Snow fell following the prevailing wind on Ezinor’s frozen moon, Jafe, building drifts of blue methane across the plateau. It had been a short climb for the group up the escarpment from the transport portal to the domed shelter situated near the environmental preserve. Etoch entered the metal igloo and closed the airlock behind him. He leaned against the curved wall momentarily to set down his pike. Then he settled into a crouch, away from the three outworld touristers, near enough to the firepot for warmth. The toursters were already out of their metallic heat suits. Their backpacks, holocams and breathers lay on the floor of the igloo. Each of the three held a food squeeze-pack and sucked greedily from their water flasks.
Etoch tossed the iridescent winter fungi he was carrying onto the dying flames of the fire. He motioned to his great-grandson to take the crisping dactyls off of the spit “Eat,” he said to the outworlders seated on the other side of the firepot. “You will need your strength for tomorrows meta’mu hunt.” Pulling a bit of the smoldering fungus from the fire Etoch lit a stalk filled with crarock seed. He puffed out a cloud of dust, and then brushed the falling distillate toward the firepot with the back of his hand. The dust snapped into a bright blue cloud over the newly replenished fire. Etoch waited for the anticipated gasp from the touristers at his magic foreplay. He watched them closely as they ducked away from the cloud in unison. Chuckling at his power, he shaped the cloud into the outline of a meta’mu with several quick movements of his hands
“Enough of your fuckin’ tricks, o’man,” Colboy, the oldest of the three said. “We were warned about the foolishness we could expect from a local. But I chose you anyway because you have a symbio scar on your shoulder that shows that you are from the tribe of o’man. An o’man might be able to handle the weather here on Jafe without equipment and do magic tricks but what I really want from you are stories about the meta’mu.”
“Yes, o’man,” Yolanda, the female tourister said seconding Colboy’s request. “Tell us about the metallic looking creature’s cohabitation with your people. Is it true that each o’man can have only one mutualism?” She had set her water flask down and was now busily combing tangles out of her raven black hair.
“Damn it Yolanda, that wasn’t part of the agreement with the preserve warden,” Marticus, the youngest of the three countered. His thin dark face grew solemn as he spoke. “You and Colboy know damn well that we’re only licensed to holograph meta’mu in the habitat, not solicit made-up crap from the likes of an o’man.”
“Look Marticus,” Colboy said, “it’s going to be a long night so we might as well have some entertainment, a story or two to take back with us. I’m sure the o’man will oblige us. I’ve heard that the local’s like to tell tall tales and there’s no warden on this side of the portal to stop this one.”
Etoch listened to the touristers argue. He laughed to himself. It was always the same. A group of outworlders would arrive eager to watch and record the symbiosis for themselves. Then they would pass the time on the evening before a hunt asking for folktales to record as souvenirs of their visit to Jafe.
“Now you know why I paid for your services instead of using an andro-bot,” Colboy said to Etoch. “Go ahead, o’man tell us a story,” he urged.