Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder

By Lorinda J. Taylor


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4 mins

Journal entry

Journal of K. Oliva, 10.1.245EST:

I’ve brought my neural recorder into the flyer’s common room so I can relax and indulge myself in some less than professional observations. At last, a potential adventure! Ten months with Chu-sneia’s affable but pedestrian citizenry had driven me to terminal boredom! Maybe Chu-sneians are simply too much like Earthers – very dull Earthers! But I was more than willing to fill in when Toglu Nath’s partner died and he had to return to Earth to look after his children. Tog has been a good friend, and since I headed up the initial Chu-sneian team eleven years ago and am familiar with the principle language, I was the logical choice. Nobody already on the team had sufficient seniority or experience to be promoted in the field.
Besides, I’d been in university six months. We do need good university instruction, but there’s a limit to the number of DB lectures, tutorials, and holomockup supervisions that I can take. After a while, anything off-world makes me salivate!
But after this unexpected revelation of a uncontacted intelligent species, I may decide to cancel my request for a transfer. We’ll have to see how it goes.
Minister Tor is standing over there conversing with our foodbot, which has just prepared for her a Chu-sneian dish tastier than her own cook actually makes. She’s laughing. She has a grating laugh. She’s a well-educated and lively woman, but with a rather enigmatic sense of humor. I often sense a hint of irony in her voice or facial expression. It’s hardly enough to put your finger on, but it makes me a little uncomfortable with her. It’s as if she were always hiding a private joke at one’s expense
My colleagues in this undertaking are having an animated conversation in another corner of the room. Asc. Ghito is talking fast and gesturing with enthusiasm. What a pretty young woman Narike is, with that thick braid of dark hair hanging down her back and those animated black eyes! I fancy I could have stood up to comparison with her when I was young – at least Griff thought I was attractive. I had the same long hair, except mine was blond and my eyes are green. Narike is a damned good genetic xenobiologist, too; I was fortunate to inherit her with this team. She wrote a highly lucid analysis of the Chu-sneian reproductive cycle. She’s maybe a little impulsive, but she’s only in her late twenties and has lots of time to develop. She ranked especially high on the empathy profile. Too bad she didn’t specialize in the cultural aspects of XA – but then hard science would have lost an excellent operative.
Hart Pross. I haven’t gotten to know him very well yet. He arrived only two months ago as a replacement for Ryan Maco. He’s a few years younger than Narike, I believe. His passion is primitive alien technology. He’s always quick with an answer – hot to impress me, I think. He comes off a little stiff and standoffish, but that may be merely the insecurity of youth. This is only his second assignment; the first was on Kirquius, processing archaeological artifacts. His report was a bit over-long, but it had a lot of meat in it. He’s certainly a pretty bright fellow and has handled his Chu-sneian informants adequately. Good at keeping a professional distance.
I wonder how attracted he is to Narike. I couldn’t blame him if he were. He wouldn’t be bad-looking himself if he would smile more – that is, if you like blond men. They’re having quite a vigorous argument over there – the more they argue the more she laughs, but he looks like he’s getting a little overheated. Maybe it’s time I joined the conversation and mediated. …

Continued (late evening, LPT):

It was already dark when we landed at a small spaceport of Chu-sneian construction and so we went straight to a guesthouse for the night. We are near a diminutive city called Hala-ana (we could see a small cluster of lights twinkling as we came in), but there was not a Kal in sight, much to our disappointment. Tor says their leader, called the Chief Communicator, prefers to meet with us in the morning. …

Continued, 1st full day on Kal-fa (late evening):

If I were religious, I might throw a few prayers at a couple of alien deities! I thought I was beyond astonishment – after all, what can top the Shshi Queen or the inner sanctum of the Etúmanoi? – but even those didn’t prepare me for this! That woman Tor was playing with us – oh, yes! The joke was definitely on us!
But I must start at the beginning so that I can make sense of this afterwards. Hala-ana consists of a grouping of some twenty sprawling, one-story stone buildings covered with intricate abstract carvings. We approached the central edifice, which (Tor informed us) houses both living quarters and the government offices, through an extensive and delightful semi-tropical garden – a xenobotanist’s dream! It seemed deserted, although we heard some rustling and thumps in the bushes and caught some glimpses of movement or form through the foliage. Tor remarked that the Kal were shy around strangers. We entered through a wooden door and found ourselves in a corridor about four or five meters wide, with a floor of polished stone tiles, blue painted walls, and gilded carved floral cornices. Narrow tables lined the right side.
Then simultaneously we all jumped. On one of the tables something was moving. It was an arm – an arm, shoulder to hand, resting on its upper portion, with a pad of silken cloth covering the elbow, four bracelets enclosing the forearm above a pleated cuff, rings on three fingers below oval nails manicured and tinted gold. The hand bobbed on the end of the arm, beckoning, waving, appearing to engage in sign language. I think we all gasped and possibly even swore. Then the arm bounced, hopped off the table, landed on its padded elbow, and – capered is the only word for it – capered off down the hall and disappeared through a door.
There was a moment of stunned silence. I turned to Tor and she was grinning impishly.
Pross said, “What was that?” Then he said, almost in relief, “A robotic toy! Very interesting! So realistic! Is it a plaything for the Kal’s children?”
Tor said, “That’s not a robotic toy. You have just met Veski-mah, one of the Greeters. I think she’ll be in trouble – I’m quite sure Lord Hetsip-dohná didn’t want her out here.”
Again, silence. Then a kind of choked snort issued from Hart Pross. “What are
you … ? Are you implying … ?”
Fortunately, Ghito interrupted him. Big-eyed with wonder, she said, “It’s alive? Why, how beautiful! Let’s go on! I have a feeling we’ve got some real marvels ahead!”
“God, what kind of trickery … ?” Pross began.
I silenced him by jabbing my fist into the small of his back and said, “Yes, Minister Tor, what other surprises are you hiding from us?”
Tor laughed. “I knew your curiosity would be piqued. Come with me.”



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