The Uncivilized Ones
By Nora Cook Smith
The Igahi are an unattractive people. Think of a cross between a Tasmanian Devil and a cockroach and you might get the picture. Throw in a Venus flytrap for a personality description, and you’ve nailed it. The only reason I agreed to a medical rotation on their backwater planet was the knowledge I would work only with their young. A young Igahi, before metamorphosis, is small, round, and doesn’t have the stench of freshly killed meat on its breath. They did pull on my long blond braids when anxious, which was often, and with good reason.
My tour of duty was almost over that morning I entered the natal tent. Dr. Cole greeted me, as did LiciBo, who did not use the doctor honorific. She was from the Zidon system where every citizen was a genius. Competition was foreign to them. I was glad to be working with LiciBo, but I wished Darius Cole had drawn another shift. An Earthie, like me, his contempt for the Igahi extended to their young. He was professional, but dismissive, even to the little ones who had been harmed by their parents. That happened a lot. We only saw survivors. Many an Igahi youngster disappeared before their maturing. Apparently, they were a delicacy and hard to resist.
Cole raised his bushy brows. “Dr. Gladstone, I hear you’re retiring.”
I looked up from scanning my patients’ charts. “Thinking about it.”
“You should while you’re young enough to enjoy all that credit you’ve obviously built up.”
I blinked. I hadn’t known he’d followed my career. Like all traveling physicians I’d gone from planet to planet. Unlike most, I’d taken the tough ones. Hardship pay was generous, but I’d done it for adventure. This planet was different. I longed to be free of it.
Cole slammed down a little pink body. It whimpered. He ignored it. “What’s the point of us bringing healing to monsters? I say let them all die in their rush to kill each other and any other species they find.”
I looked around at the innocents in their cribs, some of which wouldn’t be innocent much longer.
“You hear about those tourist kids last night?” Cole’s tone was angry.
I hadn’t watched news vids that morning and told him so.
“They were murdered by Igahi. Not even dead before they ate them.” He shuddered.
I felt sick. It had been months without an incident. Long enough to become complacent.
“People don’t learn,” Cole shouted. “There’s a damn good reason tourism to this hellhole is discouraged.”
“You said they were kids,” I reminded him. “The ruins here, they fascinate people.”
“Yes ruins, Liza. Remains of sentient beings murdered by the Igahi.”
I huffed. “That’s not been proven.”
“Of course it’s true. And people like you and me are here, saving the Igahi when what they need is annihilating.”
I stepped back, shocked. “You don’t mean that.”
“The hell I don’t. Three of those murdered were earth kids. Barely old enough to leave home by themselves.” He stalked away, muttering something about the Igahi being uncivilized and why didn’t someone just kill them all?
LiciBo had tears in her eyes. I gave her a solemn stare. “Pay no attention to him.”
“Sometimes I think he’s right.”
Not her too! “He’s not. They have the right to live.”
She turned away. “Help me get the maturing ones packed up. I don’t like the way they’re eyeing each other. Or me for instance. We’ll move them to a separate tent.”
I grabbed a transportation cart. “You’re imagining things. They don’t begin exhibiting undesirable behavior until after they emerge.”
She shrugged. “So you say.”
Before we closed the lids I noticed several of the young were already spinning cocoons. They would be taken from the medical tents to a nearby forest. It was guaranteed safety. Adult Igahi ignore cocooning youngsters. They find the process distasteful.
I sat down and had a cup of tea with one pack of sugar. My single indulgence. Denying myself small pleasures kept me honed and focused on these difficult assignments. Never get used to the environment. Never let down your guard.
I called my mother that evening on a secure vid. She was vacationing on a nearby moon. The lag time was almost non-existent but enough that I saw her distraught expression before she spoke. “Oh darling, one of the children killed yesterday was the Morelands’ son. He was just 18.”
My heart stopped. Not Ronnie Moreland. I’d babysat him before I went off world. Little dark haired, dark eyed, Ronnie. Now nothing more than a meal for a savage species. I must have expressed my sorrow. Must have tried to comfort my mother. All I really remember is falling across my bed, weeping inconsolably. I know the evening involved whiskey. There was an empty bottle beside my bed the next morning.
Interplanetary police surrounded the natal tent when I arrived late for my next shift. I showed my badge, and tried to ask what was happening, but they glared at me. My coworkers were inside, huddled in a corner. LiciBo gave me a wave as did Cole, and several others. I started toward them, then the inner flap opened as an officer exited. In that brief second I saw pooled blood. I pushed the flap fully open. Little round bodies everywhere. Not one moved.
I turned my frightened eyes to my friends. “The Igahi? They dared come here?”
Cole stepped forward. “No. They don’t leave bodies behind. I do believe they think it was one of us.”
I examined each face. Closed. Impassive. Even LiciBo’s.
“We must be as one,” Cole said, incorporating each of us in his dark glare. “We must not let them find out which one of us did this.”
I felt feverish, looking at all those tiny bodies. Then Ronnie’s face swam into memory, and I steeled myself against my inner horror. I let the inner flap fall like a gauntlet. Cole was right. Civilized people stick together.