Title: Vignette: Sample Size, Part One of Two
If Ten believed in reincarnation, which ze certainly did not but it was a quaint concept that was diverting enough occupation for hir brain for an afternoon or two, then ze might have wanted to be reincarnated as a carnivorous plant. Because honestly, the physics of the things, their anatomy and physiology, the arc of their evolution—it was utterly fascinating.
Ten generally wasn’t much for botany or zoology; what was flesh and blood or its floral equivalents when compared to the endless possibilities that came from chemistry and bioengineering? But these things…they were different. They were special. They were fast, and not just in a reflexive way either.
“Look at it!” Ten exclaimed as the plant closest to the factory that harvested phosphorescence snapped up a beetle. “Look at the speed of its offensive reflex! Has their reactivity been measured? The tensile strength of their cells? The hydraulic pressure inside of them? Because it has to be off the charts by comparison to similar species. You could potentially completely redesign combat power suits off of the information you could get out of one of those.”
“Is there nothing you don’t think you can improve?” Neyarr asked with a smile. He was one of Ferran’s cousins, and one of the few Perels who had traveled across Federation space for the span of a year before coming back to do his duty to his House by marrying. He and his brother Parrell had been offered by their Matriarch as guides and mentors to Ten, Darrel and Cody while they were here. Ten and Darrel had found them very useful for going places that Grennson didn’t have clearance yet, including out a ways into the forest to observe the wildlife.
Ten quashed the little surge of guilt ze felt over having left Cody back in House Grenn’s family compound, again. One day in three wasn’t very much time for him to get out, and even then they had to be careful in case his exposed skin started to abrade. Cody didn’t say a word about it because that was the sort of martyr he could be, but Ten knew it bothered him to be left behind. Or at least it had last week. This morning, he’d been downright cheerful to see them go.
“I’m good here,” he’s insisted over a cup of lhossa tea. “There are plenty of things for me to do.”
“Are you sure? Because I don’t have to go out today,” Ten had offered.
Cody laughed. “Are you kidding me? You would pout all day if you didn’t get to go poke around in the forest, you’ve been looking forward to it for a week. I’m totally fine, go ahead.”
“I wouldn’t pout,” Ten insisted. “When do I ever pout?” Cody had leaned over and kissed hir, which made the cubs that seemed to constantly pop up whenever one of them stopped for a second all grunt and giggle.
“You do sometimes. Go ahead, seriously. It’s fine.”
Ten wasn’t the type to press—well, no, that was a lie, ze was totally and completely the type to press when ze knew ze was right, or someone was trying to hide something or be stupid, which happened so terribly often—so ze’d gone out, and it was just as spectacular as ze’d expected.
“Are there samples in the museum?” Neyarr asked Parrell.
“Probably, but Ten wouldn’t be able to take any of those.”
“No no no, I can’t use old samples,” Ten insisted. “They have to be fresh or I won’t be able to make accurate measurements. Seriously, has no one compiled this data yet? This is one of your most common animal-plant hybrids and you don’t have its basic data available for study?”
Ten knew ze might sound a little…accusative, but the twins just rolled with it. It was one of the things ze liked best about them, their ability to handle any and all questions and moods with equanimity. It made hir feel less self-conscious about giving offense. When ze bothered to consider that at all, of course.
“Oh, some scientists probably do somewhere,” Parrell said breezily. “But how fresh could those samples be? I mean, you should only use the absolute highest quality, don’t you think?”
“I’m not even a scientist and I agree with you,” Neyarr said. “And I just happened to bring a cutter with me…”
“Fancy that, and I’ve got a specimen bottle!”
“It’s like you’re psychic, brother.”
“Or possibly we’re just too used to anticipating the needs of humans at this point.”
“At the very least, we’re good at anticipating the needs of this human.”
Ten looked between both of their smug faces. “Are you calling me predictable?”
They glanced at each other, then back at Ten. “Nine out of the last ten days you’ve gone out, you’ve wanted to carry something back home with you,” Neyarr said.
“And after the third time, when the residue from our little pheangia burned right through your glove, we figured it was best to be prepared.”
“Oh.” Well, that was logical. Ten had already been remonstrating hirself for not grabbing a specimen bottle before heading out this morning, but Cody had distracted hir. “Thank you for thinking of it.”
“You’re welcome!” Parrell said with a grin. “Now, we’ll just climb up there and shave a little slice off of its—”
“No no no!” Ten protested. “I have to do the sample collection myself, how do I know you’re going to get the right pieces?”
Their smiles dropped away. “Apparently you don’t love us after all,” Neyarr mourned. “Because you clearly want us to be murdered by Ferran and Jason once they find out that we let you climb an enormous, slick tree and take samples from the same creature that almost killed Jason not so long ago.”
“A decade is like a second when it comes to remembering that particular incident,” Parrell added with a little shudder. “If we never have to experience something like that again it will be too soon. That’s the human expression, isn’t it?” he asked Ten. “Because I have to say, it’s one I’ve always found a bit odd. The word never completely negates the timing of the event being referenced.”
“It’s meant to be ironic, and I’m not Jason,” Ten insisted. “I can take care of myself.”
“Well, probably so. Nevertheless, it’s us or nothing.”
“So what will it be?”
Ten glared at both of them. “I hate you.”
“You love us,” Parrell said without missing a beat.
“Fine, you go get it. But I need at least a square centimeter’s sample, and try to capture as much of the sap with it as you can, and don’t take from too close to the root because I want cells that are more regenerative and less vital to attachment, their physiology could be completely different…actually…could you take two samples?”
Neyarr’s quills ruffled in the equivalent of a smirk as he handed his brother another sample container. “I believe we can.”
Watching them work, Ten had to admit that they were probably doing a better job than ze would have. They had strong limbs and thick nails that dug into the spongy bark of the tree, and Parrell was up and down in less than five minutes without even bothering the plant. He handed two pristine samples over to Ten with a flourish.
“Thank you,” Ten said. Because ze could be polite, damn it.
They headed back to the House compound after that, and Ten went straight to hir lab to get the samples into more effective storage. It was tempting to start working with them immediately, but…
It was ridiculous, that ze could miss Cody so quickly. It wasn’t like they didn’t eat together in the mornings or sleep together every night, after all. But not even the lure of brand new experiments could distract Ten from the nagging, gnawing sensation of loneliness in the center of hir chest. This had never been a problem before Cody, hadn’t been an issue at all since ze was five. One year’s exposure to Cody had entrapped hir, changed hir DNA like an insidious virus. Ze was still coming to terms with it, obviously, but at least the means of relief were close at hand. Ten left the lab and went looking for Cody.
He wasn’t in their room, or in the hall where they all met for meals. Ten doubted he was with Grennson and Darrel, who were spending the day with Ferran at the Hall of Matriarchs in the center of the Perel capital. Maybe with Jason, then? Except Ten had no idea where that was.
Wait, no, yes ze did. That bouncy-floored room where he worked with the cubs. The last time Ten had peeked in there, Cody had been patiently dealing with over a dozen cubs vying for his attention. Hopefully this time would be different. Not that Ten didn’t think ze wouldn’t win out over a bunch of kids, but ze didn’t want to steal Cody away from something he enjoyed when his time here was already so curtailed.
Ten found the room and peeked inside. There were no cubs, so that was good. On the other hand, Cody wasn’t alone. He was sparring with Jason, and they were going after each other hard. It was actually kind of mesmerizing. Ten was able to push hir instant concerns for Cody’s health aside—no one was more careful than Jason Kim—and just watch them beat on each other.
Jason used his legs more, snapping kicks and low sweeps that Cody evaded or absorbed without taking too much damage. Cody preferred to punch, or reach out to grab and close the distance, but whenever he tried Jason would dance back out of range. It wasn’t the rapid fire attack-defend that Ten was used to seeing in holo films; instead it was a constant battle, sometimes slow, sometimes fast but the pressure never let up. Cody was breathing hard, sweat darkening the thin shirt he wore, and he was obviously exhausted. Jason didn’t look nearly so tired, but then he’d been doing this a lot longer. It was probably inevitable that he would—
Cody got a grip on Jason’s left lapel, and this time instead of turning out of it, Jason stepped in and held on as he swept Cody onto the mat. Cody hit with a resounding thud that made Ten wince, but instead of lying there breathless Cody jammed his foot up into Jason’s stomach, lifted him off the ground, twisted him 90 degrees and then dropped him sideways between Cody’s legs. An instant later he had Jason’s arm clasped tight in his thighs and straightened to the point of hyperextension, and a few seconds after that Jason tapped out.
“Nice,” Jason said, sitting up and shaking his elbow out. Cody didn’t bother to sit up, but he smiled hugely at his opponent. “I don’t do enough ground work; I should have seen that coming.”
“Garrett thought it was important that I learn,” Cody panted.
“Garrett knows what he’s talking about.” Jason glanced over toward the door and Ten didn’t bother pretending ze hadn’t been watching the whole thing. “Jiu jitsu is the physical version of a chess match. We’ll do more of that. In the meantime, I think I could use a break.” He stood up gracefully. “I’ll see you both at dinner,” he said with a little nod to Ten as he left the room.
“Us both…Ten, hi!” Cody called out from the middle of the floor.
“Hi.” Ze walked over to Cody slowly, taking in all his gross sweatiness and crazy hair and clear fatigue. Fuck, he was completely irresistible.
“Did you see that last part? What did you think of the—mmm—”
Ten was all for talking, but there was a time and a place for it, and talking while Ten was coming to grips with hir boyfriend’s ridiculous hotness was not the time or place. Ze leaned in, cupped Cody’s face in hir hands and kissed him hard, opening hir lips and tasting the coppery flavor in his mouth from a hit that had torn the inside of his lip a bit. Ze straddled Cody’s hips and kept him pressed to the ground, stretching out against his body, unable to get close enough. “Stupid…clothes…” Ten muttered as ze ground hir hips impatiently against Cody’s.
“Ten—Ten, wait, not---oh, shit, not here, there could be—people—cubs—”
Turning Cody into a stammering wreck was one of Ten’s favorite things ever, but he had a point. “Then let’s go back to our room and you can have a shower, and I can have you.”
“Yes,” Cody said, and Ten laughed at ze got up and offered him a hand.
“Screw you, I’m done running,” Cody said, but he still moved gratifying fast down the hall toward their bedroom.