You had expected a lot when the Game that kept all of you captive for three sweeps finally spit them out into a recreated Beforus. You had hoped that Meenah when she finally took her place as Her Imperial Compassion would enact change but she wasn't interested in social issues as much as space exploration, finance, marital arts, and her theme music. You had hoped that your internship at the National Alliance of Off-Spectrum Trolls would be a chance to do some serious activism but all you do is make photocopies and pick up sludge orders. You had hoped that the twelve Players would remain comrades in this brave old world but you haven't kept in contact with any of them except Porrim, let alone meet up with them.
That is, until Latula arrives at your apartment door one evening. She's dressed differently from what you last remembered. Instead of the bodysuit and minidress she has on tight jeans and a black low-cut shirt.
"Hey, KK!" she says as bright as ever when you open the door.
"What are you doing here?" you ask before saying, "Not to suggest it's wrong for you to be here. I respect your decision to come here even if I don't understand it. But, um, what is the reason?"
"I just wanna hang like old times. Is that okay?"
You have a schedule you like to follow. Right now you are supposed to read about Ancestor-shaming for ten minutes and she's interrupted it. It gives you an itchy feeling. Yet it would be worse if you turned away Latula after not seeing her an entire sweep.
"It would not trigger me," you say through almost-gritted teeth.
You let her into your modest one-block apartment and close the door behind her. She looks around and her mouth is quizzical.
"Wow, there is a LOT of crab stuff in hear. Like, the entire decor is crabz. I didn't know they made this much crab stuff in the world."
"I like crabs. Do they trigger you? It would be a shame if you had a shellfish allergy on top of your other disabilities."
She turns back to you and smiles. "No, I think it's RAD! It's just not what I expected."
"I try not to follow traditional highblood-proscribed aesthetics."
"I can dig that, KK. And you're still doing the pants things!"
"No need to change that. I like how you're dressed too."
"Thank you! High five!"
You knew this was coming. She holds up her hand and you hit it as quickly as possible before withdrawing.
"Just like old timez, isn't it?" she says.
You rub your hand. "Yes. Would you like a seat? On the couch, though, I don't want anyone sitting in the armchair."
She sits down on the crab-red couch as if she's sat on it many times.
"Way comfy!" she says.
"Would you like something to drink? I don't mean carbonated, necessarily, just anything you want to drink."
"What have you got?"
You go to the fridge and open the door. "Well...I have bottled water...which I do know is bad for the environment but I don't like tap water...acidberry juice...ice tea...and..." You notice the six pack of this lemon-lime soda that you buy for when your platonic friend Porrim comes over. "And nothing else."
"I guess it's better this way..." she says sadly before answering happily, "I'll have the juice!"
You bring her over a juice and take a water for yourself. She opens her bottle and downs half before putting it on the glass slab held up by crabs.
"So," she asks, "What have you been doing with your bad self?"
"I obtained a position at the National Alliance of Off-Spectrum Trolls or NAOT for short though I think we need a better acronym."
"Soundz like a cool organization. How big is it?"
"We are currently at two million members."
"Are there really that many off-specz out there? I thought you were the only redblood."
"It's true my particular genetic variation - that's the preferred term since mutation has negative connotations - has only appeared twice in our species' heritage. However, there is a veritable spectrum of off-spectrum bloods. It's estimated that one out of every five hundred hatching is off-spectrum. Many are killed by cavern maidens, though it is against the law, but others are assigned the caste closest to them, though saying 'closest' suggests there is a caste they are supposed to be when in related they are their own caste. These trolls are then put through a harsh regiment of so-called 'corrective' medical procedures that can cause muscle weakness, hormone imbalance, liver failure, skin discoloration, vom-"
"Wow, I've never heard this stuff."
You are annoyed you were interrupted but you can't be too angry at her.
Instead you say, "The media doesn't want people to know."
"But you're there sending the message out!"
"That is one of the missions of NAOT. We have our own tri-perigee newsletter."
"I bet you've written TONZ of articles for it."
"Um, well, I've been focusing my energy helping the organization in other ways. So, what are you doing?"
"You know how I've alwayz wanted to be a pro-skater?"
You smile. "Yes, I do. Congratulations."
"Well, I'm a waitress."
You frown. "Oh."
"But it's one of those joints where the wait staff wears skates so that's pretty rad."
"I'm not disappointed in the slightest. I'd like to visit that restaurant - well, I'm not sure I would want to go there because of the risk of accident from servers far less gifted than you - but I'm there in spirit for you."
She holds up her hand and you slap it again.
She says, "Lookz like we got what we want!"
"Indeed we have."
There is an uncomfortable silence.
You finally say, "So...how is Mituna? Assuming you do know about his whereabouts, I don't want to assume anything about your quadrants."
She looks sad and to the side. "Well, we're still matespritz...we got an apartment of our own...been living there since the Game ended."
"Though I am celibate, I approve of your non-platonic relationship. Frankly, it's a relief to here some of us stuck together."
"Yeah...me and Tuna stick together..." Her voice cracks. "He still needz me...it's..."
Under her red shades teal tears dribble down.
"The assholez been cheating on me!" she yells.
"Mituna Captor is cheating? Are you sure..."
"Yes, it is red! I've read the messagez, I know it'z red! My matesprit has other matespritz..."
"Matesprit plus z?"
"There'z at least two. Or fuck, maybe more."
"He's had that many lovers? That's surprising considering his condition...as your matesprit."
She looks at the floor. "I was an okay enough a matesprit when it was just the twelve of us but now he's got a whole fucking worldz to chose from!"
"Well, by that logic, so do you."
She takes off her shades. "Kankri, I have you."
You are shocked by this news and what seems like a confession but you have imagined it happening so many times. Well, maybe not Mituna having multiple red partners, but still you imagined him doing something that would tarnish him in Latula's shades and Latula then running to you. That was all just an idle thinkpan exercise and you didn't think it was likely to happen.
You say, "To clarify since that ambiguous statement could be taken as a confession of romantic interest...if that a confession of romantic interest?"
"Yes, and I know you have red feelingz for me. I was alwayz so obvious!"
"It was? Not confirming or denying, just..."
"I know you just took the vow of celibacy because you were disappointed you couldn't have me."
"I think there is more to it than that..."
"Kankri, just answer me: are you flush for me or not?"
You wither under her piercing teal eyes. "Yes."
"Then could you do something for me?"
"I'd do anything...though I'd rather not hurt Mituna even though he does deserve it..."
"I want you to make love to me."
Your mind is completely blank. Even in your thinkpan exercises, this doesn't happen. You and Theoretical Latula do many other romantic activities like take a walk on the beach or picket a business together but somehow not even a kiss ever happens. You do high five a lot.
Your mind comes back when you feel a cold alien presence on your knee. You look down to see Latula's hand, her ungloved hand. Then comes more weight. You look up to see Latula's pursed lips as she leans in for what you can only assume it a kiss. You have to kiss those lips.
Instead of doing that, you push away her shoulders hard enough that she falls back.
You yell, "DON'T TOUCH ME!"
If Latula says anything, you can't hear it. You run to the doorway and away from the scene. You hurry down three sets of steps and jog three block. At a corner, you wonder if you can get a taxi or a bus home. You just want to sit in your respiteblock and never come out.
Then you remember that place you just ran away from was your home.
So here you out in the crispy night air without a sweater. Three blocks away, an amorous Latula is stranded in your apartment. You could hope Latula will leave if you stay away long enough but you know she's too polite to do that. Possibly she'll call the police. You don't have her number. Possibly she has yours but if she did, she would have called you already. Besides, you don't have your cell phone on you. Your pants have many pockets yet you'd unpacked them earlier. You check again and find a twenty-five caegar piece.
You know there's a phone booth one block away. They aren't as necessary as they once weren't but you're glad you signed an email petition against their removal. You'd say that was karma if that word wasn't religious appropriation.
You find the booth where you remembered it to be and it is unoccupied, though filled with newspaper. You take your caegar, put it in the slot, and as you're about to call your home, you're suddenly struck by the urge to call Porrim instead. She can give you advice. Completely platonic advice. The phone rings for too long but at the last second someone picks up.
"Who's this?" Porrim's voice asks.
"It's Kankri Vantas."
She sighs. "Thank God, I was almost about to not pick up."
"I know you have a busy social life."
"Are you insinuating something? Well, I almost didn't pick up because there was no name on the ID. Where are you calling from?"
"It's not important. What's important is I need some advice..."
"Of the romantic nature."
"I finally got you to come to me for that. So, what happened?"
"Nothing happened! I mean, Latula came to my residence..."
"Ah, yes, she asked for your address."
"Thank you for solving that mystery though I would prefer you hadn't. Anyway, she came to 'hang out' and we hung out..."
"Stop saying hmmm, please. We engaged in small talk on such matters as corrective medical procedures on off-spectrum trolls."
"The conversation turned to Captor and she burst into tears and said he was cheating on her."
"Bastard!" Porrim hisses.
"As you should know, that is an offensive term for grubs found outside the main cavern and I'd ask you not to use it again. But yes, he is one."
"So what next?"
"I said she could find someone else and she said...she had me. She said she was flush for me."
"Yes, and wanted me to...have intimate relations...with her."
"So tell her you're celibate."
"I...I don't know if I want to be celibate anymore. I want to be in a relationship with her. I am flushed for her. She's the best troll I've ever met. To put it profanely, she's sexy. But then she leaned in to kiss me and I found it all too disgusting."
"I think I know what's going on."
"Please tell me then."
"You can't stand her making the first move."
"You want to control the relationship like a man. You wanted to be the one to kiss her."
"I don't know if..."
"You had some idealized mental image of her and she broke it by being too forward. Women are supposed to never make pails unless they're in a confirmed approved relationship and never just because making pails is fun, and they definitely have to insist on using pails in the respite-""
"No! It's not that! You're getting me all wrong!"
"So what is it? You don't want to hurt Mituna? Because we all know you've hated him ever since he came into the skate park where you and Latula hanged out and you've hated him even after he saved our lives."
"You're the one who called him, pardon me, 'bastard'."
"Okay, but you've hated him longer. It things were different, you'd love to 'steal his girl'. But you don't want it like this."
"I obviously don't. So what would you suggest doing?"
"Tell her you're celibate and don't let her know that's not the real reason. Or..."
"Just 'man up' and have sex with her. I'm sure you'll both enjoy it."
"Fine! I will enjoy sex very much! And she will too!"
You hang up as angrily as you can. After that, you exit the phone booth. Your trip back home is a detrimined march.
Porrim is right that you don't care anything for Mituna. You've tried telling yourself not to hate him since that would be petty and ableist and you've always been your nicest towards him but you still have a deep platonic hate for him. His feelings aren't the issue. Yet the issue is definitely not some machismo thing. You don't buy her feminist psuedoscience and you wish she'd stop inserting it into the conversation. Her theory is completely wrong. You don't know why you called her. You're always calling her and you don't know why.
You are firmly decided by the time you climb the stairs that you will have sex with Latula. No, not have sex, you say in your mind the word "fuck" and as violent a word it is it fits. Yet before you re-enter your apartment, you try to arrange your face into someone who makes love. You don't know how successful you are.
You open the door and find Latula isn't in your livingblock. Maybe she left and you won't have to have sex with her. Well, not have sex with her tonight. You were going to have sex sometime. The hope she's gone is dashed when you see her come out of your hygieneblock. Her shades are off and her eyes are puffy and you feel even worse for leaving her alone.
"KK!" she shouts, "You're back!"
You shut the door behind you. "Sorry, I just needed to clear my thinkpan. This is a lot to handle."
"Are you okay now?"
You smile the best you can. "Yes, I am."
You walk purposefully over to her and take her hands in yours. It doesn't feel uncomfortable at all. Maybe you can do this.
You say it. "I want to make love to you too, Latula Pyrope."
"You sure? Because earlier..."
"I'm sorry, I was just caught off guard. I am very flushed for you."
"Okay, then this is on like troll Donkey Kong!"
You don't let go of her hands even though it is starting to feel uncomfortable. She looks over her shoulder at the far door.
"So," she says, "That's your respiteblock? Can we go there?"
You finally let go of her hands.
"Ah, yes, it is," you say as you walk towards the door, "This would be the best place."
You open up the door and she goes in with you. Your respiteblock isn't the largest block but the walls are covered in posters of famous civil rights activists and inspiring quotes. You hope she asks you about everyone and you can go into detail. Instead, her thinkpan is on other details.
"You have a sleeping platform shaped like a crab?" she asks, "Where did you even get this?"
She goes over and flops backwards on the red velvety surface. You push down your indignation over anyone other than you touching that piece of furniture. Another thought comes to mind.
"Do you have a pail?" you ask, "Not that I'm suggesting you are the type to carry a pail everywhere."
"I have a fold-out one in my hip pack," she says a little sheepishly.
"Oh. That's settled."
You think of something more.
"We need towels, don't we?"
She chuckles. "Yeah, it can get pretty messy."
"I think...I'll go get some towels."
You leave for your hygieneblock. The first thing that catches your eye is the small window above your abulution tub and you wonder if you could fit through it. Instead, you look through your closet for towels you won't miss. You return to the respiteblock to find Latula has taken off her shirt. The towels fall straight to the floor and you avert your eyes.
"I'm sorry to barge in!" you cry.
"Kankri, you aren't barging in. I don't mind you seeing me topless. Actually, that's kind of the point?"
"Well, you should have warned me first," you say.
Then you turn to actually look at her. Her abs are completely washboard. Her red bra shows off her small breasts well. She is gorgeous! No, she's conventionally attractive. You can't compete, though this isn't a competition.
"Did you find the pail in your belongings?" you ask.
"Yeah, it's down here."
You tear your eyes away from her chest to see a pail at her feet.
"Do we need some type of lubrication?" you ask.
"Never been a problem with me."
"Do you need something to drink?"
"What else is needed?"
"Oh just come over and kiss me, KK."
You go over to the platform and sit next to her. Her right thigh is against your left thigh and you'd wish she'd scoot over but if she did you wouldn't be able to reach her. You turn to her and put your left arm around her bare shoulders. Her skin is so soft and cool. You're glad you're both near the same height. She cocks her head to one side and you cock it to the same side before remembering you're supposed to mirror her. You slowly move forward until your lips meet. Your first kiss is a short peck, not much longer than a high-five. Then she kisses you back and her tongue rubs your lips. You know you have to do an open-mouth kiss like she's likely used to with Mituna. You open your mouth and in comes her tongue. You can't stand eating dead slugs and here you are with a live one in your mouth. Her saliva doesn't taste much different from yours but it still too different. You can endure this. The kissing will end when proper arousal is achieved, at least on her end. She does pause every once in a while to breath but then she returns to kissing.
Meanwhile, she puts her arm around your shoulder and leaves her hand on your bare upper back a calm moment until suddenly she starts moving it around in circles. The rhythm isn't predictable. Some circles are bigger than others. Then when you've gotten used to it, she changes to counter-clockwise. It keeps you on edge. Still, you return the favor and rub her back. However, you can't concentrate while keeping track of her erratic movements.
Then there's the crunch of Velcro and she's undoing the side of your pants and you wish you wore pants only you could take off. Still, you let her. More skin is open to her touch and she takes advantage of it. Your back is more sensitive the farther she goes down and the pain in your nerves crescendo until she reaches the hem of your underwear. She'll have to wait for you to take it off.
You go down lower too and feel under the waistband of her jeans and she's wearing a thong. She came to this apartment in sexy underwear, likely her sexiest underwear, and you're wearing underwear you've long broken in.
She stops concentrating only on your back. A hand rests on your thighs again and it moves up to try to wedge itself between your solidly locked legs. You know she wants to feel your crotch but you aren't sure she'll find the arousal she's hoping. Any possible feeling in your genitals is being over-shadowed by the pain in your chest and the ache in your digestive sac. You give in anyway and just the bump of her hand against the crotch of your pants is too much sensation. You can't let her go farther.
You push her shoulders again but you have enough control not to push her off the platform. She pulls back, her hands mercifully removed.
"Stop!" you cry.
"What's wrong?" she asks, "Don't wanna do it?"
You pant for a moment, trying to catch your breath and gather your thoughts. Finally, you speak.
"Of course I want to do it!" you say cheerfully, "But I think we should try something different."
"Then how about you remain completely still and don't touch while I do the act?"
This looks to be the perfect solution to the problem for only fifteen seconds when she replies back.
"I'm not game for that."
"Dude, I didn't come here to be an inflatable pailing mannequin."
It does sound demeaning when she says it. If Porrim were here, she'd say this proves her point. You don't even want to think of what foul insults against your sexual skills Mituna would come up with.
You flop back on the platform and close your eyes. "Then I'll lie back and let you touch me. That is the gentlemanly thing to do."
She sighs loudly and you open your eyes.
"Look," she says, "I don't want to force you don't want to do."
You sit up fast enough to see stars. "I do so want to do this!"
"Don't try to lie to me, dude. I can feel how tense you are and it can't all be because it's your first-time."
You should have known you couldn't hide your mind from a mind player, though you didn't think anyone kept their powers.
"I don't want to do this," you say sadly, "I should but I don't."
"Do you have problems with touch?"
"I've high-fived and low-fived every time you've asked."
"But that's brief touch. You know, I don't think I've ever seen you touch any of the crew."
"I once hugged Meulin."
"I was there and she was the one glomping you, not viz versa."
You sighed. Meulin, though perfectly sweet, is someone you've never been comfortable with.
"Yes," you say angrily, "I do strongly dislike - I fucking HATE touch. It would be better if it were abolished. I'd be happy never touching another person in my life." You calm a little. "Okay, besides your hand slapping game. Actually, I've never liked that either, sorry."
"I'll cool it from now on. Anyway, why are you forcing yourself? Sex means hella touching."
"In life you have to try new things, to challenge yourself. It's like trying a new food."
"Last I knew you you tried to live on grubloaf."
"It's just an example."
"Is that all there really is to it, KK?"
You say darkly, "Well, I did talk to Porrim about it and she said I was being a so-called 'sexist' and I had to prove her theory wrong."
She chuckles. "You went to Popo for help?"
"In a completely platonic way."
"Dude, she doesn't know EVERYTHING about sex. She has some pretty tight ideas about gender, I dig her girl power thing, but I don't think she gets that not everyone wants to have sex."
"It is true she elevates sex too much."
"Now, don't tell him I sent you to him, but Rufioh might be able to see eye to eye with you." She winks.
"Rufioh? Hasn't he had many partners?"
"And he choose a dude that can't get down with him."
There is a brief silence.
She twiddles her thumbs. "You don't have to answer this but...I've heard stories about culling...dude, did anyone touch you wrong when you were a wiggler?"
"My culler never hurt me! I mean, he was emotionally abusive and I still hold the scars from that but he had the decency not to do..that."
She sighs and smiles. "That's good."
"I've always felt this way, as long as I could remember. I can barely stand most clothes touching me, let alone people. Sadly, these handsome pants aren't just a stylistic decision."
"There's still rad in any case."
"Sometimes I hate all my senses. You have it easy not being able to...sorry, that's trivalizing of me, I know your lack of smell is a hardship."
"Not really. It sounds like you have it rough, dude."
"It's not a disability, is it?" You put your head between your hands. "I'm already a target for patronizing, I'm small and weak and I'm both off-spectrum and lowblood-passing, I don't want more." You raise your head. "Not to be ableist, mind you."
"It's hard out there for anyone different. But things will change, I know it. I mean, you're on the job, dude!"
"If they ever give me any work," you mutter below your breath.
"I'm sorry to have disappointed you," you say, "I know you were looking forward to this, what with your choice of underwear."
"Actually, it's all for the best. If we had done it, it would have been a hella bad decision. I shouldn't have dragged you into this cray cray drama just because I felt down on myself. Truth be told, I'm not flushed for you."
"I'm hella sorry to led you on, KK. I was hoping maybe I'd be flush after the sex but I don't think things work that way."
You are now back to where you started before she confessed. You would be angry at her betrayal but you're just so relieved everything is coming out.
"So you'll go back to Mituna?" you ask.
She snorts. "Hell no! He can go off and live with one of his matespritz. He doesn't need me, I don't need him. What I'm going to do is take a couple sweeps off to be single - at least in that quadrant."
"Then we can try again?"
She chuckles. "I'm not promising anything, dude."
"And I'll continue my celibacy then, knowing that sex is off the table."
"Not all the quadrants have sex."
"Well, Porrim is trying her hardest to make all of them sexual."
"I think she's more able to resist pailing the rails than you think, so don't be so afraid of her."
"I am not. I'm just being cautious."
She stands up and puts on her t-shirt. You do up your pants. She takes the pail and magically folds it up and puts it in her hip pack. The two of you leave the respiteblock for the livingblock. To your horror, she goes to the foodprepblock and opens the thermal hub.
"I can get you something from the fridge," you say.
Instead, she says, "I knew you had some pop. Would Popo mind if I took a Sierra Mist?"
"You're right, that's hella rude. Can I get more juice?"
"Yes, you may. And would you like some grubloaf? I have two servings."
She pops her head up. "Haven't had that since I was a wiggler but sure! Do you have plenty of grubsauce?"
"Do you need to ask?"
So after re-heating the grubloaf, you sit down and talk about your lives. You try to tell her about NAOT's important mission but you end up complaining about how unfullfilling your internship is and how annoying your co-workers are and about that one guy who orders his sludge with everything which can't taste good. She says her customers can be really annoying too but the staff is cool, except for Stefan and nobody likes him, how was he even hired? Your plates lie empty for half an hour.
After that, you exchange phone numbers. She doesn't give her address because she says she might be moving out by the end of the perigee segement. She wonders if maybe she should go on a trip. You hope she stays.
As she's leaving, she holds up her hand for a high-five until her face falls.
"Sorry, dude," she says.
You raise up your hand. "A high-five in spirit," you say.
"Back at you!"
She leaves, and you remember you were supposed to read about Ancestor-shaming.
But that can wait for later.