Why does Lucy always want to talk about my appearance? Why do you have horns? How can you see heat? How can you walk on only one leg? And today, Where are your ears?
‘I don’t have ears,’ I say for the second time.
Lucy glances at Beth. ‘How can you hear us, then?’ she says.
I try not to flex. ‘I don’t “hear”. Not in the way you do. I feel your words.’ I access my data and search through Earth science. ‘Like Earth elephants do. They feel sounds through the soles of their feet. They feel vibrations. That’s how they communicate over long distances.’
Beth is staring at me like I’m some kind of alien. Or maybe she just doesn’t believe me.
‘I feel the sounds you make and my brain translates them into understanding.’ I wait to see what they’ll ask next.
Lucy and Beth turn up their lips, and I remember that this means they are smiling. Smiling is supposed to reduce stress, so I turn up my lips too and Lucy laughs.
‘Why do you need two mouths?’ Lucy asks.
My horns flex and Beth apologises. ‘I’m sorry, Kal. Lucy isn’t trying to be rude. It’s just … we’ve never been on another planet before. Everything is so different.’
‘That’s why your parents are here,’ I say. ‘Your parents are here to study my planet because they are scientists and because everything is different. You are here because you are too young to live by yourselves on Earth.’
‘You’ve made it angry,’ whispers Lucy to Beth.
This time my horns flush purple.
‘Why do I have to mentor the humans?’ I ask later.
‘Take them down to the Pauloo,’ suggests one of my elders. ‘Show them the triple moons at sunset.’
Beth and Lucy’s mother apologises. ‘I’m sorry you find this difficult, Kal. They’ll stop asking so many questions soon. Once they get used to living here.’
I hope so. They are here for 3 more years.
Sometimes I wish we had never discovered Earth.
The Pauloo is very beautiful. It was a good decision to bring Lucy and Beth here. The sisters are finally quiet.
‘It’s incredible,’ says Lucy.
‘Unbelievable,’ agrees Beth.
The three moons are rising behind the mountains, huge and tinged with pale violet stripes.
‘We only have one moon on Earth,’ says Lucy.
Sometimes they forget I have lived on their planet. I was on the spaceship that made first contact.
‘Kal’s lived there,’ says Beth quickly. ‘It knows all about Earth, don’t you, Kal?’
‘It’s hot,’ I say. ‘And heavy.’
‘Not for us,’ laughs Beth. She shows me the weights tied around her waist. Without them she can’t walk properly. I’ve seen her stumbling and bouncing around the human base.
‘Your gravity is so different,’ Lucy says. ‘On Earth I weigh thirty nine kilos. Here I don’t even weigh seven. I’m always falling over.’ She points at the bruises on her arm.
I lead them down into the Pauloo. It’s rocky and slippery so they walk behind me, slowly. The frozen water smells so fresh – not at all like Earth’s odd, musty smells.
Down in the valley we wander between the ice flowers and I begin to relax.
‘Kal!’ shouts Beth.
I spin around to find Beth shaking and pointing. I follow her outstretched finger and my horns flex.
‘Don’t move!’ I say.
Lucy is standing beside a deep, cavernous ice hole. A large tentacle is shivering slowly upwards. It rises higher and higher until it’s hovering just above Lucy’s head.
‘Is it an ice monster?’ she squeaks.
It is and I don’t know what to do. Ice monsters are dangerous.
‘Beth,’ whispers Lucy. She doesn’t move a muscle.
‘I’m calling Mum,’ hisses Beth. She speaks quickly and quietly into her phone, but I can’t feel what she says because I’m too afraid.
When the ice monster strikes, I back away fast.
A tentacle wraps around Lucy’s waist and yanks her high into the air. She’s screaming and crying at the same time, her body tossed one way and then another.
Beth doesn’t even hesitate.
‘HELP US!’ she shouts at me, but she is already pulling at the tentacle as it tries to drag Lucy down into the ground.
I stand and watch in horror.
Lucy and Beth fight like they are ice monsters too. They use their hands and feet and teeth to kick and tear the tentacle until it drops Lucy, whips back and slides down beneath the ice.
‘Why didn’t you help us?’ sobs Beth. She is hugging Lucy, drawing her away from the ice hole. ‘Why did you just stand there?’
I lead them back towards safer ground. ‘What is help?’ I ask, confused.
It is then I hear the space vehicle and see its familiar silver shape skimming across the ice fields.
‘Kal didn’t even try to help me,’ weeps Lucy. She thinks I can’t hear.
‘Kal doesn’t know what help means,’ explains Lucy’s mother then smiles at me. She knows I can hear and doesn’t want me to feel bad. ‘Kal thinks differently to us. That’s why we’re here. To observe and learn.’
‘I don’t want to learn!’ snaps Lucy, and her mother takes her back to their rooms.
I go over to where Beth is sitting beside the ice fountain. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say. I still don’t really understand what I have done wrong. I am glad Lucy’s alive, of course, but I don’t understand why they are all so upset. There is a lot I don’t understand.
‘She’ll be OK,’ says Beth so that only I can feel her words.
We look at each other for a long time.
‘You’re so different,’ we say in unison.
Beth smiles. ‘We have a lot to learn about each other, Kal.’
‘We do,’ I say back.
Beth walks towards the outer airlock and stops. ‘If I explain all about helping, can you teach me more about the ice monsters?’ she says.
I feel my horns shimmer with pleasure and lift both my lips. ‘I’ll try,’ I say. And for the first time I think I’m actually glad the Earthlings are here.