The Vrekli had charged him a small fortune for the gene-tailored symbiotes, and it had taken weeks for him to get used to the squirming feeling in his nasal passages, but it was worth it to be at long last rid of the allergies that had made his life a misery since childhood. The tiny slime worms reliably devoured every speck of pollen, every fragment of dust-mite, every molecule of each airborne allergen that had plagued him in the past, before they could cause the vestige of a reaction.
What he shouldn’t have done was to spring for the recreational-hallucinogen nanobot inhaler on Chur’r. There seemed to be a struggle for supremacy going on inside his sinuses—some kind of hierarchical dispute—and even though he was zoned to the gills, he had now been sneezing nonstop for at least two hours. The spasms were simultaneously a delightful metaphor for a pervasive sense of oneness with the universe, and absolutely unbearable.
I met Skazit the day I landed. Khamun IV is a hard planet, all gorges and boulders and sharp crystal surfaces. It’s dark, too, when the rings are angled just right in winter. I was young then; I landed in the dark zone anyway. I lost track of the ship right away. The duraline sliced in half on a crystal, and the locator beacon reflected off so many surfaces it might as well have been off. I stayed calm, though. I had a full tank of air, and all I had to do was backtrack. Think and backtrack. Take my time. If it hadn’t been for the drillworms, I’d have been fine.
We still don’t know much about the drillworms. They only come out in the dark, and they tunnel straight up through whatever’s in their way. We’re not sure what happens when they reach the air, but evidence suggests they explode. That’s what the feet of my lander suggest, anyway. Maybe that’s how the worms reproduce.
Anyway, there I was, lost in the dark, surrounded by edges, and only half a k from my lander. I’d have been able to see it if I could climb onto one of the boulders. I picked the one that looked the least sharp, and I’d put one foot into a handy notch when I felt a buzz at the sole of my other boot. I’d like to say it tickled, but truth is, it scared the heck out of me. Instinct took over, and I pushed down on the upper foot. I kicked pretty hard, I guess; I launched up in the air to the top of that boulder. I got a glimpse of my lander off to the right. Down below, where I’d been standing, something jagged and black was just poking through the surface. I windmilled for all I was worth, trying to swim through that thin atmosphere to the top of the boulder – only it wasn’t there anymore. What I’d taken for a rough sphere was now a broad cup of dark obsidian. I hit hard, and that transparent stone just folded over me as I gasped for breath. We rolled like a pinball, dancing around boulders and chasms in a rough line toward my lander. I got banged around plenty, but could see it, every revolution when my head came up top, if it happened to face that way. There were little bursts of bright orange light every now and then, and then a light tinkle. I guess that was the drillworms exploding; at the time, it looked like blaster fire. When we got to the lander, I didn’t even have to get out – the obsidian just shaped itself into a long tube that went straight up to the hatch, and spit me into the airlock. I landed on my feet and threw the hatch shut behind me. I lay there for the next hour, just shivering, except for one time, when I thought I felt something vibrate under me. Turned out it was just a kinked compressor tube.
I don’t know her name’s really Skazit; that’s just what I call her. I don’t know she’s female, either; that’s just a label. She saved my life, though. I go out there, sometimes, in the summer. Maybe late spring, early fall. Never winter. There’s a big boulder out there, about where I landed. I sit there by it and tell her how I’m doing. I bring presents sometimes. A Malatherian root-crystal, a chunk of spaflerite, maybe a shear of high-pressure axonot. They vanish. I like to think she takes them. Once, I thought I could see a crust of amethyst, deep inside the obsidian. Maybe it was just the sun.
I have a little dome now, here at the pole. We’ve got the orbital mirror to keep the lights on all the time. Not a lot of people come. It’s a beautiful place, though, if you know how to see it.
The main difficulty in befriending a Betel goose is the wings. For one thing, they’re not wings at all, but molecular-bond disruption planes that flicker within an 11-dimensional space. Mostly, you don’t notice it, but every now and then the flickering collapses a local tesseract probability, and an annoying film settles over every surface for a moment. Plus, they smell like ozone, and the wings get pretty warm.No one’s ever figured out just how the gooses travel. (Say ‘geese’ and you might as well set your comm to broadcast ‘TERRAN’. Only locals can pull off the half-guttural ‘jhooses’. Don’t try.) One minute, they’re hovering motionless across the room, and the next they’re sitting on your shoulder, crisping your ear-hair. Ultra-sonic flight, some say. Teleportation, say others. Me, I think they just walk. Those three legs have to be doing something, don’t they? I think they’re just walking in another dimension, and it takes a while for ours to catch up.You’re never quite sure you’re communicating with a goose (or jhoose). You can talk to it all you want, but they never say anything. Still, one morning you’ll wake up to find your blankets are made of super-soft Rtarian plum-skin, or that your sock drawer has been organized by total thread length. Or that you have a sock drawer. Take it all in stride, and you’re in for a beautiful friendship.
No one’s really sure what the jhooses get out of it. Theodore likes to perch on top of my rear head, which is good on cool days. I asked it (it’s not clear whether they have gender) once, on our first anniversary, what I could do to make it happy, and that very night, all my pots turned into durna-fiber – completely indestructible, a great heat conductor, and I can just fold them up to put them in the drawer. I admit, I haven’t yet found the trick of getting the durna-fiber to hold its shape, so it’s a bit like cooking in a bag. That’s life with a Betel goose, though. You never quite know what’s coming next.
When I was 3 years old my parents had to work during the days. Most of the time I had a nanny Lydia, who would also clean house and take care of my lunch. Lydia mentioned that if you didn’t eat sharks, they wouldn’t eat you. As a child that seemed logical and I believed that. So when I was swimming in Haunauma Bay on Oahu, I ran into a shark. It was lucky that I had a speargun with me. I shot at the shark who it flipped its tail a few times and easily out distanced the spear, quickly. So maybe was Lydia right. I don’t eat sharks, and sharks don’t eat me.