by Trenchcoat Tardigrade
There I was, lounging on the sofa in my most comfortable pair of stained, threadbare tighty-whiteys, watching that Melanie and Francine cooking show that is all the rage when my doorbell went off. I’d become addicted to the show during my two years of psychiatrically induced unemployment and now my midday fix was being ruined. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t use the stove to intentionally catch a cardboard box on fire if I tried, much less throw together a four-course meal in under an hour. I just liked watching that big breasted Melanie, in her low-cut tank top, bend down to get things out of the oven. And Francine was cute too, I guess.
“Dammit,” I gruffed at the windowed wooden door behind me. Standing there waiting for me to get off the sofa were a professional-looking young man and woman. He was wearing a white shirt, black tie, and slacks, she was in a calf-length gray dress that left everything to the imagination, and I couldn’t remember where I left my pants.
“Whadya want?” I asked as I leaned against the doorframe in all my bare-legged glory. “I’m learning to cook.”
“Greetings sir,” the guy began. “We would like to talk to you about our holy lord ca-“
“Pizza,” she interrupted.
He looked at her quizzically and whispered something in her ear. She replied in kind. The back and forth went on much longer than I would have liked, but just as I was about to close the door on them, he tried again.
“Greetings sir, we would like to talk to you about our lord cat pizza.”
“Cat pizza, huh? Is that one of them newfangled churches, or are you just trying to sell me a magazine subscription?”
“Neither, we are attem-“
“It don’t matter. I ain’t interested and I have balls that need scratching.”
I saw both of their heads cock in confusion just before the door slammed into the frame. Melanie was in the process of welcoming me back from a commercial break and I wasn’t going to miss watching her pull the pan of asparagus baked chicken out of the oven.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
“Who the fuck is -” I started to yell before catching sight of the view on the other side of the door. It was the same guy and the same woman, but gone was the ultraconservative wardrobe. He traded Mormon-esque duds for that of a collared priest in a fishnet crop top and she was now wearing the white blouse, plaid extreme mini skirt, and thigh-high stockings found in every “Catholic schoolgirl” internet search. The thing is that it wasn’t the eye-catching new wardrobe that unsettled me, nor was it the way she was going to town on a lollipop while he vigorously smiled at me. It was that the transition happened in the time it took me to walk the ten steps between the door and not quite settling back down on the sofa.
I slowly inched my way back to the door, glancing from his fetish gear, to her webcam ready cosplay, and at the television in hopes that one of the personalities would hear my screams through the screen if things went tits up.
“Umm, can I help you?” I asked, braced against my side of the door.
“Yes, sir. We are here to share the good word of our holy Roman emperor Pontius Palpatine the Sith. Praise be his name,” the woman said.
“What happened to the pizza cat god thing?”
“That’s it,” the man responded, provoking a nudge and look from his companion.
“No, wait, I meant to say what’s it, like, umm, what cat god pizza.”
Both returned to smiling at me through the door’s window, apparently convinced that the recovery had worked.
“Fuck it,” I grumbled to myself. “What’s there to lose?” I turned the handle and threw open the door. “Okay, what in God’s holy hell is going on here? I ain’t got nothing worth stealing and nobody would miss me if it’s me you’re after, so, which is it?”
“We told you. We want to induct you into the Church of Father Madre and teach you the ways of the trillinian based brain.”
“No, you didn’t.” I folded my arms across my chest and gave him the most skeptical glare I could force.
“Ahhh, yes, about that, we did,” he said.
“And we didn’t,” she added.
“But we also did. May we come in?” he gestured past me.
I looked at the cluttered heap of living space behind me. I hadn’t had company over in more than a year, and it was clear that I wasn’t planning to disturb that trend.
“Sure,” I allowed, rubbing away the coming headache. “Whatever will get you to give your pitch and be on your way.” As I looked up to usher the two in, I saw that the doorway was empty.
I found my two visitors sitting on either side of my sofa waiting for me to join them. I had to debate excusing myself for a quick phone call to the appropriate mental health authorities, but I didn’t feel threatened. I was many things. Cautious? Naturally. Confused? Exceptionally. But threatened? Not so much.
“Okay,” I started as I settled in between the two missionaries. “Before you start with your pitch, I have to know who the fuck you are and what’s with the hocusey-pocusey bullshit.”
“We are not familiar with what a hocusey-pocusey variety of cattle defecation is, but you can call me Stan,” he offered with a curt nod.
“And you shall know me as Heather,” she added.
“Stan, Heather, I’m -“
“You are Maxwell Herbert Frank, better known as Max. You are aged thirty-seven point five six seven orbital cycles. Your genetic donors were Bufford -,” they both had just begun recounting my life story in unison.
“I get it. You know me, so, what do you want with me?”
“Offspring,” Stan answered.
“Offspring!?” I leaped up.
“Offspring,” Heather said, pulling me back down by the hand.
“I-I don’t have any kids.”
“We know,” he said. “That was one of the criteria necessary to select someone to become Father Madre.”
The realization struck me. “Are you trying to recruit me to impregnate someone?” I looked Heather up and down with a smile. “You, perhaps?” I couldn’t be certain, but I didn’t think the top three buttons on her blouse had all been undone a moment ago.
“Yes,” she said as casually as if she was telling me the time, “and Vicky and Jasmine to start. During gestation, you will be put to use with others to help overall reproductive rates.”
“Is this amenable to you?” Stan asked.
“Hell yeah,” I almost panted. “When do we start? Give me a bit and I’ll get the bed cleared off.”
They shot a curious look from me to each other and back before he recovered. “We will depart for the habitat as soon as you have gathered any items of importance that you wish to bring. Necessities will be provided as needed. You will begin your duties tomorrow.”
I looked between the two of them and then glanced around the room. The living room really was the best room in the house and held all my most valuable possessions. The fact that my sixteen-year-old television was the most expensive and meaningful item I owned made packing that much easier. I leaned across Heather and snatched a hopefully full deck of playing cards from the end table and told them I was ready.
Heather caressed my face in her palms and pressed her lips to mine. I opened my mouth to let my tongue meet hers and heard her exhale passionately. That was when I must have passed out.
I woke up alone on the hard floor of a small room. The walls, floor, and ceiling were all the same brightness of uncomfortable fluorescent white. It was as if they emitted their own light. Not from bulbs of any kind, they just glowed. I worked my way around the room feeling for a crease that might indicate a door or hatch, but gave up hope of finding an exit by the time I felt around the cell.
“Did you sleep well?” Stan asked from behind me.
“Who, wha-, how? Where the fuck did you come from?”
He brushed away the question with a flick of his hand. “I am inclined to offer you a formal apology. There is an orientation process you must complete before copulation can commence. I acknowledge that I intentionally withheld that crucial information, but now we must begin.”
“Hang on. I’m down for slinging some dick in Heather and all that, but I need some goddamn answers. First, there was the clothes change stunt, and then y’all just poofed to my sofa, and after one little kiss I wake up in this… this… room thing where you just arrive out of nowhere.”
“I see, would you prefer Heather proceed with your orientation?”
“What? Yeah, sure. Whatever.” I was beyond exasperated at how irrelevant Stan had been treating my concerns.
Stan began to shimmer in a blur. He convulsed once before vanishing. A glint later and Heather was standing in front of me in the same schoolgirl outfit she was wearing before.
“Is this more to your approval?” she asked with no more excitement than a waitress might offer after fixing a mistake in my order.
“Yeah, but I have some serious questions and Stan just ignored them.”
“Oh, I see. Regrettably, I must do the same. You will be informed of everything necessary to be able to fulfill your task, but through experimentation we have learned the most effective methods of conveying that information to your kind. That is what the orientation is about.”
“My kind? What’s that supposed to mean? I ain’t nothing but your average guy.”
“So, are y’all running some kind of reverse sexist commune or something?”
“Not in the least. We have found no distinction between your male and female specimens beyond what can be provided for our reproductive purpose that offers any value to us.”
“Well, what was that ‘my kind’ bullshit you just said all about?”
“Human? Aren’t you and Stan humans too? It’s not like you look like you come from Jupiter or some shit?”
“Don’t be silly. Nobody comes from Jupiter. The escape velocity alone makes that impractical from an energy standpoint, not to mention that nothing lives there this time.”
“What do you mean by ‘this time’ and are you saying you aren’t human,” I wanted to roll my eyes at the absurdity, but I couldn’t force myself to deny there was some sci-fi level stuff going on.
“May I begin your orientation? Or would you prefer to continue frustrating yourself?”
“It’s not me that’s frustrating,” I grumbled in resignation.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” she stretched out her arms in a ballet-like flourish and the luminescent walls around me began to fade. “Welcome, Max, to the Church of Father Madre.”
What surrounded me was nothing like any church I had ever seen before. There were no pews, benches, or even rows of cheap metal folding chairs to be seen. Neither were there prayer mats or places to kneel. There was no altar, no iconography, and no central focal point where a preacher might choose to screech about fire and brimstone one Sunday and eternal mercy the next.
What there was were cubes of many colors. Some were red, others blue, and a handful were a color that I’d never seen before. It could best be described as a blend of clear and tie-dyed mud. It had the effect of honey, but with more browns swirling throughout the transparency. Each cube was a distinct size without regard to color or organization. The smallest I could see was a two-inch tall red one. The largest was one of muddy clarity somewhere around twenty feet tall. There had to be thousands of them scattered about in a room the size of a golf course. The other thing I noticed was that only me and Heather seemed to be in there. The complete silence was unsettlingly peaceful as she gave me a moment to take in the disjointed surroundings.
“What’s with all the cubes?” I asked to let her know I was ready for answers.
“Oh, like rank and stuff like that.”
“No,” she looked perplexed. “They are the clergy.”
“You mean to tell me that this church is run by a bunch of boxes. What kind of horse piss are you trying to sell me?”
“They are not boxes. They also aren’t a ‘they’ as you would use it. They are I as much as I am they.”
She looked at me in a way that told me she was trying to determine if I understood what she was trying to say. I could only imagine that the look on my face was one of utter confusion.
“Let me try again. I am part of a homogenous collective entity that functions one spatial dimension beyond you. As you go by human, we choose to identify as slothe. It is as close to our native vocal capabilities as your species is capable of achieving for what we call ourself. As for what you see, it is more consistent with what you would call costuming. There is no Stan, nor is there a Heather. There is only us, and to see us as we are holds too much risk of unnecessary complication.”
“Are you telling me that you are some time-traveling blob thing? You should know those movies are seriously outdated.”
“Absolutely not. Where did you get time-traveling from? It is true that we collaborated with a Mr. Herbert Wells, but that was only a side project Vicky took on for a bit of fun. We interact with the same three spatial dimensions of height, length, and depth as you. We also experience one that has been called trength in your Earthly dialect.”
“Really?” My skepticism was in overdrive. I knew that I had no idea what was going on, but the answers only made that worse. I couldn’t shake the idea that there were hidden cameras stashed just out of my view. “You know you sound like you are two sheets short of a one-page test.”
“Very well, allow me to demonstrate. Select a clergy.”
I looked around and decided that a mid-sized blue one about twenty feet away would work as well as any. Heather nodded when I told her and immediately vanished from my side and appeared next to it.
“Select another one.”
I was flabbergasted. I’d witnessed her and Stan popping in and out, but this was the first time I was actively watching it happen.
“How about that big muddy one or that little bitty red one?” I suggested referring to the largest and smallest cubes.
She arrived at the large one and told me to watch closely as she reached out. Her hand disappeared and emerged next to the other.
“Alright,” I was beginning to freak out. “Ju-just come back over here. I don’t know what’s going on and it’s starting to scare the fuck out of me.”
“Calm down,” she said from back by my side. “It’s nothing scary or magical or anything like that. It’s only,” she took a moment to think of the right word, “different. Yes, it’s different. That is all. Would you like me to explain?”
“Imagine there is a being that can only look side to side and into the distance, but has no sense of verticality.”
“There’s a book I read years ago about that. Flatworld or something like that.”
“Flatland is what you are thinking, and yes. Now, how would you as your three-dimensional self travel in such a world?”
“I’d walk. How else would you expect me to get around?”
“That’s exactly my point. You would walk because it is efficient. However, the two-dimensional creatures would see it as magic since they couldn’t see your foot after it lifted from the ground until it appeared somewhere else. That is all that is happening here. I don’t walk through only three planes for the same reason you wouldn’t slide on your belly in a place like Flatland. It’s also why you can’t comprehend the type of organism I am part of. You can only see a three-dimensional slice of me in the same way a two-dimensional being would only see the extent of you that is at the exact same elevation as it is.”
“So,” possibly the most crucial realization struck me, “how’s the sex gonna work. Like, do you have all the same parts as a human woman if you are a homunculus collection?”
“I think you mean homogeneous collective,” she shook her head in amusement. “And the answer is both a yes and no, but we will get to that. It is not something for you to concern yourself with.”
“What’s more of a concern if you want me to give you offspring?”
“Why you have been selected to provide them is of much importance. How you will go about it is not.”
“And why would that be? I was more than willing to hook up with someone as hot as you when I thought you were just some crazy cult people, but this ain’t that. This is… I don’t know what this is, but it ain’t right.”
“Do you remember what happened on the twenty-fourth day of March in the Julian orbit of two-thousand and seventeen?”
“I don’t know about that day specifically, but it was around there that I lost my job.” I did my best to avoid thinking about that part of my life. It ruined me in every possible way, and I’d spent the past two years doing little more than accepting what I had become.
“That was exactly the day you became unemployed and unemployable. Do you remember what led to that?”
“Yeah,” I dropped my gaze to the floor. “They said I busted my boss upside the head with a coffee cup when he tried to stop me from streaking through the office.”
“I wasn’t asking if you remember what you were told about it. I want to know if you remember actually doing it.”
“No.” The truth is that I never had. I woke up in a psychiatric hospital the next morning. It took three days to get the doctor to stop asking questions and tell me why I was there before I got released with a prescription for meds and a court summons. In the end, a plea deal slapped me with community service and a fine, but the doctor’s report and court records were all I had to go on for details. Before then I thought being blackballed was only for celebrities that committed a social faux pas or corporate executives that cared more about their employees than their stockholders, but it turned out that such an outlandish act could have the same effect on more mundane people, like an actuary.
“Good,” she gave a curt nod of approval, “you were never meant to.”
“Wait one goddamn mother fucking second. Did you and your multidimensional creature from the black lagoon self stir fry my brain?” I could feel the blood draining from the knuckles of my clenched fists and fill the blood vessels in my face.
“Yes, how else were we expected to have the time to condition you for your role as Father Madre? It’s not like such an important position can be prepped in only one night of dreams. We needed your mind as free of distraction and those silly career things you humans get into are a major setback. It took over two years of you having no more important things to do than pleasure yourself during a midday culinary program to get you ready. Other priorities could have pushed us back tens of years, if we were lucky.”
“So, wait, let me get this straight, you picked me over two years ago, made me make a fool of myself, and have been fucking with my brain ever since?”
“Now you’re catching on.”
“And how exactly did you do that without me ever noticing?”
“I’ve been sleeping with you.”
If I had been drinking anything it would have erupted from my nose with the force of a bottle rocket, or I would have choked on it hard enough to put an end to this whole situation.
“Over time we have learned to sync with human sleep rhythms in order to adjust behaviors to more efficiently meet our needs. With the unexpected loss of your successor we had no choice other than to proceed quicker than expected. Otherwise, we would have prepared you for a few more years, brought you here for indoctrination, and had you fulfilling your duties within the decade.”
“What happened with my successor?”
“He was misplaced.”
“Misplaced? How was he misplaced? How do you misplace a person?”
“The same way you humans seem to have a habit of misplacing left socks and container lids. You yourself misplaced your own pants when Stan and I revealed ourselves.”
“Are you comparing me to a set of Tupperware?” I had to ignore the fact that she made a valid point.
“Don’t be absurd. I compared your predecessor to that of a single lid. We have hopes that you might achieve as much given time, but that is yet to be seen.”
“Out of morbid curiosity, what would you consider me worth comparing to?”
She waved it away with a bit of a snicker. “We are now in need of a new Father Madre and that is what you shall become.”
“And what if I’ve changed my mind?”
“Then you will be disposed of in the way your undergarments should be, preferably with fire.”
“Ahh, yes,” I said, accepting my role as the better option. “And what does this Father Madre person do?”
“Father Madre is the head of the church. We will require your guidance as we continue to adjust the behaviors of humanity in order to fulfill our final objective.”
“And what is that final objective?”
“That is none of your concern. It is still many generations away. You only need to concern yourself with your own duties of providing offspring, as you have already been informed.”
“Is that really all y’all need from me? Why couldn’t we just do the dirty back at my place? I could’ve done without all this sci-fi brain fuckery.”
She looked at me with the smile a mom gives to her toddler when they show her a page full of scribbles and call it an elephant.
Over the next couple of hours, I was given a tour of the location and provided with countless answers to my questions. Unfortunately, the collective substance of those answers was worth to me about as much as Heather hoped I would eventually be worth to them. We did cover a little more about travelling with the use of an extra dimension, as well as the further complications of interactions with creatures that had access to various degrees of dimensional separation.
It turned out that the slothe had interacted with many species across the galaxy. There was a half-dozen two-dimensional beings discovered among the hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way, but most forms of life functioned in three. They even formed formal alliances with many four-dimensional beings in order to more efficiently survey the vast number of star systems. There was even a species that operated in five dimensions that had found them and explained even further discoveries at more distant reaches of the cosmos, but that was the highest level they had even heard of and the details were yet another thing I was told not to concern myself with.
Heather kept assuring me that we were not on a spaceship, but we also weren’t in a stationary building. I got the idea that it was similar to a galactic mobile home with the axles removed. It had been fifty-six miles north-northwest of Area 51 for the past few decades, but it had been everywhere from Egypt to Antarctica over thousands of years. To my questions about why people never saw it, Heather told me that it is parked at a different fourth-dimension level than Earth is in and I could only see it because they transported me across the distance. She also made it abundantly clear that I would not be brought back until they were satisfied with my performance. All in all, I learned a lot about them and their history with Earth, but I still didn’t know what my role in all of this consisted of. For those answers she thought it best if I got some supper and sleep in preparation for a busy day tomorrow. I wasn’t sure either would be possible, but those were the only options presented.