"Are you being racist right now?" asked Pentyl Crimson her (today Pentyl was a she) expression flowing into an exaggerated curiosity.
"No. I'm not." I said massaging my temples with one hand. It had been a very long day of wandering around Planetfall, Dead End's capital city and the orbital spoke, checking every even vaguely plausible place for traces of Kira. I didn't find anything. Of course. So just to escape the danger of being taken over by despair I gave in to numbness. I called Pentyl, asked her to meet me a the Last Resort bar at the space port. Mostly because I was scared of being alone; officially to check one of my more outlandish theories. "I really want to know if you have heard of anyone who is like Kira or me turning into something like you?"
"I think that does sound racist, James. This whole you versus us thing? The implication that we might creep into your life, changing people to be like us. Also this 'turning into thin air' phrase sounds suspiciously derogatory." the red plasma forming her face moved again in waves now forming an expression that was mostly doubt.
I sighed. Even if they were friends you'd trust your life with, communicating with aliens could be exhausting. "No. I am sure that nebulars turning people into mist isn't a thing people are afraid of. At least not in the galaxies I've been to. Also the 'turning into thin air' expression has been part of my culture since before we reached the stars." when I saw Pentyl's mouth begin to tide open I added "We did not even encounter our first nebular since after the war." Pentyl's face calmed down into a more calm expression. "Look." I tried again. "Kira vanished. In front of my eyes. She simply faded into nothing. I thought I was dreaming that. But she is gone. No one has seen her since that day. All of her things are still there." I sat there for a while not knowing what to say. When I was not looking at Pentyl's face with its gently shifting plasma patterns I was staring into the bar mostly staring at the past.
"I'm sorry James but I have never heard of an organoid turning into one of us. Just like no nebular has ever turned into one of you..."
"You do look humanoid..." I said. Voice flat. I knew that Pentyl was right.
"Does not change the fact that I am a gaseous. I just taken a shape similar to yours. Just like you could eat more and paint your skin to appear more cloudish. It would not change your nature though."
"I... I don't know what to do any more. I..."
"First of all try to relax. You need to stay calm so that you can keep yourself from pushing more emotions into your blood. That will only make you more erratic and miserable. Expand. Don't let what has happen compress you. Tell me what you have done so far. Where you looked who you asked. Then we can see what you have covered and where you need to flow to next. OK?"
"OK." I nodded. So I started rattling off where I had been, who I had spoken to. Pentyl just listened with a little fluid smile on her face. She let me follow wild tangents as I remembered things that tied me and Kira to all this places and people. The concerts we had heard, the food we had discovered, the conversations we had, the friends we made. There was hardly a place left here were I could go that was not saturated with memories of us. Memories of how she made me feel everything we discovered with such an intensity. "And that's when I asked you to me." I finished my tale.
"Hmmm." said Pentyl. Her face dissolved, he body losing most but its most basic humanoid proportions. A sign that Pentyl was in deep thought. She was never happy with store bought human shapes, she always insisted on her own bespoke form, which takes some concentration to maintain. While I waited I looked around the bar again. This time looking mostly at the present. The lights were in the slow process to change to the blue tones that signalled the advancing day cycle. I had not slept for at least 36 hours by now. The clients had also changed. When I had arrived it was mostly the very drunk trying to find the coordination that would get them back home in one piece and the most devoted party-goers who were solemnly celebrating their after hours rituals. Now the place was half filled with the fashionable rich who could afford having a job but liked to do show how connected they remained to the common man by having breakfast in a place like the Last Resort.
"For now it seems to me," Pentyl said her features emerging into sharp focus again, "that you are at least in so far right that Kira has vanished. She did so under most strange circumstances. I'm not an organoid, your ways are still deeply strange to me. However I know you, I know Kira and I know the two of you together. Right now I'd say she did not simply run away. She was probably not kidnapped..."
"Kidnapped?" that thought had not even crossed my mind. "Who would..."
"No one, James. That's why it is very unlikely that that was the case. Expand. She has also not turned into a gaseous form. Not only is that very unlikely but I also believe that I'd notice one of us suddenly appearing. We can go to your flat later just to be sure. So that leaves us with very few options."
"There are options?" I asked.
"There are always options. We need to ask someone who has knowledge that goes beyond our everyday understanding. Someone who might know things that are not common knowledge in our civilisations. It would also be very helpful if the person in question would find our problem interesting in and off itself. Furthermore this individual should be either a friend or acquaintance of one of us or a friend or acquaintance of someone we know or who owes us a favour."
"I do a lot of academics we might ask." I said. While real prospecting work was few and far between I'd been doing this job long enough to have some good friends among some of the best planetary scientists in the universe."
"You are thinking to compressed. True you know some very good scientists. But they aren't really active in the field of dissolving people."
"So who were you thinking of?"
"Someone who has been around longer than any of our species, someone who is bound to have seen many strange things." she said.
"You can't be serious." I said with little conviction. I knew what Pentyl was going to suggest however I did not have any alternative.
"I am serious. We should go and visit the Sentinel Fortress."