Not Pain as You or I Would Understand It

"You're certain it won't hurt them?" Hnaaa'sh'k asked, raising again the binoculars.

"Hardly at all," Gnaak' assured her. "They'll feel something, perhaps, but not pain as you or I would understand it. Their nervous systems aren't developed enough."

"They're only monovertebrates, after all," Jlussk pointed out.

"And they're so delicious," Gnaak' added. "That ball of fat at the apex of their scraggly little bodies…"

"I don't see it," Hnaaa'sh'k complained. "The binoculars are focused right on them…am I looking at the wrong part?"

"No, you can't see it. It's hidden inside, under that mass of stringy stuff on top. We'll have to crack the top ball open—"

Irri'kk' started crying.

"They don't feel pain!" Gnaak' exclaimed in exasperation. "Not anything like we'd call pain! Hells, every extraplanetary vacation, I try to take this family out for a pleasant dinner and…"

Jlussk gestured to the herd on the prairie horizon. "They're coming closer!"

"Their vehicles have wheels," Hnaaa'sh'k said, still glued to the binoculars. "I hadn't noticed before."

"They're almost like us," Irri'kk' sniffed.

Gnaak's nostrils flared in irritation. "They're humans. They're nothing like us at all, even if they use wheels like we did hundreds of years ago. Please, sweetheart. I promise they won't feel any pain—they can't, they're too stupid to. Now do you feel better?"

"A little."

"Good." And with a sigh of relief he jumped from the vehicle.

"I hope they don't struggle," Hnaa'sh'k said behind him. "I don't think I could stand it if they struggled."

The humans swerved to avoid him, but he followed and caught up with them quickly. A swipe from the sharp ends of his limbs burst the rubber wheels, and the contraption they rode in collapsed. They spilled from it like so much rubble. Conscious of the female and offspring watching him, Gnaak' went first for a sure catch, grabbing at a small, chubbyish one. The pitch of the cry told the biologist in him that it was a female.

"It's struggling," Hnaaa'sh'k said. She sounded faint. Irri'kk' screamed.

Gnaak' snorted in frustration, and choked off mid-snort as the human thrashed in his limbs. He tried to adjust his grip and nearly dropped her.

"Just a moment," he called to the waiting family. "Watch the rest of them, will you, Jlussk?"

"Sure thing." Jlussk watched the rest of them, but didn't seem likely to do anything more. That was annoying, as they looked ready to close in on Gnaak'.

"Just a moment, and we'll be feasting on delicious—"

In her struggles to escape, the youngling kicked Gnaak' in the menimious, roughly equivalent to the knee joint in humans, though it bends a little differently.

The main similarity, besides location on a hind limb, is that when one is kicked, whether in knee or menimious, it hurts like hell.

But, whereas most humans believe only in one hell, if any, Gnaak' believed in thirty-four. He felt every one of them accordingly.

"AGGGGAAAHHYYYYIIIII!" He dropped to one limb, an uninjured one, and clutched at the bruise with agitated feelers, which only seemed to make the pain worse. He released it immediately, and then found it hard to hold onto much of anything. His family looked on, with expressions impossible to read through his agony.

The human youngling received a knock to the forehead from a stray limb of the thrashing Gnaak', but, being only a monovertebrate and not in possession of anything like a well-developed nervous system, quickly recovered and fled into the arms of the rest of the herd. They vanished moments later through the prairie grass. Hnaaa'sh'k could possibly have tracked them with her binoculars, but her mind wasn't on it at the moment.

"At least they we're hurt," Irri'kk' said, unheard and a little happily.