Authors: Rebecca Ore
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Space Opera, #astrobiology--fiction, #aliens--science fiction
Published by Aqueduct Press
PO Box 95787
Seattle, WA 98145-2787
Digital Copyright © 2012 by Rebecca Ore
All rights reserved.
First publication: Tor, 1989
Digital ISBN: 978-1-61976-001-1
Cover illustration “Interspace” courtesy Cheryl A. Richey
© Cheryl A. Richey
“Easing Back to Earth”
The human woman, Yangchenla, lived with me on and off for three years while I learned what the Federation wanted me to know about dealing with other species of sapients. I was better, though, with the non-humans, even with difficult people like the Gwyngs, skinny, long-armed former bats with wrinkled fox faces—nervous, hypersocial—than I was with my own kind. I was afraid of my own kind, especially those descended from Tibetans, who’d been stranded on the Federation capital planet, Karst, five hundred years earlier. Asian rednecks. I was a Virginia redneck, so I’d been told when I was growing up, so it was a bad match.
After I kicked Yangchenla’s drunk uncle Trung out of our quarters, she really left me. Or did I leave her? Perhaps she would have come back again, but after two weeks alone, I couldn’t stand the space we’d shared: her Tibetan bed furs, her almost subliminal human female odor fading away from the clothes she’d left behind.
Granite Grit and Feldspar, two birds, let me move in with them and their son, Alchir-singra, who was still too young for a Federation working name. They were seven feet tall, wingless, feathered, with scales from elbow down to the hands, softer fingers than you’d expect, and different enough from me not to read my expressions closely. Another mobile-faced ape would have.
Yangchenla found me. I came back from a meeting with cadets I was supervising and saw her waiting in front of Granite’s door. “May I come in?” she asked, her flat face not really looking at
She’d wrapped her body tight, band squashing down her breasts, two layers of clothes over that. “Or don’t you associate with humans now?”
“I couldn’t take any more, Yangchenla.” I went to the refrigerator and pulled out a package of
strips like a cloudy bean aspic, more translucent and firmer than Terran bean curd. Feathers and scales littered the other alcoves of the T-shaped officers apartment, flecks of food, bill parings.
She probably wouldn’t want to eat in this mess.
“Would you like some Yauntro
“I got tired of you leaving and coming back, the arguments, so I moved here.” I sat down on a bird table, wiping aside slightly smelly feathers and flecks of rock churned crop food.
“Hiding from me?”
I didn’t answer that for a while, then said, “We weren’t officially mated.”
Yangchenla tightened her lips back. She brushed a bill paring off a hassock and sat down firmly.
I said, “Children are messy, whatever the species.”
She answered, “But most creatures do want them.”
“Yangchenla, what kind of a life would this be for a human child?” I speared a strip of
with a human fork. “Would you want him to be another second-class human hustling handicrafts?"
“I was born here.” She cut short what she was going to say. I’d told her several times that she was grasping and her drunk uncle a pest. They wanted me to get them privileges I hardly had for myself.
Granite Grit came home then with his son Alchir-singra. When Granite Grit saw Yangchenla, he became flustered, face feathers slightly roused, haws flicking translucently across his brown eyes, scaly fingers grasping Alchir firmly by the wrist. He looked at me and asked, “Should I come back later?”
Alchir said, “Nervous creature. Afraid of us?”
“Not of you,” Yangchenla said. “Of Tom.”
“Mammal squish brain,” Alchir replied before he picked up a bill paring knife and trimmed his beak.
“He’s bright for three, I think,” Yangchenla said.
Granite Grit’s face feathers puffed up even more, then he smoothed them down. "Alchir, come with me.” He grabbed Alchir’s pale yellow wrist.
Alchir stiffened, still staring at us mammals, until Granite Grit stroked his beak. He crouched and gaped at his father, begging for food, then ruffled his feathers, embarrassed. Alchir-singra’s parents got orgasmic pleasure from regurgitating into his gaping maw, and he was old enough to want no part of that. Granite, humming down low in his crop, preened Alchir’s head feathers, then pulled him along through the door.
Yangchenla thought the Federation had favored me while neglecting her own people. But the Tibetans couldn’t hack sophisticated interspecies culture when the Federation brought them to Karst 500 years ago. After one of them murdered an official, the Federation moved the whole Tibetan village to an undeveloped area on Karst Planet. Later, a few, like Yangchenla’s people, gained skills enough to be allowed to live in Karst City.
But I wouldn’t let her have another baby. She’d had a son earlier with a Tibetan and had been implanted with a birth control device. If the son died, she could have another. Her ex-husband had the son, off in the wilder parts of Karst. I refused to let her have my child.
God, she’d exploded when she found out. Yangchenla said now, “Gwyng lover. Black Amber, your wrinkled-faced blood drinker sponsor bitch.” The full accusation stayed unspoken this time.
Black Amber didn’t approve of Yangchenla. Yangchenla didn’t approve of Gwyngs either, the wrinkled faces who couldn’t speak her languages. It took massive transforming to make even Karst Two, the Gwyng communication code, comprehensible to most species And Yangchenla was a xenophobe.
“You’re a xenophobe. She’s my sponsor. And I told you I only helped keep the suitors in line at her matings.”
“I am not a xenophobe. She lets her babies die.”
“Yangchenla, I’ve got work to do. You’ve got a shop to run.”
“You’re a little boy, what serious work do you do?”
“I’ve got to keep a planet from bankrupting itself over advanced technology.”
She stood up slowly, her arms wrapped around her body, fingers dug into her upper arms. “We have lived without you for centuries.” Her body scents thickened in the room.
She went, “bah,” a sound she’d gotten from me, and left. I’d expected her to scream and throw things. Now, as she closed the door, I felt even more anxious, guilty.
I had private office space in a building originally designed for crepuscular sorts, now re-rigged with bigger windows and stronger lights, the retrofit not quite as highly carved as the original exterior and interior trim. I was there, half afraid Yangchenla would try to talk to me again, so lonely in some obscure way that I wished she would f
ind a Tibetan like me, an isolate. Then Karriaagzh called me to his office.
Karriaagzh was over eight feet tall, all hollow bones and mammal clothes damaged feathers, utterly alien. He sat on his backward bent hocks, reaching down under his tunic to pull loose a feather sheath from a new feather. He wasn’t Granite Grit’s species, but he shared a non-mammal single-mindedness. He was an isolate, truly alone yet so able to cope that he ran the Federation’s Contact Officiators Academy. I tended to be intimidated.
First Karriaagzh’s nictitating membrane swept his yellow eyes clean, then he stared at me as if memorizing any changes—Karriaagzh, eighty now, would outlive me, and mammal aging was said to fascinate him.
I said, “I was promised time on Earth once I finished the training.”
“We hoped you’d be happy with Yangchenla instead.”
“Your own people embarrass you?”
I didn’t say anything. Karriaagzh’s pupils contracted, eyes fixed, before he loosened his focus and said, “Tom, we’ll send you to do research on Earth. There’s a country there,
which faced high-tech challenge.” The yellow eyes looked up at the hanging light piece in his high office ceiling: twenty feet up, retrofit scars in the paneling showed the ceiling had been lower. He looked back at his desk terminal and wrote an entry with his light pen. The terminal display flashed maps and figures at him, so fast I couldn’t make them out.
experience have to do with Yauntra? They’re much more group-oriented than
I said. Then as his display continued flashing, I babbled, "Actually, I don’t know if I should really go back to Earth.” Going to visit Earth was my getting back on a horse that had stomped me. Bunch of primitive xenophobes in the Virginia hills who’d discarded me, left me for aliens to salvage.
Feathers around his beak twitched. “We have an observation house in
Tom, or Karst City." He gaped his beak at me slightly and rocked on his keel bone, the one that never anchored wings. “You can do research on how Japan reorganized itself to deal with machine culture, reacquaint yourself with your own species. Someday there’ll be official contact.”
“Maybe Black Amber would object to me going to Berkeley?”
still your sponsor, isn’t she?” He spat air. “She’s with History Committeeman Wy’um again. If she were my kind, her sexual behaviors might be moral, but as she’s not, they aren’t.”
Back at my office, when I keyed up my mail, a message crawled down the screen JOIN ME. I AM HERE. BLACK AMBER, SUB-RECTOR, ACADEMY AND INSTITUTES. The printer spat out a map. Amber was on a Gwyng island halfway around Karst.
The only way to get to that particular Gwyng island was by the Karst equivalent of air taxi, gate travel being blocked over most of Karst’s surface, so I went to one of the outlying airports and hired another brachiator, one of the ones with tri-colored head hair, to fly me in a narrow powered glider that Black Amber would pay for.
I flew across Karst’s empty spaces at night, dark below me, the sky lighter, glittering with star clusters and miniature suns. Most of the planet was just there to physically support Karst City; an artificial planet requires less maintenance than a space station. Dotted across the black were lights where various high Federation types like History Committee Members and Sub-Rectors had outlying residences. The farms were closer to the city. For five thousand years plus, the ecosystems, the carefully placed oceans and landmasses, managed themselves with minimal grooming by us intelligent beings. Each time I flew across Karst, I thought of what a massive thing it was, how small the life forms that built it.
The plane landed at an airstrip on what would have been the planet’s Pacific Ocean, if I was oriented correctly. I don’t really know—Earth is probably upside down as well as backward in relation to Karst.