Chapter 15: Night Cloud's dilemma

"I am Feather-like Cloud Glowing Softly Pink After Night Falls. I had to flee The World and seek refuge on this one. I come in peace and I wish to cooperate with you and your people to the best of my abilities. However, I have to warn you that there is a small chance that the People Who Are Not People may find the traces of the Catwalk that brought me to your world. We should alert your local government or your local superhero league."

That's what she sent – but the response made no sense. It was hardly even babbling. It was very weak, she could barely sense a response at all, and there were no images, no mental constructs, barely even emotion. It was like touching a leaf-eater. How could that possibly be? He was walking on two legs, he had humanoid hands, he used tools, he even lived in a building. Clearly his race were Builders, not Burners like the People Who Are Not People. Yet he could not talk. All he could do was make cries, and even those made no sense, except he seemed to know the "let's talk" cry. He couldn't talk, though. He was mute and, it seemed, also deaf. He did seem to react on the information she sent him, just went on with his life. This was not good. Not good at all.

She knew she had taken a risk by traveling here. The Catwalk would only take her to places where there was sentient life, as its quantum technology depended on there being an observer on each end. But the life here could be hostile, even deadly. She had been in luck to meet a nice and helpful Builder, but there her luck ran out. What if all the world is like that? No, that can't be possible. How could they build a civilization if they can't talk?

At least the food here seems to be edible. She still hasn't suffered any adverse reaction from the meal they shared, and the fish tasted OK too. It would have been so awkward if she had to spend her first day here in the litter box! Especially since there doesn't seem to even be a litter box in the house. One of the rooms smelled faintly, but she could not see anything there other than various water tools. Luckily the forest is nearby.

The alien keeps going on with his life, but he also keeps looking at her. It seems he is as fascinated with her as she is with him. And he is a strange creature. She has heard rumors that sentient life can take very different forms, but this one is at least roughly humanoid. He walks on two legs, has hands (although his claws are flat and really short) and he has the usual numbers of eyes and ears. However, except for the head he seems to be virtually hairless. That's kinda gross. Probably because of this, he hides his body in textiles. At first glance she thought it was his skin, and a really weird skin too. But she quickly realized that it was artificial. These people have a really advanced textile technology, far above her own. This is a pretty good hint that he is not a lone aberration: His entire race, or much of it, suffers from the lack of body hair. Still, it must be a recent development, since they are ashamed of it and try to hide most of their bodies. She wishes she knew what happened. But she cannot even ask – not that it would be a polite thing to do, but she might be able to sneak it in. If only he could talk.

At first she had not even known for sure that it was a male, because of the textiles. Sure, it had broader shoulders and chest than females back home; but these were aliens. The deeper voice could also be an alien thing. Indeed, his voice was deeper than any male she remembered to have heard. But when she realized that he was entirely hidden in textiles, she could immediately see the contours of his body. And unless he was padding, he was not just male but very much so. More than anyone she had actually met back home, though you always hear stories ... But of course he is an alien. First Mother alone knows how aliens mate. Except first of all, they do so with each other. That's OK, she did not come here to mate. In fact, she had not even mated back on Earth. Yes, she could say she was young, but almost all the other girls and even boys her own age had tried mating, even though few had bonded and almost none had found their Soulmate. Well, fat chance of that now.

Again he turns his back to her for a short while, and again she looks in vain for any trace of tail. That is perhaps even more freaky than his nakedness: There is no sign of tail at all, not even a short and stubby one. Through the textiles she can see the outline of strong buttocks, belonging to a male who can run and carry for long distances. But no tail. Has his tail been amputated? Perhaps this is related to him living all alone in this house in the wilderness. He may be exiled from society, his tail removed as a visible sign of an unforgivable crime ... yet the gentleness of his posture, his eyes, and his spontaneous sharing of food marks him as anything but a criminal.

A thought strikes her: Perhaps he is exiled for mating crimes. These aliens may have mating seasons like lower animals. Perhaps he is normally a nice guy, but when the mating season comes his wild urges overpower his gentle soul and transforms him into a raving sex maniac ... in a flash of vivid imagination, she can see him rip his textiles off, standing there in all his alien glory, eyes mad with ravenous desire and the powerful muscles of his arms and legs tensing like cables as he prepares to leap at her ...

First mother! What's happening to me? She blinks, and the mad vision is gone. Perhaps the local food is slightly toxic after all, distorting her brain? It's not like her, thinking things like that. Not like her at all. Then the alien turns again, and involuntarily she meets his eyes. A new shock runs through her. She could have sworn he sensed her shame and was puzzled. Through the eyes? She could sense his puzzlement through his eyes? But everyone knows that Soultalk is only possible for identical twins ... and for Soulmates. It must have been her imagination. Or the fish. Yeah, right. Blame it on the fish.

She looks at him as he once again turns away. If only they could talk! Talk normally, but putting the hands together to let the nerves in the skin exchange information. And another strange idea strikes her. The response was not just jumbled and meaningless, it was also very weak. And these creatures are naked all over. Could it be that their talk nerves are distributed across their surface? So in order to talk, they would bring their whole bodies together in a big hug? That would be kinda sweet, albeit impractical. And it wouldn't be much help for her. She is covered in fur, and she cannot imagine cutting off all the fur on her front in order to talk to an alien. Besides, her talk nerves are not all over her skin; they are on her palms and the insides of her fingers. Still, it would explain why he was covered up. He might be a political prisoner, exiled for his dangerous views. A heretic, perhaps, denying the false gods that his people worships ..

No, once again she is just daydreaming. The textile technology here indicates that there's a lot of this stuff being made, so probably everyone wears it. Of course, the textiles could originally be developed for other purposes, just like in her own world. It certainly seems to be common enough. There are textiles on much of the furniture, even in front of the windows are sheets of pretty textile. So her theory could be right. Of course, it would not help. Perhaps if she got him to take the textiles off, and she run her hands all over his body ... perhaps she might be able to pick up enough of his sending to understand him. Then again, perhaps not. And without talking, she has no way to even propose it. She can't just walk up to him and start ripping his clothes off. He might misunderstand that. Oh yes, he could definitely misunderstand that. She feels her tail twitch in unexpected excitement.