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 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 precious moments 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 the shoes 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 or how the homeless shelter had been. Periodically they passed little fountains burbling and wall sconces of brass holding frosted glass lighting fixtures illuminating the corridor. The floor wasn’t metal or cement or tiled in carvable stone 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 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 thanks to all the oxyprofen she had injected into herself, 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. Like so much of Tamsin’s life, in retrospect, it was glaringly obvious.
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.
“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 encountered 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 on Tashalos, 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 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.”
“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.”