The initial aims of an anthropologist undergoing fieldwork are
1) Find an assistant.
2) Get the assistant to find you accommodation.
3) Get the assistant to introduce you to the chief.
4) Ingratiate yourself to the chief.
5) Get the chief to find you better accommodation.
It was with these goals in mind that I approached the gates of the MIkuMIku fort.
Ah, yes: "fort".
Actually, it wasn't too bad. It was built to hold perhaps 200 troops plus their transport, and it had supplies in store to feed and equip them for several months. However, it didn't actually have 200 troops; it had six. The other 194 beds were occupied maybe once every eight or nine years whenever the army felt cause to visit the area to root out a few bandits or troop the odd colour. Occasionally, some of the officers' quarters were used to house people visiting the district on official business - circuit judges, tax collectors and the like - but on the whole it remained pretty much vacant.
I pulled up outside, took off my goggles, and spotted a hand-written notice which had been stuck with adhesive tape to the (unoccupied) sentry post. It read: `Idiot from Earth with the big bike: please come right in.'
The thought crossed my mind that the notice could well be addressed to me.
Taking my bike's keys with me (but fretting that my machine was still at risk if an opportunist thief chanced to pass by at the helm of a heavy crane), I opened the gates and strode in. A door was open at the far side of the parade ground, so I made my way across, knocked, and entered.
Sitting at a table, studying a chessboard, was a clean-shaven man in his 30s, wearing a military uniform. He looked up.
"I'm the idiot from Earth with the big bike," I said.
"Pleased to meet you," he answered, standing. "I'm Mike, the commander of this pocket of civilisation. Officer Michael Froggy, if you want the full title."
"That's an interesting name," I mused out loud, aware of how all Virginian humans appeared to relish the chance to bore people on the subject.
"There aren't there any people on Earth called Mike?"
"Er, it was the Froggy bit I was referring to; we do have our fair share of Mikes, yes."
He gestured to the other chair positioned at his table, and sat back down again in his own.
"Froggy is a colonist name," he stated. "We were first-line descendents, so didn't take part in the great renaming."
I took my seat. "But that means the name originated on Earth, which makes it even more interesting to me because it's not one I've heard before."
He shrugged. "Well Froggy is certainly what everyone called my ancestor, although our annals mention that he did have another name - De Laudonniere, I think, I'm not sure. One of the other branches of the family took it at the great renaming, anyway. It was certainly a weird name, but there's nothing written down to say why he was called Froggy as an alternative to it. Maybe he had a croaky voice?"
I decided that if I wanted this man for a friend, now was not the moment to put him straight on his name's derivation...
"So," I smiled, "how come you were expecting me?"
He laughed. "Oh, I wasn't, but when the lookout up the tower saw a human screaming along without a helmet on the back of an agricultural motorcycle, it did occur to me that you might be an idiot from Earth, and that you'd be making your way to the only population of humans for miles around."
"But how did you know there might be idiots from Earth milling about anyway? Virginia has idiots, too!"
"Not so many with haircuts like yours," he answered, drily1. "No, most people in the armed forces are aware of you lot now, even this far from New Dulwich. Just in case we're needed, you understand."
"Oh, yes, a wise precaution. Well, you have nothing to fear from me: I'm an anthropologist."
"An anthropologist. I study different peoples, that we may learn from them."
His shoulders slumped visibly. "Margaret," he shouted towards a back room. "There's one of those anthro-apologists out here. I expect he'll want to room for a few days..."
Over the period of my stay among the HA, I came know Mike and Margaret Froggy very well, and valued their friendship highly. Margaret was an irrepressibly cheery woman of about 30 (Mike was maybe 34 or 35 - I never asked); she looked on the bright side of everything, seeming to regard her time in MIkuMIku as being packed with boundless fun and endless opportunity. Mike had a more realistic appraisal of their situation, but he loved his wife dearly and so didn't moan about it all the time.
I once made the mistake of asking Margaret why she and Mike had never had any children, given the propensity of Virginian humans to procreate with bunny-like enthusiasm. It turned out that she had lost her first child in labour, and that the emergency surgery performed to save her life had resulted in severe damage to her womb; she had since had a hysterectomy. I never quite saw her in the same light again after finding this out; her cheeriness seemed only to be a facade, as if the surgeon hadn't saved her life, merely her existence. Mike never spoke of the matter, although I'm sure that Margaret would have told him I knew.
Anyway, Mike and Margaret put me up in one of the officers' quarters, and over the course of the next few days we had long conversations about Earth, what I thought of Virginia, and orcs. The local orcs were SHEPKATmiMEK, who were slightly shorter than the HA and somewhat stockier. I myself had already noticed that they seemed to have flatter noses than the SnoKRA orcs I'd seen in MEKTO, but the HA apparently looked more akin to those than to the SHEPKATmiMEK. The only major difference, according to Mike (and backed by the documents with which I had been provided on Earth) was that the HA were fairer-skinned than most orcs - not that it was likely to be immediately noticeable beneath the protective coating of grime they wore as a defence against people with a sense of smell...
I explained to Mike and Margaret my need for an assistant. Was there an orc they knew of who spoke both the HA language and English, yet who wasn't therefore regarded as a dangerous subversive by the HA chieftain? I didn't hold out much hope of finding anyone who would fit this description, but I was sufficiently desperate to ask anyway.
Amazingly, Margaret did actually know of such an orc. His name was SKUP, and he visited MIkuMIku perhaps once a month (depending on when he could cadge a ride from someone) to do his "studies". He was apparently mid-way through a correspondence course, learning to be a lawyer, but it was taking him longer than it ought because the lessons were supposed to be done weekly rather than four-weekly. Nevertheless, he was a minor celebrity among the HA, and a source of some pride to his father (a very rich man, by HA standards). He would certainly be able to put me in contact with the chief of his home village, but Mike and Margaret didn't know how he'd react to being offered the job of anthropologist's assistant.
Well, there was only one way to find out...
Some ten days after my arrival in MIkuMIku, word came from one of Mike's soldiers that SKUP was in town. I was busy cleaning my beloved motorcycle when I heard, but even so I downed tools (well, rags) that moment and went to seek him out. He had arrived with half a dozen other HA on the back of a cart carrying squirrels which the owner optimistically expected would fetch a high price in "the city". My later experiences of orc squirrels suggested that they might well be worth a good deal more money as vicious and vindictive alternatives to guard dogs, but this particular day the HA were selling them as food.
Reasoning that SKUP would head straight for the Post Office, I raced there myself (having planned this move in advance). Sure enough, when I arrived I found an orc of above-average height standing outside, tapping irritatingly on the building's window in an effort to coax the postmaster to deign to open only two hours after he was legally required to instead of the usual five.
"Excuse me," I asked, breathlessly. "Are you Skup?"
"No," he replied, continuing to strum annoyingly on the glass. "I'm SKUP."
"SKUP!" He turned round. "You're stupid, I can tell."
"No, not stupid. Look, I need some help."
"You think I'm a psychiatrist?"
"Not that kind of help, no! I'm an anthropologist - it's my job to study other cultures. I'm in desperate need of someone who can speak both the HA and English languages."
SKUP smiled. "Exactly how desperate?" he asked.
It transpired that I was desperate to the tune of 2 sovereigns a month, payable in advance, plus a weekly ride to MIkuMIku, weather permitting. SKUP wanted more, of course, and although I could easily have paid him extra I held out against his onslaught of plaintive tales of terrible misfortune for two reasons:
1) the noble, anthropological theory reason - a large influx of cash could seriously disturb the local economy of the HA;
2) the ignoble, anthropological practice reason - assistants invariably manage to worm from their employers at least triple what was promised them (using various schemes under cover of `expenses'), and will ruthlessly exploit any sign of weakness to extract even more.
SKUP, I decided, was a fairly decent individual at heart, despite his ambitions to become a lawyer. He was very keen to please, and even offered to use his legal expertise to draw up a contract between us. I would have humoured him, but when pressed he was completely unable to describe what a contract actually was, or what it was for; he only knew how to write one. Well, OK, we have legal practitioners in England like that, but they're the ones kept on hand to defend alleged criminals who can't afford a lawyer of their own...
I declined his offer.
SKUP told me that he had other business in MIkuMIku (her name was LIMInador), which would occupy him for the rest of the day. Come to that, it might occupy him for the entire evening, too. He'd meet me outside the fort at 10:37 tomorrow, and I could take him to his village in the HA lands.
Oh, and could I give him an extra 22 pennies in expenses, to pay for his night's accommodation.
Next day, I bade my farewells to Mike & Margaret, and at 10:37 I was seated on my Mullinger Mark III Ox, ready to go.
At 11:52, I was still sitting there, wondering whether I had perhaps assumed that 10:37 meant the morning when in fact it meant the evening, when SKUP made his appearance. Judging by his lopsided grin, his night had been a riotous success, as indeed it should have been since he was flush with my money...
"You're late," I said.
"No I'm not," he replied, indignantly. "It's not even mid-day yet."
"You said 10:37. 10:37 came and went over an hour ago."
"So? You call that late?" He laughed. "Tomorrow, tomorrow would be late. Maybe even 3:19 this afternoon would be late. Now, though, now isn't late."
If I'd been close enough to his throat, he'd have been late in a different sense, however I managed to regain control of my more murderous instincts in time to invite him to make like a haystack and sit on the back, between the panniers.
"Right, which way?" I asked, revving up the engine.
"Which way? You're asking me which way?"
"You're saying you don't know which way?"
"I'm the passenger, I don't need to know which way."
I switched off the engine, and sighed.
Six hours later, I pulled up outside SKUP's village, OLtic. The 50-mile journey had somehow turned into 150 miles through various unplanned detours, which SKUP attempted to cover up with what I came to recognise as inventive but flimsy excuses ("I thought you would like, er, the scenery here..." - Yes, but I'd have liked it even more if it had been closer to where we were going than where we started from was).
I switched off the engine.
"So, what's the plan?" I asked, with more than a little trepidation.
SKUP dismounted, and stared down the narrow path towards the clutch of houses that made up the bulk of the village. "Leave your motorcycle here," he advised, "and follow me. Walk behind."
I removed the keys from my bike2, and took up position about two metres to SKUP's rear. "Is this a cultural thing?" I asked, hopefully. "By walking behind you, am I showing you my respect or something?"
"No," he replied, setting off at a leisurely pace. "It's so you get covered in the dust that I kick up, instead of the other way round."
I made a mental note to dock a few pennies from SKUP's salary next month to cover the expense of cleaning my leathers.
Soon we arrived at the perimeter of the compound. Many primitive tribes on Earth have, historically, constructed their houses in a circle, with the enclosed space containing something of significance at its centre (a meeting house, a pool or well, a sacred stone); it therefore came as no surprise to learn that the HA also arranged their villages in this fashion. However, all there appeared to be in the middle of this circle was a very drunk orc beckoning to us with a bottle.
"You're going to tell me," I said, with an air of long-suffering inevitability, "that the drunk you just waved at is the chief of this village..."
"Looks like we caught him in a good mood!" SKUP enthused. "Let me introduce you."
With that, SKUP strode out into the middle of the circle of huts, helped the chief to his feet (he had fallen over in the meantime), and pointed at me, saying some words.
The chief said some words back.
"What did he say?" I asked.
"He said you were a dusty little fellow, weren't you."
The chief said some more words, and held out the bottle.
"He wants me to drink?" A friendship ritual.
"He wants you to get the top off it. He knocked it on really hard to stop people from sneaking sips when he wasn't looking, but in his present state he can't remove it."
In many poor areas on Earth, bottles are in short supply and are recycled time after time. I surmised that this was probably the situation pertaining among the HA, too, and that smashing the neck off the bottle was therefore not an option.
"It will go well with the chief if you can open it," said SKUP, helpfully.
"If he remembers any of this in the morning, of course..."
I studied the bottle. It was stoppered with a piece of tree, which is to say there was a small section of branch with the bark removed beaten into the neck of the bottle; unfortunately, it was out of finger reach. I could probably burn it, but might find myself holding a Molotov cocktail while I did so; gently heating the alcohol might increase the pressure inside and drive the bung out, but that would impair the drink's flavour and might well crack the glass. Hmm...
What I needed, of course, was a corkscrew.
"SKUP," I said, with considered authority. "Go and get me a corkscrew, would you?"
"We don't have any corkscrews."
"A hammer and a nail, then."
"A metal nail?"
"A hammer and another one of these bungs that isn't quite as thick as the one already in there."
This, SKUP could manage. He took 15 minutes, even though all it involved was walking to his hut and back, but he did do it. I took the smaller bung, and used it to beat the larger one down into the interior of the bottle.
The chief was impressed; incoherent, but impressed. He offered me a swig from the bottle.
"SKUP," I asked, "what kind of drink is this?"
"Orc whisky," he replied.
"So it's stro - WHAT THE HELL?!" My nostrils were assaulted by raging fumes of alcohol escaping from within the bottle. I took a more purposeful sniff, and felt my sinuses smoulder from within.
It occurred to me that with a fuel as potent as this at their disposal, it was amazing that the HA hadn't invented the internal combustion engine centuries ago.
I sipped at the whisky.
Eyes streaming, I passed the bottle back to the chief. Never mind the internal combustion engine - if they drank that stuff with any regularity, it was amazing they got as far as the wheel...
"Did you like it?" asked SKUP, his demeanour signalling to me that I had been accorded a degree of prestige by the chief.
Had I been able to speak, I'm sure I would have come up with a witty reply3.
SKUP found me an empty hut to sleep in. The reason it was empty was because the door had fallen off, and a bracing wind was swirling into it, but I nevertheless managed to doze off because thankfully my leathers were built to withstand such torments.
Next morning I awoke vaguely refreshed, and stepped out into the sunlight with the intention of going to my motorcycle and rummaging around for my toothbrush. Instead, as I walked across the village circle, I became gradually aware that outside every other hut was seated at least one orc, and they were all watching me.
In the centre of the circle stood SKUP and the chief. The chief said something, and SKUP signalled to me that I should join them.
"I'll translate for you," he stated, solemnly.4
"People," the chief began. "The highly respected and intelligent SKUP here5 tells me that this human wishes to stay among us for some months to learn about our way of life. Shall me let him?"
Some of the assembled orcs muttered darkly, but most of the rest either shrugged or weren't paying attention anyway.
"So that's a yes, then. He can stay in the splendid accommodation found him by our esteemed colleague SKUP, for the time being." He turned and addressed me. "What is your name?"
"Richard Bartle," I replied.
"That's not an orc name, is it?" he observed, quick as a flash.
"No, it's a human name. I'm from England."
"England? Never heard of it. We shall have to give you a name that we orcs can say without tangling our tongues. Where is England?"
"Earth?" He looked blank, then shouted, "Anyone heard of Earth?" to the other orcs.
No-one had, except perhaps SKUP, but he was too busy translating to answer for himself.
"Well how did you get here, then?" asked the chief.
"First I took an aeroplane, then a ship, then a - "
"A ship? So you crossed," (SKUP said this very ominously), "the sea?"
"Yes, I crossed the sea. I crossed the ocean. Several oceans, in fact."
"Orcs," shouted the chief. "I have a name for our guest. He shall be known as ShemKI!"
The orcs roared with laughter at this, so I knew the name must be somehow appropriate, but SKUP had neglected to provide a literal translation.
"What's it mean, then?"I whispered. "What's ShemKI mean?"
"It means `fish'," he replied, "but it's your name now. During your stay here, we must call you ShemKI."
"ShemKI, yes," I reflected. "I quite like it."
Over the course of the next few days, I brought in my motorcycle (to the complete indifference of everyone except those who had an urgent appointment in MIkuMIku at that very moment), unpacked my belongings, rigged up a makeshift door out of some old pieces of wood lying nearby (which turned out to have been the original door anyway), and began work on stage 4) of my plan: ingratiating myself with the chief.
SKUP was at first rather reluctant to share his human with anyone else, but conceded some control after I offered to pay expenses to cover the extra translation work that this would inevitably involve, at least until I had learned enough of the HA language to conduct conversations without him.
The chief's name was Lakka, and he was quite a nice chap, really. I soon learned his daily routine, which was quite straightforward. He awoke at daybreak, and visited one of his wives, selected pretty well at random (they all lived in huts in Lakka's own compound, behind his main hut on the village circle). He would then saunter around the rest of the village, asking people to do things and complaining if people asked him to do things, then he'd eat at around noon. After lunch, he would attempt to get completely inebriated, and, come nightfall, would either walk home or be conveyed there by some other mechanism (depending on whether or not he had succeeded in finding any whisky earlier).
Lakka's was quite an onerous job, by HA standards.
Now, it was only early days as far as my fieldwork was concerned, but the chief's marital arrangements interested me. If I wanted to get a good hut, instead of the draughty hovel I'd been granted, I would probably have to insinuate myself into Lakka's compound. However, if his compound was full of wives and relatives, this might not be a good idea. I had heard stories of anthropologists who were obliged to service every member of the opposite sex (and sometimes those of the same, too) as the only sure way to be accepted as full members of a chief's clan and gain entitlement to a prime hut. However, although my mind was perhaps up to this task (if it turned out to be absolutely unavoidable), my body certainly wasn't.
It got me thinking, though. Because the chief had several wives, that must mean polygamy was accepted practice, at least for chiefs. That in turn meant that there would be more unattached male HA than unattached female HA, which could prove to be something of a problem. Now on Earth, different cultures have developed different ways to deal with this: some pack off younger sons to monasteries; some have lethal initiation or circumcision rites which reduce the male population drastically at puberty; some go to war regularly, to cull the excess males while increasing the tribe's overall prestige. Which was it to be with the HA?
I decided to ask SKUP.
"So, SKUP, do you have any wives?"
"Not yet," he replied, "but I expect I will when I'm a famous lawyer. LIMInador, in MIkuMIku, I would like to be one."
"Does every male HA have a wife?" (innocently).
"No, of course not. Some men are detestably ugly and no-one will marry them, but I suppose most do have at least one."
"Do most have more than some?"
"Quite a lot have, yes. Why? Do you want one?"
"Er, not at the moment, no. I was just wondering, though, if every male HA has several wives, then it must mean that there are many more female HA than there are males."
"No, it mustn't."
"It mustn't?" Odd. "I don't mean to challenge your mathematical ability, SKUP, but if most male HA have several wives, there has to be an excess of females. Unless..." It dawned on me.
"Most female HA have several husbands."
Oh well, good for the ol' gene pool, I suppose...
My first priority was to learn the HA's language.
Being English, languages are not my forté. In common with every other person of English descent, I have always taken the view that there's no point in cluttering my mind with any additional tongues, because: a) English is by far the best language in terms of its massive vocabulary, flexible grammatical rules, lack of genderisation, and independence of tone; and b) everyone else speaks it anyway. This eminently sensible position is the one taken by Virginia's humans, too, so the very notion of my wanting to learn HAish was a source of great amusement to the HA themselves. Indeed, every time they called out ShemKI to me they would nearly double up with laughter.
The first few phrases one learns of a foreign language are the easy ones. "Yes", "No", "I don't understand", "Speak more slowly", "Where is the lavatory?", that sort of thing. SKUP taught me most of those on the first day; our lesson was interrupted, however, when he suddenly recalled where he had hidden a bottle half full of whisky the last time he had got drunk, and decided to ensure he that wouldn't lose it ever again by drinking the rest immediately.
Next day, with the simple phrases safely embedded in my mind (a shout-based language certainly does wonders for rote learning), we went on to something trickier: phrases that begin the first few steps towards social interaction. These are often very culture-dependent, even for people speaking the same language, and can easily trap the unwary. For example, most English speakers on Earth are familiar with the "Hello, how are you?" "Fine, thanks. How are you?" "Fine, thanks." protocol, but in the part of the world where I grew up (Yorkshire, in the North of England), nobody bothers with all that nonsense. Instead, the first person says something like, "How do" or "Now then" or "Eh up", and, depending on which of these was used and how it was said, either they or the person they're speaking to will launch straight into full conversation. So, when I arrived in Cambridge as a raw undergraduate, and people said, "Hello, how are you?", I thought they were genuinely enquiring about my health; I would reply confusedly along the lines of "Er, well I feel OK, do I look ill?".
I was therefore keen on finding out precisely how the HA handled greetings.
Translated into English, the opening dialogue between two male HA is "<name>! Sleep well?" "<name>! Very well! Sleep well?" "Very well!"6. The <name> used depends upon social standing and, of course, whether you actually know the other person's name or not; in my case, everyone knew I was ShemKI, but I had to resort to calling most people JA-pas, which translates literally as "great one" and informally as "Sir". This endeared me to many a male orc, so I tended to use it even if I did know the orc's name, which impressed them even more.
The opening dialogue between a male and a female HA is basically the same, except that the male enquires whether the female slept at all, rather than whether she slept well. Two female HA would, SKUP assured me, ask each other whether they slept at all, but whether he was telling the truth or not I never found out, as I never actually heard two female HA greet one another.
By the third day, then, everyone was coming up to me saying "ShemKI! Sleep well?", then laughing. I was replying "JA-pas! Very well! Sleep well?" and they were responding with "Very well!"7, when they could stop their guffaws for long enough to do so. People were coming over across the village circle just to greet me, which (since it meant deviating from their intended path) I regarded as something of an honour. All in all, I seemed to be getting rather a lot of attention, none of which appeared remotely antagonistic. Indeed, the HA behaved as though they liked me.
I hoped that Lakka, the chief, would attempt to get some of this esteem to rub off on him by asking me to come and live in his compound, or at least in a better hut. He didn't. I suggested to him (though SKUP) that nearby villages would surely be interested to find that he had a tame human staying in OLtic, and he agreed; he even said that part of the reason he had Sleep?" "Yes!". They still laughed. let me live there was because of the prestige it would bring him. I began to worry that perhaps he might suddenly decide that his renown would increase even more if it became known that his mighty human was living in squalor, so I felt it prudent at that point to change the subject.
Besides, SKUP was very protective of me. As far as he was concerned, I was his human, not the village's, and he was therefore personally responsible for my well being. This was good, because it meant that he insisted on doing all the day-to-day dealings with the other orcs himself, for things like rental of the hut, payment for food, candles and so on; I could simply give him the money for it all at once, when I paid him his wages. Everything was a lot less costly, too, than it would have been if I had been obliged to barter for it myself (even allowing for SKUP's gross cheating on his expenses). A final reminder of my practical dependence on SKUP was that he himself was one of the few HA who had any dire need for real currency; everyone else seemed to observe a scheme of IOUs that they carried around in their heads. I decided I would have to make a study of this system later.
In the meantime, though, I was fully occupied in learning to speak HAish. I was very careful to make my pronunciation as clear as possible: in languages which use intonation as a parameter for affecting the interpretation of words, it is very easy for an English-speaker to slip into everyday English habits such as raising voice pitch at the end of a question, and thereby change the meaning of a sentence entirely. There are well-known stories among anthropologists of fieldworkers who have greeted a chief with a friendly, "Hello, how are you?" that came out as meaning "Hello, how are you, asshole?", and although the HA use volume, (rather than pitch) to aid word differentiation, I was determined not to make a similar mistake myself.
When I did (of course) eventually make the mistake, however, I wished I'd made it a lot sooner...
By the end of the first week, things had been going well enough but I was in need of a rest after my initial bruising grapples with HAish grammar. I was also becoming increasingly frustrated that people were asking me ShemKI, ha ha ha, how I had slept, and I had been obliged to reply that Sir, I had slept very well, whereas in fact I had done no such thing having languished in a cold, leaking hut that came provided with its own private vortex for lifting up anything weighing less than 30 grams (eg. my notes) and scattering it throughout the room. SKUP, too, was growing anxious (in orc terms) that he might miss his first promised trip to MIkuMIku, so I decided to put us both out of our misery.
"I think it will be to our mutual benefit if we were to set off early tomorrow morning," I told him, in English. "How about if we" (next bit in HAish, cockily) "leave at dawn?"
SKUP's face took on a look of horror. The word I had used for `dawn' was a full two levels too high - `NEL' rather than `nel'.
"ShemKI," he gasped, "you must not use that word. It means `waterfall', and to the HA this is a terrible thing. All that, that water..."
To be honest, I had already noticed that the HA seemed to have a rather uneasy relationship with water. They drank it during those all-too-frequent periods when whisky was denied them, and sometimes they drowned small mammals in it for fun, but they never washed in it. That would rob them of their individual scent, and make them less of a person...
"Fine," I said, nodding. "So `waterfall' is the most obscene word in the HA language; I think I can remember that."
"Oh, it's not the most obscene," replied SKUP, but suddenly, just as he seemed about to add something, he went strangely silent.
"It's OK," I smiled, soothingly. "You can tell me what the worst word is, I won't be embarrassed."
"Are you sure you won't hit me?"
"Hit you? Of course I'm sure! Why would I hit you?"
"ShemKI. That's it. The HA word for `fish'. It's the most offensive expression in the language. Fishes ac-tu-a-lly-live-in-wa-ter."
The faltering bit at the end was probably because by then I had him by the shirt and was trying to shake his head from his body.
Next morning, I arose early and went to rouse SKUP (inured to the fact that he was almost certainly planning on sleeping until noon). I was somewhat pleasantly surprised to see Lakka up and about.
"We'll have to think of another name for you," he said, smiling, and without the usual "Sleep well?" formalities. Obviously, he was aware that SKUP had let slip the HA's little joke at my expense, and he was trying to get out of being decked by a flying fist.
It's at times like this, when everything has gone wrong and the main culprit is brazenly trying to escape the blame, that British people lose control. I'm afraid that this is what happened to me when I heard Lakka's words. What I intended to do was say, "Go boil your head in a waterfall, fish man," but somehow it came out as, "Yes, the joke's over now, ha ha ha."
Still, at least he hadn't had me thrown out of the village to ensure that I wouldn't rampage through his property in a whirlwind of anger; perhaps these orcs had some sense of guilt and atonement, and felt a little awkward after tormenting an innocent man unmercifully for an entire week without just cause?
Lakka seemed relieved. "We shall call you," he said, then paused a moment to strike pose of intense thought, "RICHard. It is not a word in HAish, but it suits you."
"My parents will be so encouraged to hear that."
I woke up SKUP by poking him, rather than by shaking him; he'd had enough of that the night before. Since I knew there was no chance that he would want to clean his teeth and wash, I allowed him two minutes to go to the lavatory (whichever bush it was today, they all looked the same to me) and another two to get dressed. Consequently, 20 minutes later he was actually ready, and we set off for MIkuMIku.
The journey passed without mishap, SKUP having accepted my attempt to kill him as a reasonable thing to do under the circumstances, and he bore me no grudge. Secured under his clothes he had his precious envelope containing this week's course paper, which he had somehow found a spare moment of semi-consciousness to complete. It was hard for me to speak to him as we rode, the wind merrily depositing dust and bugs in our mouths whenever we opened them, but I thought I should nevertheless show interest in SKUP's chosen profession to demonstrate that I, too, was letting bygones be bygones.
"So, SKUP," I began, "what part of the law are you covering in this part of the course?"
"Suing people," he replied. "It's great!"
"They do a lot of that on Earth," I commented, "especially in America. You know the weed, tobacco?"
"No, I don't."
"Well, that's not really important. On Earth, people dry it out, roll it up, set fire to it, and suck at the smoke. For fun."
"For fun?" SKUP seemed perplexed. "Isn't it dangerous to breathe smoke?"
"Well spotted - it's very dangerous! Some people who have suffered injury from smoking have therefore sued the companies who make these tobacco devices - cigarettes, we call them - for millions of sovereigns."
"Did you ever set fire to any of these cigarettes yourself?" asked SKUP, sensing a case.
"No," I laughed. "The evidence that it's bad for you is overwhelming. Even in America there are warnings on all cigarette packets of the dangers involved, signed by the Surgeon General."
"Wait - sue! Sue!" cried SKUP, suddenly inspired. "Sue the Surgeon General!"
"Sue the... say what?!"
"Well, if the Surgeon General hadn't given you that advice not to smoke, you could be millions of sovereigns better off now, so whose fault does that make it?"
"But - "
You know, he might well have the basis of a suit there...
I dropped SKUP off outside the Post Office, and told him to meet me there at 4pm. This, I reasoned, would give me until 6pm to recharge my drained human sensibilities at the fort.
"Richard! So you've survived!" It was Mike Froggy.
"I'll take your word for it," I replied, staggering across the parade ground.
"Well you certainly smell alive, that's for sure - there's probably a whole ecosystem evolving on your person."
"OK, well hose me down first and then lead me to a shower..."
Mike was rubbing his chin, studying me. "No, I think we'd better just take you to the horse bath; those orc clothes you're wearing wouldn't take the strain of a blast of water, it's the dirt that's holding them together."
My orc clothes, yes...
SKUP had arranged them for me, after I put it to him that I'd get a better feel for HA life if I dressed like a HA as well as lived like a HA. As it was, I didn't really know about HA life at all, but I certainly got a feel for parasitic insect life; whether that was what the HA experienced day in, day out, I wasn't sure I wanted to discover. Still, it was nothing that a couple of days in an isolation ward at a hospital for exotic infestations wouldn't cure. All but the shirt had come from SKUP's uncle, who had been kind enough to die a week or so before my arrival, having not removed any of his clothes for the past 30 years. I'd have got his shirt, too, except that in places his skin had grown over it, so they couldn't take it off him; I'd had to rent one of SKUP's own.
Needless to say, as soon as I learned the HA phrase for, "Make me an entire set of new clothes, and damn the expense!" I went to the village tailor and used it on him.
After half an hour splashing around in a circular pool, during which time I lost about a kilogram in weight (I washed it off), I donned my own clothes and deemed myself presentable enough to say hello to Margaret.
I think Mike must have tipped Margaret off, because she wasn't quite as horrified by my appearance as she might have been. She simply threw her arms up into the air, screamed "Aaaa!", and ran off into the kitchen, returning seconds later with a meat pie.
"What on Virginia have they been feeding you, you poor mite?" she asked, soothingly.
"REKchit," I replied, between mouthfuls.
"REKchit? It sounds vile - what is it?"
"I don't know; I thought that if I found out, I might not want to eat it any more and I'd starve. Mmm, this pie is delicious!"
"In your current state, you'd have thought the same even if I'd given you dogfood." She frowned, suddenly, and sniffed at my hair. "What's that floral smell?"
"Shampoo - it's soap for hair. I brought some with me from Earth; it was on the bathroom shelf, and I just shovelled it into my suitcase along with everything else, including the dead spiders. Here," I reached into my bag and retrieved the bottle, "take a look."
Mike and Margaret were both amazed. "What's the container made of?" Mike asked.
"Plastic. Ah, of course, you don't refine oil for fuel here, so your scientists probably aren't particularly advanced in hydrocarbon research. Yes, that explains why everything high-tech is made using that brittle, bakelite-like stuff."
"It says here, This product has not been tested on animals," read Margaret, somewhat aghast. "So how do you know it's not going to make your hair fall out?"
"Because..." Hey, how do I know it's not going to make my hair fall out?
"Is the stuff which has been tested a lot more expensive?"
"No, this is the expensive stuff. It's just an ethical thing: some people don't like the idea that something trivial like shampoo should be tested on living creatures."
"In that case, why did you just use it to kill off half a million head lice?"
You know, some people simply don't understand the subtleties of arguments about moral matters!
Unfortunately, I'm one of those people.
I spent the rest of the day spilling out my woes to the sympathetic ears of Mike and Margaret. Although the orcs of MIkuMIku were not HAish, nevertheless many of my experiences brought sighs of patient recognition from the two humans. We decided that I should leave my decent clothes at the fort, to avoid the risk of their falling victim to any strange, fungal growths at the HA village; also, I would formally try to visit the fort every week or so as a sanity check, unless Mike had other duties to attend to, or there was something spectacular going on in HAland (like, yeah...).
At 6pm, I waved goodbye, and rode off to the Post Office to meet SKUP. He wasn't there.
In fact, SKUP didn't show up until 8pm. He had reasoned that I had told him 4pm because I really wanted him there at 6pm, so made 6pm his target time instead, which is why he finally made it at 8pm. By this time it was dark, and, since agricultural cycles have no need for headlamps, we didn't get back to OLtic until midnight, having hit every existing bump on the road back and made a substantial number of new ones ourselves.
Strangely, though, when I finally flopped down in my leaky hut, I felt that I was back "home".
1 Although I hadn't cut my hair since arriving in Virginia, it was still a good four inches shorter than that of any Virginian human's I'd seen, excepting the bald ones.
2 I had heard from Mike Froggy that whereas it was unlikely that anyone would actually steal my machine, certain orcs did seem to have a fondness for kidnapping keys and holding them for ransom.
3 "Next time he can't open a bottle, just leave it a week upside down. It'll take no longer than that for the whisky to eat through the cork."
4 To save me the bother of writing `The chief spoke. SKUP said "..."' every time, I'll just report the chief's words as they were translated by SKUP.
5 SKUP's translation was not necessarily accurate...
6 I've used ! for emphasis here, but the HA effect this by changing the pitch of their voice, not by raising it as an English-speaker would.
7 For female orcs, it was "ShemKI! Sleep well?" "JA-pash! Very well!
21st January 1999: ltlwo4.htm