“What are we?”
“We are Vairens,” Syzygy replied nonchalantly by the portal-way, eyeing his partner surreptitiously. The couple had come into friction in the last few weeks, when the plight of the outcasts came to weigh on their collective conscience.
“You know that’s not what I’m referring to,” Amaranth said, her vision pulling upon the high mountains that loomed half a planet-width away. Any stronger, and she would’ve torn the peaks off with her gaze.
“We are Vairens,” Syzygy reiterated. “For eons, an illuminating pillar through the darkness, unbending, unconquerable, unquenchable. We were moulding light and shaping gravity even before the earliest civilizations had discovered heat or invented the wheel.”
“Yes,” Amaranth said, remaining unmoved. “We may have achieved a great deal, in most cases surpassing those of our neighbours, but if we subject ourselves, even one individual to such gross indecency…”
Syzygy stepped up, standing next to his symbiont. A moment passed and he turned to regard his diminutive other half. “We are no better than hive-chewers?”
“You mock me, Syzygy. I know you do.”
“I apologize Amaranth, it is not my intention to belittle your concerns. I—” he paused, exasperation crept into his voice. “We,” he corrected, “we have to preserve our way of life. It is who we are. It is… what we are.”
“And so I ask,” Amaranth said. “What are we?”
“A million-year old race of hyper-intelligent beings.”
“I could say the same of the Metamorphs.”
“Those savages aren’t of the same evolutionary pedigree as us. They had a biased advantage, and by all accounts—scientific or otherwise—should have supplanted us as the dominant species in the sextant.”
“So, what does that say about us?” Amaranth angled her shoulders, appearing to examine her partner’s façade.
“We are civilized. We have social structure, intricate culture, unparalleled ecosystems, each developed specifically to blend in with the unique characteristics of the terraformed planet. The shapeshifters simply acquire and assimilate. They are barbaric.”
Amaranth was quick to counter, “and we impose an inflexible doctrine on our young, even before conception, dictating how each individual is to function within the confines of their society. We erode our own freedom before we even understand what it means to be free.”
“Without systemic perfection,” Syzygy said, “we would not be what we are right now.” His eyes narrowed slightly.
“So,” Amaranth said, “it matters not that our individual rights are trampled upon, so long as we have the ability to subjugate every other species that we come across, friend or foe?”
“Our system works,” came the retort. Syzygy was facing Amaranth in full, arms folded.
“We have never enjoyed more holistic and accomplished lives. Our achievements in science, technology, art, philosophy—everything—remained unrivalled. Do you remember when we were first inflicted by the phage?”
Amaranth closed her eyes, memories from almost forty-thousand years ago sprouted into her subconscious, seeking to soften her stoic visage. The ability to store and retrieve every single thought and mental nuance was both a blessing and curse.
“We lost billions,” she said after a pause.
“Indeed,” Syzygy said, his chest puffing out. “But you’re still not convinced.”
“There has to be another way,” she said, again after a short while. Her eyes were semi-moist.
Syzygy arched an eyebrow. “You are emotional,” he said. “I haven’t seen you like this in a long time. Not since we lost Daedal.”
Amaranth turned away at the mention of their offspring, and stepped toward the other view-portal.
“This can’t be about those vagabonds,” Syzygy said, shadowing her departure. But before he could get within arm’s length, his genetic-mate turned around with an open palm held up, intended to prevent his advance.
“I implore you,” Amaranth said, lowering her arm, “we must seek an amicable resolution for these individuals.”
“You frustrate me,” Syzygy said from where he stopped. “Surely you understand, the pairing works more than just a marriage of ideology and thesis.”
“But do you?”
Amaranth did not reply. Instead, she had her back towards him again.
“I’m inclined to comment,” Syzygy said, observing his spouse of two-thousand years. Still, only roaring silence.
“Don’t,” she finally said.
“Without the pairing,” he said, “our species will go extinct.”
Her frame heaved up and down.
“One half provides genetic surplus, one half consumes. Without compatible—”
“I said don’t,” Amaranth shot him a glare, both hands perched on her hips. “Have you forgotten that I used to be on the science directorate?”
Syzygy held his tongue.
“Have you forgotten it was I who composed the entire compendium on pairing? Have you forgotten that I propelled your station to its current stature, high above your peers? Is your head so far up the stratosphere that you suffer from fluid deprivation?”
“Enough!” Syzygy said, lunging forward to grip her forearms. “Amaranth!” he jolted her, “this isn’t you. Why are you behaving erratically?”
Both of her eyes had suddenly turned a shade of dark emerald, with smaller hair-like tendrils boring just beneath the surface of her skin, permeating deeper and wider with each second.
“Amaranth,” he said softly as he joined her on the floor, shins flat against the malleable surface that had recrystallized itself to form a low-lying chair. “Why do you weep? Where is this grief coming from? Tell me, please.”
She took several steadying breaths. Steadily, the dark green pigments on her forehead and cheekbones dissipated, becoming less prominent. “I…” Amaranth said, her light-green orbs finding his. “I request severance.”
Syzygy released her arms in an instant, putting distance between himself and his partner. “You…” he gasped. “What is going on?”
“I do not wish to seem an ungrateful spouse,” she said, “for we have shared each other for as long as I can remember without synthetic aid. I do cherish our experiences. But…”
“No, Syzygy, let me expla—”
“No!” he said with flaring eyes. “I said stop!” It was Syzygy who was now spotting viridian patterns on his face.
“Please,” she hushed.
“I understand now,” he said with a forced chuckle. “Why you empathized so fervently with the outcasts and want to champion their cause.”
“We do not seek to abolish the pairing, only that we incorporate additional compatibility criteria during the mutual-selection process.”
“Am I no longer worthy of your exudations?”
“It’s not that,” Amaranth replied. “It has never been about that.”
“Oh?” Syzygy folded his arms again. “Tell me, then. Tell me what it’s really about.”
“Intimacy,” she said. “Harmonious rapport that provides a deep reciprocity of both individuals—body, mind and spirit.”
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “That is what we yearn. To have a choice. To have a say in the matter that concerns our existence. And in many ways, the quality of our collective
“You mean that’s what you want.” His voice was dripping ice.
“No,” he said in quick succession and edged away. “It’s not possible. It’s… you clearly stated in the compendium that any other pairing process will not guarantee the same probabilities of success. I will not have it. The leadership will not have it.”
“You don’t speak for the leadership,” she said. “You are merely one part of many. If the lack of scientific interest in the subject is holding—”
“It’s too risky,” he countered. “We cannot allow personal interests to threaten what is otherwise a perfect system that has guaranteed the superiority of the species for more than a millenia.”
“But we don’t know if it won’t work,” Amaranth argued. “We discounted so many branches of thought at the time, so many ideas were left unexplored. I’m confident we can find a way, a compromise, a resolution to mend the mainstream with the divergents.”
Syzygy spun around without warning and had his hands around her neck the moment he was within reach. “There will be no studies or investigations,” he whispered into her contorted face. Her legs weakened as her internal systems were unable to compensate from the forced extraction of genetic substance. Another moment later and his partner’s face was pale, mired in wrinkles. “I can see the terror in your eyes. You thought you could anticipate, you thought you knew me. But you don’t, you never did.”
Amaranth was on her knees, hands on his forearms, staring into his eyes, a frowned etched upon her forehead. Her neck and ears were a shade of dark aubergine.
“Yes, dearest companion,” Syzygy said, “fear my wrath. It’s funny. To think I augmented by skin pigments years ago as a means of subterfuge—to ensure longevity of ascendance—never once crossing my mind that I would need to conceal my anger from you. Funny. How things worked out.”
“What did you say?”
She squeaked again.
Syzygy eased his claws and drew closer, his ears almost touching Amaranth’s lips. “Yes?”
“I impregnated my blood hours ago.”
He released his grip, the color from his face drained. “What have you done?”
“Taking a stance.” Amaranth soared up as she watched her spouse stumble backwards, his skin percolating grey.
“You won’t get away with this…” he wheezed, trying to prop himself upright.
“I already have.”