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I'm sorry I waited so long to tell you this, but I really hate your vacation cabin. Everything about it creeps me out. The sound of crickets at night makes my skin crawl. They sound like impending doom: like a critical piece of equipment being worn down by friction, or a thousand tiny voices, hoarse from screaming, reduced to a raspy warning chant in some ancient language.
The crickets aren't the only problem. The smell of so much wood in one place makes my eyes burn. And is it really necessary to throw pine cones into the fireplace? Are the burnt-wood fumes not overpowering enough? I used to lie awake at night fantasizing about finding whoever came up with that idea, grinding them up, feeding them to the crickets, and then gathering up the crickets, stuffing them into the fireplace, burning the cabin down, and watching from a safe distance. Upwind, of course.
Do crickets even eat meat? You probably know. You grew up with all this. That's why you're comfortable with it. I'm not; to me, it's alien and disturbing. I wish I'd told you this the first time you took me there, right after we started dating. But your friends were having such a good time. I wanted to be the fun girlfriend who liked what everyone else liked.
It must seem strange that I'm bringing this up now, when neither of us will ever go back there. I mention it because saying I loved your cabin set off the chain of events that led us to where we are today. It wasn't the first lie I'd told you, of course, but the others were just my cover story.
I wish I'd been honest with you then. I wish I'd had the courage to tell you who and what I am. I wish I'd shown you images of the different shapes I'd taken before committing myself to human form. I wish I'd been able to make you feel the joy and freedom that comes with flowing from one shape to another and the profound sense of loss I felt when I gave that up.
I wish I'd been able to share what life was like on the ship. It was a total immersive experience. We spoke human languages, ate human food, and molded ourselves into closer and closer approximations of human shapes, with human-form instructors as our guides. We read your literature, tapped into your networks, and watched your videos. We received our cover stories and fashioned our human personalities.
One of the hardest things to master was food preferences. They’re just so arbitrary. Remember the time your sister came over for dinner, and we made chocolate fondue for dessert? We started with apple slices, orange sections, and strawberries. Then Janice wanted to try dipping something salty, so I brought out the saltiest fruit we had: a jar of olives. Oops.
I seem to mess up a lot during meals with your family. I'm sorry I laughed at your uncle at that first Thanksgiving dinner. I know you wanted me to ignore him, but information-gathering is my job. I just couldn't keep a straight face. If he only knew: my people are far more illegal and far more alien than anyone he was ranting about, and believe me, we're not here to steal anyone's jobs.
I won't go so far as to say I should have told you our plan. Not our complete plan. But the research phase is scheduled to continue for another seventy-three years—we're nothing if not methodical—and I could have just said we were here to learn more about you. I should have told you at least that much when I found out I was pregnant.
I honestly hadn't believed that was possible. And then I remembered something I'd read during the journey to this planet. The ship was stocked with most of your classic literature, including a story about a husband and wife who exchanged gifts. He sold his watch to buy her a hair accessory; she sold her hair to buy him a watch accessory. It was supposed to convey irony, I think. For a long time after I read it, I thought human hair stopped growing at adulthood. Otherwise, the story lacks symmetry. The husband is permanently deprived of his watch, but the wife's hair will grow back with no effort on her part.
I thought perhaps you and I were like the characters in that story. Maybe this wasn't an inter-species pregnancy after all. I'd spent the last four-and-a-half years deceiving my apparently human spouse into thinking I was human; maybe you'd been doing the same. The more I thought about it, the more certain I became that this was true.
I began to make preparations for the traditional Strellyrian pregnancy announcement ritual, pared down for just the two of us. I planned a feast of guinea pigs and salamanders, the closest things I could find to our traditional delicacies. I thought we'd break the rules just this once and gorge ourselves on live meat. At the same time—just as a formality, really—I collected hair and cell samples while you slept and took them in for analysis. I repeated the tests three times, and the results were devastating: you were totally and undeniably human. Dr. Tran says we were able to produce that tiny zygote because my human-cell mimicry was so accurate, and it was able to survive because human stem cells are almost as malleable as ours.
I should have told you all this gradually throughout the course of the pregnancy. I had so many opportunities to do so. When you asked me why I wouldn't even consider your sister's obstetrician, I could have told you everything and explained that Dr. Tran was the only Strellyrian physician in the area. But what if you didn't believe me? I convinced myself at the time that it would be better to wait for the ultrasound. We'd watch it together, and you'd see the baby stretch and contract and reshape itself.
As the day of the ultrasound approached, I became more and more preoccupied with my own fears. What if there was a human fetus inside me, with one of those enormous human baby heads? I've seen how you people give birth. I began having nightmares about one of those things bursting out of me. I was awash in a sea of fear and regret; that's why I "forgot" to tell you I'd rescheduled the appointment. I can't begin to tell you how relieved I was to see the images of our perfect little angel flowing into an ovoid, an almost-cube, and an adorably lopsided dodecahedron before returning to her resting spherical form.
I'm sorry things were so tense when my relatives arrived right before my due date. They've never approved of this marriage. My parents hated the idea of a human raising their grandchild. Three of them wanted to kill you outright; the others just wanted me to leave you. The only thing they agreed about was how irresponsible I’d been: getting pregnant, getting married, even the way I’d made decisions back on the ship (to be fair, they were right about that last bit: “I don’t know; you pick one for me” is probably the worst possible answer you can give when asked to pick a gender).
Eventually, they reached a compromise. They concocted an elaborate plan for me to fake my own death, leave the country, and raise our baby alone. They arranged everything—new passport, plane ticket, apartment, even a new wardrobe—and wrote a new cover story for me. I refused to go along with it. I was sure our love was strong enough to withstand this challenge. Half of all marriages end in divorce, and I was determined that ours wouldn’t be one of them.
I should have planned a better distraction for you when I confronted my family. Leaving you alone with my parent-adjunct (sorry, I mean "Uncle Roger") was a mistake. He's not as bad as your uncle, but he does love to talk, and he tends to forget some of your more nonsensical cultural taboos. I should have warned him not to tell his war stories, and especially not the parts about feasting on his fallen enemies. Seriously, what’s wrong with that? It's not like they'd be any less dead if we left their bodies to rot. And as I tried to explain, we maintain proper hygiene, eating only healthy people we've slain in battle, not anyone who's died from disease.
Arguing with you about that was a mistake; that’s valuable time I could have spent telling you about my background and what to expect with the baby. And then I went into labor, and it was too late to say much of anything at all. Still, I was sure you'd come around once our baby was born. A powerful love for our offspring is something our two species have in common.
I didn’t expect you to freak out at the sight of a few baby teeth. Yes, they appear within minutes of birth instead of however long it takes for your kind, and yes, they’re longer and pointier and more numerous than you’re accustomed to, but that’s a perfectly natural phase of infant development. For the next couple weeks, she’ll be flopping around, all teeth and digestive tract, eating everything in sight to support her neonatal growth spurt. She’s so adorable! And clever—it looks like she’s developing venom sacs! Only about 15% of Strellyrian babies have that instinct. Her grandparents are very impressed.
Goodbye, Kevin. I can see now that you'll never be the kind of parent our child deserves. I'm putting this into a letter instead of speaking to you in person because I don't want to subject our baby—or, let's face it, myself—to the escalating anger and, frankly, xenophobia you've displayed ever since my parents showed up.
I'm sorry it's come to this. I'm sure you understand why we can't let you go. I know the basement can get a little chilly, but you shouldn’t be there much longer. I hope you'll find some comfort in the knowledge that, although you won't be around to help raise our child, you won't have failed her completely. You won't nurture her, but you will nourish her. Tonight, when her teeth have completely hardened, you'll have the honor of being her first solid meal.
All (well, some) of my love,
This story originally appeared in Mothership Zeta.