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Lost and Found at the Center of the Universe Bo Balder

Those who like order and routine need not apply at the Department of the Lost and Found at the Center of the Universe. We vacillate between frantically storing red dwarfs, starships, even mislaid species and months of boredom. We barely survive the first, and fill the latter with the delightful pastime of matchmaking. Our unofficial motto is, “From the Universe, with Love!”

Many beings ask for things that haven’t been found. Yet. Or ever will be. Like the love of their life. However, we do try to help. Always. We give them hope, and also a couple of concrete suggestions. Such as, “Do no accept black holes or any pieces of luggage that might contain black holes”. May they rest in peace.

My colleague’s alarmed squeak rouses me from our tiny break room. “Ilmar! Help!”

Louhi is a good sort and not a being to disturb my few moments of peace, quiet and (badly synthesized) coffee over nothing.

The creature looming over the counter is fuming straight through its Civility suit. Real fumes. Thankfully we always wear atmosphere bulbs inside ours anyway(see above re malodorous) and we won’t die from poisoned air. Other causes of death are still a possibility.

“Where is my <item>!” the being bellows through our translators. “I notified this office several <periods> ago!”

I quickly check the lost item in question. A million cubic meters of the Secret Essence of Youth. Tsk. As if that would be turned in. Even the most honest being would be tempted.

“It’s a rather large item, sir, and we need a 27-unit advance warning to produce it in office. I shall set the retrieval in motion at once.”

They grumble but relent. The fumes die down. I tag the being so it won’t be able to come into our office unannounced again. Basic safety. While tagging, I notice its species, which the Civility suit hides from us. I get a luminous idea.

As soon as they’re gone, Louhi rounds on me. “Ilmar, you idiot. We don’t have that.”

“Louhi,” I say, “this is one of those moments where our little side business is going to do the trick.”

Remember our hobby? We see a lot of unhappy beings pass through our office, and we love to help.

“You’ve seen one of these before?” Louhi displays lilac on their Civility suit, signaling doubt.

“In a way.” I send an item number to their display. It’s a frozen object in Found, Organic Division.

“How did it get there? A sentient being can’t be Found, that’s illegal. Why was it never returned to its home system?”

“Who knows what our predecessors’ morals were like? But look, it’s the same species as our client.”

Louhi coughs. Because we’re civil servants, we can see the tags, but it’s considered uncouth to check on species, gender, age or persuasion. Because why else are we wearing Civility suits? But I just can’t help myself. I’m a curious mammal and I like to know these things. Except about Louhi of course. They are my colleague, that would be rude.

Louhi needs a good ten units to think it over but then they agree that thawing the same species alien would be our best bet of avoiding hassle. As well as not hiring protection, and last but best, creating the potential for happiness in two gentlebeings.

So we request the item from storage two, ten-units before the angry alien comes, and thaw them. They lie motionless, although the thawer indicates they’re within specs for their species. I’m worried. Louhi and I whisper over the private band. “Is it damaged? Traumatized? Is it ethically justified to let them meet the angry one?”

There are no rules for or against letting people of the same species be in our office at the same time. Morally speaking, however, I have my doubts. We mean well, but is that enough?

The door sphincters open with a hiss, admitting our client. They practically bounce over to us. I know nothing about their species’ body language, but my hardwired anthropomorphic pattern-recognition instincts read it as happy anticipation anyway.

The bouncing being halts halfway to our counter. Their appendages swivel and swirl. Their Civility suit displays aberrant bursts of color, well outside the normal range. Should we avert our eyes?

Our detainee rises from their slab and approaches the client. Their colors mirror our client’s, muted at first, but getting stronger by the moment. They move towards each other. I don’t know if they have eyes, but I imagine staring. And heavy breathing, if they have lungs.

Behind the counter, I hold my breath. Louhi stands transfixed as well. Will they or won’t they? Louhi’s appendage grabs mine. I squeeze back. I don’t know what Louhi’s species is (Civility suits, remember, gentlereaderbeings!), but at that moment I feel sure we are unified by anticipation and delight.

The aliens bump fronts. Air purifiers all over the office start bleeping alarms. Pheromones? The client turns on pink shame indicators and bows to the counter. “I relinquish my claim on the Essence!” they exclaim.

The two aliens exit hastily before the air purity police arrive.

Louhi’s hand is still in mine. It’s warm. I get feelings. Is it possible that Louhi is of a species compatible to mine?

In all our matchmaking, we haven’t considered matching ourselves. We turn toward each other. Louhi’s Civility suit is blushing, and I’m sure mine does the same. Shyly, I request their species, gender and persuasion, also known as ‘wooing”. My heart thuds as I wait for their answer.

© Bo Balder

Meet the Author

Bo Balder

Bo Balder

Bo lives and works close to Amsterdam. Bo is the first Dutch author to have been published in F&SF, Clarkesworld, Analog and other places. Her sf novel “The Wan” was published by Pink Narcissus Press. When not writing, she knits, reads and gardens, preferably all three at the same time.

For more about her work, you can visit her website or find Bo on Facebook or Twitter, or her author page at Amazon.

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