The Price of Science

Submitted into Contest #137 in response to: Write a story about a scientist.... view prompt

24 comments

Science Fiction Fantasy Fiction

The few words I typed up stare at me from the screen, my hands hovering above the keyboard, whilst I’m mindlessly tapping it with my claws. I’ve gathered all the data, all I need to do is write.

“Humanity: The Ethics of  Earth’s Most Invasive Species

An essay by Dr Scaly Greene

Sources: The Official Interstellar Data Collection Log of Inhabited Planets vol. 69 (focusing on the data collected from “Earth” in the category “mammals” and subcategory “homo sapiens”) and the discussion thread of “Evolving to Extinction” on  LightYears, the number one evidence based academic forum on the Space Wide Web.

The– ”

I cannot focus.

My coffee, (a disgusting substance I acquired from Earth among other popular beverages to try whilst studying the humans and have given up on after the first sip) has gone cold and the only light left is the artificial cold-blue glow of my screen. The bright sky has faded to black some time ago outside the glass walls. I’m not sure how long I have been sitting there motionless, when I hear the click of the lightswitch and warmth fills the room from the infrared lamp.

I turn my head towards the door and see Dash in his long cloak by the lightswitch, his pinkish-white scales shining like pure gold under the red light.

‘Thank you.’ I smile at him.

‘You should pay more attention to temperature regulation.’ He observes and walks over, carrying the subtle scent of disinfectant I always notice when he comes home from the hospital.

Without taking off his cloak, he joins me on the little bench at my desk. I wish he didn’t feel the need to wear it, but he’s been trying his best to cover up his tail since it grew back forking two ways after the incident. 

‘Sorry.’ I say as I breathe in his hospital-clean scent,  the scent of  guilt. “Sorry” is never just about whatever I need to apologise for in the moment anymore, but the incident too, and how I’ve messed up. 

Sometimes I still can’t believe he pulled through, considering the amount of blood I mopped up the white floor after I put him in our fridge for a whole month to regenerate, unsure whether he would make it out alive. That was the first time I understood the phenomenon I observed in species with religions: the urge to pray for those dearest to your heart. Whether the universe heard me, I do not know, but Dash lived, not only regrowing the missing half of his tail, but doing so twice over. There isn’t anything wrong with that; it’s common for lost limbs to grow back twice, and there isn’t anything you can do about it: your body just does it. (Just like when Spike, the eldest of my nineteen twins, bit his tongue off, and that grew back twice, giving him an awful lot of trouble with his speech.) But I get it. Nobody wants to be “different”.

I missed Dash, whilst he was hibernating to heal. When I finally got him out of the fridge and into our bed and warmed him up to wake him, I tried to joke about how he was such an overachiever, always exceeding expectations, whilst he held his new tail. I was never any good at reading the room. 

“I don’t want this…”

Seeing his tears broke my heart, but the fact he lived held those sore pieces together. I don’t think I was wrong to fridge him, in those dire circumstances.

I also don’t think I will ever say the word sorry again and not think of what I’ve done. 

‘How was aqua therapy today..?’ I ask gently, and he turns his head away, whilst arranging his cloak to cover his tail properly. 

‘Horrible as always.’ He sighs. I can’t even begin to imagine how he must feel when he has to swim around in the pool, under the watchful eyes of his doctors. He doesn't even let me accompany him to his appointments. “I don’t want you to see it,” he says every time, but we both know I’ve seen it already. When he was in the fridge, I watched with growing anxiety, and when he was warming up under the infra light, of course, I took a closer look. As I examined the changes, I hoped he would forgive me, for I would never forgive myself.

‘It’s like I lost half the control in my tail,’ he continues, ‘the whole new part feels foreign, and the shorter end I still cannot move. They say it might stay paralyzed. They say it might always feel… off.’

‘I’m sorry…’ I pick at the shedding skin on my arm. I wish there was something, anything I could do to make it better. Dash pulls my hand away.

‘Hey. You always tell me not to do this. Your new skin will come out nicer if you just give it time.’ 

I give him a faint smile. At least he didn’t get the shedding anxiety this time, which tends to loom over us both during the weeks we change skin.

‘You are right.’

‘I always am.’ He picks up my coffee and takes a sip before I could warn him about the taste. He spits it all over my desk straight away. ‘What the..?’

‘I am trying the human’s food from Earth whilst researching them…’ I murmur, as I get up to towel the desk clean, whilst he is trying to wipe the bitter taste off his long blue tongue. 

‘Try this, it’s much nicer.’ I give him a jar of honey as I sit back down.

‘Humans make this..?’ he licks into it with caution.

‘Bees make it. Little fuzzy insects who play a quintessential role in that planet’s ecosystem. They are highly sophisticated and… Just look.’ I open a picture for reference.

‘Aww. He’s got a little basket!’ He smiles into the jar  as he is licking the inside clean, revealing for a moment his perfectly aligned needle sharp set of teeth. 

‘She,’ I correct him, savouring the sight of his perfect smile, ‘all the workers are female. Actually, when you consider the fate of their male peers, it makes me sad, but… anyway, my research is about humans, not bees.’

‘What are they like?’

‘A little bit like us, they are the pioneers of invention and discovery on their home planet. However, as a much younger species, they are behind us in terms of technological advances. It isn't for the lack of trying on their part, but according to our forecast it’s unlikely that they would reach the level of sophistication required to be invited to join the Intergalactic Alliance and gain access to the Space Wide Web forums before their extinction.’

‘Can you show me one?’ 

He leans forwards with curiosity and I smile at how he forgets to care whether he would accidentally pull his cloak off his tail. Wondering if he did, I gently touch my tail to his behind us on the floor as I pull up a picture of humans, watching his reaction. 

He tenses up a little at the sensation of my dry, shedding tail touching his smooth, new scales and I pull back fast: my flaky skin must not feel very nice on that tender and young tail right now. Maybe, after I shed it all.

‘Uhm…’ Dash grimaces at the pictures of the humans.

‘It’s okay, you can say it.’ I try to suppress a smile.

‘They have hair in weird places. We aren’t like them, are we?’

‘No… You are much more handsome.’ I glance at him, meeting his turquoise eyes for a moment just long enough to see his slit pupils take on a rounder shape. I lick my forehead as I turn back to my screen, feeling a little too hot. Clearing my throat, I ramble on.

‘And you know what? There is a group of humans who would agree with me on that. Remember when I said, that if you didn’t exist you’d have to be invented? Well, they invented you!’ I show him an illustration of a handsome reptilian by a human artist.

‘That’s… me? Impressive.’

‘Right? I’ll set it as wallpaper.’

‘Are you sure you didn’t draw that, Scaly?’

‘I swear it’s from Earth!’ I laugh. ‘Humans have very… diverse tastes and ideologies. This, I think, is their biggest charm but also their worst trait.’

‘How is that possible?’ He reaches for the remote on my desk and switches the infra light off and the cooling light and fan on.

‘It’s… complicated. Are you really interested? I don’t want to just ramble on and bore you to death. Also, aren’t you hungry? I can get some dinner…’

‘It’s not boring, I like learning about the aliens from an expert. Do you have more snacks from Earth? The honey was really good.’

‘I do… Alright. But don’t tell anyone we just had them for dinner, because they are meant for my research and I want to claim back the fees of intergalactic teleportation as work expenses.’ I warn him, as I pull out the big box of treats from under the desk.

‘You are the best.’ he smiles as he dives into the snackbox. I think I am the worst, with lots to make up for. I simply cannot say no to him.

‘Back to the aliens.’ I say as he gives me a curved yellow fruit and I bite half of it off. The exterior is not really to my taste but the inside is quite sweet and mushy. ‘Hm. The inside is alright.' I hand him the other half. ‘Where was I..?’

‘Diverse tastes and ideologies.’ Dash volunteers whilst slicing the fruit’s skin off with his claws. ‘Humans make these?’

‘Kind of, they bred the plant.’

‘Because of their diverse taste?’

‘Yes! That’s a great example. Humans seem to have this strange attitude: when they don’t like a natural thing, they either change it to create something they like, or claim that it is unnatural, and therefore, wrong, so that they can continue disliking it. In addition to that, they don’t all agree on what is natural and what is wrong.’

‘But… The thing they change and make it so they like it, that is unnatural.’

‘Exactly.’

‘I see why you’re stuck on page one.’ Dash smiles. ‘I guess it isn't only food they do this with?’

‘No, unfortunately not. I have a whole presentation saved just about this topic. Wanna look at the pictures?’

Nodding, he shuffles closer to me, with a packet of “popcorn” in his hands. The contents of the bag look nothing like the print on it, and it sounds like he is crunching on little rocks.

‘Is that nice..?’

‘The seasoning is, but… I assumed humans had really weak jaws. I suppose that can’t be right.’

‘I’ll make a note of that.’ I nod as I open the slides.

‘First, there is an incomplete collection about natural things they– some humans claim are unnatural or wrong. So… brace yourself for the contradictions. Here we have: body hair on female specimens — observed to grow naturally, not wanting to reproduce — which is a natural trait observed in some humans across all sexes and genders, non-heteronormative attraction — another natural trait observed in many species on Earth and intergalactically in most species that are divided into more than one sex. Basically, for every human there will be another to judge them for being wrong.’

‘...would some of them think that we are wrong, too?’

‘It’s hard to say… Some of those things would not even apply: we are all the same sex and we have scales instead of hair. Besides, we aren’t humans, and they don’t judge other species the same as they judge their own.’

‘But some humans would adore me and the rest would think they are mad?’

‘Probably!’

‘What if we were humans but everything else stayed the same? So we are a same sex human couple–’

‘Which sex?’

‘Which one doesn’t lay eggs in their species?’

‘Neither, they’re mammals.’

‘Oh. Doesn’t matter, then. So, we are those, without any plans for eggs… I mean offsprings, and a preference for reptilians, especially, the deep green type, in freshly shedded skin, when the soft scales still feel a bit moist and–’

‘Ah, quiet!’ I put my hands over his mouth, and even with the cooling fan on I can feel my face burn. 

‘You're so embarrassing you know that? You just out-weirded humanity.’ I say awkwardly, and he laughs into my palms. I roll my eyes as I let go of him, but I am happy he is back to flirting with me, for the first time since I got him out of the fridge two months ago.

‘Mid-tier life forms are so fascinating.’ He grins. ‘They’re all so messed up… I’m glad they cannot be part of the Alliance.’

‘Right? But for that, there are many more reasons. I’ll show you a few things they altered… Ah, it’s that fruit. It’s called a banana.’

‘Hm. That’s not bad.’

‘No, there’s nothing wrong with this one.’ I agree. The next slides are about how they bred other animal species into completely different subtypes.

‘This is the canine type mammal… They all used to look like this, the… “wolf”. And now… see?’

‘Is this problematic? I would like to say yes, but they look so happy.’

‘I don’t know… But then, sometimes they modify them even more forcefully.’ The next slide is puppies before and after having their ears cut pointy, in the name of fashion, and the next, more pups with and then without their tails. 

My heart drops before I hear Dash’s soft exhale and the sound of his claws ripping through the packet of popcorn as he grips it, scattering the dry corn over the floor. Panicking, I jump up and try to move onto the next slide so quickly I miss the button three times before we are on a harmless picture of a river. My hands are shaking and Dash is staring at his hands, eyes wide open, trying to catch his breath. I switch on the infra light.

‘I’m sorry I forgo–’ I bite my tongue. ‘I’m sorry.’ I turn towards him. I am an idiot. He deserves so much better. 

‘I really am sorry.’ I touch his shoulder gently. ‘Dash?’

‘You won’t bring any of them… Promise you won’t bring any of them… No humans.’ he mutters, trembling.

‘No… I won’t. I promise.’ I decided back then, after the incident, that I wasn’t going to get another live specimen teleported here ever again. It wasn’t worth the risk, and I was so careless in taking it in the first place. It could have ended much worse, Dash could have lost much more than his tail and a month of his life in the fridge, and it would be on me. 

It is on me.

‘Not even when I’m away. Not even when you are away, to work in another lab. Never.’

‘Never. Never. I swear it, I will never bring anything live over to study, not even the most harmless looking plant, not the tiniest insect… Never again.’

‘And definitely not any more monsters.’ he whispers, and I desperately try not to picture that last one, the giant, monstrous creature with its big jaw, strong teeth, and Dash’s tail in its huge mouth. 

‘No. No more monsters.’

He holds my gaze, and with time, his eyes soften.

‘You are doing it again.’ He puts his hand on mine. I didn't even notice I was clawing off my old skin, still alive in patches and now sticky with blood in a few places. I can’t feel any of it.

‘It's fine.’ I hide my arm behind my back.

‘No, it is day three, it’s way too early to peel it. Let me see!’

‘It’s day four.’ I say, not like it matters at all. You can’t safely shed the old skin until the end of day six or the morning of day seven. 

‘Come on Dash, you know I don’t like you looking at me when I am shedding. I look hideous.’

‘...I understand. Me too. Now even when I am not shedding.’ he gives me a hard look, and though he usually tries not to say it, I can see the blame, I can hear the accusation in his tone. It scares me, because it is so right and justified and I cannot blame him if he wants to leave me.

‘Fine, look!’ I put my arm in front of his nose. ‘Disgusting, right? And it is not even the worst thing about me, is it? The worst thing is all this reckless research, the worst thing is that I didn’t even think about your safety, and even now I–’ I break off as he looks up at me, unable to carry on with self-deprecation. I don’t need to spell out I’m garbage.

‘I’m sorry.’ I repeat helplessly. ‘I’m sorry for bringing that thing into our home. I’m sorry for what happened; for the pain and the fridge and I’m sorry for your beautiful tail and I miss it too… but I really don’t think there is anything wrong with the new one and I hate how you hate a part of yourself. Isn’t it incredible it grew back? If it didn’t…’ I find I am unable to say it.

‘You… really don’t hate it?’

‘I like all of you.’ I say quietly. ‘But I know I don’t deserve any.’

‘Maybe it is exactly what you deserve,’ he whispers, barely audible, ‘this, a constant reminder of how you could’ve gotten both of us killed. Is that what you really want to look at, every day, for the rest of our lives? Me as a freak, like this?’ He pulls his cloak to the side, revealing his new tail.

I don’t have to think twice about my answer.

‘More than anything.’

March 18, 2022 18:38

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24 comments

Zack Powell
21:23 Mar 18, 2022

Yo, Riel! Prompt twins two weeks in a row! Great minds think alike, right? I really enjoyed the bits of social commentary in this story. It's funny how characters from a different species can point out the numerous flaws of humanity (especially the discussion about things being "natural" vs "unnatural" and what that means for our society), especially because there was a lot of truth in there. Lot of good writerly stuff going on here too: Great imagery and characterization of Scaly and Dash (those names are so fun to type). Their relationsh...

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Riel Rosehill
21:43 Mar 18, 2022

Hey Zack! Thanks for reading as always! And thanks for the comment - I am happy my "lizards" were well-received - I guess we can call them people! I had so much fun writing this one, my first attempt at sci-fi and space lizards haha. I really liked your story this week, it was such an intense read, and definitely very sci-fi too (which is awesome, I struggled getting a feel for this genre, and also I've not read anything like it from you before!) Whatever prompt you pick next I also can't wait to read your next one - and if we pick the sa...

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Zack Powell
22:05 Mar 18, 2022

Glad someone else was experimenting with this genre too! A sci-fi writer I am not, and I also struggled getting my footing big time, but I made a challenge to myself to hit every single Reedsy genre at least once, so I'm just glad that one's out of the way. But it's always nice to see others getting out of their comfort zones too! Lizard people? Why not! It's a super fun idea. "Take over the world," huh? I like the way you think, LOL! Very much looking forward to your next story as well. Good luck with it, and I'll catch ya in about a week!

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Graham Kinross
05:13 May 20, 2022

Great blend of genres and great dialogue.

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Riel Rosehill
06:46 May 20, 2022

Thanks Graham!

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Graham Kinross
06:53 May 20, 2022

You’re welcome Riel.

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Ian Gonzales
15:08 Mar 26, 2022

That was a very clever bit of storytelling. The best stories can tell a person a lot more than they think at first glance. You do that very well with this piece. Thank you for sharing.

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Riel Rosehill
15:21 Mar 26, 2022

Hi Ian, Thank you very much for taking your time to read my story, and thanks for the kind comment! It's much appreciated.

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Diane Hunter
16:38 Mar 24, 2022

Hi Riel, Sci Fi is hard for me, I get lost in the mix...However, I liked your story and found the imagery very vivid. The conversation and banter between your characters about what is natural and unnatural between humans is truth!!. I was routing for both characters to be together and live their best lives.

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Riel Rosehill
16:43 Mar 24, 2022

Hi Diane, thank you so much for taking your time to read my story and comment, it's much appreciated. Staying together and living life to the fullest was exactly my wish for these two as well - so I am sure they would carry on doing just that! PS: I feel the same about sci-fi

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Kelsey H
08:30 Mar 22, 2022

This was such a great read, really creative and well written and lots of humorous little moments as well as guilt, love, and commentary on society. Amazing amount of depth to pack in to a conversation between a couple of lizards! I like the skin shedding going on throughout too, while they have these conversations about the oddness of humans.

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Riel Rosehill
08:42 Mar 22, 2022

Hi Kelsey, I'm happy you liked it! Thank you so much for taking your time to read, I really appreciate all the feedback I get. Many thanks for the kind words!

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Tamanna Nir
05:03 Mar 20, 2022

Wow.... It really is I am not usually into sci-fi and haven't read much of them so won't be able make any good comment on that but your writing style... The best thing about it is its just a scene with two people in a room and their conversation and we learn about everything from their story to the universe! It's something I tried and failed (you know 😁) Dash's psychology of being not being able to accept a change, being different and Scaly's self guilt.... It showed not with just words but their actions.... I am gonna study this piece to...

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Riel Rosehill
14:09 Mar 20, 2022

Oh hi!! Thank you so much for reading & dropping a comment here it's much appreciated! I'm not a sci-fi reader either so I also don't know what I was doing here, haha. Reads more like space-fantasy or something but I have it a try!

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Lavonne H.
18:04 Mar 19, 2022

Hi Riel! I love your humorous voice immensely. This is a sci-fi mystery!!! Which species did Dr Scaly Greene (love the pun, btw) bring home and from which planet? Poor Dash. He isn't the first partner (ahem) to be harmed by a scientist lover but to know that another lifeform suffers like humans--I found it hard to forgive Scaly as well! It is your dialogue and its pacing that I found instructive. You drew me into the story and I felt so comfortable with your characters. Too bad I'm human and wouldn't be invited over for coffee (which I drin...

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Riel Rosehill
18:47 Mar 19, 2022

Hi Lavonne! Thank you so much for reading and leaving your thoughts on my story. Scientists are a dangerous bunch it seems! Though I meant to write the incident here more as an accident that could've been avoided, rather than intentional harm but it is harm caused regardless. Unlike Scaly I'm no expert in aliens so who knows what the monster was! I pictured it like how kindergarten kids would draw a brown bear and the size of a small house but I didn't think this description would've added to the story 🤣 I wouldn't be to sad about missin...

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Lavonne H.
21:17 Mar 19, 2022

Too funny re your roastery on tap, Riel! I never would have pictured Scaly as a largish brown bear...I do like the image your description called up. May I ask a naïve question? I have only posted two stories but was surprised to see that yours and Zak's were denoted as science fiction. I honestly did not see the prompt as having that tag so will it mean that my story is disqualified? (I have sent the question on to Reedsyprompts but I thought you may know and can give a quicker reply. No problem if you can't or are busy.) Yours in writing, L...

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Riel Rosehill
22:26 Mar 19, 2022

Hey Lavonne, I don't have an answer for that but the prompt was tagged sci-fi.. I really hope you don't get disqualified though! It was simply "write about a scientist" which you did. (LOL, I meant the monster was the bear thing that Scaly brought, not him - that's funny to picture xD)

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Lavonne H.
17:20 Mar 21, 2022

Hi Riel, The story was accepted. I am definitely paying attention to their prompt tags from now on ;) All the best with The Price of Science; it's a winner to me. Yours in writing, Lavonne

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Riel Rosehill
18:00 Mar 21, 2022

Hi Lavonne, Congrats for getting accepted - I bet that's a relief! And thank you so much. I am not expecting anything though, the competition is so tough here..! Best of luck to you too! X

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J.C. Lovero
01:45 Mar 19, 2022

Hi Riel! I really enjoyed your story this week. Listening to a couple of sci-fi lizards banter back and forth was fun. I found them both very endearing in their own ways. You really nailed their personalities. Kudos to you for using the lizards as a way to poke fun at humanity for all of our silliness (which is a lot, to be honest). Although, I have to disagree a little bit with Scaly, since I love coffee and dislike bananas LOLOL. It was a pleasure reading this piece from you!

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Riel Rosehill
07:12 Mar 19, 2022

Hi J.C.,, Thank you!! I also love a good coffee, Scaly probably doesn't know how to make one, LOL. I'm gland you enjoyed my space-lizards, I sure did when I was writing them. Thanks for reading my story and leaving a comment - it means a lot!

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Howard Seeley
02:47 Mar 30, 2022

Thanks for the story. It's refreshing to see how we can look each other from a different perspective. Keep up the good work.

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Riel Rosehill
05:28 Mar 30, 2022

Thank you!

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