In a galaxy far away, there was a planet called Poffle World that was inhabited by an alien race known as the poffles. They were rather similar to humans except that they were somewhat smaller, and they were covered from head to toe in thick, luxurious, yellow or purple fur.
The poffles were technologically advanced, and one of their many impressive achievements was a space elevator which allowed them to easily travel from their planet’s surface to an orbiting space station. From there, the poffle Space Corps traversed the entire star system in their sleek space-going vessels, on missions of trade and communication, exploration and scientific research, and on defense patrols.
Traditionally only yellow poffles served in the Space Corps, but one day a young purple poffle named Fimi presented herself at the recruitment desk at Space Corps Headquarters.
When she* saw Fimi, the Space Corps recruitment officer said, in an annoyed tone of voice: “Are you lost? This is the Space Corps recruitment desk.”
“Yes I know,” Fimi replied, “I want to sign up.”
The recruitment officer rolled her eyes and said: “Oh, you’re one of those. Listen, purple poffles don’t do well in the Space Corps. It’s difficult, dirty, dangerous work that requires strength, endurance, and teamwork. I don’t have anything against you personally, you seem like a very nice young purple poffle. I’m just telling you this so you can save yourself some trouble.”
But Fimi was undeterred. “I don’t mind hard work and danger,” she said. “I’m as strong and tough as any poffle.”
“I’m sure you are a very strong young purple poffle,” the recruitment officer replied with a smile, “but the star system is a dangerous place. Every member of the Space Corps puts her life in the hands of her crewmates. It wouldn’t be fair to ask them to work with someone who couldn’t hack it.”
“I can hack it,” Fimi insisted.
“Well I can’t stop you,” the recruitment officer said with a sigh. “Sign here please.”
She slid a sign-up sheet and pen across the desk.
Then something really strange happened. On the desk alongside the recruitment officer’s computer lay a ceremonial baton of solid brass, engraved with the Space Corps insignia. Without giving any warning at all, the recruitment officer snatched up the baton and swung it, cracking Fimi hard across the side of her head.
Fimi yelped in pain. Her head began to throb sickeningly, and a trickle of blood ran down her cheek. The other young poffles who had been waiting their turn to speak to the officer stared in shock. Someone snickered.
“Why did you do that?” Fimi asked angrily.
But the recruitment officer did not even bother to respond, she just looked at the young purple poffle and smirked.
Fimi snatched up the sign-up sheet and pen and quickly side-stepped to the furthest corner of the desk, out of reach of the baton, and hastily scrawled her signature. She angrily shoved the paper and pen back across the desk and strode out of the recruitment office without another word.
On the day that her training began, Fimi joined roughly 300 other recruits standing on the lawn in front of the Space Corps headquarters, waiting for the Introductory Speech to begin. At the far end of the lawn a stage was set up with a podium and a microphone and two large speakers, but the stage was empty. Fimi was every much aware that she was the only purple poffle in a sea of yellow. One or two of her fellow recruits shot ugly glares in her direction as she walked by, but most seemed friendly. Fimi was determined to make friends with someone, and she was just working up the courage to introduce herself to one of the other recruits when a yellow poffle turned to her and said: “Hello, I’m Ruffia. Do you know when the Introductory Speech will begin? According to the program it was supposed to have started already.”
“I’m Fimi,” Fimi replied. “I don’t know when the speech starts, but it’s nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Ruffia said.
The two young poffles chatted amiably as they waited for the speech to begin. They were interrupted a minute later when a rather large and tough-looking young yellow poffle walked up to Fimi and said, in an unpleasant tone of voice: “Hi, Purple!”
Fimi looked at the poffle coldly and said: “My name’s Fimi.”
“I don’t care what your name is,” the tough-looking yellow poffle replied, and she threw a punch aimed at Fimi’s face. Fimi ducked so that the blow skimmed off the top of her head without really hurting her. Immediately she lunged low, slamming her shoulder into her attacker’s chest in an effort to knock her over, but the yellow poffle was too solid, and kept her feet. The two poffles became locked in a shoving match, driving each-other backwards and forwards. A circle opened around them as the other young poffles hastened to get out of the way.
Then there was a deafening crunch of static from the speakers, followed by several seconds of painfully high-pitched microphone feedback. The Introductory Speech was about to begin. Fimi and her assailant broke apart, and the larger poffle smirked, dusted herself off and said: “I’ll see you later, Purple,” before sauntering off into the crowd. The whole incident had taken only about a minute.
Through the PA system came the voice of a Space Corps officer, welcoming the new recruits.
“Are you OK?” Ruffia asked Fimi.
“Shhhhhhhhh!” one of the poffles in front of them shushed.
Ruffia sidled up to Fimi and whispered: “Are you OK?”
Fimi nodded. Apart from being a little shaken up, she had emerged unhurt from the scuffle.
“What was that poffle’s problem?” Ruffia whispered.
“I don’t know,” Fimi whispered back.
“But was she mad at you for some reason?” Ruffia asked.
“I’ve never met that poffle before in my life,” Fimi replied.
“What a jerk!” said Ruffia.
“Shhhhhhhhhhhh!” shushed the poffle who was standing in front of them.
Meanwhile, the officer on the podium was telling the recruits that they were about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, and that the Space Corps was an organisation with a long, proud history and a bright future. They would have to work hard, push outside of their comfort zones, and above all they must show team spirit. There was zero tolerance of bullying, and any incidents of bullying or ‘hazing’ should be reported to an officer immediately. The recruits had been divided into 10 groups. They were to check the board in the lobby by the mess hall to see which group they had been assigned to, and they were to report to their first class at eleven o’clock.
As they set off toward the mess hall together, Ruffia said to Fimi: “You should report that poffle who hit you. I’ll be a witness for you if you like.”
“I don’t know,” Fimi said, “I don’t want to cause trouble on my first day.”
“You didn’t cause any trouble,” Ruffia pointed out, “she attacked you.”
Fimi had been assigned to Group 3, and Ruffia was in group 7. The two new friends were disappointed that they weren’t in the same class, but they promised to meet up at dinner in the mess hall.
Fimi set off to find her class. She crossed the lawn, turned down a narrow passageway – and found herself face-to-face with the same large yellow poffle she’d tuseled with earlier.
“Hi,” the yellow poffle said, smiling unpleasantly.
Fimi balled her fists and started to say something, when someone – two someones – grabbed her from behind. Fimi struggled furiously, but she was unable to get free.
“What are you doing?” she shrieked instead.
In answer the large yellow poffle punched her hard in the stomach, and the two that held Fimi hooted and laughed. The yellow poffle hit her half a dozen times more, while the other two shouted things like “Nice one!” and “Ooh, that’s gotta hurt!”. Finally they pushed her to the ground and ran off, laughing.
Fimi lay curled on her side, clutching her midsection. The pain was agonizing, and the thought of moving was almos unbearable, but she told herself that it would do no good to lie there in the dirt. “I’ll report it, as Ruffia suggested,” she told herself, “that’s what I should have done in the first place.”
Some time later Fimi found her way to the Space Corps Office of Trainee Affairs. She was greeted by the same officer who had given the welcome speech earlier that day.
“You are injured,” the officer said, “you should go to the infirmary.”
“I will,” Fimi promised, “but first I want to make a formal complaint about the poffles who attacked me.”
The officer raised her eyebrows. “Formal complaint?”
“Three other recruits attacked me and beat me for no reason at all.”
“Why don’t you take a seat?” the officer said, waving her toward a chair. Fimi sat down.
“You have to understand that it isn’t easy for our young yellow poffles,” the officer said. “They come to us, they leave their family and everyone they know behind. We put them through a tough training program, and not all of them are going to make it through to graduation. And for the ones who do make it, the job they have to do at the end of it is even harder. Naturally, emotions are running high, and when there are purple poffles around such as yourself, well, sometimes that can lead to trouble.”
“With all due respect sir, I wasn’t the one who caused the trouble,” Fimi said. “They attacked me.”
“I see,” the officer said. She stood up and walked around the desk to stand towering over Fimi. “Stand up,” she ordered.
Fimi stood, wincing as pain shot through her.
“You say they hit you. Did they use a weapon? A club, or similar?”
“No, just fists. But there were three of them, two held me down while the other punched me.”
“Where did they hit you? In the face?”
“No, in the stomach.”
The officer turned, then spun back around and slammed her fist hard into Fimi’s midsection. Fimi groaned in pain and doubled over. The officer hit her again, and this time Fimi’s eyeballs rolled back and she fell unconscious to the floor.
The officer stood looking at the crumpled figure for a moment. Then she dusted herself off and stepped over the unconscious poffle to lift the phone from her desk and dial a number.
“Infirmary,” came the reply.
“Hi Doc, it’s me,” the officer said, “I’ve got one of the new recruits passed out in my office. A purple poffle.”
There was a long sigh from the other side. “Another one?”
“Can you send a couple of medics with a stretcher?”
“Dammit, I do not understand why we keep letting purple poffles join up.”
“Now, now, you know very well that any poffle may sign up to join the Space Corps,” the officer said mildly. “We mustn’t be discriminatory. Equal rights, and all of that.”
“Say what you want,” Doc replied, “but purple poffles don’t belong here. They’re vulnerable to getting beat up, everyone knows that. It’s just common sense.”
“I hear what you’re saying, I do,” said the officer.
“They come here, they get themselves punched or kicked or throttled or whatever, and I’m the one that has to patch them up afterwards. Then after a couple of weeks they drop out anyway. It’s a bloody waste of time and resources if you ask me.”
“The purple poffles do have a very high drop-out rate,” the officer admitted.
“That’s because there are some basic, biological differences that can’t be denied. You can talk about equality all you like, but if you put a purple poffle in the Space Corps, she’s going to get beat up.”
“Sure,” agreed the officer.
“This one you’ve got right now, unconscious you said. Did you hit her?”
“A couple of times,” the officer admitted.
“Well who wouldn’t? That’s what I’m talking about. I’ll probably slug her a few times myself when they bring her down here. I’ll send a couple of medics with that stretcher you asked for right now, it shouldn’t be more than ten minutes or so.”
“Don’t mention it. Just doing my job.”
* Poffle gender pronouns are rather complicated; poffles have 4 primary genders and 17 sub-genders, and the pofflish language contains a total of 53 distinct sets of gender pronouns, even before the regional declensions are added in. Rather than attempt to translate the pofflish pronouns here, for the sake of simplicity I shall use the she / her / hers set of pronouns for all poffles.