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Nothing Between the Stars

R.W.W. Greene is a New Hampshire writer with an MFA and a couple of good coffee shops in which to exorcise it. His work has seen daylight in The New Republic, The Young Explorer's Adventure Guide, and Tiger Shark Magazine, among other places. He keeps bees, collects manual typewriters, and Tweets about it all @rwwgreene. You can find more of his work via RWWGreene.com.

The Poet, a mound of lime-green flesh in a tank of 35-degree Celsius ooze, squelched. Its cilia rowed slowly to keep its massive body centered and upright, navigating the torpid jets that kept it oxygenated. The ooze smelled like horse sweat and roses, and the Poet gurgled when it laughed to itself. Its nucleus, the center of all of its art and its nervous system, drifted like thought inside its dimpled membrane.
Amelia lifted her hand to her mouth and swallowed the pills inside. She coughed politely.
"Salutations," the Poet said. There was a computer inside the tank and a ring of speakers outside of it. Humans weren't nearly quick enough to decipher the rapid sphincter contractions the Poet used to communicate to its own kind. It took sophisticated computers to translate the vibrations into Earthspeak. The computer-generated voice was deep and mellifluous. Amelia wondered if the Poet had picked it or if the computer had assigned it at random.
"Hello," she said. "Amelia Banks. I'm to serve as your liaison to the Arts Council."
"Do you write?"
Amelia nodded, not sure if the Poet understood the gesture. "Some," she said.
The Poet consulted the computer. "On matters dark the universe ponders/ And on the spaces between us all," it recited. "It's quite beautiful."
Amelia's face heated. "Thank you. Graduate-school drivel. It's really nothing."
The Poet gurgled. "Which was your point."
She laughed. "True."
"Is that why you were chosen to liaise with me?" the Poet said. "Your writing?"
"I suppose it helped. I'm well-educated and published, but not famous enough to have an ego." She smiled. "Or not much of one."
"By that logic," the Poet said, "I must have an ego the size of a moon."
"Do you?" she said.
"The most famous writer in two star systems? Of course. But I don't let it go to my head." It gurgled loudly.
Amelia smiled. "Had I head, I would not know down from up."
"Led blindly by the nose, instead of guided by all gravity's directions." The Poet finished the stanza. "It was better before it was translated. That collection has not been released in this system yet. How do you know it?"
"Inside information," she said. "A benefit of being your liaison."
The Poet hummed to itself and squelched in its tank. "How should we get to know each other, Amelia Banks?"
"We could talk," she said.
"Most definitely. And you can share more of your work with me."
She dipped her head. "I'd be honored."
"The honor would be mine." It slid to one side of the tank. "Join me. The fluid is warm and humans find it pleasing. It's even good for the skin."
Amelia laughed. "I didn't bring a swimsuit."
"I'm a giant blob, and you're a nearly hairless biped. Propriety will not be stirred." A motor hummed and a seat unfolded from one inside wall of the tank. "Come in. We'll talk."
Amelia shed her clothing. Her manicure clicked against the ladder rungs as she climbed the side of the tank. She stuck a toe in the ooze. It was thicker than she'd expected, like baby oil, and nearly blood warm. The Poet drifted closer to Amelia's side of the tank. "Fear not, dear friend, but freely live your days," it said.
Amelia put both feet in the tank and sat on the edge. "Robert Louis Stevenson. I doubt he would have known what to do in my place."
"The human race has advanced much since then. Sailboats to fusion ships. Exploitative colonialism to partnerships across the void." The Poet shifted, and the surface of the ooze rippled, sending a fresh wave of pheromones into Amelia's face. "Come now. One small step...."
She slid the rest of the way into the tank and hooked her feet under the seat's supports to hold herself in place. Chemicals in the brew began to work on her, creating feelings of relaxation and euphoria.
"Let yourself float," the Poet said.
"My hair"--
"You'll find it washes out easily enough."
Amelia unhooked her feet and stretched out in the tank. The Poet floated nearby. "Have you ever been off-planet?" it said.
"Off Earth? No. My brother went, but he's home now."
"Is he a writer, too?"
"Was. There was an accident."
"I listen to the water on nights I drink away," the Poet said. "And the sadness becomes so great I hear it in my clock."
"Bukowski knew a bit about grief, I think," Amelia said. "It's worse, maybe, that my brother isn't all the way dead. My mother can't bear to pull the plug. He's a vegetable."
The Poet slid closer. Amelia felt its cilia like a breeze on her arm. "Allow me to recite something in my own language," it said.
"I won't understand it," she said.
"Not the words." The Poet moved closer. "But you will know the feelings behind it. I call it My Ode to Sadness." The Poet ordered the computer to discontinue its translation and began to recite, sphincters all over its body opening and closing rapidly, setting up patterns of soft force in the ooze.
The vibration moved over Amelia. It touched her everywhere, relaxing tense muscles, massaging her scalp, warming and loosening her thighs. The next stanza buzzed even deeper inside, moving Amelia to tears and joy, arousing her. The Poet secreted hormones into the ooze to enhance the bond.
Amelia moaned. The Poet covered her, tasting her with a thousand eager tongues, pushing her under the surface of the ooze. It was careful to leave her face above the surface. It had made mistakes in the past. Humans were fragile creatures.
The third stanza put her over the edge into ecstasy. Amelia moaned and wrapped her arms around the Poet. The first orgasm took her, and she dug her artificially sharp fingernails into the Poet's tough outer membrane, tearing it open. The Poet exploded, its last words rumbling into the mix of ooze and cytosol with orgasm number two.
Amelia pulled herself onto the edge of the tank. There hadn't been any cameras when her brother had climbed into the Poet's tank years before, and there likely wouldn't be any now. She wrung the scented ooze from her hair. The hormone blockers she'd taken had kept her from the worst of the Poet's powers; her need for it would be little more than a pang compared to the raw need suffered by its other conquests.
"Into the dark we go," she recited. "Alone together. Together alone."
Unpublished, unheralded, the rest of its span lost in her brother's damaged brain, the verse faded into the nothing between the stars.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, May 5th, 2017

Author Comments

"Nothing Between the Stars" lived for several years as a two-sentence idea in the little notebook I carry around with me. The bigwig blob and its demise were the key elements. I expect there's a little of Bill Clinton and Donald Trump in this envoy from the stars. As I wrote, the idea of a universal art form--poetry--entered the picture, and the story pretty much finished itself.

- R.W.W. Greene
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