We wandered through miles of metal tunnels, metal stairs, metal corridors, metal-and-leather belts that moved of their own accord when one stood on them. The darkness abated, as we came to places with bands of glowing metal set in the ceilings. As we walked, Trocky and Hditr explained basic badger biology to Eric and me. They didn't agree on all matters — I think they're different subspecies of badger — but this is basically what they said.
You'll pretty much never see a female badger who isn't pregnant, and mostly with sextuplets. Unlike humans or dragons of Yirien, being pregnant doesn't mean that they're on the way to having children. It means that they have six fertilized eggs inside them. The eggs sit there quietly, doing nothing, until it is time. (Actually, in Hditr's case they die off after a year or so, and in Trocky's case after several years, and generally get replaced the next time the badger woman has sex — that's male-and-female impregnant kind of sex, which Eric says is an important distinction and the badgers just looked blank about.)
When a badger woman decides to bear a child, she finds a world with a pair of bright moons, like the badger homeworld. When both moons are full, she gorges herself for days on insects and nuts — or cheese, or other foods that are nearly all fat, protein, and the nutrients needed for building blood and bones. In the natural, pre-civilized course of events, this happens in the early autumn.
This starts all six embryos growing frantically inside her.
And it is frantic! When they reach a certain size, about as big as your thumb, they have a grand uterine battle. The strongest embryo, or the cleverest, or the luckiest, kills off the others. And that one will be born.
So every badger you ever meet has killed at least about five others.
Eric mostly cares about whether girls can have sex with girls. To which the hand-holding badger girls said "No — what would be the point in that?" and kissed each other. Eric looked more confused than usual and shut up.
Trocky's home was a sort of metal cave, not too different from the one I woke up in on the world-ship, but bigger and with a lot more furniture and tools. Trocky's husband Greelnep was more than happy to get Hditr pregnant while Trocky cleaned up and made dinner. (She made it rather in the way that I made it on the world-ship: she spoke into a grille in the wall, and a while later, a human woman on a three-wheeled cart-a-mobile brought food in wooden bowls to the door. «Cuisine» was so unimpressed that it refused to give any commentary on its own.)
The three badgers retreated into a back room, where they spent a great deal of time giggling and moaning, with occasional gales of laughter about how Hditr thought that a 'usual' was called a 'conventional', or how her 'unremarkable' was remarkably different from theirs. I slithered under a couch and went to sleep. Eric, who sometimes can't sleep I suppose, paced and looked annoyed at himself.
The next morning, Eric had to ask, "Don't badgers get jealous?"
"Not of hairless horny humans!" said Hditr said with a snort.
"I mean, nobody I know would share her husband," said Eric.
"I'm not sharing Greelnep as a husband!" said Trocky. "I'm just being a good wife and a good hostess. Greelnep does enjoy impregnating females, but I'm only impregnable once or twice a year at most, so I'm giving him an extra. And Hditr needs it too."
"But the three of you were, I mean, you were ..."
"Grooming each other," said Hditr. "I know humans barely have any fur, but we do, and it gets caradisthaceously tickly and uncomfortable after a day under clothing. It takes a pile of grooming, and by 'pile' I mean both 'a vast amount' and 'fur'."
Eric waved his hands. "But you were moaning and exclaiming like ... like ..."
"Like humans boinking. Yes. Grooming feels very good, especially when done by skilled and congenial companions of the same caste like you're always allowed to ask to groom you, like these."
I peered at the badgers, one head each. "Why wear clothes then, if they're so uncomfortable?"
"What? And miss out on the grooming?" they exclaimed as one.
"So your pornography is ... "
Hditr's copy of Seven Apparently Wholesome Badger Women Attempt To Have An Innocent Chat In A Bathhouse, But The Previous Bather Has Left Behind An Intriguing Apparatus And So All Seven Must Try It Out And From That Point Get Quite Carried Away was duly extracted from its bag and displayed to everyone but me, except that I looked later. The apparatus was a small vibrating comb, whose touch apparently sent the bathers into paroxysms of delighted and carefully-posed tickle removal.
Eric frowned. "That looks just like pornography, only without any actual pornography in it."
Trocky bumped muzzles with Greelnep. "You, my dear, are going to be late for work today."
"I am? Excellent!" he said.
"OK, it works like pornography too," said Eric. "Wait. Does this mean that when you're brushing your fur in the morning, like when we were sharing a cabin, you're jilling off? In front of me?"
"I'm cleaning off," said Hditr. "There's scurrilous scandalous stuff I only do in the presence of consenting badger adults. You don't need to worry about watching any of that."
"Bridges to Bumberjee!" exclaimed Trocky in mock horror. "What might that be?"
"Intimate internal cleaning of the inner ear, the genitalia, the inner lips, the rectum, and other sparkly sensitive spots," said Hditr.
"What a wonderful idea!" said Trocky in mock innocence. "Greelnip, you are definitely going to be late for work today."
"Not that you actually need such things, after last night," said Greelnip.
"You're embarrassing the dragon," said Eric. "She's just a child."
"You're confusing the dragon!" I protested. "Sex isn't as much fun as Eric makes out, and grooming isn't as much fun as the badgers say! To me. I think."
"What is fun?"
"Most dragons like hoarding treasure, and holding territory," I said. "I don't know that it's fun. They say it's satisfying."
"I like travelling and seeing what's coming next!" I said.
"I think Tllith is saying that the hour of our departistical departure has come upon us and we better get going and make with the moving and take our travelling," said Hditr.
I flapped my wings carefully. "I didn't say that!"
"You should have done, though, since it is," said Hditr. "Save me being rude."