Alix thumped with a steady stride towards the nearest employee entrance, the ever-present cameras ignoring her – she was only human. She slid her wallet from the back pocket of her bluejeans, stepped around fresh splatters of green-tinged blood, and hovered the wallet and its embedded chip in front of the security reader. It beeped permissively, and she cranked open the three-inch-thick door to step inside the stairwell.

The blood was nothing new, although it painted the pavement nearly every morning with another coat. The xin were always cutting into each other, and while the company frowned on such fights indoors, the parking lot was the equivalent of a xin free-for-all ring. Once or twice, she’d even seen severed digits still twitching in pools of ichor.

A xin almost ran into her, in fact, as the door swung shut and made the hallway dim; but the alien stopped short like a marionette with strings suddenly taut, curled over her a few inches away. She looked two feet up, into its eyes, and did not smile. Xin didn’t like smiles; smiles were mammalian. Smiles showed teeth, and showing teeth was the sign of a predator. “You’ve got a drip,” Alix said by way of greeting, flicking her eyes like a gesture to the gash oozing blood above one of the xin’s whiteless eyes.

The xin lifted an arched finger, wiped the blood away, and licked its finger clean with a long tongue. Thank you, it signed to her, using an awkward mixture of its native language and adopted ASL. They were good lip-readers, most of them, but they lacked lips with which to reply.

Alix nodded, the movement gentle to avoid startling, and stepped aside so the xin could use the door. It did, gauntly skinny body slipping between her and the wall with insectoid grace.

Shaking her head, she walked up the newly decarpeted stairs – even with strict discouragement of fighting, xin bloodstains got everywhere, and now only the most formal of conference rooms were retaining their lush carpet. The floors elsewhere were being turned to hardwood or stone tile – the warehouse was already cement-floored, metal-walled. Xin wore shoe-like pads at work, so talon scratches were a non-issue, even for fine wood floors.

The xin were humbly apologetic for the necessity, and on their breaks, the artistic ones – which was the vast majority of them – painted alien murals on the new walls. Twin suns in the sky and clouds like fire; three moons, too bright to let starlight pass; volcanoes and ash deserts and lush, lush forests growing from soil as black as xin eyes.

Alix thought they were pretty. The murals, at least, if not the xin themselves. Some of her coworkers gave fake smiles because they didn’t understand, and the xin shied away.

A few of her coworkers gave deliberate smiles to make the xin afraid, and those she kept an eye on.

It had been nearly two generations since the human-xin wars ended. Nearly two generations since the xin won Earth. Nearly two generations before the biggest misunderstanding of space-age history was discovered; the xin learned enough pieces of human sign language to convey that they didn’t want to fight, or dominate, or colonize. They wanted to ally. To co-exist. Every science fiction dream come true, after years of warfare and millions dead on both sides. Bittersweet.

Nearly two generations, and the biggest cities of most first-world countries had initiated the xin as full citizens. Human xenophobia could do little in the face of facts: the xin had won. The xin wanted to ally. To avoid another war, to avoid being truly conquered, the xin would be integrated. Alix doubted that, at the time, the world’s leaders had realized the lie of their helplessness.

The xin, for all their rapid-healing that made their incessant physical contests a moot point in terms of long-term damage, for all their physical resiliency and eternal history of personal combat, were afraid of humans and their guns. A bullet – several, really – could kill a xin before the xin could heal. And in xin culture, such a thing was unheard-of. Xin never fought to the death except in the most terrible of situations.

For the xin, war with Earth had been one long, terrible situation.

Alix sank into her chair and flicked on her monitors, glancing over and giving a signed hello, good morning to her xin coworker, who was not yet proficient at reading fleshy lips. It met her gaze with what may have been relief, may have been welcome, and signed back, Very good morning, now.

It was hard not to smile in response.

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