Where shall I keep my heart if I lack a sleeve to wear it on?
I was in love. Truly, madly, deeply, incorrigibly in love, for the first time in my life.
Granted, it was with a fifteen-foot-long two-ton farting extraterrestrial caterpillar, but, hey, it’s about more than looks, right? Which is a good thing, because, my God, she was ugly. The other night, we’d been sitting on the hillside inside the huge central garden of the ship, watching the stars slip by one of the equally-huge windows. She inchwormed towards me. “Wanna’ cuddle?” she fluted.
“I’d prefer not,” I said. “I’m saving myself for when you’re less hideous.” Her whole massive body shuddered at that, and she made a sound similar to a dozen kittens being blown to death inside a dozen discordant saxophones. Alien laughter. “You’re not the most attractive thing in the worlds to me, either, Joe,” she said. I chuckled, “Well, at least no one can argue we were just horny kids acting on hormones,” I said. More alien kitten-murdering laughter. “That’s for darn sure,” she honked. She shimmied and twisted a bit awkwardly. “I’ve been down that ‘rush to get hitched’ road before, no rush to do it again,” I said. She continued to wriggle.
“Something wrong?” I asked.
“Itch. Driving me crazy. Can’t reach it, since I don’t have any arms,” she said. I say ‘Said,’ but that probably requires some explanation: The Oobjulonian species don’t have vocal apparatus like us humans do, and they’re entirely vegetarian. They eat a lot, they flatulate a lot. Consequently, they have multiple…uhm…let’s be polite: they have multiple vents for expelling the gas. The system of speech involves farting through these vents in various sequences and at various notes and durations. It smells about as bad as you’d expect, and it sounded like a soccer riot in which a gang of whoopee cushions was attempting to murder a gang of accordions. Completely indecipherable. Fortunately my hosts had outfitted me with a fart-to-English translator, so I could understand her. She had a knack with languages, so she was able to understand me within a few hours of our first conversation.
“Could you please scratch my back?” she tooted
“Seriously, I’d rather not. You’re really icking me out,” I said.
“Please? Really, it’s driving me nuts.” Some Tractus puppies were playing tug of war with a dead branch under a nearby orangewood tree. I borrowed it from them - “Just a sec, kids“ - and scraped my girlfriend’s back with it.
“Oh, yeah, that’s good!” she said. The puppies stared drop jawed. When I was content she felt better, I gave the stick back to the pups. “There y’go,” I said. “Thank you.”
“Ewww, grrross” they yelped in unison, and loped away.
He name was Bly. She was, far and away, the most hideous thing I’d ever met - even among her own species, she was regarded as kind of ugly - but by the time we’d laid eyes on each other, we’d already been in love. Well, by the time I laid my eyes on her. Oobjulonians don’t have any. They use biological microwaves in this stage in their lives. It was cute. I’d put a cup of room temperature hot chocolate and marshmallows in front of her, and she’d stare at it real hard and heat it to a boil in a minute or so.
My ship - “The Heart of Dogness” - was a massive alien trading vessel owned and operated by the Tractus Canus, and I was basically the ship’s mascot. The Tractus liked me, and I liked them. Who doesn‘t like dogs? So they basically kept me around for no particular reason other than I was bored and didn’t want to go back to earth. I spent most of my time laying on the couch watching Beverly Hillbillies episodes, or in the library reading largely incomprehensible alien books, but occasionally they gave me odd jobs to do in order to maintain the polite fiction that I’m a member of the crew, and not merely their pet. I’m cool with it. Generally, my duties involve babysitting the puppies, or giving cultural center lectures on whatever random crap came to my mind. Rarely they’d give me other duties.
The Oobjulonians were new, as far as my doggie masters knew. They’d never had any contact with them before, and had never even heard of them until we stumbled through some transmissions from their homeworld. It turned out they were obsessed with interstellar colonization, but, like most species, they’d never quite cracked the whole ‘faster than light’ travel thing. They periodically broadcast advertisements to any foreign starships in the area, looking to book passage. I happened to be assigned to communications that week, I ended up taking the call. Bly happened to be the other end of the line.
Oh, gosh, she was funny. She really was. Humor doesn’t age well, nor does it translate, so I won’t attempt to relate it accurately, but suffice to say our whole first radio conversation consisted of a rollicking debate as to whether I was really having a conversation, or if she was just an unexpectedly wry hallucination brought on by boredom and low blood sugar. She’d fired back that she was a schizophrenic voice in my head, not a hallucination.
“Well why haven’t I noticed you before, if you’re schizophrenia?” I’d asked.
“Because you’re too dull to be bothered with,” she’d said, “So all us voices in your head tend to ignore you and just chat amongst ourselves.”
Pretty much I was hooked. She was, too. I worked double shifts for no good reason, other than I wanted to spend sixteen hours a day talking to her. She worked round the clock for pretty much the same reason. Within a couple days, we were already furtively making plans spend our lives together. True love, sight unseen. Like the 18th century pen-pal romances of old. This was all sound-only communications, of course. No video. Video is expensive, difficult, and fairly pointless. This went on for a week, after which time the Heart of Dogness pulled into orbit around OobJulon Prime.
When we actually met for the first time, I vomited uncontrollably for three straight hours. My beloved Bly, meanwhile, vibrated like a block of jello dropped off a table, and emitted a deafeningly loud fart that sounded disconcertingly like “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, only longer. I later learned that this was her people’s equivalent of a scream. I always hated that song.
But love conquers all, you know? Once the initial shock wore off, we realized that we still really loved each other, and we really did still want to spend our lives together, so long as we didn’t have look directly at each other. We worked closely with each other, organizing the arrival of a million or so of her species on my ship, finding them quarters, making sure everyone had enough salads to eat and nice sunny rocks to lay on. That was when I met some others of her species, and learned something pretty kickass that almost undoubtedly would make our whole creepy romance work out.
After the back scratching thing, she wanted to see where I lived, so I took her back to my den - a very comfortable fake three-room cave built into a long, fake rolling hill alongside one of the massive windows in the central garden. Basically part of an apartment complex for sapient alien dogs. I also had a kitchen and a bathroom. Apart from three chairs salvaged from my old Mars mission lander, all the furniture was stuff I’d made myself, so it was pretty crappy.
Bly was able - just barely - to squeak through the door. I grabbed a sharpie marker, and made a line on the wall by my dinner table, then excused myself to go to the bathroom. There, I changed out the toilet paper I’d kept wadded in my nose to keep me from noticing her smell. When I came back out, she was looking at the wall.
“Artwork?” she flatulated inquisitively
“Hashmarks,” I said. “It’s how I keep track of how long I’ve been on the ship. Every day I make a line on the wall.”
“Seems primitive,” she said.
“It is, but I didn’t have a calendar with me when I came aboard - it was kinda’ an abrupt decision. It just seemed like the kind of thing I should keep track of, you know? Then my watch broke, and, well…”
“So how does it work? You make a mark every day?”
“Yeah. Only the days on this ship are a different length than the days on my homeworld, so there’s not a one-to-one relationship. I end up basically making a mark every time I sleep. Unless I forget, which happens sometimes. Also, the ship tends to accelerate pretty close to light speed sometimes, which causes temporal dilation, so a day here might equal a few days at home, or a month, no way to really know. Also, there’s not really much to do most of the time, so I tend to beat off kind of a lot, and sometimes that makes me sleepy, so I’m probably taking more naps than I would under normal circu….yeah, it’s not really a very accurate system,” I said.
The nice thing about hanging out with aliens is that they have no sense of what is and isn’t acceptable social behavior among humans, so there’s no real need for social awkwardness when I forget my place and start running off at the mouth like that.
“So this ‘beating off’ of which you speak: Is that normal behavior for your species?” she asked.
The downside of being me, of course, is that I will end up feeling socially awkward, whether the situation really calls for it or not.
“Prrrrrobablyyyyyy…”I blushed, “Can we change the subject, please?”
“Sure,” she honked, “How long have you been traveling with the Tractus?” she asked.
In truth, I didn’t know. This all took place between the case of the Giant Rat of Sumatrulon IV and The Stone Pillow incident, but beyond those approximations, I had no objective system of reference. “Best guess, about two and a half years. It should be towards the end of 1993 on earth.”
“Do you miss it?”
“Not since I met you,” I said. And though I wasn’t about to admit it, I hadn’t missed it prior to meeting her either. Earth sucks. That’s why I became an astronaut in the first place.
As we were leaving, I couldn’t remember if I’d made a hash mark on the wall for today, so I ran back in and scribbled one, just to be on the safe side.
I was wrapping up a lecture at the Cultural Center for the kennel-aged grade schoolers. Blackie was hanging out. He was my best friend on the ship. His real name was unpronounceable by humans, but they didn’t mind my nicknames. Like all the members of his species, he looked something like an oversized black Labrador retriever, only he stood upright and had only one hind leg. He was leaning against the rear wall of the room, looking amused. (I assume. It’s hard to tell. Their faces are about as expressive as the faces of dogs on earth, and given his posture I couldn’t see if his tail was wagging or not, but based on his ears and his generally relaxed posture, I was pretty sure he was amused) A number of Oobjulonians were sitting in as well as some adults. The adults looked nothing like the kids. Complete metamorphosis, as you’d expect in a caterpillaroid species
Today’s lesson was concluding my series on the DC Comics “The Crisis of Infinite Earths” maxi-series. A few months ago I did one on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and the origins of Shock Rock. After fielding some questions, my audience thanked me, and hopped, inched, and/or walked out of the room, as befit their body types.
“Have you figurrred out what the point of this is, yet?” Blackie asked. The Tractus’ mouths were obviously engineered differently than our own. They tended to roll their ‘R’s a bit. There was some definite Scooby Doo-ism going on there.
“Not really,” I admitted. “Clearly, nothing I have nothing of any value to teach these kids. Nobody on earth even gives a crap about why SCTV never really recovered from the loss of the ‘Johnny LaRue’ character, so I can’t see why you’d want me to waste everyone’s time talking about it here.”
“The lesson isn’t what you think it is. It’s not about whetherrr Eugene Levy was funnierrr than Marrrtin Shorrrt, or whetherrr or not the ‘67 Dodge Charrrgerrr was a coolerrr carrr than the ‘73 Mustang Mach I…”
“Mach 1, totally,” I interrupted.
“Oh, no doubt,” he agreed, “Bitchin’ rrride! The point is that one of the attrrributes of our species is that we enjoy being polite. Listening with feigned interrrest while someone prrrattles on about crrrap of no interrrest is verrry polite indeed. It makes us feel good.”
“Soooo this is like an etiquette class?”
“Morrre like an emotional gym class. It’s strrrenuous, but it brrreaks up the day and helps the puppies rrrefocus in time for their classes on subdimentional physics.”
“So why were the Oobjulonians here?”
“Borrred, prrrobably. Anyway, the rrreason I‘m herrre is to ask you a verrry blunt question: Arrre you out of your frrreakin‘ biped mind? Arrre you actually engaged to Bly?”
“I am. I put my ring on her trembling finger last night. Well, she doesn’t actually have fingers, it was more like a sensory stalk of some kind. Looks a bit like a fern, about the size of a finger, though. And it trembled.”
“I think those arrre theirrr olfactory sensors.”
“Wow. Ok, then, I put my ring on her trembling nose. Look, Blackie, I appreciate your concern, honest to God, I do, but I do love her, and she loves me, and we want to spend the rest of our lives together. This isn’t about the looks thing, is it?”
Blackie gave an elaborate yelping dog-laugh. “Joseph Ethelberrrt Beauchamp, I couldn’t carrre less about how eitherrr of you frrreak shows look. I have shat out things that arrre morrre attrrractive than you! And then I’ve sat idly by and watched the thing I shat out get eaten by something even uglierrr still, and then I’ve watched that…”
“Ok, ok, ok, enough, thank you.” My doggie buddies actually are extremely polite, but obviously the definition of ‘manners’ varies a bit when you go hopping over species lines.
“My point is that although you love herrr mind, and I will supporrrt you in whateverrr you decide to do, I don’t think it’s wise. She’s a differrrent species, not a differrrent rrrace, or genderrr or sexual prrreferrrence of yourrr own species. You can barrrely stand to be in the same rrroom with herrr. As much as you love herrr mind - and I agree, she’s quite the coquette - you have some inherrrently irrrrrreconcilable differrrences rrright frrrom the outset, biologically speaking. I do not believe these arrre surrrmountable. I believe you arrre setting yourself up for a worrrld of hurrrt.”
“Because a Giant Squid does not marrrrrry a Blast Furrrnace. Not for long, anyway.”
“Ah, but here’s where it kicks ass, Blackie,” I said, “She’s a caterpillar, right?”
“Caterpillars change into something beautiful!”
“On yourrr worrrld.”
“On my world, and theirs. You’ve seen their adult form, right?”
As hideous as their larval stage was, the adult Oobjulonians were not only humanoid, but smoking’ hot! When I was a kid there was this popular artwork that used to turn up on bumper stickers and the rear windows of Chevy Vans. It was a naked, waifish fairy girl, sitting on the ground with her legs curled under her to one side, leaning forward on her hands, with long, luscious hair, and her big butterfly wings unfurled behind her. Her hair and her arms strategically covered all the naughty bits, so you couldn’t see anything. As stoner art went, it was pretty tasteful, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t gotten aroused a few times from that image in my adolescence. Well, by totally unlikely coincident, the adult Oobjulonian females looked just like that! The male Oobjulonians did too, which was a bit disconcerting, but I knew for a fact that Bly was female, and I knew for a fact that Bly would still be female when she came out of the cocoon, so this was to my advantage. Also: I’d taken to talking to one of their doctors, and it turned out that their naughty bits were structurally compatible with my naughty bits. Not to sound base or anything, but it was going on five years since I’d last seen a human woman, so the appeal of that was not to be lost.
“Well, I don’t know anything about these ‘1970s stonerrr vans at the skating rrrink’ you speak of,“ Blackie said, after I explained all this to him, “But what about childrrren? Obviously you’rrre not genetically compatible.”
“We’ll adopt,” I said. “Will you be my best man? Err…Dog, I mean?” He looked at me exactly like an earth dog looks at you when you say something stupid, and hopped from the room.
“I’m not wearrring a bow tie,” he mumbled as he left, “They make me look like a Chippendales dancerrr at a furrrrrry convention. Entirrrely too gay by half.”
“Depends on the color,” I shouted after him, “Red would really bring out your eyes. And now that I think on it, a little makeup could really…”
“My ancestorrrs used to hunt and eat crrreaturrres like you just forrr fun, Joe. Being a jerrrk-ass is not a surrrvival trrrait. I’m continually surrrprrrised how often you manage to forrrget that.” He said.
We were lying on the grass in a clearing in the massive the central garden, staring up through the miles-wide window above us, watching the somewhat-distended stars roll by. We weren’t lying together, as such. We were close, but there was a small hill between us. We’d spent about as much time in each other’s presence as our flight-or-fight reflexes could stand, but we still wanted to be near, to talk, to hear, to plan, to love, even if looking at each other made us queasy.
“Have you ever been in love before, Joe?” Bly asked.
“No. Yes. Well, no, but I thought I was.”
“Tell me about her?”
I cringed, “Ok, well, we met at the Air Force Academy. I was a senior, she was a freshman. I was getting scared about leaving school and going out into the real world. He had great legs, great hair, kind of a big nose, but she was funny and smart, and she had the most attractive of all qualities in a woman.”
“She’d get naked and let me touch her girly bits.”
Bly giggled at that. It sounded like the aftermath of a chili cookoff.
“So what happened?”
“Oh, well, I think without realizing it, I was seeing her as a kind of ‘cosmic last hope.’ If I didn’t find a nice girl to settle down with before graduation, I never would, and then I’d end up lonely. I graduated and went on active duty. Then she went all Shannon Faulkner and washed out of the academy, ended up selling Designer Imposters to people in cars stopped at intersections. We got married. Then I started noticing that she wasn’t as funny or as smart as I’d originally thought. And her voice was kind of annoying and trumpet-like. I liked the Air Force, she didn’t like being an Air Force wife. She cheated on me. She filed for divorce why my mission was en rout to Mars. Left me for a short blonde construction worker. There was definitely a lust component to our early relationship, but I think it was mostly fear that put me with her. And my own sense of honor that kept me there.”
“She broke your Aortic Arches, didn’t she?”
“Heart, honey, not Aortic Arches. But no,” I lied, “She didn’t.” In fact, though, she did. A large part of my deciding to go with the aliens on Mars, rather than go back to earth was simply that I couldn’t bear it.
We were doing a hell of a clip, maybe fifteen percent of C. Normally our ship uses massive mirrors to reflect local sunlight into the garden, but this far out there wasn’t much point. They folded in the mirrors over the equally massive skylight above us, blocking the view. As we watched, the magnificent eternal night of space was replaced by a reflection of the ground we were laying on, but seen from three miles away. This was, if anything, even more magnificent.
“I wish I could see it like you do, Joe,” she said.
“You will after you change. You’ll have eyes just like me.”
“And other things just different enough from you to be fun.” she giggled (Which sounded a bit like a leak in a steam boiler).
“Are you scared?” I asked.
“A little,” she admitted. “I’ve only ever seen microwaves, I’ve only ever talked out of my various asses. It’s daunting to realize that I’ll be seeing only in the visible spectrum, talking through my mouth, able to fly.”
“I can’t imagine. I mean, puberty was bad enough. Complete metamorphosis must be traumatic as hell. I’ve always been me, only somewhat less so in the past.”
“Are your memories important to you?”
“Of course. What is a man, but the sum of his memories? Or a woman for that matter?” I said.
“Hmmm.” she said (Which actually sounded like “Hmmm” and not some nightmarish gastrointestinal distress), “What indeed. So are you merely your memories or your body?”
“This is a bit more philosophical than I was expecting, but I suppose I’m both. Three things, really. Machine and Operating System and Memory.”
“So my body will change, will I still be me?”
“Of course. If I lost an arm in an accident, I’d still be me. My mind is the same. Your mind will be the same. I love you for your mind.”
“Then do you really love me, if you only want my mind, and not all this 4000-pound legless smelly hotness?” Though we hadn’t spoken of it before now, I’d thought about it many times.
“I love you. Even before I knew you were gonna’ become the living embodiment of erotic fantasies I had as an eleven-year-old, I knew I wanted to stay with you. Granted, that’s a major bonus, but if that can’t happen, I’m willing to make the sacrifice. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, even if I can’t stand to have you in the room with me when I’m eating. We have a saying among my people, ‘Love conquers all.’”
We wanted to get married, but the elders forbade it. It was unthinkable to them for juveniles to get married, though betrothals were not uncommon. Our trip to Oobjulonian-not-Prime, the colony world, would take about six weeks. Roughly 1/15th of a second of that time would be the interstellar portion of the trip, the remainder would be spent accelerating and decelerating to match the relative velocities of the star and planet we were traveling to. The Heart of Dogness was thirty-two kilometers long, and weighed sixteen million metric tons, so she’s kind of a bitch to steer.
Blackie and Goldie - the ship’s doctor - were on hand for the Chrysalis ceremony. Some songs were ripped out by Bly’s childhood friends, the adults spoke of rites of passage and taking on the mantle of adulthood, which, of course, meant putting off childish things. Then she inched her way up a tall Banyan-like tree, secreted a gooey tendril and hung down. As she started spinning her cocoon, she suddenly panicked and called me over.
“I’m here, my love,” I said.
“Your ring. I can’t take it in with me. You hold on to it, and give it back to me when I have fingers.”
I took it off her nose fern celery stalk fingerish thing, strangely afraid that somehow that meant she was leaving me. Nonsense, of course.
Inside of an hour, she was completely sealed up.
I came to see her every day. Sometimes I played my Cocteau Twins CDs for her. Mostly I just talked. One day one of the adult Oobjulonian saw me, and flew down. Smokin’ hot, she was, naked, and entirely unselfconscious about it. A redhead. Only redhead I ever saw among their species.
“You don’t need to do this,” she said, “She’s not going to remember it.”
“Among my people, if someone’s in a coma, we talk to them. The sound helps them know they’re not alone. She’d said she was scared. Maybe the sound of my voice will help her stay calm through the process?”
“It won’t. She can’t hear you.”
“How can you be so sure of that? The cocoon can’t possibly be soundproof. I put my ear up against it yesterday and could hear gurgling, so obviously she should be able to hear…”
“She hasn’t got any ears. There’s nothing to hear with in there.”
I goggled a bit.
“You have animals like us on your homeworld, I’m told, yes?”
“They go into a cocoon, their bodies completely disassemble themselves into goo, and then they completely rebuild themselves from a genetic level on up. There’s no significant difference between the inside of a cocoon when the process starts, and the inside of an egg when the process starts. Bly is just goo at the moment.”
I hadn’t thought that through. Admittedly disconcerting. “Ok, granted, but maybe just knowing I’m here will help her not be afraid?”
“She’s not going to know you’re here. She hasn’t got a brain, you idiot. It turned to goo. She’ll grow a new one, but for right now: goo. And she’s not afraid, either. She’s got no organs to be afraid with. Is an egg yolk afraid?”
“You’re the ugliest beautiful naked redhead I’ve ever seen,” I said, “there’s no reason to be cruel.”
“Yeah, well your hair sucks, and you look like you got your wings ripped off, and there’s no reason to be kind either. I’m just trying to save you some trouble, but if you’re too stupid to see it, fine. Have a nice day.” She flew off.
I kept coming, of course. Presently we entered the orbit of the new world. A day after that, Bly’s cocoon cracked. I called Blackie and Goldie, who notified the rest of the Oobjulonian adults, and we gathered ‘round the tree. The sack tore and dripped a bit, then a bit more, then it split over like a water balloon, and she spilled out on the ground. Some of the juveniles cut the cheese in glee, some of the adults rushed over to towel her off. Goldie was actually already on the branch above the remains of the cocoon, and had been taking readings with some kind of medical scanner in his paw the whole time.
Oh, my God, how beautiful she was! Meaning no profanity, meaning no disrespect when I say that, but my God, my God, how glorious she was! Her every proportion perfect, her face so innocent and sweet, those beautiful green eyes that I’d longed to look into before they even existed, her cute little overbite, those long, tapered fingers, her wings unreeling and growing rigid, her pert breasts, her bottom , the…
Two of the adults grabbed her by her ankles and flew up ten feet in the air, hanging her upside down. Another one flew by and spanked her hard. She screamed like a newborn baby, only much, much louder.
Ok, that was weird.
The adults landed, and bundled her up in blankets. I stepped up, fumbled around until I found one of her hands, and took it in mine. So beautiful, so intimate, so human, I felt her pulse. I slipped my ring on one of her fingers, cupped my hands around hers, and said, “I’m here, darling.” She said nothing. “It’s ok, don’t talk,” I said, “We’ve got a lifetime for talk, just know I’m here and I love you,” I said. One of the adults jostled her slightly, and her head lolled a bit towards me. She looked at me with the vacant expression of a newborn. She drooled a bit.
I recoiled, sucked in my breath, which was cold and frightened, and felt like a punch in the chest. Something was wrong.
Was this Bly?
They fed her, and kept her warm, and snuggled up with her under the tree, and some of the Tractus built a nice little fire, which made her newly-human face grow wide-eyed with magical and vapid glee. After an hour or so, when the initial activity surrounding her reemergence had settled down, one of the elders beckoned me over. She was lying comfortably on her back on the ground, looking utterly sexually delicious, in a way I’d dreamed of all my life, but which I somehow didn’t notice at the time. All prurient thoughts had taken a back seat to love, concern, confusion, fear.
I fell at her new feet, reached forward, touched her fingertips with mine.
“I love you,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say.
“Goo.” She said. “Goo goo. Gah. Goo-goo gah-gah” she said, then burped and drooled. I panicked and ran away a few hundred yards into the grove, then just fell down and started crying. I felt a cool, leathery pressure on my neck as I sobbed - I recognized it as Blackie’s paw. I don’t remember too much specifically, just the utter despair, and my alien friends helping to roll me over, Blackie hugging me and telling me how sorry he was. I don’t know how long it lasted. An hour? A day? All I know is that I cried and cried and cried and cried until there was quite literally nothing left to cry with.
I didn’t want to go home, so the three of us camped out in the groves that night, huddled around a little fire. It wasn’t cold or dangerous, but my mood was such that I needed the flames to hold off the dancing shadows in my mind.
“How can she not remember me?” I asked.
“How could she?” Goldie asked in reply, “She didn’t even have a brrrain therrre for forrrty-two days. Wherrre was she going to keep herrr memorrries if she didn’t have a brrrain to storrre them in?”
I nodded grimly. This was the thing you wonder about in preschool: Do butterflies remember their lives as caterpillars? You assume, romantically, that you do, but no: Obviously, logically, they don’t. There just ain’t no way. All that she was, all that we had, was gone. Yes, the proteins that made up her body were the same as before, but nothing else was. What remained of her was like a canvas scraped clean of paint, the flecks separated by color, and filed away in separate bottles. Technically, I suppose, the painting still exists, but that’s missing the point. Bly was gone. Bly would not be coming back.
“Why didn’t the Oobjulonians warn me?” I whined.
“I asked them that myself,” Goldie said, “They didn’t know humans didn’t do a harrrd system wipe when they hit adulthood, same way you didn’t know the Oobjulonians did do one.”
Blackie reached over and proffered me my ring. “Their elders figured you’d want this back.”
I stared at it, a little gold band on the inky black leather of my best friend’s weirdly-jointed paw, in the middle of a psychedelically-colored forest of extraterrestrial trees in a fake garden in the middle of an alien starship God knows how far from home. A tiny reminder of my past barely recognizable in a sea of strangeness. A tiny remember of my past. A tiny remember of my heart, now twice broken, now jagged and rolling around inside me, raw and painful. I wouldn’t survive a third loss like this. I stared at it for a moment, and was overcome with anger.
Too quickly I closed my friends’ paw around the ring. “Give it back to her,” I said, “Or just throw it out. I don’t care. I won’t be needing it anymore. That part of me is closed. I’ll not be needing it again.”
The ship shuddered slightly as the reflected ground above us opened up. The mirrors were opening, and the stars were becoming visible again.
“What I don’t underrrstand,” said Goldie, “is why Bly didn’t tell you. Given the time you spent togetherrr, she must have had some inkling.”
“She did,” I said, looking at the stars, not wanting to look away from them; wondering why I‘d dared look away in the first place. Stupid. Stupid of me.
“She was just hoping there’d be a way to make it work. ‘Love conquers all.’”
Except when it doesn’t, of course. Except when it doesn’t.