art by Justine McGreevy
Sapience and Maternal Instincts
by 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, uhm, 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."