The following is an excerpt from Jailmates (Maxim Colony 1, sci-fi, MM, 102k words) writing as Lesli Richardson.
This wasn’t in the contract.
Simon Quigley had no idea what to expect when he agreed to do this for the money, but the eight-foot-tall pink alien isn’t what he was expecting. For starters, Simon’s straight.
And Mohrn isn’t a girl.
The contract? It’s unbreakable.
It’s going to be a long five years…
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After sleeping on it, I decide I want more information from H’looder. Before hitting the head to start my morning, I tap out a quick message.
You didn’t give me all the details about what kind of augmentations I’d be receiving other than the communications ones. Are we talking physical augmentations? Can I get the thermo-tech as part of this at no cost? Do I get a choice to add additional augmentations on the same tab?
At the end of my shift, I have a reply.
Here is a list of all possible human-compatible augmentations that we could perform either initially, or we could add after the contract has started. Some of them take longer to install and properly adjust, you understand, so there wouldn’t be time to do them now. Meaning yes, you could select them, and we would bring those online after the start of your contract.
Many of these are military-only options, but because of the research component of this contract, they are available to you. Even more are experimental and not available to the public yet, so you would be required to sign a nondisclosure agreement and patent waiver to have them. Some fall under research and development patents and would require certifications and registrations before having them brought fully online for you.
Followed by an eye-widening list. I mean, I could end up like some sort of fricking superhuman or something, if I wanted to. I didn’t even know most of these existed.
Not only can I get the linguistics and communications augmentations, I can get some that would give me incredibly sensitive hearing and even full darkvision. I can get echolocation and radar enhancements. I can receive augmentations to height and muscle mass, strength and dexterity. I can get augmentations to turn me into some sort of warrior god, allow me to breathe underwater or exist in low-oxygen high-elevation locales.
I can be more cyborg than human, in essence. Not that I want to be a full-on cyborg. Nothing against them, but I don’t envy their excessively long existences, nor do I envy the things they’ve frequently traded to receive that existence.
Like limbs. Because many of the cyborgs I’ve met and served with ended up that way due to being near death and not wanting to cross over, either through severe injury or disease.
Here I am, wanting to send my sister to secondary so she can earn a decent living for herself, hopefully doing something she enjoys, and I can become something more than human, if I choose.
It’s a lot to think about.
I’m still not completely sure about it by the time we reach Argo Anubis 8, either. With less than twenty-four hours in my last day in the military, I’m busy wrapping up loose ends and making sure I have all my shit gathered when I am summoned to the gangway vestibule, where personnel can come and go through the docking port.
I have a visitor.
Even with his protective mech suit, Dr. Mafer H’looder is a Veraci who stands about a foot shorter than my own six-three, meaning he’s taller than average for a Veraci. Their flesh varies in tone from a greenish tan to dark brown, mottled and malleable with a slightly shiny and jiggly texture, like dessert gelatin. They’re usually pretty good about speaking Standard because their mouths and vocal cords form sounds similar to those humans make.
The outer protective mech suit is a standard one, not a weaponized one, and he offers me a smile and a long forward head tip, their version of shaking hands.
“Sergeant Quigley, terribly sorry to intrude, but it’s so good to meet you in person.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to discuss the situation in person.” He glances around, so at least I know he’s aware of social conventions regarding private matters. Sometimes the Veraci, who don’t have such social restrictions in their society, accidentally let things slip about other people when in conversations with others. “Can we go somewhere private and talk?”
I’m technically off-duty right now, so I lead him down to a conference room close to the vestibule and shut the door behind us.
“This couldn’t have waited until tomorrow?” I ask.
“I’m so sorry, but I sent a message to your personal com unit and hadn’t received a reply yet.”
“Because I’m sort of busy. Look, I haven’t decided.” And this unexpected intrusion is sending me back toward the “no” end of the decision spectrum.
“I’ve been empowered to offer your sister a full secondary scholarship—tuition and living expenses—to any school she desires within the local cluster. And to offer your mother a full tuition to any secondary school on Axind 5, since it’s assumed she won’t want to leave home.”
I’d been prepared to chew him out for invading my privacy and pressuring me like this, but my mouth snaps closed. He studies me with a placid, perhaps expectant expression, but then again that’s the Veraci neutral.
“Did I just hear you correctly?” I ask.
“If we need to add living expenses or a higher tuition for your mother for an off-planet school, we can. Outside the initial contract terms with the seeker. This comes directly from Maxim Colonies.”
I…blink. “Are you serious?”
“We have several research projects underway which would greatly benefit from the knowledge we could obtain from you and from Mohrn within the duration of your contract. Maxim Colonies is eager to underwrite this endeavor. We have little biological research data available on Pfahrn yet. Especially in the realm of mating and reproduction. This project would help greatly expand our knowledge.”
“Yeeeaaah, shouldn’t that make me more suspicious?”
“It’s not unusual for Maxim Colonies to take a vested interest in unusual pairings. For research purposes, of course. Expanding our database of knowledge.”
“You’re saying no humans have ever paired with Pfahrn before?”
“Not under these circumstances, no. Later in life, yes, Pfahrn have taken human partners. But not at the beginning of a mating cycle. We believe you are the first.”
A wave of irritation washes through me. “So it’s not bad enough her life’s gone to shit, you want to turn her into a test bunny, too?”
He cocks his head to the side even though his expression doesn’t change, a learned behavior Veraci use to signal confusion, something they picked up from humans. “Why do you keep referring to Mohrn as ‘she?’ The Pfahrn do not use gendered pronouns. The words they use, translated into Standard, are phey/phem/pheir, although they do not object to they/them/their being used by Standard speakers who aren’t familiar with their language or culture. I’m sorry. I thought I included that in the information packet.”
“Totally doesn’t answer my question, Doc.” I don’t know why I’m not ready to admit I haven’t read it all yet.
A shiver washes through him and he lightly shakes three of his four arms, another behavior I’m familiar with—trying to settle himself and work through his confusion.
“Mohrn has their reasons for wanting off Pfahrn outside of this incident. Once they complete the terms of their sentence, they want to settle somewhere else and start a new life. They’ve always felt like an outcast on their world and even more so now. If they choose to share more of that information with you, that is up to them. Without you being a signatory to the contract, I am limited by what I can reveal to you.
“When Mohrn and their family first contacted Maxim Colonies about placing the ad, and I talked with them, they were open and willing to our intercession to help them. You see, my research focus right now is Pfahrn, since they are one of the newest coalition races. Their planet and controlling territories are very rich for mining. We wish to engage in as much intellectual exchange with them as possible. We are not…taking advantage of Mohrn. On the contrary, they are willingly utilizing all the resources we have made available to them to their advantage.”
“What’s in it for Maxim Colonies?”
“Knowledge.” He smiles. “Technological advances. Patents.”
And there it was.
Still didn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy about the situation though.
“Sergeant, you have a free ticket voucher to travel anywhere, correct?” he asks.
I nod. “Yes?”
“And you’re going to Axind 5?”
“Allow me to transport you there on my ship. We can talk on the journey. If you decide no, you don’t wish to accept this contract, I’ll accept your trip ticket voucher and call it even. You are out nothing, except you’ve gained several days you would have spent in transit. Time is of the essence. I have identified another potential match, but they are much older than you. Biologically, I don’t believe they would be as good of a fit. Personality-wise, based on your scores and reports, I feel you’d emotionally be a better match with Mohrn.”
A swirl of jealousy unexpectedly rolls through me at that revelation and I’m not even sure why. “Why does that matter if you said she’ll be in jail?”
“Well, we do wish for everyone to benefit as much as possible from the arrangement.”
Riding with him would be a timesaver. “I’ll agree to hearing you out during the trip,” I say. “I’m officially discharged as of 08:00 dock time tomorrow.”
I could have opted to leave the ship tonight—and many do, like Stacks—but I don’t want to spend the money on a room or go through the aggravation of having to come back for final roll call in the morning. The bunk on the ship, and my food, is still free until tomorrow morning.
The Veraci quickly bobs his head from side to side in excitement. “Excellent! I shall meet you outside this ship then, at that time?”
“Yeah. Bring a porta-sled with you, please. To haul my gear.” I’d just have to pay a dock transport fee for someone to move it to whatever ship I ended up taking.
“I’ll have that arranged,” he says. “Hypothetically, if you agree, we can spend nine days on Axind 5 before we must leave, and that’s if we do nothing before and while you’re there. If you allow me to begin initial phases of the process while we’re in transit to Axind 5, we can extend your stay to twelve days. Either way, the bulk of what we’ll do will be while in transit to Pfahrn, and will take about five days. Once we reach Pfahrn I will need approximately one to two weeks with both of you together to fine-tune everything and make sure Mohrn’s cycle has been triggered, and that you respond to them, and that our pairing procedure has worked correctly so they are not in danger.”
Who am I kidding? I probably will say yes. “Everything is reversible, should I decide I don’t want any of the augmentations later? And at no expense to me? And I get that in writing?”
“Absolutely no cost to you, and yes, all the augmentations are completely reversible. Absolutely, everything will be in the contract.”
“So all I’d be out would be five years of my time?”
“If the contract duration lasts that long, yes.”
“I’d have a contract guaranteeing my sister and mom still get full tuition and expenses even if the contract duration is shorter?”
“Absolutely. Those terms will be included in the contract.”
I think I’ve already decided to do it. I’m still trying to convince myself I haven’t decided yet, though.
The truth is, I need to figure out how to break the news to Mom and Helleia. They were looking forward to having me home with them for a little while.
So was I.
“Then I guess I’ll let you know by the time we reach Axind 5,” I tell him, giving him a long forward head tip to shake on it.
His head bobs side to side again before he returns the head tip. “Excellent, Sergeant. I’ll see you in the morning, then.”
I walk him out before returning to my bunk for a moment to regroup. I need a minute alone.
I pull out my personal com and look at her picture again.
For Mom and Helleia? And free augmentations I can keep on the other side of this?
I slowly nod to myself. Yeah, I probably will say yes.
Not sure how I’ll feel about myself at the end of the contract period but at least I’ll sleep easier knowing Mom and Helleia are taken care of. I can always look back and say I did that.
Kept my silent promise I made to Dad at his funeral, to always take care of them.
Yeah, it’ll be worth it for that. To feel like I’ve finally made good and done my part to take care of my family.