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Paint the Queen!
That summer night was warm, and dark. And a faltering breeze vainly attempted cooling down the temperature. There was barely a moon, and it seemed it had melted with the heat. The crickets didn't bother singing tonight. Along a cobble stone path, a figure walked with urgent haste. Despite the warm, it had a heavy coat and a hood. The figure clutched at something hidden beneath its coat, and it periodically looked over the shoulder to the dimly visible piers and lights of a University. The figure turned, tripped on something and let fly a swear word, before coming to its feet. Then the hood fell, and it turned out to be a he. Collins was his name.
"Just a few more steps Collins." He muttered. Checking his watch [a useless attempt in the dark] and his items. It was a sort of tub filled with brushes and coloring, with a stack of floppy disks at the side, he skimmed the dark pathway with his eyes and spotted the building. Where fame awaited. He started his urgent pace again. Overhead, a persistent oval light, all too real, floated.
"Just a few more steps and tomorrow I am Leonardo da Vinci"
And the light struck. It was a thick strand of laser light, blue and brilliant, and then Collins was gone.
Collins was the last to gain consciousness among the other captives in the metalloid square cell with an open exit. Out of the cell was long corridors heading out into the distance, other openings the size of the cell’s walls were located along the walls.
Collins found himself in his stained T-shirt and jeans he had lost a million years ago, in reality 4 years, but Collins couldn't think of it much. His brain felt somewhat constipated; unable to think or maneuver most of his limbs. Eventually, however, Collins remembered and felt an acid fear rise in his throat. He stumbled towards the open wall and heard a sound of a slap. Collins jumped and looked down at his elbow to see a green tongue sticking to it. Following it with wide eyes, he saw himself looking into the face of a cat. Collins almost fainted again but resorted to staring blankly, frozen in place.
The creature was surely feline, fÃ¼r and all. Lying curled up on the floor and contemplating Collins with a bored expression. Finally it started talking,
"If you really want to die you go ahead and walk right through."
The green tongue relinquished its hold and shot back into the creature's mouth. Collins sank to a sitting position and stared. The catlike creature licked its paws with human like dexterity, flexing each finger and assuming a concentrated lopsided expression. Then it yawned and stretched out its… tentacles… beneath it. Collins let out an involuntary squeak.
"What?" The creature asked, then noticed its tentacles, "Naw, I have normal legs, that’s the other guy." The cat pointed at a giant jellyfish looking distinctively like a,
"Portuguese man of war, funny how they thought it was an alien huh?" The creature commented, using its own legs to push the swollen tentacles away from it.
Collins took a gulp, felt sicker then gasped, "Where am I?"
"What do you mean where are you? This looks like a prison cell to me… I was having a dip when bam, I'm here. It doesn't matter where this is; at least I know I'm sitting here, by the way, I'm Teem."
"You mean we're abducted?" Collins asked incredulously, running his hands through the hair, many thoughts ran through his head, like
"I've got to get off!"
"How do I?"
"What if I'm dreaming?!
"Boy, you humans sure are weird, how do you manage without a tail?" Teem asked; completely oblivious to the plight, but what was the plight?
Collins ignored the question and rose to his feet, spotting a balled up figure in the corner of the cell. They were only 4, no, 3 of them in the cell altogether.
"What's happening?" Collins asked. Teem shrugged.
"We'll obviously see won't we? Relax man; take it easy, boy do I wish I had some canvas to paint on. Do you have any?"
Collins was surprised, "You mean your also a-?"
There was the moan of an electric shutting down. Only then did Collins realize something loud had been running. Turning to look at the open doorway, Collins saw that other prisoners teemed from their openings heading towards the door at the end. There was a silence between them and they only counted 7 to 8.
Teem stood up and walked out of the opening. Collins noticed the lining of the wall flicker red then shut off. Collins remained where he was, and was bowled over when something rolled beneath him. Collins had no time to recover or wonder what that was when the tongue wrapped around his foot and dragged him out of the cell. Collins got up and dusted himself to look reproachfully at Teem. Teem was already at the door and the bowling ball was nowhere to be seen.
"Human if I taste you anymore I'll end up eating you." Teem said, licking his teeth malevolently then smiling. The smile didn't help Collin's instant phobia.
Teem disappeared through the door [Metallic though it was, it still swung on hinges]
This current room was very dark, and painful. Because as soon as Collins entered a heavy something got slammed on his head, and it covered his view. He struggled with it, screaming but stopped when his vision slid open. He was seeing through some sort of helmet and during the time he was screaming he had somehow been transported into a small tube like compartment with only enough space to stand. Collins pressed his hands against the glass and looked out. Despite his fear he was awed at the enormity of the room he was looking into. It was what looked like a metallic hallway, with carpets, miniature fountains on the walls, and strangely delicate and artistic pedestals carrying different flame colors and even flame types. The entire surface of the room bore intricate design that must’ve taken years to complete. Directly besides Collins were other tube compartments for other captives. None of them remotely as normal as Teem. Tentacles, pincers, hooves, eyes, arms [six of them on one body]
But Collins’s stupor was thrashed by the sound of marching. In front, the huge wall directly in front opened with circlets enough to accommodate a human. But what came out was plainly not.
Two separate lines of heavily armored troops trailed down. Their armor bore a resemblance to Spartan and Roman legions, with bare skin [Dark] showing at the thighs, the heels, the arms and the chins. The two separate troops lined themselves on the walls parallel to each other, and they bore spears with different colored flags. It was sickeningly a nice effect.
Then they stood at an even more solid attention and there was an extra-loud sound of well oiled gears and pneumatics that brought down a huge platform… for a huge being.
Collins could immediately tell it was a she, and he felt himself cowering backwards against the glass of the tube. The alien had an eagle helmet. It had small shiny diamond horns and long, lustrous hair flowed across its lap and spread like a cloud at its feet. The face was hidden by the beak, and two completely green eyes shone beneath the helmet. But the skin was perfect, not slimy, a lustrous white. Collins couldn’t help thinking she was relatively beautiful.
“My Chancellor may speak. My servants may serve my meal, and let the captives free.” The leader spoke. The voice was impossible to place. Collins looked at his side and found himself relieved to see that it was Teem. Teem also had a helmet identical to Collins.
Teem was equally awed at the voice and nodded lazily at Collins, “Her voice is… Unique”
Collins only nodded as the tubes sank. The helmet seemed to get tighter and when Collins tugged at it Teem shook his head, “If you dare do that your dead. Either by the fumes or by her”
“You know an awful lot, for a captive.” The first sentence Collins said without any fear constricting his voice.
“I forgot, you humans don’t have The hitchhikers guide to the galaxy” Teem sighed.
“Yes we do! A human wrote it!”
“Yeah, guess so, but he forgot the other part of the abduction… I saw him get his mind erased…”
“He got abducted?”
“Then wiped,” Teem nodded, the helmet bobbing on his head, “he only remembered the whole thing as an inspiration.”
Suddenly a spear was at both of their necks.
The troop growled, red eyes flashing, Collins helmet announced what he said, and the kindest way to put it is, “I’ll slit your throat so bad your blood will bleed, scum”
Collins shut up. The troop returned to his position.
The leader spoke again, after evidently finishing a meal. Collins saw that it was vegetables and water, and the servants who carried away the enormous crystal tray couldn’t help gobbling the mixture up as they disappeared through the ovals in the wall.
The Chancellor was a robed alien with a bull helmet [Collins shook his head with exasperation] he presented a rolled up parchment, and sat down in the air.
He started reading it, and the parchment glowed at where he looked, “On behalf of the majesty the Queen, I command you all to pay respect!”
Collins didn’t need to guess what would happen if he didn’t. He went to his knees faster then everyone, then he bemusedly thought this will be something to tell my friends… and then felt another thought nag him right after that but he ignored it.
The Bull helmet continued; “You have all been chosen from your respective planets, for one reason. To please the Queen. The Appraiser is dead.”
There was a respectful moan from all the soldiers; Collins did the same when Teem nudged him.
“The annual portrait [this he pronounced with each syllable] of the Queen is due. Where our majesty’s glorious figure is redrawn by an Appraiser”
Collins looked at Teem to ask him what an Appraiser was, but thought better of it.
“Because our Appraiser is dead, we have chosen the best artists of the galaxy-”
“-to capture our Queen’s figure. The pictures will be presented one by one; individually each person will present their portrait for judgment by The Mother…”
A moan of despair rose in the distance and Teem gasped. There was a whiz of something flying and the perpetrator was silenced with a 6 foot spear in the throat. Collins never spoke from that point till the conference was over. He barely heard the other requirements and was soon backing in his cell.
“Hey, why are you so nervous?” Teem asked Collins. Collins had started bawling about nothing in particular. Teem repeated his question with a tongue slap this time.
“How come you have a green tongue? Cat’s don’t have frog tongues!” Collins retorted.
“Ask my DNA, I don’t know… I thought you’re a human, why don’t you have a gun? Humans always have guns…”
“Is that some sort of comeback?”
“Maybe, but why are you nervous, after all, you’re the best painter on earth.”
Collins sat down again.
“That’s just it! I’m not! I barely make it through my college classes!”
“College? oh, your learning facilities, I remember… So you have art classes when you’re a professional?”
”Yes, I do! And I’m not a professional. All my projects, week-long ones Infact, are rejected. Almost 50 down the toilet… They want me to stop my classes.”
“Wow… you must be really bad”
“Thanks a lot… it helps.”
“You don’t have much of a chance then.” Teem purred.
“Because if your painting is rejected by The Mother, they kill you.”
“The Mother?” Collins gulped, “Why did you gasp when they mentioned her? And who was the Appraiser?”
Teem curled up like a cat. He looked huge.
“The Appraiser was the kingdom’s painter who was trained since birth to paint for the Queen. Every single color and design you see, he did it. He was a blacksmith, ironsmith… I think flames-smith and pretty much everything concerning Architecture and Design.”
“Yeah… anyhow he was so exhausted one time he told the Queen how he was too important for her anymore, he said he practically built the kingdom himself. [You know what happened next]. Anyhow every year on the ship the Queen must have a new portrait drawn for her presentation to the whole planet, its how they sort of vote. If the painting is bad, she’s kicked off her seat and she dies.”
Collins sat. Surprised as he digested the information.
“So the nation judges the picture?”
“No, The Mother does.”
“The Queen, had a Mother? An even bigger her?”
Teem laughed, a strange laugh.
“No, The Mother is an artificial intelligence that takes the mindset of an Earthling married woman.”
Collins frowned, “Earthling? Why not their own civilization?”
Teen looked at Collins with exasperation.
“You really better read the full version of the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy. Earth is the central point of the world and-”
“I thought Earth blew up in the book?”
“-Nah that was another planet actually… by the way let me continue. Earth is the central point so every planet takes civilization from there. That’s all you need to know. Now wait for the competition to begin.
“What if The Mother rejects the painting?”
Teem jumped to his feet. The power down sound had ringed out and prisoners were leaving. Teem said, “You die.”
“Wait! How come you’re not scared?”
Teems laughed, “Cats have nine lives, I’ll reincarnate, safe and sound in my home planet.”
Collins had no time to process as the bowling ball alien knocked him over again.
They were in the same hall again, but the roof was open. Showing a large arena out and searchlights rushing over some sand. An event was taking place outside and the aliens cheered with an almost human roar.
The tubes in which the prisoners in were larger. And they all had equipment according to the type of creature you are. The 6 arms had 6 times each color, the robotic one [Collins just barely saw him] had nothing visible. But it was the most confident of all. There were various other aliens, with the most bizarre anatomy that would take ages to describe. Collins sat at a metal desk, and felt like it was an examination. But it was an exam with the failing price of death. Collins looked up at the Queen. Who was dead silent and sitting still? Adopting a charming but intimidating figure. Ready for her picture. The Mother turned out to be a holograph that was substantial enough to hold items. It depicted a woman in an apron with a charming smile.
The Chancellor walked amongst the prisoners and told the first one in line. They were 10 tube compartments in total altogether across the line, including the dead Portuguese man of war, and Collins was at the very opposite end. He sighed in relief.
The Chancellor pointed at the jellyfish and commanded it to paint. It didn’t bother, obviously. When it didn’t react the chamber was flooded with light and when it dispersed, the jellyfish was a melted heap. Collins understood that that was a demonstration, and as he looked around his chamber he spotted grills like those you find in the toaster ready to fry him.
The Chancellor pointed at the next prisoner, 6 arms, and he started painting. Looking at the Queen, slashing and prodding with expert accuracy. When it was done he presented the canvas through a slot. Collins saw it and swore under his breath. It was the most beautiful painting he had ever seen. The paint had a fluorescence to it that highlighted every curve of the Queen. The alien even managed to catch her expression. The competition was over, obviously, even two captives struggled to run, but two prolonged flashes of light flooded their respective compartments and left two melted beings. Collins glued himself to his seat.
The painting reached The Mother. The Mother received the painting, handed over by The Chancellor, and she looked it over. The happy face dissolved into fury and the apron dispersed into a business suit, “How awful, the ink is runny, and you missed the glowing here and here.”
Collins shouted in surprise just as 6 arms moaned. But it had no second to protest and was promptly melted.
Collins looked at his canvas and felt his heart beat so hard he felt faint. He was dead. There was no ways he could beat that drawing. He looked up to see the robot, which was very pompous, look at the canvas. A light trailed from its eye and the canvas bore a photograph of the Queen. When The Chancellor pulled it out the painting’s dimensions changed with the angle he tilted it. It was 3D. The Chancellor usually showed no reaction, but this time he did. He actually bowed down to the robot and when the guards saw it they did the same.
Collins mouth dropped, so did Teem. Teem seemed to be saying something to Collins but the glass prevented any sound, so he gave up.
The 3D image approached The Mother, who was back in an apron. She was playing with her ring and looked at the picture, again, she turned furious and adopted the suit of a rocket scientist,
“This is an abomination! The vectors here and here are drastically off by 0.00349mm, and the canvas is too warm. 26.556 Celsius, I hate it!”
And the robot screamed as it was melted. Collins closed his eyes. How could he beat drawing a photograph? The entire gathering was surprised; even the Queen glanced for a second at The Mother.
Time passed. The Mother changed into occupational uniforms every time she reviewed a painting, [“Terrible!” “Insane!” “Useless!”] Gradually the prisoners reduced in number. Some simply trying to run away or righting rude words on their canvas, until finally the bowling ball alien got roasted [Good riddance, Collins had muttered under his breath.] and it was Teem. Throughout the time Teem had tried to be talking to Collins. But the glass and the watchful guards had prevented any sense reaching Collins. Teem looked at the Chancellor, who was ignoring him, expecting Teem to run just like the other. Teem started frantically scribbling on the paper, Collins expected something perfect and edged closer to see through Teem’s glass. But Teem was hidden only for a short time, and he shot out a canvas to place it on his walls. His eyes desperate. Collins read on the canvas, “AI JUDGES ACCORDING TO LVL O-!”
Then Teem was melted. The guards roared their approval and the crowd above the same. The Queen was getting impatient. Collins was thinking hard. AI, meaning Artificial Intelligence -- The Mother- judges according to LVL- for level- of… what? Collins hadn’t read the rest, and his turn was starting. The Chancellor pointed, and Collins, tears on his face, grabbed a pencil. He stared at his canvas, begging it an answer. Collins looked up at the Queen, a mass of textures and curves only to be caught by a professional… Then at Mother, again in her apron, smiling around and playing with her ring. Then it hit Collins, just like a rock: The Mother Judges according to level of… The drawing! But what did that mean? Simple. If she was an artificial intelligence of an Earthling Mother...who assumes personalities according to the level of the drawing…
Collins started working on his canvas, concentrating on it and thanking Teem silently, when he was finished, he slipped the canvas through the slot. The Chancellor reacted to a drawing the second time, he spat on Collins glass tube with menace. The guards saw the canvas too and did the same. So that Collins vision was obscured by green gobs of alien spit. Finally, it cleared, and Collins was aware of the heat rising in his compartment. He crossed his fingers. The Mother looked at the painting curiously,
Collins crossed his fingers tighter.
The Mother dissolved into-
A household Mother, with the apron still on and yellow gloves for washing. The hall was silent. Collins felt the heat in his tube rise… was it going to work?
The Mother smiled, “How cute. Sweet. I like the coloring.” And The Mother looked at Collins and then at the Queen, she handed it over to the Queen, who viewed it and, though surprised, blew a sigh of approval. The painting was taken away with great care to a room, and the court was silent. The Chancellor very surprised. Collins thanked Teem silently. The Queen looked at him,
“Earthling you have further shown your planet’s superiority amongst all. Your potrait will surely let me rule [it didn’t]. You may now return to your planet, and executing protocol 432 and 002, your memory of these events will be only as inspiration, you will forget.”
Collins rose from his chair as the tube disappeared. Then a guard stood in front of him, and as a beam shot him into oblivion, he saw The Mother smiling fondly at him.
Collins landed on the floor, without his coat, and he was surprised at what he was doing in his dorm. He remembered going over to Mac’s to download art from the Net, to boost his career, then… what happened? And Collins was surprised he felt an urge to paint, he was always too discouraged to paint. Why now? But he somehow knew something new about why he failed to paint properly, and he sat at his desk, starting a painting of a cat with a long tongue for some reason, and as he dozed off, he picked up a finished painting from somewhere, wrapped in gloss film, it depicted a stick figure of an alien on a seat and another of a person, with an arrow pointing at both labeling them, “Qween” and “Me!” the writings under it seemed to be gibberish. And what I think it wrote went something like this, “Simplicity is what matters.”