Tina grinned and leaned against the elevator wall. "More people at the bars tonight, too." The doors opened, and she winced at the loud blare of music. "Study floor, hah! Why do they always have to put freshmen in with us juniors and seniors?
Cheryl laughed. "You expect it to be quiet on the first night? Wait until after classes start, grump."
"Humph. Remember last summer session? When you had to sleep on our room floor because your neighbors on both sides had midnight-until-two-a.m. parties? Hope we have a better RA this summer."
She followed Cheryl through the maze of boxes and plants outside one door. "Did you hear Kara going on and on about her new major? Sounded as if she expected us to rush right out and change our majors, too."
"Well, e-t studies is interesting, and there are more jobs in it."
Tina eyed her roommate. "You going to change majors again? You'd have two years before graduating rather than a year and a half, but I always said you were wrong to change from sociology. How many isolated tribes are left to study firsthand? What good is cultural anthropology?"
Cheryl shook her head. "Look, Kara may have been your roommate last quarter and e-t studies may be a great new field, according to her, but I--"
"Only said at the end of last quarter that you were bored stiff with anthro so don't try to tell me differently."
"What I'm trying to tell you is that there's something strange about this new major. When did you ever hear of new courses being offered during the summer instead of the fall? And did you know that this is the only university on Earth to have a major in e-t studies? This tiny little university?"
"Kara's only been telling me that all night. Anyway, we've only met one alien race. Why 'extraterrestrial studies'? Why isn't it called 'Parrot studies' or 'Parrot culture' or something?"
"You think those are the only aliens in the universe? Anyhow, the correct name isn't 'Parrot'. That's just what the media call them."
"Who can pronounce the real name? Much less spell something that has to be whistled." She attempted a few notes.
Cheryl rubbed her ear. "If I have a choice, I'd rather listen to the whistler in the shower." She glanced down the hallway. "It's awfully quiet on this end of the floor. Wonder why?"
Tina stopped outside their door and rummaged for her key. "I wonder why I always have to unlock the door. What's wrong with a little quiet? Probably everybody's still out at the bars. We'd still be there if we both didn't have classes at 7:30 tomorrow morning."
"There're lights on under most of the doors."
"So people are still unpacking."
"Who do you know that can unpack quietly?"
Tina sighed and opened the door. "You going to conduct a behavioral study of college students at eleven o'clock at night? Again?"
"Hmm. Let me brush my teeth first." She grinned at Tina's exasperated expression.
The splash of water in the sink competed with the whirring hum of the blowdryers across the bathroom. Cheryl glanced down the row of sinks to see who was using the dryers and froze, the toothbrush halfway to her mouth.
The alien's blue and green fur was still damp from the shower. Eyes closed and trilling softly, it stood under the directed flow of three wall blowdryers, the brush in one clawed hand fluffing its blue head fur out in the hot air. Cheryl numbly wondered how the being planned to dry its tail.
At first glance the extraterrestrial resembled either a furry dinosaur or a human-sized parrot with arms rather than wings. The strong hooked beak strengthened the parrot resemblance, as did the featherlike fur, dark blue on the head and short tail and damp green down to its bare pink feet with two black-clawed toe pointing forward and two back. The furred hand holding the spiky brush has three clawed fingers and a clawless thumb. A circle of bare chalk-white skin surrounded each eye, giving it a masked appearance.
The blowdryers abruptly shut off, and with a whistle that was almost a sigh, the e-t opened its eyes and reached for the dryer's controls. The large dark brown eyes fastened on Cheryl, and the brush hesitated in midstroke. "Hello," the alien said.
Tina walked through the door behind Cheryl and stopped. "Oh no," she moaned, closing her eyes. "Don't tell me I'm going to have to give up beer."
"You're not seeing things," Cheryl whispered swiftly. "I just found out why they put that crazy toilet in this bathroom."
She carefully put her toothbrush down and walked over to the e-t, not wishing to shout across the room at it. _No_, she corrected herself, _that 'it' has to be a 'she' to be in here_. "Hello. I'm Cheryl and that's my roommate Tina."
The e-t placed the claws of one hand against her furry chest and bobbed her head. "Cheryl. Tina. May your nests be filled with glad music. I am--" she whistled a long, sweet trill--"but the humans on the ship shortened that to Sstwel."
"Sstwel." Cheryl hesitated, then copied the e-t's bob. "May your nest be filled with glad music."
Sstwel seemed delighted, bobbing her head vigorously while chortling deep in her throat. Tina giggled. "You've got a nice laugh, Sstwel."
The e-t bobbed to her. "I had feared that I had committed some--" she whistled a sour note--"to offend you humans. Silence among my people is used to correct hatchlings."
Cheryl and Tina exchanged glances. "Freshmen," Tina said disgustedly. "Who's the idiot RA on this floor?"
Cheryl turned back to the puzzled e-t. "Sstwel," she began, "the young of our species are...fearful of strangers."
Rims of orange cornea appeared as the brown of Sstwel's eyes shrank, then dilated. She clicked her beak. "Our young are much alike. _Tweeel_, the fears I had when I was to become adult! The home nest seemed so safe and the outside world so big and unknown. This university has young-who-would-become-adult as well as adults?"
Cheryl firmly pushed her desire to hear more into a back corner and tried to think of a way to help the e-t. "Uh, yes. Sstwel, you must be cold in your damp fur. I have a hand-held blowdryer that will do a better job than those wall units. Come, you can use it in my room."
Puzzled, Tina watched as Cheryl all but pushed Sstwel out the door. Cheryl mouthed one word behind the e-t's back and jerked her thumb towards the opposite hallway door. Tina smothered a laugh and dashed out, counting rapidly on her fingers. "Renae and Jil are on this floor, and Donna might be back by now. Wonder if Kara would be willing to come over from her dorm at this hour?"
There was a limit as to how many people could fit in a dorm room, especially when one of them has a tail. Neighbors came out to see what was causing all the noise, and more than a few of them stayed. The popcorn party spilled out into the hallway and spread to other rooms, but the largest group of people stayed around the main attraction.
"What's it like to travel in hyperspace? Does it feel any different from normal space?"
"Don't interrupt, Kara. Sstwel was telling us about the singing insects."
Sstwel bobbed, nibbling delicately on a piece of popcorn. The e-t was delighted with the treat and ecstatic over the music recordings, trilling along with each selection unless distracted by a question. Tina muttered that the e-t seemed to be getting drunk on either the music or the attention.
Cheryl grinned at her roommate. "Both, I'll bet. She's probably never met this many strangers all at once."
"There're as many Parrots as humans."
"Only because they colonized another planet. Don't you remember that big uproar a few years back? When the very people who once said space exploration was useless threatened to sue the space agency because it hadn't found a planet for us to colonize?"
"I don't have the time to read newspapers. You wouldn't either if you didn't have that job at the library."
"Never mind. You remember that 'nest' Sstwel spoke of? It's a big inter-related family. The young don't come into contact with anyone outside the nest until they reach adulthood, when each one becomes apprenticed to an older family member's trade. Sstwel won't begin her apprenticeship until after she finishes here, so she isn't even accustomed to social contact among adults of her world."
Tina blinked. "Cheryl, if you don't stop speaking anthropologese, I won't be able to understand you all summer." She shook her head. "You certainly learned a lot from her before we got the party started."
"I only hope she learned enough from me about humans to psych us out before any misunderstandings develop."
"Will you stop being the anthropologist studying the aborigines for once and relax?" Tina indicated the knot of people about the e-t. "Look at her. Everybody likes her. Why should she get into any trouble? Don't answer that."
She glanced into their crowded room and sighed. "Well, you started this. Now think of a way to get this mob to leave before they camp here all night."
Due to lack of sleep, Cheryl gave up trying to concentrate on her 7:30 class halfway through the lecture. She stared unseeingly at the clock and fuzzily wondered how Sstwel would be received by the campus. By the time her 9:00 class started, she knew.
"Hey, everybody!" an excited sophomore yelled as he burst through the door. "There was a big green chicken walking around Memorial Hall!"
The bearded graduate assistant permitted himself a skeptical chuckle. "A green chicken?"
"Parrot," a junior corrected scornfully. He noticed the assistant's confusion and added, "One of those aliens. I saw it at breakfast. Somebody said there are five of them on campus."
"A real alien?" The grad assistant nervously retrieved his pen. "What is an alien doing here?"
"They probably plan to colonize this planet, too." The junior scowled. "Lousy aliens think they're so superior."
"I wouldn't say they're superior," the sophomore said, calming. "We found them, after all."
"But what are they doing here?" the grad assistant repeated.
"There is only one e-t," Cheryl said, deciding she had listened long enough. "And she's a student, just like us."
"She? It's a she?" "Well, I think it's very brave of her to come among us lousy aliens," the sophomore said, looking pointedly at the junior.
Cheryl heard similar comments on her way back to the dorm. She frowned thoughtfully as she noticed someone demonstrating Sstwel's stooped, pigeon-toed walk to a disbelieving audience. That the powers-that-be had seen fit to throw a young naive e-t into university life without any preparation on either side was to be expected. Ditto the fact that the University's newly hired expert in e-t psychology was not due to arrive until fall. At least Sstwel's first day hadn't sounded _too_ bad.
The cafeteria buzzed excitedly at lunch. Cheryl stared curiously at the high table adjoining theirs, then carefully placed her tray down with enough force to rattle the flatware.
"I saw you coming," Tina said, not lifting her eyes from her textbook. "You didn't need to announce yourself."
"Just wanted to make sure you hadn't fallen into your usual trance." She slid into the chair opposite Tina's. "What's been happening? I heard two instructors fainted."
"Hmm? No, just one. You remember Dr. Hager? Seventy if he's a day and still believes the world is flat."
"He's also so nearsighted that he can't find his own office without help. How did he get close enough to Sstwel to even guess she's an e-t?"
Tina laughed and closed her book. "Her feet are too big for stairs unless she goes up them sideways. Fortunately, all her classes are in buildings with elevators."
"What does that have to do with Dr. Hager? Oh."
"'Oh' is right. From what I heard, Dr. Hager stepped into an elevator and told the student there to press the button for the second floor. The rest you can guess."
"Hi, fellow humans! Sstwel will be down for lunch in a minute." Donna slid the small stack of books away from Tina and settled herself into the vacated spot. "You should have seen Sstwel at breakfast!"
"We had earlier classes. What did we miss?"
Donna laughed. "She wears make-up!"
Tina stared. "Where?"
"You know those big white circles around her eyes? Brightly decorated with the most brilliant orange paint I've ever seen. She also had a wide belt of the same bright orange." Donna shook her head. "The cafeteria was so quiet I could hear her claws click on the floor."
"And?" Cheryl prodded.
Donna shrugged. "And nothing. Who's awake at breakfast? Plus part of my floor and some of yours ate with her." She gestured vaguely at the high table. "I'm not used to people standing while they eat, but her people don't sit. They do talk and eat at the same time, though. She seemed really excited."
Tina smiled. "It's the kid's first day of school. Say, Cheryl, how can Sstwel be starting as a junior if there're no universities on her planet?"
Cheryl reached for her glass. "I think the University's considering her a transfer student. After all, she has had her people's equivalent of general education at college level."
Donna nodded. "So all she needs here is her major. Know what it is?"
Cheryl shook her head and Donna grinned at them. "Marketing. She plans to go into advertising."
"Marketing?" her audience chorused.
Donna's grin broadened. "And I found out who the RA on your floor is."
Tina groaned. "From that nasty look on your face she must be that Lynn Whatshername we had last summer. How did you find out? We couldn't find any sign of her last night."
"She introduced herself to Sstwel at breakfast."
"How did she explain last night?" Tina growled.
"According to Lynn, most people aren't used to blue and green fur."
"She hasn't changed," Tina muttered. "Still sticking her foot in her mouth."
"Yep. Renae and Kwang immediately asked if she was implying that there was something wrong with Sstwel's color. Then, while Lynn was standing there with her mouth hanging open, Sstwel started twittering that the red-and-oranges may be more numerous, but the blue-greens outnumber the red-greens or the grays." She laughed. "Good thing for Lynn that we had to leave for class at that point. Sstwel still had a few more colors to go--and those were just her family."
Tina looked up and waved. "Kara! How's e-t studies coming?"
"Don't ask." The petite blonde dumped her books atop the growing stack and rummaged through a folder. "They canceled one class on the--" she whistled the eight note name--"since the instructor now won't be here until fall. All that's offered is the introductory class and the reading list is nothing but science fiction."
Cheryl glanced at the reading list held out to her. "All the classic first contact stories."
"But we've known the Parrots for four years now and found several planets without intelligent life!" Kara replaced her folder. "What's wrong with a little facts in with the theory?"
"Seems odd, doesn't it."
"Don't get Cheryl started," Tina groaned. "It's just the introductory class, Kara. Freshman level, right? So it's as basic as possible. The higher level classes will get into the probes."
"How are the guys on your floor reacting to the idea of an e-t?" Cheryl interrupted.
Kara shrugged. "The same as the girls. Mixed reactions, with some grumblings and some curiosity. Everybody is waiting to see what everybody else will do."
Donna grimaced. "Five weeks for this session, a week off, then five weeks for second summer session. It's going to be a long summer for Sstwel if everybody just waits."
"It certainly will be an interesting one," Cheryl said absently. Sstwel had entered the cafeteria, and Cheryl automatically began counting how many people actually drew away from the e-t versus smiled or greeted the furry being. She noted a larger group of curious watchers. "Yes, it will be interesting."
Donna scrambled to her feet. "There's Sstwel. Hurry, so we can go through the lunch line with her."
"Why? I already have my lunch." Tina warily prodded her sandwich.
"If you go through the lunch line with Sstwel, you can get whatever's left of _her_ type of food. It's pretty good."
Tina pushed her sandwich away. "That's what you said about the meat loaf last night. Is it safe for humans?"
Donna shrugged. "She can eat some types of our food. C'mon, it's much better than the normal food served around here."
"It's blue!" Tina drew away from the plate held out to her.
"The lizard eggs this morning were bright red, but still good." Donna deftly snagged the plate.
Kara gulped. "Don't tell us what we're eating, Sstwel. Please."
Sstwel's large eyes studied Kara. Her head tilted as the claws of one hand combed the fur about her beak. She whistled in confusion. "It is only heated grain, like your popcorn."
"Blue popcorn, yet," Donna said happily.
Tina sidled up to Cheryl on their way back to the tables. "If Donna asks to try that brown thing with the legs, I'll scream. Blue popcorn I can take, but roasted bugs?"
Cheryl chuckled. "Think of it as a brown lobster with twelve legs. Anyhow, nobody's asking you to try it. The servers didn't give any to us, only to Sstwel."
"Yeah, but with my luck, it's probably better than last night's meat loaf."
Later that afternoon, Cheryl returned from her job to find Kara waiting for her in the dorm lobby. "Renae called," Kara said quickly, falling into step with her, "and asked me to come over and warn you when you got back from the library. There's trouble on your floor with Sstwel's neighbors."
Cheryl checked her watch. "Sstwel won't be back from class for another half hour. Did Renae say anything else? Such as what the RA is doing to settle this?"
"Just her usual imitation of a resident advisor. First she agrees with the neighbors, then she agrees with Sstwel's friends from last night's party."
Cheryl pressed the elevator call button. "She never should have been given Sstwel's floor. This is all the result of stupid misplanning on the University's part! As usual." The elevator doors opened, and Cheryl stepped in and jabbed her floor button. "Your e-t classes, I'll bet, were supposed to help us humans understand her culture a bit, but where are the qualified instructors? Where's the mentor to help Sstwel understand us? She's been thrown into this entirely on her own."
The elevator doors opened on an extremely noisy study floor and Kara grinned. "Oh, I wouldn't say she's entirely alone, Cheryl. She has quite a few friends here."
The shouting match was centered in front of Sstwel's room. Renae and a shrill-voiced brunette were at full volume while between them Lynn tried vainly to make herself heard.
"I don't want to live next to some bird!" the brunette shrilled. "It started whistling at seven this morning!"
"And you heard her whistles all the way down in the cafeteria," Cheryl said as the brunette paused for breath, "while you were having breakfast."
"Oh, so she was in the cafeteria, huh?" Renae crossed her arms and glared at her opponent. "You must have extremely sensitive hearing."
"That thing is either chirping or whistling all the time!"
"And some people talk all the time!" Renae retorted. "I certainly wouldn't want to be _your_ neighbor! Sstwel sounds better!"
"That's right," murmured the group behind her.
"Girls, please!" Lynn said, and seemed surprised when she had their attention. "The, uh, best solution would be to, uh, simply change rooms."
"Fine by me," the brunette agreed. She studied Renae. I'm sure you wouldn't mind being the thing's neighbor."
"Fine by me," Renae mimicked.
"No, Renae," one of her friends said. "I'd like to be Sstwel's neighbor."
"No, no! I will!"
"I think you're missing the problem," Cheryl interrupted. "The problem isn't who's going to be Sstwel's neighbor."
The entire group stared at her in silence. "It isn't?" Lynn finally asked.
"Of course not. There are several people right here willing to be Sstwel's neighbor. The problem is, who wants to be _her_ neighbor?" Cheryl asked, indicating the brunette.
"That's right! Renae, you can't move! I don't want to live next to her!"
"Now wait a minute," the brunette started.
Renae grinned. "A show of hands! Who wants--I mean, who can tolerate her as a neighbor?"
The brunette glared at her former supporters. "I don't live on this floor," one of them faltered.
Another timidly raised her hand.
Cheryl nodded. "You're one of my neighbors, right? Juanita, you're on the other side of my room. What do you say?"
The young woman shrugged. "All right. But she'd better be very quiet."
"What," Tina asked in the reasonable voice reserved for humoring the insane, "do you think you're doing?"
Cheryl picked up an armload of clothes and stopped as Tina blocked the doorway. "We're moving."
"That's what it looks like, all right. Why?"
"One of Sstwel's neighbors didn't want to be her neighbor."
A loud squawk came from outside the door, followed by mournful squeaks.
Cheryl dropped the clothes. "Tina, couldn't you have told me that Sstwel was outside?"
The e-t was crouched in a furry huddle, beak tucked tightly against chest, in the center of the hallway. Tina clapped her hands over her ears. "Sstwel, will you stop that squeaking?"
Cheryl squatted beside the e-t. "Sstwel, open your eyes and look at me."
A brown eye peeked out at her from the blue and green huddle.
"Sstwel, don't you want to be our neighbor? Tina and I are moving next door to you."
The squeaks stopped, but Sstwel still remained in her huddle. "Banging on wall not sign of friendship?"
Cheryl shook her head. "No."
The brown eye closed and the squeaks resumed briefly. The huddle shuddered as Sstwel took a deep breath. "I will help you move," she said, unwinding.
Cheryl glanced among the curious crowd that had gathered in the hallway and noticed that Sstwel's former neighbor had the decency to look ashamed of herself. She patted the e-t's arm, briefly marveling at the silkiness of the fur. "Don't worry, Sstwel. The first day of school is always the worst."
The days passed slowly but not uneventfully enough for Sstwel's friends. A hasty turn by Sstwel in the library stacks cleared several shelves of their books and trapped her tail in the debris. Cheryl watched worriedly as librarians hurried toward the source of the racket, but Sstwel's rescuers only asked the e-t to watch her U-turns in the future.
A few rainy days the second week resulted in Sstwel's first trip downtown after one instructor gently but firmly informed her that students in his class did not shake themselves dry inside the classroom. After the first few stores, Cheryl decided that salespeople were too accustomed to the odd shapes of human customers to be shocked by a mere extraterrestrial. Sstwel in her new raincape and hood soon became a familiar, if comical, sight on campus.
"Strangers smile and wave now," Sstwel twittered happily. "Does the coat make me look more like a human?"
On the floor, Cheryl held her brush away from the exercise she was copying in Sstwel's language. She sat back on her heels to look up at the e-t and wondered why the being still wore fluorescent green eye paint and matching belt. Make-up was usually only for classes. "No, I think people are friendly now because they no longer see you as a stranger."
Sstwel chirped disbelief as her claws clicked over her keypad. "But, friend Cheryl, packaging makes all the difference."
"Don't start quoting your textbooks at me. You're not a product; you're a person."
"Sstwel, do you have the blowdryer again?" Tina, a large towel wrapped about her hair, appeared in the open doorway. She looked about the room and shook her head. "Never will get used to how much space a dorm room has without the beds and dressers," she muttered.
Cheryl followed her gaze. The only furniture Sstwel needed were the high table serving as desk and the nestlike pile of cushions in one corner. A photo of Sstwel's closest nestmates stood on one end of the bookshelf and one of the Forever Tree on the other, while gigantic posters of the Grand Tetons and the Swiss Alps covered opposing walls.
Sstwel rummaged through the clutter atop her desk and squawked sharply in dismay. "No blowdryer, friend Tina."
"Cheryl, are you hiding it again? I can't find it in the room."
"But I always leave it on the--" The worried expression on Tina's face urged her to her feet. "I'll be back, Sstwel."
Tina hurried her into their room and closed the door.
"The blowdryer's right here, Tina."
"I know." Tina pulled the towel off her head and tried to pat her dry hair into order. "I couldn't think of any other excuse." She gestured Cheryl away from the wall by Sstwel's room and waited, listening. Soon Sstwel, never long silent, began trilling softly to herself.
"Tina, what's all the mystery about?"
"There's a strange character going around campus asking questions about Sstwel."
"There're always strange characters on campus. What kind of questions?"
Tina shook her head. "I don't know. Jil overheard him in the union and followed him around campus all afternoon."
Cheryl frowned. "Then I'd better talk to Jil. Where--"
"She's waiting for you down in Donna's room. So're Renae and Donna."
Cheryl smiled. "And Kara's probably on her way over, right?"
"Well, Jil said he didn't act like a student."
"He didn't act like a teacher, either," Jil said a short time later. "He asked a lot of questions and noticed everything. From Sstwel's table in the library to her beak marks on some of the trees. He even knew about the Committee to Ban Claws!"
"Those three guys in the men's dorm? Donna grinned mischievously. "I thought they gave up after that rumor went around that they were against long fingernails on women, too."
Cheryl smiled at the rumor spreader. "Jil, what kind of questions did this man ask? The what-has-Sstwel-been-doing type?"
The junior nodded. "He always asked that first with each person he talked to. And then he'd ask how they felt about her being here."
"That's all?" Cheryl saw that the others did not share her puzzlement. "He just asked for opinions? He didn't try to stir up any bad feelings?"
Jil shook her head. "I thought at first that he might be a reporter, but he didn't take any notes that I could see."
Kara whistled thoughtfully. "If he's not a reporter nor another troublemaker, what could he be up to? Most of the grumbling stopped after Sstwel got a 'C' and a 'D' on her midterm exams." She snapped her fingers. "Maybe he's a spy for the anti-alien groups!"
"With anti-alien students here on campus?" Cheryl shook her head. "Jil, where is the man now?"
"Altgeld Hall. Ben from Sstwel's study group is following him."
Renae whistled sharply. "Administration offices. Let's go."
Cheryl nodded. "I'd like to see this curious stranger."
Donna flung open the door, almost overbalancing the sunburned individual who stood outside it, one hand ready to knock. "Is Jil--"
"Ben!" Jil squeaked. "What are you doing here? Did you lose him?"
Ben shook his head. "He's here! Upstairs, talking to Sstwel."
"What?" six voices chorused. Ben barely got out of the way of the stampede in time.
"Wait, wait." Tina stopped, blocking the stairwell door. "We can't all go rushing up there at once. We need someone to check out the situation, while the rest of us sneak into my room and listen at the wall." She beamed at her roommate. "And I know just who would be best at the job."
Cheryl shrugged. "I suppose it helps that I've left my notes over at Sstwel's?"
"You always did think of the best excuses," Tina agreed as she opened the door for her.
Cheryl paused outside Sstwel's door and frowned thoughtfully at the swift whistle-speech she could hear inside. She felt eyes watching from the distant stairwell as she knocked. Claws clicked across the floor and the door flew open.
"Cheryl! You have returned." Sstwel's claws plucked at her sleeve. "In, in."
Leaning comfortably against the far wall was a man with flecks of gray at his temples and laugh lines about his eyes. Sstwel twittered excitedly, "Cheryl, this is my dearest adopted-nest- elder, Commander Lohrey."
Cheryl suddenly realized that she was gaping at him. "C-commander Lohrey? Not as in Dr. Lohrey, the e-t psychologist?"
"The same," he said, shaking her unresisting hand. "So you're Cheryl. I had thought you might be that sandy-haired young woman who shadowed me all over campus, but--"
"That's Jil." Cheryl shook her head dazedly, and from the hallway came the distant rumble of six people sneaking quietly into the next room. "Uh, you weren't supposed to be here until fall quarter."
Dr. Lohrey chuckled. "I was supposed to be here _this_ quarter. However, a minor emergency on Sstwel's planet delayed me. I was just explaining to this troublesome young--" he whistled a series of descending notes--"that I had left word for her to delay her departure until I could accompany her."
Sstwel's head lowered, but her claws busily groomed her neck fur. "I have made many good friends," the e-t said proudly, her head fur fluffing out so that she seemed taller.
"Luckily for you," the psychologist growled. "Or else a certain young colonist would have had her branch on the nestworld's Forever Tree given to a more obedient nestling."
This time Sstwel crouched correctly in apology, her head fur sleeked against her skull. But the brown eye nearest Cheryl closed in a hard-learned wink.
Dr. Lohrey's mouth quirked. "When I was last here to start preparations for Sstwel's arrival, opinion on e-ts was sharply divided between the science fiction people and the don't-cares. Most people thought the Parrots had to be dangerous simply because they had claws. As if a tree dweller should only have suction pads or a great deal of rope."
Sstwel hissed indignantly. "Suction pads! I am no singing leaper or herd bug!"
Muffled clapping came through the wall. "That's telling them, Sstwel!"
The psychologist glanced at the wall. "Now, it seems people think e-ts are just like humans. A trifle clumsy, perhaps, but--"
"Too narrow!" Sstwel squawked. "Everything--rooms, buildings-- too narrow! I must always stand straight. No place to stoop in comfort indoors without bumping my head or catching my tail in something!" She snapped her beak angrily.
In the silence that followed, Tina's voice could be heard quite clearly. "How should I know why they're both picking on Sstwel? I suppose we'd better go over and rescue her, though."
As Sstwel, chuckling, went to answer the door, Dr. Lohrey said casually, "There will be about ten more of Sstwel's people starting here fall quarter. Do you know of any people who might like jobs as RAs?"
"Oh, I might know a few." Cheryl grinned. Sstwel bobbed like some mad toy as her friends entered.
"Good." The psychologist thoughtfully rubbed his jaw. "I think I'll need help with this new group--would you be willing to be assistant mentor? But only for a year," he added as Cheryl opened her mouth. "After that...hmm. Have you ever considered finishing your education abroad?"
Kathryn Sullivan is a librarian in Minnesota where she is owned by two birds. She has had stories published in print zines Minnesota Fantasy Review and Fury, and she writes reviews for The Friends of Doctor Who newsletter.
Visit Kathy's web site.
Stories by Kathy