Indigo tumbled down the transport ship’s gangplank. Her head struck the sheet of iron alloy with a resounding “thud”. Someone chuckled behind her. Darn Yeopian, she thought. If he had only one leg he’d have fallen too.
The grass at the foot of the plank tasted like peppermint on Indigo’s skin. She opened her pores, drawing in the minute doses of flavor. Her fellow travelers stepped over her on their way. A Hynopolic and her sweetgrass were not to be separated. Still, local Ponsers gave her their signature tilted-unibrow sneer as they strode past.
Time to get up, thought Indigo. She tensed the muscles in her back and leg. One, two, three…hop! The landing would have lost points in a Hynopol gymnastics competition, but she’d never been one for human sports anyway.
A metropolis stretched before her. Small metal crafts zoomed between skyscrapers at dozens of altitudes. She hopped toward one of the buildings. It shone with the light of the two Ponser suns. Neon characters above the massive entryway spelled out “Uplift Facility.”
The blue-glass door lifted up and away as Indigo approached. She shuddered. Nebulas, she thought. Her pores cemented shut. She felt her stomachs lurch.
“Greetings,” said a young Ponser woman in broken Hynopol. “Meet has you a time, sir?” Her irises sparkled a sickly shade of green, several shades lighter than her bob-length hair and wax-separated eyebrows.
Indigo rolled her eyes. “I am a ‘ma’am,’ miss. And no, I did not schedule a meeting. I am here on behalf of your sponsors on Hynopoli.”
The Ponser stared at her for a few moments, licking her lips. She pulled a digi-pad from her jacket pocket, hit the expander, and, apparently, opened up a dictionary. “I see, right this way,” she said, smiling. “Apology, ma’am. Given name my is Cla’ira, by the way.”
“Where did you learn Hynopol?” Indigo asked. She huffed as she leapt up a flight of stairs to the second floor. The main laboratory occupied almost every nook of the space, save a cubicle partitioned off in the far corner.
Many of the lab workers glared. The redness of their eyes offset the subtle violet of their skin. They stood in parties of three, two individuals holding down a subject, the third injecting it with its hourly dose of chemicals. One of the subjects wriggled the gag from its muzzle and began to screech. The head scientist in its group replaced his empty syringe with a new one, this one filled with a dark, sludgy fluid. He rammed it directly into the subject’s heart. It fell silent.
Cla’ira turned to Indigo, flushing. “So sorry you had to see fatal.” She picked up her pace, nearly colliding with a nurse returning her subject to its cage.
Indigo retched. Her blood began to heat up as she took the last few hops to the cubicle.
A short, balding Ponser sat in an office chair at the cubicle’s desk. He looked up from a mug of what appeared to be some form of hydrated stimulant. “What you want, sir?”
Do all Ponsers have this gender problem? “Ma’am,” Indigo said, pointing at the lump in her neck that validated her femininity.
“What you want, ma’am?” He returned his focus to his mug.
“Your sponsors back on Hynopoli are not pleased with how you are running this facility. They would like you to treat the uplift candidates as if they were fully uplifted from the door.”
The Ponser furrowed his unibrow. “How can a door uplift?”
“I see you learned your Hynopoli from a free mental download.”
“I paid well money for learn your language, sir.” He downed the last half of his mug in a single gulp. “Oh, sorry,” he said, glancing up. “Ma’am.”
Indigo sighed, closed her eyes, and prayed to the god Three-Legs—the most helpful of the four gods of wisdom—for forgiveness should she decide in the next several minutes to kill herself. “The point is, if you don’t start treating the candidates like your own kind by the time I leave for Hynopoli tomorrow I shall have to shut you down.”
Cla’ira fidgeted with her digi-pad dictionary. She said something to her boss in Ponser. He nodded.
“They shall be loved as if they were our mothers-in-law,” the male Ponser said.
Indigo thumbed through a file on Ponser culture stashed in her purse. “Lovely. I shall be back tomorrow to confirm your claim.” What an utterly strange race, she thought. I can deal with the purple skin, green hair, and unibrows, but loving their mothers-in-law? She hopped away, face in hands.