The website io9.com posts a piece of concept art every Saturday challenging its viewers to write a piece of flash fiction based on that art. In the past, I would choose a piece at random, but this time I just picked one that appealed to me. Exciting, no?
This piece is entitled “My Fair Arthropod,” inspired by an untitled (to my knowledge) drawing by Michelle Lamoreaux. I don’t own this image, I claim no rights to this image, and should Michelle Lamoreaux stumble across this post and demand that the image be removed, I will gladly do so. Also, you should go check out her work at her portfolio website, http://www.shannonassociates.com/artist/michellelamoreaux.
Anyway, let’s begin!
Emily cast a sidelong glance at her companion. There was a certain nobility to his tall, thin form, she supposed. He didn’t have a commanding presence; she would never argue otherwise. But there was something delicate and ethereal about him. Otherworldly. He might have been an angel or an elf, a mythical creature come to Earth to provide a proof of a more glorious world that awaited humans beyond the edges of their current understanding.
The image was ruined somewhat by the messy sucking sounds Byron made as he took long draws from the juice box clutched tightly in his feeler. Two empty juice boxes lay discarded on the sidewalk at his feet, and the one he’d been holding joined them as Emily watched. She stared at it
“Byron, don’t make slurping noises. Humans consider it rude.”
Byron turned to look at Emily, reacting to her noise and not her words. He didn’t understand English, and even if he did, there was no way his mouth could make the sounds necessary to speak it. There was no expression on the pressurized suit he wore over his carapace and under his coat (although, she was pleased to note, the soft brown leather accents she had sewn onto the suit granted a touch of unexpected class to the otherwise drab grey construction.) The plastic lenses that protected his delicate eyes betrayed no emotion (not that their compound structure were capable of any emotion she could recognize.)
After only a second’s delay, the translator rendered Emily’s words in Byron’s own language and he chittered a response that the translator processed for her.
“I apologize, hive sister. I did not mean to offend your sensibilities.”
“You didn’t. I just wanted you to know before you get to school.”
“Do all humans consider the noise rude?”
Emily opened her mouth to say yes, but she stopped before a sound could escape from between her lips. Her mother would never have forgiven her for behavior unbecoming a lady if she ate like that in public, but her own mother would have slapped her for it. Proper decorum had always been of the utmost importance to her maternal line, but her father’s side had only come into their wealth within the past generation. Having been raised outside of proper society, only cared about decorum when his wife was around; when he was alone or when it was just him and Emily, he didn’t care at all.
“Generally,” she said with a shrug.
“Every sub-species, even?”
“Humans don’t have sub-species.”
Byron was silent as he searched for the proper word. “Varietal? Cultivar?”
“The Kai’tynn don’t have ‘race.’”
“I know. You shouldn’t litter, either,” Emily said pointing.
Byron looked down at the juice boxes at his clawed feet. Once his translator kicked in, he bent over and picked them up, placing them in his bag one at a time.
They stood together silently as they waited for the bus. Emily noticed that Byron seemed to be fidgeting more than usual, although a state of constant nervous energy was not unusual for the Kai’tynn. At last, he made some strange noise that the translator made no effort to parse into English. After a few seconds, Emily realized it was Kai’tynn equivalent of a sigh. “I am drinking 150% more juice than usual,” he said. “I believe I am nervous to be going to school.”
“Pretty much everyone is at first,” Emily offered. “Even humans.”
“Humans do not have to fear being taunted and mocked for being different. The differences are to be expected. You don’t even have a hivemind to feel separated and ostracized from.”
Emily was just about to correct Byron when a voice called out from behind her. “Hey, Big Nose! Proboscis! How are you two doing?” Emily winced. She knew the voice anywhere, had done her best to avoid having to hear it all summer. It was Richard Marley the Third. Or, as her father called him after a few drinks, Lil’ Dickhead Jr.
“Which of us is which?” Byron asked Emily.
Richard snorted, then chuckled, then clapped his hands together, laughing uproariously like Emily and Byron existed just for his amusement. “Oh, that’s too good! Heh. And it doesn’t matter, sugarsucker. You’re both freaks.”
Byron stared at the boy quietly. He chittered out a long, angry sounding string of syllables in his native language. “My mouth parts evolved both for defense against, and to feed upon, creatures that develop exoskeletons for protection at a young age. Your body, even though you are nearly an adult, is laughably defenseless, save for trace amounts of keratin.”
Richard stared up at the nylasilk and plastic mask that obscured Byron’s features, his own face alternating between confusion and growing fear.
“I am given to understand that the human body is composed primarily of water. I think that I could drain you of all of your bodily fluids exceedingly quick. If I had reason to, of course.”
Richard squeaked. Byron made no further move and spoke no more words; he simply stared down at the boy until the boy turned and walked some twenty feet away to wait for the bus elsewhere. Byron watched and when he was satisfied that Richard would not be returning, he opened up his coat, pulled another juice box out from within, and brought it to the mouthpiece of his suit.
Emily smiled. Her father’s side of her wanted to shout out at Richard, to further humiliate him; her mother’s voice in her had chastised her for the thought and reminded her that living well was the best revenge.
She decided to split the difference. Still grinning, she turned to Byron and said to him, “I think you’re going to be fine at school.”
“I am pleased to hear that,” Byron said. “I hope you’re right.” He paused, holding the juice box before his eyes. He considered it carefully for a moment, and then he tucked it back into his coat.