Chapter Twelve – Talk of that which Humans Keep Private
After a night of rest, Endan went back to the old man’s lab. Sendrick had not chided him for being weak, but had sent him off to bed. It seemed like a pretty good bonus; researching other races seemed to mean that you didn’t judge them for being emotional. Endan avoided the shower that day and went straight to the lab, relieved to see that breakfast was waiting for him. He seemed to have more of an appetite that day.
“So, how about we start today off by talking about dreams?”
“Dreams?” Endan repeated, raising an incredulous brow.
“Indeed,” the old man replied. “Did you have any last night?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Sendrick looked him over and decided to try a different tactic. “Well then let me tell you this. Most people who receive an injection of the k’zshyrk venom end up having the most vivid dreams of their lives. Few of them report them, though, because telling about those dreams to anyone who could get word back to the K’zzyrch usually means trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“Well…” Sendrick scratched his beard for a moment before going on. “Apparently these so-called k’zshyrk dreams have some kind of meaning, and those lizards take it very seriously. Too seriously, I would say.”
Endan shrugged again. “At this point, how am I supposed to remember?”
“Well, young man, you don’t necessarily have to. Perhaps a scan would be able to pull something up.”
“Scan away. I have no other plans for the day.”
“Is that a bit of Earth humor?” Sendrick chuckled. “Well, then come on over here. My full-body scanner might be a few decades old, but it gets the job done. It will be interesting to compare the deceased body to your living one.”
Endan followed him over to a hulking machine, which had a round opening in it, plus a view-screen with a whole array of buttons next to it. The old man punched in a series of codes, and the outline of a human body came up on the screen.
“Do you have any medical training?” Sendrick asked.
“It… No, that doesn’t sound familiar. I am sure that there was some standard of knowledge I grew up with, but…”
“I suppose you are no doctor, then. I am curious what you are still able to tell me about this image.”
Endan stared at the scan as the old man pushed a button and the screen began to run through a series of images. He furrowed his brow at what he saw and shook his head.
“How long was this man dead before you scanned him?”
“A couple of days,” Sendrick replied, as though it was no big deal.
Endan’s face took on a look of disgust. “He must have smelled terrible! Well, at least you know what a decaying human body looks like.”
“Are you sure that you have no medical training?”
“I already told you,” Endan replied as he shook his head. “I think there was a certain level of education everyone got… and then you could specialize.”
After a moment, he looked at the old man and added, “Did you know that in America, crime-solving shows are popular? They are all fictional, but the science behind them…” He stopped when he saw the way Sendrick was looking at him.
“You remembered something!” the old man told him with a grin. He was starting to look extremely excited. “So, will you stay in the scanner long enough for me to observe your living organ systems? I would love to see what they do.”
Endan nodded. “As long as it will not take hours.”
Sendrick chuckled and pressed a button in the panel. A narrow, flat bed slid out, a blanket and pillow already laid out on it. “It will not take too much of your time, young man. Go on up there and lie down.”
Nodding, Endan stepped up onto the bed and laid his head on the pillow. Once He was settled in, the old man pressed another button and the bed withdrew into its circular chamber. Endan sighed and stared up at the rounded ceiling, which was only a couple inches from his face. He seemed to remember having a few scans in chambers like this one before. He had no details or images in mind, of course – just the sense that being in a chamber scanner was familiar to him.
Outside, Sendrick was nodding and watching the screen with great interest. He pressed a series of buttons, and gears withing the gargantuan machine began to turn, humming as they moved. The screen changed and developed, and after a couple of cycles, the old man pressed another button and stood there watching Endan’s beating heart flickering on the screen.
“Do you get tired easily, young man, having a mere four chambers to your heart?”
“What?” Endan asked, not sure that he had heard the question correctly.
“How do you get enough blood to your systems when you are working hard or running, with only four chambers in your heart?”
“Well… I suppose I do as well as any other human. We can all run for short spurts, but if you train yourself, you can develop the strength to run marathons. I doubt that I was much more athletic than the average man back home.”
“Hmmm…” Sendrick sighed as he watched the flickering image. “Well, I can see from your systems why some of the alien species out there consider you weak. You stand no chance against something with an eight-chambered heart, or the lungs of the folded felissians of Krell. Your biology has somewhat of an obsession with homeostasis, and it seems to feed your inefficiency as much as it stems from it.”
“It seems as though I have heard all of this before,” Endan told the old man wearily. “The criticism has gotten really old.”
“Well,” Sendrick said in a somewhat kinder tone, “At least it can be taken as a feat of your mind that you have been able to travel through space.”
“Sure,” the human grumbled.
Sendrick pressed another button, and the screen popped up with a list of the human biological systems. They ran down the screen in long lists, each word an item on the touch screen that he could click for a chance to read more about it. He grinned to himself when he came to the last section.
“So the males of your species use external reproductive organs, but the female use internal?” he asked as he read the overview of the human reproductive system.
Endan rolled his eyes. Why were all the aliens so obsessed with reproduction? “That is how we’ve done it for hundreds of thousands of years, yes. Most animals on Earth reproduce like that. But then what about you? I take it your people are different, or else you wouldn’t be asking.”
“Young man, the riran male and female both have external organs for the sake of gamete exchange. Then the female internalizes what he gives her and can hold it until she prepares an egg… or eject it, if she is not interested in creating offspring.”
“You mean she has a choice?!” Endan called back, taken quite by surprise.
“Well, yes… are you saying that humans do not?”
“It… it’s complicated,” the human sighed. “But.. basically no, she can’t just eject sperm at will. I think I’ve heard of a couple animal species that have more control, but if a human woman gets sperm in her and her body has released an egg, it can fertilize. Very few women know when they have an egg ready like that, so she either has to avoid the sperms or take certain medications.”
The old man rubbed his beard and thought about that for a moment. “If Rirans were more like humans, I might actually have some offspring to speak of.”
“That is one of the problems we have back on Earth… people love to make love, but they aren’t always prepared for the consequences. Even our means of prevention are not guaranteed.”
“Fascinating,” Sendrick replied, but his mind was on a different train of thought. “So tell me, do you enjoy mating?”
“Well…” Endan was glad that Sendrick would not be able to see him blush. He forgot, however, that the scanner was still observing changes in his vital signs.
“Oh, your heart rate just went up. Does that indicate arousal?”
“What?!” the human cried. “No – get me out of here!”
Doctor Sendrick shrugged and pressed the button to slide the bed back out of the chamber. Endan sat up the very second that he was able to and hopped off the bed, glaring at the old man.
“I thought you wanted to study the effects of the venom on my body,” the human seethed, “not how my species reproduces.”
“I am fascinated with everything related to humans,” Sendrick corrected him. “So tell me, how does arousal work for you? The text says that you need to become aroused in order for a change in your external organ to occur, so that you can –”
Endan did not want to hear him finish that sentence. “Enough!”
“Can you answer the question?” the old doctor insisted.
“Do I have to?”
“You ask that as though there were some kind of shame linked to human reproduction,” Sendrick pointed out.
“It’s complicated,” Endan told him.
“Why?” the old man wanted to know. “Did those foul reptiles do something to damage your reproductive organs?”
That question made Endan want to scream. He’d had enough of that line of questioning, so he didn’t bother holding back. “No! My organs are fine. It’s my mind that’s damaged, and I just want my memories back. How can you simply ask me all of these personal questions and expect me to –”
He stopped right there, mid-sentence. Callina had walked through the door. He stood there staring at her, knowing from the heat that his face was red.
“Is everything all right, grandfather?” the pink-eyed girl asked the old man as she looked between them.
“Oh, I am quite all right, my dear,” Sendrick told her. He walked past them and sat down at his desk to pack his pipe for another smoke. “I was just talking to Endan here about his reproductive system.”
Endan nearly choked when he heard the old man sharing their conversation. “What? No – how can you just tell her that?”
Callina blinked as she looked at him, surprised by his reaction. “Endan, what has you so upset? Reproduction happens among all species… some are even able to inter-breed. Surely that can’t be bothering you.”
“Ah, I know,” Sendrick suggested before Endan could say anything. “Perhaps he was hoping that he could mate with you. That may help him relax.”
“What is wrong with you?!” the human started screaming, his embarrassment worsening. “Why would I want to sleep with her? Why would you think that I wanted sex way out here in – in whatever insane part of the galaxy you brought me to? How could you even remotely suggest that I’m interested in anything besides getting back the person I lost and going home, where it is peaceful – where things make sense!”
Endan didn’t wait to hear their reply. He stormed out of the old man’s laboratory, stomped down the bleak, empty hallway, and entered the room where he’d been sleeping for the past couple days. Perhaps it had been longer than two days; perhaps he’d been asleep from the venom for many days longer than that. What did he care? He decidedly did not like it there. His brain was driving him crazy with the way it pretended to know nothing one minute, then sent him hints and clues the next. Sendrick only made his headache worse.
With Endan out of the room, Callina slowly turned to look at the old man. Her eyes were wide, her mouth open in awe. She looked into her grandfather’s eyes, wondering whether she should speak first, or if he would.
“They did say that humans were emotional,” the old man said after a few puffs of his pipe. He didn’t seem at all offended for having been yelled at.
“Did you hear what he said, though?” Callina asked. She was definitely surprised by what had just happened.
“Humans don’t like to talk about their sexuality,” the old man shrugged, “whether or not it makes any logical sense. I suppose I should never have tried.”
“No…” She stared towards the door, as though in awe of what she had heard. “The thing he’s missing… it isn’t a thing. It is a person.”
“Well, I’ll be,” Sendrick replied with a grin. He took a long puff of his pipe. “Another memory!”