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. It was the much same sort of room they had in police stations back on Earth – 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. Nicky imagined the universality of such places was a sort of convergent evolution; law enforcement officers, regardless of species, had need of a dank, unpleasant, intimidating little pit they could hold their suspects in for questioning, and thus every species in the galaxy had independently invented them.
The only difference, a difference that Nicky had long ago grown accustomed to, was that the table and chairs in the interrogation rooms were were not made from wood or metal, but from carvable stone, porous and lighter than wood, threaded through with marbled 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 for fuel, because on his planet, timber 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. Then he 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’ve already confessed!”
“Er, well, 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, on the record, 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. That was entirely true. By law the galactian authorities 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 whoever the woman was running from, a bad man she had called him. Nicky wondered what he might have done, if that bad man had been sitting across from him. 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. Would he not have been tempted? Even just a little? He wouldn’t have done it, of course, but he could understand the temptation.
“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.”
The q’Lurians saw human imagination as a genetic defect. 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. 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! Imagination was a part of humanity, not a character flaw. “You hate lying, I understand. I can understand that, truly, I can. 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?
The depressed head sighed and addressed his fellow. “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 difficult to use on beings who were fighting; either you froze both of them, or the movements of the one you didn’t aim at interfered with the focal points of the targeting system and you froze neither. Stan and the q’Lurian wrestled around on the floor, 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 and oozed down the creature’s spongy flesh. “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 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 let 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.
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 polished off 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. “Still ruining your appetite filling up on Starbucks, I see. Too bad, the food here is mm-wah!” The sentence ended in a chef’s kiss. 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?”
“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.
“I almost shit a block when you handed over your password to her this morning.”
Nicky 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. “A brick, Stan. You shit bricks, not blocks.”
“Whatever, I almost shit one. Don’t you think you should check it, though? Just…just in case?”
“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 a flat 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.”
“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.