The planet of Tokh was in flames. Wildfires and volcanic eruptions had spread across the globe.
One day, while in a town ten miles away from their village, several Q'Nutians, a primitive race indigenous to Tokh, heard reports about the fires and eruptions.
The fires were coming closer to their part of the world but, so far, their village seemed safe. The village leaders decided to keep an eye and ear out, though, just in case.
The Q'Nutians were an odd-looking, yet interesting race. They were essentially fish people...fish with scales but legs, feet, ears, arms and hands instead of gills, fins, and tails.
Q'Nutian females had seafoam blue hair that was grown long and always very intricately braided. Across the right side of their foreheads, angling down the right side of their cheeks, were blue and green mermaid scales.
Males had the same scales on their faces. Their seafoam blue hair was usually grown to a medium length, four inches below their shoulders.
All adult males had a chestful of seafoam blue hair, much to the delight, joy, and, yes, fairly unbridled desire of Q'Nutian females. Other than their heads and chests, they were hairless. They were regularly 6' 4" or taller.
Adult females only had hair on their heads. Unlike the males, they were quite petite, rarely over 5'4". Other than their hair and scales, the Q'Nutians looked human. Folks on Tokh called them The Fish People.
They didn't smell like fish; not at all. They did love fish, though.
They ate fish, beef, chicken, pork, rabbits, squirrels, and venison, and could do major damage to crabmeat, especially crab legs.
They loved lobster as well. Luckily, the climate in their part of the world provided the perfect cold water conditions for both crab and lobster.
Three weeks after first hearing about the fires and eruptions, reports showed the disasters coming closer to their village.
The leaders and villagers talked amongst themselves in a meeting.
“When the fires get closer, we'll all gather in the cave and wait for them to pass. We'll be safe in there.”, one leader said.
“And what if the flames get too close to the cave entrance? What's to stop them from coming in and killing us while we hide in there, trapped and unable to get to safety?
”We'll be sitting ducks, as humans say! All you warriors know that! No. We all need to leave.”, said Bokhana, a widower who had lost his wife and children eight months prior.
After much spirited discussion, it was decided that they would stay and brave the fires rather than evacuate to the nearest large city, a five to six day journey away, where shuttles were landing and taking evacuees to Federation Directorate ships.
From there, evacuees would be flown to safety on another planet, Orrion Delta 2, where they would live. The villagers were too afraid of humans to leave. Bokhana couldn't believe his ears!
“You leaders are sentencing us all to die! You're choosing to kill us all, rendering our race extinct, rather than do what you KNOW is the right thing to do, and make sure we all get to safety...that the Q'NUTIAN race survives, simply because you're AFRAID of humans, even though they're trying to rescue EVERYONE on Tokh, human or otherwise! You're supposed to be our leaders!
”So....LEAD! Do your job and LEAD us! Stop ignoring ancient tactics that don't work. Start keeping us safe, NOT casually sending us to certain death by your flat-out refusal to be responsible and protect us! DO YOUR JOB!
”Humans are trying to save us, yet you, our esteemed Q'Nutian leaders, are trying to KILL US ALL!”, he exclaimed.
A young widow who had lost her husband eight months earlier said,
“I'm afraid of humans. I'll gladly join my husband, but I don't want my children to die. My husband wouldn't want that.
Another widow said,
”Before he died, he told me to take care of our children, no matter how difficult it was to do so. If I stay here with the boys and we perish in these fires, how am I fulfilling his last wish? I'm not.“
A third widow said,
”I want to take care of my children, but I'm afraid of humans. Will someone help me?“
“We're afraid of humans, but we don't want our children to die. Would anyone be willing to take our children to safety?”, the first widow asked.
“I'll take them.
”I'm afraid of humans too. But we have a chance to survive these fires and eruptions if we go with the humans.
“We're the last Q'Nutians left. If we all stay here and die, our race is gone. I won't do that to our race.
”Most importantly, unlike our leaders here, I won't do that to the children.”, said Bokhana.
Another young widow, named Amkhi, replied softly,
”I will go with you. I will help with the children.“
Immediately, some villagers said,
”Great! The village idiot's going with! What do you know about taking care of children? You have never had children! You are nothing! The village idiot and the village cripple! This expedition is doomed before it even starts!“
”I will help Bo...Bokhana with them. I have n...never been a mother, but I've known the uncon.....uncon...uncon...dition...al love and care of a m...mother. I will help him take them to s...safe...ty.“, she replied.
Bokhana was shocked that, of all people, Amkhi would be the only one brave enough to help him with the children.
She wasn't liked nor respected in the village; a social pariah. Yet, knowing how he and the rest of the village felt about her, she was willing to help get the children to safety and keep the race from becoming extinct.
”All you men humiliating her for never having had any children, yet none of you have been man enough to offer to take the children and provide them with even some measure of safety! Amkhi here is far braver than ALL of you...all of us...COMBINED!
“You speak such cruel words to her, despite her willingness to help secure the survival of our race! You insult and humiliate me, despite the fact that I very nearly died repelling humans who attacked our village.
”While I could not manage to save my wife and children after being critically injured, throwing myself on them to try to save them, I saved the lives of your wives and children!
“I have the scars from being stabbed to prove it! What do you have? I'll tell you what you have! You have your families! I lost mine saving yours! I lost everything saving your families!
“Meanwhile, you all ran for your lives and hid, leaving your wives and children to fend for themselves! You didn't even try to protect your families...NOR mine!
”Yet I stayed and fought for them and my family! By doing so I became, as you call me, the village cripple!
”You aren't men! You're just petulant children pretending to be adult males! Your behavior is disgusting! Q'Nutians are better than that!
”Amkhi, I appreciate your willingness to come with. On the way, I can fish and hunt for food so you and the children will not go hungry. We will take my boat. The journey will be easier on everyone that way.
”We'll leave in the morning.”, he said.
He then started packing, as did Amkhi and the mothers. One widow had an infant.
The planetary government provided the villagers with monthly deliveries of food and other supplies, including baby formula, clothes, and diapers.
The mother of the infant packed formula, bottles, diapers, and clothes. The mother of an 18 month old packed diapers, clothes, blankets, sip cups, as well.
All the mothers packed the children's favorite toys, blankets, and handwritten letters that were to be given to them on their 12th birthday.
As Bokhana had said, he had been critically injured the day of the attack, nearly dying. Eight months later, he still suffered lasting effects of his injuries.
He suffered blinding headaches from the concussion suffered after having been beaten, and a pronounced limp from a broken ankle that never completely healed properly.
It didn't slow him down, though. He could walk and run for miles with very little trouble. Only when it rained or snowed did it give him enough pain to slow him down.
When the headaches struck, he'd lay in a dark room with his eyes closed until the pain went away.
Amkhi had helped nurse him back to health. She'd sewn up his numerous stab wounds and had held him as he grieved the deaths of his wife and children, begging to be allowed to die so he could join them.
Having lost her husband one year earlier, she knew all too well the pain and agony he was experiencing.
The reason she was called the village idiot was that she was a very simple-minded young woman. She wasn't very intelligent or well-educated, at least not as far as they were concerned.
Her mother had been a widow. Amkhi was an only child. She'd had a freak accident as an infant, falling out of her crib due to a stroke, and suffered developmental delays due to the effects from it.
The other villagers never offered to help her mother raise or teach Amkhi, due to Amkhi's "imperfection", as they called it. Her mother was regularly encouraged by the village leaders, and others, to “Put that idiot child out of her misery!”, but she'd refused.
Amkhi could read and write in both their language and Terran, as they all could, but that was about it. She had a speech impediment, a result of the stroke.
She didn't know science much at all, and couldn't comprehend math very well beyond the basics, but tried very hard.
However, Amkhi wasn't dumb by any stretch of the imagination. She was smart in other ways. She had incredible artistic talent. She could make candles and soaps, do all forms of crocheting, knitting, needlework and lace, and could grow any type of flower or seed she planted. She was also an expert cook.
She'd lost her husband and mother two years earlier due to a virus that had infected the village. While never being given full support by any of the villagers, she had been helped out by Bokhana and his wife on occasion if she needed anything.
The Q'Nutians were a primitive race, yet fairly well-educated, though not nearly to the education level of humans and other races.
Later that evening, she stopped by his hut.
“Bo...Bokhana, th...th...thank you for stick...sticking up for m...me to...d...day.”
“You're very welcome. They had no right treating you like that.”
“I p...packed b...but am n...not sure if I b...brought too much.”
“You bring whatever you feel you absolutely don't want to leave behind here.”
“I w...want to s...stay. I know the v...villagers w...want me d...d...dead and have f...for y...years. But I d...d....do not want to d...die.”
“I agree. It'd be much easier if we had some other adults to help with the kids and carry everything, especially once we get to Tolkha. But we'll manage no matter what.
“Amkhi, I need to talk to you about something.”, Bokhana said.
“What do you want to talk about with me, Bo...Bokhana?”, she asked.
“I know this seems odd but...do you know about the requirements our ancestors put in place in case our kind became nearly extinct?”, he asked.
Blushing, she replied, “Yes, Bokhana.”
“Within days or maybe even hours after we leave here, I'll be the last adult male left, and you'll be the last adult female left.
”The children won't be able to have kids for at least a good 12 to 14 years. We're still fairly young, Amkhi.
“We need to start having children together now, instead of waiting years for the kids to repopulate our race.
”It's why our ancestors created the requirements. Amkhi, we need to obey the requirements.”, he said.
“Bokhana, it hasn't been l...l...long enough, f...for either of us.”, she replied.
“Our ancestors gave us very strict instructions on what to do in this situation. We have to obey the requirements, Amkhi.”, he said.
They looked at each other for several seconds. Amkhi thought it unfair that the ancestors had created such requirements.
“Bokhana,”, she said very nervously,
“I'm...s...scared...I'm scared. And, I'm sorry, but I don't l...love y...you.”
“It's alright, Amkhi. I don't have an ounce of love for you either.
”You're quite plain and homely, not at all pretty. I'm just not attracted to you, Amkhi, physically or otherwise. I never have been, and never will be.
“Maybe if you were pretty or at least somewhat attractive, I'd be attracted to you. Please know, I'm not trying to be mean or to hurt you like the others.
”That being said, you don't have to be afraid of me. I promise you, I'll be good to you. I'll treat you well. I'll be a good husband to you, Amkhi.”, he replied, taking her hand in his and squeezing it gently.
Whenever Amkhi was stressed or upset, her stutter was terrible. Right now, she was extremely stressed and upset.
“If you n...never l...love me, Bokhana, it is al...alright. I would b...be as stu...stupid as they s...say I am if I th...thought you or anyone w...would love me or b...be attracted t...t...to m...m...me.
”You m...miss your w...w...wife. I un...under...understand. I am n...not p...pretty or b...beautiful, as she w...was.
“B...B...Bokhana, y...y...you were al...always only in...interested in th...th...the beautiful w...women in th...the v...village!
”Y...you never l...looked at anyone if th...they w...were not pretty in y...your eyes. I know I n...never w..will be pretty like y...your wife.
“B...but I am n...not plain, Bokhana. I am p...p...pretty! You are just t...too b...blind to see that!
”M...m...my husband saw m...m...my b...beau...beauty. He t...told me I w...w...was p...pretty. He t...t...told me every d...day I w...w...was beautiful! He loved me b...but he w..was the only one wh...who did.
“He l...loved me for m...me, n...not for how p...pretty I w...was or how I looked. To him, I w...was just as b...beautiful as y...your w...wife!
“I g...go now. I'm n...not n...needed. I know w...what I have to d...do. I will t...t...t... trouble you, trouble n...no-one...anymore.“, she replied, then left.
”Amkhi! AMKHI!“, he called after her. She didn't look back, just walked back to her hut.
Bokhana hadn't wanted to hurt her, yet realized that he had. He owed her his life, and never intended to repay her by hurting and insulting her, as he'd just done.
He realized that he should never have admitted that he wasn't attracted to her physically the way he had.
He realized, too late, that his words could have, and should have, been kinder, knowing how the rest of the villagers treated her and spoke to her and of her, degrading her every chance they could.
He verbally kicked himself. He'd just done exactly what the villagers did to her daily, something he'd always sworn he'd never do to her face.
He went back into his hut and told himself off royally.
Bokhana was quite handsome, with a phenomenal physique.
His parents raised him with the belief that only the most beautiful woman was good enough for him. Because of that, he'd become very shallow and, as Amkhi had said, had only shown interest in the most beautiful ladies in the village.
Plain, unassuming girls like Amkhi, or at least those girls he and his parents considered plain and unassuming, weren't pretty enough for Bokhana to even consider being marriage material.
His parents had raised him to have a certain standard for a wife. He found the woman who met all his criteria in his wife.
Amkhi had certainly given him his comeuppance, a comeuppance that had been needed, and much-deserved, for years!
Like others in the village, he'd never liked nor respected her. He had always been polite to her out of respect for her husband and mother. His wife was the one person who was truly kind to her, who liked and respected her.
Bokhana appreciated Amkhi saving his life and nursing him to health after the attack. She'd actually been the one to run out of the cave where the villagers were hiding, and chase the humans away.
She'd been right there in the thick of things, for the most part, during the attack, fending off as many humans as she could.
She'd been hurt while shielding his body from more kicks. After the humans left, she'd pulled him off the bodies of his wife and children, calling for someone to carry him to her hut.
Once there, she'd stitched him up and set his ankle as best as possible. It was Amkhi who'd comforted him as he begged to be allowed to die and join his wife and children.
He knew, whether she'd saved his life or not, that he had absolutely no right under any circumstances to insult her like he had.
Offering to help care for the children on the trip had started Bokhana rethinking his thoughts about her.
Her bravery in standing up to the village leaders during the meeting earlier that day had impressed him. She'd never done that before.
She'd always been a shrinking violet. Bokhana found out that day that Amkhi was anything but a shrinking violet!
He respected Amkhi immensely for standing up to him. For the first time ever, he realized that, deep down, he truly liked her! He was determined to make things right between them.
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