Superior Ecton pursed her lips as she flipped through her planner. “We have a problem.” Lorin immediately put down the patient’s chart she was holding and went to Ecton’s side. Her superior handed over the planner. In a moment Lorin noticed what was wrong. There weren’t any chemo appointments scheduled for this week. Since putting the patients to sleep during uncomfortable chemo sessions had become the norm, that was the only way Lorin and her fellow extra-terrestrials could take the blood from humans without them noticing. But they couldn’t take blood if there were no patients. Ecton grabbed Lorin by the shoulders and looked into her hazel eyes, a strangely human gesture, although no humans were present. “You know what this means, don’t you?” Lorin nodded, gulping.
“It’s time to visit The Bank.” Lorin gave the planner back to Superior Ecton and made for the elevator as quickly as she could. When it arrived, there was (surprisingly) no one else riding it; she had a cold metal cage, capable of fitting an entire bed and quite a few people besides, all to herself and her thoughts.
It wasn’t the blood bank itself that all of the Essentials hated so much, Lorin mused. It was…him. As she thought of the technician who ran the lab she shuddered in distaste and discomfort. The fact that the blood was old, and therefore not as potent as fresh blood only meant that all Essentials on Lorin’s floor would have to make several trips down to the basement until the next patient showed up for chemo. Which would hopefully be next week, but since people canceled or moved their appointments so often, Lorin didn’t feel particularly comforted by that fact. The elevator doors creaked open with a sigh and brought Lorin out of her own head and into the freezing labyrinth of the basement. She was always careful when coming down here; once she took a wrong turn and ended up in the morgue.
Looking at the human form devoid of life was strange to her; on the one hand, the Essentials had no bodies, therefore they could not die as these humans did. They would never smell of decay and preservatives. No one would ever cut them up to see how it happened or put little numbered tags on their toes. But they would fade into nothingness, still in possession of their intellectual faculties but unable to communicate with the world around them in any way, without the antidote of another being’s life force. There was a part of Lorin that she didn’t quite understand that would rather be enslaved by the fear of death than the possibility of disappearing completely.
Making her way safely past the morgue, she approached a door marked “DO NOT ENTER: AUTHORIZED PERSONEL ONLY”. She took a deep breath and knocked three times. The door swung open to reveal a pale man limping back to his desk. He flicked his hand as a greeting, then swung himself awkwardly into a swivel chair, facing Lorin at last.
Even though she knew what he looked like, the man’s appearance startled Lorin anew every time she saw him. The entire right side of his body did not function, from his shriveled right leg and arm to the muscles of the right side of his face. His left arm and leg were incredibly muscular to compensate for carting his whole body around, making his appearance even more unsettling.
“What do you want, Superior Lorin?”
When he talked, the left side of his mouth opened, while the right remained drooped in an eternal frown. Lorin stared at it, horrified and yet fascinated with these obvious imperfections. Kince was an Essential, just like Lorin, but defective in a way that dated back longer than any of them could remember. They did have bodies, once, and Kince’s original body must have been damaged somehow. The mystery of how they lost their bodies would not be so difficult to solve if anyone could remember that far back. The Essentials had been alive to see star systems explode and new universes form. Since they consistently moved around to a new civilizations with different ways for measuring time, they had eventually lost track of their ages, and with it, their entire history.
Whenever the Essentials, who always traveled together, entered a new world and created bodies for themselves from the essence of other beings, Kince’s body had the same problem. There were variants, of course; on a planet where the organisms had seven eyes, five of his worked, but on another, he was completely unable to move. Kince was the dark secret the Essentials carried with them to every new planet, a burden on the backs of an otherwise perfect race, as they viewed themselves.
“Stop staring, please. God, it’s like I’m a circus animal. I should start charging admission.” Being constantly judged by his peers, and acutely aware of his differences in every new body, Kince had developed an attitude to protect himself at the cost of everyone around him. Lorin shrugged as Kince grinned smugly, proud of his use of human examples to insult a fellow Essential. Lorin thought his disloyalty to members of his own race was pathetic and disgraceful, considering they had taken care of him for who knows how long.
“Level 4 is out of blood. We need some of yours.” Well, Kince was denied access to fresh blood to ensure that those able-bodied Essentials who could defend themselves in the event of a war could be ready to fight immediately. The humans would call that unfair, but Kince wanted the race to survive as much as all the rest did. And besides, no one euthanized him, which would be much easier, and his rude remarks were tolerated with stony silence. Lorin almost felt jealous of her inferior at times. It seemed as though he could run his mouth to anyone and everyone without fear of the consequences. When she asked Superior Ecton why this was, the other Essential stated matter-of-factly: “There is a reason we keep him in the basement.”
Kince gestured to the reason with his functional left hand, a huge metal door with a small window at about eye level. Kince eyed Lorin from his small desk until she reached out her hand, attempting to control her frustration from manifesting itself physically.
“Could I have the keys?” Kince pretended to look shocked.
“Surely you have been briefed on human niceties same as the rest of us. Wouldn’t want our rudeness giving us away, after all.”
“Please hand me the keys, Kince.” He grinned hugely out of the left side of his mouth, enjoying the moment. Lorin took the keys a little forcefully and turned away from the unpleasant man. To her frustration, she heard him struggle to get up from his desk and, as she turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open, he followed her inside, shutting the door behind them. Lorin turned to glare at him, but paused upon noticing that his entire demeanor had changed. His expression was completely blank. To a human, that would not be alarming in the least, but Kince was an essential, and to stop using the facial expressions and mannerisms of a human, even for a few minutes, could arouse suspicion in the sometimes very observant creatures.
After a moment of panic, Lorin reminded herself that they were alone in the blood bank, and, even if she were to stop blinking until pain and dryness reminded her why humans did it in the first place, no one would be there to witness it, much less start freaking out. Of course, there was that one girl yesterday who had immediately stiffened when Lorin told her where she worked. That a hospital should make people nervous was already a step in the wrong direction. She would have to notify Superior Ecton of the matter.
Of course, humans had a lot of strange reasons for disliking things. Lorin thought about the pervading smell of decay in the morgue and realized that hospitals were the place where human death occurred in the highest rate on a daily basis when compared with almost any other type of building on the planet. This girl’s reaction was perfectly normal; most likely someone close to her had died in a hospital, and Lorin had triggered those memories upon meeting her. Human emotions can be so complex, Lorin thought. I’m so glad the Essentials don’t have to deal with those sorts of things. But then her attention was drawn back to Kince, and she wasn’t so sure. Having noticed her drifting off, he was looking down at the skin and bone of a leg that he was forced to drag behind him everywhere he went. He gingerly touched it with his good arm, then frowned. Suddenly, he punched his thigh as hard as he could, then quickly glanced up to see if Lorin had been watching. She had. Without a word, he gestured to her to follow him down the frozen hallways, towards the newest samples of blood.
Lorin had to help Kince slide open the large glass door that contained the precious red vials, lined up perfectly in a row. Lorin wondered how Kince managed on his own, without the aid or supervision of a single other Essential. They had tried giving him human lackeys, but all had quit within the first week of being hired. He apparently was not easy to get along with. Nobody had been surprised.
They collected the vials and placed them in a test tube holder. There were thirty-seven in all, the exact number of Essentials working on the third floor. Kince packaged it in a metal container marked with HAZARDOUS MATERIALS and they made their way back to his office. Kince was unusually quiet during this whole situation, and Lorin found herself almost enjoying his company.
“Wait,” Kince suddenly stopped before the metal behemoth that separated the two essentials from the rest of the hospital. “I have something I want to talk to you about.” Lorin gave him a pointed look, expecting some sort of odd, insulting remark.
“Okay, go.” Kince paused, staring into Lorin’s eyes with his startlingly pale blue ones. His face was attractive at rest; the slight droop of his right eye gave his expression a singular depth.
“Before I start, can I sit down? My good leg is killing me.”
“Can’t we just sit in your office?” Lauren gestured towards the door.
“No. Here is fine. Trust me.” Strange words. Kince must have picked them up from a human. Lorin shrugged and sat gingerly on the floor, then emitted a gasp when it chilled her thighs through her scrubs. Kince closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Then he opened them and trained them on Lorin.
“I have been spending a lot of time alone, and with that has come countless hours to think about the future.” Lorin shifted uneasily. “Every day, I interact with humans. The doorman at my apartment, the nurses who bring me urine samples, even a lost patient or two. And they all treat me the same way.” Kince broke Lorin’s gaze, and looked intently at a spot on the ceiling. “They all hold doors open for me, smile sadly, and ask me if I need anything. It’s pathetic.
They think they are being so kind to me, but how they really feel is obvious. These stupid, gullible creatures actually think they are better than me. They have no idea that I belong to a race of creatures so much more intelligent and wise than they could ever hope to be. Just because I look like this,” he made a sweeping gesture towards the right side of his body, “they think I am weak. They think I am helpless.” While Kince said all of this without any sort of expression or even a single twitch or blink, Lorin was struck by the human quality of his words. She spoke slowly and without inflection.
“Where are you going with this thought process, Kince?”
“My question is: if we are superior to these humans, and we know that we are, why are we hiding from them? Why cower under layers of deception?” Immediately a list of reasons sprang into Lorin’s mind and poured out of her mouth, a list she had been told so many times she knew it perfectly.
“Lorin, I gave been given the same information as you have. I know what Superior Ecton would say. But I’m not talking to her, am I? I’m talking to you.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying, it’s time we stopped hiding. We could rule this planet. Humans could be made to serve us, maybe even worship us. And yet we treat them as if they were the threat and underestimate our own power.” Lorin was completely at a loss for words. In the entire length of her life, long before this small blue planet rose out of nothingness she had never heard an Essential speak like this before.
“How could this be achieved?” Kince sighed.
“I don’t know. I haven’t figured that part out yet. But one thing I do know is, I can’t do it alone. I need some Essentials on my side.”
“You need me on your side.” Lorin stated, suddenly understanding. Kince nodded without breaking eye contact. “I…” Lorin was annoyed with the way her words stumbled out of her mouth. A warning from Superior Ecton floated through her head. “Anyone who jeopardizes our way of life will be euthanized, Essential or alien. There are no lengths we will not go to insure the survival of our race.”
“I have to go.” She bolted upright and tossed the keys down to where Kince was struggling to get up, before yanking open the metal door and fleeing to the comfort of the fourth floor, away from this strange Essential and his strange ideas.