Body jargon and hormone squirts, these begin to get at communication.

- Culture Lag, an unpublished work by Jorj X. McKie

"You fool, Mliss!" Cheo raged. "You utter, complete, senseless fool! If I hadn't come back when I . . ."

"You killed him!" she rasped, backing away from the bloody head on the floor of her sitting room. "You . . . you killed him! And just when I'd almost . . ."

"When you'd almost ruined everything," Cheo snarled, thrusting his scarred face close to her. "What do you humans use for brains?"

"But he'd . . ."

"He was ready to call his helpers and tell them everything you'd blurted to him!"

"I won't have you talking to me this way!"

"When it's my neck you're putting on the block, I'll talk to you any way I want."

"You made him suffer!" she accused.

"He didn't feel a thing from what I did. You're the one who made him suffer."

"How can you say that?" She backed away from the PanSpechi face with its frighteningly oversized humanoid features.

"You bleat about being unable to stand suffering," he growled, "but you love it. You cause it all around you! You knew Furuneo wouldn't accept your stupid offer, but you taunted him with it, with what he'd lost. You don't call that suffering?"

"See here, Cheo, if you . . ."

"He suffered right up to the instant I put a stop to it," the PanSpechi said. "And you know it!"

"Stop it!" she screamed. "I didn't! He wasn't!"

"He was and you knew it, every instant of it, you knew it.

She rushed at him, beat her fists against his chest. "You're lying! You're lying! You're lying!"

He grabbed her wrists, forced her to her knees. She lowered her head. Tears ran down her cheeks. "Lies, lies, lies," she muttered.

In a softer, more reasonable tone, he said: "Mliss, hear me. We've no way to know how much longer the Caleban can last. Be sensible. We've a limited number of fixed periods when we can use the S'eye, and we have to make the most of them. You've wasted one of those periods. We can't afford such blunders, Mliss."

She kept her gaze down, refused to look at him.

"You know I don't like to be severe with you, Mliss," he said, "but my way is best - as you've said yourself many times. We've our own ego-integrity to preserve."

She nodded without looking at him.

"Let's join the others now," he said. "Plouty has devised an amusing new game."

"One thing," she said.

"Yes?"

"Let's save McKie. He'd be an interesting addition to . . ."

"No.

"What harm could it do? He might even be useful. It isn't as though he'd have his precious Bureau or anything to enforce his . . ."

"No! Besides, it's probably too late. I've already sent the Palenki with . . . well, you understand. "

He released her wrists.

Abnethe got to her feet, nostrils flaring. She looked up at him then, eyes peering through her lashes, her head tilted forward. Suddenly her right foot lashed out, caught Cheo with a hard heel in the left shin.

He danced back, nursed the bruise with one hand. Despite the pain, he was amused. "You see?" he said. "You do like suffering. "

She was all over him then, kissing him, apologizing. They never did get down to Plouty's new game.



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