… continued from Ancient News
Anna handed the tablet to Laxmi when she finished reading it and looked at Li-Estl, then Jaci.
Several of the young students in the chamber heard the word and looked at Anna with heads cocked to one side in what she presumed was a quizzical expression. Jaci, on the other hand, grinned and nodded vigorously.
“So you think the Orta are… were… another space-faring species?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Ambassadors, and they require a different environment, and they have ships with engines that could… well, in theory, anyway… cause sunspots? Plus, what else could the elevators refer to but the space elevators up to the ring station?”
“That seems the most obvious conclusion, yes, but it says here that Li-Estl thinks they are mythological, fantasy monsters.”
“It was a long time ago, Anna. Clearly much has changed here in the meantime, but we already knew that.”
Laxmi lifted her gaze from the tablet in her hand and interjected, “This account describes an ecological disaster.”
Jaci turned to her. “That’s right. And the beginnings of civilizational collapse. We know from this that the Kwakitl used to be much more numerous, and they had government structures and elections, banks, markets, cities, and apparently a partnership with these Orta in the ring station and the elevators.”
“Li-Estl was able to translate these concepts? Elections? Banks? Do they have those things now?”
Jaci looked a bit sheepish. “Well, not as such, no. You can see where the translation indicates doubt and possible alternative meanings. Many of the terms were apparently unfamiliar to Li-Estl, but the software was able to suggest options from context.”
“And she understood these options? How did you translate them back into modern Kwakitl that she would comprehend?”
“That took time, admittedly. With the software’s help, and a lot of back and forth, we found near-equivalents that Li-Estl did understand, and from there she was able to comprehend the difference with the older terminology. For instance, they don’t have elections in the sense of public voting, but they do have a sort of contest in which the community chooses new leaders when the old one retires. They don’t have banks, or money, but they do trade goods with other islands, other communities, and there are marketplaces of a kind, although classic old-world physical ones. ‘Prime Minister’ or ‘Ambassador’ are not terms they use today, but ‘Chief’ or ‘Leader’ and something kind of like ‘Emissary’ or ‘Messenger’ are close enough.”
“What does Li-Estl know about the ring station?” asked Anna. “Do the Kwakitl understand the nature of a space station in orbit? Or what the space elevator is?”
“No, not really. Things get really hazy there. Understand, Li-Estl is sort of like a scientist as well as historian and teacher, but she’s also kind of a shaman to the rest of her village here. She teaches the young, but it’s not like school on Earth, it’s not compulsory, and many of the youths get some other kind of training elsewhere, or mostly they just do kind of like apprenticeships for a trade of some kind. She teaches reading and writing, but most of the Kwakitl are illiterate. She teaches history, at least as far as she knows the history, but most of them are superstitious in sort of the way that ancient Greeks or… hmm, no, not even like that. More like ancient Polynesians, which I guess kind of makes sense. So, Li-Estl wasn’t really aware of the true nature of the ring station, but she at least understands that it’s something physical, and not a path of sky gods or whatever it is the rest of them believe.”
“So, they could take us to the elevator?”
“That is not entirely clear.”
“What do you mean? We can all see it in the northern sky. It pretty clearly touches down somewhere just over the horizon. These… these people, they’re excellent sailors and navigators, they must know where that place is. Some of them have probably been there.”
“Yes, that’s true, but there’s a lot of superstition about the elevator in particular. I haven’t quite teased it all out yet, so I don’t really understand, but I think it’s tied in with this childhood fairytale thing about the Orta, with the net result that there’s a sort of taboo against going there. I don’t know if it’s actively forbidden, or if everyone’s just afraid of it, but whatever the reason, yes, they know where it is, and no, they’re not likely to take us there.”
Laxmi spoke up again. “Let’s get back to the Orta. What do we know about them? Are they still around somewhere? Do we know where they came from? Or what they look like, or what happened to turn them into this childhood monster story?”
Jaci turned to Li-Estl, who throughout the exchange had remained impassive yet attentive, quietly listening. He typed something onto his tablet, then held it up as it issued a series of avian clucks and whistles which Anna recognized as the same speech she had been hearing from other Kwakitl the past few weeks. Li-Estl replied in the same language, gesturing with her wings, and at one point turning to her students, while Jaci recorded her speech with the tablet. When she stopped, he touched a button on the screen and a vaguely feminine, vaguely robotic voice emanated with the Englese translation.
“Kwakitl children told if not good, not do as parents say, Orta come for them at night. When grown, as adults, Kwakitl know Orta not real, but still have childish fear. Stories say, Kwakitl once could fly. Kwakitl fly too high, and Orta come and take away Kwakitl flight. Now Kwakitl only walk, or swim, or sail in boats. Orta live in sea. Orta live in sky. Orta use high way between sea and sky, what Jaci call elevator, but not like elevator outside from village to beach. Orta ugly and powerful, vengeful and evil. Children… Class, who like to draw Orta for Jaci? Class, know Orta not real, only story, but Jaci has interest in story. Thank you, Su-nila.”
One of the juveniles scratched away with stylus on parchment, and when she was done, she shyly held it up for the humans to see. Li-Estl looked on her approvingly, but the picture shocked Anna deeply, and she saw that it had the same effect on Laxmi.
It was a childish rendition of the octopoid creature that took the life of one of Gamma’s fishermen. Or fisherwomen? Anna’s mind went down several irrelevant paths before coming back to the central fact that the Orta of the childhood horror story, and possibly also of the thousand-year-old radio broadcast, looked very much like the sea creature she and Laxmi encountered on the fishing boat. Or, it would, if the sea creature had obviously malevolent eyes and clutched knives and pincers and other horrific instruments in its tentacles. The picture even showed a small, nearly stick-figure-like Kwakitl cowering in fear before the giant octopoid.
For a moment, Anna’s thoughts flashed back to the cave-drawings in the stone temple, high on the mountainside of the jungle island where they had spent a few weeks after their crash-landing, a time which seemed almost idyllic compared to all that had transpired since. Had there been Orta depicted on the walls there? She could not now recall.
Jaci noticed the look on Anna’s face. “What? What is it?”
“It’s an octopoid.”
“Well, yeah, but so? You’re not suggesting that it’s some sort of galactic Cthulhu or something, are you? Though come to think of it, wasn’t there once a theory that octopus might have been alien lifeforms, seeded on Earth millions of years ago? Pretty sure that was debunked, but…”
“It was debunked,” Laxmi said. “But they have cephalopods here. Not the same species as our octopus, obviously, but possessing eight tentacled appendages.”
“Wait, are you saying the Orta are still here, and you’ve seen one?”
“No. I’m not saying that. I’m saying that an organism conforming loosely to terrestrial cephalopod form lives in the oceans here, and the sailors are well aware of it, and quite frightened by it. One of them attacked our boat while the crew was fishing, and there was a death.”
“Attacked… the boat? How big was it?”
“We didn’t get a very clear look. Most of it was underwater. But, pretty big. I estimate the tentacles were somewhere between four and five meters. Kind of makes terrestrial giant octopi seem not quite so giant after all.”
Jaci typed furiously on the tablet again, and once again played the verbal translation to Li-Estl. She responded, and a minute later they heard her response from the tablet.
“Creatures in ocean not Orta. But, very dangerous. Sailors and fishermen always on lookout, always have guards. Fortunately also very rare. Always believe Orta myth come from sea creature, but now have doubt. Jaci play old speech, seem Orta another people, like Kwakitl, but also not like Kwakitl. Perhaps Orta and Kwakitl have war? Seem Kwakitl much reduced from long time, perhaps Kwakitl lose war? But, if Orta win, where Orta now?”
“A very good question,” Anna said. “Where are the Orta now?”
… continued with Taboos and Discoveries
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