[AN: I know for a fact that there's a really bizarre bug out there. Its young can only eat this super-rare fungal growth, and they solve the problem of making more babies by having one larva gestate like a billion more larvae inside it as it eats. I can't find the name of the thing for life of me. I know David Attenborough talked about it, but that still leaves a lot of territory to search]
The crew of the Endeduanna Akkad first met P'terii after a crash that impact-welded their ships together. Ze had just regenerated and was in a perfect frame of mind to encounter new things. Like humans. It didn't take the humans long to reduce "P'terii'CH!altath'q'voqq" to "Terry".
And it didn't take long for P'terii to more or less adopt some of the humans aboard their now-welded vessels. Mary, P'terii, Bob, and Unique formed a sort of impromptu family. And became the primary means by which each species learned about each other.
The Krik'kik'u had something of a unique survival mechanism. Trauma made babies happen. Any significant trauma resulted in a form of re-pupal stage in which the entire body regenerated. Extreme trauma resulted in multiple rebirths. With each 'child' carrying an ancestral knowledge of its former 'parent'. Of course, they preferred to continue in the more traditional way to procreate, but disaster-related regeneration allowed for stronger genetics.
For instance, their pupal chrysalises could withstand hard vacuum, radiation, near zero kelvin temperatures, and atmospheric re-entry up to a pressure of three atmospheres, and would not open unless the surrounding environment was satisfactory.
P'terii was the fifth iteration of hirself, and thus got the moniker, "Terry Five".
The real trouble began when Mary had an epileptic fit. P'terii skittered up a wall and out of the way, watching in horrified fascination as one of hir favourite humans twitched uncontrollably.
Hir first question was, "When is baby?"
Mary, now in the infirmary for observation, sighed and said, "We don't do what you, do, Terry Five. My brain misfired, today. It doesn't cause anything else to happen."
"You having no breeding season. You having no hurt babies. How is you safe for space?"
"We're tougher than we look," Mary laughed.
P'terii went into the Endeduanna's libraries and read up on human injuries. Ze became obsessed with it, about how humans were struck and impaired and did not have babies. Ze could understand limb trauma. Hir kind had overcome that hurdle some hundreds of generations previously. But head or organ trauma.
"I have it!" P'terii crowed. "You are removing generational organs in pre-flight. No tax of resources."
"No," cooed Unique. "We take special chemicals that stop breeding."
"Humans be strange," muttered P'terii. And that seemed to be the end of it.
Until Mary died.
It was, in retrospect, a stupid accident. Nobody had checked a valve that burst while Mary was in an iso-lab, flooding the environment with toxins that killed her before she could reach the emergency breath-mask.
P'terii followed along on hir high perch. Watching over Mary's body as the rest of the crew took her to the infirmary and then prepared her for repatriation. She would spend the month until their next station stop in cold storage in the hold. But not before a service in her memory.
P'terii didn't ask questions until they put her away. "Is inhospitable environment? Or is necessary."
"Is necessary," said Bob, resorting to broken GalStand because it was the one language they all understood.
"When is coming back?"
Unique burst out crying. She was a loud and messy crier with the occasional side-order of shrieking. Doctor Laks escorted her away for sedation.
"Mary isn't coming back, Terry."
"I know. Not as Mary. When is replacing?"
"It's going to be one month before we can re-hiring..."
"No. No. Is not meaning. Is meaning..." P'terii sighed. Some concepts were hard to communicate. "Mary is give P'terii book, P'terii want for asking of new-Mary - Is self allowed for keeping, or new-Mary wanting for relearning thing?"
Counsellor Xad finally got it. "No. Terry. Humans don't do what you do. When we stop... we stop forever."
"But in books... you has re-incarnation. The Jesus man. The Eternal Doctor."
"Terry... Those are just stories. They're things we make up because we wish they would happen. Mary is gone. She won't ever be coming back."
P'terii laughed. A nervous series of hiccoughs. "Is big joke? Not being true. If is true, then best-human Mary... Never-never? No. Mary... Mary is..." A hiss that bordered on a screech, the way that the Krik'kik'u expressed sorrow. "I must away."
Two weeks later, when P'terii emerged from their ship, they emerged as P'terii Six. Hir carapace was bright new colours and, according to hir, ze was a different gender.
"We have two weeks before station-call. Will you be all right with us shipping Mary's remains off? Do you want to say goodbye again?"
P'terii's pincers twitched, and hir feet scratched against the flooring. "Mary? Ah. My prior self was... fond of her. I regret the loss, but you can do your human thing without me there."
Unique bit her lip and wiped her face. Well. Krik'kik'u were not human. They had entirely -well- alien ways of dealing with things. She let P'terii deal with it how ze wished. But she did notice that P'terii Six had a habit of checking all the safety features, at least once a day.
What happened to Mary would never happen to another.
The borrowed book was never mentioned again.