Corin slouched in his seat in the lecture hall, taking perfunctory notes more for the sake of looking like he was paying attention than from any real sense of needing to.

Calling this an exploration of the human mind and behaviour is like calling a walk through my mother's day garden an exploration of botany. I even know exactly which three books he's using as source material. Everything so far comes from one or more of the three, and sometimes he quotes them verbatim.

I'm probably going to regret this, but what's a day without annoying someone? They'd all think I was ill.

Corin raised his hand, and the instructor paused; when he saw who it was, he made no effort to conceal his sigh.

“Yes, Laures? And is this going to be relevant?”

“You said that the only natural form of family is a man, a woman, and their offspring. What's that statement based on?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“It isn't very common in nature, outside of a few birds. Most hoofed creatures have a system with a very few males monopolizing access to multiple females, with most males excluded. In a lot of carnivores, the male and female keep company only during a brief period, and he has no part in their offspring's care or the female's during pregnancy. In both of those, it isn't necessarily the same male and female each year.”

“And which would you recommend we adopt as a model?” the instructor asked dryly, drawing a laugh from most of the room.

“I only mean, sir, that the statement that a fixed pair is natural needs some sort of evidence, doesn't it?”

“It is natural for humans.”

“Then why don't we pair off for life at around sexual maturity, with no adultery or promisc...”

“It is natural for humans, and that is sufficient. If you wish to remain in this course, you will restrict questions to the subject at hand. Now...”

“But I was,” Corin muttered sullenly, slouching further.

The rest of the lecture dragged along, and when it ended, Corin fled in relief. He was sure this would be another one that would be repeated back at him, out of context and inaccurately, as proof that there was something wrong with him. He was not sure he cared much anymore.

“Hey, Laures, wait up.”

Startled, Corin stopped in his tracks. Nothing in that tone sounded like an invitation to be assaulted verbally or physically. He stepped over to the wall, rather than stand in the middle of the flow of students—some of whom, he knew, would be perfectly willing to knock him down and claim it as an accident—and turned to look.

The young man accepted everyone edging out of his way with casual disregard. Around Corin's height, he had little visible flesh on his bones, but gave no impression of fragility; sandy-brown hair needed to be cut, but it didn't look deliberate, more like it just hadn't been attended to yet. Those clothes he was wearing so carelessly, slightly dishevelled, were worth two or three times Corin's. At least.

His smile was friendly, though, and that didn't make sense.

“That was a good point. They can't insist that every statement has to be based on observable fact and then decide that some things are exceptions just because they don't want to look any more closely at it.”

“Thanks,” Corin said warily.

“And it livens up an extremely dull course, watching the instructor stumble and try to come up with answers and pretend he isn't at a complete loss.”

“Oh. I'm glad you're entertained. For the next act, keep coming to class, or drop by my history lecture this afternoon, I'm sure something will come up. Excuse me.” He shifted the leather satchel of books on his shoulder, and turned away.

“It would almost be worth taking that history course again to see that, but that isn't what I meant. You're asking questions that are so blindingly obvious that it doesn't seem to occur to anyone that they actually do need to be asked. And answered, for that matter.”

Cautiously, Corin looked back. “That's not what I'm usually told.”

“Most people are idiots who are happy to swallow the mush they're fed and regurgitate it on command without digesting it at all. That's a stupid approach to the University. There are a few who actually want to learn this or that, which is better. But you're different. There's this passion there to question and understand everything and that's fascinating. You don't accept anything on faith. In the last lecture, when he said that two accounts of the same events that differ means one is lying, you were absolutely right to call him on it. That isn't even just a flaw in theory, it's a dangerous misconception to give a room full of highborn who are going to be in positions of authority. And being able to pull that quote from Camys about the fallibility of memory out of thin air was brilliant.”

“He cut me off before I could finish.”

“What else were you going to say?”

“He left out perception bias. A man and a woman will experience identical events in a different way. A child, an adult, and an elder will. Highborn and commoners will. Farmers and townsmen will. Even northerners and southerners will. There's a substantial body of evidence supporting it, and it makes perfect sense that what we perceive is coloured by our own experiences. Also, if we're expecting to see something, or want badly enough to see something, we'll usually see it, even if that isn't what's actually there. The human mind seems to be very good at projecting internal expectations onto external events and interpreting them in that light.” He bit his lower lip, dropped his eyes.

The brief pause felt long. “I hadn't thought of that. Is that from Camys too?”

“Partly. And Klovec, which is also one of the books he's using for this whole course so he should have come across the idea.”

“Klovec? Is that the source for the material that isn't from either Camys or Erabal?”

Corin blinked. “You caught that? I didn't think anyone else had figured that out. Although I suppose I did assume that on not much evidence.”

“You're probably right about most. I could only identify two, though. I knew there had to be a third source, but I couldn't find it. I can now sleep easier tonight. Do you have anything else before that history lecture?”


“Let's go get something to eat, shall we? My treat, as long as you tell me more about what Klovec actually says, and as long as we can talk more about perception and expectations. And maybe you can tell me what the real story is behind the bighorn sheep.”

Corin groaned. “Can we make the explanation about the sheep a short one on the way, and then not talk about it anymore?”

“I think I can live with that.” He gestured invitingly. Interestingly, there was always a reasonably clear path in front of him—which was just as well, since all his attention was on Corin.

“The instructor said that it was a natural universal, that two males or two females in sexual contact is an aberration. That's ridiculous. If you read around the prejudices, or even just open your eyes and look around without making assumptions, there are lots of examples otherwise. I brought up observations that Arminus made about bighorn sheep about fifty years ago when he was doing a detailed survey of fauna and flora in the highlands. Most of the year the males and females live in separate herds. The females refuse sexual contact unless they're in season. The rest of the year, the males mount each other, and it isn't a few dominant individuals, it's all or most of them taking both roles. There are a few males he noticed that lived with the female herds all year, and who made no attempt to mate even when the females did come into season, and who refused to have anything to do with the other males. They even arch so they urinate the way females do.”

“So the only males who don't have sexual contact with other males are the ones who act feminine, and the properly manly males spend much of the year with each other?” Corin's companion laughed out loud, drawing looks from several people nearby, which he ignored. “Oh, that is too funny. It explains a lot of the nonsense I've been hearing about the subject, people taking it out of context and not understanding half of it and usually getting it from someone who heard it from someone else.”

“I didn't suggest that it applied specifically to human behaviour. It was just a way to refute an absurdly broad and completely false generalization.”

“Of course you didn't. All right, now I understand, and we never have to discuss sheep again. How about we speculate instead about history from the perspective of perception bias and how the shyani might have seen early contact in a different way than our ancestors did?”

“That's interesting,” Corin said thoughtfully. “If age and sex and class make a difference, how much more would being not human and from another culture make? Who are you, anyway?”

“Hm? Oh, sorry, I got carried away. I'm Jared Hyalin. And I know a great place for lunch.”

<-- Back Next -->