Extant: Part Two
Author's note: Third NaNoWriMo entry. Second part of Extant.
The Botten GrandereI spent a good amount of time that night learning the controls of the portable desk screen, but as soon as Deshen left to retire to the sleep pods in the back of the house, I tucked the pad into the folds of my new, too-sterile-to-adapt-to slime coat and ducked out the door after Kumali.
Finding my way alone through the dark was much easier the second time around, and when I was met with the sounds of their ritual singing, I did not pause and duck into the bushes or turn and survey the shadows behind me to confirm I wasn't being followed. I heard their music and I walked into the clearing, searching the many clawed toes to try and seek out the welcome face in the crowd behind the intimidating furry masks.
“Werenta sumi polapola gosh nee. Appe non quma xet cala zeek ir bol.”
“Kueye sunte fere juu finte moko jube gre hi.”
“Dere man te aole zurpe gee.”
“Ai-ke. Zuret ne gon.”
Their rituals of song were interspersed with phrases of spiritual awakening. It was not something I had ever really been exposed to back on the airship, but seeing it first-hand I knew inside of me instantly that that was what their words were about, what their words were hoping for and expressing.
The masks were removed, and one by one, as their vision was restored, the Lichen-Botten noticed my presence at the fringes of their circle. I knew which one was Zorren by the friendly waving of his antennae atop his head.
“Dee-Dray break ceremony more?” Kumali hissed, and Qewri, the sentinel insect shell at her side, only reacted with a flick of an antenna.
“Dee-Dray?” Zorren's antennae wandered the air until they were aimed in my direction. “Human name Dee-Dray?”
“Deirdre,” I corrected quietly, but let my voice willingly warp under the weight of my tongue.
“Human Deirdre not Lichen-Botten. Ever.”
“Erema! Pusheke cole dosem. Deirdre, I want give chance be Lichen-Botten.”
“But I can't,” I mumbled self-consciously under the smothering weight of their eyes, which were now expertly fixed on me. Kumali must have been mad, then, because she was the leader of this group. “I'm a human.”
“Why?” Zorren challenged. “Why Human not Lichen-Botten?”
“Sdrese wreqa dumt jex aa. Coreman supre tal!”
Approaching me by walking around the congregated circle, he lightly touched one of his head-whiskers to my neck. “Need know words. Kumali no want Human Lichen-Botten; Deshen adopt Human into family. Yes?”
He wasn't saying it, as most of them did, to degrade me into rudimentary understanding. He was genuinely uncertain of the facts and wanted a confirmation. “Yes, I suppose he adopted me into his family.”
Somehow, with lack of eyelashes and eyebrows and a nose and mouth and wrinkles to convey emotion, Zorren adopted a thoughtful composure. I was beginning to be able to read their emotions solely on the positions of their antennae in the air. I hoped it would only be a short matter of time before I could myself speak their strange flickering tongues.
“Deshen name High Bartok Deshen; all Bartok call title. Deshen leader organization. Lichen-Botten against government. Lichen-Botten really clan under Botten Grandere. Botten Grandere big group, no law rules. Deshen have army, Curlal; times just Deshen army. Kumali think Deshen adopt you to have advantage, on his side. If Human become Lichen-Botten, Botten Grandere have on their side. Lichen-Botten no even want war.”
“A war?” I said. “S-since when has there been a war?”
“No war yet, but soon. You came, war no start. Now not so new, war start again.”
“But... I don't understand,” I admitted finally. “Why are the Curlal and Botten Grandere fighting in the first place?”
“Botten Grandere no want law, Deshen army make law. Botten Grandere still under law. Try not have it; put away prison. Botten Grandere want freedom; Deshen law no let them.”
I inadvertently glanced Kumali's way. Her antennae were sticking straight up and twitching furiously; she didn't agree to having her every thought and opinion translated for my benefit. After all, I was just a token, some gem that each side of the war wanted to have or didn't want to have – in her mind, anyway. I hoped that not every Bartok saw me that way.
“But... no want talk war. Come circle, listen song. No need understand words – can feel in heart.”
I settled myself comfortably in a soft patch of leaves and soil just out of the vicinity of the group around the fire. Zorren saw and gestured for me to congregate with the rest of the group, but I smiled and shook my head. I preferred to experience the magic of the Lichen-Botten rituals as the outsider that I was.
The Botten Grandere continued to puzzle me the whole night through. An army at war with Deshen – after all the nice things he had done? And what had Zorren meant by Deshen only wanting to have me on his side as a battle advantage? I was baffled but I hoped that my learning – both at school and at home – would clear the fog that blotted my view.
I had learned enough characters to write my query in the search box on my pad, but I did not understand enough to read the information I had found. I erased the page when Deshen came up behind me because I felt that he would be upset with me for knowing about these things. Porwe was so quiet in her approach that I never heard her come up behind me.
“What you doing?”
I quickly pulled up a screen of written characters, clumsily trying to cover up my tracks.
“Practicing my writing, that's all.”
“Can play antennae-tap?”
I shook my head ruefully. “Sorry, Porwe. I'm a little busy right now.”
She looked a bit disappointed that I had refused her, but she quickly rebounded and ran off to find one of her brothers.
Although Kumali's stand on the conflict was murky, I sought her out, pad in hand.
“No Human. I no speak anything want know.” Her antennae bent sharply and sparked up their length of purple.
“Why?” I asked, my voice diving to a whisper. “Why can't I know?”
“Fine,” she snapped, her antennae making a pop. “Human really want know?”
This might have been the only chance I got to hear the story from a primary source – there was no room for uncertainty or second-guessing. “I do,” I said.
Kumali gestured for me to enter another room, and once we were both inside she touched an antenna to the security pad on the interior of the door and slid it shut.
“History of Botten Grandere: Botten brother Deshen. Leader rivalry. Deshen lead organization. Botten lead woods clan. Botten want new generation live natural life. Deshen want new generation fast smart with technology.”
“But... why am I the determining factor?”
Kumali scoffed – a quick ripple of her antenna, and it made not a sound. “Human no determine. Human only stall battle.”
“Why did Zorren say you think I'm a pawn if I don't determine anything?”
“Exactly. Human pawn only extra piece. Deshen want prove law technology upbringing more beneficial. Teaching you in organization school show Botten his theory wrong, but no help war.”
“I still don't understand how the Botten Grandere got started in the first place,” I said.
“Rivalry. When both in beginner school, Deshen smarter Botten. Tease him. One day, Botten disappear recess. Everyone thought dead. Then one day intermediate school, Botten return. Ask Bartok join in back to woods. Deshen no know why Botten wild now. Botten tell Deshen children better chances woods. Technology bring unrightful rank. In woods no Bartok better another. After mature school, Deshen work in government house many years. Gain high ranking. Campaign and become whole ruler. New name High Bartok Deshen. After children me, Basen, Uheng, Porwe, Botten reappear. Group giant army; wood clan name Shire-Botten, Botten-Bleua, Keleke-Botten-Qez, Derete-Botten. Big sub-clan names. Botten claim Deshen killing generation future. Ready planning attack Deshen home, but you spacecraft pause conflict. Botten no more surprised Human, quick plan new attack.”
I was stupefied at, for one thing, the fact that Kumali had willingly told me everything, but I was also startled by the secrets she had spilled. “W-when did Botten plan the next attack?”
“Twenty past first-light.”
Kumali now looked scared, as if she had turned her own weapon on herself.
“Deshen doesn't know?”
“No. I no even supposed know, but Lichen-Botten told by messenger Botten-Bleua clan. Ordered fight war, but we refuse. Lichen-Botten clan create against conflict. Deshen no know clan exist. If know, we put prison even though neutral group. Deshen try arrange army – that why be mad see me against him. Though not really.”
Kumali's antennae stood still, and she started to turn to leave the room when I called out, “Wait!” She looked back to me with her head-whiskers curled inquisitively in my direction.
“Why don't you like me then, Kumali?”
Her antennae dipped and undulated outward – a weary smile. “I no like Human try live both worlds and not know. But now... possibly different. And – no tell High Bartok Deshen or other in school. Right?”
I nodded. “Right.” Kumali slid open the door and scuttled out, leaving me behind, the bag of knowledge heavy in my feeble human grasp.