“It's coming again!”
“I’m weakening already.”
“Fight! Fight it!”
The shutters slid together, producing an artificial darkness. Without sunlight for energy, the Igilas would soon collapse into a dormant state. They evolved this dormancy to help conserve energy for the long rotation, until the sun rose again. This time, however, the darkness signified another horrific harvesting.
The warehouse door opened. Silhouetted aliens entered. Two legs propelled them along the rows of Igilas. Two hands held the blades and bags. The harvest began. They chopped and hacked and tore away the stems until the fruit dropped into the bags. When the bags could hold no more, the aliens shuffled off into the sliver of daylight that bled from the doorway. The door shut. The light returned.
“What happened? Is anyone hurt?”
“Myria! What have they done to you?”
Everyone paused. They sent out signals of empathy to the fallen.
“I feared she'd be next.”
“At least she survived.”
They paused again, remembering that Lizaro’s wife had perished defending her pods. Lizaro reiterated the call for action.
“This carnage will continue until one of us can stay awake!”
The tribe took inventory of the damage. Thirty-one pods had been taken.
After the trauma had quelled, Gaul organized a meeting. Igilas’ movements were slow and methodical, their cell membranes too thick for rapid motion. Not bred to run, their scaly, green skin and black-tipped spikes provided protection. Their two eyes, protruding high above their oval-shaped heads, provided keen vision. Six legs, each pronged with three talons, not only dug for moisture and nutrients but also became a versatile defense weapon. Complementing that with their agile minds, few predators risked challenging an Igila—while awake, at least.
Gaul climbed the elevated mound. His antennae surveyed the entire tribe. He could see the hatchet marks on the backs that once held pods, green sap oozing from the wounds. He rubbed his front feelers together, releasing a scent. It signified a readiness to bond.
The Igila leader began to concentrate on the message he wanted to communicate. Language neurons fired across his brain, resulting in electrical signals. The signals traveled to the quills, causing them to vibrate. The quills, laced with ferrous metals, produced electromagnetic waves that traveled outside the body. In this manner, the distinct electronic signatures of consciousness could be translated mind to mind. Igilas called it projected.
“Could anyone resist the slumber?”
Not one quill moved.
“Then we need another plan.”
A rattling of quills precipitated a stream of spontaneous thoughts.
“Dig under the walls.”
“It would take too long.”
“Search the walls and look for a hole.”
“We already tried that.”
“Build a trap?”
Lizaro witnessed the indecision and could take no more.
“I still believe we can stay awake.”
“Our bodies don't have the energy.”
“Yes, we do.”
“Why avoid the obvious?”
“What is that, Lizaro?”
No one responded. Lizaro stepped forward, leaned back on his two hind legs, and did something unusual for an Igila. He sat on the stump of his tail, which had been wounded in a fight. His elevated stature propelled him over Gaul. It earned respect from the tribe, who naturally revered anything from above.
“What if the females consume their pods to provide enough energy to stay awake? The aliens have no defenses, no scales or poisons or horns. We could easily overpower them."
Doubt began to circulate.
"That won't work. Tales of our ancestors absorbing their own pods are only myths. How could you dare propose we consume our own children?”
"As opposed to giving them to the aliens? If we succeed, fewer will be lost overall."
"I won't participate in podulism. There must be other options. What does Gaul think? How shall we overcome them?"
Gaul replied, "We communicate."
The others scoffed.
Gaul made a stark revelation.
"The aliens have saplings. They hold them in their arms. They must possess Igila-like emotions.”
“How do you know?”
“I communicated with one of them.”
“I picked up its signal. It thinks of its offspring frequently. It only wants to provide them energy.”
Gaul continued, “We must meet them on their level, stand on two legs, like Lizaro, and face them at their height. We learn their language, as we have learned to follow the sun cycles. They will finally see us as intelligent beings, as equals."
“No, they aren't capable. We have to fight,” said Lizaro.
“Fight? They have us trapped.”
“I like Gaul's idea. The aliens see us as food now, but if we could prove to them our intelligence ...”
“Don't you aspire for something more? What about our independence? Why beg for equal footing with thieves and killers!”
“Enough, Lizaro! Let's break assembly and discuss it with our families privately. Conserve our energy; we may need it later.”
The crowd disbursed. After separation, families huddled together, fanning their quills for maximum absorption of light. While recharging, they conveyed their thoughts. Most active were the females, the wives, mothers and sisters, whose aching dorsal areas prevented them from resting.
“Can we stay awake by ingesting the pods?”
“Legends say so.”
“Old stories, familiar lies.”
“They're true. I know that an unfertilized pod can become poisonous to the mother. That is why females are required to fertilize before the twenty-first cycle.”
“No, the males fabricated that notion in order to increase the odds of reproducing.”
“We need them if we're ever going to escape.”
“For what? We're the ones who will have to ingest the pods. We're the ones who will stay awake to ambush the aliens. Let Gaul and Lizaro fight each other.”
The two Igilas agreed, and began to hatch their scheme.
“How long before the next light-out?”
“Last time, my quills were turning yellow.”
“Then we don't have much time. Who do you think will be next?”
“Ilda has a batch of pods ready to sprout. Her sister, Lidra, recently seeded.”
“We must convince Ilda to make the sacrifice.”
Near the door, Lizaro sat next to his brother, Alzo.
“Can podulism work, Lizaro?”
“We have to try.”
“If it succeeds, what then?”
“The females are resourceful. They know what to do.”
“What do we do?”
“Wait by the door. Perhaps the incoming light will help arouse us from our slumber.”
Anticipation brewed in the clan. Each Igila had a plan of action. When the light began to dim, no one panicked.
A wearied female said, “Are you ready, Ilda?”
“Yes, I'm fully alert.”
“Good. Don't squander this opportunity.”
Lidra succumbed to sedation while Ilda planned. Gaul had asked her for assistance in his plan, but she declined. She didn't trust Gaul, nor could she ever give her offspring freely to the invaders.
Light from the door swept across the ground. Three aliens crept in, eager for another harvest. Ilda crawled to the door, dragging Lizaro's dormant body behind. He planned to sacrifice his body, if necessary, to jam the door and prevent the aliens from escaping. Ilda slid him into the door, blocking all but a pinch of light that illuminated the fear in the eyes of one of the aliens.
Ilda moved to capture, but something nabbed it first.
“Dalar! You gave up your first pod?”
“Yes. It wasn't maturing. I had nothing to lose. The alien attempted to harvest me. We have one now.”
“No, a captive that will listen.”
“No. Lizaro says we have to punish it, so the invaders will know we object to the slaughter of our offspring.”
“We're not like that, Ilda. We don't kill for vengeance.”
“I will do what is necessary for survival.”
“Not with my captive. Gaul ordered me to detain one alien and attempt to communicate.”
“These creatures know nothing but violence. As for Gaul, you know he's going to release the prisoner anyway.”
Another invader fled to the opposite exit. Ilda followed in pursuit.
Dalar held the captive firmly in between her two forelegs. It shivered and shielded itself with feeble hands. Dalar felt ashamed to capture such a pathetic creature.
She thought, This was the feared enemy?
Focus, Dalar. You can communicate, like Gaul said.
Dalar scanned the known spectrum of electromagnetic waves. Something felt warm. She probed the frequency and found a pulse, a weak signal.
“Let me go, you monster!”
Dalar made every attempt to open lines of communication. She lowered her antennae. She rubbed her feelers until they produced a scent. Nothing convinced it to see her as anything more than a monster.
The alien then began secreting fluid from its eyes.
They weep like we do, thought Dalar.
Dalar reflected on her failure, and the supposedly enlightened tribe.
Of all the mysteries our philosophers have tackled, why have none of them solved how to communicate without quills! Without thought-sharing, we're nothing more than two dimensional objects.
Lizaro severed her introspection.
“Dalar, surrender it.”
“How can you be awake?”
“The light from the door gave me enough energy to recover. Now give it to me so I can deliver justice.”
Behind him, the door closed abruptly. Lizaro became disoriented. He stumbled and crashed to the dirt. Dalar began to feel her way to the opposite exit, where Gaul told her to go. Before she could get there, she passed an alien body on the ground. Lidra lied nearby. The sour smell of an opened pod poisoned the air. The alien must have tried to consume it, but Lidra's pods had not been fertilized. Dalar shuddered, but continued.
She found the opposite door and positioned the captive in front of it. With its hands, it found the door. Inexplicably, the door unlocked and squealed open. A refreshing shower of light emanated from the outside. Gaul interrupted.
“Well done, Dalar.”
Gaul crawled alongside the female and her captive, careful to stay in the lighted area. He made sure to bar the door with his tail.
Gaul scanned the frequencies for noise. He found a signal. It pulsed with fear, but it also contained some intrigue.
“This is the one. It has an open mind. It will listen.”
Ilda crawled into the lighted area.
“Release it to me, Dalar.”
“Ilda! Stay away.”
“I won't harm it. I already harmed another. It was trying to escape. I sensed it crawling beneath me, so I jabbed my leg into its midsection. It never moved again. I delivered justice, but it seemed inadequate. It did not serve our best interests. There is a better way.”
Dalar raised her antennae in surprise. “That's what Gaul and I have been trying to communicate. Gaul?”
Gaul had his eyes closed. He stood still and silent, leaning toward the captive.
“Wait, I'm trying to probe deeper.”
Gaul focused. His quills shook frenetically, calibrating his receptors so that he could draw information.
“I see more ... more ...”
“Gaul, that's enough.”
(cut short due to storymash length limitations)