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Chapter 2: Dog and Pony Show

It has been a busy three weeks. We decided that scrambling our lessons for another month wouldn't make us any more prepared, so we picked the earlier GED date. The majority of the preparation was for this press conference anyway. Ms. Donegal made all the arrangements; she rented this studio place, which she calls a screening room, and rented eight big chairs with gray cloth upholstery for us to sit in. She says that we will look smaller and less threatening that way, and the gray will contrast well with our fur. From backstage we're watching the camera crews setting up and the reporters taking their seats and looking at the empty chairs, using our own inconspicuous camera, and Ms. Donegal points out particular reporters and helps me memorize their faces. I had imagined a vast hall with thousands of seats, but really there are only a few over fifty, and not all of them are filled.

Finally they all seem to be ready, only a few minutes late. Ms. Donegal tells us to line up, with me in the center, my group ahead, and the other group behind. Cathy and Willie could talk freely with both groups of lions, so consulting with our supervisors, they actually decided which lions would prepare which questions, and picked me to give the opening speech and to dispatch questions. The supervisors stayed in the background because they wanted us to really pay attention. Each of us has his (or her) name card, and tape to stick it to the chair, and a spare piece of tape just in case.

Me: Break a leg, people. Adam, move out.

As we move into the light I can hear the reporters gasp. We all look straight ahead, or I hope we all do. Adam remembers to walk behind the row of chairs. Each person tapes his name sign so it shows over the top of his chair, and sits, except me. The black furred person from the other group jacks in her computer to the wire taped to the floor; it seems to boot up OK.

Me: Welcome to the press conference of the Lion Foundation. We are lion people. My name is Simba, and the others will introduce themselves in a minute. Our goal is that we will grow up to be adults, go out into the world, and thrive. For that to happen, we need for humans to welcome us into their communities. And for that to happen, humans have to get familiar with us. The purpose of this press conference is to introduce lion people to humans. Our emphasis is on lion people in general, although we'll answer questions about ourselves individually too. We've prepared a short description of lion people, but most of the time will be for questions. We've tried to anticipate some of your questions and to prepare coherent answers. We're also good at answering unanticipated questions, and we know how to say ``I don't know''. Tiger can get information from our archives or elsewhere on the net; if we do that, she will tell you the source. So Leo, would you start the description?

I sit and Leo stands to address the reporters.

Leo: We are semi-artificial intelligent living entities, so it says in the Lion Foundation charter. This means that our genome contains the best of many natural sources, but was assembled by the project staff. Many genes and regulatory sequences were modified, and a few were changed heavily or constructed especially for us; some of the other lions will be telling you about them. Our genome contains material from every kingdom, many phyla, and most mammal orders. In Greek mythology the term ``chimera'' was used for a creature like us. We are mammals, but we are not primates; in fact, I doubt that we belong in any natural order. Our brains are taken from humans; there's hardly any other source for brains, and the regulatory sequences were edited, but not heavily. I can tell the difference between lion people and humans by their behavior, not just by looking at the bodies, but I can't tell how much of the difference is caused by training, or by the genome, or by how we've uniquely taught ourselves, and the difference between people is more than the difference between species, as with male or female humans and human races. I hope you'll get to know us as individuals, and that we can be friends. The next person is Tiger, who will tell you about our fur.

Tiger: When we walked out here, the first thing you saw was our fur. It has two layers; I don't know if you're close enough to see that. The inner fur is from the otter. It's porous and absorbs skin oil so dampness doesn't soak through, but we don't leave greasy spots on everything we touch either. The outer fur is from the raccoon. It's coarse and stiff, and it supports the inner fur away from our skin so it can hold the air and keep us warm. You can see all our colors here. Most of us are basic lion color with a black tail tip. I'm solid black with a white tail tip, and one of the other group is auburn, again with the black tail tip. We're able to have stripes, but none of us has done that. Humans' skin color is determined genetically, but we can choose our color by taking hormone pills. We shed twice a year, and for a color change we start the hormones about a month ahead when the new hair starts growing. I think we're beautiful, and I hope you find us fun to look at, as well as fun to get to know. Now Charlie will tell you about our opal parts.

Charlie: Except for us, all vertebrates have bones, teeth and skin plates of calcium phosphate. Ours are of opal, silicon dioxide in the form of fibrous microcrystals. Not fire opal. Our designers chose opal for us because it's stronger, it fails by splintering rather than cracking, it's more resistant to mouth acids, and it is much cheaper to get from the environment. The synthesis genes and major regulatory sequences are taken from several kinds of diatoms, but the assembly template proteins and their regulation are specially written for us. Our skin is reinforced by tiny plates of opal, which can slide in little pockets so the skin can stretch but is still very strong. Our claws, on each finger and toe, are razor sharp and made of opal. They retract like a cat's. Our supervisors give us a lot of training in the proper use of weapons, particularly in knowing when and who to attack or to let go by. We expect you to fear us for our claws and fangs, and we hope that we will always act rightly so you can overcome your fear and be our friends. I kind of got out of order; our teeth are replaced not just at seven years age but about every seven years throughout life, and teeth which don't fit in my face don't grow. The canine teeth are scaled down from Smilodon, not the DNA of course but the shape, and we have the fangs both upper and lower, and our lips can cover them, unlike Smilodon, so we don't look like a horror movie monster unless we choose to. See, I'll show you my teeth. I hope that didn't gross you out. Now Alice will tell you next about our metabolism and internal organs.

Alice: We are autotrophic, which means that we can create all the vitamins and proteins we need, in our livers. We still need minerals such as molybdenum and iron, and we can taste them specifically in food, and a button panel on our wrists will itch if one is in shortage. When we have too little nitrogen we can fix it from the air, and we have a kind of extra liver just for that, which uses Trichodesmium genes. We have one regulatory unit that humans would appreciate: when we overeat we don't get over-fat; it just isn't absorbed, so we get a belly ache and diarrhea, and we quickly learn not to overeat. We do have a fat layer; see here, fat layer; but its thickness is closely regulated. Our heart and blood are standard mammalian, but not our lungs; we have dual bird lungs. Muscles pull sideways on the vertical diaphragm, we breathe in on one side at the same time we breathe out on the other, and air goes one way through, as in a bird. I'll open my mouth wide and point; look for three holes coming up from my neck and two that connect to my nose. Did you see, the middle one is for food, and the side tubes match up for breathing. OK, that's it for guts; now Adam will give you a metaphoric look underneath a lion person.

Adam: Our excretion and sexual processes are normally activated by a set of four buttons, nerve touch sensors, around the inside of each leg joint. Button one extends the penis. Normally I would show you all this, but Ms. Donegal recommends that I just tell, not show, because humans viewing the video might be upset, and we want people to be happy to see us, not upset. OK? Now both males and females have the same organ, but a male's regulatory sequences make it get bigger as we get older, while a female's doesn't grow. When not in use it's in a pocket, as on cats and Panthera leo. As with a human male, we urinate through it, neatly, which is controlled by button two. The balls, that is, the gonads are here, and I'll bet you can't see them even though you're looking right at them, because of the way my fur lies. Our designers gave us genitalia that are discreet and don't upset humans, who we have to live with, not a big lump in contrasting colors like some animals have. Females' gonads are in the same place, because it's cooler and that limits DNA damage. A female's vagina would be just behind the gonads. Button three activates the genitalia for mating. Now on a less interesting but necessary topic, button four controls defecation. We produce dry, mucus-coated pellets kind of like deer shit, which pile up in the rectum. I hit button four and my rectum comes out in a kind of tube. The actual valve is inside, not at the surface like on a human, and when fully extended it opens and the shit drops out. The tube stays clean so my fur isn't soiled and I don't leave bacteria prints wherever I sit, and I can wash it with soap if I grab it before it goes back inside my body. OK, that's how our nether region works. There's another button row under the arm which controls sweat, sleep and blood pressure. We normally think ourselves to sleep, like you do; that panel is mostly for emergencies, except for sweating, which we can choose to do or not do. Now Diana will tell you about reproduction.

Diana: To get pregnant we start by holding down button three for twenty minutes. Two days later the zygotes are ready and the male and female feel an itch in button three, and they mate. We produce three to five ciliated eggs, which have a race to find a small spot where they can implant, and like with sperms, only the fastest one survives. Our gestation period, you understand all this is from the specifications and none has ever been done for real, but we're supposed to gestate for 195 days. The kitten would mass about 300 grams by then, kind of like a human, but resources are allocated differently and it's ready to be born. We feel an itch again, and we have up to five days to get our doctor and all that; then we hold down button three and our uterus contracts. The kitten is about the size of a rat, and one or two squeezes is going to be enough to pop it out, so they say. Not like a human female. Now comes the neat part; we're marsupials, and both females and males have a pocket and a nipple inside. See my pocket? The fur covered the opening until I pulled it open. We start with the intelligence of a rat, and remember rats are very smart. Resources go about half to the brain, a quarter to the arms and a quarter to the legs, and soon enough we climb out of the pocket briefly to explore. We have eight instinctive calls which we produce from birth: hungry, cold, full of urine, full of shit, lonely or bored, hurting, angry, and pleasure. That's about it on kittens. Now Simba will tell you briefly about our sense organs.

Me: Our hearing is much like a human, but as you can see the external ear is up on top of our heads so we look like a cat. In our eyes we have a more sensitive and more reliable red chromophore than humans, and the other colors are shifted a little so our color vision is more sensitive than yours. We have excellent monochrome sensors, and a reflecting layer like a cat has, that doubles the sensitivity at night. Our focusing mechanism is from the squid, which is more reliable than what vertebrates have. In addition, you may be able to see two dark spots in my fur, on my cheeks, here. The air sinus in the cheek has been modified as a passive infrared bolometer, so I can see you by your body heat. The resolution is good enough that I can see separate people in the front row center. For smell we have the random smell nerves standard on humans, but we have a special section that instinctively recognizes our identification pheromones, which are produced by glands on our shoulders. Male lions smell of cinnamon while females smell of allspice, which is really the only way to determine our sex short of turning us over and looking for the vagina. We have a pain scent, for emergencies, and there are ten identification scents. Each lion's recognition code is genetically determined, having or not having various scents, so there are a total of 2048 different scents. Our taste sensation is similar to humans', relying mostly on smell, but besides the specific sodium sensor we also have specific sensors for a number of important minerals such as potassium, iron, molybdenum and selenium. Our touch sense is similar to humans' but not as sensitive, because our skin is stiffer. Now Elsa will give you what we lion kids think is the most important part of the presentation, about our training.

Elsa: I'm strong as a lion, tough as a lion, and smart as a lion. I thank the project staff for this great body they made for me, but I didn't get this way because of my body. I got this way because of my training. The project staff kids get the same training we do, kind of as a control group, and the news we have for you is that the human kids are strong, smart and tough as lions too. The Lion Foundation publishes our lessons, though until now nobody knew they were written for teaching young lions, and you can get them from our web site or you can buy a CD. I'll summarize the training. Strong as a lion, as kittens we instinctively climb and run to explore, and it's easy to move to more formal exercises as we get older and get more goal-oriented ability. Each morning, and I think this is what we'll do for our whole lives, I do pushups, leg lifts, chinups, and bendovers, twenty of each per set, in three sets. And of course we stretch thoroughly first. After that we run for a minimum of ten minutes; I prefer to do it on the trails if we have outside that morning. We finish up by climbing trees for five minutes or so. Our human friends do the same. Everyone on the project staff does these exercises, except Mr. Rothko doesn't run because his leg got cut off in an accident; he has a special exercise. That's a policy we've been taught to use when raising our own kittens: the adults have to do it, and the kids will imitate. We learn a lot about how to behave from our supervisors; psychodramas and things like that; and we learn to be tough and steady and how to teach our kittens. Now smarts is not just knowing stuff; more important is being able to use what you know, and our lessons are filled with that; you can look on the web site. At my training level I do an hour of math, which for me is algebra. My writing assignment, which everyone does every day, takes half an hour to 1.5 hours depending if I have to do a lot of research. We've been doing history to prepare for the GED, and before that it was Greek myths and geography. We have a list of topics, and we tend to do the shorter ones at the same time because it's more fun to talk to each other about the lessons. We're supposed to read stories for fun and we all like that, though from what I hear someone in the other group reads history books, not pretend stories. And we have all kinds of games which we pick to be useful, not the stupid ones; for example, most of us enjoy flying on the computer and airborne weapon use. And there's gunnery and personal combat several times a week. Everything we have is yours, except the gunnery unless you have your own guns and a range. You'll get a lot out of doing our lessons, and you don't need fur and claws to be strong, tough and smart as a lion. Thank you.

And she sits. Now my job begins again. I fix the location of the person Ms. Donegal said should go first.

Me: We have to be out of here by 11:30, which means we should stop questions at 11:15. I'll pick reporters and I'd like each person to ask two questions, then wait for another turn. We'll try to keep it short so everyone can get at least one turn. Yes?

Reporter: From the Times, I'm Brodsky. Your presentation was very thorough, but there was one point which wasn't covered: why were you, shall we say, created?

Zot! We knew that would be one of the first questions. Charlie the historian is ready with an answer.

Charlie: Different people had different motivations. If you could create a species of lion people you would feel like Wotan or Zeus, wouldn't you? Preparing for this question I asked around, and several people on the project staff told me that they got into it for just that reason. Here's another: when I look at you doesn't it make you want to do your best, for pride of your species? The human kids feel that way, and certainly I feel that way but with roles reversed. Several of the staff thought that we lions could help humans remember not to act like jackals. The person from the other group told you about our training, which is as important or more important than our genome in making us what we are. Two people on the staff said they didn't care if we came out as lions or bats or pigs or whatever; they wanted a chance to teach kids properly, us and the control group, the human kids. And then they could put the lessons on a CD and say here's how to get out of the terrible conditions some human kids have to go through. Our founder, who put up most of the money, died several years ago without answering the question, and since we wouldn't have been assembled without him, maybe the best answer to your question is, nobody knows and nobody will ever find out.

Brodsky: You prepared that well. Could you tell our readers how it feels to be an artificial life form, to be assembled rather than, as someone said, begotten?

Charlie: I have to think about that one. Factum non genitum, et consubstantionem nihil. Well, I can give you something: as far as I can tell, you know I'm weird and I'm different from any of my friends, but I'm the same type of thing the human kids are, which is a person. I don't know what people want to hear, maybe like I feel rays shooting out of my claws, or that I always think about lion this and lion that, but that's not me. I just be myself. I may read history for fun, but I don't get all unbalanced about not being human. I think the other lions feel similarly. Sorry to give you two void answers, but that is the answer.

The Times reporter acknowledges with a polite nod, and I point to a lady in auburn clothing; Ms. Donegal had referred to it as a ``power suit''.

Reporter: I'm Forlane from the Post. Normally in an announcement like this the scientific director of the Lion Foundation would do the presentation, and there would be various speeches, and finally the kids would come out to be seen and not heard. Could you explain your supervisors' motivation for throwing you to the sharks, as it were?

Tiger: You answered your own question. When we grow up humans will have to deal with us, not with our supervisors, and we want to force, no, that word is unfriendly. We want the situation to place us as the only people who could be dealt with, since if the project staff were out here you would talk to them about us, and we would be like pets or something, not people that you are going to be living with. And we're going to be swimming in your pool for the rest of our lives; our survival depends on learning how to do it and to have you happy to work with us rather than eat us.

Forlane: You're how old, ten or eleven? Why the secrecy for eleven years and more?

Adam: I have that question prepared. First, some people will say that we're illegal. We could not have survived continuous lawsuits and injunctions that would have prevented the project staff from caring for us properly. Most likely we would have been confiscated and stuck in a dog pound, and we would have croaked. It's going to be hard enough now. We are citizens of the State of Utah, we have documents to prove it, and we claim protection as persons under Utah law. The second reason for secrecy is, as little kittens we would have been scared stiff with inspectors and reporters running in and out, and we likely would not have developed properly even if not confiscated. And we might, probably would have slashed them to ribbons. Third, why does the secrecy end now? Our ages range from eleven years ten months to twelve years eight months, and I am the oldest. In the project records we count ages from the date of assembly or begetting, not birth, since we develop continuously from the egg and sperm to what we are now. Referring to begotten people, of course. Now on the question, we're at the stage of development when it's hard to stay locked up in the Lion Foundation. We thank the project staff for the training and the bodies they have given us, but as they know, we need outside input, which means being seen by humans. So the secrecy has to stop at around age twelve years.

I turn to an older male reporter in the back with a camera crew, who Ms. Donegal had also pointed out.

Reporter: Michelson from CNN. Between your assembly and the baby videos, what were you doing? Were there, for example, surrogate mothers whose names might appear on the birth certificates Adam mentioned?

Ulp! Should I take that one or...

Me: I'm going to have to delay that question. Tiger, would you please ask Ms. Donegal how much we should tell them? Mr. Michelson, we'll give you some kind of an answer in a minute, and can you save your second question until then, please? Next?

Reporter: Taylor from the Tribune. Human parents are concerned with what you call supervision, but I got a mixed message from your presentation. On one side I see little soldiers, and on the other I see kids running wild. Just how rigorous is your supervision, and what kind of discipline is used?

Me: Elsa has the training issues prepared, but that's not exactly what you're asking. I think the human parents could learn most from what Charlie had to go through. Is that OK, Charlie?

Charlie: The reason for the weapons training, there are two. First, we have obvious weapons attached to our bodies. Humans should not underestimate their own abilities, but a slash from us at the wrong time could seriously impair the survival of all lion people, not just the one who made the mistake. So we have to be able to judge situations instantly and accurately, and it's just a lucky break for me that weapons training fits my personality better than the other lion people. I hope the people out there can trust us not to attack them wrongly. Second, nobody is liked by everybody, and there are people, humans, who will say let's do unto the lions before they do unto us. I've read enough history to know that, and I've checked with the project staff and they agree that the issue should be out in the open from the beginning. If we begin training after an attack, it's too late. We intend that none of us will be killed by humans.

Me: That explanation is very important. Could you tell her how Mr. Chernik guides you and particularly how he's helped you use your personality? And Ms. Taylor, am I correct that discipline refers to punishment, not to steadiness? She wants to hear about punishment, though to our mind steadiness is more important.

Charlie: I'm sorry to have answered the wrong question. I'm more steady in a combat situation; sitting still in this chair and waiting is hard for me. I'll try to do better on future questions. You asked about punishment and you just saw me get punished. It's usually pretty obvious in hindsight when we've screwed up. As little kids we didn't know, and, well, here's what we've been told to do, which we can see done to us on the videos. When the kid is disrespectful the supervisor does a threat display, you know, fangs and a slash that misses, and that's enough to send the kid under a chair or bed. Now, important, the supervisor has to put on an act of getting un-mad, and then talk to the kid and get him to come out, and hug him. You must never leave the kid without a supervisor. And you have to grade the various parts according to the kid; for example, Simba will stand up to any but the most vicious fangs, while that would have shocked me too much. And Mr. Lewis had to spend fifteen minutes to coax Leo out from under the bed. Now for safety violations, if it's not too dangerous you stay out of the kid's way and he learns. By getting hurt. You can see us doing that all the time in the videos. Now here's a good example of the other kind which they actually got on file. You see Mr. Chernik's rear end as the camera person chases him into the conference room. And there crawling across the ceiling is... moi! I dug my claws into the plasterboard. My mass was only about 1.5 kilos; I was very young. See the issue: when I fell my head would have broken open like an egg, and the walls are all plasterboard; there was no way they could keep me from climbing it; they had to teach me not to do it in one lesson. Mr. Chernik makes a snap decision what to do. He stops under me and yells. I panic, grab too hard with my claws, and rip out a chunk of plaster. He catches me as I fall, turns me butt down, and drops me from about a meter height, which is no fun, believe me, but not fatal. I yip a pain call and curl into a ball. He deliberately steps on my foot. Don't try that at home, particularly if the claws are pointing up. The humans don't wear shoes for safety with little lions literally underfoot, and you can see the blood wherever he steps after that. I scream with pain and give him a good slash so he's bleeding on both the top and the bottom, and the way his blood vessels run, well, there's a lot of it. Everyone's screaming, blood and plaster chips all over, I scoot under a cabinet. Typical day among the lions. The point here is, he turned a fatal situation into a nonfatal one, but that I could understand was something to avoid even with my modest kitten brain. I didn't do any research for this question but on some of the others, I understand that humans get upset if someone slashes a kid. I want to thank Mr. Chernik for teaching me that lesson and I suggest you learn from him. And another thing, in stories ``teach the kid a lesson'' often means to get angry and viciously beat him up. I particularly, and all supervisors, must and will learn to put away viciousness when handling the kid, whoever has to get hurt to get the lesson taught. Particularly the threat displays, which have to look real to the kid but it's important for the supervisor to not be real inside. I think I missed parts of what you asked but we're supposed to keep the answers short.

Taylor: It's very interesting. Could you say a little about your supervision presently?

Charlie: Sure. After a certain point we're mature enough to understand the issues and we stop being disrespectful; well, we screw up, but Mr. Chernik just has to say ``that's disrespectful'' and I'll apologize and make a different mistake next time. Similarly on safety, they can't stop us from killing ourselves but we can understand procedures and comply, which reduces the risk. People say teenagers are insane and I'm not looking forward to that; I'm insane enough now. You said something earlier about kids running wild. I've seen that phrase in the research. We and the project staff have the same goal, which Simba told you at the beginning. Someday we won't have our supervisors to tell us what to do, and we have to learn to plan lessons ourselves. We check with them on lesson management because they know a whole lot more, what's useful, which lessons that don't even exist yet will be written when. Look, I get a picture of a supervisor shoving some kid's little nose into the computer screen. It won't work. Remember, they had to motivate me to choose by myself not to climb the walls, and it's the same for lessons at any age; I choose by myself what to put resources into, and Mr. Chernik's job is to make me understand the choices he wants me to make, so I'll make them of my own will, not because he tells me to. That's not disrespectful; he told me that himself. We can't be controlled, but I think ``kids running wild'' describes us poorly.

Tiger: Right. Simba, I have the answer from Ms. Donegal. Tell it like it happened. It's better that they hear it from us now, than some scandal rag digs it up years later.

Me: OK, do you want to take it?

Tiger: I don't think any of us do.

Me: Yeah. I suppose I'm stuck. Mr. Michelson, can you say ``barbecue''? After assembly we were implanted in pigs, one pig per person. When we stopped secreting the fetal signal, which was monitored in the pig's blood, we were delivered by Caesarian section. The pig did not survive the experience, nor was it wasted. Our director, Dr. Franck, said he was running a genetic engineering project, not a damn pig farm, and he wasn't going to take a chance on us getting emotional about our mothers. We let him know what we thought of his reasoning, but it's over. Period.

Michelson: Period. My next question may be a bit premature, but I know it will interest many of our viewers. What are your plans for population growth?

Diana: When we become sexually mature, which is expected at about sixteen years for both sexes, we will de-separate the two groups and negotiate permanent mated pairs. We expect to attend college, and when we have gotten a job and suitable housing, we will begin to breed. This is nominally at 24 years. Each pair will produce eight kittens, one per year. The sex ratio will not be controlled. The second generation will be able to choose mates in a more normal manner, and will grow up in a mixed sex environment. The exact breeding plan will be negotiated with the U.N. Population Council, but we expect to rapidly increase our population to a certain limit, and then more slowly, likely three to two rather than four to one per generation, up to a larger limit. After that, the breeding plan will have to be renegotiated according to the acceptance lion people have earned from humans.

I'll bet they didn't expect a near-complete breeding plan. I call on a lady over to the side.

Reporter: Dillon from News of the Son. The Bible says that God created the birds of the air and the beasts of the field, and man and woman. Could you please discuss where you fit into that picture?

Adam: Sorry about the religious significance of my name, but I was assigned this question because I had already done some related research. We fit poorly into many human religions, including the Christian one, being created by humans, not by any god. You have to understand our position: we aren't human, and human religion is none of our business, and we are none of its. I think, though, that religious people may wonder how to respond to us. Try this: deal with us as you would with a human from another religion that is so different from yours that neither can understand the other. Suppose you had this cute kid from Papua New Guinea who believes in a spirit for every animal and plant. And who isn't likely to change. Deal with us as you would deal with him. Does that help?

Dillon: The Lord does not take lightly what you have done.

Adam: I looked that one up. ``Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.'' If someone's going to get zapped, it's disrespectful if you try to do the zapping. I hope your people will remember that. And there's also the matter that you might misjudge what your god wants for us and for you.

That woman is not a happy camper, but she shuts up reluctantly, her two questions expended. The next one, Ms. Donegal has described and warned me about. I figure he will fit right in with Dillon.

Reporter: Wilson, from the Star. Have any of you ever been sexually abused?

Alice: No. When we say ``no'', one slash will enforce it if necessary. By the way, the differences in our reproductive systems would make interspecies mating a very frustrating experience if attempted. If any human child out there is being forced to do sex, I advise you to follow our custom and be the opposite of shy about it. Tell anyone and everyone all the details until you are believed and the person bothering you is squelched. A kick in the balls can also do wonders for his attitude. You don't need fangs and claws to be tough as a lion.

Wilson: You seem to have had very extensive sex education. What problems have you had with masturbation and experimentation between boys and girls?

Me: For us that's a training issue, so I'll ask Elsa to answer it. And Tiger, I see you, but I don't think we need to consult with Ms. Donegal; we know our policies. Agreed? OK, Elsa, you're on.

Elsa: We prefer the term ``practice mating''. In a few years we'll meet the other group for real, and form lifetime pairs. I think you can understand that we'll be under a lot of pressure at that time. If we have to learn to do the sex process itself, with all the very strong feelings, at the same time we're trying to get paired up, and trying to make a very feisty personality fit into a pair relation without exploding, well, I can see where soap operas come from and I don't want to participate. It's important to us; you talked about sex education and we take that seriously; for us that means we practice doing it, so we aren't overwhelmed and surprised by something new like that, when we have to make lifetime decisions. If you look at nonhuman animals, I mean mammals, not birds, you'll see that they all follow that policy, and I suggest you learn from them as we have done. That includes doing sex alone, and learning how to enjoy being close to another person when you're doing it. After all, the purpose of sex is to stick the pair together. We're not shy about discussing sex, but we've been warned that many humans wouldn't want to hear a lot about it in this news conference, so I suggest that the next question should be about something those people would like to have as a topic, OK?

Me: Thank you, Elsa. Practice mating is not a problem for us, it's an important training issue which is essential to our survival. Next?

Reporter: Johnson from the Denver Post. On a slightly less inflammatory topic, could you tell us why the two groups are kept so rigorously separated?

Diana: That's simple. We have similar mind-hormone interactions as humans and many animals, and we recognize the people we grew up with as unsuitable mates, being too closely related genetically. For us that's not factual, but we would feel it even so. We avoid ``growing up with'' our future mates, even if they're separated from us by an unlocked door or a wall we could easily hop over, because we need them in the future and we don't want to spoil it. Today's meeting won't mess up our mating, but it won't be repeated; in the future we'll come out in separate groups. In the previous reporter's question I got the impression of someone avid for sex breaking rules. I could sneak over two walls two meters high and get into one of the males' rooms, and by flicking my irresistible tail tip I could seduce him to mate vaginally with me, that's a joke, but the supervisors couldn't stop me from breaking rules if I decided to. Because I'm familiar with the issues and the process and the goal I choose to remain separate, and I'm sure all the males would make the same choice and throw me out if I did show up in their room. Lacking proper sex education, humans act wrongly, and you could even end up with a baby that has to be killed. That's terrible.

Johnson: Thank you for a very forthright answer. Perhaps you would be willing to raise the inflammatory level a bit and tell us your feelings on the pro-life versus pro-choice debate.

Diana: We didn't do research on that. Could you explain the goals and issues so we can decide whose category it's in?

Johnson: Pro-choice partisans believe that a woman should be able to have an abortion if she so chooses. Pro-lifers believe that abortion, or killing unborn children, as they put it, is immoral. The positions are not compatible, hence the long-standing debate.

Diana: That's reproduction, so it's my category. I may not understand their positions completely, but I don't see what you said as incompatible. From our perspective the present lions aren't that different from newborn kittens, or kittens inside the pig mothers, or on the assembly slides, or whatever. Being killed isn't fun, but there are worse fates. Like the person from the other group said, we might have been confiscated and stuck in cages, and our minds would have been wrecked and dying would have been mercy if they let us, which they wouldn't. It takes real work for lions to make a kitten, and it's not likely that one would be made outside the breeding plan, but that's not true for humans. If the parents can't stay together and train the child properly, as our supervisors have done for us, it would be better to kill the baby, and the later it's done the more cruel it is, so it should be done before birth, not after. And I say that even if I or my children had to be the dead kitten, although fortunately it's not likely I'll have to bear the consequence.

Leo unexpectedly sticks his hand up. If he does that, likely what he has to inject is important. I point to him.

Leo: I've been listening to the questions and answers and I'm putting myself in the human listeners' places and I'm afraid some of our policies are going to be misunderstood. Like on the little soldiers issue: I'm proud to say that in weapons training I'm second only to Charlie in our group, in accuracy and in judgment. But I'm sure everyone can understand that I hope never to use my training, and that's true of everyone at the Lion Foundation. I think the other group agrees. Arms are for hugging; I picked that slogan off the net; and I always try to hug people, not to fight with them. That's not a joke, that's really the way I behave. I hope you humans can hug us, for real or symbolically, and that particularly applies to people with strong religious beliefs that don't include us, because many religions recommend that people love their neighbors, not try to kill them, and that's how we lions intend to behave toward you. I'm sorry to interrupt but I think it's important to say that.

Me: I think Leo speaks for everyone in my group, and likely the other group too. Our goal is happy human neighbors, with emphasis on happy. Now the lady there in lion colored clothes, what's your question?

Reporter: Eskin from Education News. Elsa is making excellent progress in math, and Charlie in history, and the writing is excellent too. But could you please tell us about your cultural studies, such as music and art? For example, could any of you paint in the style of Seurat?

Elsa: We don't study music and art a lot. Our goal is to be able to function as an adult, and that requires quick learning of a lot of topics. As we say it, stuff you can eat. However, several of us, me included, are not too bad at drawing, and we like to sing songs together. Sometimes we can hear the other group singing crazy songs real loud.

Charlie: Could I get a word in? OK? I know the ``stuff you can eat'' metaphor, but there's a quote I picked up: man (or lion) doesn't live by bread alone. It means that we fill our bellies in order to do things beyond just stuff you can eat, and we need to get ready for that. For us the most important thing is the breeding program, and training the kittens. But to be a good example for them we have to have activities beyond jobs and breeding. Perhaps we're making an error in balance.

Eskin: Thank you, Charlie; I'm glad to know you're thinking along those lines. What do you kids do for fun?

Charlie: When we were trying to make time to study for the GED test, Leo suggested that we would have to play less computer games, and Mr. Lewis warned us about the balance issue there. It's not new to us. What I'd really like to be doing now is to chase each other through the forest for an hour. Or chasing squirrels; sometimes we even win. But I don't kill them; I let them run away; I need to build up that part of my personality. I fly the simulator a lot; all of us do, and there are other similar games. I like the singing, if they'll do it on my territory; I'm not comfortable on theirs. Adam and I work on drawing; we're not very good, but it's fun, and we do it together, drawing the same thing. Simba builds little dealies. Leo knows how to carve wood into animal shapes. And to fold paper into shapes. We do lots of stuff; that's not all and I'm sure the other group has their activities, but I think that's enough list.

Tiger: Time, Simba.

Me: Yike, you're right. It's 11:25. I think everyone got a turn, so I think we'd better say goodbye now. We're happy to meet you all, and we hope we can be friends in the future. Tiger, would you shut down and lead us out? Everyone, take your name tag.

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