The corporeal greed of the Skuduns, the fattest species in the system, is legendary, though – if we forget about Chan’s a priori ceramic depictions – news of it has yet to reach Earth. Physically slow, they spent much the greatest portion of their lives eating, and only truly went out of their way to exert themselves in the production and preparation of the ingredients that ultimately ended up on their plates. But they were not to be underestimated mentally, for round the business table they were quick as sunbeams and as deadly as intergalactic plague. They were peace-loving in as much as they never initiated the indeterminate number of wars our system has fostered over the centuries, but when pushed they were deadly in defence and keen to speculate on the conflicts that perpetually beset or threatened to beset the other three.
Contrast the Skuduns with the ethereal insubstantiality of the slightest species, the Cintilars, whose next evolutionary step would be to disappear, their essential oils blending together and drying to become cosmic dust. They had already achieved telepathy and a susceptibility to extreme forms of manifest distaste at their own physicality, such as the Cintilarian equivalents of anorexia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They were evasive, difficult to understand, and displayed an infuriating mixture of disdain and pity for the flesh-bound weaknesses of the other three. If they felt their territory had been presumed upon, they let you know about it in disproportionate terms. They were given a wide berth by all except the Skuduns, who effectively acted as procurers of goods for the Cintilars in return for cheap access to the vegetable and mineral wealth of their world.
The attitudes of the middle two species were the most humanoid. I was a Badezon. Ours was the pioneer strength which pushed back the boundaries of our system and then those beyond it. Our itchy wings meant that we lived humbly, thinking that we would never be in one place for very long. We had few possessions and had put all our resources into leaving our planet and seeking the experience of other worlds and the spaces in between them. We excelled at sport, playing an airborne form of the game humans call football. And we built our houses within the massive branches of gigantic arboreal plants.
As a result of this ever-outward drive, we Badezons would keep involving ourselves in wars. It goes hand in hand with the role of explorer, I suppose. For every contact with a new species which went well, there was another that induced suspicion, paranoia, disgust, outrage, or immediate hostilities. And inevitably when engaged on one front we would leave ourselves exposed at home, for two of the other three nearby species to invade, lay siege and occupy. But our spatial hardware was second to none, and warfare was necessarily the chief element in its design after engine speed and craft manoeuvrability. We had lost count of the number of times we had retaken our planet; in our calendar there were more victory holidays than there were working days.
Chan might easily have lived among the Slessi, frequently the most reasonable and likeable species of the four. But as a direct consequence of that rational bent, they were as likely as Cintilars to respond to a perceived injury or encroachment by taking the moral and then military high ground. Spiritually attuned to their home world, they venerated nature and representations of it, building an artistic heritage that is without parallel in the known universe – and Earthlings, don’t be getting to think that you might in any way be a match for them. Their music, if you heard it, would drive you mad with its sonic and melodious beauty. Their art would astonish you with the richness of its colours and its conceptual clarity. And their story-telling traditions keep even the semi-transparent behinds of the brain-heavy Cintilars on the edge of their seats.
I wish I had one or two of the Slessi’s finest works with me to share with you now. But I don’t. I can’t even give you the gist of any of them, for as I have indicated and Chan has affirmed, my memory is not what it was.