Please Stop Petting the Test Subjects

Please Stop Petting the Test Subjects

Ves had only met the regressive Arcturan a couple days ago, yet she had already planned for her a whole new wardrobe. Something that would complement the hint blue in the greyish cast of her skin. Like so many of Ves’s fashion projects, it began with corsets. She didn’t think Giana would accept all of her favorite frills, but anything was better than that ratty, tattered old wardrobe she’d blown in with. The woman had a dancer’s legs, and a dancer’s grace, both worthy of a little flaunting.

With practiced care, Ves adjusted the miniature top hat, making certain the pin would hold it in the Arcturan’s spine-like hair. It had originally been a gift for Eddie, but she doubted he would appreciate it anyway. It had no value on the black market, and he hadn’t an ounce of fashion sense to his name. “There,” she said as she stepped back to admire her handy work. “Pretty good match, considering I didn’t have a reference.”

“It’s, ah, certainly different,” Giana agreed, though Ves thought she saw a light in the woman’s eyes. It was hard to tell with Arcturan eyes being the opposite of everyone else’s, but Ves was fairly confident in her fashion sense.

Before either of them had a chance to respond, a large, angular face poked through the door, framed by a golden mane of hair and pair of wings. “I wanted to let you know that Ruhk’s baked pancakes again. I don’t think I should have any, being on a diet and all…”

“Nonsense, Pantriss,” Ves waved a hand as she skipped toward the door, dragging Giana in her wake. Everyone liked Ruhk’s pancakes. As far as Ves was concerned, someone would have to be crazy to turn them down. “You look fabulous! Actually, I think that new corset I got you might be a little big.”

“Well…” Pantriss mused, pressing one clawed finger to her chin as she contemplated the suggestion, “perhaps just one. Anyway, I thought I could finish telling you about that bothersome tree.”

All Ves had to do was nod and Pantriss kept talking as they made their way through the Moon Base hallways. Actually, she might not have needed to nod, but it was important to let people know when you were listening. She threw in a couple of awed sounds for good measure along the way, just so Pantriss didn’t think her mind had begun to wander – which did happen. It was hard not to look at as fine a figure as Pantriss’s without concocting grand costumes for the Dranfel. Her wings and tail offered plenty of opportunities for special accessory embellishments, not to mention her glorious horns. But Ves actually wanted to hear the rest of this story, so she made certain to pay attention.

Pantriss was the mercenary team’s best storyteller. She really dug into the details of what had happened during a mission, unlike the others who offered only an analytical point-by-point summary. Everyone in the group had something they were best at. Freun was the best singer. She was also quite good at decapitations, but they didn’t have so many of those in their off time. Their leader, Shadowhunter was like a wise old sage. Ruhk was a fantastic cook. And Eddie told lies like no one else. Ves was pretty sure deceit was his default setting, but there were times it came in handy.

Apparently she had missed an eventful set of missions involving a race she’d never heard of, and their pet sentient tree. Giana seemed unreasonably excited about the tree in particular, as if she had spent her whole life combing the galaxy for a tree that could talk. But considering the tree had been cross with Pantriss, one of her favorite people, she wasn’t sure she agreed with the Arcturan’s enthusiasm.

Both women were still chatting when they reached the cafeteria. No sooner had they chosen a table than did Ruhk set a plate of heaping pancakes in front of each of them. The male Dranfel would probably have been considered intimidating by most people, but Ves knew him too well to be frightened. He was a teddy bear as far as she was concerned; kind, thoughtful, always there when someone needed him – especially if that need involved food – and it just so happened he could knock the pants off anyone who caused you trouble. The perfect friend. Not to mention how cute he and Pantriss looked together in the new matching hats she bought for them. The perfect set.

“It all worked out in the end,” Ruhk declared as Pantriss neared the end of her story. “The tree let you go, after all. Though I think I forgot to pick up my salt before we left…” He looked thoughtful for a moment, pressing a clawed finger to his chin in a gesture remarkably similar to Pantriss’s. Perfect. Set.

Two pairs of footsteps and muffled voices interrupted her thoughts.

“Hey Aaran, Shadowhunter,” Ruhk called, his deep voice easily carrying across the large room, “want some pancakes?”

The muffled conversation ceased as both men peered through the door. Ves waved and they both waved back a little less enthusiastically. Not at all unusual since Shadowhunter was sick and Aaran was usually busy.

“Maybe later,” Shadowhunter replied. She wasn’t imagining the hint of grey in the tall Vulfen’s fur. Their venerable leader resembled the wild wolves of Earth, though she had never heard of wolves measuring seven feet tall and walking on their hind legs. It was difficult to imagine a wardrobe for him. It had something to do with his fur, though it could also have been his serious nature, not to mention the fact that men weren’t all that fond of corsets.

“We’re heading over to check on things in the greenhouse,” Aaran added. “We need to get that first shipment of slug goo on its way.”

“Oh right,” Ruhk opened his mouth in a draconic grin. “Ves, have you had a chance to meet the space slugs yet?”

“Those things you brought back from the sentient tree place?” Ves curled her lips, unimpressed by the suggestion. As invertebrates, it was impossible to imagine slugs as fashionable. “What’s so special about them?”

She could tell by the way every one of her companion’s eyes lit up that she must have misjudged. Pantriss had included the space slugs in her story of course, but Ves had been more interested in the song she had written about Eddie, even if she thought a lot of the details her friend had included about her former employer were incorrect. Such as all the parts about him being the best, which accounted for a large portion of the song. But apparently it had been the slugs that made her sing the song, in which case they could be blamed for the inaccuracies.

“If you’re going to visit the little dears, I think I’ll come along.” Giana shot to her feet and was halfway across the room before Ves realized what was happening.

“Come and see for yourself,” Ruhk said to answer her question. When he held out a hand to help her up, Ves could hardly resist.

She didn’t visit the hydroponics section of the base very often. Her interests lay more with chemistry, and not the kind anyone would want to ingest. She remained skeptical on the way over, despite Pantriss reiterating her telling of Eddie dancing the chicken dance shortly after their first meeting with the slugs. It would have been something to see, but if she remembered correctly it was Freun who made Eddie do the dance, not the slugs.

They were nothing like she expected. She’d been imagining leaches, little globs of goop that slithered their way across the walls and floor, leaving slime trails in their wake. And she hadn’t been able to imagine why anyone would want to visit them. But the creatures that greeted her were majestic, more like old trilobite fossils with elongated body sections. The feelers on the head of the male stood upright, almost like horns, while the female’s were longer, wispier and protruded from the sides of her head. Their carapaces were starkly white, but seemed to flash blue and green as they moved among the growing plants. They glided through the air like creatures out of a dream, radiating an obvious sense of contentment for everyone to share.

No wonder her friends had been so keen to see them again.

Almost the moment the group entered, the creatures took notice and redirected their path. The male swam through the air in slow circles around Shadowhunter, often brushing the bushy fur of his tail as it passed. The female floated over to Aaren and caressed his face with her long, tendril-like feelers.

Ves was instantly taken with them, thinking they were the most adorable creatures to ever bear the title ‘slug.’ She wondered if they shouldn’t rename the species to reflect that. After all, they were the first to discover them, or at least to keep them as pets, so shouldn’t they get to decide that?

Ruhk must have noticed her hesitation because he gave her shoulders a light shove. “Go on, introduce yourself.”

With a light shrug, Ves stepped forward, holding her hand out toward the female, who still seemed to be engrossed in petting Aaren. While she was contemplating whether or not the gesture made sense – did space slugs have noses to get her scent? – both creatures took notice and came to investigate.

They were smooth to the touch, not at all slick, except for a thin line on their undersides which did seem to exude the expected goo. That must have been what Aaren and Shadowhunter had come to check on. From what she understood, those secretions might have anti-psionic properties. Ves didn’t care at the moment, because both creatures were so darn cute. While the female tickled her chin with her feelers, the male darted around her hands while she moved them to different positions.

After a few minutes, she settled on the floor near the edge of one of the hydroponic bays, sliding her fingers along the head sections of the creatures as if they were dogs. Giana bent over the female, offering similar treatment. Ruhk was busy smearing some nearby leaves with a concoction she couldn’t identify, perhaps meant to be slug food, and he had recruited Pantriss to help him. Shadowhunter and Aaren had moved on, likely to do the task they’d come for. Ves wasn’t paying much attention.

Not until a sharp ahem split the air. Ves jumped and the female slug wrapped a feeler around her arm, as if to soothe her. The source of the interjection stood on the far side of the room, holding a medical scanner and a data pad.

Whenever Ves interacted with Doctor Shrike, she got an odd sense of people being sucked out of a ship’s airlock. It might have been the strongest memory she had to associate with him, perhaps because she couldn’t contemplate the proper wardrobe for him either. She had yet to figure out how to fit enough pockets into the jacket she had in mind. Now that she thought of it, perhaps Giana could help her with that one.

Shrike cleared his throat again, a clear sign her attention had begun to drift. She looked at him, as did the others, but said nothing.

“Would you all, please, stop petting the test subjects? Some of us are trying to work.”

I did something a bit different this week. Every character which appears in this scene, aside from Ves, belongs to a member of my table-top RP group. We meet once a month over Skype. It includes people from three different countries (Canada, US and England) and four different time zones. This scene takes place shortly before one of our recent sessions and involves the results of the game I ran a few months back (which went over pretty well). The challenge for me was to depict each character according to the way my friends play them. It was well-received so I think it was a good start! I look forward to doing more with this group in the future!

Please also check out what my writing partner did with this prompt! (Incidentally, Ruhk belongs to him ;)

And if you’d like to participate, leave a comment with your response and I’ll feature it next week!

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