Centennial Hills 4

Just when you thought it was safe to start reading GAS posts again, somebody asked for more of this.  I’ll continue to post it as long as at least one person indicates they want more in the comments.  Reminder, this is the edgiest story I’ve ever written, so be ready to bail if that gets too ill.

Content Warnings:  A Disabled Child in Emotional Anguish, Alcohol and Chemical Abuse, Gambling, Ableism, Unpleasant Depiction of an Unhoused Person and Drug Addicts, Genital Essentialism, Disfigurement Mention.


by Bébé Mélange

Olivia found the deaf alien girl in her swimming pool and had so much fun that she dropped everything and went crazy about it.  She played dressup with her, made her smell all the food in the kitchen, watched her start boiling a doggy chew like it was a big hot dog, and generally made a mess of the house.

The alien’s sign name looked kind of like the characters for the letter “G” and the word “use,” which she turned into Goose in her head, and made it a little hard not to sign the word “goose” back at her.

She was back in the kitchen with Goose, who was using tongs to pull out the dog chew and see if it was soft, when suddenly she looked alarmed.

“G-use,” she signed, “What’s the matter?”

“No no no,” Goose signed back, then she hustled out the back door.

Olivia was shocked like a slap in the face.  Somebody amazing came into her life, had her flying so high, and now seemed to just run away like it was nothing, to take all those feelings away in an instant.  She felt like the blood drained from her body and a terrible sickly feeling spread from the crown of her head down, replacing it there.

She started to scream and cry.  She could barely hear the sound herself, but felt it.

Out in the backyard again, Tmai heard Bumbo start to wail and grew even more alarmed.  They’d left the house in a hurry because they heard someone coming – presumably the mature person whose garments they’d purloined.  But the backyard would be no place to hide if a real search was being conducted, which would surely happen if an adult found a juvenile in such a state.

They ran back in and found the wailing child, took them by the hand, and hustled to the stairs.  They could already hear the adult coming down a side hall.  In Bumbo’s colorful room, they gave them a quick embrace as a token to calm them, and hastily hid under their bed – pulling in the hem of the dress at the last second.

The adult was soon in the room.  “Oh baby, baby, what is going on here?  What did you do?,” they said.  Tmai heard it with the aid of ear receivers, but understood not a single syllable.

Olivia had been shocked again when Goose came right back.  It took her about five steps of being dragged to engage her own feet and run upstairs.  Goose was scared and hid under the bed, and it all was just barely beginning to make sense to her, when she sensed her mother Kirsten’s footsteps behind her through the floor.

Olivia turned to face her mom, just a child having an exceptionally bad mental health day, to all appearances.  While she was very happy to have Goose back with her, it was also extremely easy to keep crying – and she understood that would help keep her from getting in worse trouble with mom, so she did.  No more wailing, just sobs.

Kirsten had done little since getting home, when she heard Olivia crying.  She saw the mess in the kitchen and turned off the stove, but what else had gone to hell in her absence?  She signed, “Olivia, did you burn yourself?  Are you hurt?”

Olivia’s first impulse was to lie, so she nodded.  But when her mother signed, “Where?” and went to her knees, she shook her head no.

Kirsten hugged her baby and tried to make sense of the scene.  Her tangled hair said she’d gone for a swim but didn’t brush afterward.  The discarded swimsuit on the floor by the foot of her bed confirmed it.  But then what?  All the food pulled out?  Something horrible boiling away on the stove?  Why was she wearing a smear of lipstick?

She knew she didn’t need to understand it, not really.  Children do weird things sometimes.  But a big part of her couldn’t let it go.  What if something very bad was happening?

She picked her up and walked downstairs, just to check if anything else was a fire hazard at the moment.  Olivia was still short but too heavy to easily carry.  Kirsten was going to pay for that effort in the morning.

Tmai peered out from under the bed.  Bumbo hadn’t ratted them out.  Good kid.  But now what?  They felt a bad sensation in their leg – running on it before it had fully healed was a mistake.  Maybe it was time to just improvise a compression band and leave, hobble across the city in broad daylight…  No, there was no way that would work.  They’d need some kind of conveyance to hide in.

The locals were on the stairs again.  Tmai heard them and shrank further from the edge of the bed.  Then they came in.  The adult set Bumbo on the bed and they settled down.

The adult indeed used vocalizations to communicate, and the reasons began to click in place.  Bumbo didn’t hear the adult coming because they couldn’t hear.  The sign language was a compensation.  Presumably the adult was signing as well, and just speaking out of habit – as a hearing member of their species.

Tmai felt bad for Bumbo, even as their adult made soothing sounds to them.  But then they felt bad for getting emotionally involved here and losing track of their most important mission.  An escort took on a profound ethical responsibility in accepting a passenger.

Snar needed help, surely.  They felt for the piece of Ainavian metal in their pocket, and how it pulled toward the collection belt.  Wait for the adult to leave, get that carnivore’s bone and some more water, get a move on.  But how to communicate the plan to Bumbo?  At least enough to get useful cooperation out of them.

They had no idea.


Pep didn’t dare let Scuzz spend much time alone with the military.  She knew just enough about his plans to be a big risk, but even when she was being interrogated alone, she didn’t slip up on that front.  Maybe she didn’t remember what his actual plan was or didn’t understand it enough to convey it when directly questioned.  It was hard to know what was going on in her mind, which pleased him sometimes.

But her feet were starting to hurt from all the standing around, so he had somebody bring her a chair, and left her in a hall with some vending machines.  A necessary evil.  His queen deserved better.

Now he was making important arrangements.  For his plan to work, he’d need to move fast.  He was, after all, going to be working in plain sight of the United States Air Force.  They were stupid, but how long could he rely on that?

He stood on a tarmac with his oversight – a young man with an inscrutable position within the government, assigned by General Tweed.  Was he CIA?  DoD?  Civilian contractor?  Secret Service?

“Mr. Frankreich, I never did hear precisely what is your profession.”

The young man fidgeted with his hands, caught off guard.  “Sir, that is a need to- on a need to know it basis, sir.”

“That’s good to know.”  He was a dipshit.  Perfect.

Another helicopter descended nearby and more of his people disembarked.  These were the most crucial – his Seattle people.  The team leaders approached Frankreich and Pep.

“Mr. Ambergris,” said the woman.

“Mr. Ambergris,” said the man.

“Eliza, Shammy, I am so glad to see you today, you cannot imagine.”  He shook their hands.  “Mr. Frankreich, these are my lead computer and mechanical engineers, Eliza Banerjee and Shamar Johnson.

“Ah, er,” he said, “We have their dossiers?”

“The first in the stack.  They’re my aces.”

Shammy said, “Thanks, boss.”

Eliza said, “Good morning, Mr. Frankreich.”  Then she turned to Pep.  “This can’t be real, sir.  Can it?  What are we doing here?”

“It’s real.  Project Michael Foxtrot is go.”

“I’ll have to see it to believe it.”

“You will.”


Nate and Rennie came home.  By then Snar and Lita had dressed again and were lounging in the living room.  Snar’s hose had frayed to uselessness at the bottom, leaving them barefoot, but over the thin torso garment they now wore a colorful short-sleeved item that was more voluminous, with a fold of cloth at the neck, presumably for wind protection.  The pattern was of yellow and white blossom shapes on a red field.  Snar thought it looked more like what the locals wear and that was paradoxically comforting, even if it revealed their appearance enough to be useless for blending in.

“Smar, dude, you like my shirt?  You can rock it, no problem.”  Nate was still very genial, showing off their mouth bones all the time.

Snar nodded.

Lita said, “I think Smar is actually a she, guys.”

Nate said, “Whaaat?  Like, how do you know, boo?”

Rennie said, “Ya see her cha-cha?”

Lita looked away.  “She was just trying things on and I didn’t see no wiener.”

They were all laughing again.  Snar didn’t pretend to laugh, just sipped their beer.  Come on guys.  What are you doing here?  But as long as they could stay out of sight, what did it matter?

“But seriously you guys, what did you find out?  What can we do?”

“Not much,” said Rennie.  “Either people won’t believe she’s real or they’ll get the feds on it and it’s alien autopsy time, or straight to Gitmo.”

Nate said, “That’s why ya gotta be smarter.  OK OK OK, nobody had no good ideas.  Like they were thinkin’, if the alien is real then what?  But I say, what if people jus’ think she’s a good-ass fake?  Then you can get some action without bringin’ down the thunder.”

Lita groaned.  “But that kind of action ain’t a million dollars.  I swear.  My whole life hurts.  I just want a clean bed and enough dough to start doin’ smack again.”

Rennie said, “Shit, you can do smack any time you want, girl.  It’s not that expensive.”

“I know!  It’s just expensive enough I can’t get enough to stay even.  I don’t wanna start again unless I can stay even.  Life’s bad enough without that type of DTs.”  She slumped back.

Nate was undeterred.  “Well maybe she’s got some hidden talent, right?  I had an idea.  While we’re tryin’ ta get our shit together to, I dunno, start up the freak show or whatever, we can take her down to the strip an’ see if she can, like, use The Force to help us win some games.”

Rennie and Lita looked at him, then each other.

Lita started to smile.  “That is a great idea, Nate!  I love you.”

“I know, baby.”

Rennie said, “But what casino’s gonna take us?  We got kicked from most.”

Nate said, “Some of that shit was years ago.  You think any of the same peeps are workin’ those places?  Hell no.  I got just the spot for this weirdo.”


Pep’s people were all assembled outside the hangar, and he walked before them.  Airmen with MP5s flanked the proceedings.  Mr. Frankreich and Scuzz stood by the door.

“Ladies, gentlemen, esteemed others.  Don’t think I forgot, Sander.  I would love to see your faces as I open this hangar door, all at once to behold the culmination of our dreams.  But I have been informed this location is too insecure to allow that kind of reveal.  People could be observing from the hills, or even from orbit.  Suffice it to say, this is a momentous occasion.  Project Michael Foxtrot is about to become a reality.  You are welcome.”  He gestured to the door.  Scuzz and Frankreich parted to allow them through, the lady gesturing like Vanna White.

The crowd clapped tentatively, then awkwardly broke apart to file into the hangar through the small door.  Eliza let the rest go ahead, lost in thought.  Shammy hung back.

“Ma’am, don’t you want to..?”  His voice was high and nasal, but rich, with musical notes where he emphasized a syllable.  In another life he’d be an interesting singer.

“Sorry, Shamar.  I will be right there.”  Her own voice was smoky gravel.

Pep was watching them expectantly.  She took the hint and walked in behind Shammy.

Daylight peered through the cracks in the hangar, but all the windows had been covered with welded metal.  The majority of the light was from cold intense fluorescents above – extremely powerful.  Eliza had expected it to be covered with a giant silk sheet to allow a dramatic reveal, but it was there in the heart of the hangar, large as life.

It was a fallen flying saucer alright.  And it was their job to remake it to Mr. Ambergris’s specifications.  In recent years, she had become more keen on living ethically, and this broke new ground for her in that respect.  Was this right?  Was this wrong?  She felt a dark foreboding at odds with the eerie light.

The rest of the crew clapped and whooped.


They gave Snar one of Rennie’s hoodies and a pair of colorful socks left behind at the apartment by some unknown person with small feet.  They didn’t have a single shoe that would fit them, but hopefully with the socks the security wouldn’t notice the lack of shoes at a glance.  They made Lita wash her face and hands for the first time in months, and gave her some stale clothes that were at least less ruined than what she’d come in with.  Then they shared a fat bongload of shitty brickweed and headed out.

Snar took some convincing, but the people had been helpful to them so far – at least, as helpful as they seemed able to be.  They noticed a shift in the way all of them treated them, following Lita’s confessional tone on the others’ return.  Had she let them know about their intimate act?  Did that result in one being treated differently?  But not knowing the language, it was extremely difficult to guess at the nature of the difference.

Out on the streets a hoodie was too warm, with the sun high in the sky.  The buildings were pale monoliths on a flat expanse of concrete.  Those edifices shied away from each other, stood alone, pulled up their skirts to make room for the vehicles.  There were so many vehicles on the roads now, slowing down, sun glaring off their windshields.  But the people on the sidewalks were sparse, and got spread even more thin along their hike.

They passed from the neighborhood of creepy apartments and bar-windowed businesses onto a driving thoroughfare so busy the traffic alone probably scared most pedestrians away.  But these people had no car, and it was only a few miles, so they walked and chattered and leaked saline under the sun.  They drank beers as they went and dropped the cans when they were empty.  At one point Nate yelled “Slugbug!” and punched Rennie in the arm.  Another strange ritual.

They entered a broad land of utility businesses – the kind of places that only do business with other businesses rather than the general public.  Stone boxes of buildings full of boxes that had to be exchanged with other boxes for the good of civilization.  They passed high voltage towers and construction cranes cyclopean and dangerous, working their way toward a pink tower and a purple dome.

Those colors were quite different from the pale greys and beiges of every building along the way, denoting some special purpose.  The number of parked cars increased as they drew near, filling lots and any allowed spaces around blocks.  They passed the purple dome and walked through a tunnel to the other side.

It was another full parking lot, this one with a vast pink metal awning over the entrance to a white building.  There was decoration here – some faux pillars and frippery on the white facade, but also electric lights and sculpture encrusting the awning, so much it looked like it should collapse at any moment.  An oddly shaped tall structure in the parking lot became easier to interpret as they made their way toward the crowd at the awning.  Looking back, Snar could see it was the abstracted form of one of their species – a cartoon encrusted with lights that would make it visible at night.  Why was it so tall?

Lita said, “You like the clown?  Can you say clown?”  She pointed.  “That’s a clown.”

“Glohm,” they tried.  It was a hard one.

Somebody in the crowd yelped and spun about, looking for what hit them.  They didn’t see where it went, but Snar felt it in the gut.  A piece of metal smacked them there – Ainavian metal.  The collection belt.

They pulled it free and examined it hopefully.

Lita hadn’t noticed the impact, assumed it was something that had already been on the belt.  “Whatchu got there, huh?”

Snar turned it over in their hand.  It was garbage.  Maybe a part of the saucer’s hull.  They didn’t know what that was made of.  Anyway, it was useless.  They just shook their head solemnly and tried to drop it.  The metal snapped into place again, relentlessly.

They joined the press of the crowd walking into the festive building.  It was too close of quarters for anyone to take much note of Snar’s appearance, until a guard stepped in front of Nate, who was leading the way.

“Hey.  I don’t mind if the kid wants to wear a mask, but I want to see their face one time before they go in.”

“What?  Fuckin’ what?  That’s.  That’s motherfuckin’ preju-”

Rennie cut him off with the gentle hand wave of a Jedi Master.  “Sorry, he gets upset cuz girl got no face.”  He was quiet as if to avoid upsetting Snar.  “Do you gotta put her through that, man?”

The security guard just shook his head and waved them on.

“I fuckin’ thought so,” Nate said.

Snar averted their eyes from the guard as they passed, worried about the possibility of guns with uniformed authorities.

The guard’s head spun dangerously for a moment.  Did that mask just blink?  He was disturbed, decided he needed a break soon, and radioed it in.

The criminals prowled the casino, Lita tending Snar while the boys looked for some gambling to get into.  A clown walked by, juggling at them rudely.  “I come in peace, hahaha!”

“Fuck off,” said Nate.

Snar was in some kind of horrid arcade, machines screaming from multiple directions in false cheer, lights flashing and demanding attention.  What did they want?  Why would anyone willingly come to such a place?

Rennie waved to Nate and he turned to drag Snar among the raucous machines.

“Quarter slots.  Good test, right?”

“Yeah,” said Nate.

Rennie turned to Snar.  “You got the Force girl?  You wanna make some money?”

Snar had no idea what they were talking about.

This is the end of “Act One.”  The unrealistic elements of my Musk stand-in begin to shine.  The suaveness, the actually caring about his partner, and least accurate of all, gendering his non-biney employee correctly.  Can you imagine?


  1. Alan G. Humphrey says

    With this so far being Act One and the various complications just starting to manifest I can now imagine at least two more acts.

    The real-life Musk has been described before with the same Hobbes’ quote which I used in my comment on the previous episode. Those elements he hid well while inveigling his way into practically unbreakable government contracts and business relationships. Once he had become the public face of the world’s oligarchy, he’s let his real self explode forth with an astonishingly putrid exudence. Your Pep is based on that previous mask before Elon had fully exposed himself. An expensive suit and car with accompanying entourage has been mistaken before for suaveness. Pretended care for others is a requirement when vying for contracts with those committed to real DEI, especially the government. The introduction of the world to Melon Husk began with his carrying a sink around but by then he was already a full oligarch and was ready to X everything. So, don’t be contrite, Pep is the world’s view before the sink.

  2. says

    I like to have a grain of sympathy for all my characters, which includes Pep. There are three people in the book (as yet unintroduced) which are pure evil, and they get none. I don’t think I’d characterize the real dude as pure evil, but he does enough evil that he’s worn out any sympathy that I might have for him as a bumbling socially awkward dork who is utterly enslaved by the opinions of others. When dude is dying after his tenth heart transplant at 101, he will still be thinking about people who insulted him on twitter. My heart goes out to his heart suppliers.

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