Preamble: This the sixth chapter of a serialized science-fiction novellette concerning failures of fidelity in the transmission of culture. (Previously: Chapter 1, and Chapter 2, and Chapter 3, and Chapter 4, and Chapter 5)
by Cheeseburger Brown
PART I, Chapter 6.
The anti-founderites were gived a pasture in which to build a camp where they could hang out and work and live without mixing with pious peeps. Furthermore the mayoralty could keep an eye on them, and control access to them, so that those bastards from the valley couldn't learn anti-causatious warcraft from the outlanders and their magical blasphemies.
As official liaison the guards were used to my comings and goings. They waved me through the check-points and avoided eye contact. Who could blame them? Having your eyes cleaned is uncomfortable at best.
The outlander camp was set up according to their own anti-founderite hacking. Though they seemed to have rank between them the outlanders didn't organize their houses in rings by caste, which was weird. How did they orchestrate the line up for water hole access?
I entered the tent they ate in, which they called a mess. The outlanders were bickering, which was normal, but they stayed seated throughout and never flinged anything at one another, which was positively alien.
"The vein is rich and exploitable but we need to kerplode open that cliff to get to it, captain. I've circulated my estimates of the TNT requirements, but I'd like engineering to sign-off before we even worry about requisitions. Smithy?"
"It's academic, I keep telling you. Unless we find another source of sulfur we're never going to have TNT beyond defensive minimums!"
"Mr. Codeburg is still out scouting for sulfur. He's due back tomorrow. Let's stay positive, Ms. Smith. Doctor?"
"Captain, I want to reduce the outside exposure quota. We're all sucking up too many rads for the anti-cancers to mop up. I don't know how these natives stay on their feet. No wonder they call that girl with the dreadlocks an ‘old woman.'"
"I'm not an old woman," I interrupted. "I'm a douche-bag."
"You do know that term is an insult in our language, right?"
I shrugged. "It's an insult in mine, too."
After the meeting I walked with the captain back to his tent. He made me a cup of tea. "So, Jolly, what's the good word from the city?"
I frowned. "The mayors are worried your mining and stuff is all about arming the valley bastards with super-weapons."
"What are they doing about it?"
"They've ordered the priests to build clay copies of you and your crew so that they can be interrogated by chi manipulators from the mountain temple."
"Fine. Got anything to drink? Oh, lovely. Thanks for bringing this. Cheers."
"Cheers, Captain Gateway."
He drained his mug. I refilled it from my carafe. This time he sipped. "Any news on those supply shipments?"
"They'll come after the spring rain. All sorts of derpy stuff you asked for, and shit." I paused, rubbing my growing belly. "You're not building weapons are you? I mean, factually?"
"No, we're not. We're building a rocket."
"A rocket to fly to War."
"There's a few steps in between but basically yes, that's the plan. We haven't been able to contact anybody back home due to all the electromagnetic interference so now we've planning to get as far as we can on our own."
"How far can your rocket go?"
"We'll be shooting for an abandoned orbital platform about a hundred clicks up. From there we can either find a way to transmit, or find the parts we'd need to fly on. We'll prolly die trying but what the Hell? Sellavy."
"It means ‘that's normal for being alive.'"
"Exactly. You have to tink it well: it's either that or rot away here, turning to tumours. The sun is cooking youse peeps alive."
"Without the sun's chi we would have nothing. The sun makes plants grow."
"Things can be both good and bad at the same time. If anyone can understand that, it should be a witch like you. Your own community holds you at arm's length cause they can't hack what to do with you, but they can't hack how to get on without you either."
"I keep telling you I'm not a witch I'm —"
"I'm not comfortable calling you that. Okay? Accept it. Your society's fucked up and there's no force compelling me to pretend differently. It's not blasphemy to me to call it like it is. Do you tink what we call peeps like you back home?"
I shaked my head.
"Educated. That's what. Learned. Nerds, at worst. Not always envied but highly esteemed. Professors, doctors, engineers. Book people. Academics."
"We have academics. Way smart peeps."
"Yes, but they study malarkey. So who cares if they study it fast, or study it well?"
I sipped my tea. He sipped his alcohol. We looked at each other. "You're like the mayor. You don't want to want to heed me, but you do want it."
"I couldn't follow a thing your mayors say without you, Jolly."
"It's weird to use my name."
"I don't mean to make you feel weird."
"It makes me feel weird to have you concerned of if I feel weird."
"Your people don't treat you right."
"I tink you're sexier than you're letting on. And you want me to sex it up with you. It's true, isn't it? You're some kind of pervert who's into douches, like the busted men who sex with horses and goats. Don't start sitting closer to me now. It's the exact wrong time to sit closer to me."
"Be sorry where you were, captain. Sometimes I can factually see how your peeps are morally breaked. It's something you can't even see yourselfs. You dig?"
"Tell me again about how you hacked saying like that. The translator turns itself in knots trying to decipher what you're on about."
"The translator that whispers in your ear?"
"That's the one."
"It's a kind of spirit?"
"It's a…servant. Something builded to a purpose. It tries to tell me what you're saying, and sounds out for me the things I want to say back."
"How does it guess what you want to say?"
"It guesses based on the way my throat moves. It's a skill anyone can learn. The trick is listening and saying at the same time."
"You tinked this skill for your mission."
"No. Peeps all over the system talk all sorts of ways. I'm in the navy. I go everywhere."
"You didn't expect to find us."
"No. Well, not specifically. Radio contact dried up decades ago. But there were always some who guessed rudiments survived."
"What are rudiments?"
I couldn't explain my sudden tears or shouting. "But youse are the ones that was banished! We are not ‘left-overs.' We did not sway. We held true. We were inerrant!"
"Jolly, love or hate it the fact is we weren't banished. We left a long time ago. We comed back to warn you the sun was going to blow. But your peeps -- your founders -- didn't want to hear it. You wanted to be left behind so we left you behind."
"But you were wrong. The world didn't end."
"The exact timing turned out to be tricky to pin down. It's ending now, though."
"The hairs on the face of the sun."
"That's right. Those aren't supposed to be there. At least, not that many. And not so big. They're signs of the trouble deep inside the sun, trouble that takes decades to rise up to the surface. The core is already compromised. The balance of the thing is being thrown out of step from the inside out, in a manner of saying. When the storm hits the surface it will tear it apart."
"The sky will burn. The sky will fall."
"But you comed, first, to check."
"We comed to capture images. We're a photographic survey. Or we was. Taking the mother-world's final close-up portraits before we book." He emptied his mug and put it aside. "I'd like to have an opportunity to image you, Jolly. You have a remarkable face. I've never met anyone quite like you. Can I capture it?"
I shrinked away. "I'm an ugly douche. Sex off, for trying to trick me. I faith our interview today will be shorter than on other days. I should totally get going to do my report for the circle-jerk."
"Please don't go, Jolly. Sit down. I'm sorry."
"You have big fat sexism problems and need to clean your lap organ with pain."
"It's not like that. I'm a documentarian at heart. I just tink you, and your whole culture, are fascinating."
"Then capture images in the city. The vain wives will love it. When you put your attention on me it just shows you don't tink us. I am my peeps' anus. Essential but base. Your fascination is unhealthy and weird. I am untouchable."
"I don't live by that law."
"But you stay way obsessed by it."
We stared at each other again.