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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 97: Hastings 34
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Lauren awoke a little less pleasantly than she had gone to sleep. She was sore from the hard ground, dirty from the dust on her face and in her mouth. But the sun was apparently up, and she should join it. She opened her eyes.
But it wasn't the sunshine or the countryside or even her wagon that she saw. She was surrounded by people in brightly colored clothes. Only they weren't people, and they weren't wearing clothes. They were children, or at least that's how big they were, three to four feet in height. And they were completely covered in fur; no, it wasn't fur, it was fuzz. It was like down, like the feathers on baby chicks, only in blue and yellow and green.
She was surrounded by giant parakeet people.
She sat up abruptly, and said, "I'm sorry." They startled, and stepped back. It happened that she was looking east, toward the mountains, so the sun was in her eyes. She turned to her left, to get a better look at--well, she was tempted to call them her captors, as they had her surrounded; but for the moment, they were just looking.
There seemed to be no fuzz on their faces, which showed an almost human skin tone. They had very human facial features, actually--forward-facing eyes, although widely spread, a fleshy nose, and lips covering very yellow structures which seemed more beak than tooth to her, but were actually not much like a beak in form. They also had ears, not quite human ears, and rather small, but designed for stereo location. Apart from the fuzz all over their bodies, they appeared naked; but as far as she could tell they were sexless, having no nipples, no navels, nothing which distinguished them beyond the colors of the feathers, and even that had no regularity she was able to detect.
One of them responded, perhaps talking; but it was all chirps and whistles. If it was language, it certainly wasn't like any she'd studied. But as others answered, she decided it was.
"Yeah, we're going to have a bit of a communication problem here, aren't we?" It wasn't really a question. But she had an idea, something one of her kids had said about a creature in a game they'd played. Could she read their minds, not their thoughts, particularly, but somehow tap into the speech centers of their brains so that she would be able to process their language through their filters? It was a crazy idea. She should just try telepathy--but they were skittish already, and her thoughts suddenly coming into their heads (assuming she could get them to understand her thoughts at all) would probably be very frightening. She picked one of them, a pretty blue and yellow one, and tried it.
It worked. She now could understand what all the clicks and whistles meant. They were, of course, talking about her, arguing about whether she was dangerous, whether she was a monster or a person. Now the question was would it work the other way--could she translate her thoughts into their words, and find a way to say them?
"I am sorry to startle you," she said, as well as she could produce their sounds. "Would it be all right if--" She stopped, suddenly unable to find the words for standing up.
This startled them even more. But one took courage, and answered. "You speak our language?"
"Let's say I am learning." She smiled.
"What are you?"
"What am I? Well, I am--" She again hesitated, as she could not find a word for person. "I am like you; but obviously different, too. I come from another place, far away." Then, as an afterthought, she asked, "What are you?"
The speaker stood up proudly. "I am the flock leader of Lakeside," he said.
"Well, I am pleased to meet you. I do not want to hurt you, and hope that you can say the same to me. May I stand up?"
"Oh, I am sorry. Please do."
Lauren stood up. She was about a foot and a half taller than the tallest of them, and again they seemed to gasp and step back. "Truly, I will not hurt you. My name is," and she stopped. "Well, I am afraid that my name is not something I can say in your language, so I guess you will have to call me something that you choose. My friends call me," and reverting to English, she continued, "Lauren."
"Lauren," one of them said, very like a parrot mimicking a voice.
"Yes, that is very good," she said, again in chirps. She couldn't help feeling like she was talking to children dressed in costumes and playing a silly game. But she contained herself. "You have a beautiful home." She realized that the word for home seemed to mean nest, but she couldn't find a word that described the village and the land around it. "I was going to come visit you last night, but it was so beautiful I sat here looking at the lake, and the mountain, and the sky, until I fell asleep. Could I come visit now?"
A bit of discussion arose. Some were still nervous about whether she was safe; others seemed to be afraid of something else that had nothing to do with her, but that might be upset if she came. But the flock leader calmed them, and said, "We would be pleased to welcome you as a guest in our humble nesting ground. Please come with us." And without another peep, he started down the hill toward the village. Kicking the stones out of the way and grabbing the tongue of her cart, she followed, and all the parakeet people flocked behind her.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #59: Verser Lives and Deaths. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: