Okay, I don’t think evolution is fully appreciated. Aliens aren’t supposed to look anything like humans. Or insects. Or anything else you see crawling, creeping or cruising around this Earth or any other.

That’s because evolution is random, circumstantial, environmentally interactive and points toward nothing inevitable. Or so the establishment would have you believe…

I’d like to show those university hacks what the universe has shown me.

They separated Tajhata and I. I don’t know what happened to her. But I’m smack in the middle of a circle of aliens, each one different.

“It is obvious that your species is meant to be Star Sentient,” declares some kind of official through translation.  “You have evolved the Star Sentient form with eyes, ears, nose, skin and mouth capable of interacting with technological environments.” The dude looks like his brain is splitting his head open. He has two small mouths. Can’t see the rest of him but human-ish for sure.

“However,” interjects some other guy with a blue head and stubby horns, “you have yet to establish credentials for intergalactic intercourse. The Intergalactic Council monitored your entry into five galaxies. Not once did you initiate civilized protocol to avoid danger to all.”

This guy is also humanoid. But the one behind me opening his sizable mouth next -!

“I object to these proceedings!” the monkey man in the turban growls, laying a heavy fist on the desk they all share in a great circle around me. The others are uncomfortable with this one’s temperament. “This is a juvenile species beneath civilized classification! They attacked our vessel! They polluted five galaxies! This is a simple case of trace and exterminate! These are deadly pests!”

“Hey,” I say, unwilling to be underestimated, “we’re explorers! That’s all! It’s very simple! We journeyed out from our star for the first time to find what was out here! No one came by to offer us a membership! No one gave us a manual describing any  protocol or…”

Suddenly I can’t hear my voice and no one else can, either. My lips keep moving to no avail.

“This reiterates charges of immaturity,” says the ‘voice’ of a man with four eyes. “Any species unable to establish the four priorities is dangerous on the intergalactic scale.”

“Let me ask this specimen,” insists a person that flutters like a living blue flame. “What is the first thing an intergalactic visitor does once inside the target galaxy?”

He’s asking me? First of all, I’m only borrowing this doppelganger’s form and everything I can remember about this expedition is strenuously obtained. Now I stand trial, the only survivor of this encounter, representing humanity against aliens that want to impose the death penalty?

“Once inside a galaxy,” I schmooze, “the sophisticated guest will offer the host of the welcoming committee a bottle of the finest California wine, and a…”

“Initiate arrival protocol!” yells a shrill, gelatinous green blob impatiently.

“You send out a signal in all directions announcing your arrival and exact location!” prompts a sympathetic bug-eyed tortoise man quietly; and I swear he winks at me!

“Allow me,” offers a pretty blue face with a red fin sticking out of her head. “Sir, let me ask you. Consider that at any given moment there are millions of Earths with humanoid variations. When seeking other Star Sentient species such as we members of the Intergalactic Council, the mission commander must order officers to…?”

“Ah,” I retort cleverly, “your question assumes that I would want to seek out the likes of you. Had we known you existed we probably would have avoided you. We like to stay quiet so as not to upset the natural balance of things when we show up, you know?”

No, of course that’s wrong. I should “Activate ADHD” of course, the Advanced Humanoid Detection System.

Variant galaxies may produce variant advanced brains, or alternate evolutionary means of producing intergalactic life that does not resemble or naturally relate to humanoids. To anticipate the approach or presence of intentional life forms having no resemblance to humanoids, programs looking out for telltale possibilities go operative and seek out non-humanoids showing intentions.

The forms these strangers have taken will bear no resemblance to us, and we may have trouble recognizing them. The chances for detailed communication will be thin if not non-existent. Still, prudent crews will then, as step four, attempt all forms of non-human communication known.

Well, why not? Cosmic evolution seems to take the same forms no matter where it occurs across the universe. Maybe biological evolution is subject to guidelines humans haven’t discerned yet. If planets, stars and galaxies can be both similar yet different across an entire cosmos, why can’t the life they condone?

This must be the intergalactic version of Guantanamo Bay. Do these goons even realize I’m in solitary confinement here? What are they planning next?

The Intergalactic Council tried some kind of brain scan on me. Because of it they may end up believing that Earth is the land of Oz, albeit a nightmare version. This is no ordinary brain they’re picking. I took ’em down a yellow brick road of hallucination.

They really want to know where I’m from. They really want to find Earth. But if they do, will Earth be better off? Our expedition broke the intergalactic “law” before we even knew there were any intergalactic laws. Do I want my home planet judged by these cosmic pricks?

The wall shimmers. No, not the wall, the air between it and me – pulsing! There’s a familiar scent – but the only other place I smelled it was outside our universe!*

And here she is again, floating beside me! She’s either Pakistani or Indian…

“You still haven’t decided?” she asks, smiling and happy. “The name is Mallika, remember?”

“How can you tell what I’m thinking?”

“You’ll never be my poker partner, okay?” she answers. “How did you get back into our universe? I couldn’t maintain cohesion out there. I’m so sorry I was pulled away from you.”

When I met her I was inhabiting a quantum computer-driven body and analyzed Mallika as a macro electron cloud capable of splitting between several locations simultaneously, allowing her to physically appear many places at once, but never in a form more solid than light. She is a living ghost.

“You were surviving outside our very universe,” Mallika says in wonder, gazing at me like a school girl with a crush on her teacher. “You met the Boltzmann brains and the would-be God. I was there for such a brief moment, and in such a weakened state – but I caught a glimpse of the absolute beyond, and I will never be able to stop thinking about it. You must tell me everything that you experienced out there!”

“But there’s no time for that,” I urge, “you’ve got to get me out of here! Do you know the way home?”

“Yes, Earth boy,” she chuckles, “I’m an Earth-girl, you know. And now I get to go wherever I want to – except into a real body.”

“That’s sad,” I say, momentarily attempting to authentically empathize, but still, “So can you get me out of here and home?”

“Gosh,” she says, taken aback, her cloud drifting away a few feet. “First time we met, you seemed interested in knowing more about me. Now you seem to just take me for granted.”

Great. Now she’s playing me. “Listen carefully my dear. Until I am free from the probing and merciless treatment of this intergalactic ass gathering, I am dedicating my limited resources toward one of two goals: escape or dissociation.”

“I guess I’ll just go, then,” she casually announces. And she vanishes. I’m alone again. I can’t believe it. An Earth girl is going to leave me out here.

Then I feel a subtle vibration across my cell. Another probe is underway. Did they sense Mallika? They must know something happened here.

When it’s been over for a while, miss E-Cloud returns. “I knew they were coming with a routine probe,” she confesses, “so I took off. I’m back. So… what do they feed you around here?”

Is she trying to be funny? Okay, okay, I’ll bite. What have I got to lose? “So Mallika, I was wondering. Do you have a last name? And how did you get to be like this?”

“My father is Dr. Gautama Singh,” she eagerly recites as if practiced a hundred times for anyone willing to listen. “He believed that society was expanding incomprehensibly, that youth were being overwhelmed by easy bad choices, and he sought to protect his daughter by restricting my choices carefully. Resentful, I decided to frighten my father by disappearing, but afraid to set out on my own I hid in my father’s van, sneaking out once parked at the facility where he worked. Thinking I would hide there overnight, I found my way into the particle collider mere hours before its activation. Hiding miles into the massive underground tunnel housing the supercollider, I had no clue that shortly after the power switched on an electrical fault would cause a failsafe power abort, firing an electric discharge that would unleash tons of explosive liquid helium, wildly affecting 65 superconducting magnets around me. My decimated material body was recovered, yet somehow my existence continues as E-Cloud.”

That is pretty heavy. “No longer a material being, you struggle with your new place in the universe. How long can you go on like this? What is your purpose? And what if it never ends?”

She lets out a heavy sigh. She’s relieved to have shared. But she senses something!

“They’re coming,” she warns. “Jump into my cloud.”

“What? Jump into…? You mean…”

“Hop right up into this cloud now!” she orders.

I back up, run forward and leap toward her.

Everything spins. There’s no place like home… There’s no place like…