I sat down on a log from a fallen tree, my legs splayed out and the sun bathing my feet. The guards took us down to Slater Lake at the end of each month as positive reinforcement for not acting up. Those who did act up stayed at the base, cleaning up after the humans. I had heard whispers from the guards that this place was known publicly as an employee recreation area/missile testing grounds. I watched the young play in the lake up ahead, their carefree expressions. They didn’t understand yet how wrong being down here felt. We were being rewarded for letting them test us, confine us, and overall treat us like cattle. Then there was that name the employees called us, Alien. We could not be described by any catch-all term. ‘I prefer Virtuenaut, actually,’ I had responded once at ten human years old. I received a slap in the face and no dinner that night, negative reinforcement for talking back. I wasn’t even fully Virtuenaut. I had been trying to make it easier on the guard, providing him with a simple, half-right term as opposed to such a vague one.
“‘Sup Jes,” Officer Lennon Grant said, one hand resting in his pocket and the other holding up a semi-large gun. He moved to sit on the log next to me. Grant was the only officer who respected the Virtuenaut naming system. All the other officers insisted on using my full, seven letter informal name as opposed to my three letter formal one. “You never join them.” He gestured towards the others with his gun. Grant turned his head to me. “Why is that?”
“I prefer the shade,” I lied, voice low and tone compliant. I couldn’t tell whether I was mocking the cookie cutter they wanted us to fit in or actually falling into it.
“I know that’s not true,” Grant responded, reaching his hand out of his pocket and placing it over mine. I didn’t pull away.
“We can’t keep doing this,” I whispered, eyes darting around the lake to make sure no one could see us.
“If we get caught. Until then, we can absolutely keep doing this.” Lennon wrapped his hand around mine, standing up and guiding me farther from the group. We settled behind a large tree, away from the eyes of the other guards. I looked up at him.
“What is ‘this’ exactly, officer?” I smiled up at him, tip-toeing closer. Lennon looked down at me.
“I think it’s less about what we actually are, and more about what we wish we were.”
Lennon placed a hand on the back of my neck. When we kissed it felt for a second like we had nothing to hide and nothing to hide from. He was right, I didn’t prefer the shade, but I needed it to survive.