“This is Dawah,” Gehnny announced. Like me, she had chosen a lapid with a yellow stripe. She didn’t want to let poor Dawah out of her hands for even a moment, so already the creature only had five legs remaining. Based on Gehnny’s sole previous attempt at animal husbandry, Dawah would likely not survive his first molt.
We were seated in the girls bunk room in the children’s dormitory, a squat, one-story structure made of local stone, cement, and salvage from the Dominion.
From her perch on the top bunk, Rae eyed my baby lapid with barely concealed contempt. “I can’t believe you’re keeping another one of those blasted things this year.”
I cuddled the creature protectively against my chest. “What’s wrong with them?”
She whiffled her throat gills with no little scorn. “When are you going to grow up, Ettie? You are so immature.”
“What is his name?” Gehnny asked.
“I’m still thinking.”
The lapid’s stubby digits tickled across the palm of my hand. At this stage, the body was rubbery soft; not much more than a carapace, liquid brown eyes, and sticky feet.
“Ask him.” Gehnny cradled Dawah between her cupped hands and danced across the bunk room to me. “He’ll tell you, if you ask.”
“No, that’s just your imagination.”
“It’s true! Dawah talks to me!”
Gehnny often blurted out such fantasies. No one believed her, of course.
“He barely has a mouth. How can he talk?”
She squeezed herself into my lap, her soft brown curls nestled against my neck.
I cuddled her closer.
She closed her eyes, held the tender creature to her lips, and kissed it. “I love you, baby lapid. Tell me your name. Mmmmm.” As she hummed, the lapid seemed to clutch at her chubby chin with its remaining limbs, as if to return the embrace.
She held him close to my cheek, so I could feel a gentle vibration emanating from the creature’s carapace.
She opened her eyes, a smile spreading ear to ear. “See? I told you, his name is Dawah!”
She cradled the vibrating lapid against her neck. “You can do it too, Ettie. Try it.”
I wanted to give my lapid a nice name. Names were important.
“Oh all right. Do I have to kiss him?”
Her whole face lit up. “No. You just have to hum your question at him through your lips. At least for the first few times. Until they learn to speak our language.”
I held my palm up to my chin. The yellow-striped lapid stared at me with what could only be a terrified expression. “Like this?”
Gehnny curled my fingers forward, forcing him closer to my mouth.
“Breathe out softly,” she said. “And close your eyes.”
The creature seemed to relax. It settled into the palm of my hand.
“Now, say something nice to him.”
The lapid tensed.
Velvety toes inched across my palm. So close, I could feel his warmth not quite touching my lips.
“Now ask him his name in your mind while you hum.”
Mmm. What should I call you, little lapid. Who are you?
The answer came almost immediately, ringing in my brain as clear as if Gehnny herself had spoken.
Vox! Vox. Vox, Vox. Who?
My jaw dropped in amazement. His eyes met mine, and I recognized the intelligence behind his sweet expression.
Gehnny bounced excitedly. “What did he say?”
I stared at him. “He said Vox. I think he wants to know my name, too.”
I pulled him close and hummed against his rubbery skin. Mmm, I am Henrietta.
Etta? Mmm. Yes.
Like the kiss of a firebite, I felt an immediate bond with Vox. His questions were simple—not words so much, but I could understand his intention. And like a child, persistent.
What place this?
Is safe? Is food?
He was so curious and had such a quick mind. The more we “spoke,” the faster he learned English. His questions quickly grew more sophisticated, and within a few hours, his vocabulary improved enough so we could mind-speak in conversational English, as long as we stayed in contact with each other.
The other children insisted that they could mind-speak to their lapids too, but Vox was adamant that he was not lapid. He was Tok. And Gehnny’s Dawah was Tok. But lapid was not Tok.
Only the yellow-striped Tok seemed able to communicate, and only with the child they’d bonded to.
Vox mind-speak to Etta. Dawah mind-speak to Gehnny. All Tok mind-speak to each other. ‘Umans no mind-speak except to mind-bond Tok.
This was huge. We’d found intelligent life on Hesperidee after all this time.