Jennifer Pelland lives just outside Boston with three cats and an Andy. Her fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Apex Digest, Escape Pod, and Abyss and Apex, among others. She’s a Viable Paradise graduate, does volunteer web work for SFWA, and is the webmistress for her brother's band. To satisfy her dramatic urges, she makes silly voices in local radio plays, and she was recently cast in a small role in a local independent film. Visit her website.
The Breeding Pair
“Welcome, Earthlings, to your new home,” the disembodied voice squeaked. “Here, you will breed with one another so that we might study your reproductive habits firsthand. Begin at will.”
The woman in comfortable shoes looked across the room at the man in the ruffled shirt. “Uh...”
He rolled his eyes. “Houston, we have a problem.”
The room wasn’t bad, as rooms went. Half of it was straight out of Leave it to Beaver, complete with matching armchairs, a comfy sofa, and a coffee table covered with bric-a-brac. The other half contained a king-sized bed draped in blood-red satin sheets. It was definitely not Ward-and-June-approved.
And then there was the door.
The two of them dove for it as one. They yanked it open, and both their faces fell.
“Just a bathroom,” the woman said.
The man winced. “How long do they expect us to stay here?”
“Well, I don’t see a kitchen anywhere.”
He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Actually, I think I saw a room service menu on the coffee table.”
Wordlessly, they made their way back to the living room area and settled down across from each other in the armchairs.
The woman ran her fingers through her close-cropped hair. “Well.”
The man straightened his leather kilt. “You can say that again.”
The woman cleared her throat and shifted in her chair. “I suspect we’ll be stuck here a while. The name’s Alix.”
The man gestured to his ruffles. “Butch.”
Alix raised her eyebrows.
“I know. I think my parents were expecting someone else.”
They passed another moment in uncomfortable silence before Alix asked, “Do you think they’ll let us go if we just do it and get it over with?”
Butch grimaced. “Oh, honey, I don’t know if I could. I mean, you’re not exactly my type, and men can’t fake it like women can.”
Alix leaned forward, planting her elbows on her spread knees, and wrinkled her brow in thought. “Are you sure you can’t? Not even just once? I mean, couldn’t you close your eyes and pretend I was Orlando Bloom?”
“Sweetie, don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re too broad to be Orlando Bloom.”
Butch closed his eyes, bit his lip, and sighed. “I don’t know. I always imagined myself on the bottom with him.”
Alix shuddered. “I’m so not going there.”
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
Alix held up a finger. “Hang on. Let’s get some clarification before we do anything regrettable.” She stood and yelled, “Hey! What exactly do we need to do to satisfy you?”
The alien voice, a high-pitched, nasal whine that would be comical under other circumstances, said, “You need to have procreative sex.”
Alix cast a quick glance at Butch. “Guess that rules out the Brad Pitt scenario.” Looking back at the ceiling, she asked, “So, if we just get it over with, you’ll let us go?”
“First, you must become impregnated.”
“And after you have your first child, you will be allowed time to recover before conceiving a second one.”
“Second one? Look, buddy, you have a lot of nerve—”
Butch rested his hands on Alix’s flannel-clad shoulders and said, “Calm down, okay? I’m sure we can work this out.”
“Not with my uterus, we won’t!”
“Absolutely not. Let me handle this.”
Alix scowled, crossed her arms tightly over her chest, and nodded.
“Right, now where were we? Ah, yes.” Butch took a deep breath, then shrieked, “What?”
Alix clapped Butch on the back. “Good job.”
Butch whimpered and clutched his ruffles.
Alix jabbed a finger at the ceiling. “Face it, whoever you are, we don’t want to do it. Now just put us back where you found us, okay?”
“Why do you not want to do it?” the voice asked.
“We...” She looked at Butch, who gestured wildly at her to say something, anything. “We don’t breed well under observation.”
“We have evidence to the contrary,” the voice said.
“Butt Babes III: The Exhibitionist’s Thong.”
Alix threw her hands in the air. “The aliens have porn.”
“Well, it does explain the bed.” Butch flopped onto it with a theatrical sigh, his flushed skin fading to a fetching pink, and peered curiously at the headboard. With one outstretched finger, he lifted a leather cuff chained to it. “Restraints. Tasteful. Are there drinks on that room service menu? Maybe I could cuff you to the bed, get hammered, close my eyes, and think of Danny England.”
Butch grinned. “Star quarterback at my high school.”
“Why am I even asking? We’re not doing it. I am not getting pregnant.”
“I’m sure it’s moot. After all the recreational drugs I did in the ‘90s, I’m probably sterile.” He peeked into the bedside table’s drawer. “My god, even I don’t know what half of these toys are for.”
Alix glared at the ceiling. “Look, we’re not going to screw around for you. Why do you even need us anyway if you have porn?”
“Because we would like to see you breed in a controlled laboratory environment. We have never encountered a species with such complicated breeding rituals as your own. We were particularly fascinated by Jumbo Piss Party VII. Do you require chocolate cakes and hoses?”
Alix buried her head in her arms. “I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know. I really, really don’t want to know.”
“But why pregnancy?” Butch asked. “What’s wrong with wham, bam, thank you man...er, ma’am?”
“None of your films show the end of the procreative cycle. Perhaps some day when we are able to unscramble more of your cable channels, we will finally see a film that takes us on the full journey from mistaken pizza delivery to the argument with the over-hyped celebrity about the reality of post-partum depression. Until then, you will provide the experience for us.”
“Look,” Alix said, “that’s a lot to expect from one breeding pair.”
“You are not our only pair. We have others.”
“And are you having luck with any of them?”
Butch exchanged a knowing glance with Alix. “Did you by chance take all of your subjects from the same place you found us?”
“Yes. There was a very diverse sampling to be had there. We were able to select specimens in a wide variety of sizes and colors with an incredible range of gender expression and mating displays. We weren’t sure that the furry and feathery ones were human at first, but the DNA tests came back positive.”
“Great. They got the bears and the queens.”
Alix pinched the bridge of her nose and winced. “Maybe we got lucky and they grabbed the bisexuals’ float too.”
“Doesn’t sound like it.”
“We do not understand,” the voice said. “We have paired males and females together. Your species has only two physical sexes. Is that not what is required for procreation? Do you require music?”
A funky ‘70s bass line kicked in, overlaid by the telltale “wakka-wakka” of a guitar.
Deadpan, Butch said, “I must fling myself at you right now.”
“Excellent,” the alien voice said. “We are recording.”
“Cut it out!” Alix said. “Don’t you people have sarcasm?”
“No, we reproduce asexually.”
“Just stop the music. Seriously, stop it.”
The music cut off mid-wakka.
“Okay,” Alix said. “It looks like I need to do a little explaining. See, with humans, there’s procreation, and there’s sex.”
“We...we do not understand.”
“Our species doesn’t have sex just to reproduce. There’s also a social component to it.”
“That is common.”
“Yeah, well, we tend to do it more for the socializing than for the procreation. See, if you do it right, sex feels really, really good.”
“We had assumed that from your recordings,” the alien said. “Either that, or it felt really, really bad.”
“We use the same face for both,” Butch said.
“Anyway,” Alix continued, “not all of us like to have sex with people of the opposite gender. Some of us like to have sex with people of the same gender.”
“But you cannot procreate that way.”
“That’s right. Butch and I are people who like to have sex with people of our own gender, just like everyone else you picked up at the parade, even though we can’t reproduce that way.”
“Then you mean that Lesbo Lollipop Lullabies XIV was not a film on hygiene? We could find no other explanation for all the licking.”
Alix struggled not to burst out laughing and failed, leaving Butch to shrug at the ceiling and say, “I don’t get lesbians either.”
“Your mating rituals are even more complex than we’d imagined. But we still do not understand how sex can work with someone of your own gender.”
Butch perked up. “Well, for instance, if I get down on all fours...” he used his hands to illustrate “...and the leather daddy whips out his—”
Alix slapped her hand over his mouth. “I don’t think they need the gory details.” She could feel him pouting against her hand.
“Sex for pure recreation?” the alien voice asked. “This is novel.”
Alix shrugged. “That’s just how we are.”
“Perhaps we should change the experiment.”
“Is this better?”
Alix gazed at the cool brunette, who gazed back at her with a come-hither stare. “Much.”
“Then you will have non-procreative sex for us now.”
“But... I thought you...”
“We have found new specimens to perform procreative sex for us. We were careful to monitor them for cross-gender courting rituals before selecting them. The residents of Shady Oaks are not as diverse as your group. Their hair, what they have of it, is uniformly white, and their skin uniformly baggy. But I am sure they will make fine babies for our experiment. Now, show us non-procreative sex.”
Alix spluttered and flung her hands up. “I don’t care what your porn says, we’re not going to do it if we know you’re watching!”
One dusty blue wall suddenly dissolved into a giant display of Butch doing just that, in the position he’d been trying to illustrate earlier, with a leather daddy.
“My eyes!” Alix cried, and clapped her hands over her face.
The sounds of panting and moaning cut off, and she tentatively peeked between her fingers to make sure it was safe to look again.
Nothing but the cool brunette, and this time, she was standing much, much closer.
Alix gaped at her with sudden recognition. “Oh my god, aren’t you Claudia—”
The brunette put her hand over Alix’s mouth. “I think our situation is science fictional enough. Let’s leave my day job out of this.”
Alix could practically hear the wakka-wakkas swelling in the background. Suddenly, the porn bed looked mighty inviting. “So,” she said. “Want to go where no man has gone before?”
The brunette rolled her eyes. “Like I’ve never heard that one.”
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