Tall and Strange

    Sriktae met his first human when he was young.  This was at the park outside the housing circle, where families gathered and business people passed by.  Sriktae’s brother had gotten their new flingamajig stuck in a hedge, and none of the children could reach it, even after climbing onto the fence.  Nobody’s parents were near enough to ask for help.  Hillik was gathering rocks to throw and knock it down, Taklym was arguing heatedly that that would break it, and Sriktae was failing to organize the group into a tower that he could climb.  Frustrated, he leaped as high as he could, hoping to swat the thing loose with his second-best sport racket.  
    He landed in the shrub and bounced back out, sprawling on the sidewalk while the racket clattered away.  The clattering of his shell on the ground was louder.  He got up immediately, looking around for the racket to mask his embarassment.  There it was.  
    Sriktae reached for it, but a many-fingered hand got there first.  He looked up in startlement while his friends gathered around him with equal surprise.  They stared at the alien that held the racket out to him.  
    “Are you hurt?” it asked in a strange voice -- all soft noises with no clicks.  Sriktae realized it was looking at him.  
    “No,” he said quickly.  “Thank you.”  He took the racket back carefully, not wanting to pull it away and appear rude.  The alien was still looking down at them with white-ringed pupils, its body covered in drapings that looked like furniture covers.  He realized with a start that of course it couldn’t just paint its shell; it had none.  It must be wearing cloth as decoration.  Or maybe protection; people did say that the tall creatures were as vulnerable to puncture as one might expect a no-shell to be.  
    Sriktae realized he was staring.  He looked away, and caught sight of the toy in the hedge.  The human followed his gaze.  
    “Is that yours?”
    Sriktae nodded, aware of the silent presence of his friends, who were more than willing to let him lead the encounter.
    The human stepped over to the fence -- a wooden affair that was far too narrow to balance on safely -- and in moments it was atop the fence and plucking the toy from the hedge.  Sriktae blinked, replaying the sight in his mind.  That had been too easy.  Just a couple of steps upward, then casually locking a knee around the top beam in a way that left those long-fingered hands free.  Amazing.
    And the human climbed down with only the use of one hand, jumping the last distance to land in a crouch that made it look like a spring that had just been compressed.  Then the tall creature unfolded upward again and handed Sriktae the toy.  
    “There you go!”
    “Thank you,” Sriktae said.  He wanted to say something else, to keep the alien from leaving, but he couldn’t think of anything important enough.  “I’m Sriktae,” he blurted.  “What’s your name?”
    “Robin,” the human said, making a strange bow.  “Nice to meet you.”
    The other children spoke up.  “I’m Hillik.”  “I’m Taklym.”  “Eluldin.”
    Robin the human greeted all of them courteously, then said it -- she?  He? -- had to hurry on to work.  Sriktae was trying to remember how humans told their genders apart without shell ridges when Taklym asked what Robin did for work.  
    “I take care of the Earth animals,” the human said, pointing one long arm towards the center of town.  “I work with the zoo, the vet, and the pet store.  If any of you want to talk your parents into letting you get a pet from my planet, I can show you which would be the most fun.”  
    That sounded like a great idea.  Parents were called, and the pleading began.  Sriktae had the presence of mind to ask how to get there.  The human gave directions and spoke briefly with the first parents to arrive before continuing on to work.  Sriktae watched the strange form walk down the sidewalk, stepping over toys and making an improbable leap over another child’s art.  
    If the animals from Earth were as interesting as the people, Sriktae’s next pet was going to be amazing.