then the puncture. It hurt more than she had expected, but the pain ended quickly. For a few seconds she drifted in painless semiconsciousness. Then there were confused memories, dreams, finally nothing.
7 W HEN SHE AWOKE, AT ease and only mildly confused, she found herself fully clothed and alone. She lay still, wondering what Nikanj had done to her. Was she changed? How? Had it finished with her? She could not move at first, but by the time this penetrated her confusion, she found the paralysis wearing off. She was able to use her muscles again. She sat up carefully just in time to see Nikanj coming through a wall. Its gray skin was as smooth as polished marble as it climbed onto the bed beside her. “You’re so complex,” it said, taking both her hands. It did not point its head tentacles at her in the usual way, but placed its head close to hers and touched her with them. Then it sat back, pointing at her. It occurred to her distantly that this behavior was unusual and should have alarmed her. She frowned and tried to feel alarmed. “You’re filled with so much life and death and potential for change,” Nikanj continued. “I understand now why some people took so long to get over their fear of your kind.” She focused on it. “Maybe it’s because I’m still drugged out of my mind, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Yes. You’ll never really know. But when I’m mature, I’ll try to show you a little.” It brought its head close to hers again and touched her face and burrowed into her hair with its tentacles. “What are you doing? ” she asked, still not really disturbed. “Making sure you’re all right. I don’t like what I had to do to you.” “What did you do? I don’t feel any different—except a little high.” “You understand me.” It dawned on her slowly that Nikanj had come to her speaking Oankali and she had responded in kind—had responded without really thinking. The language seemed natural to her, as easy to understand as English. She remembered all that she had been taught, all that she had picked up on her own. It was even easy for her to spot the gaps in her knowledge—words and expressions she knew in English, but could not translate into Oankali; bits of Oankali grammar that she had not really understood; certain Oankali words that had no English translation, but whose meaning she had grasped. Now she was alarmed, pleased, and frightened. … She stood slowly, testing her legs, finding them unsteady, but functional. She tried to clear the fog from her mind so that she could examine herself and trust her findings. “I’m glad the family decided to put the two of us together,” Nikanj was saying. “I didn’t want to work with you. I tried to get out of it. I was afraid. All I could think of was how easy it would be for me to fail and perhaps damage you.” “You mean … you mean you weren’t sure of what you were doing just now?” “That? Of course I was sure. And your ‘just now’ took a long time. Much longer than you usually sleep.” “But what did you mean about failing—” “I was afraid I could never convince you to trust me enough to let me show you what I could do—show you that I wouldn’t hurt you. I was afraid I would make you hate me. For an ooloi to do that … it would be very bad. Worse than I can tell you.” “But Kahguyaht doesn’t think so.” “Ooan says humans—any new trade partner species—can’t be treated the way we must treat each other. It’s right up to a point. I just think it goes too far. We were bred to work with you. We’re Dinso. We should be able to find ways through most of our differences.” “Coercion,” she said bitterly. “That’s the way you’ve found.” “No. Ooan would have done that. I couldn’t have. I would have gone to Ahajas and Dichaan and refused to mate with them. I would have looked for mates among the Akjai since they’ll have no direct contact with