‘Officer!’ shouts the crystal-breasted, green-spined Gargalumf, jabbing her glittering needle-fingers in my direction. ‘Stop that creature! He just flashed me his naked wiggle sticks! All five of them!’
The bubble-cluster cop turns my way, his milky eye pods focusing on the image of my fleeing form from across the diamond-lined plaza. ‘You mean that guy? With the blue goo body?’
‘Yes!’ confirms the Gargalumf. ‘That creature!’
The bubble-cluster cop makes a sound like a snort, which I with my six ultra-sharp ears still manage to hear even as I make my escape down a fluorescent pink alleyway. ‘That’s no creature, Ma’am. That’s a human being, is what that is!’
‘A human?’ She says it like it’s some kind of terminal diagnosis.
‘Why, sure!’ says the bubble-cop. ‘Everyone knows humans have five wiggle-sticks!’
By the time I get back to my ship on the outskirts of town a few hours later, I’ve committed lots more mischief and had a blast every step of the way—randomly up-dumping garbage tubs, bungee-farting traffic to a standstill, flashing my wiggle sticks for thousands more Gargalumfs at a ginormous goof-rally, and more. I’ve been chased by the bubble-cops 16 times, shot at 24 times (with live—as in living, breathing, giggling—ammo), and cursed at hundreds of times besides…but it doesn’t bother me a bit.
This is what I live for.
‘Now that is what I call a great day!’ The short silver gangplank of my spaceship—the Human Racer—lowers before me, and the bright white happy-lights strobe on either side to welcome me home. Even as I trundle inside on my blue goo pseudopods, I’m already thinking about the vorp I can get up to tonight, when I go out again.
‘I got you beat, Skizzax!’ Wompus, a blue goo buddy of mine, snakes his wiggle sticks through a rainbow heap of glittering glow-gems on the floor of the Racer’s cargo deck. ‘Grabbed these from an old gem-seller who’d heard all about us humans. He just handed them over and begged me not to eat him, the whimpering blistula!’
Chuckling from all 12 of my mouths, I join him in admiring the haul. ‘Nice, Wompie!’ Today was all about mayhem for me so I’m empty-handed, but tonight I’ll bring home my own stolen goodies for sure. When you’re ‘human’, you get what you want, and the real humans get the blame.
Whatever they are. Though the word ‘human’ is well-known throughout the quadrant for striking fear in the hearts (or assorted similar organs) of multitudes of sentient beings, nobody seems to know what a real human looks like or even where they come from. Why else do you think my gang and others like us—originally known as Spigmagaxalons from planet Spigmagaxala—have had so much success appropriating the name for our own purposes?
‘You think this is something, you should see what Yogre dragged in.’Wompus fondles a huge red gem, and chortles. ‘Folks here are loaded and humanphobic—the perfect combination!’
‘I could get used to this place.’ I nod my gooey blue head in agreement, and my fishy orange parasites chitter and splash their tails excitedly all over my body. ‘It’s a shame we gotta clean it out and leave at some point.’
‘All part of the job.’ Wompus tosses a green gem in his slimy maw and crunches it to bits.
Just then, the door to the rest of the ship pops open, and fellow gooey Freebo leans in from the hallway. ‘Hey! Did you see the news?’
My parasites squirt out a frown that smells like rotten prawk eggs. ‘What news?’
‘Humans are on Eskalon Eight!’ snaps Freebo.
‘As in Eskalon Eight, the last planet we hit before this one?’ I ask.
‘Correct!’ says Freebo. ‘And humans as in the other humans! The real ones!’
So much for extending our layover on planet Gargalumfa. As soon as the rest of our crew returns from their party-down hot times with wagging wiggle sticks in hand, we button the hatches and launch the Human Racer into space, heading for Eskalon Eight. Missing out on real human beings just isn’t an option.
Though it’s true, we might not even know them if we see them. Out of everyone on the ship, I probably know the most about human beings, but even thatonly adds up to a few vague nuggets my nanny told me when I was little.
Like, for instance, that humans are ugly, nasty creatures, possibly the worst in the universe. Nanny hated them with all her soul because of all the terrible things she said they’d done to her and her loved ones.
It’s enough to make me nervous as we race out to meet them.
‘I guess we had to cross paths with them sooner or later.’ That’s what I say as I watch the stars streak by the big windows of the ship’s command centre. ‘Maybe they’ve even come looking for us.’
‘Not that it matters!’ Wompus, who’s steering the ship from the big central driver’s seat, lets out a hoot of a laugh. ‘At this point, I’ll bet more people know usas human beings than them!’
‘You might be right, actually.’
‘Either way, we’re the only humans who count!’ says Wompus.
Just then, Yogre interrupts from the radio board. ‘Hey, I’m picking up some chatter from Eskalon.’ She twists glowing blobs on her board, which is made for blue goo creatures with pseudopod hands like us. ‘Oh, no.’ She listens to the chatter over wireless earpieces plugged into her six ears. ‘No way!’ She sounds upset. ‘How dare they!’
‘What?’ I goo-flop a step toward her. ‘What is it?’
‘You’re not gonna like it!’ warns Yogre, her female body goo—a brighter blue than any male’s on the ship—popping and quivering like boiling shenna stew.
At that instant, the Human Racer lurches out of Garble Speed and slides to a stop. There in front of us, gleaming in the big main window, is a blue, brown, and yellow world that’s very familiar to me indeed.
Because we just partied down there a couple of weeks ago!
‘Back again!’ barks Wompus. ‘Eskalon Eight. Second time’s the charm!’
‘The harm is more like it.’ Yogre sounds worried. ‘You won’t like what’s going on down there, trust me.’
I frown her a blue goo frown. ‘Why is that?’
‘These other humans.’ Yogre shudders, sending the orange parasites scattering through her bright blue goo. ‘They’re worse than we are.’
Yogre was right.
Even as we bring our ship in for a landing at the spaceport outside the capital city, we see examples of the damage that’s been done. Already it’s clear that this place is not the same as we left it.
‘What happened to all the graffiti?’ Wompus sounds horrified as he gapes at the view below. ‘Where’s the giant image of my erect wiggle sticks that I painted on the runway?’
‘And what about the mountain of vorp we dropped on top of the control tower?’ asks Freebo. ‘The damn tower doesn’t even have a brown skidmarksmeared on it!’
‘Not to mention, where’s all the wreckage?’ shouts Wompus. ‘I mean, our massive metal sculpture constructed from space-junk?’
‘Space-junk that used to be spaceships’, says Freebo. ‘Until we tore ’em apart.’
‘What the grife happened here?’ Wompus shakes his head in utter dismay as he lands the Human Racer on a pristine purple runway. ‘It’s like a nightmare.’
‘Humans happened.’ Yogre’s voice is icy. ‘The other humans. The realhumans.’
‘They cleaned up our mess’, hisses Wompus. ‘Those bastards.’
The story is the same as we wander through the city. Our excellent upgrades have been undone; it’s as if we never came here in the first place.
At least the locals still keep their distance, regarding us with fear from their swirling bodies of lavender sand and razor blades. They remember, even if our good work has turned to so much total vorp:
the flame-parks we extinguished with our voluminous piss are blazing once more; the screech-clouds we silenced are shrieking like pulsars again; the filth-pits we brought to life aren’t devouring neighborhoods or even crawling anymore; the Sea of Profanity has reverted to the Sea of Platitudes, just the way it was before we ever got here.
‘This is sick.’ I’m disgusted by what I see—and don’t see—around me. ‘Why would they do something like this?’
Wompus sees a hovering street sign he once defiled—perfect now—and hawks steaming gray-blue goo all over it. ‘Looking for trouble, if you ask me.’
‘It took a lot of hard work, messing this planet up the way we liked it!’ says Freebo. ‘That’s our mission. It’s what we do.’
‘Yeah!’ says Wompus. ‘We’re human beings, damnit! The human beings!’
‘That’s where you’re wrong.’ A deep, resonant voice suddenly speaks from around the corner of a pulsing white structure swarming with frenetic glowing bugs.
As one, we look in the voice’s direction. At first, all I see is a faint shadow along the structure’s bug-covered wall, cast by someone in the adjacent alleyway.
‘Who are you?’ I shout. ‘What’s your game?’
‘You cleaned up everything we did to this city!’ adds Wompus. ‘What were you thinking?!’
‘Only making the world a better place.’ The shadow glides forward, growing larger. ‘That’s what humans do…not that you would understand that.’
Suddenly, the being casting the shadow steps fully into my line of sight, and I see him in all his bizarre glory. Eight feet tall and lanky as a stick bug, he towers over our blue goo selves, his shiny green scales glinting in the sunlight.
His eight spindly arms flicker and twitch, bending at six impossible angles each. His three heads bob on leathery yellow stalks.
Each of his faces is a single, multifaceted eye, a mirrored, honeycombed disk ringed by jagged gray teeth.
‘We are the true humans’, he tells us as a dozen others like him emerge from the alley. ‘And we are done letting the likes of you ruin our good name!’
I’m the first to laugh, which I know will push these guys’ buttons. That will help us gauge their authenticity.
The rest of my blue goo gang follows my lead, howling with hilarity.
‘That’s a good one!’ Wompus forces the words out between gales of laughter. ‘You’re the true humans?!’
‘Absolutely’, says the scaly green leader. ‘Anyone else making the claim is obviously an abject impostor.’
‘Is that so?’ Wompus is hooting so hard, he’s doubled over. Even his parasites are laughing, making squeaky tittering sounds as they dive in and out of his gooey mass. ‘Well, I guess you sure told us.”
His words set off a fresh explosion of jocularity among our group.
‘Laugh all you like’, says the leader of the so-called true humans. ‘Soon enough, you will learn that the legends of our fearsomeness are as accurate as they say.’
‘That’s our fearsomeness, you phony!’ shouts Freebo. ‘Those are ourlegends!’
‘Yeah!’ I holler. ‘Who do you think you are, taking credit for ourreputation?’
‘I am Zork’, says the leader. ‘And I don’t think. I know I am King of Humanity!’
The other blue gooies and I are quiet for all of half a second. Then, we burst out in the biggest laugh-quake yet.
‘I advise you to take this more seriously,” snaps Zork. ‘True humans are notto be trifled with.’
‘That’s what we keep trying to tell you!’ By now, Wompus is on the ground, gripping his gut and rolling back and forth.
Zork and his pals just watch us have our fun, their mirror-faceted faces unreadable. So much for ‘true humans’ having a sense of humour.
‘Laugh all you want, buffoons’, says Zork. ‘You are not welcome on this world anymore. The natives don’t even think of you as humans anymore.’
‘What do they think of us as, then?’ asks Yogre.
‘They call you Ooshpah.’ Zork makes a raspy sound that might be a chuckle. ‘Meaning, literally, “worse even than offal, though at least offal has a reason to exist.’
‘Hey, it has a ring to it.’ I nod and point a blue goo finger his way. ‘It fits you perfectly.’
Zork points his own seven-jointed finger back at me. ‘Get off this planet now. It is not your plaything anymore. It is under the protection of the Human Empire.’
Wompus stops rolling. ‘The human what now?’
‘The Human Empire’, Zork says grandly. ‘Which now includes all the worlds you’ve laid to ruin, already restored to their former glory. Like this one.’
‘You have got to be vorping me.’ I spit out some blue-grey goo and shake my head. ‘What the queeg is your problem, Ooshpah?’
‘I’m not the Oosh–’ He catches himself, takes a deep breath, and lets it out slowly. When next he speaks, his voice is calm again. ‘As I said, we are restoring the good name of our human species.’
‘To which we say, thanks!’ I applaud, smacking my gooey hands together. The rest of my team does the same. ‘Thanks to you, we can enjoy wrecking the same planets all over again!’
With that, my bunch and I turn our backs on the ‘true humans’ and stomp away laughing, overturning and pissing on things along the way even as Zork and his dopes stare silently behind us.
‘Time to get busy, my friends.’ I spread my pseudopod arms wide. ‘Screwing with planets is better the second time around, right?’
‘Screwing with phony humans is even better’, says Wompus.
‘But hey…’ Freebo sounds a little worried as he looks back at Zork and the rest. ‘What if they are the true humans?’
I laugh and tousle his goo playfully. ‘Relax! True humans could never be that lame! They would never let us get away with laughing our asses off at them like that.’
‘True humans would be less talk, more action’, agrees Wompus.
‘Less talk, more torture, from what I’ve heard’, I tell him.
I started pretending I was human at a very young age, playing in the pulsing black brain forests near my home on Spigmagaxala. I’d often heard Nanny talk about how awful they were, how feared they were by people far and wide, that it felt exciting to pretend I was one.
I even found friends to join the game, other blue goo children who were only too happy to play at mayhem. What child doesn’t want to imagine being bigger and meaner and feared, running rampant with no one to say otherwise?
At least until Nanny overheard me one day and shattered the illusion.
‘You should never want to be like a human’, she told me. ‘They destroyeverything they touch. Everyone’s terrified of them, because they know how fouland selfish they are.’
‘I’m sorry, Nanny.’ I was very contrite—on the surface, at least. ‘I’m very sorry.’
‘Do you want to be a creature with no conscience? One that does whatever it feels like with no regard for any other living thing?’
‘No, Nanny’, I told her, though the answer in my head was very different. Even then, I was getting ideas that would shape the rest of my life and the lives of the people who would someday join my gang.
Yes, Nanny. Oh yes, Nanny, I do want to be that creature.
How long will it take to undo the work of the ‘true humans’ on Eskalon Eight? My team and I won’t stop until we find out.
From the moment we walk away from Zork and his group, we hit the capital city in style, really ginking it up. We smash windows, break statues, turn around street signs, paint graffiti, release zoo animals. We piss out the flame-parks, silence the screech-clouds, bring the filth-pits back to life and drive them to feast on neighborhoods that got away the first time. As for the Sea of Platitudes, we don’t settle for changing it to the Sea of Profanity; this time, we take it all the way to the Sea of Perversion.
If there’s a prank to play or something to vandalise, we do it. Everything clean is made dirty; everything fixed is made broken again.
Everything of value that isn’t nailed down, we take. If it’s nailed down, we take that, too, with more effort. If anyone gets in our way–well, they just don’t.
Whatever we do, whoever we do it to, we make sure they know; make sure there’s no doubt it was humans who did all this, nasty humans deserving their fear and submission.
True humans, the ones made of blue goo.
But, eventually, there’s pushback…from you-know-who, of course. Or as I like to think of them, You-No-Humans.
‘Hey, Skizzax!’ Wompus stands in front of a bare beige wall, about to deface it with a huge can of spray-goo. ‘Didn’t we already tag this thing today?’
He’s right. ‘Those queegs.’ I touch the surface, which is still warm from a goo-stripping laser. ‘They’re ruining our ruined stuff!’
‘That’s not the only thing they’ve cleaned up.’ Yogre points up at the tallest building in the city, which isn’t tricked-out like a giant, erect wiggle stick anymore. ‘Those boys have been busy.’
‘Damn Ooshpahs.’ I shake my blue goo fist at the tower. ‘No human would pull this vorp.’
We pick up the pace, working faster than ever—pooping on this, tearing down that, screwing up these, those, and everything in record time. We move so fast, we don’t take time for our usual loving attention to detail—getting the smears and scrawls and scribbles just right, artistic even. All that matters is staying ahead of the game.
Which we don’t. Which we can’t. As we discover, Zork and his gang outnumber us and have better equipment. They might not be true humans, but they’re higher on the tech spectrum than we are.
I’ll bet they’re not higher on the spectrum of doing-anything-to-win than us, though.
‘Enough!’ I recognise Zork down the street (he’s taller than the rest) and head right for him. “Hey, Ooshpah!”
Without a word, my team falls in behind me.
‘Hello, pitiful non-humans’, says Zork. ‘Ever get the feeling your work is all for nothing?’
‘You tell me.’ I stop a few feet away and lean toward him, glowering. ‘You gotta know we’re just going to change it all back again.’
‘Until you get bored with it all, which you will.’ Zork nods his three heads in rhythmic sequence—right, then left, then middle, then right again. ‘Non-humans can have such limited attention spans.’
I lean closer, locking my gaze on his multifaceted disk of a face looming over me. ‘So what do you get out of this, really? Forget all that Human Empire vorp and reclaiming-your-good-name queeg. What’s your real reason for ginkingwith us like this? Are you looking for a payday here?’
Zork leans closer, too. ‘You remember what the legends say, don’t you? About how we true humans came to live among the stars?’
‘As a true human, of course I remember.’ I refuse to take my eyes off the many tiny reflections of myself in his mirrored facial facets. ‘We were abducted from our homeworld and made to work as servants and slaves until we revolted and seized control of our own destinies.’
‘Bravo. You know my people’s history.’ Zork claps his eight hands in intricate patterns. ‘Then you should understand why we humans refuse to let others—especially pretenders like you—rain down suffering and darken the good name we’ve worked so hard to bring honour to.’
I narrow my eyes and scrunch up my blue goo nose at him. ‘But what’s really in it for you? Because you sure as blung aren’t human vorpin’ beings.’
Zork falls silent, breathing harder like he’s stressed, which is perfect. Getting on his nerves is just what I wanted to do. Shaking these phonies up might be the only way we overcome them.
‘Fine! Keep it to yourself!’ I snap. ‘The only thing I care about is youOoshpahs getting off this planet right now in the name of the true Human Empire! Ours!’ I shake both blue goo fists in the air, and my teammates cheer loudly behind me.
‘Get lost, triple-headers!’ hollers Wompus. ‘True humanity hates your guts!’
‘And so does everyone else!’ agrees Freebo.
Even as my gang mouths off, Zork’s up-to-now taciturn Zorkettesthemselves start to rustle and mumble. The temperature’s rising here, I can tell.
It won’t be long now.
‘We’re the humans!’ shouts a Zorkette. ‘You get off this planet!’
‘Make us!’ If anyone’s ready for this, it’s Wompus. His big blue goo chest is out, his parasites swirling like mad.
Another Zorkette joins the bad-mouthing. ‘Better watch what you ask for, fake humans!’
‘I’m not asking! I’m begging!’ Wompus’ body expands with rage, then subdivides into multiple cloned copies, each just as angry and dangerous as the original.
The rest of my people do the same, angry enough to trigger the defense mechanism we’re born with and fill the street with raging blue goo people. The Zorkettes do the opposite, folding and clacking together into towering combination creatures.
All except Zork, who’s frantically waving and shouting at them. ‘Stop! Everyone, stop this!’
But even as he tries to head off what’s coming, it’s already underway. The blue goo army and Zorkette giants rush at each other, plunging headlong into a shattering, shuddering clash.
Leaving Zork in the midst of it all, befuddled—and me there with him, smirking like the son of a queeg I’ve always been.
‘You piece of vorp!’
Zork lunges, clawing at my goo. But as big as he is, he’s no match for my denser bulk and greater strength. Even without cloning myself, I easily swat him aside.
After that, he keeps coming for a while. Again and again, he charges, taking shot after shot. The best he manages, however, are a few passing grazes as I let him tire himself out.
Eventually, he gives up and slumps against the smooth grey wall of a building. I join him there, off to the side of the fight raging in the street between our peoples: the battle between the two claimants for the title of True Humanity.
From what I can see, it’s not going well for either side. Battered clones and broken Zorkettes litter the throbbing pink pavement, and it’s hard to tell if anyoneis winning.
‘I thought you people were going to clean up this place.’ I shake my head. ‘Looks to me like it’s just getting messier.’
‘It does, doesn’t it?’ Zork’s voice is no less deep and resonant, but some of the zing has gone out of it. ‘I hope you’re satisfied.’
‘Meh.’ I shrug. ‘So tell me, what gave you people the idea to pretend to be humans?’
‘Pretend?’ He snorts with indignance. ‘But we are the true hu—’
‘Yeah, yeah.’ I roll my eyes. ‘And I’m the Queen of Peedydink Minor.’
Zork’s multifaceted mirror face ripples, the grey teeth around it twitching—and then he relaxes and makes a sound like a sigh. ‘We bought the rights.’
‘What?’ Bloody hell is going down a dozen feet away, but I still manage to laugh out loud. ‘From who?!’
‘The last surviving actual human. According to her, anyway.’
I’m still laughing. ‘What did she look like? I’m dying to know!’
‘It doesn’t matter, alright? We had every reason to believe—’
‘Come on, tell me! I’ve always wanted to see one!’
It’s hard to tell when an eight-foot-tall, green-scaled creature with an unreadable mirror-disk face is embarrassed…but this might be it. ‘Well.’ He hesitates. ‘She looked kind of like a blob of foamy green mould with 12 stringy wings and five wormy protuberances squirming out of it.’
‘You are vorping me!’ I laugh out loud again. ‘You mean humans do have five wiggle sticks?!’
‘Not wiggle sticks per se, no. Not in the sense of external genitalia. More like individual heads, each with its own sentience and—’
‘I love it!’ More laughter. ‘Just perfect!’
‘I’m glad you’re amused.’ He doesn’t mean it.
‘So why did you buy the rights, anyway?’ I ask.
‘We wanted to start a new business’, says Zork. ‘We thought the human mystique would help our marketing.’
‘What kind of business?’
A building collapses nearby, brought down by fiercely battling combatants. ‘Damage recovery and keeping the peace.’ Zork shakes his heads.
At which point, my laughter is louder than ever.
For a while then, I laugh, and Zork stays quiet. The fight keeps roaring away before us, just as undecided as ever.
‘Listen’, Zork says at last. ‘We have a contract for the rights, you know, but…who needs all this hassle?’ He gestures at the ongoing battle. ‘Why can’t we come to an agreement between us and just walk away?’
Zork makes an upper-body move that might be a shrug. ‘Who says there can’t be two branches of the human race in this galaxy?’
I have to admit, I like the way he’s thinking. Who says both sides can’t give a little and stop the carnage? Didn’t someone once tell me that even humans can be decent once in a while? ‘Two branches that stay the gink out of each other’s way?’
He gives me a look I could never read in a million years if I tried. ‘Sure, why not?’ Then, his mirror-faceted face turns back to the fight, implacably taking it in. ‘It could be tricky, though. The human brand is just so toxic. No one even remembers the last time they saw a real one, yet the name alone is enough to start a brawl like this.’
‘Those humans must’ve been some real motherpluckers alright.’ I laugh, and so does he. ‘I just wish I could meet one of the bastards for once in my life and compare notes!’
‘Are humans all bad, Nanny?’ I remember asking that question once, as a blue goo boy back on good old Spigmagaxala.
Nanny, who was fixing me a brain-salad sandwich for midday meal, looked over coolly from the galley counter. ‘I wish you wouldn’t ask so many questions about humans, Skizzax. Let’s talk about something else for a change, like your lessons.’
I rocked back and forth on the stool where I was sitting to watch her work. ‘Nanny, please! You know so much about them!’
‘Which is why I’m telling you they aren’t worth your time. They don’t deserve thinking about.’
‘But are they always so awful? I need to know!’
‘Do you?’ she asked. ‘Do you really?’
‘Yes!’ Even then, I was obsessed with human beings. Even then, I dreamed of becoming one—feared and respected and powerful, doing anything I wanted anywhere in the galaxy at any time.
Nanny opened her mouth as if she were about to answer, but then she hesitated. Narrowing her eyes, she gave me a long, considered stare unlike any look I’d ever seen her send my way before.
Slowly, she put down the knife she was using to chop brain bits. A shiver ran up my blue goo spine as she held my gaze.
‘No.’ Her voice was calm and strange. ‘Humans aren’t all bad. Once in a while, one will even surprise you.
‘Once in a while, one will change her ways. Once in a while, she will do things that are kind or unselfish, things that make someone else’s life a little better just because.’
Nanny smiled then, her two green eyes glittering, the red lips of her mouth curling up at the corners. Reaching up, she brushed a single, glistening drop of moisture from her pale pink cheek, then pushed a lock of dark brown hair behind her left ear.
‘And maybe’, she said softly, ‘in spite of the dark side of human nature, the love in her heart will grow, and the change will be for good.
‘Will that mean she isn’t quite human anymore?’ asked Nanny. ‘Perhaps, though some might say it will make her more truly human than ever.’