“Real Estate in Deltosa”
I am surrounded by vaginas. Nothing but walking, talking fibromuscular holes who think they understand stem cell research. There’s nothing quite like hauling my decrepit ass out of bed, getting dressed, and shaving my face off, just so I can come to work and hear Doctor Lucy Liebstein question my report on cord blood storage. I remember Thursday very well. It started predictably painful, the type of welcome that made me want to hang myself in public.
“Doctor Gideon? I had a concern about your latest report.”
Ignoring my sigh, she continued to queef. “You stated, word for word, that ‘cord blood cells could theoretically remain viable after long-term storage.’ Is this true?” She waited for an answer.
“Is it true? You’re the one that read the goddamn report. You tell me.”
“Okay, I understand,” she nervously replied. “It’s just that this theory was disproved by Doctor Joseph Regals in 2403. Are you aware of that? As far as modern science is concerned, even stem cells stored at below -200°C have shown to lose in-vitro determined viability. According to his statement. As I’m sure you’re aware, you cannot teach impressionable students hypothetical theories that were valid four hundred years ago. It confuses them.”
“Lucy, for Christ’s sakes, did you read the report by Regals? No, you’re just pulling facts out of your ass. What Regals did was reduce the standard nitrogen level of the banks and periodically check on umbilical stem cells for signs of decreased viability. Regals completely ignored the fact that there was still strong indications of biologic activity, even after he screwed with the lab results.”
“Right, I understand. But as I understand it congress sided with—”
“Of course congress sided with him, dummy. After forty administrations of Republican rule, stem cell research had just as much a chance surviving as a miscarriage in a milk carton. The only reason why the research was dropped was because a few evangelical ninnies thought that experimenting with autologous stem cell transplants would somehow bring back embryonic stem cell research. And as we all know that’s an insult to aborted fetuses everywhere.”
Lucy took a shaky gulp but held her eyes strong, so anxious to prove something.
“Even so…you have to edit the report.”
“Regals wasn’t a scientist. He was a rubber stamp who could count. I’ll tell you what, if you’re such an expert on stem cells then you edit the damned report.”
What a great day Thursday was turning out to be. Not only did I have to waste my brain cells debating a menarcheal doctor, I also had to cut my lunch short so I could interview Kantina Crux, intergalactic real estate guru and expatriate resident of Acruxopeia, the fifteenth planet in the Deltosa Solar System. Crux believes she is coming to the Modular TuySky 700 Educational Institute to be interviewed about intergalactic real estate in Deltosa. That’s plausible, since I substitute for Planetary Real Estate once a week and could use some expert commentary. But since my primary subject is Civic Sexology, I think it’s a fairly obvious ruse. Little does Crux know that the only thing kids running the Holmberg Galaxy care about are multiple vaginas and oviparous life forms.
I have a hunch that Modular TuySky’s Captain, Jane Thyme, only requested Crux because of the tabloids. Journalists and gossip queens are reporting that she has children—lots of children. Leave it to Holmberg rule to quiz any species that doesn’t conform to our inane definition of humanism.
“Are you excited about the interview, Professor Gideon?” Elizabeth VII, micromanaging counsel to Captain Thyme, asked me while straightening my tie.
“I’m sure it will be very interesting.”
“Just a few reminders, as requested by Captain Thyme,” she reminded her eyes widening at my tired shrug. “Please do not ask Kantina Crux any direct questions about her sexuality. Indirect, yes, but we must consider tact in a case like this. Try not to fixate on any—”
“Liz, I outgrew alien genitalia fixations in high school.”
“Good. And please, Professor Gideon, do control your colorful language. She is a very prominent being and is doing us a huge favor.”
I nodded as Elizabeth VII continued to chatter away. Half way to the conference room she was still shouting out reminders about journalistic integrity. I noticed she didn’t say a word about avoiding invasive questions. She wanted the dirt so Captain Thyme could determine if Kantina Crux was a threat to Holmbergian feminism.
I entered the conference room on time only to be kept waiting for three damned hours. Now if that isn’t feminist power I don’t know what is. By the time Kantina Crux finally showed up I was a little cranky.
“Professor Gideon!” she bellowed, her face a shooting star of forced enthusiasm. “Right on time! I admire punctuality in the human species.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Kantina Crux.”
Kantina Crux was definitely Acruxopeian; her blue green skin shined like the earth’s sea, but her physical shape was something close to human. Her flowing hair was white and the same color as every piece of pricey jewelry she wore around her neck and waist. She carried a walking stick that was the same color as her shimmering skin.
“What is your chosen prefix?”
“Esquire, darling. Understand that post-nominal letters and suffixes are still a bit new to me. However, your ‘esquire’ as a suffix actually means ‘beautiful one’, a title of honor in my native tongue Cruxion.”
I couldn’t smile if I tried but nodded appropriately. “Esquire, it is. Please have a seat.”
“Do you mind if my guards accompany me for this interview?”
“Not at all.”
I watched ten pint-sized male guards enter the room, each with the same skin color and distinctive facial features of Crux. Not one of them measured over four feet high and their features were young. These were almost certainly her children.
“Gentlemen,” I said respectfully.
“Oh, please don’t address them,” she said merrily. “They are slaves.”
“Noted…” I glanced a double take at the peculiar slave race. “They look like you.”
She stared into my eyes, never losing her hospitable demeanor, but probably discerning my next question. “They are my children, Professor Gideon.”
“I see. And do they…” I hesitated and that weakness Crux quickly picked up on.
“Professor Gideon, shall we skip the obligatory questions on Deltosa real estate and move straight into the scandalous inquiries that brought me here? I’m not a fool. If you want to talk about inhabiting Hydrogican planets for development or buying planets in Cassiopeia or Perseus, I will be delighted to answer you. However, if you have something else on your mind it would be silly to avoid it.”
“All right,” I grumbled. She stared straight on, her beady eyes focusing on my head. “So I guess we can assume that your children travel everywhere with you?”
“No!” she laughed. “These guards are actually one category of my offspring. I have categories…”
“Of my children.”
“I see. How many children do you have?”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know how else to rephrase that question, Esquire.”
“I don’t know how many children I’ve had, Professor Gideon. That is the equivalent of me asking you how many sperm have you released in one lifetime.”
“So you’re saying you produce a child immediately after ovulation?”
“The female of our species reproduces once a month parthenogenically. For two fimmts, our Acruxopeian equivalent of your week, I give birth to about two hundred embryos, about half of which will survive. The miscarriage rate is determined on several variables, like my health, estrogen levels, hydration and my…appetite.”
“Then I take it you reproduce asexually?”
“Broadly speaking, yes.”
“Is this a form of heterogamy?”
“No. No alternation is involved. My eggs develop into new embryos without the need for fertilization. The lack of fertilization allows the birth process to accelerate at a faster pace than human sexual reproduction. Giving birth requires only minimal energy and pain.”
“So a form of agamogenesis would explain why they all look like you. But…why do these children look male?”
“They are male. All sex chromosomes of my species are homogametic by nature. I add an implant of heterogametic chromosomes, which leads to direct inheritance and duplication.”
I held back speaking and stared into Crux’s vacant face, already knowing the answer to my next question. “What is the implant?”
“Stem cell injections,” she said, carefully studying my face.
“These particular cells were embryonic.”
“Does your species research stem cell—?”
“Professor Gideon, I am my species,” she replied with force. “The resources we derive from our medical technology are not limited to blastocysts, bone marrow, umbilical cords or even adult tissue.”
“Well, I imagine your cloning technology has vastly surpassed ours—”
“I have no need for cloning. I have thousands of children at home, hundreds in my mobile unit and can easily excrete 200 more this month if I was keen on dieting. The resources are there. The first rule in intergalactic real estate is to never squander your resources.”
Crux looked at me with a flirtatious smile and elaborated. “I find that my civilization works best when it is organized. Therefore, I have categorized my children according to their use. Some are slaves, distinctive by their class ranks. Others are reserved for hard labor, maintenance or mechanical operations. Then there are my paramours who entertain me and occasionally engage in love play.”
We were quickly moving into taboo territory. Captain Thyme would be horrifically delighted to hear this gossip. I had an obligation to move on but a hidden directive to probe further.
“Love play? But I thought…”
“I have needs, regardless of my reproductive cycle. Unlike the human race however, our kind favors intimacy and sensation over intercourse for the sake of fertilization.”
Before I could express intrigue or disgust she went on expounding on my next subject.
“Now genetic mutations are bound to arise in any species. Their makeup is too unstable to devote them to any organized work. Therefore, their bodies are donated to science, and subject to the will of my scientist class of children.”
“You mean the ones that are deceased?”
“Some are alive, some are dead. Others die in the process of dissection.”
“The reason I ask is because part of my teaching is in autografts and stem cells. So I know where you’re coming from. But I have to ask these questions for the curiosity of others, you understand?”
“Doesn’t sympathy get in the way of science in this case?”
“A child would do anything for his mother, Professor Gideon.”
I stopped at that statement, peering at Crux while pondering over silly old memories.
She continued, explaining her science as enthusiastically as she would try to sell a new planet. “When your civilization was studying skin biopsy and autografts our society was discovering new ways to exploit germline and somatic cells from cadavers. By now we have advanced to a new understanding. We will not waste our resources. The miscarriages alone give us access to decidua, chorionic villi and amniotic fluid, all of which can be extracted of nutrients or used in cosmetic treatment. As for the cadavers, they decompose too quickly after death. We find the bodies are more potent and a bit…astringent, when freshly killed, usually within 24 hours.”
“Astringent as in…?”
“I enjoy your rhetorical questions, professor. It shows your discernment. The muscle tissue consists mainly of protein, which consists of all necessary amino acids for good health. The flesh contains little fat as well as all necessary vitamins, folic acid, iron and zinc. We have also found that eating living tissue of stem-cell created children gives us access to special progenitor cells that help maintain the immune system, replenish a variety of other cells and in many cases aid in regenerating damaged organs.”
Crux smiled affably. “Now don’t get jealous, professor. You can’t deny that if your species had that type of medical breakthrough you would fully explore it.”
I struggled to smile back. “Well, Esquire, it’s difficult to comprehend. I come from a highly religious society that wouldn’t condone what they call cannibalism under most circumstances.”
“Please don’t assume that your species is the only religious order in the universe. In my home solar system we had a ceremony called Tilaki, which is a festive occasion honoring the transmigration of my children’s physical bodies into the essence of my soul. Whatever I choose to eat, I inherit that life form’s spirit. Why share the souls of strangers when I can be united with my own in eternal bliss?”
The interview was nearly over. As fascinating as I found interviewing Kantina Crux, we were on a time constraint. I had only the luxury of one more question.
And stupid me, wouldn’t you know I chose the dumbest of questions.
“The only argument I can truly present, Esquire, isn’t one of morality. I’ve never been one to judge others for knowing their own business. I only take it personally when someone presumes to know my business better than I do.”
Crux laughed in respect.
“What I suggest, and this is coming from my stupid earthly understanding of worlds of knowledge that I will never fully comprehend, is that if you have thousands of children that all look the same and share the same fate, there’s not much room for diversity, genetically speaking or in personality. The lifestyle you keep stifles the potential for change. And in the end, is that healthy?”
I admit that Crux caught me off guard. It wasn’t much more of a question than a 30-minute lecture on human sovereignty. To my stupid question Crux giggled and replied casually, “But I am my species. And not everyone likes change.”
I did think of a better question later on but by that point I had already went home and crawled into bed. Wouldn’t you know, laying in the fetal position gave me the idea.
What I should have asked her is what became of the other adult males of her species or at least where she got hold of heterogametic chromosomes in the first place. Or I could have asked her why she seems to be the only adult member of her species and why do all her children seem to remain the same age?
Like an ass, I passed up a big opportunity. Maybe deep down I was hesitant to grab hold of juicy gossip just to pass on to my vaginal superiors. I didn’t want Crux’s genetically cultured blood on my hands. I think after our last few moments together she also understood why I cut the interview short.
“I trust nothing I said offended you, professor?”
“Esquire, all I’ve really learned from fifty years of studying the human reproductive cycle is that all of my knowledge doesn’t make for a single spot in the expanding universe. Whenever I think I know something about ethics or science, some hotshot extraterrestrial comes around and shoots down the entire foundation of my understanding.”
Crux smiled and I mirrored back at least a half grin.
“But I know something about real estate. And since Deltosa is run by a very diplomatic race, I know it’s a very kind solar system to travelers. But the closer you get to our system, the closer you get to maternal human instincts. So as a real estate agent I suggest you better get the hell out of Holmberg before some other people start asking you questions.”
I bid my formal goodbye to Crux and attended to her until she flew back to Deltosa. The experience taught me nothing in particular though I used it in class to illustrate a point about homogametic chromosomes. It did make me rehash silly old memories with my late wife, which made me a sourpuss the rest of the week. Elizabeth VII noticed my unusually gloomy disposition and suggested I eat more anaphrodisiac foods to control my testosterone. That’s the joy of working in a galaxy run by women, you see. When she inquired about the interview I only admitted that Crux has quite a few children that she’s very fond of and that seem to accompany her wherever she goes. As for the thousands of alleged children that are harvested for products, it remains hearsay. Thyme wasn’t happy with my journalistic investigation and made sure to give me hell over the cord blood statement in my report. I had nothing but pain, frustration and annoyance for the next three weeks.
How do I put up with it? Sometimes it helps to picture myself as a single antidiarrheal probiotic somehow surviving in a hostile environment of female leukocytes intent on keeping the universe completely immune. It doesn’t exactly make life worthwhile, but it helps.