The Last American
My name is Jennifer Stapleton, and I am the last American.
There were thirty of us here in the Manhattan Rez, but last week Linda and the kids at the school started class with the pledge of allegiance, and the Korva showed up the next day, with their polished skin and egg-shaped eyes. I got back from my shift in the translation office and found the rooms on my floor cleared out. The American floor.
Bentley told me how it went down. The guards arrived for the kids and Linda, but the other parents refused to let the children go off alone. Personally, I think they were just tired. Standing up to the Korva in front of the kids was an easy way to surrender. Korvan policy is clear: No resistance. No ideas to inspire resistance. Raise a fist, and you're on the next orbit jumper. They'd given us some breathing room after the occupation, but once we started bombing their facilities, they responded by shipping off every man over twenty years of age. Now it's been extended to children and women who pledge to the stars and stripes.
I found little Abby's pillow in the hall by the elevators, and I felt the urge to cry, but I walled it up. I'm terrified that if I start, I won't ever stop. I still haven't cried for Mom and Dad. They're gone.
That makes me the last American that I know of. Last year, after a kid from Montana stepped into the Seattle Rez overseer's office singing the Star Spangled Banner with a backpack full of pipe bombs, the overseer gave up on pacifying his Americans. They glassed the entire reservation. The Houston overseer followed suit, after trying to "discourage dissent" by denying his Texans food for two days and then serving the cooked bodies of the suspects. He didn't understand why this escalated the problem.
I'd love to say Americans were the biggest pain in the ass, but I hear it was worse over in the Middle East. The Korva didn't expect every other twelve-year-old kid to know how to assemble an I.E.D. Truth is, they just wanted to ignore us, mostly. They weren't here for us. They were here for the oceans.
The oceans. Bentley told me he'd heard one of the relocated Japanese kids talking about how you could walk from China to Kyushu now. The massive Korvan hoses dangle from low-Earth orbit like the tentacles of a god, syphoning a trillion gallons of salt water a day. I can see two from my hotel window, bellowing a migraine-inducing sound like the bottom note on a pipe organ. Earth is just a giant gas station to them.
I should have been in school, that day. I'm seventeen. But Teel 22, the local Korvan overseer for the Manhattan Rez, recruited me to help translate "material of interest" for their files. For the past three months I've been reading to him. Apparently the ear nodules translate our spoken languages fine, but they're useless with the written form. When I was at the Chesapeake Relocation Camp before getting shuttled out here, someone told me that written English was particularly crazy for them, and it had to do with a combination of our extensive slang and our inconsistent grammar. I held onto that for a good week. These days we find our little "fuck you" gestures where we can. Korvan cryptographers calculated the hours it would take to decode our books, and decided it was much easier just to have some natives read them aloud instead.
Teel 22 approached me with the job. I didn't feel like it was a request, even though he asked. It seemed more passive-aggressive to ask me. What was I going to say-no? I'd be shipped off to be fed to core worms with the rest of the dissenters.
He had peculiar tastes. Although it wasn't part of the material of interest he'd been assigned, he was always on the lookout for music. Didn't matter what kind. After ten seconds of an MP3, his antennae would twitch and vibrate, and his eyelids would sink halfway closed, as if he were on drugs. I'd read to him to the accompaniment of Bach, or Lady Gaga, or Zeppelin. He was fascinated by all of it.
The science books were a chore. He found a great interest in biology, entomology, and botany. From what I could understand through my own ear nodule, the Korva were deathly allergic to the venom of most wasps, as well as the nectar of certain tropical plants. Teel 22 made me read up on mud daubers and snapdragons at length.
File that under shit that would have been useful to us back in Week One.
I read about physics, and chemistry, and astronomy. Often, Teel 22 would make a humming sound and wag his fingers when I read from these books. It took me a few hours to realize he was laughing. The books amused him. Now and then he would straighten up and ask me to repeat a phrase or a sentence. I'm not sure if it was because we humans had a completely wrong idea, or if we'd managed to get something spot-on. I'm guessing it was the latter, with the way Teel spoke to me after. "Jenna Four," he would say, since the concept of more than one girl named Jennifer really frustrated the Korva, "You must find another book about subatomic particles. And also, more of this, the Tangerine Dream."
Teel was bored by the books on nuclear physics. When he got bored, or thoughtful, he would absently stroke a long scar along his neck, the pale scar tissue like an ivory tattoo on his varnished oak-colored skin.
What interested him the most, above all else, were the books and chapters on human anatomy. He had a boundless curiosity about internal organs in humans that had no correlation to his. The spleen. The kidneys. A centralized heart. And he was often interested in organs specific to females. I guess it's universal: Men of every race are obsessed with tits.
I let Teel 22 get comfortable with me. I made sure I was never late to our sessions, because I knew the more he felt at ease, the safer I would be. As a side effect, I learned more about Korvan culture. I learned he's called Teel 22 because his queen named her males Teel and the number indicates his order in the birth. I tried to explain how all Korvan names sound like old AOL email addresses. He didn't get the joke.
This is what I learned: Queens have a very short pregnancy and can carry up to three dozen fertilized eggs, so the mother is a factory of offspring, birthing them one at a time every six weeks until a female is born. The female ends the cycle and grows to be a new queen. So they're left with a bunch of Korvan boys and one girl. When she is of age, she chooses her mate or picks a selection to fight for her attentions. A lot of Korvan men are maimed in combat competing to become a female's sexual partner. Teel stared far off when he spoke of this, touching the scar on his neck.
I've never seen a female Korvan, but they all sound like bitches.
Yesterday I arrived early. Teel wasn't in his office, but that's where I'm told to wait, so I waited. I heard him in the back courtyard where the Korvan orbit-jumpers land. He was talking with another male, this one in the armor of a royal officer. My nodule translated most of the conversation as I tucked under the windowsill:
"The core worms don't like the taste of them anymore. And we still have nineteen million down here, not to mention the population in cold storage. We're asking the overseers for ideas."
Teel replied, "Draining will be complete in ten months. Why not just leave them here?"
"That is a popular notion. But it seems… wasteful."
"There is another option."
"Share with us, Teel 22."
"From my research, I have found we are their neighbors, biologically speaking."
"They are different."
"But also alike."
"If you are suggesting potential organ harvesting…"
"The females, they produce egg in their ova. It may be unlikely, but it is possible…"
"You cannot be serious. Are you really suggesting we breed with them?"
"They have immunities and strengths we do not."
I heard the officer hum and twitch in laughter. "Come, now. No human female would choose you over one of her own."
"Then it's not an option."
That's when I realized: The Korva have no concept of rape. They had slaughtered billions of humans, occupied our planet, and stabbed their straws into our seas to fuel their jump drives, but in their culture there was no such thing as rape. The women held the power in that department.
I was so preoccupied with this realization, I didn't hear Teel return to his office. I jumped to my feet when he shut the door.
"Jenna Four. You are early."
"Yes," I said.
"How much did you hear?"
I bowed my head. "Most of it."
He studied me for a long moment, like he did when I read from the trashy science fiction novels he liked so much in the evenings. "What do you have to say for yourself, human?"
I looked him in the eye. "I choose you, Teel 22."
His antennae twitched.
Tonight, I will meet him in his private chambers. Neither of us know what to expect, but he has been infatuated with me for months now, I know that much. It may take a lot of getting used to. But I plan to give him the attention of a woman. I plan to get him addicted to it. And, God willing, I will give him a child. Preferably a girl.
I will be the best wife I can. The better I am, the more other Korvan men will want one of their own. I don't know how many lives I'll save. Maybe the other women will understand; they'll realize their key to survival, and adapt. Maybe they'll hate me. I don't care anymore.
But when my child comes of age, and the Korvan culture is in a great turmoil now that their native women aren't hot shit anymore-I mean, why risk getting mauled by your friend fighting over a queen when a human girl will fuck you? When that day comes, I will take my daughter aside and whisper to her.
I will tell her how her grandparents were slaughtered for refusing to leave the hospital where they worked.
I will tell her how her father, like her hybrid friends' fathers, destroyed her homeland.
I will teach her the pledge of allegiance.
Because then, I will no longer be the last American.