Saturday, July 31, 2010

there is nothing here for us, just dim empty corridors leading nowhere, dim empty rooms without even memories. the traces of old technology are minimal, and most of what there is must be built right into the structure - if so surely it stopped working eons ago.

we can't detect it at first, then begin to notice a thin tracery of other elements right inside the walls, visible only by the buildup of many separate scans. what does it do? can we take it apart and find out? maybe just a panel or two?

but it isn't happy with that (as alex says) - either it's all interconnected and can't afford to lose any section, or unique and protecting its uniquity. we feel a kind of shock, not quite electrical (nor registering as such), but unpleasant, when we try to open a panel or take one down. "how did they ever repair it?" emma asks, but then she's a junior and not much is expected of her.

many idle speculations ensue as to what it all does, or did, aside from supporting itelf and any inhabitants. did people live here, long ago, and take their furnishings with them when they departed? and if so, why, and what were they doing here? we think it was probably a science station of some sort, despite the lack of instruments, if only because of the location, or the minimal living quarters. or then again perhaps it was just some kind of semi-automated waystation, for refueling maybe, or temporary cargo storage, though in that case we'd expect bigger cargo bays. but who knows?

later alex speculates that it might have been a transit site, a direct portal for ships, using some form of wormhole energy to send them far across space. we can see how that would have been useful! the energy involved would have been immense, far beyond that needed for our ships, so large and awkward and dependent on time-dilation. could we possibly figure it out, even re-power it? how immensely that would help in our expansion, our willful "conquest" of the galaxy.

we're there for months, only slowly realizing that the life-support is fading. the secret continues to elude us, though at times we're almost sure what it is! and if we're right, how useful it might be! but our resources are low and we're ordered to move on while we still have sufficient energy to get back to base. perhaps some day we can try again, though what good further study would do is dubious, and most of us think we'll just have to write it off as another alien mystery.

so within days we've pulled out, completed our notes and hurried back to the ship, a hasty process made hastier by further signs of shutdown. only much later will anyone realize that i've been left behind, and by then it'll be far too late.

i know what it is, only i, and knowing i cannot tell, and must do it this way, letting them believe i have died a natural death, if another crew were to return years later. it will be my own fault, well-documented, and well understood that they couldn't jeopardize the entire crew and the ship itself to go back and look for me!

in any case i have time, months if i needed it, but i don't, i'm ready to go. i know already, i'm no longer frightened.

i knew when i went down that corridor the very first time, i almost knew - alex and emma and the rest chattering away and feeling nothing, and i could see it, or "see" it, and obviously no one else noticing a thing! the light out there, suddenly, dazzling - and yet everyone else just peering around as if at one more dim alcove or empty doorway.

at first i ran away from it, fearing what i didn't know, blinded by the intensity. it seemed dangerous, some alien energy, power to move or shatter worlds - and why would only i see it? it frightened me; it sought me out.

but soon i knew it wouldn't take me unwilling. and also that it wouldn't damage me - or no, it would destroy me, utterly, but only the me that needed destruction. i had been wearing out for years, getting cynical, losing interest. the ship was my life, but i no longer cared much where we went or what we found. the excitement was gone for me, and the sense of companionship - they were all so young, so eager and ambitious. i had nothing to say any more.

and though there could have been many more years for me, it wasn't necessary, and what a relief that was. i wasn't needed. they could get along fine without me, the young ones, my expertise nothing irreplaceable, my company clearly a bore. i used to care about that. i was fond of them, in a way, but they won't miss me.

not much left to do, no goodbyes, and then at last i'm walking down the corridor, alone this time, and see it open out before me, bright and brighter, longing for me.

and stepping out, one last moment fearful, letting go, falling into it, filling me - i can't explain, i'm gone; i'm always here. i live.

Friday, July 30, 2010

one day they come out of their hut for the last time, after a long night's sleep...always very early in the morning, that's why we never saw it. the one comes out wet and shivering and slowly unfurls its wings. the others stay by it, waiting, watching for the sunrise and the warmth, and then for the first time it leaps high and flies.

and they go back home to prepare the remains, as if that one had truly died. no wonder we never suspected!

and one day many years later (and this even more i shouldn't know and could never tell) the flying one shivers again and sheds its wings. slowly they fall, like twigs, old dried flowers, and its skin falls away too, scales falling one after another, piles of purple-gray at the base of the tree - and what do we know, we assume they're dead leaves.

and what's left is light, shimmering, almost visible, solid but impossible. and it rises, slowly, and is gone.


we came there to study the natives, a dull but relevant species, intelligent enough to be worth bothering with, but never going to take the galaxy by storm! they were bipeds, like us, tall and furry, thin for their height but not at all frail; we'd calculated the gravity here at just under earth normal. they were an active species, always busy doing something, basking perhaps in the midday sun but off again as soon as it got cool.

they seemed very much like younger furry versions of ourselves - parents and children, grandparents too, all living in little mud-brick houses, little mud-brick villages. we watched fascinated as they bult new houses brick by brick, shaping them from the reddish clay, drying them in the sun, stacking them many times high into a conical beehive of a hut. a group of these would cluster in a larger circle, larger family patternings.

they spoke as they worked, joking with each other, some running amusement that we learned to translate and, if not entirely appreciate, at least understand. the children were always nearby, spending the working hours under the trees, watched over by some of the older ones; or sometimes they'd run over and play at a smaller version of it, stacking tiny handfuls of the mud into little circles, sometimes making it all the way to the roof! an adult might come over and put a leaf on top, and then these little huts would be carefully walked around for the rest of the day, even when it took some trouble to avoid them.

they gathered grains and vegetables, fruits and nuts, and prepared them for eating and storage, in yet more mud-brick structures. the storage huts were larger, not taller but bigger around and oval rather than circular, and stood on their own at one end of the village, often almost under the clump of trees that seemed a part of every community, inhabited by birds of various sizes and a few small shy mammals.

making the bricks was the work of the older people, who would spend hours sitting quietly by the riverbank, under the trees, scooping out the reddish clay and patting it into shape. a younger person would drop by from time to time to carry the half-dry bricks to the drying field, a flat open area where the sun shone all day and would bake them hard. they were solid but crumbly, often flaking apart or melting in the seasonal rains, and this necessitated frequent repairs and new buildings - but no one seemed to mind; they loved the work and seemed happiest when doing it. natural builders, we thought, a very good sign for future evolution!

beyond that, there wasn't much of interest: the villages were all alike and there was no rivalry or complex social structure, no competitive games, no extended kinship patterns. their work was careful and well-done, but they seemed to have little interest in changing or extending it. the bricks were just bricks, and it never occurred to them to ornament them, or vary them in any way. though they liked to talk, they had no written language (and yet how easy with the wet clay nearby, and a branch to serve as stylus!), and their speech was nearly all about simple everyday things. their huts were comfortable but minimally furnished, and personal adornment was also minimal - a few clay beads perhaps, but nothing more.

we learned most of this by observation, easy enough to do since they never minded having us around, and would encourage us to sit there in the shade all day, or walk around and look at things, as long as we didn't get in the way! food would be offered to us at mealtimes, though we generally preferred our own ration packages, in which they took no interest after an initial sniff or two.

later, one of the younger people, named something like ell, became our guide and informant. we had left off note-making and were wondering what to do next, when he came over and asked if he could help us with anything. ell was genial, always ready to talk or show us around, and we began to learn many of the finer points of hut-making, food-gathering and other relevancies of life on this world. he also helped us fill in our vocabulary, and eventually corrected several grammatical misunderstandings, making his speech and the others' much easier to follow,

after a few weeks of this, we began to feel that we were really on the way to understanding this society. ell was always happy to explain things, and once our knowledge of the language was better, others did too, often volunteering small stories or nuggets of information, or wanting to show us their hut.

they were more reticent about some things than others, to be sure, and our questions about birth, death, mating, and the like often went unanswered, even by ell - shrugs or guarded looks were what we seemed to deserve. well, we were young ourselves, without much experience; we had learned most of our business from tapes of lost tribes on earth, who had apparently been only too happy to share all these things with their "civilized" studiers.

likewise their beliefs and myths - if these people had any they must be simple indeed. did they worship the sun? most primitives did! or perhaps the large biped bird-creatures that often lived near a village, eating fruits put out for them, as if they were considered good-luck totems or sacred animals. we could argue for hours based on the lost tribes of earth, the american aborigines for was all fascinating stuff, and to think we were seeing it firsthand, as the primary culture and not some sad relic being crushed under a dominant culture.

their rituals seemed to be few, and minimal; they were people who lived solidly in their daily lives, preoccupied with food and the weather and each other's small concerns. for instance although children were born rarely, each had a naming day shortly after birth, and that we were allowed to observe, a simple ceremony conducted by one of the village elders, followed by their version of a feast, fruit and an afternoon off from the brick-making!

similarly near the end of our stay, we were able to witness a funeral. out came the leaf-wrapped remains of one of the older people, looking very small and pitiful, and were carried away to the riverbank, again observed by the birds, wheeling in the flickering light of the afternoon sun, and the body set down to float away, perhaps as far as the sea. we were even permitted to film this, and we played the results many times, marveling at the lack of emotion shown by these primitives - did they simply forget their dead that soon, or was there some crude myth or wishful afterlife at work here?

as they turned away from the river, the birds accompanied them a little way, then settled down in the trees again. the villagers began to smile and chatter, and again we had to shake our heads at their lack of solemnity - they were like children, already forgetting it! soon enough it was back to the brick-making and the eating of fruit and the long evenings by the river, a simplicity we could only wonder at, we who had real work to do.

and so we finished our project, packed up our notes and tapes and prepared for departure. i lingered behind, somehow reluctant to leave, though i was tired of the heat and dryness, ready to get back to civilization. our aliens wouldn't miss us much, we were sure - and to be honest there wasn't much potential here, no sign of any technology higher than the brick or the digging-stick, and no interest in acquiring any, even after watching us all these months. not one of them had been intrigued or inspired enough by any of the simple devices we allowed ourselves on-planet - not one had tried to emulate, or questioned us, or wished for more. they were happy but unimaginative, too well adapted to their environment to need change, too placid by temperament to want it. if there was ever to be development here, it was a long way away!

"primitive stasis due to favourable environment" we wrote, and had to classify them fairly low on the intelligence scale. we hoped our next race would be brighter, perhaps even ready to learn from us - we had so many plans in place for this, such desire to share our learning, our technology (carefully of course!), our better way of life! we could save them from what we went through, all the wars and mistakes, the religious excesses...imagine that! but it wouldn't be here. we might stop by again someday, just to check in - and certainly if nothing else interesting came along we'd be back, any intelligent race was worth studying. a second longer look might yield subtleties we'd missed the first time, on our tight schedule.

but we set all that aside, eager to get back to base; there would be plenty of time for poring over notes later, and who knows what might emerge. the field team would make their contribution, and some of us might stay to work on the extended study; it would be nice to have a year back home, among the comforts of civilization...i was longing to sleep in a real bed again, enjoy an evening out with friends, see what was new on the holos.

and yet i was wistful, for some reason unready to go, feeling a strange pang at the sight of the birds overhead, the people peacefully walking back to their huts after an afternoon's building and brick-making, the dappled sunlight still shimmering through the clouds.

and somehow i began to walk away from the lander - if i missed it today, they would come pick me up tomorrow, no doubt assuming a last wide scan or round of final notemaking.

but the night fell quickly, and i couldn't find our camp, forgetting that we had already taken away all the tents...and when i grew afraid and wanted to signal the ship, ell came and found me. "wait," he said. "please wait till morning." and he took my signaller away, surprising me - we had thought they had no idea what it did.

the night was long, and i knew that high overhead they were busy preparing for departure - surely they wouldn't leave me behind? the night was very black, and landing was difficult even in daylight, but surely they would wait? ell held my hand, and i saw my panic...even if they couldn't raise my signal, they would come looking for me soon enough.

the wind dropped, and very early, ell took me to the village, another village, and this time i saw all they had hidden from us. "why me?" i cried, weeping, and the bird told me that someone must know. and the god spoke too and said i must keep the others away, never let them get too curious - would i do that for them? and i knelt to him, though he said it wasdn't necessary, and promised, and begged to come back some day. and he said i might, and blessed me, and let me go.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

here the sun never comes out for weeks, and we wait for it, quietly, under the clouds. then finally a day when it comes, and we all reach for it. the dormant ones are waiting there, high in the field, and they feel it first, stretching out their wings, starting to move. the others come as soon as they can, always the little ones and older ones first, the little ones carried, the older ones carefully guided, their wings stiffened with age and not absorbing as well, gently tended to bring the most sun into what they have left. and finally the middle ones can relax and take their share.

if we're lucky it will be a long afternoon and we can all fill up, enough for days or weeks, if we move slowly. if it lasts too long, some of us may go into dormancy, curling up into a ball wherever you happen to be, knowing the others will carry you up when the time comes. or perhaps tomorrow will be sunny as well and then what a happiness, full up and energy to use in play, running, flying, budding.

is that where i came from? the little one wonders.

you did. and i thought it would never happen, it had been cloudy for so long, and i was growing older. but then there was sun for a week, and you came.

and then?

you started to grow! i carried you up every time and sat by you. then you learned to talk. what a day that was!

and now?

you know. you grow up. you play with your friends, and learn to wait for the sun. you can go up on your own soon! you learn things. you grow. you might be as big as me someday!

and then my own little one?

maybe. i hope there will be sun for you when you're ready.

and where will you be?

you know. don't you know? you're old enough. the oldest ones one day go dormant and then root. you know because you can't move them any more, so you let them stay and watch over them.

are they gone?

no, but they don't need the sun any more. they need the earth now, not just the fields like us, but the deep earth. water them though, if they need it, it keeps them comfortable.

and then slowly their roots reach down and find the others, all the oldest ones. they can't be lost then. none of us ever can, really, but we need help, we need each other.

and then? asks the little one.

and then they rise up above us, like this one, he says, and the tree behind them bends down and knows them.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

there's a world where everything changes. nothing is ever the same. people are different from one day to the next, and you are too.

do i know who you are?

i don't know, who are you?

and he says, i used to know you.

and she says, i know you too.

it's easy then.

the trees are tall but they change color. or aren't there.

outside you see the clouds. inside you see yourself.

somehow out is in and in is out. and you know where the door is, don't you?

inside another world goes by, sailing slowly past the window. where was it? i saw everything, all at once, and they were all there, and nothing changing. all the same colors, but they were blue, and darker blue, and small new mountains.

and here the mountains are old and regrown. they come and go. on top of them, emptiness, the next thing to space. the stars very close in the blackness.

then in the morning the field again, and the worn old rocks of it, as if it had been gone a million years ago.

and well you might speak.

something changes.

she's frightened. the sun isn't rising, or is it? don't you know? i can't tell. i'm new here.

i know.

and inside again night falls and curtains are closed. like a house, a real one. i almost remember this.

sooner or later we all must go.

i know that. but help me. stay here.

i will. i'm not changing. do you see?

i am. help me.

and inside and outside he holds her.

in the grass. by the flowers.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

i was sitting in my chair
an hour ago
talking through my mind
the page before me speaks
a word i'd never seen

somewhere in the night

talking to myself

and the time went by like minutes
in the middle of the day

and i left myself behind
taking it away

are you there between the lines?
do you hear me?

do i know what it means?
does it matter?

and i know not what i know
i don't know what i do know

and i know not what i know
i don't know what i do know