Middle - Part III

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KALP IS having an understandably hard time concentrating on work.

He is in Basil's chair again, because the desk and chair that Gwen requisitioned have not yet arrived. He is supposed to be concentrating on the schematics before him, but all he can seem to look at is the small shadow of flesh at the top of Basil's chest. His top shirt button has worked loose and the vee of lightly furred skin is far more intriguing than it ought to be. Kalp looks at Gwen, busy laying out an assortment of delicacies that she apparently baked the night before, arranging them temptingly on the edge of her desk. She too has her top button undone, but he can only see the dip in her collar bones, and no further.

Discreetly, Kalp undoes his own top button. It seems the done thing. He wonders at the fashion trend that makes a whole pairing of fasteners obsolete, when they are obviously there to be fastened, but then he puts that thought aside. He has seen stranger on his own world. Kalp had finished looking at the pornographic book before anyone else returned to the Sleeping Place, and, as promised, left it on the younger one's cot. He spent the rest of the evening, however, thinking about Maru and Trus and how much he misses his family.

He misses frantic, heated intercourse for no other reason than for the sheer pleasure of reveling in each other's bodies, in the sweetly gasping responses and arousing little sounds. He misses comfortable quiet domestic compatibility. He misses performing kind gestures for no other reason than to evoke pleasure in another. He misses cherishing and being cherished. He misses falling asleep wrapped in his nest and around his Aglunated.

He only allowed himself the usual mourning period; he could not stand to dwell any more than that. It had just been so fast, all of it, and sometimes it still feels like it never happened, that he may wake up any moment, rise up out of his unconscious phase and find it all to have been an illusion of the mind while he slept. Maru and Trus will be there, and the sky will be the soft green of his childhood.

He performed the Ceremony and still feels incomplete — not that he had been alone in performing it on the refugee ships.

Their mutual loss is what is holding those who are left together. Some had escaped with family — parents, siblings, children — some with Aglunates, some with whole Units. And some, like Kalp, utterly and absolutely alone. Kalp has no one.

Kalp is widowed and touch-starved and, yes, he admits it, empty- feeling. He feels left behind, like maybe he really did die with Maru in the smoke field or Trus in the panic, and he is not on Earth, placed among — between — two of these strange, squishy creatures and trying vainly to adapt. To Integrate.

And humans are squishy. Perhaps solely because they are nearly sixty percent water, they leak, ooze, secrete, and shed all over the place. It is a wonder that they do not leave puddles in their wake. While fornicating, the blood inside them flows all down in men and all up in women. Women make natural lubrication, but men do not, and yes, as the young ones found so revolting, all of the men's sexual organs are at all times on the outside of the body.

Kalp has to make an effort not to stare at the area of Basil's pants that hide his genitalia as the human passes by in front of the drafting table to fetch more tea. Beyond a small tell-tale wrinkle, he looks perfectly flat in front, like Gwen and Kalp himself. Do men tuck themselves into contraptions to flatten their crotches, Kalp wonders, just as women tuck their fully inflated breasts into lingerie to buoy them up, to enhance their visibility and put their fertility on display?

Kalp will not deny that "bras" are flattering, and add to the attractiveness of a woman, but it is strange to him that their breasts are inflated at all times, and not just when they are prepared to create and nourish a child. It is a strange evolutionary signal and Kalp is eager to investigate medical literature to further understand it. For the same reason he wonders why the penis and the precious sacs in which seminal fluid is created are placed in such an unprotected area. Kalp's genitalia are safely tucked under his rib cage, where no stray jarring or accidental injury could endanger his chances of procreating. It seems only logical.

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