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Book excerpt: Name of Alt

April 10, 2011

The first conversation I had with Khan was when I was 121-years and was about ten minutes after I left a planet in your galaxy, actually, and went like this (we literally used a common language in the universe that is based strictly on the frequency of tones, but this is, of course, the English equivalent):

“What are you, and why are you on my ship?”

“Off to Hell with you,” he said, smirking.

“I’m sorry, I must be misunderstanding you,” I said.

“No. Off to Hell. Begone with yourself and your ridiculous thumbs, especially,” he said, giving a dismissive wave with one of his wings.

“In which direction would I move if I wanted to march off to Hell, accompanied by my ridiculous thumbs, especially, and the rest of my body, in the interest of progressive exploration, and after I’ve marched off to Hell, what would you then say? Can we move along with…”

Interrupting, “RathoKhan. Here because I want to be.”

I looked at him for some time. He was fixated on my feet as he struggled to stand from the G-force which was about 1.8G and moving from the floor toward the port side of the craft as a turn began. I couldn’t tell if he found my feet interesting or he was just trying to think about balance or maybe not focused on anything.

“Won’t your family miss you? You do understand…”

Interrupting again, “Yeah, yeah. You’re on your way out of my galaxy soon and you’re not coming back… blah, blah, blah. This ain’t my first ro day oh, partner. What the Hell is wrong with your feet?”

I looked at my feet for a moment before looking at his. “My feet are fine. Your feet should not be the standard by which feet are determined to be ‘right,’ or ‘wrong.’”

“Bug off, slim. Feed me already. Could this even possibly be how you treat all of your guests? How rude!”

“I did not invite you,” I said.

“Plants do not invite the rains,” was his retort.

“Granted, nor are the rains the plants’ guests,” I said.

“Granted back, but do the plants not take in the rain when it shows up? And could the plants take in the rain if the plants hadn’t shown up in a place where there was rain?” he asked.

I paused, looking at his ridiculous feet. “Plants did not show up because of rain, nor vice versa; it just so happens that they work well together on most plant-bearing planets.”

“Did they start out working well together?” he asked.

“Depends. Some plants need no rain, and if rain shows up, the plant will ignore it. The plant won’t even acknowledge the rain.”

“Nor does the plant interrogate the rain,” he retorted.

“I’m going to object to the last statement because it appears to me that you are attempting to vacate the problem of you being on my ship and me not understanding why while replacing the topic/problem with the question of why I would interrogate you. Any creature of logic would understand why I interrogate you. I’m not a plant, nor are you the rain.”

“Exactly wrong,” he said, still looking at my feet. After a few moments, he finally looked up into my eyes. “My statement arguing against this interrogation was not to change focus or to use misdirection as you would tender—one should think he can safely assume that the pilot of this craft will not let go easily of the question of the source and meaning of my presence on the ship—the question of interrogation was to ask why you must necessarily question a thing that has never hurt you and may help you.”

I had heard similar methods used in previous discussions among some of the brightest Douzians—the old “It isn’t what you said because it’s a list,” front, which told me two things that I had already suspected but now had confirmed—he was intelligent and he was versatile in dialogue. I would have to continue to fence if I wanted to get to any real information, and I was heavily outmatched. And although I sensed he didn’t want to be interrogated or really even to communicate at all—he just wanted to pretend to have been together forever—I could tell his logic machine was really just going through the initial phases of warm-up. As I said earlier, Douzians don’t argue. We solve or let it go. I pushed, somewhat hopelessly, to solve…

— Name of Alt, Chapter 15, “A Pet.”

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