In the whole Milky Way, there was a single Human that lived without at least one other. This fact would be wildly unacceptable to the rest of them if anybody found out. Probably. To be fair, they hadn’t met this particular Human.
She was an odd combination of a dumpy, lonely five-year-old and a destructive, anonymous vandal. She lived in a nook built into the wall of a stadium, in a city of floating buses and neon signs, on a comet called The Sungrazer.
Most vandals, and especially destructive ones, prefer to be unknown. It might come as a surprise that this vandal not only wanted to be known, but wasn’t even a vandal on purpose. She was paying off the damage she caused anyway, and went so far as to try to name herself.
She couldn’t decide between “Scoop Faster” and “Quit Excreting Moisture,” and who could blame her?
There was another word—“Cephalord”—that she learned slightly before those. It was, unfortunately, already taken by a large squid-headed person. Educated Humans were well aware squid-kind, and knew better than to take anything from a squid-head. She had no idea.
This same squid-head plucked her from the smoking, electrified hole she created when she landed. Besides being the first, “Cephalord” was also the worst word she knew. When somebody so much as mouthed it, all the little creatures shook. A few excreted moisture.
Shortly after she’d learned to crawl and cry and whatnot, Cephalord pressed a shovel against her probing fingertips. He wailed the names for her to choose from. She had been scooping ever since, and, only when it was very quiet, wondering where she came from. Despite what he told her, she had to be from somewhere.
“Quit Excreting Moisture,” the Human would repeat, pointing at a smile of seven or eight teeth and a nub that hadn’t quite worked itself in. When she did this, the other small things made sad beeping noises, or spun their heads before tucking them into peanut-shaped shells. She was the only one in the stadium with five fingers on each hand, and one of only six with hands. She’d given up on meeting anyone completely her shape.
“That’s because your shape is…unique,” suggested a very judgmental, invisible woman. The Human never asked this woman for her name, because the Human scarcely knew how to speak English, let alone respond to a snooty, imaginary nanny who was quite good at it.
She ignored it, like always.
Having rolled out of a hammock made from her own hair, she began to dress herself. It was a three-part effort. First, her head…
Cephalord’s motorized boots hissed somewhere above. Every few seconds, the Human stopped her dressing routine to cower at the honks and squeals of her coworkers. She couldn’t possibly know this, but it was fortunate she hadn’t been discovered by other Humans. One thing they didn’t put up with anymore was cowardice.
The squid-head wailed in a wavy, aquatic voice.
“Emeeerge, Lesser creatuuures!”
The Human writhed inside an over-sized plastic bag. Not knowing quite where she was in the tiny, dark room, she smashed her biggest toe on a chair of cobbled-together comet rock, and moaned.
Nearer, louder: “EMEEERGE!
Her left arm found the second opening. A dimple formed in each of her cheeks. She thought that maybe—it was possible—the mucky brown towers would require fewer scoops today. She could come back to her nook and enjoy a full minute of quiet and wondering before the invisible woman started offering “helpful” suggestions again.
The dimples un-formed almost instantly, as she glanced at her newest project. In the corner of the room was yet another unshapely pile of comet rock. It toppled over pathetically. (It would be a table someday, though what she’d put on the table she’d wonder about later.)
She forced her right arm through a new armhole, too scrambled to find the third, and something tugged at it.
She looked down at a scrawny, two-headed weasel. The creature’s reddish neck went limp while its blond neck stood stiff and the blond head wobbling on top spoke.
“The Squid’s coming—in case you went deaf overnight. Wouldn’t want to see you on crater patrol. I know how you hate comet flies.”
The Human huffed at it.
It insisted, tugging harder.
“Come on. You know I favor you, Starbit.”
She shrugged the double-weasel off and onto the floor, where it bounced and scampered away as if it were accustomed to being bounced off hard surfaces. Only his blond side ever called her “Starbit”, and she was fed up dealing with how wonderfully kind and absolutely horrible he was.
Teegret was the name on his collar when he arrived.
He was shipped in a crate along with another batch of Lesser creatures, and had quickly discovered that, as an irritating little varmint, his survival depended on making everyone happy, which, as the Human learned, usually makes nobody happy.
It did trick Cephalord into excusing him from scooping dung with the others.
Secretly, she liked the nickname “Starbit,” and it might have stuck if it had a less…astronomical story behind it. Or perhaps if being from dead space wasn’t the worst place she could be from. One night, just before bedtime, Cephalord shoved his face into her tunnel and wailed the story of how she arrived as a pink, blanket-swaddled meteor; how she came from absolutely nowhere at all and somehow broke through the plasma-shield above the neon-lit city. Worst of all, she landed in the middle of his digital scoreboard!
That circus act made her responsible for damage which Cephalord testified before the Sungrazer Civil Court to amount to a trillion Starpoints plus interest. Compounded daily, of course.
Every evening, he would float down a single blue note, one Starpoint to be exact, for services rendered. Then he’d pull her out, take it back, and demand the rest. She never had more than the one.
Her bag firmly on, she started out of the cramped tunnel.