23 July 2010


By Curtis C. Chen

"Your language is beautiful," Katrina said, admiring the long vertical lines written in black ink on parchment. Curves, notches, and other embellishments flowered off each elegant word-ligature at irregular intervals.

"That is writing," said Mebrui, the interpreter assigned as her host. "Not language."

Katrina smiled. Mebrui's expression remained impassive. She was a little disappointed—they both wore traditional Gordnija attire, and she thought the sleeveless, low-cut vest and tight-fitting pants showed off her body pretty well. Mebrui's outfit certainly flattered his muscular shape.

"Is that a personal distinction, or a scholarly one?" she asked.

"First there is thought," Mebrui said, "then speech. Last comes writing."

Katrina nodded. "I'd like to talk about how this writing system developed. The original colonists were Arabic and Chinese, correct?"

"Yes," Mebrui said. "Two dozen survived the crash."

"And that was three hundred years ago."

"Yes. Twenty years after their ship was crippled by asteroid impact and marooned in this star system."

Hell of a long time to spend falling out of orbit, Katrina thought, infected by alien parasites and wondering whether brain damage or unshielded re-entry will kill you first...

Aloud, she said, "Traditional Chinese script does descend vertically, but the use of full-word ligatures and the significance of inter-character spacing are unique."

"All things are connected," Mebrui said. "This world saved our ancestors. If they had not fallen to Gordnija and breathed her air, the alien disease would have destroyed more than their memories."

Katrina frowned. "I'm not sure what that has to do with writing."

"It was their destiny to land here." Mebrui traced a finger down one side of the display case. "Inevitable, like gravity. All things fall down."

"Interesting," Katrina said. "We've always known that culture influences language, but I've never seen a philosophy so ingrained—"

A loud rumbling noise descended through the ceiling. Katrina looked up reflexively, even though they were deep in the museum's basement. Short, sharp banging sounds followed. She reached for her comm bracelet, but Mebrui grabbed her hands and held her in place.

Now he wants to touch me, she thought. "What's going on?"

"Do not concern yourself," he said. "We are safe here."

"What the hell is happening?" she shouted.

"We fulfill our destiny," Mebrui said. "It is inevitable that we will conquer your race. Our leaders saw no reason to delay—"

"Enough!" Katrina made a fist with her right hand. The flight ring around her middle finger sensed the tension in her muscles, and the filament running up an artery into her premotor cortex read her mind.

Her body shot two meters upward and hovered in the air, facing down. She would have been standing upright, but Mebrui's added weight was unbalancing her.

"Please let go of me," Katrina said.

"You cannot stop this," he said.

"You're wrong."

Katrina bent her legs, tucking them up to her chest, then straightened them quickly, pushing her boot heels hard into Mebrui's chest. He fell and hit the ground with a wet thud. Katrina flew away before she could see any blood.


Photo: American Falls at Niagara Falls, July, 2008