John Anderson and the Ants


John T. Anderson
42 Foliage Lane
Hapdorn 5A03F

8 Seventhmonth 4599

Dear Ken,

Summer is here, and so are the Hugmups!

They just appeared one day. No mugging in the park this time, no heart-rending scene in a parking lot; none of the sentimentality you see on television—one day they were just there. Since I work at the university as a translator and Panu works at the observatory as a photo technician, I get home from work before he does. So I was the lucky one to see the Hugmups first: they were just waiting patiently on the front stoop. Two of them, one for each of us! I don’t know why they just didn’t go inside the house; you can tell just by looking at it that the door has never been equipped with a lock in the scant two hexacenturies of its existence.

I opened the door and went in, and they followed me. It was obvious that these two had been sizing us up from afar (that’s normal for Hugmups), because one of them immediately took a liking to me. Before I even had the door closed and latched, he had scooped up all the mail from the floor and handed it to me. (There is a mail slot in the front door.) Both Hugmups watched intently as I sorted the mail into two stacks on the hallway table, extracting a magazine from my stack. Then I took off my shoes and reclined on the sofa for some recreational reading.

My Hugmup brought me a glass of harng from the kitchen. Just what I needed!

Incidentally, Hugmups do have sexes, but only a trained veterinarian can tell them apart. So for conversational purposes, it is customary to call a man’s Hugmup “he” and a woman’s Hugmup “she.”

Panu sure had a pleasant surprise when he got home!

That was about the middle of this week. We’re all settled in with the Hugmups now. They are excellent housekeepers, though we do have to rearrange things slightly for their benefit. It sure is nice having live-in housekeepers!

This weekend, Panu asked my Hugmup what his name is. “Teddy” came the reply. This puzzled Panu, and he asked me why I gave him such a strange name.

Hugmups do look a bit like Teddy bears; although the more I see Hugmups the fainter the similarity becomes. I call him Teddy because he acts like a Teddy bear. Every evening I tuck him into his own little Hugmup bed, hoping he’ll learn to stay there all night; but every morning I wake up in the tight, hairy embrace of a softly snoring Hugmup. I will admit that it’s charming and touching, but it’s also very uncomfortable. Last year’s Hugmup never did this, and Panu hasn’t had a Hugmup do it to him since he reached legal majority at the age of thirty-two.

Once I explained about teddy bears, Panu granted that my choice of names was appropriate, given my Hugmup’s behavior. Panu’s theory is that I have more emotional scars than an adult Homelander, since I come from a developing planet. He thinks that the Hugmup’s natural empathy detects these scars and is attempting to heal them.

You remember that Panu Maksimak and I recently pooled our resources to buy a house inside the City of Hapdorn, the capital of our beloved Duchy. You can tell from my new address, and my description of events so far, that we have moved in and settled down. The house is only about 512 years old, so it is in good condition; but the previous owners did not have much interest in landscaping. Gardening is one of the hobbies Panu and I have in common, so we have ambitious plans. Naturally, I have to rely on his knowledge of plants, since mine is restricted to western Pennsylvania.

There were already a number of trees in the backyard, some of them were deliberately planted by previous owners, and a few just naturally grew. I keep forgetting the names of the plants around here, since they’re all different from what I’ve been used to all my life—there are no maples, oaks, pines, poplars—nothing like that on this planet, of course! So I have my own personal nicknames for the trees. Since the Thorgelfaynese names won’t convey much information to you, I’ll just give them my own personal nicknames.

We have three umbrella trees (I call them that because the ground is dry underneath them in a light rain shower), one of which will have to come out. It’s dying for some reason, and will probably just fall on the house if it’s not removed. We have four or five bye-bye trees (I call them that because their leaves rock back and forth in a light wind, as if they’re waving good-bye). They’re all in good shape, though we are going to try to move the smallest one to a location where it will get more sun.

This weekend we added a fivefold tree. Now that’s not a nickname, that’s a translation of its real name. It’s called a fivefold tree because of the way it looks: it has five main stems growing up from a central stump on the ground. It is a lovely ornamental, and it will look very nice on this bit of sunny lawn.

It was a very hot day, and we were in the backyard with the Hugmups. Panu had just finished digging a hole for the new Fivefold tree and stood there, catching his breath. His Hugmup had gone into the house to get us all some beverages. My Hugmup was helping me prepare the hole for the tree.

Panu had one foot on the shovel and was leaning on the handle. His shirt was glued to his body by sweat. “I’ve never known it to be so hot this early in the year!” he remarked, futilely fanning his face with his red sweatband. “How about you?”

“Well, I remember lots of strange weather,” I muttered, “but I don’t think my experience can be brought to bear.” Tau Ceti was merciless yesterday afternoon, but I remember times when Sol was much worse. I was preoccupied with shoveling in and smoothing out all that stuff we had to put in the hole where the tree was going to go.

Panu laughed heartily. “I keep forgetting you’re an alien from the exotic planet Earth!” he stopped to gasp for breath, swallowed, and added quite seriously, “Next thing, I’ll forget your skin is white!”

“Very funny,” I answered sarcastically, and continued my work with the trowel. I had to keep an eye on Teddy, to keep him from overdoing it.

“Don’t hurry on my account,” he volunteered, “I’m still winded.”

Just then Panu’s Hugmup came out of the house with a tray full of glasses and a pitcher of harng. We all sat on the lawn and enjoyed the beverage.

After we were refreshed, we set about the task at hand: getting the fivefold tree into the hole. This took all four of us, since the tree is quite heavy despite its size. With much grunting and groaning we pulled it off with relative ease. Then, armed with trowels, we filled in the gaps with the soil Panu had dug from the hole.

There was a prickling sensation on my right forearm!

“Ants!” I yelled in surprise. I dropped the trowel and began brushing them off with my other hand. There were dozens of little black insects walking all over my right hand and arm. These insects live in colonies in the ground, like ants do, but as I was brushing them off my arm I could see how they were different from Earth ants. However, I was too busy getting rid of them to examine them in proper detail!

Panu dashed over to look. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself,” he said in a quiet tone.

“So what’s so odd about finding ants?” I thought he was taking this a bit seriously.

“I have never seen insects on a person before,” he explained. He grabbed my arm, and the ants literally leaped off me to avoid him.

I opened my mouth to express my disbelief, and then shut it again. It’s true! I have never seen anyone experience an insect bite the whole time I have lived on Homeland, and there are plenty of insects around, just like on Earth. Come to think of it, I don’t remember ever seeing any sort of insecticide for sale.

“Insects never bother Homelanders, Hugmups or their dwellings,” he continued, “it is a natural aversion.”

“You’ve never seen a bug on the kitchen floor at night?” I asked, skeptically.

“No!” he said, “Does that happen on Earth?” And then he realized that since I am not a Homelander, the insects would not have an aversion to me. He was horrified at the thought.

“It won’t make any difference to me,” I said, indifferently waving away a gnat, “I’m used to it.” I brushed away a few more ants.

We resumed our work.

“Why is it that insects on Homeland shun people and Hugmups?” I asked. “Have they been genetically altered?”

“Now that is an interesting thought,” Panu said, pausing in reflection. “The genetic code was unraveled in late ancient times, and we still have some of the consequences with us. It is possible that the insects were changed back then, but that’s highly unlikely.”

“Why is it unlikely?” I asked. “This looks like a reasonable project for a genetic scientist: all the ecological advantages of insects without any of the disadvantages.”

“Just imagine the scope of the problem. They would have to either exterminate the insects on the entire planet and replace them with the mutant ones, or make mutant ones which would somehow naturally supplant the old ones. No, that’s highly unlikely. None of the ancient attempts at genetic engineering were terribly successful.” Panu paused to chop of a clod of dirt with his trowel. “I think the insects just evolved that way. Any insect which would venture near Homelanders, Hugmups, or their dwellings would be killed. Insects with an aversion would have the reproductive advantage, and would therefore be favored in evolution.”

Could be, I conceded, but it made me wonder why insects on Earth have such a kamikaze flair for associating with Humans.

Oh well, we’ll probably never know. But Earth is an alien planet with alien ways… and there I go thinking backwards again!

Panu suddenly looked around in a mild panic. “Where are the Hugmups?” he asked hurriedly.

“Teddy’s right here. I don’t know where yours is.” I was interrupted by a crashing sound coming out of the kitchen window.

“Oh no!” Panu exclaimed frantically, “he’s trying to cook dinner again!” I repressed a giggle as Panu jumped up and ran into the house.

Hugmups are lousy cooks!