by Jason Erik Lundberg
Q gazed at the altuniv screen in disbelief, running his thick fingers through his gnarly reddish-brown hair. He had always assumed that his Pohonorang brothers and sisters were alone in the universe, fourteen thousand indigenous inhabitants of Tinhau, forced into a subaltern labor class when the Chinese and Malays migrated to the island two centuries earlier. Servitude had been their way of life for so long, up to and including the way they were allowed to name themselves, that an alternative existence was simply unthinkable.
But there was the evidence right there on the screen: worlds and worlds and worlds full of Pohonorang men and women who thrived and had even conquered Tinhau, the entire Earth, and, in some cases, extending mighty empires to the stars.
Q shook with nervous anticipation and with rage. Never to rise above Custodial Servant, Fourth Class, he was continually mocked and denigrated, called Tree Man (a transliteration of his species from Bahasa Malayu), or Weed, or (by the nerdier of the Tesseract Project’s technicians) Ent Boy. To be called Pohonorang was insulting enough; their species name was unpronounceable by human standards (and took a full hour to say completely), but the label that their colonizers had imposed on such a peaceful people was a constant reminder of their servile status, always lesser than.
He was not even supposed to be in the Transition Chamber tonight, but the tech on duty had left the room unlocked whilst on dinner break, most likely assuming that the Pohonorang staff had had their inherent curiosity stamped out of them. Q delicately manipulated the intuitive gestural controls with his enormous fingers, long used to dealing with such fragile human artifacts with exquisite grace, zeroing in on the altuniv ruled by the Pohonorang Galactic Empire, and starting up the pod-like transition Bridge behind him. Information was power.
Later, the transition tech returned from a disappointing meal of anemic meatloaf from the company canteen to find that an authorized transition had taken place. Scanning the backlog, his eyes widened as he realized the destination, and why it had been chosen. Knocking over his chair, he leapt from the room to inform the head of Project security. Humans would soon be in a fight for their very existence.
This piece is just one in a 23-part linked narrative called Fragile, which will take a liberal interpretation of the song titles (but not the lyrics) of the masterful Nine Inch Nails double-album The Fragile. To read the other chapters in this series, click on the category “Fragile” below.