Next Previous Contents

Chapter 12: Young Novanima

My mate sleeps. Like Dr. Newman used to do, I keep a watchful eye on her vagina; knowing the drill she's left her legs apart so I can see. The flow of blood is visibly slackening, though she'll need a thorough scrubbing and combing with salt water to get the blood clots off her fur. I put away the plastic box of medical and surgical equipment into its plastic cabinet. Thank goodness I didn't have to use it! Lions are very adaptable, but littering four at once was really pushing it. When you're starting a second family at 55 (Earth) years of age, though, you don't have much time. Hmm, what's going on in my pocket?

Me: Hi, Jacinth! What's cutsey-ootsey doing sticking out her little head on her very first day in the wide world?

Jacinth: Yaaw.

Translation: I'm bored and you're going to entertain me. Not a brat tone but a confident statement competently uttered (of course using an instinctive word) from her proper domain with its builtin feeding station. I wonder how confident that statement is going to become when she finds out what happens once every two hours. I wiggle my finger at her and she bites at it playfully, missing. She'll really enjoy looking out when her eyes open, though for now she has to be content with the low resolution view on thermal infrared. I give her a nice stroke and she tries to reciprocate by rubbing her body against my hand, but that takes coordination and she ends up going parallel to my hand as often as not. That doesn't bother her, or me. I like Jacinth. So far she seems to be following the genes I gave her pretty closely, wanting to try new experiences. Later, like me, she'll have to have prudence pounded into her head with swats and broken bones, none fatal, I hope.

In fact, considering that Tiger's bleeding seems to have just about stopped and that she'll sleep about an hour more before the kittens start yipping, I think my time is best used giving adventurous Jacinth a real entertainment. I step onto a larger version of the drip pan Tiger used, tickle Jacinth on the back of the head, take a handy bucket of (cold) water and fill my pocket three quarters full. Jacinth's instinctive vocabulary doesn't include any suitable comment for this intrusion but she pushes the water away from her, with no effect. We have synthetic soap and improvised fur conditioner, and I get busy washing the remaining skin grease off Jacinth's long, silky fur. She decides she likes the tactile stimulation after all and starts batting at the water as play. I relax the muscle and let the water drain out my bottom hole, and I fill my pocket again to rinse her and apply the fur conditioner. Then a final rinse. The problem with bathing is getting dry: we have no cloth or paper towels. We do have a clumsy blow dryer: a stationary box (well away from the water) pumping hot air through a wire helix hose. I partially shield Jacinth with my hand and blow her off, as well as my front and my soaked legs.

Life goes on. Willie and Wilma have their less adventurous kittens in tediously hand spun and knitted terephthalate-polyimide cloth shoulder sacks as they cut vegetables and wash tonight's Chang seeds at the small plastic food preparation work table. I sit on my mat with my back supported by a plastic box full of rocks with one side angled; Willie made one for each of us. Jacinth can watch Willie and Wilma moving around, and I can get in a few minutes of design work on the humans. The otters are in liquid nitrogen storage awaiting their turn in the uterus. Our plan is to let Tiger recover for two months and then take a look inside. If it looks healed, in go the otters. Homo sapiens can reproduce annually, remember, if breeding regulations and economic reality didn't interfere. I set a timer for, let's see, twenty minutes.

...And the icon appears. Amazingly, Jacinth almost climbed out of my pocket to explore. In the titanium basin I mix up a batch of hot salt water. As I carry it Jacinth gets her paw in, then tastes it. Pfaugh! That's a good lesson for a kitten her age.

Me: Tiger, time to wake. Tiger, Tiger.

Tiger: Ummmm. Oh, it's... Sorry to be disappointed but it was such a nice dream.

Me: I was mating with you, right? Here, sit in this a few minutes.

Tiger: Thanks. That's hot! You wish I was that hot in my dream, don't you? Sorry to disappoint you but it was squirrels and trees. Hi, Iris, are you awake, itsy-bitsy?

Me: Jacinth was all over, almost out of my pocket. Here's an idea: while the salt's softening your blood, let's wash Iris.

Iris is just as fascinated by the water, though not as coordinated or aggressive at exploring it. I hope that's just because he's a little younger; for exploration his genes are similar to Jacinth's. Once out of the water Tiger puts in the tampon of rolled gauze. While Tiger blows off Iris I go after her bloody fur. It's never been matted this badly before, but I have experience; I know how hard to pull with the metal comb before she'll snap at me. A few stubborn clots still cling to her fur when we hear the first high-pitched ``yip''. It's from Ken, in Willie's sack.

Me: OK, it's time. Let's all gather by the toilet so they can hear each other. Let's figure out the permutation. Damn, there's no pattern! Well, brute force: Iris, Ken, Jacinth, Lucent. When they're all ready to move we'll transfer them: Iris goes to Wilma, Ken goes to me, and so on. Then we'll empty them, then Willie will give Jacinth to Wilma, and everyone cross fingers. How did Ken and Lucent behave? I didn't hear much fussing.

Willie: Lucent was a joy. I played with her and she seemed satisfied with the bag.

Me: Having never known a real pocket.

Ken: Yip!

Jacinth: Yip!

In a few minutes, egged on by a chorus from us adults, all four are yipping. This means they'll leave pockets or sacks voluntarily so they can urinate. We make the transfers; now I have Ken. I stand him on my hand and pop his buttons. His line of gold decorates the toilet, joining three others. Kittens have to do strength exercises just like we do, so I set Ken on my foot and let him climb to my pocket. He goes in head down and starts sucking. Tiger does the same with Lucent.

On the other side, Wilma lacks fur so the kittens can't climb. But she has her way: she lays down on her mat and the kittens can simply walk up to her milk glands and start sucking as she holds her hands over them to give them a feeling of security. Jacinth refills vigorously, making Wilma giggle, but then Jacinth has her head up looking curiously at Iris, who's hanging on Wilma's nipple for comfort. But she won't go out from under the cover of Wilma's right hand. I doubt infrared has enough resolution to let Iris see he's being watched, but even so he retreats further beneath the left hand.

Willie: See if she'd like the bag; then I'll take her.

Sure enough, Jacinth scrambles into the fuzz-lined sack when Willie offers it, and Iris gives his a try. Quick enough Jacinth is up at the edge soliciting tickling and kitchy-koos from Willie. It looks like this is going to work out. Iris should be more aggressive and though it's probably just due to the age difference I'll have to watch that aspect of his personality closely.

Six months later Tiger's otter kittens are doing nicely inside, which means a difficult time coming for us adults: we have to wean the lion kittens. For a month or so we've had cookie crumbs in our pockets, giving the kittens Chang seed cookies so they can get some coordination in breaking up and swallowing solid particles. As the solid food increases the milk intake goes down, but the kittens get plenty of silica from the cookies for strong opal bones, teeth and skin reinforcement. Lucent, at least, has developed a real taste for fruit and tomato slices, anything she can get juice out of by sucking and mashing. Water, though, tastes flat to a kitten. Too bad; we don't intend to provide champagne.

The kittens are big, over five kilos, and muscular, and smart. They're social with us but not yet with each other; they treat their siblings as objects to be viewed, or toys, or impediments to selfishness. Neither are they really serious about language, though they pay close attention to our speech and they imitate the sounds and the rhythm, besides varying the intonation of their eight instinctive words to get a variety of effects. If they develop like Tiger and I did, they'll get some social skills in about a (Thor) year.

The kittens are making good progress, but I can't say as much for us. We finished dome two shortly after the lions were born, having taken seven months, a Thor year, to build it. But the kittens interfered with our ability to work outside, and six months later we've only built the underground backbone tube for domes three and four, and most of the ramp into dome three. Those took a lot of exhausting work, but I'd like to have living space and leaf area to show for it. Domes one and two don't produce enough seeds and oxygen to support even the adults, and we have to maintain the agricultural pods in orbit and bring down bottled oxygen, with water electrolysis as a backup. That's operating too close to the edge of disaster, and the trips to space take a lot of time. Willie goes, because he's the only person without functioning nipples and is therefore dispensable, but he's supposed to be working on chips and manufacturing.

But he also came up with an innovation that promises to get us back on schedule. We're all outside standing around our plastic picnic table, taking a break from bending reinforcing steel for the top of the ramp into dome three. My pack frame has an extra oxygen bottle, and a hose leads into my pocket. The air in there has a reasonable oxygen level, and Iris knows how to mouth the tube and get a lungful of the pure stuff if he needs it. Right now he has his head up and is holding his breath and begging for a cookie, which I give him, while I push aside my neck seal and slip another cookie within reach of my agile tongue. Wilma has the water bottle and I hope I'll have it next, because I'm sweaty and thirsty from handling the heavy steel rods.

Me: Hey, Tiger, what's Jacinth trying to do?

Tiger: Climb out of my pocket, it looks like. I see it; she's looking at a jacinth crystal. Or some kind of crystal in a rock fragment. Let's watch what she does about it.

Jacinth was interrupted by hearing us speak her name, and she goes back in Tiger's pocket for air. But this time she climbs resolutely out of the pocket and clambers down Tiger's leg as Iris watches intently. He and I can see the sun flashing off the crystal too. Ken, in Willie's sack, has also noticed that we're watching something. Lucent is missing all the fun, asleep in Wilma's sack.

Jacinth dashes right to the rock chip, grabs it, and runs back on three legs. She starts climbing, but she seems to be slowing visibly. It's not that she lacks the strength, but climbing with one hand busy holding the prize is quite time consuming.

Jacinth: Yaaah!

She misses her grip and nearly falls, drops the crystal in a grab for fur, and tries to get it with a hind paw as it falls, but succeeds only in kicking it toward me. And now she's wasted breath, that she doesn't have much of, on a rage call. She looks down at the crystal, then prudently puts it behind her and starts back up. But again she slows, wide-eyed; she's running out of air. Tiger's hand is below her to catch her if she falls, but other than that she gets no help from Tiger: when she's grown up she'll get no help from Tiger either, for a different reason, and we have to teach the kittens self-reliance from the beginning. Aah, she makes it; she goes head down into Tiger's pocket and she must be gasping at the hose inside. A valiant try but she couldn't quite make it.

Me: Well, look who's going to try his luck!

Iris has flushed out his lungs from the hose and he now almost leaps out of my pocket and scampers down my leg as quick as he can. He makes a beeline for the flashing crystal, still closer to Tiger than to me despite Jacinth's kick. He drops it in his pocket and runs back using his quick four-legged gait. Like all the kittens he's a strong climber, and unlike Jacinth he has all four hands available. Home free! He takes a few quick gasps from the hose and then he has his head up and the crystal in his paws, showing it to me in triumph.

Iris: Eep, eep!

Jacinth: Yaah! Yaaaah!

Me: Iris, Iris, that's such a good job! Iris, you did it!

Tiger: There, there, calm down, Jacinth. You were brave and gave it your best try, and you were prudent and tough. There, there. Good little Jacinth. Tiger is proud of you.

Wilma: They're both such aggressive little ones!

Willie: Yes, they are. But did you get the impression that Iris learned from watching Jacinth? That he couldn't get up with three hands and had to find a better way?

Me: We'll never know, but that fits their genotypes. Jacinth will charge ahead while Iris will think first, then charge ahead.

Willie: Ken would never do that.

Me: Right, Ken and Lucent have their own strengths, and risking suffocation for a glittery bauble isn't their style, either of them but particularly not Ken.

Willie: That's a good point: we should look for what they do well, not what someone else does well. So have we had enough entertainment? We have fifteen pieces of steel to bend, and then we have to get the casting machine busy to make more of it.

Tiger: Right. If we're going to live in this dome we'd better get busy and build it.

As I hold a long rod steady in the bending jig, I can feel Iris playing with the crystal in my pocket. Likely it really is jacinth, zirconium silicate, also called zircon. We've found several small broken pieces so far like the one Iris captured. Regolith is made when a meteor smashes rock and throws it around, and likely somewhere around here there's a deposit of rock, perhaps granite, with a high concentration of zirconium. Wouldn't it be fun to find gems? But really, we have them in our pockets already: the kittens.

Several months later we've made a number of advances. First, Willie developed a plasma source implanter gun that a B factory can integrate on a sapphire ribbon. Since the implanters represent about half the labor in making a factory it means that he can make them twice as fast, and we now have 23 B factories. Second, we're over ten thousand snowball chips and the same for pushers, and Sirion (the stream out of our pool) is ten meters long now before all the water soaks in or evaporates.

Third, I took the considerable time to make up a batch of polycarbonate and turn it into little helmets. Wilma and Tiger hand-made the pressure regulators, tanks, hoses and pack frames. While we were weaning the lion kittens and ejecting them from our pockets, we also taught them to use the helmets and emergency cans. It's not as if they're little adults, but they know to not take the helmets off outside, and (from our chastisement) to not mess with the hoses and valves, their own or another kitten's, and that once they go into an emergency can they don't get out for an hour, whether or not they wet themselves while stuck inside. Each one has had his or her regulator sabotaged several times and knows that the can, though unpleasant, contains breathable air. For exiting the can, they also remember how to take an air tube in the mouth.

Fourth, a few days ago Tiger gave birth to the otters. The lion kittens were fascinated at what was happening, and of course insisted on sampling the murk in the drip pan under Tiger. But when the four otters came tumbling out and started trying to stand up the lion kittens jumped back, and they were incensed when we put the otters in our pockets. Every lion, even staid Ken, leaped up on Tiger or me and would have thrown out the tiny occupant and then fought each other for tenancy, had we not intervened with hisses and swats to the behind. Since then they've been sullen and snappish, rolling up in their sleeping bags which we knitted (for comfort, not warmth). Often they refuse to eat at mealtimes, then brat at us for cookies when we're trying to work. Wilma can't lay down; several times she's wakened from a sound sleep to find a big lion kitten delicately stealing milk from her. What a pain! But on Earth our kittens all went through this stage when the next one was born, and they'll get over it.

The lion kittens are hostile to Mica, Night and Titania. Titania used her claws on Jacinth's nose once; the other lions saw it happen and now they all threaten from just out of range. Mica and Night retreat into our pockets and sacks. Titania defends her position for a while, but soon grows tired and retreats into the pocket. Selen has been ambivalent, trying different strategies to deal with the lion kittens.

It's a dark period, and it works out better if we dig when it's light and do inside jobs when it's dark. I'm lengthening the jaguars' foot bones, the metatarsi, to give them a little more speed than we have, a disadvantage I found bothersome. They aren't going to be just lions with spots. Selen's eyes opened yesterday and he's had his head out of the pocket or sack almost every waking moment since then, practicing seeing with them, matching up the infrared and visual images. Right now he's watching my fingers dance on the keyboard almost in front of his nose. Oh, oh, here comes Lucent; this is going to be one of those ``almost'' moments, I'm afraid.

Lucent: Yaah. (Translation: I'm bigger than you and you'd better not forget it.)

This time Selen stands his ground. I can feel him grip with the fingers of his hind paws on the inside of my pocket; he's certainly not sure of himself. Lucent marches up beside me and reaches out a paw to shove Selen. She knows she shouldn't risk his claws by getting her face too close, and she knows from experience that I'll punish her if she takes her claws to Selen, so she adopts a prudent and moderate style of bullying. Well, what's Selen doing? He pats her hand to the side, not roughly or with claws, but he doesn't take the shove. He knows by instinct, or by luck, a skill it took me until age six to do automatically and consistently. I didn't write martial arts skill into his genome; I wish I could but I don't have that fine control over behavior.

Hmm, Lucent doesn't seem to mind; she pats at his hand with the same spirit. He reciprocates. It's a little pattycake game. How cute! How long will this last?

Me: Wilma, sneak a peek over here.

Wilma: Oh, look at that! I wish the others could learn to do that. Tiger, Willie, real quietly sneak over here and see what Selen and Lucent are doing.

Tiger: Oh, I like that. I hope it's not just a one-time game. I'm getting so tired of truculence. Well, we have company now.

Iris was watching Chang ants, but he notices something happening over here and is drawn to investigate. For a few seconds he watches, as is his way, and then he wades in beside Lucent. Selen's grip on my pocket tightens again but he turns on the charm and pats Iris. Iris pats Lucent, rather harder than Selen did. Lucent pats back. Pretty quickly Lucent and Iris are socializing, doing a much more rough version of pattycake and ending up rolling around on the dirt floor. Selen is forgotten and he relaxes his grip. Aah, a visually interesting spectacle replaces a two-lion threat.

Me, very quietly: Selen, Selen, you did so well! Good kitten!

I stroke his back with a finger, and then solicit a pattycake game by very gently poking him in the ribs. My one finger is bigger than his whole arm! But he gives a good pat and guides my finger past him. Our exchange is brief but fun. Then he drops to the bottom of my pocket and starts sucking; he just had some milk about half an hour ago, but this game must have been very stressful for him and he needs the oral comfort. I stroke him gently through my skin. Soon he curls up and I can feel his sleepy breathing. He needs to dream, to fix his new knowledge and skills into his neural network. What a great kitten! How lucky we are to have this one.

A year and two months later (that's nine months) we have another pocketful of joy: the human kittens. Dome three is operational and temporarily, while the kittens are still tiny, we're self-sufficient in food and oxygen, having moved most of the plants down to the surface, although we've kept one orbiting pod stocked with plants as an emergency backup. Sirion gurgles flowing over the wall of our pool, and the ground is saturated for forty meters downstream and the river keeps extending its course. This is what we want it to do. We have strawberries; Wilma got them working, and the lion and otter kittens love the sour taste.

Our fake humans are already up to 600 grams only twenty days after birth, and they're already venturing out of our pockets. They're an interesting contrast from Homo sapiens babies. Monkey ears, yes, but furry and on a head and body covered with silky lion-style fur. Four small but sharp opal fangs and hints of incisor teeth, twelve months before a real human would have any more than pink gums. The usual lion bug eyes, because the retina can't grow and has to go in at the adult size. Dimples on the cheeks concealing the openings of the cheek sinuses where the infrared sensors are. Muscled legs and arms and wrists and a flat belly, not a bloated pot that discharges itself at random intervals into your arms. These kittens use the toilet like we do, with our help putting them in position and pressing their buttons. And they're fierce: Valeria drew blood on Titania's arm when the little otter tried to reclaim my pocket just minutes after the humans were born. Turnabout is fair play, I guess.

Interesting: Lucent jumped in front of me (I was sitting at the time) and cuffed Titania to the ground immediately she went after the pocket, though too late to save Titania from Valeria's claws. I was worried if Lucent were going to try a more competent attack, but no, she stood with her back to me and snarled a warning to the other otters, who were looking indignant (as kittens of that age do) that others were getting the pockets they were so recently kicked out of. We have a rather complicated family now with levels of dominance and rivalry plus personality differences within each level. Ken and Jacinth couldn't care less what the otters did. Iris cared, but didn't know quite what to do about Titania's impertinence. I was too heavy and devastating to intervene decisively among tiny people with claws, but Valeria and Lucent between them very competently took care of the situation.

But otters have much sweeter dispositions than lions, thanks to the genes I gave them, and within a day they were playing tickle games with the little humans. They're going to get a reward today.

We're all out by the pool; the human kittens are breathing from pocket tubes and the others have their helmets on. Both groups know how to swim, clumsily and only at the surface because the helmets and air tanks are both heavy and buoyant. But abutting the pool wall we have a foundation of moderate size similar in construction to our domes, though rectangular, and a tent of dome sheeting to put over it, and iron trees to hold it up, presently laying on the ground. And we have three big tanks of compressed oxygen.

Willie: Let's start by tightening the edge plates over the plastic. Remember, don't turn them down too tight or you'll cut the plastic.

It takes about twenty minutes to finish the job. On Earth the wrenches would be store-bought, but here the studs, nuts and wrenches are all made by us. The threads were electrolytically milled, a standard manufacturing practice ingeniously adapted by Willie for tasks that would normally be done on a heavy lathe. The kittens ``help'' to lock down the plastic; fortunately I only have to retrieve and clean off four or five nuts.

Willie: I'll go in now and inflate the tent. The rest of you stand in the water and hold the free edge underwater.

A heavy titanium pole will fit into notches in newly emplaced concrete piers underwater, and one edge of the tent sheeting is glued around it. We hold the pole near, but not yet in, the notches. Willie wriggles through the deflated airlock, under the plastic sheet flattened out on the ground, and over to the gas bottle. Iris decides to run on the plastic after him.

Me: Iris, get off! Ssst!

He knows only a few words, but he does know what ``ssst'' is a prelude to, and he looks at me, deciding whether I'm motivated enough to give up my job and come to punish him. But the sudden hissing of the oxygen scares him into flight. Good; it's a lesson that punishments are a substitute for real danger. The tent slowly inflates while the kittens watch, fascinated, from the sidelines. Willie sets up the tree poles one by one. My fur may be water resistant but after twenty minutes motionless in the water the air comes out of it, and my legs are getting cold. The kittens are also thinking about running off, I'm afraid.

Willie: OK, people, I think it's ready. Assemble the pole into the notches and drop the locking pins through the holes. Is it solid? Good. I'm going to try it first. Keep a safety watch, OK?

He takes off his helmet and tanks; now he's bare, naked, totally nude. It's too shallow on this side to jump in, but he slides into the water and swims fishlike between Wilma's legs; she yelps. Then prudently he makes a U-turn back under the pole.

Willie: Jeez, that's fun! Let's all try it. Hey kittens, come here!

The lions know that phrase and the otters follow them. We herd the kittens through the airlock of plastic sheet, similar to the ones on the home domes. The lions can take their own helmets off but the otters need help. Wilma has both Oso and Petra in separate sacks; she hands them off to Willie and then gracefully enters the water, minus her tanks. She swims easily underwater to the other side of the pool, and then back, under the pole.

Wilma: (Gasp!) I haven't swum properly for so long! I was starting to get out of breath there. Be careful how far you go from the tent. Come on in, lions!

Tiger: You go first, Simba, but be careful with Quin. Don't go too far, OK? Wilma, keep a safety watch.

The lions and otters are watching, trying to decide what to do. Quin has his head up and I push him down; often he will obey that signal, and he does so this time, catching sight of approaching water. He's not kicking in distress: good. I swim under the pole. What freedom! What's going on, wonders Quin: he pops his head up and I feel cold water in my pocket. But he doesn't panic; he just goes back in, and there's enough of an air bubble for him to breathe. He's familiar with a wet pocket from his daily bath. But I'd better check him. I return under the pole and stand up in a soup of kittens. The lions swim competently as we do, but the otters' broad, muscular, flat tails and webbed hands and feet propel them like, well, otters. Out pops Quin.

Quin: Eep! (Translation: that was fun.)

Me: Fun, tiny one? Want to do it again? Let's let Tiger and Valeria give it a try, then we'll swim again. Poor Oso and Petra; they have to wait 'till next time because Willie and Wilma don't have pockets. Tiger, Quin popped his head up while I was underwater but he didn't have any trouble just going back in. Try it; it's a lot of fun.

Tiger: Oh, oh, I think Ken has a problem. I'd better rescue him.

The older kittens have been frolicking minus helmets in the water covered by the tent, a new experience, but Ken was intently watching Willie and Wilma and me each time we went under the pole; Willie and Wilma have been taking turns swimming and holding Oso and Petra, who are content to just watch out of their sacks. Iris sees everything too, mixed in with manic chasing and splashing. While I was talking to Quin, Ken apparently figured out what he was supposed to do, and he dived under the pole. But somehow he doesn't seem to be coming back. Perhaps he panicked, or perhaps he doesn't know to open his eyes and has lost his way. Tiger pushes down Valeria and ducks under the pole. But Iris also goes under, his first try, and he's closer, and no question he has his eyes open because he goes right to Ken and starts dragging him by the arm. That's not a cool maneuver in a rescue because Ken immediately grabs for him. Iris is very familiar with lions or otters trying to grab him, on land or in the water, and he writhes away, but stuffs Ken under the pole using his feet. Tiger's outside for backup, but I'm right on target and lift Ken out of the water.

Ken: Yaaaw! Yaaaaaw!

Me: There, there, Ken. Did you get lost? Poor little kitten, lost your way back. Aaw. You're OK now with Simba. There, there.

Ken: Yaaw.

Tiger (back under the pole): Iris, you're a hero! Good kitten, good kitten! Smart and tough as a lion! Good job, Iris. I really, really love you.

Iris accepts Tiger's frizzy rub but quickly wiggles down into the water and practices his new skill, first ducking under the pole and coming right back, and then swimming further underwater. On her first traverse Jacinth surfaces and takes a breath, immediately cut short, whereupon she dives and pops back under the pole. But no complaints: she breathes a couple of times and then rejoins the fun. The otters are getting into the act too, apparently safely, as Tiger, Willie and Wilma keep a close watch from inside and from underwater outside as they swim.

Me: Ready to try again, Ken? Want to go down?

Ken: Yaaw! (Translation: no, hold me.)

I stroke Ken some more. I splash my fingers in the water. Finally Ken is willing to climb down and chase my fingers, but not near the pole.

Me: Look at Iris. Look at Jacinth. Look at Lucent. Aren't they having fun? You were the first, Ken. Enjoy what you made.

I sing the Marseillaise for him. I doubt that it stirs patriotic ardor in his breast but he does seem to be loosening up a little. I stroke him some more as he stands in the water. He looks at the other kittens. He's going to submerge. I signal Quin and go down with him. His eyes are closed... No, he opens them, and he goes just under the bar and right back to the surface inside.

Me: Good, Ken, good! That's courage! Good kitten, good kitten!

I give him a frizzy rub as he stands in the water, and he takes heart and this time swims a little further out. He joins Lucent coming back; they have a brief splash war and then they go under the bar again together. Aah, we got over that danger. I'm really glad Ken scraped his courage together, with rather inadequate help from me, and tried the underwater swimming again. Ken is the most timid of all the kittens, and it would have been a very bad situation if he hadn't had enough courage, because this is a tough planet and everyone who lives here has to be tough. Ken is the smartest too, and smartness can get you into trouble, as just happened to him, and it takes courage to get yourself out.

Another 2.5 years (seventeen months) down the line, and Rose, Orion, Wolf and Xena, the jaguar kittens, are out of our pockets. We're still waiting to see what they'll look like in their proper colors. When born they were lion color all over, same as we were, but at the first shedding the hormones in our milk turned them black with auburn spots: ugly. Soon now, soon! The lion kittens, with the hormones they're getting in pill form, are now the standard lion color with a black tail tip. The otters get different pills and are auburn with a big lion color patch on their chests and bellies, and black tails and paw soles. We're experimenting a little with the humans; we gave them sheep-curled fur all over, for warmth, in copper color over copper skin. Wilma wants to rotate through all the possibilities but I like this combination so much I want to keep it for a while.

Today is type three, meaning that it'll be light until lunchtime. Ken is trying to build a pile of Rose and Xena, but they keep wiggling away. Finally he grows bored with the game.

Ken (by hand signs): What'cha doing?

Me (replying by hand signs): I'm making feather grass.

Ken: What's grass?

Me: It's a kind of plant. When the air is ready outside we'll plant it all around.

Ken: Why?

Me: The plants make oxygen for us to breathe and food for us to eat.

Ken: We have plants here that make food. We can breathe here, and use our helmets outside. We don't need any more plants.

Me: Someday there will be a lot more people. And when you swim wouldn't you like to be able to breathe anywhere? And wouldn't you like to be able to climb up to the very top of Echoriath? Bottled air wouldn't last for such a long trip.

Ken: Show me the plant.

Me: It's all symbols; I haven't finished it yet. Maybe I can find a picture of feather grass on Earth. This will take just a minute...

Ken: You always say that when it's going to take a long time. You move that thing around; how do you know which colored box to move it in?

Me: I read the labels on the boxes. They tell me what I'll find, and here are the grasses. See, it says ``grass'' here.

Ken: I don't hear it.

Me: It goes by sight. Hmm, Tiger did this once; let's see if it works for you. Watch the window here. What do you see?

Ken: Lines. It looks funny.

Me: Compare with my handsign. You make the handsign for grass also.

Ken: Well... Maybe. I've never seen the grass sign before.

Me: Good point. Let's look at the picture first, then at some signs you have seen. Click. These are categories of grass. Click. And here's feather grass, with a picture. That's what it will look like. Isn't it pretty?

Ken: I guess.

Me: I'm going to start this program over using written Tiger signs for the labels. Now let's get in an area you're familiar with. See this box, make the handsigns that are drawn there.

Ken: Um, food, is that right? And plant. If you clicked on that box would you see food plants?

Me: You certainly would. And look at the title; that's the big writing at the top.

Ken: Thor life system. What's a system?

Me: Many parts working together. Like, you're part of the Thor life system, and so are the Chang plants, and so are the ants. Each part has its job, and together they live here, but any one part couldn't do that alone.

Ken: Oh. If I looked at all this stuff, could I find me?

Me: Not you by name, but you could find lion people in general. Your records and pictures are in another area, and I'll let you hunt for that when you've learned a few more skills.

Ken: You're not going to show me. You're mean.

Me: How do kittens learn things?

Ken: By doing them, by hunting. How do kittens get strong? By practicing. You always say that. Can I move the little thingy?

Me: It's called a cursor. Sit on my lap. Turn this little ball. When the cursor is in the box you want, press this button once. Not now, when you've moved the cursor. There, you're back on the right page.

Ken: Which box do I want?

Me: Look at the labels. Pick the one that seems most interesting.

Ken: That's hard. Isn't it?

Me: True, it takes time to read the labels when you're just starting, before you practice. I do this a lot, every day. I can just look at the labels and know what they're telling me, as if I were looking at someone's handsigns.

Ken: I'm going to find the food plant again. I found it! Click. What are these?

Me: I wonder.

Ken: You know! And you're not going to tell me, are you? You're mean. This one says, um, Chang bush. Click. And there's it's picture! Neato! How can I do another one?

Me: Move the cursor onto the arrow symbol and click.

Ken: This one is Jalapeño pepper. Those are yucky. This one is bell pepper. I eat those. Click. Oh, and it has red and green ones!

Iris: Are there stories in there?

Me: Oh, hi, Iris. Yes, there are stories. Ken, what would you think about showing the other lions how to read a short story?

That puts a different light on the matter: Ken was at first resentful that Iris was about to get a share of my attention, but now he's going to get a chance to show off. Pretty soon I have a lapful of lion kittens, and wherever there's a group, Selen is sure to be in it too. I've put a kiddie poem on the screen in a nice big font, and there are two graphics that go with it. The program has rendered the poem into Tiger signs. Unfortunately it has no concept of rhyme or meter. But that's not today's lesson.

Ken: See these line things? They're pictures of hands. Make the signs and you'll know what the story is. Let's all make the first sign. See, it's ``name''. Make the next one; Iris, do you want a turn?

Iris: ``Jack''. Nobody here has that name.

Ken makes sure everyone (himself included) is making the handsigns and makes sure everyone says the words in their proper turn. He's learned this kind of practicing from us adults and has adapted it to the reading context. Smart kitten! And they're all reading about two months earlier than I did, and Selen is fully ten months ahead. The handsigns really help; I'm sure they'd all have a lot more trouble reading alphabetic English.

Kittens: ...and name Jill climb small mountain purpose return carry water full bucket. Name Jack fall to bottom and injure his head, and name Jill then roll fall same path.

Iris: That story is weird!

Me: You all did so well! Good kittens, good kittens, all of you, and especially Ken! You organized the practice well.

Lucent: Here we climb down to our pool, not up onto Echoriath.

Jacinth: I wouldn't fall. I'm agile.

Ken: The words sound so strange when you say the Tiger signs word by word in English.

Selen: Working together is better. The picture shows them apart.

Iris has the concentration for two more stories but then he and Selen get into a tickle war and the lesson breaks up. They rushed our schedule. We adults are building computers for the kittens. We had planned to have them only for the lions, although some components are best mass-produced and I have 24 cases made from polyimide fibers bound in epoxy, and enough raw circuit board stock of the same material for 24 machines. (We want some spares.) We also have all the chips: CPU, memory, ASICs, AATS; the sixty B factories turned out 24 sets in a little over a day. Now, you figure out how to encapsulate them and attach them to the motherboard! Chip carriers don't just happen. Butterfly chips connect to each other by CQMT, but a computer needs physical metallic conductors, and I'm not going to go over all the technological possibilities for attaching them, nor their various advantages and disadvantages for our unique situation. Similarly, the kittens are going to need good color displays, reliable keyboards and agile pointing devices, both trackballs and joysticks. And let's not forget the capacitors, both electrolytic and ferroelectric, which ended up as my special nemeses.

On Earth we'd just go down to the local computer store and buy eight machines, but that's not how our little colony operates. And it's a big surprise that the otters are ready now, and the lions picked up reading Tiger signs so easily. Well, we'll just work harder, and they'll have to be patient until the machines start coming off the assembly line.

Today is a special day, maybe one we'd rather forget, and now I'm not referring to the kittens' excellent progress. It's been eight Earth years since we arrived in the epsilon Eridani system, and the schedule on Earth assumes that we'll have departed by now. We left instructions with Claude to continue preparing the newsfeed until, and after, he's seen us actually arrive at Earth, because we'll need time to decompress after the return and we'll have 16.7 years of news to catch up on, so the news summaries are going to be essential. And Claude is to transmit them on the AATS just in case something goes really wacko at this end -- as actually happened. It will be fourteen years from this point until Claude has, or will have, found out what's going to happen, or has already happened, to life in the epsilon Eridani system. (The tenses get really tangled when there's a long speed of light delay. I'm referring to when we see Earth's response to the destruction of the Heptapi.) So I don't expect our newsfeed to go dead, but I do expect some kind of message from Claude in the next batch, a letter to four souls who are supposed to be frozen solid.

A few months later we've finished the sixth dome, in addition to making progress on the kittens' computers. I'm afraid that genetic engineering had to take a back seat to computer design. I have good, apparently reliable capacitors, and Tiger and Wilma came up with a sapphire-based chip protector something like what we do for pusher chips, but with feet that can survive surface-mounting on the motherboards. Accelerated life tests show that the encapsulation isn't ruined by soldering, nor do the feet break off with thermal cycling. We don't, however, have the displays yet.

We're eating dinner under bright sunlight; it's a type two day and the sun has just risen.

Jacinth: Cinnamon curry's my favorite! Can I have some more?

Me: Sorry, Jacinth, but we ate it all.

Jacinth: Awww. There's never enough for seconds any more. I thought we'd have more food with the new dome. Can I have a cookie?

Me: Sure, if there are any left. People have been eating them.

Jacinth: Yaah, they're gone too! Who's been eating all the cookies?

Iris: You.

Jacinth: I did not! I only had two. You were hogging them.

Me: Can it, you two! This is serious. We adults have been working hard on your computers, trying to develop reliable displays and pointing devices. But I think we may have to change that. Who can tell me why we're short of food?

Mica: We get it from the plants. We eat everything the plants make. There are closed boxes of Chang seeds all over, that you won't let us open; only you can. Why don't we eat more boxes?

Me: Good answer, Mica. Now I want to hear two things: someone answer Mica's question, and someone do goals, issues and action.

Iris: We have to keep the boxed seeds so if the plants die we can plant some of them and eat the rest. We save new seeds and eat the old ones so they don't spoil.

Lucent: Goal: we want to get more food. Issue: it comes from plants, so we need more plants. Action: we should plant some seeds. We should go hungry so we have seeds to plant.

Me: Very good, both of you. But we're producing enough Chang seeds that you won't feel it in your bellies any more than you are already, unlike us when we first came into this system. Now, more issues and actions: what does it take to plant seeds?

Night: Seeds, potting soil, pots and water. And ants.

Me: Good answer, but there are two items missing. Try to think of them.

Selen: We all have to work together to put the seeds in the pots. It takes people to plant seeds.

Iris: Where are we going to put the pots, on our mats? We have to figure out where to put the plants. What does it take to plant seeds? Somewhere to put them after they're planted, right?

Me: Good kittens, both of you! Of all the things we need, which is hardest to get?

Jacinth: We'll move all the people into one dome and use the whole space in the rest for plants.

Me: That wasn't exactly an answer to my question, but does everyone agree that space is what limits us in growing plants?

Oso: I'm scared! Bigger kittens eat more. If we get bigger we'll even more not have enough food. Selen hug me.

Me: Thanks, Selen, for comforting him. Do you want a hug from me too? There, there, we'll get it worked out before you kittens get too hungry. And don't forget, I'm going without second helpings too; we adults are just as hungry as you are.

Tiger: Right; I'd really like a cookie right about now, but there's none for me, just like there's none for you. Simba, I agree that we need to deal with this issue even if it means slowing down computer production. And this is a good learning experience for the kittens. Keep going with the lesson. Kittens, wash the dishes when the lesson is over, OK?

Me: So our main issue is how to get more space. Any ideas?

Iris: You could build another dome.

Me: More suggestions?

Titania: A dome takes a long time. You could build something easy, like the house by the pool.

Ken: Why can't the plants live outside? They make oxygen; they don't use oxygen. The bad smell in the air, does that hurt them?

Me: No, but remember, oxygen and food goes from the plants to us. What goes from us to the plants?

Ken: Carbon dioxide and water.

Me: And outside we have...

Ken: Oh. We could have water snowballs brought to our plants, but carbon dioxide snowballs would just blow away. Can we build the pool house? Lots of them?

Me: Yes, and that's what Willie has planned for us to do, but it has to be dome shaped to resist the wind. But we won't have any tunnels, and a much simpler foundation like for the pool tent, so the plant domes will go up a lot faster than the domes we live in. All we'll need to dig is an air duct so our carbon dioxide can get to the plants, and their oxygen can get to us. The seed collection robot will float through the air ducts.

Lucent: But if there are no tunnels, how will we get in?

Iris: Air locks, dummy! They're just plastic sheets. Or maybe you could make the air ducts big enough to crawl through.

Me: What do you think, Tiger? Putting on and checking your helmet every time you want to work on the plants is going to be a pain.

Tiger: Probably it's worth the effort. That's a good idea, Iris. But it's also impolite to call someone ``dummy''.

Iris: Sorry, Lucent.

Tiger: There's another issue we need to deal with. You kittens are growing up.

Oso: Right, growing big. I'll be brave.

Tiger: Good kitten, but I want to talk about something beyond eating. Simba and I, what's the relation between us?

Selen: You're a mated pair. Willie and Wilma are too.

Tiger: Right, and all of you want to be in mated pairs when you grow up, don't you?

Iris: What's the hard thing we have to do now to get to be mated pairs?

Tiger: Sharp kitten, but let's see if everyone's agreed on the goal before talking about how to get there.

Selen: I want to be friends with everyone!

Tiger: How about me; am I friends with everyone?

Selen: You're... an adult. Adults are nice to kids but kids are friends with kids. You're friends with Wilma and Willie. Is that what you want me to see, that if I were a mated pair I could still be friends with other people?

Tiger: Right, so are you signing up for this goal? Kids don't feel the need for a mate like adults do, but you can see what we get out of it, and you will feel the need when you get to the right age. Are we all agreed?

Ken: I want to hear what we have to do first.

Tiger: It's what you don't do. Your mates will be people you don't know, people who you haven't grown up with. There's a good biological reason for that, and you'll learn about that when you've done a lot of lessons, but right now it makes trouble for us. Jacinth, when you grow up, where could you find a mate?

Jacinth: On Earth? But the journey is so terrible! I'd be scared to be frozen. And the rays!

Iris: And we have to stay here to take care of the plants and animals we make. There aren't any mates for us. We'd better think of something. And what about the otters and jaguars? I'll bet Tiger has a plan.

Tiger: There's no other village with people you didn't grow up with. So there have to be people here that you don't grow up with. The female lions have to stop growing up with the males. Same for each species. We have to set it up so females don't see males, don't hear them, don't hear about them, as if the males just vanished. You'd forget about the opposite sex, and then you can join together as if the people were new, when it's time to form mated pairs. That's how Simba and I met: when we grew up my bed was closer to Simba's than we are now from Willie and Wilma, at the other table, but there was a wall between, and it was as if the females were the only ones at the Lion Foundation; we never saw the males. Can you people do like we did?

Selen: And the same for the males, right? If they didn't see me, I wouldn't see them either. Would we make a wall, and I'd never see Titania and Night again, and Lucent and Jacinth and Valeria and Petra and Rose and Xena?

Tiger: Not a wall; we'd say that male otters could go in certain domes and female otters would be in other domes. But we want you to keep up a relation with females of the other species. Each person will have a set of domes they can go in, and every pair can meet somewhere except for males and females of the same species.

Ken: That sounds complicated. I don't think you can do that.

Lucent: Suppose Selen tells me, I played a game with Ken, oops! He'd do that.

Tiger: You agree, Selen, that you'd have to work hard to avoid saying things like that? Willie, you had that experience growing up; could you tell the kittens about it?

Willie: It was hard for me, and the project staff had to remind me a lot to keep my mouth shut when I was little like you. But I learned it well enough; you see that Tiger and Simba got together at the end.

Ken: I don't think you can do it.

Tiger: This is complicated so listen carefully. Dome one...

Titania: Wait, wait! I'm scared. I don't want to forget about Mica and Selen. And if we miss a dome, what can we do?

Tiger: On lots of things you have to get it right the first time, but on this one we'll help you a lot. We'll post signs to help you remember which domes you can go to, and we'll program the house computer to help you too. You'll tell it who you are and where you want to go, and if there's a problem, like someone you shouldn't meet is in the tunnels, it will tell you to wait. Ken, don't you think you'll need written help to keep track of eight groups in five domes?

Ken: Tell me. And there are six domes.

Tiger: OK, dome one is where we adults live, and it will stay that way. The tools and workshop area will stay there. Like now, kittens come to our area when it's needed, but it's mostly our area to relax and play and work on adult things. Dome two has male lions, male otters, female humans and female jaguars. I'll say it in the same order: dome three: female, female, male, female. Dome four: female, female, female, male. Dome five: male, female, male, male. Dome six: female, male, male, male. Got that? Now, Ken, where could Selen play with Valeria?

Ken: Um.

Tiger: Um. Writing will really help you check that all pairs can meet that should meet. Writing is a very powerful tool, and all of you should learn it as quick as you can given your limited computer time. Selen could meet Valeria in dome two. Now the question is, are you all willing to do this, to keep in particular domes?

Quin: Me too?

Selen: I don't want to lose Titania and Night.

Tiger: Quin, when you're old enough to read the signs, then you would start to do what they say. You're a little young for this discipline right now. Don't worry about it. Now Selen, of course you don't want to lose them now. But would you rather have them now and lose them in twelve years?

Selen: Yes! No! That's not fair!

Tiger: Lots of things aren't fair. As you grow up you'll learn about a lot of stuff that isn't fair, starting with the heptapi blowing themselves up in our faces and dumping on us the whole job of taking care of this system. Think about your decision.

Selen: We don't really get to decide, do we?

Tiger: Yes and no. If you refuse we can't exactly force you, but we will point out the consequences, and so will kittens who decide differently from you. Think about growing up. Think about being a complete otter, with a mate, versus a lonely otter.

Selen: That's not fair! That's not fair! That's not fair!

Tiger: So you agree that you will be a lonely otter if you grab onto the females now, even if it isn't fair?

Selen: It's not fair! Otters are supposed to be together.

Me: Would a hug help?

Selen runs to me. I'm glad he's the only one with such a bad reaction, though from their glances I know that some of the others, particularly otter kittens, aren't at all happy about the new regime.

Selen: When we're stuck we have to be brave. Can I say goodbye to Titan... to the otter females?

Tiger: Sure you may. But it will take a day or two to get the signs printed up and the computer programmed.

Selen: It's going to be hard for me. I wish we could do it once and I'd feel bad once and it would be over, like getting a shot.

Me: What do you think, Tiger, if Selen and I make the signs right now and put them up?

Tiger: Brave Selen. I'm willing, but I haven't heard a lot from the other kittens. Titania, I think you were concerned.

Titania: I don't want to lose Mica and Selen, but I don't want to be a lonely otter either. Selen is right: if we're going to do it I don't want to be sad for two days; I want it to be like a shot.

Tiger: Mica? Night? Lion kittens? Humans? Jaguars? Are we all going to keep separate by sexes? Anyone who's not willing to do this, I'd like to hear about it now. OK, so ordered. Let's have Selen and Simba put up the signs, and the rest of us will clean up from dinner. After a goodbye: everyone hug the two others of your species that you aren't going to see any more, and after that, let's get all the females to my left and all the males to my right. Go ahead, hug. I'm patient.

It's cute to see the kittens saying their farewells, but sad too, that they have to be put through this kind of parting, like a soldier hugging his mate before going off to war. The human kittens understand what's happening, sort of, but the jaguars just hug each other and the little humans indiscriminately.

Selen: Goodbye, Night. Goodbye, Titania. Everyone, please keep them company so they aren't lonely. OK, Simba, let's do our job.

Me: Sure, Selen. Come on over to dome one.

He's so small, with his black flat tail and short legs, looking up at me. The lion kittens like each other's company, but for Selen friends are more important than anything else. But he knows that he'd be devastated to be alone without a mate, and he's willing to do what it takes to get one. So mature for such a little one. I'm proud of our training, loving the little ones yet teaching them courage and self-reliance. Steel is like a kitten: cool it too quick and it's brittle; cool it too slow and it's soft; cool it, reheat, cool again at the rate and on the schedule that suits its particular nature, and every kind of steel is different, and you get something tough, strong and practically unbreakable. We adults talk a lot about balance in teaching the kittens, and I think we've hit it right in Selen's case. Here we are at Tiger's and my mat, with my desk and back-box next to it. I brush off the grains of regolith that get everywhere, and open up my computer.

Me: Here, Selen, sit down on my mat and let's figure out the signs. Here are some little pictures of each species. Do you think everyone, even the jaguars, will know which is which?

Selen: The jaguars can see their spots, but you can't tell the otters from the lions. Put everyone a little sideways, which shows the jaguar's spots better and the human's ear, and make the lion's mouth open to show the fangs, but the otter shows its webbed hand.

Me: Good point; I can do that quick because I have a 3-D model of all four species.

Selen: Cool! Can I play with it?

Me: Work first, I think: we'll make the signs. Now I was planning to use these symbols for male and female: the circle and arrow, and circle and cross.

Selen: Which is which?

Me: Kittens like you, what's the most important difference to you between males and females?

Selen: They smell different. But you can't draw that! Turn your picture to see underneath and put a dot to be the female's extra hole, and the male wouldn't have a dot. Did I really come out of Tiger's extra hole?

Me: Yes, you did. It's called the vagina. I think it wouldn't be completely polite to draw what you said, but how about a more abstract symbol: a plain circle for a male, and a circle with a dot for a female?

Selen: I guess people could remember that, except the humans, they should have a dot and a line, and the male's penis, maybe it could be a little line outside the circle. Why are humans different from everyone else?

Me: I don't want the humans to be reminded so much that they're different, so I'm going to use the same symbol for everyone. You should ask why my creators made me different from humans. I copied some parts, like sex organs, from lions to otters and jaguars, but I made our humans more like real humans, like Willie and Wilma.

Selen: Hm. If we have the pictures, what do we do with them? Just what is a sign? I've never seen one.

Me: Really? I guess that's right: you're just learning to read and we know where everything is, so there's been no use for signs until now. It's a piece of paper with writing on it. In fact, I'm going to put in the words ``male otter'' and so on, in both Tiger signs and English letters, plus the dome number.

Selen: Paper! Can I see some?

Me: In a minute. That's what the sign will look like on dome two, and we'll want two copies, one in the dome and one at the ramp entrance. OK, our printer is over here, and I'll put some paper in it. This came from Earth, and when it's gone we have to make our own and that takes a lot of work, so we use it as little as possible. The printer ink is also a problem. Here goes; it prints slowly because of the colors. I think it came out pretty good, don't you?

Selen: Cool! But it's keeping me away from my friends; I don't like that. Let's make the other signs.

In the evening, after we get the kittens all in their proper places, we're discussing how it went.

Me: Selen is being pretty brave about losing his friends. Poor little kitten. I'm proud of him for the way he's handling this.

Wilma: For a few minutes I thought he wasn't going to go along with it.

Me: They're all tough; if you explain the issues to them they'll do what's necessary. I noticed you working with Quin; is he having a problem?

Wilma: At first I thought he was too concerned with doing what the adults told him to, but he explained it to me: he doesn't want to be a lonely human when he grows up. He said he felt the same as what Selen said; he didn't want to give up Petra and Valeria, but even less he wanted to have nobody when everyone else had a mate. I showed him how to find his symbol on the signs, and I helped him to move his stuff into dome three, and also Oso, and I gave them some emotional support and got him, Oso, Rose and Xena working kind of as a team to neaten up the place. That seemed to calm them down. And I reviewed with them what to do if they woke up scared of the new place: hugs first from the other dome people, and then if they needed they could call on the computer for one of us to go over there.

Tiger: Let's hope that works.

Willie: Let's hope we can keep it to one tearful hugfest per dome per night. We should get to bed a little early today.

Tiger: Not quite yet. I want to see how the hearing went.

Me: Right, the newsfeed shipment for the week should be here by now. Here it is, a fat file; the hearing wasn't postponed, like Polk tried to get them to do. Why doesn't that guy retire like Moravech did?

Tiger: Jackson from Alabama likes Charlie just about as much as Moravech does, and he's better oiled in his speciesism. He goes: Tell me, Mr. Leones. (He knows better than that; he should use Charlie's proper name.) What makes you suited to be what some have called the most powerful man in America, and what some have called the most powerful man in the world? You can see what the answer is in his mind. The most powerful ``man'', he says.

Willie: It's a fair question, on content. We know Charlie's good, but his constituents don't. Hmm, Charlie mostly plays it straight: academic training, the Ph.D., a lifetime of service in government at the SEC, enforcement branch, policy staff and as a commissioner. A few details that people should remember like the Equity BanCorp bust, and the index futures regulation when he first became a commissioner -- that should warm up Polk's temper -- and the online trading requirements, which most people think are a good idea if I read the news summaries right. He summarizes by saying that the FRB doesn't really have that much power; the FRB has a tiger by the tail and tries to give it a shove now and then, but pretty much has to formalize what the tiger wants to do anyway.

Me: (Giggle) He said the same thing, jeez, almost forty years ago, or more than forty, I can't keep track of which time we're supposed to be using, but I visited him and Diana for our second round of breeding and he said almost those exact words to me. He had his eyes on this position way back then, and had a plan to reach it. That was even before he sniffed out the Equity BanCorp mess.

Wilma: It looks like he didn't go for a preemptive strike; he's letting Jackson fire the opening salvos. Quite a number of citizens in my state have expressed concern about... Oh, Charlie, be careful! He replies, quite a number of lion people, particularly the younger ones, have expressed concern that a committee of your species might have speciesist tendencies in judging their candidate. I reminded them that eleven and twelve years ago most members of this committee were a lot more concerned with the fiscal policy I intended to follow at the SEC than with my personal nature. I think the majority of your constituents will be a lot more concerned with what's in their wallets, and how much of that goes to your campaign fund, than with how long the fangs are on the board members. How many of them even could tell you when the board meets anyway?

Tiger: Why aren't I surprised that Jackson isn't comforted by those words of wisdom? OK, more of the same, but this chairman doesn't want to take all day harassing the candidate. OK, here's Salina; she asks about jobs. The FRB doesn't create jobs and Charlie tells her so. I hope that group like straight answers. He does try to convince her that a steady, stable currency does a whole lot more towards building up business than fiddling for short-term gain, particularly the kinds of businesses that would benefit people in Salina's mainly urban state. Will she buy it?

Willie: Milek gets a chance; he's been making negative statements. He's awfully long-winded. I wonder if Charlie should summarize for him like that: what do I know about banking and currency, being specialized in securities? So he tells them; he reiterates his work on Equity BanCorp, and reviews his testimony to the Banking and Currency committee on the index futures business, and his role in the bank accounting standards change about five years ago, which was as much a currency issue as a securities reporting matter. Hmm, he goes off and tells them, if you confirm Charlie 5-0171 Leones you know what you're getting. How do you like what you're going to get, Senator Milek?

Tiger: Risky, but that lion never lacked for guts. Milek waffles around and I think he's not very effective at saying what he doesn't like and why, but the next one says he's impressed by Charlie's concern for stability and non-inflation. When does Polk get his turn? Charlie's doing it again; he says right out, Senator Polk, I kicked your sore spot at the SEC, the index futures. There were winners and losers on that, and my judgment was that the country was a whole lot better off if some traders, who happen to be your constituents, lost that one. I don't have to read into the record my analyses of the outcome, just to remind the other committee members that the stock market has been remarkably well behaved, perhaps coincidentally with my tenure at the SEC. I don't have an axe to grind on the Chicago Board of Trade. When I make policy judgments I'm responsible to the nation as a whole, and if someone's messing it up for other people I don't have any compunction about squelching that someone, but conversely I don't go out of my way to make trouble for people who are doing the right thing. The question for you is, is that the kind of person you want to lead the FRB?

Me: Polk is uncharacteristically quiet; he yields to Senenman. Who at last gets into the technical stuff. He's never said anything good about Charlie, but not a whole lot bad either. The debate seems to be warming up; the next female doesn't agree with Senenman's position, and Charlie actually points out ways that they agree, while summarizing their differences in an intelligent but disarming format. Sneaky: weaving branches together on his side. Jackson doesn't like it, but the chairman isn't giving him a whole lot of extra time. It must be getting late there; someone makes a fuss to cover a run to the toilet. The speakers seem to be getting more definite in their opinions; yes, the guy comes back, and the chairman asks if another day will be needed, or if they're ready to vote now. I guess Jackson is counting votes and potential armtwists, and he decides aggravating his colleagues by a delay won't save the day. Only five against! Way to go, Charlie!

Willie: And three days down, the full Senate confirms. This is unbelievable, a lion person as the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System!

Me: Charlie's going to have to be charming in that boardroom, filling the shoes of a popular chairman like Seligman. Well, he practiced it since we were kids and he can do it if he tries. In his letter he says he's been visiting Seligman after his heart attack and keeping him company walking: a nice thing to do, plus it's got to score points with the other board members; Seligman isn't the only one with a flaky heart. They must know that after the bitter campaign Anderson really isn't in the mood for advancing any Martin people, and the ones from Faraldo's time are all elderly. They wouldn't last long enough to give decent continuity.

Wilma: But just think, the chairlion!

Tiger: I knew he'd make it and I'm just sorry I'm not there to congratulate him in person, and that our congratulations will reach him 21.6 years late when he's 85 years old. I hope they do reach him.

Me: Well, we'll send them anyway, and celebrate, ourselves and our kittens. And it's definitely time for the little lions to learn how to make a squash pie.

A (Thor) year and five months later we have four simplified agricultural domes built and filled with plants. The lion kittens actually were useful at digging, the four of them (in two groups) doing about the work of a quarter of an adult, which is pretty good for such little people. They could only work for about fifteen minutes at a time before running off to play, and even less time for Iris, but they came back promptly, and we all showed that we valued their contribution and didn't expect them to do more than they were ready for, particularly Iris, and they responded with strong backs lifting little shovels that Willie made for them. Selen of course joined the groups and gave it a good try, as did the other otter kittens, but although we praised them for their work we didn't really get a lot of dirt moved by otters. They're too young and too easily distracted.

Two domes are packed with Chang plants, and we can have seconds once again on cinnamon curry burritos. And lots of cookies, which Jacinth loves to bake, with our help. While each dome has a small vegetable patch, so in case of disaster we have plants immediately available to replant if any one dome survives, dome three-A (adjacent to residential dome three) is given over almost entirely to vegetables. And in four-A we're growing nonfood plants like trees, sagebrush and feather grass. We have manzanita (not really a tree, but tough), and saplings of spruce, pine, eucalyptus, live oak, and redwood. The latter isn't the kind of tough survivor that can take over a barren planet, but I feel it's an important connection with Earth, and I hope that within our lifetime there will be at least some places on Thor where redwoods can grow.

Unlike in the residential domes, the plants live in the actual ground, not pots. Even the young human kittens helped plant the seedlings, and seeing plants thriving in our soil (with the help of a generous serving of technologically produced potting soil) raises everyone's spirits. The trees grow in buried crates of fiber-reinforced plastic boards, because this place will eventually become ocean bottom and every tree will have to be flown to its new home as soon as that home becomes habitable.

I'm on kitten patrol today. It's a type two day, where the sun rises at dinnertime, so we're working and playing indoors by the light of microwave sulfur balls. I'll spend two hours in each dome checking on lesson progress and answering questions, and I'll supervise the kittens' lunch and snacks. Meanwhile Willie can get in a full day of work on the new B factory, Wilma can work on the Mark Two dry worms, and Tiger can work on the delicate interconnections of a display module to go in one of our replacement computers. The consoles off the ship were never designed to be used as laptops in gravity, and they belong with the ship, so we're building machines for ourselves similar to what we gave the kittens, plus some spares.

Too bad about the dry worms. They thrived in the dry soil until they ate all the organics; then their population crashed. Wilma is putting in a suppressor of reproduction that depends on population and food density, pending the introduction of some kind of predator. We need someone to mix organic material such as fallen leaves into the soil.

Well, look who's coming: Iris and Ken, each with a laptop computer. Not exactly in a group.

Ken: Hi, Simba; I was...

Iris: I was here first!

Me: Ken, I think Iris is right, and you got a lot of help from Wilma yesterday; she was telling us how well you're doing. Iris doesn't get that much help from the adults, so I'd like to take his question first. OK, Ken?

Ken: I suppose.

Iris glares at Ken, but he's not expressing reflected dominance at getting the adult's attention first. My translation is that if Ken makes trouble for Iris, Ken isn't going to enjoy the aftermath. That kind of thing goes on a lot around here and I wish I knew how to do something about it.

Iris: Simba, would you help me learn to read?

Ken: Cretin, you have to know how to read around here! This is a tough planet and there's a lot to learn...

Iris: You want to see my claws, asshole?

Me: Ssst! Can it, both of you! I see we've been working on building up our vocabularies, and on the use of words as weapons. Ken, tell me how your words acted as a weapon.

Ken looks sullen.

Me: I'm sure Iris could tell how his words acted as a weapon if I asked him. Right, Iris? Would you like Iris to answer the question?

Ken: He felt bad.

Me: What words made Iris feel bad?

Ken: Cretin. He doesn't like to be reminded how dumb he is.

Me: Ken and Iris, both of you: I don't think Iris is dumb, but I want to talk about something different now, so we aren't going to deal with that right now. OK?

Iris: If we can talk about it later. I mean me and you. It's useless to fight by words with Ken.

Me: Now what I want to ask Ken is, goals, issues and action. We've seen the action: the weapon words. Ken, what was your goal, and what issues did you consider?

Ken: Everyone has to learn a whole lot of stuff so we can survive on Thor after you adults are gone. You're going to go off and leave us, and we have to be ready. The issue is, when Iris starts a lesson he's always flitting off to play, play, play! The otters are like that too, but Iris is the worst. I have to keep after them all the time, keep them working. That ought to be your job! You're the adult.

What I'd like to do is slap Ken across the dome. But I have my own goals and issues firmly in mind and at most a moment of irritation flashes across my face. I think Ken is opening up about something important and I want to keep him talking, so I'm going to play it straight

Me: Thank you, Ken, for telling me that. I think it's a key to something that's been puzzling me, about lesson progress. When you jump on Iris or Mica or whoever, how do you feel? Does it make you feel good when they feel bad?

Ken: Umm. Sometimes. When an adult punishes me for something, like yelling at other kittens, I feel better if I can accomplish something with Iris. But most of the time it's just work and all the thanks I get is Iris calling me an asshole, and it's obvious you're setting me up for a big criticism, so let's get it over with, please.

Me: Actually, Ken, you're going to be surprised how I handle this. Pleasantly, I hope. Tiger won't be so pleased: you listened too hard to her speech about how you're not going to have us forever, and that had a bad effect that she didn't intend. We do intend to have you all ready to take care of yourselves before we die. But it's bothering you too much, Ken, and I want you to downplay that meme in your mind.

Ken: If it's true I can't just forget it.

Me: It's a balance issue, and you're at the maturity where you can start learning about balance. We'll have lots of lessons on that, and I hope you'll look forward to them like you do to math and science lessons. And I have a science project for you to do. In science we put out a fair amount of effort to find out what's real. Specifically, lesson work. You probably know that we adults keep track of how much time kittens spend on lessons. I'm going to give you access to that data for the past month and the coming month.

Ken: You want me to find who's goofing off?

Me: Oh, nothing that easy. You're going to try a behavior change, and you're going to tell us whether it causes improved lesson effort by the kittens.

Ken: Are there decimals? I'll need help with those.

Me: There are decimals, and you'll get the help. Aren't you curious what the behavior change is going to be?

Ken: Right.

Me: You're going to be charming. You said I wasn't doing my job, that I should keep after all the kittens to do lessons more. Imitate me. Let them goof off for a month with no criticisms. When Iris runs off to play, roll your eyeballs when he can't see, but do nothing more. At the end of the month I'll show you how to analyze the data.

Ken: You won't like the result.

Me: We have to actually do it to know what happens. We can't go by what someone thinks, just because he wants it to be true. You've learned that in science lessons, right?

Ken: Right, whatever you may want, the data is what's real. You'll see.

Me: I certainly will. And remember, both Ken and Iris, don't tell the other kittens what's going on or they'll decide what outcome they'd like and behave to make it come true. OK, Iris?

Iris: OK, I'll keep my mouth shut. Now about reading...

Me: I haven't forgotten reading. I have a job for you, a job that's going to take courage. Ken is going to be as charming as he knows how to be. You're going to ask him to straighten out your reading problem. Ken can give useful answers mixed with comments about cretinous idiots. Ken, I don't want you to just sit on your butt for the next month, I want you to really imitate me: help the other kittens to learn, and that means to give more value than aggravation. The aggravation doesn't add value, it detracts, so cut it out. Now, Iris, he won't be perfect, do we all agree on that? If he slashed at you you'd know how to guide his hand away. So when he starts badmouthing you, slashing with words, do something similar with words. Tell him he'd hurt you if you hadn't thrown out his garbage words. And be charming about it. Be charming to each other. You understand the assignment? Then let's have our first round of practice.

Ken: Um.

Iris: Um. Well, I can't read. I have trouble with the first reading lesson.

Ken: You... You seem to read some lessons.

Iris: In Tiger signs. They're easy. But if I can't even read the very first reading lesson, I don't know how to read.

Ken: You must be able... Let's be scientific. Data is real. Put it on your screen and show Simba and me what happens to you.

Me: Good, Ken; that's the right way to handle this problem, and lots of others.

Iris: Here it is. See Spot run. Run, Spot, run. It doesn't make sense!

Ken: It does to me. What don't you understand about it?

Iris: First, someone's telling someone what to do. Who's telling? One of the characters? I don't think so, but I can't tell who. And in the first sentence he's telling someone to watch Spot, that animal in the picture. Who's supposed to watch? A character? I even looked ahead but I have no clue.

Ken: Well, you know, when I saw that lesson for the first time I thought it was kind of strange too, but I used it to practice English reading; I knew it was for Earth people and I didn't worry that it was strange to us. Later it's easier to understand the story. Just keep reading; let's see if you can handle the English.

Iris: OK. Jane throws the ball for Spot. See Spot chase the ball.

Ken: It looks like you're reading it OK, if a little slow.

Iris: But I don't understand all of it.

Ken: I don't think there's all that much to understand. In a lesson you have to worry when you miss pieces, but this is just a story and the important thing for this lesson is the English words. If you can do all the words, it doesn't matter if they make sense. Simba, is that right?

Me: Very good, both of you! Iris, you stated the problem clearly and bravely, and I think your English reading is OK. Ken is right, that there isn't a whole lot of content in this story. You'll go faster as you read more lessons in English, as you practice using it. And Ken, I'm proud of you: I could see you wanted to act like Ken the Grouch several times, but you were charming and Iris didn't have to defend himself even once. You did so well! And now the payoff: Iris, if Ken will try to stay charming, the next time you have a problem would you go to him for help?

Iris: If he'll remember to do it when you're not watching.

Me: Do you think, Ken, that it was worth the effort to advance Iris' progress like you just did? Will it be worth it to have him want to come to you for help?

Ken: Well... Yes, it's worth it.

Me: I agree. Like Selen always says, it's best to work together. Now I'll give you your first lesson in balance. This session put a lot of pressure on Iris. What do you think Iris wants to do now?

Ken: Play.

Me: Concentration is one of your strengths. You don't have to give it up, to be as flighty as Iris, but you don't have to practice it incessantly either; your natural growth will strengthen your mind beyond what you can even dream of now. So for balance, my prescription is a tag game with Iris. Do it right: don't think behind you about the lessons you're not doing; think only of chasing and being chased. And when you come back do more in your lessons, and when the lesson is over, write something for me: whether there was a difference in your ability to do the lesson. OK?

Ken: You're giving me a whole lot of new stuff.

Me: And new stuff is Iris' strength, not yours. Think of this as a lesson in an area you need to work on. That will motivate you.

Ken: You're teasing. OK, Iris, you're it!

And I have a serious writing assignment to do myself, a report on this little lesson set so the other adults can consider how we may have thrown Ken out of balance, and in consequence unbalanced the other kittens. I think it's harder to make our kittens than to make any of the other life forms in the Thor life system!

Oh, they're going back to lessons. But Iris had another question that I didn't answer, and I can guess what it is.

Me: Iris and Ken! Was that fun? Come here a minute; there was part of that lesson I missed giving to you. Iris, who's the smartest of all the kittens?

Iris: Ken is.

Me: Compared to Ken, everyone else looks dumb, and they don't like to be reminded of it. Ken, what does that tell you about how to be charming?

Ken: Don't remind them.

Me: Right. When you know an answer, when you can give help, don't hold it back, but try to phrase your answers so as not to tear the other person down, as much as your skill allows. You did that well when you helped Iris on reading. And don't go out of your way to remind people that you're smart, when there's not some benefit to come from it. OK?

Ken: OK, I'll do my best.

Me: Good, Ken. Now here's the other side of the same lesson: one has to accept each person for what he or she is. That means, when Iris has trouble with a lesson or cuts a lesson short and goes to play, Ken has to say, that's how Iris is, and I have to value him as he is, for his strengths. See how that fits in with how I told you to change your behavior this month? Got it? But Iris, what does all this say to you?

Iris: Smartness isn't my strength. I'm best at seeing what's going to happen and being there to make it go the way I want it. I win lots of games that way.

Me: Yes, you do. I tried for that mix of characters in you and I think it came out fairly well balanced. But smartness isn't your weakness either. None of the kittens is dumb, particularly not you, but having super-smart Ken to compare yourself against can be discouraging. Fight it, OK? I want you to say to yourself every morning when you wake up: I accept myself as I am. I'm a good kitten. I have what it takes in the smarts department, even though Ken may be smarter. Repeat that back to me so you don't forget it, and practice believing it.

Iris: I accept myself as I am. I'm a good kitten. I have what it takes in the smarts department, even though Ken may be smarter. I practice ten minutes a day believing impossible things, to strengthen my mind.

Me: Good for you; keep it up! Really, you have to accept the impossible to make it come true. Tiger does that, and that got us CQMT, got us to epsilon Eridani. Dr. Franck did that, and that got me created. Willie does that, and he was able to build the Gaia factories. You were making a joke out of Alice in Wonderland, but it's in the book for a reason. Agreed?

Iris: OK. This will all take getting used to.

Me: Certainly, and both of you, let me give you a hug. Isn't that a good feeling, to know that we're all good kittens? And Iris, I don't remember reading that part of Alice in Wonderland to you. Where did you pick it up?

Iris: I've been reading a little every day, in Tiger signs. It's fun.

Me: Ken, comment.

Ken: It's, um, the right way to practice.

Me: So it is, and I'm happy, Iris, that you're finding that to be fun. Keep me informed what you're doing. And let the other kittens know too; maybe they'll find it fun also, and that will be good to strengthen their minds.

Iris: I did. Mica is doing it too.

Me: Good for him! But if you two are reading in Tiger signs you're missing half the jokes, which are twisting words in English. Tell him that for me, OK? It will motivate him to get started on English reading.

Next Previous Contents