- First podcasted in 600 Second Saga, 2017

It had taken Mauve almost an entire standard year to get a table at the restaurant—Invasion, a trendy new pop-up on a rapidly gentrifying moon—but she had, after greasing the vines of the Boscan maître d' with six months' supply of top-grade, uncut compost, at last secured a table for herself and her soon-to-be symbiote, Teal.

Mauve had read about Invasion in the Galactic Guardian; rave reviews—a restaurant whose menu consisted exclusively of invasive species. Quirky, sustainable, and environmentally conscious—the perfect place, Mauve thought, to pop the question—will you, Teal, do me the single honour of assimilating with me until the universe reaches maximum entropy? (about which Teal had recently been dropping some not-so-subtle hints).

They entered the restaurant, lateral fringes entwined, and the willowy Uxtaurian waitress—all, sinew and chitin, Mauve thought, not like my plumpy—guided them to their table.

Teal bobbed over to the adaptive seating—which scanned her and immediately began rearranging itself to accommodate a particularly corpulent Kelpian echinoderm—deflated her legs, and emitted an excited shade of indigo at Mauve.

As radiant as an O-type star, Mauve thought. As bulbous and ethereal as a gas giant. Except for her feeding appendages, of course—they were wriggling in anticipation, as they always did when Teal was hungry.

Mauve sank into her chair, too, while the Uxtaurian waitress's mouth began to form a series of incomprehensible shapes. The translator bot floating next to her blinked like a tiny pulsar.

Here are your menus, it flashed. Our specials today are Betelgeusian acridid, currently wreaking havoc in the Jasper Nebula after several specimens escaped from the interplanetary menagerie of a private collector . . .

Teal's feeding appendages squirmed with delight, causing several globules of her digestive juices to drip onto the table.

. . . and Crucian stellarsaurat present destabilising the Phobius Cluster after the imploding fusion drive of a Marlon spacecraft contaminated the cosmic currents of their home system. Please take your time, and I'll be back soon to take your order.

Mauve flashed a thank you to the waitress and Teal began to flip through the menu with her fringes.

The thing I love most about Teal, thought Mauve, is her strong dedication to ecological conservation in the galaxy—that and her enormous metopic bulges. They were so symmetrical. Like a well-balanced equation. I wonder, thought Mauve, when we assimilate, will our mutual bulges be as symmetrical? Or will my hopelessly lopsided ones tip the balance?

What a sad thought.

"Look at this," Teal flashed. "The Heptunian leporid looks good."

But Mauve was still thinking about Teal's symmetrical bulges.

"Mauve, are you receiving?"

"What? Yes, the leporid." She hastily fringed through the menu. It read:

The Heptunian leporid, aka "The Hitchhiking Pestilence", has quickly spread throughout the Eastern Quadrant by hitching rides on interstellar freighters. Both skilled adaptors and prolific breeders, they immediately establish themselves on their host planet and displace the local population within a few generations.

"Yes, it looks nice." Mauve was nervous, and couldn't think of much else to say.

This was it, no more Mauve and Teal. No more separate entities, separate colours. Genetically assimilated. One in mind and body. Half of one replaced by half of the other. A primitive survival method to preserve shrinking resources and avoid over-population, now, in a world of plenty, the ultimate expression of love; a binary system collapsing into a single semi-translucent ovoid.

Say something, Mauve thought. You're too quiet. She'll suspect.

"What about the Terran great ape?" she flashed at last. It did look good, actually. Spit-roasted, served in a thick moonscrub sauce.

The Terran great apehaving been gifted interstellar travel by irresponsible first-contactors—is superluminally moving up the Orion Arm, consuming the limb's resources and sterilising otherwise promising life-viable planets.

Teal's feeding appendages drooped. "You know I'm allergic to mammals."

Yes, Mauve had forgotten. It was seldom an issue. Teal's mammal allergy. But what about after they'd assimilated? Which would win out—Mauve's love of Terran great ape or Teal's mammal allergy? Mauve considered this for a moment. Could she live without ever eating a mammal again? Could she give up that supple flesh, the liquid lipids, the crisp crackling? Other chordates were fine, she liked them, but few were a patch on fleshy, warm-blooded mammals.

Mauve lowered her gaze back to the menu, but she found herself unable to concentrate. The remark had triggered a meteor shower, one blunt ferrous rock impacting after another: Would her penchant for classical sphere music survive Teal's preference for avant-garde fizz? Would Teal's fondness for felids oust her keen love of canids? Would Teal's habit of sleeping in on tenth-days stop Mauve rising early to compose her kaleidoscopic poetry?

It wouldn't be malice on Teal's part—after all, the Terran ape was not malicious, simply pursuing its own interests, as was the Betelgeusian acridid, who had found itself in an alien environment and thrived. There was no malice, simply dominance. Would Mauve, too, then, the most cherished aspects of herself, be pushed to the margins by Teal and rendered nothing more than a threatened species among her own cells?

Teal extended one of her fringes towards Mauve.

"Mauve, is there something wrong?" she flashed. "Is there perhaps something"—she flushed a hot pink—"you wanted to ask me?"

Before Mauve could answer, the Uxtaurian waitress approached their table, shaking like a photon sail in a solar storm.

We do apologise, flashed the translator bot, but Invasion has been forced to close early this evening.

"Close early?" Mauve replied. "Why?"

Problems in the kitchen. A Terran great ape has, I'm afraid, rather taken issue with beingaha, I believe it put it"probed" by our roasting spit and is now running amok with one of the plasma arcs we use to slice up the Crucian stellarsaur.

Mauve looked deeply into Teal's eyes. "I suppose the evening is ruined," she flashed, emitting her brownest disappointment—though on closer inspection, one might have perceived the faintest shade of relief.