C H A P T E R 2
I N T R O D U C T I O N S
Eyrin wakes up thinking that it’s all a dream. A weirdly realistic one that he can recall very well down to the sensory details, but it’s not the first time he’s mixed up dreams with things that have happened in real life before.
So he goes about with his morning routine: rolling out of bed (after a few minutes of lazing around), making sure his legs don’t have anything wrong with them (they don’t), stumbling to the bathroom and brushing his teeth (and brushing his hair until it’s just the way he likes it, bangs styled to fall over the left side of his face), meandering to the kitchen and making himself breakfast (eggs and bacon).
He wanders to the living room, intending to watch the TV as he eats, only to stop dead in his tracks once he sees a pair of feet sticking over the edge of the sofa.
Alright, neat. Not a dream.
Eyrin quietly pads over, peering over the back of the sofa—only for his gaze to meet a pair of steel-blue eyes on an expressionless face.
They stare at each other for a moment. Eyrin is suddenly very aware that he’s carrying his breakfast and wearing bat-print pajama pants. At least his shirt is decent—gray, soft, long-sleeved.
“Hello?” Eyrin tries.
His lookalike blinks, and then: “Hello.”
To his credit, Eyrin does not drop his food in surprise. He does, however, twitch violently. “You—you speak English?”
“Yes. I learned it from you last night.” The voice is just like Eyrin’s, and yet completely different. Monotone and unexpressive.
Eyrin squints. “When you touched my head? Are you psychic or something?”
The alien hums, closing its eyes. “I suppose it might be something like that.”
“Great,” Eyrin says. “Absolutely great. Are you hungry? If you can eat food from this planet, I suppose. I have eggs and bacon.” A pause—come to think of it, “Are you in pain? You were injured when I found you, but…”
The alien looks down at itself, where it’s still swallowed by the fuzzy blanket. It sits up and pulls the blankets lower to reveal its torso, before lifting a hand and pressing it lightly on its abdomen. It hisses softly.
“It hurts?” Eyrin asks.
“Just slightly. There is still some internal damage, but it should be fully healed shortly with some rest.” It lifts the blanket back up to cover itself, though it still remains sitting up. Maybe it’s cold?
Eyrin nods, regardless. “That’s good.”
The alien hums before sticking a hand out of the blankets, lifting it to observe before clenching and unclenching the fist. “The human form is strange.”
“I’d imagine it’s, uh, alien,” Eyrin says. The alien stares at him. He feels judged. “Um,” Eyrin shifts his weight back and forth on his feet, “Do you have something I can call you? And… uh, do you have a gender, or pronouns you’d want to use? You look like you just copied my appearance.” In form, they’re nearly identical: same face, same build. Just with blue eyes where Eyrin’s are dark gray, and paler hair where Eyrin’s is blonde. Not to mention that its hair is messier than Eyrin’s, lacking the morning brushing.
The alien frowns, looking away. “This… concept of ‘gender’ is rather unclear. My kind does not have anything similar.” The alien hums. “You can refer to me however you wish. I do not believe I can fully understand this construct at the moment.”
Interesting. “I mean,” Eyrin says, “I consider myself agender, though I use pronouns guys usually use? He, him, his. There are also gender neutral pronouns. They, them, theirs is most common, though there’s also stuff like xe, xem, xyr and ey, em, eir.”
The alien returns to looking at Eyrin and blinks slowly. “I suppose neutral pronouns would be fitting. Your language certainly has a number of… interesting idiosyncrasies.” It hums. “They, them will do.”
Eyrin nods. “Okay.”
“As for what to call me,” they, Eyrin supposes he can say now, continue, “Using the sounds of your language… T’kri is close enough.”
Also interesting. “Neat. Nice to meet you, um… T’kri.” The name feels interesting on his tongue. Tuh-kree. “I’m Eyrin, but I figure you might know that from the brain thing. Do you know everything I know now?”
“No,” T’kri answers, “I focused on language and context, and I was indisposed, so even that was not as effective as I’d prefer. There is much I do not know. That is why the mimicry was imperfect, as well.” They lift a hand to pull at a few threads of their hair. “It seems I am lacking in some… pigmentation.”
“Huh. Neat,” Eyrin says, making an O.K. hand with the one not holding the plate. “So… food?”
T’kri removes their hand from their hair and holds it out instead. Eyrin gives them the fork first, and they close their index and middle finger loosely around it. They stare at their hand for a moment before using their other hand to adjust the position—the fork ends up being held by their thumb, index finger, and middle finger, supported by the back of their ring finger.
Eyrin recalls the way T’kri’s hands looked: symmetrical, with two thumbs on either side. It makes some sense that they’d hold the fork like this, but he imagines that it can’t be comfortable. “Um,” Eyrin says. He reaches forward and repositions T’kri’s fingers and the fork so that the utensil rests on their middle finger, held by their index finger and thumb. “I usually hold it like this,” Eyrin says.
T’kri hums, and then looks at him with an expectant expression. Oh, right. Eyrin brings the plate closer to them, and T’kri takes it, settling it in their lap. They eye the food warily (Eyrin thinks, at least. They’re not very expressive.) before stabbing a piece of bacon and sticking it in their mouth. Their brow pinches, and then they chew slowly before swallowing. “This is… good? I think?” they say. “But the flavor is… very strong.”
Eyrin snorts. “I’d imagine so. Try it with the eggs?”
T’kri does so after a moment of struggling to get both the bacon and egg to stick to the fork. They chew it just as deliberately, a contemplative expression on their face.
“Better?” Eyrin asks. He gets a nod in return, and then he kneels and puts his arms over the back of the couch. “So… I take it you can eat and taste like me? Is it because you look like this? Like me—or rather, like a human, I guess.”
T’kri hums. “I do have much of your biology replicated, but I do not normally have much of a sense of taste, so this is… a curious experience for me.” They go for another bite.
“That’s interesting,” Eyrin says. He can’t even imagine what it’d be like to have a sense you’ve never had before. T’kri continues eating, and Eyrin fidgets, fingering the plush seat of the sofa. “I can check on your injury once you’re done? I know it disappeared, and I don’t know the first thing about your biology, but maybe I can help somehow…?”
T’kri pauses, slowly putting the plate and fork down in their lap. “You are being very hospitable to me, Eyrin. Why? For all you know, I could be an agent of a hostile alien species.”
Eyrin shrugs, sinking his face on his arms. “You don’t seem all that hostile to me? I—I didn’t want to just leave you there, I guess. You looked like you were in pain, and… I don’t know. I think it’d be scary to crash-land on a foreign planet.”
“I was shot out of the sky,” T’kri says dryly.
“Oh.” Eyrin looked away. “Sorry.”
He glances back to see T’kri staring at him again. “Unless you are responsible for the actions of the human race, there is no reason for you to apologize to me.”
“I guess that’s true.” Eyrin looks away again, turning to leave. “I’ll just… leave you to your food, then,” he says. “I’ll grab some first aid equipment.”
By the time he gets back, T’kri has finished the food. The plate is on the coffee table, and every bite has been scraped clean. The alien is lying down, blanket up to their neck, looking very comfortable as they stare at the ceiling.
Come to think of it… they’re still completely naked, aren’t they. Eyrin should grab them some clothes, too. In a bit.
He makes his way over to T’kri, piling his things on the coffee table before turning around to see them watching his movements. Eyrin gestures to their chest. “Mind if I…?”
T’kri blinks. “Mind if you…?”
Ah. “Can I take a look at your chest? Or wherever you were injured.”
“Oh.” T’kri sits up slightly, pulling the blanket down to their lap. There isn’t a single mark—just smooth, pale, unblemished skin.
Eyrin comes closer, kneeling next to them. “Where does it hurt?”
The alien lifts a hand to their abdomen, right below their ribcage. Eyrin is surprised when the skin around the area shifts, melting into a smooth, solid black—the same black as their underbelly in their true form. It’s like they have two layers of skin: the human skin, and whatever this black underskin is.
Alien biology is weird.
Eyrin reaches forward carefully, brushing his hand against the dark material. It’s very cool and smooth, and surprisingly nice to touch.
“Your body temperature is very warm,” T’kri remarks. Eyrin startles slightly, pulling his hand back.
“Ah,” he says, “sorry, did that hurt?” Not to mention—touching alien strangers might not be very proper. Eyrin’s curiosity always gets the better of him.
T’kri shakes their head, to Eyrin’s relief. “It was not unpleasant.” They splay their hand over their abdomen, letting the skin fade back to a human color. “There is not much more to do besides let it heal,” they say. “The pain will pass.”
Eyrin hums thoughtfully. “Would a warm pack help? Ease the pain, I mean.”
“A warm pack?” T’kri tilts their head, eyes flicking around the room. “Ah, perhaps.”
“Okay,” Eyrin says. “I’ll grab one for you. I’ll, um, get you some clothes, too,” he mumbles, standing up and looking somewhere off to the side. “Be right back.”
He quickly grabs the first-aid kit he brought—looks like it wasn’t needed after all—and makes his way to the room. He ends up picking a loose black turtleneck and dark gray sweatpants, in addition to a pair of boxers and a set of black socks. All of his clothes should fit on T’kri just fine, right? They have the same body, after all.
The thought is strange. Eyrin files it in some obscure corner of his mind, instead directing his energy to finding his electric heating pack. He returns to T’kri with everything in tow, and that’s when the fun starts.
“I do not understand the purpose of these… ‘undergarments,’” T’kri says shortly after Eyrin returns and gives him the clothes. The alien has the boxers between his forefinger and thumb, eyeing it with an expression Eyrin’s not sure how to read. “If clothes are simply meant to preserve your modesty…”
“It’s—please just put it on,” Eyrin says, burying his face in his hands.
Of course, when it comes to an alien from a species that does not have clothes, that is easier said than done. Eyrin does his best to explain, face burning. Though he still ends up having to help, considering T’kri’s injury.
He does his best not to get an eyeful of T’kri’s body—it doesn’t matter if it’s the same as his, it’s the principle of the matter. It’s very weird, but it’s fine! T’kri is a genderless, shapeshifting, possibly-psychic serpent alien that looks just like him. Everything is just fine.
Once Eyrin finishes guiding T’kri’s arms through his sleeves, the alien blessedly tells him, “I think I understand. I expect I will be able to dress myself in the future.”
Eyrin breathes a sigh of relief. “I am very glad to hear that,” he replies, giving T’kri two thumbs-ups to their apparent bemusement. Eyrin smiles awkwardly before turning around and grabbing the heating pack, switching on the button and handing it to the alien. “Here, you can put this on your,” he gestures to T’kri’s abdomen, “thing.”
“Ah. Thank you.” They take the pack into their hands, lying back down on the couch and placing it on their chest. A soft hum escapes them, and a tension Eyrin hadn’t noticed before escapes them. “This is very warm,” they murmur.
Eyrin nods. “Hope it helps.” He sits down on the coffee table, fidgeting with his hands for a moment. “So. Now that you’re fed and dressed and recovering… What are you going to do?” He bites his lower lip. “What are you here for?”
T’kri’s gaze slides over to him, their expression unreadable. “I will need to repair my ship,” they say. “Rather, I will need to make sure the self-repair function is active.”
“Oh. That makes sense.” Eyrin runs a thumb across his knuckles. “And then… you’ll just go?”
T’kri hums, returning their gaze to the ceiling. “Yes, I think I will.”
They think? “That’s… all?”
The silence that answers Eyrin is troubling, to say the least. T’kri shifts their eyes to look towards the window, through which the lake is visible. “No harm will come to you, Eyrin. I will make sure of that.”
Reassuring, but also not very reassuring at all. “And everyone else?” Eyrin hedges.
“We’ll see,” is all T’kri says.
At this moment, Eyrin is almost certain that he should now, as a member of the human race, inform the government and make sure T’kri never leaves the planet.
Yet all that escapes his lips is a quiet, “Okay,” as he lowers his eyes to stare at the floor.
Silence, for a few seconds. “Are you not going to stop me? Turn me over to the leaders of your planet?”
Eyrin looks up to meet T’kri’s measured gaze. “I…” he hesitates. “No. No, it just… doesn’t feel right.”
“You could end up with a war on your hands. Why do you hesitate?”
“I don’t know,” Eyrin says, pained. “I don’t want people to die. But—you’re alive, too, and I have no idea what would happen to you if I tried to turn you in. Or what would happen to me. Maybe you’ll kill me, maybe they’ll lock me up to silence me. I just…” He squeezes his thighs, right where flesh meets plastic and metal. “I just don’t know.”
T’kri hums softly. A few seconds pass before their gaze falls to Eyrin’s legs. “You are… diminished,” they murmur. “I see your planet’s prosthetic technology is quite advanced, however.”
Diminished? “I’m not—” except he is, isn’t he? “—I guess I am,” Eyrin mutters, loosening his grip on himself. He chuckles, an almost-bitter sound, as he raises one leg and pulls the pant leg up. “I have my cousin to thank for this. He… he’s brilliant. A bit insufferable sometimes, but brilliant.” A sigh escapes Eyrin’s lips and he lets his leg fall to the floor. “Not brilliant enough to see it coming, though,” he mumbles, mind flashing to—ears ringing, pain, pain, pain but he can’t feel his legs, can’t get up, can’t move as he’s choking on smoke and fear—
There’s a touch on his knee, and he comes back to reality to see that T’kri has sat up and leaned towards him, peering at Eyrin’s face with an assessing look. “You are still troubled.”
Eyrin looks away. “What would you expect,” he mutters, letting bitterness color his voice.
“I do not know. It seems… unimaginable. To be incomplete, as you are.”
Eyrin scowls, standing up suddenly and making T’kri’s touch fall away. But the anger-frustration fades as rapidly as it comes, and he deflates, shoulders falling. “I’ve been like this for years,” he says. “And I’ve learned to live with it.”
Without another word, he turns on his heel and walks away. He still needs to eat his own breakfast, after all.
B O N U S
E Y R I N K A L[AIR-en CALL]
An individual living in a spacious but fairly isolated residence. He occupies much of his time with requests to repair and improve various devices, some paid, some not. He also "consults" for Anima Bionics, though he doesn't consider himself to truly be part of the company.
Other time may be spent in casual creative pursuits, often drawing on his tablet. For the most part, he lives in solitude - away from judgement and prying eyes.