Our species would not consider all of these five observations aberrant, but I am repulsed by the bathroom. For a start it is a loud, echoing room incompatible with our sensitive auditory organ. When Phoebe enters the bathroom I want to leave her there, but I must endure the entire ordeal. It’s forbidden to leave the host without adequate reason. This would be considered an exercise in free will, something frowned upon by my superiors and customarily leading to execution. We support a suicide solution in the form of a poisonous injective, a sharp spine concealed within us. The spine can be utilized externally, if required.
Phoebe walks towards the waste apparatus, passing the mirror, into which we both briefly peer. She sees herself and I see us both. I learn a lot about humans from reflections. I sometimes think one can know too much, but I keep this to myself. In any case, we sit on the porcelain vessel and evacuate our bowel and bladder. I am fairly sure my species has never needed to adapt this particular bodily function, however, I’m not a biologist. I can hear and smell the result of our exertions as she concentrates on the white tiles opposite. This does make her seem vulnerable somehow, but the sensations are fundamentally unpleasant for me.
When Phoebe finishes, she uses the conveniently placed roll of paper, pulls a lever to clean the vessel and washes our hands. At this point she removes her robe and enters a sub-room, washing our entire body under a spray of warm water and then dries herself with a wide length of absorbent fabric. Once again, she looks in the mirror; its frank appraisal of our face and torso can take several minutes. Sometimes she opens her mouth and runs her tongue over our teeth or pulls our lips back in a kind of grimace, moving our head to one side and then the other, presumably looking for blemishes. Two days ago she touched our nipples with her two index fingers, whereupon they hardened slightly. The attendant sensation was of a tingling nature and not unpleasant.
A stiff little brush is produced and in conjunction with an appalling soft paste, Phoebe vigorously cleans the bony protuberances called teeth. She sluices a foul liquid around inside our mouth, finally spitting it into the sink; quite disgusting. She applies a small amount of powdery substance to her cheeks and ghastly red goo to her lips. Her hair is short and she merely runs our hands through it with a lotion she squirts on them. It seems to make it look better, or at least different. Today, she appears to be conflicted by her reflection but shrugs, returning to her sleeping room.
She is efficient at dressing, although once she violently pulled a garment off in disgust and threw it on the floor, illogically kicking it across the room. Personally, I failed to see much difference between the discarded item and its replacement. Phoebe eats a meal consisting of a dreadful substance called yoghurt, augmented by the equally disgusting oat bran and a quantity of small black dried fruits. This is thankfully washed down, by a large quantity of coffee, a beverage I find increasingly agreeable. Once on the sidewalk outside her apartment block, I think we shape up pretty good, at least according to human standards.
Phoebe is considered an exceptionally admirable specimen of her species. I know this because, at her place of work, we heard one male of the species say to another, O my god, what I wouldn’t do if I got my hands on her. They didn’t seem to care she had heard them, as if she might approve of being objectified in this way. I had the distinct impression she didn’t like it. Nevertheless, I join with my brethren, in refuting the assertion of human attractiveness. They are without precedent, in their combined hideousness.
Phoebe travels into the heart of the city, the place of fire and light, stone and glass, surface and desire. The method of arrival to work is the Metro, a network of transportation caves beneath the ground. The massing of a dominant species into confined urban areas is quite satisfactory to me. Humans, however, also have a tendency to cultivate large areas of underpopulated space outside their cities, finding it perfectly acceptable to live in such environments. Extraordinary!
They call the underground travelling rooms, trains. Phoebe bought a coffee in a waxed paper cup and descended a stairway to board one of these vehicles. Sipping the delicious coffee, we look through the window at this dark underworld, a series of fleeting, abstract impressions. Wherever we go, we see ourselves in these glassy structures; we are looking back at us and into the dark tunnel at the same time. This is quite odd to my own kind, as we are not known for self-reflection, either metaphysically or materially.
At one point on our journey, a man sits beside us and starts to write into a one of the screens they take everywhere; even my host Phoebe, has a small one in her bag. I would have preferred a male host; I told them this but they insisted, not caring whether I lived or died. They would have injected me, if I protested too much. The male human appears to be a simpler organism to me—but perhaps not. Phoebe and I peer into the flickering gloom of long tunnels.
The writer’s fingers dart across the keyboard, something I find entrancing. It’s in a style called ‘verse’ and Phoebe doesn’t want us to look, considering it impolite, but I insist. Don’t interfere, merely observe, Administration instructed. I can’t help but impose my own considerable needs on her sometimes. I compromise by permitting a pretence of looking down at our hands. Human eyes can be quite cunning. As the travelling room moves rapidly through the tunnels, occasionally stopping at yellow-lit citadels to take on and let off travellers, we read the words emerging from the man’s dexterous fingers.
I will be delivered from comfort and pain,
I will open to all in equal measure,
When death will drop unforgiven in my valley.
No shelter from regret, not even need for sadness.
The places I have come to will be unending.
And the days will circulate,
Love an antidote to the remaining silence.
I think these words are strange and yet, oddly compelling. Water falls onto our clasped hands from our eyes. Fingers paused above the keyboard, the man looks at us, then quickly away. I have observed Phoebe making this eye-water before. Once, while in bed at night, she caused a lot of it to come out; quite annoying really, as she kept blowing mucous through her nasal passages. Humans are terribly visceral. The train screeches to a halt and Phoebe realizes this is her stop.
She brushes past the writer’s legs, feeling the fabric on his knees against her thigh and a tense trembling, as he brings them in to let her pass. We turn to look at the man and he looks back, his fingers again poised over the screen. We linger, the train door is open, but we hesitate to disembark. What on earth is she doing? I notice he is a little shabby looking and older than her by several years, quite unlike any of her acquaintances. She leaves the traveling room just in time, riding the moving stairway to the cities surface. The person in front of us wears a dark blue jacket, lost in its depths we share a moment of peace.
The tastefully restored building of Phoebe’s place of work is dwarfed by those on either side. A lifting room takes us to a large, open area consuming the entire top level of the building. There are a variety of different spaces, some with desks. A large open balcony provides a view of the sprawling city park. A shambling, hap-hazard place where people without homes, loiter among the trees. I have become familiar with the rituals of work and despite myself, quite enjoy the rhythm of Phoebe’s movements through the bright room. Everybody greets her cheerfully and she is light and joyful seeming, even though I know she is not that person.
Phoebe is a creative in the advertising industry. The activities in this office are both ludicrous and profitable. The business model entirely depends on human emotions, evoking a good or service by appealing to base human personality traits, envy being prized above all. For instance, Phoebe owned a perfectly good automobile but recently replaced it with an expensive new one. Her friend and workmate Bea bought the same make and model a month before and Phoebe experienced an urge to do the same, although she preferred a red one to Bea’s green. In any case, the purchase seemed to cheer Phoebe up for approximately one week, after which her serotonin levels once more became muddied by anxiety and self-doubt.
Mid-afternoon, Phoebe and Bea were sitting in Gerry’s office, waiting for him to return with coffee. Gerry is an account manager and an unmitigated pompous arse, according to Bea.
“What an utter jerk as are his fat wife and his nasty, pudgy little brats,” Bea said, further embellishing her regard for Gerry. Phoebe formed a distracted smile in reply.
“You know Phoebe; you’ve been a bit weird lately. You okay kid?” Bea said.
“Yeah, sure I’m okay, just—you know,” Phoebe replied. This is irritating because humans continually talk in riddles. It’s hard to imagine how they survive a day, let alone a lifetime with such imprecision.
“Man trouble?” Bea said.
“Yeah, the lack thereof,” Phoebe said. There she goes again; what does this even mean?
“You need a good rogering Phoebe,” Bea said. Lost me again—rogering— couldn’t find it anywhere in my archives.
‘Tell me about it,” Phoebe said and they laughed. The Utter Jerk re-entered the room, placing a cup of coffee on the table for each of them. I am loving coffee so much; I can’t get enough of it. Thankfully, neither can Phoebe. They each had their screens in front of them and began to discuss a new client. The product the client wanted promoting was entirely stupid. I only vaguely understood its purpose. Gerry says the client had some misgivings about the pathos factor Phoebe had inserted into the copy.
“This bloke wasn’t born yesterday, girls,” Phoebe experienced an urgent need to slap Gerry hard across the face, but refrained, “he told me he wasn’t convinced by the argument. He wasn’t getting the emotional response the product required,” Gerry said.
“We are talking about a horse mask for preteen girls, right Gerry?” Bea said.
“Yeah, it’s to help ponies relate to their owners. I mean we’ve been through this, girls,” he said, “I mean what about this bit. I believe you are responsible for this Phoebe.”
“By wearing this mask, I was able to get anything I needed. Plenty of hay, lots of time to run and, best of all, I no longer had to wear pants and can let my excrement drop as I please. Life has become so much better since becoming a horse and now Dewdrop loves me to bits.”
Phoebe is usually very good at disguising her feelings about the duplicitous and trivial nature of her work. Regardless of my overall abhorrence of humanity, I quite like her.
“Jeez, Phoebe, that one got past me. You’re a fucking hoot girl,” Bea said and raised her hand for a high five, which is something humans do from time to time. I believe it’s a form of affirmation but it was lost on The Utter Jerk, who looked as if he had just bitten into a lime. (I will talk about limes later.) Phoebe did not respond with her own high five but sat distracted, staring past both Bea and The Utter Jerk and out of the window. There was nothing out there, only a blue sky and some wisps of cloud. Even I felt a little uncomfortable about her odd behaviour.
“Can you feel that,” she said. Her nose creased up and then she did raise her hand, but it was to wildly rub her face and head, causing her usually disciplined short hair to stick up in unruly spikes.
“Phoebe, what the fuck?” Bea said turning to The Utter Jerk who shrugged and continued with the lime expression. I found this alarming also and encouraged her to take a large gulp of coffee.
Later, Phoebe asked Bea if she wanted to go for a drink after work, but Bea had other plans. Bea’s excuse was unconvincing, Phoebe noting, a certain coldness in her friend. She went to the bar alone, a dingy place smelling of perspiration and uric acid. She went there because the bartender made the perfect Gimlet, her favourite alcoholic beverage. It is made thus: A cone-shaped drinking receptacle is chilled by placing crushed ice in it for a short period. The ice is thrown out and then a splash of Vermouth is introduced, which is sluiced around and discarded as well. The receptacle is then filled with ice cold Gin, followed by the coup de grace, a slice of a hideously sour fruit called a lime.
Phoebe consumed three of these absurd but intoxicating drinks. A man at the bar made some remarks to her and she responded by telling him to fuck off, an apparent insult regarding procreation. The man made an equally unpleasant remark, including a mention of Phoebe’s genitalia. The bartender also told him to fuck off. She removed the slice of lime from her last Gimlet, ate it with a determined grimace and walked to the Metro. The writing man from the morning was on board and Phoebe sat down beside him.
I thought I might be having a charmed life, residing within Phoebe; even with the bathroom activities. That is, until she engaged in sexual intercourse. I had experienced both repulsion and attraction as the result of the vascularity of Phoebe’s life. It is as if I am really becoming one with her, a fundamentally silly human concept, I know, but I posit it’s an indicator of my growing fondness for her. This was clearly not the intention of my superiors. I was beginning to see humans as not entirely scared, weak and foolish but vulnerable, brave and clever; regardless of their appalling visage. Sure, there were some fools, like The Utter Jerk.
Today is a non-work day and we do not have to get up so early. We sleep for a long time in Timothy’s arms. Timothy is the writing man from the train. They talked for a very long time during the night and into the early hours and he read Phoebe some of his verse.
“I write to pass the time on my journey into the city,” he said, “its’ a salve of sorts, for the dreariness of my job, the pressures of life at home.”
After this, the conversation became exceedingly boring, and I vacated her body. As indicated earlier it’s forbidden for us to leave the host unless they become unsustainable. Nevertheless, this project of ours can become burdensome and I believed I could conceal this dereliction of duty, as long as it was not prolonged.
I think my temporary absence was felt by Phoebe. She was different, occasionally looking around the apartment.
“What’s wrong Phoebe?” Timothy said.
“I really—I can’t say to be honest. I just feel a bit weird, sort of relieved and—something else,” she said, “it must be you, you make me feel relaxed I guess.”
She smiled at him and he reached for her hand, then he put his lips on hers several times. She eventually fell asleep on the bed. Timothy rose and went into the kitchen and fumbled around in his satchel for his communication device. He spoke quietly into it, repeating himself several times and seemed upset. He returned to the sleeping Phoebe, removing his shoes and hers, and lay down next to her on the bed. He looked at her for a long time, before he also fell into sleep. I watched them from my natural state, outside the window, above them, all around really; entangled comfortably within several dimensions and deeply aware of my alienation in this place.
When I returned to Phoebe, she was waking up. She moved her body against Timothy’s and they removed their clothes. Her body became tense and hot; we started breathing heavily, as was Timothy. We pushed our mouth on his, licking his tongue and he ours. Yuk! He stroked our breasts and reached between our legs and we moaned, moving on top of him. This is when I felt it for the first time. She stroked it and placed it at the entrance to her vulva, lowering herself onto it until it fully penetrated. I had not been warned about this, although it was difficult to see how any forewarning would have been sufficient.
Goodness me, what strange creatures these humans are. I barely believed what I had experienced. The heat of the moment resulted in a sort of climactic event and then we separated from Timothy, completely exhausted. At one point, I felt we were literally going insane, assailed as we were, by great waves of intense sensations. The experience was certainly not one I would be happy to repeat in the near future, but I was soon to be disappointed. After a short nap, the procedure was repeated with equal intensity, causing me to wonder at their ability to survive the ordeal.
I have seen the infant versions of their species but was not fully aware of the process of their engenderment. Moist and sticky are two words that come to mind and my species would run a galaxy to escape both of these abominations. However, here I was, encountering both and not finding it so utterly awful.
I was rewarded for my forbearance with a double shot of coffee from Phoebe’s espresso machine. While we sipped the steaming wonderfulness, I had the romantic notion of recommending the beverage to Administration. Providing coffee to our populace may mitigate some of our daily concerns. They would probably kill me on the spot, if I suggested such a thing—free will and all that.
Phoebe and Timothy stayed together most of that day, until he said he had to go home. Phoebe didn’t want him to go, in fact, she pleaded with him to stay. I felt a certain embarrassment on her behalf. According to Timothy it was not possible to stay. Something I found, like many other human assertions, vaguely illogical, as clearly it was possible. He merely had to stay and the necessity to leave would diminish. This difficulty with free will, it seemed, was not confined to my species.
“I have obligations Phoebe. I can’t just ignore them,” he said. There was some discussion about another female and a child, waiting in his apartment.
“I like you a lot Timothy, I think I might have inadvertently fallen in love with you,” she said. Another concept lost on me, but I couldn’t ignore the intensity of her feelings. There was more water from her eyes and Timothy embraced her for a long time, appearing to have some water in his eyes as well. Much to my dismay, he started to become tumescent again, but thankfully broke from their embrace and left the apartment.
Phoebe stood looking at the door for a while and then busied herself with coffee, stopping at one point because an enormous gush of water spilled from her eyes, to the point where I feared for her hydration. To be honest I had planted the thought about the coffee. I was literally going rogue but I couldn’t care less. Administration, of course, would be understandably scandalized and if discovered, I would be promptly injected.
We moped around quite miserably all day. Phoebe didn’t eat any food except, with my encouragement, a great deal of coffee. That night she hardly slept at all, seeming to descend into a fugue state. I have to admit, I involuntarily affected her return to the espresso machine several times through the night. Her movements were stiff and clumsy, but the coffee was decent enough. In the morning her ablutions lacked enthusiasm, failing to smooth her normally shiny blonde hair and brush her teeth. It was another work day, but she didn’t ready herself, refusing even to look in the mirror. She rummaged in her closet and then furiously threw her clothes around the room, not unlike the clumsy and psychotic Nadõl throw around the tortured trees of my planet. During this extraordinary behaviour, she started screaming then fell on the floor. She scratched and pounded her head with her fists, wounding herself.
We left the apartment and descended to the parking garage beneath her building, perhaps she was thinking she might drive to work instead of using the Metro. This was a disappointment, as I very much enjoy the rapid and mercurial irregularity of the subterranean world. She placed the key firmly between her thumb and first finger and pulled it along the length of her new car, making a horrible, screeching gouge in the paintwork.
We stood trembling in the garage for what seemed an inordinate amount of time, once again in a seeming trance. Eventually, she looked down at her robe, it having fallen open with her exertions, revealing her naked body. Her feet were bare. A fluorescent light above us flickered on and off a few times and then went out altogether. She got in the car and started the engine; a dangerous power purred deep within it. A touch of the accelerator and it growled malevolently. I didn’t like this plush and insensate steel cocoon, pungently redolent of human manufacture. Phoebe could barely wait for the wide door to ascend so we could plunge into the traffic.
“Get out of me,” she said with coldness I had not yet encountered, “get out,” she peered at her bruised reflection in the tiny mirror above the driving wheel. Her left eyebrow oozed blood from the violence in her sleeping room. Screetching onto the freeway, she pushed her accelerator foot to the floor, her red painted toes spread across the pedal like talons.
I had been told of the consequences if the host discovers us. Perhaps I was complicit in this disaster. Had I, with my prevaricating, my overweening desire for union with this creature, made her life into a nightmare. This was a reluctant conclusion to my foolishness.
We suddenly left the freeway to a road following the edge of a river. Other vehicles were making sounds like the goose, an earth creature with an obnoxious call. One man yelled out of his window at us, probably another utter jerk.
It was not permitted to leave the host alive, if they knew we were there. My injective spine began to emerge.
“No you don’t,” she said, scowling into the mirror. She jerked the steering wheel violently, crashing through a barrier and sped along a jetty protruding into the river, “you won’t take my last ounce of free will, you little fucker.”
There was not a lot I could add to that. I let the trees fall where they may, an old saying on my planet; although I should say, we are neither little nor big. We sank rapidly. She mouthed three words into the little mirror as the interior filled with the river. At first it was hard to discern their meaning, jumbled as they were, with the desperate cadence of her troubled mind. I vacated Phoebe and reconfigured myself next to a tiny silver fish, inspecting this interesting development in its watery dominion. We both peered through the windscreen, marvelling at this occasion of human terror. After the car settled on the river bed, I reassembled her final, silent words.
“No more coffee.”