by Melanie Brown
Copyright © 2016 Melanie Brown
Newman hoped for an adventure of a lifetime. Just not this.
“Newman. Check in please,” said the tinny voice of Joyce over the comm-link in my helmet.
“I’m almost all the way into the village,” I whispered. I doubted my voice carried past my helmet, but I was pretty close to some of the denizens of this alien village.
Sounding impatient, Joyce said, “It’s going to start getting dark in about half an hour. You don’t want to be out in that mess after dark. Remember Rueben?”
“You mention him every time someone goes EVA. But I’m getting some incredible recordings,” I said, being a bit impatient myself. Rueben, like me, was out gathering data about this planet and the creatures on it. He lost track of the time and got caught out in the dark. Last contact with him was a muffled yelp and the next day, all we found of him was a blood splattered helmet. Unless you’re careless, no one is supposed to die on the recon missions.
Another voice came over the comm-link. Bill said, “Have you found any unobtanium out there yet?” I could hear other crew members laughing in the background. He was referring to a very old entertainment module we were all forced to watch to show us how *not* to conduct exo-planet exploration.
We were on one of several exo-planet survey teams sent out to nearby star systems searching for exploitable planets for colonization, or mining or just expanding our knowledge. Within five years of discovering faster-than-light travel that didn’t have relativist effects, there was a frenzy to explore our celestial neighborhood.
The primary mission of the crew of FTL-15 was to discover and map any biosphere we encountered. And we hit the jackpot on this planet. The level of biodiversity rivaled or even surpassed that of Earth. It might take us decades just to identify and catalog only the insects of this world. The flora and fauna is also richly diverse, even in the four different locations we’ve touched down.
The forests were very jungle-like with a riot of every color imaginable. Many of the plants were as aggressive as they were beautiful. There were tall trees and squatty bushes and everything in between. Vines and ivy-like plants clung to the boles of the huge trees whose branches created a leafy canopy over the forest. It’s also pretty steamy in most places on the planet, averaging around 58C except warmer at the equator and a lot cooler at the poles.
Animal life was also amazing. Ranging from tiny, hard-shelled creatures to obvious predators larger than the largest of the great cats of earth all the way to monstrous plant eaters the size of trucks. They all had an odd slender antenna that had a glowing, small bulb at the end. From our observations, all the creatures on this planet would stick their antenna into plants or against another animal’s antenna. This had to be a form of communication, but it was going to require more study.
The plants and animals seemed to thrive on an atmosphere that would be fatal for a human being caught without an environment suit as it was basically ammonia. You wouldn’t last long breathing that shit. There didn’t seem to be any dangerous micro-organisms but then, complete analysis would have to wait until we returned to Earth. When we found what was left of Rueben, Joyce was concerned about us contaminating this world. We did a test and found that any microbes brought by us were violently destroyed by the biosphere.
But despite all these wonders, for me, the icing on the cake was the one thing the commission that organized these expeditions really didn’t want to find. There is only one solid rule for crossing a planet off the list of exploitable exo-planets. Sentient life. And not far from our fourth landing location it was here by the bucket load.
I moved closer to the edge of the mid-sized village. Unless the beings that inhabited this planet saw in completely different frequencies, I should be invisible to them. I was wearing the latest in electronic camouflage. None of the animals could see us, so I felt safe with these odd beings.
They were tall, and slender and a light green in color, though coloration varied between individuals. They are bipedal with four digits on what had to be hands at the end of their two arms. I couldn’t see their feet as they wore clunky looking boots. They seem almost mammalian. They have faces, as individual as humans. Most of the crew of FTL-15 thought the beings all looked alike, but I could make out individual features.
They have large human looking eyes. Most are colored gold, but some are a rich blue. They have protruding noses… at least I think they’re noses with wide mouths with thin lips. Their front teeth seem very sharp. But from what I could tell from my short observations is that they are omnivores. The natives had what appeared to be hair on their heads and both male and female alike seemed to wear it long.
They seem primitive, hunting with arrows and spears. They don’t spend their time naked, but they seem to only wear leather harnesses from which hang various tools or other things I couldn’t figure out. The females seem to have large breasts so I’m assuming their young are live births. As a side note, some of the animals we’ve seen do lay eggs.
I was trying to figure out their society. I think that’s beyond my ability though. The village is made up of conical buildings of various heights. Windows are carved into the side of buildings, but I can’t see any glass in them. Streets are wide and unpaved.
It was absolutely fascinating and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Here was a totally alien species on a totally alien planet living in a totally alien society.
“Newman!” shouted Joyce’s angry voice. “You need to return to the ship now! It’ll be completely dark in ten minutes and you’re twenty minutes away from the ship. I don’t want another incident.”
“Roger that.” I said into the comm-link. “I lost track of time watching these natives. It’s incredible!”
Joyce said, “Leave that for the exo-sociologists back home. You need to get back.”
“On my way,” I said. With my camera, I took one more long pan of the village. I would love to try to communicate, but that is definitely out of my league, plus it’s a complete violation of the committee’s no-contact policy.
I looked around me and thought wow, it is getting dark. I was so engrossed watching the village that I missed noticing how dark it was getting. The village started to display its own light with odd plant-like poles around the village. Lights started to shine through windows. I put away my camera and locked my way-finder to the ship’s beacon.
Near the village I moved slowly since, even though I should be invisible, I’m still a physical presence and bushes and plants will move as I go past them. When I got what I thought was a safe distance from the village, I increased my speed to a jog. I had to be careful that I didn’t trip over anything. I switched my visor to infrared.
I really wished Joyce hadn’t banned night EVAs. While the forest was pretty black, many plants had their own glow and many new creatures would only come out in the darkness. When you could see the sky, it was brilliant with unfamiliar stars. There was a definite savage beauty to this world.
I was less than ten minutes away from the ship when I stopped and crouched down behind a large plant. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. In the near total-darkness of the forest were two large males who, I assumed, were from the village. Holding their spears, they were stalking a large predator. One of the natives started to circle around to flank the beast they were hunting. He was now in my path back to the ship and getting close to me. The animal they were hunting was also being herded in my direction.
I froze. If I don’t move, they won’t be able to detect me as I still had the camouflage turned on. I’ll just have to wait until they pass. I had suit power, air and water to last me another several days out here, so I had no issues there.
The predator started to run past me. And then it stopped and looked directly at me. It cocked its head to one side and snarled. It slowly started to approach me.
“FTL-15 I have a problem,” I said trying to hide my panic. “The camouflage doesn’t work at night here. A large predator has spotted me.”
Joyce shouted over the comm-link, “Newman, get the hell out of there!”
The creature got closer, baring a mouthful of razor sharp teeth. I said, “I can’t outrun this thing. There are two natives hunting it.”
“Run towards the natives. They’re most likely armed. You’re not,” said Joyce. I could tell she was in a panic.
“The natives will see me,” I said staring into the glowing eyes of this alien monster.
“Maybe not. Maybe only the animal sees in the dark. But don’t just stand there! Run, but don’t lead them back to the ship,” said Bill.
The creature was very close. If it was an earthly cat, it looked like it was getting ready to spring its attack. I took a deep breath and bolted straight towards the nearest native. The native suddenly stiffened. He saw me! The animal leaped after me. I saw the native raise his spear.
I cried out in agony as sharp teeth tore through my environment suit into my flesh, nearly severing my left leg. The suit integrity was breached and my eyes immediately started to sting, my lungs burning. Another vicious bite to my pelvis and everything went black.
I had the oddest sensation of floating. Floating in the most complete darkness you can imagine. A couple of times, very far away and faint I heard Joyce shout my name. And finally silence. A deafening silence. A complete and utter lack of any sense of existence. Is this what death is like, I thought. But how could I think if I was dead?
I didn’t notice at first, but I slowly became aware of a tingling feeling all along my body. It was like a billion tiny pin-pricks. And then there were sounds. Odd sounds. Alien sounds. Blurry imagines of trees, animals and villages bubbled in front of me. I sensed them rather than actually seeing. And then I was enveloped in darkness again.
I awoke almost violently. I sucked in a breath as if I’d been holding it for hours. I slowly opened my eyes, but quickly closed them again. What the fucking hell?
I opened my eyes again, slowly. I couldn’t believe what I saw. There were six young native females, three on each side staring at me. They seemed to be smiling. Two were leaning over my head and I felt an odd buzzing on my forehead. One turned away and said something. Her voice was beautiful; almost musical. A stern looking older male stepped into my view and nodded.
I couldn’t move. I seemed to be lying in a plant-lined pit of some kind. As I watched, the leaves of the plant were shriveling; dying. I felt extremely odd. My whole body tingled. I slowly became aware of feelings and sensations and aware of body parts. I suddenly noticed my arms, and then hands, as if they were just now making connections to my brain. Above me I could see overhanging branches of a tree and the odd copper colored sky above that. And…and…
Holy shit! I’m outside and I don’t have an environment suit on! I struggled to sit up, but couldn’t. I wasn’t restrained. I just couldn’t move.
One of the females there were leaning over me sat up straight. She said, “Her education is complete, my father.” What the hell? I understood her. I think she was referring to me, but why did she say “her”?
The older male nodded again and said, “Very good. Release her.”
I found that I could now move. I slowly sat up. Long strands of coarse, light brown hair fell across my eyes. I looked at my hand and almost fainted. My skin was a light green color and I only had four fingers! This is insane! I looked down and saw two large breasts protruding from my chest. I touched one and holy shit it was real. What the fucking hell? I’m a female alien? How is that possible?
I looked at the grinning faces of the females surrounding me. They were all giggling as they stared at me. I was sitting in a cradle of dead plants. Several natives were standing in the distance watching.
With his arms folded, the older male said, “Stand, my child.”
I just sat there. I was scared shitless and numbed by confusion. How could I understand what this native was saying?
The female who had spoke a moment ago, turned to me and said, “You better do what Father says.”
I looked at her for a moment, and then I again scanned the faces of the other native girls. Unsteady, I slowly rose to me feet. I turned to face the older male.
The male smiled at me and gently grasped my shoulders. He said, “Welcome my child. Welcome to my family. Welcome to our city.” He paused a moment and then grinned broadly before continuing, “And welcome to komali.” I later learned that “komali” would be like saying “humankind” on Earth.
I looked nervously around. This situation was impossible, of course. I thought I must surely be hallucinating. Unsure of what I was doing, I said, “Where am I? What’s happened to me?” My voice was just as musical as the other native girl’s.
The native male said, “You are in the city of Na-Nala. I am Ra-Nala, the king of this land. You were not komali and you were near death. We saved you in the only way we knew how. You were fortunate that our greatest hunter, Ra-Mali was there to save you. He brought you to me.”
The girl who had spoken before, stood up and said, “This life-giver is now dead, Father. It used itself up completely to save her life.”
The old man frowned and said, “That’s a pity. We only have two now. We must search for a new one.” He turned back to me and said, “Forgive what was done to you. The life-giver heals us and it only knows komali. The only way it could save you, was to transform you to komali.”
I looked around at my surroundings. The vision took my breath away. The planet was even more alive and beautiful as seen through the eyes of a native. With awe in my voice, I said, “And you’ll forgive me sir, if I don’t really believe what has happened. Transforming to a completely alien species should be impossible. The atmosphere here is toxic to humans, but…” I took a very deep breath. “But now the air is so sweet and fresh.”
“’Hooman’ is what you call yourselves?” asked Ra-Nala. I nodded.
Ra-Nala grinned and said, “You are now komali. And you are now my daughter, Ka-Pawli.”
One of the girls still sitting by the now dead life-giver said, “Don’t be impressed. He has a *lot* of daughters!” The other girls laughed.
“Thank you for saving me,” I said. “And I’m sorry about your life-giver.”
The girl who first spoke said, “It’s not your fault.” She smiled at me and said, “It seems that I am now your sister. I am Ka-Nawa.”
I said, “Nice to meet you.” I stood there naked before all these girls and the old man. I ran my hands over my face and body. This was unreal. “I just find this all hard to believe.”
Ka-Nawa gestured to the other girls and said, “We are all your sisters and we will help you in any way we can.”
I said, “Thanks. I just thought. I really need to get back to my ship. The crew probably thinks I’m dead. They need to see this! They’ll be amazed.”
Ra-Nala frowned and said, “No. They are not komali. They are not a part of your life any longer. We’ve seen this odd boat that flies that your people have arrived in. We have watched you. You don’t seem to mean us any harm although you are taking many plants and animals into the boat. You must not go back to them.”
“Why not?” I asked. “This is incredible! I…I can act as liaison between our worlds! We can help each other. The crew will be totally blown away by this!”
“No,” said Ra-Nala sternly. “They are not komali. They will not cage my daughter and take her. They cage our animals and box our plants.”
Now I was over the initial shock of who I had become, I was now bubbling over in excitement at what it all meant. “They won’t cage me. I’m part of the crew.”
Ra-Nala shook his head. He said, “Not any more. You are komali. They will treat you like they do the animals they take.” Turning to Ka-Nawa he said, “Show her around the city and introduce her. Tell everyone she is my daughter and she is not to be treated as an outsider.” I learned later that “outsider” mostly meant people from other tribes, not necessarily someone from Earth.
Ka-Nawa smiled at me and said, “Follow me. Come in the house first and we’ll find you something to wear. We’re not wild savages you know.”
It was then I finally noticed that what I thought was just a leather harness actually had “flesh” colored pieces of cloth covering the genitalia. Some even had what appeared to be loin cloths hanging from their waists.
After getting appropriately dressed, Ka-Nawa led me down the path into the city. It still looked like a village to me, but who am I to argue with the king? The king had a large villa, consisting of one large house and three smaller ones. The center was cleared of any foliage. As for the city itself? Well, I was shocked.
I was thinking of these native beings as primitives, just a step up from being savages. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In the city are shops, cafés and social centers. In the center of the city stands the largest building. It’s the church. You can’t really call them the now non-existent Wiccans, but they do worship their planet which provides them with pretty much everything they need. The weekly gathering at the church is more social than religious.
People do have jobs here, which surprised me considering their religion and somewhat closed society. They mine for rare gems, they quarry stones for building, and they farm for food. There are those that prepare food if you feel like going out that night. They even put on plays.
In the immediate region, there are six cities that work together. They do commerce with each other. They have a common defense against outside cities. Their society is much more complex than I could have imagined from the outside.
The most surprising thing of all was they the communicated over distance. The plants, everything was intertwined it seems. The little dingle berry that protruded from everyone’s head allowed them to insert it into certain plants and communicate with others far away. I told Ka-Nawa that I found that hard to believe. She just shrugged. As punishment, some would have their dingle berry cut off.
“Greetings, Ka-Nawa!” boomed a voice from behind us. As both of us turned around, Ka-Nawa smiled broadly.
“Ra-Mali! Hello,” cooed Ka-Nawa. “I thought you would be out on a hunting party.”
I had heard the name before. The king had said he was the one that brought be back to the city after I was attacked. Ra-Mali smiled as he looked me up and down.
“I needed a new bow,” said Ra-Mali. “Ra-Malama makes the best bows in the six cities. He has one ready for me.” He continued to smile at me.
Pointing at me, Ka-Nawa said, “Oh. Meet my latest sister, Ka-Pawli. She’s the hooman you saved last night.”
Ra-Mali looked confused. He said, “Hooman?”
Ka-Nawa laughed and said, “That’s what they call themselves. The ones in the boat that fell from the sky.”
Ra-Mali looked at me with surprise. He said, “I’ve watched those…hoomans? I’ve seen them move around their boat when they didn’t think anyone was around. Hoomans are ugly like komaghs. But Ka-Pawli is beautiful.” I learned later that komaghs were akin to rats…extremely ugly rodents with spiky fur and fangs.
I was quite shocked to hear Ra-Mali refer to me as beautiful. I had never actually seen my face yet. I assumed I looked similar to Ka-Nawa and the other girls. The female komali all had pleasant features but didn’t really fall into what humans considered beauty.
Frowning, Ka-Nawa said, “Father’s life-giver used all of its energy to save the hooman’s life by changing her to komali.”
Grinning at me again, Ra-Mali said, “I have to say I like the results. But that means we’re down to two for the whole city. On my next hunting trip, I will scout for a replacement and gift it to your father.”
Staring at Ra-Mali and smiling, Ka-Nawa said, “I’m sure the king would reward you for such a gift.”
Smiling at Ka-Nawa, Ra-Mali said, “Perhaps he’ll agree to let me have one of his beautiful daughters.”
Her eyes locked on Ra-Mali, Ka-Nawa said coyly, “Perhaps.”
They stared at each other for several long moments. I began to feel uncomfortable standing there.
Ra-Mali broke the uneasy silence and said, “I need to go. Ra-Malama is waiting for me and he has little patience. He’s likely to sell the bow to someone else before I can get there.” He smiled at both of us, but his eyes lingered on me for a moment before he left.
Ka-Nawa said, “See you later!” Ra-Mali waved without turning around.
Ka-Nawa watched Ra-Mali walk away with a far-away look in her eyes. She turned to me with a scowl and said, “He’s mine. Remember that.”
I held up my hands in what I hoped was a defensive gesture and said, “Hey. I just got here. I don’t want your man.”
“I saw the way he was looking at you!” snarled Ka-Nawa.
I said, “I was just standing here. And it’s not like I asked to be a girl.”
“There are plenty of other men here for you,” said Ka-Nawa.
I said, “Trust me. I’m not looking. Can we finish the tour?”
Ka-Nawa nodded. She said, “The only thing really left to see is the church. If you’re going to fit in, you are going to have to learn our culture.”
As we walked towards the city’s center in silence for a minute or so, I said, “Just as I woke up, I heard you say, ‘her education is complete’. What did you mean by that? Your dangly thing was touching mine.”
Ka-Nawa smiled and said, “Touching our tendrils together does many things. Since you were not komali, you had to learn our language quickly. And learn about our plants and animals. Things you would need to know to survive. Culture is too difficult a concept to pass through the tendrils. We also touch tendrils to experience pleasure with each other.”
Growing curious, I said, “So you touch your tendrils together instead of having sex?”
Laughing, Ka-Nawa said, “We give pleasure to each other through the tendrils. We still have sex otherwise there’d be no little ones. I know some men who would love to show you.”
I don’t know if komali blush, but if it was possible I was doing it. I said, “No, no, no. I’m a scientist. I’m just trying to learn about komali.”
As we approached the large structure, Ka-Nawa said, “Always come to your sisters first if you have questions, then father. If you still have questions, you are welcome to come here and talk to the high priest. He is our spiritual leader and the Great Teacher. He can help guide you to having a full life as a komali.”
We walked inside the large, cone shaped building and into a great hall. There were rows of benches. Smaller rooms were on either side and a long stair case ran in a circle along the wall to an upper level. We were alone at the moment.
“Citizens of the city come here on every fifth day for our spiritual lifting,” said Ka-Nawa with slight awe in her voice. “The high priest guides us all to greater inner peace and joy. The next gathering will be in two days. Father will require you to join us.”
I said, “I’ll be there. I just wish I had a way to record it so we can take it back to Earth with us. This would be even bigger news than finding that crumbling temple on Mars was.”
Ka-Nawa looked over at me and said, “You go back to your world even after becoming komali? Even when father forbids it?”
I shrugged and said, “It’s my home. Everything I know is there. Don’t get me wrong. It’s beautiful here. I love it here. But I miss the blue skies of Earth. The green meadows and forests. But it doesn’t matter now I guess. I couldn’t even guess where my ship is.”
Ka-Nawa looked thoughtful for a moment. She said, “Father kept those odd clothes you were wearing.”
I perked up. I said, “The helmet too?”
Ka-Nawa shrugged and said, “Helmet?”
I said, “The big bubble thing over my head.”
Ka-Nawa said, “Yes. Everything.”
Excited, I touched her arm and said, “Show me! Please.”
“Follow me!” said Ka-Nawa as she took off in a run.
She ran between buildings and past children playing and down and across several roads until we finally arrived at the king’s house. I guess I can call it my house as well. We walked through the large house and out to the enclosed courtyard in the back. I followed her up to a smaller, shed-type building.
Ka-Nawa opened the door and said, “Everything is in here.”
I stepped inside and sure enough there was my shredded environment suit. I picked it up and examined it. I hit the power switch and saw status lights start to glow inside the helmet. It still had power! Well, it had only been around a day since I was last using it. The visor was already open. Just by speaking, the transmitter would be activated.
“FTL-15! FTL-15. Come in,” I said. There was a crackle and then nothing. Again I said, “FTL-15! Joyce? Are you there?”
Then through the small helmet speaker, I heard Joyce say, “Hello? Hello? Who is this? Bill can you make anything out? It’s that weird noise again.”
I started to speak again and then I realized I was speaking komali. Forcing English through these komali vocal cords, tongue and lips was actually painful. I said slowly, “FTL-15. This is Newman. Do you copy?”
A confused sounding Joyce said, “Newman? You’re not Newman. Do you have him? Is he alive? Who are you?”
“This is Newman. I’ve…I’ve changed. But I’m definitely Newman,” I said, struggling to say every syllable.
“I don’t recognize your voice,” said Joyce sounding a bit upset. “If you’re Newman, what is your unique pass code?”
I knew I couldn’t hesitate or it would seem suspicious. I said as best I could, “The truth of the pudding is in the taste.”
There was a moment of hesitation and then Joyce said, “Confirmed. Where are you? Are you injured? We’ll come to you.”
“No!” I almost shouted. “I’ll come to you. Have some questions to confirm my identity. You’re not going to believe what you see.”
Joyce said, “We’ve located you. You’re still in that village. Were you captured?”
“Not exactly,” I said. “I’ll come to you. My ETA is about fifteen or twenty minutes.”
“Copy,” said Joyce. “FTL-15 out.”
I pulled the nav-module from the suit. The indicator showed me what direction to go to find the ship.
I turned to Ka-Nawa and said, “Don’t tell father where I went. Please?”
Grinning, Ka-Nawa said, “I won’t say a word.” I was a little disturbed by her expression. She said, “Have a good trip back to where you belong, my sister.”
I gave her a weak smile, stood up and started moving in the direction indicated by the nav-module. I was pretty confident I’d find the ship. I had several hours until darkness started to fall. The ship was not camouflaged in order to conserve power. It was only a twenty minute walk for a hooman…I mean human. It should take me as a komali less than fifteen minutes to make the short journey.
It was beautiful out in the forest. Even more so with my komali eyes. So much color and wonder. Flying creatures soared over head. Smaller animals scurried among the plants lining the forest floor. The air was sweeter and fresher than waking up in a Rocky Mountain morning. I felt great happiness in thinking about rejoining my shipmates.
I cried out in surprise as I felt a rough grip on my arm.
“Where do you think you’re going, stupid girl?” growled a male voice from behind me. I turned around to see Ra-Mali holding my arm in a tight grip.
I tugged against his strong grip and said angrily, “Let go! I’m going to see my friends.”
Not lessening his grip, Ra-Mali said, “Your father thought as much. He sent me to retrieve you.”
“How did he know? Did Ka-Nawa tell him?” I said as I kept trying to free my arm from his strong grip.
Ra-Mali laughed. He said, “Ka-Nawa wanted you to leave! Your father saw her help you from his upstairs window. He summoned me right after you left his land.” With his other hand, he pulled the blinking nav-module from my grasp. He then crushed it between his powerful fingers.
“No!” I cried. “How am I expected to find my way back?”
Laughing, Ra-Mali said, “You’re not. Let’s go, pretty girl. I’m under orders to bring you back to your father.”
Ten minutes later, I was standing before Father with Ka-Nawa by my side. Ra-Mali left after he had returned me to Father’s home.
Ka-Nawa hung her head, studying her feet. I stood there, watching the old komali as he folded his arms and scowled at us.
Ra-Nala said in a stern voice, “I am disappointed in both of you. Ka-Nawa, my oldest daughter. Your petty jealousy towards your sister brings shame to yourself as well as my house. You two are not the only females in this city who have eyes for Ra-Mali and he has not yet chosen who he wants to mate. Trying to expel your sister from not only our family, but from the planet itself, does not honor Ra-Mali.”
Ra-Nala turned his stern expression toward me and said, “And you my newest daughter, I am most disappointed in you. I gave you life and yet you try to run away from your new home. Your act is understandable. You have a desire to return to those who brought you here. But, my beautiful, innocent young daughter, they will not see you as their old friend…”
“You don’t know that!” I said, tears streaming down my cheek. “And I can tell them about you…us. About how great the komali are!”
Anger darkening his face, Ra-Nala said, “Silence! Do not interrupt me again, girl. We have observed what you call hoomans since they arrived in our forest. We know how they would treat you. But that’s not the only reason I did not want you to go to the hooman boat. Ra-Mali told me that another koralth, the beast that almost killed you two nights ago was stalking you. Ra-Mali chased it away before the beast ate you. The forest is a dangerous place for a young, unarmed and unskilled girl to wander in.”
Our father stood there for a few moments just looking at us. He said, “Both of you are restricted to your rooms until Church two days hence. Both of you will be brought before the high priest and ask forgiveness.”
Still looking at her feet, Ka-Nawa said, “Yes, Father.”
There were several things I wanted to say, but I just looked down at the ground and said, “Yes, Father.”
Ra-Nala waved his hand and said, “Go.”
We sat in our rooms in stony silence for at least an hour. Finally, with a scowl, Ka-Nawa turned to me and said, “See? Even Father notices.”
Exasperated, I said, “Will you stop already? I don’t have *eyes* for Ra-Mali. I don’t even know why I’m female. So go to sleep or something.”
Ka-Nawa leaned back on her mattress. Beds consisted of padded mats lying on the floor. “Just stay away from him.” She closed her eyes.
I leaned back on my mat and said, “He might not even want you now after you just assumed he’d want you.”
Ra-Nawa opened her eyes and said, “So you think that automatically makes you think he wants you?”
Glaring, I said, “Did I say that?”
One of our other sisters tossed large pillows at both of us and said, “Will you two shut up?”
I lie there for a long time, watching. When I was sure everyone was asleep, I quietly got to my feet and walked to the back of the house. I looked out into the courtyard and couldn’t see anyone. Moving as quietly as I could, I made my way back to the shed where my environment suit was kept. At least I hoped it was still there.
I opened the door and thankfully there it was. The power was off. I hoped there was still some juice left in the batteries. I turned the power back on and lifted the helmet to my face. I hoped no one would be able to hear me. It’s unfortunate that my head would no longer fit inside it. I scanned the windows on the upper floors of the house to see if anyone was looking. As an added precaution, I stepped inside the shed and closed the door behind me.
“FTL-15. This is Newman. Do you copy?” I said into the helmet. I repeated it several times.
“Newman. This is Joyce,” said Joyce over the suit radio. “You didn’t show up. We were concerned.”
“Yeah. My father knew where I was going and had a warrior stop me,” I said with a sigh.
“Your father?” asked Joyce, incredulous.
I said, “It’s complicated. When I was converted over to komali, the king of this city adopted me.”
Joyce said, “The king, eh? I see you’re moving up. Is the camera still functioning? Can you send a picture of you?”
“I think so,” I said as I pressed the buttons on the suit’s sleeve to activate the camera. A red light showed me it was on. I turned it to point directly at me. The camera would work in the low light of the shed’s interior.
Bill’s voice came online as he said, “Shit dude. You’re ugly. Oh my God, are you a female?”
Indignant, I said, “I’m not ugly! And yes, I’m female.”
Joyce said, “Don’t mind Bill. He’s an idiot. Hey. As I’m two crew members short, our work here is taking a bit longer. We’re planning on heading back to Earth in fourteen days. That’s fourteen local days, not Earth. Can you come back with us?”
I didn’t reply for several moments while I thought about that. I said, “My father forbids it.”
Joyce said, “He’s not your father. I mean not really. Think how fantastic that would be! A member of a sentient alien race who can speak English! We could learn so much.”
I said, “There’s no way I could fit in one of the crew seats.”
Joyce said, “Yes. You’d have to go into the cryogenic freeze where we keep the other specimens. We can’t provide you with an atmosphere you can tolerate.”
“So I’m just another specimen to you?” I said, frowning.
“Newman, you’re still part of my crew,” said Joyce. “But the only way to get you home is inside a cage in the cryogenic hold.
I said, “Father was right. What happens to me when I get back to Earth? I’ll tell you. I’ll be a zoo specimen. I’ll be poked and prodded and treated just like any other animal brought back. I’ll be kept in a special sealed cage with an ammonia atmosphere. I’d never be let out. I’m an alien, so I would never be trusted. And I’d be alone with no other komali.”
Joyce said, “Don’t be silly, Newman. You’ll be a VIP. Everyone will want to talk to you. You’ll be a celebrity!”
Angrily, I growled, “I’d be a freak! You heard Bill. I’m ugly to humans. I’m an alien monster that talks. And I’d spend all my time locked in a cage lest I turn on my human masters.”
“I won’t let that happen,” said Joyce.
“How could you stop it?” I said. “Once back on Earth, I’m out of your hands. No, I think I’ll stay here.”
Joyce said, “Newman. Please be reasonable. Leave the beacon active on your suit and we’ll come get you.”
“No. That would be bad,” I said. “Even if I wanted to leave, the camouflage doesn’t work here at night. That’s what happened to Rueben. He was most likely killed by a koralth, the animal that attacked me.”
Joyce said, “We’ll come at first light then.”
“No, you won’t,” I said. “I’m not going to be a lab rat. Look. I want to come by and say good-bye to everyone the day you leave. But I’m going to remain here.”
“If that’s your decision,” said Joyce, sounding disappointed.
“It is,” I said.
“Okay. Talk to you later. Take care, Newman,” said Joyce. “FTL-15 out.”
I sat there a moment staring at the suit helmet. Did I make the right decision? I already missed the sights and sounds of Earth. But Earth is now an alien world to me. I can’t breathe the air. Everyone would view me as some ugly freak. And I’d be alone. More alone than anyone could imagine.
I flipped the switch for the suit power and set the helmet back onto the floor.
I sat on the front row with my father the king and my other sisters. I sat next to my father on one side and Ka-Nawa on the other. I heard someone say as more people entered the church that the king is going to need a second row if he keeps adding daughters.
I felt no hostility from anyone. Either no one knew I was actually from an alien planet or no one cared since I was now komali. Watching the room fill up, I was astounded there were so many people here.
After everyone was seated, the high priest started talking about the importance of family and how crucial it was to obey your elders.
“But one of the things about youth is that they’re always testing the elders’ limits,” said the high priest. “One might think the king especially wouldn’t have this problem. He’s the king after all. But no one is immune to the brashness of youth.”
The high priest moved to stand in front of Father. He said, “When I call your name, come stand before me. First I call the king’s oldest daughter, Ka-Nawa.” Ka-Nawa stood up and walked to the priest. She then turned to face the congregation.
“Ka-Nawa allowed blind jealousy to cloud her judgment and deliberately put her own sister in danger just to remove any threat of competition for a male’s attention,” said the priest. Ka-Nawa hung her head and I could see her eyes start to water. The priest continued, “And that is most shameful.”
The priest then looked at me and said, “Next I call the king’s newest daughter, Ka-Pawli.” I got up and stood next to Ka-Nawa. The priest continued, “She is the victim of her sister’s shameful act. But that is not why she stands before us. No. She disobeyed her father’s direct command. That’s bad enough. But if it had not been for the brave warrior that was sent to retrieve her, she would have most likely died from a koralth attack. Youth may think they have all the answers, but you can never ignore the experience and wisdom from your elders.”
Ka-Nawa and I just stood there, hanging our heads, looking at our feet for almost a minute. The high priest finally said, “What do you both have to say now?”
Ka-Nawa, her eyes still glued to the floor said, “I’m sorry I allowed a petty feeling such as jealousy to come between me and one of my sisters. It has brought shame to me and to my Father. If a male now chooses her, or any of my sisters, over me, I will celebrate with her.”
There was a pause. And then I thought I guess I’m supposed to say something. I looked up to look at Ra-Nala. I said, “I’m sorry Father for not obeying you. You gave me life and I repaid you by defying your most wise words. I had not accepted you as my father, and I foolishly put myself and Ra-Mali in danger. I accept you as my father.”
Ra-Nala smiled and nodded at both of us. Ra-Mali was also smiling at me. I really hoped he wasn’t getting any ideas. Why did that stupid plant have to make me female? The priest indicated that we should both sit down.
The service, if you want to call it that, went on for another half hour or so. It wasn’t really boring for me, though from expressions on the others, I could tell they’d heard a lot of what the priest had to say before. For me it was another education on the society I’m now a part of. I learned a few prayers and the proper way to do them. I would love to take this information back to Earth.
After the service, I had a burning question to ask my father. I was very afraid to ask, considering what I just publically shamed for. After we got back to the house and Father was relaxing at the table while a few of my sisters prepared a meal, I steeled myself and walked up to him.
Ra-Nala looked up at me with a questioning expression. I hesitated for a moment, took a deep breath and said, “I have a request to make, Father. In twelve days, the hoomans leave to return to their home. I will never see them again, even if others return to learn about komali. I would like to see them off on their journey home.”
Father looked thoughtful for a few moments. “You’re not planning on going with them?”
I shook my head and said honestly, “Oh no, Father. You were right Father. They would cage me with the rest of their specimens. When we returned, they would have to keep me locked up as I can no longer breathe their air. They would poke and prod me and watch me constantly. I would be an alien to them. And I would be alone.”
Ra-Nala smiled at me. He said, “You are becoming wise, my daughter. And since this time you asked my permission first, you may go to say fair-well to the hoomans. You must take a hunter with your for protection.”
I smiled and hugged him. I said, “Thank you, Father!”
Smiling at me, Father said as he pointed at my sisters, “Now go learn how to cook.”
“Hey ugly,” said a voice from behind me.
I turned around to see Ra-Mali grinning at me. I said, “That’s not very nice.” He was holding the reins to the strange two-legged animal called the kolima that they use as horses here. Like every other creature on this planet, it also had a dingle berry or a tendril growing from his forehead. It also looked a lot like a featherless ostrich with teeth. A saddle-like affair was mounted on its back.
He shrugged and said, “You at least turned around. You ignore me when I call you beautiful.”
I walked up to him. I said, “I don’t want Ra-Nawa to think I’m trying to take her man.”
Ra-Mali’s face darkened. He said, “A woman does not choose a man. The man chooses the woman. You have yet much to learn about us.”
I laughed and said, “Your attitude wouldn’t go over very well on my world.”
Ra-Mali smiled and said, “This is your world now. So. Were you busy?”
I shook my head and said, “I was just out for a walk and doing some thinking.”
Ra-Mali said, “Come with me, girl. You can tell me about your old world while I take you out to show you some of your new world.”
Looking around sheepishly, I said, “I don’t know if I should.”
Grinning, Ra-Mali said, “I’ve cleared it with the king.”
I smiled weakly and said, “I guess it’s okay then.” I wasn’t completely sure of his motives. I really had no desire to have a male interested in me. Again, why did the life-giver have to make me female?
Ra-Mali mounted his kolima and then reached his hand down towards me. I took his hand and he pulled me deftly up on the kolima to sit behind him. With a slight kick in the animal’s flanks to get it moving, we headed down a path leading out from the city.
After a few minutes of following the path, we turned and started crossing through a wide meadow of tall lavender grass. All around us towered incredibly tall trees. Except for the descent from space, this was the most sky I’ve seen on this world. Almost all our landing zones have been just in small clearings.
I looked up into the wide, bright copper sky with high wispy clouds stretching from horizon to horizon. We crossed a shallow stream. The liquid looked like water, but was a cocktail of highly toxic chemicals to humans. For me now, it was actually quite refreshing.
Ra-Mali steered his kolima out of the meadow and into a dense forest. The foliage was almost too dense for the animal to travel through. We traveled through this dense foliage for a few minutes and then we broke out into an open area with a rocky surface.
Ra-Mali dismounted the kolima and then helped me down. He grinned at me and said, “I think you’ll enjoy this. It’s my favorite spot.”
As we walked, there was a growing roaring sound. Finally we stepped up to the edge of a cliff. A very high cliff. The roaring sound was from a huge waterfall that disappeared into the mist far below. Ra-Mali sat down near the edge and sniffed the breeze that came up from the waterfall.
“I come here whenever I need to think or be alone,” said Ra-Mali. “Nobody but me ever comes here.”
“It’s beautiful,” I said honestly. I sat down beside him. “This is a really nice spot. Have you been to the bottom? What’s down there?”
Ra-Mali said, “I’ve been down there a couple of times. It’s actually pretty dangerous to get there. All that land belongs to a tribe that’s hostile to us. We’ve tried to negotiate a peace with them, but they won’t go along.” He looked thoughtful for a moment and then he said, “You come from up there? From the sky in your flying boat? How do you live?”
I laughed. I said, “We came down through your sky, but we don’t live there. Are you ready for some wild concepts?” He nodded so I continued. “At night when you look up into the sky, you see all those lights? Those are actually suns like the one shining in the sky right now. We live on a planet that goes around one of those suns.”
Ra-Mali smiled and said, “We’re not as primitive as you like to think, girl. We have priests that study the movements of the lights in the sky. That’s how we know when to plant and harvest. But you came from one of those lights in that tiny boat?”
I smiled and said, “That’s just a landing vehicle. The main ship is in orbit around this planet.”
Ra-Mali looked straight into my eyes and said, “Tell me about your world.”
Ra-Mali listened intently as I described Earth and the sky and oceans, mountains and deserts and the other planets in our solar system. I told him about the other worlds we’d explored and how for our team anyway, this planet was the only one we found that harbored any life.
Ra-Mali smiled and said, “I think I’d rather be here. So, are you ready for some ‘wild concepts’?”
I said, “Sure. I guess.” I had no idea what he was talking about.
He stood up and said, “Come. I want to show you something.” He took my hand and led me back to the dense woods. He said as we walked, “There are places like this all over, but they’re kind of hidden.”
After a few minutes, we came upon a small clearing that was covered in the lavender grass with odd shaped yellow flowers scattered throughout. Ra-Mali stepped to the center and sat down on the grass. He indicated I should sit too.
“Now, you can’t do this for very long or even very often,” said Ra-Mali as I sat next to him. “I’ll help you with it.” He then took one of the yellow flowers. He didn’t pull it from the ground. Its stem was rather long and he moved it close to my tendril. He gently took my tendril and slid it up inside the flower.
At first there was nothing. And then a strange tingling sensation began to build inside me. Sounds became more clear and I could suddenly hear further away. I became more aware of the world around me. I could actually see the energy pulsing through the various plants. And then came the sound.
It was almost musical in a random kind of way. I closed my eyes and could feel myself grinning as I listened to the completely beautiful sounds. I leaned back and let my mind go and just listened to the music of the planet.
In my mind, not through my ears, Ra-Mali said, “I knew you would enjoy this.”
“How the hell?” I thought.
“We’re connected through our tendrils connected to the flowers,” said Ra-Mali. “Don’t worry. It’s just on the surface. I can’t enter your mind. But I can read your emotions.”
“I can’t read yours,” I said
“It’s a skill. You’ll learn,” said Ra-Mali.
A moment later, I felt my tendril being removed from the flower. Ra-Mali said, “You weren’t in danger yet, but it’s not healthy to be connected for too long. A few get their minds stuck there.”
I turned to face Ra-Mali and said, “Did you learn anything about me?”
“Just emotions, really,” said Ra-Mali. “But I did learn something very important.”
He smiled broadly at me and said, “You’re happy. And I’m glad.”
I thought a moment. Was I happy? I was basically trapped on an alien world. I would never see any of my family or friends ever again. I might not even see another human ever again. And to top it off, I was a young female. I wasn’t frightened any longer. I felt safe with my father and sisters and with large, strong males around like Ra-Mali. I was concerned about what the future held for me. But was I happy?
I closed my eyes and focused inwardly. I’m not sure if I’d say I was happy. But I discovered I did feel contentment. Being an alien female on an alien planet no longer seemed to bother me.
I said, “I have become comfortable with who I am. I…” I stopped as I saw something or someone through the trees a short distance away. I pointed without raising my hand up and said, “What’s that?”
Ra-Mali turned around and instantly his face clouded with anger. “Nalguns!” He growled. He stood up drawing his bow. The unknown male was riding a kolima. He spun around and bolted off away from us. Ra-Mali let loose a shaft from his bow. It whizzed past the fleeing male’s head and embedded itself into a tree.
“What’s a Nalgun?” I said as I stood up.
Ra-Mali spat. He said, “Remember I mentioned the people who live down below the cliffs? Those are Nalguns. He should not be on our lands.”
“Maybe he was just out enjoying the day like we are,” I said, trying to sound positive.
“Stupid girl!” barked Ra-Mali. “He was a scout for a raiding party. Occasionally they get bold and come onto our lands to steal children or girls.”
“That’s awful!” I said.
Nodding, Ra-Mali said, “Yes. It is. Come. We must inform the king.”
The sun was setting when Ra-Mali and several other males riding kolimas returned to the city. Ra-Mali rode up to the king who was standing outside our house. Ka-Nawa and I stepped out of the house along with a few other of our sisters to hear what he had to say.
“We found nothing,” said Ra-Mali. “We searched the plains along the cliff as well as deep into the forest. No sign of any Nalguns. We sent runners to the other cities to alert them to any danger. We even ventured down to the valley below the cliffs and saw no one.”
“Perhaps it was just one lone rider,” said Ra-Nala. “But double the patrols around the city just the same.”
“I’ll see to it personally,” said Ra-Mali. And he turned and rode off with the other males following him.
Ka-Nawa sighed as Ra-Mali road away. “So much for me asking him if he wanted me to make him dinner.”
“There’s always tomorrow,” I said as we headed back to the house.
Ka-Nawa looked over at me and said, “You don’t know how to cook yet, do you?”
I laughed and said, “I’m learning. Slowly but surely.”
Ka-Nawa looked back over her shoulder and said, “There’s no hurry for you to learn.”
“It’s a beautiful morning!” I said as joined my sisters in the courtyard.
Ka-Nawa handed me a basket and said, “It’s a great morning to gather some berries.”
I hesitantly took the basket and said, “Doesn’t that involve going outside the city?”
Ka-Nawa smiled and said, “Not far. The Nalguns would never dare come close to the city. We’ll be safe. The men are patrolling anyway.”
I took the basket and said, “Well, okay. What do I do?”
Ka-Nawa started walking away from the house and out into the forest. She said, “I’ll show you. Here take this. It’s a blade we use to cut the vines the berries grow on. It’s sharp only on one side to make it hard even for you to hurt yourself.”
I took the blade and said, “Gee thanks.” I then ran my thumb down the edge to check its sharpness and started to bleed. “Aii! That’s sharp!”
Ka-Nawa looked at me and laughed. She said, “Now I really find it hard to believe that you hoomans built a flying boat that could travel between stars.”
I sucked on my thumb for a few moments and said, “I didn’t say I built it.”
“Obviously!” laughed Ka-Nawa.
“Why do you need a knife to cut the vines anyway?” I said. “Why not just pluck the berries?”
Ka-Nawa looked at me as if I was from another planet and said, “Not these berries. We’re only getting around 10 each. They’re rather large and the vines fight back.”
I stopped following my sister and said, “The vines fight back?”
“Well, yeah,” said Ka-Nawa. “These do. We have smaller berries probably like what you’re thinking of. But these large konokka berries can be traded for other things. They’re hard to get and you have to know where to look.”
I followed Ka-Nawa as she left the path leading from the city. We started to circle around into thicker brush. I wasn’t sure, but we seemed to be heading in the direction of the ship.
“Shouldn’t we worry about running into a koralth or worse out here?” I said looking around worriedly.
“Not this close to the city. Not usually anyway,” said Ka-Nawa as she hacked at some brush with her blade. “We’re not as far as you think. See? You can still see the very top of the church from here.”
Sure enough you could just barely see the rod that sticks up from the top of the cone shaped church. I relaxed a bit knowing we weren’t that far away from home. I smiled to myself. Yes, this was my home. My old home, the beautiful garden city of Camden, New Jersey seemed very far away.
Ka-Nawa knelt beside a fallen tree and started digging under it. She turned back to me with a large grin. She exclaimed, “Yes! A bunch of konokka berries are hiding under this fallen tree. Nobody likes getting down and dirty to pick them. They get even bigger than these closer to the great waterfall. Fill your basket!” She cleared more dirt from under the tree.
I got down on my knees and helped clear away some more dirt. Externally, the konokka berries looked for all the world like potatoes. I hoped they tasted better than they looked. I started sawing away with the blade to free the berries to put into my basket.
My sister wasn’t kidding about the vines fighting back. They would wiggle and jerk away when I tried to cut them. At first I wondered if this was actually an animal of some kind, but no blood spewed from the cuts in the vine. We worked up quite a sweat as we dug and cut for well over an hour. We had collected eight konokka berries each after all that work.
I leaned back and was sitting on my feet with my legs folded underneath me. As I wiped my sweaty hair from my eyes I wished I’d braided it into small tight braids like Ka-Nawa had. Her hair was neatly out of her way.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath of the cool morning air. As I opened my eyes, I turned to look at Ka-Nawa. Right behind her was a male mounted on a kolima. He sat there silently. I said, “Do you know him?”
Ka-Nawa smiled as she turned, and then her face suddenly changed to fright. “Nalguns! Run!”
The male scowled as he kicked his kolima into motion. He reached down and caught Ka-Nawa by her braids. He tried to turn his kolima around, but the brush was fairly thick.
Ka-Nawa shouted, “Help! Let me go!”
I shouted “Help!” But instead of running towards the city, I ran for the Nalgun just as he kicked his kolima into a gallop. I caught the saddle bag where he kept his extra arrows and who knows what else. I was being bounced around and I knew I couldn’t hold on much longer.
Ka-Nawa was screaming at the top of her voice. I couldn’t let the Nalgun get away with taking her. But my fingers were slipping as the kolima picked up speed. The Nalgun was still holding Ka-Nawa’s hair in a death grip, his muscles straining to hold her. I suddenly remembered the blade still in my other hand.
I couldn’t reach the Nagun’s arm with the blade, but I could reach Ka-Nawa’s hair. With one deft motion, I sliced her hair and saw her fall to the ground. The Nalgun spotted me hanging from his saddle bag for the first time. Angrily, he brought his fist down on my head. I dropped the blade and let go of the strap and fell with a thud to the ground.
The Nalgun spun around and came charging back towards me. I searched frantically in the violet grass and thick plants for the blade. The Nalgun charged by and grabbed me from the back using the harness I wore. As he spun his kolima around once more, I turned and grabbed his arm and pulled myself up. I then sank my sharp teeth deep into his arm, tasting his warm, gooey blue colored blood.
Screaming in pain, the Nalgun dropped back to the ground. I stood up quickly but I didn’t run. I knew I couldn’t outrun him. So I struck a defiant pose and snarled at him.
Wiping the blood from his arm, the Nalgun reached back for his bow. He shouted, “For that, bitch, you die!” He started to notch an arrow when he suddenly stopped. With a surprised look at his face, he fell forward with a long arrow shaft protruding from his back.
Ra-Mali ran up to me with a very worried look on his face. He touched my arms and said, “Ka-Pawli, are you alright? Are you hurt?”
I looked down at myself and said, “I seem to be unhurt.” I looked at Ra-Mali and smiled. “Thank you.”
Somewhat muffled and coming from a few meters away, we heard the weak voice of Ka-Nawa say, “I’m over here.”
Looking intently at me, Ra-Mali said, “We can’t take any chances, girl. We need to get you to a life-giver.”
Smiling at Ra-Mali, I said, “I’m fine. Really.”
Weakly, Ka-Nawa said, “Here. Over here. I hurt my knee.”
Ra-Mali said, “Let me put you on my kolima. I’ll walk beside you back to the city.”
As he lifted me up, I said, “What about Ka-Nawa?”
Ra-Mali shrugged and said, “She’s a big girl. She knows her way back to the city.”
As Ra-Mali led me away, Ka-Nawa stood up and shouted, “Kaflak for brains!”
Later that afternoon, with several males guarding, we retrieved the konokka berries we’d dropped. Apparently they really are valuable.
The males of the city killed six of the Nalguns altogether. Three got away. Ka-Nawa wasn’t the only girl they tried to steal. Thankfully, everyone was returned safely.
As we were preparing the family meal, Ka-Nawa hit me and shouted, “You cut my hair! You cut my hair!”
“I saved your life!” I shouted back.
Ka-Nawa hit me again and waved her shortened braids at me. “I can’t believe you cut my hair!”
I shouted back, “Would you prefer to be a Nalgun bride?”
Ka-Nawa just scowled at me.
Ra-Nala, our father walked up and knocked Ra-Nawa on the head. He said, “Your hair will grow back.” To me, he said, “Thank you for saving my oldest daughter even though she is ungrateful.”
Rubbing the back of her head, Ka-Nawa said, “I’m not ungrateful, Father. It’s just I haven’t cut it since I was child. The last time Mother cut it.”
Ra-Nala suddenly looked sad and pained. The girls stopped playing and a somber mood fell over the household.
Ka-Nawa looked at the ground and said, “I’m sorry, Father.”
Father nodded, patted Ka-Nawa on the back of her head and walked away in silence.
Today was the day. The day FTL-15 returned to the green mountains and blue skies of Earth. The suit’s power was almost gone, but I could still turn on the communications and contact the ship.
“FTL-15, this is Ra-Pawli…er…I mean Newman,” I said into the open helmet. Nothing but static crackled from the helmet. “FTL-15, this is Newman. Please respond.” Silence.
Not really talking into the helmet, but I said aloud, “Oh God, I hope they haven’t left already.”
After a few agonizing moments of silence, Joyce said, “Newman. Joyce here. Sorry, I was washing my hair.”
“Seriously?” I said. I translated what Joyce said.
Ka-Nawa said, “Did you cut her hair too?”
Whispering to Ka-Nawa I said, “Give it a rest, will you?”
Joyce laughed and said, “No. I was actually clearing the plant growth from around the condensation outlet.”
I chuckled and said, “Fun. Are you still planning on departing at noon?”
“Yes indeed,” said Joyce. “As beautiful as it is here, I can’t wait to see Earth again. You best head over here now if you want to see us off in person.”
“Heading over there now. Newman closing communications,” I said into the helmet. I hesitated a moment, and then I shut down the suit’s power for the final time. I felt a sudden immense sadness. I’m not going home.
I looked up at Ra-Mali and Ka-Nawa. I said, “Ready to go? Remember to stay back at the tree line. Ra-Mali, you’re a big ugly brute. I don’t want you scaring my friends.”
Ra-Mali laughed. He said, “Hoomans are the ugly ones.”
“Well, when we reach the ship, just hang back, okay?” I said. “Father won’t let me go that far without you to protect me. I accept that considering I’ve been almost eaten twice.”
All this time, the ship has only been a twenty minute walk from the city, yet I’ve not returned to it since that fateful night that I was almost killed. I guess in a way, I did die. Thankfully, this little journey wasn’t interrupted by any vicious animals or vicious people. Since Ra-Mali had kept an eye on the ship, he would lead the way.
Shortly we stood at the edge of a very small clearing. They had turned the camouflage off on the ship and cleared the foliage they had covered it with to further hide it.
Ka-Nawa grunted. She said, “You traveled between the stars in that small thing?”
I laughed and said, “No, silly. That’s the landing craft. The main ship is still in orbit. All the telemetry and research data is continuously transmitted to the main ship.”
Ra-Mali looked thoughtful. “How is that possible?”
I shrugged and said, “It’s called radio. Same way I talked to the ship from my old environment suit. Kinda like our tendrils, but through the air. I’m not an engineer, so I’m not sure if I can explain it.”
Ka-Nawa said, “Look. Several hoomans are coming out of that thing.”
“I’m sure they’re very ready to leave, so I better go there and say my good-byes to them,” I said as I started to walk towards the ship. “I’ll wave you over if they want to meet you too.”
As I approached the ship, one of the crew waved. I think it was Joyce, but it was hard to tell with their environment suits on.
Seeing the ship again made my heart sink. It represented Earth, home and everything and everyone I’d ever known. In a few minutes, it would leave forever. At some later point, there might be someone else arriving for further study, but it won’t be this ship and crew.
I smiled when I stood in front of the ones that had come out. It was Joyce, Bill, and Thompson. I’m sure the remaining two members of the crew stayed inside for security reasons.
Joyce grimaced at my smile. “Those are some pretty vicious looking teeth you have, Newman.” I was taller by more than a head than my ex-fellow human beings.
I laughed and said, “They come in handy sometimes. It’s good to see you guys.”
Joyce’s smile faded as she said, “Maybe not.”
Bill shouted, “Now!”
Suddenly a large net flew over my head. The two remaining crewmembers weren’t in the ship. They were behind me with the camouflage turned on. I struggled with the netting to no avail. I couldn’t break its carbon fibers.
“Joyce! What the fuck?” I shouted as the net was tightened.
Looking sad, Joyce said, “You’re just too valuable to leave behind, Newman.”
Bill bent down and picked up an air rifle and pointed it at me. He said, “Into the cryo-hold Newman. You’re a walking, talking gold mine of data.”
There was a sudden roaring growl as one of the camouflaged crew members went flying through the air and I was pushed aside. There were two pops and I saw Ra-Mali fall to the ground.
I shouted, “No! Stop shooting!”
Bill was shoved violently to the ground by Ka-Nawa. She pulled a dagger from her belt and ran towards Bill.
I shouted, “Don’t hurt him! He’s an idiot but he thought he was being protective. Cut me out of this net.”
Joyce just stood there frozen; horrified that everything was going so wrong. Thompson helped the crewmember that Ra-Mali had thrown, to get back into the ship. His suit had been torn open.
Ka-Nawa struggled but finally cut a hole in the net and I pulled myself out of it and ran to where Ra-Mali lay. He was unconscious with his thick blue blood oozing from two chest wounds.
Bill got up and staggered over to Joyce. He still held the rifle. He said, “I can’t move my arm. I think my shoulder is dislocated.”
Scowling, I growled at Bill from where I knelt next to Ra-Mali. “You’re about to be dead, asshole. Why did you shoot him?”
“I…he…he was attacking. I…” said Bill, looking very worried.
“Put the rifle down before my sister and I kill you. He was trying to protect me. I don’t understand this betrayal!” I shouted.
Ka-Nawa said, “We need to get him back to the city. We need to get him to a life-giver.”
I shook my head and said, “We’ll never make it in time. He’ll be dead before we can get him back.” In English, I said, “We need to get him to a life-giver back at the city. But we’ll never make it in time. He’s losing too much blood.”
“I’m sorry,” said Bill.
“Shut the fuck up, Bill!” I snarled.
Joyce said, “The life-giver. That’s the plant that saved you? What does it look like? Maybe there’s one nearby.”
I shook my head and said, “They’re very rare. I doubt there’s one around.”
Joyce said, “It won’t hurt to look.”
I said, “They have very large white leaves with silver veins and grow in clusters. I’m pretty sure if one was this close to the city, it would have been taken by now.”
Rubbing his shoulder, Bill said, “Wait. You said large white leaves with silver veins? We have one. Remember? On our second landing we picked up some flora specimens and one of them fits that description.”
Joyce’s face lit up. She said, “You’re right. Bill, help me get it from the hold.”
I stood up and said, “Yes! I remember that now. Hurry!”
I knelt back next to Ra-Mali. Ka-Nawa was standing next to him, holding her dagger ready.
Ka-Nawa said, “Why did you stop me. That hooman deserves to die! Look what he did!”
Starting to cry as I held Ra-Mali’s hand I said, “They don’t see us as people, my sister. He thought he was protecting his people from a wild alien. He’s bringing us a life-giver.”
Ka-Nawa looked down at me with a surprised expression. She said, “A life-giver? How? What do the hoomans know?”
I smiled weakly and said, “We have one in the ship. We picked it up from the other side of the planet before we came here.”
Looking at me and then down to Ra-Mali, she said, “I wish to the gods that you had never come here.”
Touching Ra-Mali’s forehead, I said, “Me too.”
Joyce and Bill suddenly came running from around the ship carrying a large, leafy plant. It was a life-giver!
I stood up and shouted. I said, “Hurry! Bring it here.” I looked over at Ka-Nawa and said, “Put the knife away.” She scowled at me, but put the knife back in her belt.
The life-giver was laid out alongside Ra-Mali. Instantly, tendrils from the plant sought the dirt and started entwining with other plants. The leaves began to glow softly.
Ka-Nawa helped me pick up Ra-Mali and set him into the middle of the plant. The leaves began to glow brighter.
I knelt next to Ra-Mali, tears in my eyes. I took his hand and positioned myself in a prayer posture. I whipsered, “Please don’t die…” I then began chanting a prayer.
Ka-Nawa knelt beside me and said, “You love him, don’t you?”
Do I? I’ve only been here a few weeks. I was never a female before. Could I possibly love this big ugly brute? This alien male from another planet? I’m not of this world.
I looked down at Ra-Mali’s face. To see him lying there when he’s normally so full of life. I was overwhelmed by the greatest sadness I’ve ever felt. My tears dripped onto his face.
With a tear running down my cheek, I turned to Ka-Nawa and said simply, “Yes.”
Ka-Nawa nodded, closed her eyes and joined me in the prayer.
A few minutes later, I was at first horrified to see the thick blue blood suddenly flowing thicker from the two wounds. And then to my utter amazement, the two pellets from the air rifle slowly pushed their way out of his chest and the holes started to close up. Ra-Mali’s breathing became deeper and more regular.
Ka-Nawa hugged me and kissed my cheek. She said, “Your man lives. He’ll sleep for another hour or so. But he lives!”
I smiled at Ka-Nawa and bent down to touch my tendril to Ra-Mali’s. Through it, I could feel his strength returning. His life growing stronger.
My sister said, “You should tell the hoomans to leave before he wakes up. He might be pissed at them just a bit.” I nodded and stood up.
To Joyce I said, “Thank you for bringing the life-giver. It saved his life. But it doesn’t fully redeem you for your betrayal.”
Joyce nodded and looked at the ground for a moment. She said, “I’m terribly sorry. We really thought it was the best thing to do. Bill is right. You’re a treasure chest for science. And I didn’t want to lose another crew member. But I can see now that you belong here. You’re a part of this world now.”
“You should probably leave before the male wakes up. He’s going to be very upset with Bill.” I said.
Joyce pointed at the life-giver and said, “Can we have the plant back?”
I shook my head. I said, “No. It’s ours.”
Joyce nodded. She said, “Well, good-bye, Newman. I wish you good fortune on your new life here.”
I shook her hand and said, “Thanks. Have a safe trip back to Earth.”
Joyce then looked over at Ra-Mali’s still unconscious form. She then pointed at Ra-Nawa and said, “Oh. Just curious about your female friend there. I don’t understand the culture here, but her hair looks terrible with that rough cut. It’s not nice like yours.”
I laughed and said, “It’s a long story. Safe journeys.” I then stepped back next to Ka-Nawa.
With a final wave, Joyce and Bill ran back to the ship. I watched through the windscreen as Joyce took her pilot’s seat and started prepping for take-off. There was a hum as the engines began to wind up. The plants under the ship starting being violently blown around. Through the ship’s windscreen, Joyce gave me a thumbs up and then the ship, with a rising pitch of the engines, slowly ascended into the sky. Ka-Nawa and I both just stood there and watched as they finally disappeared in the distance.
I fought back that instant feeling of panic and remorse. A feeling that I had made the wrong decision and I can’t take it back. I was stuck here on an alien planet. I had a sudden desire for a beer and sirloin steak. I took a deep breath. For better or worse, this was my home now.
Ka-Nawa poked me and said, “I saw the hooman point at me and say something. What did the hooman say?”
I smiled and said, “She said she liked your hair. She thought the short cut looked cute.”
Never in my life had I expected to see a day like this one. How could I have ever imagined it?
Standing at the dais in the church, Ra-Mali next to me, my emotions were in a whirl. My head was encircled by a crown of beautiful flowers, made by my sisters. The room was full and the high priest stood smiling before us.
The priest said, “My most solemn and joyous duty is to join the lives of two people, bound by an invisible chain that can never be broken. I pronounce Ra-Mali and Ka-Pawli, as witnessed by the gods and those gathered here, as being mated.” Komali mate for life. There’s no word for divorce.
Smiling, in a low voice, Ra-Mali said, “Ugly girl.”
I smiled back at him and said, “Brutish animal.”
He bent his head down and kissed me and our dingle berries entwined.
I was pregnant with my third child when the science ship from Earth landed.
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