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Shuffling Through Onion Grass:
A Rhapsody about the Limits
Family Can Impose on Xenography

by Channie Greenberg

If Kathleen had not had to share a hotel room with Mary, her investigations would have counted among her pleasant memories. As it were, Mary morphed in her sleep, growing fangs and short, sharp claws. At night, Mary was the beast.

Given her roommate’s unchecked nocturnal evolutions, Kathleen gave up, for survival’s sake, both the ordinary and the deep kinds of restorative hibernation. Whereas she was known to be clever in hunting native species, her lack of rest made her unusually prone to error. Once, for instance, she had mistakenly bagged a sleeping dormouse. Another time she had “captured” vegetation.

Kathleen had sucked out that rodent’s viscera as a light snack and had traded, to the ever-oblivious Justine, her imprisoned bits of leaf and stem for a small, anger badger. Amazingly, that short-legged, heavy-set burrowing mammal, which tried to claw off Kathleen’s external tentacles, spoke Outer Galactic. Using their common tongue, he persuaded Kathleen to grant him freedom in exchange for his collection of fossilized ants.

Justine had laughed aloud about Kathleen’s swap with a brock as the cab that she filled sat idling. When not shuttling between the Great Lakes and the oceans, Justine focused on the realm’s rivers, obliquely showing less concern for their teacher’s evaluation than for her opportunity to exploit those local waterways. Justine left behind several billion eggs.

In fact, Justine remained rapacious. During an important meeting with other Team Earth members, Justine offered up a mermaid, complete with labret, and proffered a savant beleaguered by melodic echolalia. After Dr. Tildige lauded such brazenness, Kathleen joined some cattle branders in order to escape having to witness further showboating.

Providence smiled on Kathleen’s choice. There was ample employment among cowboys; some properties rambled for hundreds of miles. What’s more, the chuckwagon food was remarkable, and drinking with the herders under the stars enabled Kathleen to add many of them to her samples.

At about that time, Mary emulated flight. First, she dove for the fishes that were eating Justine’s eggs. Next, she grew scales and breathed flame in order to roast Kathleen’s compilation of indigenous species. Just a little south of Missoula, Montana, Mary created the infamous fire which wasted thousands of acres of wildlands and destroyed Kathleen’s most important cache. Several hundred specimens were lost to that whimsy of Mary’s.

After creating her grand combustion, Mary returned to swimming with cartilaginous types and to ignoring all manners of Dr. Tildige’s summons. The professor responded by threatening to fail Kathleen; Mary had long been too much of an achiever to oust her and her concomitant publicity from his program, but some sacrifice had to be made in order to unknot his extremities. To wit, until Ellen and Bobbie and their related chaos landed, Dr. Tildige sequestered Kathleen.

Consider that when Bobbie tried to deduce the cephalic limits of the planet’s dominant species, one of those pygmy hedgehogs, a fellow entirely disinterested in research, sunk his teeth into Bobbie. Dr. Tildige, his gills blue from combined guilt and approval, ferried Bobbie back to the mother world. Bobbie received an incomplete.

Ellen received Kathleen and Mary as new roommates. She had requested them, fearing, a bit, Justine’s propensity for ill-placed sang-froid. Among all of her siblings, Kathleen and Mary could manage crowded conditions.

An emancipated Kathleen waited several cycles to exit their shared chambers. She meant to conduct her research when her sisters slept. Despite their common origin, in a single test tube, she despised her relatives and regretted that so many of them had elected to learn off-world. Even after eighty mutual stellar revolutions, those girls seemed imperturbable despite the fact that their type was supposed to be apprehensive about difference, to want to hide from the unknown.

Signing up to study foreign biomes had failed to extract Kathleen from familial concerns and had failed to distance her from others of her dozens of mollusca clones. In fact, given Tildige’s feedback, Kathleen was troubled that she, herself, was becoming rebarbative, or was, at least, loosing her grip on her slime.

Kathleen bemoaned the lack of data her propaedeutic lessons had provided about responding to diminishing morale. Perils were adumbrate events, but such matters, when coupled with Mary’s recklessness, Justine’s disregard, and Ellen’s insipid rationalizing, were straightforwardly dangerous. Further, her kind’s rite of passage required sisters to coordinate resources. It was tough to make scientific progress in conjunction with nitwits.

In the end, Kathleen freaked out, became psychotic, and even shed an arm. She limited herself to iconicizing her experiences in words and via diagrams. She listed her rationales and methods, plus the utility of her approach, according to the third, rather than according to the fifth, school of protocol.

Kathleen took to focusing on the beauty of her conclusions’ asymmetry, on the importance of her exacting chemical palette, on points of interest within the dialectic of her second mother’s aunt’s grandmother, on the benefit of having to rely on primitive equipment, and on the quality of local light rather than on the culinary viability of captured creatures. She, too, was shipped home.

Kathleen’s fieldwork, consequently, failed to become her vector for social mobility. Justine’s attention-generating epics brought that sister many jobs, and Bobbie’s ill health brought Bobbie outrageous numbers of spawning offers, a rarity in their clime. Kathleen’s research, written up and submitted for publication, after Kathleen’s released from a care facility, gained her admission only to a second-class academic journal. That work, furthermore, did nothing to lift her from her sisters’ clutches.

Kathleen retired among herb-smoking orangutans, among tasty morsels of bright orange fur and curious habit. Those bipeds delighted with dances and pantomimes, some of which suggested that they had little interest in joining the roots in her cookpot. Nonetheless, those creatures were especially flavorful after spending hours shuffling through onion grass. It was so much easier to prepare meals that came prespiced.

Copyright © 2010 by Channie Greenberg

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