The Silent (part one) by Chipka ()
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**Note on Avaat Linguistics: In the tale unfolding here, the Avaat species makes use of a primary language rich in aspirants (breathing sounds) similar to a prolonged letter "h." The Avaat secondary name "Hhahh'hh" is less difficult for Humans to pronounce, but there are no representations of the exact sound in any contemporary human alphabet. The sound is best approximated by exhaling slowly while also vocalizing the "uh" sound, coughing in the middle, and continuing with the exhaled "uh." So literally, the name is most accurately spoken as a cough-interrupted exhalation.
And now...onto the opening of the tale.
“Me'hlu da'a haad...?”
What are we doing?”
The question was an endless, repetitive loop, behind all of Déo Malenti's conscious thoughts: a distraction that whispered to him, beneath the truer sound of recycled air through Station Kethrin's ventilation ducts. His skin prickled with fever. What had been cold and alien terror, tracing the curve of his spine was now something vaguely numb. Given half a mind, he could reach behind himself and feel the symbiont fused with his skin.
He had no desire to touch the thing. It was too much of a reminder of the humanity he'd lost, the humanity that Avaat interests were writing out of him, one chromosome at a time.
Me'hlu da'a haad?
The question rang, clearly in the thought-space between his ears.
--Inhuman words born of concepts and experiences far beyond the scope of Human existence.
When the Marlowe slid into hard dock, those three weeks ago, he'd crossed from ship to station with little concern for his future and little thought that he'd be taken from the familiar drives of a familiar life. He'd come on-station, fully aware of the non-human lives that called various station confines home. But nowhere, in his range of idle inquisitions, did he imagine that Kethrin's non-human residents would take an interest in him.
Aiden and Konstantin spoke, playfully, of their of their jealousy, though—perhaps--with Aiden, such jealousy was a touch more real.
Captain Elias, with grim resignation, granted him leave from his ship-board duties. “The final choice is yours,” Elias said, from behind the expanse of her desk. “I can do nothing to influence it. The Avaat are persistent in their desires, and the Accords specifically state that all matters of species exchange are to be left in the domain of the participants in question. By the Accords, I cannot block your departure from this ship and company.” She spoke as if she'd lost crew before.
No starship on Kethrin's docking roster ever left hard or floating dock without drawing subtle Avaat inquisitions.
Me'hlu da'a haad?
What are we doing?
“If I choose the Avaat offer, things will go more easily for you, for the ship,” he'd said to Captain Elias, and there was no denying the look of veiled agreement on her face. A ship with crew transferred into Avaat hands was a ship with considerable access to Avaat interstellar territory. There were contracts. There was influence in the Shipping Lodges.
In Avaat perception, there was no word/concept for the individual, no all-defining “I,” and so...in trade, there were no associate concepts of singular and plural. One human life was all human life. The commercial interests of a single ship, or a single ship's Captain, held value on par with the interests of the entire species.
In the Avaat mind, there were no guilds, no lodges, no secretive cabals...only the species itself: singular, coherent, and immutable.
Freedom was—likewise--an alien concept, though terms defining coercion and slavery were as absent as their opposites.
* * * *
Naked, he felt eddies in the stimulant fluid of his fever tank, he saw the night it all changed in a boil of disjointed dream-images: half recall, half pyrexia.
Kethrin and its small, rocky moons, lay in perfect conjunction when the Marlowe slid into hard dock, its primary lock mating with the access-way jutting from station-skin like a quill on the strangest of porcupines. There were spacer's tales concerning a conjunction of planet and moons, tales that spoke of peculiar synchronicities, and gaps in normal four-dimensional causality. Kethrin and her moons (Lara and Belliset) were forever linked in the common spacer's mind as components in some strange and inscrutable interstellar machine.
Kethrin itself was a liminal world, its major continents shared between Human and Avaat colonists. No single society could claim her.
The Avaat—according to whatever logic sparked through their brains—held little regard for planetary resources; their occupation of Kethrin defied even the most invasive of Human xenological studies.
They were there, quite simply because if they weren't they'd be somewhere else.
That was all anyone could say of them, all anyone could understand.
And on the night the universe changed, Déo sat midway through his second round of drinks with Konstantin and Aiden; he remembered Aiden, canted forward across the metal-faced table, his eyes sharp with the intensity of an amateur xenologist, hot on the tail of some galaxy-changing theory. Aiden had Command Deck access: the white stripe at his collar. Aiden was main-shift Communications and the regular point of contact for research ships with an interest in the far-reaches of the Marlowe's trade routes. The Marlowe ran close to the hinder cusp of Avaat territory, and had access to more intimate domains of Avaat communications than many of the research ships had been allowed. And on Déo's last night as a Human, he watched as Aiden's hands described various, overlapping planes of meta-linguistic influence: the subtleties of implicatives, the perception-changing intensities of name-verbs. He spoke with fire: proof of ambitions that lay far beyond the region of a trade-ship's business.
He saw Aiden, now, sleek and predatory—built skinny, along the lines of any inhabitant of a low-gravity world. There was nothing frail in his manner, not even as muscular-skeletal augmentation spiderwebbed a complex lattice pattern just beneath the surface of his skin. Born on Farenti, he was pale, with hair a half-shade more brown than the hard vacuum between stars.
“I can feel them,” he'd said, behind a sip of beer. “It's a language thing...when you're tuned to it, you can feel the way it shapes any part of the universe it touches.”
“You're horny for a word,” Konstantin muttered through a grin, as he touched glass to his lips and stole a generous swallow of his beer. “You'd sell your mother's left tit for a chance to speak Avaat.” There was laughter in Konstantin's voice, and an accent that told of his origins far to the Rim, on the icy world of Borenov.
“No lies...” Aiden said. “I'd sell anything.”
And an hour later, with beer still on his breath, and his key-card half slotted into the door to his room at the Golden Sickle, he caught the nose-stinging scent of Avaat pheromones. Aiden had gone to find adventure and flesh in one of the cuddle shacks lining Corridor 47. Konstantin had station-dwelling friends with whom he'd planned to meet for whatever diversions were on the night's agenda.
Déo was alone in the corridor, though there was noise: station noise and voices behind closed doors.
The Avaat—three of them—stepped the length of the corridor, as if materialized from shadow. Their footsteps were silent: something arachnid in their bipedal poise, something reptilian in their movements. They moved with natural, feline hauteur, their head-shells opened at the diagonal lines of their mandibles to reveal the undulations of dark, feathery sensory tentacles.
Déo had seen Avaat before, had smelled them. Fear was no Avaat-associate in his range of experiences, and so—as they approached—he watched them with only the sensation of bland curiosity masking his face.
“We are Eolaat Hhahh'hh,” said the tallest of them, an obvious male if the cooing woodwind tone of voice was any indication. “We recognize Déo Malenti. We will take this moment to shake wind. Do you give consent?”
The manner in which Eolaat spoke was measured and graded, as if he spoke to a child of less-than-adequate intelligence. The hinged mandibular flaps of his head-shell quivered in what Déo recognized as polite anticipation. Feathery tentacles fluttered in the illusion of a breeze.
“I give my consent,” Déo said, surprised at the ease with which he spoke. A lump had formed in his throat.
“We recognize your pattern, Déo Malenti. We offer you a word. This, you will accept?”
He could place no accent in the creature's tone. Only the voice spoke of origins in some evolutionary sea far beyond the range of Earth's ancestral reach.
Eolaat bore leopard-spot patterns in the colors of liver and sand, there was an amphibious sheen to his flesh, but Déo knew that Avaat skin was dry to the touch. Like any humanoid biped, legs, torso, arms, and head were all in the expected places, but there was something of a cephalopod in the creature's cranial shape. Déo had seen an octopus, once, and it always stuck him that nature would choose to place an octopus, on the neck of each Avaat, perhaps as a visual joke to Humans. There were no tentacles, and as a child, Déo always thought that perhaps they lay well within the flesh of Avaat throats, holding those great domed heads in place. The rear sweep of the dome was encased in black head-shell, flanged along the prominent ridge of upper mandibular jawbone. Two prominent, lidless eyes stared out from beneath the frontal ridge of the bony shell. Each eye, was featureless and black, tinged—oh so faintly—with the barest hints of blue opalescence.
In their way, the Avaat were beautiful.
Now, as three of them stood just outside of his rented room, their beauty was a strange and suddenly intimate thing.
“A single word, Déo Malenti.”
“Is there a price?”
“The price has already been negotiated. We have shaken wind with Captain-Elias-of-theMarlowe, and in keeping with the Interspecies Accords, we are given right to approach you without intent of aggression.”
They'd spoken to Captain Elias!
The corridor seemed to shrink and Déo was overcome by a twinge of cloying claustrophobia. He raked through his hair, brushing the blond fringe away from the periphery of his sight. His hands shook, so he clenched his fits at his sides, hoping—against fate and misfortune—that the gesture was not a sign of aggression. “I will accept,” he finally said, and the words rasped upwards and out through a throat gone suddenly dry. He felt every muscle in his body clench, his toes clawed at the insides of his boots as the threat of cold sweat prickled along his scalp.
Eolaat waggled his shoulders and danced through the gesture of a complicated bow. His companions remained motionless, shiny and spotted in the overhead light.
Déo stood dead still.
“We offer the Silent.” Eolaat said. “Contemplate this. We will return for your answer. We will return. Tomorrow.”
And at that, Eolaat turned—his companions turned as well—and they stepped away as silently as they approached, though once—maybe twice—Déo heard the sound of their toe-claws tapping against the featureless gray deck.
And so, it began.
Maybe it was the sound of rippling fluid in his fever tank, or the creak of his support harness as he sloshed gently in the colloidal substance in which he was submerged to the neck. Maybe it was the whisper of air through ventilators, or some phantoms in his mind. He couldn't determine what it was, but the impression of sound was what triggered his recall, and even now, as he remembered Eolaat's first words, he thought he could hear movement beyond the shadowed reach of the acclimation chamber.
--the half-silent click of toe-claws on metal deck plates.
--End of Part One--
As always, thank you for reading and commenting, and hopefully, enjoying. This is a unique story, born directly from the experience of teaching English to Czech and Russian students...it is also directly influenced by yesterday's post "The Upward Glance." This story is specifically for the audience here at Renderosity, my favorite digital world, and hopefully it has provided a bit of wonderful diversion from the "regular" world.
Image Comments (19)
There is an element of the Alfred Hitchcock storytelling in your writing. You write the wonderful descriptive words, yet the reader's imagination creates the emotion, the suspense, and the dread of what is to come. A gripping story that would make me follow the storyteller out of the elevator to hear more. You again capture emotion in your image. I see a sense of captivity as well as a pleading for mercy. Truly wonderful.