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.”
“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?”
“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?