Tezzix Faresh is an alien--to you and me. To her, we're the aliens, and she's been told a lot of bad things about us: we're aggressive and we hold nothing dear. Now she's coming to Earth for a visit. What will she think when she gets to know who we are, beneath the skin? (previously entitled Nerve)
One dark. One light.
Dance above the mud tonight.
If you’ve been good, beloved one,
Bright Keleet will call you home.
But if your heart is found impure,
Dark Zareesh will pull you in,
Strong and sure.
Three hundred years ago, my planet was dark.
Day on Glaoria was barely brighter than night.
Zareesh was the dark star at the center of our solar system and she gave off heat but not much light.
In those days, many Glaorian people dwelled in the thick mud of the surface.
If you follow my ancestry back three hundred years you’ll find Keleet living in that mud.
They say he was a good sed (a male of our species), full of joy and compassion.
Almost a testament to his character, his skin and hair were golden, while all other Sendig were pale-skinned. In fact, Keleet seemed to glow—a rare beauty in that dark world.
That glow was a sign of his vast power.
The lore says he looked at dark Glaoria and its many races, animals and plants, and he could see them. He could see inside of them, what they were made of, to the very center.
And what he saw, he could rearrange.
They say that this ancient Sendig grandfather of mine saw how the Flits lived in trees above the surface, thanks to their wings. He saw how the Sharves’ bodies were better suited for mud dwelling, with their webbed fingers and toes. The Darinkee had ethereal forms that allowed them to pass through solid and liquid alike.
Only the Sendig and the Twiff felt stuck in the mire.
How many ways did Keleet dream to help his people? He had the power. Did he think to change Sendig physiology, perhaps giving them wings to fly, or bodies to dig or float?
What made him decide it was the wet land itself that needed the change?
The dark star, Zareesh, envied Keleet’s glow. It reminded her of the way she once lit up the heavens with a golden light all of her own.
She wanted that light again.
Keleet used his power to look inside the mud. He separated out the water and threw it far, far into the distance, where it formed a small lake.
The ground beneath his feet became the Hardlands, which still spans much of the surface.
At first, Sendig and Twiff celebrated. They could finally travel without trudging, waist deep, in thick, dark muck.
However, their crops died, and they could not grow more, no matter how they tried.
It was then that Keleet realized his mistake.
He left his dark-haired, beloved one and his two klesh, his babies—one male sed, one female kess—and set out for that lake of water. He would return it to the dry Hardlands.
Zareesh made sure that he didn’t reach it. “What have you done to your people, Keleet?” she asked him. “You have been vain.”
He wholeheartedly agreed, striking his chest repeatedly for his pride, falling to his knees. “Please, Great Star! Help my people and I will do anything that you ask!”
“I will help them,” she replied. “But you must join me in the sky. A symbol for all to see the price of arrogance, Keleet.”
In anguish, knowing that he was losing his beloved mate and children, he agreed.
In an instant, the Sendig and Twiff were transported back to mudlands, yet the Hardlands and Keleet’s lake remained as they were.
Zareesh did not possess the same sight as Keleet. She could not return the land to its former state.
Zareesh pulled Keleet into the sky, where he became a bright, golden star and lit up the surface of Glaoria.
The glow seeped into his people, sharing, not heat, but light and power with them.
Zareesh raged when she found she could not take his power. He had given it all to his people.
That is the tale they tell of my ancestor, and everyone on my planet believes.
Our power, our ‘leet, remains with us to this day.
The Truth About Humans
Chapter One: The First Atoll
The sky outside the study window had darkened from light yellow, through myriad greens, to all-encompassing grey, and my hand was tired and beginning to cramp. The English print trailing my stylus was blearing into the gibberish it had been when I first laid eyes on the language.
Viraxus startled me by rapping sharply on the desk. Pots of green, serenity oils on their short, platinum pedestals danced dangerously. He looked as drained as I felt and his piercing, green eyes glared at me for not concentrating.
My focus fell to the tie behind his head, which refused to hold his fine, golden hair any longer. The loose strands dangled over the pale skin of his forehead: skin faintly dotted with bioluminescence, revealed by the burgeoning darkness.
His lights were usually pink (this he hated), but sometimes red. Pink tonight.
His round spectacles had slithered to the edge of his nose, which was uncommonly broad for a Sendig. Only that feature hinted that he was once wild and survived the mud.
He tapped on my plasma ledger, again trying to call attention to my mistake. “It will not matter that you are female, Tezzix. Humans are violent. Speak so formally on Earth or in Nirvana and you could end up a screaming vapor climbing up to Zareesh.”
To insinuate that I would be taken by Zareesh instead of Keleet… Well, Viraxus’s patience was obviously waning.
“Use the contraction, ‘it's’,” he said, sighing all the while. “‘It is,’in this situation would only make you seem arrogant. Humans despise arrogance.”
He insisted that we speak only in English during lessons on the subject, yet when he used the language, it always sounded surly.
Viraxus sighed again, as though Glaoria was devoid of any pleasure. He turned and gestured to a dark orb on his desk, sending out his essence; lighting it with leet. The orb floated toward the ceiling, washing the study in pale, blue light and erasing the flashes of his skin.
Annoyed, I deleted the offending, two-word flaw from my ledger and wrote, “it’s” instead. The orb meant he was willing to carry the lesson into the night.
“You say 'it is' all the time, Viraxus.” I snapped, pointing my chin at him. “If anyone is to blame for my tendency toward formality, it’s you.”
His emerald eyes narrowed and he copied my tone mockingly. “You know that your father requires me to speak formally with you.” And he tilted his head, insinuating victory. “Perhaps the blame lies elsewhere?”
He would never implicate my father directly. I bit down on the inside of my cheek so I wouldn’t grin.
Viraxus was twenty-seven years old to my twenty, and he served my family. Usually, he bore the fact well. Silently and well.
I often wondered about the mudland upbringing he kept hidden. I wanted, fiercely at times, to break through that mask of composure to the wild beast hinted in his eyes.
I wasn’t yet born when my father found him: clinging to the edge of our pure, white atoll, floating high above Glaoria’s surface. He was starved and alone; clothed only in cakes of dry mud… hissing like an animal. He had used leet to fly the distance from the surface.
The thought of it always brought an awed smile to my lips. To me, Viraxus had always been as he was now: terse, stiff, and blandly domesticated.
It was such a shame, but he wouldn’t reveal unseemly behavior to anyone, even me.
Although he was a tutor, and I was of an important line, a descendent of our star, I never thought of myself as his better. Mostly, I thought of him as a brother, and when I wasn’t being a terrible beast, his eyes showed that he thought of me as a sister.
Now, however, we were glaring at each other.
Like many days of late, this one had been long for both of us.
It had started with a cashee ride at dawn. Cashee are mud-born, flying creatures—something like large, semi-intelligent, Earth butterflies—that we domesticate as steeds. They have bodies the shade of rust, varying colors of angular wings, and are loving and loyal, especially to anyone who pulls them from the mud, cleans their petal-like wings, and shows them their ability to fly.
We flew to Glaorian Council Headquarters, where soon I would spend much of my time.
I had been to Headquarters with my father over the years, trailing behind him down the sterile halls as he went about his duties. In those days I’d been ignored mostly, and the few Councilors who took interest, stared or whispered. Or both.
As an adult, I was no longer ignored. Stares and whispers were all that were left.
Fulfilling tradition and my father’s wishes, I had donned the white robe and sworn to membership that would begin at the next term.
The ride home through the clouds was bitterly windy and solemn. We stabled our cashee in grim silence. We were both worn, but as soon as we entered our home, Viraxus hurried me to the study. According to him, I still had much to learn before the term began. I suspected that he was attempting to occupy my every moment with normalcy in the face of the looming change.
That had been seven hours and two skipped meals ago and I was still in the study.
“You should tell my father that his rules are detrimental to my education.” I told Viraxus with an impertinent wag of my head.
However, my barbs didn’t land. “Detrimental. Very nice use of vocabulary, Tezzix,” he said proudly.
I frowned to hide the pleasure I had from his praise.
“And if I told your father anything, he would send me over to the kitchen to scrub dishes for the rest of my life.”
With our technology, no Sendig skyward had hand-washed a dish for more than a century. Viraxus was exaggerating as he loved to do.
“Coward,” I said with vicious cruelty. “He doesn't even speak English. Be informal all you like and he’ll never know.”
He bent down to look me in the eye. Cryptically, he said, “He would know.”
I frowned more.
He straightened regally with an open hand postured before his fine-silk-covered chest. I knew the pose. An insufferable lecture was coming.
“We can't all be as lucky as you: daughter of a Council member; accepted to the Council yourself; assured a place in Nirvana if we are forced to evacuate Glaoria. Some of us must survive, not just live.”
I huffed, feeling yet more irritated and stifled.
That was the way everyone treated me, even if they knew my apprehension about joining the Council. That was my father’s life and his father’s life, and the lives of ancestors tracing back to time without record. I knew that the position held prestige and honor. I knew that it would bring me my own wealth and power. My lifetime of endless lessons hadn’t been for nothing; I knew what I was working toward.
I also felt bitterly what I was missing.
I lacked the life of society that my older sister, Vella, thrived in. She went to every popular event skyward and had rejected hundreds of proposals before recently accepting the perfect one. She had friends innumerable and a future starry with possibilities.
I lacked the freedom that my younger sister, Tanetta, reveled in. She had been spoiled with the ability to make her own choices about what she learned, whom she spent time with, the direction of her future...
The worst was my powerlessness over my future.
I was directed on every avenue.
I could not travel over my small planet without supervision. Even supervised, my journeys were only hours long at most.
I could not socialize. My only friendship had been arranged by my father. I was forbidden to act on romantic feelings (not that I really had time to), and therefore, my love life was shamefully undeveloped.
Everyone else seemed to enjoy life, free to do as they chose; I lived by my father’s plan. The adventures and accomplishments of my peers seemed to swirl colorfully as I sat still, with my tutor, studying.
“Don’t start, Viraxus,” I warned, stabbing the stylus down, nearly crushing it. If the plasma cartridge within were to burst in my hand, the pain would be excruciating; the wounds disfiguring. “Don’t you know that I’d trade places with you if I could? I can’t stand it when you start all that privilege and easy life talk. You knowhow trapped I feel! Even you were able to visit Earth on your own.” My voice dropped to a grumble. “I’ll be forced to take you with me when I go.”
He shook his head, exasperated. I felt a large amount of satisfaction and had to hold back a vicious smirk. He was owed his share of my tension. He was my father’s finest warden.
“Oh, you want to trade lives with me?” he asked crazily, baring his fangs. The movement caused the tie to give up, and his gold hair rushed about his neck and back and covered the backward sweep of his ears. “Teaching lessons to an ungrateful little monster like you for the dawning years of my life?”
I jumped to my feet, baring my own fangs. “If it granted me a bit of freedom, then yes, I’d be happy to! Even if it meant I’d be a frigid, old stone like you!”
Viraxus glared for a moment; then broke into a grin. “Frigid. Excellent vocabulary, Tezzix.”
This time I couldn’t hide the beginnings of a smile as I slumped back into my seat. “You know, for someone so worried about what my father thinks, you sure call me plenty of names. Ungrateful, little monster? How will I endure the pain, Viraxus?”
He bit his pale, pink tongue to avoid encouraging my sarcasm with a grin. “Name-calling can be an effective teaching tool.”
“Is that something you learned from Humans?”
He bent down to fix me in his stare. “Get back to work.”