Ttomalss politely inclined his head. "It is a pleasure to see a new face from Home, superior female," he said to the researcher from the colonization fleet who had come to consult with him. On the whole, he was telling the truth; he had not always got on well with the colleagues who had accompanied him in the colonization fleet, or with the Big Uglies he studied.
"In this matter, I should call you 'superior sir,'" the newcomer--her name was Felless--replied. "You have the expertise. You have the experience with these Tosevites."
More than I ever wanted, Ttomalss thought, remembering captivity in China he'd expected to lead to his death. Aloud, he said, "You are gracious," which was also true, for Felless' body paint showed that she outranked him.
"You have had all the time since the arrival of the conquest fleet to assimilate the implausible nature of the natives of Tosev 3," Felless said. "To me, having to try to understand it in a matter of days--a most hasty and inefficient procedure--it seems not merely implausible but impossible."
"This was our reaction on reaching this world, too," Ttomalss said. "We have since had to adapt to changing conditions." He let his mouth fall open. "Anyone on Tosev 3 who fails to adapt is ruined. We have seen that demonstrated--and most often painfully demonstrated--time and again."
"So I gather," Felless said. "It must have been very difficult for you. Change, after all, is an unnatural condition."
"So I thought before leaving Home," Ttomalss replied. "So I still think, at times, for so I was trained to think all my life. But, had we not changed, the best we could have done would have been to destroy this planet--and where would that have left you and the colonization fleet, superior female?"
Felless did not take him seriously. He could tell at a glance; he barely needed one eye turret to see it, let alone two. That saddened him, but hardly surprised him. She had the beginnings of an intellectual understanding of what the Race had been through on Tosev 3. Ttomalss had been through every bit of it. The scars still marked his spirit. It would never be free of them till it met the spirits of Emperors past face to face.
"You are to be commended for your diligent efforts to gain understanding of the roots of Tosevite behavior," Felless said.
"Nice to know someone thinks so," Ttomalss said, remembering quarrels down through the years. "Some males, I think, would sooner stay ignorant. And some would sooner put their tongues in a ginger jar and forget their research and everything else."
He waited. Sure enough, Felless asked a hesitant question: "Ginger? I have seen the name in the reports. It must refer to a drug native to Tosev 3, for it is certainly unknown back on Home."
"That's right. It's an herb that grows here," Ttomalss said. "For the natives, it is just a spice, the way balj is back on Home. It is a drug for us, though, and a nasty one. It makes a male feel smart and bold and strong--and when it wears off, it makes him feel like having some more. Once it gets its claws in you, you will do almost anything for another taste."
"With more enforcement personnel here now, we should be able to root it out without much trouble," Felless said.
Ttomalss remembered that pristine confidence, that sense that things would keep going smoothly because they always had. He'd known it himself. Then he'd started dealing with the Big Uglies. Like so many males on Tosev 3, he'd lost it and never got it back. He didn't try to explain that to Felless. The female would find out for herself.
"Why would anyone want a drug in the first place, especially an alien drug?" Felless asked him.
"At first because you're bored, or else because you see someone else having a good time and you want one, too," he answered. "We shall have trouble with ginger when the colonists land, mark my words."
"I shall record your prediction," Felless said. "I tend to doubt its accuracy, but, as I said, you are the one with experience on Tosev 3, so perhaps you will prove correct in the end."
Was she so serious all the time? A lot of people back on Home were. Ttomalss remembered as much. Contact with the Big Uglies--even contact with males who had contact with the Big Uglies--had a way of abrading such seriousness. And now a hundred million colonists, once revived, would look on the relative handful of males from the colonization fleet as slightly addled eggs. Ttomalss didn't see what anyone could do about that, either.
Deep inside, he laughed to himself. Eventually, the colonists would have to start dealing with the Tosevites. Then they'd start getting addled, too. In spite of his best efforts to believe otherwise, Ttomalss could reach no other conclusion. Even if Tosev 3 at last came completely under the Emperor's rule, it would be the odd world out in more ways than one for years, centuries, millennia to come.
Because he'd been mentally picking parasites out from under his scales, he missed a comment from Felless. "I am sorry, superior female?" he said, embarrassed.
"I said that, of all the researchers with the conquest fleet, you seem to have gone furthest in your efforts to examine the integration of Tosevites and the Race." Felless repeated the compliment with no sign of exasperation. She continued, "Some of your activities strike me as going above and beyond the call of duty."
"You are generous, superior female," Ttomalss said. "My view has always been that, if this world is to be successfully colonized, effecting such integration will be mandatory."
"You doubt the possibility of successful colonization?" Now Felless sounded reproving, not complimentary.
"I doubt the certainty of successful colonization," Ttomalss replied. "Anyone with experience of Tosev 3 doubts the certainly of anything pertaining to it."
"And yet you have persisted," Felless said. "In your reports, you indicate that your first experimental specimen was forcibly taken away from you, and that you yourself were kidnapped by Tosevite bandits while seeking to obtain a replacement for it."
"Truth," Ttomalss said. "We badly underestimated the importance of family bonds on Tosev 3, due not only to long-term sexual pairings but also to the absurdly helpless nature of Tosevite hatchlings, which need constant care if they are to survive. Because of these factors, my experiments have met with far more opposition from the Big Uglies than they would have from any other intelligent race with which we are familiar."
"And yet, in the end, your work seems to have met with success," Felless said. "I wonder if you would be so kind as to allow me to make the acquaintance of the specimen you finally succeeded in obtaining and rearing."
"I thought you might ask that." Ttomalss rose. "Kassquit is waiting in the next chamber. I shall return in a moment."
"My first Tosevite, even if not quite a wild specimen," Felless said in musing tones. "How interesting this will be!"
"Please do your best to treat the Big Ugly as you would a member of the Race," Ttomalss warned. "Since the Tosevite gained speech--which Big Uglies do more quickly than our own hatchlings--all males have followed this course, which appears to have worked well."
"It shall be done," Felless promised.
Ttomalss went into the adjacent chamber, where Kassquit sat in front of a screen, engrossed in a game. "The researcher from Home wishes to speak with you," Ttomalss said.
"It shall be done, superior sir," Kassquit said obediently, and got up. The Big Ugly, though not large for a Tosevite, stood head and neck above Ttomalss. Kassquit followed him back to the chamber where Felless waited. Bending into the posture of respect, the Tosevite said to her, "I greet you, superior sir."
"Superior female," Ttomalss corrected. He turned to Felless. "You are the first female Kassquit has met."
"I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, Kassquit," Felless said.
"I thank you, superior female." Kassquit used the correct title this time. The Big Ugly's voice was slightly mushy; Tosevite mouthparts could not quite handle all the sounds of the language of the Race. "You are truly from Home?"
"I am," Felless said.
"I would like to visit Home," Kassquit said wistfully, "but cold sleep has not yet been adapted to my biochemistry."
"Perhaps it will be one day," Felless said. Ttomalss watched her try to hide surprise; Kassquit was young, but far from stupid. Felless went on, "Rabotevs and Hallessi travel between the stars--no reason Tosevites should not as well."
"I hope you are right, superior female." Kassquit turned small, immobile eyes toward Ttomalss. "May I be excused, superior sir?"
Was that shyness or a desire to return to the game? Whatever it was, Ttomalss yielded to it: "You may."
"I thank you, superior sir. I am glad to have met you, superior female." After another respectful bend, Kassquit left, tall and ridiculously erect.
"Brighter than I expected," Felless remarked once the Big Ugly was gone. "Less alien-seeming, too; far less so than the Tosevites in the images I have seen."
"That is by design, to aid in integration," Ttomalss said. "The body paint, of course, designates Kassquit as my apprentice. The unsightly hair at the top of the Tosevite's head is frequently clipped to the skin. When Kassquit reached sexual maturity, more hair grew at the armpits and around the genital area, though Kassquit's race is less hairy than most Tosevites."
"What is the function of these hairy patches that emerge at sexual maturity?" Felless asked. "I presume they pertain to reproduction in some way."
"That is not yet fully understood," Ttomalss admitted. "They may help spread pheromones from odorous glands in these areas, but Tosevite reproductive behavior is less closely tied to odor cues than our own."
"Are these creatures truly accessible to one another at all seasons?" Felless asked. A wriggle said what she thought of the idea.
But Ttomalss had to answer, "Truly. And they find our way as strange and repugnant as we find theirs. I confess that, despite my scientific objectivity, I have a great deal of trouble grasping this. Surely our way is far more convenient. You are not in season; my scent receptors know as much; and so you are simply a colleague. No complications involved with mating need arise."
"And a good thing, too," Felless exclaimed. She and Ttomalss both laughed at the absurdities of the Big Uglies.
"Home." Kassquit tasted the sound of the word. Home was more real in the Tosevite's mind than Tosev 3, around which this ship had orbited longer than Kassquit had been alive.
Tosevite, Kassquit thought. That's what I call myself. And why not? That's what I am.
It didn't seem right. It didn't seem fair. Without this preposterously large, preposterously ugly body (Kassquit knew the nickname the males of the Race--and, no doubt, this new female, too--had for Tosevites), the good brain inside this strangely domed skull might have accomplished something worthwhile. Oh, it still might, but that was far less likely than it would have been otherwise.
"If I had been hatched on Home ..." Kassquit said. And how many times had that thought echoed and reechoed? More than Kassquit could count. Did I ask for this body? Spirits of Emperors past, did I? The eyes that looked down at the metal floor could not slew in turrets. And is that my fault?
Every step Kassquit took was a reminder of alienness. This Tosevite body would not bend forward into a proper posture--or what would have been a proper posture for anyone else. And the lack of true claws on Kassquit's fingertips was another inconvenience. Ttomalss had turned out prosthetics that made operating machinery much easier. A proper member of the Race, though, would not have needed prosthetics.
I am not a proper member of the Race. I am a Tosevite, brought up as if I were a proper member of the Race, or as close to a proper member of the Race as I can be, given my limitations. Oh, how I wish I had no such limitations. I am part person, part experimental animal.
Kassquit did not resent that. The Race needed experimental animals, to learn how to live with and eventually rule the tempestuous Tosevites. Ttomalss had said as little about the natives of Tosev 3 as he could. From the small things he had let fall now and then, Kassquit understood what an honor, what a privilege, it had been to be selected for this role. Life as a Tosevite peasant? Kassquit's mouth dropped open in scornful amusement at the idea.
A small sound escaped Kassquit's mouth along with the laugh. I should have better control, Kassquit thought. I usually do have better control, but I am upset. Ttomalss had said that Tosevites showed amusement with a noise rather than in the Race's far more sophisticated, far more elegant fashion.
I do not want to act like a Tosevite! In no way do I want to act like a Tosevite! I am one, but I wish I weren't!
Some things could not be helped. Posture was one. Skin was another. Kassquit ran one hand along the other arm. I should be a dark greenish brown like a proper male of the Race, or even, I discover, a proper female of the Race. Instead, I am a sort of pale yellowish tan color--a very disagreeable shade for a person to be.
"And my skin is smooth," Kassquit said with a sad sigh. "It will never be anything but smooth, I fear." Kassquit sighed again. When I was coming out of hatchlinghood, how I waited till it would be like the ones everybody else had. I didn't really understand then how different I was. The Emperor surely knows I do try to fit in as best I can.
The skin under Kassquit's palm was also faintly damp. Ttomalss had explained why that was so: instead of panting to cool the body, Tosevites used the evaporation of metabolic water. Tosev 3 was a wetter world than Home, which let the Big Uglies expend water so lavishly. Tosev 3 was also a colder world than Home, which meant the ship, whose climate was Homelike, seemed warm to Kassquit's Tosevite body and prompted the activation of the cooling mechanism.
It all made good sense. Ttomalss had patiently explained it over and over to Kassquit. It was, for Tosevites, thoroughly normal. It was also thoroughly disgusting, as far as Kassquit was concerned.
Other things about the Tosevite body were even more disgusting: the business of passing liquid waste as well as solid, for instance. That also had to do with Tosev 3's revolting wetness. Again, Ttomalss had been patience itself in explaining the reasons behind the differences.
"I do not care about the reasons," Kassquit muttered. "I wish there were no differences."
I'm not usually like this, Kassquit thought. Usually, I can see what makes me more like the Race, not what separates me from it. I wish I had not met Felless. Seeing someone freshly come from Home reminds me that I am not and I cannot be. That hurts. It hurts worse than I expected.
An itch on top of the head made Kassquit scratch. Very, very short hair rasped under the not-quite-claws at the tips of Kassquit's fingers. Hair was another nasty thing about the Tosevite body. I wish I did not have any, Kassquit thought. Smooth is bad. Hairy is even worse. Emperor be praised that I do get clipped regularly. I wished I could die when the hair started sprouting here and there on my body. Having to get my head clipped is humiliation enough. Add these other spots and it is almost too much to bear.
Ttomalss had been reassuring about that, too. The Race's research proved it was normal among Tosevites of about Kassquit's age. But it was not normal aboard the ship. It made Kassquit even more abnormal here.
What would I do without Ttomalss? Kassquit wondered. The male had been a guide, a teacher, a mentor, a hearing diaphragm to listen, for all of Kassquit's life. A hearing diaphragm to listen? I will not think about the strange curls of flesh at the sides of my head, nor about the holes inside them with which I hear. I will not think about them. I will not.
Trying not to think about something worked as well as that usually did. Kassquit touched an ear, then gave it a painful yank. Maybe I should have these clipped. It would not be too hard, and it would make me look a little closer to the way I should.
Ttomalss had not wanted to put a mirror in Kassquit's compartment. His argument had been that looking at such a different face would only lead to discontentment. "I will be more discontented if you do not treat me as if I were part of the Race," Kassquit remembered saying. "If I were a male of the Race, I would have one." Ttomalss had yielded; it was the first argument Kassquit had ever won from him.
The technician who had installed the mirror in the compartment had treated Kassquit like a male of the Race, all right. He had fastened it at a level that would have been perfect for a male of the Race. Kassquit had to stoop to see anything but the paint marking this unsatisfactory body's unsatisfactory torso.
Stooping, Kassquit thought, This is how I look. I cannot do anything about it. Small eyes, white with dark center, folds of skin at their inner corners narrowing them further still, without nearly the angle of vision the Race enjoyed. Kassquit had had strips of hair above them, too--Tosevite signaling organs, Ttomalss called them--but those strips got clipped with the rest. A projection below and between the eyes that housed the nostrils. An absurdly small mouth with mobile soft tissue around it and a wildly variegated set of teeth inside.
Out came Kassquit's tongue for a critical examination. It needed criticizing, all right, being short and blunt and unforked. Again, and not for the first time, Kassquit wondered whether surgery could correct that flaw.
"What is the use?" Kassquit said, straightening once more. "What is the use of any of it? They can cut this and clip those and maybe do some other things, too, but it will not help, not really. I will still look like--this."
Maybe Ttomalss had been right. Maybe the mirror should have stayed out. In the end, though, how much would it have mattered? I am a Tosevite. I wish I were not, but I am. With or without a mirror, I know it.
Kassquit went over to the computer terminal, put on false fingerclaws, and returned to the earlier game. But it didn't engross, as it had before going in to see Felless. Reality has a way of breaking in, Kassquit thought. The best thing about the computer is that is does not know--or if it does know, it does not care; it really does not care--I am a Tosevite. That is one of the reasons it's so much fun. As far as the computer is concerned, I am as good as anybody else. How can I go on believing that, even imagining that, after meeting a female straight from Home?
"Home," Kassquit said again, making the word a drawn-out sigh of longing. I know what to do. If I am presented to the Emperor, I know how to bend, I know all the proper responses. I would make Ttomalss proud.
Another open-mouthed laugh, this one, at least, properly silent. As if anyone would present a Tosevite to the Emperor! Kassquit paused. A Tosevite might be presented to the Emperor, but as a curiosity, not as a person who reverenced him as the Race and the Hallessi and the Rabotevs did. That was not good enough. It made Kassquit angry. I deserve to reverence the Emperor like anyone else!
"Calm yourself. You are growing too excited," Ttomalss would have said, had he been there and known what was in Kassquit's mind. Calm did not come easily; as Ttomalss had explained it, the hormones that produced physical maturation in Tosevites were also liable to produce mood swings wilder than any the Race experienced outside the brief mating season.
Ttomalss told the truth there as elsewhere, Kassquit thought. All things considered, I would sooner not have gone through maturation.
Another reluctant trip to the mirror. This time, Kassquit did not stoop, but sighed after looking away at last. Sure enough, the twin bulges of tissue in the upper part of the torso made the lines of her body paint harder to read than they should have been.
And that was far from the worst of the changes she had undergone. Growing the new patches of hair had been very bad. And, had Ttomalss not warned her she would suffer a cyclic flow of blood from her genital opening, she would surely have thought she was ill from some dire disease when it began. The Race suffered no such grotesque inconveniences. Ttomalss had arranged to bring Tosevite sanitary pads up from the surface of the world below for her. They worked well enough, but that she needed such things galled her.
But more upsetting even than that were the feelings coursing through her for which the language of the Race seemed to have no names. With them, for once, Ttomalss had been little help. Dispassionate remarks about reproductive behavior did nothing to slow the thudding of Kassquit's heart, the whistle of the breath through her, the feeling that the compartment was even warmer than normal.
She had found something that did. Her hand slid down along her painted belly. Of itself, her stance shifted so her feet were wider apart than usual. She looked up at the ceiling, not really seeing it, not really seeing anything. After a bit, she exhaled very hard and quivered a little. Her fingers were damp. She wiped them on a tissue. She knew she would be easier for a while now.
Use of this excerpt from COLONIZATION: SECOND CONTACT by Harry Turtledove may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: copyright © 1999 by Harry Turtledove. All Rights Reserved.