805015:0800 - A brief walk around the village reveals little. There are no family dwellings as such, although there are some common constructions. The one I was in is evidently for the sick and infirmed. One seems to house foodstuffs. I have not ascertained what the others are for in detail, although it seems one is a common sleeping hut. All are marvelously constructed to withstand the elements, as are the goatmen themselves. Perhaps their physiology precludes the need for dwellings. Even so, I would think that over time they'd come to prefer them.
Which brings up an interesting detail. I asked Gomer what they call themselves. His nostrils flared and released, flared and released, as if beating with his heart. With each flaring he gave a name. He was signaling them by scent, I believe, and perhaps expecting me to be able to do the same, much as we would point to one person after another.
"No, no," I said. "What are you named all together?"
His level of confusion demonstrated there was none. Again, if I were a xenopologist I would have expected that. This also demonstrates there are no other sentients on the planet, I think. If there were others, wouldn't the Goatmen have developed the language to separate themselves from these hypothetical others? Or is this my prejudice placed upon them, By-the-Book Sanders versus Not-By-the-Book me.
Or perhaps there are no other intelligences who have revealed themselves to the Goatmen.
I then told him what we called ourselves -- "human" -- and his left hand shot forward. "How many of you are there?"
I told him I didn't know.
"There are enough so you don't know each one?"
"Oh, most definitely."
"And all of you are in the home who wants to be a rock?"
He waited for my answer.
Damn my lies. Damn them. Damn Robin. Damn Sanders, Tellweiller, Galen, and Nash. Damn the Goatmen.
"Oh, I misunderstood before. No, many of us are in the ..." and I used that word.
He brayed, something which the translators evaluated as laughter, and gave me a gentle butt. I am sure it was gentle for him. It damn near cracked my skull. "Go on."
They know when I lie. Perhaps my scent gives me away. Yet the gentle reproof. Am I teaching them that some stories can be fun?
I told him we call them "Goatmen". What he heard was "Goat Men" and he laughed again.
"Can half a people hope to survive?" he asked, still laughing.
The last thing I remember was him giving me another gentle butt. Soon after I slept.
The village is multi-generational from what I've seen so far and the divisions are fascinating in themselves. I wonder if these creatures come into a mating season, still tied to some ecologic bio-rhythm, so clearly are the generations demarcated.
Lactating females seem to have longer hair, or perhaps they simply haven't shed their winter hairs as easily as do the males and non-lactating females, of which there are few. Around the nipples of some lactating females there is a bloody stain. Perhaps some of the kids don't give up the tit soon enough.
Closest to me is one female still suckling a young. There is a tenderness common to all sentient creatures between parent and young -- and yes, I'm aware of my many assumptions.
I surmise I'm witnessing a parent and child simply by the interaction between them. It reminds me of Robin nursing and nuzzling Jeremy. There was a tenderness between them which did not extend to me, often intentionally excluding me.
I remember, there was one time, I watched her holding him crooked in her right arm, unbuttoning her blouse and folding it down, then pinching her nipple as he rooted back and forth, his little mouth open and reaching, until he found her. His eyes slowly closed as she sang to him, almost too quiet for me to hear. Once she was secure he had found her milk, her eyes, like his, slowly closed.
She rocked then, rocked in rhythm to her song, and his mouth went lax without ever losing her teat, every now and again his cheeks would tense and he would suck, perhaps six or seven times. She would smile and then he would sleep again.
That these creatures are sentient there can be no doubt. They have long since passed Keiger's Porpoise Test -- another anthropomorphic egocentrism, if you ask me. Twentieth century sociologists learned to be participant observers to best understand a culture. Agreed! Goodbye Robin, farewell Jeremy, my son. Sanders, you were my commander, never my superior, even as an officer. To Tellweiller, Nash, and Galen, serve him as best you can if not at all.
Robin had plenty of milk for Jeremy, it seemed. Not once can I remember did she ever nourish me.
805015:1280 - There are no other animals up here. I just noticed that. More accurately, I just noticed I hadn't noticed. Hopefully the robotics I'm carrying are noticing things I'm not.
There is vegetation and it seems highly ordered although I don't know if it's cultivated.
Gomer approaches. There is another billy with him. This one's horns are broken off and he appears to have cataracts. Strange.
"I have spoken of the strange things you do and Tenku has offered to ..." another word the translator could not understand.
According to one of my old college professors people learn when they either develop or acquire new language for what they're doing. What is it the translator needs to learn?
Or is it I who has not the language?
I then noticed that Tenku -- that's as well as I can do the new billy's name -- was holding a black root.
Participant observation, yes.
They came and sat. Gomer never moved from the neutral position except to say "Tenku," at which point the new billy leaned forward, left hand out, and started talking. "We use this when we wish to -- " again the translator barked, this time a string of garbled sounds as if it were cursing in a foreign language. I can't believe it hasn't developed sufficient vocabulary yet!
Tenku placed the root between us.
How is it used? Because I'm not an anthropologist, I'm assuming it's some kind of narcotic and, because I'm not an anthropologist, I'm probably right. But how is it used? Chewed? Swallowed? Smoked? Injected? Inhaled? Mixed with something else? Rubbed into the skin? As an enema?
Gomer and Tenku strip a piece of the root then rise and motion me to follow. Each holds a piece of the root, its black juice streaming down their hands and dripping onto the ground. "Where are we going?"
Tenku starts chewing the root. One question is answered. Gomer says, "We speak with the Theisen."
"The Theisen? Who are they?"
"The ones who answer."
It is sweet.
I am naked. Totally naked. No survival pack, no environment suit, no food, nothing.
How did they know to strip me?
Who stripped me?
I am on the ground. How long have I been lying here?
It is not cold nor is it difficult to breathe, yet I still feel myself to be on the Alpha Tower.
I must remember all this for later. To record it. I hear Tenku's voice, what equates to their laughter, the braying, but he's not around. His voice is close but he is not.
The black root must be some kind of hallucinogenic. Gomer is before me. He is standing at the foot of a path, narrowed and marked by azure and deep maroon stones. There are trees further up the path. Real trees. Pines, mostly. Christmas trees with some birches. One or two elms. There are pine needles on the ground. The path leads up a slight rise then disappears between the trees, moving further up a hill and into the woods.
I thought we'd climbed to the top of this tower, but clearly it goes higher.
Gomer is at the foot of the path, staring at me and holding out his left hand. It is covered with milk. His horns are black against the sky and his eyes, always impenetrable, now show me naked before him, goat's eyes with rectangular pupils like huge picture windows looking out onto my soul. He stares at me with his left hand out, slightly bent at the waist with one knee forward, reaching out to me, helping me from the ground and patient for me to follow him, an alien Mephistopheles offering me an unknown Cleopatra at the price of some xenopologic Hell.
I am scared.
Gomer is still waiting, his hand outstretched and still dripping milk. He leans closer and slaps my face. God it stings. The pads of his hand rip my naked face. His hand is still outstretched but now it drips blood. This is familiar. How long have I been here? How long has he been waiting?
I wish I had something to drink. I wish I sucked the milk when it was offered.
Gomer leans forward, coming closer and I fear he will strike me again. Instead he wipes my face. It is covered with sweat. Tears and blood and sweat. He stares at the mixture as it pools in his palm as if he were reading a history of my life.
Again I hear Tenku laugh.
Gomer opens my mouth and lets my history fall in. It tastes like milk and quenches my thirst.
I can't move. My arms and legs are free and yet I cannot move.
Again there is Tenku's laughter. Where is he?
Blood runs down my arm and into my hand and now I can move it. I can taste it. I can breathe. I take Gomer's hand. It is rough and tender. Both facile and feral as it swarms about mine. It takes a while, a few tries, but I get up.
We start up the path. I hear a voice. It is Jeremy's. It comes from Gomer's lips, speaking in the Goatmen's tongue. I look into Gomer's face and see he has Robin's eyes. Now they look at me without judgment, without regret.
I am still naked and it is cold.
Tenku, Gomer, and I are back, standing in the circle with the black root between us. Their jaws, chests, and hands are covered in streaks of black juice. Their teeth are blackened, as are their tongues. They look like two kids -- pardon the pun -- who'd been eating and drooling licorice.
Their breath smells like...well, like blood. I doubt this is the case, as they are herbivores and even the billies don't have pronounced canines. A possibility is that they self-mutilate by biting their own tongues, perhaps as part of the black root ritual. I have no idea if sublingual ingestion works for caprins as it does for humans. The pain involved in biting one's own tongue, however...
I am fully clothed again and wonder if I was ever naked. There are black stains down the front of my suit and on my hands.
815015:0800 - The recorder signaled The Merrimack's request for my immediate return sometime during my study of the black root. Has my intention for participant observation caused Sanders concern? Has Robin conscripted my pay for this rigging and Sanders needs my consent before he'll approve? Damn him, By-the-Book Sanders. For the first time in years I feel useful, like I'm accomplishing something, and I'll be damned if any petty squabbles will keep it from me now.
I had not noticed before, but some of the billies are not in the village. Have they gone back to inspect "the home who wants to be a rock"? Is this Sanders' concern?
835015:1700 - No entries yesterday. It seems I slept. Gomer tells me this is common for those first exposed to the Wa'asis, the proper name of the black root. He also tells me we didn't get to the Theisen. I could not make the journey, he said, something which is also common. When I asked why he said nothing.
More of the Goatmen have left this village, some even as I enter this, and I note that the majority of those leaving are the young ones. Regarding that, several of the females are pregnant and, Gomer tells me, will start kidding soon. I asked him if there are any natural abortions or stillborns and he answered no, but not directly. There are no words in his language for either stillborn or abortion. This is the strongest evidence such things don't exist.
I've also asked about natural predators. The lowlands have several, he tells me. Original planetary findings confirm this. "Is that why your people came here to live?"
"No, we have always been here."
I haven't as yet heard any of their oral tradition or myths -- if indeed they have any. I'm sure they would be fascinating.
This opens our discussion again to Tenku and I question him about the Wa'asis. Whatever it is, only Tenku and a few others have it and administer it. What happens when these others are no more? Then one like them will chew it. "Will you chew it?" He has no answer.
This brings up another point. Are these the only goatmen on all of Aguirra? Where are the other "tribes"?
I ask about the Goatman -- here again Gomer laughs at "Goat Man." He butts me but this time knows I'm delicate and it is a tap, barely felt yet frightening never-the-less -- the individual who stared at me when we sent out the rumbler.
Gomer tells me no such person -- Goatman -- exists. I describe the individual in detail and he asks me to go on, to tell him more. It is here I realize something else about these Goatmen and perhaps all aboriginals I've ever known.
The Goatmen's observational skills are based on a delicate yet pervasive matrix of focused attention directed to minute detail, the constant exercise of a rich cultural memory, and the predication of all experience into oral history. This latter is prevalent in all pre-ecririen societies. This could be true of all aboriginal peoples but I have no way of knowing.
Article © Joseph Carrabis. All rights reserved.
Published on 2019-10-28
Image(s) © John Scullin of Skolenimation. All rights reserved.