Spectacular as the starlight was, blazing through the dome of the biosphere, it was only enough to light the cave a short way in. The habitat had been designed with Humans specifically in mind, however, and just past where the starlight gave out, little patches of phosphorescent moss gave enough definition to the path and walls for 27 to navigate.
She made her way cautiously in to where the iron grate isolated the two sides of the biosphere. Nothing against this Human, but she really did not like the idea of him being here. She couldn't see any reason for the Waymakers to want him, except for reasons that pertained directly to 27 herself. She wanted nothing to do with that. She was happy here with Snap, Gneiss and Rhyolite; she didn't need anyone else added to the social group. Snap had been getting a little pushy lately, but bringing another Human in wasn't going to solve that. "And a male, no less," she muttered to herself, getting nervous again as she peered into the shadows on the other side of the grate. If they had to get another Human, why would they get a male? They were so aggressive.
"...Halloo?" 27 called tentatively down the tunnel. She had just about convinced herself to just flee for her room, lock the door, and go to sleep. But the thought of leaving some primitive out there alone, on a strange ship full of strange creatures, seemed too heartless. Plus, he had seemed nice earlier. If she spoke to him again, then she wouldn't lie awake all night, alternately thinking about him huddled somewhere in terror or lurking somewhere plotting against her. "Hallo!"
Down the tunnel, there was a movement, most likely from the alcove. "Hello?"
27 wiped her palms on her pants and took deep breaths to calm herself. This was no big deal. She was a translator. A well trained one, in a very hostile galaxy. If she could conduct herself calmly in the face of powerful people who thought she had no right to exist and would do anything in their power to see that issue rectified to their liking, she could certainly talk to some poor little primitive from the safety of the other side of the bars. An unconscious glance at the bars to make sure they were still secured was what led her eyes to the objects on the floor.
Blue berries. In a little basket woven from grass. Several apples. And was that a gutted rabbit? 27 was both repelled and strangely touched. They were pushed through onto her side of the grate. An offering.
"It's for you."
27 looked up to see the Human male standing there. In the dim light, he looked a little menacing.
"Would you like me to cook it for you?"
A small sound of disgust slipped out of 27's mouth before she could stop it. "Um, thank you. No. That won't be necessary." Poor bunnies. They had been Snap's idea. He had thought 27 needed to learn to hunt for her food. In that sense, maybe the rabbits were finally serving a purpose. Speaking of purposes... "I, um, came to let you know you were safe here."
There was a slightly awkward pause. "Thank you."
27 felt her cheeks start to burn again. She was afraid to concentrate too hard on him. She couldn't bear it if some primitive was standing there contemplating what an idiot she was. What was wrong with her? "So good night."
"May I ask something, Daugh'ter?"
She was caught off guard, both by the request and that strange word again. "What?"
"Am I imprisoned?"
"Ah," she cast about. That was a good question. "No, not really, I don't think. It's more like giving you some space while you get to know your new surroundings. You know. Privacy."
"When will I start performing my duties?"
"I... I don't really know. You'll have to ask the Waymakers."
"Who are they?"
"They're the ones who ...are in charge here."
"Oh. The gods."
That drew a frown from 27. "Well, they're not gods, really. They're just more advanced lifeforms." She could see the man on the other side of the bars nodding. She could also see that he was just being polite and that statement had made no sense to him whatsoever. "More advanced. Smarter. Like..." she looked at the pile of offerings. "They are to us like we are to rabbits."
"You know, I've really got to go. I just wanted you to know that you were safe, is all." She turned around and walked back to her quarters, wishing she could disappear into the stone.
The doors to her room slid open, revealing her private sanctum. 27 tore off the fuchsia shirt and flung it into the recycler. No more floral colors in front of Snapdragon. He was getting way too... unpredictable? That wasn't the word she wanted.
"What's wrong with me?" 27 turned to the wall where the poster of Johnny Savage glared perpetually out at a galaxy full of enemies and adoring fans. "I'm a translator! Finding words is what I do! I can't even explain a simple concept like alien lifeforms! Is that... thing here because I'm doing a bad job? Did they bring him here because there's something wrong with me?"
27 stopped suddenly. She was standing in her brassiere talking to a poster on a wall. Did she really need the full, itemized list of what was wrong with her?
"That's it, Johnny. I quit." She flopped down on the bed and pulled a pillow over her head. "I'm just a fragile little Psi. If they wanted stable, they should have picked a Lambda. "
Patience was a virtue that ranked right up there with obedience, Rho Five reminded himself as he stoked the little fire. The smoke ran up and out through the shaft that let in sunlight. He had skewered the rabbit and propped one end of the skewer against the wall so that it would roast. It would have been a shame to let the meat spoil. Also, if he didn't have something to do, he would burst. Reps were made to serve. That implied action. The Daugh'ter had said he had to get to know his new surroundings. He had already done that. There really wasn't a whole lot here to get to know. He would tell her that when she next came to the net.
He perked up at the sound from down the tunnel. Her call this time was half-whispered, as if she were hoping he was asleep and didn't want to wake him up. As if anyone could sleep their first night in the heavens.
She was fidgeting by the barrier as he walked down the tunnel. Why was she so apprehensive around him? Perhaps she wasn't as confident of his obedience as the gods who judged him.
"There's no need to be concerned," Rho Five said as he neared the net, causing her to jump slightly. "I have no purpose but to obey you."
"I am not!" She sounded offended.
"If you say it, it's so."
"I just came to see if you had a blanket." She sounded irritable. "I forgot I was supposed to bump up the rain tonight."
What? "Bump the...?"
"Make it rain. With the... we can make the weather do things." As if she could see the look on his face, she added quickly. "But we're not gods."
Rho Five paused. This had to be some kind of test. Unfathomable. "If you say it, it's so." He accepted the blanket she stuffed through the grate at him.
"Listen. You entered the shuttle craft, so you know you're in a vehicle that can enter space, right?" There she went speaking words that had no meaning for him again.
"Forgive me, Daugh'ter, but I'm not familiar with your mysteries."
She made a small sound of frustration. "You're in outer space." She tried again. "The sky?"
Much better! "Of course. I'm in the heavens." Rho Five frowned as she grit her teeth. Why did that response make her angry? She had just said that's where they were.
"Let's start smaller," she sighed. "My name is Psi 2487627. You can call me 27. We share this living space with three other beings. With me so far?"
"You, me, three others."
"Great! The other three look nothing like us. The two in charge are people who look like rocks. The people call themselves Waymakers. The names of the two Waymakers who live here with us are Gneiss and Rhyolite. Still with me?"
"You. Me. Two rock people named Gneiss and Rhyolite. One more still to be named."
His answers must finally be pleasing her, because she was starting to relax a bit. "Good. The last person who lives here is a plant being named Snapdragon."
"Rho Five, 27, Gneiss, Rhyolite, Snapdragon," he listed, feeling pleased with her nod of approval. It almost covered the despair that was settling back into his guts, where it had lived for nine long years, minus the few hours where he had begun to believe that going to live among the gods would reunite him with Psi Two. "No one else?" he found himself asking.
"No. Just us. We travel from place to place and help people find alternative methods of dealing with..." she stopped and bit off her words. "Snap and I are here to help translate for the rock people, the Waymakers. Not everyone in the ...heavens... has the same way of talking. You and I are the only ones on the ship that speak with our mouths, for instance."
"How do they talk?" Rho Five asked dully, because it was the easiest question of the many that were clouding his understanding. Not the least of which was how to find Psi Two among all the stars in the sky.
"With their appendages. Fingers. What they have that most closely resembles fingers. Well, Snap also communicates telepathically and olfactorily, but that's... you're not listening to me," she observed, tilting her head and frowning in a gesture so familiar that Psi Two's ghost seemed to be standing in front of him for a second instead of this tall and slightly nervous Daugh'ter to the gods. "And what happened to your other shoe?"
"I'm sorry, Daugh'ter," Rho Five shook his head, trying to bring himself back to the present. Right here, right now, he was standing in the presence of a legend, in paradise, in the halls of the gods. There were tasks before him, worthier than any other work he had performed. Now was not the time to let his thoughts wander. "I lost it trying to catch the star."
"The star? Oh, the shuttle. Cute." She didn't sound pleased. Her tone and manner changed suddenly, becoming confiding and solicitous. "This isn't really anything like you imagined, is it? I can get them to take you home. It's really not a problem. The experience of a lifetime, you can sit around the fire and tell your friends all about it, in the safety of your home and familiar places... What do you think. Shall I tell them to take you home?"
Rho Five felt a chill of dread ice his limbs. "Have I done something wrong?"
"You don't think coming here was a mistake?"
It was like they were talking about two different things. He had never liked doubletalk. "Did the gods grant me permission to come serve them or not?"
She leaned back under the direct question. "The Waymakers. Gneiss and Rhyolite. Not gods. And yes," 27 admitted, "You do have their permission to be here. But I'm not sure you understand what it means."
Rho Five felt the ice drain, living him almost limp with relief. "As long as I have the permission of the gods, I can learn anything else required of me, Daugh'ter." She was quiet for a minute. He could tell that his answer had annoyed her, tell that she had somehow been thwarted. This wasn't good. Was there dissension in the heavens? "Do you not want me to be here?"
That flustered her again. "It's not you, it's just that you're not getting what's going on here. They're not gods. I'm not sure why you keep calling me 'Doctor', but I'm not a physician. We're just travelers."
"And you translate for them. And I will learn to help you."
She stared at him for a second. "But why??"
It was Rho Five's turn to stare back. Could she have maybe failed her ado-lessons? Her hips and breasts weren't that big. Was she still a tall feet-us? Was that why she was so ignorant of the way things were? She didn't carry herself with the authority of a Daugh'ter, that was for sure. He took a chance and spoke his mind, an exasperated, "what do you mean, 'why'?"
They stared at each other through the grating for several seconds. Then the Daugh'ter if that's what she was announced, "Good night!" and retreated back down her tunnel into the darkness. Rho Five shook his head and looked at the blanket she had left him. A little of Psi Two's sacrilege had worn off on him, because the only conclusion he could come to was that it would probably be a relief to the gods to finally get some decent help around here.
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