Dr. Fu Xavier Xan was a nice man, and friendly in his way, but he spent most of his time communing with his percomp. Just once I asked what he was reading. Five hours later my head was literally spinning from the highly compressed three credit course I’d just been given on “rotational kak-istodemocracy,” a political system practiced by a race which had died out some half million years before I had been dumb enough to ask my question. After that I just left him to his reading.

The tall, spindle-limbed T’thiggan who insisted that everyone just call him Elvis spent most of her time (T’thiggan’s are both) sprawled in a recliner, custom headphones over all four ears and his eyes rolled back in her head, listening raptly to presec-ondmill Earth music. Sometimes he sang along. Her voice was actually quite good, if a little strange. While I was tempted to ask what Lew-weeee lew-eye, whoa-ho meant, I had learned my lesson with Dr. Xan.

Shelby spent most of his time plugged directly into the Gibbon’s systems, fighting simulated wars with the ship’s main computer. We could always tell when the ship was losing because it either overcooked our meals or served them still half-frozen. Shelby was quite the general, which meant that we ate badly most of the time. Nobody complained, they just offered tactical advice.

The Fritlanders, Doctors Lars and Lessie, were a husband and wife team of linguists who had been together for so long that they had begun to look like each other. Lessie was the one with the shorter hair and bigger bust- line. They spent most of their time locked in their stateroom, and had remarkably little to say when they did come out. According to Dr. Xan they were translating a Langoozyle sex manual; an over thirty million entry compilation of every sex act performed by every member of that race over a one-year period. The noises that came from their room sometimes suggested that parts of it might have been pretty hot stuff.

Completing this scholarly sextet was the most junior member of the expedition. Dr. Clotilde Miskovitch was her name, she was about my age, and the reason why by the end of the second week of our voyage, I was spending most of my spare time hiding in my compartment with the door locked.

The Prezzies were a bookish lot. Clotilde was built a little like one; kind of squarish and thick-bodied, a little frayed at the corners, and of course containing one hell of a lot of words.

For the first few days she scarcely spoke to me. She just sort of observed me with an intensity which made me wonder if she was considering dissection as a route to further knowledge. Then suddenly about seven days out she turned up in the salon dressed to kill—or at least cause eye damage-wearing quite a bit of inexpertly applied makeup and even more perfume. She cornered me in a lounger, hung her modest, heavily fragranced breasts a few inches from my nose and began her studied seduction.

Now I found Clotilde nice enough, and actually kind of cute in a sturdy, foursquare, overly bookish sort of way. The problem was, her idea of flirting was to combine her somewhat shaky concept of feminine charm and her insanely overdeveloped intellectual skills and use them to try to bludgeon me into submission.

Except for the little lovetacxes she kept sending, I’d had a few Clotilde-free days while she and the others were down on K’leven. Any overture I made now would probably be seen as proof that Cupid had done his work, beating me senseless into compliant mush—probably using a couple dozen textbooks, a dictionary, and an entire set of Encyclopedia Astrica. But if offering to be her slave was what it took to get them in gear and off that damn planet, then duty demanded that I take the risk.

Back behind the tarp she was examining something that looked like a fossilized turd with an old Omniscan. I took a deep breath to brace myself, then went and told her that Dr. Xan had sent me to help.

“That’s very sweet of you, Tephillip,” she cooed, batting her stubby eyelashes at me. My guard immediately went up. Big words meant an intellectual assualt, small words meant physical persuasion. The fact that her coverall’s front closure gaped open halfway to her navel gave me further warning.

I shrugged uncomfortably. “I just want to get you folks out of here as fast as I can.”

“Of course you do.” She looked around at the heaps of stuff surrounding us. “We really hate the thought of quitting so soon. We’ve hardly begun to scratch the surface of what’s here.”

“I wouldn’t want any of this crap under my nails,” I joked.

That got me a blank look, then a slightly condescending smile. “I see, you’re making a joke.”

“So what are we supposed to be doing?” I asked to get things moving and reduce the risk she’d bust a gut laughing.

She showed me the brown blob in her hand. “Quick-scanning these.”

“What are they?”

“Something between a holopix and a kinesthetic sculpture.”

I figured she probably knew what she was talking about, but it still looked more like a coprolite than a Cornavecchi. “Not very, um, evocative.”

That did make her laugh. “The archived material is encoded inside it, silly.”

“So you crack them open, or what?”

More hilarity. “Here, I’ll show you,” she said when she got control of herself, moving the object into the scanner’s field.

A holo sprang into being before us. It showed two of the lobsterlike K’leven wrestling. She turned it slightly. The one on top got a little closer to pinning the one on bottom.

“So what is this, like the sports page?”

She gave me that dissecting look, only this time she was smiling. “Actually, we believe it to be a form of erotica. There seem to be both textual and musical components encoded in the artifact s structure. I’d hoped to crack them and make fully translated recordings, but now it looks like the best we can do is take static scans and hope all the information will be preserved so it can be decoded later.”

I gave the holo a closer look. “So you’re saying that this could be part of their Astra Sutra?”

“Or a pillow book, or a religious text, or a honeymoon memento, or a school sex manual. We’re a long way away from understanding these people well enough to put what we’ve learned so far into any social or historical context.” She handed the thing to me, her fingers lingering on mine.

I put it back in the scanfield for one more look, turning it this way and that to see if the lobsters did anything familiar. They didn’t. I wondered if maybe this was just foreplay, and the steamy stuff came later. “Do you know how they, you know…”

“Yes.” Clotilde took the lobster porn back again. “Now if you’ll get more of these from that pile over there and scan them, I’ll tag and register them. All right?”

“Sure.” Then I remembered that we were about to get flattened—after actually forgetting it for a couple minutes. “But we have to hurry!”

“Don’t worry,” she said, fondling my shoulder reassuringly, “We’ll be done when it’s time for the shuttle to go”

Before long we got a rhythm going. It was kind of mindless work—or at least my end of it was—and after a bit my mind began to wander. I found myself wondering if handling all this sexy stuff was making her feel, well, sexy. My mind being what it was at that age, this and occasional glimpses of her cleavage led me to wondering what she’d be like in a clinch, and I’m sure you can guess which gutter my thoughts headed for after that.

The upshot was that I was caught completely by surprise when Dr. Xan came bustling around the tarp. “Time to give me your scan data, Clo,” he said as he joined us.

I took a look at the dat on my wrist, my insides congealing when I saw what time it was. “We should have left an hour ago! ” I moaned.

“Don’t worry, Tephillip. We’re right on schedule,” she said as she powered down the Omniscan and pulled a per-mem from its innards. “Here’s my data, Xav.”

“Excellent.” He took it from her and slipped it into the battered metal briefcase he carried. “Shall we away?” Nobody needed to ask me twice. I headed out, looking around when I got past the tarp curtain. “Where are the others?”

Clotilde and Xan came up behind me. “They are already up at the shuttle,” he said. “Our preparations are complete.”

“Come on, Tephillip, you can’t hang around here any longer,” Clotilde said, making it sound like I was the one who was keeping them waiting. She hooked my arm in hers and began towing me across the vault toward the tunnel.

Dr. Xan followed behind, wearing the benevolent smile of a man who is finally seeing a chance to marry off

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