Warped: Three – The Third Sex

Warped
by Andrea Speed

Three – The Third Sex

The entire problem with the universe was it was full of people.They were everywhere, clinging to every rocky outpost nowhere garbage planet, to little ships and decrepit old space stations little better than tin cans. The universe would be a much better place if there were fewer of them – or so Gen honestly thought. As long as they skipped him (or her, whatever the case was at the time).

war3.jpgAnd why had he cast his lot with these losers? It was so many months ago, he could hardly remember. It was just an impulsive decision, a desire to get away from the rehab facility as fast and as soon as possible, and the Nyorai was the only ride out. She had no way of knowing (and he was a she at the time) the class of twonks she’d end up with. Maybe she should have guessed, since who’d ever heard of a ‘facer deciding suddenly they didn’t want to obey orders anymore? They usually didn’t give a shit as long as they were plugged into something. Dar was unbelievably flawed, and yet she was still probably the sanest one among this group – besides himself, of course.

The worst among them was Khal, of course – junkie bastard. If he started drooling on him, he was just going to dump him in the hallway and let someone else take care of him. He wasn’t paid to be a nursemaid. In point of fact, he wasn’t paid at all, and heads were going to roll over that oversight.

Gen dragged Khal’s desiccated carcass towards his room on the upper level, where the quarters of the upper class were. The uppers – the CEO’s, the VP’s, the Administration Assistants – always got the nicest places, the nicest things, while the grunts and the labor got the scraps. The berths for the grunts was on the lowest level, where there were cargo rooms and the recycling nexus, where the waste products of the ship and people on it were turned into something usable. To cover the scent, that level always smelled of lemons, and you learned to dread it. They didn’t use that level for anything but storage. Of course right now, the only thing they had in storage was a case of instant sushi and two cases of Lazarus Rockberry Ale (“The beer so good, it‘ll resurrect the dead”). Gen was not a fan of either, so he was glad he had his own private stash.

Maybe the most grating thing was the expectations of MoSys, and branding him a “reject” when he very much wasn’t. Okay, so most GenAlts should be able to “hold” a gender for an extended period of time, given the correct mega-dose of hormones. But Gen couldn’t, for whatever reason, and it was judged a “sequencing error”, which meant rehabilitation, which was total bullshit. He was perfectly fine; he was better than fine. He was the epitome of perfection, and they were completely fucking assheads if they couldn’t see that.

Skinny or not, Khal was almost completely dead weight, and a pain to drag to the lift, and once they got there, Bruno had to butt in. “Dead from the strain yet?”

“Fuck me sideways, spaghetti code.”

“Now, wha’ way is that ta talk?”

“Much like you, I suspect.”

“Oh, yeah. Good on ya.”

This was a ship full of crazy people. And crazy machines. What the hell was he doing here?

The lift deposited them on the fifth level, and Gen dragged Khal down the crystal hallway to his room, which was hidden behind recessed doors that slid open when they approached. His room was like all their rooms – large, roughly circular, with a cool blue ConformCo couch and chairs molded to the near walls, and a ConformCo bed molded to the wall on the far side of the room. There was a crystal table extruded from the floor, where the general entertainment package was hidden, not even revealed when the crystal panels of the ceiling lit up. But Khal’s room did have a difference.

Against and inside the bulkhead opposite the door was a long aquarium, running the entire length of the room. Although mostly full of water, some of the far sections had sand and rocky outcrops above or without the water, and there was actual pieces of coral and sea plants inside it. Why? All for Khal’s “friend”, the alien squid.

According to him, it was intelligent, and its name was Blue. It was basically a beach ball with four stumpy tentacles, a solid cobalt blue, with eyes as big as a child’s fist balanced on two slender stalks on top of its bulbous head, and no “features” on its combined head/body save for a small black beak roughly in the center of what passed for its face. It was as ugly as a sulfur miner’s ass, and sometimes it left through a hatch in the aquarium and bumbled around the room, and Khal actually let it climb on him. It would wrap a tentacle or two around his neck, and perch on his shoulder like the world’s nastiest mutant parrot. Gen shuddered at the thought of that thing with its slimy wet tentacles touching anyone’s skin.

He had conversations with it, and got all pissy if anyone called it a pet. This crazy belief of his was what got him noticed by MoSys, and marked for mind wiping and rewiring. On the planet of Xentropa, where he was one of the Negotiators for one of MoSys’s annual bullshit “goodwill” spectacles, he claimed to discover an intelligent native species – underwater. Xentropa was ninety nine point nine percent water, and had little in the way of above ground species, but had an impressive array of aquatic life. The beach balls – and that’s what everyone called them, pre-Khal – were the most often seen, as they had a tendency to gather on the shores and bumble around, presumably searching the sand for food. But Khal claimed they were intelligent, and had an empathic “language” of colors, and that he could converse with them. Usually he had to be in the water for them to understand him, or they had to be touching him for some unknown reason.

Everyone thought he was insane. The other Negotiators admitted they got an odd sense from the beach balls, but they couldn’t communicate with them like he could, leading them to admit he was more “sensitive” than all of them.

A damning term, one that condemned him if his nervous breakdown and insistence that the beach balls were a higher life form hadn’t. No one liked their Negotiators too empathic, and Khal turned out to be so empathic his sanity was an obvious question, and that was the end of his career. He insisted to the end that he wasn’t crazy, that the Reds (supposedly, that’s what the beach balls called themselves) were an intelligent species, and smuggled Blue out as an “ambassador” for “her” people. Khal was one of the most powerful Negotiators MoSys ever created, but he was a complete fucking loon. He had put together a waterproof keypad for Blue that flashed various colors, supposedly its language, and right now some of those colors were flashing: red-blue-blue-red-yellow-red-red-green.

Khal seemed to return to semi-consciousness, enough to slur, “’m okay, Blue. ‘m just tired.”

According to him, “Blue” could understand some of their language, but not a lot. It was so creepy and ugly, Gen wanted to kill it was an anti-grav lift. Khal clearly had pudding for brains – couldn’t they just leave him and his alien quadropus in the first crowded port?

He shoved him unceremoniously towards his bed, which he flopped on with all the grace of a dead fish, and it made Khal giggle once more. “You oughta turn ‘im on ‘is side,” Bruno suggested. “In case ‘e chucks in ‘is sleep.”

“Let him choke,” he replied icily, turning to leave. Gen hurried out as he heard Blue’s hatch flip open, as he didn’t want to have to see that freaky thing, and as soon as he was safely out in the corridor, he shuddered. Why did the others indulge him? So what if he was a Negotiator? They were a credit a ton. They could get another one, one that wasn’t mindfucked and thought a squid was his best friend. (Unless it was more. He didn’t fuck the thing, did he? Could he fuck the thing? The beak was the only orifice he’d ever seen on that thing, and just this train of thought made him shudder once more.)

Gen walked down to his quarters, which he made sure to have sealed with a lock requiring a corneal scan for verification. He didn’t want any of these freaks breaking in and stealing his stuff.

Safely inside his quarters, he unfastened the top of his MoSys functionary jumpsuit and happily pulled the thing off, tossing it on the couch. He hated the pseudofabric they made those things out of – sure, it was light, and couldn’t be stained or torn, but it felt like you were wearing cardboard.

His quarters were the best on the ship, for good reason. He was – to the best of his knowledge – the only one who had bothered to decorate. He had a lovely holographic painting that changed its scene every day; currently it was showing a tropical beach, a red sky looming over deep green water that lapped against a shore of black volcanic rock. He’d decorated his couch with a synthesized throw that replicated the purple fur of a creg beast, and tossed on a few throw pillows that had seemed like a good idea when he was a woman.

He stepped into some pseudosilk pants and opened up his vault, pulling out a bottle of vintage wine and a small bag of crispy kelp. The others could live like dock rats, but that wasn’t for him. He was used to the finer things, and deserved them, no matter how he had to get them.

He had kicked back on the couch, sipping wine straight from the bottle, when he noticed that the colors flashing by within the walls had become one solid color, a stream of gold, and he knew what that meant. “Bruno, where’re we goin’?” It was rare that they actually knew, as Dar seemed to prefer to ramble aimlessly, claiming that if they didn’t know where they headed, MoSys couldn’t either. It wasn’t a good idea to head out into space without a route or a plan, but Dar was barely Human anymore, and why would she give a fuck about getting lost within the void? She’d survive either way.

“We’re ‘eaded to the gate.”

Gen put the bottle down, hoping he’d heard him wrong. “A gate? What?” The gates were the only way to ‘jump” from one settled (or at least explored) system to another without it taking a couple of lifetimes. But MoSys controlled the gates with an iron fist; any ship going through was recorded and “tagged”. They did use them – Dar could neutralize the tags, screw with the monitoring systems – but never so soon after making a “hit”. It was far too suspicious, and just asking for trouble. “Dar! Dar, what the hell are you doing?”

“Taking us to the Dracus system,” she replied. Her voice had less emotion and seemed less Human than Bruno’s – sometimes Gen thought she did that on purpose.

“What the hell’s in the Dracus system?”

“Rocks.”

“And ..?”

“How the hell do I know? We’re just trying to trace an odd message.”

He sighed wearily, aware she was talking in circles on purpose. She lived to irritate everyone. “Why?”

“’Cause it seems to be from the Cryers.”

Okay, now she was just being a bitch for no good reason at all. “The Cryers can’t talk; they can’t send a message.”

“Yes they can. They can’t talk, but they can hum.”

Gen shot a death glare up at the ceiling, knowing that it was futile, but it still felt good. “You’re fucking with us. Are you that bored?”

“It’s the truth. Now shut your gob, I‘m busy.” She rudely shut off the comm, and he made an obscene gesture at the ceiling.

So had she gone nuts too? Well, more nuts then before. Message from a Cryer? Yeah right – and the beach balls actually were intelligent.

He took a swig of his wine, and wondered if it was a MoSys trap. It’d be so obvious … and yet they weren’t known for their subtlety. You’d think Dar would be smarter than to fall for something like that, but then again, no one on this crate was known for their genius. Except for him, of course.

That was it – next decent port, he was commandeering a skiff and getting the fuck out of here.

They were mental cases, each and every one of them. And if he didn’t get out of here soon, he’d join them.

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