Sapience and Maternal Instinct Krystal Claxton
SHE HAD MY TEETH. I hadn’t expected to recognize myself in her, but when she greeted me, her maroon lips parting into a crescent, there they were. My teeth. White, flat, and surprisingly human.
I forced myself to look into her too large eyes as her warm, seven-fingered hand wrapped around mine. Black with purple specks, like a neon vision of the night sky, the almond-shaped organs took up the greater part of her face and were irrevocably her father’s.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t make it,” she breathed, her voice sing-song like the rest of her species.
“Got lost after the second exit on ninety-five,” I lied. I didn’t want her to know that I’d spent half an hour with my face over the toilet, retching with nerves at the prospect of finally meeting her. My daughter.
“Shall we sit?” She gestured with elongated limbs toward the cushiony, ornate table and chairs of the meeting room.
I tried not to stare at her taut maroon skin, her too long fingers, her high cheek bones. She watched me fiddle with my wedding rings.
“You don’t have to stay.” Her voice was reluctant as she continued, “If this is making you uncomfortable, I mean.”
With threadbare resolve, I looked into her eyes, “No, I’m glad to see you…” I cleared my throat. “Your father told me that it wouldn’t be possible to see you after the birth. I thought I’d never know what became of you.” I added, “I’m glad to see you well.” I surprised myself at the sincerity.
She smiled with my teeth again. It wasn’t as unnerving this time.
I ventured, “How old are you now?” I corrected myself, “I mean, I know how old you are, but how close are you to being, um, an adult? You’d be old enough to vote now if you were human–” The word choked in my throat. I didn’t mean to make it sound like she wasn’t my child. Like I thought she was some stranger.
She didn’t seem to notice. “I’m old enough to breed, but I haven’t chosen a mate.” She smirked, “I have a whole colony to choose from.”
I nodded that I understood.
Her father had explained. How his species explored and colonized star systems far from their home world. They incorporated worthy qualities found in other species into those colonies. They were interested in experimenting with the male/female dichotomy. I was the model they used to build the new, female aspect of their species. The ability to recombine their forms would allow the mate the first female selected to accommodate her reproductive biology.
Why then? I had asked. Why do you need me at all? Just have one of your underlings turn into a woman and leave me alone. But there was something that they needed. Some inscrutable quality that couldn’t be faked with transmogrification and cellular plasticity.
I felt the old conflict playing across my face. My gaze wandered to her hands again, resting on the table between us. She had the human number of joints, even if she had too many fingers. I wondered what other qualities of mine lurked beneath the surface.
I spoke from the depth of my brooding. “Did your father tell you how, uh, you came to be?”
She nodded but said nothing.
I said, around the lump in my throat, “Please, try to understand. It’s not that I didn’t want you. It’s not that I wouldn’t have–“
She interrupted. “I have your memories.”
I stumbled, “What do you mean? Which memories?”
She hedged. “Most of them.”
“Memories of what?” I tried to sound less alarmed than I was rapidly becoming.
“All kinds of things. Your first day of school. Wedding. The day you met my father. I remember what you lived until the moment I was born. Then it goes blank for a few years, and my own memories start to coalesce.”
My mouth hung open.
She seemed to surrender in some private war, her shoulders sagged, and her face lowered, “I requested this meeting with you today because there is a memory of yours that is precious to me.”
When her star-filled eyes turned back to me I was frozen, jaw clenched, eyes forward. Inside I raged at the violation.
With a stone set of her own my daughter confessed, “When my father arrived at your door you refused his bribes, ignored his coercions. Eventually, he would make the threat–to my human brother–that would force you to agree. Yet, for all the excuses you made, you never gave the real reason you so desperately didn’t want to make me.
“You refused because the thought of him taking me away when I was born, of handing your child to a stranger, cut you even before I was conceived. Even though you knew I wouldn’t be human.”
The silence stretched between us again, inviting me to deny her claims.
“That memory has always made me feel… loved. Thank you.” After a moment she stood; the sound of her chair skidding across the hardwood jarred me out of the moment her father had taken her from me.
“I don’t know if it’s possible, but, I would really like to see you again.” My vision blurred.
“I would like that too.” She turned to leave but stopped short. “You know, it’s why he picked you.”
The tears moved down my cheeks, chill when they reached my neck. “What?”
She only smiled.
Previously published in Daily Science Fiction, 2012, and Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, 2014. Reprinted here by permission of the author.
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