Keeping Safe

Jemai’s skin was the color of water, which is to say it was hardly a color at all. Her body was a milky grey that took on a blue or green tint in certain lights, and when Thomas’s warm fingers traced her hip bones they left a trail of amber in their wake. He loved the way her skin reacted to heat. If he moved his finger slowly enough he could trace words across her stomach, and when he couldn’t sleep he wrote love songs into her one letter at a time.

Jemai read them, but she never replied.

As Thomas touched her she stared at the ceiling, her dark eyes searching out the darkest corners as if she had left something in their depths. She inhaled once for every five of his breaths, and the oxygen-drenched air forced its fingers into her lungs the same way his fingers forced their way into her stomach. Everything on Earth left a heavy residue, she’d learned. When she watched her skin change color beneath his fingertips, she imagined that her body was rubbing away. If he kept at it she might disappear. Sometimes she wished that she would.

On Ayta, the dark sky danced with the colors of a healing bruise when solar flares licked its heights. Behind them stars poured out across the thin atmosphere like beads of oil on water, and some days she slept outside to keep watch, as if all of it might be gone the next morning. “Don’t be silly,” Daik used to tell her as he pulled her body against his and stroked her forehead with his slender thumb. Her skin hadn’t changed at her lover’s warmth. Their bodies had been the same temperature.

When the Terrans came for Ayta’s fuel, Daik had been among the first recruited to defend their resources. He left without ceremony, smiling his usual knowing half-grin. “Keep safe for me,” he’d said.

Shifts changed, but Daik never came home. Three years later, the ceiling of Thomas’s room was starless and still, the room’s silence broken only by the sound of his rapid Terran breathing. She’d been saved from the fuel mines, she told herself, and repeated it like a mantra as his fingers traced their usual path around her navel. She was safe. She was safe.

Thomas sighed blissfully and settled his body against hers as he prepared for sleep. Jemai exhaled for as long as she could, forcing every atom of the thick Earth air from her lungs. She was safe. Thomas’s room had no windows, but in the darkest shadows she pretended she could see Ayta’s sun shimmer like a pearl in an oily sea.

Outer Space Romance

“I don’t understand you Earthans at all,” Jaeg said, inflating a third bladder in order to rise up to the spaceship window. Earth was still in view, though it was slowly shrinking amongst the black. “You have one of the most gorgeous planets in the galaxy, yet you all are constantly wandering away from it.”

Lucky allowed himself a chuckle and stepped closer to the bundle of flesh and tentacles that was his co-pilot. He placed what he hoped was a comforting hand on Jaeg and watched her soft flesh change color at his touch. “We often don’t understand ourselves. You’re one to talk. I hear the Ithilpods are notoriously agoraphobic. Hardly the stock I would expect the best co-pilot in the sky would spawn from.”

The viscous outer skin on Jaeg’s face took on a purplish hue, which was the closest she ever came to a blush. “What can I say? I’m exceptional.” A balloon of skin billowed out from a crevice in her side, and she was looking Lucky directly in the face. “You, however, are not answering my question.”

Lucky could see himself mirrored in Jaeg’s multiple eyes. Each one was about the size of his head, and the collection dwarfed the body behind them. “You don’t get a lot of light from your sun, do you, Jaeg?”

“No. And you’re stalling.”

Lucky watched several copies of himself look incredulous. “I am not. There’s a point here. See, our sun’s only medium-sized, but we’re close to it. It provides us with a lot of light, so much so that we’re lit longer than we aren’t.” Jaeg cricked her neck; Lucky was used to reading that as a nod. She wasn’t so fond of the tinted suit she wore on Earth’s surface that she forgot why she put it on. The ship was no longer lit with light in the UV spectrum so that she wouldn’t have to wear it while on board, either. “So, darkness, darkness is unusual. And most of us, well, we feel the need to go into darkness, to find out what’s in there. Space is the largest patch of darkness we’ve ever seen. So naturally, we have to go see what’s out there.”

“Even if you don’t know what could be out there?”

“Especially if we don’t know what’s out there.” Lucky shrugged, and wondered if his movements translated as easily as hers. “That may not make much sense…”

“No, it does. I understand completely, Lucky,” Jaeg turned away from the rear window and floated toward the cockpit. “I’m a romantic myself.”