725015:600 - They stood outside the blind for a full day, leaving only when the inversion storms formed on the horizon and coming back when the storms dissipated, seating themselves in the extended root systems of the succulent where their coloring makes them damn near invisible. We realize now they may have been there since before our landing, hence the blind is moot.
As I stated earlier, Aguirra is a testament to adaptive evolution. These creatures -- we call them 'Goatmen' now that we've been able to observe more about their physiologies -- are the best blend of North American mountain goats and South American camels.
In this land of high, thin air, little food, cold, and treacherous terrain, these Goatmen have developed enlarged hearts and lungs -- my guess is that they couldn't survive at sea level.
Their coats are fine and dense with two layers; the outer layer is comprised of long, oily, water repellent guard hairs, the inner layer is comprised of dense hollow hairs to provide both thermal insulation and protection from parasites. At least the insects don't seem to bother them. The coat won't collect moisture and sheds condensation, the principal elements of the best insulations known, and is thickest across the shoulders where the guard hairs may be ten to fifteen centimeters long. The coat thins as it moves out to the muzzle and legs.
Toe walkers. Their feet are like their hands, although the toes are broader, flatter, and rubbery in their ability to grasp the surface they walk on. Their legs obviously evolved from something quadripedal in recent evolutionary time.
Chromotographic analysis of their respirations -- only two to three per decminute while observing us, apparently a resting state -- shows a ninety percent CO2-O2 exchange. Without dissection I can't be sure, but I would guess they can force oxygen into their tissues in much the way deep diving cetaceans do.
I would almost believe they live on the Towers, although there is no evidence of this other than the telemetry of the casters.
It is obvious they know we are here. This blind serves us nothing. I've asked Sanders to allow attempts at communications. Although they haven't made obvious communication amongst themselves, their behavior leads me to believe them intelligent.
745015:390 - Two days of observation by the Goatmen. They do nothing but stare at us.
Things happen more quickly than can be imagined back home. Robin has excised herself from my life like a tumor. She, of course, would believe the growth benign. Such a fool. I still feel the hole in me where she and Jeremy lived. To her benign, to me a cancer the traces of which haven't all been removed. It is good I'm here, on this far away world, far away Aguirra, so far even jumpships take weeks to reach us.
Galen and Tellweiller talk to me to comfort me. Neither of them are Earthborn although both are only four generations removed from home, long enough to notice the hints of alien gravities and atmospheres and oceans if you know how to look, not long enough to make them foreign to the species which bred them. Galen is simply too powerful for an endomorph without obtrusive musculature, and too pale. Tellweiller a little too tall, with all his features and extremities slightly longer than they should be to maintain healthy proportion. Nor have they been to Earth, except in holos and on projections, although I have been to both their worlds; Galen's Stratton and Tellweiller's Devereux.
Jumpships may take weeks, but messages still come in days; relayed along the net by semismart repeater stations.
Sanders asked if I wished to reply. I think he really wanted to know why, if my marriage was destroying itself from within, I signed on for another exploration.
He doesn't understand. His life comes to him via a meter, I think. He puts in a credit and garnishes an hour in return. His pinched face beneath cropped, mouse-colored hair atop that tall, thin body, the way he moves as if always stretched in below-standard G, makes me think he's constantly inspecting that meter, perhaps believing he got fifty-nine-mark-fifty-nine minutes instead of the hour he thought his due. I remember watching him as he stood in uniform -- the first time since we left -- outside my door in the ship's outer ring. Emotions are difficult for him, I think. He doesn't understand them nor those who use them. For him, for as long as I've known him, emotions are something kept in a bottle on a dusty shelf, taken down once a year when socially or politically appropriate, looked at, stirred and shaken, but never opened or expressed, then placed back on the shelf until next year's inspection. Perhaps he feels he was given only a few at birth. That may explain why he's so niggardly with them.
Perhaps he should have married Robin.
But then they would not have given me Jeremy.
In any case, having spoken his due about space exploration and family obligation and how his wife understood such things and encouraged them -- he breathed hard once, as if to show that talking about her stirred things deep inside him. The bottle of emotion came out and was displayed. "See? I have them, too," then quickly put away -- he retreated to the clustered confines of C3I, back to piloting the ship, slinging his way through asteroids with a mathematical precision which, like a grossly integrated curve, showed its discontinuity even if you didn't look.
After hearing my arguments for communication with the Goatmen, Sanders has decided to dispatch a rumbler. I've told him this is a mistake.
745015:400 - The rumbler rolled from behind the blind and out towards the Goatmen. Set on low, its pseudopod extended and thumped the Aguirran plain lightly and rhythmically.
A strange thing happened which I haven't shared with the others but am willing to recount here:
All of us -- Sanders, Galen, Tellweiller, Nash, and myself -- sat at the great table in Common and watched the monitor. On the screen we saw all the goatmen save one turn and stare at the rumbler. They watched it with the same blank, seemingly mindless expression with which they watched the blind previously. They showed no aggression, no offense, no territoriality; nothing. No display of anything with which I'm familiar.
All except one. He turned to the rumbler, puckered as if in thought, as if he were trying to come to some decision about it, then turned back to the Blind. It didn't end there. If it did there would be nothing more to tell.
When he turned back to the Blind, his eyes -- those damn near human eyes everything seems to have on this planet -- came to a focus they had not achieved before and he stared -- if that word can be used -- not only directly into the blind but at me, as if I could be seen by him as separate and distinct from the blind, our ship, even my fellows in the crew. I was about to mention this to the others when I noticed none of them was aware of this singular fellow. All of their attention was on the rumbler, waiting for it to cause an aboriginal scatter. None of them seemed even aware of the lone Goatman.
I looked back at the Goatman whose eyes were fixed upon me and he opened his mouth as if to say "oh." It seemed he breathed rapidly and I ... I felt my surroundings fade. As I sat there meeting this creature's unintentional stare, I peripherally watched my compatriots moving off as if into some great distance, becoming wisps and shadows until they, the table, Common, and even The Merrimack itself were gone from me.
I am squatting by a fire, just outside of a cave and close to a mesa edge, warming my hands and haunches even as the cold of the high, rarified air and clear, moonless night sky bristle the hairs of my back, neck, and flanks. I note that my hands aren't mine. They are a Goatman's, as is the rest of my body which I can see, and note with surprise that none of this disturbs me. It seems natural and good that I see myself as such, and the shock quickly fades as I let this versipellic vision continue.
I take a step closer to the fire, until my penis is almost hanging in it. I reach behind myself for more chigarro -- how do I know that word? What does it mean? -- to throw over the flames. There isn't much left, and I season the fire with half of what I have. The dry root burns slowly, sending black, sooty smoke into and over me, making my eyes water until a nictating membrane covers them -- now, at last, I understand how the Goatmen see, what those hideous eyes show them -- and my nostrils flare -- how wonderful their sense of smell is compared to ours. Aguirra, if this is Aguirra I see myself on, is alive with scents our robotics could never have known -- as the chigarro's smoke burns into me. I look around although I know I'll find none of the scrubby chigarro trees; the winds of the mesa don't bite my nose, high up and between my eyes, bringing the tell-tale scent of the chigarro ready to harvest, a scent which always made both me and my father sneeze -- what nonsense is that?
Earlier today, I remember, I'd been lucky. I found a bubbling mudpool while hunting -- what? -- and, dropping my weapons, rolled in it, covering myself with the mud and letting it cake heavily on me as I climbed back home. Now, under the clear night sky, I let it dry until I feel the fire's heat mold it to me.
My eyes are half open, my eyelids cover the upper half and the lower half are covered by the nictating membranes. I sing quietly and rock, gently, towards the fire and away, my voice a low roll which works its way across the plain facing me and my cave.
Another low rolling sound comes down from the sky and settles around me, my kin and the kin of my brothers answering my song in prayer, hearing my song in answer. I welcome the sound, adding it to my voice and adding this sound to my own. Slowly, as the chigarro rises into me and the earth is baked into hardened clay upon me, the sound grows louder. I let the sound move through me, patiently harmonizing and deharmonizing with it as I learn its flavors, its colors, its movements, waiting as all the voices merge and separate to reveal themselves to me, each voice revealing the one who made it.
I stand, my eyelids rising on top and my lower lids coming up from below, covering the nictating membrane and blocking the light of the fire from my eyes. As I stand, the fire-hardened mud cracks and chips away from me. My fur comes away with it, leaving only my heat-reddened, all black skin underneath. The Chigarro root flares as some of the sulfurous mud catches in the flames and its smoke and odors etch my naked skin. Slowly, my eyes grow accustomed to the night sky.
There, up where Old One parted the skies while the People dreamed, a Walker new among the Bright Eyes comes down. This one, he walks over the edge of the mesa onto the plains on the other side of home. I do not know this Walker so he has come far. A Journeyer, he.
Old Ones, Bright Eyes, Walkers, Journeyers and their kin are good allies.
Naked, my fur baked off me, my black skin starts to twitch with chills in the late winter air as the fire quiets to embers glowing in the wind. I take a moment to admire my naked flesh, the new cuts and grooves in it where the fire has spoken to me.
The sound stops. I look back to where I last saw the Journeyer fall. There are no indications of it anywhere.
My ears, still focused on the sound, now turn and scoop after the Journeyer, listening. I hear nothing.
I walk back to my fire and throw some more Chigarro on it, stirring it slightly and letting it grow once again. I squat with my back to my cave, the mesa edge on my right. All around me are hardened furry mud packs. One by one, I throw them into the fire, letting the smoke and stench of my burning fur bathe me, some ritual I know but the ceremony of which I can't remember.
Quietly, I continue my song, now singing the sounds of Journeyer with me.
Article © Joseph Carrabis. All rights reserved.
Published on 2019-10-14
Image(s) © John Scullen of Skolenimation. All rights reserved.