Chapter 16

It was impossible not to learn about the aliens. Their power and technology seemed limitless (except, it seemed, when it came to getting home) as did the amount of information available about them. I must have heard a thousand and one facts about them, but I only bothered to remember a handful.

The footage we saw of the homeworld on Visitor Update was reassuringly familiar in many respects. The planet had rolling seas, lush forests and huge open plains. The cities seemed clean and well-ordered. Family homes were spacious and comfortable.

The alien families themselves were similar to our own in some respects, but vastly different in others. The family group itself on the homeworld was considerably more extended than our own, with three generations living together under the same roof. There were two sexes (as I had supposed). Promiscuity, however, was unheard of. When an alien found a partner (and once the partnership had been given approval by the eldest female in the family) the two would be married in a simple ceremony and then mate. And every time they mated, bizarrely, there would be a two-way exchange of genetic information. The upshot of this biological quirk was that, over time, one alien began to assume the characteristics of the other. Any resultant offspring would, therefore, be almost identical to both parents. As generation after generation had come together in this way it had resulted in a lack of any strong variation throughout the entire race. There were no 'black' or 'white' aliens, there were just aliens.

Their genetic quirks did not end there. Once their general schooling was complete, the aliens were genetically assessed. Their potential skill levels were then matched with any prevalent social, moral and economic need to decide upon their required vocation. In essence, therefore, it was their biological and emotional make up that decided the path their lives would take, not any personal choice.

Having such an incredible understanding of their genes and their bodies in general, the aliens were, unbelievably, able to calculate their projected date of death (accidents and errors and omissions excepted, of course). The length of their working lives would be calculated accordingly so that there was a fair and equal opportunity for each one of them to enjoy a fixed-length retirement before passing away. I found that concept particularly hard to comprehend. How would I feel knowing the date of my death? Or knowing exactly how many working days I had before I could stop and rest? Such cold precision and knowledge would do me far more harm than good. I now preferred to do nothing for a living and I enjoyed the luxury of being able to get up and not have a clue what I was going to do or where I was going to go. I thrived on the new-found spontaneity of my life.

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