They sent me across an ocean to find him, but it turned out to be an easier task than I anticipated. I noticed him right off, as I was waiting for the subway train at Hauptwache. He was a white man, about half my age and twice my size. He had the physique and haircut of a stereotypical military recruit.
The train pulled up to the platform, and I maneuvered my way through the crowd so that I would standing near him as we waited for the doors to open. Once we entered the train, I followed him and sat in the seat across to him. Casually, as if it were a coincidence.
He looked around at the people, as though the crush of the crowd intimidated him. He looked like he was stranded on a desert island, like a hungry Hugmup who had not yet adopted a companion. He just sat passively in the seat, prepared to go wherever the train took him.
Quite a pathetic sight.
“You’re a Fjarnian student of Earth Culture,” I said abruptly in Thorgelfaynese, and he turned his head in sudden attention as I continued, “you’re here on your practicum, and you are having a miserable time.”
“Can you read my mind?” he asked with astonished wide eyes.
“No,” I said coolly, “just your face. It looks like three days of rainy weather with storm warnings!” He smiled self-consciously, but there was a hint of tears in his eyes.
He watched absently as his right forefinger traced a circle on his knee. “You’re right, of course,” he conceded quietly, avoiding my gaze. “I don’t even know why they sent me here!”
“If you study alien cultures in a Thorgelfaynese university, you have to do a practicum; that’s the rule,” I reminded him.
A recording (a pleasant female voice) interrupted to announce our next stop. We just ignored it, and continued our conversation as the train stopped and passengers got in and out.
“Yes, I know,” he sighed. “But I’m not studying to be a field worker! Just a theoretician! What good does a practicum do me?” He noticed that the words were flooding out, so he checked himself. “All I’m going to be doing is processing field data,” he continued in a lower tone of voice, “compiling statistics and working equations. I don’t need a practicum on Earth for that!”
A business man flopped down on the seat next to him, looked at us both with wide eyes, but shrugged it off and promptly buried himself in some lurid newspaper called Bild Zeitung”
The Fjarnian was oblivious to his new seat mate, however. He just rubbed his nose with his right hand, and added calmly, “Sometimes I wish I had gone to a Fjarnian university. Then I wouldn’t be here; lost on this strange planet with strange customs, a strange language, and unkind people!” The doors closed with loud clicks, and the train lurched to a start.
“You could have stayed in Fjarn and avoided the practicum altogether,” I suggested.
“I could have done that,” he admitted. “Except that I wanted the best education I could get. So I went to the Grand Duchy of Thorgelfayne and its superior educational system—the best in the world.” He paused and looked at his feet. “Now that world is light-years away.” His face frowned almost to the point of tears.
The businessman briefly looked up from his paper to give us another suspicious look. I’m sure he must be used to hearing foreigners converse in other languages; but Thorgelfaynese sounds African, and my conversation partner was disconcertingly white.
I noticed the way the Fjarnian student looked over the advertisements with uncomprehending eyes. He seemed to be oblivious to the casual chatter of the other passengers. “You don’t speak the local language very well,” I observed.
“No,” he confessed quietly. Then he added plaintively, “German is a very difficult language, you know!”
“That’s the official propaganda, but millions of four-year-old Humans have mastered it,” I informed him with a slight amount of sarcasm, “It can’t be all that hard. I’m sure your superior Homelander intellect could make an inroad or two. German is very similar to Fjarnian in many ways.”
“I’m from the Kharg region of Fjarn,” he explained. “I had to learn Fjarnian the hard way, in school.”
“So you speak three languages already, what’s a fourth?” Then, almost as an afterthought, “You did learn pretty good Thorgelfaynese.” I tried to put the right amount of admiration into my voice.
The Fjarnian blushed at the compliment, then bashfully stared out the window into the darkness of the subway tunnel. “Thank you,” he said, “you’re very kind to say that.” Then he became very earnest and looked straight at me, “Of course, anyone who wishes to get ahead academically has to learn Thorgelfaynese!”
“That’s true,” I smiled. “I had an unfair advantage over you, of course; it was my native language. It was easy for me.”
“Yea, you guys in Thorgelfayne have all the luck! You have a really nifty country too,” he said, “even if it is a trifle small!”
“You still need to make a better attempt at learning the local language,” I said, returning to my topic.
“Yea, but why?” he asked, resuming his earlier despair. “Humans aren’t like Homelanders; they’re unkind,” he emphasized. “They’re even cruel! There’s no advantage to learning a Human language!”
“That is all very true,” I soothed, “but you aren’t here to get an advantage, but to give one!”
“Give an advantage? To the Humans? But I’m a theoretician!” he enunciated clearly, as if I hadn’t heard him before.
“If you want to be a good theoretician, you have to have some first-hand knowledge of things to tie your theories to reality. Otherwise, you could sail off in all sorts of stupid directions.” His facial expression showed that he was pondering this point. “That’s why even theoreticians have a practicum. Anyway, There’s a lot of work to be done here, and we all have to get our hands dirty. Think of the crisis here: Humans don’t even like themselves, let alone each other! It’s your duty to learn their language and befriend them. Show them a better way. Teach them to be Homelanders!”
“Oh, now I couldn’t reform an entire planet…” he objected, lifting up both hands to fend of my argumentation. The businessman folded up his newspaper and placed it on his lap.
“Of course not,” I continued, lowering my voice. “That’s why you aren’t the only Homelander here. Just work with one person.”
“Hauptbahnhof,” came the announcement. We ignored it again.
“I can think of one Human I’d really like to be friends with,” he reflected wistfully. “A very misunderstood, friendless sort. A classic underachiever, who just needs a pal…” Then, with a start, “Did she say ‘Hauptbahnhof’?” I nodded. “Oh my gosh! This is the railroad station. I have to get off! Thank you very much for the talk, uh… what was your name?”
“I’m Bobo Lornifar,” I said, “This is my stop too. In fact, it looks like practically everyone is getting out!” We scrambled to our feet and made our way out the door. Our conversation was suspended until we were standing on the platform, and seas of Humanity washed all around us.
He asked me to repeat my name, and I did. “The renowned Dr. Lornifar?” he exclaimed, grasping my hand. “Sir, this was an honor!” We shook hands (we felt the loss of hugging, but it would be too conspicuous here). “I’d really like to talk to you longer, sir,” he explained sincerely, “but I have to catch a train to Aschaffenburg!”
“I understand,” I said, as he hurried off. I ran to catch up with him, “Just one more thing I wanted to say,” I huffed.
He stopped for a moment. “What’s that?”
“If you befriend a lonely person, it will end your loneliness, too.” I said in a discreet tone.
His eyes glistened over, and his voice became very soft. “How did you know?”
“You forgot my profession!” I said, and then I added, “Don’t forget your train as well!”
The Fjarnian broke away reluctantly, and then hurried through the shopping concourse towards the main train station.
Then I remembered. “Check in with your supervisor!” I shouted over the crowd, and he waved an enthusiastic acknowledgement.