… continued from Cliff Divers
The trip back to the main levels of the community, and from there to Jaci’s chamber, proved in Anna’s mind that some emotions transcended species. She certainly had experienced moments that felt more immediately dangerous, but traveling among and thru the angry Kwakitl, especially along the narrow cliffside path with its sheer drop to the lagoon, ranked as one of the more uncomfortable in recent memory. None of the waist-height avians nudged or in any touched any of the humans, but their lidded gaze and their silence spoke volumes.
Why, though? Anna could understand that some of them might associate the human visitors with streaking meteors and sonic booms, but surely they understood that the three of them could not in any way be responsible for thisstreaking meteor, or this sonic boom?
She half-expected not to be allowed to ascend the elevator, and indeed for a moment it seemed they might not be, but a juvenile in the group apparently interceded on their behalf, arguing with its parent. As the elevator began its ponderous rise to the upper platform, the young Kwakitl tried to take Jaci’s hand under its wing, but that was too much for the parent. A single angry squawk was all it took, and the juvenile reluctantly moved away from the humans. Jaci appeared especially touched and saddened by the encounter.
The silent stares continued through the rock corridors until the three humans entered their private space and were left to themselves.
Laxmi spoke first. “Our new arrivals, I presume?”
“Most likely,” Anna replied.
“That didn’t take them long, from approach last night to atmospheric entry this morning.”
“No. No, it didn’t.”
“Will they come here, do you think?”
“Laxmi, I don’t know.”
“What should we do?”
“I don’t know that, either.”
“Laxmi, I don’t know. I don’t know who they are, I don’t know what they want, and I don’t know if they’ll come here. I… Look, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to snap at you. We’re all on edge about everything.”
“It’s all right, Anna. I don’t mean to pester you.”
While the women talked, Jaci brooded and paced back and forth in the small chamber, nearly comical with his head ducked low to avoid the stone ceiling. Suddenly he stopped and looked up.
“I need to go see Li-Estl.”
“Jaci, I don’t think that’s a good idea right now.”
“You don’t understand. That was one of her students who fell. One of… She must be distraught.”
“I’m sure she is. Pretty clearly this whole community is. And also pretty clearly, they… wait. Did you know the victim?”
“Of course I do! Did, I mean. I know all of her regulars. I have to go up there.” He moved toward the doorway.
“Wait! Don’t go alone. I’m not sure we should be separated right now. I’m not sure it’s safe. We’ll come with you.”
Jaci was already at the door, but before he could go through the way was blocked by two leather-clad, helmeted, and spear-wielding Kwakitl. They didn’t lower the spear tips to point them at Jaci, but it became quite clear they had no intention of letting him exit the chamber. Jaci stumbled and fell back into the room.
A third Kwakitl stepped into view, unarmed but also wearing a thickened leather vest, and stood between the two spear-wielders. Anna gasped when she saw the rough scar slashing across the avian’s face, bisecting one eye.
“Gamma,” she whispered.
The old bird cocked her head and looked directly at Anna, but didn’t speak.
“Jaci,” Anna said quietly, “get the translator out.”
Anna took the tablet from Jaci and held it before her. The guards tensed and partly lowered their spear tips toward her, but Gamma held up a wing to stop them. She continued to watch Anna closely.
“You know me,” Anna said into the tablet. She watched Gamma’s face as the device produced avian clicks and whistled consonants. For a moment she would swear she saw surprise there, but then Gamma regained her steely composure and responded.
“You are known to me,” the tablet translated.
“My name is Anna. This is Laxmi, and this is Jaci, our companion who was with us before we left Ar-Velen.”
“Anna.” Anna recognized her own name in Gamma’s speech. “I am Ca-Seti. I am chief of fishing for Ar-Danel.”
“That’s here, by the way,” Jaci interjected. “Ar-Danel is this village, or this island, anyway.”
Anna nodded her thanks and turned back to Gamma, or Ca-Seti as she now knew her actual name to be.
“Ca-Seti, thank you for bringing us to your home. Why is the chief of fishing at our door with weapons?”
The tablet buzzed. It did not know how to translate “weapons.”
“Why is the chief of fishing here with these?” Anna pointed at the spears.
Ca-Seti appeared confused by the question, or at least she took a moment before answering.
“Who else would carry spears? It is what I do.”
“I think,” Laxmi said, “that for the Kwakitl hunting for their food and defending their community may be synonymous. Certainly the same tools are involved.”
“Ok, then.” Anna faced Ca-Seti squarely. “Why do you need spears here, at this moment? Are we prisoners?”
The tablet buzzed again at “prisoners.”
“Are we free to go, or must we remain here?”
“Anna and Laxmi and Jaci must remain here.”
“We must speak with Li-Estl.”
“It is not possible for Anna to speak with Li-Estl now. Li-Estl is busy.”
Anna turned to Jaci. “Is it just me, or is Ca-Seti’s translated speech much better than Li-Estl’s?”
“It’s a learning function of the software,” he replied. “It improves as it gains a greater sample size, with more parties on either side of the translation.”
“I guess you haven’t had much chance to speak with anyone outside of Li-Estl’s class, then. Too busy with your kiddie fan club?” Anna winked at Jaci. “Ca-Seti, I repeat, you know me. You know my companions. You know that we have nothing to do with this morning’s events. We are very sorry about the unfortunate accident, and we extend our condolences…” The tablet buzzed. “Er, we sympathize with the family of the young one who fell. So why are we not free to go?”
“I know you did not cause the accident. But I know you are not from Ar-Velen. I know about the new star in the sky. I know that soon after this star appeared, there was a fireball which fell to Ar-Velen, and then Ca-Lasi found your wrecked sky boat with Jaci there. Why were you and Laxmi not with Jaci? You say he is your companion, but I found you on the sea, far from Ar-Velen, without him. Now another fireball falls from the sky. I do not yet know, but perhaps it too fell on Ar-Velen. Li-Estl will soon tell us, and we will go there again. But why Ar-Velen? Ar-Velen is forbidden, yet you went there, and now others of your kind may be there too. Why do you come here?”
Anna considered all this while the tablet translated.
“Ca-Seti, we came because we heard your call.”
“Long ago, your ancestors spoke to the sky, and although it took a very long time, many years, eventually we heard them. It then took us a long time, more years, to travel here to find you. When we arrived, we had… trouble… and that is why you found us wrecked upon Ar-Velen.”
“So the new fireball, they are your people here to rescue you.”
“No. I don’t know, but it is not possible for our people to yet know that we are in trouble. It is too far away. The new fireball, I do not know who it is.”
Ca-Seti was silent a moment. Anna was pretty sure she saw suspicion in her gaze.
“There is talk in Ar-Danel. I think perhaps you do know who it is, even if it is not your people. I think perhaps you are not as surprised as we are. And, for your sake as well as for ours, I hope we are both wrong. But until we know, you will remain here.”
The tablet had not yet finished translating Ca-Seti’s final statement before she had turned on her foot and departed, leaving behind the two guards and their spears.
… continued with Visitors
© Matt Fraser and mattfraserbooks.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matt Fraser and mattfraserbooks.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.