Chapter One of The Start of EternityEdit
The planet Tokishira was one of the few worlds open to visitors from other galaxies during the late Foundation Era... -Encyclopedia Galactica
"Welcome" to GalaxiaEdit
Standing at the edge of the spaceport's Grand Atrium, Engineer Lorn-Kru suddenly took notice of thons surroundings. Lorn-Kru was amused by the realization that it had been possible for thon to walk through crowds of humans while lost in thought and be unaware of thons busy surroundings. Thon had intentionally prepared thonself to stay focused on the NOW during this special day, but thon had failed to do so. Still, no harm had been done. One of the humans was standing close and speaking to thon. Lorn-Kru was glad that thon had never switched off the translating machine thon carried.
According to the translator, the human was saying, "Sir, are you lost? Do you need help? Can you understand what I'm saying?"
Lorn-Kru could not make the sounds of human speech, but thon made use of the translator and the machine was able to electronically synthesize a human voice, "Yes, I understand you. I was lost in thought. I am returning to my spaceship, which is at dock 65."
The human continued, "I see. Well, if you could, please step to one side...you are blocking the doorway."
Lorn-Kru had made a study of the written symbols used by humans. Thon now recognized that thon had stopped in front of a door marked as a restroom, a room that Lorn-Kru knew was generally used by humans a place for disposal of bodily wastes. Lorn-Kru could not remember which of the human words for male and female in Standard Galactic was which. For a moment thon tried to judge if the human who thon was speaking to was a male or a female. Lorn-Kru still had not gotten used to the great diversity of human forms. Thon had learned that humans were genetically varied and phenotypically displayed a wide range in body size and skin pigmentation. Further, humans decorated their bodies with artificial pigments and clothing in many styles. Annoyed by Lorn-Kru's vacuous look and failure to move, the human continued, "My child needs to get into the restroom."
Lorn-Kru now noticed that the adult human was hold hands with a smaller human, apparently its child. Lorn-Kru took a step to the side. The adult bent down and said to the child, "I'll be waiting right here." The child went into the restroom and the adult straightened back up and tried to ignore Lorn-Kru.
Lorn-Kru decided that the adult was a female human. When she had bent down to speak to the child, Lorn-Kru had seen down inside her loose fitting clothing. Lorn-Kru had required an explanation from Fint before thon understood the idea of breast feeding human young. They were discussing human male and female roles and Fint had commented, "Well, even my species has special rituals related to feeding the young."
Lorn-Kru had asked, "But feeding children...with...bodily fluids?" Lorn-Kru was sickened by the idea.
Fint had laughed at Lorn-Kru. "Oh, I see. You only think of bodily fluids as bodily wastes. In this case, it is a special nutrient solution." Lorn-Kru was still doubtful. Fint was surprised that Lorn-Kru was a complete dunce when it came to raising children. She asked, "How can the Social Engineering Guild send out operatives who have never thought about how to raise children? Look silly, even my body can make special nutrient secretions. In the case of my species, the females make eggs that contain a large amount of stored nutrients. Humans are rather unusual in that they feed their young with blood and milk."
Lorn-Kru did not want to believe what thon was hearing. "Humans eat blood?"
Fint asked, "Didn't you read the reports on human biology?"
Lorn-Kru explained, "I'm a geneticist who specializes in the genetics of social behavior."
Fint complained, "By which you mean adult social behavior. I can't believe that you don't concern yourself with child rearing. Isn't that adult social behavior?"
Lorn-Kru could not imagine why Fint was questioning the narrowness of his professional specialization. "Well, the behavior of child rearing is a sub-specialty. My specialization is in the area of inter-species social behavior. That almost always means adults interacting with adults."
Fint tried to explain the basics of human reproductive biology. "Look, humans do not eat blood. The human young grow inside a female's body, just as for your species. The mother's blood carries nutrients to the young."
Lorn-Kru asked, "So why do they need milk?"
"Milk is for after the young is born. Your species is like mine. We regurgitate food for our hatchlings. You chew food and feed the chewed food to the young."
Lorn-Kru explained, "Nobody does that anymore. Everyone uses prepared baby food."
"And I suppose your species was long ago genetically modified to have an aversion to giving chewed food to your young. That's a standard part of moving species away from their biological roots. All the reproductive instincts are gradually engineered away. But remember, the humans never went through that kind of genetic engineering. Milk is produced by special glands that release fluid directly from the female to the young human. Milk is not blood. Human blood is red and their milk is white. The large milk-producing glands of a lactating human are often the most obvious anatomical distinction between the human sexes."
Lorn-Kru commented. "It seems strange that the human name for this galaxy is 'Milky Way'."
Fint explained, "Think about it. Milk is white. A mass of stars in the night sky looks like a river of white, a 'milky way'. So yes, their name for their galaxy derives from their biology."
Lorn-Kru emerged from thons recollection of the conversation with Fint. Lorn-Kru glanced at the woman's chest and realized that thon should have noticed the curves of her breasts. This human female was probably still providing milk to her child and had enlarged milk-producing glands that served that purpose.
Lorn-Kru had been selected for today's mission out among the humans because thon was anatomically most similar to humans. The Ouwui body was different in many ways from that of humans, but both species were bipedal and Lorn-Kru had a very similar visual apparatus, although thon could only see in shades of gray. The woman had no trouble telling that Lorn-Kru was looking at her breasts. She was disgusted at the idea of this alien creature hanging out by the restroom and staring at her breasts. Finally her son emerged from the restroom and the two humans departed across the Atrium, the woman turning one last reproachful look at Lorn-Kru. Lorn-Kru was oblivious and totally unable to decode human facial expressions.
Lorn-Kru dismissed the human female and her child from thons thoughts. Thon had no doubt that it would have made more sense for thon to remain in a desk job where it was safe to drift into thought so deeply that all contact was lost with thons surroundings. However, the Social Engineering Guild was in need of field operatives and Lorn-Kru thrived on the excitement and stimulation that came from visiting new places.
Now shaken from contemplation of thons personal concerns that had not been resolved during this long and frustrating day, Lorn-Kru critically observed the hundreds of humans walking through the Grand Atrium. Some were moving deeper into the vast port complex and towards the berth where their ship waited, ready for departure. Others, just down to the planet from space, were exiting the Space Port, pleased to be again on a warm and hospitable planet .....safely done with their recent journey through the cold depths of space.
Lorn-Kru admired the smooth efficiency of the humans pulling their luggage around on little carts. On most worlds, such tote carts were automated devices that followed their owners and avoided collisions. Here, everyone seemed to do just fine without robotic assistance. It was, of course, impossible to tell just by looking, but there were also no humaniform robots here. In fact, when Lorn-Kru had first been briefed for this mission, the Social Guild analysts had been quite explicit about the near total lack of robots within human culture. On most worlds, it was not unusual for some people to travel with robotic assistants, particular the very young or very old. It was a mystery: why did humans make so little use of robots? Apparently humans only made use of robots for very dangerous jobs and those robots were never designed to have a human form.
Lorn-Kru pulled himself away from slipping into deep thought about human dislike for robots. Lorn-Kru remembered thons own small carrying case and shifted its weight to another tentacle. The case was not very heavy since it only contained the small device thon had used that day for translations. Had the humans not objected, thon would have brought along one of the ship's complement of robots to perform translations. It was true that a mobile robot was not needed just to perform translations, but Lorn-Kru had initially been surprised to find that a small special-purpose translation device was available in ship's stores. Really, how would the humans even know if there was a robot walking among them? No. Stop. Lorn-Kru was intrigued by the question, but now was not the time to sink into speculation about the human dislike of robots. Neither was it the time to wonder about the chain of events that made this the only known galaxy where none of the residents spoke the Standard Intergalactic language.
Besides the lack of signs in Standard Intergalactic and the extreme paucity of robotic devices, the scene within this space port was similar to what could be found on billions of other worlds scattered through thousands of galaxies. However, Lorn-Kru was thinking not of similarities to other worlds, but rather, of the differences, and there was a third major difference. Humans! There was nothing but humans. Since leaving thons own space ship earlier in the day, Lorn-Kru had only seen humans. Lorn-Kru was well-traveled and had visited hundreds of worlds. This was the only one with such a near-total lack of species diversity.
The chances were excellent that none of these humans who were walking past had ever previously seen a member of Lorn-Kru's species, the Ouwui. And when humans looked at the structure of Lorn-Kru's body and at the texture of thons alien skin, surely they should be shocked and surprised, if only for a moment. And yet, none of the humans gave a double-take or paused to stare at Lorn-Kru, not even the children. That was most odd.
Of course, humans were well aware of the existence of aliens and the fact that intergalactic travelers like Lorn-Kru sometimes visited human worlds. Such visits had been taking place for the past several centuries. Lorn-Kru had reviewed the historical record and knew that there had been some initial shock and surprise generated by the first contact between humans and alien space-travelers. However, humans had quickly adjusted to the fact that their species was not alone in the universe. The galaxy-wide human culture had smoothly adapted to the discovery that their galaxy was on the fringe of a vast inter-galactic culture that spanned thousands of other galaxies and was home for millions of other space-faring species. Still, it defied expectation....how could all these individual humans not react to their first personal encounter with an alien like Lorn-Kru?
As a Social Engineer, Lorn-Kru had a professional interest in the details of how the human species had adjusted to their discovery of the existence of aliens. Put bluntly, the situation seemed to be that humans were determined to try to ignore aliens and have as little to do with them as possible.
There was no questioning the fact that this planet, Tokishira, was a pleasant destination. And there was no reason to doubt that the same was true for the millions of other inhabited worlds of this galaxy. But visitors who came to this galaxy, the "Milky Way", from other galaxies were not made to feel welcome. Tolerated, but not welcome. For Lorn-Kru, this human attitude was both a mystery and a challenge to be confronted from a social engineering perspective.
The fundamental issue was that this galaxy only had one space-faring species. That was a perplexing fact.....very few other such mono-species galaxies had ever existed and certainly Lorn-Kru had never visited one. Almost all other galaxies had diverse and vibrant cultures with interesting mixes of at least dozens -and sometimes hundreds- of native species that had evolved biologically and developed technologically on their own home world. Adding to the diversity of the various galactic cultures was a steady exchange of visitors who traveled between galaxies. Humans, living in their mono-species isolation had built a rather boring and homogeneous galactic culture and worse, humans were distinctly xenophobic. Humans wanted nothing to do with alien species and had no appreciation for the cultural advantage derived from a diverse culture in which multiple species all worked together and shared the benefits of each species' special abilities.
Even while trying to focus thons thoughts on the immediate environment of the spaceport, Lorn-Kru's stream of consciousness slipped back to the first day of this mission, at the first meal with Captain Hooski. Hooski had emphasized the need to reveal the fundamental uniqueness of humans. "We are going to the human galaxy...think about that...an entire galaxy dominated by just one species. There is a great mystery to be solved. What is the unique feature of the human species that has allowed it to dominate an entire galaxy in a way that has never happened before in the thousands of galaxies we know of? What I'm asking each of you, what I'm demanding of you, is to be sensitive to this mystery. Keep your minds open and help me discover what is so special about humans."
Lorn-Kru tried to shake off all these thoughts. These puzzles could wait; they need not be resolve while standing in the spaceport. The task at hand was to put an end to this long day among the humans, to get home.
Lorn-Kru saw a relatively open path across the Atrium and started walking towards the wing of the space port where thons ship, the Many Sails waited. When observing crowds of humans, Lorn-Kru was continually amazed at how, even when densely packed into a public space, they were able to effortlessly move in quick streams that avoided all collisions. Lorn-Kru had seen hundreds of space ports and similar large, busy buildings where you were sure to frequently see two people trying to occupy the same floor space. Collisions were rare, but all other societies had little rituals of asking pardon when near-collisions occurred and small dances that were engaged in while collisions were avoided....humans seemed to have no need for such things. Was the key difference on this planet that there was almost only humans here with just a scattered few alien visitors such as Lorn-Kru? Lorn-Kru found it difficult to think constructively about these little puzzles without slipping back into the Ouwui deep thought mode. Lorn-Kru muttered, "Best I avoid that until I'm safely back on the ship." Still, it just was not normal to have an entire planet dominated by one species....or an entire galaxy.
Lorn-Kru finally arrived at the Many Sails. Thon admired the bold design of the little ship. What a welcome sight! At the top of the ramp, Lorn-Kru was greeted by the artificial life form that was the mind of the ship, "Welcome back, Engineer."
The ship's portal opened with a hiss and a faint clang. While entering the ship, Lorn-Kru replied, "Good to be back." Lorn-Kru removed thons clothing and stepped into one of the decontamination chambers along the wall of the airlock. The chamber quickly filled with viscous decontamination fluid. With thons vast experience from a long space career, Lorn-Kru no longer found it difficult to breath in the fluid and let thons lungs be scrubbed clean of any human germs that thon might have inhaled. Lorn-Kru relaxed and floated in the warm fluid, almost falling asleep before the chamber was drained and thon was blown dry.
Lorn-Kru came out of the decontamination chamber, dressed thonself in fresh clothing, then exited through the airlock into the main compartment of the ship. The air pressure and composition of Tokishira was somewhat different from the shipboard standard, but the airlock had automatically switched over from Tokishira air to standard air while Lorn-Kru was soaking.
The Many Sails was not a large ship. It was just a special purpose runabout for the Social Engineering Guild and had room for a crew of sixteen. Only six crew members had made this particular journey. Lorn-Kru and the rest of the crew found it perfectly normal that all six crew members were each of a different species.
Lorn-Kru walked up the Central Hall, intent on getting something to eat, but the ship had signaled Lorn-Kru's arrival to the rest of the crew. Down the Hall, Lorn-Kru saw the Captain emerge from the Main Salon. Captain Hooski waved and called down the hall, "We are in here."
Lorn-Kru said, "I'm going to grab a snack from the Galley. I'll join you in a moment."
In the Galley, Lorn-Kru found that Robot Jeed was just about done getting thons snack assembled. Lorn-Kru took it for granted that the artificial intelligence of the ship would have informed Jeed of Lorn-Kru's return and that Jeed would anticipate thons need for food after spending a day among the humans. Jeed held up a small tray and asked, "How is this? Would you also like dessert?"
Lorn-Kru took the tray. "Thanks, Jeed. This is fine. I'll be back later if I'm still hungry." Back in the Hall, Lorn-Kru paused and took a long drink of Decon4. According to regulation, Lorn-Kru was required to drink six vols of decontamination fluid during the next two hours. Decon4 was Lorn-Kru's favorite variety because it went down easily with no ill effects on thons digestive processes. A popular rumor was that some species tended to become addicted to decontamination fluid so it was purposefully made to have a repulsive flavor. Once again, Lorn-Kru gave thanks for the fact that the Ouwui species had such poor chemical senses....to thon, Decon4 had no flavor at all.
Upon entering the Main Salon, Lorn-Kru found the Captain and the rest of the crew engaged in a small argument. Lorn-Kru sat at the conference table and began to eat while picking up on the threads of the discussion. Astrogator Fint gave a brief wave to Lorn-Kru from across the table. Citizen Alkeirs looked at Lorn-Kru's food with disgust and turned away.
Demographer Wilry was speaking. Wilry was a member of a species, the Deltrijoshnypwannem, that could literally talk out of both sides of a complex mouth. When in groups with members of other species, Wilry usually just spoke with one voice at a time, but now, in the heat of an argument, Wilry's left-side mouth was trying to present a logical proposal while the right side-mouth kept interjecting little comments such as, "Yes!" and "That's right!" and "Good point!". Lorn-Kru found the commentary very annoying and wondered what could have gotten Wilry so upset. Wilry seemed to be speaking to the Captain.
Wilry said, "Yes, humans are xenophobic. I do agree the human dislike for aliens is not healthy, but I cannot believe that you are suggesting we try to do something about this state of affairs. We came here on a fact-finding mission. We have collected our data and now it is time to go home. Speaking for myself, I'm more than ready to go home rather than waste more time in this miserable galaxy. We should pass our observations on to the Guild and let the intergalactic community reach the appropriate conclusions from our data."
Historian Nadit Daanour tried not to notice what Wilry was saying with thons right mouth. Daanour and Wilry had worked together successfully on many long missions, and they knew how to get along with each other. They also felt free to disagree with each other without taking such disagreement too seriously. Daanour repeated thons position, trying to alter the examples thon used to make thons point, "We have many reasons to stay in this galaxy and complete additional investigations. Even if you can explain away the oddity of human domination of this galaxy, the total lack of other native intelligences, how can you accept the fact that we are not given freedom to visit other planets? I want to know what these humans are hiding. Humans are similar to the Oodeckru in their dislike for other species and-"
Captain Hooski gestured to Daanour and interrupted, "Hold on, Nadit. Let's hear if Lorn-Kru has learned anything new about our request to travel to other planets."
Lorn-Kru had a mouth full of food. After swallowing thon said, "I just spent the day talking to every petty office manager and bureaucrat I could find...and believe me, these humans never try to complete a job with 5 managers when they can involve 50. As best I can piece their story together, their official position seems to be that it is unreasonable for us to expect to visit the planets of our choice in this galaxy. They insist that we should be satisfied with the short list of human worlds that do welcome extragalactic visitors. When I complained that it is a very short list, the humans all disagreed, saying it is far longer than necessary. So, it does no good to argue with the humans, those few worlds are the only worlds we can visit."
This was the same story they had previously been told by the humans. As expected, nothing had been gained by making Lorn-Kru run around trying to talk to high ranking humans in person, but Daanour still did not like it. Daanour asked, "Just the planets that are already known to have been visited in the past?"
Lorn-Kru replied. "Exactly. Those are the only planets that allow extragalactic visitors. I could not even get someone to discuss the idea that an exception might be made for us."
The Captain asked, "You explained our research role? How can they object to visits by a small research team to a few additional planets?"
Lorn-Kru started to reply, but Citizen Alkeirs cut into the conversation. "More to the point, how could they stop us from visiting other planets? We could complete our mission and be on our way home before these petty bureaucrats knew what had happened."
The Captain said, "I'm not so sure about that. As far as we can tell, there are only humans on most planets of this galaxy. If we went to one of those planets, this crew would immediately be recognized as unwelcome aliens. We know humans are xenophobes. It might not be safe to ignore these travel restrictions."
Alkeirs grumbled, "I'd like to see these humans try to start a fight with the Social Engineering Guild. We have the force of 90,000 galaxies behind us. Someone needs to put these arrogant humans in their place."
Lorn-Kru said, "Yes, they are arrogant. They do not care what reasons we have for wanting to study this galaxy. They did not bother to make any threats, they just said we cannot visit other plants. We are allowed to travel to only those few worlds on the list we already have, the worlds that have already been visited by other intergalactic travelers." There was nothing else to report. Lorn-Kru continued eating.
Wilry and Daanour seemed ready to keep arguing for an extended period, but Captain Hooski was bored with the argument. "Fine. We tried to play by the rules of the humans. We all agree that they are hiding something. We have to try to make sense of this unusual situation. There is only one galaxy that has ever been allowed to remain dominated by a single species, the Home Galaxy." The Captain was a member of the Home Galaxy species, known as the Huaoshy, the first species that had developed hyperdrive and interstellar travel.
Starting hundreds of millions of years ago, the Huaoshy had sent out inter-galactic explorers and the Huaoshy home galaxy was now at the core of a vast and still growing intergalactic civilization that included nearly 100,000 galaxies. This human-dominated galaxy, the "Milky Way Galaxy", was near the frontier fringe of explored galaxies, but its anomalies were becoming increasingly uncomfortable and of concern to not just neighboring galaxies, but the Home Galaxy itself. Hooski had been instructed to learn how these humans had taken sole control of their galaxy, an anomalously rare occurrence.
Captain Hooski continued, "Wilry, I fully respect the fact that it is not likely we can learn much more about this galaxy. We are a small scouting expedition only and the humans are clearly set in their ways and unwilling to cooperate with us. However, this might be a situation where the flexibility of a small scouting ship has some advantages, so we will keep trying. Here are my orders. Break off from all your personal contacts with humans and terminate all research projects here on Tokishira. If asked, feel free to say that we are leaving this galaxy and heading for home. Do not mention that this is a trick. We will pretend to head for home, but then we will sneak right back into this galaxy and continue our mission."
Captain Hooski and Astrogator Fint immediately started discussing plans for a flight path out of the galaxy. They left the Main Salon and turned up the Central Hall towards the Command Pod. On the way out the door, Fint gave a flirtatious glance over her shoulder to Lorn-Kru.
Wilry and Daanour continued their argument and followed Hooski and Fint through the door and out of the Salon. Daanor's words seemed to echo as the door closed, "I suspect that you are more afraid of these humans than you care to admit."
For a moment Lorn-Kru contemplated Fint's behavior. Fint was a member of one of the rare species that had not gotten around to engineering sexual dimorphisms out of their species. Lorn-Kru, as a member of the Ouwui species, was a hermaphrodite. It amused Lorn-Kru that Fint could be sexually attracted to Ouwui. 
Alkeirs leaned against the table near Lorn-Kru. "Fint and I had a long chat today. You seem to be Fint's full-time infatuation."
Lorn-Kru knew that Alkeirs found Ouwui food repulsive. Lorn-Kru let the table dispose of the meal tray even though there was still some food left on it. Lorn-Kru said, "I'm not sure who is least suitable for this mission, Fint or Wilry. At the very least they provide two good excuses for ending this now and heading home and terminating this strange mission before it gets any stranger. Just once I'd like to be on a ship without annoying any quirky crew members."
Alkeirs did not like to hear Lorn-Kru talking nonsense. "Bah! You like playing games with Fint as much as Fint likes playing with you. And as long as Wilry has Daanour to argue with there's no need to worry about Wilry's ranting. You would be bored out of your mind without a few colorful crew members along for the ride."
Lorn-Kru asked, "What did you talk to Fint about, besides me?"
Alkeirs replied, "Mostly we talked about strategies for finding the human home world. We decided the best option is to do something illegal and then demand to face judgment by the central government."
Lorn-Kru had previously heard Alkeirs' theory that there must be a central human command structure. However, all humans who had been asked about such things seemed baffled by the concept of central government control. Humans prized distributed management and decision making. Today, Lorn-Kru had felt the pain associated with that, having to visit dozens of collaborating officials, none of whom claimed any authority or decision making capacity without close consultation with others of the same rank. As far as Lorn-Kru could tell, human bureaucracies were meshed rings of consultants for consultants who worked for subcommittees....and nobody seemed to remember who was on the original committees that had established the subcommittees.
Lorn-Kru repeated, "Do something illegal." Lorn-Kru knew Alkeirs as someone who often spoke bluntly and demanded direct action, but it was a surprise to hear that Fint was also thinking along these lines. "Such as what? What could we do?"
Alkeirs suggested, "It might be as simple as going to a planet where we are not welcome. Think of it, an entire planet full of humans who have never seen an alien. We would just need to send Wilry out to talk to the humans and wait for the resulting explosion."
Lorn-Kru was amused by the idea, but was not able to get too concerned with such brain storming about how to push the mission ahead. Lorn-Kru had long experience working with Captains who knew more than the grunts. Lorn-Kru had taken note of how Captain Hooski had just issued explicit orders for continuation of the mission and had basically ignored the debate between Wilry and Daanour. The Captain was not plagued by doubts or randomly casting about with a vague hope of being able to get the humans to stumble and let down their defenses.....Lorn-Kru suspected that Alkeirs was well aware of this. Lorn-Kru had noticed that Alkeirs enjoyed provoking Fint into wild statements and flights of fancy.
Almost certainly Alkeirs was a retired member of another guild and functioning as an Observer of this mission, a practice long permitted in order to promote inter-guild coordination. Still, Lorn-Kru and all the rest of the crew, as members of the Social Engineering Guild, were under orders from the Captain to treat Alkeirs as a suspected spy. Lorn-Kru had been on many previous missions of a more routine nature for which Guild Observers openly discussed their roles and functioned as integral members of the crew. There was very little routine about this mission. Alkeirs was a mystery and an indication of some sort of larger political intrigue behind this mission....mysteries that were well beyond Lorn-Kru's ability to penetrate. Lorn-Kru was easily bored by such mysteries and quite prepared to ignore them until they sorted themselves out. Lorn-Kru had long ago learned not to waste time worrying about such things. Some people liked to luxuriate in speculation, mystery and gossip, but not Lorn-Kru.
Lorn-Kru said, "Maybe, just by chance, intelligent life in this galaxy developed in an unusual way. Does it really matter if humans dominate this galaxy and want to be left alone? What can it hurt? What can we gain by pushing humans to adopt our cultural biases?"
Alkeirs replied, "You may be correct, but I cannot escape the feeling that any species and any culture this unusual is worthy of analysis. I'm glad we are not just going to run home now and abandon our work here in this galaxy. This should now start to get interesting."
Lorn-Kru stood up and made an excuse, "Jeed promised me desert. Care to join me in the Galley?" Lorn-Kru knew that Alkeirs would not even want to hear about Lorn-Kru's food, thus ending the conversation.
- ↑ There had even been preliminary research about how to engineer humans to become hermaphrodite and how to persuade humans to accept the change. Naturally all this was on hold while the humans were so unwelcoming.
Lorn-Kru returned to the Galley, but Jeed was not there. Lorn-Kru found Jeed in the adjacent dining room, making preparations for a formal dinner to celebrate their return to space. They had been on Tokishira for 19 days. At first Tokishira has seemed a welcome port after their long intergalactic flight, but it had not taken long for the luster of the world to wear off. Lorn-Kru's day of frustrations while out trying to find a way around the human-imposed planetary travel restrictions was the crowning glory for what had become weeks full of nothing but the crew's relentlessly unproductive grinding against the fixed routines of human society, human xenophobia and human cultural impenetrability.
Lorn-Kru sat at one of the three long tables in the dining room and soon Jeed brought thons favorite dessert, a carefully layered blend of warm and cold layers. The Ouwui species had been genetically engineered away from any sensory enjoyment of food, but after years among other species Lorn-Kru had developed an abnormal interest in food. Given the limited sensory capacity of thons species, extremes of texture and temperature were about all Jeed had to work with in trying to create interesting food for Lorn-Kru.
Just before Lorn-Kru had finished eating, Fint entered the dining room. The Ouwui auditory organ was a nearly complete ring-like a crown near the top of the head and Fint had discovered that it was fun to whisper into it. She leaned her body against Lorn-Kru and whispered, "I have a secret!"
Lorn-Kru automatically looked around the room in order to determine if Jeed was watching, even while knowing that Jeed took pains not to notice or comment on the silliness of biologicals. Lorn-Kru let a few of thons tentacle-like appendages wrap around Fint's body. Lorn-Kru was slowly learning what Fint found enjoyable and also learning that even an Ouwui could take pleasure in physical contact. Somehow, the fact that it was not contact with another member of thons own species made it exciting and seemingly justifiable as a kind of cross-cultural experiment. Lorn-Kru still had a preference for the intellectual activities that were the specialties of the Ouwui species, but now, after several weeks of these games, there was no longer any feeling of disgust from physical contact with Fint. As Alkeirs had observed, Lorn-Kru did enjoy playing these games with Fint. Lorn-Kru asked, "Do I get to guess the secret or are you going to just blurt it out?"
Fint snuggled against Lorn-Kru and took delight from being able to tease about the secret. "The Captain ordered me not to share this secret until we leave Tokishira and make our first jump through hyperspace."
Lorn-Kru had spent long years devoted to open and honest communication as a fundamental basis for understanding interspecies dynamics. When the requirements of the Guild's command structure forced Lorn-Kru to deal with secrets, doing so always provoked a sense of sadness and resignation to forces that were beyond control. But now the "games" played with Fint were giving Lorn-Kru new insights into unusual possibilities for interspecies relationships. And also possible ways to ignore orders? Lorn-Kru had gone to the trouble of researching sexual flirtation as practiced by the Guiphoa and thon had developed the idea that courting couples did not keep secrets from each other. Thon asked, "Would you really keep a secret from me?"
Fint replied, "Since we are trapped here onboard this little ship and I'm sure that Many Sails reports everything we say to the Captain, I think I should keep this secret. But you will know soon enough. We'll be off planet and into our first jump before you can get too frustrated."
Lorn-Kru offered Fint the last bite of thons dessert. She bravely choked it down but it was clear that she found it not to her liking. She said, "As soon as we are in space the Captain will expect us all to be here for one of thons mandatory formal dinners. And, sadly, you've already eaten."
"That's fine, I can do my part in the ritual without eating. It will save poor Alkeirs from being exposed to my food again. Hooski only forces us all to eat together for very few special occasions: it could be much worse. I've served under other captains who expected crew attendance regularly at meals. In theory, once a crew gets over all of the food aversions and incompatibilities then they are supposed to be bonded as a team that can deal with any adversity. But behavioral studies show that theory works for only some species. Nearly as many species are only sickened by interspecies-dining experiences and never can adapt to it. Captain Hooski, as a Huaoshy, has more sense than many other ship captains."
Fint commented, "This is why I like you so much Lorny! Since this is my first mission outside my home galaxy I'm just learning about the challenges that come from mixing together species from different galaxies. You know so much about that...and you are willing to share what you know with me. You are such a sweetheart!"
Lorn-Kru cautioned, "Do not expect too much from me. The type of social engineering I have studied and practiced was developed for the purpose of allowing multiple intelligent species from many worlds in a galaxy to all cooperate and enrich their galactic culture. That kind of multi-species cooperation can be managed under the conditions of a galaxy in which several dozen species evolve on different planets and then come together to form a unified galactic culture. But intergalactic harmony is a problem of a different magnitude. There are millions of known intelligent species and many more specialized genetically engineered variations of those original species. There is no practical way to ensure harmony between so many species. An odd aspect of this mission is that there was no effort to put together a crew composed of compatible species."
Fint had heard Lorn-Kru discuss these ideas before and she found them fascinating. "I've never heard people in my home galaxy discuss these kinds of intergalactic issues. I'm so lucky to be on this mission-" She leaned close to Lorn-Kru's ear, "-and to have found someone like you who puts up with me and my silliness!"
Lorn-Kru was not surprised to hear that people in Fint's home galaxy were rather unsophisticated about intergalactic issues. "Most people in any galaxy do not pay close attention to intergalactic travel. It just takes too long to travel between galaxies and when you get to a distant galaxy is anything really any different and worth the trouble of such a long journey? No."
Fint had heard that argument previously, but did not trust the conclusion that intergalactic travel was more trouble than it was worth. "Actually, it does not take all that long to reach other galaxies. I once went on a mission from one side of my home galaxy to the other. That took almost as long as our trip to this galaxy."
"Well, yes, but you are comparing the longest duration intra-galactic trips to intergalactic journeys. It is more fair to compare the typical interstellar journey to the typical intergalactic trip. Most people who travel between stars only visit other nearby stars, typically no more than 1000 light-years away from their home world. Such trips usually take just a few days and many require only a single jump through hyperspace. No doubt, the fact that you had completed that long trans-galactic trip helped qualify you for this intergalactic Guild mission...." Lorn-Kru brushed the tips of a patch of digital tentacles against her soft skin. Lorn-Kru felt nothing from touching such a soft and smooth surface, but the touching clearly pleased Fint. "....along with the fact that you naturally get along with other species."
Fint added one more item to the list of her qualifications, "And no male of my species has ever really loved me. I'm perceived as something of a freak by my own people. Of course, they've always been polite about it, but I've never really fit in with my own species. So why not try sending me off to a distant galaxy and away from my own kind?"
At that moment Lorn-Kru and Fint noticed the low rumble that marked the departure of Many Sails from the surface of Tokishira. Lorn-Kru briefly thought of the approaching irksome ordeal of the mandatory formal dinner that had been ordered by the Captain. Lorn-Kru knew it was time to get into uniform, but thon tried not be deflected by duty and, rather, remain focused on Fint.
Lorn-Kru was trying to understand the courtship and mating patterns of the Guiphoa, but who, besides the Guiphoa themselves, could really know what they found attractive in a mate? Lorn-Kru thought of Fint as a natural extrovert, which seemed to be an important part of what was expected to ensure one of friends and a chance to breed a family within Guiphoa culture. It was hard for Lorn-Kru to imagine that Fint would not have experienced many positive relationships with friends and lovers. But Lorn-Kru could not rationally hold tightly to what was surely little more than a simplistic and shallow self-imagined set of hunches and guesses about the nature of Guiphoa culture and Guiphoa sexuality. Lorn-Kru was not very familiar with the Guiphoa, had never heard of them before meeting Fint and was cut off from access to any library of professional analysis and assessments of the species. The limited data banks available on Many Sails only held a few gossipy and unprofessional accounts of Guiphoa sexuality.
There was usually no point in mixing together hermaphrodites and sexual dimorphs on a Social Engineering Guild mission; sexually dimorphic species were just too rare. Lorn-Kru had occasionally been part of a mixed crew but in such cases there were usually at least half a dozen sexually dimorphic crew members who would naturally socialize with each other.
For Lorn-Kru's own species, the mating process was fully intellectualized, so it was natural for Lorn-Kru to bring analytical detachment to thons professional work in social engineering even when that work involved a problem touching on the sexuality of some species. Most species were genetically engineered to be hermaphrodidic and, like the Ouwui, only able to think about reproduction in a highly intellectualized way. In general, there were too few available sexually dimorphic social engineering analysts to handle all the social engineering projects for species with sexual dimorphism. The statistics were clear; sexually dimorphic species required a disproportionately high amount of social engineering...it was a difficult and never ending problem to integrate such minority species with the majority hermaphrodite culture. And who in their right mind would trust a hermaphrodite to understand the subtleties of sexuality? "Fint, I'm a complete amateur when it comes to thinking about your species. I'm trying to learn, but given my life time of existence within the dominant hermaphroditic culture, I'm clearly not a good source of insights into your life and your species."
Fint gave one of Lorn-Kru's tentacles a reassuring squeeze. "You are sweet to play my little games. Some day I'll tell you why males of my species dislike someone like myself, but for now, that is not important for us and our relationship. As for why I was selected for this mission, I guess I really understood that as soon as I was out on Tokishira among humans....my species has many similarities to humans. Captain Hooski must have selected me with hopes that I would provide useful insights into human culture."
Lorn-Kru found that idea hard to accept. It seemed more likely that Captain Hooski has selected Fint for technical expertise in astrogation. Further, Lorn-Kru felt that the human and Guiphoa species were not really very similar. Yes, they both had two sexes, but the two species were morphologically of two fundamentally different types. Guiphoa were quadrupeds with a centralized apical combination tentacle, genital and sensory stalk not at all like the human head structure at the top of a slim bipedal body. "I'm glad to hear that you feel comfortable among humans. They are polite, but in my experience, totally uncompromising towards aliens. I doubt I will ever come to feel any rapport with humans....I have not found it possible to make an intellectual connection with them."
Fint made rattling noises by blowing air out her respiratory tentacles. "I'm infinitely more emotional and intuitive than you, my dear. You stick to your specialty of abstract genetic analysis, and trust my intuitions on this. It's not the animal form that is important; I'm talking about instinct and motivation. In those areas humans have important similarities to my species. Yes, I think I can be useful in our attempts to understand humans."
Lorn-Kru threw some tentacles upwards in a gesture of resignation. "Of course I trust your instincts in such matters, my dear Fint. You well know that my species has gone to extremes in genetically engineering ourselves to be mostly free of emotions and highly specialized for certain types of intellectual activities. And certainly all the rest of us on this ship, as hermaphrodites, will welcome your insights into humans from your shared perspective as species with distinct male and female forms."
Fint warned Lorn-Kru, "Well, do not get too carried away in your attempt to flatter me. Don't expect too much from me. After all, you are correct, I'm just an astrogator, not a cultural analyst. In any case, I suspect Captain Hooski will do just fine using thons own intuitions. You know, the Huaoshy also developed as the only intelligent species of their home galaxy, just as humans did in this galaxy. That type of fundamentally mono-cultural bias is outside of the experience of most species. We should expect the Captain to take the lead in sorting out the puzzles provided to us by humans."
Lorn-Kru concured. "Yes, I agree that this entire mission seems like it could just become something to be settled between the Huaoshy and the humans. The Social Engineering Guild was selected as the sponsor of this mission, but with a Huaoshy Captain there can be little doubt that this is primarily a Huaoshy mission. It's hard to see any real purpose for the rag-tag crew that Hooski assembled....if we really had a serious job to perform there would certainly be many more of us, too."
Jeed had completed preparations for the approaching formal dinner and came to join Lorn-Kru and Fint at their table. "I'm not sure either of you noticed, but besides the fact that the Captain is Huaoshy, there is another unusual staffing feature of this mission."
Fint asked, "Do you mean that an unusually small crew was selected for this mission?
Jeed did not want to characterize the matter in that way. "That is just one side of the matter. Given your natural biases as biologicals, the two of you probably did not even notice that there is an abnormally large complement of robots on board."
Both Lorn-Kru and Fint were surprised to hear that. Lorn-Kru said, "I had not noticed. Are you sure?"
"Very sure. The 'extra' robots have mostly been keeping to themselves and staying in the un-used crew cabins normally reserved for biologicals."