A/N: I've decided to drop the angle that the story of the Nothlit State presented here was compiled through interviews with survivors and those affiliated with the group who are still alive or here on Earth. It turns out that it's just not my style. Starting from this chapter, this story will be like a regular story; no documentary feel and narrations by talking heads. I hope you enjoy it all the same. – GR
It took a few days for the Culathesh trio of Odret, Melor, and Kanron to get settled into their new home, namely the "penthouse" suite that had been given to them when they had arrived at the Applegate Towers following their incarceration in the Arizona camps. They had to admit that they were surprised with the sheer size of the place that their housing vouchers had given them; Odret's human host had only lived in a much, much smaller apartment, and both Melor and Kanron had never had human hosts before. But they all acknowledged that they had gotten lucky with this one; if they had arrived here even just a day later than they actually did then they could all very well have been put into the "real" apartments, the small ones that Odret remembered not-so-fondly while in his host.
More nothlits had arrived at the Applegate Towers as the trio fixed up their place and tried to make into something where they would enjoy living. But there was only so much that they could do before their vouchers ran out and they had to worry about how they were going to eat. New vouchers were provided the nothlits every month, but Odret had told the others that he wanted them to not become so reliant on the vouchers, which was why on the third day of their arrival, Odret finally braved the outside of the Applegate Towers and ventured back into the city, the city in which he used to live as an alien invader inside a human's head.
The restaurant that the concierge had mentioned had a job vacancy when Odret and his friends had arrived was indeed just a short thirty-minute walk away from the Towers, and when Odret got there he was pleased to see that the vacancy had still not been filled for the three days that he and his friends had taken to settle into their new place. There was a HELP WANTED sign hanging in front of the restaurant, so that was how Odret knew that he could still seek employment there. He also saw that the sign hanging on the restaurant's door was on OPEN, and so Odret immediately entered the restaurant.
There was a bell attached to the door to signal to the restaurant's staff that someone had just come in, and even before Odret had taken a single step inside, a man dressed in a red apron over a white shirt and black slacks shouted without even turning to face him, "We don't serve until ten AM, buddy. Get lost!"
"Actually, I am here to answer your request for help," Odret replied. "I am not here to eat."
"Answer our request for what?" the other man asked again.
"The sign outside," Odret explained. "It says that you want help."
"Oh, that," the man muttered as he finally understood. "All right, guy you wanna talk to the Boss for that. And you're just in luck 'cause the Boss decided to come in early today. He's in the back, right beside the kitchen. The door on the right, mind you. The one in front of you is the restroom, and usually that's where Davey reads the morning paper. And you do not want to go in there right now."
Odret nodded his head, and then he repeated the man's directions as he made his way through the restaurant before finally ending up at the back. The kitchen was to his left, and he knew that the restroom would be in front of him at that point, so he turned to the right and looked at the door in front of him. There was a brass plaque screwed into the wood with the words HUMAN RESOURCES etched into the metal. Odret hesitated a little, not really sure of what to do next. Thoughts and questions raced around in his mind. What if the humans didn't accept him for the job? What if the humans wouldn't accept him because of what he really was, or used to be? What if the humans simply refused to even talk to him? Odret shook his head to clear the thoughts away. He had already gone this far; he wasn't going to turn back so easily. Odret took hold of the doorknob, opened it, and went inside.
"For the love of God, Fons, the place isn't even open yet! And you're already asking me for the money?" A man of medium height then turned around to face the newcomer into his office, and that was when he realized that this man was not the man that he was expecting to see right now. "You're not the Fons," he told Odret.
"No, I do not think that I am," Odret replied. "My name is not 'The Fons', sir. And I am not here for your money. I am here to give you the help that you have wanted."
"The help that I wanted? What are you talking about—oh, yeah," the Boss mumbled as he also remembered the sign that he had ordered put up in front of the restaurant. "You're here for the job opening?"
"Yes, sir," Odret nodded.
"Well, you've come to the right man to ask for it. Name's Tommaso Perugiani." He held out his hand for Odret to shake. "My friends call me Tommy, and my staff calls me the Boss. My official title is 'Human Resources Manager', but that's just a fancy-shmancy term of letting you know that I can hire and fire whoever I want. And right now I haven't decided if I should even hire you. Call it a gut feeling, you know. But I'm willing to take a chance. So you say you want to work here at Boccino's, huh?"
"Yes, sir," Odret said. "I have just arrived here from Arizona. I wish to perform honest work for your restaurant."
"So you want some honest work, huh?" the Boss nodded. "Well, I got plenty of that where I came from. But before we can talk about terms and responsibilities and all that junk, I'm gonna need to see some ID first. 'Cause I gotta be honest with you, man. I ain't never seen you around here before, and I've been in this business too long to ever trust a new face on sight. I've been ripped off too many times before, kid. And nobody ever rips off the Boss and gets away with it."
"Oh, I would never think of doing such a thing, Boss," Odret said. "And here is my identification, sir. I believe that that is what ID means. I hope that this will be enough to satisfy your curiosity." He took out his blue Nothlit Identity Card and handed it over to the Boss. The Boss's eyebrows rose when he noticed the color of Odret's ID. "Blue ID?" he asked. "You're one of them alien whatsits that had to become human after forcing yourselves into our brains?"
"Yes, sir," Odret nodded.
"Geez, Louise," the Boss muttered. "Well, things just got interesting." He then examined the ID card slowly and intently. "So your name is Odret Culathesh, eh?" he asked again. Odret nodded his head. "You know, my sister-in-law had one of your slug brothers in her head for four years. Never even found out until those kids who can turn into animals, the Anima-whatsits, said that we were being invaded by brain slugs and these tall bladed aliens took her away to wherever."
The Boss then dropped the ID onto his desk and laid his elbows on top of the varnished wood, and his fingers formed a triangle in front of his mouth. "Looks like you're in luck, Mr. Culathesh," he said. "As it so happens, there is a job opening in the restaurant that you can fill almost immediately. You start work tomorrow as a… hygiene technician. Do good at that job and maybe, just maybe, you'll find yourself moving up the ladder of the service crew. But for right now, remember that you're still a hygiene technician. There's a tailor down the street who supplies our uniforms, so you might wanna go there after and get fitted."
"Yes, sir. Of course, sir." Then, just before he stood up, Odret realized that there was something else that he had to ask. "Sir, may I ask about the money?" he said to the Boss.
The Boss gave Odret a cool and appraising look above the triangle formed by his fingers. This lasted for a few minutes before the Boss's mouth moved from an emotionless grim line into a big, wide smile. "Of course you can ask about the money, Mr. Culathesh," he said. "Does five bucks an hour sound good to you?"
"Bucks?" Odret repeated. It took him some time before he remembered that humans had numerous terms for their monetary units. "Oh, I see. Five dollars an hour. Yes, sir, that is most satisfactory."
"Good man," the Boss said, and then he stood up from behind his desk. "Welcome to Boccino's, Mr. Culathesh," he said as he offered his hand to shake once again. He then gave Odret back his ID card. "I really hope that this is the start of a good business partnership and you're not going to screw me over in the long run."
As Odret turned to leave the Boss's office, the man called out once more. "Oh, and when you get back here tomorrow, Mr. Culathesh, make sure that you've got your ID where everybody can see it. New city ordinance, you know. It's not really required yet but you know me. I'm not taking any chances."
"Of course, Boss. Anything you say," Odret said cheerfully. Little did the nothlit know that that decision was the start of his going down a path of darkness, despair, and eventually misguided revenge.
"So, Odret, did you get the job?" Melor Six-Seven-Zero-One of the Culat Hesh Pool, now known as Melor Culathesh, asked Odret when the latter had returned from Boccino's.
"I did, actually," Odret replied. "Were you expecting me to not get the job?"
"I did not say that," Melor countered. "But I also did not expect you to get the job so quickly. I thought that you would have to wait for some time before you are finally accepted, like how things were in the Empire."
"You don't really believe that about the Empire, do you?" Odret asked. "There are things that the Empire got wrong, and one of them is telling us that we all have to wait before getting promoted. The Vissers and Sub-vissers only promote among themselves, and if you want to become a sub-visser, you have to be willing to kill even your own friends. But human work is nowhere near as bad as that."
"Well, isn't that reassuring," Melor muttered with more than just a hint of sarcasm.
"You know, maybe you and Kanron should get some jobs yourselves," Odret said. "Why should I be the only one working among us? It will help you get accustomed to the humans, and it will also let them see that we are actively working to mend the rift between our species. It is, as the humans say, a win-win for all."
"Maybe I will, Odret," Melor mused. "Maybe I will."
For the first few days of Odret Culathesh's employment at Boccino's, he felt that he was doing a very good job as a hygiene technician. He had been given a mop, a rag, and a belt of cleaning supplies and then told to clean the restrooms and the floor of the whole restaurant, and Odret had gotten down to the task immediately. His fellow workmates at Boccino's as well as the restaurant's patrons had noticed his incredible work ethic almost immediately, and they praised him for it. They told Odret that they had never seen anyone who mopped the floor or the wiped the tables as cleanly and as thoroughly as he did. And at first, Odret actually took it as a compliment. In his mind, he thought that the humans were praising him because he, a former Yeerk, was performing menial tasks like it was the most important thing on the planet. Odret also thought that by showing the humans that he was a hard worker, he would be able to help convince them that humans and Yeerks could live side by side in harmony.
He had no way of knowing that things would unfold in such a way that he would eventually think himself a fool for even believing in those.
The spills and "accidents" started happening just one week after he had begun working for Boccino's. At first, it was just a glass getting knocked over here and some food or pizza dropping to the floor there. Then the spills started happening more and more, and the accidents got larger and larger until whole gallon glasses of soft drinks or iced tea were being spilled right in front of Odret, and there was even a time when an entire plate of spaghetti was dropped right in his path. He paid little attention to it at first because he didn't think that all of these "accidents" were connected in any way, and then there was one incident that, for him, would serve to "open his eyes" to the truth of post-Yeerk Invasion America.
It happened nine weeks into his job. By that time, Odret already knew both the staff and the regulars at Boccino's very well, as well as they would have liked to have known someone who used to be one of the alien slugs that had been trying to force their way into people's brains just three to four years ago. None of the regulars had ever spilled their drink or their food in front of Odret, at least not on purpose, but the same couldn't be said for the other patrons of Boccino's, the ones who had come there through word of mouth or plain old curiosity. Two of these new patrons had just come in. They were two women, and Odret had never seen them in Boccino's before. They had already received their orders by the time that Odret was beginning to clean the tables and floor in their vicinity, and as he wiped down the tables, he noticed that the women were looking at him furtively while talking to themselves.
As he passed by their table, one of the women knocked over her glass, and it fell to the floor. It was a very large glass, one of the "gallon glasses" that Boccino's had as a promotional item. The glass was about half full of iced tea when the woman knocked it over, and it made for a very large mess on the black-and-white linoleum floor of the restaurant. "Oh, no!" the woman exclaimed. "Mister, excuse me! We need help here!" she called out.
Odret ran over to their table immediately. "Yes, miss, how may I help you?" he asked. The woman didn't say anything; she simply pointed at the pool of iced tea and melting ice cubes on the floor. "Oh, and can we get another gallon glass?" the other woman asked.
"Yes, miss, of course," Odret replied. "I'll go tell one of the servers straight away." He then hurried over to his cart and took out his mop, which he slid over to the iced tea puddle on the floor. As he began wiping away the mess, he heard the women begin talking once again. Their voices were low and hushed, but despite that, or maybe because he was not really not that focused on his task, he was able to hear what they were saying.
"God, these body snatchers really are so gullible!" one of the women, the one who had asked for a new glass, said to her friend. "Steffi and Karen were right. They'll do anything you want 'em to do."
"Yeah, and I really shouldn't have called him over so quickly," the other woman, the one who had spilled her drink, replied. "I should have waited for him to see it. Karen said he would have cleaned it up without asking."
"This is just so sad. How did we end up losing to these slugs?"
"I know, right?" This elicited quite a bit of laughter from the both of them, laughter that pierced Odret to his very core. But he didn't give any indication that he had heard them, except for maybe a subtle stiffening of his body, and he continued cleaning up their spill.
The women's laughter kept ringing in Odret's ears throughout the day, and they would keep echoing in his head for years to come.
As soon as his shift ended, Odret decided that he wanted to talk about this incident with the Boss. He walked over to his office and knocked on the door. "It's open!" the Boss called out. Odret opened the door and stuck his head inside the office. "Boss, can I trouble you about something?"
"Well, if it's about a raise, Odret, then no," the Boss replied. And then he let out a soft chuckle, a laugh that Odret didn't understand. "I'm just kidding, man. Come in! Don't be shy."
Odret went into the Boss's office and sat down on the only chair in the office that wasn't occupied by the Boss himself. "So what brings you to the inner sanctum, Odret?" he asked.
Odret pondered on how he should bring up the incident with the two women without sounding like he was accusing them. After a few moments, he gave up on subtlety and decided to lay it all before the Boss. "So there were two women earlier today," he said. "They spilled their iced tea."
"So what, Odret? That thing happens all the time, man," the Boss shrugged. "What's your point?"
"I'm not finished yet, Boss. As I was saying, these two girls spilled their iced tea, and then while I was cleaning up their mess, I heard them laughing at me. They were laughing at me, Boss, and they said that I was trying too hard to be like a human. Boss, I'm only trying to do my job. Why would they say something like that about me? Why would they laugh at me?"
The Boss sighed and took off his glasses. "Oo-kay, how am I gonna explain you this?" he asked, more to himself than to Odret. "We humans are quite the unforgiving lot, Odret," he said. "We kill each other all the time, sometimes for the silliest reasons and sometimes without a reason at all. We hold grudges that have been around for what feels like hundreds or even thousands of years. And that's just against our own kind. Imagine what happened when your kind came along and tried to shove your slimy little bodies into our heads and steal our bodies. It's pretty much the same thing, except only directed at you guys now."
"I'm sorry, I'm afraid I don't understand," Odret said.
The Boss sighed once again. "I was afraid you were gonna say that," he said. "All right, let me come at this from another angle. "So you Yeerks came down to our planet and began infesting our fellow humans, and then we fought back and won against you guys. That's why you and your friends now look like humans as well instead of the slugs that you used to be, capiche? The part about you Yeerks infesting us didn't sit well with a lot of us. But the part that's really bothering all these people? You guys, you not-lits or whatever you're called now, you used to be Yeerks, and now you're human. And now we're all supposed to treat you like you've always been human in the first place? Now that's just nasty. Just try to imagine it from our point of view, Odret. We had this bunch of aliens trying to take over our bodies, and now that they've been forced to become human, we have to treat them like humans. Now that's just not fair for a lot of us. You've been stealing our freedom, our rights. Why should we have to give you guys the same thing now? Good luck getting people to agree to that, man."
Odret shook his head in frustration. No matter how hard he tried to digest the Boss's words or interpret them in so many ways, nothing of what the Boss had told him still made sense, and he said so to the Boss. "Ah, that's all right," the Boss nodded. "We humans are hard to understand, even to ourselves. We smash our opponents into the dust and then we're the first ones to offer them the helping hand, especially once they've conceded defeat."
"But why would they pick on me though?" Odret asked. "How do they know that I'm a nothlit? I'm supposed to look like a human. I am a human now, right?"
"Oh, Odret, I don't know," the Boss replied. "Sure, you look like a human, act like a human, maybe even speak like a human when you're not so formal, but we humans just know that you're not one of us. I don't know why. Maybe it's psychological, maybe it's instinct. And your ID is also probably a dead giveaway. Almost everyone knows nothlits have blue IDs. It's all over the news. Some government thing, probably."
Odret looked down at the blue identification card clipped to the chest of his uniform apron. It was a simple thing: a piece of laminated blue cardboard bearing his name, picture, and a graphic with the text SEAL OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY. Eventually, Odret would come to see the ID as a symbol of the human oppression of Yeerk nothlits, but for the moment it was still just a simple blue card for him.
"Thanks for taking the time to listen to me, Boss," Odret said in a hollow tone, not really meaning the words.
"Don't worry about it, Odret," the Boss shrugged. "All part of the job for me."
Odret walked out of the Boss's office with more questions than answers. What little answers that the nothlit had gotten from his human boss made as little sense as the actions that the human women had done right in front of him. He needed more time to process all of this, and he wasn't going to get that time back in the penthouse with both Melor and Kanron pestering him with questions of their own, so Odret, instead of walking right out of Boccino's as had been his routine, he opted to take a seat on one of the tables beside the large windows in front of the restaurant. His eyes stared blankly ahead of him as he pondered the day's events.
The doors of Boccino's rang open, and two black men wearing green jackets and caps walked into the restaurant. It was already a little after ten in the evening, more than an hour after closing time at Boccino's, but none of the staff inside made any move to turn the new arrivals away. One of the waiters, who was also black, even did something with his hands and fingers that attracted the attention of the other black men and they did the same thing with their hands before the three bumped fists and the waiter went back to fixing up the tables.
The two men looked around and took the table nearest to the door. This gave them a good view of the restaurant, and it also gave them a good look at the musing Odret Culathesh, who at that point had removed the ID from his chest and was staring at it. "Hey yo, check out this minimum wage hygiene technician, man," one of the black men said. "White boy so down, he look ready to off himself!"
"Man, how'd'you know fool's a hygiene technician?" the other man asked.
"Eyeball the blue ID in his hands, nigga. Cracker ain't really a cracker. He one of them space alien slugs used to tryna take over us a few years back!"
"So wait a minute, OG. You tryna tell me that cracker over there's got a space slug in his head right now?"
"Naw, nigga. I'm tellin' ya, he one of them space slugs! We's blasted they asses back to they home planet thanks to them blue horses with the four eyes and the shiv tails, and then them space horses done ordered the space slugs we got as POWs to morph into humans or animals, and here we are!"
The two men then stood up from their table and walked over to Odret. "Hey, body snatcher!" one of them, the one with the green jacket and bandana wrapped around his neck, called out to the nothlit. "Don't get used to your new body, nigga," he told Odret. "Someone gon' prolly fuck you up for it!" They then laughed, even louder than the women had earlier in the day, and Odret immediately wished that he could demorph back into a Yeerk and fall down to the floor underneath the table.
"Gentlemen," the Boss called out as he suddenly appeared behind the black men. "Daquan, Lamarcus, stop messing around with my employees. I know that you're here 'cause your bosses have an offer for my bosses. Why don't we talk about it in my office, huh? And you!" he said, pointing at Odret. "What the fuck are you still doing here? Get outta here! Scram!"
Odret shook his head and ran out of the restaurant as fast as his human legs would allow him. The men's words and laughter echoed in his mind. Suddenly, a lump formed out of nowhere inside his throat, and fluid began to flow from his eyes. What in the name of the Kandrona was going? What was happening? What was happening to him? Why were the humans so rude, so offensive to him? And why was nobody standing up for his defense? Why couldn't he stand up for himself? Was this how it felt like to be a host to a Yeerk? Odret most certainly felt defenseless, unable to do anything at all. Yes, there was no Yeerk inside his new human head taking control away from him, but this was an unprecedented new feeling for him: helplessness. Nothing made sense for him, and any attempt on his part to clarify things only made things even worse.
As Odret walked back to the nothlit district with tears flowing from his eyes, a new and even more deeply unsettling question popped into his mind. If the humans could get away with this kind of humiliation against the nothlits, then how long before one of them finally went all the way and killed a nothlit? How would the humans react to that? Would the humans even react to that? Odret did not even bother trying to thinking about an answer to that question.