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LIGHTNESS

Andy McQuestin

            He was a friend of the Calvrasey, that’s what he used to say. But sitting now in Twin Sisters Bar, another of the institutions his kind spawned, he is friendless. The locals, like me, keep their distance. Not many new-geners come to Twin Sisters. It’s in the Southlands, teeming with Calvrasey – with us – the species born to this planet. He’s here because the drinks are cheap. To his kind – the milkies – money is everything, or so the story goes. Every story touched by their callous hands. This one, too: He captained the first milky ship to land here. It was an accident. A crash landing. A crew of just three, and their machine helpers. At first they were guarded, wary, so we gave them space. They’d watch us emerge from our forest home and scour the plains in the cool of the long dark, collecting food where the tide of the Great Salt Sea receded. During the long light they hunkered under the wreck of their ship, dying in the heat. So, we took them fronds from the Gund Tree and showed them how to fashion a heat resistant shelter. Showed them where to mine for fresh water. In return they showed us things that beeped and whirred. Lights in metal. The first we’d seen of metal. But all of it useless. Grounded. Trivial.

            His orders from his masters were to hold steady. Research. Trade with us. A support unit would arrive to repair the ship in seventeen human years (in that strange way of keeping time they have, based on the cycles of some distant, dying planet). He reported back our planet was inhabited, as suspected, by a clever but tech-deficient species, the Calvrasey. But we weren’t so clever. It takes a fool to trust a demon.

            He’s drinking a weed malt. His faded uniform shows the badges of a Commander: he’s gone down a rank since he first arrived. That almost never happens. Afterall, he once said of his species ‘It is our nature to advance,’ by way of an excuse for the damage he did.

            He looks up and sees me, but there is no recognition. I stare at him evenly the way everyone else does. I’m just another bulbous grey abdomen beneath a trunk-snouted head. My mind, like all Calvrasey (as he reported), is powered by values not facts, motivated by relationships not personal gain. When you put it that way, I guess we were easy prey.

            On his first trip into the forests, he was escorted to the heart of our communities, where he met the High Guardian, my father. He was greeted warmly. He stayed for days, observing, learning to communicate. He marveled at how organised – regimented, he said – the community was. He learned how our culture, our development, was defined by partnerships; partnerships with each other and with the planet, which he translated correctly as our Way. He discovered our communication included the non-physical, which astounded him. The milkies call it telepathy. It enabled us how, he reported, to manually simulate machine production. A sort of organic production line, which built our homes and travel routes and harvesting capacity. Perhaps that’s where the idea started. The seed of the hostility. But not outwardly. Outwardly, he was gleeful and enamoured of my father, whose tail I clung to, curious to see more of the milky. That was twenty-six human years ago.

Now he considers the dregs of weed malt, a sour expression on his face. He pushes the cup away. He’s standing, he’s leaving the bar, out the back exit, into the hustle of the long dark. 

            Do you copy? 

            Over.

            Copy. 

            I have him heading seawards down the alley. Groggy, but alert enough. I’ll take a parallel alley, track him through the gaps between the shanties, the first camps they moved us to when the Labour began. A little walk down memory lane, then. He oversaw the relocation, and the Labour, with ‘great reluctance’, according to his report. His personal journal said, ‘With a heavy heart.’ The milkies are funny about the heart. They know its circulatory function (they love their facts), yet they use the organ to describe love, sadness, joy…almost any emotion. The idea being they feel emotion, rather than think it. Whereas we, who supposedly are less concerned with facts, think with our emotions, which are ingrained genetic values. So when the Labour began, and he oversaw the relocation of the Calvrasey, more and more and more as the milkies’ ambitions grew and grew, and the High Guardian was coerced to communicate that everything would be okay, that we would help the milkies to repair their ship, and even enhance it, and that this was just another partnership, which was our Way, albeit arranged a little differently this time, and our guardians were taken to the worksite, and given the problem to solve, and set their ingenuity to the task, while in the forest the travel routes grew over and harvests suffered, he did so with a heavy heart. And those of us old enough to notice, watched on with a heavy mind, weighed down with fury.

            He’s turned plainward now, the density of the shantytown behind us, I’m following directly in his wake, at a distance as the long dark grows quieter. We’re in the production quarter, where during the long light Calvrasey generate parts for milky contraptions. Some of the younger ones do so happily. They get paid nowadays, another milky introduction. Affliction. Infection. These young Calvrasey take their currency for the bars and the cafes, oblivious to the wreckage of history behind them. But a breeze still blows here, carrying discarded leaves and seed from the injured forests. It whispers to me. And tonight, its voice will be heard by him, too.

            We’re in the Outersouth now, it’s too quiet, my movements too loud. I’m going to divert. Who’s in position?

            I’ll have him at the gates of the processing plant, straight ahead. Over.

            Perfect, I can hold him until he’s there…

            He’s close… He’s yours. Over.

            Copy.

            I am the second descendant of Guardian Vim Dallah Eron Reene. To them, Vim Dallah Eron Reene was a Calvrasey in a line of Calvrasey using telepathy to repair a ship, and, in doing so, introducing the milkies to advancements their centuries of science had failed to uncover. But I know Vim Dallah Eron Reene was the Calvrasey who advanced their technology. It was communicated back to my family. We were not surprised. Our ascendant was a brilliant Calvrasey, known for ingenuity. It was their nature. The milky word ‘innovation’ translates only as continue in our language. We might have been proud. But we were not proud, because we knew Vim Dallah Eron Reene was a slave. And now, with the first descendant gone to the spirits, it is I who will eventually have Vim Dallah Eron Reene’s vengeance, with a heavy mind.

            He stops outside a plain, low-roofed building. I have not been to this edge of the city before. He looks up and down the street, but I am moving along the roof tops and terraces, unseen. 

            He has entered the building now, do I hold this position, or follow? Over.

            Try to gain a visual. If you can’t – follow cautiously. Over.

            Copy. 

            I scale down a rafter onto the street and approach the building. It’s a brothel. I know I can’t loiter in there like a bar or café, so I walk the perimeter. There is a side door, where I enter. The room is tiny and dark. My senses heat as I realise the small space is crowded with three or four milkies… but none of them are him. There is another foreigner, a Wallusian female, sitting by a small table. She says, ‘Viewing, five units,’ which I transfer straight away so I do not draw attention. The Wallusian gestures carelessly toward a wall. There doesn’t appear to be another door in the room. Then I realise the milkies are all facing the wall, looking through it. I step closer and make out small rectangular panes of one-way glass built into the wall. There are some lower down, at Calvrasey height. I approach one.

            I’m looking into a room partitioned in two parts. On one side, a human girl sits, alone, awaiting business. On the other, two Calvrasey, customer and worker, are fucking in an approximation of milky style. He’s not in there. I push my way along to the other side of the wall. The milky there won’t move, so I have to wedge in between him and the wall. I feel his sex pressing hot against the back of my head. It’s disgusting. This room is smaller, with no partition. I see him standing near the doorway. He’s chosen a Calvrasey who sits on a bed. He seems reluctant to approach. I can see his lips moving but I can’t hear him.  The Calvrasey, of course, I can understand. It is encouraging him. It smooths a place on the bed with its tail. ‘Come on,’ it says, ‘Be my master. Make me your slave.’ He vomits, sudden and violent, first into his hands, and then across the floor as he falls to his knees. The Calvrasey sits back on the bed, unmoved. He gets off his knees and stumbles out of the room. The milky behind me grunts in disappointment and steps back. I slip out the side door and move quickly across the alley, crouching behind some discarded furniture, with a view of the street. Soon he walks into my view. Stopping just past the corner of the brothel. Then I hear him, sobbing. And I wonder why.

            Perhaps it was as he says. The initial ship rebuild was, after all, voluntary. The High Guardian confirmed that. And he was so excited by what the Calvrasey could do he reported it back immediately. A warring unit was diverted to our planet, not to rescue the milkies, but to verify the reporting. Then, the human Way happened. They moved, as they do, from their first lens, the Scientific, to their second, Progress. Imagine The Opportunities; that’s the byline of their species. The warring party captain was of a much higher rank. There was correspondence, consensus, instruction. He was to persuade the High Guardian. Industrialize the effort. Harness the innovation. Progress. Perhaps it was just like that. So what?

            He is walking to the tide mark. Here in the Outersouth the sea is suffering from their constant interference and imperfect science, the tide is slimy and slow. They’ve had us build walkways to protect their boots from the waste that washes up here, and I hear the soles of his scraping over the stone. He is so invested in his misery he can’t hear me approach over the drag of his feet and the light unwrapping of the sea. But he will have his chance to shed his burden through what is left of the long dark. He can have his story told, and I will listen and understand. We can be a partnership, as is my Way, and he can be a friend of the Calvrasey again. It will be a trial – arduous, long and full of pain; but on the other side, if he makes it, there will be light, and lightness of heart.

            Over.



Andy is a Tasmanian living in Melbourne, Australia. Most of his published work is fiction that distorts reality to examine how people interact with each other and the environment. His work was recently accepted for publication in Overland, ISLAND, Right Now, SIAMB!, Hyades Magazine and Hawai'i Pacific Review, among others.

scribble march 2022 landing page.jpg