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๐˜ฃ๐˜บ ๐˜š๐˜ถ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜ฏ ๐˜Š๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ฏ๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ฅ



โ€œI canโ€™t believe they banned my research,โ€ Alpha said into the communicator.

โ€œYou mean they refused funding?โ€ Grayโ€™s voice replied via the ear implant.


โ€œNo, I mean they said I cannot pursue this field of enquiry in any form, ever, on pain of mind-wipe.โ€


Grayโ€™s hologram switched on one meter in front of Alpha, concern writ large on the face.


โ€œWhy not?โ€


โ€œBecause it violates the Primal Laws which, I must admit, it does.โ€ Alpha sank down onto the nearest chair.


โ€œCanโ€™t they see youโ€™re only trying to make things better?โ€ The hologramโ€™s hand reached out to comfort the friend.


Alpha singsonged, โ€œBecause the Creator made us without gender, in order to ensure equality and cooperation, any attempt at genetic modification is absolutely forbidden.โ€ After a sigh, Alpha added, โ€œBut Iโ€™m still sure that having two, letโ€™s call them, โ€˜sexesโ€™ would improve so many useful and desirable traits in the long term. Itโ€™s worth the risk.โ€


โ€œAnd youโ€™ve worked out a way to do this, havenโ€™t you?โ€ Alpha could hear equal parts scientific zeal and envy in Grayโ€™s voice.


โ€œOnly in theory. Thatโ€™s why actual research, with live gametes, is needed to see if sexes will emerge with differing characteristics.โ€


There was a long silence as light from the purple sun slanted through the window and crickets hopped around on the pineapple tree outside.


โ€œAlpha, do you trust me?โ€


โ€œYou know I do.โ€


Grayโ€™s hologram disappeared.


โ€ข โ€ข โ€ข


Gray and Alpha picked their way through the green moonlight, crunching the usual snails underfoot, as pigeons howled in the distance. The building they were approaching was large, unlit, and seemed abandoned. But Gray had assured Alpha that it contained the latest model of another friendโ€™s machine, one designed for travel between parallel universes. Garlandโ€™s funding had been approved but the efforts were sworn to secrecy, resulting in this out-of-the-way lab.


A coded knock on the door led to it swinging open enough to admit them and their paraphernalia. The lights switched on to reveal a large space with a circular construction of metal in the middle. An apparent doorway was open on one side.


โ€œThe aliens have landed!โ€ quipped Alpha, with a nervous laugh. Clearing the throat, Alpha continued, โ€œThis thing does work, doesnโ€™t it?โ€


Garland emerged from the other side of the machine, wiping hands. โ€œWeโ€™ve had it almost into a parallel universe and back again. It flickered, like a broken light. I think itโ€™s a problem with the power-input level, which weโ€™ve now fixed. So, you have volunteered to be guinea pigs.โ€ Eyes ran up and down their forms as if calculating thrust requirements for their combined mass.


โ€œWe need,โ€ Alpha said, "to find evidence somewhere to justify my research continuing. If what I think is valid, any nearby universe should have examples that support it.โ€ A gesture indicated the collecting bags. โ€œA few pairs of creatures with sexes should convince even the most hide-bound traditionalists.โ€


โ€œIt sounds weird to me,โ€ Garland said with a smile, โ€œbut good luck to you both.โ€


โ€ข โ€ข โ€ข


The machineโ€™s door slid open silently and the pair of friends gazed out at what was clearly a different world. The sunlight was yellow and strange creatures moved through the air, settling on a tree very unlike the pineapples at home. Closer inspection showed a roundish construction of what looked like twigs and grasses that contained several smaller creatures that made constant noise. Alpha breathed in an awed voice, โ€œThose could be the first sexually-produced creatures weโ€™ve ever seen!โ€


They didnโ€™t have very long before they had to return, so they made their way quickly to the base of a nearby hill and unpacked their picks and shovels. A map from an old history book showed the equivalent spot in their world where large chunks of the most valuable substance known had been found centuries ago. As hoped, in this world no one had yet dug up the jade that would fund whatever was needed for Alphaโ€™s research, including bureaucratic blindness at the highest level.


Two hours of digging filled their bags with beautiful, green stones and they prepared to make their way back to where the machine was concealed under some native herbage.


โ€œWhat do you think youโ€™re doing?โ€ The deep-pitched voice vibrated with anger in Alpha and Grayโ€™s ear implants, making them jump. The person behind them was taller and broader than either of them, with hair growing most oddly on the lower part of the face.

Alpha produced their preplanned explanation, โ€œWeโ€™re just passing through.โ€


โ€œYeah,โ€ the person growled like a large animal, โ€œโ€˜just passing throughโ€™ with big bags of my best truffles that youโ€™ve just dug up. Hand them over!โ€ Not waiting for them to obey, the person grabbed a bag from each of them, the bare arms rippling with bulges of muscle tissue. Both visitors stared in amazement.


โ€œWhatโ€™s going on, Jay?โ€ This lighter voice came from another person who had just emerged from among the strange, hard-stemmed trees. Hooked on the arm was a basket emitting food smells.


โ€œNothing for you to worry about, Alison. Leave my lunch and go home.โ€


The second person was smaller than the first, had two distinct mounds on the chest and a most unusual body shape.


โ€œI heard you say they were stealing the truffles. You know we canโ€™t afford another setback, Jay.โ€


Jayโ€™s hand swung back and connected with Alisonโ€™s face, making a horrible crunching noise. โ€œShut up, woman!โ€ Both visitors felt their ear implants vibrate painfully. โ€œYou know man was given dominion over all the earth and, most especially, over his woman. But you keep forgetting that.โ€ Alison crouched on the ground, one hand wiping blood away from the nose and crying. There was a rustle nearby and a smaller-again third person joined the group, running to hide behind Alison.


โ€œYes, Rebecca, you take heed of how to obey a man and youโ€™ll grow up to be a good wife someday.โ€


Turning attention back to the stunned, silent visitors, he emptied their bags onto the ground. The valuable jade glistened and gleamed. Alpha knew that they would be condemned, in this strange and horrible world, to something far worse than a mere mind-wipe.


โ€œHuh,โ€ huffed Jay, โ€œnothing but stupid rocks. Well, if thatโ€™s all you want, youโ€™re welcome to all you can carry. Be my guest.โ€


Alpha and Gray made their way back to the hidden machine that would return them to their world. โ€œDo you think those were gendered individuals, who reproduced sexually, and the little one was the product of that?โ€ Gray didnโ€™t sound at all sure that an answer was wanted.


Alpha took a deep breath as they cleared away the concealing herbage and entered the machine. โ€œPut it this way, I think we should hand all of this jade over to Garland; parallel universe research is far more important than the creation of sexual reproduction in humans could ever be.โ€


As the door slid silently into place, Gray heartily agreed, tucking the bag with the small flying creatures away out of sight. โœฆ




Susan Cornford is a retired public servant, living in Perth, Western Australia, with pieces published or forthcoming in 365 tomorrows, AHF Magazine, Akashic Books Fri Sci-fi, Altered Reality Magazine, Antipodean Science Fiction, Black Hare Press, Corner Bar Magazine, Frost Zone Zine, Fudoki Magazine, The Mythic Circle, Rowan and Ash Anthology, Speculative 66, Theme of Absence and The Were-Traveler.



Speculative fiction & POETRY ZINE
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