In the mental health facility, the woman had forgotten to write notes, she had been so engrossed. Now the man had stopped talking. She suddenly became aware of her surroundings. “Why did you stop?”
“I’m curious what you think of it so far,” the man says.
“Well, Mister…” the woman starts.
“Just call me Nate,” the man interrupts.
“Nate. Uh…I’m fascinated with the multiple parallels to the surrounding world,” the woman says.
“Hmm?” Nate says.
“Um, well I mean clearly the Gruezhlings are based on stuffed animals that you either had as a kid or saw with others,” the woman says.
“Stuffed animals?” Nate prods.
“Yes, you don’t remember about stuffed animals?” the woman asks.
“No,” Nate says.
“Um, cloth bags made to look like animals, filled with cotton or some other stuffing. Children use them as toys or pretend companions,” the woman says.
“Oh,” Nate says, “Weird. Before history changed, children I knew preferred real companions.”
“I wonder if all your memories contain these parallels,” the woman says.
“That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? To try to deduce what happened in real life by listening to my stories and making analogies? I’m a witness to something?” Nate says.
“We want to know what happened the night you got caught,” the woman responds, nodding.
“What did I do?” Nate asks.
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you. It might bias the process,” the woman explains.
Nate sighs. “Of course. Well, I have trouble remembering things. Sometimes I see something that reminds me of something I hadn’t been able to recall before, and I can’t seem to remember quite how I got here, but starting at the beginning with you seems to be helping. I do have the impression that there is quite a lot to cover, however – many years. Determining which memories are relevant will be pure guesswork.”
The woman puts her hands together. “I’ll figure it out, somehow,” She says.
Nate shifts in his chair. It squeaks again. He looks tired. “It’s a lot to get used to at once, you know? Suddenly learning that children grow up into adults, that all adults were once children, that sex exists.”
“It is a lot to get used to,” the woman says. She smiles.
“That all of history is different, that dinosaurs are long extinct, that Gruezhlings never even existed, that my best friend – Haticat – is not just dead and never coming back, but never even existed!” Nate continues.
“Hmm,” the woman acknowledges.
“Everything and everyone is different. There are multiple languages now and babies aren’t born knowing language; they have to learn – but how can they learn anything without already knowing the language they are being taught in? It doesn’t make any sense,” Nate continues, “Lots of things don’t make sense, like how yesterday I was told that if I got angry at something somebody accused me of, it meant that it must be the truth and I was feeling guilty – as if people only get angry when caught by the truth. I get angry when people tell lies about me.” Nate clears his throat. “Also, not everyone likes to learn. They tell me science is boring and call me a nerd. When I was young, everyone understood that knowledge was power. Not everyone liked science equally, but everyone had a passion for some subject. Today, it seems that most people live with no passions or interests or goals at all. Those people that do have interests only seem to be interested in destroying their own minds and bodies by ingesting toxic, psychoactive chemicals. I’ll never understand that. I understand wanting to hurt others when angry, but hurting yourself? What possible motivation…?” Nate trails off, gesturing to the stack of newspapers on the bed.
“I imagine all of this was a great surprise to you,” the woman says.
“Like one I’ve never had,” Nate says, looking down. “Before this year, my greatest surprise was that not everybody liked the same things.”
“What do you mean?” the woman asks.
Nate takes a deep breath. He says, “After the beach adventure, we stayed on Earth for several days. We went to a fair…”
Nathaniel is not sure what to do. The Mama-And-Daddy is unreasonable and keeps punishing him. It prevents him from exploring and it keeps him from having fun. Also, he is out of apples and out of candy. There is nothing to eat but bland jelly. He wants to explore, but looking out the windows he discovers that The Mama-And-Daddy is flying high in the clouds. Even though clouds are interesting, he and Haticat decide to read instead. Haticat reads about planets, memorizing the density, surface temperature, surface gravity, atmospheric composition, length-of-day, and other comparative facts of that nature. Nathaniel reads more about adaptations. He learns about beetles that make flashes of light with their abdomens at night, dolphins and bats that use sonar echolocation, and flounders that have both eyes on the same sides of their heads. He also learns that eels have a second set of jaws in their throats to swallow with by pulling prey in.
“Hello, Nathaniel,” Daddy greets, “Hello, Haticat.”
“What do you want?” Nathaniel says. He is beginning to become apprehensive around The Mama-And-Daddy.
“Say hello when someone says hello to you,” Daddy barks.
“Hello,” Haticat responds first.
“Hello,” Nathaniel responds.
“We’re going to a fair, today,” Mama says.
“What’s a fair?” Nathaniel asks.
“It’s a fun place with lots of people and lots of food,” Mama answers.
“Oh, okay!” Nathaniel says, hoping there will be candy or apples.
“We’ll be there soon,” Mama adds.
“Are we still on Earth?” Nathaniel asks.
“Yes, we are,” Mama answers.
Wow! There is so much to visit on one planet! “How long are we going to be on Earth?” Nathaniel asks.
“I don’t know,” Mama says.
Within the hour, Nathaniel and Haticat find themselves riding the couch-unit through a thick crowd of people. The couch-unit turns sideways to cut through the crowds more easily. Daddy leads. There are so many foods to try, including some new foods that even The Mama-And-Daddy hasn’t seen before. Each stand has its own specialty. The Mama-And-Daddy explains that it’s okay not to use a fork if you aren’t given a plate, and fairs don’t usually have tables. There are yeasty and doughy foods. Nathaniel tastes breads and toast. He tries bread with powdered sugar on it, toast with butter on it, and toast with cinnamon and raisins in it. “This is a good combination,” Daddy comments.
Suddenly getting an idea, Nathaniel says, “I want toast with butter, cinnamon, and sugar! I just made an invention! I’m an inventor!”
“No, don’t waste toast like that,” Daddy says.
“What do you mean?” Nathaniel asks.
“It wouldn’t be good,” Mama and Daddy say.
“Yes it would,” Nathaniel protests.
“You might like it, but not as much as most people like the ingredients separately, so it’s not worth it,” Daddy clarifies.
This makes no sense to Nathaniel. “It would be good,” he insists.
“No it wouldn’t,” Daddy says. Nathaniel is confused. He knows it will be good because he can add the taste sensations of the ingredients together in his mind to predict an outcome the same way he can add numbers together to predict a sum. Did The Mama-And-Daddy not know math? Nathaniel just stands still, watching the couch-unit as it ignores him and moves to the next row of food stands.
In the next row are sour foods like lemonade, lime gelatin, and apple tarts. Nathaniel likes them all except the grapefruit. There are smoky foods like barbequed pork and grilled asparagus. There are deep-fried foods of all kinds. One Human pushes around a cart offering to deep-fry any food given to him coming from anywhere else in the fair. Nathaniel, Mama, and Daddy give him some dough. The Human fries it and adds powdered sugar. It is delicious. They also eat fried chicken. His parent allows Nathaniel to throw out the bones, but insists he eat the skin, threatening to punish him when he resists. He doesn’t like it, but it is much better than peas. Nathaniel loves the nut stand. He discovers he likes pecans, walnuts, pistachios, peanuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and soy nuts. He raves about peanut butter.
“Look, that adult is eating a grapefruit,” Haticat says, seeing an adult walk past.
“Eeew, how does he stand it?” Nathaniel comments, “Adults are weird; they eat gross things like peas and grapefruits. What’s wrong with them?”
“Maybe their mouths don’t work,” Haticat says.
“Maybe their brains don’t work,” Nathaniel suggests, “They are bad people.”
In the next section, Nathaniel discovers spicy foods for the first time and loves them. He gorges himself on jalapeno-stuffed tacos, on habanero-laced salsa, and on Buffalo wings.
“Do you like Buffalo sauce?” Daddy asks.
“It’s yummy,” Nathaniel says, nodding. “Try it.”
“No, I’ve tried Buffalo sauce before. I don’t like it,” Mama and Daddy speak.
Something about what the Mama-And-Daddy just said does not compute. Nathaniel experiences an uneasy cognitive dissonance. “It is yummy. I’m tasting it right now,” Nathaniel says.
“It’s yummy to you, not to me,” Daddy says, “Not everybody likes the same things.”
Nathaniel is confused beyond reason. If not everyone likes what is likeable, that is a contradiction. “Eh…” Nathaniel says.
“You don’t like peas; you called them yucky, but we like peas,” Mama says.
“How can you like what is yucky?” Nathaniel asks.
“They aren’t yucky to us,” Mama and Daddy say.
“Likes and dislikes are relative. It’s called the theory of like-relativity,” Mama says.
Nathaniel is very disturbed. He is convinced that only a greatly depraved and confused mind could find any good in peas. He cannot accept this theory. Doing so would undermine his whole world-view. “That’s impossible!” he shouts.
“Everybody has different taste receptors,” Mama says.
Different taste receptors? Nathaniel knows that different foods taste different because the taste is in the foods, knowing that if taste is in his mouth or mind, all things would taste the same. Taste is not open to debate or speculation because it is directly observable. Any dispute can be settled by a taste-test. This is a weird discussion. Nathaniel feels extremely unbalanced. At the same time, he is fascinated by this new phenomenon. He has to know more. “Do you like Buffalo sauce?” he suddenly asks a passing kid.
“Yes,” the kid answers.
“Do you like Buffalo sauce?” Nathaniel asks another kid.
“Buffalo sauce is so yummy!” the kid exclaims.
“Do you like Buffalo sauce?” Nathaniel asks a third kid.
“What’s Buffalo sauce?” the kid asks him.
“Never mind,” Nathaniel says. Turning to an adult this time, he asks, “Do you like Buffalo sauce?”
“The adult seems momentarily confused, but answers, “Yes, I like Buffalo sauce.”
“Nathaniel, don’t be rude,” Mama scolds.
The first kid then asks Nathaniel a question. “Do you like barbeque sauce?”
“I just had some today. It’s so yummy!” Nathaniel says, “But Buffalo is better.”
“I like barbeque better,” the kid replies.
Fascinating! Even people that agree that certain foods are good can rank them differently! “I want to write this down. Where can I do that?” Nathaniel asks his parent.
“I’ll buy some paper and a pencil,” Mama says.
After The Mama-And-Daddy shows Nathaniel how to use the pencil, they continue to explore the tastes of Earth. There are fruit stands, serving dozens of species of Earth fruit. There are tea stands. Nathaniel discovers he dislikes every kind of tea, but he records The Mama-And-Daddy’s favorites. There are also Candy Wizard stands, serving candies and ice cream. “Earth must be a food planet,” he concludes. Nathaniel is now very full. He classes all the foods he has tried into groups and makes ranked lists, writing them all down. “Raspberries are the best kind of fruit. Limes are second best. Apples are third best. What is your favorite?” he asks.
“I like strawberries,” Daddy says.
“What is your second favorite?” Nathaniel asks.
“I guess blueberries,” Mama responds.
“What is your third favorite?” Nathaniel asks.
“Tangerines,” Mama and Daddy say. The Mama-And-Daddy ranks things in a completely different order relative to Nathaniel. He cannot predict what might be fourth. By now, his discomfort with like-relativity theory has been replaced with fascination and the desire to scientifically analyze everyone’s tastes and look for patterns.
“Why do you like limes?” Mama suddenly asks.
“They’re yummy to me,” Nathaniel says.
“Why? What about them do you like?” Daddy presses.
“They taste good,” Nathaniel answers.
“That’s not a reason,” Daddy says, “We like rocky road ice cream because it has nuts, chocolate chips, and marshmallows and we like all those things.”
Trying to understand why he needed a reason to like limes, Nathaniel asks, “What do you like about chocolate chips and marshmallows?”
“Well, we like that marshmallows are soft and sweet,” Daddy says.
“Why do you like soft, sweet things?” Nathaniel asks.
“We just do. They are yummy to us,” Daddy says.
“Well, I guess I just like limes because they are yummy to me,” Nathaniel says.
“That’s not a reason,” Daddy says, “Why do you like limes?” Nathaniel and his parent just can’t seem to understand each other.
“They’re yummy. Whatever I answer you can always ask why I like that thing until running into an axiomatic valuation,” Nathaniel tries to explain. The Mama-And-Daddy drops the discussion. Why did he have to explain this? Just earlier this same day, The Mama-And-Daddy taught Nathaniel that people had different likes and dislikes, so they should already know. Why is Nathaniel now teaching The Mama-And-Daddy? Sometimes The Mama-And-Daddy is very strange.
Mama, Daddy, Haticat, and Nathaniel continue to explore the fair. Nathaniel continues to write down The Mama-And-Daddy’s favorite and least favorite fruits. Taking a break from eating to digest, they enter the arts and crafts section of the fair. They see Navajo and Apache artwork, hear Navajo and Apache music, hear Irish music, and see Irish dancing. Haticat likes the dancing. Nathaniel does not. The Mama-And-Daddy calls it a waste of time and energy. Seeing the children dance seems to make them tired. There seem to be no other adults in this part of the fair.
Next, they examine many artistic baskets, quilts, and glasswork crafts of all styles, including French, Dutch, Abenaki, Seminole, and Abstract. All are made by children and only children seem to show any interest in them. The adults just pass through. Haticat stops to look at a tall, translucent, yellow cylinder of glass with dazzling blue droplets trapped deep within it. Nathaniel studies a miniature glass replica of an alligator. They pass a display of pink and red baskets, but are not interested in anything of those colors. The Mama-And-Daddy shows no interest in any of the crafts and asks, “What is the purpose of wasting time making these things?”
“What’s better to do?” Nathaniel asks.
“They could work for other people so the other people would give them money,” Mama-And-Daddy suggests.
“They can get money selling these things,” Nathaniel says, not comprehending the problem.
“But why do people pay them any money when crafts don’t do anything? At least baskets and quilts have a purpose – even though they waste too much time making them look special – this glass doesn’t do anything,” Mama counters.
“It looks interesting,” Nathaniel protests.
“A house keeps you comfortable and food keeps you alive, but glass isn’t important,” Mama clarifies.
“What’s the point of being alive if you can’t explore and have fun? Isn’t the point of a house to have a comfortable place to play and be creative?” Nathaniel asks.
“It’s not important,” Daddy says. Nathaniel is not sure what that even means.
At that moment, Haticat sees a family of dromaeosaurs. The adults stand three meters high and are dark blue-grey. The three children are bright blue. One wears a lavender-striped skirt. Of the other two, one is Nathaniel’s size, and the other is taller. Several Gruezhlings walk with them. “Hey, they look like you,” Haticat says, getting Nathaniel’s attention.
The dromaeosaurs see Nathaniel at the same time. The one in the skirt hangs back while the other two approach. “I like your Gruezhling,” the shorter one says. Turning to Haticat, he continues, “I like you.” The adults meanwhile talk amongst themselves.
“We’re making a list of everyone’s favorite foods,” Nathaniel announces.
“Really?” the shorter dromaeosaur says, “My favorite food is candy.”
“Mine too,” the taller dromaeosaur says.
“Me too,” Nathaniel says, “What is your favorite ice cream?”
“I like chocolate-chip cookie-dough,” the shorter dromaeosaur says.
“That’s my favorite!” Nathaniel exclaims. “What’s your second favorite?”
“Rocky road!” The shorter dromaesaur says.
“Rocky road is my first favorite and cappuccino crunch is my second favorite,” the taller dromaeosaur interjects.
“What’s your worst favorite?” Haticat interrupts excitedly.
“Vanilla,” the taller dromaeosaur answers.
“Vanilla is mine, too,” the shorter dromaeosaur says.
“Hey, that’s strange. Vanilla is my third favorite and French vanilla is my second favorite,” Nathaniel says.
“Oh,” the shorter dromaesaur remarks.
“It’s interesting that people can like different things,” Nathaniel says.
“And people’s likes and dislikes can change over time,” the taller dromaeosaur adds.
“Really?” Nathaniel queries. This new information is also very interesting.
“Yeah,” the taller dromaeosaur answers.
“I like running in straight lines most, but my brother likes running in circles!” the shorter dromaeosaur interrupts.
“I like language,” the taller dromaeosaur says, “I like to learn about sentence structure and about the different kinds of words, like adjectives, adverbs…”
“That’s boring!” the shorter dromaeosaur interrupts.
“It’s not boring!” the taller dromaeosaur argues.
“I already know talking and writing; I want to learn about strange animals. Science is more interesting,” Nathaniel says.
“I like science, too,” the shorter dromaeosaur says.
“Did you know that sea squirt hearts pump in one direction for a while, and then start pumping in the opposite direction? The blood goes back and forth,” Nathaniel reports.
“No, that’s really interesting!” the shorter dromaeosaur says, “Did you know that bats can see in the dark with their ears?”
“Hey, yeah, I just learned that,” Nathaniel responds.
“Did you know that Mars has ninety-five percent carbon dioxide in its atmosphere, Venus has ninety-seven percent carbon dioxide, and Earth has only zero-point-zero-three percent?” Haticat asks.
“No,” the dromaeosaurs both say.
“No,” Nathaniel says.
“The planet Candy has zero-point-zero-four percent, but it also has a greater oxygen-nitrogen ratio, so it doesn’t matter,” Haticat continues.
At that moment, a family of robots enters the space. The only child enters the group and says, “I like chemistry. Did you know that if you mix acids and alkalines, they cancel each other and make a lot of heat?”
“Yeah, and some kinds make bubbles,” the shorter dromaeosaur adds.
“What are acids and alkalines?” Nathaniel asks.
“Those are kinds of chemicals that disintegrate other chemicals,” the shorter dromaeosaur answers.
“Right,” the robot affirms.
“Where can we get some?” Haticat asks, smiling.
“The chemical store,” the robot answers.
“We should go to the chemical store tomorrow,” Nathaniel says to Haticat.
“On Earth, you need money for things,” the shorter dromaeosaur mentions.
“The Mama-And-Daddy has money. We can ask them,” Nathaniel says.
“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” Haticat says.
“Yippee!!” one of the smaller Gruezhlings screams, repeatedly jumping very high.
“Meet us tomorrow at the chemical store and we can all buy acids and alkalines together. Then we can buy a whole lot and try putting them on a lot of different things,” Nathaniel proposes.
“Okay,” the dromaeosaur brothers answer together.
“This will be so much fun to play with chemicals!” Haticat exclaims, jumping as well as he can under Earth gravity.
“Yaaay!” Nathaniel says.
“Okay,” the robot says, “But we have to be careful because some kinds start fires or make poison smoke, and some might splash on you.”
“Oh,” Nathaniel says.
“I know. Let’s buy protection suits too,” the shorter dromaeosaur suggests.
“Yeah, that way we’ll be protected,” Nathaniel says.
“Okay, good idea,” the taller dromaeosaur says.
“Nathaniel, come on; it’s time to go,” The Mama-And-Daddy calls. The adults break up and go their separate ways, each summoning their children.
“I’m going to the chemical store tomorrow with my friends,” Nathaniel announces.
“Really?” Mama says.
“Yeah!” Nathaniel says.
“Okay,” Mama says. Is it Nathaniel’s imagination, or do Mama and Daddy look amused? He shrugs it off.
“I have to use a toilet,” Nathaniel says.
“All right,” Daddy says.
After Nathaniel finishes his business, The Mama-And-Daddy takes him to the vegetable section of the fair. He tries broccoli, which he likes, spinach, which he likes, and Brussels sprouts, which he hates more than peas but The Mama-And-Daddy makes him finish anyways. There is no meatloaf to help him. After several minutes of gagging, spitting, yelling, and crying, he swallows them all. “You’d better start learning to eat what we give you without crying or you’ll be punished!” Mama says.
“You’re already punishing me with Brussels sprouts!” Nathaniel exclaims.
“Don’t talk back to us!” Daddy says.
“If you don’t want me to talk, don’t talk to me first!” Nathaniel yells, “Talking to me means you want me to talk!!” Nathaniel stops crying. Now he is mad.
“You’d better start learning the rules!” Mama and Daddy say together.
“I eat broccoli, spinach, asparagus, carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes! I shouldn’t have to eat tea, Brussels sprouts, peas, and chicken skin! Everybody likes different things; you said that,” Nathaniel argues.
“You’ll like what we’re eating!” Daddy proclaims.
How could The Mama-And-Daddy understand that people like different things one minute, teach Nathaniel about it, and forget in the same day? The Mama-And-Daddy is so strange. “Grrr!” Nathaniel roars, hopping in anger.
“Why don’t you like chicken skin?” Mama asks.
“It’s disgusting!” Nathaniel yells.
“That’s not a reason. What makes it disgusting?” Daddy asks.
“It just is,” Nathaniel responds, folding his arms.
“Why?” Daddy asks.
“Don’t question me. Asking questions is against the rules,” Nathaniel says defiantly.
“That’s no way to talk to an adult,” Mama says, “You’re being punished.” Suddenly, Nathaniel is hit by a lightning bolt from Mama’s face. He has the intense sensation of being slapped all over. It stings! He stumbles, and then suddenly finds himself frozen in place by force field again. Not even able to blink and having no physical outlet for his emotions, Nathaniel’s anger turns in on itself and builds. He struggles immensely against his force field prison. Nothing happens.
“Stay put until you learn to follow the rules,” Mama and Daddy say. How can Nathaniel learn the rules while frozen? He can’t even ask questions. He wants to hurt The Mama-And-Daddy somehow.
The couch-unit turns away to procure more vegetables from another stand. Haticat pushes on Nathaniel, trying to move him. He is too weak to break the field and is already getting tired. Haticat becomes antsy, knowing he will soon fall asleep from play-starvation. The couch-unit soon returns with a fork and a plate of carrots. “You can move now,” Mama says.
Nathaniel suddenly falls over, his arms flailing. He lands on Haticat, who could not get out of the way in time. “Ouch!” Haticat exclaims.
“Are you okay?” Nathaniel asks, getting up.
“Yes, you only bent my face,” Haticat says.
“Here Nathaniel, you said you liked carrots. Eat these,” Daddy commands. Nathaniel is still a little angry, but thinks The Mama-And-Daddy might feel sorry and he is eager to get the Brussels sprout taste out of his mouth with something good like carrots. Nathaniel uses the fork to pick up a piece of carrot and place it in his mouth.
These aren’t carrots! They taste a little like carrots, but yuckier – and they are soft and warm instead of crisp and cool. “These aren’t carrots!” Nathaniel says, Nathaniel says, not spitting out the orange mush, but not swallowing either.
“They are carrots,” Mama insists, “And remember not to talk with your mouth full.”
Nathaniel forces himself to follow. He is starting to feel sick. He also feels angry for having been tricked. “Carrots are crunchy. Those are soft,” Nathaniel says.
“They’re cooked,” Mama says, eating the rest herself.
“Yum,” Daddy says.
“How can you like raw carrots, but not cooked carrots?” Mama asks.
“Cooking makes them yucky,” Nathaniel says. He wonders how it is even possible for cooking to make that much of a difference.
“You’re being silly; there’s not much difference,” Daddy says.
Soon after, they leave the vegetable section of the fair and enter the jelly section. The jelly section is run by Candy Wizards. Nathaniel enjoys jellies, jams, and preserves of all kinds.
“I just made another invention!” Nathaniel suddenly announces, “Someone could put peanut butter and jelly together sandwiched between two breads!”
“Nathaniel, don’t be silly,” Mama says, seeming more amused than angry this time.
“Here, taste some orange marmalade. You’ll like it,” Daddy says.
Nathaniel tastes a spoonful. He hates it. It is kind of like jelly, but with disgusting, bitter, chewy parts floating in it. “Yuck!”
“How can you like jelly but not marmalade?” Mama asks angrily.
“Different people like different things,” Nathaniel states.
“You still have to be consistent,” Daddy says.
“It’s hard to remember what you don’t like,” Mama says.
Nathaniel finally loses his patience. “It’s easy; I don’t like anything yucky. If it’s yucky, I don’t like it,” he says, “It’s not my fault you’re too stupid to tell that marmalade is yucky.”
“You’re a very naughty dinosaur,” Mama says.
“You’re going home,” Mama and Daddy say.
Nathaniel and Haticat are teleported into their room with the door locked shut. Nathaniel sighs. Haticat sighs too. “Why is The Mama-And-Daddy so mean?” Nathaniel asks.
“I don’t know,” Haticat answers.
“How can we find out?” Nathaniel asks.
“Maybe we can find out in a library,” Haticat suggests.
“Yeah, a library should tell us,” Nathaniel says.
“We can go tomorrow,” Haticat says.
“I think maybe all adults are mean,” Nathaniel says.
“I saw some adults being mean on Gruezhe before,” Haticat says.
“Me too,” Nathaniel says.
Having little else to do, Haticat and Nathaniel decide to read. Haticat reads more about planets and Nathaniel reads more about adaptations. Nathaniel learns about insects that look like leaves or sticks to blend in, octopi that change texture and pattern to blend into the seafloor, plants that use thorns, spines, or stinging hairs to prevent being eaten, ants that farm fungous underground to eat by cutting up leaves to feed to it, thorny desert lizards with skins that pull moisture out of the air and use capillary action to channel it forward to their mouths, and birds that roll around in crowds of ants so the ants will fight by squirting formic acid on their feathers, thus repelling parasites for the bird. “Earth must be an animal planet,” Nathaniel concludes.
“Come out of your room now, Nathaniel; It’s time to eat,” Mama says.
“I’m not hungry,” Nathaniel says.
“It’s time to eat!” Daddy barks.
“I ate a lot today,” Nathaniel says.
Nathaniel is teleported to the kitchen. Haticat is left behind. “Eat your food,” Mama and Daddy command. Jelly dribbles from the ceiling nozzle into the top bowl of the bowl stack. Nathaniel takes the bowl and starts licking the jelly up. “Why aren’t you using a spoon?”
“You never told me too before,” Nathaniel says.
“Get a spoon from the third drawer,” Mama says.
A drawer opens behind Nathaniel, pushing out on its own. Nathaniel retrieves an ivory spoon, snapping it off at the base, takes the bowl, and slowly begins to eat. “Why aren’t you eating?” he asks his parent.
“We are. You just can’t see it,” Daddy says.
“Why isn’t Haticat here?” Nathaniel asks.
“Just eat your food and stop asking questions!” Daddy yells.
Nathaniel takes a bite. He is tired of this bland protein jelly. “When are we going to planet Candy again?”
“You’re making us tired,” Mama says. Nathaniel thinks The Mama-And-Daddy is making itself tired with all the yelling it keeps doing. Then he gets a brilliant idea! If he convinces The Mama-And-Daddy that yelling makes them tired, they/it might stop yelling at him – and they will be grateful for the advice. Maybe they will act nicer.
“Maybe if you do less yelling, you’ll be less tired,” Nathaniel says with a smile. Mama and Daddy do not smile back. Nathaniel is sent back to his room.
Later, Haticat and Nathaniel discuss the day’s events while hopping on one foot backwards in clover-shaped patterns, stopping periodically to write things down. They have a lot of energy. They analyze their survey results. “So, tomatoes are your second favorite vegetable and The Mama-And-Daddy’s fourth favorite, broccoli is their first favorite and your fifth favorite, and spinach is their third favorite and your fourth favorite,” Haticat reports, reading the list.
“Spinach has the least distance of disagreement,” Nathaniel says.
“Right, I’ll write a distance of one next to it,” Haticat says, quickly writing and then returning to hopping around the room.
Nathaniel picks up the paper and follows Haticat. “Broccoli has a disagreement distance of four, so it has the greatest disagreement distance. In the fruit category, pineapples have the smallest distance at one, and limes have the greatest distance at six,” he reports.
“We should ask a whole lot more people so we can measure the average amount of disagreement between people, to see if some people are closer to each other than others,” Haticat proposes.
“Yeah!” Nathaniel says, now running up the walls as far as he can before jumping off. “And we should also see if some people disagree about classing food in groups, like how The Mama-And-Daddy don’t think tea is a vegetable, and…”
“Nathaniel! Haticat! Stop jumping around! It’s sleep time!” Mama and Daddy yell, interrupting Nathaniel in midsentence.
“I’m not tired,” Nathaniel says.
“Me neither,” Haticat says.
“Go to sleep now!” Mama yells. Nathaniel and Haticat crawl into their pillow pile and try to sleep.
“We should try to find out everything about The Mama-And-Daddy while we’re at the library,” Nathaniel finally says.
“Yup,” Haticat says.
“I want to know how they can think that making new inventions is wasting things, how they can think that playing and making art is wasting things, why they want me to eat things I don’t like, and why they don’t understand that some things are just good or bad with no deeper reason,” Nathaniel says.
“Me too,” Haticat responds.
Nathaniel yawns. “We should go there right after we visit the chemical store,” Nathaniel says.
“Okay,” Haticat says. Soon – even though neither expected it – both are asleep.