Modern life, with its computers and its starships, seems to have sprung a slow ambush, he thinks, like some drug whose effects are scarcely noticeable at first, but which soon leaves you staggering and stupid. For the aliens, it all seems so effortless; he wonders how they do it. Or are they only masking the same disorientation he feels?
So much change in so little time. Now, he thinks, we're estranged from our very world. We've forgotten the feel of its air and its seas and its soil. Well, but what in life isn't a trade-off, after all? Who would spurn modern medicine and go back to the dark days of plagues and pain? Goodbye to the old world, then; and nothing left of it but that feeling of strangeness. And for the next generation, probably not even that.
He wonders how long she's been watching him from the hatchway. First bringing her reflected silhouette into focus on the shiny surface of the porthole crystal, then turning slowly to acknowledge her presence.
"Mind if I come in?" G'thorop asks rhetorically. D'karnik spreads the skin of his wings invitingly and gestures to the guest seat with his beak. He's had his share of complaints about life on a starship, but he has to admit his quarters are decent enough.
"I was just daydreaming," D'karnik explains needlessly.
"You can talk about it if you want to." G'thorop rearranges her smaller, less ornate wings on the backrest of the nest-like bucket seat. The wings of Fao males are showier but, if anything, less well suited for actual flight than the females'; Fao neuters have no wings at all.
Not that any of that matters now.
D'karnik takes the other seat, looks at her for a moment, looks away. The Fao inherited binocular vision from their predator forbears, and retain a social taboo against staring. "Nothing profound. Just thinking about how far we've come, how much the world has changed. All in one generation. Optics, astronomy, electricity, physics ...." His voice trails off.
"... Fusion reactors?" G'thorop finishes his train of thought for him.
"This flight seems like it's taking forever, doesn't it? I just spoke to the astrogator; we should be at Colony 12 - or what's left of it - in about two months."
"I can hardly wait."
"We'll be spared the worst of it. An alien ship was in the sector and noticed the blast - they helped rescue the survivors and they're helping with the cleanup now."
"G'thorop, level with me about something." Now D'karnik fixes her in his gaze. "I'm an exobiologist, not a nuclear power specialist. What happened down there ... exactly?"
G'thorop is big, even for a Fao female, and stands a full head taller than D'karnik, but she slumps in the seat and fidgets under his gaze. "It was a runaway fusion reaction ..." she mumbles, without much conviction.
"You don't believe that any more than I do, do you?"
G'thorop raises her eyes and returns D'karnik's piercing gaze. But she says nothing.
D'karnik persists. "Fusion reactors don't just blow up, do they?"
"It's pretty, um, unusual," she concedes. "A fusion reaction releases a lot of energy, but it takes a lot of energy just to keep it going. It's hard to understand how an accident would have this effect. Anyway," she says brusquely, standing up, "that's what we're going there to find out. How this accident happened."
There's a certain emphatic finality in the way she says "accident". Their eyes meet, but no more is said.