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.