by Robin K Hickson
They came out of the maize fields(1). When the air was still, I could hear them as they drilled their way through the dark channels. But when the wind blew, both sight and sound were concealed. On those evenings, every rustle, every shaking stem, became an attack. We doused the fires and hid below the eaves(2), watching, one hand for each other, sweaty palms clenched(3), in the other a makeshift tool. A stick, or a fist-sized rock.
We weren’t even sure that they wanted to hurt us. Not at first, at least. Then little Two(4) disappeared. Eviscerated then swallowed, as if never a Copy(5).
It was strangely exhilarating to mind-join(6). I could sense Two’s confusion, then fear. Until then, death had been our friend; a rebirth(7). Now death was our enemy.
Some of us wanted to take the fight to the intruders; these non-Copies(8). I know this, for I felt it streaming from them, the thought burying itself in my head, like a maize seed in tilled soil. But we were too weak. Our skills too limited. Was it not preferable to tend our crops and Copies? One, Three and Seven lived. Sixteen was half-made. Just a few(9) more harvests(10), and then Sixteen would be a name(11).
What would we do if we found them? Did they sleep? They appeared to have no Copies of their own. Could they rebirth? If we struck them with our sticks and rocks, would they break? Crack open like a husk? Were there more inside each shell, reconstituted from places where they swallowed Two?
The call came one evening, when the wind blew hard, bringing ash from the gods. The maize was grey in the twilight, as was the ground around the crop fields. The others were excited — they could see the tracks the eaters(12) made when they came and left that day, taking Seven. We could feel Seven’s waves. Like a Copy before naming. A pain, but the fear too. The thought-weight(13) was overwhelming.
Leaving the nest, I armed myself with a rock once spat out by the gods. As I took hold of it, I swore to the gods that I would take care of their gift; I thanked them for providing the means to stop/deaden/rebirth(14) the eater that took Seven.
I joined the others as they followed the trail out of the crop, over the river meadow, and on; farther than any of us had been before. Over the nest of the restless gods(15).
Tracks, but no scat. Another puzzle. We travelled well into the deep night. I was afraid we’d walk over the edge of the world. We no longer sensed Seven.
Their nest, once found, was a tough husk, impervious to our attacks. I pounded on the skin with the god’s rock, my hands leaking(16), until a crack appeared. From the crack, they came. Swarming around us, striking us until we fell. Some voices left the stream(17).
I prepared for rebirth, but that pleasure-pain never came.
They call themselves humans(18).
I’m swallowed. I pray to the gods that I die(19).
1. [translation for native staple crop ]
2. [translation alternative: nest roof ]
3. [translation alternative: appendages linked ]
4. [no equivalent translation to original ]
5. [no equivalent translation: meaning clone ]
6. [translation uncertain ]
7. [translation uncertain, but a distinct word meaning ‘next life’. Compare Note.19 ]
8. [translation alternative: aliens ]
9. [translation alternative: a number other than one or zero, perhaps illustrating a limited grasp of mathematics ]
10. [the native staple crop has a fruiting cycle of at least one hundred local years, or approximately one thousand Earth years ]
11. [translation: uniquely identifiable ]
12. [translation: refers to alien predators ]
13. [translation: telepathic energy density ]
14. [translation: literal translation, representing the Ypes uncertainty of post-life humans ]
15. [translation reveals identified location as the vicinity of the Xenti volcano Maddox ]
16. [translation alternative: blood, however it should be noted that the Ypes have no directly equivalent separation of bodily fluid from organs ]
17. [translation alternative: shared telepathic communication ]
18. [translation: a variation on the Ypes’ term for those that eat Copies, demonstrating the Ypes’ apparent ability to understand spoken language ]
19. [Note: the first recorded use of the unambiguous term for Ypes’ end of life, without rebirth ]
Interpolation and translation from brain recordings of the Ypes specimen known as ‘Beetle’, captured by the First Xenti Colony, 2095. All data and publications the property of Dr John Underwood, Head of Astrobiology, Edinburgh University. 2nd January 2102.