(Stories are the property of Kirsten Lincoln.
Please do not reprint without my permission)
by K. Bird Lincoln
Envoy Lara Suzuki stared at her viewscreen in disbelief, still rubbing sleep
from her eyes. She struggled to process the words of her Aristan counterpart
as he explained the failure of thirty years of painstaking negotiation.
"All Alien personnel shall remain under temporary house arrest until the High Council settles this matter," continued Erendryl. The clipped, British Isles tone Erendryl seemed to affect whenever relaying official orders from the High Council almost made his English unintelligible. Lara cursed for the hundredth time the linguist who decided the Aristans should learn the Queenfs English. gAll citizens are prohibited from any contact with Aliens, on pain of censure.h
gWhat happened, Erendryl? Does the High Council believe all the rumors the opposition is spreading about us?h Lara pressed her hands against the console in frustration.
gIfm sorry Envoy Suzuki,h Erendryl said. His calm tone did not match the flush of agitation turning the overlapping scales of his face dark gray. gThe council received new information that casts doubt on humanityfs status as a higher level being..h
Impervious, gray snow suddenly erased his image.
Lara pounded on the consolefs controls in frustration, gaining nothing from her efforts but a bruised finger. They had cut her net access. Taking deep breaths, she tried to force her shocked brain to consider the best course of action.
After Earth received the first Aristan transmissions, they wasted no time in sending teams of scientists and politicos to establish contact with only the second intelligent species found in the neighboring galaxies of the Milky Way. The Aristans, content with an exchange of information through hyperspace transmission, were less than welcoming. It took twenty years of intense negotiations before they allowed the first Envoys to set foot on Arista, and only for the past year could the Envoys move freely around the capital city.
Lara ran her hands through sleep-tousled black curls in irritation. How was she going to explain this latest setback to the bureaucrats back home? Here was the final crowning disaster for the wayward granddaughter of Canaan Suzuki.
Lara pulled on a civilian tunic. It was possible her house arrest status was not yet officially enforced. If she could get next door to Kyralafs dwelling, her Aristan assistant might allow her to use a console to get a message out to the others.
At the touch of her palm, the door slid open into the bright orange sun of the Aristan morning. There was no movement around the tall, round doors of the mud-and-wattle dwellings that encircled the Envoy House in graceful spirals. It was still too early for the slow-blooded Aristans to be awake.
Lara wondered if Erendryl knew that when he chose to awaken her so early with bad news.. She spoke a word of thanks towards the northern rocky hills where her friend lived, and then sprinted the twenty meters to the next dwelling.
Kyralafs young child, Breen answered the door, blinking down at Lara with sleep-fogged eyes.
gMy danatha isnft up yet, Envoy Lara,h Breen said.
gItfs okay,h said Lara, putting a foot firmly in the door. Her petite frame wasnft all that intimidating to the six foot juvenile, but she could use her adult status as a lever. gI just want to borrow your console for a second.h
The first call she made was to the alien biologist, Mike Johnson.
gThey havenft contacted us yet,h said the sleep-creased face that answered.
gYou may not have much time. Get all your people together and decide if you are going to stay and wait this latest crisis out, or if you want to cut and run,h Lara said.
gIs it that bad? We just got permission to start some -h
gMike!h Lara cut in sharply, tapping her fingernails against the console in irritation. gI donft have much time. UTA is already frustrated with our lack of progress. If the High Council finds some excuse to hold us here, do you think the brassfll bust any knuckles to get us out? Remember how the first team was stuck on planet for five years when the Aristans decided to debate cultural pollution?h
gI thought the High Council already ruled on that,h said the biologist. gI canft get stuck here. My next assignment is a Dflaskan research vessel, Ifve got to get out.h
Lara began typing instructions into the special English panel that Kyrala had installed in her console when she became Larafs assistant. If official word hadnft spread far enough for guards to be enforcing house arrest, it was possible they would still allow a shuttle to sneak off planet and rendezvous with the big ship due in a couple weeks. For the first time since she landed on Arista, Lara was grateful for the glacial pace of Aristan bureaucracy.
gMike, Ifm sending you the launch codes for a shuttle. If you can get everybody awake in the next ten minutes, you can probably make it off planet before anyone knows youfve gone.h
gWhat do I need the codes for? Arenft you coming?h His voice was tending towards the hysterical, feeding the anxiety already forming knots in Larafs stomach.
gIfve got to warn the others. Look, just take the codes and high-tail it out of here.h Loath to waste any more precious time calming the volatile scientist, Lara cut transmission. She wasn`t about to explain to Mike that her career, her reputation, and even her self-respect, were all riding on this mission. There was nothing left on Earth for her but a house full of painful memories.
A sudden movement at her elbow made Lara flinch, almost upsetting the cup of tea Breen placed on the table next to her. She forced a soothing image of her grandfatherfs Zen garden through the roiling waves of nausea threatening to overtake her.
gOh, you startled me. Is Kyrala awake yet?h Lara tried to sound casual. The juvenile Aristan was staring at her in apprehension.
gNo, Envoy Suzuki. Kyrala is still in sarathra,h Breen said. Lara didnft fully understand the Aristan word- something to do with meditation- but it was a sensitive area. She probably still had time to try contacting the other Envoys and slip out of the house before Kyrala realized she was there. She had no intention of implicating her Aristan friend in whatever trouble the High Council had cooked up.
Lara wasted several precious moments convincing Breen to leave the room, then managed to leave warning messages for the other three envoys stationed in the capital. Their absence was hopefully a sign that they had been warned, as she had, by sympathetic Aristans and were making tracks for the nearest shuttle port. The next call bore the intricate Aristan calligraphy meaning that the receiving end visuals were down.
gEnvoy Brainard, this is Lara Suzuki. Priority message. You are in danger of being detained by planetary authorities.h Larafs eyes narrowed in frustration. Mira Brainard didnft usually respond to official communications. Present on Arista since first contact, Brainard had developed a healthy disrespect for officialdom. The last time Lara left a message for her, Brainard hadnft replied for three weeks.
Lara tried again. This time Brainardfs voice came over the console in reply.
gIfm real sorry to have missed you. I am currently not available to take your call. If you feel like trying some of the best pecan pie on Arista though, keep tryinf, therefs one in the oven right now!h
Oh hell. What if Brainard didnft check her messages right away? It was Brainardfs recommendation that had gotten her this position, despite the trail of offended professors left in Larafs academic wake. Maybe Lara failed to manifest Canaanfs brilliance with inter-being relationships, but she had inherited his Japanese sense of obligation.
Besides, what was there to go home to? More interviews about how it felt to be a famous xenologistfs granddaughter? Or dance around questions regarding Canaanfs Alzheimer-destroyed last days? Ulike Lara, maybe Brainard had enough career left to save, even if the Aristans did go all whacko.
No, there wasnft anything urgent calling her back to Earth.
There was no sign of Breen as she quietly slipped out of the dwelling. Lara couldnft make it to Brainardfs house on foot. Using the capitalfs efficient transit service was out of the question; guards were stationed at every entrance. She would have to risk riding one of the anachronistic tourist buggies the Aristans insisted were so picturesque. At least it would provide a little privacy.
The first driver she hailed took one look at Lara, and drove past without a word, soothing the double-horned beladon pulling the buggy with a few soft-spoken words. This was not a good sign. When two more empty buggies passed without stopping, Lara despaired. Word must have gotten out about the Earth envoys and none of the drivers would be willing to risk High Council censure. She was considering turning hijacker when two shaggy beladon stopped directly in front of her.
gEnvoy Suzuki,h said a voice from inside the buggy. gYour presence is respectfully requested by Envoy Brainard. Would you mind entering this conveyance as speedily as possible?h
Lara didnft wait for the speaker to finish his invitation. She jumped into the buggy, praying that Erendryl had decided to risk offending the council. An unfamiliar Aristan with gray-flecked scales scattered over his brow stared calmly at her from the other side of the buggy. There was a mixture of confidence and arrogance about him that made her decide he must be an official of some kind.
The Aristan politely waited a good five minutes before greeting Lara, giving her time to study his garments for any sign of High Council markings.
gGreetings, Envoy Suzuki. I am Melana. Envoy Brainard is currently indisposed at my dwelling. I deemed it prudent to acquire another Earth Envoyfs assistance before the High Council did something rash.h
Larafs eyes widened in surprise. Few Aristans would feel comfortable insulting another by alleging them to be grashh. Fewer still would use that word against the High Council. Lara had heard this doctorfs name in connection with pro-Earth factions, but she had never actually met such a bold Aristan before. A glimmer of hope stirred.
The buggy stopped in front of a boxy dwelling connected to several smaller buildings by mud-colored passageways. Intricately patterned beds of multi-colored ground cover surrounded the entire compound. Stunted trees, evoking memories in Lara of her grandfatherfs meticulously trimmed bonsai, bordered a small rise on the eastern side of the main house.
Anxiety had taken over Lara`s chest. As always, memories of her grandfather clustered around her anxiety like tattered remains of ghosts. When would she escape his shadow? Wasn`t it enough that she bore his name, did she have to bear the burden of his life as well? A scrap of memory, one of Canaan`s haunted folksongs, tore loose from its granite prison in Lara`s brain.
Whose strange little house is this? Itfs a godfs house.
This song was one thing that lasted through the senility; the melody remembered when even his granddaughterfs face was not. Lara pinched the sensitive skin inside her left elbow. She had to keep it together.
gIf you will follow me, Envoy Suzuki.h The doctor quickly led her through the gate into one of the smaller buildings in the compound. Lara noted richly woven hangings and geometrically precise, interlocking tiles on the floor, then stopped cold at the sight of Mira Brainard sprawled over a cushion, drool leaking from the left side of her mouth.
gEnvoy Brainard?h Larafs tentative greeting was not returned.
gI am afraid that Envoy Brainard is not in any condition to answer you,h said Melana.
gWhat happened? How long has she been like this?h
The scales on the doctorfs face turned dark in consternation. He slowly padded towards Brainard, then knelt down beside her. A moment passed. Lara struggled with her rising impatience, and the lingering words of the folksong she couldnft seem to get out of her mind.
Come down the path to the godfs house, do you have the courage?
gThere is much to explain,h said the doctor, carefully measuring his words. gI was hoping you would recognize her illness and effect her recovery.h
To control her irritation, Lara pressed her nails tightly into her palms. She didnft have time for the customary Aristan slow approach to important news. Very likely guards were already on the lookout for her.
gWhat happened?h Lara chose her words carefully, trying not to antagonize her only Aristan ally of the moment. The doctor sighed heavily.
gEnvoy Brainard has not told you of our collaboration? We were exploring human and Aristan physiology together.h
gYes,h said Lara, gI remember seeing some report about complex chemicals in the brain.h
Melana took a seat on the low, sand-filled chair next to Envoy Brainard. He rested one hand on the motionless womanfs hair. gEnvoy Brainard and I have not only been comparing the physical differences between our two peoples. The opportunity to study a differently evolved sentience, to compare how intelligence and emotion is sparked in an alien brain was too great an opportunity to let pass by.h
Melana paused until Lara remembered her manners and focused solely on the Aristanfs deep-set eyes. g For the past few weeks we explored sarathra together.h
Lara`s eyes widened.
gWhen words failed us finally, I thought a direct experience with each otherfs...personhood would facilitate understanding and communication.h The doctorfs delicately scaled digits smoothed the envoyfs hair. gThis is the result.h
Oh hell. Envoy Brainard was probably permanently disabled; who knows what Melana meant by gexploring each otherfs personhood.h Would it really matter if Lara tried to reach the shuttle without Brainard now? No, she almost said out loud, she was not going to dishonor Brainardfs friendship.
gPardon my rude change of subject, Melana, however there is more pressing business than trying to diagnose Envoy Brainard. The council guards are on the look out for all Earth Envoys. If we can escape to the backcountry, lie low for a while, then there will be other opportunities to help her.h
The doctor did not answer for two long minutes. Lara added more painful half-moons to her palms in her effort to control her temper.
gI am sorry, Envoy Suzuki,h Melana said finally, rising from the chair. gI have the utmost respect for your grandfatherfs work, I thought surely Canaan Suzukifs granddaughter would know if this state was natural.h The mention of her grandfather broke that last of Lara`s shaky control.
gI am not my grandfather,h she said sharply, a lifetime of bitterness behind her tone of voice. gI canft do everything he did.h
Melanafs triple crests flattened in disapproval.
gNo, you cannot. I see now that what I feared is true. You, and your kind,h the doctor could not speak for a second as emotion thickened his throat. gYou humans, as much as you seem to talk with the wisdom of your elders, you are not truly higher beings. You are no better than the soulless beladon.h
He spat. Lara felt the first, sweaty trickle of failure down her back; this was the quickest emotional change she had ever seen in an Aristan. What had she done now?
gI see now my council colleagues are right. You should be quarantined.h
gDoctor Melana, if I have given offense, please let me retractIh
The doctor interrupted her, a move so rude for an Aristan Lara`s face burned with shame.
gBe quiet, saranak. The Guard will be here in a moment. I will leave them to deal with you,h Melana said, and disappeared through the doorway. In Lara`s shocked brain, nothing was left but her grandfatherfs folksong.
Going is easy, itfs coming back that is difficult and fearful
Her way back home was going to be difficult and fearful indeed. The word Melana had called her - saranak - meant gsoulless one.h
For the fifth time in the past hour, Lara looked longingly at the glass of water on the small table in her cell. It had been a week, and still there were no visitors but the guards who had originally taken her from the doctorfs house. She was rationing the water, but feared that it would run out before the Aristans figured out what to do with her. Again she racked her brain for some clue to the complete switch in the doctorfs behavior. What did she do to anger him so? What had happened to Envoy Brainard? Larafs fingernails were chewed to the quick.
It must have something to do with the experiments the doctor was doing with sarathra. Lara scoured her brain for anything she could remember about the taboo topic.
gEnvoy Suzuki,h said a familiar voice outside the plasticreen forming one wall of her prison. gI am gladdened to see you alive and well.h Erendryl, one time friend and ally, used a greeting so formal that Larafs instant rush of hope died inside her throat. His British accent was in full swing, which could only mean he came on council business.
gYour people have become a topic of much debate in the council. There are those,h Erendryl turned away, gwho contest that you humans are unworthy of efforts to communicate. They argue for a complete cessation of diplomatic activities. There have been accusations that humanity really isn`t quite as developed as first thought. There are intimations of sub-personhood. g
gErendryl,h said Lara, taking a chance by interrupting his speech. gIf this is going to take a long time, I could really use some water and food.h
The Aristanfs eyes closed for a long moment, when they opened again, Lara saw a little of the rebellious friend she had grown to know in the past few months. For the first time he looked directly at her. Lara could see him consciously making an effort to speak more to the point.
gI am sorry. Please know there are those who do not support the councilfs course of action.h He removed a clear glass bottle from his low-slung hip pack. With a rattle of protesting machinery, the plastiscreen lowered itself into the floor. Lara grabbed at the bottle, then blushed at her own desperation.
gHow can I convince the council of our worthiness?h Lara wanted to guzzle the cold, clear water, but made herself take quick sips instead. Erendryl politely turned away from her.
gDoctor Melana has brought evidence to the councilfs attention that humans do not...h English failed as Erendryl entered uncomfortable territory. gYou do not share sarathra,h he finished in Aristan. He backed away from her slowly, distaste suddenly coloring his facial scales a midnight blue, almost black. gIf this is true, then I am afraid we have made a mistake by letting you into our city.h
gErendryl, what is it? What is sarathra?h Lara dropped her carefully composed mask of patience. The plastiscreen scrolled up very slowly as Erendryl left the room, apparently so overwhelmed with revulsion he could not stand to be in her presence. Lara barely noticed the notebook he let fall, it felt too much like abandonment watching Erendryl glide away.
After a few self-pitying sniffles, Larafs fidgeting hands picked up Erendrylfs notebook.
On the first page of the notebook Mira Brainardfs name was written in large red letters. Flipping through the pages Lara quickly realized it as a field notebook. What was Erendryl doing with Mirafs notebook?
With fickle hope again in her throat, Lara read the rushed, loopy writing.
The notebook contained most of Mirafs field notes from the past few weeks. Lara reread the parts about sarathra, trying to understand.
Fifth Day of Summer
After years of nagging, Mel finally overcome his dang taboo and began to tell me what the hell this whole thing is about.
Somehow the adolescent Aristans go through a mental process of change. I guess itfs like puberty without all the hair! Chemicals and hormones cause both physical and mental changes to the body and brain. Part of the change results in the memory of an elephant. They remember everything, Mel says. Can you imagine remembering every little detail about your life? There are things better left alone, I say.
But the thing I donft understand quite yet is that somehow Mel says the important thing is not his memories, but the memories he has of his parents and grandparents. Something is pretty touchy here, Ifll have to tread carefully.
22nd day of Summer
Mel just about jumped out of his skin when he figured out my memory is lousy. He couldnft believe it. He attacked me with questions about Georgia and my mafs family. He seemed upset I couldnft tell him my grandpappyfs favorite color!.
But in the end I am going to get what I want- to experience the sarathra ceremony for myself. After analyzing blood and drug samples Mel provided, I am pretty sure that our biochemistry is sufficiently similar. Among the chemicals I found in adolescents undergoing sarathra are dopamine-
Dopamine? The word touched off a memory of grandfatherfs doctor. Lara vaguely remembered Dr. Benz explaining about dopamine shortages when they could no longer ignore grandfatherfs mental deterioration. A lack of it interfered with the ability of neurons to communicate, especially in the parts of the brain where memories were stored. She wished she had paid more attention. At the time, she had been too terrified by the sight of the great Canaan Suzuki eroding before her very eyes.
It was one more failure on her part. Larafs inability to remember details caused failure in more than one diplomatic sim back at school. Now, her faulty memory was withholding an important clue to Mirafs condition. Whatever the cause, the results were plain to see - Mira had turned into a drooling vegetable.
Why did Mirafs bad reaction to sarathra lead to a diplomatic fiasco? Melana`s sudden transformation occurred only when Lara couldnft explain or fix Mirafs mental state. Did Melana think that humans were gsub-personsh because they couldnft remember every sight, sound, and experience of their lives? Ridiculous.
The Aristans must have a deep-seated prejudice about sarathra. Maybe it was like race relations back on Earth. Why else would Erendryl turn on her after all these months of hard-won trust?
Larafs mind worried and toyed with that theory over the next two weeks. Nobody else visited her but uncommunicative guards. They refused to speak at all.
In those weeks, Lara dreamed nightly of Mirafs lax, emotionless face superimposed over the empty eyes of Canaan in his last days. Just before she awoke, her dreams morphed into the unforgiving, faces of a UTA tribunal revoking her hard-won Envoy status.
Then she would awaken, trapped in an emotional haze that felt wet and heavy on her shoulders and tasted like charcoal on her tongue. Sarathra was the key, but fear still held her back. Memory was her ancient enemy. Now she shuddered at the idea of having to relive her grandfatherfs life and death.
In the last, painful days of Canaan` suffering, Lara could only care for his lingering husk; she wiped the blue-veined flesh, fed the withered mouth, and avoided meeting the uncanny eyes that withheld recognition. Caught in the limbo between grieving for his death and facing the painful reality of his current half-life, Lara chose avoidance. She tried not to see, not to hear, so the physical sensations of dying could not creep back into her awareness later on as memories. She tried to forget even before Canaan`s actual death.
When Erendryl finally came for her, Lara couldnft face another failure.
gThe council is ready to make its decision.h
gI request that doctor Melana share sarathra with me. Then I can prove to the council humans are people.h Lara spoke with a gambler`s haste. She had nothing left to lose. Her career was now tarnished beyond recall, and she definitely would go crazy locked up in Aristan prison for the next five years. Erendrylfs triple crests rose in astonishment.
gEnvoy Brainard did not survive the ritual before. The council has been persuaded by the doctorfs evidence of her breakdown against continuing Human-Aristan relations.h
Good, Erendryl was still responding to her. Melana hasnft won yet.
gHow can the council be persuaded by one, isolated incident? If I, too, am left incapacitated by the ritual, then there will be incontrovertible truth to support the doctorfs position. On the other hand, if I survive, the council will have to accept Humans are worthy.h Lara dropped her formal tone. gAnyway, what have you got to lose? It isnft like the council is in a hurry to make a decision.h
Erendrylfs scales lightened in mirth. gI will present your request to the council.h
It wasnft until Lara actually sat across from Melana inside the formal council chamber that the plan seemed stupid . Her grandfatherfs voice, before the Altzeimerfs had devastated the resonance of his speech, sang through her mind.
Come down the path to the godfs house, but if you have no errand with the god, please donft come.
What was she thinking? She was gambling her whole life and the future of Aristan-Human relations on one stray remark of her grandfatherfs physician and Mira Brainardfs hypotheses. If this ritual truly was only a chemical inundation of dopamine in the brain, maybe Lara could withstand it. If not, at least memory would no longer be her nemesis.
Melana flipped a switch to send a slow trickle of greenish liquid through the intravenous drip attached to her arm. The circle of Aristans kneeling in the hot sand around her chanted in low, eerie syllables.
gI have an errand with the god, if you donft mind,h Lara said to herself, suddenly all giggly. The room was very dry, and she couldnft remember why she was there.
Then, a cry ripped through her throat as a thousand memories burst through her brain in successive storm, firing off one nueron after another.
The touch of her motherfs hands on her diaper... a manfs hand in hers as she tried to walk... her first taste of wasabi like a knife in her throat... the presidential medal awarded Canaan Suzuki for making first contact with the Dflaskans...
All the sights and sounds Larafs brain stored away from her conscious mind over her twenty-seven years smashed headlong into Larafs sense of self. The woman who was Lara Suzuki shattered and spun off into the void in a million pieces. For a moment, there was the utter chill of nothingness.
Then she heard it, the minor chords that had followed her across space and time; the chords that underpinned her life and wove silver, sharp and unbreakable through her soul. They thrummed through the morass of sensation.
Going is easy, its coming back that is difficult and fearful.
The words of her grandfatherfs folksong, haunting her since she ran from the decay of her brilliant, dying grandfather to bury herself in the slow ritual of Aristan society, danced through her mind until her fingers could just grasp them. They were a respite from the unbearable weight of memory. Lara Suzuki, granddaughter of the most famous xenologist in two solar systems, endured until only the song resonated in her mind.
Coming back is difficult, she remembered thinking before darkness claimed her. But I came back, Canaan, I didnft fail this time.
Lara opened her eyes to Mike Johnson`s concerned face staring down at her. Her mouth tasted like beladon sweat and she winced at the bright light assailing her eyes. She felt only slightly less nausea than she had waking up in the council chamber the day before.
gHow are you feeling?h
gLike shit. Has the council made its decision?h Her voice sounded like gravel.
gIn record time. I donft know what you did, but the council issued a three-page apology and all Earth envoys were reinstated. That council toady, Erendryl, brought you to the launch station last night. You were totally out of it, Suzuki. What happened?h
Lara weighed several different responses. She didnft think Mike would understand if she told him that Canaan Suzuki had saved her sanity from a deluge of dopamine-induced memory overload with a folksong- as well as a genetic legacy of dopamine deficiency. Lara said a silent prayer of thanks to her grandfatherfs doctor. He had warned her that she, too, possibly had the same deficiency that, undiagnosed, led to Alzheimerfs disease in her grandfather.
gI managed to prove to the councilfs satisfaction that humans are people, too.h
Mike snorted. gHow did you manage that?h
gI remembered.h Lara probed at the tender edge of a newfound peace. Where there had been only pain was now a sense of connectedness. As if somehow the experience of sarathra had given her back pieces of herself she never knew existed. Parts of herself even Canaan Suzuki would have been proud of. gI remembered my grandfather and survived.h
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