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Bruce Coville's Book of Aliens
I, Earthling
by
Bruce Coville

It’s not easy being the only kid in your class who doesn’t have six arms and an extra eye in the middle of your forehead. But that’s the way it’s been for me since my father dragged me here to Kwarkis.

It’s all supposed to be a great honor, of course. Dad is a career diplomat, and being chosen as the first ambassador to another planet was (as he has told me more times than I can count) the crowning achievement of his career.

Me, I just want to go home—though to hear Dad tell it, Kwarkis is home. I’m afraid he’s fallen in love with the place. I guess I can’t blame him for that. What with the singing purple forests, the water and air being sparkling clean (which really makes me feel like I’m on another planet) and those famous nights with three full moons, this truly is a beautiful place.

But it’s not home. The people aren’t my people. Most of the time I just feel lonely and stupid.

According to Dad, the first feeling is reasonable, the second silly. “You’ve got cause to feel lonely, Jacob,” he’ll say, standing over me. “And I’m sorry for that. But you have no reason to feel stupid.”

A fat lot he knows. He doesn’t have to go to school with kids who can do things three times as fast as he can, because they have three times as many hands. Even worse, they’re just basically smarter than I am. All of them. I am the dumbest one in the class—which isn’t easy to cope with, since I was always one of the smartest kids back home.

#

I’ll never forget my first day at school here. My father led me in and stood me next to Darva Preet, the teacher. She smiled that strange Kwarkissian smile, reached down one of her six arms to take my hand, then turned to the room and cried: “Class! Class! Come to order! I want you to meet our new student—the alien you’ve all heard so much about!”

I began to blush. It was still hard to think of myself as an alien. But of course, that’s what I was: The only kid from Earth on a planet full of people that I had considered aliens until I got here. Now that I was on Kwarkis, the situation was reversed. Now I was the alien.

The kids all turned toward me and stared, blinking their middle eyes the way they do when they are really examining something. I stared back, which is what I had been taught to do on the trip here. After a moment one of them dug a finger into his nose, pulled out an enormous booger, then popped it into his mouth and began to chew. The sight made my stomach lurch, but I tried not to let my disgust show on my face. Fior Langis, the Kwarkissian diplomat who had been in charge of preparing me for this day, had taught me that Kwarkissians feel very differently about bodily functions than we do.

“Greetings,” I said in Kwarkissian, which I had learned through sleep-tapes on my way here. “I am glad to be part of the class. I hope we will have good times together.”

Everyone smiled in delight, surprised that I knew their language. Then they all farted in unison. The sound was incredible—a rumbling so massive that for a moment I thought a small bomb had gone off. I jumped, even though Fior Langis had warned me that this was the way Kwarkissians show their approval. What she hadn’t told me about, prepared me for, was the tremendous odor.

My eyes began to water.

I had a hard time breathing.

I fell over in a dead faint.

When I woke, I was in the hospital.

Since then the kids have referred to me as Kilu-gwan, which means “The Delicate One.” I find this pretty embarrassing, since I was one of the toughest kids in class back on Earth. It doesn’t really make that much difference here on Kwarkis, where no one fights. But I don’t plan to live here forever, and I’ll need to be tough when I get home to Earth. Back there you have to be tough to survive.



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