Why You Haven’t Heard From Me
by Margaret Karmazin
Netrassa returned with a group. “Here we have a surface artist,” she said, in full tour guide mode. She nodded to me. “Lisa — she pronounced it ‘Leeeza’ — show us what you have accomplished.”
They filed into the cell to stand about my work table. One reptilian snatched up my pastel drawing of the table on which I’d added a vase of flowers created from imagination. “I will take this one,” it said. I realized this was a female, the first I’d met. She was smaller than Gredriddon but not as small as Heribba. Her movements were more refined than those of the two males.
A male clone stepped forward. He wore a tight blue jumpsuit and resembled the others I’d seen except for something about his eyes. “I’ll take this one,” he said, lifting up a small watercolor I’d made of an apple, again from memory. I stole another look at him, but he ignored me.
They eventually left, taking all the artwork except a portrait of my cellmate, the unidentified insect. Next they visited Guang’s cell where he was forced to play a little concert. His music was beautiful, but I could sense how trapped and desperate he felt.
Apparently, we were becoming popular attractions. Netrassa showed up one “morning” with the male clone I’d noticed before to escort Guang and me, blindfolded and handcuffed, to new cells.
We were taken by assorted means, which included walking, riding horizontally, riding vertically and standing while descending elevator style. A strange thing occurred during transport. The male clone, whom Netrassa called “Junot,” accidentally or perhaps not, bumped my blindfold so that it slipped a little, enabling me to see glimpses of our travels.
As I would later tell Guang, “There’s a whole civilization down here. Three-story buildings, streets, ponds, machines that rise and fall and soft, all-over lighting. One place I saw trees and plants. Guang, what is this and how long has it been here?”
“We are so screwed,” he said, his voice breaking. “I wish I were dead.”
This brought to mind our pact. I didn’t want to die but I didn’t want to live in this new cell the rest of my life, and who knew how long that would be? What was in the food they provided and how did we know if it was going to kill us or worse, prolong our miserable lives? It consisted of lumpy slop piled in a bowl. Lots of it, morning, midday and evening. Its color varied from brown to green. Sometimes it tasted of meat and sometimes vegetable matter, though never fruit. I longed for fruit: a grape, an apple, oh God, sweet melon of some kind.
“You’re famous,” Netrassa told us the next time we saw her.
Junot was with her. “Tribrotten the Vidalite has ordered you to paint his portrait,” he said. “And when you’ve finished, to paint one of his mate.”
His expression was blank, but he could not hide what I saw in his eyes. It suddenly occurred to me that he possessed a soul. How exactly did I know this? I bowed my head to hide this understanding. Was he actually a human who worked for them? Had they raised him from a baby and so he was “on their side?”
Surely they knew he was human, because if I could tell, why couldn’t they?
An endless chain of days passed. I ate their slop, peed, shat, dreamed of chocolate, apples, strawberries, my parents, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins, my car, driving in general, going to the movies, dancing in clubs, even listening to lectures in class. I would have given anything to see, taste and do all that again.
In this new section, Guang was across the hall from me so that we could look at each other but no longer whisper. He was beautiful to me: average height, wiry build, thick, shaggy black hair. His completely human face put to shame those of the perfectly bred clones. The moment I saw him, I forgot about Mark and any other boyfriend I’d ever had. I wanted to tell him I loved him, but that was ridiculous. I hardly knew him.
With exaggerated mouth movements, he said, “How are we going to speak?”
My first thought was to write large letters on my papers, but those were for art and the Allestia would expect me to use it for that. Eventually, we made up a sign language combined with the lip reading; it was the best we could do.
Months passed. I kept track by scratches on the floor and fell into serious depression. I lost weight and my hair was falling out. My toenails were so long they cut into the sides of my toes. I begged them to get me scissors or a nail file and eventually they brought a stone that would work in this manner. Guang was pale and emaciated and spent long periods staring into space. We both would die if this kept up.
One dreary morning, we were awakened by an explosion. It sounded far off, then was followed by two closer ones. We heard running, yelling and motor noises. Our hallway filled with odorless fog.
Guang and I looked at each other. “Are we going to die?” I asked him. “Is this it?” Though terrified, I half-welcomed it.
He shrugged his shoulders, eyes wide with fear.
I started to cry.
Suddenly, Junot appeared in front of our cells. He waved his hand over the controls to open our glass doors, then dragged us out and down the hall in the opposite direction from which our jailers normally appeared. Pressing something on his belt, he caused a piece of rock wall to slide open, shoved us through and closed it behind us.
“What’s going on? Where are you taking us?”
He ignored my questions and pulled us along. The passageways were dimly lit and narrow and the floor tilted upward. We turned corners; some of the hallways curled. At last, we arrived at an elevator and shot upwards at furious speed. At the sudden stop, Guang and I were flung against the wall.
“Careful,” said our strange companion as the elevator opened. He waited for us to scramble to our feet and helped us out.
We found ourselves in a giant hangar, part of it very dark. Through a small opening in the distant ceiling, I saw a blue sky with scudding clouds.
“Is that—” I blurted, but Junot signaled for me to be quiet. He pulled us across the vast expanse. On the other side were men dressed in military uniforms I didn’t recognize. They turned to look at us and were regular men, not clones.
I was so happy to see them, these normal, imperfect humans; stocky or thin, some hairy, of various heights and colors. A black man — how wonderful, a Hispanic type! — I felt, if I’d had the energy and was not being yanked along, like throwing my arms around them and covering them with kisses.
“Where are we?” I asked again, but Junot did not answer and pulled us through another door and into a room where he motioned for us to sit.
“We’re above ground, right?” I asked, hardly daring to hope.
Guang did not look good. He slumped over a table. His skin was almost green.
An older man entered the room. He looked like a general, that thick, grizzled military type. His uniform was dark blue with an insignia on his chest, a triangle design.
“You’ll be allowed to rest for a couple of days and then questioned. After that, you’ll be offered a choice,” he told us.
I never saw Guang again. No one would answer my questions about him.
Later, Junot explained to me that a series of generators had exploded one after the other down below, causing panic and deaths, and he had taken the opportunity he’d been waiting for to get us out.
When he returned the way we came, he found our cells caved in, closing off the area beyond that point, so the Allestia would believe that we had been killed. He would need to use another portal to reenter and probably get away with it due to the general upheaval.
I worried for his safety and asked him, “How do you manage to pass for a clone? Don’t they know?”
He shook his head. “We have a device that interferes with the human aura energy. Only to those not human. A human, though he usually cannot see the energy, senses it.”
After I had slept many hours and enjoyed a delicious meal, the man I called “the General” returned. Accompanying him were two soldiers. They would have looked forbidding to anyone but me. They had souls in their eyes and that was enough to comfort me.
“The choice is this,” said the General. “You can work for us or we can perform a procedure to erase all memory of what you have seen, in which case you can return to your former life. Which is it?”
“When you say ‘work for you,’” I asked, “are you with them or against them?”
“It’s not quite as simple as that,” he said.
I thought about that. I’d always been a curious person and suspected that the life and history of humans was not as simple as anthropologists or religions claimed. I could not bear to allow the exotic memories I now possessed to disappear into oblivion.
“I’ll work for you,” I said.
During months of training, I learned the rest. After millennia of using the Allestia as workers, their alien creators left our planet. Over eons, the Allestia ran the world, though their numbers never increased to any great extent. They suffered fertility issues, terrible wars and natural disasters, some of these described in the Indian Vedas.
Following in the footsteps of their creators to produce their own workers, the Allestia eventually blended their own DNA with that of developing hominids, bringing forth different versions of humans. Modern man is the one that survived.
“Does this mean there is no God, then?” I asked Junot once we were alone enjoying a drink.
“No,” he said. “What the creators of the Allestia knew was that once most creatures become sentient, they attract and house conscious energies we call ‘souls,’ of which there are an uncountable number in the universe.
“What the Allestia did not count on was that their creations would so grow in number that they would rebel and take over the earth. In our beginning, certain of them were actually on our side, hence the Garden of Eden story about the tempting ‘snake.’ That ‘snake’ helped us to rebel.
“So now,” he added, “they live underground and prefer to remain incognito. While they have ways of hurting us, we could destroy their world if we were willing to risk our own. Our job here is to keep an eye on them and help maintain the status quo.”
I never returned to art history, though now and then I paint and draw. I see my family occasionally. They imagine that I work for the CIA and shake their heads in wonderment at my change of personality and goals. They see me behaving like secret service types you see in the movies: tightlipped, to the point.
I’m in fabulous shape and dress in no-nonsense clothing. My sister watches me intently. “Did you turn into a lesbian or something?” she asked.
Of course I don’t tell her I have a lover, but that he is mostly underground working with and against beings she could not imagine exist. It is unlikely that my family and Junot will ever meet. My work is above ground and involves travel to various military installations. Every day, I breathe in the air and sky and the odors of nature and thank God for everything I once took for granted.
I am storing this information on a decorative-looking crystal that I wear around my neck. This is strictly forbidden; I am risking much for the child I have just learned I am carrying. I only pray that Junot manages to stay alive for us.
Copyright © 2013 by Margaret Karmazin