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Chapter 2



There are some 22,000 living Hakh'hli aboard the vast interstellar ship but there is only one of Sandy Washington. So sometimes he feels outnumbered. It isn't just that he is alone. He is also—not counting food animals—by a long way the smallest grown-up living thing on the ship. An adult Hakh'hli may mass anywhere from 350 to 750 pounds, depending on age and the purpose it was bred for. Power plant and outside-of-ship workers, for instance, are almost as big as the oldest Major Seniors, though for occupational reasons they seldom live anywhere near as long. Though all Hakh'hli have the same basic body pattern—short, supple forelimbs; long, pointed face like a collie's; huge hindlegs as powerful as a kangaroo's—some of the specialized types have stronger hands or shorter tails or even no tails at all. The Hakh'hli hand has three fingers, plus two thumbs and a stubby, hard-clawed digit called a "helper." It looks quite like a human hand, but with the helper emerging from what would be the heel of the hand in a human. If the Hakh'hli on the ship are diverse, the many times as many Hakh'hli on their home worlds are far more so—partly because they have more various purposes to meet, partly just because there are so many more of them. In all, there are in excess of one trillion Hakh'hli on the planets of their native sun and of the two nearby star systems they have colonized. No Hakh'hli on the ship has ever seen any of those other trillion. Nor have any of the trillion seen that ship, not since it began its voyage, 3000 Earth years ago.


Long before The Scarlet Pimpernel came to its heart-melting conclusion (the refugees safe, Leslie Howard triumphant, The Girl melting into his arms) the food cart arrived with their one great midday meal.

Sandy hung back from the rush. He had never learned to eat "properly," and all his friends in the Earth-mission cohort had regretfully concluded that he never would. His diffidence in rushing the food cart proved it, for a proper Hakh'hli didn't eat. He gobbled.

Sandy's cohort tore into the midday meal with gusto. They made a lot of noise doing it, too. While Sandy picked daintily at his slab of meat, his friends were snapping great chunks out of the carcass and stuffing lumps of tuber and fists-full of the flavored wafers in after. The long, powerful jaws crunched. The throat muscles gulped and swallowed. Sandy could see successive wads of lightly chewed dinner chasing each other down the throats of his friends. None of the Hakh'hli actually snatched from him the morsels he had cut away for himself, but he didn't expose them too openly. While they chewed they sucked in great quantities of the broth of the day, a sort of fishy consommé with lumps of wafer material floating in it. They sounded like half a dozen sump pumps going at once.

There was no such thing as dinner-table conversation among the Hakh'hli, nothing more than "Pass the broth bowl now!" and, "Hey, that bit's mine!" Sandy didn't even try to talk to them. He just sat patiently, cautiously nibbling at his own meal while he waited for the feeding frenzy to subside. In a few minutes it had. The great gobbets of food hit their respective stomachs. The Hakh'hli circulatory system rushed blood toward the digestive organs to meet the need for action. The chewing faltered and stopped, and one by one the Hakh'hli eyes went vacant, the Hakh'hli limbs went slack, and within five minutes every one of the Hakh'hli in Sandy's cohort was stretched out unconscious in "stun time."

Sandy sighed and walked slowly over to the food cart. Amid the wreckage there was still a fair-sized chunk of the hoo'hik meat, nibbled-at but undevoured, and several handfuls of the flavored biscuits.

He took what he could carry and wandered over to his personal carrel to finish his meal in peace. Having nothing better to do while his cohort was unconscious and digesting their meal he did what he liked best to do anyway. He watched a film.


The best part of Lysander Washington's life was also the most important part, because it was watching the old recorded television programs from Earth. He had to do that. Everybody in his cohort did, because that was how they learned Earth language and Earth ways. He also loved it. The way he liked best to do it was to curl up next to Tanya or Helen or even, if she was in a good mood that day, Polly, enjoying the smells of their scales and the warmth of their bodies, at least ten degrees hotter than his own. Together they would watch documentaries and newscasts, because they were instructed to, but when they had free choice it would be "I Love Lucy" and "Friends of Mr. Peepers" and "Leave It to Beaver." They weren't good recordings. They had been recorded originally from up to a dozen light-years away; in fact, they were the electronic signatures, picked up by the ship's always-scanning sensors, that had first alerted the Hakh'hli to the fact that there was intelligent, technological life on some planet of that little G-2 star their telescopes had located.

The old family-style television sitcoms were always fun, but they made Sandy a little wistful. Sometimes he wondered what his life would be like if he had grown up on Earth, with human companions instead of Hakh'hli. Would he have played "baseball"? (Out of the question on the ship. They didn't have the room. Or the players. Or a mild enough gravity to be able to hit a ball as far as Duke Snyder and Joe DiMaggio did.) Would he have "hung" around with his "pals" at the "malt shop"? (Whatever a "malt" was. None of the TV chefs had ever made one, and the Hakh'hli experts hadn't been able to decide even if it ought to be sweet or sour.) Would he—maybe—have had a girl?

That was the biggest question in Lysander's mind. To have a girl! To touch one (the touch was "like fire," "like an electric shock"—how could those things be pleasant? But it was said they were), even to kiss one (kisses sweeter than wine! Whatever wine was), even to—

Well, to do whatever it was that humans did when they were in sexual phase. Exactly what that was he wasn't sure. He knew what the Hakh'hli did; he'd watched the other members of his cohort often enough when they were sexual. Did humans do the same? Unfortunately he couldn't know. If there were porn channels for TV on Earth, the ship's receivers had never picked one up. It was apparent that human males and females kissed. They did that a lot. They took off each other's clothes. They got in bed with each other. Sometimes they got under the covers and the covers moved about quite a lot . . . but never once did they throw the covers back to show what made those busy lumps go bump.

Every night Lysander dreamed. Almost all the dreams were the same. They were populated with female humans who knew exactly what to do—and did it. (Though he never could remember, when he woke up, exactly what it was they had done.)

Sooner or later, the Seniors promised, Lysander would be back on Earth, with all its nubile female humans. He couldn't wait.


Sandy switched off the film he had chosen—it was called Jesus Christ, Superstar, and it was too much of a puzzle to watch alone. From his private locker he took out the photograph of his mother and looked at it. She was so beautiful! Slim, fair, blue-eyed, lovely—

The only thing that troubled Sandy was that although he knew from Earth films that men often carried pictures of their mothers and displayed them in moments of great emotion, he had never in any of those films observed that one of the mothers had been photographed in the nude. That was a puzzle that none of his cohort, or even the Hakh'hli scholars who had spent their lives trying to understand the ways of Earth people like himself, had been able to help him solve. It seemed improper to him. It was more than improper, it was confusing—because when he looked at his mother's picture, so fair, so bare, so inviting, he had exciting, unbidden thoughts that, he was nearly sure, were not at all appropriate to the situation.

He could not understand why that was.

He was not going to understand it today, either, he decided. His meal finished, he carried the crumbs back to the messy cart and returned to the carrel to get back to work on his poem.

Sandy didn't remember drowsing off and wasn't aware that he had until he woke with Obie standing over him. "You're turning into a real Hakh'hli," Obie told him, approving of the after-meal nap. "What've you got there?"

"It's just a poem I wrote," Sandy said, covering it up.

"Come on, let me see it. We always show you ours."

"It isn't ready," Sandy protested, getting up just in time to see Polly lumbering toward them irritably.

"Lysander," she accused, "you didn't clean up after the meal. Next thing you know we'll have bugs here, and then we'll have to get the hawkbees in."

Sandy was stung by the injustice. "Why are you blaming me? Why am I always the one who has to clean up?"

"Because you're the one who doesn't sleep. You know that."

"Well, today I did sleep. I didn't have time to clean up."

"You had time to write a poem," Obie pointed out treacherously. He turned to Polly. "He won't show it to me, either. He says it isn't finished, but it looked finished enough to me."

"Let's see the poem," Polly commanded, pinching her thumbs together in a meaningful way. Resentfully Sandy passed it over as the rest of the cohort, yawning and stretching, straggled toward them.


Oh, my

almost forgotten

terrestrial homeland!

I dream of you each day

and think of you asleep

and wish the experience

of treading upon your

soil would come, O




it has the

pretty old



"It's an attempt to write a Hakh'hli poem in the English language," the poet explained nervously.

"Hum," Polly said, not committing herself.

"I think that's pretty hard to do," Bottom commented.

"Maybe it's not worth doing at all," Helen put in. "It's not the same thing as a real poem, you know. Those wriggly little characters are just ugly."

"Besides," Obie, the astronomer, added, thumping the notepad with his clenched fist, "you've got it all wrong. The proportions are inaccurate. The Moon ought to be a lot smaller."

"I couldn't fit enough words in that way," Sandy said defensively.

"Then you just should have made the Earth bigger, of course. And both of them are flattened out more than they ought to be. They look more like the one they call 'Jupiter.'"

Sandy snarled, "It's a poem. It's not an astronomy lesson!"

"Yes," Polly said severely, "but you ought to get it right. Also, how can the Earth be 'forgotten'? You couldn't forget it. You weren't ever there to remember it, were you? We picked your parents up in space."

"That's poetic license," Sandy said stubbornly.

Polly lashed her tongue at him in reproof. "Poets don't have license to tamper with the facts," she informed him. "Hakh'hli poets don't, anyway, and it doesn't make any difference if Earth poets do, does it? Now, no more of this! I vote we watch some films until MyThara comes back."

But the films the cohort chose to watch were not a kind that Sandy liked. They were all about wars and terrorism, and all those other nasty things humans were known to have done to each other in the twentieth century. When MyThara returned the cohort was quarreling about them. She paused in the door, frowning, as Bottom told Sandy judgmatically, "I think that your Earth governments are fools."

Sandy said sullenly, "You don't understand, is all. They probably had their reasons for what they did."

"What reasons, Sandy? Killing each other? Destroying farms, when neither side has enough food to live on? Spreading poisons? This is not a government of wise leaders who have been bred and trained for the purpose, like our Hakh'hli Seniors. Have you ever seen such outrageous things here on the ship? The hoo'hik tenders attacking the extravehicular workers, for instance?"

"The hoo'hik tenders would be slaughtered if they did," Obie put in. "Those extravehiculars are tough."

"That isn't the point! The point is that such a thing could not happen here on the ship. Hakh'hli do not behave so wantonly."

Sandy stuck to his defense. "It's a lot easier to govern a few thousand people than a couple of billion."

"Oh? Indeed?" Bottom licked out his tongue sarcastically. "And on our Hakh'hli home worlds, where there are a thousand times a billion, have you ever heard of such warfare?"

"I don't know anything about what's going on in the Hakh'hli home worlds," Sandy said belligerently, "and neither do you. When was the last time this ship had any communication with them?"

But that was going too far. Even his friend Obie twitched resentfully, and MyThara gasped, "Thandy! How can you thpeak tho?"

"But it's true," he said, and then clamped his mouth shut. He didn't mind giving offense to his cohort-mates, but MyThara was someone he loved dearly.

"Dear Lythander," she said seriously, "you shouldn't talk lightly of the wortht tragedy in our hithtory. Don't you remember what you have been taught?"

He gave her a repentant look. "I'm sorry, MyThara." He knew perfectly well that every Hakh'hli in the ship mourned the long-ago day when the Major Seniors of the time, after bitter soul-searching, had made the decision for the ship to go on with its mission even after it had lost contact with the Hakh'hli home worlds.

Obie put in loyally, "He's just nervous because it's getting close to the time for visiting Earth. He even wrote a poem about it."

"Oh? Show me the poem," MyThara requested. When she had read it she flung her stubby arms around Sandy and gave him an affectionate lick. "It ith a beautiful poem, Lythander. May I have a copy? Oh, thank you! I will keep it in my own netht ath long ath I live. But now, pleathe, it ith work time. We will thtart with buddy thythtem, ath uthual. Lythander, you go firtht with Polly and talk railgun."

The seven in Sandy's cohort had a whole planet to learn—Earth language, Earth customs, Earth ecology. Plus all the things every young Hakh'hli had to learn as part of his normal socialization. Plus, for each of them, the harder lessons of his own specialty. Demmy's was agronomy. Bottom's was aerosol and food chemistry. Polly's was piloting and magnetic engineering. Tanya's was genetic manipulation. Obie's was astronomy and stellar navigation. Helen's was chelation, vitrification, and crystal-bonding—in other words, the processes involved in containing toxic and radioactive materials. What Sandy had to learn was easier, but larger. He had to understand something of all the other's skills, as they all did, for there was always the chance that somehow in the actual Earth mission one of them would be lost. But Sandy had to learn a little more than the rest, because he would be the one to make first contact with the Earth people, and he had to know what to say.

Polly was not Sandy's favorite to learn from, since she got rough when he was slow to grasp his lessons. As soon as they were alone in her own carrel she commanded, weeping with anticipation of his getting it wrong, "Explain the purpose of the railgun."

"All right," he said in resignation, "but no pinching, okay?"

"Maybe not. Get on with it!"

Sandy hunkered down crosslegged beside her—not too close—and began. "In return for all the good things that the Hakh'hli will do for the Earth humans, we ask only a few favors, for example that they help replenish our supplies of some stock things of no great value to them. We ask for oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen in particular. To get these to us, you will show them how to construct a sloping rail system, magnetically driven, which will accelerate canisters of water and solid carbon—they call it 'coal'—to the ship's orbit."

"Why do we need those things?"

"They are fuel," he said promptly. "All of those elements are to fuel the lander, which is driven by hydrogen peroxide and alcohol fuel, and additional hydrogen is also wanted for reaction mass for the main drives. Do you want me to tell you how the railgun works?"

"I exactly do, Wimp. In detail and no mistakes."

He inched a bit further away, cocking an ear to listen to the background music. It was one of his favorites, an Earth song called "The Man I Love." He could not help fantasying some female human singing it to him, but he said nothing because Polly would simply have ordered it turned off. "The railgun is to be built somewhere on the Earth's equator, to take advantage of the planet's rotation—"

"Which is pretty slow," Polly put in scornfully. The Hakh'hli ship day was only seventeen and a bit Earth hours long.

"Yes, but their gravity is only about seven-twelfths normal," Sandy pointed out, "so that makes the launch easier. The railgun will be six what they call miles long, ending at an elevation two miles over the surface. It will be best if they build it on the 'west' slope of a mountain. Every twelfth of a twelfth-mile along it there will be a magnetic hoop, each of which is charged in succession. The magnets will be superconducting-wound and will probably require the construction of a whole electrical power plant to supply them—"

"Not nuclear, though. We don't want to encourage them to do nuclear."

"Polly," Lysander said carefully, "these are my people we're talking about, not hoo'hik. They will do what they want to do." He ducked away as her thumbs reached warningly toward him, but he was saved a pinch as MyThara called out.

"End of period. Thwitch partnerth now," she ordered. "Lythander, now you will go to Oberon for athtronomy."


By the time of the eighth twelfth-day they were all exhausted and ready for the evening "cookies and milk."

This was not a time of relaxation, though. On MyThara's orders, they spent it practicing fast food. Demmy and Tanya took their turns at working the counter, and the others collected their "money" and lined up with their orders. "Cheeseburger, small fries, vanilla shake," Sandy ordered, calculating the cost in his head and pulling out two "dollar bills" and seven "quarters."

Demmy looked at him angrily. "You should give me three 'dollar bills' and three 'quarters,'" he complained, but Sandy stood his ground.

"I want to get rid of some change," he explained. He'd seen that in one of the taped sitcoms. Demetrius scratched his thumbs across his belly irritably, but he took the money, counted it out, and produced twenty-two "pennies" in change.

"I want to get rid of change, too," he said, weeping triumphantly.

Well, that wasn't fair. The counterpeople weren't supposed to get rid of change, Sandy was quite sure. But he didn't want another fight with Demmy, so he took his tray over to a table and sat there, examining the food. The "hamburger" was all right; it was simply ground up food animal. The "cheese" was another matter. From the cooking programs on Earth television it was known that "cheese" was something you made by letting milk sour and then doing a number of things to it. No one had determined just what sort of microorganisms did the souring, though, and so, as always, Sandy carefully lifted the slice of "cheese" off his meat and deposited it on the side of the plate. The "bun" was not a real bun—all experiments at producing something edible out of ground carbohydrates had failed. It was simply a slice of tuber, shaped like a hockey puck and warmed; not really bad. The "fries" were more of the tuber, cooked in hot grease, and Sandy had developed a real taste for them. (He never bothered with the "ketchup" or the "mustard." Whatever the real things were like, the Hakh'hli imitations were horrible.)

The "shake" was the real daunter. It was made with hoo'hik milk, that much was clear. The rest was incomprehensible. This time it was flavored, unfortunately, more or less like the "cheese."

Sandy forced it down, hoping he wouldn't get sick. There was no stun time after so light a meal, and that was fortunate. Just as they were finishing, ChinTekki-tho, their principal tutor, came in. Polly daringly stopped him to display Sandy's poem before he could speak to the group. He didn't reprimand her. He seemed in a very good mood. He complimented Sandy. "No, it's quite a good poem, Lysander. That is, considering. It's very difficult to write a good poem in a bad language, after all. However," he added, "that is not why I am here to intrude on your evening snack. I was unable to be with you this morning because final plans are being made. Soon you will appear before the Major Seniors!" There was a stir of excitement in the group; no one got to see the Major Seniors! "Meanwhile, I have 'watches' for you."

"Watches," Polly said doubtfully, but already he was passing them out, metal things on straps that the cohort examined curiously.

"You put them on your arms to tell time," he explained. "From now on, you are all to begin reckoning your days in Earth time. The research section has informed me that it is now twenty-three 'minutes' past four 'a.m.' on what is called 'Wednesday, July twelfth' in your landing site, and the watches have been set accordingly." He paused while the cohort studied the dials, then added softly, "On Monday, July twenty-fourth, you will land on the Earth."



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