Author: Keith Downey
Crammed as he was into the middle seat of Row F between two gargantuan human specimens, Zim wasn’t sure that he could even reach the tesseract in his pocket, let alone activate it. Excess tissue, barely contained by overworked athletic pants, reached across the border that should have divided the narrow seats. The oversized humans seemed unaware of their encroachment into his territory.
Across the aisle, a dirty minor with a mop of uncouth hair alternated between sticking its tongue out at Zim and shoving candy into its gullet. Its parental units, unconcerned, stared lifelessly at their electronic devices. A male wearing the headdress of a cattle herder shouted demands at a disinterested flight attendant. A small canine inexplicably occupied a seat and added its yips to the cacophony.
The dingy flying machine should have soured Zim’s mood. The rank smell of compressed passengers and their greasy foodstuffs should have stoked his anger. Two surprise fees, one for possessing luggage an inch longer than regulation-size and another for having the audacity to check in with a human representative of the airline, should have driven him to the precipice of rage. The utter lack of in-flight entertainment should have pushed him right over that precipice.
But none of those setbacks managed to damage his disposition, because Zim was, at long last, heading home. It had taken months of tinkering to determine the precise altitude, velocity, and solar flare schedule to guarantee the tesseract’s effectiveness. That so many dreadful samples would be unwittingly coming along was an added bonus.
Zim finally freed his arms from the confines of his neighbors’ girth. He checked the watch-looking device on his left wrist and smiled; almost there. He pulled his hat more snugly over his antennae, then reached into his coat pocket. Caressing the small silvery cube for a few moments, Zim re-familiarized himself with the intricate patterns on its sides.
Checking the readings on his wrist once more, Zim sighed as he pushed the requisite combinations to activate the tesseract. A faint vibration was the only immediate sign that it had worked.
Several moments later, the commander of the flying machine ordered the attendants to repair to the cockpit, anxiety penetrating his voice even through the tinny speaker. The dirty minor was the first to notice the change in scenery outside the tiny portholes; the purple domes of Xilibander-6, Zim’s home planet, shone brightly in the morning suns. The minor’s sticky appendages tried but failed to rouse the concern of its parental units.
Aghast, the juvenile looked wildly across the aisle. Zim winked at it, a smile now blooming on his face as the minor’s mouth made several fish-like movements. Such expressive features would be most interesting to the research committee. He looked forward to pointing out the peculiarities of this species to his colleagues; the wide disparities in weight depending on sugar and fat intake, for example. Or the ability to sit sloth-like for hours while viewing images flashing on screens of various sizes.
As the minor continued to sputter incoherently, Zim felt a brief pang of guilt at resigning the humans to a life of observation chambers and scientific instruments. Then one of his gargantuan neighbors broke wind, quickly reversing Zim’s train of thought. Advancing the knowledge of a superior species would be a most appropriate fate for these humans. A kindness, really.
After all, the lab cages to which the passengers would soon be transferred were much roomier than the seats on Flight 437, and the probes were hardly more intrusive than a TSA pat-down.
Delivered with dry understatement.
This story is so complex, yet for me at least, so very assessable. Not unlike the simple complexity of a tesseract, this the multi-dimensional analogue of a flash.
Little did Zim know that there was at least one passenger on that flight who welcomed the diversion to Xilibander-6, already honing his pitch to start negotiating a free trade agreement on behalf of the EU. It would certainly make for one hell of a mission report…