Friday, 4 December 2015

A Fairy Story

Twice upon a time, in the Land of Far Away, there was a fairy who lived in a mushroom.

The fairy’s name was Megz, she was four hundred and ninety three years old, which isn’t at all old for a fairy, and she had lived in a lot of places, but now she lived in a mushroom.

Oh, it was a very modern mushroom. It had indoor plumbing and air conditioning and piped pixiegas for cooking and everything. It even had WiFi. Fairies aren’t behind us in the really important things, at all.

But this fairy was very unhappy, because the problem with the Land of Far Away was that it was, actually, very far away, from everything. Even the fairy’s neighbouring mushrooms were so far away it took her a telescope to see them, and as for going into town for an evening out, forget it. It would take a substantial section of even a fairy’s enormous life to get there and back, and by the time she got there, it probably wouldn’t be evening any longer anyway.

So Megz was discontented and unhappy, and you really don’t want to see what an unhappy fairy looks like. In fact, not even Megz liked what she looked like in her mirror, and she decided that she’d have to do something about it.

But what could she do? The only way she might look like a fairy who wasn’t unhappy and discontented was to be happy and contented, and there was as much chance of that in the Land of Far Away as...well, something not being far away.

So she decided that she would have to go away from the Land of Far Away.

This was, of course, easier that it sounded like, because this is the modern age. So Megz turned on her laptop and went to a travel website. And then she was stuck.

There were so many choices! With all the wide, wide worlds to choose from, what was she to do?

She looked through destination after destination, looked at cities great and small, at quaint towns with cobbled streets and at skyscrapers that brushed the stars and bumped the moon on her way. She scrolled through so many places that they seemed to merge into a blur in her mind, until she simply gave up and tapped a choice at random.

This should teach everyone a valuable lesson: never, ever, make choices at random. Seriously, don’t.

Oh, no, she didn’t end up in ISIStan and get her head cut off or something. It was much worse than that.

The place she chose was an ancient city, a city so old that time itself was merely half as old as it, a city which had been old when the gods had sowed the galaxy with life, old when the gods themselves were still forming out of the primal dust. It lay out on an island, carved into the sides of a volcano, which was the only thing which was even older than it; a volcano which had been extinct before the sun condensed out of the corpse-gas of bygone stars.

The name of this city? It does not matter. We can merely call it the City.

The City lay so far from everywhere that to get there would normally have been almost impossible for the fairy, but for one little fact: it was so far from everywhere, and the Land of Far Away was also so far from everywhere, that they ended up being rather close to each other. So there was actually a ferry to go there, and the fairy booked passage on it with no trouble at all.

So she put on her favourite black and white dress and got ready for her journey. She didn’t take any luggage along. Fairies really don’t need all that much anyway.

The ferry set sail from a jetty built on the shore of a sunless sea, under a sky of stone. It was a ship with no sails or engines, which ran on energies sucked from universes yet to be born. The ferry was grey as the stone overhead. Apart from a small and cubical superstructure at one end, it was flush and featureless, with not even anything for the passengers to hold on to, let alone sit on. But then Megz was the only passenger anyway.

At first she tried to talk to whoever it was inside the superstructure, but there was no reply, and when she went up on her toes to try and peer through the little slit that was the only opening in its flat smooth surface, all she saw was darkness. The ferry simply moved through the water, under the sky of stone and along the sunless sea.

So Megz lay down on the deck, careful not to get too close to the edge, because she saw that long black shapes swam in the water near the ferry, and she had an idea that they had hungry bellies and sharp teeth. She lay on her back and looked at the endless grey stone sky overhead, and, little by little, she fell asleep.

She woke with a literal bump. The stone sky overhead was gone. She was looking up at a much stranger sky, one in which a blue sun seared its way across a yellow shining blaze dotted by black drifting clouds.

Sitting up, she saw that they had arrived. Up above her, stretching almost to the yellow sky, was the volcano, and, carved into its side, rising tier by tier, was the City. Just the sight of it sent shivers of delight down to the tips of her toes, and in an instant the sadness and discontent fell away from her, so she looked like a happy fairy indeed.

There was a small welcome delegation waiting at the pier. It consisted of tall pale men and women with no hair, wearing grey robes that fell to the ground around their feet. Actually, from the way they moved, Megz couldn’t tell if they had feet. They smiled at her and bowed.

“Welcome, Megz the fairy,” one said. “You’re the first visitor we’ve had in a hundred years, and we have come to bid you welcome to our city.”

“We hope you’ll stay a good long while,” another told her.

“And enjoy every moment,” a third added.

“Thanks,” Megz replied, feeling a little inadequate. She let them lead her up the path towards the city. Once she looked back, and saw that the ferry was already sailing away, back the way it had come. She tried to recall whether she’d booked her passage back, and for when, and couldn’t.

“It doesn’t matter,” she thought. “Maybe if they’re so nice I won’t want to go back anyway.”

The City was tall and beautiful, and rose up towards the sky for what seemed to be forever and ever. And as she walked up the path into it, more and more people gathered around her, until there were so many that she felt as if she was herself an island, a dot of black-and-white in a sea of grey.

They took her to a high building near the top, only a short distance below the rim of the extinct volcano. “This is the place we’ve chosen for you to stay,” they told her. “You can live here as long as you like, and we’ll look after all your needs. Don’t worry about a thing.”

“I’ll help you find your way around,” one of the hairless people said. It was a woman, tall and thin, her face an ageless mask. Megz remembered her as the first person who’d spoken to her when she’d landed from the ferry. “No, don’t thank me; it’s a pleasure.”

So Megz had rooms at the very top of this building, which was at the very top of the City, and could see down all the way to the sea. And it was a very nice room indeed, better even than Megz’ mushroom. Her guide, who had followed her in, introduced herself as Zgem.

“That’s just the reverse of my name,” Megz said.

“Yes, isn’t it? Everyone in the City has a name that is the opposite of that of a person in the outside world. When one of those people visits, the person with the opposite name becomes his or her guide. That’s why I’m yours.”

“Really?” Megz replied. “That’s interesting.”

“There are so many things that are interesting here,” Zgem said. “You’ll never exhaust them all. Everyone who comes her says they want to stay forever.”

“And do they?” Megz asked. “You said the last visitor was a hundred years ago.”

“Yes, it was a very long time. But we always love having visitors. Would you like to rest?”

“No,” Megz began to say, and then suddenly realised she was rather tired. The journey on the ferry had apparently drained her more than she’d thought. She yawned. “I think I’ll lie down for a bit,” she said.

“You do that,” Zgem told her. “I’ve left a selection of fruit and rose-flavoured water for you here. I’m going now, but when you’re up, I’ll come back.”

So Megz ate some of the fruit, which was delicious, and drank a little of the water, which was cool and refreshing and smelt faintly of roses. Then she lay down, and went to sleep.

It was a strange sleep. She wasn’t awake, and she wasn’t really sleeping, but she dreamed. And in her dream she began asking herself some questions.

She remembered how the people had all known she was coming, even though she’d only booked her passage on the ferry and hadn’t actually made any contacts in the City itself for accommodation or anything like that. She remembered that Zgem had been waiting right on the pier for her, at the head of the crowd, and then she recalled that the guide hadn’t actually answered her question about whether the previous visitors had stayed forever, as they’d wanted. And she remembered, too, that the guides had exactly the opposite names of the visitors...and that she’d somehow felt extremely tired after only a few brief moments in Zgem’s company, even though she’d slept most of the way on the ferry.

She woke suddenly, shivering, and the conviction was strong upon her that she had to leave, that she had to go away at once. Night had fallen; the sky through the window was white, and dotted by the black pinpoints of a million stars. Under her window, the city fell to the sea in a series of terraces of towers of surpassing beauty, filled with menace of a level that made her shiver.

For a long moment she stood at the window, looking out at the City, her mind frozen with fear. And then she heard a noise in the next room, as though someone had just arrived...

Now, of course, Megz couldn’t fly. Real fairies can’t, just like they don’t wear tiaras or have wands with stars at the end. But she could climb, very well indeed, since being a fairy she was little more than air and light and was almost as weightless as a feather. Pausing only to look once over her shoulder, she slipped out of the window and down the face of the building, crawling down hand over hand as fast as she could.

Once, far overhead, she seemed to see a face looking down at her through the window she’d left by, an expressionless face like a mask; it was watching her, quite calmly and unemotionally. Then she looked down again at the wall, and kept climbing down. And she didn’t look up again.

They were waiting for her when she reached the street, at least twenty or thirty of them, and they gently lifted her away from the wall and held her so that she couldn’t run. One of them peered at her and shook his head sorrowfully.

“And we were thinking that you’d stay with us, Megz,” he said. “For shame.”

“Let me go,” she said, looking around desperately for a way to escape. “Before that woman, Zgem, comes down and drinks me. Because that’s what this is about, isn’t it? When someone comes, you give him or her a guide who’s the exact opposite, as tall and pale as your visitor’s short and dark, say, and with the exact opposite name – and the guide drains the visitor dry of all energies. It’s what feeds them, doesn’t it?”

The man smiled drily. “Not quite, Megz,” he said. “You see, the visitor belongs to everybody. The guide merely has the first rights on him or her. Once he or she’s done, and usually the guide takes care to make it slow and painless for the visitor, it’s everyone else’s turn.”

“But you couldn’t wait, could you.” It was Zgem, who had evidently just descended, peering over the man’s shoulder. “So there’s no keeping it slow and sweet – for you. You’re everyone’s property now.”

“I expect you’ll be tasty,” the man said. “As full of energies as you are, you should be.”

As they moved in, Megz drew in a deep breath, and then wondered if it would do any good to scream.



The fairy Megz closed down her browser and shook her head.

“Too many choices,” she said. “And what’s the point of going anywhere anyway? What happiness can I find that I couldn’t here, with just a little bit of effort?” She walked to the nearest gill of her mushroom and dropped lightly to the ground.

“I wonder if the neighbours would like a visitor,” she muttered to herself. “Well, there’s only one way to find out.”

Her head thrust forwards determinedly between her hunched shoulders, she stalked towards the next mushroom. It might take time to reach there, but she would.

Given a little while.


Confused? You shouldn’t be.

All this happened, you know, twice upon a time.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Clash By Night

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

-       Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach.

The first shells of the evening barrage were hurtling by overhead as I finished packing the bag and slung it over my shoulder. Tonight the shells were landing in the middle distance, around the stadium. They’d been shelling it a lot recently. Maybe their drones had noticed something worth targeting, or maybe it was just for fun.

A lot of things these days were so inexplicable that someone might as well be doing them just for fun.

I came out of the flat and walked towards the stairs at the end of the corridor.  There was, of course, no power, but it didn’t matter; enough of the dusk still filtered through the broken window at the far end to show me where I was going. The stairs would be darker, black as midnight, but I was used to them, too; I knew where each step was, the broken places and the part where there was a hole at the landing one flight down. I didn’t think I would have to use the torch in my pocket.

“Are you going away?” a voice said behind me.

I turned. It was the girl from the next flat, the teenage daughter of the couple who owned it. I’d occasionally talked to her when we’d met in the passage or out in the street, but I wasn’t even sure of her name. Mara, Maya, or Mala, something like that. Her hair was loose around her shoulders, her eyes dark holes in her pale triangular face. She looked terrified.

“You’re going away, aren’t you?” she repeated. She came out of her flat, leaving the door open, and clutched my sleeve. “I heard there was a convoy coming tonight. You’ll go away with it?”

“I’m just sending official documents.” I held up the strap of the bag. “If the convoy gets through, I’ll give this to a driver to take with him when they leave. That’s all.”

“You’re just saying that.” A shell burst, closer than the rest, close enough to feel the explosion through the floor. The girl shuddered as though the shell had shaken her, too. “Take me with you. Take me away from here.”

“Your parents...” I began.

“My parents won’t do anything. They don’t care. They think God will protect us and make everything all right for everybody.” She began to cry, the tears on her cheeks catching the flashes of the shells exploding over the stadium. “Look...” She pulled up her T shirt with both hands, exposing flat bare breasts surmounted by little nipples like dried flower buds. “I’ll do anything if you take me with you. I’ll sleep with you, give you my virginity. I’ll marry you if you want me to, do whatever you want. Just take me along!”

“I’m not going anywhere,” I replied. “Please, calm down. I’ll be back before morning, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Oh, no, you won’t,” she sobbed. “Even if you’re back, you won’t see me. I’ll be killed tonight, I know it. I’ll die long before you get back.”

I took my leave of her with some difficulty. From the head of the stairs I saw her, still watching me miserably. Her hands were twisting her T shirt, as though wringing out time from it, drops measuring out the seconds and minutes of life she still had.

The thing was, she wasn’t even wrong. If the convoy got through, I was going to give the documents to a driver to take back with him, but if I could find a way to get out, of course I’d go. I’d be crazy to do otherwise.

And yet, hadn’t there been a moment when I’d almost been tempted? Hadn’t there been an instant when I’d thought to myself, why not take what she was offering? After all, we didn’t even know whether we would be alive this time tomorrow. It was a nasty thought, and I turned my mind away from it.

If we got through the night, I thought, it would be different. If we got through the night, we’d see.

The street was bouncing slightly from the impact of the shells, but hadn’t been hit, and probably wouldn’t be tonight. By now we’d all got to know where a particular barrage was likely to hit, and which places would be spared. Sometimes, of course, we were wrong, and then kids scrambling for a bucket or two of water or women waiting in line for bread someone had managed to find flour enough to bake would be blown to pieces. But it was a chance everyone had to take; we’d never survive otherwise anyway, with the shelling that was like a routine, with barrages every morning, noon and night.

I hurried towards the west of the city, where the bus station was, and where the convoy would arrive if it could get through. The curfew was to begin in less than two hours, and after that anyone found outside was liable to be shot on sight and questions asked afterwards. But, of course, that was another chance one had to take. If you wanted to meet anyone, or needed anything like a strip of painkillers someone might have, in return for a half-loaf of bread, darkness was the only time when you could do it. Barter was forbidden, and everything was supposed to be handed in to be shared equally out among everyone.

Lately there had been nothing even to barter, let alone share out equally. Lately, people had been ripping weeds out of cracks in the pavement and boiling them in water scooped out of puddles to eat.

Coming round a corner, I ran right into a patrol. They’d been standing silently, watching the shelling, which was why I hadn’t known they were there in time to take another way.

“Stop,” one of them shouted in a high-pitched voice. “Where are you going?”

I looked at him, and at the others. There were only four or five of them, and they were all kids, of course. Their fathers, uncles and older brothers would be in the trenches outside the city.

“It’s not yet curfew time,” I pointed out mildly. “There’s still well over an hour to go.”

“You answer my question,” the boy shouted. He couldn’t have been more than thirteen or fourteen at the most. The uniform he wore was so large that the shirt hung almost to his knees, and the automatic rifle over his shoulder looked half as tall as he was. “Where are you going?”

I told him. He peered suspiciously into my bag, found only files there, and gave it back reluctantly. “Why are you not in the militia?” he demanded. “Everyone must be in the militia.”

“I’m a government health worker,” I said. “I’m exempt.”

“No, new orders.” He fished in his breast pocket and brought out a tattered scrap of paper. It was far too dark to read what, if anything, was written on it. “No more exemptions. Everyone to report for military training, right away.”

“That’s right,” another of them said. It was a girl, even younger than the boy. She had expressionless eyes that glittered in the light of the shell bursts, and her uniform looked as though it had been stitched out of a curtain. “Commander’s orders.”

“So you go right now,” the boy said. “Go and join militia.”

“Go and join the militia where?” I asked.

“Central School,” the boy replied. “You know where that is?”

“I know,” I said. I passed it every day. The classrooms and playground, which once had echoed to the voices of children, and then fallen silent, now again echoed to the voices of children – learning to shoot rifles, to crawl along trenches, to take apart machine guns and put them back together again. “I’ll do it as soon as I’ve sent these documents back.”

“You don’t forget,” the girl said. I wondered how long she’d been a militia member, and how much training she’d got. The rumours were that they were only training the kids for two days now, barely enough to learn which end of the gun the bullets came out of. It made them a danger even to themselves. She went up on her sandal-clad toes to peer into my face. “Or I will be finding you myself and bringing you.”

The rest of the kids laughed. “Will be good joke,” one said. They were still chuckling as they wandered off the way I’d come.

Walking on, I began to feel dizzy and weak. This was something I’d been feeling increasingly frequently the last weeks, and there was nothing strange about it; I didn’t even remember when I’d last had anything to eat. Perhaps it was the half a slice of mouldy bread I’d found yesterday, which I’d chewed for half an hour before swallowing. Or was that the day before? I’d forgotten.

I leaned against a wall, waiting till the dizziness abated, and the hunger twisting my gut eased. Perhaps I should join the militia after all, I thought. At least in the ranks they got whatever food was to be had. Only when the fighters’ needs were met was anything handed out to the civilians.

But being a fighter also meant you were first in line for a bullet in the gut, and, if the rumours and whispers of casualties were anything to go by, that wouldn’t take any time at all.

The shelling had abated by the time I’d arrived at the bus station. A huge fire burned towards the stadium, big enough to cast a reddish glow on the clouds overhead. A few hundred people were gathered under the station’s roof, watching the fire, not speaking. They looked as though they’d been waiting since the beginning of time. They were all sorts, civilians, militiamen, and a small contingent of soldiers sitting on the row of bucket seats by the wall. I felt like an intruder among them.

I heard my name called. It was my old friend G, whom I hadn’t seen in weeks. “So you’re here,” he said.

“Yes.” I peered at him. “I’m glad to see you’re alive.”

He laughed without humour, his white beard outlining his emaciated face. “That’s an achievement these days, isn’t it? Something to congratulate ourselves about.”

“Where’s Allika?” I asked, looking for his wife. “Is she all right?”

“She’s at home,” he said. “She’s OK, but, you know...weak.” He didn’t need to tell me the cause of the weakness; we all had the same problem. “If you can’t get back tonight, you ought to come back home and spend the night with us. It’s much closer for you, isn’t it?”

“I probably will have to.” I noticed he was carrying a gun, a huge black holster on his hip. It was the first time I’d seen G, a pacifist of the old school, with a weapon of any kind. “Where did you get that?”

He shrugged. “I’ve had it for years, but never found a need to carry it before. You know, the way things are going...”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” I told him about my encounter with the children. “Are things really as bad as that?”

G shook his head. “Nobody knows anything, except maybe the commanders. At least, if the convoy gets through tonight, we might have some news. Along with the food and medicines, of course.”

“Do you think it’ll actually get through?” I asked.

“Probably not. I’ve not heard anything about them being willing to make any exemptions for the siege.” He indicated the backpack. “Are you thinking of leaving us?”

“Do you think I should?”

“If you could, of course you should go.” G looked quickly over his shoulder to make sure we weren’t overheard. “I’d go myself if I could, and if Allika could make the journey. But I can tell you already that it won’t be possible.”

 I’d expected that, but it still struck me like a blow in the midsection. “Why do you say that?”

“We tried to leave with the last convoy, the one two weeks ago.” G leaned towards me, lowering his voice to a murmur. “You know the one.”

“I know.” The whole city had been waiting for that convoy for days, eagerly, anticipating the food and medicines and other essentials it would be bringing. It was supposed to arrive during the day, and the other side had agreed to a 24 hour ceasefire to let it through. It had actually slipped into the city in the dead of night, unloaded its cargo quickly and surreptitiously, and left again long before dawn; what happened to all that it had brought, nobody seemed to be able to tell. “What happened?”

“I spoke to one of the drivers. He said they were under strict orders to take nobody, not even the sick or the pregnant or nursing women. And he said the lorries were searched at the other side’s checkpoints. They threatened to shoot any passengers, and the drivers as well.”

“So that’s that.” I watched the light of a tracer shall float overhead with deceptive slowness before crashing into the city on the other side of the stadium. “It seems to be starting again.”

“Yes.” G glanced again over his shoulder at the soldiers. “I heard talk that the enemy is getting ready to invade directly – start a street to street battle for the city. If that happens, well...”

We silently considered the idea of what would happen then. “You can’t really believe all the tales that they say of the other side,” I said at last.

“No – but they aren’t exactly being humanitarian towards us either, are they?” G jerked his head towards the artillery fire now flashing on the eastern horizon, across the city. “I’ll tell you something, though.”


“When things finally break down totally, I’m more worried about our own militia than I am about them.” He tapped his holster. “That’s why I’m carrying this.”

“Let’s hope you don’t have to use it,” I said.

An army officer came into the bus station and glared around. “The curfew is about to begin,” he shouted. “Nobody is allowed to be outdoors. Go home, all of you civilians. Right away!”

“The convoy –” someone ventured.

“What convoy? There is no convoy. What’s this rumour about a convoy? Go away or I’ll march you off to the front line to dig trenches.”

People began to leave, in twos and threes. G looked at me expectantly. “Are you coming?”

I hesitated. “I’ll follow you. Let me talk to this officer first, see if he can pass on my bag to a driver if the convoy arrives. It’s government business, after all.”

“Right, I’ll be expecting you. Don’t be late, it’s almost curfew.” Rubbing his white beard, G walked away into the shell-lit night.

I went to the officer and talked to him. “Give me the bag,” he said. “If there’s a convoy – if – I’ll see it goes out. And as for you, I want to see you training in the militia tomorrow morning. There’s no more exemption for anybody.”

The kids had been right about that, evidently. I hadn’t even touched a gun in my life. I had no idea what to expect. I told the officer this.

“No exceptions,” he said. “If you can’t do anything else, you can at least fill sandbags or haul ammunition, or something.”

Giving him the bag, I walked away without a word. Except for the soldiers, the bus station was now deserted. The militia who had been there were just leaving. I walked alongside them, listening to them talk. They were older than the children from earlier, young men in their late teens.

“You have a cigarette?” one asked me, nicely enough. “If you have one, give me, man.”

“I don’t have a cigarette,” I replied. “I don’t smoke.”

“I’m dying for one,” he said gloomily. “Haven’t had one in so long.”

“Don’t worry,” one of the others told him. “You won’t have to die for it much longer.” There was some uneasy laughter.

We reached the turning to G’s home street. The barrage was creeping steadily closer, shells falling up and down the streets, shrapnel splattering against the concrete walls of the higher buildings around. At each explosion hot air buffeted me, like a door to a furnace opening and closing. Something exploded off to the left, a ball of flame rising into the sky.

“Must have hit a car,” someone said unemotionally.

“Well, I’ll be off,” I said. I’d seldom been so close to the shelling, and it was making my stomach knot with tension. I wanted to be indoors, away from the blast and shrapnel. “Be safe.”

“I’ll come along a bit with you, man,” the cigarette man said. He seemed to have taken a liking to me. “See you home.”

“All right, thanks.” I walked down the street to where G’s apartment building was. Something seemed to be wrong with it, and as I came closer I understood.

Sometime during the evening, the building had taken a direct hit. Half of it, the back half, seemed to have disappeared completely. The front half was still there, but dark and totally silent.

I took off at a staggering run, racing through the rubble on the street and into the building, up the stairs, pulling the torch from my pocket. G’s door hung open, sagging on its hinges, the wood charred and blackened, a chunk of broken wall crumbled before it like a sleeping guardian. I scrambled over it and into the flat.

I knew what I’d find before I entered the bedroom, and even then, it was a shock. Allika lay on the half-burnt bed, her corpse still smouldering. On the floor was G himself, his hand still clutching the huge pistol with which he’d blown half his head away. The floor was slick with blood that looked like black tar in the torchlight. The room was filled with the smell of burning and blood and roasted flesh.

It must have been a couple of minutes later that my friend the militiaman came into the room. “God!” he said. “What happened here, man?”

I waved a hand. It was as good an explanation as any.

“You can’t do anything for them,” he said. “Come on, I’ll help you out.”

I let him half carry me out and down the stairs. Once outside, I vomited into the gutter, again and again, until my throat was raw and I was retching dry. He turned his face away discreetly.

“If you don’t have anywhere to go,” he said, when I’d finished, “you can come with us. Nobody will bother you in the curfew if you’re with us.”

So I went with him, and if he asked me questions, I didn’t answer. I had nothing to say anyway. My mind was filled with two images: the scene in the bedroom, and the marks I’d glimpsed, just before I’d left, on what remained of one of Allika’s half-burned breasts. I did not remember them being there earlier.

And as for what I’d vomited into the gutter, I was profoundly glad that it had been too dark for me to see anything of it, at all.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015

Note to reader: This is another dream I attempted to exorcise by writing it as a story. I must say that I've actually drastically toned down the horror of the original dream. It was much more explicit than what I've written here.

[Image source]

Tuesday, 1 December 2015


You say the creature wishes to communicate?”

The Admiral-in-Chief of the flth Space Naval Flotilla globbered back in his kedara and kuchkanod his brow ridges. “There’s no doubt about it?”

“Absolutely none, Admiral-in-Chief.” The messenger, a mere lowly Commodore, jhukod as close to the floor as she could. “Its message has been translated, analysed, rechecked, and retranslated fifty times. It wishes to communicate with you, nothing more.”

“What would it wish to communicate about?” The Admiral-in-Chief’s trunk wriggled irresolutely, and he quickly stilled it before the Commodore noticed. “Did it say?”

“Only that the message is most urgent, Admiral-in-Chief.” The Commodore hesitated. “And – it insinuated – to our benefit.”

“Our benefit.” The Admiral-in-Chief stompled out of his kedara and scroobled back and forth. The Commodore, wary of his vast bulk, cowered into the far corner.”You know as well as I do that when one of these savage races say something is urgent, it’s always urgent to them, not to us.”

“It did penetrate our shields to communicate with us, Admiral-in-Chief,” the Commodore pointed out. “Nothing else has ever penetrated these shields. Nothing.”

“Are you saying it might be dangerous?” The Admiral-in-Chief pondered. “Perhaps we should investigate its motives and abilities further.”

“Then you’ll talk to it?” The Commodore asked. “It says it wishes to communicate only with you.”

The Admiral-in-Chief inflated his trunk. “All right,” he decided. “Fire up the grff generators and let’s have its mind aboard. I’ll see it here.”

Relieved at not having been accidentally squashed flat by the Admiral-in-Chief – she, after all, owed her promotion to that precise fate having befallen her predecessor – the Commodore thoplaoed her way out of the chamber to give the necessary orders. In only a few jhikmiks a blue-white glow began to flow in the Admiral-in-Chief’s chamber, and condensed and shaped itself eventually into a facsimile of the creature.

“Take me to your leader,” the thing said. “I want to talk to your leader.”

The Admiral-in-Chief regarded the creature with intense distaste. He’d met many savage races in his life, of course, and knew enough to keep his feelings hidden, but even by those standards it was probably the ugliest he’d ever seen. Small as a Baganer makorsha, it had only four limbs, growing out of a short cylindrical torso – limbs which moved, moreover, as though they were broken in the middle. On top was something round which was probably meant to be a head, though it wasn’t like any head the Admiral-in-Chief had ever seen. It didn’t even have facial polyps or cheek-plates. Some thin, filamentous structures hung from the top; perhaps they were meant to be poisonous. The Admiral-in-Chief could think of no other function for them.

“I asked you,” the creature repeated, “to take me to your leader.” When it spoke, a lateral gash appeared in the lower middle of its face and waggled. “I need to talk to him, her, or it.”

“I am the leader,” the Admiral-in-Chief said. “What are you, and how did you find our Flotilla? It has the best shields anywhere, against all forms of detection. Not even the most powerful electronic or radiation-based equipment in the galaxy has managed to penetrate our shields – so how did you?”

“Your shields don’t protect against dreams, I suppose,” the thing replied.

“Dreams?” The Admiral-in-Chief folded his brow ridges. “Explain what you mean by that.”

When the creature had finished, he inflated and deflated his trunk in some confusion. “If what I understand is correct,” he said, “these dreams, as you call them, are just illusions.”

“Hardly just illusions,” the creature replied. “I got through your impenetrable shield in a dream.”

“But you can’t actually do anything during these times,” the Admiral-in-Chief said with some relief. “So it’s really rather irrelevant. So, what is this matter that you wanted to talk to me about?”

The thing swivelled two moist round objects in the upper half of what the Admiral-in-Chief had reluctantly accepted was its head, possibly vision organs of some kind. “Just this,” it said. “I need you to invade my planet immediately.”

For the first time in all his megakirmirs of life, the Admiral-in-Chief was stricken dumb with astonishment, if only for a jhikmik or two. “Let me get this straight,” he said finally. “You said you want me to invade your planet.”

“No,” the creature replied. “I need you to invade my planet. We all do.”

The Admiral-in-Chief inflated his trunk to the maximum as he considered this. “Why?” he asked at last.

“It is vital to our survival.”

If the Admiral-in-Chief’s trunk had been inflated any further it would have burst. It already obscured the rest of his features. “Why,” he repeated, “would anyone want us to invade them? It does not make sense, even for a race so alien that it...dreams.”

“It’s simple,” the thing said. “We need, my world needs, an enemy to unite against.”

“Why?” the Admiral-in-Chief asked for the third time.

“My world,” the creature said, “is divided between alliances of nations. One is coloured red and white and blue, and the other white and blue and red. Then there are others, coloured black and white, and blue and yellow, for instance, and still others of different hues. All of them are fighting each other, and will end up destroying us all.”

“And so you want us to attack you and destroy you all instead,” the Admiral-in-Chief replied, faintly amused.

No. All you have to do is appear and fire a few shots and we’ll all cease our fighting and unite against you. But because you’re so much stronger than my planet, there’s no risk to you; we can’t hurt you. You can then safely withdraw, and we’ll put aside our differences, and our species will be saved.”

“Just why would this be to our benefit, as you said?”

“Why wouldn’t it? You’d be our saviours, and we’ll never forget you.”

“That’s true, you won’t forget us.” The Admiral-in-Chief voogred in his kedara as he considered this. “All right,” he said at last. “We will do this. You can go.”

“Thank you,” the creature said joyfully. “Thank you ever so much! You won’t regret this, I promise you.”

“I’m sure I won’t,” the Admiral-in-Chief murmured, deflating his trunk. He pressed a button to signal his staff to send the creature back.

“I can just see them all looking up in wonder and dismay when your battleships darken the skies,” the creature burbled. “I can see them turning their weapons from each other, and rushing to stand side by side, brothers and sisters against the threat from the stars. I can...” It shrank to a bluish-white dot and disappeared.

The dorja slithered open and the Commodore cautiously poked her front end into the chamber. Seeing no sign of danger, she thoplaoed in. “Admiral-in-Chief,” she said, “please forgive me, but I really must question the wisdom of what you’ve just decided.”

The Admiral-in-Chief wriggled his trunk in amusement. “And on what basis do you question this?” he asked.

“These creatures...” the Commodore said. “You know they already have this thing, this dream, that can detect us, even through our shields. And even though they can’t harm us now...”

“ future they might be able to,” the Admiral-in-Chief completed for her. “I know.”

“But then –” the Commodore said, “why on the seven moons of Groho did you agree to this ridiculous demand to attack them? You know that this will only alert them to our existence and set them to prepare themselves to fight us. Unless,” a horrible thought apparently struck her, “unless you’re planning to break your word and wipe them out?”

“Of course I’m not planning to break my word.” The Admiral-in-Chief tapped a nokh on his trunk. “We aren’t savages. I intend to do exactly as I promised, attack them and fire a few shots.”

“But then I don’t understand. Given the risks, why did you ever agree? You let them know of our existence, and then you get them to unite against us, then it’s only a matter of time that they come out and...”

“Commodore,” the Admiral-in-Chief interrupted, “I am now going to show you exactly why I am an Admiral and why you’re only a Commodore, and lucky to get even that far. Don’t you think that they already know of our existence, despite the impenetrable shields?”

“The dreams,” the Commodore hazarded.

“Precisely. The dreams. It’s only one creature now, but when one has done it, sooner or later, others will follow. At first they might be laughed at when they speak of us. But more and more will tell of the same things; and when enough of them agree, these creatures will get to know of us anyway. And perhaps by then they will already be strong enough to do something about it. After all, they have an advantage – they can penetrate our shields, the most impenetrable ones in the universe. But now...”

“But now?”

“But now, they’re still broken up into their squabbling little tribes, and are weak and divided. When we turn up and fire a few shots...” He paused and glanced at the Commodore expectantly. “What do you imagine will happen?”

“Why, precisely as the creature suggested. They’ll stop their fighting and unite against us.”

“You’ve never seen a tribal society, have you?” The Admiral-in-Chief inflated and deflated his trunk so quickly that it hissed. “What will actually happen, Commodore, is that they’ll fall over themselves to woo us as allies against each other. With only a few shots, and nothing more than that, we’ll become the arbiters. We’ll decide who wins, and under what conditions. In other words, we’ll rule their world, and neutralise the threat from them for all time to come.”

“And you think this can really happen?” the Commodore asked doubtfully.

The Admiral-in-Chief turned in his kedara and tapped a panel. “Let’s run everything we know through the ultracomputer and see, shall we?”

After the computer had shown its conclusions, the Commodore looked at the Admiral-in-Chief, and the Admiral-in-Chief looked back at the Commodore. Neither spoke. There was no need to speak.

They both knew the Admiral-in-Chief had been right.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015

[Image source]

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Face Of A Man

In case that's too dark to make out detail, here it is a bit brightened:

Title: The Face Of A Man
Material: Acrylic on Stone 
Copyright B Purkayastha 2015