Blue Amber by Joel Tagert

Published Issue 116, August 2023

Well, you did it. How do you feel?

Back to my usual miserable self. Gedim Weitz, aches and all.

This was a mistake.

Tell me about it. 

The symbiote isn’t harmful. I feel more alive than ever.

You don’t know that, Joira. The symbiote could be—

I don’t know how I feel?

The fibers in your nervous system could be producing those feelings. Hell, they probably are. Manipulating your brain chemistry, producing endorphins to convince you not to fight it. The best thing you can do is get into this pod and clean it out of your system.

No way. 

You’re risking your life.

I’m not.

Can you at least do daily physicals for me? 


We’re going to keep talking about this. But moving on for now. Have you checked out the ship?

You’ve been in the pod three days. I have certainly checked out the ship.

Three days? Goddamn. That stuff really didn’t want to get evicted.

Correct. But the ship is fully operational.

Like, fully operational?


Wow. Wow. You’re sure.

We can’t be sure until we turn it on. But given the Agastya is here at all, where it otherwise couldn’t possibly be, we can assume the drive works as advertised. Faster than light. 

Wow. And the crew? 

You need to watch this.



And fuckity fuck, yeah.

So Torv and company succeed in building the world’s first faster than light drive—

The first built by humans.

Right. They turn it on and set course for Earth, by way of becoming the richest, most powerful, most famous people in history. But instead they end up in Talend, where they promptly leave the ship and disappear. Why?

Why don’t we ask them?

You know where they are?

I think so. I can feel it.

The symbiote.

I can feel them. Hear them. Like someone talking in the next room. I think I can find them, with a little looking. 

Do we want to find them? 

They’re alive, Gedim. 

Beyond your feelings, we have zero concrete evidence of that. Whereas we have the world’s most valuable piece of technology now in our possession. 

I don’t like where this is going. And I hate it when you act like my feelings are nonsense.

Hear me out. As of now, we have every right to this ship. It’s legitimate salvage. We could just take off. See if Torv’s drive works. Be back on Earth by — shit, we could be back on Earth tonight. Tonight, Joira. That’s nuts. 

I’m not leaving here.  

There was a time when you’d have stepped over a body for this kind of opportunity. 

That was a long time ago. 

That was six months ago. Subjectively speaking. 

Like I said.


It’s here. Near here.

Underwater, then. 

That feels right.

Does the ship have a submersible? 

No. We’ll have to fab it.


Of course it has to be another cave. Can’t we for once have a job on a mountain somewhere? 

You should find a planet with more mountains then. 

Exactly. Sending in the drone. 

I want to name him. 

Well, you already gendered him, apparently.

Gonna call him Emile. 

Emile reports more tunnels. Unsurprising given our previous experience, I guess. Swiss cheese planet. Think you can navigate where we need to go?

I think so. Taking over manual control. 


This is freaky. 

What are they?

Not one thing. Lots of things.

Giant arachnids … slugs … those cyborg centaur creatures … what’s the common factor?

The common factor is that they’re all trapped in the fibers of the tunnel walls. Like the root system that entangled us. The symbiote. I’m starting to think this whole planet is alive. 

It is alive. That’s what I keep trying to tell you. I think all these are alive too.

Suspended animation?

Something like. But their consciousnesses interwoven, blended.

Absorbed. Consumed. 

You always take the darkest view.

What’s the bright side of being swallowed by a living planet?

Godlike consciousness?

If that’s the cost, no thank you. 



That’s them. 

All six. Here’s Torv. 

I knew it. I told you I could feel them. 

Score one for feelings, sure. Now what? 

What do you mean? I thought you wanted to rescue them.

No, you wanted to rescue them. I wanted to go home and enjoy a life of leisure. But my point is, the crew here are down about ten clicks of tunnels, the last three clearly made of the kind of roots that trapped us before. So how are we supposed to “rescue” these kind folks without becoming flies in blue amber ourselves? 

It doesn’t feel dangerous to me. 

Of course it doesn’t, Joira. It’s in you already. Don’t you see that something like this is probably how they ended up like this? One of them goes out and gets infected. One way or another, they spread the infection to the others, or they convince the others to take a vessel and descend into the caves here. Then Talend’s roots tear their sub apart and keep the juicy insides. 

Listen. I can keep us safe. I know it. I feel it the same way I felt our way here. Whatever happened to them, it’s not the same. 

Are you crazy?

It won’t take long. Trust me. 

What are you doing? 


Stop it! Stop!


Let me go. 

Absolutely not. You’re deranged. 

Why won’t you listen to me? We can still rescue those people.

We’re going to get you back to the ship and get you in that pod. We’re curing you of this disease.

That’s not your choice!

This is a classic case of an alien symbiote taking over someone’s mind. Seen it a hundred times. What’s scary is that it must have infected Torv or someone on his crew too. I don’t like to think about this spreading. Fuck, I wonder if somehow he’d been to this place? All those aliens … maybe this is where he got the FTL drive from. 

If you do this, I’ll never speak to you again. And the first chance I get, I’ll come back here.

You don’t know what you’re saying. You’re not you right now. 

I’m all the me I ever was. It’s just that you want me to stay this poor punk girl you rescued. But you never completely trusted me, and you don’t trust me now. 

You’re wrong. I did trust her then. You. Because a poor punk girl, I can understand. But the you talking now, planetary-symbiote you, how can I trust that? It’s like trusting a tree, or a rock, or a fucking virus. 

Maybe you should trust a tree. You should trust a virus. 

Not when they’re eating my girlfriend.

Your ex-girlfriend, you mean. 

Joel Tagert is a fiction writer and artist, the author of A Bonfire in the Belly of the Beast and INFERENCE, and a longtime Zen practitioner living in Denver, Colorado. He is also currently the office manager for the Zen Center of Denver and the editorial proofreader for Westword.

Check out Joel’s July Birdy install, Burning Down The House,  in case you missed it or head to our Explore section to see more of his work.

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