On Being Unkind

On Being Unkind

I recently wrote a piece about Sansa Stark, the GOT character a lot of people hate beyond all reason, even though she never actually did anything so terribly wrong.  For some reason, people will forgive every other Game of Thrones character for doing just utterly evil things, even going so far as to totally stan incesters and rapists and cold-blooded murderers – even making a meme hero of a person who murdered children. 

But despite GoT being a veritable extravaganza of anti-heroism, a little girl who was simply caught up as a victim of circumstance is an UNFORGIVABLE SINNER.

I thought I spelled out the reasons why this attitude was dumb pretty thoroughly in my piece, but I got a pretty interesting comment and since I hadn’t tackled this particular incarnation of Sansa hate, I figured I’d do that here, where I tackle things where I think I may swear a lot more than normal whilst discussing them.

The comment was something along these lines: “The real reason I dislike Sansa is because she was unkind.  She was unkind to Arya, she was unkind to Jon, and she was unkind to Tyrion.”

So?

I covered Arya and Jon mostly in my piece, but quickly just to get it out of the way – Arya and Sansa were “unkind” to each other in equal parts because they were sisters and they fought like sisters.  People overlook Arya’s unkindness to Sansa because they’re brainwashed by Hollywood to always take the side of the “Plucky Girl” over the Damsel in Distress type like Sansa.  That is, as they say, a personal problem y’all need to work on.  Suffice to say, just because Hollywood says it over and over again that traditional femininity is bad and was the product of patriarchal oppression, thus anyone who rejects traditional femininity (even when they are a cold blooded murderer who kills an entire family for the sins of a few of them, like Arya) are by default brave and amazing, that isn’t always or even usually the case.

And Sansa was only “unkind” to Jon because Sansa’s mother Catelyn (who, last I checked, was a goddamn fucking adult) had set the example since Sansa had emerged from the cradle to be unkind to Jon.  Even Catelyn is not completely to blame here; after all Ned Stark (an adult) failed to tell his wife the truth about Jon’s parents for reasons we can only guess at (muh honor, most likely, or maybe it was that he didn’t trust Catelyn to keep it quiet), and he was only in that position because Rhaegar Targaryan (also an adult) ran off with a 14 year old Lyanna Stark (not an adult) and married in secret, starting a war that killed thousands of people because he couldn’t resist the urges of his throbbing genitals even tho he already had a wife and kids.  That’s right, Rhaegar Targaryan’s pedophilic boner was by far more responsible for Sansa’s “unkindness” towards Jon than a fucking CHILD who simply did as her mother showed her and hated the guy she was supposed to hate.

I mean, like, I don’t know, I was a little cunt when I was 13.  I teased a boy so much one day I made him cry, with far less justification than Sansa had (as in, NONE).  I still to this day, 37 years later, have huge regrets over that, so much so I’m getting red in the face with mortification and self-loathing just thinking about it.  I’m sorry, Dennis.  At the time I felt like I was taking the pressure off of myself by focusing it onto you, but now I would give anything if I could go back and take the tease instead.  Thanks, public school. 

So set Jon and Arya aside.  That was just kid stuff, and if you can’t differentiate between kid stuff and a legit reason to hate a character, maybe you shouldn’t be reading fiction at all. 

This being a feminist blog and everything, what I really want to talk about is the notion that Sansa was “unkind to Tyrion”.  Just to refresh your collective memories, Tyrion’s family had tricked/beguiled Sansa into betraying her father, killed all her family’s employees including the nanny she had been raised by, beheaded her father in front of her and made her complicit in that act, forced her to look at the severed head and her nanny’s severed head, kept her prisoner, abused her, ripped off her clothes in front of a room full of people, played all sorts of other psychological games with her, then, as the capper, made her get married against her will. By the way, because there seems to be some confusion about this, in the books this is very clearly done WITHOUT ANY WARNING, they take Sansa to get some new clothes, and then to get married in the span of a couple of hours’ time:

After all this, Sansa was forced to marry – FORCED TO MARRY on a moment’s notice without even time to wrap her head around it – an untraditionally attractive guy who was not only 30 years her senior and practically a stranger, but was very much a member of the family that had done all these terrible things to her, a family so evil and demented that shortly thereafter then went on to kill her mother and brother too.  And yet some would say Sansa Stark is an unlikeable character because she was unkind to Tyrion.

Brief aside – Another thing I didn’t do as a teenager was go out on a date with a very nice guy who I think liked me a lot, because he had alopecia (aka he had no body hair). Teenage girls are pieces of shit like that.  I’m sorry, Larry.  You deserved better, but of course I was a fucking child and only as good as I’d been taught to be by my moral education, which basically consisted of Seventeen Magazine and Tiger Beat at that point. Also, by the way, I was always secretly very happy that you got a girlfriend after that who was undoubtedly way better than me.

And how, pray tell, was Sansa “unkind” to Tyrion?  Well, during the wedding ceremony, she did not kneel to assist him when he tried to put a cloak over her shoulders, leaving the short-statured Tyrion as the butt of the joke.  Now maybe if Sansa had done that without all the stuff that came before, yeah, that would have been pretty unkind.  But given everything that came before, it’s a miracle of forbearance that’s all she did.  Yet somehow we’re not only expecting Sansa to be KIND in this situation, but judging her for being unkind?

Really? 

There’s an underlying assumption here, and while I really do kind of hate belaboring the point since I probably already made it more than adequately, I feel like I need to make it crystal clear since it’s apparently been missed by some.  The assumption is that it’s kind of ok that Sansa was abused in about a zillion different ways, she should have sucked it up buttercup, because it really doesn’t MATTER that much anyway, does it, I mean really, the medieval world was full of violence against women, dadt-di-dah, yadda yadda, just how things were back then, unfortunate and all that.  But momentarily embarrassing a person with disabilities, well now, that’s a horse of a different color entirely!  How DARE she do such a cruel and unbelievable thing!  Now that, well that was ACTUALLY BAD!  

Or to put it another way, it is known that women must continue to obey the social niceties no matter what happens to them, no matter how badly they are treated they should be good girls and shut their mouths and do their parts and lie back and think of England, er, Westeros.  Women are never meant to have any non-culturally-approved feelings at all, and if they do, they should suppress them posthaste, and certainly never speak of them openly. IT IS KNOWN.

Later along on her wedding day, Sansa compounds her sin by saying words a man finds displeasing…

Tyrion tells Sansa “I won’t have sex with you until you’re ready” (last time I checked, this is merely how it SHOULD be, and not any sort of particularly noble gesture, so don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back there, Mr. Lannister) and Sansa says – honestly – “and what if that day never comes?”

But, is that being unkind?  Is it being more or less unkind than faking interest, than making promises she had no idea if she would ever be able to keep?  Because personally, I think stringing a dude along you don’t even like, letting him languish eternally hoping in the friend zone, is pretty much the shittiest thing a woman can do.

I know, I know, Tyrion didn’t want to get married either.  He didn’t have much control over his circumstances either.  Hey, guess what, I don’t fucking CARE.  Poor Tyrion, waah! You and I can have sympathy for Tyrion because we are adults and we are removed from the situation. There was no way for Sansa to be able to understand and appreciate that, because she was a child, and because Tyrion was on Team Oppressor.  Tyrion should have understood this, because he was a grown ass man.  Maybe, just for this one day, because you are a human being capable of empathy, knowing that before you is a terrified child who has just had their life turned upsidedown and inside out, Tyrion, you could possibly deal with your sore feels on your own time?  

But no, Tyrion puts the responsibility for his emotions onto Sansa too.  “And so my watch begins,” he says, making damn sure that Sansa knows he is waiting, deprived, in the cold, all alone, with only his unsatisfied peen for company.  Maybe not all readers are able to detect this, but in that moment Tyrion is tugging on Sansa’s heartstrings to deliberately make her feel guilty and bad for the terrible sin of not wanting to have sex with a total stranger against her will.  He’s pressuring her.  Just because he’s doing it in an amusing way doesn’t make it any less manipulative. In fact, it really makes it MORE manipulative since he comes off imagining himself a great guy in the process, and apparently a good number of people buy into that. 

Am I supposed to feel sorry for you, Tyrion, you self-pitying fuck?  Yes, yes, truly, it’s SANSA being “unkind” in that moment. (no it isn’t)

But let’s set all that aside too.  Because it’s not that interesting.  Parsing meanings out of books, while fun as hell for me to do, generally makes other people’s eyes glaze over.

The interesting thing is how and why people, even otherwise insightful and kind people, are sooo programmed to see any act of unkindness on the part of a woman as a sin right up there with genocide?  (Genocide??  Surely you exaggerate, atomic!?!  Ok, explain to me why it is people like Daenerys better than Sansa, even though Daenerys committed genocide and Sansa was just like, not always quite as nice as she should have been?  Could it be that Daenerys was usually very very sweet to the men in her life and Sansa occasionally wasn’t?  Because I kind of think that is what is happening).  

Why is it that we seem to have a limitless appetite for handwaving away morally questionable, even violent behavior on the part of men, and handwaving away morally questionable, even violent behavior from women who play the parts men want them to, while holding a woman responsible in perpetuity for that day she once acted like kind of a bitch and/or didn’t do what a man wanted her to?  Why is it that if kindness is ever withheld, even for a pretty damn good fucking reason, that renders a female character unlikeable in perpetuity? 

Why is it that Tyrion, who in the books actually took his DICK OUT and showed it to a naked 12 year old girl with the intention of having sex with her against her will (but he changed his mind, tho!  YAY TYRION WHAT A SAINT YOU ARE), who delighted in using a long string of women for cum dumpsters, who raped someone because his father told him to, who threatened on multiple occasions to rape his own sister, who strangled a woman with his bare hands, and who was, himself, on many, many occasions, brutally unkind so far beyond anything Sansa ever did or said, eminently, endlessly forgivable, but Sansa Stark is an irredeemable monster in some people’s eyes?

Why is it that not only Tyrion, but basically everyone else in this old world of Westeros has their every foible analyzed and explained away, except for feminine-presenting women, unless they are Daenerys because she seems like good fap fodder?  Because I’m sure there were a good many people who read that above paragraph and thought, “but the woman Tyrion strangled BETRAYED him!” as if that justified it, “but Tyrion was DRUNK so he couldn’t control himself”, as if that justifies it, and a real whole lot of those people are the same people who think Sansa is an irredeemable meanie pants because she didn’t kneel down to let Tyrion put the wedding cloak over her shoulders. “zOMG she EMBARRASSED TYRION!!  THAT’S UNCONSCIONABLE!”

Why is it that “kindness” (not just a generalized sense of being a kind person, but constant, unremitting, unfailing kindness, 24-7-365 from birth to death) is seen as not only a virtue, but a REQUIREMENT for vagina-havers with long hair, gentle ways, and a high pitched voice, or as I like to call them when no one is listening in to judge me for it, women?

Something that has really come into clarity for me over the last few years is this: when it comes to the differences between men and women, men’s foibles, despite being in many cases ghastly and terribly destructive particularly when it comes to female humans, are endlessly analyzed and contextualized in an attempt to explain them away, whereas women’s foibles, particularly when it comes to male humans, even when they are totally understandable when viewed with a scintilla of empathy, are invariably interpreted as being 100% pure evil.  This tendency cuts a wide swath across cultures and belief systems – the immediate assumption that no matter what, it’s probably the woman’s fault, because she’s either too weak or too strong or too quiet or too loud or she’s a doormat or she sticks up for herself too much or she’s a martyr or else she’s selfish or she lied or she told the truth too much and men are just doing the best they can always and never have any bad intentions towards anyone nopity nopity nope nope nope cause all men are OBVEEOUSLEE saints, lies at the heart of misogyny.

This is why there are a whole lot of people walking around out there thinking beyond a shadow of a doubt that the real bad guy in Breaking Bad is Skyler.

I can sit here before you today and say with 100% confidence that George RR Martin could have skipped the paragraph about Sansa not kneeling and rewritten the line where Sansa says “and what if that day never comes”, and people would be sitting here saying “OMG I hate what a milksop Sansa is, she never stands up for herself!  If it had been Arya I bet she would have refused to kneel for Tyrion!!  That would have shown those darned Lannisters!  What a hero Arya is!  She never acts like a girl at all!!  And I LOVE Arya not acting like a girl, because deep down inside, I hate girls and that is why I hate Sansa Stark!”

People hate Sansa not because of anything she did, because if she did something different they would have hated that too.  They hate Sansa because she goes against the “You Go Girl” zeitgeist and they hate her even more because she’s too realistic to be a Disney princess, cause she has feelings and stuff.  An unkind princess?  That’s unpossible!

Some folks just cannot bear it when women don’t act the way they’re supposed to.  Because women acting not the way they’re supposed to makes people, especially male people, feel very uncomfortable.  Once a woman starts acting in a way that requires more than a cursory understanding of TV Tropes to comprehend her motives, that means she is less able to be controlled, and that’s what this all boils down to in the end – control.  

You know what “kindness” is?  It’s a brickbat to control women’s behavior. The kindness itself is irrelevant. Kindness is one of those amorphous terms that can always be defined in a way so the winner (aka the man) always wins and the loser (aka the woman) always loses. 

(Helpful hint – The reason why Arya can do, like, IDK whatever, and people love her to pieces, is because in people’s minds, Arya codes as “male”.  She constantly rejects everything female in favor of everything male.  Thus misogyny doesn’t apply to her.)  

Remember above where I mentioned Sansa above, telling Tyrion “and what if that day never comes”? Well, you can interpret that as being “unkind” or you can interpret that as being honest.  (Honesty itself is another one of those amorphous terms that in many cases cannot comfortably coexist with “kindness”).  Let’s say, for instance, Sansa – and personally I thought Sansa WOULD say this, I found that line as written rang untrue to me, because Sansa was desperately placating everyone beforehand and afterward – is “kind” to Tyrion and says “Maybe next week, maybe I just need a little time to adjust to all this”.  Maybe she even means it when she says it; after all, it’s not unusual to be deceiving oneself unintentionally, or hoping you can talk yourself into feeling a certain way in the future.  But then next week comes, and the next week, and she never does feel any better about it.  Is that being unkind?  Is it being dishonest?  I don’t know, but what I DO know is, the people who hate Sansa would have hated it anyway, and would have been absolutely CONVINCED to the very core of their being that Arya would have handled it better.

Nothing a woman ever does will ever be interpreted positively by a person who is viewing her behavior through a misogynistic lens.  Period, end of story.  No matter what, if the person you’re dealing with is not treating you fairly, is trying to manipulate the situation to their advantage, they will always view your actions as being negative and theirs, and the people whom they support, as positive.  The powers that be dangle “you must be KIND” above womens’ heads and watch us jump for it, and as we do, they are constantly shifting the definition of the term, so everything we ever do that doesn’t suit their purposes will be defined as “unkind”. 

It takes most women a lifetime to learn that people don’t believe any of the bullshit they drum into our pink and sparkly little heads.  Rules are methods of manipulation that the evil use on the stupid.  Most women are stupid because we are raised from minute one to be stupid.  We may even be BORN to be innately stupid, as we are uniquiely susceptible to following rules, like Hermione and Beezus and Sansa Stark herself.  Sure, there may be female manipulators out there, but the WORLD ITSELF is out to manipulate women into behaving in whatever way their culture happens to value at the time, even if that means acting exactly like men like Arya Stark.

The world, who is out to get women in so many ways I would need to own infinity blogs to write about all of them, tell us “be kind” in addition to a thousand other rules like “be honest” and “be true to yourself” and “stand up for what is right” and “do what God wants you to do” not to mention things that are utterly fundamental to our very humanity like “protect your kids” and “survive”  (the number of people I came across when researching this piece who said POINT BLANK that Sansa should have died rather than submit to the Lannisters was fucking disturbing). 

Many of these commandments we are given are mutually exclusive. Being kind buts up into not only “be honest” but “be true to yourself” and “stand up for what is right” and “do what God wants you to do” ALLLL the time. Wait what? EVEN GOD? It’s true. Think of all those mean religious girls who refuse to kindly fuck the boy with the raging case of blue balls! Those bitches are stone cold cruel! How dare a woman put her eternal soul above the need of a man to empty his sack! And get this, when she DOES it, let’s judge her for that, too, the fucking slut! 

No one ever tells us that bad guys are going to always define those things in ways that suit them, at our expense.   Women are told “be kind” 1 million times before they turn three years old, but no one ever tells us that unless we wise up, we will forever be handing over control of every circumstance we find ourselves in, to people who very much do not have our best interests at heart.

And you know what, I suspect that’s the reason why I like Sansa Stark so well – her journey is the journey so many of us take where we learn all this. Realizing these truths is why so many of us older women are such unbelievable bitches, it’s because we have come to understand that “be kind” is in many cases merely an attempt by assholes to manipulate you into behaving yourself so they can exploit you.  Ladies, at some point, you can’t continue to “be kind” to people who are trying to get you to violate those other rules you’ve been taught for their own benefit. At some point in your life, you must stop being kind and start being true to yourself, to stand up for what is right, to protect yourself, to draw lines and inviolable boundaries, like a 13 year old not wanting to have sex with a 40 year old stranger who is partly responsible for her father’s death.

BE KIND TO TYRION ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME WITH THIS???

I am a kind person, I like to think I am anyway (all evidence previously given in this essay to the contrary).  But kindness has limitations.  It took me a long time to realize this; like Sansa, when it came to kindness, I was a slow learner.  The idea that we – particularly when that “we” is people who are uniquely vulnerable to predation, like young women, like ALL women – should go out into the world and assume everyone has our best interests at heart and behave accordingly, putting our needs and even our wants several places down the totem pole, is a toxic one.      

It is not my fault you are a fascist

It is not my fault you are a fascist

Unlike virtually everyone online these days, I still continue trying to be friends with people from across the political spectrum.  There are many reasons why I do this, but the biggest one is that I used to be a liberal  – honestly, I still am.  While I guess I’m a conservative now, I’ve embraced the label, I really haven’t changed my opinions much; “liberalism” is what changed.  I still harbor hopes that I can see something, anything, in good people who self-ID as liberals that encourages me that perhaps their Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde transformation is reversible.  

To quote the late Christopher Hitchens, liberals, I didn’t leave you, you guys left me.  You might want to think on why that is.  Because I assure you, it isn’t me falling under the influence of some shady fascist organization, it’s some of the people on your side becoming a shady fascist organization and you pretending otherwise.

The other day several of these good people – some of whom I do truly like – shared the same tweet on Twitter within the span of about three minutes.  Now, I am trying really hard to stay apolitical on Twitter, but occasionally I fall short, when something is just so incredibly wrong, and yet is so in my face that I cannot ignore it.  So like a very stupid trout, I took the bait.

The tweet’s been deleted, but it ran something along the lines of “people have to be stopped from sharing evil and problematic thoughts at all costs, debate is for suckers” yadda yadda yadda.  Now, let me just point out the epic cluelessness involved in anyone on the left sharing such a thing, because a good number of people think that it’s people on the LEFT who are sharing evil and problematic thoughts and thus should not be allowed to debate in the public sphere.  There are also a good number of people on the far left who think people in the center-left should be silenced as well because they’re not extreme enough.  You see, authoritarianism is a double-edged sword – it can cut you just as easy as the dude you’re trying to slice.  You put the mechanisms of authoritarianism in place, and it can very easily, and almost certainly WILL end up with another person running the machine.

The nature of a pluralistic society is that we have to put up with the stupidity of a whole lot of other people.  The reason we do this is because while that may be shitty, the alternative, where a gang of people slaughter everyone who disagrees with them until a consensus is reached, is even more shitty.  Because those are really our choices here – tolerate dissenting minority voices from a variety of sources, some of whom are quite gross and wrong, or using the force of the majority to shut people up.

And if force sounds good to you, try to remember, there’s no guarantee it will end up as YOU running the machine.  Everyone likes to imagine themselves as the benevolent dictator planning to run the world, but in real life, it generally ends up as someone a lot lighter on the benevolence and a lot heavier on the dictatorship than you.

The ONLY way for humanity to break away from the life of constant war and violence that was the human condition till very recently is by relying upon open debate in the public sphere to settle contested issues. It is the ONLY way, whether you like it or not, whether you need to let big fat meanie pants u hate have a say.

You either debate, or you wage war, and the thing about war is this:

Remember that sentiment?  Remember how liberals used to believe in that?  I believed in it and that was one of the biggest reasons why I knew I was a liberal.  Liberals were peaceniks and conservatives were warmongers, interventionists, forcibly inflicting their values – Christianity, blue jeans, democracy, and Coca-Cola on the third world.  Liberals just wanted to live and let live, man.

Boy, that sure went away fast, didn’t it?  Almost makes a person wonder if any liberals but me ever actually meant it, or if, instead, like about 99% of everything the Left purported to believe in, it was all just bullshit to tear down the principles of liberty and limited government that have brought a level of peace, plenty, and prosperity that the world has never dreamed of, and replace them with whatever bullshit Robin DiAngelo pulls out of her ass this week.

Debate or war.  There is no third option.  And the funny thing about war is, even when you win, you lose.  Anyone who thinks war is easy or fun or necessary, you need your heads examined.

Anyway, so, Twitter brouhaha.  Some dude – nice guy – came winging in to chastise me by saying “maybe this is why conservative talk radio was a bad thing”, implying that conservative talk radio is somehow at the root of the liberal movement going rotten from stem to stern.  And he even went so far as to take me to task for not publicly condemning talk radio, for refusing to lay the problem square at the feet of the IEB Network.

Well, here’s the problem, Geniuses of the Internet – let’s assume your premise is legit (which I don’t, in fact it’s entirely idiotic considering that liberals have control over the school system, the media, Hollywood, and all major corporations, including the fine people of Google who are kindly “letting” me use their word processor program to write this on, any of which are more powerful than “conservative talk radio” by a factor of a zillion).  Rush Limbaugh came on the radio in 1988, when I was in high school, at a point in time in which I had very little ability to do anything to prevent that from happening.  Suggesting I would have had the ability to do anything to stop the rise of talk radio is the silliest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.  When was I supposed to do this, when I was having my braces off, or when I was getting drunk in college, when I was raising my babies in diapers, or when I was working 60 hours a week running my own business?

Suggesting I would have had the interest is even sillier.  Because hey, I don’t give a shit about talk radio.  In all honestly, Rush Limbaugh is and always has been nothing more than a cultural mosquito to me – and in fact, I suspect, most people, even many conservative people.  I have given him very little consideration over the past 30 some odd years because he’s like the king of the world’s shittiest kingdom, AM radio.  Same with Beck, Hannity, Dr. Laura, etc.  I may as well launch a fight against Monty Python’s Flying Circus for all the cultural power those guys have.   

And I wouldn’t have done it anyway, even if I had the wherewithal and the interest, because I’m all about the free speech, in case you hadn’t noticed.  In my opinion, OF COURSE Rush Limbaugh should have been on the radio because we live in a pluralistic society with many different viewpoints and it is fine and fair for those viewpoints to be represented somewhere.  That’s liberty, friend, it’s right there in the name “libertarian”, and even though the libertarians have let me down an awful lot, it’s still the closest match to my political beliefs. 

But set that aside.  Even if we accept your ridiculous premise that “conservative talk radio” somehow singlehandedly polluted the cultural atmosphere, magically overwhelming all the other much more important cultural forces that are decidedly on Team Liberal, please explain why me wasting my breath decrying “talk radio” of 30 fucking years ago is in any way helpful to the debate in the here and now?  

It’s not.  It isn’t.  It makes NO FUCKING SENSE.  It is simply a way to undermine the argument I am making in the here and now by bringing up something I had no control over and no interest in, and hanging it around my neck.  Anyone who looks around at our nation, coming apart at the seams, in which people – even politicians, professors, philosophers, and reporters at some pretty important sources like the NYT and WaPo – are regularly sharing sentiments that would make Rush Limbaugh at his very worst blush, and thinks “you know, the real problem here is the talk radio of 1993, Bill Clinton just wanted a blow job, FFS” is like the person who sits there arguing over the menu when the restaurant is on fire.

It’s the musings of a person who cannot come up with a legit criticism because they don’t want to look any too close at the illiberal, and yes, I’ll say it, fascist tendencies present in THEIR FUCKING movement.  So they seize on the ONE THING the conservatives have ever won at – talk radio – and attribute the origins of all American Evil to that one thing.

I mean, it’d be funny if it wasn’t so pitiful.

Statement of fact – when it comes to free speech, the cons have always harbored anti-free-speech sentiments that I loathe, that’s why they’re burning Harry Potter books and Dixie Chick CDs.  I have always thought that book burning is thoroughly repugnant, and said so at the time, because I believe in the necessity of free speech.  The difference is, liberal chums, you used to think it was repugnant too, but now that you got your greasy mitts on the levers of power, you’re all in.  What the fuck happened to you, liberals?  Y u no believe in free speech no more? 

And then this Nice Guy had the gall to tell me “police your own movement”.  Um, hey dude, I am policing my own movement, the LIBERAL MOVEMENT.  Why aren‘t you standing beside me doing the same?  My liberals, where you at, baby?  It’s basically me and Bills Burr and Maher up here, and Bill Maher’s stock is dropping by the day.  How’s about YOU start policing your own movement rather than taking potshots at me for doing so?

Conservative talk radio.  Fuck you.

Riddle me this: if your magical liberal thinking is SO evolved and SO advanced and SO inarguably superior, then shouldn’t it be OBVIOUSLY AND UNDENIABLY TRUE?  Shouldn’t everyone be falling all over themselves to agree with you if the stuff you say is so undeniably correct and better?  If your philosophy is really that awesomesauce that it should be allowed to reign supreme without a challenge and can be trusted to stifle all dissent, surely it could withstand ANY LEVEL of cranks saying “MegaDittos” back and forth to each other?? 

What are you so afraid of anyway, if you’re so goddamn correct?  

By calling for viewpoints you dislike to be silenced, you’re basically admitting that conservative thought packs a serious amount of convincing power, power you have no answer for apparently, if your philosophy cannot withstand any competing dogma whatsoever. 

In a free society, confident people who are sure they’re on the right side of an argument are not so scared of things that they happen to disagree with.  This is especially true when they’re the ones with all the cultural power, and are in the majority, as liberals are (unless you’re telling me that Biden didn’t actually win??)  So someone wants to believe in the flat earth?  Hey, I don’t care.  Moon landing?  What difference does that make to me?  I don’t care that some people are evangelical Christians and some are Muslims and some are atheists because their beliefs really don’t have a hell of a lot to do with me.  I’m even willing to put up with commies (no McCarthy, I) because I have complete faith that eventually glorious liberty will win in the end.  Because I know I’m right, and freedom is awesomesauce, I can be completely chill about the tankies blathering on about how breadlines are good, achtually.

If you know you’re right, you know the truth will out eventually.  Provided, that is, that respectful debate is still seen as possible and beneficial.  You saying it isn’t, that it shouldn’t be, that any and every disagreement over your orthodoxy should be quashed, makes me think you don’t actually believe you ARE right, and as such you’ve decided to resort to the “let’s kill the infidels” approach. Because you know your philosophy can’t compete.

Which, last time I checked, was pretty fucking illiberal.  

I’ve got suspicious that some of you want to crush dissenting voices because you know, you know right down deep in your gut, that your movement IS rotten from stem to stern and you don’t know what to do about it.  You’re as powerless as me, in 1988, to stop Rush Limbaugh singlehandedly.  You know the Left has got off track, that you’re betraying your principles, but on some level you believe that it’s only just till you win, and then things will go back to the way they’re supposed to be once the bad guys are gotten rid of.  Once all the bad guys are gone, THEN war can be bad for children and other living things again.  

Of course, that’s what every fascist tells themselves, and I think you know that too.  You’re worried you’re not on the right side of history here, you’re starting to suspect maybe you’re on the wrong side, the bad side, the oppressors, not the oppressed, no matter how much you like to cosplay as the voice of the downtrodden.  Every fascist that has ever lived felt the exact same way you do – that the other guy had to be the bad guy, because if they’re not, that means you must be the bad guy.  That’s what you get when you decide that you, you personally, are the arbiters of everything true – if you’re the source of the One True Way, and someone else has a different way, either they’re evil or you are wrong.

Anyone over the age of forty knows this, because while the kids may be perilously dumb and grossly uneducated, the older people aren’t.  You were raised with the same body of knowledge I did, bros and sisses, the same liberal values were drummed into your heads the same way they were mine.  And I do not think for one single solitary minute that you’re that stupid.  You just don’t want to believe it.  You don’t want to be wrong and have to keep sticking your thumb out there to be hit with the hammer the way I do time after time.  

You want to erase every contrary voice because those voices make you nervous. 

For all your talk of tolerance, for all your coexist bumperstickers, your fellows, a good number of them, don’t want to coexist.  They want to WIN, and they want that victory to be complete and not have to put up with any naysayers that harsh their buzz.

Well, bitch, I’m harshing it.  A good number of people, people I honestly quite like, are fascist or fascist adjacent, and you know who isn’t?  ME.  I’ve done more to fight fascism than the vast majority of everyone over the course of my life, including YOU, my liberal friends.  I’m sorry you don’t know about all that stuff, person who only knows me from Twitter, but it’s true.  I’ve sacrificed more than anyone could reasonably expect from me in terms of fighting fascism, and then some.  My grandpa died fighting fascism and my other grandpa was seriously maimed, and the baggage from that has echoed through the generations.  My husband ran for Congress, even debated on C-SPAN.  I spend hours and hours and hours writing thought provoking essays and my children are upstanding taxpayers who even vote. I bought myself an ACLU subscription with my fucking BABYSITTING MONEY when I was a teenager.  I could go on listing off shit for quite some time; suffice to say I find my efforts to be pretty darn adequate, actually.

Even though I did not challenge Rush Limbaugh to a wrestling match, I did do my part to stick up for values that at that point in time WERE LIBERAL.  This is not a new thing for me here, my believing in free speech as an absolute, hardline, no compromises ideal.  I am not believing in free speech to own the libs, I am begging the libs, who once believed in free speech too, to wake up and start acting normal again before it’s too late. 

If you prefer to stay asleep, so be it.  But don’t you fucking dare blame me for your own fascism.  It wasn’t me “not doing my part” because I did my part and I’ll keep doing my part and it’s a hell of a lot more than you ever did or will do, I’ll wager.  Your fascism is not the fault of cultural mosquito Rush Limbaugh, it wasn’t the Proud Boys, and it sure the fuck wasn’t me.  It was a whole bunch of people who decided that winning the culture war means they get to have their way all the time on everything without even having to defend their positions in the marketplace of ideas.  And as is true of all fascist movements, this relatively tiny group is bolstered by whole lot more of you who know it is happening and are inexplicably going along with it because you think this time it will be different, because this time it’s your team, and this time the bad guys are ACTUALLY bad.

But of course that is what every fascist has told themselves every time fascism has risen – this time is different.  This time, we’re getting the Actual Bad Guys.  Unfortunately, ain’t nobody ever ridden out on a pogrom in the middle of the night thinking they were the villains, going out to bash the heads of the innocent.  No.  They went out thinking they were the heroes going out to silence the dangerous ones, just like you do.

Fascism is like fire – maybe you need a little of it to provide your movement with some heat and some light.  I get it.  I don’t think you’re a bad person for being a little fascist around the edges, truly, even though I cursed a lot in this piece I understand that being fash is just something people DO, even when we call it other, nobler names like “fighting the good fight” and “doing the right thing” and “being on the right side of history” and “not tolerating the presence of evil”.  But just exactly like fire, fascism is a dangerous master.  If you build it up too high, feed it too much, and then the wind kicks up and the humidity drops, it will rage right out of your control and destroy everything, even the things you like are gonna get all burned up.  Someday you’ll be standing in the ashes thinking “huh I guess maybe atomic was right all along, too bad how she got hauled off for wrongthink, or I’d tell her.  Hmm, is that wolves howling that I hear, or is that a roving gang of postapocalytic criminals instead?”

“Oh well, at least I didn’t have to live in a world where I had to tolerate Rush Limbaugh.”

It’s Just Biology – Part 7

It’s Just Biology – Part 7

Looking for Part 6? It’s here: https://atomicfeminist.com/2021/04/07/its-just-biology-part-6/

Need to start from the beginning? It’s Just Biology – Part 1 – the atomic feminist

Couldn’t it be possible that this Pulsipher fellow wasn’t that dangerous? Nicky reassured himself.  No DNA warrant, ok, sure, fine, whatever, shit happens, as the Americanese would say. Perhaps Pulsipher would get the woman off station, ok, fine, whatever, but surely he wasn’t that dangerous. It just couldn’t be possible that the authorities would let a truly dangerous man walk.

They’d get off station, probably that would happen, there just wasn’t time enough to stop it, but then Nicky could track them down in transit, or even back on Kolob.  The Tashalos police could file an extradition order since they were humans on a human world and the woman had been taken against her will without a competency hearing beforehand.  That she had never officially lived on Tashalos Station was a complication but not an insurmountable one; after all they had the police report that proved her residency.

It might take some finagling and a sympathetic judge, but surely there was some way.  Nicky didn’t have to just stand aside and let a woman be kidnapped against her will. 

My woman, mine, MINE, that primitive part of Nicky’s mind growled, and he knew no matter what his superiors told him, no matter what the laws on the books might say, he would not be standing aside. Even if he had to resign his commission and upend his whole life, even if he had to spend everything he owned to hire a lawyer, even if he had to break the law himself, whatever it took, he would do it. Prove it, she had said, and he meant to.

He couldn’t be that dangerous, really, now, could he? He roughed her up, that much was true, he scared her, of course it was true or she wouldn’t have run, but the man couldn’t be that dangerous. If he was that dangerous, he would be in prison, of course he would be. A psychotic obsessed creep, to be sure, but he couldn’t possibly be that dangerous. Right? He couldn’t be or he’d be in prison.

If only they could have got hold of Pulsipher’s financial records, there had to be something there, a payment made, hotel reservations, purchase records, Amazon deliveries, somewhere to start. The Kolobians were taking their sweet time granting them access, that was to be expected, but Nicky had no doubt that with those financial records they would have him. The man might be rich and smart, doing his level best to avoid leaving a trail of crumbs to follow, but he wasn’t infallible.  It was the closest thing to impossible to vanish on Tashalos Station. The woman had only managed it as long as she did because no one was looking for her.

As soon as Detective Buchanan called up the security footage for Market 27, she’d appeared, popping up before his eyes on the security cameras like Where’s Waldo. He didn’t even need to run the footage through the ident programs. So easy it had been to find her, he thought she was quite stupid at first, one of those self-destructive types who basically invited being attacked by her perilous lifestyle, till she scrambled up the side of a twenty foot stack of cargo agile as a cat and disappeared. When he’d realized that’s where she was living, hiding in plain sight, in a place no one bothered to look, he recalled how she’d talked about the road less traveled and chuckled.

But she hadn’t vanished. You simply couldn’t disappear altogether on Tashalos, not if someone was looking for you. Pulsipher had to be buying things, food and water at the least. Perhaps he was having drones delivered; you couldn’t do that without an Amazon account and those were easy to track. Nicky decided he would check that first once he was granted access to the financials. Or it could be that he had someone else doing his business for him, an alien, undoubtedly, but there would be a link, some link between them, just waiting to be uncovered, because no one worked for free. There was always something you could find if you were looking.

They simply had to find out who was doing the heavy lifting for Ashton Pulsipher, and track their movements.  Maybe the q’Lurian, though Stan hadn’t been able to wheedle anything else out of them.  More likely others, and without those financial records they couldn’t know who.  

Until the authorities on Kolob came through, all Nicky had was the Galactic Database.  He rapidly clicked through all the stuff he’d already seen, the vitals he had accessed via the woman’s phone.  Employment records came up first so he paged through them quickly; though he didn’t think there would be any clues there, he didn’t want to skip over anything only to realize it later on.  Pulsipher worked for Amazon, a lawyer, which fucking figured. He did not have a criminal record, though there had been two inquiries launched; both sealed on order of the courts. See, Nicky reassured himself. He can’t be that dangerous, or there would’ve been charges filed. It’s ok, Nicky, everything is ok, you have time, you have all the time in the world.

Yet why would the woman have run halfway across the galaxy if the man wasn’t dangerous? It made no sense. Even if he pushed her around, even if he scared her, that strong a reaction would have been extreme, wouldn’t it? Nicky felt he was viewing the case through a thick layer of gauze, clearly something was wrong, badly wrong, but he couldn’t make out its form. It remained just out of reach, the facts shapeless and insubstantial.   

Mrs. Pulsipher had been a teacher. Preschool, she taught preschool, and he saw pictures of her on the faculty of a primary school. He clicked on a short gif of her singing a song about wheels on a bus; she looked impossibly young and she had a perfectly wretched singing voice, which she made up for with enthusiasm.  A schoolteacher for little children, probably in a school with a rainbow and a tree painted on it.  There was such a sweetness to it, it made Nicky’s chest ache.  

But then there was a wedding license issued, linked to a glowing announcement posted on social media with hundreds of well-wishes and congratulations.  Photos he didn’t have the heart to look at.  And there the employment records stopped. She’d stopped working when she got married, it seemed, even though they had no children.  A childless housewife was a notion so antiquated it seemed positively medieval, though it did not surprise him; Nicky had learned in his psych classes at the police academy that some domestic abusers stayed intentionally childless because the abuser couldn’t bear sharing the spotlight with a child.

Detective Buchanan was surprised to find that since her marriage, the woman had no social media accounts of her own.  They were all joint husband and wife accounts, which struck him again as incredibly old-fashioned.  A human, even an offworlder, without their own personal social media account was rare indeed.  He recalled a crime called coercive control, in which victims were systematically isolated from friends and family and the workplace so their abuser became the only authority figure in their lives. Buried in some cobwebbed corner of his mind he rarely visited, Nicky recalled learning that historically one of the biggest red flags for coercive control was abusers curating their victims’ social media accounts.

Coercive control had first been made illegal in the 21st, and of course the very notion of anyone not having social media became so unusual in the centuries since it was considered downright taboo, the sign of a dysfunctional weirdo. Everyone had social media, even the cultists and isolationists had social media, even if they didn’t use it much. Thus the police viewing it as cause for concern had mostly fallen by the wayside.

Nicky found policing another adult’s social media near unthinkable; it was so archaic, it felt as if he’d just learned the woman was married to a cattle rustler. But that was clearly what the man was doing. Suddenly her inexperience with phones came into focus; she probably had not been allowed one. Nicky wondered if coercive control was illegal on Kolob, or if it was just another form of the abuse Pulsipher apparently kept getting away with. Regardless, whatever accounts she’d had before her marriage had been not only abandoned, but deleted. Undoubtedly they were archived somewhere, but he’d need a warrant to access them and he had no time for the paperwork. Decades old, they probably wouldn’tve shed any light anyway. 

Though he would have loved to spend hours going through Ashton Pulsipher’s social media accounts, satiating his ravenous curiosity regarding how the man’s twisted brain worked, he had not the time for it, so he clicked ahead to the most recent posts. 

Pulsipher had created several “Find Tammy” pages on various sites. Tammy.  She’s called Tammy, a nickname.  Of course.  Why did she not tell me that?  Tammy, Tammy, the nickname came off his tongue easier than her full name did. Tammy.

The man made it out as if his wife had simply gone missing with no explanation. To Nicky’s disgust, the pages had hundreds upon hundreds of followers and kind words of support.  The official backstory appeared to be that Tammy Pulsipher had suffered from an uncurable mental illness she refused to be treated for and had probably suicided; there were lots of awareness posts and badges and ribbons and sympathetic messages from strangers who had endured a similar loss. But it was lies, all of it lies. She had run, she had gotten away somehow, bravely and cleverly, run away to start a new life. He felt a surge of fierce pride in her, swallowed up by equal parts rage and despair. Thirty fucking minutes the judge gives us. Thirty minutes and no DNA, a fucking insult was what it was. He may as well slapped me in the face, the bastard.

When Nicky thought of the police resources that had been expended looking for the woman when all along she hadn’t wanted to be found, he found it enraging.  How stupid were the cops on Kobol, anyway? He knew he wasn’t being entirely fair; they were clever lies, to be sure – creative, skillfully compiled, well executed – and cops all too often assumed that rich and successful equaled functional. Nicky was embarrassed to admit if he’d read the barest generalities of the case he too would have assumed Tammy Pulsipher had taken her own life, and closed the case just as the police on Kolob had.

In truth, their dereliction of duty had probably been a good thing, because if they’d looked harder and found the woman, they likely would have simply turned her back into the hands of her abuser.  Nicky suddenly realized they may well have done it deliberately. Perhaps he was being uncharitable; perhaps his fellow cops on Kolob did know what was happening, but their hands were tied by the law just as his hands were tied. Perhaps they’d let Tammy escape her abuser. The longer he thought about it, the more convinced he became that was exactly what had happened, because no one could be that inept. They’d run cover for her, God bless them.

A cop willing to look the other way meant a bad man, a very bad man indeed, and Nicky’s frantic assurances to himself that Pulsipher probably wasn’t that dangerous turned to ashes.

And what had Nicky done but let her be snatched back up again? What had he done?

He swallowed down the lump in his throat and kept reading. The very last post was an upbeat one; they’d gotten a lead and were checking it out.  Dated two months ago. Two months.  That was quite a long time for the man to know where she was and not acted on it.  Why?  What had she been doing two months ago, anyway?

Two months ago. Nicky had a thought and dialed a phone, paying extra for an interstellar connection; he’d fill out the paperwork for it later.  “Hello?” a voice answered.  Well, that wasn’t actually what the voice said, but the translator in Nicky’s ear enabled him to understand the language.

“Mademoiselle Quilnaucht, this is Detective Dominic Buchanan with the Tashalos Police…”

To his surprise, before he could explain further, Mademoiselle Quilnaught interrupted him.  “Look, we don’t want any trouble.  We left like we were supposed to!  They said if we left that would be the end of it!”

“If you left?  If you left the station?

“Yes!”

“Who told you that?”

“The man from the FBI!  He told us if we didn’t leave, leave right away, that my husband was going to jail for…well, you know.”

“Actually, I don’t know.  Can you fill me in?  Don’t worry, you’re not in any trouble.”

“Human pornography,” the alien hissed into the phone, as if she was ashamed to say it aloud.  

“Human pornography?” Nicky repeated, utterly confused.

“We had a human girl working for us for a while, and…oh, I guess it put some unfortunate notions in my mate’s head.  She was undoubtedly overly familiar with him, undoubtedly.  He downloaded some materials, from curiosity, just…just to see, you know, and, um.  Sigh.  We’re working it out between the two of us?”

“Someone informed you that was illegal?”

“Special Agent J. Edgar Hoo-bvher, of the FBI, told us that my husband would go to Leavenworth Penitentiary, which is a penal colony on Earth, and…oh, what was it?  Break rocks for the rest of his natural life if we didn’t leave Tashalos right away!  Rocks!  Without any machinery for assistance!  Like Cool Hand Luke, he said!  Paul Newman, 1967!”

Under any other circumstances Nicky would have felt quite sorry for the poor unimaginative Quilnauchts, genetically incapable of comprehending they’d been lied to by a human who could vomit up falsehoods effortlessly, so unable to fathom such deception they hadn’t even double checked the man’s claims.  But their stupidity had put an innocent woman, my woman, mine, MINE, through hunger and hardship, and now into danger. Nicky despised them for it.  “The FBI was disbanded in 2037, Mademoiselle Quilnaucht, and human pornography isn’t illegal, not on Tashalos, nor anywhere else.  Whomever you spoke to was an imposter.”  

“Oh!  An imposter?  Does that mean…?”

“You’re not in any legal trouble at all,” he said brusquely, and hung up the phone without further ado.  It occurred to him the moronic alien couple would simply believe him instead, with no independent verification of what he was saying either, but he didn’t have time to care.  

Pulsipher’s scheme coalesced before Nicky’s eyes.  Get his errant wife fired from her job, let her suffer and struggle and starve for a time, and then arrive on Tashalos just in time to gallantly rescue her.  Undoubtedly the “kidnapping” by a foul-smelling two-headed mushroom koala bear alien had been part of the plan.  Because it wasn’t quite enough to show up and just snatch her back again, now was it?  Even if she was hungry and desperate it wouldn’t be enough. 

The man needed to win his wife over again, that was the key, to win her trust, to prove to her that he’d changed.  He needed to make her so miserable with her life as it was, that his new and improved self seemed the better option.  Without providing adequate encouragement for his wife to come back to him voluntarily, it would have been but a hollow victory – he might possess her body but not her spirit.  This man, Ashton Pulsipher, wanted nothing less than his wife’s unconditional surrender on every front.  He didn’t just want her back, he wanted her to love him again.

Since she did not seem so inclined, that did not seem to be at all a good sign. 

A woman refusing to love a man who demanded her love often ended in violence.  Nicky found himself praying that the woman would just give her husband what he wanted, whatever he wanted, everything he wanted. He prayed she would stay alive long enough to be found, though that primitive voice inside of him felt rather differently on the matter.

How bad a sign?  How bad?  A bad man, Nicky, he could hear her voice in his head, saying it, in her peculiar cadence. A bayd may-uhn, Nick-eeh.

How bad? How bad? Surely he couldn’t be that bad, or he’d be in prison. Surely. He told it to himself though he knew full well it was a lie.

With great trepidation, Nicky looked up Tamsin Pulsipher’s medical records, starting with the early days of their marriage, finding, as he’d dreaded that he would, an escalating string of strains and sprains and broken bones.  Then a concussion, a retinal detachment, a fall down the stairs in which she had fractured her hyoid bone even though that usually only happened when someone had been strangled.  After that, they’d been in a strange car accident that appeared to be caused by the driver accelerating rapidly and ramming the passenger side of their vehicle into a bridge – fortunately his passenger had emerged miraculously unscathed, protected by airbags deploying. 

The driver claimed the accelerator had stuck and while the data from the car’s computer did not support that conclusion, the inquiry had been quickly closed. There was a gif from the insurance examiner and Nicky clicked on it; images of an impossibly handsome man, literally impossible, he had clearly had work done, extensive work, sprung to life. Nicky loathed everything about him on sight. “I mean, they tell me it’s a miracle,” Pulsipher said on the screen, with a greasy, inauthentic smile revealing perfect white teeth. “If I hadn’t bought the safest car available on the market, Tammy would never have survived. I mean, you could really say I saved my wife’s life that day. You could call it a miracle, I suppose, but just like they say on The Incredibles, luck favors the prepared.”

The car accident had been nearly immediately followed by an incident with an overdose of pain medication Nicky figured for a suicide attempt borne of desperation, or else the man had injected the medicine into her throat in a rage.

He noticed the pits of his suit were sweated right through.  This was not just abuse, this was escalation, the sort of escalation no cop ever wanted to see on any domestic violence case, let alone one that involved a person you knew and cared about.  There was no way he could turn it around in his mind, no way he could sugar coat it, no reassurance he could give himself, not any more. A bad man, indeed, she had not been exaggerating.  

But the worst was yet to come.  When he saw the pictures of the woman with her face half gone, he grew sick and weak and shaky. It was a damn good thing he had not eaten much that morning, because his stomach jumped and heaved.  He read the police report where the husband claimed she had jumped, though there was security footage of him throwing her, throwing her off a third floor balcony.  He read that the security footage had been mysteriously erased from the Cloud in a data breach, though that should have been impossible, and in the end no charges had been filed for want of evidence. 

That was why he hadn’t been in prison. Otherwise he would have been. He wasn’t free because he hadn’t done anything so very bad, he was free because he got away with it.

Afterwards, Mrs. Pulsipher had refused surgery, refused it adamantly; Nicky did not fully understand her reasoning, but he suspected she was amassing evidence against her husband the only way she could, since Pulsipher appeared able to lie and cheat his way past both computer data and security footage.  But she’d been declared incompetent and left defenseless in her husband’s care, for him to do with as he would. Only then had her face been reconstructed, after a judge’s order she submit to it.  He remembered that panicky expression on her face at the shelter when she had asked about the doctors. 

A bad man, and Nicky had let the bad man get her.   

If Pulsipher could not make his wife love him again, then he had come to kill her, Nicky knew it with every fiber of his being.  After reading all that, he realized to his great dismay it was entirely possible she was still in the restaurant, dead already, hidden away under a table or in a freezer or in a coat closet.  He could see it as if it happened right before his eyes, Pulsipher snapping his wife’s neck and shoving her somewhere, anywhere, to get rid of her, and fleeing the scene.  Then Nicky envisioned himself opening a cupboard and her body falling out of it, rolling over softly onto his feet, her golden hair spilling out around her head like a halo, her pretty face mottled with lividity.  He cursed his imagination, wishing that instead of being human, he was as unimaginative as Mademoiselle Quilnaucht, only able to believe in the things she had been told were true, and not every bloody terrible thing a twisted human mind could invent.

Nicky realized that as dangerous as her husband was, Tammy never would have left the apartment voluntarily, and pulled the phone records, which someone should have done in the first place, but apparently no one had gotten to it yet.  He died inside realizing someone had sent her a text. When he read it, he noted the phrasing of the message was deliberately left ambiguous. She must’ve thought it was me, Nicky realized.  The fucker had texted her on the stupid fucking phone Nicky had insisted she have, that he’d even bought for her, and pretended to be him. 

She had gone to meet HIM, not her husband, and as that sank in Nicky felt…no, he KNEW…that he’d failed her.  He’d failed her because on some level, he thought she was afraid over nothing, being melodramatic, making a fuss over nothing.  It hadn’t even occurred to him, not really occurred, not truly occurred down deep in his guts, that she was telling the full truth.  Every human lies, he thought, every human exaggerates, every human stretches the truth, especially women, because women like attention.  He’d assumed it, and he had not warned her, not well enough.  In assuming she was probably lying – which, ok, that was reasonable, it was a cop’s nature to doubt – he’d overlooked the possibility that she hadn’t been lying at all.

He looked at the clock on his phone.  Twelve minutes.  Twelve minutes, that is, if she wasn’t already dead and stuffed into a cupboard in the restaurant or stuffed into a rubbish bin in a marketplace or stuffed in a suitcase in a cargo hold or put through an air exchanger and sent out into space. Tammy could be out there now, frozen and floating. Maybe her last thought had been hoping that Nicky would come for her, maybe she had reassured herself that he would with her dying breath.

If Judge Airecophf had appeared before him in that moment, he would have strangled the fucker, strangled him till his bizarre ugly humanoid face was purple or whatever color his species turned when strangled, punching him several times for good measure. Because without that DNA warrant, not only wouldn’t they find her alive, they surely wouldn’t find her dead, and her body would be sent off in a garbage scow to rot, or left to float forever in space, which seemed even worse than rotting. “What do you care,” Nicky imagined Airecopfh saying to him. “There are 400 quadrillion sentient beings in this galaxy! What difference does one life make?” A difference. She made a difference to me. My woman, mine, MINE. God, she could be in the bloody GARBAGE.

He dug his thumb into the spot between his eyes, and his lids felt heavy from despair, so he shut them.  When he closed his eyes the image of the woman lying on top of the Uber bleeding came to him, and he opened them again.   

Stan entered and he had with him the Sophroid that worked in victim support.  He assumed Stan had brought the Sophroid to counsel him or impart upon him some nonsensical bit of psychobabble, all things happened for a reason, or when one door closes, or even if you love something set it free, because Stan, without the benefit of human empathy, didn’t understand that none of those things were even remotely close to what Nicky wanted to hear right then. Stan thought that the way people talked on fiction programs was the way to talk to human beings in real life.  “Don’t distract me,” Nicky said, even though he hadn’t been doing anything but trying not to completely freak the fuck out.  “Go away, Stan, you’re distracting me.”

“You gotta hear this, buddy,” Stan said, and something in his tone made Nicky stop staring at the computer and glance back over his shoulder.  He noticed to his surprise the Sophroid was holding a child, a smaller, cuter version of herself. “It’s a hell of a story.”

*****

As the minutes passed, Tamsin noticed some feeling coming back to her extremities.  Not completely, but it was there, definitely.  It felt like she was pricking all over with pins and needles. She was careful not to give the game away, but when the men looked away from her, she focused on testing her limits, wiggling her fingers and toes ever so slightly, trying to see how reduced her capabilities yet were. 

As the minutes passed by, Ash had grown increasingly paranoid.  Even though the men he’d hired were halfheartedly trying to convince him that the shuttlecraft delay had nothing to do with them, Ash went through the world thinking everything was about him all the time, that he was the center of the whole galaxy.  It made him prone to paranoia, because he assumed that everyone was thinking about him all the time, either admiring him, or plotting against him.

The funny thing was, she wasn’t totally convinced he was wrong.  That gate clanking shut, preventing the shuttlecraft from launching, had gotten her hopes up. It was weird, even the shuttlecraft pilot had seemed to think it was weird, and though Tamsin was clutching at straws, it seemed like in this case, weird might mean possibly good.

Probably it was just wishful thinking, probably Nicky didn’t even know she was gone, and even if he did, he probably didn’t care. Yet that stupid hope slithering around in Tamsin’s belly just didn’t wanna call it a day. Tamsin knew it was just X-Files Syndrome, she wanted to believe. She wanted to believe that the delay was because Nicky was trying to find her.  She wanted to believe it so bad, not only because she’d maybe get rescued, but also because it made her happy to think maybe this time she had someone on her side finally, that maybe someone legit cared about her.

If it had been just the alien authorities looking she’d know that it was over, she was fucked, they were too fatalistic about the number of beings in the galaxy to give a shit about her fate.  But if a human man was trying to find her, well, human men didn’t just shrug and tell themselves there were enough people in the galaxy already.  That’s not how human men worked.  Human men kept going until they couldn’t keep going any more.

He probably wasn’t, but what if he was? A half an hour just wasn’t enough time, she didn’t think.  She had to give Nicky more time.  As the men argued, she managed to push herself a bit closer to the door, and a bit closer still.

“I don’t get paid enough to butter your balls, Pulsipher.” one of the thugs said to Ash.  “I’m here to tell the truth, and the truth is, sometimes shuttles get delayed, and it doesn’t MEAN anything.”

“But how do you KNOW that,” Ash replied.  “We don’t know that, and it seems to me like we should shoot our way out, or something.”

“You realize, don’t you, that shooting our way out of Tashalos Station is not exactly inconspicuous,” the pilot explained, as if he was talking to someone very stupid.  “Not exactly the best way to make a clean getaway.”

“We’d be to the jump point before they came after us.”  Ash just had to be the expert in everything, even things he’d never done before in his life like piloting a shuttlecraft. As far as Tamsin was aware, Ash had never even ridden on a shuttlecraft, let alone flown one.

“But how do you KNOW that,” one of the men said, and Tamsin realized the man was mocking Ash again.  They clearly disliked Ash.  She hoped that their dislike bestowed some benefit on her upcoming escape attempt, though she still didn’t count on getting a bit of help from them.

Ash, despite his many flaws, was not completely deluded.  He realized he was being mocked. “Well, you certainly won’t be getting a recommendation in the future,” he said, as if his good opinion meant anything to a professional thug. Ok, maybe he was completely deluded. 

“Hey, fucktard, I don’t care about getting a recommendation in the future!  I care about not getting my ass shot and/or arrested.”

“If it’s a money thing, I can double your salary.  But you’re going to have to earn it.”

“Mr. Pulsipher,” the pilot said, patiently, as if he was talking to a child or someone incredibly stupid, “there’s not enough money in the galaxy to make me shoot my way out of a space station.  You get that?  Shooting your way out of a space station – if the shuttlecraft survived undamaged, which it probably wouldn’t – is generally considered the beginning of a life-ruining series of bad decisions.”

“Well maybe I’ll do it then,” Ash half-stood as if he was going to make a move towards the shuttlecraft’s arsenal.

That was enough for the pilot.  “You idiot, it’s damn near been thirty minutes.  All we have to do is wait a few more minutes and we’ll be free to go.  What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“I can’t believe you think they’re just going to let us leave,” Ash protested.  “This is obviously happening for a reason!”

“Not everything is about you,” the pilot replied. “Now sit down and shut up, or I’m going to have to restrain you.”

An alarm started sounding and Tamsin heard some familiar clunking from outside the ship.  The gate that had swung out over the shuttle bay door in the floor before them was opening, and her window of opportunity was closing.  Using every ounce of the limited strength she possessed, she managed to push to her knees and reach up.  With the tips of her fingers she managed just barely to hit the button that opened the shuttle door.  As she did it, she was already falling so she made sure she fell forward, out of the door as it slid open before her.  She scraped down the shuttle’s stairs and hit the floor hard because she had no strength in her arms to stop herself.  Even though she didn’t feel much courtesy of the painkillers, it really rang her bell. 

“Uh oh, we got a runner,” one of the thugs said in a bored way.

“Do you blame her,” another one of them said.  “Having to live with this douche?  I’d try to kill myself too.”   

Run.  Run!  Tamsin urged herself onward, but her body just wasn’t working right.  She got her feet up under her for a moment and took a couple sliding steps on the slick cement, then fell again.  She struggled to crawl forward, then gave up on that and dried to drag herself with her arms.  She wasn’t even close to the exit from the shuttlecraft bay and she heard a defeated sob escape her lips.  Her limbs were so weak it reminded her of the first few steps she’d taken after the accident, but at least she’d had physical therapists walking right alongside her.  She rolled over once, then twice, and then she was so exhausted all she could do was lay there.   

She heard a noise and turned her head.  Ash was standing in the open shuttlecraft door. “This is getting real tedious, Tammy,” Ash said, as he jumped down to the ground, grabbing the guard rail around the atmospheric force field and resting his foot on the metal railing. He rested his forearm against his thigh, striking a pose like a model or something.  “Dr. Brooks says you only run away from me because you want me to prove my love for you, but what more can I do here?  I mean, do you want me to knock you out totally?  Because I can do that if you want.  I don’t care if you’re conscious, I guess, I mean, I thought we could get reacquainted on the way home, but if you’re gonna be difficult, fine.”  Ash shook his head incredulously, and went back to peer inside the shuttlecraft.  One of the thugs met him at the door, Tamsin could see him standing there, blocking Ash’s path.  “Hand me the dermal injector and the horse tranquilizers, would you?”

“Yeah, no, sorry.  We talked it over and decided you’re probably right.  Something is up with all this.  It just feels….I don’t know.  Hinky.”

“Hinky?” Ash repeated.

“Yeah, hinky.  And um, we’re, we’re just gonna head for home now.  We don’t want trouble.  This is your plan, not ours.  If anyone is left holding the bag, it’s gonna be you.”

“Um, excuse me?  NO, that is not happening.  You can’t do that.  I’m a very important man on my homeworld!”

“Eh,” the thug said.  “Who isn’t?”  He kicked Ash in the chest, a pushing kick with the sole of his black boot, which he could do easily because he was up on the steps and Ash wasn’t.  Ash fell over backwards onto his ass and slid a little ways across the slick floor of the bay.

The shuttle door slid closed and then its wheels started turning. The shuttle rolled towards the hole in the floor covered by the atmospheric force field.  With her limp arm across her belly, panting and completely spent, she watched as the shuttle teetered on the brink and then rolled down the ramp, passing through the atmospheric force field, launching into space.  The shuttlecraft would freefall for a few seconds, and then when it was safely clear of the station, the pilot would ignite the engines. The thugs would head off for one of the jump points that surrounded Tashalos, each of them leading to a station, a planet, a transit hub where people could change shuttles or catch a bigger transport to one of the more distant systems.  A distant system sounded great; Tamsin wished she was going somewhere far away, like Stan’s homeworld, whatever it was.

Ash scrambled to his feet and ran after the shuttlecraft, staring dumbly as the last little bit of the roof was swallowed up by the atmospheric force field. The shuttle descended into space. Ash sighed. His shoulders slumped. The gate of the guard rail started to swing shut but he stopped it with his hand and just stood there staring after the shuttle. Tamsin couldn’t help it, she started to laugh.  “Oh you think so, do you?”  Ash pushed the gate back open again and rolled up the sleeves of his sport coat as he walked towards her.  But it was just so fucking funny, she couldn’t even stop herself from laughing.  “Prepare to get your wish, Tammy.  You said you’d rather I killed you than take you home, well, it looks like that is definitely on the agenda for today!”

Men are afraid of women laughing at them.  Women are afraid that men will kill them.  She had read that somewhere, and yet she couldn’t stop laughing.  The look on Ash’s face as the shuttle disappeared, leaving him behind, was priceless. It was like watching all his hopes and schemes and plans go right down the drain.

Ash dropped to his knees beside her.  He put his left hand around her throat and started choking her and she still laughed at him even though she had no oxygen.  He was so pitiful and sad.  All he could do was kill her.  But he couldn’t make her obey.  He couldn’t even make her stop laughing at him.  Maybe he would kill her, but her laughter would live in his head forever, she knew it, living there rent free, just like people said.  As for her, her spirit, it would live on too.  Somehow.  It would live on in a lot of other women, women all across the galaxy, that sisterhood borne from finally realizing that even if they kill you, even if they steal your whole entire life away, they’ll never defeat you, as long as you lived on your own terms for as long as you could. Even if it was only a minute or two.  

As the black spots rose before her eyes Tamsin realized her fear was gone, entirely gone.  Because freedom, true freedom, lay in accepting it was your life and yours alone.  Nobody else could own your life, nobody else could own you.  Even if that knowledge cost you that life, the truth that a woman’s life belonged to her was something that men like Ash were petrified in terror of women finding out about. 

As long as you held fast to that truth, they may kill you, but they would never win.

Ash tried to pick her up by her throat like a villain with super strength lifting an enemy, but he struggled to climb to his feet.  He couldn’t manage it, he wasn’t strong enough.  Nicky could have done it, could have done it easily, but Ash wasn’t strong enough. Nicky could have done it, but he wouldn’t have done it, that was the thing. Not all men are bad, you know.

Tamsin was able to suck in a breath and she started laughing all over again, laughing at how puny and weak Ash really was, that was why he picked on a defenseless little girl when there were creatures in the galaxy that could have ripped him right in two without even trying. She dropped from his grip onto her stomach, the palms of her hands hitting the cement with a smack. Ash stood up and took her by the hair instead.  Once he had the weight of her upper body under his control, he shifted her over so he had her by the hair and the black shiny belt he made her wear.  And then he dragged her forwards, the belt digging into her stomach so much it made it hard to take a breath.  She kept laughing anyway.

He started towards the atmospheric force field and Tamsin realized he was planning to throw her into it, out of it, just like how he’d thrown her off the balcony.  Only this time she’d be going into space, not onto the ground below; there was something unbelievably horrifying about that. What if they didn’t find her? Would she be floating around out there forever? No one would ever know what happened to her, she’d just be debris, flotsam, or jetsam maybe, alone in the cold and dark till she got scooped up by the cleaner robots and incinerated.

That was why he’d opened up the guard rail, the part where the shuttle left through, to throw her out into space. Ash walked past the rail, as close to the force field as he could. “I don’t think an Uber is gonna save you this time, Tammy,” Ash said, then he flung her with all his strength at the force field, which stretched out beneath her like a swimming pool, only pink and sparking.

Just like when she’d fallen from the balcony, there was a long moment of weightlessness.  She figured that since she was going into space, that weightlessness would probably last until she died.  If you held your breath when you went from atmosphere into space, your lungs would burst and you’d die faster, or so she’d heard.  Dying faster sounded good, so she held her breath, and shut her eyes too because she’d heard your tears would boil on your eyeballs otherwise and it was supposed to be the most painful thing that a human being could ever experience.  

But the feeling of weightlessness went on and on and on and her lungs never burst.  She had to take a breath so she did, but her lungs still didn’t burst. Reopening her eyes, Tamsin realized that she was still in the shuttle bay somehow.  The force field was right in front of her face, but she was hovering in midair for some reason, stretched out like Superman.  There was a hand around her leg pulling her back.  She started to panic, flailing and kicking, even though she was still very weak and really couldn’t move much at all.  Her hand penetrated the force field, and she felt the cold in her fingers for a split second before she snatched it back again.  Then she was so exhausted she ran out of gas and just hung there. 

“Tammy,” a voice said, and this time, it was the right voice, because it said “Tah-meh.”  She whipped her head around, and the momentum spun her entire body around.  Her legs got all crisscrossed because someone had a hold of one of them.  She didn’t see Nicky until she looked down.  It was his hand around her leg; such a big hand it was, his fingers went halfway up her calf and she felt like he was an anchor, tying her to life.

She realized Nicky had shot her, he had shot her with his weapon, which was not a gun apparently, but some sort of zero-grav device like the ones they used to move the pallets around in her old home the cargo bay. Only it was smaller.  His one hand held the device aimed at Tamsin, and while she couldn’t see any beam coming out of it, the air was wiggly between them, like a heat mirage. His other hand, of course, was around her ankle while she floated there like a balloon.  He had come all the way out onto the launch ramp to get her, which was very dangerous because it was really steep, like forty-five degrees steep. His toes were right on the edge where the force field began and it scared her, not for her own sake, but for his.

“It’s all right,” he said.  “I’ve got you. Stop fighting.”  Tamsin realized that every time she moved her momentum pushed her closer to the force field again, and she nodded. Nicky pulled her backwards so she was no longer right above the forcefield, but she was still at the edge of the ramp.  He didn’t seem to be able to move her any further than that; there seemed to be some conflict with the way the gun functioned. He had to keep the gun aimed right at her a particular way for it to keep working, it seemed like. “Ready?”

“I don’t know what’s going to happen so I don’t know if I’m ready,” she said.  

“Just…be ready,” he said, frowning so much it made the lines in his cheeks and between his brows very prominent. “Whatever happens, I want you to hold very still, do you understand? I won’t let you go, I promise you, if you go we’re both going, but,” he breathed a shuddering breath as if whatever was about to happen was so difficult and so dangerous he was even afraid himself. “Make it easy on me, eh?”

All at once, he let go of her ankle with a yanking movement pulling her upwards, and he grabbed her around the middle with the same arm in the very next nanosecond. When he shifted her so much, so suddenly, the gun stopped working, and she flew forward again with as much velocity as if Ash had just thrown her.  But Nicky was there, and he had her, though she was upside down and falling off to his left side. As she fell, he pushed back on his feet so he ended up on his butt beside her. She hit hard and felt herself sliding but Nicky managed to keep hold of her.

Then they both started sliding. If you go, we’re both going, he had said, and they were both going. He dropped the weapon to grab ahold of the guard rail with his right hand, barely snagged it with the tips of his fingers, and then he jerked her upwards with all his might, till she was up on his lap under his arm. His gun, which he had dropped, slid down the ramp and through the forcefield into space. Tamsin could see it floating end over end and away.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“Why?”

“I should have come sooner.”

“You came right in time.”

From Nicky’s perspective, he had very very much not come right in time, but several minutes too late. To be honest he wasn’t sure if he’d really saved her or if he was imagining he had, that’s how close a thing it had been. He was afraid he was going to blink and come back to reality, to see her floating off into space, or to realize he had slipped down the ramp after her and her freezing was the last sight he’d see while the tears boiled off his eyeballs.

“You got it, bro?” Stan asked, somewhere off in the distance where Tamsin couldn’t see him, in a strained voice that made her think he was fighting.

“I got it,” Nicky said, and so he did. Using his legs he push-pulled Tamsin up the ramp, easing her back onto the flat floor of the shuttlecraft bay, making sure she was safe before he pulled himself up after.

Stan had Ash down on the floor and Ash was screaming.  “Get it off me!  Get it off me!”

Stan looked at Nicky with an amused expression.  “I think this feller would prefer to deal with the human detective, Buchanan.”

“The human detective is off sick for the night, sorry to say,” Nicky said dismissively, as he stood up.  That surprised Tamsin a little, because she knew if the shoe had been on the other foot, that Ash would have beat the shit out of Nicky and probably even killed him if he thought he could get away with it.  Even though honestly she would have loved to see it, she was kind of impressed by Detective Buchanan’s forbearance.  It was like he thought of Ash as not even worth his time, which he wasn’t.

“That’s probably for the best,” Stan said to Ash.  “I hear he doesn’t like you very much.”

“Are you all right?” Nicky asked. Tammy was still sprawled out on the floor, breathing hard. She looked bloody awful. The brute had knocked her around badly, and Nicky’s clumsy rescue hadn’t helped; she’d fallen hard and he hadn’t been able to cushion it, because it had taken every ounce of his strength to keep her from tumbling into space. Her lip was split and her nose bloodied, her cheek was blackening. There were bruises forming up and down her bare arms and she had barked one of her shins terribly. The tights she was wearing were all ripped away, the skin was peeled off and the flesh was weeping clear liquid.

“He gave me something that made me all woobely,” Tamsin explained. “I don’t think I can stand up.”

Nicky helped her to her feet, but she couldn’t stand without help. He put his arm around her, but she couldn’t support her own weight even with assistance. He swung her up into his arms like a baby. The full skirt of her dress must have fallen forward and gone into space, because it was frozen solid. She inhaled sharply when the coldness hit her legs. “You need a doctor,” he said, authoritatively. “A hospital. I’ll take you…”

“No,” Tamsin said.

Nicky thought about it, thought about everything she’d been through, medically speaking, and gave in. He had a feeling making demands on her would not be well received, for obvious reasons. “No doctor,” he said, envisioning carefully pressing a warm cloth against her wounds to cleanse them, dabbing them with antiseptic cream, pressing a soft kiss onto every one of her bruises.

Some uniformed policemen hurried into the cargo bay to help Stan subdue Ash, though honestly it didn’t look like Stan needed much help in that department.  They dragged him out and the whole time he was crowing about wanting a lawyer.  “I want one, too, Ash,” she said.  “A divorce lawyer.”

“That was some sharp shooting, Wyatt Earp,” Stan said. Then he looked at Tamsin with an incredulous expression as if she had come back from the dead and laughed.

“Was it close?” Tamsin found herself vaguely curious how near she came to death this time.

“Closer than I would have liked,” Nicky said, drily.  And it had been.  Because the antigrav didn’t completely stop forward momentum, only slowed it, she would have gone out into space anyway if he hadn’t been able to pull her back again; he would have had to make the terrible decision of letting her die slowly freezing bit by bit, or taking his finger off the trigger and letting it happen all at once, effectively killing her himself.  If the foci blurred and the beam had fallen out of phase, which could easily have happened if she’d kept wiggling around, or if his thumb had slipped off the trigger, which it very nearly had when he’d sprinted across the bay after her, that full forward momentum would have been restored.  Antigravs were handy as hell when trying to catch a fleeing criminal in an enclosed space, where you could just shoot them again if you lost your focal point, as often as you needed. Not so much for preventing someone from plummeting through an atmospheric force field. If anything had gone the slightest bit wrong, he’dve lost her.

“I thought you were gonna be a human female popsicle for sure,” Stan said.  “No joke.”

“Shut up, Stan,” Nicky said, and kissed her, very gently. He could taste her blood on his tongue.

Just then the Sophroid walked in.  “Urgh!” she said, as if disgusted, and covered her baby’s eyes.

“I know, it’s fucked up, right?” Stan said, incredulously.  “They keep doing it!”

“Did I do the right thing, Mother?” the baby Sophroid said, in a high little piping voice, trying to peek around her mother’s appendage to see the show.

“You did, darling girl,” the Sophroid replied.  She had never had a female offspring before, only males, and although she loved her sons very much, she found that she was very pleased by the prospect.   

Then, attracted by the pheromones that the Sophroid gave off, the Sophroid’s remaining offspring – only four left now – came into the shuttle bay, snarling and snapping and wringing each other’s necks with their appendages.  The Sophroid watched them for a long moment, and then calmly stomped them one after the other. A small cry of protest escaped Tamsin’s lips, and she was happy to see a shocked, disgusted expression on Nicky’s face for a moment before he wiped it away. Xenophobia, party of two.

“Are you gonna eat those,” Stan asked.

“Please, help yourself,” the Sophroid said.  “I think we’re going to get pizza.”

“Oh can we, Mother?” the baby Sophroid gushed.

“Yes, darling girl, the Sophroid replied, and she and her daughter left. 

Stan started whistling a sea shanty through his pointed teeth as he picked up the dead ephyrae from the floor.  “There’s plenty, guys, what do you say?” he asked, and then continued in a terrible faux Australian accent.  “Shall we throw some shrimps on the barbie?”

Nicky and Tamsin looked at each other and were both very happy to see a human staring back at them.  “Pizza, sounds pretty good, to me, honestly,” Tamsin suggested.

“Agreed,” Nicky said.  “Pizza it is.”

It’s Just Biology – Part 6

It’s Just Biology – Part 6

Looking for Part 5? It’s here: It’s Just Biology – Part 5 – the atomic feminist

And if you need to start at the beginning: https://atomicfeminist.com/2021/03/20/its-just-biology-part-1/

Ash had forced Tamsin to change clothes in the bathroom of the restaurant, because as he put it, she looked like fucking trash.  It occurred to Tamsin it was also a great way to foil the security cameras long enough for them to get off the station. Though she didn’t know much about the technology involved, she knew facial recognition was frowned upon, and that meant the analysis programs IDed people primarily on their externals, like species and clothes and hair. If she had gone into a restaurant wearing one outfit and come out wearing something else, it would confuse the issue. Not forever, but maybe long enough for Ash to get her wherever it was he was taking her. She hoped that being a blonde-haired human female might help the cops locate her regardless of what she was wearing, but she didn’t count on it.

After all, she didn’t even know that they were looking.

The thought swelled like a bubble inside her and then popped, leaving her hollow and defeated. He told me to stay where I was. He probably doesn’t know I’m gone. And if he does, he wouldn’t know why I left, anyway. Maybe he thinks I left on purpose, that I didn’t want to stay with him any more. That thought made her sad, that Nicky would find her gone and wonder what he did wrong, mull over everything he’d said and done, imagining potential reasons why she had rejected his kindness, rejected him, when none of them were true. The thought of him blaming himself made her stomach hurt. Over time he would stop feeling bad about it and start feeling pissed off, till eventually he would hate her as a manipulative bitch who had never liked him anyway, who was only using him. That thought made her even more upset. But the worst thought of all was that maybe he just wouldn’t care. Maybe he would just shrug and drink whiskey and play video games. Who’s to say he even cares, he got what he wanted. Maybe this is a regular thing for him, all “oh I haven’t seen a woman in two months, la di dah” yeah right, a likely story, men are such pigs. 

In those few seconds she was alone, Tamsin tried to take the opportunity to slip away, even climbed up on the seat of one of the evacuation receptacles to see if she could crawl up into the ceiling, but when she tried to pull herself up, the flimsy tiles gave way in her hands and she fell and knocked the wind out of herself.  Some of her fingernails broke off and bled all over the place; she ran cold water over them to stop the bleeding so Ash wouldn’t see.

Escaping looked way easier on fiction programs.

She ended up dressed in a sleeveless dress of sheer crinkled silk, a fruity cherry red color, buttoned up the front like a man’s dress shirt and with a man’s stiff folded-over shirt collar, but with a full skirt, so full she could have worn a puffy tulle petticoat under it.  A shiny black patent leather belt encircled her waist, too thick to match the lightweight fabric; she had to cinch it to the last hole because she’d lost so much weight. The extra belt flapped on the far side of the buckle; she tucked it into the beltloop, but even then there was still a tail. He’d brought those terrible fleshtone stockings, the sort that were popular on Kolob, because going barelegged there was seen as immoral for some reason.  And pearls, pearls like June Cleaver, a tight ringlet around the bottom of her throat, almost a choker. It felt like she was putting on a collar when she fastened the clasp.

The red of the dress washed her out horribly with no makeup to counterbalance it; her skin was a patchwork of pink blotch and space-pale, and there were big dark circles under her eyes, which were bloodshot from trying not to cry. She’d been cutting her own hair with a safety laser she had borrowed from the Quilnaughts but never had the chance to return, and in the big mirror of the bathroom she noticed she had done it crookedly in front, in addition to having lots of split ends. She looked like someone had stuck the head of a homeless person on a supermodel. If only it had been enough to deter her husband, but it would probably only encourage him. Ash was never happier than when he felt like was improving her.

Tamsin was surprised that Ash would bring her a bright red dress and a goddamn string of pearls to be kidnapped in, but then she realized that two things were true – Ash was just so insanely self-centered he couldn’t fathom having to alter his expectations any; he had wanted her dressed a certain way, imagined it that way, so that is how she would be dressed, period, end of story, conspicuousness be damned. The other true thing was that he hadn’t counted on Nicky showing up. It struck her how easy it would have been for Ash if the alien, the Kalurian or whatever Stan had called it, had managed to snatch her in the first place. No one had known she was on Tashalos to begin with, so no one would have missed her when she was gone. Of course he’d brought her a red dress, why shouldn’t he? Who the hell cared if some random human female went missing? She’d never even been there to begin with.

In keeping with the theme, Ash had brought her a pair of really impractical stiletto heels to wear that matched the belt, but she couldn’t wear them.  Even though she didn’t feel it due to the painkillers, her knee was injured from the attack the night before and when she put them on it collapsed entirely, bending backwards a little, unable to bear weight. She returned to Ash, who was waiting for her right outside the bathroom door. “Ugh, you need lipstick, BAD,” he said. She held up her hands to show him the shoes dangling from her fingers and told him about how her knee was hurt.  “Well that’s ok, Tam, don’t worry about it, I guess,” he said, as if she’d done something wrong, let him down somehow with her human frailty, to actually suffer an injury from the attack she was pretty fucking sure he had orchestrated.  

He always did that, she recalled, acted like her being hurt or sick or getting her period was something she was putting on for attention or to inconvenience him.  “Sorry,” she said, because that was what was expected of her.

“Don’t worry about it. I guess. All your shoes are back home waiting for you, if those don’t work.  Remember all those pretty shoes I bought you over the years?  They’re waiting, just for you. I haven’t changed a thing since you went away, not a thing, Tammy, everything is exactly the same as it was.”

Not everything, Tamsin thought. Not everything is just exactly the same as it was. Some things have definitely changed, big time.  

He refused to let her wear her duct-taped shoes so she ended up having to go in stocking feet.   

After she’d changed, Ash took her to a shuttlecraft bay, a private one, so there was no hope she could break away from him in the crowd of the public docks or beg for help from one of the transit cops on patrol.  The private shuttlecraft docks were ritzy and secluded; rich people didn’t have to have their eyes affronted by security guards because everyone just assumed rich people didn’t break the law. Everything was colored in shades of rose and mauve and soft tan and pale gray. It was weird how universal certain color schemes were. Even the galactians used them in their public places, soothing, yet strangely desolate, antiseptic, like an old folks home or the waiting room of a hospital. Periodically they passed little fountains burbling and wall sconces of brass and frosted glass bathing the corridor in light. The floor wasn’t metal or cement like other places in Tashalos, it was covered in thick plush carpet; Tamsin hadn’t walked on carpet since she left Kolob, she didn’t think, but she was too distraught to enjoy it. 

On the walls there were vidscreens playing tasteful ads with upbeat music advertising holidays on various worlds interspersed with public service announcements about shuttlecraft safety and explanations about how to fill out the appropriate paperwork to leave the station. “Come away to EARTH,” one of them said. “On EARTH, everyone is a STAR!” Then the vidscreen blared “HEY now, you’re an ALL STAR, get your GAME ON, GO PLAY!” and Tamsin idly thought she might have thrown herself out of a window if there had been one to get away from the song even if she hadn’t been kidnapped.

She tried to pull away a couple times but Ash had her around the arm so tight she couldn’t get away from him.  He squeezed much tighter than what Nicky had done when he pulled her out of the homeless shelter, as if he was putting all his rage into his fingers. Though she couldn’t feel the pain from it she suspected she would have a ring of bruises. After the third time he grabbed a handful of her hair and forced her; she went alternately limp and then stiff so he had to push-pull her along, the soles of the stockings dragging on the carpet and building up friction till it felt like her feet were on fire. 

The few aliens they walked past did nothing.  Well, that wasn’t exactly true, a few of them said “Human!” excitedly.  One of them even said “Human violence!” and took a picture with their communications device.  Ash leaned in and smiled for the photo. 

There was a shuttle waiting already; Ash had set it all up in advance.  He had a gang of thugs waiting in the shuttle bay too.  Humans, which was why he’d kept them hidden away no doubt, since a bunch of humans from out of town would stick out like a handful of sore thumbs on Tashalos.  “There are only 254 humans on Tashalos Station,” she could imagine the detective saying, “Surely you didn’t think I’d be too busy to find out where you lot come from?”

Where did thugs come from, anyway?  Was there a planet out there somewhere turning them out in droves?  Come to Disposable Thug World, the brochures would say.  Need minions?  We got em!  Buy two lackeys, we’ll throw in a flunky for free!

Upon seeing the shuttlecraft and the hired muscle, Tamsin got confused because she’d only started handing out her flyers a day ago.  There was no way Ash could have made it from Kolob in that time, let alone gotten a shuttlecraft ready and a private bay reserved and a gang of douchebags gathered up to do his bidding.  Then she realized he must’ve known where she was for a while at least, since he’d set it all up already.  Months, maybe even.  He’d found her some other way, he had to have.  Facial recognition or hacking the DNA screeners or something equally illegal. Him blaming it on her flyers was just another of his mindfucks, another attempt to rewrite reality itself so she was always the stupid one, always in the wrong, always the one at fault.  He hadn’t acted sooner probably because he was letting her get good and hungry and desperate and scared before he revealed himself so he could swoop in and play the savior.  He had probably been super pissed when his plan went south and some other savior had swooped in instead.

Of course then Tamsin had to go and wrest defeat from the jaws of victory by leaving Detective Buchanan’s apartment when he’d told her specifically not to.  Idiot, she was an idiot.  Nicky had told her point blank not to leave.  She should have known a detective wouldn’t ever have messaged her and told her to go out alone, and even if he was that dumb, she should have known better. Obvious, glaringly obvious in retrospect. Duh.  

It was just about amazing that for her that for all her struggles to stay hidden, all the thought and effort and care she’d put into it, it had been easy for Ash in the end; he just showed up and got his way like he always got his way.  And she had only herself to blame.     

But maybe it wouldn’t be so easy this time.  Unlike on her homeworld, where everyone, even her so-called friends, even her own stupid naive easily-impressed mother, always took Ash’s side, this time there was maybe possibly someone on her side.  She couldn’t help but look back over her shoulder, thinking how easily Detective Buchanan had found her nest in the cargo bay; he had access to security cams and the DNA screeners and all sorts of invasive crimefighting technology and she hoped he was violating every civil liberty in the books to find her. Please, Nicky, please come get me, I didn’t leave on purpose, I like you, I really did like you, I do, it was a mistake, it was just a mistake, please.  

She imagined Nicky barreling in and grabbing Ash in his massive hands and saying something like “I’m going to rip your fucking head off,” only he would say “your fookin head off” instead, and then actually doing it.

“Did you fuck him?” Ash asked her.  Ash always was way too good at reading her mind.  Tamsin had an expressive face, and try as she might, she never learned the trick of keeping her thoughts off of it. For once, in all the times Ash had accused her of fucking some completely random man she didn’t even know, she actually HAD fucked a completely random man she didn’t even know, so she took a luxuriant pleasure in saying yes.

“Oh, how nice for you.  Was he bigger than me?” 

“Considerably,” she replied, and in the next second he slapped her across the face, even though she hadn’t even meant in the penis department.  To be honest she couldn’t even remember Ash’s penis and so had no basis for comparison.  

The blow wasn’t too hard, pretty gentle for Ash, really. It only knocked her back a couple paces instead of laying her out flat. A warning. Luckily the painkillers were working great and she barely felt it, other than an intense ringing in her ear.  Being practically immune to pain seemed like a very useful ability to have right then.

“Don’t start your SHIT, Tammy!  Do NOT start your shit already!”  Which was ridiculous because Tamsin had tried not starting shit, of course.  She had tried not starting shit on thousands of occasions.  She had tried being quiet, being agreeable, being apologetic and meek, she’d even tried being perfectly silent.  But nothing ever mattered.  Ash came after her anyway.  When she was too quiet he was enraged by her sulking and even when she tried to say exactly what she thought he wanted her to say, she always guessed wrong.  He would get pissed at her for breathing wrong and yawning too much and thinking too long before she answered him and for saying too many predictable generic answers in a row.  Sometimes he hurt her, other times he simply screamed at her instead. Weirdly, a lot of the times the screaming was worse than the hurting, because it went on so much longer, because he congratulated himself for his self-control, because he expected Tamsin to appreciate how merciful he was.

It had taken her so long to figure it out, years spent trying every possible permutation of proper wifely behavior she could come up with, but eventually she came to understand she could never unravel the magic formula to placate her husband because there was no magic formula.  He was just a constantly angry man who was looking for a reason to justify his constant anger.  Since Tamsin was always handy, she made a convenient scapegoat for every minor irritation that Ash encountered. 

There was no winning.  Tamsin’s marriage was like the Kobayashi Maru test, on Star Trek, that hopeless scenario that was set up to make sure prospective starship captains had to face a scenario in which they could never possibly win.  That was her life, the Kobayashi Maru.  She just couldn’t win because winning wasn’t even an option on the table.  Only losing. No matter what she did, what tactic or strategy she employed, the ship, or Ash, would always explode.  And it would always be on her, because she was the one being perpetually tested, held to impossible standards that no human being could ever attain unless they were an empathetic telepathic masochistic nymphomaniac with a vagina for every day of the week and the ability to predict the future, and probably not even then.

Every time she failed, and she always failed, it went on her permanent record, that long list of offenses that Ash was always keeping in his head, just another datapoint to justify how he treated her, how he just couldn’t help himself because she was so uniquely terrible she had it coming.

“When we get home we’ll go see the counselor,” Ash said.  “Oh gosh, I almost forgot to tell you, I found us a great counselor, Tammy, Dr. Brooks, he completely understands our situation.  He understands how hard it is to stay in control when people make you angry.”

God, Ash couldn’t take any responsibility, not even the slightest bit.  He had nearly killed her, he had disfigured her, he had her declared mentally incompetent and forced medical procedures upon her against her will, that was reality, yet he still considered it all her fault for provoking him.  She had run light years away from him, she had stayed hidden for as long as she could, she had accepted a shitty, lonely life completely devoid of the comforts other people totally took for granted rather than be with him. And even though he had all that time and distance to think about it, to reconsider his position, to grow up and mellow out, all he’d managed to do in that time was to completely rewrite history. 

How could someone be that out of touch with reality?  It was like Ash was writing a story, he was the author of the story of their lives.  But even though the story was their lives, THEIR lives, the both of their lives it was supposed to be, he was the protagonist, and she was merely his foil. She might as well have a big bushy moustache to twirl like Snidely Whiplash. Every word he put on the page was this big elaborate fiction where she was villain and he was hero.  She was the wife who didn’t love him enough to not make her husband angry, and he was the brave sweet man trying in vain to win the affection of a flighty, fickle, impossible-to-please shrew. She was the abandoner, the betrayer, the backstabber, the bitch, the big fat meanie pants, frigid and selfish and callous and cruel.

She wondered what screw was loose inside of the human mind that could make up a story out of wholecloth and decide that was the truth, rewriting the fabric of reality itself, and not even feel guilty about it.  

Maybe the imaginationless aliens were just plain smarter than people were, and that’s why they never even invented fiction to start with.  Because fiction could be mildly entertaining, sure, it was fun and everything, good for some yucks, but the ability to fictionalize things enabled bad people to live in a world that was spun from lies, to suck good people into that world till they were reduced to little more than characters, warmed over tropes and lame stereotypes, and the audience would boo and hiss whenever they received the correct set of cues.

On Earth, everyone is a STAR. But Tamsin didn’t want to be a star, at least not a star in someone else’s show. She just wanted to live some relatively normal-ish life where she didn’t have to be afraid all the time. And if she couldn’t have that, well, maybe she didn’t want to be in the story any more, clinging to a monster just so she could keep breathing. Maybe it was time for her character to be written out, go off to college or up to bed or on vacation to Tibet and never come back again.

“He said he thought there might be some medicine you could take that will make our lives easier.  Because if you can stay calm, if you could only just stay calmer, Tammy, then I could stay calmer, and then if I’m calmer, I won’t lose my temper.  Isn’t that a swell idea?”

“No,” she replied, and stopped walking.

Ash took a couple more steps, pretending that she was just dawdling, like she had stopped to tie her shoelaces or something, but then he turned back to look at her.  “He told me that if the medicine doesn’t work, then we can get you a brain implant,” he said in a threateningly cheery way.  “Dr. Brooks is very sure he can help us.  He’s helped lots of couples just like us to become happier, Tammy.  Don’t you want to be happier, Tammy?”

Still Tamsin didn’t move.  She just stayed frozen in place just as she’d been, halfway through taking a step forwards, with her hand in midswing and her shoulders hunched up.  “No,” she said, though her voice was only a whisper. 

“No?  What is WRONG with you?  Who doesn’t want to be HAPPIER?”

“Me, I guess,” and as she said it she realized it was true.  She didn’t want happiness being a brain-addled figure in Ash’s fantasy world, she wanted reality, warts and all.  Being unhappy in reality made her happier than being happy living a lie would.

“You just think that now, Tammy.  When we get back home again everything will be better.  We’ll look back on this and laugh.  We’ll take a vacation, to Earth, maybe, to Italy, and we’ll sit on a palazzo and drink wine.  I’ve always wanted to taste wine.”

“Wine is against your religion,” Tamsin said.  Always with Ash, the rules were to be dispensed with whenever they were inconvenient.

“Our religion,” Ash corrected.

“Whatever.  It’s against it.”

“So is running away from your husband.”

“So is beating your wife.”

“We’ll SIT on a PALAZZO and drink WINE,” Ash continued as if she hadn’t said anything.  “Unless of course it interferes with your medication.  We’ll let Dr. Brooks decide about the wine.”   

“You’re going to have to kill me, Ash,” Tamsin said.  “This time, you’re going to have to kill me.”

“You’re only saying that because you don’t have a brain implant,” he whined.

Somehow she managed to get her muscles working again and took a tentative step back towards the door, and then another, her stockinged feet sliding on the polished concrete of the shuttle floor like she was walking across ice. Even though she knew it wasn’t rational or correct, she felt like if she could only set foot back on that nice carpeting again she would be ok.

“Do not.  Tammy, DO NOT.  Do not take another step, or, or,”

“Or what?” she said, and took another step.

*****

By the time Nicky and Stan got back to the precinct, The Volg had sent out as many uniforms as he could spare, all over the station.  He had issued alerts for Ashton and Tamsin Pulsipher. He’d pinged the woman’s phone, but it had been left behind at a restaurant in the Orykghkkah Sector, along with her clothes, some blood, and several fingernails that appeared to have been torn off at the quick.

Stan shut up once he heard that.

They were running the security footage through every screening program available, but it wasn’t helping. The restaurant was in one of the oldest sections of Tashalos and the camera coverage there was spotty at best. Back in the day Tashalos Station had been constructed for work and not play, so in the old sectors there were lots of tunnels and alleys and crawlways and narrow spaces between walls and none of it was covered by the cameras. The galactian authorities simply couldn’t justify such an expense of installing cameras in locations that few would ever venture into. It appeared that Pulsipher had done his homework, studied the station specs, and taken her someplace he knew he could get away with her sight unseen.

Clearly the man had ample money to throw around, his use of the facial recognition software proved that. To Nicky’s chagrin, he knew all too well that money could grease the wheels of bureaucracy while the police had to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. “We’re waiting on a warrant,” The Volg explained.  “Two, actually.”

“What two?” Nicky asked.  “DNA?”

“Of course,” The Volg explained.  The DNA scanners could find them anywhere on the station, it was just a matter of getting the proper clearance to use them.  “And I’m trying for a shuttlecraft hold, but you know how that goes.”

Getting a hold on traffic leaving the station was next to impossible.  Maybe for a bomb or a genetically engineered virus, something big like that, but not for one person.  There were just too many beings in the galaxy to shut down a whole station for one of them, however briefly.  Nicky appreciated the effort The Volg was expending on his behalf, appreciated it so much he even felt a bit choked up from gratitude, but he knew it was a longshot.  “Yeah, I understand.”

“And,” The Volg began, and then stopped.

“And what.”

“Judge Airecophf,” The Volg said, and blew air into his cheek pouches so his puffy jowls puffed up more.  “Aprhrwe fruthre frphrphp.”  

Nicky felt a soft grunt escape through his nose.  Pulling Judge Airecophf meant even the DNA warrant, which should have been a no-brainer, a slam dunk, a given with blood involved, was hopeless.  Judge Airecophf was petty and sadistic, one of those judges who liked turning down warrants for no reason other than he liked having the power to do it.  He hated criminals just as much as anyone, it was just that he also hated cops.  

There would be no warrant, and that meant they’d have to find the woman the old fashioned way or they wouldn’t be finding her at all.  And finding her the old fashioned way would take time they simply didn’t have.

As if he’d heard his name spoken, the judge’s unusually wide head appeared on the telescreen.  He was a humanoid, indeed, not far off from a human in appearance; of all the species Nicky had seen along the way, the Priyhthvthians looked the closest thing to human.  But Airecophf’s human-like features were swollen and stretched to odd proportions, and he had a mop of Gene -Wilder-esque curls on top of his cartoonish head the color and texture of steel wool.  “And why are you bothering me today, gentlemen?  Is it because you enjoy hearing the word no?”

“It’s a human, Airecophf,” The Volg said.  “A human female.  They’re practically an endangered species.  Have a heart, would you?  My detective here wants to have intercourse with her!”

“I have three hearts, Superintendent.  You’re still not getting the warrant.”

“Why?” Nicky should have just kept his mouth shut but he needed to know.  

“My, you trained your Flurf to speak, Superintendent, kudos.”

“What possible justification could there be?  A woman is in danger!”  My woman, mine, MINE! a primitive part of Nicky’s brain, not even his brain really, but something far less evolved than a brain, shouted. 

“Eh, I read the case file.  It’s a domestic thing, Detective Flurf.  No biggie, to put it in terms you can comprehend.  Couples fight.  Let them go home and work it out.  Just like your Punch and Judy always do.  ‘To the moon, Alice, to the moon!’”  The judge shook his meaty fist comically.  “What do you tell a woman with two black eyes?  Nothing, you already told her twice!”  Airecophf roared with laughter.  “Humans, you’re a very amusing species, I’ll give you that much.”

Nicky felt his face redden and ground his teeth so hard it gave him a sudden piercing headache.  Stan stepped in front of him and hit him on the stomach a couple times with the back of his hand.  “Shut up, Nic,” Stan hissed at him.  “Don’t chance a contempt charge.  You know he’d love to give you one.  We need you on the playing field, not stuck in the cooler overnight.”

“But there IS a silver lining,” the judge said in a teasing voice.

“Oh, and what’s that?” Nicky spat.  

“Because Judge Floris has a meeting with the Empress today, and I despise Judge Floris.”

“So?” The Volg said.

“So you’ll get your shuttle hold, Volg-ie my boy.  Thirty minutes.  We’ll use Earth minutes so your Detective Flurf can play along at home.  It’ll be just long enough to irritate Floris’ glial ridges.  He’ll be spitting bile from every orifice.  Late for a meeting with the Empress!  Heh.  I’d like to be a glrojp on that wall, I’ll tell you that much.”  He tugged at his broad, vaguely human nose and seemed very pleased with himself.  “Thirty minutes, detectives.  Starting…right, about, NOW.”  The judge smirked and his visage disappeared from the screen.

“Thirty minutes?” Nicky said, and his voice cracked.  “Thirty MINUTES?”

“It could make the difference,” Stan said, in a no-way-in-hell voice.  “You never know.”

“No, it could have made a difference with a DNA screening.  This makes NO difference.  No difference at all.  It’s just a big fuck you.”

“Don’t give up on me, man,” Stan said, mimicking a line he had undoubtedly heard on a fiction program.  It made Nicky irrationally angry.  He recalled how Stan had thought it possible the woman had robbed him blind and took off, so to be technically precise, it was Stan who had given up on Nicky, some time prior.  Given up on Nicky and worse, given up on the woman, just shrugged and said “meh” and assumed she probably left of her own accord, after all there was enough life in the galaxy to contend with. What was the life of one human being to Stan, anyway, whose species numbered into the hundred-billions? “Don’t give up on me,” was he even serious with that? He didn’t care, he had never fucking cared at all, and the very notion that Nicky had ceased caring while Stan still did, was infuriating. The woman, my woman, mine, MINE, was out there somewhere, injured and bleeding, and Stan was suggesting Nicky would ever just give up? Of course he wouldn’t give up! Saying “don’t give up on me” made no bloody sense in that situation, it was downright insulting was what it was, that Nicky would ever have given up!

But it wasn’t Stan’s fault, he didn’t get the nuance.

“I’m not giving up.”  There were a hundred thousand shuttlecraft bays and that was assuming Pulsipher was going to get her off the station in a shuttlecraft straight away and not in a few days’ time.  That was assuming that he hadn’t already left with her; undoubtedly some shuttles had taken off in the interim.  That was assuming he planned to get her off the station at all.  For all Nicky knew, she could be tied up and drugged in a hotel.  She could be hidden in the trunk of an Uber driving around town.  She could be sealed in a stasis husk, hidden away in a cargo hold.  They could have jettisoned her in an escape pod planning on picking her up later.  The truth was she could be anywhere and without those DNA scanners they’d never find her. 

He appreciated what everyone was doing to help, though he knew they were doing it from loyalty to him, and not because of their commitment to the sanctity of life.  Life just wasn’t that precious in a galaxy of 400 quadrillion.  But he had no urge to join them, to wander randomly through some marketplace or search shuttlecraft bays hoping he had the equivalent of a winning lottery ticket.  Two more cops running aimlessly around a space station with 17 million beings was bloody pointless..

He brushed past Stan on the way to the computer labs.  “Where are you going?”

“Galactic Database.”  Police work.  That was what it would come down to, if it came down to anything.  Old fashioned police work.  

Stan grabbed the loose fabric of Nicky’s suitcoat.  “You’re not going to be able to find anything on there in thirty minutes, champ.  That’s like looking for a hay in a needlestack.”

“Twenty-nine.”

“What?”

“Twenty-nine minutes, now.”   Stan took a step back and raised his hands, letting his partner go.

*****

The “or what” Ash had in mind was having the crew of the shuttlecraft overpower Tamsin and then Ash injected her with a muscle relaxant.  It didn’t put her to sleep, for which she was thankful, because she desperately wanted to know what was happening.  But her body turned to rubber and she crumpled to the floor.  Then Ash’s thugs picked her up by her legs and arms and plunked her unceremoniously in the shuttlecraft, in the back part where cargo was meant to go, without even as much as a safety harness for protection in case the launch was rough.

“Home again, home again, jiggity jog,” Ash said, and Tamsin felt goosebumps break out all over her arms because he was such a fucking creep.

It was strange, she thought, how similar being married to Ash felt to being injected with muscle relaxers.  Totally aware, and yet unable to move, watching things happen around her and to her, but completely incapacitated.  Why don’t abused women just leave, she knew people thought it, like it was the easiest thing in the whole wide world, to give up everything, walk away from everything that was comfortable and familiar, to start over again with nothing, no one, and all because of something you didn’t even do.  It was like you were paralyzed, your limbs felt like they weighed hundreds of pounds, and everything you did was like you were living underwater.  Not only did it take huge amounts of effort to move, you couldn’t even get any oxygen so your brain was dying too.

Just getting up in the morning was exhausting.  Just setting your feet on the floor and knowing it was another day was draining, because the constant fear sapped every ounce of strength from body and spirit, and it didn’t take long till all the fight was wrung out of you.  Being abused was like being forcibly injected with muscle relaxers, it turned you from a person into a limp washrag, so right when you needed the most energy, the most courage, the most strength, the most moxie, you had the least. 

Why don’t abused women just leave, it was such a joke, like asking why she didn’t leap up and win an Olympic gold medal with her whole body pumped full of muscle relaxers.

And that was IF they let you go, which a lot of the times they didn’t.  The people who said things like that, they didn’t understand leaving an abusive man was not like some amicable divorce where everything got split 50-50 and you shook hands when it was done and you each hoped that the other found happiness someday.  Leaving an abusive man had more in common with being chased by the Terminator, only the Terminator also controlled your bank account and the opinions of everyone you knew and plus he had the entire fucking legal system backing him up, and if you weren’t married to him any more, he would make your whole life so ruined you wished you had never existed at all.

She had left. She had left anyway, and in the end the Terminator came and dragged her back again. Because the Terminator never gives up, he keeps coming and he never gets tired.

Home again, home again, jiggity jog.

Except for being black, the pilot looked exactly like the pilot Tamsin had bribed to get her off Kolob and onto Tashalos.  They were both assholishly cocky, they were both the spitting image of Magnum PI right down to the stupid floral Hawaiian shirt, in this case, yellow.  The other guy’s had been powder blue. She wondered idly if there was some sort of uniform pilots had to wear or if it was just so drummed into their heads from fiction programs that cool dudes grew moustaches and wore Hawaiian shirts and flew airships of some sort that that was how they’d created their self-image.

The lengths people would go to attain coolness seemed really dysfunctional. Coolness was a plague that infected humanity and now they were spreading it to the rest of the galaxy. On Earth, everyone is a STAR! But Nicky wasn’t cool. Nicky wasn’t cool at all. A cool guy would never have taken off his shoes before sitting on someone’s bed, for starters, because he would rather make someone’s blankets dirty than risk looking weird. Cool guys didn’t get sweaty hands and wipe them on their pants before kissing a girl and they had excessive body hair lasered off themselves. A cool guy would not been dumb enough to put on a suit they obviously hardly ever wore the night after having sex with someone for the first time because the first rule of coolness was going out of your way to be sure everyone knew you didn’t care what they thought, even as you arranged your whole fucking life around impressing everyone.

The pilot started futzing with the controls of the shuttlecraft, running through his pre-flight checklist.  But then he tapped on a keyboard for a minute and then looked at Ash.  “Huh,” he said.  “That’s weird.”

“Huh what,” Ash said, and there was an iciness in his voice that Tamsin recognized, and feared.

“There’s a half-hour delay on shuttlecraft launches,” the pilot said.  “For some reason.”

“Why?”

“For some reason,” the pilot repeated, in a condescending tone.  “They don’t fill us in on stuff like that.  Beyond my pay grade.  Alien bullshit, most likely.”

“Is it anything to be worried about?”

“Probably not.  It’s only thirty minutes.”  But then there was a clanking noise outside the shuttle.

“The GATE,” Ash said.  “It’s CLOSING again!”

“It closes automatically when there’s a hold on transit,” the pilot explained.

“But we’re scheduled to leave! We’re supposed to leave! We’re supposed to leave right now!”

“Right, but there’s a delay on launches right now, so. We can’t. Hence, the gate.”

“How can they get away with that?” Ash exclaimed.

“That’s how the galactians keep shuttles from leaving when there’s been a delay, genius,” one of the other thugs said sardonically.  “Otherwise everyone would just leave anyway rather than waiting, and then pay the fine after the fact.”  Tamsin knew just enough about shuttlecrafts, based on her one and only flight eight years prior, to know that because the shuttles exited through the hole in the shuttlecraft bay floor, technically they could’ve left without permission, just by rolling forward and dropping through the atmospheric force field into space.  It made sense there would be some physical barrier preventing that from happening; otherwise there would be smugglers and shuttlecraft thieves doing it all the time. Otherwise impatient people would be launching all at once when they weren’t supposed to be and crash into each other and into the station. That’s why they had the gates in the first place. It was obvious.

“Oh,” Ash said.  “Well.  This can’t be normal.”

“You sure worry a lot about what’s normal for a guy who just kidnapped his ex-wife.”

“She’s still my wife, not my ex-wife.  We never got a divorce.”

“Thus it’s not kidnapping,” said one of the thugs in a really mocking way.

“It’s not kidnapping.  She’s mentally unstable!”

“Someone is,” a voice chimed in.  A couple of the thugs squelched a laugh.  Tamsin tried not to get her hopes up by the dissension in the ranks.  Because these guys weren’t good guys like Nicky.  These guys were hired muscle willing to do anything for money, and as Tamsin had no money, she could not expect any of them to help her.  They may as well be aliens for all the empathy they would give to her.  She tried to shake the feeling that at any second one of them would spin around and take a picture of her with their communication device.

“Who said that?” Ash glanced around trying to figure it out.  But none of them spoke.  “She IS mentally unstable.  A judge confirmed that! I am her GUARDIAN!  Her PROTECTOR!  The courts on our homeworld decreed it, legally decreed it!  She’s a danger to herself!  And others!  Possibly!  She needs me!”

A danger to herself. Lol. Tamsin realized that must be the cover story Ash had told – that she was suicidal.  He had tried to tell all their friends and family that after he’d thrown her off the balcony.  He said she’d jumped and since it made them feel more comfortable than the truth, they pretended to believe him.  But she’d noticed some people looking at Ash differently after The Balcony Incident.  The cops, the cops all knew and sympathized, not that any of them lifted a finger on her behalf. Some of his coworkers maybe suspected, she thought.  People at the gym definitely did.  One of Tamsin’s sister’s husbands especially asked her all the time if she was all right, and it took everything within her not to collapse into the poor guy’s arms and say “No, Diego, I’m not all right, please can you take me away from here?”  Because he wouldn’t have.  He couldn’t have.  If he’d tried Ash would have got him somehow because Ash knew all the laws and how to manipulate them.

But other people knew the laws too, Tamsin thought.  And maybe the laws were different on Tashalos Station than they were back on Kolob.  Maybe this time the laws weren’t as much of Ash’s friends as they had been in the past.  Please laws, please, this time can you be on my side for a change?

One of the thugs looked back at Tamsin where she lay on the floor of the shuttlecraft, trying to work up the energy to move her arm into a more comfortable position because her fingertips were going to sleep.  “Yeah, she looks like a real killer.”

It’s Just Biology – Part 5

It’s Just Biology – Part 5

Looking for Part 4? It’s here: https://atomicfeminist.com/2021/03/31/its-just-biology-part-4/

Need to start back at the beginning? https://atomicfeminist.com/2021/03/20/its-just-biology-part-1/

Buchanan and Stan walked in to the interrogation room, which was the same sort of room they had back on Earth for questioning suspects, small and cramped and dimly lit, utilitarian, practically a jail cell itself, with a dull battleship gray table in the middle and chairs on either side. The only difference, a difference that Nicky had long ago grown accustomed to and no longer stopped to ponder, was that the table and chairs were not made from wood, but from carvable stone, porous and lighter than wood, threaded through with swirls of dark and light pigmentation. That sort of stone did not exist naturally on Earth but was so plentiful on many other worlds it was more ubiquitous than wood in space. He recalled Stan professing amazement at the idea of humans burning wood, because on his planet, it was rare and expensive.

The q’Lurian was sitting on the furthest side of the table, with one of his heads propped on a hand as if overwhelmed by sorrow, and his other head glaring daggers at them.  “I want a lawyer,” the angry head said.

“Why?  D’ja do something wrong?” Stan said, as he flung a leg over the back of a chair to sit upon it, a cockeyed grin lighting up his blue face. Nicky sat beside him, less dramatically, and rested his forearms on the table, hands clasped, shoulders hunched, and indulged himself by scowling.

“I know our rights,” the depressed head said, not even bothering to look up. 

“It doesn’t matter whether I did anything or not,” the first head continued.  “Even if I didn’t, you people would find something to pin on us anyway. Fucking humans, amirite?”

“If they can’t find evidence, they’ll manufacture it,” the depressed head agreed.

“You already confessed,” Nicky said incredulously.  “You already confessed!”

“Not on the official record, they haven’t,” Stan reminded him. The Volg was recording the interview for the authorities to review. They needed to get another confession, hopefully bolstered with more information than the q’Lurian had provided thus far.

“I want our lawyer,” the depressed head said, and then he sighed.

“The lawyer’s on the way,” Stan said, “but in the meantime, where’s the harm in just talking?  Me, and my friend here, and you, and yourself.”

“I’ve got nothing to say,” the depressed head said.

“Certainly nothing to say to the likes of you, human,” the angry head spat at Nicky, and then refocused his attention on Stan.  “Do we have to have a human detective?  Can’t we have someone else?”

“Someone more honest,” the depressed head added.

“It’s the human detective’s case, so.  ‘Fraid not.” Stan explained.

“What have you got against humans, anyway?” Nicky asked, not because he wanted to hear the q’Lurian wax eloquent, but because he thought it might be a way to uncover their motive. 

“I can speak on the subject of the insidious taint of human culture corrupting the galaxy for infinite quantities of your Earth hours. How much time do you have?”

“Looks to me like indefinitely,” Stan sassed, after making a big show of checking a pretend watch he wasn’t wearing, implying to the q’Lurian that they could hold them for questioning forever, which was entirely true. When Nicky had come to work for the galactian authorities it was one of the biggest adjustments he had to make. By law the aliens could hold perps indefinitely, but they didn’t, because the non-human cops simply couldn’t imagine something as twisted as holding someone unless it had been proven they committed a crime. And they beyond couldn’t imagine pretending an innocent person was guilty while the real criminal walked free. “What would be the point?” Stan had asked Nicky, back when they’d first started working together. “The real criminal would still be out there! How would that be in any way a success?”

Nicky couldn’t help but agree, in principle, though he understood the inclination; when you just felt it in your gut, with every molecule of your being, that the creature sitting before you was guilty, guilty of something, even if it wasn’t the thing you first thought they were guilty of, and you had no other suspects anyway, that temptation to capitalize upon an opportunity to send a bad guy away, to get them off the streets, make the world a little safer overall. He hadn’t, he wouldn’t, but he understood it. He thought of the woman’s husband, a bad man she had called him, and wondered what he might have done, if the man was sitting across from him like the q’Lurians, but innocent. What if he were sitting there, innocent of a particular crime, perhaps, but Nicky knew he had done something, and could envision any number of things he might do in the future. He wouldn’t have done it, of course, but he could understand it.

“Viruses, humans are viruses,” the depressed head moaned.  “And there’s no serumized antiviral therapeutic to counteract them!”

“All right, smart guy,” the angry head interrupted.  “What do I have against humans?  Hmm.  Well, let’s start with the fact that human beings are professional liars!  The entirety of human culture you idiots all love so much is based around falsehood and pretense and deception!  Their ruling classes are not chosen for their wisdom or their skill but because they’re the most successful purveyors of lies.  Human beings WORSHIP lies!  Your lies have polluted the entire galaxy, which actually used to be a pretty decent place to live until you came along.”    

Because human beings were the only species in the galaxy who had discovered the concept of imagination, and indeed, thus far the only species that seemed to have the ability, the q’Lurians saw human imagination as a genetic defect.  That most other galactic species enjoyed the human propensity for storytelling inflamed the q’Lurians’ dislike of homo sapiens to a pathological hatred. It occurred to Nicky that it was probably similar to how human beings thought of conjoined twins, as a wrongness, a perversion, even though for the q’Lurians that was their normal.  But at least humans didn’t assign a value judgement to that!  At least humans tried to overcome their prejudices! For pity’s sake, imagination was a part of humanity, not a character flaw.  “You hate lying, I understand. I can understand that. But tell me this…did the woman you attacked lie to you?” 

“Pft!  Like I would voluntarily talk to a human!”  Nicky wished the q’Lurians would just pack up and go already, all of them, follow the lead of their separatists and withdraw q’Lur from galactic culture entirely.  They added nothing to it that he had seen, living in their isolated neighborhoods glaring at everyone who happened by.  Why even leave home if you were just going to keep to yourselves anyway?  Why not just stay where you came from, then?

“Why?”    

The second head sighed.  “Don’t even bother trying to explain.  We can’t communicate with them.  Human beings are incapable of honesty.”

“Just admit it!” the angry head shouted triumphantly.  “Lying is a part of the human genome.”  

“The fundamental part. Deception is the defining character of humanity,” the depressed head added.

“Sure,” Stan admitted, because it was inarguable that humans could spin yarns on a level that no other known species was capable of.  “Ok.  Humans make shit up, they talk to imaginary sky people, it’s weird as fuck, I think all of us agree on that.  But we’re here to talk about the crime you did, not the human genome.” 

“If you want to talk about the human genome, perhaps we should start by discussing violence,” Nicky said, though it was far too early in the process to start making threats.  It was simply that he couldn’t bear the thought of spending hours debating both heads of a q’Lurian about the difference between dishonesty and fiction in the hopes of wringing a scrap of information from it, when what he really wanted to do was get done with this nonsense and get back to his flat and see the woman again.  She couldn’t possibly be as pretty as he remembered, could she? In his memory she was the prettiest girl he had ever seen, every blemish, every imperfection blurred and forgotten, as if someone had applied a smear of Vaseline across the camera lens of his mind. “Violence is very much a part of the human genome.”

“Settle down, bud,” Stan warned.

“It’s taking too long, Stan,” Nicky explained.  “We’ll be here hours at this rate. And I don’t want to be here for hours.”

“What’s hours again?” the depressed head asked his better half. “Is it longer or shorter than gtylsrhes?

“You see what they’re doing to us here, right?” the q’Lurian’s angry head said to the depressed one, ignoring the question entirely.  “That one is going to pretend to be all scary and out of control, and that one is going to pretend to be on our side, but it’s all a trick.” He glared across the table. “I know what you’re doing here, you can’t fool us!”      

“Uh-oh, they’ve heard of good cop, bad cop,” Stan joked.

“Good cop, bad cop?  Is that a reference from one of the humans’ ridiculous MOVIES?  Like I watch that filth,” the angry head spat.  “Polluting our brains with Earthling’s lies is not a practice that we engage in!” 

“The crazy thing is, Detective Buchanan here is actually the good cop,” Stan said, and launched himself across the table at the q’Lurian, snatching him right out of his seat as he somersaulted across the room.  Nicky followed after with his antigrav weapon drawn, though it was a pain in the arse using it on people fighting.  They wrestled around on the floor for a couple minutes, rolling this way and that, writhing and struggling and grappling; Nicky wondered if touching the crunchy squishiness of the q’Lurian’s flesh disturbed Stan as much as it had disturbed him.  For a brief period the q’Lurian appeared to have the upper hand.  But Nicky knew better than to get between Stan and his prey, so he kept distance and waited.  

After a short tussle, Stan seized the advantage and smacked the depressed head, which seemed weaker of will, in the face a couple of times.  “Stop, please, stop!  I’m sorry!!”

“Keep your mouth shut, you idiot!” the angry head spat, but the depressed head was definitely cracking.  

Stan snarled and snapped in the depressed head’s face a few times and then made as if he was going to tear the q’Lurian’s throat out.  A stringer of slimy drool escaped from between Stan’s pointed teeth. “What did you want with the woman?” Stan asked. “And talk fast. I bore easily. Probably because I watch too many fiction programs.”

“I didn’t want anything with her.  I didn’t even want to get near her!   She was fucking disgusting, you should have smelled her, she reeked like…like…like Taco Bell! She made us sick!”

“Rotten Taco Bell,” the angry head added. “Rotten greasy Taco Bell, with that blobby white fermented dairy product on top! And that one smells even worse!” The q’Lurian raised an accusing claw to point at Nicky. Nicky couldn’t help but snort an offended laugh at their audacity. As dreadful as their species smelled they had no business talking.

“You get used to it,” Stan said, more to himself than anyone else. “Mostly.”

“I didn’t want to go near a human! I didn’t want to, not at all! We’re a gentle person, we’re a pacifist! I only did it because he paid us money, that’s why,” the depressed head whined.  “I just want to go home.  There are too many humans on Tashalos now!  And even when there aren’t humans, everyone is always talking about humans and dressing like humans and eating human food.”

“Like Taco Bell,” Nicky interjected, because it was obvious they’d made a run for the border a time or two. Hypocrites.

But they missed his point, or perhaps they were incapable of understanding it. “We just want to go back to q’Lur where there aren’t any humans at all!”

“Why can you never just keep your mouth SHUT,” the angry head said.  

It occurred to Nicky that there are lies of commission and lies of omission, and for all their supposed love of honesty, the q’Lurians were apparently unopposed to the latter.  Stan stopped with his pointed teeth a millimeter from the q’Lurian’s throat, and then he growled down low in his vocal reeds.  “Who?  Who paid you money?” Nicky asked.

“A human?  It was a different human than you, a much more attractive human, even though he was still very ugly. He said he was looking for his mate.  He wanted us to snatch her for him.  But she kicked us and it hurt!  I didn’t want to do it anyway, HE made me!”  The HE in question appeared to be the q’Lurian’s other head.

“Shut UP!” screeched the angry head.

“I’m SORRY,” whined the depressed head.

“Nicky,” Stan said, in an alarmed tone.  

But Nicky was already halfway to the door. 

The phone rang and rang in his ear as Nicky hurried to the database.  All the terminals were occupied so he unceremoniously kicked a junior detective from Voiwoieoi off to make room. “Answer your fucking phone, Ms. Pulsipher,” he muttered under his breath, and then he realized he hadn’t shown her how to.  Surely she knew that much at least. Didn’t she? Just push the button, you just push the button, it’s easy enough to push a button.

“What’s the hurry, human?  And why are you dressed up?” the Voiwoieoian asked him.

Nicky ignored him completely and within a matter of seconds learned that a human male with the unlikely name of Ashton Pulsipher had left Kolob two weeks ago headed for Tashalos Station.  He had paid for Express. 

Two weeks ago.  Two weeks?  That made no sense, unless…unless.  The husband had already known where she was, somehow.  Before Nicky had ever forced the woman to enter her security number into the system, the husband had already known where she was.  

He felt both relieved and befuddled by that; on the one hand he was not to blame for her being found, but on the other, how could anyone possibly have located her without her security number?  

Facial recognition software.  It had to be, there was no other possible explanation.  Facial recognition software was capable of picking out one face in quadrillions, if you had long enough for it to look. It was illegal for everyday citizens to use it, tough even for the authorities, but the galaxy was a big place and a lot of beings were willing to circumvent the rules in exchange for money. It wouldn’t have been cheap, but it was possible.  

And it was that which troubled Nicky most.  Even with the facial recognition software, the galaxy WAS a big place.  That Pulsipher had managed to find his wife meant he’d spent years and a small fortune looking, years spent illegally having the most powerful computers in the galaxy scanning planets and stations and outposts and colonies looking for one human woman living in a bloody cargo bay in the middle of space.  And years spent on something so tedious as scanning the whole galaxy for a single person’s face meant a completely obsessed nutter, no doubt about it.  

Her caution had been entirely warranted.

This man…an insane and mentally unhinged man…was already on Tashalos, most likely, though Nicky verified it just to be sure, imagining a freak accident in which a human unfortunately took a wrong turn into a shuttle bay and was tragically launched into space, an engine breakdown, a ship-disabling ion storm, things like that happened, they could’ve happened.  As he indulged himself in the fantasy, he redialed, but the phone kept ringing.  Why was she not answering?  Could she be sleeping?   Well, sure she could, that explained it.  She had shut the ringer off and she was sleeping.  Let her be sleeping, please, please let her be sleeping.  She had to be tired, poor thing, I should have left her alone, after the first time anyway, I needed that first time, I needed it, the first time, I couldn’t help myself, I needed her, but the other times I should have left her be.  Surely she’s sleeping, that’s all, just sleeping. He rang the phone again, but he already knew she wasn’t going to be answering it. Of course she wouldn’t. She just shut off the ringer, that was all.

The q’Lurians would probably call Nicky’s need to make up probable falsehoods to alleviate his reality-induced anxiety evolutionarily maladaptive.  The q’Lurians would take it as evidence that humans were so fundamentally deceptive they even deceived themselves, even deceived themselves at times when accepting the fullness of reality was absolutely necessary for choosing the proper course of action.  And they would have been entirely right.  The q’Lurians would point out that the human propensity for creating imaginary scenarios meant that humans created fictions that they preferred to the real world, and then they lived in them, like the human beings addicted to online worlds did.  Let her be sleeping.  It could be.  Only sleeping. Just push the button, it’s easy, push the button, love, wake up and push the bloody button already.

The database returned its answer.  Ashton Pulsipher had arrived on Tashalos ten Earth days past. 

Reality sucked. 

And what had Nicky done, but given her a phone, programmed it with her personal information, and left it there with her, so anyone willing to break the rules would be able to locate her with the tracking beacon. It was easier for civilians to track phones than it was to use facial recognition software, easier by far. But she wouldn’t have answered the door, surely. Surely she would have checked the Ring first. Surely.

Ten Earth days already he’d been here.  What did that mean?  

Too many answers came to Nicky all at once, and none of them were good.

*****

Tamsin waited for Detective Buchanan so long she started to get bored and fidgety.  She finished the Starbucks and was very tempted to forget the Vahkian’s rules and turn the phone back on.  But she never got the chance.

“Tammy,” a voice came from that dark corridor behind her, the one she assumed led to the bathrooms, and it was the wrong voice.  “Hey, Tammy,” it said. It was the wrong voice, totally the wrong voice, the wrongest wrong voice of them all, and every muscle in Tamsin’s body clenched as a surge of adrenaline coursed through her.  She thought of that weird address the text had come from, and realized she was a fucking idiot.  “Where’s your new friend at?  I don’t see him anywhere?  Do you?  Do you see the nice detective man anywhere around? You didn’t think he was here, did you? Gosh, that has to be disappointing.”

She didn’t say anything.  There was nothing to say.  She turned her head just enough to look over her shoulder with the very edge of her vision.

As Ash emerged from the corridor, Tamsin thought that compared to Nicky who was brimming over with pure unadulterated humanity, Ash appeared to have left his humanity far behind.  The dude looked like he was sculpted out of plastic.  His hair was neatly trimmed and glittering with blonde highlights, gelled and sprayed perfectly in place.  His teeth were impossibly straight and bleached as white as snow.  His clothing was flawlessly color coordinated; he was even wearing a fucking cravat, for Christ’s sake, a cravat, like a rich villain in a 1980’s fiction program.  His skin was golden from a spray tan – because of course Ash would never have gone out in the sunlight due to the UV radiation aging him prematurely.  His cheeks were cleanshaven, except for a set of very neatly trimmed Beverly Hills, 90210 sideburns.

He hadn’t aged a day in eight years.  If anything he looked younger than she recalled; bizarrely he looked younger than Tamsin did, even though he was several years older.  This confused her, until she realized that as inhuman as he’d become, he’d probably been botoxed and fetal-stem-celled and retrograde-growth-hormone-d within an inch of his life.  He’d already spent a shocking amount of time every day rubbing his face with geroprotectors and senotheraputics that cost a shocking amount of money, he’d done that even as far back as when they’d been just starting to date. He’d encouraged her to do it too, insisted on it once they got married, though she never did, just scooped the stuff out with a tissue so he thought she was using it, and flushed it, and kept using Oil of Olay like her mother did. 

She thought he may have had another nose job, though she couldn’t tell for sure; the thing with nose jobs is, once you’ve had one, another one is really just more of the same.  

Ash looked like a Ken doll brought to life, she realized, as he came closer.  A Malibu Ken, the one who came in a swimsuit with an orange-bronze tan and six pack abs. Tamsin thought of Nicky with his receding hairline and overbite and unironed shirt and craggy face and comforting hairy dad bod that hadn’t seen the sun in years.  She would have given anything, anything, to see him again.  He was just so REAL.  

In his hand, Ash had one of her flyers, crumpled.  He flung it on the table before her with disdain.  “I do not call this keeping a low profile, Tammy, do you?  I mean, it’s almost like you wanted to be found.”

“I was starving,” she said, and her voice sounded wrong and weird.

“Well, you didn’t have to be,” he replied.  “You had a home and a husband who loved you more than anything.  I would have done anything for you, Tammy, anything.  I still will.”

“You threw me off a balcony, Ash.”  A third story balcony, to be precise.  He had taken her to some fancy resort for their wedding anniversary, and because she had no choice she went along with the pretense that they were happily married, even though she desperately wanted a divorce.  Not that she could ask him for one, because every time the subject came up even tangentially, he punished her for it, even if it was only people on a fiction program whose situations were vaguely reminiscent of their own.  After a while she stopped thinking of it actively, and saved it for her daydreams.  She dreamed of being divorced from Ash like she had once dreamed of cute boys from school and slick handsome actors that had been dead for a century or two, and in the meantime she did her best to pretend to be happy even as she died a little more every day.  

But that day apparently she didn’t pretend to be happy good enough, and Ash threw her off the balcony for reasons she couldn’t recall.  They had probably had a fight, but she couldn’t remember.  Maybe he just didn’t like the way she sighed.  He’d knocked her around for sighing before.  

But she did remember falling.  That feeling Tamsin would never forget, the way she’d flown through the air, a few seconds of weightlessness before she plummeted to the asphalt below.  Except she didn’t hit the asphalt, she fell onto the windshield of an Uber that had just pulled in to the resort’s driveway, and that stroke of dumb luck saved her life.  She could still feel that too, the pieces of shattered safety glass cutting into her skin while the paramedics tried to figure out the safest way to move her and the blood dripped from her slit throat onto the lap of a very surprised young man who had been driving the Uber.   

Tamsin could still hear Ash shrieking at the paramedics to do something, do something and him ordering her not to die, not begging her, not praying to God even, but ordering her to live; you better not die on me, you lazy cunt, you quitter, you better not die or else you fucking bitch was what he said.  Even in death she was falling short of his expectations.  Even as she lay dying he was still verbally abusing her.  And though she knew she was dying she was happy, really happy, no pretending, because she was finally gonna be free of him.  Heaven or hell or nothing, she didn’t give a fuck whatsoever, as long as she was away. The only thing she felt bad about was bleeding all over the Uber driver.

“As you already know, I have a lot of regrets about that,” Ash said.  “I don’t know how many times I have to apologize.  Yes, I lost my temper.  I admit that.  But I’ve done a lot of work on myself, Tammy, a LOT of work.  I’ve become a bigger man, truly, a much bigger man.”

“I doubt that very seriously.”

“I understand your doubts, Tammy, I do, truly, but you need to give me the chance to prove that to you.  I only need the chance to prove myself.”

“You’re not gonna get it.”

“Oh, I think I will.  I think you owe me that much, after I paid so much money to have those nasty scars of yours removed, don’t you?”  Of yours, he said, as if her scars had been her choice, her doing, an affectation she’d taken on, like she’d been making a fashion statement or something.  Of course, he had put the scars on her in the first place, and he was the one who didn’t want to look at them any more and insisted she have them removed.  When she refused, he forced her to, forced her by having his beloved Mrs. Pulsipher declared by the courts to be mentally unstable thus incapable of making her own decisions.  Because – as his lawyer had told the judge – any woman in their right mind would want such terrible scars removed, and that she didn’t want her face fixed meant she had to be certifiably insane.  

And while Tamsin may not have been in her right mind, exactly, the part of her that wanted to live the rest of her life as a monster with half a face was the sanest she’d felt in years.  Mrs. Pulsipher may have been declared incompetent, but Tamsin Monaghan, who was trapped inside of that Pulsipher woman, was sane as fuck and she wanted out.  

But because every route was barred, Tamsin decided instead she was totally ok with walking through her life bearing that intricate spider’s web of red and white and gray scars on half her face.  She was fine living forever with only one ear and only one eyelid, even though she had to put eyedrops in her eye every hour around the clock to prevent her eyeball from drying out and dying.  It sucked, but she was fine with it.

Because she wanted those scars.  Not only because she wanted Ash to have to look at her every day of his life, no. That was just a perk. She especially wanted them because they were a neon sign flashing in big bold letters declaring to the entire galaxy, “My husband did this to me.” 

The scars ensured no one could act normal around her.  No one could forget what Ash had done.  No one could do what they’d done so many times before and tell her she was imagining it, exaggerating, being a drama queen, that it really wasn’t that bad.  No one could tell her that it took two people to make the problems in a marriage.  No one could tell her to try harder or be more patient or go on antidepressants or to visualize a better reality or wear lingerie more often.  

No one could tell her any more that it was something she would just need to learn to live with, because no one could ever have learned to live with it.  If anyone had tried, she would have just said “LOOK AT MY FUCKING FACE and tell me if you could live with this!?!”

It was no wonder Ash hated her scars so bad.  Her scars were a victory over him, but the victory was short lived.  She won the battle, but lost the war.

Not only because of the pain of the surgeries, which was unbelievable, agonizing, even worse than the accident had been.  Not only because of the way the doctors had medically raped her, invading her unwilling body, first with their laser scalpels to cut half her face off, then with thousands of nanotech needles to stitch the replacement skin and muscle they’d grown in a lab over the piece of artificial bone that they’d implanted in her skull to replace her shattered eye socket. Not only because of the anti-rejection drugs that burned like dry ice as they moved through her veins and made her throw up for days after she had an infusion.  Not only because of the brutal headaches she still had from the whole ordeal, waking up every morning in pain that would slowly drain away over the course of the day, so by the time it was time for bed, she felt normalish but she still had to sleep, and then it all started over again.  That daily dose of pain ensured she could never really forget, not that she ever would have anyway.

No. The thing that bothered her the most was that the surgeries were just another way Ash was gaslighting her with the assistance of the entire galaxy.  If she looked normal, he could hurt her as much as he wanted and make everyone think that she was the crazy one because he didn’t leave a mark.  He could hurt her as bad as he wanted to and just take her to the doctors and say look at what my crazy wife did now, can you make her pretty again?  He had a big do-over button any time he screwed up, courtesy of modern medicine, and a legal system that favored men’s wants over women’s safety.

And then everyone could go on pretending that things were ok, which is what they all wanted to do anyway.  But Tamsin didn’t want to pretend any more.  “I still have plenty of scars,” she said.  “You just can’t see them.”

“They say scars fade, in time,” Ash said, and he smiled.  “I think you’ve had plenty of time.”

*****

When Nicky got back to his housing project the bloody elevator was still out so he took the stairs two and three at a time, leaving Stan far behind.  He continued telling himself stupid reassuring lies; the most convincing was perhaps she’d just stepped out for a bit and there would be a note telling him so.  If that was the case, he vowed that wouldn’t be angry with her, not even a little.  He didn’t have any writing paper in his flat, he knew he didn’t, nor a pen, in fact he couldn’t recall the last time he’d seen a pen, but still he kept picturing this little note with hearts over the i’s in it, like a teenager in a fiction program would write, not a grown woman, she would never write such a note, she hadn’t written it at all, he knew it, but maybe she had, he could see it in his mind sitting there, and if so he wouldn’t be angry with her, not one little bit angry. 

But then he rounded the corner to the corridor his flat was in, and saw the drone he’d sent hovering in front of the door ringing the bell over and over again.  He slid to a stop and heard the soles of his shoes squeak on the floor when he did.

She was gone.  She was gone and he had no idea where.

In the meantime Stan had cajoled the security footage from the landlord and had it cued up on his communications device and ready to roll.  Stan had nothing to say, just pressed his cobalt lips together in a grim line, and handed the device to Nicky to look at.  

For some reason she had left the apartment of her own accord.  He could see her on the screen, pulling the door shut behind her, and walking down the hall.  She looked perfectly normal, even happy, and Nicky felt both a vast relief but utter confusion.  Stan cleared his vocal reeds nervously, preparing for an awkward conversation.  “Have you…and I mean, if this is out of line, Nic, ignore me, but…have you considered she might just be gone?” Stan asked him.  “Like, maybe she went voluntarily?”

He contemplated it for all of three seconds. “No.”

“I’m just saying, because she didn’t seem too thrilled about us messing with her program yesterday.  Maybe she just…left?”

“Didn’t happen.”

“She got herself a room for the night and beat hell as soon as you turned your back on her.”

“Stan, it didn’t happen.”

“Is your stuff all there still?  Did she run up your Amazon, maybe?”

“I didn’t check,” he said, tersely, too tersely, and he forced himself to relax because he knew Stan had to ask the questions he was asking, and he would have done the same if the positions had been reversed.

“Do you think you should, though?  Just…just in case?”

“No.”

“She could have run up your Amazon and exchanged everything on the black market.  Used it to buy her way off the station?”  

Oh, now Stan has an imagination, Nicky thought, uncharitably.  Well, fuck your belated imagination, Stanley, old boy.  Fuck it right up the arse. “I don’t need to check.  I know.”  Her ribs were showing, not just the lower ribs, but the ribs up high where ribs weren’t meant to show.  If she’d been a thief she wouldn’tve been starving.  If she’d been a thief she would already have found a victim, a far better victim than a middle-aged borderline-anti-social police detective with an apartment the size of a parking space.

“Look man, desperation makes people do some messed up shit. She wants to get away from the guy. It’s understandable. Desperation. That’s all I’m saying. Even nice people do shit when they’re desperate.”

“She’s not like that.  I know how it looks but she’s not like that.  No one is that good a liar.”

“Not even a human female?”  Stan meant it in good humor, but Nicky didn’t find it at all funny.  “I’m not trying to be an asshole, ok?  I’m just saying. For all we know she runs this game every night.”

“She doesn’t.”

“It just seems like, I don’t know.  She could be playing you?”

“She can play me if she wants to,” Nicky said.  “But she isn’t.  She can steal everything I fucking own if she wants to, but she isn’t.”

“Dude, come on.  Don’t be a simp.”

“There’s something wrong, Stan, I feel it.”

Stan looked down and breathed out his nose as if he was making a concerted effort to stop arguing. “Good enough for me,” Stan said.  “Now what?”

*****

From The Human Being’s Guide to Alien Species by Dr. Biu Mattoovh, University of Phophomoph

Reproduction: The mother Sophroid gives birth to a litter of ephyrae numbering between five and twelve.  Within seconds, the ephyrae strike out on their own to begin the fight for survival.  

Many species abandon their offspring at birth, but in the case of the Sophroid, this abandonment is merely temporary.  The mother Sophroid must watch as her children head off into an environment full of dangers, not knowing if she will ever see any of them again.

No danger is as great as the danger they face from each other.  

Only one of the Sophroid ephyra is destined to return.  The rest of the litter is born to die, eaten by predators, killed by the elements, starvation, or in many cases, ripped apart by their siblings.  The survivor returns to its mother in triumph, and then and only then maternal care is provided.

As the human beings say in their fiction program “Highlander”, there can be only one.

Sophroids, like human beings, are sexually dimorphic.  Male Sophroids are a great deal larger than the female, even at birth.  For a female Sophroid there is only one possibility of surviving to adulthood, and that is for her to hide and wait for her siblings kill each other while she bides her time.  She must stay alive on the yolk sac she was born with in the meantime; newborn Sophroids are incapable of ingesting nutrients without their mother’s assistance.  

As a result, despite a 50-50 gender ratio at conception, the Sophroid gender ratio rests at one female for every ten males.  During periods of war and chaos on Sophro, the female to male gender ratio has historically diverged even further, as few as one female for fifteen or even twenty surviving males.  This unbalanced gender ratio is why female Sophroids take as many as a dozen husbands at one time.    

The baby Sophroid was a female, and as such she was significantly smaller than her brothers. Emerging from her hiding space prematurely could cost her life.

So when the baby Sophroid saw its mother’s friend, the human her mother had been taking care of the night of the baby Sophroid’s birth, being pulled across the docking ring that led to the shuttlecraft, pulled by its furry head in a manner that appeared to be pain-inducing, by a human male the woman did not appear to be comfortable in the presence of, she had a very difficult decision to make.  

On the one hand, the baby Sophroid knew her mother would wish her to help a friend, regardless of species.  On the other hand, trying to help the human could be a fatal proposition.  On the other hand, which actually makes perfect sense because Sophroids have several appendages that humans might refer to as hands, staying in hiding could also be a fatal proposition since so many newborn female Sophroids simply hid in fear until they depleted their yolk sac and they starved.  Going was a big gamble, but staying was a gamble as well.

According Mattoovh’s The Human Being’s Guide to Alien Species, despite the violent way that Sophroids enter the world, they are known across the galaxy as kind and loyal beings.  As a result, many Sophroids work in caretaking careers like nursing and victim’s services.  The loyalty of Sophroids is legendary. 

The baby Sophroid didn’t know any of this, of course, but biologically, it was in her nature to help those she had deemed friends.  And thus, even though she was afraid, terribly afraid, she crept from the dark corner she was cowering in and followed the trail of pheromones towards her mother.

It’s Just Biology – Part 4

It’s Just Biology – Part 4

Looking for Part 3?: https://atomicfeminist.com/2021/03/27/its-just-biology-part-3/

If you need to start at the beginning, here you go: https://atomicfeminist.com/2021/03/20/its-just-biology-part-1/

As the black and white came to a stop, both detectives found themselves on edge. Buchanan had been on edge to begin with, wound up with anticipation about laying his hands on whoever had attacked the woman, but seeing his partner, who was rarely on edge, on edge, put him on edge moreso. Most everyone they encountered in their work on Tashalos Station was so damn amiable – dwelling on a crowded space station was self-selecting for gregarious sorts who felt they COULD dwell on a crowded space station; the anti-social stayed at home – it tended to make one forget that there were those in the galaxy who wished you ill.

The hostility that came rolling off the q’Lurians felt downright palpable. There were no friendly faces, no nods of greeting, no thank yous and keep up the good works shouted at their police car as it passed. Instead there were scowls and glares and malevolence and individuals beating speedy retreats, as if they were in the Wild West and they were headed into a showdown, only the townsfolk all thought Nicky and Stan were the bad guys.

Duly warned, Stan and Nicky took precautions, called in their location and made sure their weapons were charged and their communications devices were working properly, which they were meant to do anyway but usually didn’t bother with, since between the two of them they rarely encountered any situation one or the other or the both of them combined couldn’t handle. Between Nicky’s muscle and Stan’s agility, they were considered the most physically capable pair of detectives on Tashalos, and thus were often the ones sent into the hottest situations. Getting into a bit of a scrap didn’t deter them.

Regardless, arresting a q’Lurian in the q’Lurian’s own neighborhood was a daunting proposition. Dispatch insisted on sending backup in case things went south – quite unusual for what should have been a simple pickup of a proved-guilty suspect.

As they waited for the uniforms to arrive, Nicky diligently began filling out the paperwork he had ignored the night before, and as he did, his mind wandered. The authorities required reams of paperwork be filled out, as Stan joked, a cop couldn’t scratch their balls without filling out the proper form, which was funny because Stan didn’t even have any balls. All for a q’Lurian, a fucking q’Lurian, he couldn’t half-believe it.

The q’Lurians were one of the few galactic races that preferred isolation, and rarely mingled with other species.  There was something downright human in their xenophobia – ironic because the q’Lurians hated humans most especially. No one cared.  The galaxy was full up with other species all of whom had their own business to attend to and went about it in whatever manner made sense to them, and if the q’Lurians didn’t want to take part, fuck ’em.  In space, most beings one encountered embraced a live and let live attitude, and Nicky admired it, even if he couldn’t always quite muster the same level of tolerant nonchalance towards his fellow human being as he did towards the aliens.

Earthlings were inherently suspicious of their fellow man, much as the q’Lurians were of everyone who wasn’t their fellow q’Lurian.  Despite their inhuman ways, the aliens had generously brought to Earth peace, plenty, and prosperity, in exchange for tales of comic book characters and dramatizations of historical figures that humans shed easy as exhaling carbon dioxide. Nicky, like most humans, felt gratitude towards the aliens, and distrust towards his own people; after all, before the galactians’ arrival, humanity had nearly destroyed itself on numerous occasions. 

Perhaps it was BECAUSE aliens were so inhuman that they were able to live in peace with one another despite their differences.  For the most part, they just didn’t care how others managed their affairs, and thus were able to coexist in harmony.  Perhaps because aliens were so inhuman, humans didn’t hate them either, reserving their vitriol for their own species. That innate fundamental suspicion…all right, that prejudice…towards other homo sapiens proved hard for Nicky, who did not love humanity on a good day, to shake. Though he’d shaken it easily enough for the woman, he supposed. It didn’t seem quite fair, really, that a man could be burdened both with an instinctive hatred towards his own species, and a burning need to be with them.

Within their own ranks, humans were endlessly dividing themselves into various subgroups, despising each other accordingly. Myriad human microcultures had sprung up anywhere there was an open planet capable of supporting life; he had read somewhere there were as many human subcultures as there were alien species in all the galaxy, though he wasn’t sure he believed it. At any rate, there were too many.

Nicky felt wary of human beings that shunned galactian civilization as if they were q’Lurians.  He distrusted the cultists who withdrew and holed up somewhere where they could follow their own rules, probably since his career involved enforcing rules, and people skirting them didn’t sit well with him.  Something about a group of isolationists rejecting not only the galactic community, but basic human values completely, imagining that they had some unique insight into how people were meant to live, imagining that they were wiser and superior beings who had cornered the market on the nature of reality, disturbed him.  

It surprised him that the woman had come from one of those worlds, that she had managed to shuck her upbringing off somehow.  He derived an unearned sense of pride from it, as if he had cleverly selected her carefully for her wonderful qualities rather than just being thrown into a relationship by virtue of their bits fitting together so nicely.

Nicely, so nicely. Very nicely indeed. Mmmh.

You had to give that much to the aliens, since they had no imaginations at all, they never imagined a different way to live than the one their species had hit upon through evolution.  While aliens had presidents and kings and even dictators, none of them seemed hell bent on creating and then inflicting externally created codes of ethics onto their followers the way Earth tyrants did.  “Wouldn’t it be brilliant if only everyone lived exactly like THIS” was not a chain of thought that aliens experienced. Aliens were who and what they were, as the hand of the various incarnations of Mother Nature inhabiting their various worlds designed them to be, and they expected that everyone they met were who and what they were as well, and treated you accordingly.  No one ever tried to change anyone, no one tried to inflict their way of life upon anyone else. The aliens simply accepted, on face value, the fundamental natures of whomever they met along the way.  

There was an egalitarianism in the alien mindset that appealed to Nicky, even though as a human and thus prone to the temptation, he most certainly DID imagine he could design some grand philosophy superior to that of his human fellows.  He just wasn’t arrogant or deluded enough to succumb to it.  A foolish aspiration, being a dictator, Nicky thought, for it was glaringly obvious that embedded within the nature of humankind was a dictatorial urge, and how could a dictator ever expect to hold sway over vast numbers of other wannabe dictators? It seemed an endeavor destined to fail, as everyone scrabbled after control, and of course human history was replete with examples.

Nicky finished his paperwork and uploaded it to the Cloud. “Where the fuck is that backup?” He felt a great pressure of time, even though there was no hurry really; there was no way a person could have gotten from Kolob to Tashalos Station in a day. Even with Express travel, it would take at least four days – and few could afford Express.  That meant they had days, more likely weeks to prepare, if the man did in fact come looking.  Nicky would simply issue an alert and they’d catch him as soon as he walked through the DNA scanners on the way into the station. 

It was simply that he wanted to know everything about the woman, even the things she didn’t want to tell him. He hungered after knowing her, wanted to lay with her in his arms and look down at her knowing every silly detail about her, what her childhood had been like, what was her favorite color, did she like strawberries better, or blueberries, all of it, he wanted to digest her and absorb her and then he wanted to have her, have her as a friend and not a stranger.

Stan looked up from his communications device, upon which he was watching a cartoon Nicky barely recognized as The Flintstones. “Eating doughnuts, probably.” He pronounced it as duff-nuts. Nicky didn’t bother correcting him, because Stan took great pride in speaking authentic English, and he didn’t want to be discouraging about a word that none but Nicky would ever hear him say. Dough was a stupid word anyway. “Don’t worry, you’ll be able to get back to your spawning soon, primeape.”

“I wasn’t trying to…well.” He trailed off, because libido undoubtedly was underwriting his sense of urgency. “Shut up.”

Stan held out the paused screen to Nicky, to show him a floating green man dressed as an astronaut upon it. “Look at this alien, Nicky. He’s such an asshole. Is that what humans really think of us?”

“I don’t know who that is,” Nicky explained. It was sometimes difficult for the aliens to comprehend that no human had an encyclopedic knowledge of centuries of pop culture. “I never watched that program.”

“I don’t understand how you can fail to know your own civilization, Nicky. The Great Gazoo is a part of television history! He was voiced by Harvey Korman of the Carol Burnett Show!”

“I don’t know who they are, either.”

“Jesus,” Stan exclaimed. “You know who that is, right?”

“Yes, Stan, I know who that is,” Nicky said patiently, and stared out the window as his partner returned to staring at his fiction program, with a barking laugh at something the comical cavemen and their alien friend did.

Nicky had only ever been to the q’Lurian neighborhood on one other occasion, when a human with a malfunctioning positioner had wandered in by accident and the human-hating q’Lurians were so aghast that they’d surrounded the bloke, calling in the police rather than allow the man to phone for an Uber, or even give him directions about how to get out of the neighborhood on foot.  It struck Nicky as peculiar that there were q’Lurian separatists; they were already so separated from galactic culture.  But the separatists wanted to turn inward completely, call their people home and close q’Lur down, lest the taint of humanity spread to their planet. 

Given the isolationist nature of the q’Lurians, Nicky simply could not understand why one of them would even want to get near enough to a human female to speak to her, let alone attack her.  But that’s what they’d come to find out, of course. 

The q’Lurians dwelt in a cul-de-sac of housing projects centered round a very small marketplace, Market 101, that contained nothing but q’Lurian stores and q’Lurian restaurants and q’Lurian doctors and dentists and a nice little school for the q’Lurian children that had a mural of trees and a rainbow on it just like human schools on Earth did. It was surprising the q’Lurians disliked humans so much given that they also liked rainbows and trees and children.  

Like most aliens, the q’Lurians bred like horny rabbits, and q’Lurians always bore twins.  The twins were of the stuck-together sort, which on Earth was considered a birth defect and repaired by nanotechnology in the womb, or aborted if the defect proved incompatible with life.  There was a proper scientific name for the condition that Nicky could not recall, and a rude offensive old fashioned one that he recalled all too well, having learned it from a grisly old book his grandmother had owned called Ripley’s Believe it or Not.  Nicky would sneak off when he was visiting his nan to leaf through the pages, reading about all sorts of freakish and disturbing things his parents would not have approved of. 

Whatever the term for it was, the few q’Lurians who had not fled upon his arrival were all two creatures in one, joined together in a variety of ways.  It was hard to imagine the evolutionary advantage such an arrangement might confer on a species, but of course there was one or the q’Lurians would not exist in the form they did.  He should have consulted his guidebook before he’d arrived, instead of shopping on Amazon, he supposed, but with any luck the terminology wouldn’t come up. 

By that point, their backup had arrived, a couple uniformed young recruits who looked as if they’d be a liability in a fight, not a help. Nicky and Stan mulled it over, and decided it would be best to perform the arrest themselves, regardless of what dispatch thought. They left the uniforms to wait in the car.

Stan had parked in front of the school, and the children, who’d been out playing in the courtyard, screamed and scattered at the sight of a human being.  With a sour look on his blue face, Stan glared after them.  “Little shits,” he spat disdainfully.  In addition to being enamored with human culture, his partner did not approve of q’Lurians for the same reason Nicky didn’t approve of human isolationists – galactian culture was based around that live and let live philosophy and it rubbed him the wrong way that anyone rejected that.  To Stan’s way of thinking, live and let live was not meant to include beings that utterly rejected the very concept of live and let live, and he just couldn’t stretch his mind to comprehend that truly adhering to the rule of living and letting live would have to include people who refused the premise.      

Under normal circumstances they would have had to waste time asking questions in order to track the perpetrator down, which would have been a slow, possibly even impossible proposition given the q’Lurian distrust of strangers. But because it had been a violent assault, they’d been granted a warrant to use their positioners to track the thug via DNA.  They headed to his location, an apartment up on the 14th story of the building, by following a ping on their commdevs. Effortless. Nicky wished all their retrievals could be so easy.

Hallelujah, the bloody elevator worked, though when they stepped onto it, the q’Lurians already riding in it immediately got off rather than ride with a human.  

While the inside of the project looked nearly identical to his own, it smelled strange and foreign. Nicky’s building contained a patchwork of smells good, bad, familiar and alien, because all different species lived side by side, emitting their various odors. But this one bore a consistent and overwhelming stench, a heavy miasma of q’Lurian musk hanging in the air. A choking smell that was the carroty taste of overcooked red bell peppers, the earthy, moldy scent of rotting compost, a hint of dead badger, and something sweet but dusty, like scented powder. So strong it was, it was near impossible for Nicky not to find it repugnant.  At a couple points, the reek came at him so heavy he nearly retched from it.  “Say this much for the q’Lurians,” Stan said, inhaling deeply, “at least they smell good.”

As they approached the q’Lurian’s apartment, he must have been informed they were coming or something because the ping that represented him on the positioner shifted on his phone screen.  “On the move,” Nicky said.

“I see it, bro,” Stan agreed, and over Nicky’s objections, he called in the backup to assist in the arrest.  They didn’t need them. They had the guy on DNA, so it was still going to be an easy pick-up, no matter how far he ran, they’d just lope along after till he tired and gave up. But it was protocol, and Stan preferred to follow protocol, except for the times when he got so excited that he didn’t.

They followed the trail to a thick metal door, locked, which Nicky was able to open by swiping his uni-key against the input device. The door led to an access corridor leading to the industrial section of the building, all pipes and wires and ducts and conduits and rubber hoses, dimly lit by a series of strategically placed LEDs, which never seemed quite as bright as they ought.  Machines thrummed and ka-chunga-ed in the distance. The humidity level rose several points within seconds and sweat broke out along Nicky’s brow. “I don’t know about this,” Stan said, looking into the gloom beyond.  “This feels dead-endy. We should wait for the backup.” 

The corridor was so narrow they would have to go single file anyway, which would have conferred them no strategic advantage whatsoever. “Stay here, then,” Nicky said, intent on finding the creature who had assaulted the woman. He did not want to chance him getting away, maybe even escaping off station while he stood with his dick in his hand waiting for a couple useless inexperienced noobs made sluggish from eating duff-nuts.

He took his antigrav weapon from its holster and followed down a scaffolding of expanded metal, past various instrument pads with dials, buttons, levers, touchpads, and handcranks upon them. The tight quarters and the machinery made Nicky imagine being in a submarine, and he was seized with a sudden claustrophobia, a sensation of leagues of seawater crushing him from above, but of course that was merely his mind playing tricks.

Steam whistled somewhere overhead and startled him; his brain had him half-convinced that any moment he’d get jumped and knocked into a vat of acid or molten metal or into a piston-thumping squishing machine.  He checked his phone to see how far ahead his quarry had gotten, and was surprised to see he had gone past the q’Lurian somehow, though there had been nowhere for it to hide, and no other path it could have taken. He turned back the other way but again, he walked right by the ping without seeing anything.  He didn’t understand how he could miss the guy, there was nowhere for him to hide. Nicky didn’t think q’Lurians could turn invisible, but foolishly he had not consulted his guidebook beforehand.

The little hairs on the back of Nicky’s neck rose as he pieced it together.  Without telegraphing the movement beforehand, his hand shot straight up and he pulled the creature down from the scaffolding above that it had been clinging to. As the q’Lurian fell, Nicky’s nose caught a burst of that terrible fragrance. He did not dare to inhale for fear of sicking up, and his head swam as he began to run out of oxygen. He had no choice but to suck in a mouthful of air, a shallow gasping breath trying to avoid taking much of the aerosolized stink in, and he coughed as it invaded his lungs. Coughing simply drove it deeper, but it did not seem to be toxic, only very unpleasant; the smell of the q’Lurian’s body and not any sort of a defense mechanism.

Instead of taking its feet, the q’Lurian clung onto Nicky’s suit lapels with thick curving claws on his hands and feet. The q’Lurian reminded Nicky of a koala bear, the way it clung to him with its body all hunched up into a ball, but otherwise it was not at all like a koala bear, not cute, not cuddly, not dopey and lovable and safe. He remembered that long cut down the woman’s arm, and imagined those claws raking him across the face, slashing his belly, opening his throat. Both of the q’Lurian’s heads started shrieking, a mouth in each of Nicky’s ears.  One body, but two heads it had, two heads on one long neck, and both the heads were screaming loud as a klaxon. He pushed it away with the edge of his forearm against the thing’s throat.     

The flesh was soft, marshmallow soft, but with a spongy crunchiness to it, like squeezing the top of a mushroom.  Nicky felt his forearm sink in and keep sinking, but he feared if he continued pushing, the q’Lurian would break apart, that the heads would be parted from the body and go rolling away. Such an alarming sensation it was that he panicked and twisted away from the thing.  The q’Lurian made a break for it and fled, scampering on all fours, up the wall and onto the ceiling again, keeping up that earshattering inhuman bellering. It fled from that narrow corridor to a larger open place where several paths and sets of steps led off various directions. But as it leapt from the ceiling of the corridor back to the floor again, rotating 180 degrees as it did, Nicky shot it with his antigrav and froze it in midair.  Well, it didn’t quite freeze; the weapon slowed forward momentum, but didn’t stop it all together. 

The q’Lurian kept falling forward, in midleap, but very slowly; if you looked away for a moment, you could see the motion, but staring at it rendered the progress invisible to the eye.  Nicky walked up behind, taking care to keep the gun’s foci in phase.  That was the trick with the antigrav, if you didn’t keep it at just the right angle when you were moving around, the foci would blur and the subject could break free. 

“Help!  Help!” the q’Lurian screeched from both its mouths at the same time.  

Nicky ignored him and fumbled for his zipcuffs.  He had one too few hands for this business.  When he moved, the foci slipped out of phase as he’d worried they would, and the q’Lurian moved a sudden quick couple of feet forward before he shot it again. “You have the right to remain silent,” he began.

Before he could complete the ritual, much to his chagrin, he noticed movement in the shadowy places all around him. An illuminated face here, a shadowy arm there, the sound of footfalls overhead, coming fast.  There were q’Lurians galore lurking in this dark place.  Workers, from what he could see of them, clad in durable coveralls with smears of grease upon them, too many for one man, even a man Nicky’s size, to handle.  The few he could see clearly had hatred upon their faces, and every one of them had two faces to hate him with.  Some of them were stuck together at their side, some were stuck together at their chest facing each other, some had heads joined together, and others were joined together in ways that twins were never conjoined on Earth.

Conjoined, that was the word for them, conjoined. 

One of them, the nearest, had two torsos and two heads but only one pair of legs.  He had never touched a q’Lurian before, but they must be all made out of that same awful pillowy mushroomishness as the q’Lurian he’d caught, they had to smell equally repugnant, and have those thick sharp claws to cling with. Though Nicky knew it was morally reprehensible of him, they seemed in that moment as horrible monsters and not sentient beings.  The next closest had extra arms and extra legs sprouting out of him like a spider and a flat face embedded upon its chest beneath its other head. That one had a tool that reminded Nicky of a pipe wrench in one of his hands and he slapped it into his other hand threateningly, while at the same time his other set of hands cracked the joints of its clawed paw-things as if warming up for a fight.  “Hey Stanley,” Nicky yelled back over his shoulder, “Can I trouble you?” He was embarrassingly relieved to hear his partner’s steps upon the metal behind him.

“Holy shit,” Stan said, as he surveyed the onlookers, and then he hissed at the approaching aliens threateningly.  “Backup?  Waiting for it, does that idea ring any bells?”   

“Call them in then,” Nicky said, and Stan pushed the panic button for immediate aid, but there were only two of them anyway, and who knew how many q’Lurians. He had hoped that perhaps the q’Lurians would retreat now that they’d seen the both of them, him and Stan there together. But a long moment passed and the tenseness of the situation did not seem to diffuse.  “We’re the police, we’re here legitimately, just here to pick up a suspect for questioning. We don’t want any trouble.” 

“Human,” someone murmured in the darkness, and then murmurs spread through the lot of them, “humanHUMANhuuuummmannnHumanHUManhumanhumanHUMAN!” Nicky felt goosebumps in places he didn’t think he’d ever gotten goosebumps before. It struck him he was a human man far from home and surrounded by hideous creatures, vile bad-smelling beclawed fungus-y things who wished him ill, and he found he wasn’t inordinately troubled by being xenophobic in that moment. The woman’s human face flashed into his mind. He would very much have liked to lay his head upon her human chest and feel her human arms around him.

“Well, that’s kind of disturbing,” Stan joked.  “Pretty glad I’m not a human right now.”

“Human LOVER,” an accusing voice spat.

“Welp,” Stan said.

Nicky considered everything he knew about q’Lurians and their fear of the human stain.  “If you’d prefer, I can come back with twenty humans,” Nicky lied.  Short of arranging a posse and deputizing the array of sailors, salesmen, salarymen, and scumbags who resided on Tashalos, he couldn’t muster twenty humans if his life depended on it. “We can come back and turn this neighborhood inside out, see what we can find.  Illegal weapons, drugs, endangered species…” he recalled the q’Lurians enjoyed eating exotic animals and were always smuggling them onto Tashalos. “Commerce without a license…and we’ll check your documentation to make sure you’re all on station legally.”  

“If you’re found guilty, you won’t be going back to q’Lur, not for a while,” Stan added.  “Illegal emigration is a prison sentence for q’Lurians under galactic law.  And we’ll make sure you serve that time in a human prison.”

There were concerned murmurs in the dark and Nicky felt better.  “This citizen is wanted for questioning in an assault, a violent assault.  We are here legitimately, over a violent crime. You lot are just working men, you don’t want risk your liberty defending a violent criminal, do you?”

“Assaulting a cop is a hefty sentence,” Stan added. “And you’ll do that time on Earth, we’ll make sure of it.”

Nicky turned his attentions to the q’Lurian, who had drifted slowly forward a few millimeters during that time. “Did you assault a human woman yesterday?”

It wasn’t a fair question, really.  Because q’Lurians held honesty as one of their supreme virtues, they refused to lie, even if they possessed the genetic capability for making up deceptive stories, which they didn’t.  While some species, like Stan’s people, could lie when the situation required it, albeit uncreatively by human standards, the q’Lurians lacked even a fraction of the imagination necessary to invent alibis.  “Well,” the q’Lurian said from one of its heads, “…yes, but…”

Nicky let his finger off of the button of his antigrav and the beam shut off suddenly.  His forward trajectory restored, the q’Lurian smashed into the metal scaffold, hard.  Because he hadn’t been expecting it, he had no time to prepare, no time to get his hands up to soften his fall.  “You were saying?” Nicky said, as he shot him with the antigrav again to prevent him from moving, pinning him to the scaffolding. The q’Lurian’s soft flesh bubbled through the holes in the grating of the walkway. 

“He TOUCHED a human!” came a shocked and horrified voice from the shadows. “On PURPOSE!” Nicky felt a burst of relief sweat down his back. There would be no civilian intervention, not for that crime.  

“Yes, I assaulted a human woman,” the q’Lurian said. Only one of his heads could speak, the other’s lips were mushed against the metal grating. “But there were extenuating circumstances!”  Nicky wished there was a way to lift with his weapon, like they had on the antigrav forklifts, and he’dve smashed the q’Lurian down again, harder.  But the tech needed to do that was too big for handheld units.

Stan took the zipcuffs and put them around the guy’s wrists.  “Save it,” he said. There were regulations to be followed.  While the galactian authorities allowed LEOs a surprising amount of leeway when it came to roughing up suspects, probably because life simply wasn’t that precious in a galaxy of 400 quadrillion sentient beings, their rules about human cops hearing confessions were incredibly strict.  The proceedings had to be recorded at the station, using technology that neither Nicky nor Stan could access, to be certain it couldn’t be altered. The authorities had seen so many crooked human cops on fiction programs they assumed all human beings working in law enforcement were prone to lying, and operated under the assumption humans had to be actively prevented from faking evidence.

Upon arriving back at the precinct, Nicky hoped to let the q’Lurian stew for a bit, and head straight for the Galactic Crime Database terminal. He meant to find out more about the woman’s life prior to arriving on Tashalos Station before confronting the q’Lurian.  He didn’t want to overlook anything he needed to ask about. And all right, admittedly, he was curious. More than curious, fascinated. He craved after her, and if he couldn’t have her really, he wanted to see images of her, see her name written on official documents, prove it to himself that she existed, assure himself she wouldn’t just disappear into the mists.

But before he could, the superintendent of detectives swept in, or more accurately waddled, his stubby elbowless arms folded over his stout chest.  “In my office, Loverboy,” he said, loudly, and Nicky’s fellow officers, who were all listening in, of course, hooted and hollered and shouted epithets in two dozen languages, none of which his translator could make any sense of.  That was probably for the best. He shot Stan a look.

“Sorry,” Stan said sheepishly. “It’s just so fucking hilarious I couldn’t resist telling everyone.”

“I’ll remember that the next time you contract finworms from a robot prostitute,” Nicky threatened.

“You wouldn’t dare!” Stan said, horrified.

“No, I wouldn’t. Just shaking your tree.”

“What tree?”

“I mean I’m teasing you.”

“Hmmm. Doesn’t your imaginary sky man say not to lie?” Stan said.

“He says a lot of things. Luckily He’s very forgiving.”

“Say a prayer for me, then. No more finworms.”

“I do already, you idiot. Of course.”

“Bluh! Leave me out of your conversations with Sky Man! That’s nearly as fucked up as that whole dream thing. Humans are such bizarres, talking to imaginary people, lying even when they sleep.”

“Dreams aren’t lies, Stan, they’re…not lies.” Even species who otherwise enjoyed fiction, like Stan’s people, found dreaming unsettling, because of its accidental nature.  It was hard to explain what dreams were, exactly, probably because not even scientists really understood them. 

Nicky recalled the first time he’d tried to explain the concept of dreaming to Stan.  He’d said, “Your brain makes stories on its own?  About ME? When you’re unconscious?  Where do they come from? How can I be inside your brain when you’re unconscious?” and then he’d shuddered as if the very notion was sinister.

“I don’t know what dreams are exactly, Stan, but they aren’t lies.”  

“I know, I know,” Stan replied.  “You told me.  See, Nicky, I can shake a tree too!” he crowed, as if he was proud of himself. “You know I don’t care if you have a demented brain.” 

“Buchanan, now!” the superintendent shouted. “I’m surprised you were able to have intercourse with your human female, as in love with Stan as you are!”

“I’m coming,” Nicky said. “Don’t start without me, eh?”

Stan nodded. “Course not. I’ll take our boys here to holding.” He pushed the q’Lurian forward unceremoniously.  “We’ll wait for the nice human, won’t we, boys?” he taunted.

One of the q’Lurian’s heads spat on the floor at Nicky’s feet.

“Not off to a great start, are we,” Stan sassed, and gave the q’Lurian a shove.

The superintendent of detectives was a Volg, and though he had a name, like Stan’s name, it was hard for most species to pronounce.  Thus everyone just called him The Volg.  To Nicky’s human eye, The Volg very closely resembled a shaved bulldog walking on his legs.  He had massive jowls, an underbite, and was prone to effusive drooling. He had short bowed appendages on a hefty torso with a head that was completely disproportionate to the rest of him.

Once when Nicky had been drunk and feeling irreverent, he showed the superintendent a picture of Winston Churchill on his phone as a joke.  The Volg became so enamored of the former prime minister, not only an authentic, real-life Earth Hero, but a prominent character in several dozen works of fiction, that he actually hung a framed portrait of Sir Winston on his wall.  Churchill took his place of honor right alongside the King and Queen of Volg, the Chief of Police and the burgermeister of Tashalos Station, the Chancellor of the Assembly and the High Baffin of the Conclave, the Empress of the Galactian Confederation, and Jeff Bezos.  

And so it was, that as he sat down to take his lumps, Nicky felt the disapproving gaze of two Churchills staring at him with their bulging, sagging eyes.

For his part, The Volg was quite fond of Nicky Buchanan, in no small part because the human reminded him of a pet Flurf he’d had some years prior.  It had been a marvelous Flurf, loyal to a fault and easily trained.  The Flurf slept at the foot of his bed and never once evacuated inside the house, which was a lot to ask of a Flurf.  

Since discovering his strong personal resemblance to Winston Churchill – from Doctor Who! –  The Volg had begun to fancy himself a bit of an Anglophile.  Whenever the subject came up as it so often did, the great debate about which Earth culture was the best one, he always took the side of the Brits against the Americans and Japanese and Indians and Nigerians.  Monkey Python, Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, the Beatles, Mr. Bean, Harry Potter, the Pinky Blinders, Willamena Jones, the Drunken Abbots, Sherwin O’Houlihan and his Traveling Troupe of Troublesome Troglodytes…the Volg flat adored everything British.  He hoped to someday go to Earth and ride on one of those very tall red multiperson vehicles, watch a crumpet match, and have tea and crickets. He had come to take great pride in having not only a human, but a British expat under his command.  Though he was at times disappointed that Buchanan never showed up to work in a kilt.

The Volg actually worried about the big human sometimes, worried for the fate not only of the man himself, but his species as a whole.  The truth was, there weren’t nearly enough Earthlings.  Human beings had children at a glacial pace; one a year, if that even.  They were vastly outnumbered.  Buchanan was well along into midlife and he didn’t have a single offspring, whereas The Volg had somewhere around forty children and a lifespan of over two hundred Earth years.  Homo sapiens would never catch up to the rest of the galaxy if they didn’t start spawning more enthusiastically.  While they had equal representation in the Conclave of course, due to their low population they had but a single vote in the Assembly.  That was a recipe for disaster for such a young species.  

If it hadn’t been that many of the powerful species liked Earthlings and that strange invention of theirs called fiction, and had thus far voted to protect the interests of humanity, their quaint little blue planet would have been overrun and colonized by someone else already, maybe even The Volg Consortium. Humans would be enslaved and/or scattered, destined to be space dwellers forevermore, as the Erenhxi and the Oeantheans had been driven from their homeworlds to make way for a better organized and more numerous species.

As a result, the Volg was secretly delighted Buchanan had finally managed to procure himself a human woman.  He kept his scolding to a minimum – just a stern talking-to.  Well, not so stern; in all honesty The Volg had a hard time not grinning from jowl to jowl the entire time and patting his friend on the shoulder encouragingly, then sending him off with an inspirational “go get ‘em tiger” like the humans said to one another on fiction programs.

“How did it go,” Stan asked Nicky, when it was over with. He was waiting just outside The Volg’s office. “I didn’t hear him killing you, so I thought it was a good omen.”

“A bit weird, actually,” Nicky said, rather confused by the complete lack of harrumphing. The Volg could harrumph like no other.  “No punishment, just a warning, and barely that.  He said he’d pencil whip the paperwork for me.”

“Oh, thank Krep,” Stan said.  “I hated to turn you in, you know that, right?”

“No worries, mate.” Nicky said, and meant it.

“Shall we?”

“We shall,” Nicky said, and they headed to interrogation.

Nicky was certainly eager to have first crack at the q’Lurian, but it irritated him to no end that he hadn’t had a spare minute to go to the database to look up whoever it was the woman was running from in the first place. 

But it didn’t matter, they had time. Plenty of time.

*****

After Nicky and the Stan guy left, Tamsin ate the breakfast he’d made for her, except for the peas.  Peas for breakfast seemed like a bridge too far for her so she put them in the recycling chute along with the food trays and off they went with a whoosh.  

It was an amazing feeling, secure enough for a moment that she felt she could throw food away.  Even if it didn’t last, and it almost certainly wouldn’t, it was a welcome respite from the gnawing vulnerability that had completely dominated her life recently.

Then she tidied up because the detective’s flat was so small you pretty much had to pick things up immediately or you’d end up walking all over them.  She flung the futon mattress back on its frame, flipping it over so the stains wouldn’t show.  But the other side of the futon was dusty from the floor, and so she flipped it back over to the stained side again.  She opened up the blanket and shook it, and laid it over as a kind of a slipcover.  

Then she took a shower.  Since she felt kind of sore – not that she minded really given the reason – she used another ampule of oxyprofen even though she didn’t think the first one had totally worn off yet.

That took not even an hour, so with nothing else to occupy her, she sprawled on the dirty futon in her dirty clothes, because her pride would not allow her to use the detective’s money unless it was totally necessary.  Now that she’d used her security number, there was no sense hiding any more. With her security number she’d have no trouble getting a job, and she could buy her own shit in a week or two. Once she paid the detective back then the playing field would be level.  But not today. Today, she didn’t have to do anything at all, not even worry. Maybe Ash would get captured. Maybe he would never show up at all. Maybe there had been a terrible accident where he had a heart attack and crashed his car into the back of a tanker full of sulfuric acid and died instantly, after several minutes of agonizing pain.

She was safe and had a full stomach. Who could ask for anything more? Tamsin stretched out with a groan, feeling torpid and lazy, in a good way, like a kept woman. It was funny that she enjoyed wallowing in the decadence, because Tamsin had actually been a kept woman, and hated it.  She supposed it mattered who was doing the keeping.

Sleep seemed like a good idea, since she’d been up most of the night and anticipated being up most of the upcoming night too, but she was too wound up for it.  It had been so long since anything remotely interesting, let alone thrilling, had happened, it felt like she had years of stored up adrenaline to burn through.

In her boredom, she picked up the phone. Maybe she could watch a movie or something.  Though she had hated it when the detective bought the damn thing, it was kind of exciting to have a phone again, a real phone, a phone that did things, a phone just like normal people had.  She hadn’t had a decent phone since the one her father had bought for her as a reward when she graduated school.  Ash had promised that he’d get her a better one, and at his suggestion she’d given her old phone to her little sister.  But he’d been lying, of course.  

Though she had really not intended to snoop, she couldn’t resist scrolling through Nicky’s Amazon account.  She looked over the fiction programs Nicky watched (action) and the music he listened to (rock), though much of both categories were things she didn’t recognize. He’d watched a series of ten movies called “John Wick” half a dozen times, but she had never heard of that.  She scrolled through the books he’d read and was not only surprised but kind of disappointed to see they were mostly practical non-fiction books about living in space and law enforcement.  She had imagined British people read lots of literature, snooty things like Shakespeare and poetry, and that they did that for fun, because on fiction programs they all seemed very erudite. Even Sherwin O’Houlihan was always quoting Shakespeare and he was a comedian.  

Then again she hadn’t read many books lately herself either.  The closest thing she’d done to reading anything since she’d left Kolob was leafing through Mademoiselle Quilnaucht’s celebrity magazines.  Even though she couldn’t decipher the language, she recognized the pictures since they were all human actors and actresses, and sometimes Mademoiselle Quilnaucht would tell her factoids she read about the people, even though all of them were totally dead.  “Did you know,” she would say, pushing a lock of something that looked like hair but wasn’t hair behind her eye stalks, “that Julia Roberts had twin offspring called Hazel and Phinneas?” And then Tamsin would ooh and aah over it like it made any difference to her whatsoever.  

In lieu of reading, Nicky played a lot of games, mostly centered around fighting Nazis on behalf of Britain, or else fighting zombies on behalf of humanity.  He didn’t seem to go into online worlds and she respected that, because she heard people got addicted to online worlds and then they stopped living their actual life.  On Kolob people were warned against online worlds even more than they were warned against drinking whiskey. 

She could see every product he’d ever purchased, well, at least the last six months’ worth; if she wanted to access farther back she would have had to sign in again.  Some of the things were extremely personal and completely embarrassing but he’d risked letting her see them because he didn’t want her to be bored.  Tamsin felt a good deal of remorse for being such a terrible snoop, though the guilt wasn’t enough to deter her.  

From what she’d seen, Nicky seemed like a very nice person despite his intimidating appearance, but she knew only too well that people who seemed nice at first could turn on you just that easily, and there was nothing like wanting to get into a woman’s pants to make a guy act like a fucking sweetheart no matter what he was really like.  

With that chilling thought, Tamsin suddenly came to her senses, realizing what she’d just done, which was totally insane and completely out of character.  It was so shocking of a thing, she actually sat straight up. What? Spending the night with a stranger, “spending the night” in the Biblical sense, and not like a slumber party.  A stranger!  Just because he happened to be from Earth?  What was she even thinking?  That sort of behavior was incredibly stupid and incredibly dangerous!  How did she know he was a good person?  How did she know he wouldn’t hurt her?  

She didn’t.  There was no guarantee of that.  

She went back over Nicky’s Amazon again, but nothing problematic jumped out at her.  What was she looking for, anyway?  What did she expect to find?  Chloroform?  A cat o’nine tails?  An e-book entitled 101 Ways to Dismember a Woman?  Their absence didn’t prove anything; Ash had never needed any of those things to brutalize her.  All he had ever needed was his hands, and then his feet once she fell over, and Nicky definitely had those, just like all men did.  

Tamsin flung the phone away in disgust. Things that people liked and bought were interesting but they didn’t tell you that much about them really.  Ash donated money to charity, lots of money, but that didn’t make him a good person.  He bought Girl Scout Cookies.  He had been a Boy Scout, and she doubted they gave out merit badges for spousal abuse. He donated to book drives and Toys for Tots.  He would do the Secret Santa at the law office and give the most generous presents of all.  He never let Mother’s Day pass by without taking his mom and his grandma out for brunch and buying them big bouquets of flowers.  He even bought flowers for Tamsin’s mom and her grandmas and even her great-grandma, till she died. Then he cried a few tears at the funeral and everyone said how great of a guy he was, so sensitive and everything, and Tamsin wanted to puke.

Ash wore the appearance of goodness as a costume and who’s to say Nicky wasn’t the exact same?  After all, on fiction programs cops were always crooked and breaking the rules and shooting unarmed people so it seemed in the realm of possible that he was a bad person hiding in a good person disguise just like Ash.

It was probably a good thing she only had access to Nicky’s Amazon, and not his social media and porn, because she had a funny feeling she would have kept right on snooping till she found something she didn’t like, which didn’t seem fair exactly.  She grabbed the phone again and tried to Google him but there were too many hits; because she didn’t know where he’d been born, in what year, or what his middle initial was, she couldn’t figure out which one was the right Nicholas Buchanan, if Nicholas was even his real first name.  Nicky could have been short for all sorts of things, or a middle name for something less cool-sounding like Eugene, or the Scottish version of Eugene, which was probably Angus or something.  He had said he was from someplace called Embra but that didn’t even seem to be a real place, let alone a big city like he made it sound like. 

It was just about bizarre you could look up every detail from the lives of celebrities who had lived two hundred plus-some-odd years ago, you could find out the precise number of freckles on Julia Roberts’ ass probably even, but you couldn’t track down the identity of an actual real live person.

It wasn’t so much that she wanted to know Nicky’s secrets, exactly, she just wanted to know the worst of him, so she could decide where to go from there.  She didn’t have the patience to play it by ear, nor did she have the courage.  It just seemed like you should be able to get a preview before you decided if you wanted to be in somebody’s life or not, and for sure before you let them into yours.  A short instructional video called “Here are the worst things this person you just met has ever done”, narrated by that nature program guy, David Attabro, she thought that was his name anyway, they had to watch all those in school when the teachers wanted to dick off, and she hadn’t really been paying that much attention since none of the animals lived on Kolob anyway.  

For some reason she wanted to know the worst about Nicky and get it out of the way right from the jump rather than be blindsided by it later on once she got attached.

Of course even if there was such a thing there would be no guarantee they hadn’t just saved up the worst things they’d ever done to do to you.  The more she thought about it through that lens, the more she was overcome by an urge to leave, to run away back to her cargo bay and get her stuff and hop a transport somewhere else…but her stuff was gone and she didn’t have any money for a transport anyway.  She was stuck.  What would she do when he came back and expected to have sex with her?  She would have to have sex with him now whether she wanted to or not, or else he would get mad and take her back to the homeless shelter.

She remembered the Erenxhi suggesting she look into sex work and it crossed her mind that was basically what she’d done, found herself a job doing sex work. No license required.

Suddenly the previous night seemed all very sinister, a cop picking up a vulnerable woman, threatening her, intimidating her, confiscating her belongings, making sure she had nowhere else to go, and then practically forcefeeding her whiskey.  Detective Stan had certainly seemed to think there was something unethical about it, he even said so, he had said there was nothing more unethical a policeman could do than what Buchanan had done.  Maybe what she should do is call Stan, call him at the station and ask him if she was safe, and…but then who was to say Stan was any more ethical anyway? I mean seriously, he had a pierced nose, how ethical could he be?   

And that sentiment was stupid enough to snap her out of it. Because it hadn’t happened that way.  It really hadn’t.  The attraction had been mutual, if unexpected, and the sex was totally consensual.  She had drunk the man’s whiskey and asked for more.  She refilled his drink.  She had been friendly, even flirtatious.  She all but invited him to make a pass at her.  Tamsin suspected that if she’d been cold and standoffish Detective Buchanan wouldn’t have pressed the issue.  But she’d invited him to make the next move and was with him…or ahead of him…every step of the way.  That was the truth.  He had even asked her permission first, stopped the forward momentum and said “Let me fuck you, then?” before he did it, even though they’d been making out for like 45 minutes at that point and it was glaringly obvious to everyone involved that things were heading that direction.

It was almost like part of her brain was trying to rewrite what had happened as some kind of a defense mechanism, to drive her away before she could get in too deep.  That seemed like a pretty fucked up thing to do.  And a sad thing.

Maybe the reason why was because Tamsin hadn’t been inside another person’s life, at least someone whose life she wanted to be in, for so long, that the prospect was frightening all on its own.  Maybe she was just looking for a reason not to have to risk it.

Ash had been in her life.  Seriously, he had taken OVER her whole life and run it himself in addition to running his own, as if one life wasn’t enough for him.  But she had never been in his.  He made no accommodations for her, left her no space at his table.  She sat at his feet and lived off the scraps he threw her when he was feeling benevolent.  Maybe she had just belonged to him, belonged to him like an object and that wasn’t the same thing as being with a person, exactly.  

She felt like she was already more a part of Nicky’s life than she’d ever been a part of Ash’s, even though she only knew Nicky from an Amazon account and a single night during which they really hadn’t taken much time for deep heartfelt convos, and she’d been with Ash for over ten years.  The only people she’d dated before Ash had been boys who weren’t ready to share their lives with anyone.  She had wasted her life, all the best years of her life were gone because of Ash.  She had more in common with a total stranger than she had the man she’d wasted a third of her life on.  That realization made her feel even sadder, so sad she started to cry. 

As a distraction from her overwhelming sorrow, she tried to conjure up everything about Nicky so he didn’t feel like a stranger any more.  She thought about his eyes, his hair, the lines in his cheeks, his smell, the way he tasted, the way it had felt lying there with his arms around her staring at his amazing knuckles, and she replayed everything he said to her in that spectacular velvety voice he had.  She pulled the blanket down off the couch so it lay over her, and it was heavy enough and warm enough and furry enough she could imagine he was behind her, holding her. It was so soothing that she drifted off to sleep for a while, the phone still clutched in her hand. 

After she didn’t know how long, the phone buzzed and woke her up.  Then it buzzed again, and again.  After a bit she realized it wouldn’t shut up and let her drift pleasantly back to sleep unless she did something to it, and after a bit more she remembered that intermittent buzzing meant a text had come in.  The text was from an account that just had a lot of letters and numbers rather than a proper name, but she didn’t think much of it because she remembered people had all kinds of weird names for their accounts and figured it was for police security purposes or something.  

She clicked to open the message.  They caught the guy.  I have some questions for you.  Uber outside, it’s paid for.  See you soon.

On the way down the steps, Tamsin ran into the Chaboreth.  Its eyes widened and it made a sound way down in its belly.  Tamsin could actually feel the vibrations in the air. “Brrrraauhhhhh! Bruah, bruah, bruahhh!  Walk of shame!” it said.  “Walk of Shame!  Courtship ritual!  Very much success!!!”  And then it looked at her expectantly, as if it was waiting for confirmation.

She laughed because what else could you do?  “Very much success,” she agreed, and for all her doubts and worries and probably borderline insane fears, she had to admit it kind of had been.    

As promised, the Uber driver already knew the address already.  They drove Tamsin to a Vahkian restaurant way on the other side of the station, in a section she’d never been before, though Tashalos looked basically exactly the same wherever you went, apparently.  She had always heard that said, but now that she had been in more than one section she knew it firsthand.  

While the restaurant was packed with people, the waiter showed her to a table in a secluded corner, away from where most of the beings were eating.  That was good because Tamsin didn’t think she was anywhere near dressed up enough to be allowed in the joint; everyone was wearing suits and ties and frocks and ball gowns and kimonos and caftans and togas and muumuus and vestments and all the other things the aliens wore, a melange of garbs of various cultures, but all of it was expensive-looking. Tamsin sank down a bit in the chair to hide her lack of finery.

An e-candle flickered on the tabletop. There was a door with the EXIT symbol on one side of the table.  The dimly lit corridor that probably led to the bathrooms was on the other. “Please to turn off your communications device,” the Vahkian waiter requested.  “The sounds of communications devices must not be allowed to interfere with the enjoyment of the meal.”

“Oh, sure,” Tamsin said, and obeyed him.  “Can I have a Starbucks?  Double shot, mocha?” The cookie the night before had been sooo good, now she was craving chocolate. “Just a tall.” Don’t fill up on Starbucks, stupid, she told herself, which was something she had done many times over the course of her life, back when going to restaurants was something she got to do regularly.

“But of course,” the waiter said, and brought her one. He asked her if she wanted to order, and she told him she’d wait for her friend to arrive, but the truth was she couldn’t read the menu, knew nothing about Vahk culture or cuisine, and didn’t have her guidebook to consult. She was scared of ordering something disgusting, and then having to eat it out of politeness.

She sat at the table waiting expectantly, sipping the hot drink, looking at the front door for Detective Buchanan to show up, in that nice-looking black suit she knew he’d put on only for her sake.  He had a meeting, yeah, right.  Just like she was sitting there at a fancy restaurant because he had “questions”, instead of at the police station. What a liar he was. She found it surprisingly endearing, maybe because it was so beautifully human. Aliens didn’t lie, if you asked them if your dress made you look fat, they’d give it to you with both barrels, no sugar coating it.

It surprised Tamsin that after everything she could still find Nicky’s boyish innocent lies sweet and charming. Apparently men could tell you good lies to counter all the bad ones you’d gotten told along the way. His intentions were what counted. He wanted to take her out to lunch, like he had fed her dinner and breakfast. Maybe he’d thought she would argue, so he lied. Or maybe he was embarrassed, he seemed to be that kind of guy, Nicky did, getting all embarrassed really easy for nothing, unlike Ash who didn’t have a shame gene in his body.  

There was something very primitive about a man thrusting food in front of a hungry woman to win her over.  It was just like the Chaboreth had said, a mating ritual.  People dressed it up all sorts of ways to keep that reality at arm’s length, but way down deep inside that’s exactly what it was. 

Maybe it wasn’t that aliens were like animals.  Maybe it was human beings who were the most like animals all along.

It’s Just Biology – Part 3

It’s Just Biology – Part 3

When Tamsin entered Detective Buchanan’s apartment, she noticed he left his shoes at the door, so she did the same.  Apparently he’d gone straight in to use the bathroom, because he was nowhere to be seen and there was nowhere else he could have been.  His flat was little more than an alcove – a single narrow room, windowless as all the flats in the projects were windowless, not that there was much in the way of scenery to gaze at in Tashalos Station anyway. Along one wall there was a food rehydrator, a convection radiator, and a Frigid Air food chiller on a narrow bar with cupboards under it, and some sort of seating area on the other, with a narrow strip of abstractly speckled linoleum that looked like it belonged more in a dentist’s office than someone’s house between them.  Probably it was easy to clean, and durable.

She didn’t know how wide the room was but not very; she doubted the guy could even have laid down across it.  It was ironic that he’d chastised her for living the way she did, when his living conditions weren’t much of an improvement. She wondered where he even slept.

In the entry beside her there was a door of a material so thin it looked made of paper practically, and that was where the bathroom was.  You had to walk right past the bathroom door to get to the main room.  Since the door was so thin, she could hear him peeing as if she was standing right beside him.  By the time she had the apartment door shut behind her and her shoes taken off, she heard the toilet flush and the water run and then the buzz of the UV sanitizer, and she realized with dismay she wouldn’t even be able to grant the poor man the dignity of distance.  She had to be standing right outside the john listening in like a creeper.  

Sure enough, the door opened and there they were face to face.  

He tipped his head to the side and raised his eyes skyward for a moment, and she saw him bite the tip of his tongue between his molars.  Then he extended a hand to the side, welcoming her to use the facilities herself.  “Thank you,” she said, and he nodded.

There was a minuscule shower stall in the bathroom and she felt a wave of sympathy, thinking of Detective Buchanan fitting his ginormous body into the tight space.  He probably had to fit half himself into the shower and then turn around and do the other half.

Tamsin fit into the stall just fine and so she washed off the grime of the day, of several days, actually, off her aching body.  Normally she used the bathhouses in Marketplace 27 every day, though it was humiliating to shower there while the aliens hung around on the flimsiest pretense, trying to catch a glimpse of a naked human woman, even occasionally snapping a picture of her with their communications devices.  But she hadn’t been able to afford it but once a week since the Quilnauchts left the station.  Lately, her money had dwindled so much she’d had to skip even a weekly bath, making do with a scrub from the water basins in the public restrooms.  Every bit of her felt greasy and itchy and the back of her head felt like oily straw, the hair clumping together and jutting this way and that.   

She scoured herself thoroughly using the cheap three-in-one body wash/shampoo that Buchanan and pretty much every human male throughout the galaxy had in his shower.  It stank of sandalwood and masculinity, but there was a bottle of good conditioner as well, the fancy kind Tamsin couldn’t afford, probably because the detective had long hair and needed it to prevent tangles.  In addition to making her hair feel like spun silk, it smelled much better, tropical, heavy on the coconut.  So she used it like a lotion all over herself and ended up smelling much more like “human woman”, as the Chaboreth had called her.

For some reason the memory gave her the giggles, and she stood there laughing hysterically for quite some time, succumbing finally to the stress of the entire day, or maybe it was the stress of her entire life, who knew.  

Eventually the hot water petered out due to regulations preventing the overconsumption of fuel, so she turned it off.  There was a flat door set into the wall, made of that same thin papery stuff the bathroom door was.  She correctly assumed that was where the towels were. Not many, just a couple fluffy terrycloth towels neatly folded alongside a sparse collection of personal hygiene products and a few ampules of medication. It probably didn’t make much sense to keep more stuff than you needed given how small a space it was. 

She resisted the urge to snoop, drying off and putting her clothes back on instead; black, high waisted leggings and a long sleeved shirt with shades of pale pink, blue, and yellow feathered across it, pastels, which didn’t quite match the black pants.  The clothes had been hand-me-downs from Mademoiselle Quilnaucht, who in addition to being very generous, was a bipedal humanoid and about Tamsin’s size.  Of course, the Quilnaucht’s generosity hadn’t prevented them from leaving Tamsin with no way to make a living, without even bothering to give her two weeks’ notice and most shocking of all, refusing outright when she asked them for a reference.

The arm of her shirt was all covered in blood and her clothes reeked like onions and mustard and her own previously unwashed body, but it was all she had.  

She took an ampule of oxyprofen and inserted it into the dermic injector, then she injected it into her throat.  The throbbing of her sore muscles and bruised skin diminished instantly.  The stinging of the scratch on her arm faded away and the raw place she’d bit her tongue no longer bothered her.  Her hip was purpling where she’d landed on it, as was her shoulder, and her other knee was stiff, though she was pleased to see it wasn’t swollen.  She must have twisted it funny when the alien hit her.  Anyway within a few seconds she didn’t feel a thing.

After that, there was nothing left to do but go into the other room, which felt weirdly daunting, probably because it had been so long since she made small talk, and she had never been good at it anyway.   

As she emerged from the bathroom, the detective walked across the room directly in front of her.  The apartment was so small she could have reached out and touched him as he went by, but he didn’t even glance her way. 

While she’d been in the bathroom, he had changed into red plaid pajama pants and a black undershirt-style sleeveless top. There were more of the same flat paper-thin doors set into the far wall like the ones in the bathroom, and she figured they must be his closets since there was nowhere else he could be keeping his spare clothing.  

Though he had a gut in keeping with his age, he was fit, with ropy muscles in his arms and upper chest under the thick crop of body hair he seemed to have mostly everywhere except along the top of his upper arms.  It was like he had been in the middle of transforming into a werewolf and someone walked in and interrupted the process.  Maybe he actually needed the three-in-one to shampoo himself with.  

Tamsin heard the squeaking sigh of a piece of furniture as she stepped all the way into the room.  Buchanan had sat on a futon wedged into the small space, which also must be where he slept.  His phone was propped on the tubular metal arm of the futon frame, and it was playing Earth music, something Tamsin didn’t recognize and didn’t particularly care for, involving a guttural male voice screaming angrily about his father, and a lot of frantic guitar. 

Buchanan had a bottle of brown liquid balanced between his legs, alcohol by the look of it.  There was a square-sided glass tumbler of the liquid in his one hand, and his other hand, the one with the copper bracelet, splayed beside him as if he was inviting her to sit.  He was barefoot again, one foot pulled up into his lap with his bent leg holding the liquor bottle in place, the other resting on the ground.  

His detective’s hat…in the absence of the stress she’d been under previously, her brain coughed up the word ‘beret’…was gone, tucked away out of sight somewhere, and he’d let his hair down.  It mitigated the prominence of his forehead, which in turn made his scowling thick eyebrows less scowling and less thick.  Having his hair, chestnut and shiny and otherwise plentiful, except at the hairline, hanging loose around his face also made his mouth appear not so wide.  Though the lines in his cheeks looked just as deep as ever, Tamsin found she liked them.  

There was something unremittingly, unapologetically human about him; half proper British gentleman, half brutish Neanderthal, and the combination of the two seemed incredibly exotic.

Yet at the same time, he was a known quantity, comfortingly familiar.  Earth.  This is a man from Earth, she thought.  He is the exact same thing as me.  This man and I descended from the same ancestors who walked the same lands and we share the same history and the same culture.  If I told a joke to him, he would get it, and we would laugh together.  If I needed help he would help me and not just walk away.  He IS helping me.  He didn’t just dump me off and leave me to fend for myself even when I asked him to.  He’s not just a person, he’s a good person.  Policemen are our friends.

Suddenly Tamsin felt very warm. Despite the rush of warmth, she prickled with goosebumps so strong that along her scalp and down her spine they felt like miniature electric shocks.  Her stomach clenched and the thin skin underneath her eyes got so hot it almost hurt.  For some reason she had to swallow, and then she had to swallow again.  Maybe that ampule of oxyprofen had contained something stronger than she’d been expecting.

But then it slowly dawned on her that the strange physical sensation she was experiencing was a dismayingly urgent wave of sexual attraction.  It had been so long since she’d experienced it, she’d forgot what it was like.  This seemed very inconvenient since apparently she and the detective were about to spend the night together in a space the size of a walk-in closet and he was roughly the size of Mount Everett, which was a very large mountain on Earth, she thought that was the name of it, anyway.  

She realized she was staring at him only when he raised his eyebrows and tilted his head inquisitively.  “I’m sorry, I’m staring.  I haven’t seen a human being in two years,” she said, and then felt silly for saying it aloud.  Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, and for other reasons.

“I haven’t seen a woman in two months,” he said, and she was relieved to hear amusement in his voice.  “At least two months, and that was a glimpse across a very crowded shuttlecraft dock.  I’m finding it hard not to stare myself.”  When he spoke his voice was like gravel on velvet; she wanted him to say more stuff so she could listen to it.

Tamsin felt herself flush again, from the top of her head all the way to her toes, and her armpits, which were deodorantless since that had seemed far too intimate a thing to borrow from a person you just met, went sweaty then icy cold when the sweat began to evaporate.  She was suddenly acutely aware of the fact that she wasn’t wearing a bra because she didn’t have one to wear, and a thin layer of cloth did not feel like adequate protection from a set of male eyeballs. She crossed her arms over her chest and hunched up her shoulders like she was walking in a snowstorm.  

It’s just biology. Biology, she told herself, but herself didn’t seem to be terribly inclined to listen.

“The chiller makes ice, if you’d like,” he said, only he said ‘lah-kh’, and he raised his glass a little to indicate what he was talking about.  “I think there’s another glass underneath.  I don’t entertain much, for obvious reasons,” he explained, referring to the size of the flat.

Tamsin retrieved the glass, a different shape and size entirely than the detective’s tumbler, as if he’d picked them up randomly somewhere along the line rather than buying a matched set.  She pushed the button for ice, and the chiller dropped into the glass with a cheery clink.  Crossing the room took all of three steps. She held out the glass for the alcohol.  The detective filled it nearly to the top, which seemed perhaps a bit excessive.  

“What is it?” she asked, because she couldn’t see the label.

“Whiskey,” he replied.  

“Oh, I read about whiskey,” she answered, and drank it all in one go.  The ice hit her front teeth.  She nearly retched, it was that terrible.  “God, that’s AWFUL,” she said, and pressed the back of her thumb against her upper lip till she was sure it was going to stay put.  Then she held out her glass for him to fill it again.  He chuckled indulgently and obeyed.  Then she sat down on the far end of the futon from him with her legs curled up under her, even though it didn’t feel nearly far enough away.  Just biology, that’s all.  Biology.  Biology is not the boss of you.  

“You’ve never had whiskey before?”

“Kolob is a dry planet,” she explained.

“No wonder you left,” he said, and took a long pull.  He didn’t have any ice in his glass to contend with.  He sucked the liquid from his upper lip.  “It was a man, then?”

“What?”  Tamsin thought he was asking about the creature who’d attacked her again, since he hadn’t inquired about its gender before, and she could have smacked him for being such a cop.  She didn’t want to think about that right then, or ever again if she could help it, and she drank the whiskey to wash the memory away.

“The reason you left your homeworld?” he clarified. “A man?”

She paused to choose her words carefully, and before she could answer him, a kind of pretty song began playing.  “What song is that?” she asked, only partly to change the subject.  There were so many songs in human history, it was easy to lose track of a song you heard once and liked and wanted to hear again, so she wanted to stick it in her head.

“I don’t know.  It’s on shuffle.”  She grabbed the whiskey bottle from his crotch, an overly familiar move that made him grind his teeth, she could see the muscles working in his jaw.  She refilled his glass and her own, and set the bottle on the floor because she wanted it out of the way.  Then Tamsin grabbed the phone to see what the song was and flung herself back to where she’d been sitting before. A little whiskey sloshed out of the glass and down the side of it, and she licked it off before it could drip on the detective’s futon.

“One Thing Finger Eleven,” she said, mostly to herself, and then laughed because it was so stupid of a name, like just some random words put together.  It probably meant something sexual. People in the past were so ridiculous, it was hilarious the things they thought were cool. They were like little children saying naughty words, trying to shock the grownups, when all along the grownups knew way worse than that, and found it rather tedious and juvenile.

“Is that the band or the song?” the detective asked in a bored, impatient way that indicated he didn’t care at all, he was just humoring her.  Then he gulped down his glass of whiskey and set the tumbler on the floor as if he wanted it out of the way too.  He rubbed his palm on his thigh as if it felt sweaty.

“No idea.” The way it appeared on the screen, there was no way to tell.  “I haven’t had a phone in eight years, I barely remember how they work.”  She chose not to mention that even before she left home, Ash hadn’t allowed her to have a phone of her very own, not a real phone anyway.  Even though he came from a rich family and had made a lot of money because he was a corporate lawyer for Amazon, he got her the cheapest phone possible, nothing but the tracking beacon required by law and the ability to reply to texts.  His texts, to be more precise. 

She didn’t need more than that, Ash had said.  He would decide what music she listened to because she had shitty taste in music anyway; he probably would have hated One Thing Finger Eleven.  He decided what programs she watched and what books she read.  He didn’t let her game because he said games rotted your brain and she had better things to do with her time anyway, like clean house and work out and make sure her toenails were freshly painted.  And of course he decided who she could talk to and what she could say; all their social media accounts were in his name and he read all the texts she sent to anyone, and also the texts she received.

“Well, they’re long dead, whoever they are.  They’re dead and we’re alive.”

“And yet we’re still listening to them sing, so who really wins?”  Tamsin drained her drink and set the empty glass on the floor beside the whiskey bottle.

“Some say it’s a sign of a decaying culture, that we focus only on old art and make none ourselves.”

“I’ll leave that question to the philosophers.”  She reached back across him to put the phone on the arm of the futon again.

Before she could return to her dubious safe space at the far end of the futon, Buchanan grabbed her around the wrist, ostensibly to inspect the cut on her arm.  It pulled her off balance and she ended up resting the weight of her upper body on his thigh unexpectedly.  She gasped, and when she did she could smell him.  The sandalwood and masculinity was much nicer on him than it had been on her.  “Let’s see this wound of yours,” he said. He ran his fingertip down  the skin of her forearm far enough away from the cut so it didn’t hurt, or maybe that was just the painkillers.  “It’s a clean cut.  Not too deep.  Starting to heal, already.”  His voice sounded strained.  His Adam’s apple rose beneath his beard hair as he swallowed, and then he cleared his throat. “Was it a man, then?”

“I’m surprised you didn’t just look it up.”

“I can’t access off-station records on my phone.  Unless I have a warrant.”

“Oh.”

“Privacy laws.”

“Oh.”

“Maybe I’d like to hear your side of it first,” he said, and shifted his hand so he was no longer holding her by the wrist, but curling his fingers over hers.  Tamsin let her thumb fall and ran it over those amazing inventions called knuckles to see what they felt like.  When she did she felt him breathe in, but he didn’t breathe back out.

“What’s your name, Detective Buchanan?  Like, your name, name, or whatever?”

“Nicky,” he said, and though Tamsin had thought that was a woman’s name, thought that men were supposed to be called Nick instead, she was surprised how well it suited him. She had never cared for the name Nick, because it was one of those too-cool sounding names like Ash was. Ash and Troy and Chance and Nick, they probably hung out together in school beating up nerds and raping drunk girls at parties. Just the sound of it, Nick, seemed harsh and brusque and weirdly violent. Tamsin couldn’t help but think any man called Nick had to be an entitled asshole, to have such an abrupt and invasive name. But Nicky’s extraneous Y softened it somehow, uncoolified it, made a person think this man here didn’t care so much what people thought, and still went by the name his mother had called him.

“Yes, Nicky, it was a man.  A bad man.”

He ran his hand up and down her arm again and then he gazed into her face.  Up until that point, Tamsin realized, he’d not done that before.  He’d been glancing around here and there, never looking at her for more than a moment.  Probably as he said, he was trying not to stare.  But finally he rested his dark eyes upon her.  He had those kind of dark eyes that smoldered.  “Not all men are bad, you know.”

With a daring that she hadn’t even known was a part of her, Tamsin pushed off him, only to push herself back onto him again, throwing her leg across him to straddle him, so she ended up sitting on his lap looking into his face.  “Prove it,” she said, and kissed him.

*****

When Nicky arose the next morning, the woman was sleeping still.  At some point they’d thrown the mattress from the futon on the floor for cushioning and there she sprawled, tucked into a faux fur blanket for warmth, a simulation of the hide of some beast that had long ago gone extinct on Earth, since the heat in Nicky’s flat worked just as well as the elevator.  Her lovely golden hair had dried in the night, frizzy and wild; he had a fond recollection of her walking into the room to stand before him with little glistening beads of water clinging to to the tips.

The woman was what some dimly lit corner of his mind thought of as an English rose, blonde and grey-eyed, with dewy fair skin and round rosy cheeks and full pink lips, as if she’d walked right out of an old painting of a milkmaid or a girl picnicking on the banks of the Thames.  

The only thing wrong with her aside from her silly name he couldn’t even bring himself to say – why didn’t offworlders give their daughters reasonable names like Anne or Kate – and her dreadful Americanese accent, broad and flat with hard r’s and overly emphatic o’s and like, whatevers, was that she was too thin.  English roses were meant to be a bit plump and her ribs were showing, not just the lower ribs but the top ones, up above her breasts.

He could hardly decipher what had happened, kept turning it over in his mind looking for the catch, the trick, the fine print, the moment he’d wake up and realize he’d just had a very realistic and entirely marvelous wet dream, but it seemed to be real.  They’d fucked and talked and fucked and then dozed off and woken up and fucked and talked and dozed some more and it had been an altogether fine way to spend a night.  Though an ugly little voice inside Nicky kept murmuring that she was only there because she was in a tough spot and needed him, pressing that advantage every woman had over every man since humanity had first slithered out of the primordial ooze, he found he didn’t care.  He only left her since he needed to show his face at work eventually; he would very much rather have done some more sleeping and talking and fucking, not necessarily in that order.  

He’d showered though he’d hated to wash her off his skin, and put on a suit. He didn’t normally wear one, save to various ceremonies he was required to attend for work, but he thought he looked a bit more civilized than usual in it.  It was a black suit with a royal blue shirt and a plain black tie. Then Nicky pulled his hair back and put his beret on and thought he looked as handsome as it was possible for him to look, which he feared wasn’t very handsome at all.   

He put two breakfasts into the food rehydrator, then thought better of it and added a third, thinking of those ribs showing high up on the woman’s chest where ribs weren’t meant to show. 

After the meals were rehydrated he put them into the convection radiator to warm them.  The smell of bangers and mash and fried eggs with onion gravy and mushy peas filled his flat; he should have turned on the air exchange, but it was too noisy when it first came on, and he didn’t want to wake the woman up.  It cost him a shocking percentage of his salary to order in proper food from Earth but it was worth every credit he spent on it. The utter trash that passed for human food on the stations was appalling, not to mention damn near as expensive.  He rehydrated a waxed-paper pitcher full of orange juice and put it in the chiller. 

Despite his best efforts at quiet, the woman stirred, made a little mewing groan and stretched with an arm over her head.  She was so lovely the insecurity he was attempting to stave off surged, brutal and crushing.

“Well, look at you,” she said, in her annoying accent that inexplicably sounded like music to his ears, “wul” instead of well, and “yew” instead of you, and the “look” was such a guttural disaster he did not know how it might be represented in proper English.  “All gussied up.”  

Maybe the suit hadn’t been a good idea after all.  “I have a meeting this morning,” he lied.

She sat up and scrubbed her fingers through her messy hair. “Oh no, I wasn’t complaining, not at all.  I have two words for you, my friend.  Morning.  Wood.  I didn’t know women could get that, but, here we are.”

“Is this a pity fuck?” he blurted, and felt profoundly stupid.

The woman looked flabbergasted for a moment and then she regrouped and turned it back around on him.  “Well, I don’t know, Nicky do you pity me?”  She raised her eyebrows and smirked with one side of her face in a self-deprecating way, and they both laughed.

All concerns towards getting to work in a timely manner vanished from his mind entirely.  He was just about to loosen his tie and fuck her again when the convection radiator informed them breakfast was ready.  “Keep it warm,” Nicky told the radiator, and stuck his finger into the knot round his throat, thinking to commence the fucking process.  But then the doorbell sounded, which was just about his bloody luck.  The woman stood up as she slithered into his tank top which fit her like a dress.  She wrapped her lower half with the blanket like a mermaid, displaying a modesty Nicky was quite pleased to recall she didn’t possess at all.

Since he could see on the Ring that it was Stan, Nicky opened up the door without adequately thinking through the consequences of the act.  “Why are you all dressed up?” Stan said in an incredulous tone, and straightened Nicky’s tie, which had gone off to the side crooked when he’d started to unfasten it.  “Did someone die?” he added as he walked in.  Then he saw the woman and gaped.  “What the dreikh?  What the ACTUAL dreikh, man?”

“Good morning to you, too,” Nicky replied drily, as he pulled the door shut.

“You didn’t, Nic.  Tell me you didn’t.”

“I didn’t?” he said jokingly, because it was obvious he did, and even if it hadn’t been visually obvious, Stan possessed a sense of smell sharper than a bloodhound.  “All right, I did, and I plan to do it again at the first available opportunity, if she’ll have me.”

“She’ll have you,” the woman said, and Nicky felt his cheeks redden.  He counted through his sick days and wondered how many he could take without anyone getting up his arse about it.  He could say he had mono, that was always good for a week off, because getting mono was a plot point on fiction programs often enough the aliens believed it to be a ubiquitous human illness even though mononucleosis had been eradicated on Earth back in the 21st.  Oh no, not the kissing disease! they would say, and let him have the days without a doctor’s note.

Stan did a slow burn, getting angrier and angrier as he did.  “Why can you people not go home to spawn once every three solar cycles like sensible beings?  Why do you need to spawn constantly? Why is it all human beings ever think about, is spawn, spawn, spawn?”

“I haven’t spawned in a good long while,” Nicky said.  

“Me neither,” added the woman helpfully.

“I should have known,” he paused and continued in an extremely over-the-top imitation of Nicky’s accent.  “Och, Stan, knock off early, och, Stan, I’ll take care of the paperwork, och Stan, I don’t mind at all.”  Stan jumped up and down several times; he always did when he got worked up.  “I should have known, you son of a BITCH, Nicky, I swear to your fucking imaginary man who lives in the sky, I am not going to cover for you on this, fucking a crime victim, man, a HOMELESS crime victim, dude, seriously, that’s like the most unethical thing a police officer could possibly do!”

“That’s not strictly true, Stan,” Nicky pointed out.  “I could have fucked a suspect.”

“That was ONE TIME,” Stan whined.  “And she was innocent, -ish.”

“Ish,” Nicky repeated.  He had covered for his partner on numerous occasions, all of which Stan seemed to appreciate, but he understood that Stan would never return him the favor.  He couldn’t, really, he wasn’t capable.  While Stan was certainly just as prone to impulsive behavior as any human being and had made his fair share of questionable decisions in the heat of the moment, it wasn’t in his species’ nature to go against the rules if he considered it for even a moment in advance.  “Why are you even here?  I was on my way in,” Nicky said.

“You shut off your commdev, you horny inbred drebulon, that’s why I’m here.”

“Fuck, sorry,” Nicky said, and turned his phone on.  It buzzed and chirped and beeped and chimed at him for the better part of four minutes solid before it shut up.  The woman peered at the blinking screen as the messages came in.  She seemed oddly curious about phones, as if they were a novelty to her, to such an extent that living eight years without one didn’t quite explain it.  On Earth babies were given phones in the cradle; perhaps it was different on her world.  Religion and all that, undoubtedly.

“You didn’t even do the paperwork, did you?” Stan asked.

“No, but I will, I promise.  First thing.  As soon as I get to the precinct.”  

“We found the guy.  DNA screening.  We’ll roll by and pick em up on the way in.”

“That was easy.  Who was it?”

“A q’Lurian separatist.”

“Oh?” Nicky asked, unsure what a q’Lurian, who tended to keep to themselves, and had no love for homo sapiens, would want with a human woman.  “That’s a bit odd?”

“You know they hate you people, the separatists especially.  It was probably just a random act of violence.  They saw her and went feral, not unlike yourself, you giant flaming Bazerian douchenozzle.  But I figured you’d want in.”

“I do, very much,” Nicky said, and gathered up his ident badge, his weapon, and his phone from off the worktop where he’d left them.  He thought for a moment, tapped in his Amazon password into the phone he’d bought for the woman, and handed it to her.  “I’ve granted you access to my Amazon.  If you need anything – a change of clothes?  A toothbrush?  Shoes?”  She scrunched up her mouth and looked upwards, as if she found the latter suggestion offensive to her pride, but her shoes were entirely unacceptable and he planned to chuck them in the bin personally if she wouldn’t do it of her own accord.  “Anything at all.  Just buy it.  We’ll sort it out later. You shouldn’t need a password, just use One-Click.  Have a drone bring it by.  Don’t go out, eh?  At least not till we know more.”

“Um, well, thanks.  I shouldn’t need anything, but thanks.”  She rolled her eyes, not from Americanese rudeness, more out of embarrassment, he thought.  He decided he’d send a few things by for her since he didn’t expect she’d take him up on the offer.  Then he picked her up, right up off the floor, and kissed her goodbye.

“Augh, why, WHY must you put your mouths together, do you have any idea how unsanitary that is?” Stan exclaimed, thoroughly disgusted.  “That has ruined more fiction programs for me!  Right when the story gets exciting, the humans put their mouths together.  It’s VILE!”

“You should have seen where my mouth was last night,” the woman said. 

Nicky laughed.  “That religious upbringing you had, I’m afraid to tell you, it didn’t take.”  

“You should have seen me before,” she joked. 

Ignoring Stan’s sounds of protest, he kissed her again, then set her down and opened the convection radiator and removed the food.  He peeled back the wrap on one of the meals and helped himself to a sausage, burning both his fingers and his tongue in the process, and washed it down with a few gulps of deliciously ice cold orange juice straight from the chiller.  Stan cleared his throat.  “I’m standing right here, man.” 

Nicky tossed him a couple sausages.  Stan caught them in midair and swallowed them whole.  

As they drove towards the q’Lurian’s neighborhood, Stan put the vehicle on auto so he could gesticulate wildly to emphasize his important points, and then proceeded to chastise Nicky for his stupidity, demanding to know what he’d been thinking and why he hadn’t taken the woman to a hotel if the shelter had been as bad as all that.

Nicky was very well aware he should have just taken her to a hotel.  Very well aware.  Money was no excuse; he could have paid for it, called it his good deed for the day.  There would have been paperwork, but not half as much as he’d have now, since Stan was genetically incapable of letting him skate by without reporting him. 

He’d told himself that it was because she’dve had to give her security number again, but in truth it was because he’d hoped that what had happened, would happen. And if he hadn’t entirely sussed out what his subconscious had been plotting when he brought her back to his place, he’d certainly known it when he opened the whiskey.

What Tamsin had misinterpreted as him being angry with her the night before had actually been him raging at fate, at God, at the universe, for putting him in a situation where it was too bloody tempting to not do the right thing, and himself for succumbing to the temptation.  

While Stan droned on, Nicky arranged a few things to be delivered to his flat by an Amazon drone. A toothbrush, some disposable clothing, an ampule of Vitamin D – all humans were meant to have Vitamin D regularly whilst living in space due to the lack of sunlight, and he hadn’t seen any when he’d gone through her things – and a Starbucks of course.  He wished he could replace her terrible shoes but he didn’t know the size.  Then he thought of sending flowers since that seemed like the sort of thing a man should do, but they didn’t have roses of course, nor lilies.  She seemed a daisy sort anyway, and daisies weren’t long lived enough to be had on the stations.  Unfortunately the only alien flowers available for sending carried a warning label that said they smelled repulsive to humans.  

“What do women like, Stan?” he asked his partner, who had stopped berating him long enough so Nicky could get a word in edgewise. “Something…oh, I don’t know…frivolous?”

“An eighteen inch spiked Orasteran dildo?”

“Shut up.”  

“Probably smart to avoid it.  You know what they say, Nicky, once you’ve had an eighteen inch spiked Orasteran dildo, you’ll never go back.  In fact, you know, why don’t you pick up one of those for me while you’re at it, Mr. Sandy Claws.  Shove it down my stocking.  Up my chim-in-nee.  I’ve been a very good boy.”

“I thought you only spawned once every three solar cycles, Stan.”

“Three solar cycles is a long fucking time, man.” Then Stan sighed and glanced at Nicky sideways. “She take your money,” he sang, in an impossibly perfect falsetto. “When you’re in need. Oh, Nicky, she’s a triflin’ friend indeed.”

“Shut up, mate,” Nicky warned.

“Uhn, now I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger, uhn,” he said in a sing-song way.

“Shut the fuck up, Stan. I mean it.” This time Stan obeyed, but he made a big show of swaying back and forth in the seat, bobbing his head as if he was still singing the song in his mind.

Disregarding his partner’s concerns, in a fit of cockeyed optimism Nicky ordered in some Americanese food from Earth, even though it would take weeks to arrive.  He ordered meals he’d never voluntarily eat like sloppy joes and Spaghetti-O’s and chop suey, ordered them Express, and it cost him four thousand credits to do it. He envisioned himself standing in his apartment alone eating his way through four thousand credits’ worth of chop suey while “All By Myself” played in the background and he felt a very unpleasant yearning twinge in his chest. Not good, not good to get in so deep so quickly, not good at all. Not good, and not in his nature.

Nicky Buchanan considered himself a loner, a curmudgeon, very nearly a misandrist; he despised his fellow man which was why he’d become a cop to begin with, to keep their thieving scheming arses in line.  He’d left the theme park tourist trap hellscape called Earth quite happily, with no regrets.  Humanity itself was bad enough, and the hordes of alien tourists shuffling through Edinburgh demanding Scotsmen in kilts playing the bagpipes or else running about with blue faces shouting about their FREEDOM were fucking intolerable.  

Yet if he was being honest, he had to admit that living without the steady company of other human beings as long as he had was a very far thing from easy.  Even though he had his mates at work, most especially Stan, and his neighbors were a decent enough lot, it just wasn’t the same.  The only time Nicky ever encountered other people was when he was arresting them and that wasn’t exactly a bonding experience.

His coping mechanisms of working too much, gaming too much, drinking too much, and looking at far too much pornography were no replacement for the companionship of his own kind.  Nicky hadn’t quite realized how very much he missed being a man rather than just another anonymous sentient being in an exceedingly crowded galaxy, but being with the woman had ripped the scales from his eyes.  

He felt like a ghost, unseen, unknown, just a cold spot on the floor, in need of chains to rattle to prove to anyone he even existed.  It was as if his very soul itself was withering from disuse, yet he could still feel the ache of it like a phantom limb, even though it wasn’t fully dead yet. 

You needed one another, that was the thing.  As much as he hated people, he knew he was meant to be with them.  You needed your own kind.  Even if you were surrounded by 17 million other creatures, you needed people, living people, not electronic facsimiles of them.  You needed the flesh of your flesh, blood of your blood, DNA of your DNA.  Your body knew it even if your mind thought it was far too clever for primitive allegiances based around a shared genome.  His body definitely knew it. Having actual physical sex with an actual physical woman felt like that moment in The Shawshank Redemption when Andy made it out from the sewers and stood in the rain and raised his hands to the sky and praised the heavens.

The woman said she hadn’t even seen a human in two years, TWO YEARS.  He couldn’t imagine living that way without even a phone for a distraction.  Despite being an unapologetic introvert, he couldn’t fathom such complete isolation, and she seemed nowhere near as antisocial as he was.  

And that raised a question, one he’d thought might come up over the course of the night, but she seemed quite adept at avoiding it.  That question was why.  Why had she picked up stakes and moved across the galaxy to live alone in an unheated cargo bay on a space station?  With no prospects, no connections, no friends?  Who in their right mind did such a thing?  And why was she willing to go hungry rather than give out her security number?   

A man, bad man, she’d said, and that was all she’d said.  

As bad as it could be – and Nicky had certainly seen enough incidences of domestic violence over his career to know they could be bad indeed – what could have driven her to such desperation?  Did they not have authorities on her planet?  Could she not have sent the man to prison?

After eight years, surely even the most obsessed stalker would’ve given up?

It’s Just Biology – Part 2

It’s Just Biology – Part 2

Looking for Part 1? It’s here: It’s Just Biology – 1

When the detective asked her if she had a friend she could stay with, Tamsin lied.

She had no one, of course.  She didn’t even have anywhere to stay herself really, let alone with a friend.  Since she’d arrived on Tashalos Station, she’d lived in a cargo hold.  Alone. 

The address she’d given the detectives was fake – the address of a post office, though she never received mail since you had to have a security number to get a mailbox, and there was no one she wanted to hear from anyway.  It didn’t matter, her lying, she figured. They probably expected it. Didn’t everybody lie to the cops? And anyway, tens of thousands of sentient beings lived under the radar on Tashalos, tucked into the bowels of the station like Tamsin.  Surely the police would never bother to investigate a solitary woman who hadn’t even done anything wrong to begin with, especially for something as utterly stupid as not having a phone.

The cargo hold where Tamsin resided was full of these massive pallets of supplies that were in transit from somewhere to somewhere else and were being stored on Tashalos temporarily, till a freighter could pick them up to carry them wherever they were meant to go.  She lived up on top of the stacked pallets, where she liked to imagine no one would ever be able to find her.  Even though the shipping containers were wrapped in thick plastic along the edges to hold them together and protect them from the elements, up top they usually weren’t sealed completely shut, so she could pull back the plastic and rearrange the boxes to make herself a little nest with walls.  Early on in her residency she figured out how to read the schedules and so whenever a stack of cargo was due to be shipped, she simply moved her things to another stack before the anti-grav forklifts came, and there she would build another nest.  

And that had been her life for the past several years.  She thought she had it all figured out.  

So it was quite a surprise, to say the least, when she clambered up to her nest to find Detective Buchanan already there waiting for her.  She’d spent a good deal of time doubling and tripling back around in case anyone followed, honestly way more worried about the alien who had attacked her than the police. But apparently the detective had spent the same time looking at security footage instead to find out where she really lived and got there before her.  

While he was waiting he had rifled through her things; she could tell because they were in disarray rather than neatly stacked the way she’d left them.  He must have been satisfied with what he found, or didn’t find maybe, and was sitting cross legged on her bedroll, tapping on his phone.  He had her Physhar’s Guide to Alien Life open on his lap like he’d been leafing through it.  The detective looked at her disdainfully, giving off this “I’m so disappointed in you” vibe combined with an air of mental superiority, like he’d somehow won some battle of the wits, when all he’d really won was the battle of having better technology. 

Through her annoyance, Tamsin realized the dude was barefoot, which seemed creepily weird.  But then she noticed he’d taken off his shoes and socks and left them at the edge of her nest, ostensibly to avoid getting the filth of the station on her bedding.

Not that a strange man’s sweaty feet were much of an improvement over station filth.  “What the fuck,” she exclaimed, before she could stop herself.  While people swore constantly off of Kolob, and Tamsin had certainly acquired the habit since she had expatriated herself, vulgarity didn’t seem like the best way to talk to a policeman.

“Your address is a post office, Ms. Pulsipher,” he explained as she slung her aching leg over the edge of the boxes and slithered-rolled into her nest, suppressing the urge to grunt in pain as she did.  “There are only 253 humans living on this station…well, 254, I suppose, yourself included.  Nearly all law abiding, causing me no trouble at all.  Surely you didn’t think I’d be too busy to confirm your story?”  Her heart sank as she realized what a freaking moron she was, believing she’d get permanently lost in the shuffle of the 17 million sentient beings on Tashalos Station. That was not how things worked.  Human beings were answerable to human authorities no matter where they were; answerable both for breaking human laws and galactian ones.  Detective Buchanan was charged with the task of enforcing the law for all homo sapiens on Tashalos, so naturally he would have took the time to find out whatever he wanted to know about her.

“Is being homeless illegal too, or is it just not having a phone?” she said, still laying on her belly trying to recover from the climb, which she could normally do easily, but she was weak from hunger and hurt.

“It’s not illegal, but trespass is, of course.  You’re trespassing here.  Look at the damage you’ve done,” he said, and flipped at the edges of some plastic she’d torn.

“Yeah, I mortally wounded that piece of plastic. That’s gotta be manslaughter at the least.”

“It’s not about the financial value of course. You’re breaking the law. They have homeless shelters for beings in need.  There’s help available for you, Ms. Pulsipher, you just need to reach out and take it.  You don’t have to live this way.”

She sat up as if to prove it to him that she wasn’t a being in need. “I don’t need help.  I’m doing fine on my own.” Tamsin may not have friends, but she’d heard enough from strangers to know that homeless shelters were to be avoided at all costs.

They said you may as well be going to prison as go to a shelter.  You couldn’t come and go freely, someone had to know where you were all the time, there were drug tests and medical examinations, mandatory vaccinations for diseases Tamsin had never heard of let alone contracted, and delousings both internal and external.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, they put you through psych evaluations and anger management classes and counseling sessions and occupational therapy.  If the shrinks found you crazy, they could prescribe medication you couldn’t choose to forgo or even an implant to alter your brain waves if you were fucked up enough mentally.  You weren’t allowed to leave the shelter until you had proof of gainful employment and a place to live and you couldn’t get those things till the experts agreed you were ready to rejoin society. 

All of that was incredibly shitty of course but the more pressing concern for Tamsin was that whatever charitable organization that ran the shelter undoubtedly entered your name and security number into some sort of computer system where anyone could find you if they were looking. Not only would she be trapped, she’d be trapped and easily located.  That was unacceptable.  

He’s forgotten about me, he’s moved on by now, he probably has a new wife and seven children already, he doesn’t care any more, but even as she thought it, she knew it was a lie.

“Oh?  Doing fine on your own, are you?  When was the last time you ate?” the detective asked, only he said ‘eht’ instead of ate.

Since the drink the Sophroid had given her was burning off and she didn’t want to answer the question, she asked him one instead. “Where are you from?”

“I’m Scottish,” he said, and he started putting his socks back on. She must have looked confused, because he elaborated. “From Scotland? It’s a country on Earth? You might know it as part of Britain, even though it isn’t part of Britain any more? Europe? Surely you’ve heard of Europe?”  

She wasn’t confused though, she was amazed.  He was from Earth, like, actually from Earth.  The knowledge rendered Tamsin a bit starstruck.  She had never met an actual Earthling before.  “You mean like Shrek?” she said, because he really didn’t sound Scottish, at least Scottish in the way she knew it from fiction programs.  He didn’t have that stretchy comical twang she identified as Scottish.  His accent was clipped and curt, all work and no play. 

“Scotsmen don’t talk like cartoon characters in real life,” he explained in such a patient way Tamsin realized she had annoyed him by asking him something he was asked all the time.  “And Shrek isn’t Scottish anyway, it’s just someone pretending.” He began to tie his shoes, which were sensible black work boots that reached just over his ankle.  They had “RAN” embossed on the soles in white letters but the letters were starting to wear off.  That meant Reebok-Adidas-Nike; she had had a few pairs of that brand of shoe back on her homeworld when she was a kid.  Her own shoes were falling apart, she had them taped together with duct tape to keep the soles from flapping.  Tamsin felt acutely aware of this fact since the detective looked right at them and sighed through his nose judgmentally.  “I don’t wear a kilt, or play the bagpipes, nor am I personally acquainted with the Loch Ness Monster.”

“Oh,” she replied.  It was odd how human beings all went so far out of their way to avoid every stereotype possible when thinking about alien species, but still bought into the stereotypes of their fellow person without really even thinking twice about them.  Tamsin wondered if there was a guidebook for human beings about the other kinds of human beings in the galaxy; if there wasn’t, someone should definitely write one, it would be a best seller. Unlike aliens, who tended to have one or two or three dominant cultures, humans came in hundreds of varieties. Humans could be as different from each other as two different species of aliens were. She wondered why, and figured it probably had to do with having imaginations since that was the only quality humans had that aliens didn’t.

“You realize, Miss Pulsipher, that it took me hardly any time at all to figure out where you live.  You are, as they say, a sitting duck.”

“I don’t know what that means, sorry.”

“They say it all the time on fiction programs. It’s hardly a rare term.” He was challenging her over it like he thought she was just trying to be difficult or something.

“Whoever says it, I guess it didn’t register.”

“Sigh. It means you’re vulnerable. If what happened to you wasn’t random, if someone is coming after you personally, you simply cannot stay here.  It’s not safe.  You realize that, yes?”

“I’ll be fine, dude, I swear,” she said, but was dismayed to hear her voice sounded weak and defeated.  Then to make matters worse, her stomach gurgled then and gave the game away completely.

“I cannot allow it, in good conscience I cannot allow it.”  Tamsin figured it was more likely because he’d get in trouble if he let her go and she ended up murdered or whatever. In trouble like, maybe he’d have to fill out an extra form or something. Good conscience, boo fucking hoo, the selfish prick was just covering his ass. He stood up and his head nearly hit the fire suppression system above Tamsin’s nest.  “I’m assuming, Miss Pulsipher, since you came back here after I told you specifically not to, you have nowhere else to go?”

“No, I can totally go somewhere else,” Tamsin said, and stood up too. She blushed because what she meant was that she could go to a different cargo bay and set up housekeeping there.  

That was not what the detective meant, and he saw through her ploy like it was transparent aluminum.  “We’ll send someone ’round to collect your things,” he said in a tone that brooked no argument.

Buchanan took her to a human restaurant called Carl’s Jr. which she had never been to before. They didn’t have Carl’s Jr. on Kolob though she had seen tons of advertisements for it. Under normal circumstances she would have been excited to eat there after seeing all those ads her whole life. But being pretty much basically arrested took the fun out of it. He fed her a burger and fries, or some processed substance that approximated a burger and fries, anyway. Tamsin almost fainted when she saw the prices on the menu; she ordered the smallest, cheapest thing available which was a side order of taquitos, but then the detective changed her order and added a burger and fries to it, though he still got her the taquitos anyway, and a cookie, and he upsized her Coke. Probably the guy dislocated his arm patting himself on the back for it too. But whatever, it was food, and she didn’t have to get it from the garbage, so.

It had been so long since Tamsin had eaten anything close to human food, which was megaexpensive on the stations, that she ate way too quickly and embarrassed herself.  Or maybe it was because she was straight up starving that she stuffed her face like a pig. Whatever. She didn’t care what the detective thought of her table manners, or her in general.  She didn’t even care how bad her tongue stung where she’d bitten it.

He said very little aside from “pass the salt”, and he ate slowly; he seemed more interested in watching her eat, which he did surreptitiously out of the corner of his eye when he thought she wasn’t paying attention.  Tamsin’s mouth was too full to make chitchat and she was too hungry to care about going through the empty rituals of politeness.

The detective only finished about half of his own sandwich, which was an approximation of fried fish.  He didn’t touch his fries at all, even though he’d salted them thoroughly like he’d been planning to eat them.  He pushed the remains of his meal across the table at her.  Then he told her, “I’ve got to run an errand, and I expect you to be here when I get back, Ms. Pulsipher.  If you aren’t, may I just remind you that there are security cameras everywhere and I can check them in a matter of moments.”  He walked away, and as he did his phone chimed so he began scrolling on it.

Tamsin obeyed because what other choice did she have?  If he’d really sent someone around to snag her belongings right out from under her, and he seemed like the sort of dictatorial a-hole who totally would, everything she owned was already in the custody of the Tashalos Police.  Starting over again with nothing AND the police after her, not to mention unemployed and broke, felt impossible.  It felt impossible because it WAS impossible.  If she tried it, she figured Detective Buchanan would be rolling back around to put her in a body bag in a week or two, and he would sigh judgmentally and be all pissed off at how stupid she had been to run away, and congratulate himself for feeding her such a nice meal beforehand.

She inwardly raged, furious at finding herself completely reliant on the benevolence of a man, a position she’d vowed long ago never to find herself in ever again.  And then she ate the detective’s dinner, as if that would teach him a lesson or something.

When Buchanan came back to the restaurant, he had a phone.  It was hot pink and glittery, like a little girl’s phone, and Tamsin felt it insulted her intelligence.  “I didn’t want you to forget,” he explained, making air quotes around the word forget, and opened up the plastic anti-theft clamshell the phone was stuck into.  He programmed it for her while she finished eating his overly salty fries, washing it down with the dregs of his drink, which was orange and bubbly but tasted all wrong, bittersweet and spicy rather than the tart citrus flavor she’d expected.  But that cookie, Jesus fucking Christ, it was crazy that something could taste that good when you were already stuffed full of food.

Tamsin expected the detective to ask her for her security number, her birthplace, her mother’s maiden name, the year she’d graduated school, all that bullshit, but he didn’t need any of it.  Her entire life was basically his for the taking, just with a little scrolling and clicking.

The epic unfairness of being born with two X chromosomes in a man’s…well, not only world, but galaxy, washed over her.  Men created a system in which everyone was tracked and monitored and constantly watched in the name of “safety”, including women, even though the men were the ones who did nearly all the crimes and women were a lot of the times their victims.  Then they used that system to ensure that women kept on being victims, that women could never just get away from a man who had hurt them.  No matter how far a woman ran and how careful they were, there were all these intricate political and economic and legal systems centered around nothing but making sure a person like Tamsin, who had done nothing wrong at all whatsoever, could always be found.

Human beings went to the stars and joined a galactic society comprised of 400 quadrillion sentient beings and innumerable unsentient ones, yet still everything was the same as it ever was.  Men owned women and women could never escape them.  Even when you tried, there would always be some other man who would catch you and hand you back over.

Detective Buchanan of course didn’t know any of this, though she wondered if he might suspect, since he had a sympathetic way about him when he held out the phone.  “It’s the law,” he explained, which didn’t help at all.  As Tamsin held out her hand to take it from him, he inhaled sharply through his prominent front teeth with a hissing sound. “You didn’t tell me you’d been hurt,” he said accusingly.

Tamsin looked at her arm and it was bleeding again from where she’d been cut.  She grabbed a handful of uselessly thin paper napkins from the dispenser on the table and held them against the wound.  “It’s just a scratch,” she said.

“They’ll have medics at the shelter,” Buchanan explained.  “They’ll get you fixed right up.”

And the last flickering hope Tamsin had that she might end the night a free woman was snuffed.

The nearest shelter wasn’t that far from the burger stand, only a couple blocks.  Mr. Big Spender didn’t even offer to get an Uber, suggesting they walk instead. Despite being sore from head to foot, and even limping a little from where her hip had hit the floor when she fell, Tamsin was glad of it, since it gave her a little more time, not that it would matter anyway. They made the walk in silence, with Tamsin mentally consumed by plotting out potential arguments she could make, valid points she could raise, heartfelt pleas she could toss at the guy, and doing none of it because she didn’t see the point in demeaning herself when the answer would only be no anyway.  

She couldn’t even guess at what the detective was thinking, though he did seem to be thinking something.  Rather than being implacable and stone-hearted like she’d expected, he seemed kinda torn, which didn’t alleviate Tamsin’s concerns about the homeless shelter any.  Apparently even he thought they sucked and he didn’t want to leave her there even though the whole thing was his idea in the first place.  Tamsin wondered if maybe he hadn’t got an Uber because he didn’t want to leave her there, and was trying to postpone it just like she was. She pushed that thought away as unlikely because she didn’t want to feel kindly disposed to the jerk who was ruining her whole entire life.

Tamsin considered said jerk, who had gone right past kinda into being definitely no-doubt-about-it torn. His eyes, which were brown like she’d expected, were darting around all over the place, rolling around under his thick eyebrows, which were furrowed from what seemed to be anger.  His lips moved as if he was talking to himself.  Occasionally he even muttered something under his breath. The only thing she thought she heard properly was “bloody golden hair”.

Even though Buchanan seemed thoroughly unconvinced he was doing the right thing by Tamsin, when they got to the homeless shelter he didn’t hesitate.  He marched right up to the plump, soft, kind-looking Norigian sister who manned the kiosk in the entryway and gave the creature Tamsin’s new phone.  The Norigian took it with a handless arm; it appeared to the human eye much like an octopi’s tentacle only furrier, but wasn’t any such thing at all.  

The Norigian had been expecting them; apparently Buchanan had called ahead and sold her out in advance.  The sister started downloading Tamsin’s personal information into the shelter’s master computer behind the counter.  There was a poster on the wall of a very cute alien creature that Tamsin didn’t recognize dangling from a branch, with a caption written on the bottom in a language Tamsin couldn’t read.  “It says, hang in there, baby,” the Norigian explained.  “It is good advice, yes?”

As she stared at the platitude, Tamsin felt despair cresting within her.  The shelter was awful, just awful.  Everything was molded from grayish-beige antimicrobial sanitary plastic, rounded and smooth with no sharp corners anywhere for anyone to get injured on if things got rough, and it absolutely reeked of cleaning chemicals with a tinge of shit and vomit and stale food and the syrupy fragrance of medication.  The shelter was soulless and industrial and that was just the entryway which was meant to be welcoming.  Couldn’t they have put out an afghan or something? A plant or two?

Though Tamsin didn’t want to, didn’t intend to waver in front of the assholish detective at all, she felt a tear snake down her cheek and pressed her lips together and breathed through her nose to try and stop more from coming.  All those silly idle hopes she’d had about being forgotten about or given up on evaporated.   Ash would come after her.  He would come after her and he would drag her back to Kolob just like he’d always vowed he would if she ran from him.  Or else maybe he would kill her before they even got there. Honestly that seemed like the better of the two options.  As for him dying, well, some people are just too mean to die.  

“Dammit,” Buchanan said, an angry wince contorting his face.  “God damn it, stop crying!  It isn’t my fault!” he shouted at her, but of course that only made it worse.  

“Believe me when I tell you, it isn’t my fault either,” Tamsin replied. Her voice came out strangled and weird, and two fat tears rolled down both sides of her face simultaneously.

He scrubbed his hand across his forehead.  “What is your security like here?” he demanded of the Norigian. Oh, he knew, all right, he absolutely one hundred percent knew why Tamsin didn’t want her security number being used, and yet he had brought her here anyway, the fucker. Brought her here and then asked about the security like he thought he was being diligent or caring or something. Muh good conscience, hurr de durr.

“Security?” said the Norigian.  Her voice sounded like dozens of birds chirping.  “We have no security here, Detective.  We’ve never needed any.” And because they had never needed any security before, the Norigian, lacking an imagination, couldn’t even envision the need for one; Buchanan may as well have been asking her to guard against elves or fairies or kamikaze unicorns with rabies or whatever.  

“Agh!  God damn it!” Buchanan exclaimed, and winced again, this time clucking his tongue as he did.  The computer pinged, meaning that Tamsin’s information had been successfully downloaded, or uploaded. Whatever it was, she was fucking fucked.  “No security at ALL?” he asked in an incredulous tone.

The Norigian sister ignored him.  “Someone will be along to show you to the medical bay shortly, my dear,” she said to Tamsin. “And then after that, we’ll assign you a cubby!  Your very own cubby, won’t that be cozy?”  Forced cheer sounded the same, regardless of the species.

“The…the medical bay?” Tamsin asked, and she was dismayed to hear her voice quavering like on the verge of hysteria.  She despised doctors, a hatred bordering on phobia.

“Yes, dear.  Our clinicians must examine you thoroughly to make sure that you’re healthy.  We must make sure you have been thoroughly disinfected and treated for parasites.  This is in order to help reduce the spread of communicable diseases and infectious vermin through our population.  This is in order to ensure that you are in optimal health!”

“Examine me thoroughly?”   

“It really doesn’t hurt.  Well, except for the spinal tap.  You might experience some discomfort after the spinal tap.  But it only lasts a short time.  A few hours.  Maybe a day.  Or two.  Unless something goes wrong, and then it might take…longer.  But nothing ever goes wrong.  Usually.”

The detective recoiled and rested both his palms on the kiosk, leaning across to scold the Norigian.  “She’s not diseased, she’s obviously not diseased!  She just needs a bed for the night for pity’s sake! Can’t you bend the rules just this once?”

“It’s the law,” the Norigian explained to Detective Buchanan.  

Buchanan slapped the sister’s desk.  His lips were pressed together and his brown eyes were intense.  “Law this, Sister,” he spat, pronouncing it as “sis-tah”, “just mark her off your list, there.  This one has a place to stay.”  

The Norigian tilted its massive head from side to side in confusion.  Its five eyes bulged.  “But Detective, that just isn’t done,” the sister tried to explain.  “She has been entered into the system!  They are expecting her in the medical bay!  The doctors will be inconvenienced!   I will have to notify my superiors!”  

The detective scowled at the sister.  “Notify whoever you like.  Just find a way.”

They took an Uber back to Buchanan’s quarters, or at least Tamsin assumed that’s where they were going, because she certainly couldn’t afford a hotel.  He hadn’t said a word or given any explanation, just grabbed her upper arm and manhandled her out of the shelter while she scrubbed at the tears on her face with her sleeve wadded up in her hand.  

The detective seemed enraged, boiling over at the inconvenience, which hardly seemed fair. Tamsin hadn’t asked for any of it.  She’d been doing fine, just fine on her own.  If he’d simply let her alone, she’d be drifting off to sleep in the cargo bay right now, hungry perhaps, scared for sure of the alien who had grabbed her, but free.  

I mean seriously, Buchanan had not only failed to catch the being who attacked her, but he’d entered Tamsin’s personal space uninvited without a warrant, totally invaded her privacy, rummaged through and then stolen her stuff, and put his disgusting sweaty man feet on her bed.  He’d dragged her to the shelter against her will, and worst of all he’d forced her to use her security number for the first time in eight years.  Yet he had the temerity to be angry at Tamsin?  The dude was being a complete dick!  

While Detective Buchanan sulked and stewed and swore under his breath, she wrapped her arms around herself and stared out the window, watching as the lights of the station passed by along the skyway. Eventually they drove past what must have been one of the bigger marketplaces, which was so vast it made Market 27 look like a gnat by a watermelon. There was a swimming pool and a park that had real grass and even some trees; Tamsin hadn’t seen a tree in eight years and she craned her neck as she went by so she could keep seeing them as long as possible. In her mind’s eye Tamsin could smell the chlorine and feel the green blades against her bare feet and hear the wind moving through the leaves of the trees. She wanted to pluck a leaf from a tree and rub it between her fingers, feel its waxy texture, follow the veins in it with the tip of her pointer. If only she had just one leaf, she thought, just one leaf, she would keep it forever, even when it dried out and got brown and crunchy.

The market was so huge they drove alongside it for several minutes. Further on, Tamsin was amazed to see a soccer game going on behind a chain link fence, with creatures in colorful uniforms running around a big grassy field in pursuit of a black and white ball, and bleachers packed full of thousands of cheering entities with big lights overhead lighting it all up. Though she shouldn’t have been amazed, really, because aliens loved sports and did them on all their various homeworlds. Sports were different than fiction programs because you didn’t have to have imaginations to invent them, so aliens had them just the same as humans did. The aliens had taken to Earth sports, too, apparently.

Soccer. Detective Buchanan would have called it football, probably. She wondered idly if that was why he was so testy, because he couldn’t make it to his stupid fucking sportsball match, on account of her. He paid a lot of credits for those tickets, she thought sarcastically. Good. She hoped he was really disappointed.

Tears stung her eyes and she kept blinking them away rather than letting them fall.  Despite the fact she had done absolutely nothing wrong, Tamsin was viscerally upset by the detective’s hostile reaction, and she was even more upset over being upset about it.  That was all Ash’s doing, of course.  There was this frightened creature within her that would always react in sheer terror of another person’s anger, even when she deserved none of it.  

Fear was the legacy Ash had bestowed upon her, and she would carry it with her forever.  No matter how much she tried to push it down, not let it control her, it remained.  

Fear was the real parasite. Fear was sucking her dry, draining her life away. It was like on that old fiction program Futurama, the people walked around with brain slugs on their heads and the brain slugs were controlling them; Tamsin was controlled by her fear the same way only it was a lot less cute. She wished there was a way that whatever the Norigian did to remove parasites, that it could remove her fear like that, even if it took a spinal tap.  She wanted to be that normal girl who she had been once a long time ago, someone completely unhandicapped by constant and unremitting anxiety, punctuated with regularly occurring outbursts of sheer panic.  

She wanted to be that girl she used to be, who if someone was unfairly angry at her, she told them to get the fuck over themselves. 

Seriously, Tamsin would have totally loved to tell the detective to screw himself!  She would have loved to tell him to quit acting so butthurt, to grow a pair and deal, put on his big girl panties. She hadn’t asked for this! She had been minding her business and she had been attacked. She was the victim! The only sin she had committed was not having a goddamn phone! I mean seriously, who did he even think he WAS, getting mad at her, anyway?

But the person who would have done that was gone, eaten from the inside out. 

Detective Buchanan lived in one of many identical housing projects in one of many identical residential neighborhoods in Tashalos Station, just a set of windowless boxes upon windowless boxes stretching from the floor to the ceiling.  Tamsin never could have found this particular project on her own, and she despaired at ever finding her way back to her cargo bay again.  Everything in Tashalos Station that looked alike looked exactly alike, and the stuff that looked different wasn’t distinctive enough to help you navigate.  She hadn’t the foggiest notion how to get home from wherever she was, and she couldn’t afford to call an Uber and tell them to take her back to Market 27. 

She was lost in every way it was possible for a person to be lost. It was weird to feel homesick for what was, in essence, nothing more than some blankets on top of a stack of boxes in a large unheated warehouse, but she longed to be back in her nest with every fiber of her being.  

The lobby of his building was smaller than the Carl’s Jr, just a wide place with the front door and some extra room to wait for the elevator. No mailboxes. No doorman. No big fountain, no potted plants, no Starbucks, no McDonalds, not even a Klkhiilhsi Bagels and FroYo like the Quilnauchts had in their building. The galactian authorities must make the lobbies of the affordable housing low budget, no frills, that way they could fit in more apartments, Tamsin figured.

The elevator was out, which did nothing to improve Detective Buchanan’s mood.  On the way up several flights of stairs both too steep and too narrow for Tamsin’s liking, they passed several beings of varying species who the detective apparently knew and who knew him right back.  

Neighbors, Tamsin realized.  It had been so long since she’d had neighbors herself that the entire concept felt foreign.  The detective nodded at the aliens as they passed and they nodded too, or shook an appendage at him in greeting.  Then they looked at Tamsin with shock and/or amusement; it was obvious Buchanan didn’t bring women back to his place often, or ever.  

After they had climbed what felt like a thousand flights of stairs, they turned down a drab unremarkable corridor lined with drab unremarkable doors on both sides.  A gray Chaboreth even bigger than Detective Buchanan was, covered over with fluff that Tamsin’s brain registered as feathers, but that weren’t feathers at all, strutted down the corridor headed towards the steps.  It blurted out “Human woman!” very loudly in surprise, and then started laughing.  “Amazement!”  The translators didn’t work quite as well on some species as they did others.

“Yes, Roybal, it’s a human woman,” Buchanan said ruefully.

“Very nice!” crowed the Chaboreth.  “Impressing for you!”  

“I was almost to the bloody door, too,” Buchanan muttered to himself.  “Almost to the door.”

“Happy day, ma’am!” the Chaboreth said to Tamsin.  “Have much success!” 

Tamsin smiled noncommittally and bobbed her head.  Detective Buchanan headed to the door at the furthest end of the hall.  There was a flash of green light as the Ring scanned his face.

The door swung open and he entered, leaving it open for Tamsin to follow after. 

It’s Just Biology – Part 1

It’s Just Biology – Part 1

It’s been a year since Women in Fridges (why do I keep experiencing the inexplicable urge to write a novella right before the holidays when I have a zillion things to do, please someone save me from myself) and this is the followup to it. Not a sequel exactly, because it’s set in a different fictional universe entirely, but the theme is similar.

One of the things that bugged me about “Women in Fridges” even as I was writing it was that there’s something a bit too easy when it comes to a woman getting superpowers and then kicking some dude’s butt. I mean, I enjoy that kind of thing, don’t get me wrong, but the truth is that in the real world, women do not have superpowers – at least not of the supernatural variety. Most of us of the smaller and weaker sex face off with the bad guys we encounter using only the weapons at our disposal – charm, guile, and the assistance of other people. (and poison. Occasionally poison.)

The assistance of other people means that we ladies must rely on good guys as our champions. It may not be politically correct to acknowledge it, but good men are like Pikmin. You catch them, tame them, and train them to protect you in addition to a variety of other menial tasks they happily perform. And even though we women don’t always deserve them, a whole lot of men are willing to lay down their lives for us to the strains of “Everything I Do, I Do It For You”.

A good man will follow a woman to the gates of Hell and then buy her tampons in the convenience store there. And all they want in return is to occasionally see your boobs.

So this is a story about a woman’s real superpower – men.

Tamsin used the last of her money to have some flyers printed off.  She picked canary yellow paper with big black letters since she figured that would attract the most attention, at least for the species who saw color in the human spectrum. 

In the twelve most common galactian languages, she advertised her services – cleaning, running errands, babysitting, English lessons, and she was desperate enough she claimed to be an expert in Earth culture even though she had never even been to Earth.  She could do anything anyone needed, she figured, except cooking, since she was too unfamiliar with alien cuisine.  But maybe she could learn, if they were patient with her.  

She just needed a chance.  She just needed a job, like here and now, today.  Yesterday would have been preferable, a couple weeks back even better.  She needed a job because she didn’t have any money, none at all, and you couldn’t live without money, only die without it.

Tamsin started handing out her flyers at Market 27 because it was the closest to where she lived.  The nearest human equivalent of Market 27 would be something in Earth history called a “shopping mall” and that’s how Tamsin thought of it, even though humanity didn’t build shopping malls any more because of Amazon.  She remembered learning all about it in school; the Industrial Revolution, the Victorian Era, The Age of the Automobile, the Age of the Mall, the Information Revolution, the Age of Amazon.  There were a couple wars jammed in there that the teachers were always droning on about, General This and Emperor That, but shooting and grunting and dying over lines on maps that didn’t even represent the geography of her own planet seemed unimportant compared to the things human beings were actually doing in the past, so she forgot what order they came in. 

Market 27 was three times the size of the biggest building Tamsin had ever been to on her homeworld, a hockey arena.  The market was lined with storefronts that sold goods and services most of which she had never heard of and would have been scared to purchase.  

Tashalos Station was home to roughly 17 million life forms. As such, it required a great many marketplaces. 27 was the 27th largest.  Tamsin didn’t know what would happen if the market got bigger than the 28th largest, if they’d change the name of it, or what.  Probably there were some alien bureaucrats somewhere making sure that never happened, keeping a close eye on how many business licenses were issued, ensuring that 27 stayed 27 in perpetuity. The aliens were very orderly about stuff like that.

Markets on Tashalos were as much park as shopping mall, because expecting sentient beings to live packed like sardines alongside 17 million other creatures the way they did in the stations meant it was necessary to have open spaces to congregate in.  There were benches to sit in solitude and look at your communication device, conversation circles to chat with friends, play equipment for children of a thousand different species to play on.  Aliens of a variety of species played board games, walked their pets, fed the sklrats and gridgeons and zebra finches that infested all the stations.  In the distance, a busker ululated while playing an elaborate stringed instrument that Tamsin didn’t recognize.  Her guidebook had been left at home – she hadn’t bothered with it for years anyway, because most everything she encountered was so strange and unfamiliar she would have been looking shit up 24-7 – so she had no clue what its planet-of-origin might be.  The passers-by occasionally stopped to throw money into a bucket the busker had on the ground before them.  

Some of the bigger markets had sports facilities and community gardens, or so she had heard; she’d never visited any of the other ones.  The luxury of recreation was for beings with money and free time.  Tamsin just wanted to stay alive another day, so luxury was something that didn’t cross her mind much any more, at least luxury in the sense other beings thought of it.  Luxury was a full stomach and a clean pair of socks.   

She handed a flyer to a friendly-looking Erenxhi who stood watching his children clamber all over the play equipment.  The Erenxhi was drinking a Starbucks and Tamsin wanted it so bad she felt an overwhelming urge to grab it and run.  It made her irrationally angry that an Erenxhi, from fucking space or wherever, was standing there drinking a Starbucks when Tamsin, to whom Starbucks belonged by birthright, couldn’t have one because she couldn’t afford it.

“We actually do need someone now and then,” the Erenxhi replied, and Tamsin got her hopes way up.  That’s how her previous job had started, as a mother’s helper a couple days a week.  Then once she’d proven herself she worked for them full time when Mademoiselle Quilnaucht’s abdominal muscles had healed up enough so she could return to work.  

But the Quilnauchts went back to their homeworld suddenly, without warning or even an apology, leaving Tamsin unemployed.  The Erenxhi pulled out his phone and looked at her expectantly.  “Your security number?” he prompted.

“Oh, well, I was hoping that maybe we could do without the security number,” she explained.

He blinked his very large pink eyes at her in confusion.  “Surely you understand I can’t allow you to watch my offspring without checking your social credit score,” the Erenxhi said.  “Even if I looked the other way I can promise my wife won’t.  She’s a stickler for things like that.”

“Oh,” Tamsin said, even though it was what she’d expected because she’d already heard it a thousand times over the past few weeks.  

“Have you considered sex work?” the Erenxhi asked her.  “I’ve heard humans can make a lot of money that way.  Demand for humans greatly outweighs the supply.”

“No,” she replied, though it wasn’t that she hadn’t considered it, she had.  It was that respectable sex work was so highly regulated you couldn’t do it without a security number anyway.  And the kind of sex work you could get where you didn’t need a security number generally led to you ending up dead, or wishing you were.  

If Tamsin wanted to live dangerously she could have gone back home and done it there.  

“Well, good luck,” the Erenxhi said dismissively, and started looking at something on his communications device, the universal sign of a kiss-off.

Tamsin turned away.  The market was packed with creatures and entities and beings going from place to place.  Surely one of them had to need an extra set of hands now and then, surely there was one of them who could look the other way when it came to the details.  She looked at her rapidly dwindling stack of flyers with dismay.  Most of the creatures who passed her by wouldn’t take one.  Back on her homeworld she remembered doing the same, ignoring some probably unemployed desperate weirdo handing out flyers for something or another. Just breezing by without taking one, and she felt retroactively guilty for it.

A group of drunk Toruoun salarymen came walking towards her.  She didn’t bother handing them a flyer, it would have for sure ended up crumpled and thrown to the floor.  One of them was singing the theme song to The Love Boat.  “The LOOVE BOAT, soon will be making another run, the LOVE BOAT, promises something for EVERYonnnnee,”  he sang, and then stopped in surprise and gaped at her as its party walked past where Tamsin was standing.  “Human!” he blurted, and pointed at her in amazement.  “Set a course for adventure, your mind on a new romance,” he sang, looking into her face like he was trying to communicate with her.  But then his buddies grabbed him around the shoulder and pulled him away, headed off to another bar, probably.  “And LOOVVE, won’t hurt any more,” he slurred drunkenly.

She doubted that very seriously.  Love always hurt.

After handing the rest of her flyers without success Tamsin realized she was going to have to find something to eat somehow.  So she wandered over to the food court, and waited.  Lurked might have been a better word for it; she lurked and waited for someone to leave something behind.  She’d already done it a couple times, grabbed someone’s half-eaten discards from a table and snarfed them down, but that was from opportunity and not desperation.  It was a much tougher proposition finding leftovers when you needed to than just taking something you happened across.

All there were were some partially chewed fried lungs in a puddle of congealing orange grease.  She decided she wasn’t hungry enough for something so totally foreign.  The night was still young though.  Maybe something better would come along.  Before she could change her mind one of the food service workers came by and took the dirty plate away, which was probably for the best.

The thing that made the most sense was to set up a kind of a perimeter; circle around the outer edges of the food court, looking for someone to get up without finishing their meal.  Then she could descend on it and choke down whatever disgusting thing had been rejected.  So she did that.  Next time, she told herself, she couldn’t afford to be picky, the next time she’d have to eat whatever it was no matter how gross, because if she kept hanging out in one spot too long the security cams would notice and report her as vagrant.  Being reported as vagrant was bad because then you got the wrong sort of attention.

Tamsin saw a Coethlot and her children get up.  No matter the species, kids always left half their meals behind.  She started meandering nonchalantly that direction, trying to beat the cleanup crew.  But before she got anywhere close to the table, she was falling, falling with her whole side hurting from an impact.  

Then she hit the floor and her whole other side hurt even worse. 

She didn’t even hear anything, that was the craziest part.  Someone, some THING, came from out of the darkness and tackled her and not only did she hear nothing beforehand, she saw nothing other than the floor coming up to greet her.  It was sheer instinct that she managed to get her arm up in front of her before she hit the ground or she would probably have smacked her head into the floor and scrambled her brains.  As it was, the impact shook her brutally.  She’d bitten her tongue, she realized it when she tasted blood.  

With a gutwrenching chill she realized the thing had her by the ankles and it was trying to pull her back into the dark corridor, but she bucked and kicked and flailed and felt her foot connect with something soft.  Too soft.  She had thought it was a human grabbing her, had assumed that, but the smooshy softness her foot sank into did not feel human.   

That meant it was an alien.  An alien was snatching her and pulling her off somewhere to do something to her or with her and the icy horror that already gripped Tamsin increased exponentially.  Scraps of fiction programs she’d seen flashed through her mind and even though she knew she was supposed to think of aliens as being pretty much just like anyone else and none of them were known to actually lay their eggs in human beings or hunt sentient creatures for sport, in that moment it was kind of hard not to succumb to xenophobia.

A scream ripped from her belly all the way up through her throat and out the top of her head, it felt like anyway.

Klaxons blared and a spotlight shone on her location as the violence detector went off.  The creature, whatever it had been, leapt back into the darkness of the corridor it had emerged from and disappeared.  It was running on all fours and as she watched it ran right up the wall and along the ceiling of the station. 

Tamsin lay there panting, her head spinning from the adrenaline, or maybe the fall.  A Psqlhien stopped and stood over Tamsin, peering down at her curiously, a friendly smile on its narrow face.  Or maybe that wasn’t a smile at all, maybe it was about to eat her.  She didn’t have her guidebook so she couldn’t know for sure.

“Help,” Tamsin said.

“Human!” it replied in an excited tone, and took a picture of her with its communication device.  Then it walked away.

Eventually the station police showed up.  Someone wrapped a blanket around Tamsin’s shoulders.  She realized she had a long shallow cut down her left arm oozing blood and wondered when it had happened.

There was a female Sophroid who came along with the police; she seemed to be some sort of victim’s advocate. She hovered over Tamsin solicitously and tried to explain the process to her.  But the question of who had attacked her and why, the Sophroid had no answer for.  

“The human detective will be here soon,” the Sophroid said, in a soothing tone.  She had explained to Tamsin the police department had special detectives for the various species to make crime victims feel more at ease.  “The human detective is quite skilled at solving crimes.  Maybe they can be of assistance in locating your assailant?”

“Ok,” Tamsin answered.  

The Sophroid suddenly got a pained look on its translucent face.  “Oh, dear,” the Sophroid said.  “Oh, dear, dear.”

“What is it,” Tamsin said.  “Are you all right?” she asked, though she had no idea what to do if the Sophroid said no.

“Excuse me,” she said, and took a few steps off to the side where she gave birth to several offspring, slightly too many for Tamsin to count at a glance.  Seven or eight of them maybe.  The Sophroid’s babies struggled and writhed and wriggled, then they skittered off into the dark of the space station, leaving a puddle of bloody slime behind.  There were bubbles in it like bubbles in soapy water. “My apologies,” the Sophroid murmured, and it seemed embarrassed.  “That was not supposed to happen until tomorrow.  The doctor said I could safely attend work today!  I will scold and berate her for being incorrect!”

“No, um.  Not at all.”  Tamsin wracked her brain trying to think what to say when someone had a baby.  “Congratulations?”

“Thank you,” the Sophroid said.  “I’m very excited.  I haven’t had a baby in the house for several moon phases.  I missed the pitter patter of little tentacles.  My nursery has been decorated with a Winnie the Pooh theme.  I almost did Snoopy this time, but then I learned of Winnie the Pooh.  Heffalumps and woozles.  Kanga and Little Roo.  Very cute!”

“Oh, I love Winnie the Pooh,” Tamsin said, even though it had been years since she’d even thought of Winnie the Pooh.  Aliens generally assumed that humans were just as obsessed with every element of Earth pop culture as they were and it was usually best to feign interest rather than trying to explain you just weren’t that into it.  “Do you need anyone to babysit for you now and then?”

“My offspring are very self-sufficient,” the Sophroid explained.

Tamsin sighed.

She had to wait what seemed like an eternity for the human detective to arrive.  In the meantime she watched the crime scene analysts work, using the combined technological genius of ten thousand species to catch her attacker.  Some technicians came and scraped under her fingernails which was mortifying because she had a week’s worth of black grime embedded underneath them, and horrifying because she realized the alien who scratched her probably had grimy fingernails or claws or whatever and now that alien grime was floating around inside of Tamsin’s body.  The analysts must have thought so too, because they extracted DNA from the cut on her arm, which made the cut start bleeding all over again.  Then they swabbed her with q-tips and gauze pads, took samples of her blood and sweat and hair and breath, and scanned her with various beeping and buzzing devices.  

At some point the Sophroid brought her a warm creamy drink she’d never had before.  It was delicious, with hints of disparate flavors – chocolate, popcorn, turkey gravy, a hint of something green-tasting like cilantro, maybe – and she decided not to ask what it was.  It was usually best not to ask questions like that.  Whatever it was, it filled her belly, and it had been the first time her belly was full for weeks, so.  

When she got bored with watching the crime analysts, she went back to watching the sentient beings wandering around the market.  They kept stopping to give the busker money.  She wondered if maybe she could do something like that, although she had no talent at all.  Maybe a sign that read, “Human”, and she could take pictures with the aliens in exchange for money.  

But of course that was commerce, and you had to have a license for commerce.  You had to have a security number to get the license.  Probably even the busker had a business license, she realized.  And begging, which she was very nearly reduced to, was vagrancy.  Vagrancy was illegal.  

There just didn’t seem to be a loophole in the whole galaxy wide enough for her to slip through.  Apparently she’d been lucky to scoot by as long as she did, and now her luck had run out.   

Tamsin’s body clock told her it was getting late, and she yawned.  Night and day on Tashalos Station didn’t exist; no matter the time that Tamsin thought it should be, it was time for someone to be up and about.  There was no set standard time that all species obeyed.  It made no sense for anyplace where so many different types of beings lived together to have one set clock to follow, so they all followed their own clocks and somehow it managed to work out.  

Entities with 8 or 36 or 52 or 102 hour days coexisted alongside humans, not to mention various species that slept more like cats, just napped whenever they got tired.  Some were like lizards and could literally drift off to sleep whenever their metabolism dropped due to being at the wrong temperature or just because their bodies told them it was time to sleep, a disconcerting occurrence if they nodded off while talking to you.  Some were like mayflies, living short lifespans and then dying, never having slept at all.  Others were like bears and hibernated for a time and then were awake for a time.  Though Tamsin thought that bears on Earth still slept even when not hibernating, she wasn’t totally sure.  

She had about as much experience with actual bears as she did with Winnie the Pooh.

But of course she was committing the cardinal sin, thinking of aliens as being like animals.  Though the aliens didn’t mind in the slightest and said it was simply part and parcel of so many beings living together in the galaxy, that it was only natural to compare things that were unknown to things that were familiar to you, Earthlings considered it rude, and even off world people avoided the practice.  Aliens weren’t animals, not at all, they were nothing like animals, and it was gross and wrong to think of them that way.  It could even cost you your life, if you ended up treating a dangerous alien like a friendly one just because it was cute and cuddly.  Like all human beings, Tamsin had been indoctrinated from a young age to avoid the pitfall.

For their part, the various aliens spoke of humans as resembling quiznots, or vodarks, or shlebellians, or any of a number of animals that existed on their own planets-of-origin, and thought nothing of it.  The Sophroid thought that Tamsin looked just like a yahn, which was a beloved pet the Sophroid had had as an ephyra.  Having met and befriended a few humans during her career with the Tashalos Station Police, some of whom she held in nearly as high regard as she did her childhood yahn, the Sophroid was aware that Tamsin most probably thought of her as a non-sentient Earth creature called a “jellyfish”, and took no offense at the comparison.  Refusing to compare aliens to animals was one of those silly Earthling taboos they hadn’t fully set aside yet, being the newest members of the galactic community and all.  It took time for species to fully assimilate into galactic culture.

Eventually the hustle and bustle of the marketplace resumed fully; crime scene or no, there was no stopping commerce.  As she watched the various species going about their shopping, making deals, meeting up with friends, rushing by on the way to appointments, Tamsin felt very small and insignificant.  She could have died just then, and if she had, no one would have cared, beyond the novelty of her being human.  They’d all have gone about their business just as they were even if she had been lying under a sheet or whatever they did with dead bodies on space stations.  And if she’d simply gone missing, no one would ever have known; she would have been off in somebody’s evil clutches and no one would even know to look for her.  

Because on Tashalos, no one cared about some dumb human female.  She didn’t matter, she didn’t matter at all.  If she died, no one would have mourned her, or done anything but shrugged and gone home and bragged to their friends they’d seen a real live dead person.  The cops would have put her body in an incinerator and sent the ashes back to her homeworld where probably nobody cared either.  There were simply too many creatures in the galaxy for anyone to worry about the death of one.  Even the Sophroid, who had seemed so nice, had let her babies go off on their own without even taking care of them.  

On that fairly depressing note she looked across the food court and saw much to her very great surprise, which was stupid because she’d been expecting him, another human being walking towards her.  His appearance startled her because she hadn’t seen another human in ages; she tried to unravel how long it had been but drew a complete blank.  

At least a couple years, she figured.  It had been even longer since she’d had a meaningful conversation with another person.

He was so odd looking of a person though, it almost felt like she was seeing another alien, like she should be able to open up her guidebook and look his species up there.  She didn’t know what she’d expected really but it for sure wasn’t the person who showed up.  For starters the detective was an impossibly large guy, she didn’t know how tall he was but certainly more than the six feet her father and brothers were, and he had broad shoulders and a barrel chest instead of being gangly like many tall men were.  He had longish brown hair pulled back into what she vaguely recalled was called a queue when it was on men.  On Tamsin’s homeworld all the men wore their hair cut short and she had only ever seen men with long hair in fiction programs.  

Atop his head was perched some sort of a small black military-style hat in a style Tamsin recognized but couldn’t name.  It was flat on the top, but the top tilted over to one side, and it was fitted tight around the head.  The hat did nothing to camouflage the fact that the man was balding slightly – to be honest it kind of emphasized it.  Because of going bald he had entirely too much forehead, beneath which were thick black brows.  He was too far away for Tamsin to see his eye color, but his complexion made her think they were brown.  

The man’s mouth was large and had deep lines around it that Tamsin hoped had come from smiling, though he wasn’t smiling.  He had an unruly beard that went all the way down his neck and disappeared into his shirt, which was white and buttoned up the front, like a salaryman would wear under his suitcoat, but he didn’t wear a tie with it.  The shirt was tucked into faded blue jeans instead of proper pants.  He wore a brown leather jacket over the top of it that had seen better days, shiny with age in some places, scuffed in others, and underneath the jacket there was a holstered weapon of some sort.  She could see the black handle sticking out and to the side, as if waiting for a hand to grab it free and fire it.

Tamsin knew nothing about weapons; for all she knew it was an actual gun with real bullets, though she doubted it as they were illegal in most places. Guns had most definitely been illegal on her homeworld.  It wouldn’tve made sense to be firing projectiles on a space station anyway, so it was probably something else.  Beside the weapon, whatever it was, there was the ident badge all the government authorities wore, clipped to a thick leather belt.

The detective looked nothing like her vision of what a policeman ought to look like.  He seemed grouchy, as if this was just some annoying thing he had to do when he had better places to be.  On Tamsin’s homeworld the police officers were all friendly and smiled.  Policemen are your friends, children were taught a song about it in school.  She couldn’t recall ever having seen a grouchy policeman, never in her life, or such a scruffy-looking one either.  As he got closer she realized his shirt was all rumpled like he’d picked it up dirty off the floor and worn it anyway.  The policemen on Tamsin’s homeworld wore fancy uniforms, even the detectives, fancy and pristine.  But she recalled from having seen it in fiction programs, that on Earth police detectives were allowed to wear everyday clothes, and apparently the same was true here on Tashalos. 

Even though the man looked weird and kind of terrifying, Tamsin felt so happy to see another human being that it cheered her up enormously.   She sat up with an expectant air and licked her lips, and there were butterflies in her stomach.  Butterflies were something Tamsin had never seen personally, but she knew that having them in your stomach meant you were nervously excited.  

The man was accompanied by a smaller alien of a species she didn’t know and she couldn’t look it up since she didn’t have her guidebook with her.  Though slight and slender, the alien was nearly as tall as his fellow detective and he was blue, a deep dusky blue, almost black, shimmering with iridescence.  Jeweled earrings sparkled in all four of his ears, and though he had no nose in the human sense, just a couple dots for nostrils, his septum was pierced, a gold hoop encircling it.  His pointed teeth gleamed, reflecting the red and blue neon lights on the blood noodle shop nearby.  He was dressed in an alien equivalent of the human man’s outfit, only he wore no shirt at all, just a long black jacket over his jeans, and the jacket wasn’t leather, it was embroidered cloth.  Tamsin found it very odd to see such an exotic-looking alien wearing jeans, but figured he’d picked up the habit from his partner.  Or else maybe human culture was getting so popular that even the aliens were wearing Levi’s now.  

The alien had on the same hat the man had, and as they got nearer she could see both hats had the same galactian insignia the everyday Tashalos police officers wore on their uniforms.  Apparently hats and ident badges were the extent of their uniforms. 

She could also hear them talking. “Golden hair, Stan, golden hair.  Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve seen golden hair?” the human asked his partner.

“Probably not as long as it’s been since I’ve seen it,” his partner replied.

“I just want to bury my hands in it and…” he made a grunting sound and moved his hands a bit at waist level like he was pulling a head into his crotch.  Tamsin recoiled and blushed.  Apparently he didn’t realize they were close enough to be overheard.  

“Behave yourself, mate,” the alien said reproachfully.

The man smiled politely like putting on a mask over what he was actually thinking, and those deep lines in his cheeks went even deeper.  He crossed the rest of the distance in a single step and extended a hand to her.  His hand was massive like the rest of him and the back of it was covered with dark hairs.  Knuckles, he had knuckles.  It was so bizarre what you missed when you didn’t see other people for so long.  Knuckles.  He wore a copper bracelet with a pattern of intricate knots carved into it; unlike the alien sigils embroidered along the edge of the blue creature’s coat, the design seemed familiar to Tamsin, human in origin, human as the man’s knuckles were, even though she didn’t recognize them specifically or know what they meant.  

It was so nice to see, let alone touch, another human being’s hand that Tamsin forgave him the rude comment.  “Detective Buchanan, mum,” he said.  Tamsin detected an accent she thought might be some sort of British.  “And you are?”

“Tamsin Pulsipher,” she replied, since that was her name.  She had thought about giving them a fake one, but there hardly seemed to be a point since they had her DNA now and could just look it up regardless of what she told them.

He pulled his head back on his neck as far as it could go and scowled at her. She realized he had something of an overbite, which meant he couldn’t possibly be from Earth; everything on Earth was perfect, even the people, or so she’d heard.  She figured he must be from one of the colonized worlds like she was, where people still came in the flawed and subpar varieties, at least the ones that couldn’t afford surgery.  “Could you spell that for me?” he asked.

“Sure,” Tamsin said.  “Sorry, I know, it’s ridiculous.”  As she spelled it out for him, she thought about how much she despised the name Pulsipher, which had been her married name, and longed to return to her natal name of Monaghan, which still required spelling out for people but at least it wasn’t so fucking stupid sounding.  Of course, she would have had to use her security number to have it changed back and she just couldn’t chance it.

The alien shot his partner a look and extended his hand, which was very smooth.  While he had fingers, they didn’t quite go all the way down, and he didn’t have any knuckles at all.  “Nice to greet you, Ms. Pulsipher, I’m sorry it wasn’t under different circumstances.  I’m Detective…” and then he said something completely unintelligible, so alien that not even the translator she had embedded in her ear canal when she left home could decipher it.  “But you can call me Stan, everyone does.”  Tamsin noted that the man spoke without the unique stilt of the translator and realized that meant he was actually speaking English.  He had an Americanese accent, though, familiar to Tamsin’s ear.  “Can you tell us what happened?”

Tamsin told them the story and Detective Stan took notes on his communications device as she did.  Detective Buchanan asked most of the questions and Detective Stan only chimed in when he thought of a followup.  Buchanan asked her things she hadn’t even thought of like how the being who assaulted her had smelled, and how many appendages did she think it had, did she think it was a psychic, was it hard to breathe when they came close to her, and what its footfalls had sounded like.  She noticed the detectives took care not to assign a sex to her attacker; even though most species did come in male and female, there were enough who didn’t – even humans, though certainly not on Tamsin’s homeworld where such deviations from the norm were not at all tolerated – it was probably wise that he left that question open.

Once they were satisfied with her description, they asked her about her life, where she lived, where she worked, what she did for fun.  “Nothing,” she said.  “I do nothing for fun.”  Tamsin found the line of questioning profoundly irritating, like she was the one being investigated.  

Buchanan’s thick brows furrowed upon hearing that she was presently unemployed.  Something about that puzzled him, though Tamsin didn’t understand why.  

He asked her if she knew anyone on the station who might have a grudge against her, which of course she didn’t.  “I know I’m not supposed to ask this of a lady,” he pronounced it leh-day, and to Tamsin, who had never heard a real live person speak Britishese, in that moment Detective Buchanan seemed nearly as exotic as his partner.  “But the job requires it.  How old are you?”

“I’m 39, I guess.” She hadn’t thought about her age in so long she had to actually do the math.

“Yet you live out here all on your own?”

“Yes.”

“In the middle of the galaxy?”

“I don’t know, I’m not an astronomer or whatever.”

“Unemployed?  At your age?”

“Unfortunately.” 

“A woman of your age, alone, in space, without a career to speak of?  That’s quite unusual.”

“Is it?”

“Very unusual,” Stan agreed.  “Practically unheard of.”

“When an older woman such as yourself is in space, it’s generally due to them having a career that takes them there.  Women your age aren’t keen on adventuring.”  The age remarks were wearing thin, especially considering the man had to be at least her age if not older himself.

“I guess I took the road less traveled, and that has made all the difference.”

Tamsin thought that sounded flip and dismissive, and was relieved when the human detective’s mouth twisted a little as if he found it amusing.  “And your homeworld?”

“Kolob.”

Detective Buchanan didn’t recognize the name and he shot his partner an inquisitive look.  “The Mormon planet,” Detective Stan explained.  Tamsin marveled at how it could be that a human being didn’t know of her planet while a blue fish-like creature whose species she didn’t even recognize, did.  But of course the alien wasn’t fish-like, not at all, he was something else entirely, and it was morally reprehensible of her to think of him that way.

“Ah,” Buchanan exclaimed, as if that somehow explained her presence.  The immediate assumption grated.  People were always so sure you were running away from your religion when really you were running away from other people IN your religion.  Even though she was no longer a practicing Latter Day Saint, it was due to human shortcomings, her own very much included, not the Church’s.  “We’re going to need a number where we can contact you.”

Tamsin gulped.  “I’m, uh.  A number?”

“Your communications device?” Buchanan said, and then as if she needed it dumbed down even further, “A phone?”

“Oh, well, the thing is, I’m sorry, but I don’t have a phone, actually?”

The men exchanged an incredulous look, tainted with a faint air of suspicion.  Detective Stan actually barked a laugh, as if that told them everything they needed to know about Tamsin.  Buchanan turned his attention back to her and she was relieved to detect a charitable tone in his voice.  “Ms. Pulsipher, you do realize it’s illegal for human beings not to have a phone, yes?”  

Everyone in the galaxy had to have a communications device because that’s how they tracked you, of course.  Someone without a communications device was obviously up to no good because it meant they didn’t want to be tracked.  And for humans, that device was a phone.

“Sigh.  I do know.  I had to get rid of my phone when I left home because I didn’t want…my family…to find me.” That was a bit of a stretch, of course, but that part of the story wasn’t any of their business.  Tamsin’s previous life wasn’t germane to anything they were asking her.

“Your family, eh?” Buchanan asked in a canny tone, and Tamsin had the distinct feeling he knew exactly why she didn’t have a phone.  He’d probably seen plenty of domestic situations in his career as a policeman.  “Odd that a 39 year old woman should have need to hide from her family?”

“I’m not hiding, just…avoiding.”

“Avoiding or not, you’ll need to get a communications device at your first available opportunity,” Detective Stan told her.  “Consider this a warning, Ms. Pulsipher, but we can’t let you get by not having one.  It’s the law.”

Tamsin considered how shitty it was that she could be attacked, she could be the victim, had done absolutely nothing wrong, and yet somehow she was the one who ended up in trouble with the law for something as entirely stupid as not having a phone.  Something about that didn’t seem right.  

But she nodded anyway.  It had been eight years since she’d left Kolob, surely no one was looking for her any more.  Maybe they’d given up.  Maybe they’d forgotten about her.  Maybe they were dead, though she’d never had that kind of luck.

“Do you have someone you can stay with for a while?” Detective Buchanan asked her.  “Until we locate the being who did this, I think it best you not be alone.”

“Yes,” she lied.

I Like To Watch

I Like To Watch

I’ve been exploring the cultural and artistic implications of Game of Thrones on Ordinary Times all winter to keep my head out of the trainwreck that is American politics, and a couple times it’s spilled over here to my blog.

As I stated in my recent piece, Game of Thrones: Bad Romance, I think the one of the biggest flaws in Game of Thrones is the utter lack of a female viewpoint. 

While there are certainly women in GoT, and many of the female characters are strong, interesting, and have their own agency, I don’t feel like my experience as a woman is, generally speaking, well represented.  Game of Thrones* is a man’s story, written for men, by men, representing the interests and passions of men, and that it has come to be seen as “feminist” or “empowering”, I think, is a damning statement on the lack of choices that women face when it comes to our fiction.  

I believe women have so few female characters in fiction we can truly relate to, that even something subpar as Game of Thrones appeals.  We’re so desperate to connect with a fictional woman revealing some part of a real woman’s experience  (even the shittier parts) that we’ll glom onto anything that gives just a taste of what speaks to us, even if it’s otherwise problematic. 

This lack of female representation comes in many forms, but one of the most obvious is the physical.  The actors in the tv version of GoT are universally attractive – I personally don’t think there’s ever been a more physically appealing male cast assembled in any program ever, if for no other reason than that there are just so many of them. Watching Game of Thrones, if you are a female person, is like going to Baskin Robbins – there are flavors there you didn’t even know you wanted to try – I mean, what DOES Rum Raisin taste like, anyway?  Even the guys who are supposed to be “ugly” in some fashion are sexually attractive.  There’s some dude on GoT likely to appeal to every woman’s taste, or one totally hypothetical woman, and I have no idea who you are talking about here whatsoever, with a lot of different moods.  

And yet the entire show caters not at all to the female gaze, but to the male one.  (do I really need to define the male gaze at this point?  I mean if you don’t know what the male gaze is, turn on your TV and wait till a woman comes on, and see how she’s portrayed.  You’ll get the gist).  With the exception of a little Khal Drogo action back at the start at the start, we ladies really don’t get a lot of what I consider eye candy.  Considering how many good looking men there are in Game of Thrones, that shit is like water, water everywhere with nary a drop to drink.  And I am a very thirsty girl.

There are, certainly, men shown in erotic situations in GoT.  But these scenes are not meant to appeal to women, even if there are naked man butts in them.  

Why?  Well, to explain that, we need to understand what the female gaze even is.  As with everything involving women, it isn’t straightforward, because women’s sexuality tends to be more complicated than men’s: “Me See Booby.  Me Like Booby” vs “I suppose it all goes back to the eighth grade, when Robby Moran moved to my school from Cincinnati.  Back then I collected scratch and sniff stickers on my Peechee, and I always wore Bonne Bell cherry flavor lip gloss.  At the time, I was reading a lot of Sweet Dreams romances, and I had just finished PS I Love You.  This doesn’t seem important, but it will matter later on.”

Suffice it to say, it would probably just take us less time to talk about what the female gaze ISN’T.

The female gaze is, despite having the word “gaze” in it, is not primarily visual the way men’s is. Thus the female gaze is not delighted by a big long sex scene in which the woman is naked and the man isn’t, BRONN, you coward.  But it’s ALSO not a big long sex scene where everyone is naked, either, OBERYN, put that thing away.  Dudes, that’s porn.  It may be soft core, but it’s still totally porny.  For reasons I do not understand, people seem to think that the solution to objectified naked women on TV is naked objectified men on TV and that’s simply not the case.  

You know why?  Because men LIKE BEING OBJECTIFIED, and when they see other men being objectified, they think “hey, someday that could totally happen to me”.  So creators, when you objectify men, you’re still only doing that for men, get it?  

Brief aside, I’m not saying women don’t like or enjoy porn, don’t @ me please, but I don’t think as a general rule, that porn (at least as it is usually presented, and certainly how the man-centric soft core porn was presented in GoT) is targeted to please women.  It’s designed around what men find titillating, from beginning to happy ending, and sometimes us gals just get kinda caught up in that X-Rated web from lack of choice, even though we would prefer some other thing entirely if only we had the option.

The female gaze is especially not satisfied by graphic sex scenes that feature two men.  Your mileage may admittedly vary, but when I was researching for this piece I found it INSANE how many articles I read where homosexual sex scenes were put forth as examples of “the triumph of the female gaze” in GoT.  May I have your attention please: by definition, male homosexual sex scenes are not for women.  They are for men, doubly so.  They are, somehow, as tough as it is to believe, even less appealing to the female gaze than straight porn is, because they are ONLY for men.  Again, maybe some women like them (not me, sorry, but you guys look like you’re managing just fine without my input) but it’s by default, not design.

As for lesbian sex scenes, my answer is, it depends.  I personally am super, super straight (so straight, lord have mercy you would not even believe how straight I am, dear my critics who think I am a hairy-pitted man-hater, you are moronic buttheads, because my love for men is as deep as the ocean and equally as destructive) but not all women are, and I leave it to lesbians to inform us if they like to see lesbian sex scenes in entertainment, knowing as I do that the primary recipients of lesbian sex scenes are straight men.  Personally I’m suspicious of graphic lesbian sex scenes in anything because straight men enjoy them so much.  (Or written, in the case of the Dany + slave girls and Cersei lesbian scenes in the book, which in both cases were really egregious and unnecessary IMO George, you naughty) But lesbians if you like them, carry on, and report your findings if you’d care to because I honestly don’t know if that’s a cool thing for you or not.

There’s more coming, but before I go on, I’ll give a quick example that sort of sums up my feelz about the pornification of GoT on HBO here: One of the things that really pissed me off in Game of Thrones is the massive expansion of a character who was minor in the book (played by a porn actress, who I am sure is a perfectly nice woman) and the creation of a character who wasn’t in the books at all (played by a burlesque performer, who is also in all probability a delightful gal) in order to include more graphic sexual content, not only at the expense of any and every vaguely romantic element that existed in the book (scarce as they were) but even AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHER CHARACTERS and the overall plot of the show.  Call me crazy, but a writer should not remove plot and character development, particularly of other non- or less-sexualized female characters, to shoehorn actual, literal, porn actresses (god bless em!) if you are allegedly making a show that is at all female-friendly.  Cause that shit ain’t for me, you know it, and I know it, so let’s not pretend otherwise. 

Moving on…

I don’t think sex scenes where a man is obviously supposed to be a stand in for the male audience are appealing, either.  You can see this in Game of Thrones, where Daenerys has sex with Daario Naharis.  Now, that dude is certainly cute, but it’s really not a particularly hot scene to me.  Because it’s so obviously meant for the men at home to sit there thinking “Hmm what if that was me and that smokin hot chick was telling me to take off my clothes, that would be totally awesome, and also it could totally happen if only I was that ripped.”  

And by the way, how silly was it for the writers to then, after having Daenerys be all like “Take off ur clothes stud” to Daario, not to mention her skillfully sexin’ up Drogo, that they’d turn around and have Jon Snow, bear of very little sexual experience, being the seducer and Dany the coy timid seducee??  It’s freaking ridick how they did that, and also offensive, though I haven’t quite sussed out yet why it bugs me so much.

Above all else, and I cannot state this strongly enough, I do not think that scenes in which women are brutally tortured for a man’s pleasure (I ain’t talkin 50 shades here, tho I don’t love that either, I’m talking where it’s clearly a psychopath man hurting women for his own pleasure, and not relatively tasteful descriptions of BDSM that both parties are into) are worth my time. Yes Ramsay Bolton, I’m looking at you here, and how could I not, because you have massive amounts of screen time.  Again, this is something that super pissed me off in the show version of Game of Thrones, how really important plots involving other characters were shunted to the side to bring us the Ramsay Bolton Torture Porn Hour.    

You see, in Game of Thrones, the pro-male-gaze mentality goes beyond actual sex scenes into overall characterization and even plotting.  Whenever you have scenes that are shot for the SOLE PURPOSES of pleasing the tastes/desires of men, while simultaneously women’s tastes/desires are left totally unfulfilled, and female characters themselves are even ignored in favor of porn actresses (they’re GRRReat!!) and psychotic rapists, you cannot sit there with a straight face and call that “the female gaze” or “feminism” no matter how many actresses are cast in the show.  Or in other words, I really would have preferred if my favorite character Sansa had not been shunted off to the side in favor of Shae the Suddenly Wise Prostitute (as fab as she undoubtedly is) and then offered up to Ramsay Bolton as a victim. And both Daenerys’ and Cersei’s plot arcs suffered greatly due to lack of time to develop them properly, reducing them both to nutty harpies.  

Honestly, as much as the male gaze stuff detracted from my enjoyment of something I really really wanted to love, I maintain that Game of Thrones would have been twenty times as good a show if they hadn’t had the sex stuff in it at all because it would have given them time to handle the characters and plot who were actually meant to be in the show instead of subsuming necessary plot advancement for the endless brothel scenes.

So ok, that was a pretty satisfying rant there, but it’s probably got a lot of folks wondering “Seven Hells, what do women want, anyway?  Why has this woman not taken the scraps of leftover manporn we have offered her and made us sandwiches out of it?”

Mmmm, Manpornwich!

In other words, the menfolk say, enough about what you DON’T want, tell us what you do.

And that’s fair.

As I’ve written about in the past, I’m not too sure that women really like down and dirty sex scenes the way men do.  For women, especially this woman, it’s the journey, the cast of characters and why they’re doing what they’re doing, and their dreaded FEELINGS that matter and not the way the genitals fit together or the overall attractiveness of any individual body part.  It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy seeing, oh, I don’t know, like two hot men getting in a fight over the hand of a fair maid, and accidentally ripping each other’s shirts off, because I totally do, it’s that I need the underpinnings for max enjoyment.  Why are the men in a fight, anyway?   Were they childhood friends together at boarding school in rural England, or was the one the groundskeeper’s son and the other the heir to Penobscott Manor, but he was wounded in the war and now he struggles with his demons? What’s so fair about this maid?  Obviously she’s beautiful, but is she also clever, though misunderstood due to her sharp tongue and love of books?  These are the things I want to know!  

But I’m really not doing it justice.  Because it’s not the mere externals that matter when it comes to the female gaze.  It’s not all about the ripped bodices and tight jerkins and pastoral settings.  This I know, because you can find the female gaze in stories set in the present day, and even in the future, in which no bodices are ever ripped due to everything being made from space age materials. 

The female gaze comes down fundamentally to three elements – emotion, connection, and passion.  The characters have to have these things between them for me to find something hot.  Me looking at Bronn fucking Generic Prostitute Number 17 in a whorehouse does fuck all for me because it has none of those things.  Daenerys and Daario getting it on is barely any better because it’s all so darn PERFUNCTORY.  It’s like someone went thru and checked off all the boxes on the male gaze checklist and none on the female gaze one.

Here, have a look at this compilation from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society instead.  Same guy, much hotter, even though he never takes off his sweater at all.

HE DOESN’T NEED TO TAKE HIS SWEATER OFF!  Because they know each other!  They like each other!  They have come to CARE! I don’t need to see his naked chest or any gyrating to get off on it.  They have an emotional connection, and that’s where the passion comes from, even if they do NOTHING but send smoldering, longing looks back and forth.  Emotion, connection, passion, it’s the female gaze trifecta.

I would rather watch a man pick a flower out of a woman’s hair than see them fuck any day of the week.  Is this a great movie?  NO!  Is this prestige TV? NO!  Does it cater to the female gaze?  Oh hell yeah.  Two people walking on a scenic beach in the aftermath of World War Two, actually talking to each other, simmering with unspoken sexual tension that they cannot act upon because of Reasons, and the dude is wearing an adorable British hat.  Forget the guy, I’d have sex just with the hat. 

There is this bizarre phenomenon where Stuff Women Like is oft crammed into programming that is maybe not quite as good, she said diplomatically, and at the same time we’re all supposed to stand around oohing and aahing over the courage of GoT bringing us such important fictional elements as women getting shot to death with crossbows for a teenage boy’s sexual satisfaction.  Enough!  I want Stuff Women Like IN my prestige TV show, Powers That Be!  How’s about you satisfy MY gaze for a fucking change, even though it’s not actually a gaze per se and more a set of fairly elusive criteria to be fulfilled?

It would take so LITTLE to please me.  I’m desperate here.  I just watched a completely weird show called The Book Group (which is apparently better than I am giving it credit for because all I’ve done since I watched it is wonder what happens in the two seasons I didn’t watch.) It’s written by a woman instead of by a chubby older gent or two frat boys, and thus it has a pleasantly surprising number of female gaze moments in it, including one of the hottest kisses I’ve ever seen. 

Let me relive, er, I mean, describe it. 

After this huge setup which is too complicated to get into, but it involves talking rapidly, embarrassing misunderstandings, and books, an attractive guy with a sexy accent kisses this neurotic woman in a taxi and says “Goodnight, Gorgeous,” and then…nothing else happens.  They don’t have sex, they don’t get together, there are no man butts at all.  I don’t know.  I can’t explain it.  It was magic.  If the man butt had been shown, I would have looked at it after that kiss, and I think I would have approved.

I never had a moment like that in Game of Thrones despite all the super incredibly hot men in it, including the attractive guy with the sexy accent.  I don’t remember ever feeling much of anything below the equator once poor Drogo died, despite there being like 400 guys I’d throw it down with in a heartbeat on the payroll of HBO. In seven seasons, the most attractive male cast ever assembled – I mean, these guys are like the Avengers of sexual desirability – and I felt absolutely nothing.

Something about that just ain’t right. You don’t have to call it misogyny, but I do.

*The books are better, but do still have some of the fatal flaws of the show, in addition to having their own set of fatal flaws too.