Unwelcome Home

“That one over there”, Uncle Zarphan pointed to a large red planet, “is Gimxyr. The green one next to it is Huphuzadah. The two orange planets just outside of Huphuzadah are Vush and Olm. The green planet with the black clouds is Syxyr. The brown planet with the white clouds beyond that is Yornulu, the next planet is Moktokalai, which loosely translated means ‘Black Wanderer”.” The two blue planets beyond that are Arzan and Bruzan. And the reddish planet with green clouds in the center is Gash’Ib. Ten planets all within 240,000 miles! This is the Nethasian Cluster, your home.” “Impressive.” I stepped closer to the observation window. The armada slowly glided through the crowd of giants. “This is the time to celebrate. When we land in an hour, you shall begin your new duties.” My uncle slapped me on the back. “Will they accept me?” “It’s a small settlement on a sparsely populated continent. Things are different there. You are from the tree of Zar, your presence is needed there – and you will be respected.” The rest of the journey to Gash’Ib was made in silence. The corridors I walked through were covered with twisting metal braids and dotted with tactical display panels. Guns and knives of all sorts hung from the ceiling, ready to be used. After my brief, self guided tour, I made my way back to my quarters. As I did so, I noticed several odd glances from my compatriots. Perhaps they had never seen a star blade before. Perhaps they had never imagined one of their own as a refugee. Outside my cabin, I found a particularly large comrade holding my battle staff. He twisted the end of the shaft (something I didn’t know could be done) and the covering of the shaft retracted. What was revealed was a metal pole covered with strange writing:

“Lov Juk Mord Hurg Yoc Muj Nox Tor. Xuph Nuk Mord Buk Xorph Hurg Nox Rog?” “Translating speech – please wait.” My ear bud quietly buzzed and clicked. [“This battle staff belongs to the tree of Hurg. How did you get this battle staff?”]

῭‛῟῾῾ ῾

“Complex object case imposed upon divergent sentence structure. Note the use of the words Mord: Battle Staff and Juk: formal possessive case.” “Gup Dux.” Hopefully that meant I purchased it.

“Kurg Gurp Drux Mord! Yith Jaog tox Corx Mord Zorth!” “Translating speech – please wait.” [“You don’t purchase a battle staff! You kill the owner and take the battle staff!”] “ Aggressive subject case forcing out formal pronoun use; sentence structure convergence on Mord: Battle Staff. Note the use of Joag: destroy.” “Kavathymyr! Uv Moath Xax Oathar Jop Zar! Hurg Nom Goaj moaph.” Another crew member ran up and pulled him away. “Translating speech – please wait.” [“Kavathymyr! Do not harm one from the tree of Zar! He will prove to be an important ally!”] “Note politicization of sentence structure and divergence of subject and object case. Note the multi-layered meaning of Moath: to inflict harm, to erode, or to sabotage. Note the multiple meanings of the word Goaj: ally, friend, pawn, fool, or scapegoat.” My new ally turned to me. “Zarthithy, what you have done is very shameful. But since you are an outsider, you are forgiven.” “Can I return the battle staff to its owner?” I looked at the new enemy I had made stomping down the hall. “No! That would be even more shameful. Battle staffs are not sold like trinkets for tourists. They are not returned once they are taken.” “There must be a way to make amends.” He laughed. “We don’t make ‘amends’ we only make enemies.”

It was a little town in a barren, rocky landscape, blanketed by a red sky. It reminded me of the Old West back on Earth. Green clouds floated lazily overhead and tumbleweeds rolled down the streets. Creatures that looked like black sea urchins defied gravity and mysteriously drifted on the winds. The words on the main gate (translated from Nethasian) read: “Welcome to Coal Town”. My uncle’s ship took off, but I didn’t even turn around. I wanted to conquer this challenge on my own. I pushed the gate open and walked down Main Street, nodding to passersby (a very human thing to do, I admit). The architecture was almost an exact copy of 19th Century America. All the while, my ear bud was translating and explaining the language around me. I walked into the Sheriff’s Office and looked around. It was dusty conglomeration of wood, stone, and steel. The old oaken desk seemed to sag in the center and the whole place smelled like

lemons. I knocked on the bars of the jail cell, just to see if they were sturdy. I pulled open the top drawer of the desk and found a blue triangle mounted upon a black sun. Was this the symbol of authority? I put it on and searched the office for a gun. That was odd, no firepower. Was it that peaceful here? “Gulg Na Tupxu Uguggor Koag Lom Noarth, Wot Ber Koag Vur Jod Na Hort.” The voice behind me said. “Translating speech – please wait.” [“It is the tradition of Coal Town that the Sheriff makes his own gun, as well as his jet bike”] “Note the use of the sentence case: coalition affirmation. Note the multi-layered use of the word Koag: to form, shape, build, or manipulate. Note the use of the word Noarth: tradition.” “Tugot Vuch.” I was pretty sure that meant “thank you”. “You’re welcome.” The stranger replied. “You speak human?” “Yes, I learned it during my conquests of several human outposts on the edge of the Kithu Empire. I am Shev’Borok, of the tree of Shev.” I shook his hand (again, a very human thing to do). “So, how is life in Coal Town?” “Pretty quiet for the right people, sort of rough for the wrong ones.” I leaned back on the desk. “Now you’ve aroused my curiosity.” “Nethasian culture revolves around tree politics. Which tree you are from and what branch you were born into has a tremendous impact on how your hours pass.” “But the Sheriff is here to keep everything under control, right?” Shev’Borok leaned up against the desk and smiled. “The sheriff is supposed to keep the political process on track, murders and all. It’s a wonderful system.” I was beginning to wonder why my uncle put me in such a precarious position. “And if the sheriff doesn’t like the political status quo?” “Then he is murdered – or he establishes his own political structure.” Was that it? Did Coal Town need a shakeup? Would my uncle or his allies try to take advantage of the chaos my naiveté might bring about? “Thank you for informing me. I suppose you would rather keep the status quo.”

“I would…it serves me very well.” “Does it serve everyone very well?” “Of course not.” He smiled.

Shev’Borok led me through the taverns, shops, and streets. Everyone was civil and courteous. I learned that smiling and nodding my head was a very bad – and human thing to do. I was expected to hiss – just like an authentic Nethasian would. So we strode the streets of Coal Town, under the red sky, with the other nine planets keeping vigil above us. Along the way, I saw scattered junkyards in the distance, graveyards of discarded junk and nurseries of ambition, slowly corroding in the heat. A crowd approached us. “Muz Loog Noz Urguk.” Their demand was unanimous. “Trouble already?” I whispered to Shev. “Perhaps, perhaps not. They want to see your right foot.” “Why?” “They want to see your mark.” I pulled off my right boot. “I don’t have a mark.” The crowd started to grumble and roar. They surrounded us. “Then you had better get one – it’s a symbol of manhood.” I learned that to get my foot marked, I would have to endure a trial, one that Nethasians prepare years for, and one that some don’t survive. Shev condensed the whole history and purpose of this rite of passage down to a thirty second conversation.

Moktokalai – the black wanderer. The surface was covered with volcanic rock which jutted out from the surface in great towers. Here the molten rock oozed out in a black, viscous parade. The dark clouds above forbade any light from getting through. There was an immense roaring in the distance, which echoed through the canyons. That was the first sign that I wasn’t alone. The only things I was provided with were a stick and a sack. They said that was all I would need to obtain a Hyld’s egg. Once I had the egg, I was to break it open and eat its contents – if the contents didn’t eat me first. Nobody told me what a Hyld was; they just didn’t want to remember what they looked like. How was I going to even locate my prey if I didn’t know what it looked like? I dipped the stick into a pool of molten rock. Now at least I had a fire. As I walked along, I noticed gnarled, bare trees, covered in some sort of oily substance. I lit one and it brightened things up

quite a bit. I could see the molten goo dripping down the edges of the shallow pit I was in. I climbed out and found another shallow pit. In fact there were a series of pits heading off to the east. They were all the same shape and size, which was odd. Along the way, I lit a few more trees. A roar up ahead directed my attention to a large thing, moving slowly up a ridge. It must have been at least as long as a football field. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t in a pit – I was in a footprint. I crawled closer and saw a large lizard with eight legs and one eye. It had rows of spiny knobs along its body; they looked like cacti. The end of its tail blinked on and off – like a firefly. It must have seen the fire and thought I was a potential date. It swung its head back and forth and then down. It spotted me and snapped its jaws. The only clue that Shev would give me is “get past the jaws”. In the dim light, I noticed a slight bulge in the beast’s underbelly. As my eyes adjusted to the conditions, I noticed that there was a clutch of objects swelling the dragon’s belly. “Get past the jaws.” I muttered as I leaped forward. I narrowly missed being cut in two by the monster’s razor sharp teeth. I made my way further and further into the belly of the beast, choking on the noxious atmosphere. I slipped and skidded my way to the final destination: the eggs. Three of them sat in mound of gelatinous, acidic muck. I pounded on one of them with all my might, but the shell wouldn’t break. I kept on pounding for hours; finally a crack started to appear. I worked that crack and laughed with triumph when the shell finally gave way. But the newborn inside wasn’t so happy. It took me another hour to finish it off. I pulled a fragment of shell from the noxious mound; it was surprisingly sharp. I skinned and ate the baby. Just as I was putting a piece of the shell and the bones in the sack, I heard a cracking noise. The other two were coming out. I got out of there as fast as I could, dodging baby jaws. The mother’s mouth was closed; she must have known I was trapped. I fought off the two newborns while trying to figure out an escape plan. I had a flash of inspiration and stuck the shell into the roof of the mother’s mouth. It let out a roar of pain and I escaped just in time. As I landed, my right arm was cut by a jagged rock. I ran as fast as I could and wished I could have been faster. The dragon was right behind me. I stumbled and landed in a shallow pool of molten rock, searing my chest. I rolled to the left just as the dragon’s jaws descended. After another harrowing ten miles, I made it back to the ship.

They didn’t wait for my body to heal. The bottom of my right foot was branded; the pain was almost more than I could bear. I had to bear it in the center of town, with everyone watching. When it was done, they simply dispersed and let me limp back home. Is this what it meant to be Nethasian? As I staggered down the street, I passed by an older one, slowly walking along. The years had plucked out

some of his spines and his tentacles seemed tired and limp. Our eyes met for a moment and I saw a spark of wisdom there; it almost seemed alien. I didn’t get out of bed for two weeks. Meals mysteriously appeared and empty plates disappeared in the same fashion. I drew upon Mistress Janelle’s teachings and discipline to heal my body and spirit. Every conscious moment was spent learning, improving, evolving, and surviving. One morning I felt strong enough to walk down the street. “Huj Orv Hsul Junga-Na. Gytuloa Arz Thane’Zur. Uvu Joag….nolo Moath.” His accent was slightly different…raspier. “Translating speech-“ I woke up in the central hospital in Kushu, the capital of Gash’Ib. I was hooked up to several machines. Uncle was standing over me, smiling. “You have survived the Moktokalai dragons and the tree of Thane. It is good day.” He put his tentacles on my forehead and let them rest there a moment. Then he left.


© 2013 Benjamin F. Kaye

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