Aphelion Issue 242, Volume 23
August 2019
 
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Symbiosis

by Kate Stuart




We first mated 27 years ago.

"And you thought it had killed me. Literally."

Yes, at first I did think it had killed you, and then I thought it would kill me.


* * *

Ten million years ago, Suvess orbited Phus in the habitable zone. Evolution was barreling along. The first hominin was just around the corner when some indeterminate force knocked Suvess into a closer orbit. Life at the equator must have been wiped out. Certainly, the genetic ancestors of humans fled to the poles, and so two completely separate paths of evolution were followed.

Born of the same primordial RNA sequences, the evolutions followed similar paths in a similar enough sequence. Planetary tilt made the North Pole--Helmkih--more moderate and hominids... .

"'Hominids' isn't a Suvesseet word, dear."

Of course, too much time with the Galactic scientists, but then "Suvesseet" and "suvessist" aren't Suvesseet words either. We had no word for all of us together. Anyway, suvessists from Helmkih have fleshier skin in a variety of tans and browns. Suvessists from the South Pole, Sathzenn, while being surprisingly close to Helmki genetically, have hard, scaly skin whitish-tan or pink in color. There are other differences. We, Satheets, have multifaceted eyes and opposable thumbs, but only two digits. Whereas, Helmki have single lens eyes, and also opposable thumbs, but five additional digits.

"Vayrulia."

Yes, well, anyway, a trip across the equator was impossible for our ancestors so we are distinct species. Then Helmki invented the airplane. An airplane flown across the equator at night landed on Sathzenn seventy years ago. What a trip that must have been! All our history in one hemisphere, both sides with myths of an earth like an upside down bowl on a bed of coals or the oven that the sun bakes in at night.

Satheets were maybe 50 years behind technologically, so not so far behind, but at first it was a bit touch and go. The Helmki may have enslaved us, but they were so certain that they wouldn't find intelligent life, that it just wasn't possible, and of course so many of them believing that they wouldn't find anything at all. Besides, they had only a certain--very predictable--window when they could take off or land, because even now the trip over the equator is too dangerous except at night. Sathzenn is so much hotter too. They were not, are not, naturally equipped for life at on Sathzenn.

"We need lots of light clothing, sunblock, and parasols, even then it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. Air conditioning and lots of water, too."

So, Satheets had a fighting chance, and we took it. For a while, it has even united Sathzenn. We speak with one voice. My mother, after life had settled down, after a new generation grew up, one... more believing, more accepting was sent as ambassador to Helmkih when I was eight. Of course, my father, keeper of the house, came, and I came, but my two older brothers were in the middle of their studies, and my younger brother would not be keeper of the house, so he was left with my uncle to prepare for his studies to be a doctor. Being a girl, my parent's only girl-child, I must follow in my mother's tradition and be an ambassador so my apprenticeship had already begun and I could not leave my mother until it was done. I was eight, flown across the world under cover of darkness to Helmkih and the rest of my life.

"Vayrulia."

It changed our history, Nusse. We changed the history of our people.

"Someone would have eventually."

Helmkih was unlike anything I had, any of my people had, ever imagined. There were rivers, lakes, and green for miles upon miles. Trees were everywhere and everything was made of wood. Our house had splinters and softnesses, and it was always so cold, and there was school: formalized, ritualized lessons day after day after day. My mother decided I should go to school; that we should immerse ourselves in your life. So, I, a freakish, ignorant Satheet, started school in Piy Rush, the capital of Nsojep, the largest of the Helmkih countries.


* * *

"Do you remember the day we met?"

My first day of school: you were the only good thing that happened to me that day. I was eight, Nusse. I was alone. I was the only Satheet in a school filled with kids who'd never seen a Satheet, only heard stories, seen pictures on the news. The war was barely over. These kids had lost relatives in that war. I was the enemy.

"Not everyone thought so."

I didn't know the first thing about Helmki clothing. I tripped over my shoe strings all the way to school, and kids were snickering and you came up to me, took my hand... I was so shocked. Satheets do not touch one another casually. At all. Ever. So, I followed you determined to rip your throat out if you led me somewhere private, but you only led me to a bench. You sat me down and you tied one of my shoes, and then you took my hands and you walked me through tying my other shoe.

"And we were friends."

Friends? We were inseparable. Oh, we had a group, sure. For every kid that hated me there was another lining up to be "friends" with the freak. Some of those friendships stuck. So we had a group and no one--well, our parents anyway--didn't suspect how close we were. Really, they probably couldn't imagine that such a thing was... possible. We were different species. It took us long enough to think of it ourselves. We were nearly done at university. You'd had girlfriends. Quisee, obviously, was serious. She and I got along. Who knew how important that would turn out to be? I still like her almost as much as I like you, but you'd had a fight and I... I needed release.

"You thought you'd killed me."

Well, yeah, you would have thought the same. When Satheets mate, the woman bites the man releasing hormones into his bloodstream. It's instinctive. It's part of the mating process, a vital part of the process. You went catatonic. We were camping in Koules Canyon and... I've never run so fast in my life. Climbing the wall of the canyon left me pretty beat up. Your parents thought you had done it trying to escape my clutches.

"Our parents didn't know what to think. You'd bit me. I'd collapsed."

I found the nearest phone and called the hospital, called my parents, called your parents, I think I would have called everyone on the planet. I just wanted to save you. I couldn't breathe for it, and then we were at the hospital with my mother trying to explain to your parents that I hadn't tried to kill you, and my father bringing down heaven and hell on me because I'd even thought of committing such an abomination, and you not breathing.

"And then you collapsed."

Not until later when they took you away and I couldn't see you. Sometimes that happens when a woman bites a man and sex doesn't follow. It's not serious. She'll wake up cranky with a splitting headache at the worst of it. Mother had them put me in a quiet, dark room. It should have passed in a couple of hours. Instead, I got worse. I was nearly catatonic myself and the nightmares came: mostly that they wouldn't let me see you, that I couldn't find you, that I couldn't save you. I woke up cold and sweaty and my parents were talking to the doctors about sending me back to Sathzenn. I struggled to get up. The nurses wouldn't let me and I was thrashing about. By then, we were in adjacent containment rooms, and I saw you. There you were and it was like everything was okay because I could see you. "Nusse," I said before sinking back into the hospital bed.

"I wasn't getting better though. Not worse, just also not better."

No, you weren't getting any better, and they wouldn't let me into your room. The only reason they let me stay was that I'd get hysterical if I couldn't see you, like physically lay eyes on you, I would just go mental. I was--we were missing exams and graduation. Quisee came to see you every day. They didn't let her into see you either so we'd sit beside one another holding hand, crying, talking.

Weeks passed, a long month, another short month after that. Finally, they admitted you were stable, not contagious. It might not do any harm to let me in. All I did was touch your hand.

"I asked, 'What took you so long?'"

Quisee nearly left you then. I had saved you. We'd been inseparable before and now we were... connected. How could she compete when I literally could not cope with you being out of my sight?

"But you convinced her to stay."

She had to stay. I was sure soon enough the doctors would figure out what was going on, figure out how to fix it, and then I was gone. I planned on being on the earliest flight to Sathzenn I could manage and to, if at all within my power, never lay eyes on another damn Helmki in all my live-long natural life.

"And I didn't do so well without you in physical contact unless Quisee was around."

So we all moved in together. Our parents were furious. I was supposed to be getting my first assignment. I was blowing my life apart. It's not like Helmki; it's not a career, it's not an option; it's a life path; my raison d'etre. I am an ambassador. Your parents, Quisee's parents, were sure that I'd enslaved you both. Really though Quisee's parents were the only ones with any sense. If Quisee was going to live with you, Quisee was going to marry you. They just took me out of the equation altogether. So, you and Quisee were married and you were a couple, and where did that leave me?

"Vay... ."

You had each other. You had children. You were normal. Recovered. I was the one left with nothing but panic and fear and dependence. Years we lived that way, Nusse. Years of ignorance. For an entire year, I was locked away, kept sedated. That was no good for anybody. Quisee finally insisted on an end to that experiment. Really, it was easier on me than you. I was sedated so heavily I didn't know my right hand from my left. You're the one who knew what was going on--could feel my absence.

"Like a knife in my heart."

Quisee tried everything to make us healthy. I think she has always been content with us, well, since the coma anyway. She accepted me as a necessary part of the relationship. We've been fortunate to have her. It's so necessary for the square to be complete.

It took so much time to realize that when a Satheet and Helmki mate, both partners must then mate with someone of their own species, and the Satheet-Helmki pair is mated for life. Though the breeding mate--as so many call it now--may or may not be for life. How may Satheet partners have I had? 4? Or is Weyna the fifth?

"Voru stayed."

Voru stayed, yes, for his children. Until he met Peyquee. Funny how it's not a latticework. He could no longer be with me once he was with Peyquee. It seems to be the rule: only one Satheet-Helmki couple within the square and two breeding couples. Even as long as Voru stayed, he and Quisee never even tried, and they were very fond of one another. Quisee's been fond of all of my mates.

"Weyna's been a good fit. Voru always wanted more."

Yes, Voru is a good man. He loves the children, but I never needed him the way I need you. Weyna is more accepting. Which is good. Five children by four different men. Voru may not have been understanding of that, but his two were the first two, and back then we were still lost: lost and so utterly clueless.

"Until Shapli."

Until Shapli. The ambassador--no, not the first, this would have been the second ambassador from Helmkih to Sathzenn. I think his son must have been ten maybe twelve years younger than us. So the son tries hooking up with one of the Satheet maids he fancies, Shapli. Same deal as us, he's in a coma; Shapli goes into hysterics, only her family brings in her fiancé and she doesn't have the panic attacks, the fear.

"Theirs isn't a happy story though."

No, Shapli's fiancé is so enraged about what the ambassador's boy had done that he murders the ambassador's son.

"And Shapli kills herself."

And Shapli kills herself. Not a happy ending, but the mating part is the part that caught my parents' attention. They bring up a Satheet man, Voru, to mate with me, and it works. Years of anxiety and fear if we're not in the same room gone, and right away I'm shipped off to the Galactic ship. Mother thought it was such a piece of good fortune when the Empire showed up just as we'd figured out how to fix me and I'm available for the station.

It didn't work out so well though. Not like we thought it would. We thought we were free of one another.

"Things hadn't been good for a while."

How could things be good? But you're right. Quisse was on edge even. We would stalk around one another. We tried mating Helmki-style. It helped. Some, but now I was gone, high above Suvess, floating in a ship, and you were down here with Quisee and your children and we were both going nuts. Finally, you arranged a trip, just a little site-seeing tour like they do, but we'd have lunch. I met you at the bay station.

"'Met' may not be the right word."

Seeing you, then... pure instinct. I needed to be with you. All those other times we thought mating would help, but that time it did.

"You drew blood."

I'm Satheet. Of course, I drew blood. At least you didn't go into a coma that time. Quisee and the children helped. They kept us in my apartment, kept us together. Vuro was there for me. Poor Vuro. Only there because I had had his child and caught in the middle of this, in the middle of us.


* * *

The Galactics were all over us. They'd never seen a planet with two technologically advanced species, ever, in all their explorations, we were unique, and then there was you and me seemingly unable to live without one another. They loved to study us, and they began to make sense of our predicament. Of course, by that time, we weren't an isolated incident. In spite of all the horror stories, Helmki and Satheet children were unable to resist one another. Of course, those not mating with the other species were not having children. Those that were, were having children in droves. Well, for those who had contact with the other species anyway.

Fertility only becomes an issue for children who come in direct contact with the other species. A million Helmki, a million Satheets have fled to remote enclaves: preservation of the purity, down with the abominations, and all my classmates with the millions of turrers spent on fertility

"Not just your classmates."

Not just Helmki. Thousands of suvessists not able to have children because of some latent genetic trigger.

"The great symbiosis."

The great symbiosis. So, Suvess brought her children together.


THE END


© 2015 Kate Stuart

Bio: Ms. Stuart works days as a paralegal to support her writing habit.

E-mail: Kate Stuart

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