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Death and OJ

I woke up to my third day of Vraycation. Third day in a row I woke with a smile on my face. Then I faced the same question as the last two: do I relax and enjoy it or jump straight in to enjoy it?

Eh. I’d lazed the morning before, so today I was gonna carpe some diem.

I rolled out of my sheets, all ready for the shower because without Vray around I could sleep commando, so I did. It’s not something I usually did even on my own, but you lose your roommate, you gotta take advantage. Even if it makes no sense; I don’t think Vray actually cared whether I wore clothes or not; come to think of it, they might not even notice. That’s the rare item in my live that’s not a Vray problem, but a me problem; I don’t know why, but I just don’t like being naked in front to them,.

It’s just fundamental incompatibility that the residence office should have worked out before we were put into the same dorm room. Or after I requested a room change. Or any of the next 6 times I requested a room change over the past year and a half.

The thing is, of all the Vray-problems, none of them is actually Vray’s fault. They’re as polite and considerate a roommate as you could ask for. After we first met, they even tried to decorate in the style of “my people” by getting every replica Terran knick-knack they could find; which they did with no concept of Terran interior design tastes or conventions, leaving the place “decorated” with a clutter of random cups, bottles, tools, and tchotchkes that did absolutely nothing for me or one another.

This was all in my head as I tried to shower it away; I didn’t want to waste my alone-time thinking about the reason I needed it. Then again, it did give me a positive to credit Vray with: our shower is water, not the sonics-only that are standard in the other rooms. Amphibious roomie for the win on that one! Their skin dries out quickly, and they need to physically slough it off every day or two. Sonic for me, water for them, and nothing like both at the same time! Especially when it’s a toasty 21°.

I got out of the refresher feeling scrubbed outside and loosened up inside — the sonics are the best thing ever for chest congestion. Got dressed (in a luxuriously short-sleeved outfit) and decided breakfast was in order. One normally illicit, but not today.

There she was, on the counter. Oh, I’d make something solid too, no problem, but this was my morning star, my forbidden fruit… but not today.

One liter of life’s blood of the most perfect oranges ever grown. Or okay, just some juice from the commissary, but it felt like more to me. I’d left her out because I didn’t want a touch of chill to ruin the glorious lukewarmth of the day. Also I’d forgotten to put it away the day before. Which on a normal day would get me kicked out of the school…but not today. Of course, on a normal day even having it there would be a safety breech that would get me suspended at least.

I hefted up the two-liter jug, noted that it was only about half full, but that was good enough for now. With no warning, that damn whistle-screech of a voice went through my skull like always.


I don’t know how high I jumped. It doesn’t matter. Every limb joined in, and the OJ. Went. Everywhere.

And the screech became a shriek so high I could barely hear it, but it knifed into my spinal cord all the worse for it. I spun around and my heart jumped into my throat as my stomach dropped away. There was Vray, swatting reflexively at the juice that was spattered on their skin. Skin that I knew was being eaten away like candyfloss by citric acid. Their tentacles were just rubbing it to fresh skin. I’d looked up enough about their physiology after our first meeting that I knew it wasn’t their fault, it was an involuntary response. Dammit, nothing was ever Vray’s fault.

I heard myself almost yell, “WHY ARE YOU HERE!?” but habit kicked in and it came out as a hoarse stage whisper. I don’t remember trying to say it; the part of my brain that I could hear was only thinking about how it was going to look that I’d splashed acid onto the roommate I’d been trying to get rid for for a year and a half.

Vray fell to the floor. This was bad. And I just stood there, ready to jump in any direction to help but with no direction to jump. The kitchen sink didn’t have a hose. The stove used conduction, not flame; there was no way to activate the sprinklers (did the room even have sprinklers? I couldn’t remember.)

Then I spotted it decorating the counter. Cheap, junky, probably made in Orion, like nothing anyone had used in centuries but everyone still knew about from slapstick vids: a seltzer bottle. Did it work? Had to find out.

I grabbed it, pointed, shook, squeezed… and gods bless Vray, of course it worked. They had no idea of decoration, but they understood function, and they’d made sure it worked. I blasted them everywhere I saw juice or their wiping tentacles. I felt sick watching layers of skin peel off under the pressure, but I kept going. I tried to be as efficient as I could, as there was only about a liter of water.

It seemed to mostly work. When the water was done, the tentacles had stopped wiping and they seemed to be breathing normally (I think?) and I called campus medics as I knelt next to Vray. They said they’d arrive in 70-80 seconds and I stopped talking to them.

“Vray?” I asked, not-yelling as hard as I could. “How do you feel?”

“Not goood, Ke-DEEEEEM. Thank you… for askiiing. How… are yoou?”

“I’m…” Dammit, Vray. “I’m better than that. I guess.” I hiccupped a little. “Thank you for asking.”

“Too surpriiise yoou,” they shrieked quietly (somehow).

“What?” I asked. I was worried they were losing it.

“Yoou asked why I am heere. People say… Terrans like supriises.” So… ” They took a deep breath and finished: “Supriise!

I”d been looking over their skin just to see if anything was still burning. I stopped and looked into two of their eyes.

“Thanks, roomie,” I said. “I… wish I’d reacted a little better.”


That’s when the medics arrived and I got the hell out of their way. They took took Vray, and there was no room in the ambulance for me, so I just stood around. After awhile, I tried to clean up. I wanted to tell someone about it. Then I realized the person I’d usually tell was… well, you already know or you’re stupid.

Vray came home next day. Thing about their skin, it’s delicate but it heals quickly. And it turned out that they’d been planning to shower right after surprising me, so they hadn’t bothered to slough in two days; most of what I saw peeing away was old and dead already, which probably saved them from the worst of it.

I didn’t get kicked out of school. I didn’t get disciplined at all, really. After all, I’d had no way of knowing Vray would be back then, so having the OJ was permitted. I did have to take a mandatory safety training course in dealing with Vray’s species’ particular needs, but I found I was eager to.

I decided I don’t need liquid OJ anymore. I’ll keep my citric acid buried in something solid. I also decided to give the residential office a break; Vray’s not really their fault. Vray’s not really a fault at all.

Prompt courtesy of Heather Melo: “Just describe the following action, with a little bit of misplaced violence: You shake the OJ container, but someone left the cap askew, and now its all over the place.

Published inFictionShort fiction

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