by Chris White
Slowly, she did what he wanted.
She unfolded the soft leather of her wings, showing the porcelain-smooth, cerulean rose-bud folds of her skin. He stared, frantically scribbling as she tried again to cover her nakedness, to cover those soft parts of herself which she knew she should not show him. He tutted, waved his disdain. Mother had said she must do what he asked, that she must help the alien, for the good of her pod. He kept his own nakedness concealed, as his pencil described her shape on the pages of his notebook, a rough estimation of her figure. He flashed a bright light at her too; his camera, slung across his broad torso.
The alien had brought them trinkets and beads and a black shadow that lingered above the water. He had brought them a way to dispose of an idle teenager for an hour or so at a time.
He frowned, as he moved closer, his face crinkling, already she knew much about him, already she knew how to read him – did I displease him? – he came closer, he lifted her wing, to see the delicate filigree of arteries and veins within the soft membrane; they shone green and ultramarine beneath the feeble rays of her planet’s suns. The water here was lukewarm, a chemical soup. Her taste organs picked up the whipping movement of chimeric amoebas and the spice of the phytoplankton, the schools of drifting jellyfish and the smell of her people, somewhere deep below them, in the cold, black water.
She was glad that none had risen up to see her exposed, to see her nakedness.
He stood, with the water lapping knee-deep at his suit, staining it rust-red. He wiped at the condensation trickling down the outside of his helmet. Not long now until the siren would sound, and he would go, trudging to his ship. She would return the next day. This was the way all of their meetings went; she wasn’t to speak to him, just to show him what he indicated that he wanted to see, this pornographic exposure. She felt herself flush, and her twin vulvae flared out, orange and purple. She wondered, not for the first time, about his sex. He must keep it hidden beneath his suit, she realised, glad that he did not understand the language of colours and pheromones and phosphorescence that danced across her skin, that told of her own arousal. She was disappointed – she could not understand his languages either. She forcibly folded back her wings, feeling the slow, creaking release of muscles she had held taut for what felt like hours. They bit and protested at the retraction, cramping, and she sighed. Audibly, it seemed, for he looked up at her as she allowed herself to slip backwards, down into the warm embrace of the ocean.
It took so much effort, to hold herself aloft in the salt-spray and the gnawing breeze.
She revelled in the touch of the water.
It held her weight, for a moment, before she flung herself skyward, breaching the surface in a moment of freedom, flight and escape, allowing the hot, dry air to crackle against her skin. He fell – the mucous-like thickness of the water, combined with her splashing back down into the water must have set him off-balance, must have pulled his feet from under him. How unstable the world must seem, balanced so precariously, so high above the ground. She swirled beneath him as the heavy water enclosed him, enveloped him, as she swung her wings beneath him. The water was not deep here, but he panicked; she felt his gloved hands grope her dorsal fin, saw his pencil drifting toward the thick mud of the bottom, felt the current ebb and flow around him. Pockets of air – poisonous to her – bubbled up around him, lighting the sea with the phosphorescence of chemical reactions; she felt them burn against her flesh, igniting flashes of pain and ecstasy as they popped against her, sparking the riot of colour to again fly across her skin, chameleonic.
A ripple formed in the mud as he floundered for purchase against the slippery ground – a ripple that triggered a mudslide. Visions and tastes of the small creatures who made their home there rose up toward her as he sank, deeper, into the sucking, tugging sea-bed. Scuttling crabs and ballistic prawns shot away from the falling giant as he fell. She saw the shock become fear, written on his face. She saw his fingers dance across the hieroglyphs that sat on his wrist, and a bulb of red bloomed, to light up his face. The fear became panic. His suit tore open. Where it was stroked by the sharp teeth of rocks the fabric raced to mend itself, to keep out the poisons that grew alongside her in the water. She knew now why he had to stay enclosed in his suit, why he could not show her his skin, brown-purple-black.
He came alone, and his ship could not rescue him.
His beacon used to flash red. It doesn’t any more.
He still waits for her though, beneath the shallow, sluggish waves, waits for her to rise from the sea and to perform for him, for her to stretch out her wings and to reveal her warm sex in the brittle air.
He waits for her, and will always be hers, impaled on the coral, his bones bleached, yellow-white and perfect.