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 forgotten at home so she couldn’t look it up. 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.
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, he 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. She could also hear them talking. Apparently hats and ident badges were the extent of their uniforms. “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?”
“In the middle of the galaxy?”
“I don’t know, I’m not an astronomer or whatever.”
“Unemployed? At your age?”
“A woman of your age, alone, in space, without a career to speak of? That’s quite unusual.”
“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?”
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.