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Chapter 17: Reunion

Selen here, in an otter's auburn fur, laying on my back this morning next to lion-colored Lucent with a small celadon sauce dish (that I made myself) on my lion-colored belly. I like Lucent; she knows how to be together with someone else, like me. She smells nice too: a lion female's allspice. I like how her black tail tip dances. Anyone who knows me will have no problem figuring out what we're doing (demurely individually, despite enjoying the feeling when each of us wiggles against the other). The dish is here because my underneath area has been giving unmistakable and pleasurable signs of maturity and I don't want to get my fur all sticky. And judging from the fullness in my urethra, when I open my eyes I'm going to see something new.

I don't have to rush. I'm an otter and I'm steady and I've prepared. I've kept the four lions and Mica aware of my progress and I'm sure the two I don't meet are being kept up to date with appropriately generic information. Each of us has his or her questionnaire written up and ready to go. Two weeks ago when I first noticed feelings in my prostate gland I informed Simba, and he did another blood test on everyone. He told me the next day that all the others were sexually mature, and that I should take the lead in organizing our pairing. Iris has been waiting a year and two months, Mica matured five months ago, and Ken's semen first came out just four weeks ago. (It wasn't so obvious when the lion females became mature.) There's natural variation in how quick a person develops, different aspects developing at different times, and according to Simba's records about the Terran lion people this spread of maturity dates isn't unusual, even considering that the otters are eight months younger than the lions.

I don't have to rush, but neither do I want to hold back. While Lucent's sexual rhythm has hold of her for a few minutes longer, I can feel that I'm ready to go on to the day's job. A joyous one for me, true, but still a big job of serious importance. And yes, my eyes confirm what other senses told me: a small white dab of semen decorates my black hand and penis. I get up and wash it off.

The first step is notification; I open up my computer. A few days ago Iris provided me with a file containing two names; let's take a look. Well, well: my mates (potential mates) are named Night and Titania. Night must be the black otter Mica and I have seen several times in the distance; but wouldn't it be crazy if that were Titania? I'm starting to feel that this is really happening. I send a message to everyone in Gondor, including Night and Titania, plus the log alias: ``As I, Selen, am this day sexually mature, I invite all young lions and otters to meet in dome two forthwith to negotiate permanent mate pairings.'' And I append a table of names, for while I know the names of all four lions none of them know each other, just as they know the names of the otter females but I didn't. And I include a reminder that observers will want to watch my machine for a NetBoard session titled ``marriage''.

Formal notification is fine, but nobody sits around glued to the computer screen all day. Lucent and I certainly didn't. Someone should chase down all the participants and tell them personally. I've worked this out in advance, and while the separation was ended the moment I squirted, I don't feel comfortable barging into domes three, four or five to announce that fact: for me to be welcome in those domes the message would already have to have been delivered. A female lion and a female otter, however, can cover all the residential domes: the lion would take six while the otter would do five, and either could do three or four. And right on time, Lucent is coming out of her trance.

Me: Lucent, today's the day. I've sent out a formal invitation for us to meet in dome two, but would you and, ahem, Night or Titania please find everyone and tell them? And I'll tell the adults.

Lucent: Really?

Me: Really. It feels so unreal, that it's finally happening.

Lucent: We're finally going to be... married?

Me: Yep.

Lucent: Really? Jeez, I'm going on like a supporting character in a romance novel. You were talking about the ones you... about Night and Titania. It's so weird, blocking them off from you for years and years, and now opening that block and just saying their names to you.

Me: Right, and I want them to be more than names; I want them to come alive. Let's get going! I'll meet you in dome two. Computer, Selen to dome one.

Computer: Denied.

Me: Oh, crap! Are they mating or something, so they have the dome interdicted? Lucent, you try it.

Lucent: Computer, Lucent to dome one.

Computer: Go.

Me: So one of the targets, one of Night or Titania, is in there. I'll just wait in dome two. Tell everyone to bring their laptops. And mats; we'll need, let's see, eight people so four mats to sit on. I'll just bring all the ones here! Problem solved. Computer, Selen to dome two. You know, we don't have to do that ever again!

Computer: Go.

In dome two I move the table and a few of the plants to make a space the right shape for us on the four mats. Jacinth is bouncing as she comes up the ramp, and with her is the black otter. I grin at her; she smiles back but keeps her silence. I indicate where the two of them should sit: the otter opposite me and Jacinth next to her on the other mat. Here's Ken and Willie and Wilma; Ken goes opposite Jacinth. It's going to be crowded with all the adults in here. The two humans perch on the table. Iris and a female otter and Tiger come in, look around, and find their proper places. The air is getting thick with people's recognition scents. Shortly Lucent appears, with two computers, and black-furred Mica is coming around outside to the airlock. He gets his helmet and tanks off, and does a double-take on seeing the black female; and she does the same. Comical, otterly. He collects his machine from Lucent and sits next to me, eyes fixed on the other otter. And here's Simba: we're all here.

I'm about to get things started, but Tiger cuts in first, and I can see Simba transcribing her words onto the session.

Tiger: You people are now starting on your next stage of development. You've waited and prepared a long time for this. I know you well, and I have confidence in your good sense. What I'd like to negotiate now is the role of the adults. When I chose Simba as my mate, we lions were a new species and we weren't completely sure of ourselves, and neither were our supervisors sure of us. But it turned out that we were able to arrange our pairings without actual help from them. Circumstances are different here, in a lot of ways, but I'd like to stick you with my usual admonition. This is your world and your life, and you have to take responsibility for it, and I have confidence that you will do as well today as you have for the last 28 years. Now Selen has planned that the pairing negotiation will be conducted on NetBoard so the 'uomi and jaguars can observe and so the adults -- I propose Simba for the job -- can annotate and archive the session. I further propose that the adults will do this in dome one, not here. Is that satisfactory? Thumbs up or down, please; if it's not unanimous we'll discuss it.

I look at Mica and he tears himself away from the black otter and looks at me. Having the adults looming over us actually would be a bit inhibiting. I put my thumb up, and it's joined by seven others one by one.

Tiger: Good; then if the females will curl their tails out of the way we'll leave you to your negotiation. If you have a problem, address one of us directly on the session and we'll respond. We wish you joy.

And the adults file out, stepping carefully over the projecting tails behind the opposite row of mats. It's our world and our lives, and I may be steady as an otter should be, but this negotiation is going to be critical and I can't say I'm as sure of myself as Tiger says she is of me. Nonetheless, I need to set a good example for the others.

Me (by voice and on NetBoard): Well, let's get started. I'm anxious to know who goes with which names, and I'm sure everyone else is too, so let's introduce ourselves. Alphabetical order, starting with Iris.

All that's necessary is to say our names, because we've already written biographies and posted them for the others to read. Iris puts his name on the session; it's redundant for us but it lets the observers know something's happening and it gets the action into the record. Jacinth makes sure her potential mates know that her name is pronounced with a ``y'', same as ``jaguar''. Yes, the black otter is named Night.

Me: There are two things I'd like to get out of the way ahead of time, because I don't know how long this negotiation is going to take or what condition we'll be in at the end of it. The first thing is dome assignments. Do we want all the otters and all the lions together? Separate by species? I have an opinion but what do you think?

Iris: I think it's a bad idea. It would make conflict more likely in the future.

Titania: It might be fun at the beginning but I want all the species to be joined. We should plan on having fun together, everyone with everyone, frequently. That's otterly. But splitting the species is asking for trouble.

Me: Any arguments in favor? Let's vote: unanimously rejected. I was against it too, understand. So we're keeping our present setup, two of each species in domes five and six, but just different people. One person of each species and sex will have to move. I'd like to decide which one now. Let's start with the male otters. Is that OK? Mica, we'll decide by rock, paper, scissors: the winner stays and his future mate moves. Ready, go! Well, your paper covers my rock; I'll move into dome five. Now the lions.

Iris: I want to say something selfish, and anyone else with a similar request should bring it up and we'll negotiate. Selen and I are real close friends, but we've been split up. I'd like to stay in dome five. Anyone else?

Ken: OK with me; I'll go to six.

Lucent: My special friend is Jacinth, but it's not as if I'm losing her when one of us moves into dome five.

Me: I think, then, that we all assent to Iris staying in five, and as soon as we know the mate pairings everyone else's dome assignment is determined. So we're done with that. Now, the next thing concerns me most, but really it's for everyone. I've wiggled with everyone here except Night and Titania, plus the 'uomi and the jaguars. I've thought about the issue and talked with many of you about it, and Simba and Wilma: should I keep doing that? I don't think so. I think my mate has to have confidence that I won't dump her and try to steal the other mate. But I do intend to hug! We have to be close to each other, all of us. But soon I'll have a special person to be stuck to sexually, even closer than I've been with the rest of you, and for that to work it has to be special to her, only. Does anyone else want to comment?

Lucent: I think Selen says it well: we have to be close, but our mates have to be closest. Otterly doesn't mean promiscuous.

Night: That's what I'm hoping, that my mate and I will specially stick.

Me: We seem to agree: I'm glad. So are we ready to start the mate selection? After this session page where we've been working together I have one page for the lions and one for the otters to discuss. Each of us has read the biographies and mate selection questionnaires of all but two people, and each has made compatibility scores for his friends of the other species. I suggest we take the time now to read the information on our potential mates, and then work out our own compatibility scores. As questions come up, ask them. This phase is going to be kind of boring for the observers. I'm sorry, but we do need to read the written material to make this judgment. Is this plan OK with everyone?

It's OK. Jitter, jitter, I calm my jitters and get busy reading. Observing tail twitches I think I'm not the only person who needs to calm jitters. Night is black following her name and has been since age fifteen; this apparently is a big deal with her. She's the ball bearing lady. I've seen the light duty bearings, and she has balls accurate to two microns undergoing life tests right now. Some competition for Valeria in the manufacturing area, I see. Her lesson progress is similar to most of us: Ken is of course way ahead, and Iris and Orion are noticeably behind though Iris seems to have figured out his concentration problem and is making faster progress now. Night is the one who figured out to put snowballs in orbit. Ken always denied it was him but would never say who. Let's see the questionnaire: she talks like an otter. She's a decent cook, she likes swimming, she works hard and she gets along with everyone. She enjoys hiking and the outdoors, like I do, and she considers herself to have the courage to get over steep and narrow spots, and the prudence to not use her courage when it's not justified. I like this one. But apparently Mica does too, very much, if I judge his glances.

On to Titania. Like me with Mica, it's clear that Titania and Night share skills and interests with each other. But Titania is a heavy duty medic; it was she who stapled Iris' tail together and she helped Simba dig the meteor out of his lungs, and when Xena managed to trip underneath Valeria during battle practice it was Titania who straightened her upper arm bone (of course under Simba's careful supervision) and guided her to do physical therapy exercises afterward. Titania is an artist too, she says; I'll really enjoy seeing her work and I hope she'll enjoy my pots, some of which I'm very proud of. There's a lot of otter personality in both of the females. As I see it, their differences make them individually interesting and I look forward to having both of them as my new friends, but both would be fine mates for me. Unfortunately I have to choose just one, and that will be hard. Mica will have the same problem. I give sevens to all four pairs. We'll have to really negotiate the selection, not have it decided for us by the biographies and questionnaires.

Mica's gaze flips back and forth between his computer and Night. I wonder if he's making progress. Maybe it's time to subtly exercise my privilege of leadership.

Me (verbally and on NetBoard): I have some scores. How are the rest of you doing; do you need more time?

Titania: I'm having trouble with mine, getting the numbers to tell us something.

Me: I think I know what you mean. Maybe the numbers are telling you their message. Mica, how are you doing? Mica?

Mica: Oh! What did you say, Selen? Oh, I see it on the board. Um, well, I'm having trouble giving the scores. There's something missing from the numbers.

Night: I feel the same way. I have numbers but I think they aren't complete, aren't right.

Me: I gave the same score to each pair. We're going to have to add other criteria during our discussion. Is that the consensus of all of you?

Night: Yes, we have to go beyond the numbers.

Me: OK, Mica, would you give the best scores you can, let's do the sums, and then get busy with the other criteria.

Mica (verbally): We've been friends for a long time, Selen...

He's trying to be otterly, but that's a veiled threat. But about what? Now he's looking back and forth between Night and me. If the scores say I should have Night as my mate, he's going to make a scene.

Me (verbally and on session): And we know not to look for trouble before it comes. I don't mean to push, but our friends will wonder what you said that I was answering to. And I think, also, that we shouldn't junk the numbers without looking at them first. The lions worked hard for us, evaluating us, and we should use those evaluations as the starting point for our discussion. As something we have to go beyond, not to ignore. Is everyone comfortable with that?

Mica: I guess. Here are the scores: eight for me and Night, and seven for all the other pairs.

Me: That's fair; I gave each pair a seven. I see yours, Night and Titania, and now let's look at what's in the lions' file; I'll just add these up. The summed score is 118 with Mica and Night plus me and Titania. It's 119 the other way. I'm happy to have such high scores. The lions think we're otterly.

Mica, truculently: I think we need to discuss further.

Me: Yes, we do. But the decision has to be mutual. I notice, Night, you gave the same score to everyone.

Night: I have to be honest.

Me: Now's the time to go beyond. What qualities aren't in the questionnaire that you can see in the two of us?

Night: If they were important they'd be in the questionnaire.

Me: I'm not so sure. We're otters; we're all good at getting along with people. I'm going to tell it to you straight: I think either of you, Night and Titania, would make a fine mate for me. I wish it could be both, but I have to choose just one. We should be edging toward a choice. Everyone should make sure they're edging in the direction they want to go, not away, trying to avoid selfishness when selfishness isn't entirely inappropriate.

Night: I don't want to be unotterly. I don't want to be rejecting.

Me: I'll feel accepted by one person. I won't feel rejected by the other. I promise. Titania, do you have any comments?

Titania: Both of you have a lot of good qualities. But I have to say, I value flexibility a lot. I can bend, but it's a lot nicer if I have to bend only halfway.

Mica: I want to be good friends with both of you. But when I came in and saw you, Night...

Night: I don't want to say this, but would it be imbalanced, do people think, to put two manufacturers together? Your papermaking and my machinery?

Me: Certainly not! The areas are so different it would be filling in complementary skills, not duplicating. You two would make a good match.

Night: (Gulp.) Then Mica, would you have me as your mate?

I was keeping an eye on Mica and he was miserable, closing in on himself: love gained and lost (he thought) in a few minutes. Now the black sun rises: he smiles, he grins, his eyes are brightly open.

Me: What about you, Titania?

Titania: I gave you and me an eight, because you said you're the sexiest person in Gondolin. Let's take each other.

Me: I accept, with joy. Night, you seem to be less catatonic than Mica; how about you switch places with me and then you and Mica can drown in each others' eyes. I'll close up our page of the NetBoard session.

As I sit down next to Titania I feel every one of my hairs on end, quivering in her spirit. I want to be with her; I want to enfold her; I want to mate with her! But what I want and what she wants may not be quite the same. I sit close, but with just the ends of my guard hairs touching hers.

Titania (verbal only): Well! I've never done this before. I'm not sure what to do. Look at those two! It's as if they'd known each other forever. I'm not sure I'm comfortable getting that close to a new person that quick, despite what I said earlier.

Kissing looks like fun, though we'll have to be careful not to get our lips and tongues caught on razor-sharp fangs, ours or the partner's.

Me: Did you see how the two of them just crystallized as soon as they caught sight of each other? It was incredible. I had to work around Mica's feelings, to balance the objective and the emotional. I guess it worked.

Titania: Yes, you did that really slickly. That was another reason I liked you. And I meant what I said about flexibility. But as the sexiest person in Gondolin, how fast do you want to proceed?

Me: Well, let's do goals, issues and then action. My goal is to be a complete otter, with a mate, that's you. Issue, I think it's going to take time for us to learn each other's systems. I'm going to be very patient. Maybe I should tell you something about my system now, one of the issues. My goal with sex isn't to make my underneath area jump. I like that a lot, but that isn't the primary reason I do sex. I really like being with people, and you're with them the closest, the most intensely, when you're wiggling with them sexually. In the coming time period, I don't know how long, we're going to get closer and closer, and that's what I want. When we're close enough, when both of us are ready, not just one, then we'll mate.

Titania: They're not thinking and planning; they're just letting things happen at the rate that seems right for them. I think you're saying you want to do the same thing, patiently with me. I think that's a good plan. And I think it's going to be up to me to make the moves. And I think I'm going to make one now.

She slides over so she's pressed against my side.

Me: Eep, Titania! Oh, your touch inflames my spirit! Love shines from between us.

Titania: I think I'll soak it up at this closeness for a few minutes. Sorry, I'm not an artist with words. Look at Night and Mica kissing! I'm sure we're going to see more than kissing before we leave here. Have you been listening to the lions?

Me: No, in fact.

Titania: They don't seem happy. I get the feeling they're not making progress. They're my friends and I want them to be as happy as we are. What would you think about taking a quick look at their page of the session, while we sit together like this?

Me: Yes, that would be otterly. They're my good friends too. We can be together by helping them, if they need us.

Iris (verbal and on their session): Did I hear right that you otters are concerned how we're doing? People, I think some outside help could be valuable. And if Selen and Titania can't help us straighten ourselves out, we should think about contacting Simba. Not yet, understand, but we have to make progress.

Jacinth: I'm getting tired of going in circles.

Lucent: Right; this isn't good for us.

Ken: The data is right in front of us but I'm not good enough in people skills to say why it's telling us the wrong thing. Shall I summarize for the otters, and then the rest of you fill in your issues that I miss? OK? The summed score is 82 for me and Lucent plus Iris and Jacinth. It's 59 for the opposite pairing, me and Jacinth plus Iris and Lucent.

Me: The decision seems pretty cut and dried there.

Ken: Looking at it subjectively, Jacinth and I would fight. For sure. She has such a direct personality and I'd react badly to criticism. She'd be bored with a lot of stuff I do, and I with her activities, even worse than me and Iris, I think. Of course we'd both really put sincere effort into finding common ground, like Iris and I have done...

Titania: Just a second. It's a really good idea to look for activities that you can enjoy with Jacinth, but if Lucent were going to be your mate then I'd expect to hear worries about her, not Jacinth.

Ken: Either one I join with, there's trouble. Jacinth seems like the more prudent choice.

Me: You and Lucent would be ideal! I said that by the scores I gave you. Iris and Jacinth are kindred spirits. I wouldn't like to see them split up.

Iris: I feel that right in my tail tip. It's so obvious that we're kindred spirits! So why does that little voice tell me, Iris, you're going to get killed?

Jacinth: I've been in dangerous situations up on Echoriath and I know not to ignore a warning like that even if I don't understand it. I intend to do a lot with Iris; he and I will be good friends, but not mates.

Titania: What do you feel, Lucent?

Lucent: I can't put my finger on what's wrong. I'll bet Simba has a concordance coefficient right on his page of the session, ready to cut and paste it for us to see, but I'll be damned if I'm going to let someone else make this decision for me! The feeling I get is that we're setting up an imbalance in skills. But the questionnaires say both pairs have a decent skill combination. I can't put my finger on it.

Titania: Who do you think is the nexus? The one for whom it's most important that he or she have a particular mate, or not have the other one?

Iris: I think Lucent is the most balanced of us. Ken and Jacinth are polar opposites, and the feeling we all have is, we have to put those two in a cage and then run before they explode. Unfortunately, being in the cage Ken and Jacinth can't run.

Me: Yes, it's an unlikely pairing. Ken just told us some worries of what probably will happen. So what good comes out of bearing and working through those troubles? Do you have any idea?

Jacinth: I'm all physical, all action. Thought and learning are areas where I'm weaker.

Me: Did that answer my question? Sorry to talk like an adult, but I agree with your analysis and I really don't see benefits for one pair over the other on that dimension.

Jacinth: I do. If Lucent's good qualities haven't rubbed off on me in however many years, I'm even less going to get them from Iris.

Iris: Apparently I'm making a little more progress building up my weak areas, but Lucent would be a much better influence on me than Jacinth, however much I'd want to do the active games and hiking and things with her. I know Lucent likes hiking and planting too. We should all go together; that would be the most otterly.

Titania: Otterly, yes. Ken, do you feel something similar?

Ken: You could just copy Jacinth's statements: Lucent is too much of a kindred spirit for me to make progress in areas where I'm weak. Lucent won't have any problem getting along with Iris, and they'd be a good influence on each other, I think. The question is, do Jacinth and I take the easy, happy, comfortable, joyous marriages and give up on building ourselves up, and this includes Iris too, or do we commit to, well, I don't want to prejudice Jacinth against me, but it's probably going to be pretty rough, and there's no guarantee that I'll get enough people skills to make the marriage better, nor to make good use of the opportunity I've sliced out for myself. Having to summarize it for you like that makes it easier to get the issues straight in my head.

Jacinth: Me too. Look at those two in an otter pile; they can't even hear us. Do I hear heavy breathing?

Me: No, not yet. I'm assuming mating with a female is similar to what I do now, and Mica isn't using his penis yet.

Jacinth: But they're enjoying being together so much! Ken and I wouldn't be like that. Probably Iris and I would. My duty to the colony is to make myself the best person I can. I feel I'm moving toward a conclusion. Ken, how do you feel?

Ken: Iris was brave when he saved our plants and dome covers when the comet hit. I have to be brave, but the threat is within me. Jacinth, my best isn't very good, but I promise to do my best for you. Let's be mates.

Jacinth: Iris and Lucent, are you willing? Yes? Then I accept, and my best isn't that good either, but what I can do, you'll get. Come over by me.

Ken and Lucent switch places and I'm surprised to see Ken kneel next to Jacinth and embrace her, a nice wiggly hug. Lucent and Iris do the same. I enfold Titania beside me. Oops, she hesitates. But then she comes back and wraps her short arms mostly around me.

Titania: We're good otters, Selen! I like you more and more.

Me: And I like you too. Mmmmm! I like you too. I'm changing inside. Maybe it's like what hit Mica and Night. I hope so.

Titania: I'm changing inside too, but not suddenly like they did. I have an idea. It's getting near lunch time. Let's make a picnic. I know each of us, I mean I don't know about you but the rest have favorite spots and I'll invite you to mine. We can learn about each other. We can practice being together.

Me: Outside we couldn't kiss.

Titania: Let's take tent helmets so we don't have the plastic clanking every time we put our heads together. There will be plenty of fur to stroke, and plenty of time later to try out kissing.

Me: OK, let's do it. What do you think, lions?

Iris: It's a good idea. We'll just leave the two lovebirds to enjoy themselves here. We should let people know what we're doing and when we'll be back. I'll put it on our page and close it, and Selen, you can shut down. You don't suppose anyone has some kind of special lunch planned?

Me: OK, session saved, and I kicked off Mica and Night. NetBoard will terminate as soon as the observers drop out. About lunch, I told Valeria very specifically that I didn't want a deadline hanging over us in the middle of the day. There's going to be a surprise, but at dinner time, she said. We'll be back long before then. Maybe we can even move to our new domes. Come on, Titania, and see dome six. I have to pick up my helmet from there.

We have a pleasant picnic, and the tent helmets were a very good idea to aid our closeness. I'll be able to sleep, eat (as we did) and do lessons while pressed up against my mate in a variety of positions, but I wonder how much else in my life can be modified to be done with my mate. A lot, I hope. I'm a complete otter now, not a lonely otter.

Kissing is a new experience, and a very nice one, on our adjacent mats in dome five. We do it frequently while moving my stuff over there. Jacinth helps Ken move out and we see them imitating us. Ken is acting practically normal, touching Jacinth and not flinching back when she touches him. I'm glad. I'll make a point, I hope tonight and perhaps with Titania's connivance with Jacinth, of splitting Ken off and making sure he's really enjoying not being alone as he usually is. If not, we'll work with Jacinth to tone down the normalcy and we'll make sure he and she discuss the issue regularly with Simba or me or both. They're committed to making their marriage work, and I'm committed to helping my friends stay happy. As is Titania.

Lucent and Iris have their area under control, but who's going to move Night over to dome six? Maybe Titania and I should take care of that. No, here are Mica and Night. Looking at each other, will they walk into furniture or step on the plants? No, they drag themselves into this world long enough to get the job done. Lucent has forgotten to bring her nutmeg plant from dome six and I make a final trip to collect it, knowing it's a key symbol in her and Iris' lives, plus a key scent in mine, and I see that Night and Mica are embracing on their mats again, lost in each other's eyes. Seeing that, I hug Titania and she hugs back, otterly.

The banquet is held in dome one, since there's enough space and there are enough workbenches and desks for everyone to have a place to sit. It's slightly awkward since we still have the sexual division of the younger kittens. The male 'uomi and jaguars cook, serve and eat the main course, stuffed tofu turkey accompanied by ratatouille.

Orion: So, how's sex adult style? I'll bet you people were mating all afternoon, for your honeymoon.

Tiger looks like she's readying a caustic comment, but Mica answers first.

Mica: It was all so wonderful! It all just happened. Night, do you have any idea what we did?

Night: It was like a dream. I didn't count. But I felt you in my vagina several times, and I was wiggling against you too. Being with you is more than I ever imagined having a mate would be! But maybe we're being a little unbalanced; maybe we're not making time enough for our friends.

Me: Don't worry about me; building your pair bond with Mica is the most important right now. Orion, that's what Titania and I were doing: building our pair bond. You're not going to believe this, but we haven't even touched our sex organs.

Orion: Selen, are you ill?

Me: Tiger, let me answer that, please. I can give him an answer he can understand, I hope. Think back to when you were having so much trouble with sulfate to sulfite reduction in chemistry. We talked about how you felt, remember? Tell me what Oso did for you then.

Orion: You're not taking this as a joke.

Me: No, I'm not, and neither did Mica and Night. It's important that you understand how we feel.

Orion: OK, then. I was the only person who couldn't do the problems and I felt so stupid. Oso stayed with me and encouraged me to keep at it and told me how long it had taken him on that lesson. I thanked him then, and I'll thank him again for helping me.

Me: Titania and I will help each other like that, to not be alone. That's what I'm already getting out of being married. I'm satisfied. I'm more than satisfied; I'm mightily pleased.

Orion: And you're not mentioning sex: you're telling me it's just extra. Right? You tell me something similar, often.

Me: It would be a good idea to make this part of you before you get sexually mature: you score when you're together, when you have a teammate, when the two of you can do more together than as individuals. Your underneath area reminds you that you're getting something out of the relation when it may not be obvious, when you have to work to accommodate your mate, but the symbol isn't the referent.

Titania: Selen knows what he's talking about. I can feel that he wants to get really close, like mating, really fast, but we're doing it at my speed because that's going to get us together like we should be. Just making my insides jump: I don't need a male for that, and you don't need a female, Orion. I avoid doing sex with you because you seem to be just after the feeling, not the other person: me. Selen said it well: the teamwork. I hope you'll work on being a teammate for your future mate. Both of them are my friends, as you are, and I wish them and you happiness in your future.

Tiger (raising a cup of tomato juice): I propose a toast to our married otters: may they be examples to us all of how to make a marriage work.

Orion: I'll do my best on that lesson. Bottoms up!

Mica's immediate willingness to answer, and a little forcefulness in blocking out Tiger with her rough style of teaching, turned a crude joke and a potential unpleasant scene into a lesson that may have gotten through to the big jaguar, who needs it and who may learn better by seeing examples than through theory. And now it's time for the males to take their dishes away and turn us over to the females, who have cooked and now serve and eat the extensive dessert: squash pies in several flavors (everyone gets a small slice of each one) plus a giant oven-baked cake with decorative frosting.

Night: These flowers are cute. Who made them?

Rose: Thanks, I did. I kind of copied them from pictures.

Jacinth: I guess we need an oxygen atmosphere before we can really have flowers. It's taking so long! Are we making any progress there?

Wilma: Progress, yes, but it's not really measurable compared to the mass of a whole comet. We're putting half the snowballs into orbit: 1.5e10 kilograms so far. But the mass of the atmosphere is about 1e18 kilos. We can measure the oxygen coming down by its infrared absorption bands, but we can't yet measure the loss of methane and ammonia. I'm afraid flowers are for the future. In your lifetimes, but not soon.

Willie: The exact timing depends on how fast the factories improve and how much work we put into building them. This afternoon's test didn't go well. I have about two more things I can try on robot arm assembly, but if I don't make progress there we're going to have to junk the arms and go back to vacuum deposition. We'll just have to deal with the irregular surfaces.

Valeria: If I'd been there...

Willie: The problem was with the arm programming, not with personnel. If I hadn't been able to give it a proper test myself I would have waited.

Me: I didn't want to bug you with extra requests, but don't throw out the arms. I had a thought to ask you and Valeria to make another set, because I wanted to investigate an idea about textiles: you know it's always a royal pain whenever we have to do something with cloth, and I thought to program the arms to knit it.

Willie: I'm glad to see you're thinking, Selen, but when you're ready come to me and I'll show you how it's really done. Properly woven cloth can be very decorative too. And no, I'm not going to throw out the arms; I'm just not going to use them in the ``E'' factories.

Wilma: Selen, if you're going to get into cloth work besides your ceramics, I'll give you your first commission. Our wraparounds are getting kind of ratty, and I want to look my best when the Chinese arrive. Let's work together on a design, and you can weave it for us.

Me: Sure, Wilma, that would be great.

Iris: Is the Chinese power nexus in any danger from the fighting? And why is there only one nexus, anyway?

Tiger: I went over the newsfeed last night late, so Wilma and Willie haven't heard this. Yes, the Maoist army retreated toward Qingdao. There wasn't any actual fighting around the nexus building, but the Imperial commander declared his intention to shut the place down as a nepotistic Communist boondoggle, and to divert the sundippers' power to serve the people.

Iris: This was the Imperial commander? It sounds more like Maoist rhetoric.

Tiger: Whatever. I guess he was trained under the Maoists and got into the habit of using their words and memes. Anyway, the Eridanus Corporation had an idea this was going to happen; after all, the Rightist Revanchists use the sundippers as one of their big points of difference with the Maoists. We snuck one of our people into the building; you know, stealth hoverplane from a ship at sea, hoverboard onto the roof; Wilma wrote that stuff into her spy novel and it all came true. The guy was really brave, standing up to a division of Imperial troops. He materialized between the commander and the terrified nexus supervisor at the front door.

Petra: Materialized? Like, invisibility?

Tiger: Like sneaking. He read the riot act to that commander: if he chops the power he'll be famous throughout history for the atrocity of deliberately dooming the Chinese astronauts. And, if the power from the sundippers isn't delivered as promised, Eridanus Corporation will see that it isn't delivered anywhere else in China, which the Eridanus Corporation is capable of doing. So if the Imperial government intends to make good on its promise to put the starship sundippers to ``good'' use, they had better honor China's prior commitments, and it doesn't matter which of China's numerous governments made them (his snide comment); among civilized nations a promise is a promise. At the same time the Corporation people had been psyching up the U.S. and a number of foreign governments, and when the word went out that the nexus was in danger, the Imperial rump government started getting phone calls. The commander checked with his higher-ups and the shutdown was averted.

Night: Whew! I'm glad I'm not Chinese.

Tiger: You haven't heard the worst of it. The next day an Imperial muckymuck showed up and he, our guy and the nexus supervisor went in to read the supervisor's orders. It turns out that they were supposed to chop the power one Earth year after the ship arrived, to allow for irregularities in propulsion or something. It's a one-way trip. The bastards! The Imperials were rolling in the aisles. They said, a promise is a promise, and we'll feed power up to the date in the orders and not one second longer. The Eridanus Corporation didn't like this one bit, but there was nothing they could do. At least they saved the astronauts' lives.

Wilma: I don't believe this! So they're dumping their people on us. What are we going to do with them?

Tiger: Remember, we think they think they're going to colonize the steamy, fertile jungles of New Paradise or whatever they call it. And we were supposed to have left fourteen years ago; they think they have it all to themselves. Which they do, cobalt-60 and all.

Iris: I feel a twinge in my planning nerve. I think we need to make some formal plans in which we try to anticipate how they'll react when they arrive, and what's necessary for us to do about it. We have ten months, if I remember right.

Me: Definitely we should plan, but let's be informal tonight. Just get the ideas flowing. We can fill in the other group tomorrow.

Iris: Right; I'll put together a persistent NetBoard session, tomorrow morning, and get the process started. Is that OK with you, Tiger?

Tiger: What did I tell you a long time ago?

Iris: That if it isn't OK you'll let me know. Look, I'm trying to be social. I know it's OK, but it's polite to ask you.

Tiger: OK, I'll lay off the independence a little, if that's the understanding. Now I've dealt with the Chinese, though it wasn't these particular Chinese; it was the Science Ministry people with the previous Imperial government before the Maoists threw them out.

Xena: How often do they have these wars?

Tiger: It seems like the Emperor and the Maoists flipflop every twenty to thirty Terran years. It causes a lot of suffering in China. Anyway, they show up. They get a taste of New Paradise. We have a big sign in orbit saying ``we're on Thor''. Now what?

Willie: Ever cynical about human nature, I can see three reactions. First, they hug us as their saviors. Yeah. Second, they ignore us and either make a space station or, more likely, make their own colony somewhere else on Thor. Third, they consider us competitors and try to get rid of us. I'm afraid that last one is the most likely.

Xena: We'll need to be ready for a fight.

Me: Xena's right, unfortunately, but we need to influence their response as much as we can, in the right direction. If they're met by an orbiting battle station, if they can fight us they will. That might not be necessary. I hope.

Xena: That's right, Selen. The battle that isn't fought is the most successful. We'll do our best to head them off, but we have to be ready if we fail. What can they do to attack us? There are just two of them, after all.

Valeria: Let's put ourselves in their place. The obvious thing is to throw rocks at us, but that takes preparation. They have to map our position, find a small enough comet, and then change its orbit to hit us. A pusher chip slammed into Thor from way far out is more practical. How much time do they have?

Simba: There are a number of reasons to have a well separated second village, and that's another one.

Tiger: Agreed, but off topic. Valeria, we four adults busted our butts to find a comet and set up plastic production and get our agriculture going in space and build all our tools. I doubt they can do that with only two people. I think the only viable mission for them is direct descent: they arrive at Njord, they do some cursory mapping, they pick a spot, and they go down and plant something. It's possible they have expendables like water and food enough to last for one year, but nothing more than that. The one year of free power suggests that they plan to succeed in one year, or die trying.

Valeria: Yeah, die trying. If they use their year, it isn't enough time to hit us with a comet. Also, what do they do with our crater? To survive, they have to capture our plants and domes. A rock with a pusher chip on it could be done in a few days, but it would destroy the domes, not necessarily the people.

Tiger: I agree. The space station is out: they don't have the workforce to build it. We could have, just barely, maybe, but even though Thor is such a rockball, we got a lot out of being on it that's expensive in space: foundations, cooling and structural support for the pots our plants are in. You know, we set the pots on the ground; you can't do that in space. For the same reason the separate colony is out; again, they won't have the plastic, nor the water to make concrete, nor the workforce to use either of those if they had them. They'll come here and try to live in our domes. I hope they'll ask politely to join our colony.

Valeria: OK, let's think of other weapons. A lethal dose of radiation. But where would they get it? And it would harm the plants. Pathogens. But they don't know what would work against Novanima; we don't, either. Poison gas, carbon monoxide or ammonia.

Xena: Actually the right way is to just shoot us one by one. The plants and domes aren't harmed, and it's cheap. The only problem is, if they don't get all of us in the initial attack we'll make it harder the next time and we'll hunt them. But if I were in their position I think that's the best strategy. The best combat strategy.

Rose: What's our reaction if they ask to join the colony? I'm not sure we should accept automatically.

Tiger: Iris, analyze that for us, please.

Iris: The choice is accept them or fight them. Or kill them where they stand; I wouldn't like that. I think just about anything is preferable to starting a war with them.

Rose: Suppose they said, we'll be really nice and show you what to do to turn your Gondolin into the New Workers' Paradise; just do what we tell you.

Iris: Maybe that's not preferable.

Tiger: Good point, Rose, and the Chinese, particularly the Maoists, have a tendency to do that, to take over a situation. They're good, don't get me wrong, but they've prospered so much in a number of countries that they essentially took over the economies. That made the locals jealous and got the Chinese thrown out. After which the countries' economies collapsed. We'd all have to be very charming and get them re-educated in our way of doing things, so we don't get taken over by them.

Titania: There must be something good we can get out of the Chinese.

Tiger: Yes, there is. First, I think we've done a good job training you kittens; oops, young adults. But if you can accept good ideas from other people without losing your foundation, you get the best of both; and, otterly, you can share so they get the same benefit. But there's a second big benefit. We adults are 125 years old now. We won't last a lot longer. We know that the female astronaut was 31 Earth years old when launched, that's 54 Thor years, and we think the male is about 39; let's see, 68 Thor years. You'll have them for a good long time. Let's hope that doesn't mean you have to put up with them for a long time. Let's hope they bring a positive contribution to the colony and give you good advice, not advice you have to use your wisdom to ignore.

Night: I know we have to lose you, but it makes me sad.

Tiger: Not me. Who else, understand that I'm not taking the whole credit to myself, but who else has had two big families like mine, on Terra and here, with the kittens so successful? Who else has built and trained three new species, plus more lions? Who else has built a new world out of totally bare rock? Throwing comets around like Thor himself? Who reached for the stars and touched them? When it comes time for me to die, I can honestly say to myself, I'm satisfied; I did enough in my life. I'll die with joy, and I want you all to celebrate my death with joy. If I see a bunch of gloomy pussies I'll haunt the hell out of you!

Night: (Giggle) I'll do my best. I don't want an angry ghost chasing me.

Simba: Ahem. While you were doing the heavy philosophy thing I was trying to put myself in the place of the Chinese team and imagine what they might be bringing. If they intend to colonize New Paradise by fighting off jungle crab creatures, they'll have guns, both rifles and pistols. Xena's strategy for them is all too believable.

Ken: Are we absolutely sure they intend to colonize? What other possibilities are there? Suppose the mission is purely scientific?

Simba: Smiling faces all around, for the first year until they get their plug pulled. Do you believe a one-way scientific mission? And we went through all this for our own mission, which started out, you remember, pure as the driven snow. It was hard enough...

Ken: The snow metaphor?

Simba: It had no impure parts: purely scientific. We had no idea we'd be colonizing the place. It was hard enough for four people to learn all the jobs, and for two it would have been impossible. Therefore science is a relatively small part of their goal. I also doubt their judgment in sticking two who aren't a mated pair together for multiple years in that small coffin. The plan has to be that they land right away and get some personal space. We trained for literally five Thor years with the four of us sitting on an exercise mat, so we could work out the psychological problems from crowding. The Chinese didn't do that; we know it for a fact; and either they're awfully stupid or they intend not to have the problem.

Jacinth: Fighting off crab creatures? I'd bet on stupidity.

Simba: Crabs were my metaphor, not anything they said, but yes, I'd bet on stupidity too. Unfortunately, stupidity with guns. I shouldn't have said ``either''.

Lucent: I wonder if they're bringing explosives. On Terra they're used for big digging jobs, but it's an obvious thing to adapt to be a weapon.

Simba: You just excited my paranoia. I don't know if they're stupid enough to go that far.

Willie: Nukes.

Simba: Nukes. A tactical nuclear weapon is light enough to be practical on the starship. I can put myself in a certain mindset and see how attractive it is. Xena, would you analyze how useful the nuke will actually be for them?

Xena: If they only have one, the threat would have to be all in one place. Like us; not like the heptapi. And they'd have to not care about our crater afterward. They couldn't know we're here, and they have to capture our plants to win. If they have the weapon, it's useless against us. And I can't think of a threat they could anticipate before launch that one nuclear weapon would have any effect on, except to make it angry.

Simba: Wise analysis, but how do I say this? I think it isn't likely that they've brought a nuclear weapon, but it's likely enough that we need to think about it.

Wilma: All too true. Remember when I insisted that the 'uomi be Novanima uomo rather than Novanima sapiens? How about we change the topic a little, OK? When the Chinese show up, a very logical thing for us to do is to invite them to our area for a party. I think we should be planning that party way, way ahead. Like, what do we want to show them?

Xena: And what do we want to avoid showing them?

Rose: And what do we want to get them to show us?

Iris: Definitely we want to extract from them what their real mission is.

Lucent: Of course they'll lie at first.

Willie: I'm proud of you people. You're doing so well on your cynicism lessons.

Ken: Yeah. Simba, if they're planning on colonizing, they need colonists, and are two people enough to build the buildings plus assemble the embryos and then care for the kittens?

Simba: Definitely not. Supposing they think they can handle the physical labor of housing themselves and their brood, they have to be bringing preassembled colonists, which the female would gestate one or possibly two at a time. Humans can do that. Hmm, they're going to get a surprise when they thaw their embryos: the radiation won't be good for them.

Valeria: That bothers me. I wouldn't like wrecked kittens being turned out one after the other.

Wilma: It bothers me too, but there's not a whole lot we can do about it. Getting back to the show and be shown session, let's put ourselves in the places of the Chinese astronauts when they walk in here. What do they see?

Tiger: For one thing, they see tools on the work tables.

Valeria: Yes, Tiger.

Tiger: I've been lax in that area too, and I'm going to tighten up my own discipline.

Valeria: Right. We all need to keep our areas neat. Is the ten month number firm, or just a guess? And after they arrive they have to find out that their mission on Njord has failed, and they have to figure out to come here, and then find us. We can't be sure when they'll show up, and a massive cleanup at the last minute isn't good for us and doesn't look good to them. Another thing: the racks for the shovels and the pickaxes don't have enough slots and they fall over in earthquakes. We had two dome skins that had to be patched from that cause alone, in the last two quakes. What do people think about a dome maintenance item, to make new racks? I can squeeze it into the production schedule. And decent racks will add to the appearance of our village.

Iris: Any disagreement, people? No? Then do it, Valeria.

Wilma: Good point there, Valeria. Now back on the long-range plans, in a typical Terran affair like this the visiting dignitaries get off the airplane and the local boss gives a welcoming speech and some of the local kids do a local dance or sing local folk songs or whatever. We don't have anything like that to offer them, just furry critters lounging around looking at the astronauts. I think we should change that.

Tiger: For the purpose, or because folk songs are fun?

Wilma: Good point. You have folk songs and dances because they're fun. Get a life, kids.

Night: We'd have to invent them. Do we have any dances at all on the discs you brought from Earth?

Simba: Oxygen fugacity in eclogite at deep mantle temperatures and pressures, we have that, but no dances. We have ballet music, and the general info files probably have some discussion of ballet and folk dance, but no instructional materials.

Night: We can all be artistic. It should be fun, even if it's not professional quality.

Petra: I wonder. They wear clothes. How are they going to react to us 'uomi? I'm assuming we're going to be in human form. Or would it be better for us to have fur like we do now? We have to decide before the next shedding.

Valeria: Emotionally, I say the proper way for me to greet them is in my Wilma form, and without clothes, because Gondor isn't a clothes place. It isn't Terra. But I'm willing to listen to practical considerations.

Me: Let me translate that: there's a scale and on one end you say, accept me as I am, and if you don't like it, shove it. On the other end you ask what's going to make the visitor the most comfortable and you conform yourself to his and her expectations. I'm not making a judgment there, yet.

Valeria: You know which end of the scale I like. What are we after here? We don't have to please them; they have to politely convince us to accept them into our colony. I'm not being nasty on that; the distinction is real. If they can't accept me, this is my home and I'm not going to be someone else; I'm not going to give up my position for them. They can look at my bare skin or they can starve. Does that sound too harsh?

Titania: It's not otterly, but then, you're not an otter. And there are times when otterly isn't right. Not many, but I think this is one of them. Remember what Tiger said: we hope to get the best of both groups, and to start by being accommodating on something that's pretty important for Valeria is the way to get ourselves taken over, not hybridized. How do you feel, Petra?

Petra: My brain says you're right. My emotions say they'd criticize me, at least in their minds, for not doing as Terrans do. I think I have to be brave. I think this time I'll be lion color with long straight lion color head hair.

Willie: I'll appreciate you, Petra, even if they don't.

I see Wilma jab Willie in the ribs with her elbow, playfully, and he jabs back.

Lucent: Beds. Terrans sleep on beds. We'll bring them into a residential dome and say, this is where we sleep, and they see four mats clustered together. It suits us, but are they going to think, lookit the zoo animals' cages? If they think we're weak, they might think they can fight and win.

Tiger: Complicated, that set of ideas. I'd like it thoroughly thrashed out. Who wants to go first?

Xena: I feel the last point, and that fits with the clothes issue: we have to tell them, not by words but by attitude, that what we do may not suit them but it suits us and we're not going to let them influence us to change. I'm not denying that we can learn from them, but they have to learn very fast that they can't overwhelm us. If they try to fight and win, we all end up losing, and it's no comfort to me that I believe they'd lose worse.

Tiger: Excellent summary, Xena. Compare yourself five years ago and now: you've learned a whole lot. Now I'd like to hit the issue that the Terrans have beds, which are better than our mats, and that makes us feel inferior to the Terrans. So do we make beds for ourselves? There are a lot more Terran-isms that we could do besides the beds, if we chose.

Mica: Do you know the game ``poker''? I play it sometimes with Iris and Ken and someone not here; several of us play it. We have a computer program to simulate the cards.

Tiger: Yes, I know poker. I know you play it.

Mica: The idea is to make the other people feel their cards are inferior. I know it's not otterly, but we don't hurt each other and I think it's good training for me to go outside my species.

Tiger: A wise choice in my opinion, though the judgment isn't unanimous.

Mica: Certainly we shouldn't help the Chinese intimidate us. Selen said there's a scale, that they have to accept us as we are, minus beds, and we have to be brave and say, you may have a better place to sleep on Terra, but we're satisfied with what we have.

Tiger: Otters have such stable foundations. I'm sure the Chinese won't push you over, Mica. But there's another point to learn from this issue that applies to the money system.

Ken: The money system? How?

Tiger: Listen and I'll tell you. All of you are too pure to figure this one out until it's too late. Terrans A and B have beds. The bed maker advertises, puts out a broadcast message saying, I've made a bigger, better, fancier kind of bed, and if you get one your neighbors will think you're so wonderful; you'll be at the top of the dominance hierarchy in your village. So A buys the bed, and the neighbors ooh and aah. B is jealous, and buys an even bigger bed, and the neighbors ooh and aah over that one. Everyone in the whole village is shipping in bigger and bigger beds and shipping out perfectly good ones that aren't the biggest, and quick enough the beds fill their houses; you get the idea. And of course the bed vendor overprices them and ends up rich, while the villagers are ill-served in exchange for their money. Ken, analyze.

Ken: The buyer should buy because the thing suits his need. Competition is done with muscles or wit in a simulation, shooting down airplanes or something, not by abusing money. Hmm, if broadcast messages like that were forbidden it would make things a lot simpler. Why are you adults looking at me like moldy food?

Tiger: The first part is good. Iris, straighten him out on the second.

Iris: ``Like that'': someone has to judge which messages to forbid. You're asking for trouble there. Another thing: Tiger wouldn't lift a finger to keep us from blundering into trouble, provided we could learn from it and straighten it out afterward. We ought to set up policies like that for our future generations: it's wrong to forbid them to get into trouble. But we should train them to stay out. Tiger is doing that for us now.

Ken: Intellectually I know that, both parts of what you said. Emotionally it's another matter. And maybe we're getting off topic.

Iris: I think the original topic was getting married. Unless Tiger has more to say, let's cut it off now. I'll put together a proper planning document tomorrow. From the discussion we've just had I'll put in as much as I can remember, and everyone should go over it and fill in parts I missed, and additional ideas you've had overnight. OK with everyone?

Valeria: OK by me, to get off this topic. Petra, Rose and Xena, let's get the dishes washed and put away.

Me: The cake was delicious, people. Thanks so much for putting on this banquet.

Petra: We get to have fun too!

Yes, it was a fun banquet, until we drifted off into the Chinese topic. Not otterly at all! It's interesting to review who participated in which parts of the discussion. And is it a weakness in my personality, and several other people, that I shied away from the topic? I think I'll make a plan about that: I'll talk to Xena first, then Iris, then Lucent, maybe in a group with Iris, and finally to Simba. Likely that sequence will give me more insight into my own feelings.

And earlier I made another plan.

Me: Titania, I want to ask Ken some questions about how he's feeling. Could you divert Jacinth for a few minutes?

Titania: Sure, if you'll fill me in afterward. Teamwork, right? But both ways.

Me: Right, teamwork.

Titania has a good tactical sense: we approach Ken and Jacinth from opposite sides, and as Titania chats, about the Chinese situation, her movements and body language draw Jacinth apart. She might have learned that move from me! I draw out Ken about alternative plans the Chinese might have, while subtly changing position too. But then I drop into Tiger signs.

Me: I wanted to ask you, Ken, something on a different topic. Titania and I were watching you, how you interact with Jacinth.

Ken: Oh! Am I messing up?

Me: No, that's just the thing: you're pretty normal. Remember when I said we hadn't gotten to sex and Orion asked, ``Selen, are you sick?'' I have a similar question. You're usually such a loner. Are you forcing yourself to be together with Jacinth, so much that you're not enjoying it?

Ken: What happened to Ken the Grouch? Don't worry about me. Well, yes, worry, but not the way you think. Did you ever figure out why I'm a loner? It's not that I dislike people's company, and now that I have Jacinth, well, I'm not Mica and she's not Night, but I like to be with her. I have a lot of lessons and they take a lot of time, and that's time I'm not with other people, and when I'll snap at them if I'm interrupted. And if I want to do something, well, imagine this: Hey, Selen, let's summarize the decametric radiation logs for last month; it'll be a blast! I do that once a month and so far nobody's had any interest in joining Ken the loner. Jacinth, Jacinth! Obviously in collusion with Titania, Selen got me alone to ask me a private question: if I'm such a loner, why aren't I acting that way with you? The reason is that we have things to do together, and we're going to put together a bunch of activities so we can act like proper mates at least some of the time. I don't expect you to enjoy analyzing the decametric radiation logs, and I do intend to continue to work on those, but I'm together with you because we have something in common, not because I'm overpushing.

Jacinth: You're sweet. And on the decametric radiation, I never know what will strike my fancy. I should at least do it once, so I know what you do.

Ken: You're sweet too. You know, I'm feeling uncharacteristically physical. After all that food I think a walk would help pack it down. Who's coming?

The four of us have a nice walk hand in hand under Wotan's evening light down along Sirion. The plop of snowballs on the pile comforts me: it's a steady part of our lives and it's progress toward the new world, not unotterly conflict that shouldn't be.

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