How could he want two opposing things so strongly? He wanted to run after Alex. He wanted to pound his head in until it was nothing but a bloody mess on the ground. He wanted to hold him against his body and never let go of him. He spun and screamed, swung back and glared at the wall and his ears rang.
“Do it,” His father said eagerly. “Hit it, tear the whole building down.”
He didn’t move. He studied the polycarbonate sheet. The material could withstand impact with a high-speed hover. He couldn’t punch through it.
“Don’t sell yourself short, boy. You’re Tristan, you can destroy anything you want with your bare hands.” The derision in his father’s voice grated on Tristan’s nerves.
“Shut up.” He looked up at the sheets secured to the armature, closing in the incomplete building. He stepped around the corner and placed a hand on the stone. Large stones, fitted together almost seamlessly, worn smooth with age.
“Destroy it. You know you want to. You know this is a waste of time. It’s that human who’s trying to change you. Make you weak. Make you depend on him.”
“I told you to shut up,” Tristan growled.
“Watch the tone, boy. I’m your father, you don’t get to speak to me like that.”
Tristan rounded on him. “I’m going to speak to you however the fuck I want. You’re not my father, my father’s dead!”
His father snorted. “You think you’re so good I couldn’t survive that knife?”
“I don’t care if you survived it or not. My father’s still dead. It’s been how long since I’ve been gone? Objectively? A century? A hundred fifty years? More? If I didn’t kill you, time crushed you. The animals ate your flesh, your bones fed the forest.”
“No. There’s plenty of technology out there that extend life. Time can be fought and defeated.”
Tristan looked at his father and laughed. “You? Use technology? The most technologically advanced thing around that hut that was our home was the lock on the cage. You hated anything technological. ‘Made you weak,’ you kept saying about it. I had to walk for weeks carrying Justin because you wouldn’t use a hover. Why couldn’t you have left us with mother?”
“You know why.”
“No, I don’t! We were happy! I remember that. She cared for me and Justin, so why did you have to take us from her?”
“If you haven’t worked it out by now, don’t expect me to tell you.”
“Fine, You’re still dead.”
“Then how am I here?” his father answered with defiance.
“You’re in my head! A hallucination! So go away, I don’t want to see you again.”
His father snorted. “Don’t order me about, boy.”
With a snarl Tristan turned his back on him. He ran a hand against the stone. The workmanship was impressive. Especially considering it had been build without any machines. How had this part of the building remained standing when the rest had been destroyed?
“It should have been destroyed,” his father said. “Just like all of them, all weak, not one of them can survive what the universe will throw at them, not like you and me can.”
Tristan looked at the town, he could see the dancers, between buildings. “You never told me anything about them.”
“I told you all you need to know. They are everything you shouldn’t be. You can't trust them. You can't trust anyone but yourself.”
Tristan watched the people in the distance. Why hadn’t he stayed after killing his father?
“You didn’t kill me.”
Why hadn’t he gotten to know his own people back then? He looked at the sky. He’d been drawn to space. Catching sight of the occasional ship through the canopy had made him want to see what was out there, beyond this world. What challenges the universe could send at him. He looked at the building and tried to figure out if he felt anything about this lack of knowledge.
“Stop that,” his father said, “you’re wasting your time.”
“Knowledge is never a waste of time.” Had he ever encountered a Samalian in space? He couldn’t recall. If he did, he wondered how the meeting went. The only race he’d studied in depth was the humans, because they were everywhere.
He began walking toward the town.
“Where are you going?” his father asked. “There’s nothing worthwhile there. You don’t need them, or anyone else.”
“I need to study them. Figure them out.” Maybe the noises of the crowd would drown out his father’s voice.
“Don’t count on that. I’m better than any of them. they won’t be able to…”
Tristan tuned his father out. He focused on what was ahead of him.
When he entered the town, he heard the music and saw the dancers, more defined. It looked like they could be fighting. Maybe reenacting a fight. He heard the sounds of sex as he walked through the alleys and ignored them.
The town square was still filled with people, standing around the dancers, watching them, talking in small groups.
He noticed none of them stood alone, or still. They were always in motion, hands, arms, they were never completely still. And they touched each other. Light caresses, holding hands. Pressing their bodies together.
“My people are a gregarious people,” he remembered telling Alex, when trying to convince him to come sleep in his bed. He’d said it because it was the most plausible thing he could think of as an enticement. Maybe it had been something he remembered from his time with his mother.
He paid attention to the people closest to him. They’d noticed him, but kept their distance. Maybe they understood he wasn’t one of them. He listened to them speak. He couldn’t understand what they said.
He cursed himself silently. How could he have been that careless? How had he not remembered Samalian had multiple languages? Had he even known that? He couldn’t remember his time in the city as he searched for a way off the planet. There had been conversations, but in what dialect? How easy or difficult had they been? That he had no memories of. All he remembered clearly was that first time watching the blue sky turn black. Wanting to see all of it. Wanting to learn everything that it contained.
He smiled to himself, but there was sadness. When had he felt that sense of wonder last? Had he felt it as he took apart a new gun? Or looking over the design for a new ship? He didn’t think so. He’d been too driven to learn about them to be amazed at what had been accomplished.
Something poked his thigh and he looked down. The cub noticed him, gave a yelp and ran off. One of the young adults watched them and chuckled. He said something. Tristan looked at him. The man canted his head and said something else.
“I don’t understand you,” Tristan replied in the human tongue. Then in the Samalian dialect he knew.
“You talk Rrowgarr,” the man said. “I know some. She think you statue. You so still.” The man stepped closer, and his friends came with him. “You Tristan. You work at House, protect town. I protect too.” He tapped the Kentric in the holster at his hip. He said something to his friends, two men and two women, they smiled, replied, and during the whole conversation, they touched each other.
Had the Samalians in the city behaved like this? Tristan tried to remember. He’d only interacted with the priestess, and she’d kept her distances from him.
“Tani’er want know how old.”
“How old is what?”
“You,” the man replied with a chuckle. “You still like old ones. You not old, now need move.” The man grabbed Tristan’s hand and received a growl for the act. Tristan had seen himself ripping his throat out, using the dying body to bash the others to death.
They took a step back from him.
He closed his fists and got his anger under control. They weren’t a danger, they were meaningless. Children who thought they were adults. If they tried to hurt him, they wouldn’t even manage it if he kept standing still.
More conversation he couldn’t understand, canting of the heads, movement of the ears he recognized at meaning yes, some that meant no. Wary looks in his direction. Maybe they’d been warned about him and hadn’t believed them, until now.
“Come dance.” The man said.
“Dance, celebrate be alive.”
Tristan narrowed his eyes. “I’m alive, that’s enough.” Why should he celebrate something that was a given? Why would he celebrate that with them? A memory came to him. A few years old. The fight had been hard. He and Alex against a criminal cartel as part of his training. They’d killed over forty of them. It had been amazing to fight like that. He’d looked at Alex, covered in blood and he’d taken him right there, among the bodies. That had been a celebration.
He saw him walking away, felt the pain of not being with him.
A hand touched him. “Sad?”
Tristan batted it away. “No,” he growled back. He wouldn’t miss the human. He wanted him out of his life. He snarled at himself. Why wouldn’t his emotions stay under control? He tried to use the anger to push the pain away, but it kept seeping through, which made him angrier.
He opened his eyes and looked for something or someone to hit, but he was alone. Everyone had moved away from him. They’d understood the danger he posed. Good. At least they were afraid of him. What he needed to do was remind Alex he needed to be afraid of him too.
He needed to find him and hurt him. Hurt him like never before. Take him by the arms, look him in the eyes as he pulled him close, rubbed his muzzle against his cheek.
He growled. “No!” he wanted him to be afraid. He wanted to replace the pity he’d seen in those eyes with desire.
He roared, and the music stopped.
He could feel the pain seeping through. He needed to get away. Go someplace safe. He wanted Alex to hold him.
He stalked out of the town. Alex wasn’t comfort, he was the problem. He was who he needed to remove from his life. The thought of not having Alex caused so much pain he had trouble walking.
He wouldn’t be weak. He repeated to himself. He didn’t need anyone. He was Tristan, he survived. He’d survive this too.
He made it to the House, to the back of it and he sat down. He could survive this. He would survive it.
When sleep finally took him he sighed in relief as everything fled from him.