That distracted me from my own irritation with her, as I’d never before thought about the possibility that there was a time during the history of their civilization when they were conventionally religious and had mistaken ideas about cosmology.
They must have been so devastated by their hasty retreat into the Earth that they temporarily lost the knowledge that it even has a surface. Then again given how difficult they find it to see anything except down their pointy little noses, perhaps it should not come as a surprise to me that they became so insular.
Following her homework, she called forth what could only be some sort of television program. I want to say it was animated except that it was perfectly photorealistic, beyond even what the best computer generated visual effects I’ve ever seen can achieve, as well as being in opaque volumetric 3D.
A cutesy caricature of a six legged reptile I recognized from back in the cavern where Tlalo’s hideout used to be ambled along a field of soft, red grass. A narrator said something in their native tongue. Then along came a small bat.
The bat noticed the lizard and began to flee, but the lizard gave chase and suddenly gobbled down the bat in one swift, violent motion that seemed a bit much for something aimed at children, especially considering the blood now dripping from the lizard’s jaw.
The lizard just smiled and looked terribly proud of itself. The narrator said something or other with the inflection of a question. Two faces of nordic children appeared, one tearful and shaking its head, the other grinning and nodding.
Soon the tearful, shaking head vanished and the grinning, nodding one grew larger and moved to the center of the screen. The lizard was then depicted running, jumping over obstacles like fallen logs of boulders and striking various poses which called attention to its impressive musculature.
I asked Shkinta what it was about. “Oh, he asked whether we feel sorry for the bat. Whether we identify with the bat or the lizard. He says not to feel sorry for the bat, because if it deserved to live it would have been able to escape or defend itself.”
I balked. “No wonder you turned out like this, if this is what’s pumped into your brain all the time.” She looked mildly salty and asked what I meant by “like this”. I wouldn’t answer, so she went in a different direction.
“You may call it indoctrination and you wouldn’t be wrong. But were you not also indoctrinated by such materials when you were young?” I began to answer that I never was, but then started to reflect on the content of the cartoons and children’s movies that I watched growing up.
In every last one of them, the moral of the story was the importance of sharing, diversity and teamwork. I couldn’t think of even one in which that theme was not strongly present. She went on. “It is of no real consequence as all parents indoctrinate their children, and all societies produce a carefully curated narrative intended to steer you towards beliefs they want you to hold.
It is very difficult to cleanly and objectively say what is indoctrination, versus what is education. One group’s education is an opposing group’s indoctrination and vice versa.” We agreed on that much, albeit probably for different reasons.
“Besides” she continued, “there is a level of development where one transcends slavish devotion to truth. What good is truth if it does not serve your interests? It is not an idol to my people, just another tool in our arsenal to be employed when useful to us and shelved when not.”
When she crawled into that oval shaped nest of cushions and blankets they consider to be a bed, I was invited to join her under the covers. My heart began to beat faster. It would be my first night outside of my enclosure. My first opportunity to explore the house, possibly to escape.
I weighed my options and the likelihood of success as I clambered up onto the bed, which was very much like a hot tub with soft bedding materials inside instead of water, and burrowed my way under the covers.
Shkinta emitted more body heat than any human I’ve been this close to. Something to do with their metabolism if I had to guess. Once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could just barely make out her veins which for some reason faintly glowed through her skin, the light rhythmically pulsing in time with her heartbeat.
Sharing a bed with an alien. Or so close that the remaining distinctions hardly seem to matter. Could I even be sure that was a single heartbeat? Could she have more than one heart? Might her organs differ meaningfully from my own?
She moved a little closer to me and waited. I took it as invitation to do the same. So it was, snuggled up cozy and warm beneath the covers, that I fell asleep in the bed of a monster. I dreamt I was scampering around on an immense tablet like a mouse.
A giant Nordic towered over me, staring down in judgement with his agonizingly precise features. When I tried to flee in one direction, he brought his hand down to block my path. When I tried to flee in a different direction the same thing happened.
I cried in a fit of terror and frustration but the looming giant only emitted cruel, booming laughter in response. I woke up sweating, not as much because of the nightmare as because of Shkinta’s accumulated body heat and the warmth of the covers.
I lifted the edge of the thick, quilted blanket to let some of the heat escape. She murmured and stirred in her sleep. I gave intense consideration to getting out of bed to explore, but worried she might be testing me.
She seemed to actually be sleeping, but I would not put it past her to have some hidden capacity to convincingly fake it. At any rate if I hoped to encourage her to supervise me less and less stringently going forward, I felt as if I should stay in bed for at least the first night in order to inspire the expectation that I always would.
She looked so sweet laying there, eyelids occasionally fluttering. So angelic. You’d never guess what goes on in her head if you didn’t already know. The contrast between the two felt staggering. How could such a lovely and soft looking shell have such ugly, brutal contents?
When I awoke she was already out of bed, grooming herself and otherwise preparing to go out. “Hurry up, I’m meeting some friends at the outskirts of the city again and want you to come along.” I was all too eager for another taste of fresh air, but asked why.
“I’m going to play Eansul with them. Reimic will be there.” I cocked my head. She clarified that Reimic was the boy we’d discussed earlier. “He always brings his own human” she added, “so I thought I’d bring mine, that way we’ll have something to talk about right away.”
She held her cheeks in her hands and looked anxious. She had this way of making me want to hug her, then making me want to hit her, but then making me want to hug her again from moment to moment. I imagined that was generally what having kids is like, too.
By the time we arrived in the field, the other children were already busily warming up for some manner of sport. I’d so far seen military saucers and utility focused ground vehicles, as well as compact saucers of a form suited to urban travel.
Now I was met with the sight of what surely must be their equivalent of a bicycle. Something scant, light weight…just barely enough to qualify as a flying machine. An elongated triangular frame enclosed each pilot, perched upon a cushioned seat.
Two more rigid triangular frames at different angles relative to the first came together into something like a roll cage, though it didn’t look as if it could possibly be strong enough to absorb any serious impact.
There was a cluster of machinery beneath each seat which I figured for the levitation mechanism. Somewhere in there was a vial of Vril, I knew, but so little was necessary to simply move a single nordic child about that it would be invisibly small from this distance.
Stay Tuned for Part 43!