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Chapter 11

The Trouble with Children

          Ikta awoke from a dream, which she promptly couldn't remember. She felt Rafu sleeping softly against her, in their snug lair.
          Rafu stirred, and cocked open an infrared eye. He couldn't see anything in the dark, so reached out with a rear tentacle, and turned on a dim infrared lamp. Then he gestured playfully to Ikta. "Hello, beautiful."
          Ikta feigned disgust. "Now I know you need to get your eyes fixed. My bogleaf rash has only gotten worse."
          "What woke you?"
          "Some dream. I think it had something to do with Nemo's mincing ceremony."
          "That was more than six jopes ago! It is remarkable that we both still think about Nemo at all." A look of recollection came over Rafu's face. "I remember how down you were, after the ceremony."
          "And so," Ikta whispered slyly, "you offered to cuddle with me. Sometimes, I still wonder if you orchestrated the whole thing. You knew I was especially vulnerable just then."
          "There was no planning; it just happened. And I am so glad it did."
          Ikta snuggled closer against Rafu, and gently caressed him with her forward tentacle. "And so am I. Just think; without that cuddle, there would have been no Numo." She recalled with poignant fondness the yad little Numo, no larger than a bugaroo, had instinctively slithered out of her gestation sac, into her pouch. She glanced down at the withered pocket, just above her forward tentacle. She had carried and nursed him there for several thoms, before he was ready to crawl on his own. "Though I still remember my surprise, when I felt your ninth tentacle uncoiling against me. I had no idea you felt that way about me."
          Rafu made a pleasant chortling sound with his bellan. "Neither did I, until that moment."
          Ikta's mood suddenly changed. "And to think, that now Numo wants to become a meton himself! Just like Nemo, he cannot wait until an appropriate age. No, he even wants to leave us altogether, and head to the galactic core."
          Rafu clucked sympathetically. "Yes, to search for our old friend, whom we have spoken of so fondly all these jopes. Our son realizes he was named after Nemo, you know."
          "He is still childless."
          "Again, just like Nemo."
          "He could at least wait until he has sired a child. I just cannot understand it. No one in my family line has ever been motivated to undergo a transformation at Numo's age. He cannot have acquired a genetic predisposition from Nemo, since Nemo was not his father."
          "You forget that Numo is already six jopes old, considerably older than Nemo was when he left us. Also Nemo and I were hive mates, probably distant cousins, so Numo may have inherited some adventurer traits from me." Rafu flexed one of his tentacles in a comical way.
          Ikta lightened up a bit. "All right, he is six jopes old. Still, I cannot bear the thought of him leaving us like this. We will most likely never see him again!"
          Rafu spoke softly. "You know, we could undergo the meton transformation ourselves. I know for a fact that Numo would not object to our joining his expedition. He may be a bit on the young side, but we certainly are not. I recall you saying long ago, that you would consider becoming a synon after your eighth birthyad. Well, we both hit the eight jope mark some time ago."
          Ikta began to tremble slightly. "The thought is just so – terrifying."
          "There would be no more pain. I know that everything hurts. You do not like to talk about it, but I can tell. You could even resume your old work. Think of the archeological treasures you might find, in the ruins of some ancient alien civilization."
          "But as metons, we could never again snuggle like this. And what of Riema, or her mate, and our grandchildren? We would never see them again."
          Rafu sighed. "Then we could become synocts, and stay here on Jopitar. Look, I have spoken with Numo about all this. Unlike Nemo, he is open to the idea of retaining his old organic body. I think Riema has already convinced him to do so; she knows how much her children would miss him. Then we would not really be losing Numo at all. But he would want to relocate to another Jopian district, and pursue a political career there. He would be thrilled if we moved with him. As synocts, we would adapt much better to such a move."
          "Or we could stay here, near Riema and her family, and visit Numo occasionally. We would also tolerate travel much better as synocts."
          "You could still return to archeological research, only closer to home. Perhaps you could join the simion study project."
          Ikta made a soft cooing sound. "You always know just what to say."
          Rafu reached back and turned off the light, as he and Ikta cuddled closer together. "Pleasant dreams, beautiful."