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The Female of the Species

Welcome to Vhan’thu, Commander Wilcox. I’m Trinka, Harth’s betrothed. Ah, yes: Jennifer; of course I’ll call you Jennifer. Harth’s friends are mine as well, after all. I’m so pleased to finally meet you. Harth has told me a great deal about your time together in the Corps.

The first exchange of greetings can be tricky, can’t it? What we do on Vhan’thu is likely different from what Harth showed you. He was following interspecies protocol, but we’re almost family now, so I’ll show you the right way. I must admit, I’m relieved to see you’re using two of your limbs to stand on. That makes it easier to tell which appendage I’m supposed to shake. So, Commander Wilcox—excuse me, Jennifer—let me just start our greeting. No, no, take this one. No, this one. We’re not the ones getting married, after all!

All humor aside, we are both so touched that you’ve come from such a distance to share this special occasion with us. When Harth told me you were transferring back to Earth-zone I was certain you were going to miss our wedding. But now here you are. How delightful.

Is that all the luggage you’ve brought? My goodness, I would have thought a creature your size would need more room for garments. My compliments, how clever you are at compact packing! Please, follow me to the hoverlift.

Commander—pardon me, Jennifer—it is quite something that you’re able to spend so much time with us. You can imagine my surprise when Harth told me you’d be here two weeks before the wedding. But of course, we’re very pleased that you’ll be able to practice the ceremony with us ahead of time.

This is your first Vhan’than wedding, correct? I’m sure our weddings differ from yours on Earth. This should be a nice change of pace for you. I’m sure someone your age must have been married a dozen times by now.

Oh, really? Just once? Well, where is your husband? Or did you just recently vanquish him? No? So, he still lives? This is most interesting; you must explain this to me fully once we get you settled.

Did Harth tell you where you’ll be staying? With us? Oh, Comm—Jennifer, no, that would never do. No, we couldn’t ask you to stay with us; we must make sure you’re comfortable. I’ve booked you in very nice quarters in the Tengian sector. Oh, no, that’s not our sector, but it’s only one Earth hour away from our compound.

Come, we’ll take this hoverlift. Please, climb in; I’ll get your bags. Now put this strap—well, if you can try to fit your arm through this part of the harness, and then—that’s it. There. I’m sorry it’s not a perfect fit, but it should stay in place for our journey. Just hold on to this bar here, if you wouldn’t mind…

Pardon me for staring. I must confess, I’m still thinking about your marital status. I’ve read about this, but I still can’t imagine separation without a battle. That must create some interesting situations! I just don’t know how I could rest knowing my former mate still crawls the planet.

Well, ready for takeoff? Oh, what am I saying, you and Harth have flown a million missions across the universe, haven’t you? Still, Harth says my operation of hoverlifts frightens him more than anything the two of you have faced in the Corps. But don’t worry; this isn’t a long trip. And anyway, Harth hates to admit this, but when he’s on planet he actually has more accidents than I do!

Here we go…

He really wanted to come to the spaceport to greet you in person, but my goodness, he has such important work to do. I told him I would be happy to come get you. He tells me you are very independent, used to traveling all on your own, doing everything without a mate. He admires this—you—a great deal. Please forgive us if we’ve infringed on your independence by picking you up!

Ooh, that looks like a nasty accident down there. How many hoverlifts involved? Three? Looks like someone got thrown out of their lift—see, that’s what comes of not wearing your harness. But he’s all right, just lost a couple of legs. He’ll grow those back in no time.

I must say, Harth is so impressed with you. He tells me you’re so brave in combat, so intelligent. Relentless. Of course this is to be expected from the female of the species. We know how to fight for what we want, don’t we?

So, here we are. Let me help you out—oops, no, no, no; it’s not a good idea to touch us there. I know, Harth’s uniform hid them, so of course you couldn’t have known. That’s all right, don’t worry. Just try not to forget when you meet Harth’s relatives. We’ll all get together in about a week.

Oh, yes, I’m sure Harth will contact you before then. I believe I’ve told him where you’re staying. Ah, yes, he has your communicator coordinates—of course. So I’m sure he will get in touch with you.

Well, there you are! Someone will come help you to your quarters. I hate to just drop you off and run, but time is of the essence just now. Harth and I are both in pre-nuptial training. He’s taking it very seriously, since this is only his third marriage. He was greatly disturbed by the outcome of his previous two. The poor dear is so sensitive. I’m sure he’s told you all about it. No? Interesting, I thought this is something he would have shared with a close friend.

No matter, suffice it to say, Harth and I will do everything we can to avoid another separation. Still, we must prepare for the eventuality, which is what the pre-nuptial sessions are all about. This will be my seventh marriage, so I’m a bit more familiar with the terms of post-marital engagement. But don’t worry, I’m sure Harth will be willing to take some time out from his training to see you. He wants you to feel at home! In fact, why don’t you give him a call? I’m sure it won’t cause him a major setback.

Jennifer, it has been a pleasure, but I really must be going. So many arrangements to make! We’ll be back in a week to get you. But in the meantime, please do feel free to contact us if you need anything.

And welcome to Vhan’thu.

***

Hello Jennifer, this is Harth’s mother, Rennu. Harth gave me your communicator number. Am I bothering you? Ah, you just finished lunch, good. I’d like to visit you today, if that’s all right with you. I know you weren’t expecting to meet Harth’s family this soon, but if you don’t mind…

Well, that’s great! I actually would’ve been happy to pick you up when you first arrived, but Trinka insisted. And as you may have gathered, she’s very—firm in her wishes. Always has been. I mean, even the fact that there’s a wedding for you to attend is quite something. Harth hadn’t planned on getting married again, but Trinka set her mind to it, and well there you go! Not that we didn’t want Harth to marry again, but he was so certain he wouldn’t. And now…

I just always thought that—just a minute, honey, I just need to refill my drinking saucer—anyway, I suppose I always thought he would be more interested in someone like you. I hope you don’t mind my saying this, but you seem like a much better match for him, at least from what he tells us about you. But he has this hang-up about—well he’s a traditionalist, thinks everyone should date within their own species. I keep trying to tell him, Harth, honey, before I met your father—Harth may have mentioned, I was in the Corps as well, before marriage and larvae.

Oh, just a moment, empty saucer again. Have you ever tried Vhan’than wine, honey? It’s really quite good.

All right, where was I? Oh yeah, before I started a family, I took my time to see if a Vhan’thu partner was really what I wanted. Mind you, this was a time when Corps regulations regarding fraternization weren’t quite as strict as they are now. Or not enforced, at least. I suppose there were larger issues to deal with at the time, with the Oringian invasion. But you know, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet and work alongside beings from so many different regions of the universe.

What do you know, that’s the end of that bottle. I’ll bring another one with me when I visit you, you really have to taste this stuff. Hee hee, that makes me think of this funny thing that happened with one of my Earth coworkers back in the Corps. Our translation devices weren’t as good back then, you see, and we were having some Vhan’than wine, and this coworker was telling me about Earth wine, and he—ha ha ha!—because his family actually made wine, you see, and he was telling me how it was made, and the translator kept telling me that he was “pissing the grape juice”! Not “pressing,” you see, but “pissing the grape juice.” And he offered to go get a bottle from his quarters, and—ha ha!—well, you can imagine why I didn’t really wanna try it. And when we finally figured out what was comin’ through the translator—ha, ha ha ha ha!

Uh-oh, look-it what I just did! You’ll never believe it, I wasn’t payin’ attention and just opened the bottle I was gonna to bring over for you. Well, may’s well pour myself another saucer. I’ll just bring over a different bottle…

Anyhoo, those were some conversations we used to have in the Corps! All those bein’s from all those different planets and universes. And ya know, I’m so glad Harth decided to go into the Corps too, an’ so glad he met you! I always tried to get him to branch out, get off-planet for a while, ya know? Growin’ up and settlin’ down isn’t a race, izzit? What’sa rush when ya got 250 years? An he’s only 103, an’ had three pretty long marriages already, which is a lil’—unusual, I guess. Of course everybody’s gotta mate at some point, right? And that means someone’s gotta eat someone else’s head eventually.

Jus’ a sec, Jen—refill!

Ennyway, Harth never wanned ta have larvae, but all his wives just hadda, ya know? And, well, ya know, instinct jus’ kicks in at some point, an’ our Harth’s a survivor. So unfortunat’ly for his exes, they woun’ up on the wrong side of th’ process. And here comes Trinka, says she’s all done havin’ larvae, and jus’ wantsa get married. But, I don’ really think she’s done havin’ young; I kin ssee it in her eyestalks. He says he’s gonna resis’ it, but like I said, When Trinka wants somethin’…

So I’ll juss grabba hoverliff an’ come on out—wha? Whaddaya mean, why? Well, sure, I guess, if ya wanna come here instead. Can ya read my coord—coordi—location onna communicader? ‘Kay, see ya soon, an’ be careful inna air!

***

Hello, Jennifer, this is Trinka’s mother, Brine. I hear you had the opportunity to meet Harth’s mother. She is quite a lively creature, isn’t she? I’m sure she told you about her time in the Corps. I trust you found it amusing. I just wanted to get in touch with you because… Rennu can be quite a handful and, well, to be quite honest, she can… How shall I put this? I just wanted to make sure you know that there are many kinds of Vhan’thans out there, and that she may not speak for all of us in certain respects.

Which respects? Well, I can’t really say, without knowing more specifically what the two of you talked about…

Or perhaps just the general outlines of what you discussed…

Or perhaps just touching on a certain subject, the one that relates most directly to you: her stance on interspecies relations. She is quite taken with the idea of reaching out to inhabitants of other planets, which we all applaud. Trinka and I have utmost respect for her service, and Harth’s too—and that goes for your service as well, of course! But Rennu is at times perhaps a little too enthusiastic in her belief that all inhabitants of the universe should share every aspect of their lives.

I’m not exactly sure what you two discussed, but I’m sure it’s no secret to you that she used her time in the Corps to explore many different—levels of friendship with colleagues from different planets.

Let me reiterate, I am in favor of reaching out to all forms of sentient life; forming political alliances, professional relationships, even friendships, like your friendship with Harth. Friendship like yours is the strongest bond possible between species, and you and Harth should be very proud of achieving it. But, unfortunately, Harth’s mother has a history of seeking to push interspecies relationships beyond the point of friendship; and this is where her ideals and the beliefs of, I dare say, most Vhan’thans diverge.

I hope you don’t think ill of me for gossiping about Rennu’s secret past, but my dear, it is neither secret, nor it is entirely in the past. Rennu is quite proud of her philosophy, and has always encouraged Harth to consider exploring all of the ways to understand other cultures, if you grasp my meaning. I dare say, a young male with his wingspan and iridescence would have plenty of opportunities to overstep the boundaries with females of various species, but Harth is an upstanding Vhan’than. He has remained true to our way of life.

Rennu, on the other hand, may have suggested to him that he should take more time to think about his upcoming nuptials. She might even have encouraged him to speak with you about how he feels about—things. I don’t believe Harth would have wanted to burden you, a guest, with all of this; but Rennu, I’m sure she has given you a lot to think about. If I just had a better idea of exactly what it was she said, then I could determine whether or not there is reason for concern.

Fishing? I’m not quite sure I understand—these translation devices still aren’t perfect. I’m assuming you’re not talking about the water sport on Earth, but I can’t imagine any other meaning that would make sense in this context either.

Let me be clear, then, in case the translators are not adequate to the task: regardless of what you might have heard from Rennu’s mother, Harth is very excited about this wedding. If he were to speak with you—which his training won’t allow at the moment—he would tell you as much.

I will be quite plain: I will not have it said that Trinka and Harth are motivated only by a sense of duty. They are both very proud to have agreed upon an honorable approach to their situation, and Harth doesn’t need his head turned around by someone who doesn’t fully understand the issues, however well intentioned she may be.

In fact, shall we try this without the translator for a moment, just to be sure there’s no misunderstanding? I think I might manage to eke out a few words in English:

I think best, you go now. Understand?

***

Hi, Mom, it’s Jennifer. Yeah, everything’s fine. Yes, I’m still on leave, but I’m not on Vhan’thu anymore.

Well, yeah, he was supposed to, but he’s with me right now, actually and—

She says “hi.” He says “hi” back.

So, Mom, you have room for guests? Me and Harth—and 5 larvae.

Mom—

Mom, calm down. Don’t worry about what to feed them. He’ll take care of it.

Yes, he’s sure they’re his.

Mom, don’t worry, it’s fine. No, they were all actually kind of glad to see us go. That Trinka—the fiancée—she was all talk, but I could tell she was relieved when we boarded the ship.

Anyway, we just need somewhere to stay for a little bit, just until we figure things out. I told him I’d stick around and help. Well, you know, he’s my friend, and I’ve never raised larvae before. I’m kind of curious to see what that’s like. And he’s… Well, we’re…

Maybe Trinka was right. Maybe she knew I’d fight for what I wanted, even before I knew what that was.

No, not yet. I don’t know. But I’ll tell you all about it when we get there.

A bit about the author:

Tara Campbell [www.taracampbell.com] is a Washington, D.C.-based writer of crossover sci-fi. With a BA in English and an MA in German Language and Literature, she has a demonstrated aversion to money and power. Visit author page