Whispering Skin

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Olivia Jelani will cross galaxies, but her body must stay behind.

In 2995 a race from another galaxy has come to the Sovereign Alliance with a proposition. The self-described “natals” preside over a multi-species syndicate, the Empyrean Symbiotry, made up of eight other races. And humanity, if all goes well, stands to be the ninth.

After decades of comfortable routine, Olivia has gone from writing poetry to writing about poetry to avoiding writing entirely. If not for the pain of her chronic illness, her days might be a monotonous blur. But when a Sovereign Alliance representative arrives on her doorstep with a proposition of his own—that she join the human delegation through the wormhole—she must make the boldest decision of her life, not just whether to leave behind the familiarities of her routine existence, but her own body, too. Because the alien wormholes allow only the natal physiology to pass through.

Drafted for all the wrong reasons and coming to terms with her new alien skin, Olivia will find herself facing questions that may unravel everything she knows. Has her consciousness been truly migrated or is she just an approximation of her former self? Who is she if she’s no longer Olivia?

And can she ever return to her frail human form?


Chapter 1

In the lounge, Olivia sat across from the man in the navy-blue suit as he sipped the smoked black tea she’d set before him. Her hair, still wet, was tied back. The old basset hound Somtow had found a patch of sun, the light just peeking out from beyond Vaix’s far rim, and regarded their houseguest with his big brown eyes.

Time to find out why he was here. 

“This isn’t about my bottomless pool, is it?”

She’d insisted on that bit of architectural whimsy back when she’d still had enough residual social capital to score a plot variance. Structurally her pool was fully to code, of course. But it was an indulgence that her nearest neighbors would never be permitted.

The man smiled. “Ah, no, Ind. Jelani.” So now she was an “individual.” Was the title of courtesy—the Sovereign Alliance’s honorific of choice—a calculation? A note of formality to put her in the right frame of mind? He sipped at his tea, then set the mug on the low table. “Do you keep up with the news?”

“Enough to make small talk.”

“Did you happen to see the footage of the small craft that emerged from the Accolla Sphere last week?”

Where could he possibly be going with this?

In 2967, Stellorg SE—an astrological collective sponsored by the Accolla Polity—had discovered a construct of suspected alien origin: a faceted spheroid, nearly six hundred kilometers in diameter, in the Main Asteroid Belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The makeup of its hull prevented precise readings, but scans indicated that it was inert.

Then, almost a year ago, in 2994, the mass of the sphere had fluctuated without explanation, renewing the interest that had fallen dormant in the intervening decades. But no further activity was observed until just days ago, when without fanfare, a craft—little more than a spartan wedge—emerged from a fresh opening in the construct’s skin and proceeded to make its way toward the Terran aggregation. With an official entourage of Sovereign Alliance patrol vessels, and an unofficial one of onlookers, the alien ship came to rest not far from Heliopolis, the home of the General Polity, within the Earth-Sun L5 Lagrange point.

“That news would have been hard to miss,” Olivia said.

The man nodded. “The ship’s crew call themselves ‘teelise.’”

“Call themselves . . . ? You’re saying the General Polity has met aliens?” That had been the initial assumption, but the feeds had dried up in the days following the encounter, with no new details, and life went on.

“In person. Yes.”

The heat of Olivia’s mug soothed against the relative cold of her fingers. “I hadn’t heard about that.”

“It’s not a secret,” Tanzig said with a hand flutter, “but the prevailing guidance is to be deliberate about how that information is made available.”

“To people like me.”

“It’s a novel situation. It makes us cautious.”

“Yet here you are.”

“Here I am.”

He was going somewhere with this, but he was taking his time getting there. Olivia wasn’t about to rush him, however. His caution made her feel cautious.

“We’ve been meeting with them—the teelise—long enough now to have made it most of the way through the list of questions we’ve been holding on to for nearly three decades.”

“This is a lot to take in.” Olivia sipped her tea. “So why are we talking about this? Because I don’t really have any—”

“Ind. Jelani, I’m here because I have an offer for you.”

Genre: Science Fiction

Published: June 2022

Cover design: Bastien Lecouffe Deharme (site)

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