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Blunnet rubbed his supraorbital brow ridges as he studied the latest anthropological data from Big Continent. There had been a plethora of digs lately, but the central question remained unanswered. Why had humans emerge on top and not one of several other species? It was a shame fossils revealed so little of actual events from the period when intelligence was rising in the hominids. How was a man to tell why his species rather than the skinny flatfaces became the dominant sapients of the planet? Or the little people from the equator islands? Even the bigheads could have made it, given a little more time, he thought, but in the end it was the humans who developed true abstract reasoning power. The little people and bigheads were extinct; flatfaces were still around, but as little more than pets. The question was why. Why had it turned out that way?
He sighed and glanced at Funnit, his partner and mate who had been looking over his shoulder while he compared graphs and layouts. "It's a big jumble," he said. "We've got a range of thousands upon thousands of orbits where significant events might have occurred-and the process was probably gradual at that. There's no way of telling from the data why it's us sitting here instead of Blondie and Skipper. It makes my head hurt."
"Don't be such a defeatist, dear. The little camera probes will narrow the time period down a lot, even if there won't be as many as we wanted." Funnit sat on the crouching stool beside him and began comparing her complementary notes gathered from colleagues around the world. She thought the research was nearing a climax. And then…a manned expedition would get thefinal proof, perhaps.
"Hmmph. It still makes my head hurt. Maybe some cocastim will help. Do you want some, too?"
"No, but I would like a refill on my marrowmix. I'm still hungry."
Blunnet looked around the cluttered lab. It was empty save for themselves. "Where's Blondie? Where's Skipper? Those stupid flutterbrains are never around when you want them." He raised his deep-throated voice in a yell. "Blondie! Skipper! Come, come, come!"
Presently a young female flatface trotted into the room. She was clad in a wrap covering her hips and a decorative collar around her neck that was nevertheless functional. Her veterinary tag dangled from it, the little chip containing all her medical history as well as registration and ownership data. She stopped by Funnit's crouching stool and muttered. "'ere's 'em."
"Dog's bone, Blondie!" Blunnet said loudly. "I'm the one that called you, not her. Get over here!"
"'s sum." Blondie moved over to his crouching stool. She tucked in her shoulders and bowed her head submissively.
"Blun, don't be mean to her. She tries hard. It's not her fault the breeder didn't train her well before selling her."
"Mmmph. All right. Blondie, bring me some cocastim and some more marrowmix for Funnit."
"'s 'um," Blondie nodded, causing her long blond tresses to fall around her face.
"And tie that damn hair up before it gets into something. How many times do I have to remind you?"
"Well, it's true. A flatface ought to be able to remember something without having to be told a half dozen times. I swear, what intelligence they ever had is being bred out of them. Go on, Blondie! Bones of our Fathers, you're going to drive me crazy!"
Funnit smiled to herself while rubbing her big nose. Blunnet talked as if he were just one step away from taking Blondie and Skipper to the dump, but she knew he was fond of them. The flatties were loyal and friendly despite their bumbling, carefree skittering as they served their masters. And even though he complained about Blondie's loose hair, he loved to run his fingers through it. It was so soft and silky, such a contrast to the roughness of their own human hair that grew in short curly shades of brown, never blond or red or any of the other colors flatfaces sported.
A few moments later Blondie returned, carrying the cocastim with both hands. Skipper trailed behind with another plate of marrowmix. He was taller than Blondie by half a handmeasure, but looked even taller because of his abundant mane of hair and beard.
Each of the Flatfaces served their masters, then waited hopefully.
"Oh, give them a treat, Blun. You know that's what they're waiting for."
Blunnet chuckled good naturedly now that he could smell the sharp odor of the cocastim and reached for the treat bin. He took out a double handful of peanuts and divided them equally between the two. "Now take them outside, you hear? Don't make a mess in the living quarters!"
Copyright © 2006 Darrell Bain