My first alien was a Cetitharian. Slender, mirror skinned, beautiful as a solar storm. I never asked him why he came up to my home-ship. I never asked him much of anything. Reflected in his skin, the cargo hold’s dull gray walls were silver. Even I, little brown mouse that I was, polished into tiger’s eye. Seventeen, and never before had I seen myself made beautiful. He changed that just by looking at me.
I volunteered on the next shuttle down.
It took days of walking the shuttle-port before I found him. Curious as Cetitharian’s are, I might have gone home with any of them. I could have been gold, copper, jet. I wanted tiger’s eye. And he did take me home when he found me.
In romances, Xeno-sex is all tentacles, body swapping, and climaxing in fields of glowing flowers. For me, it was pale scars where he kissed me and my own reflection, distorted into beauty by his skin. We went for walks along Cetitharia’s restless black seas, tossed rocks into the water and watched them dissolve into gold dust.
When I told him I loved him, he laughed, a peculiar burbling that Cetitharian’s used as punctuation. He kissed a scar onto my forehead and stroked my cheek.
“You’re just waking up,” he said and turned away.
I kept his laugh. Locked in my quarters, I practiced it for hours during the long months before the next orbit. I used it like a Cetitharian, ending sentences with warm bubbles of sound. My work crew stopped speaking to me. That, too, made me laugh.
On Milsk, our next orbit, I didn’t wait to be found. I bribed my way onto the first ship down and did my own hunting.
Milsk dizzied me. The sharp smell of green in the air, the spongy organic streets, the eyeless Milsken’s watching me from their fungi houses. I walked the streets for days, sleeping beneath the open sky, damp with the constant mist of the place.
She was an artist, the woman who finally took me to her bed. She tasted like new grass and did not speak to me. At her silent direction, I would stretch out, naked and shivering in the Milsken damp. She watched me for hours, then breathed my image onto panes of glass. I think she even sold them. Anything’s a novelty to the right market.
She walked back with me on the day the ship left, pressed a pane of glass in my hand. I didn’t say I loved her. She didn’t say anything at all.
I kept her stillness. I stopped moving until I needed to, gave up the twitching restlessness of a life spent confined.
The portrait, I broke. I sat, arranging and rearranging myself as the glass ribboned my fingers with cuts. No matter what order I tried, I couldn’t find a hint of tiger’s eye.
I jumped ships to get to Trv, longing to stroke their blood-red carapaces. They would not touch me there. Comfortable in their nesting groups, they ignored my every fumbling advance.
I kept their contempt, swallowed it and let it feed my own. My shipmates, all strangers, didn’t meet my gaze or sit near me in the mess. That too, I fed on.
In one of Simerate’s jewel-toned cities, I lay against the feathered chest of a bright-plumaged Simeri while he wove vinegar-scented flowers through my hair. His low, thrumming song worked its way into my bones until, opening my mouth, I sang with his voice.
I kept that song. I sang it to a maiden in Aais who treated me with reverent gentleness until the night her kisses turned, and she showed me, at last, the use of the hooked teeth which lined her first two mouths. She took three fingers from my right hand, and I took her hunger.
Oh, that hunger. The Aais would devour the universe if only they weren’t afraid of space. Sometimes, I think I might devour it for them.
The scales of a death-hungry Quex lad, coaxed by clever surgery to settle along my spine. An elixir of longevity licked from the fingers of a bone-crested Urs who whispered the names of a thousand years of lovers as he fucked me. Feathers embedded along my arms and in my scalp. Three clawed fingers to replace the ones I gave away. The smile of a Thubvin who would not believe me human.
He wasn’t alone in that. I’d always been able to work on any ship, but now they made me pay for passage. I bought a ride on my own home ship, walked the cool gray halls looking for something I felt I belonged to.
I found a spacer boy, lean and pretty, his dark gaze impatient until he saw me.
“What are you?” he asked. I studied his expression, not quite so spacer-neutral as he thought. He was raw, restless with want for something more than sunlamps and synthetic beef.
“Just the same as you,” I said.
He was sweet, in bed. Eager to please and he didn’t cry out when my claws pierced his skin. He tasted bitter, salt-tainted, flavors I’d long forgotten and hadn’t missed. I pulled him into my arms, and let him sleep with his head pillowed on my chest.
“On Cetetharia,” I whispered to him, “the seas are made of acid, and every kiss is a scar.”
I stroked his spine, imagining the patterning of scales. There was so much of the universe left for him to see.
He might yet be something beautiful.
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