Duality of Human
Humans only existed in two states of body: alive or dead. That was the very first thing she told me when we met, before I got the chance to practice my greetings. I wondered which state she preferred.
She wore an overpowering sweet perfume, an interesting choice for one who worked so close with the sick. I remained still while the doctor poked and prodded my limbs, occasionally testing my reflexes.
“Rho isn’t with you today?” the doctor asked, squeezing my knuckles. Her grip was rough, experienced. Unexpected from a slender human.
“He is out scavenging, Doctor Tau. But he rarely joins me in the mornings.”
She tutted me and released my arm, moving to her makeshift desk that consisted of a table and a lamp. “I told you Sigma, no need to be so formal. Please call me Tau.” Her gray eyes analyzed me further as she wrote another sentence in her notebook. I cannot fathom there’d be anything new.
“Do the glasses bother you?” She asked, pointing right at my eyes with her pen.
“Not at all. This model body came with them.” The doctor once asked me to describe my other shape. I had refused. I couldn’t if I wanted, as I did not know how I looked when I’m not human.
Doctor Tau sighed and stood up.
“You’ve been here for almost two months,” she said, pacing around me, tapping her lips with the pen. “I want nothing more than to… experiment. There is so much we could learn. With newfound extensive knowledge, we could make such progress - not just on your species, but also about us.”
The doctor must think my kind had collected vast amounts of data before attacking. I wondered, had I not told her that all I know about humans and Earth came from the time I’ve spent in camp and with Rho?
“Alpha refused” Tau grumbled, crossing her arms. “She said that it wasn’t ethical. Ethics, my ass! The world is dying and we’re wasting valuable resources.”
It seemed me living did not have her favor.
She muttered something indiscernible and sat down again, grumbling and writing. I could sense her thoughts went straight to her notebook, having lost all interest in me. From previous visits, I knew I would not get a goodbye, so I got up and left the small blue tent.
The hospital, the humans called it. Settled on the far right of camp, it was a large tent with a white cross, joined by the small blue tent that served as the office. When I joined the camp, I learned that doctors could fight, but preferred to leave it to the soldiers. Doctors and soldiers… Did humans live by the same roles in the past as they did now? I should ask Rho.
I stood on the dirt road, taking a moment to stare at the tents in the sleeping area. I never knew what to do. No one gave me instructions, despite easily doing so with everyone else. I contemplated going back to my tent to stare at the canvas ceiling. Maybe I’d read through the single book Tau had lent me a while back. She specifically emphasised the word lent.
Activity from the white tent caught my attention. A young man with unkempt strawberry blond hair stumbled out of the hospital. His ankle was visible from where he had pulled up his pant leg, showing the thick bandages. When he spotted me, he yelped and dropped all the papers he was carrying.
I remembered him. He was forced by Doctor Tau to give me a similar uniform that humans wore. When I thanked him, he got so nervous that he ran away screaming. I knew what the camp’s vision of me was, but I didn’t like the thought. It created a painful empty void in my stomach that I could not identify.
“I apologize. I did not mean to frighten you so.” I said.
“H-heh, i-it’s okay!” Zeta shoved the soiled papers back onto his clipboard, wrinkling them. There was so much fear in him. I was surprised that his shaking legs weren’t causing the earth to break apart under his feet. Every muscle of mine felt on edge being around him.
I peered down to his damaged ankle. “You are hurt?”
“Sinkhole,” he said. “I wasn’t paying attention when stepping out of a ruined house. Tau got really mad.” I detected a pang of shame before it was swallowed by fear again. “I’m… on my way to check on Mu.”
“I am forbidden to see her.”
“Oh. That, eh, sucks, I suppose.” He scratched the back of his head. I suspected he wasn’t itchy. The scholar hobbled to the large tent, the intent to leave emitted from him in heavy tremors. “Ah dang, I don’t know if I’m too early,” Zeta mumbled. “I don’t want to interrupt her breakfast.”
“I can check if you’d like.” I pulled at my uniform’s sleeve, revealing my black watch. The arrows read ten in the morning.
“Holy hell!” Zeta’s pupils grew in size. “You have an analog watch?! Does it really work? Can I-“
Zeta reached out with his hands, fingers nearly touching the glass. A pang of anger hit me. The prospect of this man touching the watch made me pull my arm away. “Please don’t touch it.”
I could feel every part of his body tense up as Zeta pressed the clipboard close to his chest, his face going pale. “S-s-sorry!!” He backed away slowly until his back hit the tent, then he rushed inside, disappearing from view as if the ground had swallowed him up.
My own actions shocked me. I held up my wrist, the silver metal of the clock gleaming in the sunlight. Why had I done that? By all means, it was simply an object of use.
I touched the leather wristband. I knew it had great value. On its own, I did not cherish it. It was the selfish need to protect, based on the memory of how I received it. I had enjoyed feeding into that need, yet based on the reaction of Zeta, I was worried if I should have.
I lowered my sleeve and considered questioning Doctor Tau about this strange, new human emotion when something touched my shoulder. Next to me, Phi with her dark curls suddenly appeared, gesturing with her thumb to the edge of camp. She wore the same glasses as me, but with a thick black rim, and a big crack on the side.
“Sig, you need to leave, you’re freaking everyone out.”
There wasn’t a single human close, and I told her so. She rolled her eyes.
“Everyone knows your true form. They think you will go berserk again and attack them if they say the wrong thing. I don’t blame them.”
There was anger, and a deeply buried sadness that was not aimed at me. It lashed out like flames hungry for something to burn, but held back enough not to hurt anyone. “You do not seem to share this sentiment,” I said, curious.
She slowly balled her fists. “Maybe if you did become a monster, Mu and I could finally leave this hell.” Startled by her own words, she glanced around quickly. “Just. Go, Sigma.”
I decided to go in the direction she pointed me to, not wanting to anger her further. I did not understand the meaning of her words at all.
My tent was not in this particular direction. Seeking an alternative, I increased my pace. The few soldiers on large looming palisade surrounding the camp stared down. Their constant harsh feelings were now starting to weigh on me. I felt heavy and tired, wishing I could stop my brain for a moment and live in oblivion.
A large flat rock came into view. It was lodged in the sand, between the resting tents and Omicron’s supply caravan. I suspected it was a large piece of toppled wall. My suspicions were confirmed when I touched it. The gravel was hot from lying in the sun and covered in sand. Luckily the uniform shielded the rest of my body from such unpleasantness, allowing me to settle down.
From this angle, the soldiers could not see me and their fear went from constant blows to a slow pulse. I tried to breathe like Tau told me to: slow, staggering so they were exactly 1.5 seconds apart. This body was under constant stress and she told me I needed to calm it.
Something else touched my shoulder after mere seconds. I frowned, wondering where I could go from here.
“You weren’t inside your tent. Did you actually go do something on your own instead of waiting?” came a warm, light voice.
Hearing and seeing Rho gave me relief that I was not aware I needed, a cool breeze for my heated mind. His hair was wild, messy bangs sticking to his forehead from sweat. His dark olive skin was flushed red from his neck up to the trademark split in his ear. A familiar sight.
He didn’t wait for my answer, sitting down next to me. “I got you something. Here.”
A long, thin rectangle wrapped in brown plastic was dropped into my lap. It dented when I picked it up.
“It’s a candy bar. Don’t let anyone else know. If Tau finds out, I’ll have cleaning duty for weeks.”
I turned the ‘candy bar’, fascinated by the colorful letters. It was another gift. The second one in two months. Gifts were to bring joy, but I only felt confusion.
“Why did you give me this watch?” I asked.
I did not need to feel his irritation. It was evident on his face and the way he held out his hand. “What, you don’t want it? Give it back to me then, ungrateful jerkface!”
Ah yes, the insult. Human custom meant insults were for people they didn’t like. Yet, did humans seek to be around humans they disliked? So many questions.
I shook my head. “It is not that I do not want it. But I know many people want it too. When I showed it to Zeta, he was drawn to it. You could have traded it for anything, or kept it yourself.”
Rho huffed, which he did whenever I said something displeasing. “Yeah, well. You did save us. We would have been mutant dog chow if you hadn’t gone all gross and gruesome on them. You earned it. Plus you’re still an alien and you’re stuck here. Least I can do.”
I frowned once more. It was easy to assume Rho felt guilt over my predicament, but I could sense none of it. His explanation for handing me a valuable item still did not make much sense. Perhaps this was another human thing I did not understand.
“Thank you for another gift,” I said.
One of Rho’s eyebrows shot up so high, it amused me. There was that strange mix of joy, confusion and irritation that shone through every time. It was so odd, it always made me feel light. “It’s a candy bar! You always read too much into things,” Rho complained. “Also start eating before it melts, jerkface.”
He unpacked his own candy bar and took a bite from the chocolate, humming while chewing. I couldn’t help but stare. Even now, Rho was every odd emotion a human could possess, but he was not afraid. He had not been the first time we met either. He was loud, a flurry of ever-changing intense emotions such as anger, embarrassment, frustration and joy. Whimsical like the direction of the wind. His emotions drove him and he didn’t hide it. In that, I found comfort.
The fear in the camp was too overwhelming. I hadn’t made myself aware of it until now.
“What?” Rho asked with his mouth half-full. “Don’t think I trust you all of the sudden! You’re still too cold and too quiet and you won’t tell us why you’re on this hell-forsaken death rock in space. I promised I’d be watching you, and I’m a man of my promise.”
Perhaps most interesting of it all was that he wasn’t aware of how much time he spent with me. I chuckled lightly and carefully opened the plastic wrapping, leaving him bewildered.