Outside his window, seventy stories up, the advertisement bloomed, melon yellow, racecar red. A shoal of squid rippled across the holo, a tangram pattern that morphed into a human face. Then a blush of shimmer-pink as the slogan scrolled onscreen: Fresh cherry scent wafted on the air. Then the ad faded to black before replaying, an endless loop of fragrance and light. The Mobius-strip of cherry squid peeled out from its backlit blue.
I edged onto the oval of his windowsill and watched the sun plait silver into the spillways. The scientists say we share a common ancestor. We just evolved differently. He popped open a can of Dr Pepper, one from his dwindling cache of Earthly goods. The whole Selkie Evolution thing? The eyes are the same shape.
Mercy and me get the hive dome. You get the pod-apartment. Us all living together — major complications. Adam ground out a sigh. Adam and I ambled along the tramway struts, fanning to cool our faces. Dense heat huffed from the tram tunnel, smelling of fresh fish and fry oil. I chewed my lip, fighting to untangle the words.
But my mind drifted. I missed her bubbly chatter and the rainwater scent of her hair. I was fine, though. After classes, my co-teacher, Yayi, had started taking me for honey foam. We practiced my Vrellan, and I could now order my own drinks. In the neighborhood, the Vrellish younglings treated me like a celebrity.
They shouted and bowed, their round faces glowing. The Vrellans are bio-luminescent. And while I did miss Earth, I found new marvels to puzzle over. In the park, fringed lilies burst with the scent of buttered popcorn.
Feather-flies hummed around them, collecting nectar on their forelegs. I watched them for hours while the sunlight sifted down through the hazy planet rings. My mind thrummed with wonder, like a kid seeing snow for the first time. In the tram station, lines of text aligned with the corresponding English. Beside the swooping scrawl of the Vrellan characters, the English looked strangely stilted, a Vermeer alongside stick figures.
Then with a sudden click, I recognized a Vrellan word: I spoke it aloud, turning the syllables on my tongue. A startled laugh spilled from my lips. I figured it out. He was right, of course. My students could read over seventy English words, and they were all first years. Adam braced himself as the cars hushed to a stop. The doors parted, and a flood of Vrellans poured out, a mass of swinging arms and smiling mouths.
We pressed into the throng. Adam looped his arm through a fiber-strap, his face pinched against the smell. Steamed roses, I decided on our first day here. Steamed cabbage, Adam had said instead. This time, when the tagline for cherry squid popped up in Vrellan, I found that could read it.
I bit back my smile. Shop, Park, Family, Welcome. The Vrellans nodded encouragement over my shoulder while I wrote. I practiced my greetings on them: Good good, how are you? They practiced their English, too. His friend joined in, crooning the jingle. They mimed the action of eating the squid: Distressed, both Vrellans rushed to dry them.
But the words failed us. The Vrellans enveloped me, burying their bristly heads against my shoulders. Then I did cry. I knew that she would understand. Vrellans have this affinity for dogs. They import dozens of breeds from Earth, from Irish wolfhounds to teacup poodles. Pet shops and dog cafes line the Meeyadega, and Vrellans go to great lengths to care for their canines. Expats pack to Dog Street, too, in spite of its pervasive wet-dog stench.
Human breeders make their homes in the Meeyadega, bringing Earthly staples with them, like Starbucks and pool halls and karaoke bars. In his college days, Adam made sly money sharking pool.
He racked up a set with a groomer named Jadir while I crowded into a booth with two fellow teachers, Jack and Willa. Jack was from Jersey; Willa from Wales. Pineapple memories from Hawaii, a savory London stew. We inhaled it all, closing our eyes to let the memories unfold. At the pool table, Jadir struck up a debate about Vrellan evolution, a topic Adam could rarely resist. Jadir moved around the table, eying the spread as he walked. Adam gave an imperious laugh. His shot went wild, and he stepped back to re-chalk.
Adam sited down his stick. We all thought we were toast. Imagine our joy when we learned their true intent. And if you think so, ask yourself this: Why do they want to be like us? I wanted to disappear. I tugged out my phone and swiped it. We leaned in close as the photoburst uploaded. Mercy smiled in freeze-frame, her fingers raised in a V.
She was free from the academy. We put our heads into a huddle as I clicked play: Like literally about to board. Oh my God, I miss you so much. Jack looped an arm around my shoulder as we watched the video replay. When Adam strode up, his face was ketchup red.
He pulled on his jacket in quick, jerky movements. And then he left. At street level, a glazy rain glistened into dew. Vrellans buffeted around me, parting to pass but not to give space.
I drifted along the scale-walk, sending frantic texts to Adam, which he ignored. Opalescent clouds gushed in long, dripping filaments, spilling pastel smears into the streets. Massive holo-ads hovered above me: Do or do not, there is no fry! They mentioned sex, I knew, and Adam had a tendency to go overboard. Without conquest, they lacked pride.