“-st, with object permanence forming in our species forming between one and two years after birth. This also, unfortunately, coincides with our inability to recognize danger or things that would cause harm until three years of age or so.”


The screen behind Dr. Nicholas Silver switched to a silent movie – OIH approved, of course – of a human toddler happily walking off of a porch, being saved from certain death just in time by the child’s father. As it played out behind him he scanned the audience, noting the almost universal inhalation of breath, the panicked expressions, followed by the relaxed exhalation of relief.


It seemed that trait, at least, all species shared in common.


Dr. Silver continued to scan the crowd as another video of peek-a-boo played behind him. He wasn’t looking for aliens who were unphased by what he was saying and what they were seeing – by now those who were in the know realized that humans held a special… position in the galactic hierarchy, even if that position was nebulous at times. Quite the contrary, he wanted to make sure everyone in attendance was enthralled by the darling little angels behind him; there was a reason these lectures had a sub 5% pass rate.



That reason being, of course, that nobody saw the other shoe drop.



Dr. Silver smiled to himself as he reached a natural stopping point. “Well, seeing as how I’ve been talking non-stop for the past few hours, how about we take a break here and reconvene after lunch and a rest period. My team and I are going to compare notes, and then begin the second half of today’s lecture… ah. Hmm.”



= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =



Ngruzren-of-Arzgr, after 3 hours of the initial lecture, had made a mental note of a few very important things:


(1) Baby tiny-chompers don’t got no bones

(2) Female tiny-chompers carry between 1-2 young per pregnancy, rarely 3, and in extremely rare cases 4. The pregnancy is incredibly difficult for them with even one infant tiny-chomper, and their body is just trying it’s best-

(3) Baby tiny-chompers will sometimes look away from you because the dopamine flood they get from the overwhelming joy of seeing you is sometimes too much

(4) Baby tiny-chompers eyes go the wrong way. Everything is blobs for a long time. This is usually fixed

(5) No bones means pointy heads at birth they have tiny lil pointy head-


“[Excuse me, Sir?]”


Ngruzren-of-Arzgr stopped his uncontrollable full-body wiggle, doing his best to turn on his Serious Presentation Mode(tm) as his console lit up from a button pressed by the tiny-chomper at the podium. “{Yes, Doctor Tiny-chomper-wiggle-hands?}”


“[We just wanted… to make sure you were ok. I don’t know if your high-pitched… noisemaking was disrupting anyone else around you, but we please do ask you to pay attention during the presentation.]” Dr. Tiny-chomper-wiggle-hands said, adjusting his glasses. “[And from what I can tell, you’re currently sitting in an unregistered seat – who are you?]”


Ngruzren stood up, giving a slight bow. “{Ngruzren-of-Arzgr, Doctor. I’m a late addition, but my paperwork is all in order.}”


“[Mm. Yes, well. We’ll get your terminal unlocked during our break here. Please uh… make sure not to disturb your guests.]” Dr. Tiny-chomper-wiggle-hands said seriously, squinting slightly as the light hit his eyes wrong.


Ngruzren bowed again, then took his seat silently. I mean, internally he was screaming with joy because by the First Pack this was information he never knew about tiny-chompers, but still. The handling courses he was taught were basically “if you see an abandoned infant tiny-chomper, pick them up as delicately as physically possible, support their entire body with your arms, place them face-up in a pod and key in an emergency priority code, then wait”. There was nothing on the nuances of their behavior.


Serious Presentation Mode(tm). Gotta keep the mask up. Gotta not let on that this was probably too cute to be legal.


“[So, well. With that out of the way, I’ll turn it over to Dr. [Hre’preshn] to review what we discussed and to keep you entertained until we return. Doctor?]”


The elderly Jornissian made his way back onstage, giving a little deferential bow to the tiny-chomper doctor as he stepped down from the podium. The group of tiny-chompers moved as a unit, collecting bottles of water, paperwork and their chairs, dragging everything backstage in a coordinated… well, that’s a bit of a strong word. Unified? They all moved in the same direction, at least. Without a word the Dr. Hre’preshn pushed back in the step, keeping his torso and head facing forward while he rolled the rest of his body into a coil underneath him.


“[Thank you very much, Dr. Tiny-chomper-wiggle-hands.]” Dr. Hre’preshn said, messing with the control system on the podium to pull up another lecture presentation. “[What will follow is a brief Q&A session during the tiny-chomper’s break period to highlight and reinforce anything you may have missed during the initial lecture.]” Dr. Hre’preshn held up his hand as he talked, both in a commanding gesture… and as if to say “be quiet”. “[I’ve already called Technical Support for the few of you who had issues, and during the lecture I’ve verified paperwork that was coming in. If your seat has an orange indicator light, please come up to the front for assistance…]”


The Jornissian’s head turned slightly; the auditorium was silent, save for the light residual echo of his words, and every listener subconsciously turned an ear to hear for something.


There was a click. A door closing.


“[Wait.]” Dr. Hre’preshn said, his hand still held out, middle digit ticking off a timer only he could see in his mind. After a few agonizing moments there was the click of the doors automatically locking, and the Doctor’s body language changed completely.


Dr. Hre’preshn grinned, widely. “[Alright, let it all out.]”


There was the briefest of silences before someone in the front just screamed. This was the signal, and the entire class erupted in a cacophony of screams, flailed limbs, excited burts of noise and a general consensus of ‘there’s no heckin’ way’. Ngruzren-of-Arzgr would later swear up, down, left, right and center that he remained dignified, professional and personable throughout the entire training series.


He was just grabbing the nearest seat-mate to him – a Karnakian – and full-body wiggling with him in unison. Professional unison.


Dr. Hre’preshn laughed, giving a little bit of applause as well. No one realized he was in on the act; no one realized the encouragement was part of the production.



And that was the entire point.



= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =


“Oi! Wiggles!”


Ik’itili sighed, if only internally. The first few years with that name were fine, adorable even; juvenile little-needs-protectings calling out her name, sometimes even acting it out was precious and absolutely worth the snickering from her peers at the name she was given. The adults would say her name with a smile, and the story of how she got it was, of course, fascinating. Also got her a few drinks, if she was being honest.


“Wiggles? You in there?”


However, that was then and this is now and after a human decade worth of the name, it had gotten old. She already petitioned the government to change her translated name, and she got that request finalized about 2 years ago – She was Wiggles no more; “Bright Sunset” spoke more to her charming personality and overall lifestyle. Ik’itili had happily shared that update with her friends, family, and of course, her little-needs-protectings.


That apparently didn’t matter. That especially didn’t matter to Juan Esteban Aleman, Father of Mothing, Owner of TTT Ranch and Manager of an incredibly nonplussed Karnakian who was staring off into space.




Ik’itili’s eyes refocused, and she sighed again. “[I’m here, Juan.]”


“You doin’ alright?” Juan said, turning around and hopping up to sit on a stack of hay bales. “I know doing the mindless tasks is a bit of a pain, but the feed needs to go out to the dairy barn if we’re going to try to grow the herd this year.”


“[What? Yes, I’m fine.]” Ik’itili picked up a commercial-sized roll of hay – a feat that would require heavy machinery to do otherwise – and tossed it onto the back of a flatbed transport, adding to the stack already on the vehicle. “[Sorry, just zoned out there for a moment.]”


“Awh, that’s alright Wiggles, we all have those moments.” Juan smiled, taking off his hat and smoothing down his sweat-slicked black hair. “And I’m sorry we don’t have nothin’ as fun as programming drones or handling security; I know that’s much more up your alley.”


“[Eh. I’m here for the long game.]”


“And we appreciate it, truly.”


There was a brief pause as Ik’itili bent forward to pick up another rolled bale of hay. Juan said nothing, and Ik’itili shrugged and began to heft the dried straw up –


“So Jim called in sick today-”


Thump went the hay onto the ground as Ik’itili groaned. “[Oh come on. Juan, you know I’m no good when it comes to training-]”


Juan held up his hands in a placating gesture, nodding his head forward. “I know, I know. He’s apparently come down with something, probably just a headcold from the sound of it, but we asked him to stay home because we don’t want it spreading – especially not to our customers.” Juan leaned back, propping himself up on his hands. “So, point being is that we don’t have anyone to cover, and it’s just clutch training today.”


“[No flight?]”


“No flight. At least, no scheduled flight training, but…”




“Bench is in rotation.”


“[Juan! That terror-beast is the most ornery, maladjusted, evil little-]”


Juan laughed, leaning forward. “Wiggles! Are you listening to yourself?! He’s not evil, you just keep spooking him!”


The karnakian lowered her body, baring her teeth and frilling her feathers in an over-exaggerated aggressive display. “[Don’t believe his lies-]”


“Wiggles, Wiggles. Please. Wiggles.” Juan reached forward, gently patting his subordinate on the snout. “It’s just for a few hours, and then you can cut off for the rest of the day. Deal?”


Ik’itili frowned.



= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =






Ik’itili frowned. After a few minutes of back-and forth for the sake of pretending this would be a giant pain in the tail to do, Ik’itili found herself in the flight training barn – one of 7 that dotted the landscape. The floor was mostly loosely packed dirt – the kind that had some give if you took a dive – with a sharp line of demarcation bisecting the circular training area. The other half of the training area was a deep pit, filled with cast-off foam squares; logic being that if you needed to take a high fall it was better to cannonball into a foam pit from 30 feet up as opposed to, well.




“|Don’t you take that tone of voice with me.|”


The terror-beast hung upside down in front of Ik’itili inside the giant Barn, on a specialized rack that mimicked their native perching habitat. As Mothing was a hot new sensation sweeping the nation, TTT ranch was doing it’s best to standardize practices across the planet. From proper hatching techniques to animal husbandry using military equipment, new ideas were tested, adapted and adopted to provide the highest quality experience from silken egg to full-grown adult terror-beast. What TTT ranch had found over the past 20 years was that, in the end, with all the advancements of technology, there was absolutely nothing that could replace hands-on training.


Hence, the Barn… and the trainee moths.


Ik’itili opened up the giant cage, the terror-beast’s antennae moving independently of each other to identify the new guest. It’s body was a muted gray, but as a trainee moth it had a bright red vest on – unlike service animal vests, this one encouraged touching, the vest sporting multiple hand-holds and straps to help the new rider feel safe in the arms of an admittedly dim animal.


“|Now look, I don’t like you and you don’t like me…|”


“Òẘó.” Bench, the trainee moth said, somehow furrowing brows that didn’t exist in defiance.


“|But I’m going to have to pull you out of this cage and get you prepared for the day-|” Ik’itili moved her hand from behind her back, producing the final part of the training moth’s “uniform”: a bright blue helmet with a small, flashing light on top. The purpose of the helmet was twofold: On one hand, as a moth with new ‘riders’ the likelyhood that it would be taking dives into the dirt was a certainty, and the helmet was to protect the animal. On the other, it was to identify this moth and rider as brand-new to the sport; the other training moths would give it a wide berth and other riders would know not to get close to the unpredictable duo.



However, the lettering around the helmet that said “PLEASE BE PATIENT WITH ME; I HAVE MOTHISM” seemed a bit redundant.



“|Now, all I need you to do is just hold still and let me put this on-|”


It was only a whisper of a touch, a small fraction of air current moved the wrong way, but apparently the signal that Bench’s antennae received told it’s brain to go from “resting but curious” to “BOOK IT”. With a tremendous flap of its’ wings the terror-beast launched itself at the unprepared Karnakian, headbutting the poor girl halfway through her sentence. Ik’itili accepted her fate, letting the animal bowl her over into the soft dirt below. With another triumphant wingbeat Bench flew out of the cage, gaining altitude in the enclosed Barn, performing lazy circles in the still air.


Ik’itili rested on the dirt, a nonplussed look on her face. She would have been surprised, if this kind of crap didn’t happen to her every single ti-




Oh. An indicator – from Ngruzren?


Ik’itili sat up, resting on her legs as she mentally commanded her implant to answer the call. She still had a few minuntes before any of the other little-needs-protectings would come in for their orientation, and it would be good to catch up with an old friend. He’d dropped off the face of the planet ever since having his pups – which was to be expected – so mayb-




Ik’itili found herself on her back, again, as her ears rang from a sound that formed only in her mind.




It was going to be one of those days, wasn’t it.