Shifting Tides: Chapter 1

This entry is part 2 of 13 in the series Shifting Tides

Jessie had a small apartment and studio on the edge of the city looking out over the wildness at its edge.  The trees created an almost impenetrable wall around the city, an evergreen bastion to the prowess of nature.  She had an eisel set out next to the floor to ceiling window so she could paint when she felt inclined.  Sometimes she even packed up some supplies and trekked out into the woods.  It was beautiful and inspiring.

In the evenings, she could hear the comings and goings of the locals as they set out to start their day, since the Ateles were nocturnal.  She would sometimes watch from the window on the opposite side of the apartment as children were ushered off to school and adults moved swiftly to their places of employment.  

In moments like that, she often felt separate, detached and alone, even though the people here had been extremely welcoming.  They smiled at her as she walked through the streets, greeting her with hearty gestures and calling out her name if they knew her.  They respected her talents and she’d even received a few commissions, supplementing her savings.  She could really see herself making a life here.

And yet not everything had been rosy.  Most people here were Ateles.  They slept by day, and she slept by night.  They had family connects and friends, and she was alone.  They blended in, and she felt like an eyesore, a constant physical reminder that she didn’t belong.

Did she belong anywhere?  Would she ever get everything she dreamed of?

Based on the dating market here, she suspected the answer would be a hearty no.  She’d dated a few men in the months since she’d moved here, but she was never more than a novelty, a fascinating specimen only good enough for a few dates before the male moved on to greener pastures.  Each was exotic to her eyes, as striking as Kou in their own ways, but they never saw the same in her.  They always seemed to move on without a backward glance.

She sighed and sat down at her window, staring out at the life below, a deep unsettled feeling dragging her down.


Jessie was in a better mood the next morning when she went out to run some errands.  She always enjoyed getting out on the streets and among the people, and the market was the best of all.  It was a sea of bodies and movement and color.  A cacophony of voices and shuffling feet.  Savory scents taunted her nostrils while tantalizing perfumes drifted on the winds.  It was sensory overload and ecstasy at once.  

She smiled as she entered the mass of people.  Victoria would hate this and her sister would probably act like the space was filled with pickpockets or something.  But it was manna to Jessie.  It was a feeling of connection with the universe.  She stepped into the crowd as people jostled her back and forth.  

She moved along the edge of the market, close to the shops and stalls.  Jessie liked to run a circuit around the edge of the market and often bought snacks or trickets along the way, little things that taunted her senses, making her smile.  She stopped at a food vendor.  “One please,” she said, indicating a kebab of meat roasting on the grill.

“Yes, ma’am.  Coming right up,” he said with a playful flair.  

She smiled, both pleased with being called ma’am and his nature, which always made her day.  She almost always stopped at his stall, the aroma of his wares drawing her from all the way down the street.  But his attitude ensured she always came back for more.

“Here you go,” he said with a smile, handing her the stick.

“Thank you.”  She took a bite, the juicy, perfectly seasoned meat causing her mouth to water and a moan to escape her lips.

Behind her, he laughed, and she chuckled herself before swallowing and stuffing another bite in her mouth as she moved on.  She stopped at a produce vendor, amazed with the fact there was often things she didn’t recognize when she visited.  

“Good morning, Jessie,” the woman behind the table said.  “How can I help you today?”

She pointed out some fruits and vegetables she’d come to enjoy during her stay here, then pointed at a oval purple item she hadn’t seen before.  “What’s that?”

The woman smiled.  “I knew you’d ask.  It’s tui-tui fruit.  Just came in season.  It’s sweet and tart with a juicy center.  What do you say?”

“Okay, I’ll get it, too.”

“That’s my girl.”

Jessie laughed and handed over her bag so the woman could bag up the purchase.

“Here you go,” she said as she carefully ushered the bag over the laden table.  “Enjoy!”


The morning continued on like that until she’d purchased everything she needed, and she moved on to simply wandering and people watching.  Small children often cried at the early hour while parents cooed and ushered them into their arms, soothing them into an exhausted sleep against their shoulders.  Others yawned, their necks leaning back impossibly far as they stretched, trying to get just a little more energy in their tired bodies after a long day.  For most Ateles, a dark-skinned, dark-furred species adapted heavily for night, an hour approaching midday was exceptionally late, like staying up half the night for a human.

The market had thinned as the sun grew higher in the sky, making it a little too bright for the Ateles’ sensitive eyes.  With stores closing down and everyone going home to their beds, Jessie stopped at a community bulletin board.  There were flyers asking for tutors and laborers.  There were swap ads and ads for services.  There was an announcement about a community meeting later that week.

Her gaze stopped on a flyer requesting a surrogate.  It was such a strange request, one she’d never seen before.  It seemed so out of place on the board, and she wondered at its origins.  Who had put it there?  Was it a member of the community, someone desperate for a family?  Maybe they had a birth defect or had suffered an illness or injury.  Maybe they were a gay couple hoping to start a family.  Her mind whirred with possibilities as she let fancy get the better of her.

“Jessie!” a familiar voice barked behind her.

She immediately tensed, a part of her wanting to run, or maybe to pretend he didn’t exist.  While everyone had been welcoming, Tae had taken it to a new level.  They’d gone on a single date, but she’d immediately known something was off about him.  He’d asked her on another date at the end of the first, but she’d hemmed and hawed, slipping out without giving him an answer.  She’d been a little afraid of telling him no.  

She was a shifter, had been raised a pirate, and could take care of herself, but she was also lanky and scrawny, something no amount of shifting could truly compensate for.  And he was big, really big.  Maybe not Kou-big, but he was certainly drastically larger than herself.  

Jessie turned, spotting his rakish hair above the dwindling crowd.  In a panic, she turned into the nearest alley, not caring or noticing where it might lead.

“Hey, I was talking to you!” he yelled, causing a commotion behind her.

She didn’t care.  She didn’t turn back.  She just needed to get home.

And make sure he didn’t follow her.


Jessie’s heart was pounding when she arrived home, her hands sweaty as she dropped the bag of groceries on the floor and dropped into an overstuffed purple chair in the corner.  She leaned back, her hand on her head as she breathed slowly in and out.

“It’s fine.  He doesn’t know I’m here.  He doesn’t know where I live.”  

After several minutes of controlled breathing, she felt more steady, and got up to put her purchases away.  She enjoyed the feel of each exotic item as she settled it in the refrigeration unit, something both familiar and alien to her.  She’d had to get used to how things worked on the colony, having lived on a ship for so much of her life.  When she got here, she hadn’t even known how to cook.  On the ship, she’d relied on the cooking robot, which could make anything it was programmed to, but meant she’d never developed that essential life skill.

Fortunately, the universe was filled with resources, and she was never without recipes and how to articles and videos.  Sometimes, she felt like she’d learned more in the past few months than she had her entire time living with her sister.  Not that she blamed her sister.

Which reminded her.  She needed to call her.

Jessie crossed the room and got comfortable in her chair, took a deep breath, and tapped her wrist communicator, selecting Cass’s name from the contact list.  

“Connecting,” Angus said, the voice thick with a Scottish brogue.  A screen powered up on the wall across from her, and she sat up straighter.

Then the screen came alive, her sister’s spiky purple hair the first thing she saw.  “Hi, sis,” she said, waving her hand.

“Hey, Jess.”  Cass turned around in her seat, and yelled down the hallway behind her.  “Kou!  Get in here!  Jess is on the comm!”

Jessie winced, but tried to keep a smile on her face.  She was determined to forget about Tae and just enjoy this little time she had with her family.

On screen, Kou’s bulk came into view, filling the background.  “Hello, Jess.”

“Hi, Kou.  Do anything fun lately?”  And please don’t say sex…

“We’ve got a new job from Varn.”

“Well, that’s exciting.”  A while back, her sister had become a privateer for Inia Intergalactic, a measure meant to combat the underhanded tactics of the company’s leading rival, Diehli.  The owner, Surg, had fallen for their friend, Victoria, and ever since, his brother, Varn, had been assuming command of the company.  She didn’t really know what to think of Varn yet.  He certainly wasn’t Surg, a kind man a little too interested in people’s personal lives.  Varn was more of a businessman, obsessed with maintaining and growing the business.  She guessed that was a good thing, but it made it hard for her to get a good read on him, something she was usually good at.

“The little bastards hijacked a shipment of goods destined for Inia headquarters.”  Cass rubbed her hands together, licking her lips like a cat anticipating prey.  “We’re gonna get it back.”

Jessie smiled.  “Of course, you are.”

“What about you?  What’s been happening on your end?”

“I went to the market today.  Had some really good meat on a stick.”

“What else is new?”

Jessie shrugged.  When you called each other every day, it wasn’t that common to have noteworthy updates to give.  She doubted her sister was interested in her weekly pilgrimage to the market… or that she slept in late… or sitting in front of her eisel trying to get inspiration for a painting she just wasn’t feeling at the moment.  It was a peaceful life, but it didn’t offer much opportunity for storytelling.

Not like her sister’s life.  Cass’s life was full of adventure and intrigue.

You didn’t want that life remember?  

Sometimes, it was hard to remember why she’d left.  She missed her sister something terrible, having never been away from her since the age of two.  The daily calls helped, even though she would never admit it to anyone, let alone her sister.  One word of the kind, and Cass would be turning the Trojan around and hightailing it back here, job be damned.

“Any guys I should know about?”  Cass wiggled her eyebrows, a shit-eating grin on her face.

Jessie rolled her eyes.  “Gross, Cass.  You may live your romantic life on page one, but I am not telling my sister that stuff.  I’m scarred enough as it is.”

Cass gave her a lopsided grin.  “Oh Jessie, that’s life.  The good and the bad.  The sooner you accept that, the better off you’ll be.”

Jessie rolled her eyes again.  “I know.  Our parents abandoned us when I was two.  I think I know what life is.”

The grin dropped from Cass’s face, and Jessie immediately regretted her words.  She didn’t even remember her parents.  Cass had been a teenager at the time, and she’d only recently gotten over the mind fuck it had done to her.

“Cass, I’m sorry.”

Cass waved her off, looking away.  “It’s fine.  I gotta go.”  Her sister disconnected the call.


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