Sorry for the late update, and I really want to say thank you to everyone who gave such great reviews. Your input really helps me as this is kind of a side project I'm working on alongside many others while going to work and school. I can't tell you how grateful I am to everyone. I've always really sucked at replying to reviews as I usually don't see them until several days after they are written due to my heavy schedule. But I want you all to know that reading my work, just seeing that you've been here is such an inspiration to me to keep going. I hope you are all doing well.
Reinrassic's house was way bigger than Ben's had been back on Earth. Though, he had heard one of Reiny's brothers call it modest. After almost six months here Ben had explored just about every inch of it. There were six bedrooms- apartments really. Each had a separate sleeping space, sitting area, and bathroom. Two of them had kitchenettes. There was a medical room, which Ben had found out was standard for Highbreed, who took their health very seriously. A "mudroom" at the ship landing platform, two massive entertainment spaces, a DNAlien sized kitchen with Highbreed high ceilings, and a library with a ceiling and two walls made of windows. The Highbreed must like clusters of circles because that's what almost all of their windows were made of. Every surface that wasn't see through had pads with thousands of books worth of data stored on each.
Ben had been spending more time here recently. Reiny offered to let him read in the office that was attached to his master suite, but he wanted space. Or, rather, solitude. No one had come to visit them since the party, and he could tell Reiny was really stressed. Ben just knew it was his fault. Reiny's father must've told everyone that he'd been telling the truth. Of course, he'd suspected since the beginning that the Highbreed he'd met that were so nice to him were only that way because he was somehow a very pure Highbreed. Being slapped in the face with their double standards still hurt, though. Of course not everyone would be as accepting as his friend.
Were they still friends? Every minute spent near Reinrassic was a little battle not to touch him or apologize for causing a rift between him and his family (which he had been banned from the third time he did it). Never in his life had he been so desperate for physical comfort. He'd never even realized how common it was for him to touch people on a daily basis as a human. Even just fighting with Gwen sounded great right now.
Gwen… how was she? If he could see her, what would he say? Hey loser! Didja miss me? I know I don't look like it, but it's me, Ben!
He sighed, putting down the pad he was staring at to look out the window. The landing pad had a force field to protect ships that parked there from dust blown up from the moon's silvery surface. The moon was grey, just like Earth's. Except, the moon dust here was like fine powdered silver. It shone and clung to every surface, turning every building into a statue of silver. He'd only seen DNAliens outside cleaning the windows so he assumed that the Highbreed either liked the look or gave up on trying to clean their buildings.
He shot up from the couch he'd been sitting on when he heard the door open. Reiny stood in the doorway. He shifted nervously. Ben wasn't sure what to do. Reiny seemed to have a change of heart after finding out Ben really was human. He was kinder to the DNAliens now, not as nice as he'd like him to be, but Ben had heard from Paul that he'd even thanked them when Ben wasn't there.
Now they were just staring at each other.
"I… would you like to go somewhere?"
"Uh, where?" Ben asked, putting away the pad. He was pulled between wanting to jump up and scream "Yes! Get me out of here!" and feeling entirely responsible and unworthy. Had he always been like this? He felt like his mood bounced back faster when he was a kid.
"I have noticed your interest in DNAliens. I thought, maybe you'd like to see a Xenocite hatchery."
"What, really? Hell yeah! I'd love to go!" Ben nearly started jumping, forgetting his guilt for a short moment until Reiny cleared his throat. "UGH! Yes, I would love to go. Why do you guys hate contractions so much?" He shrunk back into himself, the miserable sensation returning.
"They make you sound lazy." Ben rolled his eyes.
"Maybe I am."
"Oh?" Reiny made a face Ben felt like was a smirk. "And tell me, what do you do with all of the time you save using those contractions of yours?" Reiny took a step forward. Ben laughed, rubbing his arm.
"Well…" Ben put a hand out to touch Reiny's chest, only to be stopped. Reiny caught Ben's hand. He slowly threaded their clawed fingers together.
"I am sorry."
"For what? Being stuck here?" I should be the one apologise.
"Yes, somewhat." Reiny used their connected hands to pull Ben back to the couch. "And my family. There has been debate over you these past months."
"Yeah, I figured," Ben said. Reiny shook his head.
"I fear a fallout within my house."
"What? Really? Why?"
"There are seven great houses. The Supreme is not a part of any house, though they are selected from a house. Many Highbreed who lack a direct line give their children to houses in order to give them a chance of becoming Supreme or a council member. They pay a lot to do this, often going into debt to afford the privilege of a name. However, I am the only spawn of my father, so regardless; the line must be passed down through me. Many of the biological families of my brothers and sisters are demanding to have me… displaced for my inappropriate behavior."
"What's displaced mean?"
"It is a very old, very severe punishment. My reproductive organs will be harvested and one of my brothers or sisters shall take my place as heir under contract of only reproducing with my genetic material to continue the Devalah bloodline."
"That's insane!" Ben lurched forward, "They wouldn't actually do that, would they?"
"Not likely," Reiny put his free hand up to calm Ben-Ben, "Only my father or the Supreme could order such a thing. My father would not displace me, and I haven't heard from the Supreme, so I doubt she is overly concerned."
"Do your siblings agree?"
"Mmm, some do, some do not. It is… it is a mess."
"Sounds like it."
"Kirby," Reiny leaned in closer, "I do not blame you. It is our own fault. However, my father is trying to work an angle with the council as several of them are causing discourse over you. I doubt they actually care that much. They just want an excuse to grab a little more power."
"Still, like, I don't mean to insult your entire species and culture, but you guys are awful. This is a load of crap!" Ben hissed.
"We can not be that much worse than humans," Reiny shrugged. "I am certain that every species has flaws. Though, I am starting to truly see the flaws in mine."
"Well… yeah, humanity has a lot of issues too-"
"But Highbreed are supposed to be better, to always strive towards an unachievable perfection- further improving in our never ending pursuit!" Reiny growled.
"That's great but-"
"But we are stagnant! We are complacent. I was complacent." He let go of Ben's hand to stand and pace. "It is not just looking down on you, our technology has not improved at the pace it used to in centuries. We cower like the Plumbers before Vilgax when we would have before destroyed that mongrel! I- you just," Reiny turned to Ben, "Is this how it feels to be a child? To see the problems, but be unable to do anything? Did you too feel powerless? It is as if the world is against me!"
"Yeah, that's a big part of it."
"I hate it, children should be banned."
Ben-Ben couldn't help but burst into laughter.
"There's some people on Earth who might agree with you," he chuckled. "But, you know you're- you are not a kid. In fact, you're in a position of power. You can change things just, maybe not as fast as you'd- you would like."
"Still," Reiny crossed his arms, looking like he was pouting.
"Why don't we just go, you have been working too long. Like, all you've been doing for weeks is work."
"There is much to do."
"And I'm not something to do?" Ben demanded, hands on his hips. Reiny stood still, staring at him. Ben-Ben felt himself turn purple. "Th-that came out wrong!"
"Did it now?"
"Shut up! Can we go already?"
In order to get to the hatchery, they had to go to Augstaka. Ben was worried about meeting other Highbreed, but Reinrassic assured him there were only a few Highbreed at the facility, and none of them would bother them. Most of the hatchery was run by DNAliens, as rearing Xenocites required touching them, which Highbreed were of course not fond of unless absolutely necessary.
He didn't get to see much of the surface other than from afar. The plants were dark in color, hard and thick like cacti with small, porcelain like flowers. It was slightly warmer here, under the ultramarine sky that Ben-Ben couldn't look away from for several minutes. The facility itself was much shorter and wider than most Highbreed structures. It was also very industrial, lacking the decoration of most buildings. It smelled like a swimming pool inside, and kind of looked like it. Long lanes of green fluid ran the long way across the floor below. Ben and Reiny stared down from the maze of catwalks above.
The green liquid seemed to glow under the lights that were hung from the bottoms of the catwalks, leaving the two Highbreed in relative darkness. Ben-Ben watched as DNAliens swarmed below. Some of them seemed to be cleaning the pools with nets, others had long claws on sticks they used to snatch the small purple, tentacled, creatures out of the water. The ones grabbing Xenocites would hand them off to another with a floating box table. They put the little guys inside where they were scanned, and either tossed into a large transport tank of green, semi clear, liquid that would be filled with Xenocites and then fly off only for an empty one to take its place. Sometimes, after scanning, they were tossed back.
Ben watched as a DNAlien with a large container on its back dispensed thick, chunky grey slop into a pot and flung the slop into the tanks as it walked down their length. Everytime the fluid exploded with motion as Ben-Ben assumed the Xenocites went into a feeding frenzy.
"So, this is where they're made?"
"No, this is where they're grown to size," Reiny explained. "Xenocites are mostly grown through a-sexual reproduction. High quality Xenocites are brought to the labs further in and used to mass produce more."
"How's- how does that work?"
"Their limbs are cut off and placed in sterile conditions to grow new Xenocites."
"Oh," Ben flinched, "Does it hurt?"
"Without anesthetic, yes, but stressing them impares their regenerative abilities, so their tanks are laced with painkillers and other medications to ensure the process is calm and painless. Otherwise it would be a loud, bloody struggle. Come, I will show you." Ben followed Reiny toward the labs, only to stop when something caught his eye. There was a small commotion down below.
Ben tried to go back and see what was happening, but Reiny called him to follow. He figured it was nothing, but still glanced over his shoulder as he entered the labs.
Panic panic panic! One after the other, they snatch, snatched, snatched siblings out of pools. Crowded warm to cold air. It grab me, it scream. No like me.
Say defective. Say kill. Drop me on hard and slick. Big siblings bring up sticks and bring down. No no no, no die!
I run, slippy slide, they chase, but me fast. They yelling and trying to grab.
Me fast. Me go, me no die.
The lab had many small, clear, but still green tanks with lots of two tentacled Xenocites in various stages of growing back their hind four tentacles. They were calm, cuddled together, looking at Ben-Ben with dreamy eyes. He stared at them. He hadn't really gotten a good look at them before. The little purple creatures were strangely… cute?
He turned when he heard someone moving behind him. It was a Highbreed, slightly older than Ben and Reiny, with dark blotches up his arms to his shoulders. He was very dark for a Highbreed despite working in a dim lab. He held a tiny Xenocite in his hands, almost cradling the baby with one unusually large tentacle. He seemed lost in running the back of one claw over its head while it made little high pitched sounds. Ben also noticed, as he and Reiny got closer, that the Xenocites eye, small as it was, was clearly deformed, and filmy.
Yet, the Highbreed, the species he'd come to see as snobby, harsh, and unwilling to accept imperfections, was handling the baby with so much care. He brought the little creature to his chest and started walking away when Reinrassic, in his infinite eloquence said,
"It is defective." The other Highbreed startled, bringing his hands up to shield the baby like it might be snatched away. He looked Ben and Reiny up and down without saying anything. "I am Reinrassic III of house Devalah, this is Ben-Ben Tennyson, we have clearance to visit today." Reiny nodded in greeting. The other Highbreed relaxed slightly, but still kept his guard up. He glared slightly at the both of them.
"So, that was today? Tch, I am Curant, go where you please, but do not touch anything."
"What are you going to do with that?" Ben asked, pointing at the baby. The other Highbreed turned to look straight ahead.
"It is defective. It must be terminated and disposed of," Curant said robotically.
"Do you do that with all the 'defective' ones?"
"Yes, I am the main Highbreed worker at this facility. I take care of all the Xenocites in the labs and oversee the DNAliens."
"Oh, I'm sorry, it must be a hard job." Curant looked at him quizzically, "You seem to really like them, it must be hard to put them down."
"...Put them down?"
"Oh, uh," Ben rubbed the back of his head, "it's a saying on Earth, it means that you're- you are killing them, but painlessly. It is what people do when they have animals that are so sick or injured that the only other option for them is slow, painful death." Curant seemed to consider this. His glare turned into a guarded consideration.
"It is… a kinder way of saying it than 'termination.'" He glanced at Reiny before looking again at Ben-Ben, "Do you like Xenocites?"
"They are very cute, yes," Ben-Ben smiled and Curant seemed to light up.
"Most Highbreed only see them as tools, not as living creatures, but you are not most Highbreed, are you?"
"Ha ha… not really. Born and raised human, so…" Ben could tell he looked nervous, and he was pretty sure Reiny was too. Curant stepped just a bit closer.
"We are not a hive mind, Ben-Ben Tennyson, many Highbreed, especially those not affiliated with the core families, are more accepting. We like to think of ourselves as modern, though," he stared at Reiny, "it is not an opinion we often share."
"How much of the Highbreed population is unaffiliated with the families?" Ben asked.
"Roughly sixty seven percent of the population."
"Oh, so… you don't think I'm…"
"There are many opinions of you, and word travels quickly. Some think you are a scientific wonder, proving our superiority, others- an abomination or fraud. I heard a recent theory that you are evidence that Highbreed are not superior. You were largely considered a good, interesting person. Yet, the moment your past was revealed, those you spoke so highly of you turned on you. It is clear hypocrisy, disgusting."
"It isn't like I lied or anything…" Ben said. Reiny had to look away, he hunched his shoulders uncharacteristically.
"I care little," Curant stated, "There isn't much to see. Offices, labs, and storage are upstairs. The nursery, more storage, and the DNAlien quarters are downstairs. Show yourselves around." He left in a hurry after that, like he couldn't stand to be around them any longer.
"He was… unusual," Ben-Ben started moving to look around at the babies. Reiny stayed where he was, staring at a screen on Curant's desk.
No want upstairs? That where me go! Stairs hard, grab rails. One catch me, but me bite.
No, no no, me getting out, go go-
There! Open door!
Reinrassic looked over the forum that Curant had left open on his computer. It must've been an accident because this… this was absurd! Pictures of other Xenocite breeders from across the empire with their products, but, they weren't just holding them out of necessity; they were… cuddling them? They held them up to their faces, made them wave at the camera with their tentacles, and the comments!
She has a lovely sheen!
It's colors are phenomenal, just wanna squish it!
By the hand of the Supreme, they were obsessed. How was it possible for a Highbreed of all creatures to fawn over mere tools?
"Reiny, look at this one!" Kirby gasped. Reiny turned to see the Highbreed shaped human clasping his hands to his chest and staring wide eyed at the babies. Well, Ben-Ben was expected to do such strange things, but regular Highbreed? He looked back at the screen, scrolling through some more posts. Most were clearly of lower birth, certainly no one he'd recognised in relation to the main families. Of course, the Highbreed directly affiliated with the seven families were in the minority. Was this just a thing among "regular" Highbreed?
Reiny and Ben jumped when a white streak followed by a bunch of DNAliens burst into the room. The screaming little white thing scrambled towards Ben-Ben. Reinrassic immediately shot out claw darts at it. They all missed and before he could do anything the creature slid behind Ben-Ben, clinging to his leg and hissing.
"Great ones!" One of the DNAliens exclaimed, "Please, forgive our grievous mistake! We-"
"Woah…" Ben-Ben reached down.
"Do not touch it!" Reinrassic barked. But even as he stomped over it was pointless, Ben-Ben picked up the speedy little Xenocite. He held it gently, like a burger, as it stared up at him with it's one, watery pink eye. "Tennyson- put that down!"
"What is all this commotion?!" Curant stormed back in and immediately honed in on the DNAliens. "What do you think you're doing in here with those?!" He pointed a long claw at the electric nets and hooks the DNAliens were carrying. "You put those down before you break something!"
"S-sorry, please have mercy on our foolish selves!" They all quickly set their tools down before one of them pointed at the Xenocyte Ben-Ben was holding. "We were trying to capture the defective one!"
"Defective-" He looked at what Ben-Ben was holding. "Oh. How did that get past me?" He said nervously, looking over at Reinrassic who crossed his arms disapprovingly.
"Dismiss your DNAliens, I have a few questions for you."
Reinrassic stood over Curant and Ben-Ben, who was still holding the Xenocyte, in Curant's office like a disapproving mother.
"-Illegally selling the defective ones after marking them as disposed. Do you have any idea how dangerous this is?!"
"What did you think would happen if someone associated with the families came here?!"
"You are the first to ever actually come and look around!" Curant exclaimed, "They only visit maybe three times a year and they never pay attention to anything!" He stood, a little taller than Reiny, "So? What are you going to do? Demote me? Take my job away? Hunt down my clients and partners?"
"And what is wrong with it to begin with? Why must we be so cold and removed? Why must we deny ourselves physical affection?"
"Well I do not care if you think it is barbaric, or wrong! I like having pets, I enjoy showering lower beings with affection just like you!"
"You and Ben-Ben Tennison, the human in a Highbreed body! He might be of pure blood, but he will never, never be a true Augstakian! He will never be like you 'traditional' emotionless, mentally stunted-"
"ENOUGH!" Reinrassic roared, "I am doing nothing!" Curant blinked, all his righteous rage disappearing into confusion. Ben sat in shocked silence, looking between the two larger Highbreed while holding the little albino Xenocite.
"You… are not having me arrested?"
"No," Reinrassic sighed, "Do you know you left a forum up on your screen back there that I could use to find the other sellers?" Curant cringed. "I could have you all arrested, demoted, and be done with it, but I will not." He looked over at Ben-Ben, "I believe… this may be an opportunity."
"I don't like that look," Ben-Ben squinted, "That's the look I get when I have a bad idea."
"Oh, I know," Reinrassic looked back at Curant, who shrank back, "You are correct, I have a great preference for Ben-Ben, and, unfortunately, there are some who have decided to use that as an opportunity to gain power."
"Okay, I do not see how the illegal sale of Xenocites can help with that, but if it allows me to continue then I am listening."
"I want to know the extent of your business, and if you are willing to die for it."
"Woah, woah, woah-" Ben-Ben started.
"Die?!" Curant took a whole step back.
"You are right, I can't change Ben-Ben, however, I am in a position of power, one that I intend to use to my full advantage."
"Reinrassic!" Ben almost reached out to grab Reiny but stopped himself, "Just what are you intending to do?"
"If I cannot change you; and I do not want to I will have you know, then I will change the Highbreed."
"...By the Supreme…" Curant whispered.
"He's lost it," Ben gave a helpless laugh. The Xenocite in his arms chirped as if in agreement.