Ssissiatok shuffled down the road and through the gate in the great wooden wall. On either side, groups of soft-skins watched her and the other people. The people walked slowly as they always did in the cold. This was not to say they could only walk slowly in the cold, but Ssterrost had reminded all of them coming from Tserich how they were to act. They were to act slow and they were to act simple and they were not to show the newcomers anything they weren’t expecting. Most of the people in this group were from Tserich, but there were a few others. Ssissiatok recognized the tribal symbol of Tuustutu on the shoulder of one very tall male in the back of the group.
Ssissiatok herself was slightly less than six feet in height, about average for members of her sex and species. She was young and didn’t have the mottled skin and scars of most of her elders. Her face and the top of her head were a deep forest green, which ran down her back, punctuated with darker stripes just below her shoulders. Beneath her long powerful jaw, on her dewlap, and extending down her front, was a lighter, pale green. Her most attractive feature, her long powerful tail, followed her just a few inches above the ground.
The line of people filed through the wall and between the large square huts of the soft-skins. Though she had heard elders telling stories of the great cities of Suusthek, Tsotollah, and Tsahloose, this softskin village was the largest community that Ssissiatok had ever seen. More and more of the soft-skins lined the road to gawk and to jabber with their little mouths, as the people reached the bigger buildings that were “the base.” Ssissiatok knew “base” and many other human words.
The line stopped and a softskin ahead was shouting. “You lizzies move on up here.”
Ssissiatok and the other people moved forward into a group.
“You will step up to the table and give the soldier your name and information. Then you will be given your identification and you will wait on the seats over there until the employers come to select you.”
Ssissiatok fell in line behind Tissonisuk, an older male she knew from the village. Unlike most of the others, Tissonisuk was not hunkering down to make himself look smaller for the soft-skins. He was standing up at his full six foot seven height. The line moved forward until Tissonisuk reached the table with the softskin seated behind it.
“Name? Oh, hey. I know you, don’t I? Tisson. Right?”
Tissonisuk bobbed his head up and down in the way that the soft-skins did.
“Come to sign on permanent, eh? Good for you. Hold out your hand. Keep this identification bracelet on at all times.”
Tissonisuk, now just Tisson, stepped away from the table. Ssissiatok stepped forward.
“Hey now. You’re a short one, aren’t you? Are you a girl?”
Ssissiatok didn’t know this word.
Ssissiatok hissed in the affirmative, but the softskin didn’t understand, and lowered his hand to the weapon on his belt.
“Fee nail. Fee nail,” said Ssissiatok quickly.
“That’s better. And you can talk too. A little feisty. Don’t worry. We’ll work that out of you in no time. Hold your hand out.”
Ssissiatok did as directed and the softskin tied an identification bracelet around her wrist. She looked at the strange symbols on it.
“Want to know what it says? That’s your number now—295. And it says you can talk, so you can’t fool us. Don’t even try. What’s your name Little Miss Lizzie?”
“You’re Cissy now, got it? And I’ve got just the place for you. Go stand over with that lot there.”
The softskin pointed to where Tissonisuk sat. Ssissiatok walked over to them. She recognized Hekheesiatu, another female just older than she, but from a house with slightly less status. The third person she didn’t recognize. He was an average looking male with mottled yellow skin and brown stripes on his back.
“Tissonisuk,” she said, raising the back of her hand to her dewlap.
“No,” he replied in the human language. “Not Tissonisuk. Tisson. Only the hoonan name. Kheesie,” he said, pointing at Hekheesiatu, and then pointing at the person Ssissiatok didn’t know, he said, “Sirruk.”
“The soft-skins are still angry,” he said, dropping back into the language of the people. “They are still angry because Ssithtsutsu attacked them. They already destroyed Suusthek and killed many, many people, but they might kill more. We are here because they need us, but don’t think they are not dangerous.”
“They are so small and soft,” said Ssissiatok, now just Cissy.
“You see that one over there?” Tisson indicated a softskin leaning against one of the big buildings. He was watching the other humans and the people. “That one is called Clark. He is smaller than you are and he is soft in their way, but he is one of their strongest warriors. He killed hundreds of the people. I tell you these humans are like the blue frog that lives in the tallest trees. You could easily crush it with your foot, but one touch would kill you.”
Now another softskin was talking to the one that Tisson had pointed out as Clark. Both were looking in the direction of Cissy and the others.
“What is it?” asked Cissy.
“She is a female,” said Tisson, standing up. “The females have very wide bottoms. And you can see she is older because the tuft of hair on her head is grey.”