It’s the Wednesday after the starships arrive. Karen meets me with a Dr’uau cradled in her arms. There’s a smile on her thin face, and the glow in her brown eyes echoes the alien creature’s blank though playful expression.
She tells me his name is Rufus, and that Dr’uau are empathic relays. This wooly little creature will rebuild our relationship. I’m skeptical, and part of me is unsure if I wish things to continue with Karen.
It’s a feeling I have, and with that feeling comes a wash of relief.
I’m not afraid of the Dr’uau. Rufus knows this, and licks my hand with his long snake-like tongue as we play. We growl and squeak together until Karen, who is plugged into the globalnet and unable to participate, shushes us. We play quietly after that.
Complacency washes over me, and I feel less alone. Karen, the object of the Dr’uau‘s empathy, appears to feel nothing.
She rolls away from me in our bed, drifting out of reach. I move closer, but I feel her slide quietly across the cotton blankets. Moments later, a moist proboscis and warm furry head nudge their way up. Rufus fills the gap between us. His empathic resonance feels like heat flooding through me, womb-like in its warmth.
The next day Rufus wakes me with the rank aroma of cricket breath. I moan and stagger. He follows, happy just to be a Dr’uau. Karen grumbles, instructing me in the care and maintenance of larval aliens. I rise, tug my slippers on, and lurch toward the squat apparatus that appears to be a cross between a Tesla coil and a miniature broadcast tower. This device amplifies brain waves, a biofeedback feeding station that the Dr’uau suckles on greedily.
Rufus chases me, skidding across the polished plastic floor on his stomach foot and pounces on my slippers. He bites my left shoe, tugging and shrilling playfully as I try not to step on him. To him I am the shoe. That’s how he sees me in that instant and in the small frame of his mind. I am the center of his world, and I am chewable.
At lunch, I stop and pick up a new toy. It’s a plastic monkey holding a pair of cymbals, and it squeaks when squeezed. The noise reminds me of Karen’s voice, high-pitched and grating, so I decide to remove the squeaker before heading home.
Rufus greets me at the door. Karen does not. The sofa avatar commands me to entertain the Dr’uau, and this I do willingly. We play with the plastic monkey. I throw. Rufus catches, grasping it in his seven rudimentary hands. The toy makes an impolite sound, like an old man breaking wind. I laugh. Rufus chirps, and for a moment I smile. Then Rufus bites my shoe.
My attachment to the Dr’uau has grown exponentially, an effect that should have been concentrated on Karen. I consider this as I stare into the dark diamonds of Rufus’s eyes, but the knowledge is lost in an intense desire to stroke the Dr’uau‘s soft mottled fur.
Karen returns late. She sits across from me and stares at the Dr’uau, restless and unable to glance in my direction. My stomach shifts like the center knot in a violent game of tug of war. I sigh, unable to fully catch my breath, and focus on the compact log of fuzz that is Rufus.
He senses the sway in my emotions, and leaves Karen’s side. His toy monkey makes the farting sound as he drops it at my feet. I smile. Karen frowns, voicing her disapproval. I pick up the toy and tease her with the monkey’s flatulence, but she misses the joke, and the moment slips through time into awkward silence.
I tell her I’d like to talk, but she evades the comment. Instead, she speaks to the lamp, my shoe, or to the Dr’uau. So I get up and go to bed.
When I awake, Karen is gone. Rufus gazes at me with his tiny faceted eyes. It seems as if he knows my thoughts, but I’m sure he cannot. Perhaps he only echoes my emotions, alien empathy reacting to my disappointment. Maybe he can sense my impending fear of abandonment and in some way shares this emotion because of his removal from his mother, his hive, and his world to become our pet.
Perhaps I’m reading far too much into the flat black planes of his eyes, and he is just being a Dr’uau.
The apartment is dark that evening when I arrive, the door instructing me in its cold robotic voice that Karen has not been home. She has gone out, and does not expect to return until late.
I’m positive now that she’s avoiding me. Rufus sprawls across the floor, his pale triangular snout resting on his two favorite toys, the fart monkey and my shoe. He greets me as if he could never possibly be any happier, and it makes me sad.
Rufus and I play. I toss the fart monkey. He catches, while with impatience I watch the clock and wait. The feeding coil glows with rose-colored luminescence, pulsating with the beating of my heart. I’ve lost her. I know this, but the Dr’uau somehow makes it feel right.
Long after midnight, I surrender my vigil and give the Dr’uau, the monkey, and myself a rest.
In the morning, Karen is still not home. The bed informs me she intends to return the next day. Inside of me, something just stops working. I’m slow in admitting it to myself, but we’ve reached a point of attrition where even Rufus would know what to do.
So I take a deep breath and leave my own avatar on the bed computer.
I tell her I’m taking the Dr’uau, the few items I brought into our relationship, and the one good kitchen chair.
In compensation, I leave her the monkey.
Writing is not a reference to D. A. D’Amico. Instead, it is an ache, a compulsion that cannot be ignored. David writes every day, and is never on fewer than six worlds at any given moment. David has been published in Daily Science Fiction, Eschatology, and is the winner of the L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future award.