him out for a walk under the stars. He remembered the cool night air, the warm comfort of his mother’s hand, and the majestic sky that twinkled with delight at the sight of him. It was a ritual William continued into adulthood, though after moving to the city, he preferred to watch the sky from his balcony. He felt closer to the stars that way.

As the years passed, William grew more and more isolated from the world around him. He was seen but rarely heard at work, and his neighbors often wondered if his apartment was empty. His hair had grown thinner and grayer. His shoulders stooped and his knees ached. But William still shuffled his way on to the balcony as the sun set, his neck craned upwards. For as long as the light still shone in his eyes, he would not miss an opportunity to gaze upon the stars. They were his friends and his family now. Soon enough, he thought, his body would fail him and would fall to the ground in a useless heap. But that didn’t bother William. He knew then that he would finally be free of the earthly realm. He would at last be able to join the stars, as he had dreamed for so long.

As pin pricks of light formed against the night sky, William took in one long shuddering breath. It was almost time.

Together

“Life support systems offline. Oxygen levels plummeting. Damn.”

“This isn’t how I imagined the end.”

“How did you imagine it?”

“At home. Older. Alone.”

“Seems poetic, dying among the stars.”

“Never was much of a poet.”

“I know.”

“Look, I’m…sorry. For…”

“Don’t be.”

“I’m glad you’re here.”

“Me too.”

Visitors

Man has always looked to the stars.

The beauty of the universe laid bare, a dark expanse dotted with luminous spots of wonder.

Distant worlds hold the answer to the eternal question: Are we alone?

We’re not.

I have met the aliens, made first contact.

They’re a bunch of dicks.