Girls(?) Night
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I turned around. Judging by the way the cable was still swaying, the new visitor had vaulted up onto the walkway from below. For a fraction of a second, Remrion looked like he was going to draw his blaster, until he recognized the Emissary before him. 

They were about my height, maybe an inch or two taller, with a carapace festooned with yellow, blue, and pale red. They were fat, something I hadn’t realized it was possible for an Emissary to be, but it didn’t stop them from being profoundly high-energy, bouncing around on their toes and fluttering their wings just for the hell of it. The little bits of glass hanging from their wrists jangled as they moved. 

“Oh, uhh, don’t sneak up on me like that,” said Remrion.

Their antennae wilted. “Sorry, right. But tell me who this is!”

Remrion turned to me. “This is Catherine Sierra, she just arrived on the ship. Cathy, this is Luthfodemi. She’s a friend of mine, I guess.”

Luthfodemi rolled her eyes. “Don’t listen to him, Cathy. We’re plenty close and all that.” She hopped forward, her wings propelling her through the air. But as she landed, her expression changed. “Oh. Wait. I didn’t realize that you were…”

“It’s nothing, Luth,” Remrion said. “Don’t worry about it.”

I shrank back, all too familiar with the sorts of weird histories that could develop in friend groups, but not sure how to react to being on the other end of it. “Um. Hi, Luthfodemi. Nice to meet you.”

Luthfodemi instantly forgot about whatever was going on between her and Remrion and turned to me. “Hiiii! Well, aren’t you just the cutest thing on this whole ship? It’s always so nice to meet new people, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, sure is…”

Luthfodemi lunged forward, pulling me into a tight grip and rubbing her antennae against mine. There was a sudden flood of sensory information, smells and tastes and emotional impressions that I couldn’t sort through in the slightest, which distracted me from the sudden invasion of personal space.

“Luth,” said Remrion. “They’ve never been around other Emissaries before. You should probably give Cathy some time to adjust before doing that.”

Luthfodemi pulled back as quickly as she’d pulled in. “Oh, really sorry about that. It’s a traditional Emissary greeting and all that, and I didn’t think about how that would feel to a stranger.”

“I gathered,” I said, massaging the overstimulation out of my antennae. “But it’s alright.”

“So, Luth, what was it that you wanted to talk to me about?” Remrion said.

“Factor wanted you,” she said. “Something about a security meeting or something along those lines. Sounded kind of important.”

Remrion’s antennae perked up in shock. “Oh! Okay, I think I know what this is about, so I should definitely be there.” He took a step, then froze. “Say, Luth, you and Cathy are both… you know. Would you mind hanging out while I go to this meeting?”

Luthfodemi’s wings fluttered so strongly that she was kicked a few inches into the air. “I’d love to! Oh my goodness, there’s so much I could show them around here that you wouldn’t even know about.” She turned her attention to me. “You up for a little fun and relaxation?”

Luthfodemi seemed so excited about the prospect that I couldn’t have possibly turned her down. And that’s ignoring that I was kind of into it. Like a girls’ night out, but in space. “Sure, what could possibly go wrong.”

There was much bouncing around and babbling about plans and trilling with excitement. Remrion promised to try to find us as soon as he was done with the meeting so that he could show me to where the others were staying, then vanished around the corner. It took about another minute to get Luthfodemi to calm down long enough to actually go off and do what she wanted to do.

I soon realized that my “girls’ night out” assessment was pretty much on the money. They didn’t have shopping malls on the Torn Memory, of course. Not that that stopped Luthfodemi from knowing every possible place to acquire clothes, makeup, and grooming supplies. She dragged me by the wrist down into the residential area first. There, she introduced me to a friend of hers who made a living out of hand-modifying polyfac-fresh clothes into something more fashion conscious. They had their work cut out when it came to me.

Given everything else going on, plus the fact that I kind of hated myself, developing a sense of fashion for my new body had been the absolute last thing on my mind. I’d mostly found the default designs that I could wear, made sure they were the right size, and wore them. Luthfodemi’s friend proceeded to tell me everything I was doing wrong. Apparently I wasn’t properly showing off my excellently curvaceous abdomen, and restricting both my mobility and my style by trying to put my lower arms in sleeves. For the most part, I spent my time in that apartment acting as a mannequin and trying to keep up. There was only one thing that I really reacted to, something so intolerable that I could not help but react. 

Luthfodemi suggested I wear bright colors. I may have changed my gender, I may have changed my species, but I will never give up on giving an edgy goth. The tailor bemoaned that my carapace was already purple and black, so I’d look weird. After several minutes of lively debate, I compromised; the outfit would have pink highlights. Pink is ironically goth, so it works. 

I eventually stumbled out of there with a new outfit, and designs for several more uploaded onto my Ariel. To my human eyes, the outfit looked like a multi-part abomination of tights, asymmetrical skirts, drop armholes, and random slits. Luthfodemi assured me that it was the height of Emissary fashion. Then she grabbed me by the wrist and we were off once more.

“It’s always a hurry with you, isn’t it?” I quipped. 

“Well, you have to make up for lost time, don’t you? No offense, but you are a bit woefully unprepared. But if you put in the effort now, you’ll be able to attract the eye of anyone who catches your fancy!”

I dragged my heels, slowing us down. “Woah, woah. Who said anything about attracting anyone’s eye? I’m doing this for me.”

Luthfodemi made a confused trill, suddenly rendered speechless. “Wait, so Remrion was telling the truth?”

“Huh? What does Remrion have to do with any of this?”

Luthfodemi chittered. “Okay, now I know you’re full of it. I’ve never felt it that thick in the air, I felt like I was going to throw up for a second, for real.”

Oh. She meant his pheromones. Shoving aside the wave of embarrassment for not understanding what was apparently blatantly obvious, I asked the obvious question. “Um, so, the thing is, I’ve never been around other Emissaries before now. I can smell all the pheromones, but I haven’t figured out what they mean yet.”

Luthfodemi’s eyes went wide. “Oh, you poor thing. No wonder he was dumping pheromones like that, if you didn’t understand them!” She paused, nervously fluttering her wings and looking down at her feet. “Those pheromones are the ones that mean that he’s… interested in you.”

I stumbled back as though I’d been physically struck in the thorax. The Waterspindle warmed subtly at my chest. “He has a crush on me? He has a crush on me?”

“It’s more than that,” she said, voice suddenly softening. “Those are pheromones that you would release consciously. So it means he wanted you to know about it.”

It was at that point that I lost control of my conscious voice, reduced to a series of atonal trills. As you could probably imagine, I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. On the one hand, I mean, someone thought I was attractive enough for him to shoot his romantic mist at me, which was a bit of a confidence boost to say the least. But also, I mean, it was coming from someone I barely knew. A man that I barely knew. A man who I barely knew and who was supposed to be giving me a tour, but had apparently been flirting the whole time. I need the self-confidence boost, but is this worth it?

“Is Remrion normally like this? I mean, we’ve known each other for about two hours.”

“Catherine… Remrion is like a lot of things,” Luthfodemi said resignedly. “He wouldn’t have been allowed on the ship if he were the type to not listen to a ‘no’, if that’s what you’re worried about. But he’s also a little bit temperamental. Moody. Passionate.”

“Oh, just wonderful,” I said, folding my arms.

Luthfodemi carefully placed a hand on my shoulder. “If you’re worried about what’ll happen, I can be there right by his side when you turn him down. I’m assuming that’s what you’re going to do…?”

“Obviously!” I snapped. “Even if I hadn’t met him two hours ago, he’s not my type,” I said, doing a little hip wiggle that I hoped would convey the idea of gender.

It took Luthfodemi a few seconds to catch onto what I meant. “Oh, well isn’t that just the most interesting thing? I’m sure he’ll understand, even if he looks upset about it. But enough about Remrion, let’s get back to you, right, Catherine?”

Any excuse to not have to think about the fact that Remrion was into me was an excuse I was perfectly willing to take. “Sure. Where were we going?”

“Well, all that talk about dark colors and wanting to look eerie reminded me of this other friend I have who is just a master with a brush. I thought we might stop by and see if she has time and some extra polish?”

I shrugged. “Sure, why the hell not.”

I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about, but I was fully on board with just going with the flow, at that point. We moved through the densely-packed apartments in awkward quiet. I felt a little queasy, a little bit flushed, all around not particularly great. Once I thought about it, I realized that Remrion hadn’t really done anything all that inappropriate besides sending out the signal; but wasn’t it a little weird to send out that signal to a person he’d just met? That question turned over and over in my head, with no resolution in sight.

We did eventually reach the apartment of Luthfodemi’s other friend, at which point it was right back to Queer Eye: Bug Edition. Fun times.

It was obvious fairly early on why Luthfodemi had chosen this specific friend to take me to. Xyr entire apartment was kept dark, decorated with dead flowers and photographs of ruins, and smelled like what I’m pretty sure was drugs. Apparently it was a fairly common aesthetic after the whole interstellar genocide thing. The inhabitant of that apartment, Kethrmell, lived up to the expectations set, shrouded in layers upon layers of clothing as though xe was crossing the arctic by dogsled. When Luthfodemi explained who I was and that I was interested in learning the ins and outs of Emissarine makeup, xyr antennae perked as though xe’d stuck xyr finger in an electrical socket.

To make a long story short, Emissaries do in fact have makeup, but the fact that they’re working on a hard surface instead of a soft one makes the whole thing a bit weird. Thus, the fact that I’d actually experimented with makeup once or twice before meant essentially nothing. It was actually a little bit like nail polish writ large, on your face, with slick inks instead of creams and an astoundingly wide variety of paintbrushes.

My face was basically a blank canvas to be painted on, a porcelain mask interrupted by eight eyes and a pair of antennae. Kethrmell demonstrated some of the basic ideas on herself. Xe traced lines in various colors around the edges of each mandible, forming an elaborate outline even when xyr mouth was shut. More lines went around the eyes, some connecting the main eyes to the auxilliaries while others acted more like human eyeliner. Some Emissaries, xe explained, even liked to add decorations along the cheeks, or around the base of the antennae, though it wasn’t xyr thing. It made sense; a solid plate of carapace isn’t as enticing to decorate as the weird convolutions of the human skull. 

With the initial demonstration done, xe handed over the brushes to me. Trying not to shake with anxiety, I tested out a few of the colors, seeing how each shade looked on my carapace. Settling on my color took a while. Then came the truly hard part, which was to actually do the paint on myself in the right color, without making a complete ass of myself. Luthfodemi and Kethrmell were there the whole time, suggesting which type of brush was best for which part, complimenting me on my choices, and stepping in with a very slightly damp cloth to wipe away my mistakes. 

It was a very interesting experience. I’m lucky that Emissaries don’t blush or tear up, because if I could have, I would. As it was, my pheromones probably gave everything away. Makeup, specifically, had always been a touchy thing for me. It was probably the way my gender, or lack thereof, manifested the most strongly and for the longest period of time. I’d spent basically my entire adolescence see-sawing between being fascinated with the topic, going on binges looking up online tutorials, and being incredibly guilty about it. Quinn and I both knew more than a few guys who knew makeup, goths and such, but the guilt and stress always overwhelmed me when I tried to ask about it. That and what I later realized was dysphoria about being “a guy who wears makeup”. And now I was getting to do everything I’d ever wanted, to sit with the girls and enbies and get my makeup done, learn what colors worked for me, sit in front of the mirror and put some on while the others chittered about how good I looked. Having my face get touched didn’t hurt either.

I went for something simple. Basic deep purple along the edges of my mandibles, shading into red around the tips of each jaw. Black went around the main eyes, and would have gone around the auxiliaries if I thought I could do it without stabbing myself. Then, in a stylistic flourish, a few short streaks of pink roughly where the cheeks would be on a human face. 

When I was done with the last stroke, and Luthfodemi done cleaning all of the rough edges I’d left, I sat back and stared into the mirror. It was the same face I’d had for the last several weeks. It was my face, even; that disconnect had vanished when I stopped trying to pretend I was male. But it was a substantially cuter face than it had been before, and one that I’d taken the time to customize, to alter as I wished it. I suddenly understood what women meant when they talked about makeup as an art form. 

I grinned uncontrollably, no longer ashamed to make that expression. It wasn’t like there were any mammals around to be weirded out by it. Kethrmell and Luthfodemi repeated the gesture, giggling and trilling with amusement. I looked incredible. But Luthfodemi wasn’t done, so Kethrmell gave me a little plastic pouch with a small selection of the colors and brushes I’d liked, and we went on to the next thing. 

We left the apartments and rose up, into what might loosely be called the commercial district if there were any money. There were open areas full of grass and flowers, restaurants, that sort of thing. And also the place Luthfodemi was dragging me to. Either way, several minutes later, my lower arms were submerged in warm water while an attendant did… something.

“I have no idea what you’re doing down there, but it tickles a lot,” I said.

“You know the slit where your claws go when you aren’t using them?” they said. Without waiting for a response, they continued, “All kinds of stuff gets in there. Dust, excess oil buildup, bits of whatever you’ve been using your claws for, stuff like that. I’m just cleaning it all out.”

“Neat. So, how does this work? I mean, you aren’t getting paid for this, so…”

The attendant looked up at me inquisitively. “Oh, you mean that way.” They shrugged. “My siblings and I, we were doing this before we joined the ship. Just for substantially more time each day and with a smaller house. And they certainly didn’t have any desperate need for us in the hydro bay or down in the engines, so…”

I nodded along, realizing that I had no idea how many of the Emissaries I saw passing by in the street were born here and how many had joined of their own will. As my attention wandered to the rest of the room, a little tile-and-plastic building off in one of the corners, someone caught my eye. I leaned over, tapping Luthfodemi on the shoulder.

“What is that?” I said, pointing. “I want that.”

It took her a few confused glances to realize what I was talking about. Another Emissary had walked in since we arrived, and was currently chatting with one of the other attendants. Their back was to us, and the specific thing I was indicating was their elytra. The light grey material was covered in designs of some kind, silvery geometric lines and marks that looked almost like an old-fashioned map of the stars. 

“Oh, that? They’ve had their elytra inlaid. Do you seriously—”

“Yes. Maybe? Is it permanent?”

“I don’t think so…”

“Then I want it.”

Luthfodemi gave me a very long, very put-upon look. Then, in an instant, she switched right back to her normal cheerfulness. “I think I might just know a place.”

And that was how I ended up on my stomach, my elytra held in place with clamps as a small Emissary cut into the upper layer of carapace with a thin pick. The weirdest part was that it didn’t hurt. Something about there not being any nerves in that upper layer, which was also why the inlay would be shed over the next several months. It’s a thousand times better than getting a tattoo.

By about the time I stepped out of the inlay parlor, my elytra wiggling to get used to the slight extra weight, I had decided that I was just about done with this whole extravaganza. For one thing, Remrion and Luthfodemi had succeeded in wearing out all of my newly-healed joints. There was also the natural drain of being around people, something that was apparently not common in Emissaries. All I wanted to do was to curl up around my Ariel and engage in no mentally strenuous activity for the remainder of the day, and possibly ever again. Unfortunately, Luthfodemi had absolutely no idea where I was supposed to be staying. 

I shot Miri a text on my Ariel, then waited. We sat outside the inlay parlor, not talking to each other as I watched the Emissaries go by and thought about how quickly I’d adapted to this ship. It felt almost like home. Before I could think any longer about what that thought meant, my Ariel buzzed again; a new message.

“Hey, it’s Miri. Was distracted. Do you know a ‘Remrion’? This guy says he knows you. Anyway, get to deck 8 ASAP, we have important news.”

Better late than never, right? Yeah, I don't know if I've mentioned this already, but I'm back in school now, and school is absolutely kicking my ass at the moment. My schedule has gone completely to hell, as well as my energy levels and my overall ability to put things out on time. I'm going to try to be better in the future, but prepare for more delays in the weeks to come. Also, just as a reminder, you can see the next several chapters on my Patreon, as well as a bunch of shorter stories that aren't available anywhere else. Patreon is my only source of income at the moment, so any support you can give is so hugely appreciated. If you can't afford it, no hard feelings, I'll see you in about a week and a half for Chapter 40: Dueling Priorities