art by Melissa Mead
by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
It was my turn to wear the mask, but my egg-sister Linney wouldn't give it up. She'd been wearing the mask all morning, set on Smile, and it was a test day, too. Everyone thought she was so pleased and relaxed and Earthy.
I am wretched at tests, but the mask would have helped. I flunked my Calm test that morning, scored medium low on Earth Facial Expressions, and got a fifty in grooming because I didn't know how to put on makeup. The mask has its own. Maybe I depend on that too much, even though I only get to wear the mask half the time I'm awake.
Linney didn't even need the mask. Imitating this planet's sentient life forms comes naturally to her. Some days I just want to kill her.
But that's not an option, at least not while we're training under the eyes of everybody still inside the ship, so I went to Dad Two instead and complained.
"You always do this, Morana. Play the poor-little-me card. I'm tired of taking care of you. Deal with it yourself."
"I never wanted to be human anyway," I said and rushed away before he could tell me he didn't like my attitude. I've had a bad attitude since we arrived on Earth. Nobody complained about my attitude on Zalon. Then I was the expert, and Linney was the stupid one because she wasn't used to having six arms and didn't know what to do with two of them.
In the afternoon we were going out for our first field test. Skitty was taking us to a mall, where Linney and I were supposed to wander around like North American Teenagers and see if we made contact with local life forms.
"I want that mask," I said to Linney over lunch. Skitty sat on a pod to the side, her tap pad at the ready, watching our every move.
I hate test days.
"You can't have it," Linney said. "Last time you wore it, you broke the mouth and it was stuck on Frown for two days. You've lost your mask privileges."
If I had had three more arms, I would have strangled her.
I finished eating my fimsaw, and Linney said, "You're going to have to change those teeth, or you'll flunk before we're even out the door."
I growled at her.
"That's a ten-point deduction," she said. "Humans don't have that kind of vocal range."