From Ares To Ishtar
story is a "spinoff" style sequel to a 2017 piece entitled
"Lineage and Legacy" which was first published here at Aphelion
(issue 218). While you can certainly read this piece as a standalone
the former story would indeed expand upon the mythology and background
The blanket of blackness was eclipsed
only by the blurry opening of his eyes, as Xander was once again aware
His surroundings transformed from
indistinct colors and shapes to a focused reality.
He looked out of his viewing window
and observed a yellowish-hued region. He took notice of the
where dirt was being kicked up and small rocks were being pushed
Xander impulsively smiled at the
breach imminent. Structural damage is nearing critical levels. Please
A stream of
red fluid slid down his
check and veered off towards his chin. He placed his hand on the
traced its source up to his forehead.
He pulled his hand away and placed
it in front of his face. The crimson liquid caused his eyes to enlarge
like that, Xander was smacked out of his cloudy obscurity and
the impending calamity before him.
His head darted back and forth,
assessing his status as recent memories came flooding back. He looked
see if he sustained any further injuries but quickly deduced none were
Xander catapulted out of his cockpit
breach imminent. Structural damage is nearing critical levels. Please
The pilot made
his way towards the
back of the small ship, swaying back and forth from a whirling
sensation in his
brain. He ripped open a locker to reveal a formidable looking
The wrecked ship slept motionless on
the rockbound ground as deceptively docile winds created the only
The craft’s door suddenly snapped
off and Xander speedily jumped down. He sprinted away from the ship as
hear its fading dire warning one last time.
When he felt he was a safe distance
away, he turned. Xander could see the craft’s shields withering. As
soon as the
final flicker dissipated, and the safeguard expired, Xander beheld a
intimidating sight. Without protection, the vessel gave way to the
pressure, which instantaneously crushed the ship, forcing it to
layers folding into itself in an immediate inward burst. The ship that
recently traveled through the solar system had now been reduced to
decimated beyond recognition in a mere matter of seconds.
The morsel of remains began
liquefying, as the temperature proved so hot, the metal melted into
suit’s shields are currently operating at full capacity. Atmospheric
compositions are highly toxic: 96.5% carbon dioxide, 3.5% nitrogen.
temperature: 866 °F.
Xander’s knees grew weary from the
spectacle of devastation. He turned to look out at the surface of
While he could adequately see in front
of him, making out the small upcoming hills, the gargantuan structures
distance were opaque and perhaps wouldn’t be noticeable at all if the
not shining through the haze.
Xander peered out at the uncertain
and threatening image, knowing only one thing for sure: he could not
it was time to trudge.
Her eyes could light up the deep,
dark, depths of cold space. That was Xander’s initial reaction to the
woman sitting alone at a table overlooking Ares’ first ocean.
She wore an azure dress as
aquamarine stones dangled from her ears. A sparkling wine sat in front
straddled by her thumb and pointer finger. In her other hand rested a
book, an old
antique physical version of a book.
Her level of focus was unbreakable
as her eyes glided from word to word, line-to-line.
“Would you like something to drink?”
The waiter broke Xander’s
concentration and, wondering if the server noticed his ogling, he
embarrassingly answered, “Uh, yes, thank you, I’ll have a Blue Sunset.”
Xander watched the waiter hover off
and when he turned his attention back to the outside dining area, he
infatuation staring directly at him.
His instinct instructed him to look
away. He darted downwards, pretending to fix his napkin.
He agonizingly contemplated whether
or not he should have taken cover like that. He caught her
staring after all. Or did she notice his stare before her stare
unbeknownst to him? Was she only staring because he had been? The
“Your drink, sir.”
As Xander looked up to accept the
cocktail, he discovered the azure-colored-dress-wearing idol standing
of his table. He felt his stomach hastily retreat and worried that he
soon collapse inward altogether.
“A Blue Sunset,” the waiter
confirmed. “I’ll be back in a few moments to take your order.”
“Thank you,” Xander mumbled.
“Blue Sunset, huh? Haven’t seen many
people order one of those.”
Her articulation was silken, her
“It seemed fitting,” Xander replied.
“Yes, the yellowish-red sunset of
Earth hits differently, doesn’t it?”
“It does. Though I think I prefer
the one here on Mars.”
“I’m sorry to bother you..”
“…It’s no bother,“ he blurted out.
She smiled and a universe of joy
“I was just wondering if I could
borrow your Flame? I noticed you had two and my table doesn’t have one.”
Xander looked down to see his two
Flames, which he had not noticed previously.
“Oh, yes, of course. Enjoy it.”
She carefully scooped up the ever-ignited
flambeau with a grin of gratitude.
Just as she turned to head back,
Xander summoned a galaxy’s worth of gallantry and gracefully asked,
She looked back, the candle burning
brightly in her hand, and answered, “I am.”
“I am too, though I would very much
enjoy some company and I was just wondering if, perhaps, you felt the
She peered back to her table, where
her book rested soundly, and then back to his.
She thought for a moment before concluding,
“My table has the view. I think we’re better off there.”
Xander plodded through the yellow
haze, following his augmented compass.
With the fate of his ship in the
forefront of his mind, Xander was fully aware of the hazards presented
importance of the armored technology enveloping him.
He ascended over a small uprising
when he heard a slightly familiar noise.
around but noticed nothing that could account for the sound.
He continued to walk and continued
to hear the steady melody until it suddenly dawned on him to look in
direction he had yet to examine.
Xander escalated his head and looked
into the Venusian sky. It was there that he found the source of the
Falling from the distant clouds was
rain. The droplets shot down but evaporated before ever reaching the
His biotechnological advancements
allowed him to hear the downdraft of the storm, the sounds of the
carrying the air with it, from afar.
Xander knew this was an ideal
situation, as the shower consisted of sulphuric acid rain, not exactly
something he would like to physically encounter.
The droplets, while still in the
orange sky, decomposed into water and sulphur-dioxide. Xander recalled
education well and knew these gases subsequently rose to feed the
As he looked back down at the landscape
of the planet, Xander wondered what the already-eroded surface would
if the corrosive downpour were to reach the ground as well. The thought
evaporated into the dimness of his mind as he refocused to concentrate
dangerous hike through the looming, rough terrain.
“It’s beautiful here,” remarked
Xander while soaking up the environment.
“Guess they were wrong when they
said Mars had no atmosphere.”
The joke, coupled with her crooked
countenance made him chuckle.
“Shall we get the obligatory questions
out of the way?” asked Dytee in a tone that melded enthusiasm with a
sense of danger.
“Rapid fire!” Xander responded
“What’s your name?”
“Is that a first name or last name?”
“It’s my only name actually.”
“Fascinating. I’m Dytee.”
“Dytee,” Xander repeated. “Beautiful
name. Where were you born?”
“I was born on the Moon, actually.
But my parents hailed from Somalia.”
“The richest country on the
continent that is the political center of Earth.”
“Hopefully that doesn’t make me sound
aristocratic. Where do you come
Xander swiftly answered, “I’m
originally from New Harlem.”
“The farthest thing from it. I’m a
“Should have known by the way you
said rapid fire!”
“What brings you here?”
“Much needed respite. You?”
“Also on vacation,” Xander parried.
“What do you think of Mars so far?”
“Amazing to think how it used to be
dry and cold here. Now it’s warm and wet.”
“Sounds to me like it got a
Dytee’s eyes enlarged as she fleetly
put her hand over her mouth.
“I’m sorry! I just blurted it out!”
Xander had erupted in laughter,
causing Dytee to giggle in afterthought.
“Okay, focus, Dytee,” she
self-instructed. “Round two. Go!”
“What do you do?” Xander asked.
“I think so. What’s your sign?”
“I don’t know. I don’t believe in
“Good answer. How is that even still
a thing, right? Where do you live now?”
“Actually, come to think of it, I
don’t really have a home.”
The cadence of the expeditious back
and forth broke as Xander inadvertently retreated into his mind.
He continued, “I sort of just go
from ship to ship, space station to space station. Wherever they assign
Dytee leaned in and surmised, “Well,
we’re all floating in space one way or another.”
His spirit lifted at his dining
partner’s capacity to brandish philosophy and pragmatism concurrently
responded in the only way that seemed appropriate.
“I’ll drink to that.”
Dytee picked up her bubbly as Xander
raised his mixed drink. They clinked glasses and consequently indulged.
liquids slid down their throats and nourished their desires.
As they put their glasses back down,
Dytee looked into Xander’s comfortable, cushioned eyes and commented,
traditions are worth keeping.”
Xander had been trekking for nearly
six hours without rest and his pace hadn’t slowed. He
found himself traversing over and through
vast ridged plateaus, fissures, and clefts. The solid surface proved to
worthy challenger to placid travels.
Xander took hold of a solid
jutting-out rock, and he securely placed his foot on a stable
allowing the majority of his weight to be on his feet and lower body.
He took a deep breath and repeated
Xander kept his straightened arms
close to the rock, so that his muscles were not constantly engaged.
“Breathe,” he reminded himself.
He took a deep breath from the inside
of his helmet, inhaling from his nose and exhaling out of his mouth.
constant monitoring and automatic readjustment of temperature and air
content prevented any fogging up.
Xander grabbed a boulder just in
“Balance and stability,” he
He felt a foothold and boosted
himself up further while prudently engaging his core.
His sensory upgrades allowed him to
clearly hear the scrapings of his foot against every loose broken
reminded himself to keep his feet as quiet as possible.
He looked up to see the significant
scaling still left.
“I can do this. I can absolutely do
this,” he reassured.
Xander placed his hand on the top of
the mountain and hoisted himself up to solid ground, standing
He looked back to see the extraordinary
distance he had gone, and how far down he would go if he faltered.
Xander turned and assessed that his
immediate future would at least be filled with relatively flat land.
He put one foot in front of the
other and tried not to think how much distance he still had to span
He looked to his sides.
Had he imagined it?
He heard it again; it was faint.
He looked ahead but didn’t see
anything to claim the crackling noise.
Xander turned. Behind him, in the
far distance, he saw them.
Out from the sulphuric acid clouds
came-forth multitudinous strikes of electricity. Furious flashes lit up
Venusian sky as jagged streaks of lightning
across the horizon.
Xander marveled at the sight,
something he didn’t think he would ever get to experience. The magnetic
almost calmed the traveler as it reminded him of the days of his youth.
All tranquility soon dispersed,
however, as Xander recollected that lightning on Venus was continually
by volcanic eruptions.
“And now for the good stuff!” Dytee
“I’m ready!” Xander countered
“Have you ever had any pets?”
“One, when I was a kid. An oculudentavis.”
“The lizard bird
“That’s the one.”
“Did they revive that
just for you?”
“I should hope not.”
“What was its name?”
Dytee exploded in
“What book were you
science-fiction novel of all time.”
“Brave New World?”
“But of course. Are
you a family person?”
“Safe to assume you
don’t want offspring then?”
“Do you like
“As much as I like
Xander smiled an
unstoppable smile and continued, “What do you do for fun?”
“Lead on handsome men
who eat alone at restaurants.”
“I think so. What
is a word that you pronounced wrong for the majority of your life?”
“Apparently there’s no
second r in sherbet.”
“I am not. If you were
a Commercial Brawler what would your name be?”
“The Helium Hooligan.”
“You answered too quick. You’ve
thought about this before.”
“Who’s the liar now?” Xander poked. “Best
present you ever gave someone?”
Dytee stalled for the first time in
the conversation. Her eyes left the table and Xander wondered if he had
something he shouldn’t have.
“The best present I ever gave
someone,” she repeated, “Would have to be a cutting board.”
“A cutting board?”
“That’s right. I gave my father a
cutting board and it was engraved with the recipe for barbecued meat
porridge. It was the last meal he made for my mother before she died.”
Xander delivered a compassionate countenance
and stated, “That sounds like a lovely gift.”
“Yea. It was,” she responded with a
touch of sorrow.
They locked eyes, consuming the
totality of one another. Just as they inhaled themselves in the
black holes of their natures, their robotic server drifted over and
their meals in front of them, breaking their transcendent force of
“Tartiflette au Reblochon for you.”
“Thank you,” replied Xander as he
placed his napkin on his lap.
“And your Fillet of Uzboi.”
“Thank you very much.”
Xander peeked over at her fish and
asked, “Is it local?”
Dytee prodded her meal around with
her utensil and precariously answered, “I really hope not.”
The change in the systemic time zone
was beginning to bring about a temporary disruption in Xander’s
body as one day on the Venusian surface equated to 243 Earth days.
Despite the disorientation, the lone
journeyer relentlessly continued through the sunny-colored lands.
The ground had become increasingly
craggier and thus more difficult to walk.
Xander emerged out of a gloom that
greatly reduced his visibility and took notice of a considerable
temperature is steadily increasing.
Shields are still functioning at maximum capacity. Systems are fully
He could make out a cuplike crater
at the summit of the approaching structure, deducing it to be a
Xander halted to observe. The ridge
appeared to be a rupture in the crust of the planet. He looked down.
noticed subtle swellings on the surface floor.
He looked back up to see fumes rising
out of the vent; gasses glissaded out and sinuously caressed and
top of the rock.
His feet began moving involuntarily.
He looked back down to the trembling and quivering terrain.
volcanic eruption imminent.
Expletives abound, Xander dashed
towards the edge of the bluff. The intense rumbling superseded all
as he galloped and jumped over the breaking and cracking Venus.
As he neared a forthcoming
precipice, he could hear the explosive eruption. He took a quick peek
radiant red lava spraying up from the volcano.
temperature: rapidly increasing.
strikes suddenly lit up
the sky, followed by sweeping, strident, clamorous claps as speeding
chased Xander towards the cliff’s overhang.
lethal brink approaching.
The upper atmosphere provided
extremely short, brilliant bursts of light, seemingly in
the hurdler’s feet.
Xander could feel the molten fever
at his back, seeping through his overburdened body suit.
As he arrived at the mountainous
edge, he did not hesitate. Somehow summoning speed that was unbeknownst
him, he dashed right to the very end.
Xander sprung clear off solidity; he
For the first time, he saw the
tremendous depth of the ground below and understood that it was a long,
“Have you ever seen anything so gorgeous?”
asked Dytee as she peered out at the rolling tides.
“I have,” Xander countered while
staring directly at her.
Dytee could feel his gaze upon her
and turned to him with an impressed look. She
inched a little closer and inserted her
hand into his.
They were strolling along the beach
at sunset, seesawing with the shifting shoreline.
“So, any big ventures you are
working on?” asked Dytee.
“Project Swarm actually.”
“The sphere that harvests all the
energy output from the sun?”
“That’s the one.”
“That undertaking worries me.”
“It should worry everyone. It’s no
Xander froze and looked up and out
while exclaiming, “Those moons are majestic, aren’t they?” as he
Phobos and Deimos.
“They are.” She took a deep breath,
as she logged the memory into a sacred folder. As they continued their
walk, she added, “The God of War has been tamed at long last.”
“Took a while.”
“Terraforming isn’t easy. I should
“Are you partly responsible for
“Nope. But I will be partially
responsible for that,” she revealed as she pointed to a bright star in
“Certainly not identical twins, but
that’s right. Also, the only planet named after a female god.”
“You are working to modify the
atmosphere of Venus to make it habitable like they are doing here?”
“Correct. Should be no big deal. We
just have to shift its entire orbit, bring over some comets for water,
the carbon dioxide, remove the carbon dioxide, you know, the easy
Xander snickered and commented,
“Seems a little risky for a person to be there – even one with
wonder you’re worried about Project Swarm. You’ll be on the second
“Yeah, if something happens you just
might have to come and save me,” she jested. “The bots will do most of
heavy lifting, that’s for sure. But they want a human presence there as
I’m not sure if it’s political, cautionary, out of pure glory or a
all three but they have created a small base in Ishtar deemed livable
as we never leave it. Never know when a repair might be needed, and
save time on the transport by having us there.”
“It most certainly is. Taming Mars
is one thing. Taming the goddess of beauty, love, and desire – well –
another story entirely.”
“I can imagine.”
“Can you?” she asked as she stopped
in her tracks, her eyebrows interrogatively mounting.
Under the Martian sky the two courters beamed at one
unaware that they were ineluctably inching closer, as if the curvature
space-time itself willed them nearer. This irresistible force of nature
consumed their trepidations and impelled the two bodies toward one
“I think I’m going to kiss you now,”
“I think I’d like that.”
Their lips gravitated and their
hearts fluttered. As their event horizons passed the point of no
Standing on a sandbar, Xander could
feel her frame push up against his as the waves around them devotedly
and out, encircling them in response to the forces exerted upon them by
moons and sun, fervidly driving more water onto the shore.
An enrapturing exploration of new
worlds triggered their neurotransmitters as a heavy dosage of dopamine
and outpoured, submerging and drowning their usually reserved
The connectivity surged and
energized the affected circumference, galvanizing a congruence of the
with all its incomprehensible phenomena.
The current retreated as the kiss
came to a fateful close and with it, the acme of wonder and awe.
Dytee couldn’t conceal the colossal
smile that adorned her face.
Xander breathed in the moment,
wishing to never let it out.
“That was nice,” she reported.
Xander nodded his head, hoping what
had just occurred could be infinite, that their amorous orbits would
decay and spiral away, back to the comparably mundane happenings of a
“I’m going to remember that,” she continued.
Xander wasn’t sure what to say. He
searched for words, an urgent address, an appeal to their senses; he
“I know,” she soothed, her palm
caressing his face. “I know.”
Xander liberated his nerves in the
form of a blush and revealed, “To be honest, I’m feeling a bit
Dytee bottled her eagerness in the
form of a laugh.
“So, what do you think?” probed
Dytee investigated her stirrings and
sensations as a prosperity of passion pervaded her.
An unuttered truth suddenly and
completely spoke to them both: it was a reminder that they would very
literal worlds apart.
Dytee removed each strap of her
dress and let the totality of material fall onto the warm sand.
Xander stood stunned as the moon’s
lights illuminated sectors of her nude physique. He did only what
appropriate; he mimicked her actions, petrifyingly removing all
remnants of his
Dytee observed the uncharted regions
of his bareness.
Their eyes locked as the electric currents
of their yearnings gave way to the magnetic moment. They interlocked,
the other in a galactic droplet of delight.
As they infused, an oceanic-sized smile
rolled in the water and the eyes that were moons guarded the momentous
as the man of war and the woman of beauty mightily brought forth all
Xander stepped foot onto solid
ground as the gliders retracted back into his suit. He turned to see
erupting mountain miles upon miles in the distance.
As he went to pivot, he noticed
numerous insect-sized machines traversing the land before him. He knew
were the bots designed to seed the planet as a means to solve the
Xander rapidly turned to behold his
destination: The Venusian Geo-Engineering Base.
structure’s shields are currently online.
He stood in front of the station, an
iota more hopeful.
Xander walked through the shield
without issue due to his military clearance and approached the exterior
A door dematerialized in front of
him and he entered.
The station was dark; the emergency lights
He removed his helmet and yelled, “Hello!?
Is anyone here!?”
Xander made his way down numerous
corridors while checking various rooms.
He opened lockers, wardrobes,
closets, cabinets; any container he deemed open-able, but found nothing
Xander found himself in the command
center, which remained pristine; there were no signs of panic or
“Computer,” Xander called out.
Green lights lit up around the room.
Instructor Xander. How can we help you?”
base’s logs into my
would like us to download all account history?”
He hesitated for a moment but then
Xander suddenly had cerebral access
to a plethora of information.
complete. May I assist you with anything else?”
Xander did not
respond as he
immediately started sifting through the reports. The green lights
dimmed and Xander took a seat on the central chair.
He scrolled through to the end,
choosing to encounter that which he halfheartedly wished to avoid: the
Through his mind’s eye, he activated
Her voice permeated his consciousness.
was alert and
Xander found himself leaving Ishtar,
his thoughts reaching out and grasping onto remembrance.
He could smell her naturally
perfumed scent as she revealed they lost contact with all off-planet
He saw her inquisitive eyes, dancing
in the ballroom of curiosity as she reached the determination that they
no longer stay on Venus.
She tasted like an intoxicating
breath of fresh air, exhilaration incarnate, as she stated there was an
emergency escape shuttle.
Xander felt the warmth of her aura retreat
as she lifted her head from his chest for the last time while she asked
was listening to wish them luck.
He heard himself say the three words
he didn’t mean to say while noting her silence.
The log had ended.
Xander leaned back in the chair and
sighed. As his ship had been destroyed in the crash landing, he found
the sole living being on a perilous planet with no means of escape.
In a way, he was happy he didn’t
find her as he imagined her somewhere safe, soon to be on a beach with
food and warm sand between her toes.
Xander suddenly noticed how dark his
Exhaustion, hunger, and dejection
came colliding down in a trinity of torment as the realization of his
His world began to lose its
brightness, its vividness, its very color.
didn’t know if it was by choice or by
virtue of the threshold beyond awareness, but Dytee’s face, the senses
came along with her, and the unfathomable feelings she furnished,
ever-present, as if they were a guide lulling him back to harmony, back
serenity, back to the shores of Ares.
The blurry closing of his eyes was
eclipsed only by a blanket of blackness, as Xander was once again
his own existence.
© 2022 Gregory Cioffi
Bio: Gregory Cioffi (SAG-AFTRA,
AEA) is a professional actor and a published writer. His works have
been published in The Feral Press, Mystery Weekly Magazine, Queen Mob’s
Tea House, Little Old Lady (LOL) Comedy, Blood Moon Rising Magazine,
Fleas on the Dog, The Five-Two, Aphelion, Paumanok:
Interwoven/Transition, and Allegory Ridge. Many of his stories have
been archived in numerous libraries including Yale University’s
Beinecke Collection (Rare Books and Manuscript Library). His poem
Confined But Commemorating, written about Memorial Day during the
pandemic, won third place in the Nassau County Poet Laureate Society
Greg’s film, The Museum of Lost Things, won awards at The Long Island
International Film Expo, Global Shorts, and The Madrid International
Film Festival. Be on the lookout for his next film – The Concertgoer!
You might have noticed him on the stage or screen in The Irishman, The
Godfather of Harlem, Transit: A NYC Fairytale, AMC’s The Making of the
Mob, or in Tony n Tina’s Wedding where, for the last 7 years, he has
been married hundreds of times nationally and internationally. Greg is
an Adjunct Professor of English at Long Island University, an Associate
Professor of Literature & Composition at Post University, and
he also teaches Creative Writing, Poetry, and Basic Acting at Nassau
Community College. http://www.gandeproductions.com/
Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum
Return to Aphelion's Index page.