Author's note: Once again, it's late. But this time I have an excuse. See, I was doing, you know, other things, like watching debates and studying insect parts (labrum, hypopharyns, mandible, maxilla, labium). And also I lost track of time.
I was born in the wrong time. Had I been born, say, a hundred or so years earlier, I probably would have vehemently opposed the radical augmentation procedures that became possible with our advanced understanding of how the universe works. Utilizing processes that are far too complex for me to understand, humans became capable of changing our physiological shapes. Physical shape changing would have been bad enough, but these changes worked on the entire physical body: the skin, and all the other organs, including the brain. There was a famous trial about ninety-five years ago in which it was determined that an entity shall be considered a human being if it can identify as a human, understand what that identification means, and has a certain number of alleles in common. By that rationale, wolf boy here was probably an upstanding human being. Whether or not he was Homo sapien was up to his genetics, and since I supposed it was the tasp that changed him, I supposed his DNA was roughly like mine.
Tamlin, on the other hand, could barely be considered human. He sat as he usually did, legs folded under him, sharing a pot of warm water with Jessie. Everything about him was raptorial, which was only fitting. On our first meeting I assumed that he was also a user, but when I asked about it in a moment of passive-aggressive curiosity he struck that assumption down quickly. He was a lineage, someone whose parents or grandparents had made the decision for him. Born with tough skin and feathers, light bones covered with tight muscle, a muzzle that looked like it was made for shearing into the front of your abdomen and plucking out your liver; Tamlin was a scary sight when I first saw him. It surprised me that we had the same interest in music, and the same disaffection regarding physiological modification, and were the same age. We became close friends, and yeah, okay, maybe a bit closer than friends, but I figure like it’s not his fault he looks the way he does, so why should he suffer for it?
That he got along with Jamie surprised me. I went to my room to smoke some Mary J, and when I came back they had moved to the couches. I had nothing pressing to do, so I joined them. The discussion was on modifications. “The new tigers are impressive,” Tamlin was saying. He scratched at his nose with a claw on his foot, keys jingling in his jeans pocket. “Not sure I’m down with black, though. I mean, that seems like a bit much.”
Jamie had clocked me come in and sit down, and now his eyes were firmly on the small table before him. “Yeah. I know. It seems unnecessary. But you know. They look kind of cool. I might like to. Look like that I mean.”
“You want to look like you’ve been dipped in pitch?”
The wolf turned to me, but his eyes never rose above my chest. “I mean no. Just like the look. Is all.” His eyes finally rose. “What about you? Why don’t you like it? The mods I mean.”
I shrugged into the tetrahydrochloride-induced shift. “I just don’t. My parents were mod freaks. They put me through public school so they could afford it.” It had been too long since my last hit, maybe three hours or so. Things had become mildly unpleasant again. I still had my piece in my pocket. I reached for it. “They never gave a shit about me. They just wanted my money, and I just wanted a life. The law said they were more responsible than I was, so they got what they wanted.” I flicked the flame to life and inhaled, and my throat stung so sweetly. “I went to college, had my fair shot at life, and then…” I exhaled and shrugged. “My mother called me a hooligan, and a rebel, like they were bad words. But at least I still have my skin.”
“So your parents. Were mod freaks?” Jamie kept looking at me. Tamlin was right there, and I hoped his face was impassive so that if Jamie looked, he wouldn’t know I was keeping anything back. “That must have been rough. Sorry to hear it. I don’t want kids.” He tapped his mug. The porcelain sang under his claws. “They are a waste. Too many people. We can get along. Without kids.”
Tamlin let out a quick bark of a laugh, and I had suddenly had all I was going to take of this conversation. I stood quickly and announced that I was going for a walk. I left before I heard any more.
I leave, feeling an inconsolable rage burning the inside of my ribcage. Part of me knew I shouldn’t blame wolf boy, who had just arrived and had no way of knowing that this topic was off-limits. The other part of me knew he was a tasp addict and probably wouldn’t care anyway. Then there was Tamlin.
Tamlin was my friend—at least, I considered him my friend, though I am not at all sure that my definition of “friend” matched his. Being physiologically different from humans meant his brain was different, made different connections. His brain’s exact workings I don’t know. But certain things that make sense to me do not make sense to him, and vice versa. At least, that’s the way it sometimes seems. Case in point: a few months ago I scraped my arm on a sharp corner of a parking meter. I came home, Tamlin took one look at my arm and punched me in the face. He got real low first, then struck. Then when I got up he said Sorry, I don’t know what got into me, and asked if I was OK, but I knew better than to tell him the truth, which was that I was rattled. For the rest of the night I took extra special care to avoid bumping into him, but he still managed to jostle me no fewer than three times, “accidentally” shoving me into the counter, the back of a couch, and my own door.
(I looked it up, and this crazy competitive behavior is endemic to all dinos like him, based on the most aesthetically-exciting of the now-extinct raptors. For some reason, the humans they came from added almost comical amounts of masculine aggression, resulting in a very hierarchal society. Basically, I got hurt, and his response was to intimidate me into submission: he’s the top boss, I listen to him. And I am protected by him: after he threw me into my own door, I sat on the edge of my bed wondering what I had to do to dispel his new aggression, and in comes Tamlin with a med box to dress my wound.)
So I danced around my single most painful secret, the one I do my best to hide—spiked hair, long earrings and masculine clothes seemed to be the least maternal clothing I could find—and Tamlin, bless his shitty little heart, jumped on it like the passive aggressive loveable little fuck that he is. And I knew it wasn’t going to go anywhere good—and I didn’t feel like acquiring new bruises, physical or emotional—so I left.
When I returned to find Jamie sitting on a couch watching the door, I thought, Of course he’d tell Jamie. Let the dog boy know who’s in charge right up front. Jamie didn’t stand when I came in, but watched me walk to my water and take a slow drink. Finally he said, with an aura of intense concentration, “I’m sorry. I don’t think he has the right to talk about you like that.”
A brief, flaring anger, so sharp it was almost painful, but it was gone almost immediately. He’s my friend. Didn’t I deserve friends who didn’t openly talk shit about me? I could tell Jamie was thinking the same thing, so in a moment of embarrassed annoyance I said, “He’s not all bad. He’s always been there for me when I needed him. He’s just got his… quirks.” Which was one way of putting it. Another would be, he just can’t help that he’s an asshole because it’s genetic.
Jamie nodded slowly, as if he either understood fully or didn’t understand at all. “I still don’t want a kid. Messy things. They grow up to be rebels. Hooligans.” He was looking below my neck again, unable to make eye contact, but I was affected nonetheless. It was clumsy, it was almost laughable, and it was a kind of earnest that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around, and it made me smile involuntarily. He went on, “I ran away from home. Tamlin says he did. As well. Left from home without permission.” He spread his arms in a here we are gesture, or maybe a what can you do?
“Yeah,” I said, trying to keep the sudden mixed emotions from spilling into my voice. “We’re just a bunch of misfits, ain’t we?”