Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

I first noticed the red rash around his gills on Thursday. I asked him what it was.

“My time is near.” His translator said. “I need to leave on Friday for mating. A replacement will be here on Monday.”

“Mating, eh?” I asked, with a lascivious eyebrow waggle, “When will you be back?”

“I will not be back. I will be dead. Mating is the end of my life cycle.” He said back, continuing his notes beside me.

I stopped what I was doing.

I had no idea that Jimmy’s life cycle was so short. I had just learned a few weeks ago that he was five years old. That was hard enough to take. He was bigger than me! And smarter!

Now I could see that he was rounding off his experiments and leaving tidy summation notes for his replacement to take up where he left off.

“What?” I nearly shrieked. “That’s ridiculous! Don’t go!”

Jimmy stopped what he was doing and turned his tentacled blue tube of a body towards me. He wore a lab coat tailored to his physique and a magnetic picture id nametag like the rest of us. There were many races in this laboratory. I admit I was a bit slack on learning the details of every single race in the building. Not for the first time, I called myself lazy and ignorant.

“Soon this red rash will spread under my skin to my whole body.” Said Jimmy. “At that point, I will kill to get back to any warpgate or shuttle that will take me back to my home planet. I will be bright red and easy to spot. My kind are destroyed if they are seen off-world in this state. There is no reasoning with us, we are very strong, we are violent and we are resistant to your non-lethal measures.” He said to me. “If I leave on the weekend I will be back home before the Mating Shift completes.”

It was almost as if he telling a child that there was no Santa Claus.

Stories came back to me of red creatures going beserk and being shot down in airports. I just never made the connection that Jimmy was a member of that race.

“Jesus, Jimmy.” I sighed. “I’m really going to miss you. I don’t know what to say.”

“It is okay” Jimmy’s translator said to me. Two lights lit up on the row at the top to indicate that he was making a joke when he said, “You will not be able to tell the difference between me and my replacement. We all look alike to you. Even the women.”

The ends of his tentacles twitched in laughter and he blinked a few times in rapid succession. In his own way, he was laughing his head off.

“What dry wit.” I said back, making a droll stab at his always-moist skin. He didn’t get it.

“My race has an arrangement with yours. We get free passage when we have begun the Red Mating Shift. There will be many of us on the journey. My replacement will be very new. You must look after her.” This time, his tentacles curled and raised in a gesture that told me he was asking me a favor. The humour lights on his translator were off.

“Her?” I asked. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad deal. I smiled.

Jimmy did a passable imitation of a human sigh. He’d picked up a few humanisms after all.

We both laughed. I felt better.

I wonder what the new girl will be like.

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