The Merger by Sunil Patel
Published 6/23/2015 | 6,396 Words
Paresh and Sita are a loving married couple who share a (mostly) pleasant and uneventful life. That is, if you don’t count Sita’s cooking experiments with turkey chili pizza (don’t ask). All that changes one evening, when Paresh is approached by a gelatinous, horned blob-alien from outer space who makes a lucrative offer that Paresh and Sita literally cannot refuse (or else the world is, well, kaput).
Caught between a rock and a hard place, the couple learns that business negotiations with alien corporations are not so different from negotiations on Earth. And one should always, always read the fine print before agreeing to a merger.
Paresh came across the alien while hurrying to catch the 7:45 bus. It was much quieter than the 8:15 bus, which always contained a group of rowdy teenage boys who asked him about his day at the Kwik-E-Mart, as if his fine button-down shirt and leather laptop bag weren’t a clue that he had been a valued programmer at Oracle for five years, thank you very much. It looked like it would be the 8:15 bus tonight, however, because standing in the parking lot behind his office was a six-foot-tall gelatinous blob with horns.
“Congratulations on your exciting opportunity!” declared the blob in a voice that sounded like a mix between sandpaper and nails on a chalkboard. It appeared to be wholly ignorant of the way its voice sounded, its words infused with a joyful sincerity Paresh found unsettling.
“Excuse me?” asked Paresh, who had never encountered an alien before but decided that if the first thing they did when they invaded was congratulate you, they couldn’t be all that bad.
“We have identified you as a potential host body. We find your body very desirable.”
No one was allowed to find his body desirable but his wife, dammit. “Host body?”
“Our analysts have determined that your body’s complexion, specific gravity, and the length of its extremities are optimal for our experience.”
Sita had never commented on his specific gravity, but Paresh took it as a compliment. She had commented on the length of his extremity.
“We are prepared to offer substantial compensation equivalent to the value and potential value of your body. We understand that you may have had other offers but hope that you accept ours.” The blob was glowing with excitement now. At least Paresh thought it was excitement. It could have been arousal.
“What if I don’t want to be a host body?”
“We are prepared to offer substantial compensation equivalent to the value and potential value of your body.”
Paresh repeated himself.
The blob repeated itself.
This wasn’t getting him anywhere. “Look, thanks for the offer, but I have to catch the bus.”
The blob looked at him quizzically. Paresh didn’t understand how that was possible since he wasn’t sure where its eyes were, but it managed.
“As our bylaws do not allow for hostile takeover, we must act in the best interests of the shareholders and prevent dilution of market share. Accordingly, please note that refusal of this offer may result in the destruction of your planet. As added incentive, we have increased our offer of compensation by 12.5%.”
Paresh chose to ignore the phrase “destruction of your planet” because it was absurd, even though his bar for absurd had recently risen. Instead, he focused on the “exciting opportunity,” which included money. Sita had been wanting to remodel the kitchen (or as she called it, her cooking laboratory). And their car was old, an embarrassment among his colleagues. Paresh raised his eyebrow. “What kind of compensation are we talking here?”
The blob jumped up and down, making disgusting squishing noises with every impact on the sidewalk. “Are you willing to enter into negotiations with the BlarbTech/SnarbCo, Inc. Intraplanetary Conglomerate, hereinafter referred to as ‘the Blarbsnarb’?”
He was definitely going to miss his bus. The 8:45 bus was pretty quiet, at least. “I am willing to hear you out.”
“We believe this will be a beneficial arrangement for us both. Please allow me to contact our chairman and we will begin negotiations this very evening.”
“This evening? Where do I go? I’ll have to tell my wife where—”
“Agreement to begin negotiations constitutes acceptance of a non-disclosure agreement. Please do not speak of this impending transaction to any uninvolved parties as it is considered proprietary information and may result in serious legal consequences.” The blob had stopped glowing. It was possibly angry. Possibly calm. Paresh couldn’t tell. “The negotiations will begin this very evening at a location to be determined.”
And then the blob disappeared. Paresh expected a spectacular buzz and light show, but it was just gone, like it had never been there at all. Apprehensive, Paresh searched the parking lot for any other aliens before rushing to the bus stop.
He watched the 8:15 bus leave with a sigh and sat on the bench, alone. The 8:45 bus arrived, and he got on.
He wasn’t the only one who had been delayed.
Paresh walked home from the bus stop, laptop bag in hand. He clutched the handle tightly, imagining using it as a weapon against those stupid kids with their stupid hats and their stupid skateboards. They didn’t actually have skateboards, but he thought they should. Although if they had skateboards, they wouldn’t be riding the bus. He definitely thought they should have skateboards.
Two blocks up and one block to the left. Three hundred feet and: “Your destination is on the right.” No one ever heard him say it, but it made him feel at home.
Sita would wonder why he was late. The blob thing had warned him not to talk about the “impending transaction,” but was he allowed to tell her that he’d met an alien? It had never specified. He could leave out the details.
“They kept you late?” said Sita, opening the door.
Or she could do that. Paresh nodded and kissed her, hating that he had lied to his wife but grateful not to have to see her look of disbelief when he told her the truth. When he learned more about the offer, he would come clean.
He took off his shoes, placed his laptop bag in the closet, and went straight to the kitchen. “Turkey chili pizza in the oven,” Sita said, pointing.
“That’s not a real thing.”
“It is too a real thing, and you’re going to eat it.”
“I met an alien today,” Paresh blurted out.
“Paresh, that’s not polite, they’re called immigrants,” said Sita. “Your company change their hiring policy?”
“Yes,” he said, flushing. He was the absolute worst at keeping secrets. At the department retreat, they’d had a baby picture guessing game and every time someone pointed to his picture, he’d giggled.
“Where were they from?”
“Ecuador,” said Paresh, naming the first country that came to mind. Maybe he should go get the shovel in his garage if he was going to keep digging himself deeper into this hole.
“Very cool!” she said. “I’ve never been to Ecuador. You should find out how it is. We could take a vacation.”
The oven dinged and saved Paresh from having to continue the conversation. He had already begun to make up fake facts about Ecuador (their main export is kumquats, the capital city of Ecuador City has the rarest Dali in the world, everyone owns a pet capybara). Sita knew more than Paresh about most things, but she taught biology, not geography.
She set a plate in front of him. Already sliced, the turkey chili pizza resembled a pizza in the way a veggie dog resembled a hot dog. Paresh suspected Sita had applied the principles of aggressive mimicry to food. She had been gushing about the anglerfish a few nights ago.
Paresh took a bite and appreciated the smoky taste of chili but stopped chewing as he was assailed by an unexpected flavor. “Is that mustard?”
“Aioli garlic mustard sauce! Do you like it?”
There was no sense in starting to tell the truth now; he was on a roll. “It’s great!” he said, swallowing, then almost choking as a face appeared on his pizza.
“Greetings, human!” the face said with a voice like nails on sandpaper. It was missing a part of its mouth, which Paresh had eaten. He looked up at Sita, who didn’t react. “We are ready to begin the negotiation process!”
“Not now,” he hissed.
“Not now what?” asked Sita.
“I was having this really great idea, and I wished it would come later tonight, when I was alone.”
Sita took a bite of her own pizza. “I know how that goes. I hate when I come up with a great lesson plan while I’m driving. I can’t write it down!”
“Please confirm the rescheduling of the negotiations,” Paresh’s pizza said.
Paresh had never eaten a whole pizza so fast in his entire life.
Later that evening in his office, Paresh turned around and there was the horned blob thing. He assumed it was the same one, but he couldn’t be sure. When it spoke, however, the voice was unmistakable.
“We apologize for the previous inconvenience,” it said.
“You can’t just talk to a man through his dinner,” said Paresh. “It’s rude and unprofessional.” He ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. “At dinner, but not through dinner.”
“May we begin the negotiations?” it said. Paresh checked that the door was closed. “Your partner will not hear our discussion. This enclosure has been soundlocked for confidentiality.”
“Good. Now explain to me what it is you want from me, and what you are prepared to offer.”
“The BlarbTech/SnarbCo, Inc. Intraplanetary Conglomerate, heretofore and hereinafter referred to as ‘the Blarbsnarb,’ would like to acquire your body.”
“I’m using it at the moment.”
“We believe that your body has a great deal of potential and is being undervalued in the market.”
“Market? What market? Are there more of you?”
“That information is not relevant to this discussion.”
“Fine,” said Paresh. He had enough trouble with one alien; he didn’t need to think about more. “If you acquire my body, when do I get it back?”
“Upon corporeal incorporation, your body would become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Blarbsnarb, with partial autonomy on weekends vesting over four solar years.”
Some of that sounded good. Some of that sounded like gibberish. “And how much would you pay me?”
“The current offer is 0.0001 United States of American cents per cell.”
A fraction of a penny? But Paresh figured he had a lot of cells in his body, maybe even ten million. Which would be one whole cent. “I’m afraid that’s not enough,” he said. “Speaking of undervalued.” This was some kind of joke, surely. They didn’t understand numbers or money or something.
The blob’s horns began to glow, pulsating lightly. Then they stopped. “The Blarbsnarb Board of Directors has agreed to determine a higher, more suitable offer for you, Mr. Gupta. We will contact you when the new offer is ready.”
“Can I discuss this with my wife? I don’t feel comfortable”—he came this close to saying “selling my body” before he caught himself—“accepting an offer without her input.”
The blob’s horns pulsated again. “As preliminary negotiations have concluded, you may consult your partner in this matter. We are aware that by law she owns half of your body and thus must approve any acquisition.” Paresh was going to dispute its statement, but the blob continued. “Have a good evening, Mr. Gupta. We look forward to conducting a successful business transaction.” Then it disappeared.
Paresh didn’t bring the topic up in bed that night. He knew better than to disturb Sita’s reading.
At breakfast, he asked her, “How many cells are in the human body?”
She swallowed her blueberry sweet potato waffle and said, “That depends on the body. And are we counting intestinal flora?”
Paresh wasn’t sure what that was. “My body. All the cells in it. Including the intestinal things, I guess.”
“Stand up,” she said. She stood up herself.
Paresh stood and stepped away from the table. Sita looked him up and down, and Paresh felt self-conscious about the months he hadn’t gone to the gym. “Now give me a spin,” she said, twirling her finger in the air. Reluctantly, he turned around in a circle, still feeling her eyes on him. When he was done, she nodded at him to sit down and took her seat.
Sita cut another piece of waffle and ate it. She pulled out her phone and did some quick calculations. “I’d say you’ve got about ten trillion cells in your body.”
Paresh almost choked on his waffle. “Did you say trillion?”
“Like a million billions,” she said. “Or a billion millions.”
He moved the decimal point in his head. They’d offered him ten million dollars.
And he’d asked for more.
“Sita, I have something to tell you.”
He told her.
After a moment, she put her finger to her nose and pointed at him. “So when you said last night that you’d met an alien…?”
“Okay, first of all, here’s a new lesson plan, hitting me at breakfast when I can’t write it down, but I’ll wing it. My kids won’t mind if we talk about aliens instead of the Golgi apparatus today.”
“No!” said Paresh. “You can’t tell anyone!”
“Why, do they have ray guns?”
“I don’t know what they have. They don’t even have hands, so ray guns are out of the question. But the…alien thing—”
“The Blarbsnarb representative.”
“The Blarbsnarb rep threatened to destroy the planet if I said no. They might do that if we talk about the deal.”
Sita rolled her eyes. “That planet-destroying shit is absurd. It’s got to be a bluff. They want your body like I do, and they’re going to pay for—” She put her head in her hands. “That is not where I wanted that sentence to go.”
Paresh chuckled. “Yes, I went down that road too.”
She gestured at him with the piece of waffle on her fork, syrup dripping on the table. “You should find out the details of the deal, what happens to you and how you get the money. Don’t sign anything until you read all the fine print.”
Paresh promised not to sign anything until he read all the fine print.
At the time, he meant it.
The blob appeared that afternoon in the Oracle bathroom. Thankfully, Paresh had completed his business.
“This is highly inappropriate,” he said.
“You did not leave appropriate hours and means by which to contact you,” said the blob. Paresh had forgotten how discordant its voice was. Hoping no one had heard it, he went to lock the door only to realize that the door had no lock. The blob continued, “We have increased our offer by 10% and have prepared the paperwork.”
“Let me see it,” he said, and a tiny wormhole opened up between them. Out popped three stacks of paper, which hovered in the air. White, yellow, and pink.
“Please sign and return the white copy,” said the blob. “The yellow copy is for you to keep.”
“And the pink copy?”
“The pink copy belongs to your partner.”
“Don’t you think that’s kind of sexist?”
The blob blinked. So that’s where its eyes were. “You may take the pink copy if it is sexiest.”
Paresh plucked the stack of white paper out of the air and began to look it over. He knew he ought to have a lawyer review it—at the very least someone like Carey in Contracts could take a look—but how could he even begin to explain what it was for? He didn’t want people at work talking about him like he was crazy. He read quickly; someone could walk in on them any minute.
He had to give the Blarbsnarb credit: they were pretty fluent in legalese. Paresh, sadly, was not. Had the contract been written in Java, he would have stood a chance at comprehending what they intended to do to his body. As it was, he understood that there would be a transition period following the completion of the transaction in which the terms of the possession would be finalized.
Paresh thought of what he could do with eleven million dollars. Forget remodeling the kitchen, they could buy a new house, a bigger one where they could start a family. He could quit his job and be a stay-at-home dad (Sita would never quit her job; she loved it too much). It was such an obscene amount of money that he didn’t know what he could do with it all, but he knew it would remove obstacles and pave the way for a brighter future. As long as they had a future. The phrase “destruction of your planet” came back to him.
He signed the contract.
In several different places. They were really fluent in legalese.
When he handed Sita the pink copy, she said, “This is the pink copy.”
“Yes?” he said, pretending not to know what she was getting at.
“Where’s the white copy? The real copy?”
Paresh said nothing. He looked up at the ceiling.
Sita spoke calmly. “Do you remember this morning when you made what we humans like to call a ‘promise’?”
Paresh recalled all of his rationalizations, and now they seemed insufficient. Sita loved their house. The kitchen counters were chipped, but she knew the layout by heart. Why would she want to sell a place she could navigate with her eyes closed? (Sometimes she did walk around the house with her eyes closed. Once she bumped into the living room sofa, and that was only because Paresh had moved it a few inches to retrieve the remote without setting it back.)
He hadn’t done it for her. He had done it for him.
“I’m sorry, honey,” he said. “I thought it was for the best, but I should have brought it home.”
“Did you at least read the fine print?” she asked.
It had all been fine print. “I read…most of it.” The ceiling became very interesting to him again. They could repaint the ceiling. That would be a good use of money.
“Most of it,” she said.
“You know, by not refusing the deal, I kind of saved the world.” He shot Sita a hopeful glance.
“You kind of did it without me.” Sita chose not to stare at the ceiling, or even the floor. She looked right into Paresh’s eyes. “I’m going to bed.”
Paresh watched her leave. He waited, expecting the blob to appear, since this was an inconvenient time in his life. But he was left standing alone in the kitchen. He stood there for an hour before joining his wife.
The next morning, Paresh woke to find his wife sitting up with her arms crossed, glaring at him. “No more signing away your body without consulting me,” she said. “Deal?”
“Deal,” muttered Paresh.
“Did you find out how the process works? If you’re a subsidiary, they should let you stay in there, and we can work out how to spend the money.”
“Paresh, dear, I love you, but you have the business sense of a marmoset.” Sita poked him. “We need to contact the Blarbsnarb. This is a huge transaction; they ought to be more transparent.” Then she threw the covers off. “Wait, I’ve got a better idea.”
Sita walked out of the bedroom and returned with the pink copy of the contract. She tossed it to Paresh. “Let’s get some answers.”
Paresh turned to the first page of the contract and began to read it aloud.
“That was incredibly thorough,” said Sita.
“I did say they were fluent in legalese.”
“You think they’re a whole race of lawyers? Like maybe somewhere out there lawyers evolved into horned blobs bent on intergalactic domination?”
Paresh restrained himself from making a lawyer joke. Sita had set him up for so many responses, and he could see her trying to guess which one he would use. But it would have been so easy, like signing a contract without reading every word.
Sita’s face fell. “Come on, not even ‘You mean they haven’t already?’ It’s the low-hanging fruit.”
Paresh drew her close. “A lawyer might be our only way to understand this deal. I should treat them with respect. For now.”
According to the contract, the next step in the process was to begin removing redundancies. Paresh had authorized the Blarbsnarb to make changes as they saw fit, evaluating his body for its capabilities in relation to human function versus its utility after the blob took possession. Even having read the fine print, he was unclear on his status after the process was complete. The word “annihilated” appeared nowhere, which was promising.
“You’ve read me better stories in bed,” said Sita. “But I love the main character in this one. I was very invested in his fate.”
“Sorry for the spoilers,” said Paresh.
“Seriously!” said Sita. “Now I’m going to be sitting here waiting to see how the Blarbsnarb eliminate redundancies.”
Paresh’s appendix burst and he screamed.
As she drove him to the hospital, she shook her head and repeated, “I’m not saying anything ever again. I’m not saying anything ever again.”
The operation went smoothly, and Sita sat by his bed and held his hand. Her hand was the first thing he felt as he regained the ability to feel. He squeezed it.
“I forgot I still had that thing,” he said weakly.
“Not anymore you don’t,” she said.
“They could have given me some sort of warning.”
“They’re not legally required to,” she said. “California is an at-will state.”
“That leaves the rest of my body in a very precarious position.”
The blob appeared at the foot of the bed. Sita yanked Paresh’s hand in surprise, Paresh yelped in pain, and the blob yodeled in glee. Or distress. “We are pleased to see that the termination of your appendix has been successful. We do wish it the best and thank it for its many years of service.”
“The appendix doesn’t do anything,” said Sita, taking Paresh’s hand again.
“We thank it for its many years of service,” the blob repeated.
“That really hurt,” said Paresh. “I would appreciate a heads up next time.” He scanned the blob, not seeing any clear distinction between head and body. But if they knew what an appendix was, they knew what a head was.
“We apologize for the inconvenience. Per your request, I am informing you that we have identified a redundancy in your mitochondria. You will not require them.”
“Mitochondria,” said Sita. “How could you forget the powerhouses of the cell? They make all the energy in your body.” She slapped his head lightly. “Paresh, I have a poster of one in my classroom.”
He looked away and smiled to himself. He remembered almost nothing of what Sita’s classroom looked like because whenever he visited, he was so focused on how in her element she was when teaching. Poised and animated, she spoke about topics he knew nothing about with such passion that he wished he’d had her in high school instead of Mrs. Klages.
“Right,” said Paresh. “How could I forget? Those things. Sounds like I need them, though.”
The blob shook its head, which allowed Paresh to see the subtle distinction. “The Blarbsnarb equivalent are twenty times more efficient and powerful. They will now be replaced.”
Paresh, who was still groggy to this point, jerked fully awake. “How now is now?”
“It is done,” noted the blob with triumph. Or disinterest. It was so hard to tell with it.
Paresh tried to sit up, raise his head. Sita had said he had trillions of cells in his body. He must have had trillions of midichlo—mitochondria. And now they were gone, and he had alien substitutes in his body. Did that make him a hybrid? Was he even human anymore? He felt human. Sita stared at him like he might not be.
She turned to the blob. “Will there be any side effects? What if his body rejects the alien organelles?”
The blob scoffed, an expression represented by a shift in the density of blob in its upper half. “His body was deemed suitable for this procedure before it was conducted. He will experience no complications beyond enhanced productivity.”
Paresh found it much easier to sit up now. His head felt clearer. He heard a faint hum emanating from his body, like white noise from his laptop.
“I appreciate these enhancements, but I don’t know if I’m comfortable living the rest of my life with alien…stuff.” Having an alien inside his body was one thing, but if his body was also part-alien, that was weird (his bar for weird had also risen recently).
“Per the contract, corporeal incorporation requires modification of the asset.”
“His asset is just fine,” said Sita.
“I don’t like this,” said Paresh. “It’s creepy.”
The blob hummed with excitement or disapproval. “By expressing concern regarding the original arrangement, you have authorized the alternative arrangement specified in Section XII, Clause 23.”
Sita squeezed Paresh’s hand. “What did he just authorize?”
The blob remained silent for a few seconds, as if the answer should have been obvious. “He will go into you.” The sandpapery voice made the statement sound more ominous.
“Into me?” repeated Sita. “There’s no room in here for him. Do you understand how humans work?”
“We have conducted an extensive study of human body-self conformational metaphysics, and we believe that one body can contain two selves, as outlined in the terms of the contract.”
Paresh didn’t know how he’d leapt past weird and into bizarre without even trying. Did the Blarbsnarb allow for takebacksies? He would ask for a second ruling, but he suspected that Carey in Contracts was not well versed in clauses this esoteric.
Sita, however, was a teacher, and she spoke with confidence about subjects she knew much about and even greater confidence about subjects she knew nothing about. “The original agreement was made between the Blarbsnarb and Paresh. As I am not a signatory on the contract, you have no authority to modify my body.”
Paresh didn’t know the word “signatory” could sound so sexy.
The blob replied with exasperation, its rough voice somehow becoming high-pitched. “Section XII, Clause 23 clearly states that for the purposes of this arrangement the undersigned and spouse of undersigned, if one exists, are equal by law, dependent on tax filing status.”
Paresh groaned. “We file…jointly.”
Sita bit her lip. “I know the accountant said there were some minor disadvantages, but I don’t think she meant this.”
Then she held up a finger, smiling brightly. “I contest that Paresh’s statement constituted an expression of concern.” She punctuated this assertion with a triumphant, emphatic nod.
The blob sighed, or possibly farted. Paresh sniffed the air but still couldn’t tell. Before he could ask for clarification, the blob spoke. “I must consult with the Board on this matter. You will hear from us shortly.” The blob disappeared.
“If this works,” said Paresh, “all it means is that I get to live with that thing inside me.”
“Maybe if we confuse them enough, they’ll leave us alone,” said Sita.
On the drive home, Paresh spotted his least favorite kids at the bus stop and asked Sita to stop. They climbed out of the copper 1991 Sentra to sneers of “Hey, it’s Apu and Mrs. Apu!” Paresh was disappointed they didn’t know that Apu’s wife was named Manjula.
“It’s Jimbo!” bellowed Paresh, throwing his hands in the air. He jabbed a finger at each boy as he continued, “And Preston! And Clifford!”
The kids stopped their hollering, confused. Their apparent leader sputtered, “Whatever, man, my name—”
Paresh had alien midichlorians and no more fear. “The other day I met an alien blob I respect more than you because it respects me more than you do. And so I saved the world. All of it. Even you.”
Sita looked at him like she didn’t care whether he was human, that was the hottest he had been in all their years of marriage. She pulled him in for a deep, passionate kiss. Out of the corner of his eye, Paresh thought he saw her give the boys the finger. They weren’t her students, but they did just get schooled.
Paresh and Sita returned to the car, leaving the boys standing with expressions almost as indecipherable as the blob’s.
As they drove off, Paresh rolled down the window and yelled with a fist in the air, “And it said my complexion was optimal! Optimal!”
Sita experimented with barbecue chicken pasta for dinner, combining barbecue sauce and marinara sauce in what Paresh thought were haphazard amounts.
They ate in relative silence. This concoction tasted better than that mustard pizza from a couple nights ago—from the night his troubles began. What had possessed him to agree to this arrangement (ha, possessed)? Maybe he could blame it on the pizza.
Paresh tried to pick apart the mélange of flavors in his mouth. He didn’t think a slight tinge of barbecue would be so pleasant in tomato sauce. He slurped up some of the remaining sauce in his plate.
“That was really good!” he said.
“So what the hell are we going to do?” she said.
“If they buy your legal argument, then at least I get to stay in my body. Maybe there’s a loophole to get out of the thing entirely.”
“We read through the whole contract. I didn’t see anything.”
Paresh shook his fork at her. Unfortunately, the fork still had sauce on it. Fortunately, the sauce didn’t reach her. “We’re not lawyers or aliens. We wouldn’t.”
Sita stood up and began clearing the table. “There is also the issue of money.” She reached for Paresh’s plate.
Paresh grabbed her wrist. “We don’t need the money. We never had it anyway. I’d rather be myself than myself plus an alien plus money.” He let her go.
Sita took his plate. “You’d rather be yourself plus money.”
He looked her right in the eyes. “I’d rather be myself plus you.”
That night while Paresh was being himself plus Sita, the blob appeared by the bed. Sita screamed—a different sort of scream than she’d been making a few seconds ago—and toppled off Paresh. Paresh let loose a stream of creative expletives.
Out of breath, Paresh said, “Has anyone told you guys you have the worst timing imaginable?”
The blob gazed upon their naked bodies and appeared to blush, a subtle red shimmer that coursed over its body for a second. “I apologize for interrupting your mating ritual. The Board has reviewed the statement and determined it to be legally binding. The alternative arrangement has been authorized.”
Sita pulled the comforter over her. “So he’ll go inside me?” She looked at Paresh, scanned down, and chuckled at her choice of words.
“His being will be temporarily relocated into your body until it can find a suitable home,” said the blob, apparently still unclear on how humans worked. Sita had said there was no room for him, and he believed the woman with the graduate degree. For an intelligent alien species, they did not seem to have done all the necessary research.
“What if he says no?” asked Sita. She pulled Paresh close to her, away from the blob. “What if he backs out of the contract?”
The blob looked puzzled. “Why would he refuse to proceed with what has been agreed upon? We are offering appropriate compensation for the body.”
Paresh put up a hand. “Your compensation is more than appropriate. Hell, it’s inappropriate. But I’ve changed my mind. I like my body. I want to stay in it. Only me.”
“And I love him, but I’d prefer he stay in his own body. I’m equal by law, right? Spouse of undersigned? What if I say no too?”
The blob’s horns glowed. “This is highly unusual.”
“You’re highly unusual,” muttered Sita.
Paresh knew Carey in Contracts had dealt with people like him before, assholes who reneged at the last minute. It happened. It was business. These aliens must have encountered it. “If there’s an early cancellation fee or something, I’ll pay it.” He suspected it would be more than the $300 he paid for cancelling his cable deal, but they would find a way to make it work.
The blob hopped onto the bed. Paresh was relieved to see it didn’t leave a trail of goo behind it; in fact, it left no residue at all. Yet he cringed to see its blobby blobness on his sheets. The blob spoke, its scratchy, sandpapery voice familiar to the both of them by now: “Declining to complete the transaction at this stage is equivalent to refusal before agreement and carries the same consequences.”
Sita and Paresh looked at each other, silently having an entire conversation about the fact that they were going to be responsible for the destruction of Earth, well, mostly Paresh was, it’s not like Sita hadn’t told him to read before signing, can we not bring that up right now, but it’s true, and also I love you.
Paresh took Sita’s hand. Ignoring the fact that he was completely naked, he mustered up all the dignity and gravity he had, sat straight up and said, “I’ll do it.” Sita squeezed his hand and sat straight up with him. “We’ll do it. For Earth.”
“For Earth,” repeated Sita, who could not ignore the fact that they were completely naked and burst out laughing and fell over. The blob surveyed them with bewilderment, waves undulating back and forth across what Paresh took to be its facial region.
It jumped up and down on the bed. “The completion of transaction will commence immediately.”
Sita stopped laughing. “You’re going to take him now?”
Paresh’s heart broke to hear the fear in his wife’s voice. He would be leaving her and joining her in the same instant.
He turned to face his wife. “Before it happens, I want you to hear it from me one last time: I love you.”
Sita kissed him. “I love you, too.”
“When they tied our clothes together at the wedding, that was supposed to be a symbolic union, right?”
“I knew I should have been paying more attention to the Sanskrit.”
Paresh admired her smile with his own eyes while he still could. “Also, in case you can hear my thoughts when I’m in there, I didn’t really like that turkey chili pizza.”
“I knew it!” She kissed him again. “But I’m still going to make it for us to eat. It’s delicious. And it’s my body I’ll be putting it into, even if you’re in there too.”
“It’ll be one hundred percent yours except for whatever metaphysical confor-whatsit things happen with me.”
Sita turned to the blob. “Will I be able to hear his thoughts? Will he be able to control me? He’d better not be able to control me. I read that clause again and that is not in there.”
A tiny wormhole opened up and spat out a spiral-bound stack of papers thicker than any database user manual Paresh had ever seen. It plopped onto the bed in front of the blob. “The Blarbsnarb have helpfully provided this list of Frequently Asked Questions.” When Sita reached for it, the blob hopped on top of it. “It is to be read after the completion of transaction, which must commence before close of business.”
Sita drew her hand away, slowly curling four of her fingers back.
“Wait!” said Paresh. “I don’t want to be possessed with my pants off.” He reached around for his clothes and hastily dressed. Sita took the opportunity to do the same. The process was made somewhat more difficult by the blob, who continued to jump up and down on the bed, making Sita’s bra fall off onto the floor.
“Thank you for your patience,” said Sita after they were both clothed. She turned to Paresh. “You ready?”
“No,” he said.
“Neither am I,” she said. “Let’s do this.” She reached for his hand, and the blob honked like an angry goose.
“Please refrain from all physical contact during the transaction,” it said. Sita reluctantly kept her hand at her side.
Paresh closed his eyes.
He peeked a tiny bit out of one eye in time to see the blob disintegrate and congeal into a ball of light that had to be visible outside, even through the curtains. Before he had time to wonder what the neighbors thought, the light shot toward his barely open eye, and then it was in him, going everywhere inside him, even places he didn’t know he had, and he wanted to scream but he no longer had control of his mouth, and for one terrible second—or was it an hour—the only thought in his head was it didn’t say it would hurt.
And then he felt himself move to the right a couple feet. A warm, welcoming body. The strange sensation of having a part-alien body was gone, replaced by the strange sensation of having an all-woman body. He felt top-heavy.
“You in there?” said Sita.
“Yes,” said the Paresh inside her and the Paresh outside her.
“The transaction is complete,” the blob said in Paresh’s voice, a vast improvement from its own. Was that how Paresh sounded? He had been told he had the faintest traces of an accent, but he’d never heard it until now. Inside Sita’s head, Paresh sounded the way he was used to sounding.
“Good,” said Sita. Not wanting to look at the alien wearing her husband’s body, she got up and went to the bathroom, looking instead at her husband wearing her body. “You said you wanted to be yourself plus me,” she said into the mirror. “Looks like it’s going to be the other way around.”
Paresh looked at himself. Herself? Themself? They shared a body but not a mind, as far he could tell before reading the FAQ. He had no motor control of Sita’s body, and he knew she wouldn’t relinquish it. He would never ask her to. Since the moment he signed the contract, he had resigned himself to this fate, riding along with either an alien or his wife. He preferred the alternative arrangement. Sita had always been his better half, and now they were a better whole.
He hadn’t quit his job. He hoped the blob could code.
“The first thing that blob did was congratulate me,” he said, his voice sounding hollow inside Sita. “Well, congratulations! We’re millionaires!”
From the bedroom came a thud, like the sound of a man falling off a bed.
Sita sighed. She took one last look in the mirror.
“Let’s go teach that thing how to use its legs.”
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