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When the Vreesek conquered Earth, they brought their gods.

They don’t plunder our resources. They keep to themselves. After smashing every defense and cratering capitals, they planted their temple-embassies in a hundred cities. We “rule” ourselves under their aegis—the temple high priest and ambassador, the iVress, is our Elder.

They’re here as missionaries, but they neither evangelize nor explain. There are harsh penalties for our misunderstanding.

But they need us, the police, to keep order. I’m Jessica Cho, Seattle Police Department detective. Crime. Murder. Now Vreesek-whisperer….

I got the bud-buzz—the Vreesek distribute these earbuds. You blink, hard, and you’re connected in your head somehow. Blink again and you’re off. Though it’s only between us and the Vreesek—sure would be useful for me and Brien.

There’s a dead Vreesek outside the embassy.

  

I made my way to Mercer and Fifth. The four-story building was also the personal residences of the on-planet Vreesek, while overhead a dozen spaceships monitored the planet.

SPD had yellow tape around the body. A male child. Dead, definitely. From a fall, likely. He was a small thing, his yellowish scales already fading to gray, a thick, teal fluid pooling on the wet sidewalk. His scaly hands clutched something metal, silvery. I bent down. A toy, maybe—an alien baby inside a halfshell.

A Vreesek guard motioned, then buzzed. The iVress would see you. Our Elder for the Pacific Northwest was a mystery, his infrequent words obeyed in sullen terror.

I’d never been called in before.

  

The iVress was more impressive, scary even, than in the vids. Yellow and ochre scales bristling, over six feet tall, wearing a glittering chain from which dangled the icon of an innocent face. And nothing else. No modesty among the Vreesek.

His guards were silent, deferential.

Even through the electronic connection of the earbud, the iVress roared: a mother lost her child. she accuses me of the disposition. find the truth. return the shokrah. restore the peace. remember your whidbey island.

Whidbey Island was vaporized four years ago after a May Day protest, really just a crowd refusing to disperse from Westlake Mall. We felt that harsh, distant light, and the long boom that followed shattered many windows.

The female Vreesek was brought in, her scales sleek, loose, shimmering in scarlet and orange. She shook before iVress, then looked at me with eyes that said nothing of her soul. The iVress and his guards left me, and I was alone with her.

A buzz. My child. My most precious thing, stolen from me.

How? Who saw this?

She waited. Then He was on the balcony. The iVress wanted him gone.

I snapped back. The Elder pushed him?

The child was disobedient. He stole the shokrah. She did not buzz again.

I walked out to the balcony. There were two smudges on the wide railing and some dropped gray scales.

The Vreesek was gone when I came back inside, and a guard took me to the elevator.

Once outside, I peered up into the drizzle, searching.

Would a child be so foolish?

Could a mother be so calm?

  

Off work, I walked to my condo that faced Pike Place. Marcus worked remotely to watch our deaf son, Brien, four, who bounced on the sofa, laughing. I signed Careful, my love. I smelled garlic and oregano.

“Hey. I’m home.”

Marcus came out, wiping his apron, and pecked me on the cheek. “He learned ten new signs today, so he got treats. Chocolate!”

Brien signed Chocolate, mommy!

I scowled. “It’s so expensive…” International foods were slowly returning. Coffee. Chocolate. Even tea.

I was sick of chicory.

Marcus laughed. “Life is to be enjoyed.” He remained calm through the invasion and occupation, and still found celebrations along the way. I found humanity’s dregs. We both were living in our elements.

After dinner I got Brien cleaned up, watched his prayers, and put him to bed with his snugglebear. In the dim light, he looked like an angel.

I can’t imagine….

  

The next morning, I talked with the coroner. He’d cleaned up the Vreesek, and handed over the toy to return. The face of an alien child looked up at me.

I went back to the embassy-temple, then out to the balcony again. The two smudges and the scales were cleaned up. I peered over the railing.

He was face-up.

I summoned a guard. Who uses this room when the iVress is absent?

The guard stared straight ahead. He blinked. No one but the family of the iVress.

And the child? Was he also the son of the iVress?

All who share the shokrah are his children. The guard fingered his own silvery icon, a rounded hollow cube with a small child within. This Child commands us to rule the galaxy.

I blinked, but not to communicate. Then, I blinked again. Bring me the mother.

  

She stood calmly. You have news?

I opened my hand. This is yours.

She made a sound, whistling, high-pitched, and then grabbed the icon. Thank all the gods! The shokrah is returned to me, and I am returned to the Vreet, the Holy Child!

Tell me, Vreesek, of your son’s death.

She was silent, then He was disobedient to the Vreet and the iVress.

I responded He took your Vreet, and with that, your place with the Vreesek.

Her stare grew colder, harder. How did you know?

He was looking at you when you pushed him off for stealing. His mother.

She made a choking sound. The gods are to be obeyed, always. The Vreet is everything. The Vreesek is all.

I took out my earbuds before my own thoughts could betray me.

  

The sun broke through low clouds at sunset, painting the wet streets with reds and golds. I watched from the condo window, my hand upon Brien’s hair. He looked up, then returned to his silent game.

I whispered to Marcus, “Perhaps this is enough—that we live.”

“It is enough.”

 

 

Author Biography

Stephen J. Matlock is a part-time author and gardener, often overwhelmed by both words and weeds. His novel “Stars in the Texas Sky” was a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards in 2012. His most recent short story She Who Made the Land Her Home is published in the April 2018 anthology “Take a Mind Trip: Book a Fantasy”.

 

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