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3.

They discussed some possibilities, then they simulated a bit and played some chess. Skzyyn wanted to learn chess and learn chess it did, but even Clay could beat it, even letting it take back moves. At least Mr. S wasn’t perturbed by its losses. Half an hour of that, and Skzyyn was ready to take a nap.

“Do all sentient life forms sleep?” asked Clay as he and his wing plus Skzyyn and Ree stood in the bay.

“Primoids do,” said Natasha. “They sleep four hours out of every forty, or something like that.”

“All the Fyaa species do,” said Skzyyn. “Tskelly sleep one period for every three awake. We can stay awake for a very long time, and then we sleep one third as long, and all is good.”

“I understand that dolphin brains sleep one half at a time,” said Vera, “but they have to keep swimming.”

“I don’t think Park sleeps at all,” said Natasha. “Hey Ree, does Park sleep?”

“Hmm? What?” said Anand Ree, who was cat-napping. They looked around, all of them including Skzyyn, but Park did not burst from the inner room to tell them she slept one hour out of every twelve.

“And now is when I must sleep,” said Skzyyn. It popped open the hatch of its little tube of a fighter, zipped in, stretched out, and shut the world out.

Rachel punched Clay in the shoulder. “Come on out for a stroll, hunkalicious,” she said.

They exited through the side airlock. The freighter was up to 28%, and the universe had almost blurred past recognition. The stars were even at this speed all but standing still relative to the freighter, but all those photons which had to be moving at the speed of light relative to fixed positions also had to be moving at the speed of light relative to the ship and had become understandably confused. Here outside, without the intermediate rendering of the computers, the effect was undiluted, undisguised. So, surrounded by streaks and ellipses and very oddly shaped points of light, Rachel Andros and her husband strolled down the mesh walkway a few hundred meters and then lay side by side on the hull of the freighter.

“Rachel,” said Clay, “what’s bothering you?”

“Clay,” said Rachel, “you are Mr. Perceptive today.”

“So?”

She rolled to face him. They looked at each other, their faces separated by twenty centimeters and the visors of two helmets. “Clay. Why do we trust the Fyaa?”

“What?”

“Why. Do we trust. The Fyaa?”

“Well,” said Clay. He paused. “You think we shouldn’t?”

“I’m just wondering why we do. Why you do. You trust Skzyyn, right? You trust him? It?”

Clay thought a moment. “Yeah,” he said. “I trust it. I trust Skzyyn. Not as much as I trust you or Park or Tasha or Vera. But yeah.”

“As much as Padfoot?”

“No. But not far behind.”

She gave him that blank glare of hers, which was unaffected by the two visors, the vacuum of space between them, or their relativistic speed, or even the fact that they were clinging onto the outside of the hull of a spaceship the size of Manhattan traveling from the home system of an alien civilization to a system controlled, presumably, by another alien civilization, which happened to have destroyed all human life on Earth.

“Okay,” said Rachel, “why?” He didn’t answer for a few moments, so she softened her face and said, “I just want to know how we decide these things. I mean, I’m not being a, what you call it, human chauvinist, but with other humans, I know what to look for. I don’t know what to look for with a, um, Tskelly. We didn’t know what to look for with Ngugma, and we trusted them, and look how that worked out. So. You know?”

He smiled. “I do know. That I don’t know. I know I don’t know.” He looked around at space, then back at her. “I know, for example, that we know humans so very well that humans are the best ever at deceiving and cheating other humans. But before you ask, yeah, I can’t read Skzyyn’s face, I can’t get those intuitive clues, but it’s like my cat that I had for a while, after a while I could read her expressions even though she didn’t have expressions in the same sense that you or I do. You know what I mean?”

“I thought the Primoids were the cat-like ones. They can’t talk, only meow.”

“Okay, well, you trust Skippy? You trust the Primoids?”

“I guess I do,” said Rachel. “They’ve proven trustworthy. The Fyaa haven’t really done that just yet.”

“So you don’t trust them?” asked Clay.

“That’s not fair, I asked you first.”

“I said. Now you say.”

She gave him a twisted grin, then shrugged and said, “Yes. Yes, I guess I trust them.”

“And Skzyyn?”

“Especially Skzyyn,” she said. “But why?”

“Because Skzyyn is a mensch.”

“How is he a mensch? It, I mean. It is a viciously recklessly ruthless fighter pilot of an alien race that was in a brutal multi-front war with our allies the Primoids.”

“Who we were at war with, and now those cute furry starfish who ruthlessly attacked Earth are also laying waste to the Fyaa home worlds, et cetera et cetera. But Rachel. Skzyyn is a mensch. That’s just a fact.” They looked at the blurry entrails of the galaxy. “You have to trust someone.”

“You do,” she said. “And at some point, it’s just you and me, and there, I have no doubt whatever, but just now, we need the Fyaa and they need us, and, okay. He’s, it’s a mensch.” They gazed up some more. “So I guess that’s my answer. Um, Clay. Why is Skzyyn an it? Do they or don’t they have gender?”

“Skzyyn said they have gender ‘sometimes.’ I don’t know what it means, but there it is.”

“Okay.” They lay another minute. Then suddenly she got up and said, “Thank Goddess we have gender. Viva gender. Come, Clay Babe, let’s check out those gender differences, shall we?”

They went back inside, and just as they closed the inner airlock, Vera came running out of the storeroom. She grabbed them and threw them against the inner wall of the bay.

After ten seconds, they all heard a soft alarm in their helmets. Vera let them go. “Vera,” said Rachel, “what the heck was that?”

“Since we’re still alive,” said Vera, “that was our plan working.”

 

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