Short Story: The Engineer

He sat in stunned silence, mulling the verdict over and over again in his mind. The Tarlock beside him thought to put a comforting flipper on the engineer’s back. The unexpected touch, mixing with boiling emotions of fury, loss, and anger, resulted in further agitation, the engineer leaping from the bench only to pace about his holding cell.

The Tarlock couldn’t speak, at least as far as human language was concerned, but slapped the vacant space where the man had been sitting, hoping the engineer would settle down. Eventually he did, and nearly collapsing beside his friend, began to speak.

“I know it doesn’t make sense,” he began. “I never visit earth. I hate earth. But. . .” the man trailed off. The Tarlock bristled its spines sympathetically. “I don’t know if you have anything like this on your planet, but on earth certain animals return to their breeding grounds, sometimes they’re not even returning, they’re finding the place for the first time. It’s usually the end of their life, you see, before they die they are overcome by some instinct to return.”

At the word ‘breeding,’ the Tarlock began transitioning from its dark blue, blushing into a violet-purple.

“Sorry,” the engineer said. “I forgot how touchy you were about,” he caught himself just before saying the word ‘sex,’ a term which would have undoubtedly offended his friend. “I just, I always thought that at the end of my life I would come home.” Staring up into the moldy cement ceiling of the cell, he mused, “A younger me would have laughed this off. I should be grateful they’re not going to kill me.”

The Tarlock nodded. The blue beast had pulled every lever, called in every last favor, and in the end had his own government petitioning Earth for the engineer’s life.

“I guess I will die up there, among the stars, and my end will come when I’m set adrift in that cold space, the only home I have.”

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