Jasmin finished off her clone-cell roll and switched her cerebral interface back to study mode. Jasmin was one of the few students at Luna Uni to have refused the convenient bio-mod which allowed humans to photosynthesize all nutrients. She was a history student and enjoyed old-fashioned things like food. As she lay in bed Jasmin reviewed the notes she had amassed for her reconstructive history project.
Jasmin silently thanked the Universe for the Solar Flares of the Second Century Pre-Contact. The electro-magnetic pulses they had showered upon Terra had destroyed huge swathes of the purely electronic records of that narrow-minded period and historians were still working over-time to produce the best speculative gap-fillers for all the history that had been lost. Extrapolating unknown from known history was what Jasmin did best and she loved it.
Imlorho logged in and started a mental conversation with her. Jasmin was fond of the alien-exchange student, her project co-writer. Interaction with a totally non-human mind was always fascinating and in the case of Imlorho it was even better as it was from the entirely mechanical Centauri species. Jasmin was over her youthful xeno-crush on Imlorho now but they were still firm friends. Imlorho reported to Jasmin.
"I have retrieved data on a rare four-sex species as you requested."
"Fantastic Imlorho - give it to me."
Jasmin and Imlorho were examining an obscure Pre-Contact form of Terran known in the extant records as "Choristers". They had been assigned the task of determining the nature of the four choral sub-classes and evidence was difficult to find. They had names - Soprano - Alto - Tenor - Bass - but scant other data. They were, however, pursuing an exciting new line of speculation.
Luna Uni had rejected explanations of segregation along economic or cultural lines and the most accepted thesis was that they were distinctions of religious rank. The Choristers had spent a lot of time occupying holy sites so a religious explanation was popular, but Jasmin felt that this overlooked something. Besides which, bold alternative reconstructions were the clone-cell roll of historical success. She and Imlorho were testing the proposition that Choristers had had four sexes.
They knew that distinct Terran settlements across the Galaxy supported varying numbers of sexes as determined by environment, technology and culture. Furthermore, the language utilized to describe the four choral sub-classes in historical data was reminiscent of the way gender roles had been described in Pre-Contact times. Imlorho went onto provide the latest information.
"The Gastropods of Epsilon Indi III have four sexes, the sperm-providers, the ova-providers, the cross-pollinators and the incubators."
Jasmin was interested in this alien model but wondered how to fit these four reproductive roles to the four choral sub-classes. She started thinking over the historical descriptions.
"Sopranos were garish and attention-seeking like peacocks... Altos were modest and dowdy like peahens... Tenors were scarce but vital to the group and moved quickly to-and-fro... Basses rarely moved and got sat on a lot."
Some linkages were forming in her mind, but Jasmin wanted more data to help secure the four-sexes argument, and some way of visualizing these elusive Pre-Contact Terrans would be useful.
"Imlorho, did you also find any imagery associated with the sub-class names?"
"I have located images of puzzling artifacts associated with the sub-class names - sending now."
Jasmin mentally stared at what was now in her mind. These were objects like nothing she had ever seen and stirred in her a mixture of wonder and consternation. She read the text accompanying the images.
"What in the name of the Five Civilizations is a saxophone?"
* * * * *
Jasmin had gone to the kitchenette to get another clone-cell roll to help her think. She sat back down and asked Imlorho to tell her just what these things were supposed to be. Imlorho obliged.
“Saxophones are pneumatic component parts for machines of unknown function. The important facts for us however are (i) the designations given to them and (ii) the practice from the era we are studying of naming some devices for the way they resembled particular Terran body-parts.”
Jasmin was confused. “What practice?”
“On some computers sockets and plugs were designated 'female' and 'male' respectively.”
“Right… so… what you're saying is that these saxophones look like the genitalia of the different kinds of Chorister?”
Jasmin looked critically at the saxophone images.
“I must admit the Soprano Saxophone is rather phallic…”
They discussed the images further. A size comparison image was particularly useful. They decided that the Alto Saxophone was reminiscent of an ovipositor while the larger Tenor Saxophone was a similar organ adapted for temporarily carrying and mixing genetic contributions from both a Soprano and an Alto. Finally the massive Bass Saxophone looked just right for allowing an embryo to gestate in it.
The picture of the four sexes of Choristers was coming together nicely thanks to the Saxophone images and the working model of the Gastropods of Epsilon Indi III. Their thesis was now that Sopranos were males, Altos were females, and Tenors were sterile females evolved to facilitate reproduction.
As a final bit of evidence to fit the picture, Jasmin recalled that Basses were known to emit low frequency sounds. Such sounds were soothing to the infants of many species and so that worked for the Basses as a form of mobile uterus.
Jasmin smiled inwardly at another job well done and got to work on polishing their argument for presentation. Imlorho meanwhile decided that the lustre of the saxophones would look good on its carapace and started the process of altering surface molecular structure to achieve the desired effect.
Jasmin approved of the end result. “Very shiny!”
For background on Jasmin and Imlorho see here. And just for the record - I am a bass.