That day at the market, Joe Granger saw something very unexpected: another human. Here on Roku V, a million light-years from Terra, carbon-based lifeforms, let alone homo sapien sapiens, were a rarity. He had been, to the best of his knowledge, the only one in the world, until this moment. And he liked it that way.
She was standing at the end of a line to one of the marketplace stalls—it sold refreshments and hypershuttle tickets, far as he could recall—behind a multitude of different aliens, many of whose species he could not identify. It was a strange day at the market when he did know what everyone was.
Beyond the simple fact of her humanity, there was something else that held Joe’s attention and conjured up long-buried feelings. From her feet, caked in the desert sand, to her shoulders, over which a mane of chestnut hair fell, she was entirely naked.
It had been so long. Joe stared openly, drinking in her sun-browned skin. She had strong, elegant legs, and a pair of dimples above her ample rear. He had to speak to her, if only that she might turn to face him.
Set on speaking to her, his thoughts turned to pragmatism. What was this human woman doing on Roku V, and why was she naked? Could she be in trouble? It was his duty to do what he could to help.
Joe quietly joined the line. “Fashions sure have changed since I left Terra,” he said, speaking English in a slow, unpractised voice. He passed a hand across his dark hair, which was cropped close to his scalp.
The woman yelped, short and sharp, but then stood still again. Joe saw her shoulders tense up and her hands ball into fists. She stood frozen for a moment and then took a deep, long breath. Finally, she turned to face him.
“I’m… not exactly current with them myself,” she said, her voice strained. She locked her green eyes with his brown ones and folded her arms over her chest, in a forcedly casual kind of way. “But, as far as I know, wearing clothes is still compulsory.”
From her words and her strong discomfort, Joe concluded that she was not a nudist and that mainstream human society still encouraged clothing. She had nothing to be embarrassed about though, thought Joe. Firm breasts, a flat stomach and a cute little tuft of hair down below. Wide hips that flowed into strong legs. Perhaps it was the isolation talking, but she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.
“So why are you breaking that rule?” he asked. “You don’t look very at-ease.”
The woman sighed. “You’re not helping with that! The guard said there weren’t any humans on this planet, so it wouldn’t matter that I was naked.”
“The guard?” Joe asked.
The woman broke eye contact. “I, uh, kinda stowed away. On a cruise ship.”
“Without any clothes?”
“Well… the guard found me in the shower. She took away my towel, because I wasn’t a paying guest. I begged her to let me fetch my clothes, but she looked up my file and found a bunch of, uh, shoplifting charges. From clothes shops. She said that my clothes would have to be returned to their rightful owners.”
“Wow. So she just tossed you out? With nothing?”
“You know how guardbots are, real sticklers for the law.”
Joe took that statement as a reminder of how long he’d been away from other humans. Last he’d been aware, guardbots were exclusively it, not she or he.
“Anyway, none of these aliens seemed to even notice me, so I was actually feeling fine until you showed up to gawk. I was just about to buy a hypershuttle ticket.”
Joe was a bit annoyed that the first human he’d encountered in years was so unhappy to see him. “And how were you planning to buy that ticket?”
She looked at him like he was an idiot. “With my eyes, duh.”
Joe smirked. “What’s your name?”
“Sophie,” she said. “Sophie Marsden.”
“Well, Sophie, how likely do you think it is that a planet without a significant human population accepts retinal payments?”
Sophie’s face fell. “B-but surely… surely other species have eyes!”
“Some do,” Joe replied. “But they’re all different shapes and sizes, and made of different material. And not every species uses a biometric money system. Especially not on Roku V. The only payment that’s accepted at this market is cash, I’m afraid.”
Sophie’s shoulders slumped, and, in a pleasing development, her arms fell limply to her sides. “Surely the guard must have known that? How could she leave me here?”
“I wouldn’t trust a machine like that as far as I could throw it. You’re damn lucky I came along.”
Sophie’s eyes lit up. “So you’ll buy me a ticket?”
Her expression melted his heart. “Of course,” he said. “What kind of monster would I be otherwise?”
Sophie squealed with delight, and the next thing Joe knew she was hugging him. He reciprocated, folding his arms around her bare back. Her skin was electric to his touch. It had been so long.
“We’ll just need to go back to my place to get some more cash,” he said, once they had disentangled. “I didn’t bring enough for a hypershuttle ticket—definitely not enough for one to a human-populated planet.”
“We?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
Joe chuckled. “In return for my generous gift, I ask only that you accompany me here and back. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to talk to another human being, and I want to practise my English again.”
“You do sound pretty weird.”
“That’s rich coming from a nudist castaway.”
Sophie squirmed, hovering one hand above her crotch and the other near her breasts before forcing them to her sides. “I kind of wish I was a nudist, to be honest. I can’t stand feeling so exposed in front of all of these people, and I don’t want them to know how embarrassed I am.”
“Just keep those arms down and walk confidently,” Joe said. “Remember, for all they know, your species doesn’t wear clothes.”
Sophie cocked an eyebrow. “Couldn’t you lend me yours?”
Joe smirked and gestured at his single-piece jumpsuit. “I’m not pulling this off in the middle of the marketplace. Besides, I’m the only other human here, and I’ve already had an eyeful.”
Sophie blushed deeply and turned her face away, visibly struggling not to sink into a fetal crouch.
“You’re beautiful, Miss Sophie.”
“Thanks, I guess,” Sophie replied. “You’re not bad yourself.” Joe felt her eyes flick across his weathered, stubbly face and down to his broad chest, which pulled the jumpsuit fabric taut.
With this, Sophie took a deep breath, resigned herself to her fate, and stared resolutely ahead. “Lead the way, Mister, uh…”
“You can call me Joe. And don’t worry, I’ll find you something to wear at home.”
The exile and the naked woman walked through the market. As they went on, Sophie seemed to almost forget her nudity, and began walking and talking normally, but for the occasional blush or arm movement. She told Joe of her childhood on Terra, the parents who had died when she was in her teens, and the places she’d been since. Without money, family or education, she had scraped a living by on the edge of society. This wasn’t the worst situation she’d gotten herself into, not by far.
“I may be naked, but at least I don’t have a pack of wild zoorbers after me this time,” she said, concluding the tale of her last planetary landing.
Joe listened to her empathetically, while not passing up the opportunity to steal glances at her body. He was reminding himself of what women looked like, after many years without them. Sophie was slighter than Amelia had been, and more tanned, but she had the same piercing green eyes. If he squinted, he could almost picture his dead wife around those eyes.
Sophie was speaking animatedly as the two turned into an alleyway. Joe was so fixed on her, that he didn’t notice the figures surrounding them until it was too late.
“Freeze,” said a high, nasally voice, speaking a language Joe had hoped never to hear again.
They were encircled by large group of very small green humanoid aliens with potato-shaped heads. All were dressed in purple jumpsuits, and each was armed with a zeblon blaster the size of its head. The blasters were all trained directly on Joe.
“How did you find me?” Joe asked, forcing out the words in that hateful language. He remained outwardly calm, slowly raising his arms.
Sophie imitated Joe, her expression confused, then ashen. Joe could see she didn’t understand the aliens’ language. One of the aliens stepped towards her, holding a black baton in his non-blaster hand.
The leader of the group, who wore a crown inset with a small red jewel, stepped forward, keeping his blaster steady. “We have our ways,” he said. “But you didn’t make it easy for us, Joegranger.”
“Good.” Joe spat in the dirt. “I ask that you take me, and only me. Leave my companion.”
The alien leader, who Joe knew as Zer, snarled. “We are apprehending you AND your pet. Yut, contain it!”
The alien who had approached Sophie tapped his baton against her backside, and an electric shock shot through her. Sophie’s eyes went wide, her hair frizzed, and then she fell to the ground, unconscious.
“It’s not dead,” said Zer. “And you can keep it that way.”
Joe needed no further convincing.
* * *
Sophie opened her eyes to the sight of criss-crossing wire bars and a metal ceiling far above them. Her whole body ached, and the metal floor was cold against her bare back. She was in a cage.
Groaning, she turned over onto her side. The scene before her eyes changed to a massive warehouse filled with other cages. Inside the cages where all manner of alien creatures, with fur, feathers, scales, carapaces, jelly exteriors, and even skin like her own. The air was alive with a million strange noises.
She had seen some of these creatures before, in person or in pictures, but many more were unfamiliar to her. She couldn’t see Joe in any of the cages, nor were there any other humans in sight.
Something about the aliens bugged her. There was a similarity between them, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
Sophie put her hands down on the floor and lifted herself up. The movement of her unsupported breasts reminded her that she was still fully naked. Things just seemed to go from bad to worse for her. But at least there weren’t any humans around to see. The alien creatures stared blankly at her from their cages; none had any concept of human nudity taboos.
Sophie thought back to the incident in the alleyway. She and Joe had been captured by a group of small green aliens. These aliens had clearly taken them somewhere, and locked them up. Joe seemed to know the alien with the crown. Was he in on this? Was this all some kind of ploy to capture her for some kind of zoo?
Maybe, but she’d seen the fear in Joe’s eyes. He must have been captured too, and put in some other area for whatever reason. Maybe they separated species in some way? They couldn’t have been too familiar with humans, then.
Sophie strolled over to the door of her cage. She stuck her arm out of a gap between the bars and and ran her hand across the other side of the latch. In place of a lock, there was a complex, multi-part latching mechanism.
CLICK. CLACK. CLUNK. Sophie had the latch open in seconds. She cautiously pushed the door open by a couple of centimeters, and it moved. Victory. Sophie looked to her left and her right, scanning the warehouse floor for green aliens. Seeing none, she slid the door open just enough to squeeze out, and exited her cage.
Sophie dashed across the room, trying to make as little sound as possible with her bare feet, while also trying to move as fast as she could. Some of the creatures looked up at her as she passed, and a few made noises she couldn’t understand. There was no sign of any of the squat green aliens who were responsible for her imprisonment.
Finally, Sophie reached the other side of the room, where a door hung open. She squeezed through it, and into a dark, narrow corridor.
That’ll teach these losers to underestimate a naked girl, she thought.
Sophie crept down the long corridor, trying every door. About halfway down, she saw something rounding the corner at the far end. Panicking, she tried to flatten herself against the wall. It wasn’t an effective hiding place, but there weren’t any of those in this long, featureless corridor, and the prison room she’d escaped from was too far back to return to. She was caught.
Or perhaps not. As the creature coming down the corridor came closer, she saw that it wasn’t one of the green aliens, but a squat pink creature that somewhat resembled a Terran pig. This creature was making a loud sucking noise with its large mouth against the ground, moving slowly and in a straight line. Sophie now recognized it as a Yurtan CleanSweep, something she’d seen copious advertisements for. Like most products of Yurtan origin, it was a simple machine that was made of flesh and blood rather than metal and wires. It gave her the creeps.
Fortunately, Yurtan CleanSweeps were designed for a single purpose, and it wasn’t security. The creature moved methodically across the hallway floor, cleaned around Sophie’s feet, and then turned a corner and was out of sight.
Sophie let out a sigh of relief and tried the next door. This one was unlocked. To her delight, the first room she was able to get into was full of clothing. Small purple jumpsuits lined the walls.
The green aliens were a lot shorter than Sophie was, and had narrower builds, but luckily the purple jumpsuit material stretched easily. Even more luckily, a fabric-cutting machine with a large blade occupied one corner of the room. She pulled down the largest alien jumpsuit she could find and made some alterations.
First, she chopped the jumpsuit in half to make a two-piece. Then she cut the spindly legs and arms off the top and bottom of the jumpsuit. Finally, she widened its arm, leg and head holes, and pulled her new outfit on.
Sophie admired her handiwork in the mirror at the back of the room. Ultimately, the green aliens were too small for this to be a modest outfit. The top left the undersides of both breasts exposed, and the bottom rode very low on her hips, exposing butt cleavage. Even so, it felt to good to wear something again, and in the right mood, this outfit might even have made her feel sexy.
Now that she was clothed, it was time to get out of here. But where was she? The corridor resembled those of some large spacecraft she’d been on, but there was no way of telling whether it was in space or still docked. She should probably find Joe. If he wasn’t in on this, she would need still his help to get that hypershuttle ticket. And maybe he had a spare human-sized jumpsuit, she thought, pulling on the stretchy purple fabric that kept sliding down her ass.
Sophie couldn’t read any of the signs on the walls—presumably they were written in the same language that Joe had spoken with the aliens, rather than Standard Galactic, English or any other language Sophie had even minor proficiency in. This forced her to search for Joe through trial and error. Fortunately, this part of the ship seemed deserted, so she could explore and backtrack without too much risk of discovery. But as she rose through the levels, the sounds of alien chatter grew louder and closer.
Finally, three levels above where she’d been kept, she found the entrance to what looked like the people version of her prison. Through an open door in the middle of a corridor, she could see a large room with rows of jail cells lining either side and a large computer control panel in the middle. The entrance of the room shimmered with some kind of forcefield.
Suddenly, Sophie heard small, hurried footsteps pounding just above her. Alien voices were coming closer! She glanced around, looking for a hiding place. There was a small supply closet just opposite the prison entrance. She ducked inside it and pulled the door almost shut, leaving a crack that she could peer through.
Two small green aliens armed with zeblon blasters raced down the corridor. One turned to prison entrance and ran full-tilt into it. He hit the forcefield and bounced backwards with a loud ZAP! There was a loud THUNK as his small body slammed into the opposite wall, inches from the crack Sophie was peering through. She slunk further into the dark closet, hardly daring to breathe.
But the alien was too preoccupied with the shock of the forcefield to notice the scantily clad human female through the doorframe crack. He got up, looking sheepish, and slowly approached the forcefield.
The other alien shouted at him in their language before producing a small remote and pressing a button. The shimmering in the doorframe ceased, and the two aliens entered the prison room. Sophie briefly considered following them, but the forcefield reactivated almost immediately. It would have been suicide anyway.
The aliens stayed in the room for a few minutes, shouting at someone. Sophie could hear faint replies in what sounded like Joe’s voice. So he was inside this room! But how to get to him?
Eventually, the aliens left, grumbling to each other. They looked highly irritated. Sophie hoped that they would forget to activate the forcefield behind them, but this was wishful thinking. It appeared to be on a very short automatic timer, reactivating seconds after each deactivation.
Sophie looked around the supply closet. It was empty, but for a dusty mop and bucket in one corner. They probably hadn’t seen any use since the ship switched to using CleanSweeps.
As if on cue, the tell-tale suction of a CleanSweep came into audible range. Sophie stepped out of the supply closet and watched as it sucked its way along the floor, moving down the corridor in sideways sweeps. True to the ad copy, it left the floor shining as it went.
Sophie wondered what would happen when it brushed against the forcefield protecting the prison room. Would it be bounced back into the opposite wall like the green alien had been? That would be kinda funny.
At last, the CleanSweep reached the forcefield. As its pink snout passed through the doorway, the air shimmered at an increased frequency and… let the CleanSweep through. The little pink creature passed through the forcefield like it wasn’t there and continued cleaning the floor of the prison room.
Sophie was shocked and puzzled. It wasn’t like the forcefield had been disabled for the creature—rather, it seemed to detect it and allow it through. Which was the opposite of what had happened to the green alien. That was highly strange—surely if these aliens were going to write exceptions into their forcefield tech, they would include themselves before they’d include cleaner robot animal things?
Maybe the CleanSweep had done something to the forcefield. Wouldn’t that be lucky? Sophie cautiously approached it and gingerly attempted to stick a hand through it. The pain was immediate, and she jerked her arm back, biting her lip to avoid crying out.
Okay, so that wasn’t it. There was something about the CleanSweep that had allowed it to go through where she and the green aliens were barred. What could that be? Well, she and the aliens were thinking creatures, people, members of society. The CleanSweep, on the other hand, was a machine… sort of. Though its pink skin and the way it trotted along on tiny legs did really make her think of a pig. The Yurtans were masters of biology.
The prison’s cells housed an astonishingly diverse array of aliens. She could only see a few of them through the doorframe, and of those she could only identify a couple. One in a small rubber pool was a Tilray, an aquatic people that wore elaborate seaweed robes. Another, sleeping on a hard prison bed, looked like a Magar, a desert-dwelling people who covered themselves in shapeless black robes.
Sophie thought back to the aliens in her own prison. They had made a lot of noise, whereas this prison was silent. And they had been kept in cages, whereas this prison contained cells protected by thick metal bars without visible doors rather than wire cages with multi-stage mechanical locks. Sophie glanced at the CleanSweep making its way across the floor, its pink skin glistening with sweat-slash-detergent. It was almost as if…
Realization crashed down on her. That was what all the aliens in her prison had in common! They were animals! And, being animals, none of them wore any clothes.
Sophie smirked. Despite being the same species, Joe had been classified as a person because he was clothed, and she had been classified as an animal because she was nude. It was difficult to believe that an advanced spacefaring race like the green aliens would make such a stupid mistake. Certainly, most of the peoples she had met wore some kind of clothing, but there are plenty that didn’t. Clearly these guys had never met an Ashenti or a Grudur.
Now that Sophie had solved the forcefield mystery, there was the matter of acting on this new information. The green aliens, or maybe just the green aliens’ computers, seemed to classify any creature with clothes on as a person, and any creature without clothes on as an animal. People were blocked from passing through the forcefield, but animals were not.
Sophie sighed. With great reluctance, she pulled off both halves of her small outfit and dumped them on the ground. Then she closed her eyes and stepped into the forcefield, bracing for impact in case she was wrong.
She wasn’t. The forcefield tingled against her skin but let her through unscathed. She turned around and bent down to pull her clothes through. But as soon as she touched purple fabric, she felt a shock shoot through her and yanked her arm back. Of course that would happen.
After shaking her arm to relieve the pain, Sophie stood up and stepped back through the forcefield and into the corridor. She picked up her clothes and dumped them in the bucket in the storage closet. No point leaving them lying in the corridor where they could be noticed. She took one last longing look at the bucket before pulling the closet door shut and returning to the forcefield.
Naked once more, Sophie stepped through the forcefield unscathed, to the great consternation of the prison’s inhabitants. The field was opaque from this side, so to the alien prisoners, it looked as though she had materialized from within the wall.
The aliens called out to Sophie as she walked past their cells, most of them speaking languages she didn’t understand. But a few could speak Standard Galactic. The Tilray splashed excitedly in its rubber pool and hissed, “You don’t look like a Zilcron! How did you get in here? Will you help us?”
Sophie met the Tilray’s unblinking gaze. It looked like a combination between a lizard, a shark and a human. The large red fins on its head indicated that it was male. A momentary flush came to Sophie’s cheeks and she moved an arm in front of her chest. The intelligence in the creature’s stare made her ashamed of her nudity, though she told herself she had no reason to feel that way. “Y-yes,” she stammered, “I’ll help you. But first, I need to find my friend. Is there a human man in one of these cells?”
A familiar voice sounded from behind Sophie. “Right behind you, Miss Sophie.”
Sophie spun around to face Joe, which was currently trapped behind the bars of the cell opposite the Tilray. Though there was a hint of weariness in his expression, it was overpowered by a massive smile. “You’re a sight for sore eyes,” he said.
“Joe!” Sophie exclaimed, running up to the bars. “What’s going on? Why did those aliens capture us?”
Joe sighed and the smile dropped off his face. “I didn’t want to get you mixed up in this. I pleaded with them to leave you and take me, but they didn’t listen. They… the Zilcrons… well, you could say they’re my creditors. Or at least, they would say so. I’m not sure I agree. Or at least, I’d like a different payment option.”
A faraway look appeared in Joe’s eyes. “They like to… collect things. People, animals, plants, artifacts, all kinds of stuff. It’s a species-wide obsession. They’ve got six planets of wall-to-wall museums and zoos in their system—it’s kind of funny, actually, most of them don’t even live on their homeworld because it’s too full with all the things they’ve collected.”
Sophie faintly remembered being told about a race of squat alien hoarders, but she had always assumed it was a made-up story for scaring children. To find out that it was real… well, the universe was a large and strange place, and she had seen so little of it.
Joe continued his story. “Anyway, they’re completely insane and ruthless, but they have preserved a lot of species and artifacts that would otherwise have been lost forever. Many of the items in their collection are one of a kind. Some years ago, I found myself in need of one such item. A leaf from the Ransard Tree of Pulonimus IV.”
Ransard Tree… that also sounded familiar. Another old story Sophie had heard as a child.
“It was said to have miraculous restorative properties. To be the only cure for Space Rot. But the tree had long been extinct throughout the Pulonimus system. The only known Ransard Tree in all of the universe was kept under heavy guard on Zilcron III.”
Space Rot. Sophie shivered at the memory of pictures she’d seen of sufferers. It was always fatal, and one of the few disease that was equally devastating to all sentient creatures. On humans, it had the effect of drying out the body and leaving a withered and wrinkled husk. “Did you have Space Rot?” she asked Joe.
Joe was silent for a moment. “My wife did.”
Sophie’s eyebrow raised. She hadn’t seen a wedding ring on either of Joe’s hands.
“I was willing to trade anything for her survival. The Zilcrons assured me that my payment—a pair of little-known Terran animals called frogs—would be enough to secure a leaf of the Ransard tree, and they were only too happy to accept the little critters.”
Sophie put a finger to her chin. She’d thought that frogs were extinct.
“But when the Zilcrons showed me to the Ransard tree, I found only a desiccated husk. The tree was dead and leafless.” Joe spat these last words with a barely contained rage, and Sophie took a step back from his cell.
“My dear Amelia passed away the next day. And then, in the midst of my grief, the Zilcrons accused me of killing the Ransard Tree!” Joe punched the wall of his cell, voice cracking and eyes watering. “They demanded that I join their collection in compensation! I’ve been on the run for five long years.”
Tears welled in Sophie’s eyes. “I’m so sorry, Joe,” she said, reaching her hand between the bars.
Joe took her hand. “Thank you. I’m glad you’re here.” He blinked his eyes clear, and then a sly smile spread across his face. “In fact, you’re the key to getting us out of this mess. Clearly, these Zilcrons underestimated you. Now, I need you to go to the control panel in the center of this room and find a large red button. That will open all of the cells.”
Sophie felt herself grinning madly. Joe squeezed her hand and then let go. Her eyes flashed, and she dashed towards the control panel. The large red button was easy to find. With a gleeful cackle, Sophie slammed her palm down on top of it.
Instantly, the bars of all the prison cells shot up. There was a chorus of triumphant sounds from many few dozen different sound-making organs, and then a rush of many dozen different locomotive limbs. The room was alive with stomping, flapping, slithering and hopping.
“You did it!” cried Joe, as he embraced Sophie in an enormous hug, which she enthusiastically returned. “Now let’s get out of here!”
Once Joe released her, Sophie looked towards the forcefield that covered the entrance to the prison. It had not been deactivated by the large red button. But no matter—Sophie knew how to get through it.
“Take off your jumpsuit,” Sophie said to Joe. “The forcefield blocks clothing. That’s how I managed to get through. I think that’s the same reason I was put in the area with all the animals. Zilcrons have never heard of nudists, or at least their computers haven’t. So to get out of here, everyone’s going to have to get in touch with nature and strip off!”
Joe raised an eyebrow at Sophie, who had spread her arms out dramatically to punctuate “strip off”. “I promise it’s true!” she said. “Surely you don’t think I’m still parading around like this for your benefit? I’m cold! And embarrassed! On, like, an existential level!”
The pained yelp of a Gerton in a yellow gown being thrown back from the forcefield violently reinforced Sophie’s point. “It blocks clothing!” she yelled in Standard Galactic to the startled creature.
Joe shrugged and put a hand to his zipper.
Just then, the forcefield flickered and disappeared, revealing the corridor beyond. Sophie and Joe glanced back at the control panel, where a Yilen stood with one tentacle wrapped around a large lever.
“… I guess that works too,” Sophie said, mildly disappointed that she would remain the only one naked.
* * *
Fortunately for the Zilcrons’ erstwhile prisoners, the prison ship had not yet launched, but was still fueling up in Roku V’s premiere space port. The crowd of aliens formed an intimidating crowd, and were able to make a quick getaway by rushing through the halls for the exit. The first few Zilcrons they came across were in groups of one or two, no match for such a throng. They fled instantly at the sight of the free prisoners, often dropping their weapons in the process, which the mob was quick to appropriate. Armed with Zeblon blasters, they had no trouble exiting the ship.
As Joe explained to Sophie, Zilcrons were a naturally cowardly lot and relied heavily on being able to collect people and animals one by one.
There was a massive commotion in the space port as the prisoners rushed out of the Zilcron ship, and the Roku V authorities were alerted. Soon, the ship was impounded and its crew arrested on charges of alien trafficking. Sophie and Joe watched triumphantly as the crew of Zilcrons was marched off the ship in chains, shouting obscenities in their strange language. Joe matched a few of their cries himself, his face contorting to pronounce the alien syllables.
Many of the sapient and non-sapient aliens aboard the ship had been reported missing, and some even were presumed dead. More than a few had rewards offered for their safe return. Families across the galaxy would now be reunited. When the authorities asked how they had escaped, all the aliens directed them to the two humans, standing together. Joe deferred all praise to Sophie, and she quickly became the center of attention.
Sophie was ushered to the top of the stairs outside the spaceport, where a press conference had been called at lightspeed. She was quickly introduced to the chief of police, an elegant centaur-like female covered in red scales. Her species didn’t wear clothing, and Sophie tried to copy her proud poise. In all the commotion and excitement of escaping the ship and getting the Zilcrons arrested, she hadn’t had a chance to reclaim her makeshift outfit, and was thus still entirely naked.
“The people of Roku V and the galaxy at large salute you, Sophie Marsden,” said the police chief, as she shook Sophie’s hand vigorously. “We would like to bestow a Medal of Courage upon you for your bravery and quick thinking today aboard the Zilcron ship.”
Sophie blushed and stammered as lights flashed around her. She looked out at the cosmopolitan crowd of aliens and reminded herself for the millionth time that day that none of them had any idea she was supposed to be wearing clothes. Well, except for Joe, who was watching from behind the throng of journalists.
Suppressing a deep sigh, she stood in front of the crowd and smiled as the police chief lowered the medal onto her neck, even puffing her chest out a bit. The metal lay cool against her tummy, and she tried not to think about how far the dozens of pictures currently being taken would travel. Hopefully they wouldn’t want to build a statue of her—Sophie shuddered at the thought of her pubic hair being immortalized in stone.
Once the press conference was over, and after a million thank-yous, handshakes and exchanges of ID details for payment of reward money, the crowd parted. At last, she was left alone with Joe.
“How about we get you something to wear, Miss Sophie Marsden, Hero of Roku V?” he asked, reaching out an arm. “I was doing it as a favor before, but now I reckon I owe you.”
“That sounds great,” replied Sophie, taking Joe’s arm. “Just as long as it goes with my medal.”
The two strolled through the city, Sophie leaning against Joe. “Do you think any more Zilcrons will be coming after you?”
“I don’t think so,” said Joe. “Certainly not as long as I’ve got my naked guardian.”
Sophie blushed. “I’m sure they’ll at least upgrade their security software.”
“Whatever happens, we can handle it.”
Sophie felt Joe’s arm tighten around her, and she smiled and snuggled against his side.
Joe lived in an apartment on the top floor of a tall building in an unassuming district of the city. His place was small, with only a single bedroom, but he kept it neat. Sophie sat down on the the couch as he disappeared into the bedroom to rummage through his closet for something she could wear.
While she waited, Sophie unfocused her eyes and used Joe’s uplink to connect her neural link to the Galactic Network. She had already started receiving the first reward payments for the missing aliens aboard the Zilcron ship. It was more than she had expected. Certainly enough to pay Joe back for buying her a hypershuttle ticket. She might even do some shopping before she left—though there was bound to be nothing in human sizes, perhaps she could find some fun accessories.
Joe reappeared with a jumpsuit similar to the one he was wearing. It would be a little big for Sophie, he said apologetically. She said she didn’t mind, and gratefully took it from him.
For a moment, the two stood in the middle of Joe’s living room, looking at each other. Sophie turned the jumpsuit over in her arms. “You know,” she said slyly, “I was a bit disappointed when Glarbel deactivated the forcefield.”
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“Well…” she began, letting the jumpsuit slowly slip from her arms. “I was kind of… interested in what you looked like… underneath.” She looked up at Joe, clasping her hands so that her arms pushed her breasts together. “After all… you’ve seen me, so I was hoping…”
Joe kissed her full on the mouth. Squealing with delight, she wrapped herself around him and pawed at the zipper on his chest.
Joe grabbed the zipper himself and yanked it down. “Fair’s fair,” he said.