Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer
In the steamy clearing, Roda crouched to be at eye level with the small centaur-like creature dressed in spider silk trews and waistcoat. Professor Malken stood, dressed in a way that indicated many years of expeditions. Roda’s fashionably shabby clothing already showed wear after only two days. He smiled as Roda hastily withdrew his hand from the creature’s lightning fast movement.
“It bit me!”
“No, she said hello.”
“So ‘I didn’t rip your hand off’ means ‘Hi’?”
“Gross over-simplification, but basically yes.”
“And these horse-rat things rule this planet?”
“These ‘horse-rats’ as you call it are a unique feline-rodent centaur with an advanced no-metals culture that has no spoken language.”
Roda went white.
“Telepaths! Oh my god, my secrets are going to be sucked out!”
Malken sighed. Another student only here for the huge course credit available for expedition work. Shame, he thought Roda had been deeper in his motives as he always seemed so intense.
“No psionics. They have two sets of teeth. Front for communication, back for biting. A fascinating society. Our work is creating linguistic definitions for their complex communication that uses facial expressions and what we have called Clanching, the use of the front set of teeth. Equally, we are working with their greatest scholars to help them get a grip of the concept of a written language. There are decades of work here with scientific recognition and careers being made.”
“So what about names?”
“That presents a problem. As far as we have discerned, facial patterning is their individual identity. Our lack of significant facial markings is confusing. They regard any clean shaven human with two eyes and a nose above the mouth as my assistant Chando. That is why the ‘no beards’ regulation is enforced. I am the only human they can distinguish. I wish we could find another way. Some facial markings even seem to have some sort of duality as a rank significator as well.”
Roda stared at him. Malken raised an eyebrow. Roda turned to stare at the creature, then up at the pristine sky above. He smiled.
“You say that there are years of work here? So a dedicated researcher or someone who brought a useful ability could make a living quietly and contribute on his merits rather than history?”
Malken was startled by the intensity of the stare, but actually liked what he heard.
“Yes and yes. Roda, what are you getting at?”
Roda turned his back on the creature and Malken. He reached into one of his pockets and emerged with a strange blue-white glossy cloth. He seemed to look at it before taking it in both hands and wiping his face vigorously. Then he turned back. Malken paled. Roda waved the cloth, now dull black.
“It’s an illegal, undetectable, one-use epidermal masking kit. This was the removal tool.”
He carefully folded the cloth and put it back in his pocket before looking up at Malken.
“I am Rodney Chase, last surviving relative of Hadra Chase, deposed capo of the Ellis Quadrant Maori triads. I need a place to be someone else and to do something useful for once. I do believe I may have found it.”
The centaur stared at the elaborate caste tattoos that marked Roda’s face, then abased herself, front teeth chattering. Malken smiled.
“Senior Liaison Roda, I do believe you have been recognised as royalty by the locals. Can I interest his majesty in learning how to chat with his peers?”
Roda laughed, his face relaxing at last.
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows