By D. Ahren Bell
How could it have gone this far? How could things have gotten out of hand so quickly? It was a disaster of a dilemma. A preposterous predicament was honing all of his resource, consuming all of his attention. Maroon Peters Uubek’s hands were shaking, his eyes watering. Never in his life had he had to make such a decision… life threatening or life-ending. He had long passed the threshold where any semblance of normality could be recreated after the situation blew passed, and that was if he would even get through it.
Fifteen billion zoluuns? Maroon had never heard of anyone offering even close to that amount of currency for anything, let alone for a chef! Maybe for an accountant – at least there was a possibility for some sort of return, but someone who prepares meals? The Uubeks would be fools not to accept. Sure, Sear could make a decadent dinner, a fabulous feast – whether prepared for the superior Doolite palate or the inferior human appetite, but fifteen billion zoluuns could buy all of the chefs on this side of the Mare Insularium. The tipping point had been reached. Maroon would have to tell his master. Any further delay would certainly result in his freedom.
An offer of this magnitude would normally, under any other circumstances, be the cause of major jubilation and celebration throughout the Uubek hive. A vision of retirement, a euphoric moment of private quarters for Maroon and his wife… but therein lay the problem: Sear, the chef with the fifteen billion zoluun offer, was his wife.
The Doolites had no concept of marriage, no relationship remotely analogous. They had no reason to care for human courtship, companionship, and love – no way to understand the concept. Sear would be halfway around the planetoid from him. It may be possible to see her once, even twice a year on holiday. But that wouldn’t be marriage. Maroon tossed away images of Sear and his future plans – children, Uubek willing, retirement to the Maelstrom Belt. Everything they had been working for… all of their dreams, drowning in a flood that seemed to have gotten over his head before he even noticed his feet were wet.
Maroon had been utilizing all of his resources to make his correspondence with the Raalecks as clandestine as possible. At the outset of the negotiations, his actions were in line with doolite customs. The Queen Mother was an unimaginably busy creature. To ask her whether she wanted to sell her head chef for an offer far below her market value would be equivalent to asking a CEO if a customer can use a competing store’s coupons. The Raalecks were powerfully persistent, however, and continued to raise their offers despite Maroons blatant disregard to the enormous increases the deal was expanding to. Before long, Maroon’s well-groomed upbringing began to weigh on him. His duty was to the Uubeks, not to his wife. And despite all of the years of indoctrinating him with the ‘hive-first’ mentality, something in him prevented him from bringing the offers to the attention of the Queen Mother.
The exigency escalated as another hive entered the negotiations, adding to Maroon’s crisis of conscience. The Schoons must have bought into the Raaleck’s obdurate desires, as Sear quickly became an exotic commodity- a trophy for any member of the Doolite aristocracy to add to their collection of specialized human slaves.
The nature of this bidding war had now become crystal clear in Maroon’s hindsight. The insect-like hive-mind mentality of the Doolites did not allow for disagreements within a hive – only between competing hives. The Doolite mind could only draw one conclusion to Maroon’s instantaneous rejection of all offers: Queen Uubek must have listed the value of her top chef so high that no other hive could possibly afford her. This forbidden fruit only gnawed at the cultured condition between the hives, the inherent jealousy that fed the ever-expanding Doolite economy. The price continued to climb, and it was now at a point where Maroon had no choice: he would have to tell his Queen.
He wanted more than anything to keep suppressing the offers and keep doing so until he could no longer perform his job, but his time had run out. Next orbit was Oostref, the biggest doolite holiday. All of the aristocracy around their moon would meet together, and surely Queen Raaleck would mention something. The doolites knowledge of guile was lacking. In fact, deceit was virtually unheard of before their first contact with humans. The doolites knew what deception was, however, and sought to rid themselves of any human they felt capable of it. Purging the hive of duplicity weighed on their collective conscious as heavily as scraping off a scab or removing an unwanted wart. It was a poor allocation of resources for the hive to retain members who did not add value.
But it went against everything Maroon believed to let his wife be sold. How could he possibly allow that? What kind of human would he be? Soul mates belonging to the same hive was surely a rare occurrence, and he could not let go so easily. Indeed, his failure to report the correspondence with the other hives could certainly endanger her life as well if Queen Uubek associated their close relationship with a conspiracy. Surely she noticed their intimacy, even if the concept of marriage was far outside the realm of Doolite understanding.
His mind was made up. He would have to confess to Sear, and they could decide what to do together.
It wasn’t until later in the evening that Maroon had the opportunity to be alone, or as alone as he could be, with his wife. Their exclusive meeting took place in their quarters, a large tube-shaped room dug out of a cave and reinforced and adapted for minimal human comfort. They shared these sleeping quarters with three other couples and their children – each family partitioned off by a glossy, silky material and separated by a few meters of empty space. The room was now dark and quiet enough for Maroon to assume that everyone else was sleeping. A pale light seeped through the gaps and fissures in the glossy material above them, allowing them to barely make out the expressions on each other’s faces. Maroon was pouting. Sear was glowing.
“Honey, I have some news for you!” she sang.
Maroon responded quickly and unevenly, “I… uh… have some news for you as well, darling.”
Her colorful expression began to fade, “Okay, you first, honey.” Perhaps she read something from his tone.
Maroon started, stopped, restarted, and then gave up. He couldn’t quite muster the courage. He shook his head, “Please,” he said finally. “Mine can wait.” It already had, what was a little bit longer?
The words exploded out of her mouth, “I’m pregnant!”
Maroon’s heart rate tripled. Every sweat pore on his forehead immediately released a sea of sweat. “Are – are you certain?” he stuttered.
“Of course I’m sure!” Her grotesquely wide smiled mocked the inward torment that was wrecking havoc on his psyche. “We’re going to have a family!”
Instinctively he knew that any hesitation would mean trouble, and every extra moment of hesitation meant exponentially more trouble, but he paused an awkward eternity before finally coughing out a “Great! That’s fantastic!” In a tone that may have betrayed his words.
Apparently he had caught a lucky break as Sear was too wrapped up in her own enthusiasm to realize his lack thereof. The moment he stopped talking was the moment she continued. “Do you think Queen will be excited? Everyone in the kitchen says she’ll be thrilled! I know it’s kind of weird, but I think she thinks human babies are like what we think of puppies and kittens. My sous chef said that after her baby was born the Queen even had her come down to the lair a few times to show off the baby. I’m sure the baby was terrified, but still…”
She continued to prattle in no particular direction, but her audience had long ago gone into recess. He was unable to handle this daunting new revelation. Now not only his wife but his newborn child would be taken from his grasp and sent halfway across their moon. And yet… perhaps there was a way out! A dim light now showed through the thick threatening fog that had engulfed his entire being. Many Doolites were entirely repulsed by the idea of live human birth. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Schoons and the Raalecks would cancel their offers if they heard of Sear’s pregnancy, believing her to be tainted goods. The deal would be off!
Sear became cognizant of Maroon’s ever-expanding smile and stopped talking. “I’m so glad you’re as excited as I am!” She paused, “Now what was your news honey? Hopefully I didn’t upstage anything.”
“Never mind, dear. I wouldn’t want to make your news any less important. It’s best if it waits for another night.”
The following morning Maroon sent the Raalecks and the Schoons a message:
All negotiations and transactions regarding human female Sear Peterson Uubek are hereby discontinued in lieu of a change in her physical condition. The female in question has recently had her eggs fertilized and is expecting to deliver a human fetus in seven months time. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused parties interested in the Uubek executive chef, but we thank you for conducting business with the Uubek Hive.
Afterwards, Maroon went on about his day as he normally would, trying to escape from the haunting deposits of fear and panic the bidding war had left behind. It was still far too early to imagine that the whole business was behind him, and he had a lingering feeling that there would be repercussions for the entire fiasco. Throughout the morning his performance was far worse than usual, and he kept misplacing documents and getting off track.
He was moderately productive, however, and bought a new food synthesizer through a brief transaction with another prominent hive. Before the deal was even closed, he noticed two new messages in his inbox-–one from the Raalecks, one from the Schoons. Both were inquiries, asking similar questions about the human fetus. Maroon was tempted to ignore the inquiries completely or respond with a rejection of their questions, reiterating his previous statements regarding Sear’s unavailability, but in doolite social norms, that would be a dangerous faux pas.
Maroon was surprised and a little frustrated with their questions. Not frustrated because they were difficult, nor because they were elementary, but because they kept referring to the father of the fetus as the ‘fertilizer.’ He felt like he was on trial, defending the quality of his sperm and his own abilities.
Not an hour after sending his responses back to the senders, he received two new offers. Both the Schoons and the Raalecks had upped their offers, accounting for the additional cargo of the ‘high-potential’ human fetus. The Raalecks added a ‘cute’ note at the end: “We had no idea the chef was a human Queen!”
His eyes froze in terror when he read the rest of the message “We have already sent a message of congratulations to Queen Uubek.” He read it a second, third, fourth and final time to make sure it was actually there. The Queen Mother knew.
Maroon hated going to see the Queen Mother. It wasn’t that she was unfriendly, and it was always nice to know that she did truly appreciate him, but her lair was straight out of a human’s worst nightmare. It was deep underground – much deeper than the human’s sleeping quarters. The darkness was so engulfing that it approached pitch black. The lair had a dampness that was consuming. It was full of insects ranging in sizes from towering over you to nesting a home in your hair. Worst of all, however, was the smell. There was a thick odor that reminded Maroon of a horrid mix of mildew, defecation and decay.
Maroon had vomited on his first trip to a Queen’s chamber when he was a child but had since found a way to tolerate the stench. It was still highly unpleasant, however, and reserved for rare visits that were all but unavoidable.
The Queen Mother was lounging, appearing like a grotesque distortion of a Roman noble. A smaller doolite was holding a basket that the Queen was pulling small furry remains of some animal – certainly not Sear’s cooking. The Queen’s size alone would have been intimidating; she was full of eggs at this time of the year, expanding her already massive size. Looking into her exotic eyes, Maroon was only marginally comforted by the thought that this monster was a friend and not a foe.
“Maroon,” She clicked, her eyes flaring slightly upon recognition of him, “What a pleasant surprise. It is not often you visit me in my chamber. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
He knelt before her as required from him by tradition. “My Queen, I have a matter of urgent importance. The Raalecks have offered to buy our chef Sear.”
“Ahh,” The Queen swallowed her food and began clicking, “You and she share some special human bond, correct?” She paused in deep thought. “Marriage is the term you use, correct? You are interested in ending this bond then?”
Maroon raised himself up to face her. Timidly, he responded, “As a husband, I am hoping that you turn the deal down, but as a servant, I would be worthy of nothing more than execution if I did not at least present the offer to you.”
The Queen’s mandibles flailed, “It must be quite an offer.”
He took a deep breath of the dank, thick air, “Fifteen billion zoluuns.”
The chamber erupted in a cacophony of clacking and clicking. It was truly horrible. The appendages of most of the Doolites in the room-–the ones who could understand human speech-–flailed, the Doolite expression of surprise and excitement.
The Queen waited for the excitement to subside. “Fifteen billion zoluuns is quite an offer. I would be a fool not to accept. Would that be your advice as my financial advisor?”
Something in Maroon’s upbringing made it impossible to say no. He wanted to, but everything he had been taught stood against it. He sighed, “Yes. It is an offer you can’t pass up.” His shoulders felt heavy. Wasn’t there more? “Oh yes, Queen, there is another matter to consider. Sear is pregnant.”
“Pregnant?” Her tendrils rolled and flexed, a Doolite expression of confusion. “I’m not familiar with the term.”
“Her eggs are fertilized. She is expecting a human child.”
The Queen’s eyes grew very wide-–the Doolite equivalent of a smile, “I always thought Sear might be a human Queen. She is very dignified and intelligent-–much smarter than most of my human servants. Do the Raalecks know of the human fetus?”
“Yes, they have offered three billion for the child.”
There was another eruption of clickity-clacks and flailing of appendages. The Queen hushed them again. “Eighteen billion zoluuns… for a human? Obnoxious. Has Queen Raaleck let her workers run her finances? This is extraordinarily high.”
Maroon felt his knees shake. He began to stutter. “T-There have been other offers, your Greatness, but I-I thought they were too low for your consideration. I didn’t want to inter-“He stopped because the Queen’s mandibles spread wide in every direction-–an expression Maroon was not familiar with. What was this expression? Anger? Frustration? Surprise? Maybe she was about to eat him. He couldn’t tell.
She stared at him for what felt like eternity. No one in the room clicked or clacked. Queen Uubek was not stupid. Her intelligence was beyond comparison to a human’s. But the doolite understanding and tolerance for deception were both exceedingly lower than their servant race. What was the Queen thinking?
Her click was very slow, so slow that Maroon had a difficult time understand what she was trying to say. “In the future, I insist you bring me all offers above one hundred million zoluuns to me regardless of class, trade or any other classification.
Maroon released a held breathe. “Thank you my Queen. It won’t happen again.” He got up to leave.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Maroon turned around.
“Tell the Raalecks that I accept their offer.”
There was a deep welling of despair that dominated Maroon’s consciousness as he left the Queen’s chamber. He had never despised himself before. No feeling in his repertoire could even compare to how he felt now. He had shipped his family across the globe, and even if he had the ability to see them, he doubted they would want to see him. Even though he knew it was the right thing to do, he couldn’t muster the strength to tell Sear. Instead, he went back to his office, burying himself in work to try and get his mind off the deed he had just committed. He put off sending the acceptance to the offer from the Raalecks as well, doing anything else that would get his mind off of it.
He lost track of time as he buried himself in his paperwork. Like a message com ringing in the middle of the night, his console pulled him out of his stupor by alerting him to an incoming message. He could feel the adrenaline flood through his arteries, scared of what this message could be. He felt like a pubescent boy caught with a pornographic magazine.
The message was from Queen Uubek, or rather, an assistant of hers in charge of such things. Queen Uubek was taking the reins of the transaction, a quite unorthodox turn of events. But it was the second part of the note that terrified him. He was supposed to look for a new accountant. Although he knew he should be feeling the weight of his impending doom collapsing on him, he felt relief instead; justice was being served to a man who had been a complete failure, not only to his hive but also to his dear wife and family. Not a single member of the doolite or human species would feel sorry for him.
Queen Uubek, however, was in luck. There were quite a variety of journeyman accountants ready for new placements throughout their moon. Maroon wondered if Queen Uubek would let him train the replacement or whether he would be freed as soon as his replacement arrived.
It did not take him long to secure a deal for the new accountant. Despite the crushing guilt that lay on his shoulders, he was proud of the deal; it was a good bargain. At least his final transaction, his final contribution to the hive, would be a positive one. Perhaps it would dull, however slightly, the shame and embarrassment that would be his legacy. Yet even after it was complete, he found himself finding something to keep him occupied in his office, fearing that if he left he may never see it again. His sleeping quarters might as well have been the gates of hell.
After there was nothing else he could do, he gave in and left the office, long after he normally went home. He had even skipped dinner-–an insult to Sear that he did not intend, but one that always put her in a bad mood. Although it wasn’t intentional, he wasn’t too concerned at this point. What were a couple of extra lightning bolts to a hurricane?
He arrived to the surprising sight of his wife already packing her things.
“Hello honey! Busy day at the office?” Her voice was chipper, as if she hadn’t heard the news. His head was beginning to swim.
He was afraid to answer, was it a trick question? What was she doing, baiting him? He began cautiously, “Uh, yes. Actually it was quite eventful.” He couldn’t take his eyes off of her, attempting to put everything into context. “So… packing up already?”
She looked at him for the first time and smiled warmly, “We’re shipping off tomorrow, honey.” She looked at her belly, “Haven’t you heard? I thought you made the deal?”
“A lot of it was Queen Uubek really,” he lied. There was a tense pause that he struggled through. “You… You’re not mad?” He blurted out.
“Mad?” She asked. “Maybe a little frustrated that you didn’t talk to me about it, but I’ve been so preoccupied with the baby that I haven’t really given you as much attention as you deserve recently. And I am a little sad I won’t see the Queen anymore. We’ve always got along so well. I hope Queen Raaleck is just as nice. Why, are you mad?”
Maroon was befuddled. So many conflicting emotions were poring out of his oblongata at once that he wasn’t sure if he was relieved, confused or angry. He became angry at his confusion, and self-conscious. What about him? Wouldn’t she miss him? Was he the only human living in the Doolite society left that had any humanity? Was she more attached to the hive than to her own family? Was he simply a fertilizer and not a life-partner? Surprising even himself, he snapped, “Well now that you mention it, I am a little mad. Do you realize that I just had to find myself a replacement? That today may very well be the last day I ever see that office again?”
Sear released the tunic she had been folding. “I don’t understand honey – you set up the deal. I didn’t realize you were so tied to the office. You know the Raalecks are the wealthiest hive on the planetoid, right? Our child will have an excellent life there!”
His anger began to dissolve into self-pity. “But what about us, Sear?” His toned was bordering on a whine, “I wasn’t lying or going through some ancient tradition when I told you I loved you. You mean more to me than anything.”
“I should hope so, dear. I love you too. Very much! More than I have loved anything in my life.” She crossed her arms.
He reached out, uncrossed her arms and put her hands in his, “But I always envisioned-–always thought, we would grow old… you know… together.”
“What’s stopping us from growing old together at the Raalecks?”
He turned his face away in shame, “I’m not going with you to the Raalecks.”
She released his hands slowly, “You’re not? But Queen Uubek said…” She trailed off and ran her hands through her hair.
“Queen Uubek said what?”
“She said you and I were both sold, and at record breaking prices! Twenty-two billion zoluuns for our family! Can you believe it? She said she had no idea you were such a good negotiator.”
Maroon felt like click-clacking and flailing his mandibles. Was it true? Had he been sold for four billion zoluuns? A flair of pride flowed through his consciousness.
Sear sensed his disbelief. “You didn’t know? Queen said that the Raalecks were so impressed with the bidding war and the loyalty you displayed to the Uubek hive that they offered to buy you too. Apparently the sale is being talked about all across this moon, and maybe even on the other moons! You’ve made me the biggest human celebrity in our minor race’s history! Except maybe next to you.”
“Why would I be famous?”
“The way you convinced the other hives that my importance to the Uubek hive was so great that it put me above purchase. That just drove them crazy! And telling them I was a human Queen… a little deceptive, but it really worked!”
Maroon was speechless. His eyes widened in great joy, and if he had had tentacles on his face, they would be rolling and flexing.