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Chapter 13: I'm Docked

Iris here, where I like to be: outside. I like feather grass. I like to pull off a flower head and feel how it tickles my palm, my toes, my nose, my ears (I stick it past the neck seal of my helmet). Selen would have his penis out and be tickling that. The feather grass grows really well along Sirion where it can pick up the water that evaporates. Where I'm sitting, about five meters from the river, there's about a centimeter of soil lichen, and over that the grass is about twenty centimeters high, with the flower heads sticking up above that. The soil will be better when dry worms can mix the dirt and the lichen and the dead leaves, but they need oxygen. Simba's working on new dry worms that can survive outside, but they're not ready yet.

Chang bushes would grow here but they have no dispersal mechanism and they don't contribute to our oxygen supply in the domes, so there's no point. Simba has some bush-type plants in dome four, Artemisia and Manzanita, but they aren't quite ready yet to be set loose in the wild.

This place really changed after the first two comets, and it's going to change even more when the biggie lands in seven weeks. I can remember as a little kitten, the ground was totally bare dirt, no plants at all. But about seven (Thor) years ago we got the first comet, and another smaller one about two years after that, and then the grass started growing. Plants breathe carbon dioxide like we breathe oxygen, and the comets gave them a little bit to breathe. Plus stink and poison in the air, ammonia, carbon monoxide and methane, so you have to be careful about opening your neck seal. The plants don't care because Simba designed them that way; I wish he'd designed us to be carnivorous plants! Quin is designing one, with Wilma. Of course it's just a play project; he's two years younger than me and that makes a big difference in what you can do.

We kittens are growing, and that means we eat food. We've all worked together to build more auxiliary domes, and now there are two in line with each residential dome. Fans circulate the air, closing the loop: food and oxygen to us in the residential domes; carbon dioxide and water out of us to the plants in the aux domes. The layout is simple for domes one through four, just one big loop of air ducts, but the aux domes for five and six are clustered at the end to make a separate loop. When we grow to sexual maturity we'll eat even more, and then we'll have to put in at least two more aux domes at that end of the colony.

Sirion is getting to be really a river. Simba calls this the dike, though Wilma insists that it's just a stone block that's fallen on edge, and a dike would be melted rock that got into a crack and froze. Wilma's right; I know that from the lesson on volcanos. Anyway, Sirion is strong enough going over the dike to knock you down and pull your helmet off. It happened to me about two months ago. We have safety rules and one is that you never ever go in or even near the water alone, which is why I'm sitting up here. I'm glad I followed the rule that day with Night. Joke, see, day and night, giggle! Night led me all the way back with a hose in my mouth and my eyes closed to keep out the ammonia, mostly, because the hose into my helmet was torn loose. The chewing out I got was even less fun. But it was worth it to learn what to do to survive a broken helmet. Novanima are supposed to be steady and tough, and I'm proud of what I did, and Tiger said she was too after she got through chewing me out.

I'm almost twenty years old. In lessons I'm doing long division, American Revolution, and a bunch of simple science stuff, like geology, that doesn't need algebra. America is a place on Terra that I'm never going to see, but you can learn from what they had to go through. I'm just starting to work on organized paragraphs, as much as my patience allows. I can hit the adversaries most of the time in the shooting simulator, when I see them, and I'm working on judging the situations. We do psychodrama a lot and I'm better at judging situations in that than in shooting. I have the patience to run for fifteen minutes. Patience is something I have to work on a lot; it holds me back in lessons and other stuff too. Selen has the patience to swim for forty minutes in the pool and Mica is almost as steady. Swimming for otters is like running for the rest of us, and vice versa: they look so funny when they run, and they say the same thing when we swim. Someday when there's oxygen in the air, the otters can swim in Sirion. They always talk about that.

I'm OK in social, better than in regular lessons, but Selen is unbalanced there: he's the social king. You'd think Selen would die if he were alone for two seconds. And of course you feel closest to your friend when you're playing sexy with him or her, so Selen and sex are synonymous, giggle. Everyone does it, a balanced amount, but it's like Selen's hobby. You'd think Selen was grown up and married to the whole colony. Well, social is his strength. I'm not weak there either but I'm balanced about it, and right now I don't mind at all being alone.

I think it's time for me to go back now. I was studying with Selen and he'll be waiting for me; he doesn't like to be alone. And since I can't do lessons for as long as I'd like, I have to be disciplined about my breaks, not to let them drag on. Maybe I can take back some melting snow from the pile where the butterflies drop it, and throw a snowball at someone.

Well, that was a bust; I chilled my hands all the way and both people I met asked me who I was going to throw the snow at. It's no fun when they know you have it because they'll dodge. But throwing isn't the only thing snow is useful for. I return through the airlock of dome two. The dome is wall-to-wall Chang bushes, to give us oxygen, with just a small space in the center for some work tables, and a space around the airlock for the helmet rack. It takes agility to get my helmet and tanks off without dropping the snow, but kittens are famous for agility. Aah, a homey scent! The smell of the ants comforts me: all those workers keeping the plants healthy so I can breathe and eat.

Me: Hi, Selen. I'm back. You want to share a slushie with me?

Selen: Sure; let's see what fruit we can get. You get the cups and I'll score some fruit from dome six. Computer: Selen to six.

Computer: Go.

Me: Computer: Iris to five.

Computer: Go.

In my home dome, packed with plants except for walkways and the space for our mats and cabinets, I put the snow in two of our cups and mix in sugar crystals. Holding the snow for so long was kind of chilly; but Willie and Wilma have trouble with the cold even just in a snowball fight. Selen and I can only meet in dome two or outside, so I take it back... Oops, we need spoons too. I take them back; there's Selen in the tunnel. He has mashed strawberries in a bowl.

Selen: These were picked earlier, with a note saying they were for us otters.

My mouth is watering already; I like the combination of sweet and sour. But what a pain it is, how we have to talk. For example, when I told Selen about my accident at the dike I said ``I was led back with my eyes closed'' because it was a female otter involved. See how I edit my own thoughts, to not think about who obviously wrote that note. What a pain.

Selen: What'cha thinking about? Eat your slushie; that'll cheer you up.

Me: Right, Selen. I was just thinking how long it's going to be before we grow up. The strawberries are really good on snow.

Selen: They sure are. Thanks for bringing the snow. What are you going to do next, more lessons?

Me: Sure, after I wash our cups and spoons and get my machine. I'm going to do agriculture, the section on soil nitrification.

Selen: Oh, the examples in that one are cool. I'll bet the regolith under our feather grass is just packed with nitrate by now. I'll wash the bowl later.

He's so unfailingly positive! I wish Selen would complain and grouch more, so he weren't so damn perfect. Well, he has that one balance problem, but he usually keeps it balanced in imbalance, giggle, so as not to bug everyone else too much. OK, the cups are clean; back I go into the tunnel. And look who's moving around: Rose and Valeria.

Rose: What'cha doing? You want to study together?

Me: Sure, in dome two with Selen. He'll be glad if you two join us.

It's a little embarrassing: Rose and I are at about the same level in lessons, even though being a jaguar Rose is a bit over three years younger than me. But Rose and I are real close friends anyway. I'm not as extreme as Selen but I appreciate any friend who will put up with me. Here we are, out of the tunnel.

Selen: Oh, hi, Rose. Hi, Valeria. Did you put spices on yourself again?

Valeria: I wish I had a lawn of spice plants and I could just roll in it! I put on some sage. Smell me; do you think it goes well with my natural scent?

Selen: Yes, it's pretty good but I liked the dill better.

Me: Let me smell. It's good. Maybe I just like sage better than dill.

Rose: I like them both but Valeria's natural scent matches the sage.

Me: I wonder if I'd smell good with spices on.

Valeria: One of your recognition scents is pretty distinct and I think it would fight with the spice.

Selen: You're going to like the new one. It smells so good! It's growing right next to my bed. I wish I could bring it around; everyone will love it. It looks like it's growing OK but it's not ready for the public; the regulation isn't quite right, it's said. It's called nutmeg.

Me: I like the spices, but we probably should be studying rather than chattering, me particularly.

Slow or not, I need to finish, and will finish, a lot of lessons to know how to operate this colony when the adults are gone. Our lessons are good that way: they still teach me even though I can't work for long periods like Rose and particularly Ken can. I said to myself that I'd finish that section, and I did it! So it's time for me to take a break. I'll go down to dome five and climb the iron tree there, so as not to disturb these three, and then I can come back and study something else.

Me: Iris to five.

Computer: Wait... Go.

So someone was in the tunnel that I shouldn't meet. I've been hearing rumors about the new plant; Wolf was chattering about how nice it smelled, and Oso before that. Let's see if I can catch a whiff coming down the ramp from dome six. Nothing. It's awfully quiet up there: not a sound. I'll bet nobody's home; they went to another of their domes, their three domes to our two. But I'm not supposed to be in there. Well, the rule is to keep me from meeting my future mates. If they're not in the dome, I won't meet them. The computer thinks I'm still in the tunnel and they'll be locked out until I announce that I've arrived in five. Nobody will notice a little extra travel time -- I'll take one whiff and split. Here goes.

So that's what dome six looks like. It's blurry looking through the plastic sheeting because of the fibers, and you can't really see anything. They have it laid out with a narrow aisle through the plants running from the ramp portal over to their mats, and they have their own work table. We should make one too, rather than relying on the one in dome two and other domes; maybe I could ask Vulcan to help me on that. Selen said the plant was next to his mat. Is that...

Lion 1: You forgot to tell the computer you're here. What? Who in hell are you?!

Me: (Gulp) I'm not supposed to be here.

The person has blocked the exit, and there are two of them, and the other one is between me and the airlock. And Mica was studying with, dare I say the pronoun? Her. Studying silently. How stupid I am!

Lion 1: Damn right, you're not supposed to be here! So why are you here?

Me: I heard about your new plant and I wanted to smell it.

Lion 1: You risked your mating chances to smell the new plant. What a crock! So what are we going to do with you, do you think?

Me: How about I just go back in the tunnel and we just forget we ever saw each other?

Lion 1: Just tiptoe out like nothing happened, eh? I don't think so. This is serious and we have to make sure it doesn't happen again. We need to take extreme measures.

I know that phrase: Selen was reading a spy story and got me into it. Gulp.

Mica: Extreme measures? If you do that, you'll have to share a mate. I don't think that's a good idea. And I like... that person. And the adults would be really pissed.

Lion 2: Let's be sure of goals and issues before we pick the action, OK? We have to discourage, um, the person from coming back. The rule didn't keep, um, him out, so maybe adding a punishment will help. Something unpleasant. But it can't keep him from doing his work; that would be unfair. And it can't be permanent, right?

Lion 1: You're right; I went ahead without thinking it through. If we beat the person up, we're not experienced and we might do it too much or not enough. Let's see, biting or clawing? But where? I'm thinking about infection, and biting off a finger or toe would limit working ability.

Lion 2: I've got it: the tail! Well, maybe that's a little extreme. How about the tail tip? It's painful, it's obvious so people won't let the person forget the punishment, and it will grow back in a reasonable time. What do you think, person? Is that fair?

Me: You have to catch me first.

Lion 1: Here's a scenario: We can keep you here indefinitely. We send Mica to bring Tiger. She'll be so pissed that if she doesn't approve our plan, you'll wish she had. We're supposed to solve our problems ourselves. How do you suggest we handle it?

Me: She'll slash my ears off whatever you do.

Lion 2: You have to suggest something. What lesson is Mica getting from all this, when you won't take responsibility for what you did?

Me: You have a way of making me feel guilty. Well, how about...

Lion 1: Twenty lashes with a wet noodle. The tail tip is the best; it's effective but limited. I can't think of any physical punishment that would be better. Kicking your butt, I'd get a kick out of that, but it would just be stupid and it's not enough. If you have a serious suggestion, make it, but I don't think you can think of anything better.

Me: Well... I guess I'm not going to be able to get out of this one.

Lion 1: I guess you're not. Um, dammit, it's a pain avoiding names and things! Teammate, who's going to do the biting? Should we do rock, scissors, paper? Or do you want me to just do it?

Lion 2: It shouldn't be just one of us. How about you bite halfway through and I finish the job?

Lion 1: That's fine with me. Person, do we have to hold you down?

Me: No, if I'm taking responsibility I'll do it right. How about if I kind of sit seiza?

Lion 1: Face the other way so we're between you and the exits. That's right. Now give me your tail.

I'm like a samurai about to commit hara-kiri in a video, sitting Japanese style on my knees. This is going to be bad. I'm going to try not to scream, for pride. Maybe I'll succeed. She's pulling the long black hairs back out of the way. She's putting it in her mouth, against her fangs. Aaa-aa-aaaa-aaaaaa-aa! It's over. The first half, anyway. Without being told, for pride, I move my stinging, injured tail within reach of the other person. Again, the mouth, the fangs. A-a-aaaaaaa-aa-aaaaaa!

Lion 2: Here's your tail back. I suggest you kind of squeeze it to stop the blood, and go down to dome one and get some antibiotic and staples. I'll keep the end piece. There were like wire things in there and they were hard to get through. I guess those were the tendons.

Me: I'm sorry about all this. Um, so it won't be a complete, total waste, now that I'm here and punished, may I smell the plant?

Lion 1: Jeez!

Lion 2: Well, he was pretty mature about it, once we pointed out the responsibility issue. You won't be back, will you, whether or not we let you smell it?

Me: Jeez, I hope not!

Lion 1: OK, it's the one on that table next to the mat.

Me: Oh, that's really nice! I hope you get the regulation problem straightened out; I'm looking forward to when we can have our own plant and can try out the flavor. OK, I'm going to leave now. I'll see you in twelve years or whenever the right time is. Sorry to meet you like this.

Lion 2: We'll meet happily next time. Bye.

Me: The computer thinks I'm still in the tunnel. Bye.

So now the first half and probably the less unpleasant half of this debacle is over. What did I do wrong? What can I do to keep this kind of stuff from happening so often? Who's this in the tunnel, Ken?

Ken: You're to go to dome two. Tiger wants to talk to you. Jeez, what happened to your tail?

Me: It got caught in the door of dome six. Don't go there.

Ken: You'd better have a better story than that for Tiger. She sent me down here to wait for you.

Me: How did she know where I was?

Ken: Apparently the computer does more for her than for us.

Gulp. Well, if I'm to show a proper example to the younger kittens, I'd better go up the ramp and through the portal ahead and be steady as a lion should be, or any Novanima. And there's Tiger, waiting. For me.

Tiger: Exploring?

Me: I heard about a new plant in dome six. I incorrectly judged that nobody was there, and went in to smell the plant.

Tiger: It looks like not all of you came back.

Me: That's right, Tiger.

Tiger: Dou dzun time: tell us what mistakes you made.

Me: I bent a rule, whose purpose is to keep you from making mistakes. I determined ineffectively that the dome was empty. On going through the doors I assumed nobody was there; I should have looked all around immediately, and run when I saw I was wrong.

Tiger: Good list, but there are two items missing which come from your next stage of maturity. First: Having judged that the dome was empty, you failed to hold in your mind the opposite judgment. You have to go forward to find consequences on both alternatives, and if you had, you probably would have kept out of the dome, and if not, you certainly would have remembered to scan the area when you came out the door. I've seen you get killed a lot in weapons simulations from being too absolute in your judgments. Do you understand the error?

Me: Yes, Tiger. I'll do my best to remember it.

Tiger: We'll work on that in the future, in a less bloody context than dome six. It will take work. Now your second error was that you failed to delegate a portion of the task to someone who could do it better. With that hint can you identify what you should have done?

Me: Someone else? But they wouldn't do it!

Tiger: Another advantage of a second opinion is that they might catch some of your errors, but let's just assume that both of you were going to be imprudent, and impudent: who would you pick to help?

Me: Stupid, stupid! I could have asked Selen to check who was in the dome.

Tiger: Right, and I want you to work hard on this principle: you're not the only person around here, and working together, Selen says this all the time, you can accomplish a whole lot more than if you work separately. I want you to do a writing assignment to fix this in your mind, explaining what you did and how you could have done better, and phrase it so everyone can read it; keep names and sexes out of it. Now let's stick your tail back together. Rose, you're our junior medic, and there's another person who's doing medicine and I'd like that one to join us for the lesson. That will exclude Selen, but everyone else may come to dome one and watch. So, how did the plant smell? Hey, people, announce yourselves; just because I'm with you doesn't mean the computer knows who's in the tunnel. Rose, I believe your target is in dome three. Iris?

Me: Um, the plant smelled nice. I hope we can get one soon. Um, that isn't all the punishment I'm getting, is it?

Tiger: Do you think you need more? I'll be happy to provide it if so.

Me: Well, I kind of assumed you'd be a lot more pissed off.

Tiger: True, I'm annoyed that you, as you so delicately put it, bent the rule. But think of my goals here. Next time you think about breaking that class of rules you're going to feel it in your tail, right? I've worked with you a long time, and I figure I don't have to put out effort to duplicate what someone else has already done really well. Don't you agree? Some people get a charge out of working over others that they're dominant over. I make sure I don't make that mistake, and you've had the lesson on how to be a good kitten; you can recognize that and reject it, right?

Me: Well, yes, I guess, to all of it.

Tiger: Little kittens, you have to swat them all the time. You're at a higher maturity level. It's your responsibility to take this experience and squeeze the most good out of it that you can, not my responsibility to pound it into your head. I'd like a proposal, later, for what you intend to do, and we'll discuss it. I've got a question. We didn't hear a whole lot of noise coming from dome six. Why was that?

Me: What do you mean, noise?

Tiger: The kittens were speculating what was being done to you and how loud you'd scream. Nobody guessed it exactly, but with that kind of abuse I'm surprised you kept quiet.

Me: I tried to, because I wanted to act mature. I didn't know if I'd succeeded or not. In my mind I screamed.

Tiger: Sometimes it's important to stay hidden even though you're hurting. I'm proud of you, for your self-control. Also for a good analysis of what you did wrong. Now it's time for some more pain. You don't have to stay awake for it. Hi, Simba; see what they did to Iris. You want to supervise Rose and Titania?

Simba: Right. That punishment was creative; I'll congratulate the biters. Now let's review the medical goals and issues. Rose?

Rose: We want Iris' tail, giggle, to heal and grow back. Issues, infection, regeneration gel, and if there's any dead meat in there we have to take it out. And we have to close up the skin, to keep infection out and to help stop bleeding. What do we do about the blood clots; how can we work around them?

Simba: Unfortunately the clots have to come off, but in this case the bleeding is spectacular, all over Iris' hand and arm and tail and leg, but fortunately not significant quantitatively. Now, Titania, what will the actions be?

Titania: Get the clots out of the way. Wash it all out with saline. Like Rose said, debride any inviable bits. Then staple the skin together. Will it just go over the bone or do we have to do something to shape it?

Simba: Just staple. But I suggest we also shave about two centimeters of tail, so the fur doesn't get in the way. OK, Iris, get up on the workbench; lay on your side and knock yourself out. You two, get out the materials and tools.

Me: Could I kind of sit, and watch? I want to learn too; I don't want to miss the lesson.

Simba: I've had this done and it's no fun, believe me, but if you can hold still I'm not going to force you to sleep. OK, Rose, use the carbide cutter to shave the fur off, right to the end, and don't worry about knocking the clot out.

Simba wasn't kidding about the fun. It's really hard to concentrate on learning the procedures while keeping myself from screaming and from grabbing my tail away from Rose and Titania. I jitter a lot, but Simba doesn't intervene. When they were biting my tail off it didn't last so long, and there was nothing I could do about it, which made it easier to bear. For this, I have to choose to bear every pang.

Simba: That's it, I think. You two kittens did a good job. I'd like you both to do a writing assignment on wound closure, to fix the lesson in your mind, and you too, Iris, if you want to participate and if your schedule isn't packed with dome six issues. You were really steady and I hope you weren't doing it for enjoyment.

Me: It was no fun, Simba, you can be sure of that. The only thing enjoyable in this whole mess is that plant. It took so long to patch up my tail! It hurt more to fix it than to bite it off.

Simba: I'm afraid that's a pretty common truth: easy to break, hard to repair.

Me: Thanks, Rose and Titania. And Simba. And Tiger. I hope I'll make a less stupid mistake next time. I was supposed to be taking a break from studying, something that wouldn't disturb the others in dome two. What a joke! Let's go back there, except Titania, and try to get something useful out of the rest of the morning.

Tiger: Don't underestimate the usefulness of the lessons you've already learned. But yes, you're dismissed and I think a little quiet studying would be just the thing for you now, after you wash the blood off your fur. You should keep the end dry for the next week, meaning care in bathing and no swimming. See you at lunch.

Five days later it's a type two day: it will be dark until dinner. After exercise and breakfast I go over to dome two in the hope of meeting Rose and the rest of the dome two gang. Several of us are going to have special colors at the next shedding and I'm one of them; this morning was the first day we got the new hormone pills. I'm going to be just smashing: white and gold (actually lion color) with a black tail tip and lion color paw skin. Well, kind of a shortened tail tip, but the rest will look great. The adults say nobody on Earth has done much with the white color yet and they're curious to see how it comes out. Night went totally black four years ago, and now Mica is going to follow his name and do the same, except for auburn paws. Not that either knows about the other, though I'm sure Mica has caught glimpses of a black otter in the distance. Valeria is giving up her nice copper color for a Wilma imitation. I wouldn't, but she says a human ought to at least try being human. And look who's coming into the dome with her machine. But Valeria doesn't seem too happy; in fact, she's been snappish for several days.

Me: Hi, there, Valeria Victrix! What lesson are you doing?

Vulcan: Don't call me that! I'm not a winner. Call me Vulcan, twisted and ugly.

Me: Vulcan is for when you make things. It's a good name, and you're good at making stuff with Willie and the other adults, and you're not ugly. Come here and get a hug.

Vulcan: I don't want a damn hug! And don't talk to me about Willie and Wilma! I hate myself!

I remember a recent lesson about bringing in more effective assistance.

Me: This sounds serious. Would it make it better or worse if we talked to Simba or Tiger about it?

Vulcan: Yaaah! I want to kill them!

There are times when the hoped-for assistance can't be used. I'm going to try to help Valeria myself. But I remember another recent lesson: what I think I'm going to be able to do might not work out. In that case I may have to twist Valeria's arm, possibly literally, and drag her to see Simba. He's the best at social things. I'm not stupid; I can learn from a bad experience. I'm just not patient enough for lessons.

Me: Tell me what the problem is.

Vulcan: Go to hell.

Me: Come on, how hard am I going to have to work to convince you to let the poison out of your mind?

Vulcan: You're as bad as Selen.

Me: Meaning I'll keep after you when you have a problem and I'll keep at it while he'll back off when you tell him to go to hell. You were there when I got hit with the lesson: if you can't handle it, ask someone who can. You don't want the adults, so ask a kitten: moi. OK? Think about me keeping after you, and make the ending decision now, not after you fight with me.

Vulcan: Damn it! I don't want people to push me into stuff! Yaah! Yaaw! Damn it! I can do psychodrama as well as you ever did. And I'm going to have a big stupid scene with you like I did with Selen and then I'm... OK, Look at me; what do you see?

Me: Well, you could be more specific. I see Valeria. I see my friend who's hurting. I don't see why: you have to tell me.

Vulcan: Would you please call me Vulcan?

Me: If it can be the good side, I will, Vulcan. But I'm not going to say you're ugly, because you aren't.

Vulcan: I'm supposed to be human, right? So what's human about me? Go over what's similar to Wilma and what's not.

Me: The ears. You're going to have the same fur pattern and skin color once you shed. When you're old enough you'll have a human female's milk glands. The feet: that's why you can run faster than me.

Vulcan: The stupid, ugly, folded ears. Fur all over. I know it's going to be gone, but this isn't human! Now what's different? I shed. I have buttons; she doesn't. I have a pocket; she doesn't. Look at these fingernails; they're claws! I have lion teeth. I could go on and on. I'm a lion with a few decorations stuck on with glue, the stupid ones that make me uglier. And there's more!

Me: Any chance of dealing with this in small loads, rather than choking on too big a mouthful?

Vulcan: Maybe I want to choke. OK, tell me I'm beautiful.

Me: Well, I agree with you that lions and jaguars have the best ears. But be patient while I review what you already know. You people are the representatives of Homo sapiens on Thor, but Tiger and Simba couldn't handle real humans, so they had to make Novanima, and to represent humans you have to look like them as much as possible. Hence the ears and so on. But it's not right to take away from you the good stuff everyone else has, like pockets and claws. So they didn't.

Vulcan: So I'm a human, right? With a pocket, right? Pfaugh!

Me: Is the idea that you want to be exactly like Wilma? Homo sapiens rather than Novanima uomo? To lose the pocket?

Vulcan: Damn it! I want the pocket and the good skin and they made me be human and I'm not and yaaah! I hate them!

Me: Let's see if I understand that. If it weren't for being human, Vulcan would be happy as she is, pocket, claws, fangs, maybe wanting prettier ears but you wouldn't totally freak over it, right?

Vulcan: But I'm supposed to be human!

Me: Can we do one thread at a time? It will be a lot easier to set down a foundation.

Vulcan: OK, if I'd never heard the word ``human'' I'd be happy as I am.

Me: Good! I'm happy with you as you are, too. Is it time for that hug?

Good, she's moving. She's also crying, something humans (both kinds) can uniquely do. I'm not used to having my fur dampened with secretions, but I'll put up with a lot to straighten out a friend.

Vulcan: Thanks, Iris. Nobody else even tried to help me.

Sure they did, but I'm not going to try that lesson. I'll tell Simba later and let him try to teach Vulcan to reach out more to people, not push them away.

Me: You're welcome, Vulcan. Now you did hear ``human'' and that's started really bothering you, and I'll bet there are two parts to that one too. So can you go through the pain step by step, and maybe we can find the parts and get them apart.

Vulcan: Foundation: I want to be what I am. That has to be your foundation; everyone knows that lesson. Step one, I'm assigned to represent Homo sapiens. Step two, there's no way I can do it as Novanima uomo; I'm not human and I never will be. I can't stand that. Step three, I never would have agreed to do what I can't do; Tiger ordered Simba to make me to be her representative, and nobody jerks me around like that; I didn't ask for that job; I didn't ask for this filthy planet; I didn't ask for being caged in these dippy domes with a chamberpot on my head to breathe in! Yaaah!

Me: What's a chamberpot?

Vulcan: You shit and piss in it and then fling it out the window, gardyloo! It's in a story; people on Earth really did that. You're making me laugh and I want to be mad.

Me: Maybe this whole place is a comic story. Look, I'm starting to understand and I was right about having to rip the problem in two pieces. You have the job. You can't do it, so you're mad at yourself. But you never promised that you'd do it, Tiger stuck you with it without asking, and so you're mad at Tiger for that. Of course you're mad; you should be. I'm kind of mad too, now that you've shown me the issues. If I were in your position I'd tell Tiger to shove it.

Vulcan: Right on! She should be miserable, not me, and I'm going right in there and I'm going to tell her off good! Shove it up your midnight black ass, Tiger L6-3512!

Me: No, don't just run off and do it! Please! Come back, Vulcan, and think this through! That's how I got my tail shortened.

Vulcan: You're right; I should learn from your lesson. OK, goals, issues and action. The goal is to, what? I want to be dumb and happy like I was before. Maybe I should klonk myself on the head.

Me: Let's try our psychodrama skills. What's causing you stress, you want to shove it up someone's ass. Politely. The goal is to dump the stress on someone else, the person who's responsible for it. Not on you. Can we agree on that?

Vulcan: Right. I'm bothered and I want to get un-bothered. So I'm going to go up to Tiger and tell her I'm not going to do her job any more: I can't be the human representative.

Me: That sounds pretty good, except for one thing: who's going to the job then? Don't show your fangs to me! It might be nobody. But how will the Earth humans feel if their representative dumps them? They'll feel really bad; wouldn't you? Let's feel around the pain a little more and try to understand it. OK?

Vulcan: Guilt monger! OK. I refuse to try to be human any more. Where does that leave the Earth humans? Look, suppose the other Novanima uomo represent the humans and I just be myself?

Me: Petra, for example: have you talked with her about any of this? I'll bet she'd react differently from you, but just as negatively once you tell her what you're thinking.

Vulcan: I've refused to talk to Petra, because I didn't understand enough what I was feeling. She's mad at me now. OK, we should think about all the Novanima uomo doing the same thing. You'd have to coordinate it with others.

Me: I had an idea. Suppose you, I mean all the Novanima uomo, write a nice message to the Earth humans, and of course to Tiger, and say sorry, we tried to be human for you and it's not working, but we'll still be your representatives on this planet.

Vulcan: Hmm. So if they can accept a representative that isn't really human, fine, but if they can't, tough shit. Hmm. It's not as if we have to do any special work; we just have to be ourselves as we really are: fake humans, and they'll just have to accept what we are if they want their representatives.

Me: Good! That's a good solution; it goes with our lessons. Let's take that to Tiger. It's much better, isn't it, than kicking her shins and telling her to shove it.

Vulcan: Right. But there are two things. I'm still mad at Tiger that she stuck us all with jobs without asking. And we can't call ourselves human, so what do we say? Fake human is stupid. Novanima uomo is too long. How about uomos?

Me: Doesn't sound right... but how about 'uomi? It trips lightly off the tongue: 'uomi, 'uomi, 'uomi. What do you think?

Vulcan: 'Uomi? Not bad. I'm no good in language; I can't do any better. Now what about our jobs?

Me: My job, we all have the job, is to replant Thor. They say they couldn't do it alone, so they created us to do it with them, and they didn't give us any choice in that. They also created you to represent the Earth humans, and you're mad about that.

Vulcan: Well, I already said I'd be the representative if I can do it as myself and not as something I'm not. How much are you thinking about refusing to plant plants? If they'd asked like they should have, well, I like to make things and making a whole world is a blast!

Me: Right, it's a lot of work but I really look forward to putting a life system on Thor, and oxygen, and fields I can run through. I'm going to tell Tiger she should have asked me if I wanted to do the job, but if she asks me today I'll tell her yes.

Vulcan: Now, shall I make up to Petra and tell her what we're thinking? And you handle the ones I can't talk to.

Me: Well, I'm not sure that's the right order: you're mad and you deserve to get yourself straightened out independent of the other 'uomi. I like that name; I'm sure the others will go for it. But it should be after we talk to Tiger, not before. She may have some suggestions, after all, even though we're mad at her, and we should go to the other 'uomi with the complete plan, not get them to agree and then have to change it. What do you think?

Vulcan: I'm not afraid of anything, but going up against Tiger alone, I mean you're going with me I hope but it's a 'uomi issue and I'm the only 'uomi there, and I feel that, you know?

Me: Me too. Well, do you want to do the 'uomi first and Tiger second?

Vulcan: No, you were right. Let's go. Computer: Valeria and Iris to dome one.

Computer: Go.

Well, here we are in the dome, but where's Tiger?

Vulcan: Um, Simba, we wanted to talk to Tiger about something.

Simba: Hi, there, Valeria. She's outside looking at the stars. Can I help?

Vulcan: Um, well, it's kind of about Tiger. And me.

Simba: Ah. Well, would you like me to get her in here, or do you want to try to find her?

Vulcan: Maybe we should come back when she comes in.

Simba: May I ask? You've been angry about something, and I'll bet it's come to a head and you want to talk to Tiger about it.

Vulcan: I'm sorry I was nasty to you. Um, you're right.

Simba: I'm thinking back to when I was your age. I suggest that if you've psyched yourself up to talk to her, you do it now. It's worth interrupting her. And do it here: it's a lot easier to have a conversation without the helmet speakers and without having to look for her; I know exactly where she is. How about it?

Vulcan: Well... OK. Shall we just wait here?

Simba: Right. We'll be back in about five minutes. See you.

Vulcan: Iris, my knees are shaking.

Me: Want a hug?

Hugs aren't Vulcan's style, but she accepts my offer. Then we stand around and get nervous again. Willie and Wilma are both at their work tables; I wave and they wave back. Vulcan works a lot with Willie on the factories; a lot of kittens do including me, but Vulcan knows the most parts, and Willie has been systematically teaching her building skills, and she's learning chemistry from Wilma. I wish I had time for extra lessons but it's hard to keep my head above water as it is. I have to improve my patience and concentration. OK, they're back. Combat time.

Tiger: You wanted to talk to me, Valeria?

Vulcan: Um, yes, um, I'm mad at you, Tiger. You made me be the representative of the humans and I'm not human and you didn't ask me and I'm not going to do it and I'm really mad!

Tiger: Funny you should bring that up right now. I was just outside talking to my favorite stars. The big comet that's coming in six weeks: can you see it through the dome cover, just there? Sirius says I'm putting you kittens at too big a risk. Procyon has a personality like my human son Coyote. It says, go for it, the risk is worth it. Are you mad about that too, Valeria?

Talking to stars? With personality?

Vulcan: Um, I wasn't really thinking about the comet. I was thinking about not being human.

Tiger: OK, let me get this clear. I ordered you made a certain way and I gave you a set of jobs, all without your permission, and you think that's wrong. Have I got it right?

Vulcan: Um, right.

Tiger: Willie, I can see you eavesdropping over there. Remember what you said about hubris? I think the chickens just came home to roost.

Chickens? This must be some kind of metaphor. I wonder what hubris is. Probably something important.

Tiger: Culpa rubet vultus meus. The accused stands before the judge and pleads... guilty! And now comes the punishment. Iris there got his tail truncated for a much smaller transgression. Valeria, I heard you yelling at him earlier and I'm going to give you your wish.

Tiger kneels, sits seiza, bringing herself down to Vulcan's level, even a little shorter, Vulcan being both tall and broad for her age. I wish I weren't missing the Latin symbolism. I don't like the looks of this. It isn't going the way I planned; I thought I'd have to take care of Vulcan! Simba shouldn't keep his mouth shut like he's doing.

Tiger: OK, Valeria, put your hands around my neck. That's good enough; it doesn't have to be all the way around. Now you may do anything you want.

Vulcan: Anything? What am I supposed to do?

Gulp. I remember what she was yelling. In self-defense I know how to wedge someone's hands off my neck, but how would I do it as a third party? My knees aren't steady; the rest of me damn well had better be, because my only weapon is my voice.

Me: Stop this! Now! Vulcan, hands off Tiger!

Tiger looks at me, astonished. I'm in for it now, jerking around her plan. But any punishment for me is better than the one she intended for herself.

Vulcan: Tiger! You thought I'd kill you! Please get up, please! I'm mad but I'm not that mad! We need you; we're not ready to take care of the planet without you. Please stay alive, Tiger! Please get up. You said I could do anything. I want you to teach us how to take care of Thor!

She enfolds Tiger and I can't tell if it's a hug or if she's trying to lift Tiger out of seiza bodily. I think a hug would be very helpful right about now and I enfold Tiger too. Simba adds his cinnamon-scented mass at Tiger's back. I notice Wilma and Willie are nearby. Finally Tiger reaches out and hugs Vulcan back.

Tiger: People, you're more than I deserve. I'm sorry, Valeria, that I couldn't figure out any right way through the maze when we made you. I promised you my life and you'll have it, the way you asked. Now if I'm going to get up as requested, this nice hug is going to have to end, OK? I'm sorry to send everyone into an uproar, but I care about right and wrong, and the ethics of my situation has been bothering me for some time, and the comet impact and then Valeria's complaint brought it to a head. Now, Valeria, just what is it that you aren't going to do?

Vulcan: Um, maybe we should talk about it later.

Tiger: Not a wise choice. You have my attention; use it. Don't let social problems drag on. I'm sure Simba could explain it better, and he probably will, out of earshot.

Vulcan: (Gulp.) OK, I'm not human, right?

Tiger: Well, we call you human.

Vulcan: Willie, may we see your hand? Palm up. See the difference? Willie is human. I'm not.

Claws extended, her hand doesn't look at all like Willie's.

Tiger: I see your points.

Vulcan: I don't want to be called human when I'm not. Iris and I decided on the name ``uomi''. What do you think of calling us that?

Tiger: ``Us'' means Novanima uomo, right? Speaking only of the word, I'm no expert on language particularly since I got my head bashed in, but it seems fine to me. Simba, Willie, Wilma, you have no objection? Now I do see problems in another area; do you?

Vulcan: We're the representatives of the Earth humans on Thor. We did the best we could to be human, or at least I did, but I couldn't do it, and I'm not going to burn myself out trying any more. I'm going to be myself, and if they have a problem with myself as representative, they can go shove it.

Tiger: Somehow I imagine someone else being told to shove it in earlier discussions.

Vulcan: Yes, Tiger. I'll phrase it positively in the message.

Tiger: In a message you're going to send to Earth, you and the rest of the 'uomi?

Vulcan: Yes, Tiger.

Tiger: Wilma, does Valeria remind you of someone?

Wilma: Yes, Tiger.

Tiger: Don't you sass me too! Now, Valeria, what do the other 'uomi think of all this?

Vulcan: I haven't talked to Petra, and Iris will have to finish the job.

Tiger: Do so promptly, please, and report the decision back to me. If I heard the commotion it's likely others did, and the rumors must be flying. It's not good to let that kind of thing fester. Remember that.

Me: I'll do my assignment, but could we please talk to Simba first? In dome two?

Tiger: Out of earshot? A short lesson would be fine.

Simba: Computer, Simba, Valeria and Iris to dome two.

Computer: Go.

As we arrive in dome two, Selen and Xena look up, not from proper study but from gossip. I'll fill them in when it's their turn, but it's not their turn yet.

Me: Simba, why didn't you do anything? Vulcan could have killed her, for all you knew. I had to do your job!

Simba: I'll forgive your impudence and give you a straight answer. Remember, I'm under pressure too, both from this incident and from the same issues Tiger has been wrestling with, so don't push your luck. You think I should have stopped Tiger. You don't stop people, and particularly not that one. Nobody has controlled Tiger since probably the day she was assembled. You look dubious. Remember this: before the event you make sure they know enough to make a wise, prudent decision: goals and issues firmly in their heads before the action has to pop out. In our lessons every second sentence prepares you for a situation like Tiger and I were in, to act or to refrain, instantly. I happen not to agree, like you, with Tiger's choice, but it's her life and her responsibility and when I go back there I'm not going to say a word, just hug her and love her for as long as I have her. And that leads into the other points: I don't own her; she owns herself. Valeria, if Iris doesn't get it, explain the feeling to him, OK? Now third, Tiger and I, since we became a mated pair, have had a specific agreement that if either of us needs to die the other won't interfere. I won't break my promise to her, whatever the consequences for you kittens. I'll do a lot for you but there are limits and that's one of them. Clear?

Me: Yes, Simba. I criticized you ignorantly. Please forgive me.

Simba, hugging me: You're forgiven, and thank you for doing what I could not. But there's another lesson here: Valeria played the game by the rules; you didn't. I suggest you do your 'uomi work, and then do a writing assignment in which you explain what you understand now about what happened back there, and apologizing to Tiger. Post it, then go in and ask Tiger to take a look at it. OK?

Me: Thanks, Simba. I never know what I'm going to learn, but it's always something surprising.

Simba: And more of that to come. Valeria, if you need more about festering social problems, could you find me later, please? I really want to check on Tiger. Bye, kittens.

Selen, ears visibly flapping: Could have killed Tiger? What was that all about?

Me: Remember what happened to my tail? I'm getting a twinge back there right now; it's called caution. Would you two please not spread around what you heard until after I've had time to think about it and to check with Tiger? First, Vulcan and I have a job with the 'uomi, which comes first. Then I have one writing assignment apologizing to Tiger for something I did, and a second one in which I promise I'll answer your question. Unless Tiger says not to, it will be posted where everyone can read it. And Vulcan, on that writeup, let's work together and present it to Tiger together; what would you think of that?

Vulcan: OK, but this sounds like a big thing. I'm not as advanced in writing as you are.

Me: Remember who you're talking to: the colony dunce. This is going to be the most I've ever written in one day, and it's going to take all my discipline for me to stay focused on it and to manage my wiggle breaks so it gets done promptly. You can help me there.

Vulcan: OK, I'll do my best. I'll tell Petra now. Bye. Computer, Vulcan to dome four.

Selen: Petra is a 'uomi now.

Me: Do either of you know where the males are?

Selen: Let me guess: we're talking about Oso and Quin, right? But I haven't seen them yet.

Xena: I'll tell you if you'll tell me why they're 'uomi and not humans.

Me: Because they aren't. Look at the claws, the pockets, the buttons. Vulcan refused to call herself human any more. It'll all be in the essay. And if you know where they are, it has to be dome three, because you aren't allowed in five or six. Right?

Xena: Awww! How did you figure that out?

Me: Logic. Would you do me a big favor? Go there and ask them to meet me in dome five.

Selen: And then come right back and we can study together. Really study, this time. OK?

Xena: OK. Computer, Xena to three.

Me: And Iris to five.

Computer: Go.

Jeez, I had no idea! All I wanted to do was study a lesson. Then one of my friends explodes in my face. Then one of my gods explodes in my face! Speaking metaphorically, of course. This is a tough planet, and I guess I have to learn to have explosions go off under me and to land on my feet.

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