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So my love affair with Gray-Eyes began, and a stormy and tempestuous affair it was to be.

Id only meant to stop to do battle with my phobia, and the place Id picked was random, chosen blind and angry by the spin of a dial. Odd to consider how important the most haphazard and trivial of decisions can turn out.

Naturally, once Id made contact with my visitor, I reckoned on staying put a while longer. I planned to win the little thalldraps interest and affection by stuffing food down its gullet until it was too fat to waddle off again to the Hard Life. Failing that, I was prepared for kidnap. To such doleful measures are the lonely reduced.

All that first unit I prowled the adjustable veranda Id forced into constructing itself along the porch side of the ship, or wallowed on the pillowy couch Id installed there just by the doors. A robot, programmed to bring me Gray-Eyes-tempting trays from the saloon, scurried back and forth. Absorbed in my scheme, and probably more than half zaradann, I gobbled things myself off the trays, watched magazines, and frequently cajoled the desert: Come on, arent you hungry yet?

It never occurred to me, though it should have, with my previous experience on the archaeological site in the past, that something other than the expected guest might materialize, having sniffed the odor of victuals on the breeze. Luckily nothing did, for in the condition I was in I might well have accorded it equally friendly treatment, and got divided, devoured, and digested along with the meal as a reward.

I hadnt really looked at the terrain much: getting over my fear of its openness had been enough. In the desert, initially, everywhere is like everywhere elsesky, sand, mountains. So far, this was the extent of what Id seen in my involuntary roost. Then the day began to ebb, the world turned to topaz and gold, and the color of the sky seemed to sink away into the disc of the sun. I found I really could touch the beauty of it then, as I had touched its beauty so long ago when I was free to travel where I wished, and the city still owned me. Now, tinged with my sorrow, the loveliness was bittersweet, but strong as wine.

The ship perched on highish rocky ground, which in turn fell quickly away into a valley of dunes edged east, north, and south by the fabulous, many-shaped crags. None of these looked particularly violent, and the lava traces I was still able to detect, more or less at a glance, were absent from their lean, gnarled thighs.

The scent of the desert changes at sunfall, as it changes at dawn. This Id forgotten, maybe only because I couldnt bear to remember in sterilized Four BEE. At early evening its a smoky voluptuous scent, like a candle of incense burning down, but this alters, as the air darkens and the stars emerge, to a hollow, almost spiritual smell of emptiness. After the rains, the perfume of green oxygen fills the spaces, and inebriates.

Id got up from the veranda, and wandered down and out into the dunes, a damn silly thing to do, as are most of the things I do, let us admit. Suppose something were to pounce

Something did.


Gray-Eyes! I shrieked, and God, how that high female voice got on my nerves after three vreks of baritone alternating with silver tenor. Apparently it got on Gray-Eyes nerves as well, for, leaving the steaming dish I had laid out for it but ten splits before, it fled.

I tore my hair and rushed for the veranda, yowling at the robots to fetch more food. It was too awful to have lost the wretched animal when Id been waiting the entire day. However, I neednt have had such a fit. For no sooner had I collapsed upon my pillowy couch than Gray-Eyes reappeared, virtually out of nowhere, thumped up to the dish, and resumed work. Nevertheless, its rear end was noticeably tense. Im doing you a favor, that rear end said. I mean, I dont really like this muck, but one doesnt want to be rude. Still, watch your step. It wont take much for me to bolt.

I cringed, quietly, eating up Gray-Eyes with my glance. Every twitch and burp was dear to me. I longed to cradle it in my arms. Lets face it, ooma, I thought, its the only child-substitute youll ever get, some poor little animal youve seduced out of the dunes with your filthy synthesized nut-meat.

One of my reasons for remaining a male so long had been that child thing.

Id killed my child, too, hadnt I? Due, as the Q-Rs said, to sheer folly. Theyd never, never have let me make another child, even when I was out of Jang. They didnt trust me, despite the fact that after my one mistake Id hardly have fooled about in that area again. (That was the stupidity of their assessments, wasnt it? They could act on deeds, but not on psychology, the knowledge that you might have learned.) As a male, my paternal urge was around ten percent, very low. But when female, though only at certain intervals, the yearning came strong.

So here I was in the waste, female and childless and yearning. So watch out yourself, tiny lemon-fur, Ill make a pet out of you yet. And this time therell be no shock wall, and no death for you. Ill wrap you in cloud cotton if I have to, Ill defend you with my good right arm.

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