"This is soap." Fern was addressing her in a clear, moderately loud voice, like she was an idiot. "You wash with it." Frown. "In the shower or bathtub."
"I do know how to get clean." Cat grumbled. In a nice jet spray, or sonic cleaner, not sloshing around in an oversized basin full of plain old water with a fat and lye based lump of ‘soap’.
"Good." Fern said, with a wide toothy grin that Cat translated uncertainly as mocking. She plucked a plastic container off a shelf. "This is deodorant. You rub it under your arms, so you don’t sweat and smell." She dropped it in the clunky wired cart she told Cat to push around.
But, then how does anyone know anything about you? Cat frowned, she’d had all sorts of communications gaffes as a child, not picking up on body language and scent. Could it have been because humans didn’t do emotion scents?
"Now," Fern looked her up and down, scowling. "You look old enough, do you use pads or tampons?"
Cat searched her social, language and behavior lessons and came up blank. "For what?"
"Periods. The curse." Cat must have looked blank. "Menstrual periods."
"That, that has something to do with reproduction?" Cat offered tentatively, then it clicked. "Oh, all that nasty bleeding? Ter got the doctor to turn it off." Cat looked at the other girl appalled. "You don’t just let it happen, do you? Yuck!"
Fern was looking a bit appalled herself. "You mean your Mother put you on birth control pills?"
"It’s a hormone antagonist implant, actually." Cat suddenly wondered if she ought to have mentioned it. Advanced technology. Apparently these people just, just, oh, ick!
Fern looked down her nose. "Oh, I see!" her tone was distant and disapproving.
"Well, I guess you won’t need any of these!" she swept past the display she’d been standing by and down another aisle. "This is shampoo. Not that you have much hair, but eventually you’ll want some." She plopped a bottle into Cat’s cart. "Now, tooth brush and tooth paste. Do you have a tooth brush…?" apparently Cat looked suitably blank. "Try this and this." Not bothering to consult Cat she plopped a couple of things into the cart.
Cat picked up the packaged brush and looked at it in dismay. For cleaning teeth? No sonic pick? This was beyond primitive, and all the way into fantasy horror.
"Now." Fern led her over to another section, this one lined with colorful displays. ‘Lip liner’ ‘blush’ ‘nail polish’ the signs read.
Fern shook her head. "Never mind. You’re not mature enough for this yet." She led the way to the hulking big computerized accountants near the doors. "That’s enough for now." She declared, as she none-the-less scanned the bins beside them. "Want some chocolate?"
"What’s that?" Cat asked.
Fern jerked upright and glared at her. "I’m getting sick and tired of you pretending to be so stupid. Save it for the boys, they might think it’s cute." She snatched a wrapped wafer from a bin and turned her back on Cat, marching up to the accountant and proffering both the wafer and a paper barter slip.
Cat eyed the other customers, at the other accountants. They were unloading their carts onto the rubber conveyor belts, so she did likewise. She hesitated, then added a ‘chocolate’ wafer like Fern’s.
The accountant told her how much she owed, and she fished out the paper slips and sorted through them hesitantly. Was she supposed to have exactly the right amount? Fern reached over and grabbed one that exceeded the total and handed it to the accountant. The lady matter-of-factly opened a drawer full of paper and coinage and handed her some back, while mumbling numbers Cat barely heard. She grabbed the sack full of primitive hygiene products and followed Fern out the door, stuffing the money in the pocket of her jeans.
"Thanks, Fern. I know I’m bad at this stuff. It’s really strange to me," she admitted. However irritating the native was, Cat was glad to have been steered through the market on her first trip.
"Oh, that’s OK," Fern shrugged, apparently not inclined to hold grudges, and started peeling the wrapper off her wafer to reveal a nasty brown greasy looking thing.
Cat braced herself, and did likewise. My first native food and it looks like poop. Telling her stomach that no matter what this tasted like, it was going to accept it, she took a tiny bite.
It was incredible. It was the sweetest thing she’d ever tasted. It was marvelous. She swallowed the massive amounts of saliva that were flooding her mouth and tried another bite. Wonderful. Unbelievable. It was more than sweet, it was, it was…words failed her.
"Umm, chocolate." Fern said.
Cat eyed the brown bar. "Yeah." With great reluctance she rewrapped the rest of it for laboratory analysis. It had to be dangerous.
Ch5 Introduce a small problem to make the Repair Depots’ usual purpose clear. Finishing up a quick repair job?
"I think it tastes nasty." Ter said, "Greasy and sweet, but certainly nothing toxic. The flavor response you have must be species specific."
"But it’s not addicting or anything?" Cat double checked as she took back the chocolate.
"No more than any food modified to overstimulate the taste sense." Ter clicked her teeth in amusement. "Like Zeb and foost."
Cat sighed a bit; Uncle Zeb was her favorite relative, unmarried and childless, a bit, well, not shiftless, but unsettled, he’d acted like a father to her, when he was around. Or maybe more like a big brother. He was a lot of fun to be around. He’d taught her to fly, and even let her do translation drive jumps before she was licensed. "Yeah, I always gave him my share, I thought it was tasteless. I suppose I don’t have taste receptors for something in it, do I?"
"No." Ter looked at her approvingly. "So it’s much the same thing. Don’t eat yourself sick on this chocolate, just because your Uncle stuffs himself on foost."
"Right." She broke off a small piece and popped it into her mouth.
Ter’s biochem lab was next to Domi’s more complex domain. They seemed to get on very well, although Ter had over-ruled him in the matter of cleaning bots. The spiders and their webs were gone. Between the biochemist and the geneticist, the Embassy was set to investigate the native plants and animals.
"It still seems weird to me," Cat said, "That we’re developing products for export when we don’t even talk to these people." She nibbled off just a tiny bite of chocolate.
"It’s for their own good, Cat." Ter pulled a tray of plant samples from a preserver. "We’ll use Standard Contract Terms, and by the time the Humans are ready to join Galactic society, they’ll have a fat bank account to use for that purpose."
"Yeah, but, shouldn’t they have some say in the matter?" Cat had a sneaking feeling that she was helping defraud the poor dumb natives. She broke off a corner of chocolate and popped it in her mouth. Incredible. She wrapped the rest up carefully. Enough for now. Make it last.
"They will when they’re ready." Ter started dissecting one of the plants under the scope, and Cat decided to go bother someone else.
She followed some sounds to find Gyrm loading up one of the mid sized landers. This one looked like something called a Winnebago. "What’s up?"
"Some idiot tourists got lost and hit the system low on oxygen. I’m hauling out stuff for them." The Olver cocked her head, "Want to help?"
"Sure, what do you need?" Cat grabbed the end of the big tank Gyrm was dragging and eased it over the airlock threshold.
"Thanks. I think that’s it. I’ve got a couple of air units and standard power packs. They shouldn’t need anything else."
Cat trotted over to the lockers, found the one with her name and was relieved to find her old skinsuit and space pack had been stowed there. Gyrm waved her onboard and the airlock slid closed behind them.
"We’ll have to use flow-around camouflage for this, I wouldn’t ordinarily go out during the day, but the tourists sounded a bit panicky."
"I wonder how they came to be so poorly supplied?" Cat asked, as the ship eased up the vehicle lift shaft under its own power and headed skyward.
"Happens all the time." Gyrm told her, scanning the detectors. "You have to really watch for the native aircraft, around here." She switched subjects back and forth effortlessly, "Tourists are notorious for overloading their ships and running out of supplies."
Cat watched the scan, quickly spotting the standard flight patterns of the larger craft. "They stick to regular routes, do they?"
"The big ones do. The smaller ones buzz around everywhere, but we’re already higher than they usually fly."
As the sky darkened with altitude, the stars started showing and Gyrm flipped to system-wide scan.
"There they are." Cat said, spotting them easily. "They’re pretty close."
"The embassy is so new, it’s not in most of the data bases. They thought they were going to have to do a sneak raid for air or something." Gyrm curled a lip. "Fortunately the Embassy detectors picked up cc communication among them and the Ambassador stopped them."
"That’s a pretty low powered broadcast isn’t it?" Cat climbed out of her seat and started changing into her skinsuit. She hadn’t used it much, but it was a sensible precaution if she was going to be doing ship-to-ship transfers.
"Yep, the Embassy equipment is top of the line with big receivers on the far side of the Earth’s moon."
Cat examined the tourist ship as Gyrm matched velocity. "It’s a Kersa design, standard Big Buffo model. Crew of twelve and twenty thousand cubes of cargo space. Depending on the size and species of crew." She added hastily.
Gyrm grinned. "Know your ships, do you?"
"My Uncle Zeb, among other various and diverse jobs, used to be a used ship salesman. I got to work for him, last year during school breaks."
Gyrm glanced at her in surprise. "I thought your family was way above that, I mean Ter is so classy."
"Oh, Uncle Zeb’s the, umm what’s the human term? Black sheep of the family? What color are sheep supposed to be?"
"White. And you wouldn’t believe the dirt they collect. They are shaved for their long hairs which are very useful fibers. We just finally got some for the fabs." Gyrm gave a human shrug, "I guess even Hisloxi toppers have embarrassing relatives."
Cat considered the Olver term, and how it translated to and from Hislox. "Our, well, Ter’s family, aren’t really toppers, but they’re all well educated with important careers and, well, top lofty aspirations, I suppose. Except for Zeb. But they don’t have family money or anything, otherwise they’d buy Zeb a business to keep him out of sight, I suppose." Cat thought about it, and grinned, "Try to anyway, Zeb wouldn’t cooperate."
"Ha, a Hisser I could really like." Gyrm pulled two translators from a bin and handed one to Cat. "Put this in your ear. Not that I don’t like your mother."
As they settled into position beside the Buffo, Cat swung back to the rear compartment and sent out the tube. It sealed itself around the Buffo’s airlock and inflated. Cat floated through and requested entrance.
"Thank the Egg someone came!" A Dusek-Diver practically fell out of the airlock. The insectoid bodied, parasitic intelligence took one look at her and recoiled. "What are you?"