Author: Alzo David-West

The hyoum had left after his four-and-a half-year visitation. He had not been entirely satisfied, though in the beginning, he had a broadly favorable impression.

Disembarking on the southwestern region of Otoa, he had appreciated its warmth and the colorful suns, which he believed would heal his physical and internal pains. He did not know why he was ailing, even with prescriptions, for he maintained a generally healthy diet, and he regularly exercised.

But the pace of life on the sphere, while a welcomed change, was increasingly too sedate and monotonous for him, being one who had lived and worked all his years on fast-paced, super-city worlds. Otoa, despite its normal size as a habitable planet, was rather like a widespread small town, something out of a bygone age, though Otoa had been a member of the United Interstellar Territories for almost two centuries.

Surely, a hundred and sixty-eight years was enough time to catch up with modernity, he once thought. However, the reality proved otherwise.

The Otoans were a communal, outwardly decent, hierarchical population of hexapoids, divided into two caste-like classes of monitors and workers, something like Old Planet ants, termites, and bees, but not quite. After all, the Otoans, despite appearances, were self-conscious, rational, and deliberative, yet they reasoned and emoted in manners unfamiliar to him in spite of his many travels.

A few individual Otoans were approachable, even if briefly, but they were mostly unremarkable. They accepted duties as they were and never openly questioned routines. And they worked in allotted, designated roles with intense specialization. Indeed, outside specific tasks, the Otoans had difficulty generalizing, and they usually did not know what others were doing.

When the hyoum had concerns and spoke, they became panicked. When he sought reasons, they responded in circles. When he maintained principles, they thought he was indifferent. Yet, for all the divergences, the Otoans never terminated his visitation, but renewed his obligations every year for the full duration of his invited training lectures.

Might it have been better to have left after a year? he contemplated twenty-four months after experiencing the conceptual chasm separating the Otoans and himself.

To his discontentment, and despite his credentials as an educationist and a poet on four UIT territories, the Otoans regarded him as plain, or so his Otoan monitor spontaneously articulated in a gurgle, with its flat beak, carapace plates, and segmented form. What a bizarre place, he thought. Not knowing what else to do, he decided to make expressions of goodwill and maintain consistent actions, which, to his perplexity, seemed to drive his monitor and a handful of Otoans a bit mad.

The other hyoums on Otoa, a small grey tribe who had made home there two to three generations ago, hobnobbed under the multicolored suns, assuring him, “It’s not a bad place,” and, “They will take your side.” Did the tribe really know, or had they grown comfortable living with hexapoid partners on an isolated, provincial world?

The term limit was nearing, and another hyoum urged him to apply for a renewal, even if for one year. The prospect was somber, but after a month, he messaged his Otoan monitor with a pro forma expression of interest, and the hexapoid referred him to Otoan workers. The visitation ended seven months later as scheduled, and he was fortunate his health had improved in the final year. Discreetly, he departed, taking an assignment off world, which he had planned two years in advance, and sent gifts of gratitude to one neighborly Otoan and seven of the old hyoums.

Overlooking glassy waters and the panorama of a super-city world revolving on the shoulder of Sagittarius, he breathed in deeply … and exhaled.