The Loidial Trade in Medium-Sized Domestic Animals (1)

The re-calibration of body, mind, and soul is serious business, in spite of how lightly most follow each timely notice from the Lifestyle Aesthetics System (LAS). You’re never just plain younger when you come out, but also, inevitably, different in a way that is difficult to describe in uni-directional temporal language.

I know, for instance, of a researcher who assembled a multi-disciplinary team to write a paper entitled: “In terms of private and public benefits versus mounting public costs, is there a compelling rationale for REJUV?” Despite boiling down to the sensible question, “Is this really such a good idea?”, it was apparently necessary to engage two astro-anthropologists, a philosopher of mediocre calibre, several demographers and economists of various specialities, and even one linguo-statistician. They only got so far as the working paper stage before the entire team collapsed – and yet, exceeding expectations, by the time of said collapse they had already gone two years since the head researcher went for his first REJUV, and came out to say, quite sanguinely, that he would be ducking out of the project now. Gossip would have me believe that one of the demographers rallied the then-leaderless team to cobble together a draft – lest all the funders be thoroughly embarrassed – but since when did a demographer rally anybody?

This anecdote may explain why, since receiving my first “invitation” to REJUV, I have been furiously jotting notes to my homologous platonic correspondent (HPC), Cassandra, on the subject of anything and everything but REJUV. It is a very good thing that Cassandra probably does not exist, other than as a digital figment of our Individual and Societal Welfare Office’s (ISWO) good intentions. Surely only an AI could produce such smooth and comprehensible (yet somehow vacuous) output in response to my shiploads of incomprehensible input.

It may also explain why I have acquired a klar.

I have never liked klars, but one can’t deny the possibility that I might emerge from REJUV with a newfound benevolent outlook on the creatures, and I would rather that didn’t happen; far better to make a pre-emptive strike before REJUV can have its effects. Whatever they will be.

For instance, my grandmother adopted her soft-spoken, smiling, and particularly effective method of moral policing post-REJUV, whilst both my parents have seemed vaguer ever since they began treatments. Perhaps my parents’ change can be attributed in large part to a redirection of energies; my es-father took renewed interest in his work (for which few of us were grateful, since he began speaking in cryptic neo-Galactic1 and dominating dinners with his research), and my os-father began disappearing every few months to “bring succor” to a high-altitude pod-farming co-op.

The thought that, if I ever suffer the burden of offspring, they will never know what I was like before I became susceptible to uttering phrases like ‘bring succor’, sets off a wild and unreasonable panic. Such panic landed me at the pet store.

*

A klar?”

I gave a grumpy yes to the round little person who’d greeted me. The pet store smelled funny and I’d forgotten to change my socks. I shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably.

Oh, they are popular all around the Huniverse2 right now! They find nice homes so quickly. Follow me.”

When we came to a row of empty cells (yes, I know they are large, pleasantly-appointed, fiery-activist-approved holding areas, but I still can’t help but call them cells) along the back of the store, and I realized that we were going no further, the worker’s comment on klars’ facility for finding homes appeared in new light. For her part, she stood in front of the cells with a crinkly-eyed smile fit to plaster over this dismal scarcity of klars.

Please go ahead and take a look!”

I pointed out, a trifle rudely, that I could not see anything to look at.

Oh! In fact, we have one klar left at the end there.”

Aha. Her composure had been perfect up to this point but here, here was a teensy, niggling, creeping note of hopeful awkwardness. She pointed down along the cells and held tight to her smile. Aside from satisfaction at her showing some discomfort (for I was thoroughly uncomfortable), something in her manner gave rise to a morbid curiosity, and I duly walked over to the last cell.

If I had to call klars feline, then I would. If I were allowed to call them something-other-than-mammalian, then I would. I would rather not discuss the existential peculiarities of klars at the moment. Or ever.

He’s really a very nice klar!”

She’d come to hover right behind me and the eager recommendation, too close to my ear, stood at startling counterpart to the klar’s hostile stare. He was black and orange and mud-coloured, and he had not taken kindly to the pillows left for him.

Pardon me, but he doesn’t look very nice.”

Well – that is – about the food, strictly speaking he should only eat DANCB3-approved proteins and the odd leaf, but instead of the latter he does better with new shoots of the Asteraceae family. He likes those very much.”

It was an about-face so blatant that I was impressed. The klar was glaring at the salesperson in an unnerving fashion. The teeth protruding over its lower lip, that overbite which some find so charming in the species, were the culminating point of a very scraggly muzzle. He seemed sorely in need of a grooming.

Don’t you keep their hair clipped short?”

We prefer not to meddle when individuals express strong idiosyncratic preferences. And it’s nice to see animals au naturel now and then, isn’t it?” She glanced at the klar, who was now applying his teeth to the tensor field, the only thing standing between us and a maladjusted beast. “You know,” she ventured, “there is always an – adjustment period, as one gets to know an animal.”

There were many remarks I could have made at that point. For example, that there was no such thing as “too tactful” in her books.

Instead, with a sinking heart I heard myself say: “I’ll take it.”

That’s too bad, but we’re always here to help – oh! Oh, how lovely for him! He’s been waiting here so long, you know, that I quite pitied… Marvellous!” I could practically see the weight lifting off her shoulders. “Could you come and fill out the form?”

There are many ways in which the artisans of our time have described the feeling of moving in slow-motion, whether through sculpture, music, poetry, or hadron-collision superflosion. I had time to call up memories of a number of pertinent works while watching myself, pulled through a jelly soup of appalled resignation, follow the salesperson up to the counter. To dramatic effect, I must have been walking backwards because I saw the klar’s hackles rise, and I couldn’t pull my eyes away as the back of its cell yawned open, endless black, and I caught a fateful glimpse of all its teeth as it was sucked backward, shrieking, into the pleasantly sedated void that must hold its carrier.

A shiver went down my spine but the acquisition form was in front of me before I knew it. A great, golden, encrypted seal glowed at the top of the page – “Loidial Trade Commission: Licensed Retailer”.

At this point my brand of panic had changed colours and degrees so many times that I was mostly tired, and eager to get things over with. Aside from the usual details – name, address, existing pets, etc. – I was required to disclose family history of chronic rhinitis4, psychic aggression, phobias or other Class-A irrationality vectors, and any bestial sexual tendencies. I blinked at the last question. Then I blinked again, and saw that the salesperson was smiling fixedly at a spot to the left of my face; since this was painful for two beings at once it should be done twice as fast.

The moment I closed my Holographic User Interface (HUI) she was flicking the file over, to peruse it while (ever so discreetly) folding the bottom edge of the projection up and over the last few answers.

Lal – Lalantree… Why, you’re that cosine specialist!”

It felt very odd to be chuffed in this situation, which was self-imposed trial if anything ever was. “Ah,” I said stupidly, “yes, that’s me.”

I am never prepared on the rare occasions when strangers recognize me. In a Huniverse chock-full of dull work and musty pockets of mathematics, there are thousands upon thousands of local authorities each in their own niches, and if anyone has been paying attention to me among the masses I should probably be braced for an attempt on my life. Instead, I am eternally lax – except in the presence of old schoolfellows. They are an established threat to my social status and mental well-being.

Anyway, we looked at each other, I firm in the belief that she really ought to have had something to follow up her question, and after a too-long pause I said, “Is that everything?”

Yes – no – the delivery –”

Then there was a lot of fumbling, so I got out as quickly as I could. But I shouldn’t have been in a hurry to get back, for when I arrived home it was not the same; the food dishes and bags of DANCB Protein Nibbles had been dropped in the front hall, and there was a subtle menace in the air.

On to Part 2 >>

~

1 According to the hobby-opiner Houlder Trigg, who enjoyed brief popularity two generations ago: “Neo-Galatic, the language which should have been!”

2A term first popularized by the meme of that name, experts are now resigned to its use in describing the parts of the universe colonized by humans.

3Domestic Animals’ Nourishment Control Board.

4Itchy nose. I had to look it up but really, that’s it.

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