Green Skin Deep

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in All Worlds Wayfarer, September 2020

 “The humans don’t understand us,” she said.  “We have to stick together.”

“We’re so much alike,” Trinth said, forming the sound of the words through her flute-like reeds.  She certainly didn’t look much like S’lisha, a reptilian alien.  Trinth looked more like a cosmic rosebush — she saw through flower-like eyes; spoke with flute-like reeds; and used grasping vines to walk and grab.

S’lisha supposed that Trinth’s leaves were mostly green, as were S’lisha’s scales.  They had that in common.  They were both green.

Trinth unfurled the leaves around her pink-petaled flower eyes.  “The humans don’t understand us,” she said.  “We have to stick together.”

“That’s true,” S’lisha agreed, looking around the spaceship cafeteria.  Humans did not understand her.  In fact, Trinth was the first member of the crew who had ever joined S’lisha at her table during a meal.  The humans either ignored her, called her a “dragon,” or made jokes about whether her food was “fresh enough.”  Because eating dead food is soooo much more appetizing.  Trinth didn’t even eat, and yet, here she was.  It gave S’lisha a warm feeling in her cold-blooded belly to think that maybe this beautiful angiosperm alien understood.  “At least the humans pay well.”

“They do…”  Trinth’s vines twisted and twined together.  “But they keep it so hot.”  She held forth some of her leaves, browned at the edges.  “I’m wilting.”

S’lisha raged inside.  How could the humans do this to such a delicate creature?  Sure, S’lisha actually found the spaceship a little too cold, but she was tough and could take it.  The humans would be okay a few degrees colder; they had coats they could wear.  What was Trinth supposed to do?  Poor wilting thing.  “I’ll take care of it,” S’lisha said.

On the way to her next shift in the cargo bay, S’lisha ducked into engineering and furtively turned the ship’s thermostat down several degrees.  The humans shivered for half a day before they figured it out and turned the temperature back up.  But Trinth’s leaves looked greener and brighter for the few hours of relief.  So S’lisha made a habit of turning the temperature down whenever she could.  No one would ever suspect her since S’rellicks came from a much hotter planet, and it couldn’t be Trinth as she never went anywhere near engineering.

Over the next several weeks, Trinth made a habit of stopping by S’lisha’s otherwise empty table during lunch.

Trinth mentioned how hard it was to come by ionizing radiation on the spaceship, so the next time a shipment of ion bulbs came through the cargo bay, S’lisha nabbed a few extra ones for her new friend to use in her quarters.  Trinth mentioned how tiresome it was to always speak in a language designed for metazoan mouths, so S’lisha downloaded a primer for learning Trinth’s language.  Trinth complained that the water rations were never enough for her, so S’lisha offered to donate some of hers.  She was from a desert world; she didn’t need so much water.

It was nice to finally have a friend.

When the ship docked at Crossroads Station to refuel and pick up cargo, one of the new shipments was signed for by a photosynthoid alien like Trinth, only this one had darker leaves and blue eye-flowers.  S’lisha was about to show off her new linguistic abilities, which she’d been too self-conscious to test on Trinth, when Trinth rustled into the cargo bay.

The two photosynthoid aliens greeted each other in their own language, sounding like a dance of bells and wind chimes.

“That’s beautiful,” one of the human cargo haulers murmured.  “Are they singing?”

S’lisha felt extremely clever and superior for actually understanding that Trinth had said, “It’s been so long!” and the newcomer had replied, “I didn’t know you worked here!”  A moment more, and S’lisha would have shown off by translating.  However, the tintinnabulous conversation continued too quickly.

“I’ve been so terribly lonely!” Trinth chimed.  “Everyone here is awful!

The newcomer’s blue flower-eyes turned toward S’lisha.  “Humans are bad enough.  You’re working on a ship with a s’rellick?

Trinth’s leaves wrung, and she said in a voice like a waterfall of bells, “At least the lizard is stupid.  I have her tricked into giving me half her water ration–

S’lisha’s scales spiked up, and she stomped out of the cargo bay, needing to hear no more from a weakling plant.  She’d been a fool to value the plant’s friendship.  Their similarity had only ever run skin deep.

On her way past engineering, S’lisha turned up the temperature and broke the thermostat.  Warm air flooded out of the spaceship’s heating vents.  It would take the humans at least a week to fix it.

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