December 2011

Spielmann’s notes were in a kind of quasi-German patois–whether as a function of his haste, his terrible handwriting, or the fact that Yiddish was his first language, I couldn’t say.

He would describe the things he found on the islands using a kind of code: A-D for the island, X for animals, Y for plants, Z for fungi, and the word “specien” for multiple captures and “speci” for singles. In lieu of a description, he provided a basic sketch.

AXspecien6, for example, appeared to describe a curious asymmetrical walking stick insect, which had three legs on the left but only a single large leg on the right (and, if the scale was correct, was 6-7 inches in length!). Ordinarily I would have dismissed such a finding as a single aberrant individual, but Spielmann apparently cataloged dozens. He even included sketches of larger, brighter females, smaller, duller males, and nymphs which apparently shed their legs as they grew.

“Celebrity fads,” Jamie huffed. “They aren’t even trying anymore. Now it’s just ‘rip out piece from ysteryear’s meme, substitute, and slap onto the celebutante of choice.'”

“You sound like you have a very specific example in mind,” Chelle called from the kitchen.

“Damn right I do,” said Jamie. “The T! network is doing a bit on the latest lapdog craze: pugs. They’ve got shot after shot of anorexic heiresses carrying around wrinkly little runt-dogs in designer cases and talking about how the best purebred pugs come from the Endeleri puppy farm in Istanbul.”

“I think pugs are cute,” Chelle said over the sound of dicing onions.

“It’s not whether they’re cute or not,” cried Jamie. “They just took the chihuahua craze from a few years ago and slotted in another dog! It’s like remaking a movie that’s four years old.”

“You know they do that all the time right?” No reply save an exasperated sigh. “You know you can change the channel if you don’t like it.”

“I can’t. I’m mesmerized by the glamor and pugstyle.”

“Look here,” said Clen. He and the others were seated around the table while wind and rain swirled outside the window.

“This is our lake, right here.” Clen drew a circle with a crayon. “It’s like a little soap bubble, and we’re on the inside. “And, out here, there are other bubbles,” he continued, drawing more circles. “The way to get out of and the way to get in to these bubbles varies, but there’s a way in and out of each one, even if it’s really hard.”

Clen licked his finger, and smudged away a bit of one of the circles. “When you break the bubble, you go into another one, but the one you were is closes behind you.”

“I think I get it,” Ohns said.

“Now, we know that something from outside our bubble is making the darkness, and the wind, and the rain,” Clen said, drawing arrows going into the circle. “We also think that somebody out here–in another bubble–has been in contact with Ohns here, trying to tell him something, trying to get him to ask a certain question.”

“Where I came from.” Ohns whispered.

Clen drew a stick figure in one of the bubbles. “My old friend Ath also lives in a bubble,” Clen said. “If you break out of ours, and enter one of the other ones out there, you may find your black-haired kiddo, the answer to his question, or Ath, who might know all three. The only real danger is that you might not know how to get back into our bubble here once you’re done, or if you decide to quit. It’s probably not as easy to get back in as it is to leave.”

“So we might be gone…forever?” asked Fer.

“Maybe, kiddo,” Clen said sadly. “I just don’t know. But if we say here, we’ll never know what’s causing these,” he gestured to the arrows,” and the bubble might break for good.”

“What do you mean, for good?” Ohns asked. “You said we could go through it.”

“You’re very small, Ohns–one person, or a few people, going through wouldn’t be enough to break it. But that stuff outside…”

“There’s a lot of it,” Ohns said. “Whatever it is. And if it keeps coming, it might pop the bubble for good.”

Clen nodded.

“What happens then?”

“Well, you wind up leaving anyway, probably,” said Clen. “Just very fast, very suddenly, and along with everything else–trees, the water, everything. Maybe you’ll be fine; maybe you’ll get smooshed between two uprooted trees as they’re yanked out of the ground.”

“But what about you, Clen?”

“I’ll stay here, in my home, as long as I can, kiddo,” Clen said. “I’m not going, even if it means staying here while this bubble of ours collapses around it.”

“I want to know all possible translations, Hector.”

“Sir, it’s not necessarily an ambiguous phrase…” Hector began.

“Look, I know you translators are conditioned to deal with people who think there’s a one-to-one correspondence between every word in every language, but I have enough classes under my belt to know that’s not true. Did you ever hear the story of Prime Minister Suzuki and the Potsdam Declaration?”

Hector looked thoroughly perplexed. “Um…”

“When the Allies demanded that the Japanese Empire surrender unconditionally in the Potsdam Declaration, Suzuki used the word mokusatsu to describe the government’s response. That particular word was a favorite of Japanese politicians because it could mean anything from ‘no comment’ to ‘ignore it’ to ‘silent contempt.’ Needless to say, the translator on our side opted for the latter, and our response was pithy and very much to the point in the form of atomic weapons. That’s what I mean by all possible translation, Hector.”

“Every Hentsett is a low-down, dirty, good-for-nothing son-of-a-bitch. Exceptin’ the ladyfolk, of course, who are daughters-of-a-bastard.”

Keith Hentsett didn’t look up, and took a pull from his glass as if nothing had happened. “I reckon you’re right about that, Mr. DeWitt,” he said. “You seem to be the authority on such matters.”

DeWitt reddened, clearly frustrated that he’d failed to get the expected rise out of his adversary. “I said you came from a house of whores and half-breeds, boy,” he growled. “Your momma’s popped out sixteen bastards with sixteen johns and your pa paid double the going rate after they laughed at his gun.”

“That has a ring of truth about it,” Hentsett said. “Glad to know how it really went down after all these years. Buy you a drink, Mr. DeWitt?”

DeWitt swatted the glass out of Hentsett’s hand. “Dammit, boy, you better jump or you’ll get a bullet in your back.”

Keith sighed. “Very well, have it your own way then.” He reached up, seized the front of DeWitt’s duster, and slammed the man’s head down on the bar. The man could barely grunt before his nose was broken and he toppled to the bar floor, unconscious.

“If any of you cares, I’d move him from that position,” Keith Hentsett said. “Might drown in his own blood otherwise.”

“It’s an old tale,” Mina said, lowering herself into a chair. “Are you sure you’ve never heard it?”

“They don’t tell the old tales so much anymore, ma’am,” said Anim. “Perhaps you could enlighten me.”

“The story is about a prince who loved to go out among his subjects in disguise, to learn things that they would never have told him to his face,” said Mina, her face dancing in the lamplight shadows. “One day he returned infatuated with a peasant girl whose beauty, kindness, and intelligence had captivated him.”

“And they married, and lived happily ever after?”

Mina laughed. “The old tales rarely have such an ending, child. They have been…sanitized…even when they are occasionally related. The prince’s chancellor investigated the matter and found that the peasant girl was very much in love with, and betrothed to, a local lad.”

“What happened next?” said Anim.

“The chancellor appeared before the king with a choice: he could let the girl marry her love and live a life of happy and ignorant obscurity, one which would likely lead her to fade and her virtues to falter. Or he could exercise his autocracy to marry the girl himself, ensuring her beauty would be immortalized in oil and sculpture, that her kindness would advise the highest in the land, and that her intelligence would be nurtured, even at the cost of a broken heart. The chancellor represented the choice to his prince with two items: a simple molded clay pendant, and a beautiful necklace with a cracked diamond.”

“Which…which one did the prince choose?” Anim breathed, clearly riveted by the tale despite himself.

“The prince chose the cracked diamond,” Mina sighed. “The former peasant girl put up with ten years of luxury before stepping out a window in the highest tower of the hold.”

“Deeds and receipts, mostly. Eutilli International is very thorough about their bookkeeping.”

“Anything incriminating?”

“Not that I can see–lots of offshore stuff, outsourcing to places with lax labor laws…not exactly warm and cuddly, and unethical as hell, but not illegal.”

“Take it all. We’ll sort it out at our leisure and find out what we need.”

That was all Nellis needed to hear. He nodded to the security guards on either side of him and gave the thumbs-up signal. They’d agreed on it beforehand, and if any of the men had misgivings, they didn’t show it.

They were ready to kick that door down and execute both burglars Mozambique-style, on behalf of Eutilli Int’l., without hesitation.

Some days, Marco liked to slip away from work or study and stake out a bench along the Seine and spend some time thinking deeply in his native tongue.

It was often not an environment conducive to contemplation, as the Seine was often jammed with tourist boats packed to the gills with giddy, tipsy tourists. Returning their exaggerated waves made Marco feel appreciated, though, and he liked to speculate on the tourists’ country of origin based on their apparel and behavior, especially when it frustrated stereotypes. There were plenty of thin, desperate-to-be-hip Americans, just as there were more fat and jolly Germans than one might otherwise expect.

Sometimes, staring into the river eddies and the bits of flotsam that passed by, Marco’s thoughts took a morbid turn. The Seine was, after all, the most romantic place in the world to commit suicide. The French had built up an entire industry out of reproducing the death mask of a mysterious and hauntingly beautiful 16-year-old suicide, after all. If that line of thought became to heavy, Marco would remind himself that most CPR dummies had faces based on that girl, making hers the most kissed face in the world by any sort of definition.

“See the dark spots around the eyes, the shape of the ears and nose? It’s kind of panda-like.” Jenny gestured into the cage as she spoke. That’s why they’re called panda bats, or ‘xióng māo bianfu.'”

“I guess so,” Sam said, “if you’re the kind of person that sees pandas in their rice pudding.”

“They also have a ‘sixth finger’–really an elongated wrist bone–that giant pandas and red pandas have,” Jenny said.

Sam shrugged. “So that’s why it’s endangered? Because it looks like a panda?”

“No, it’s mostly habitat destruction and harvesting for traditional medicine. Bats are thought to treat epilepsy and extend life, in some circles, and the whiter the bat, the older it is and the longer it will let you live.”

“Well, people also used to think that feeding a mouse oil or salt would make it turn into a bat, and that’s where they came from. You’d think that both of them would be equally debunked.”

The recording was very low quality, with frequent stutterstops and digital artifacts, but the woman speaking was very clearly Dr. Sinneslöschen.

“Language is not only representation, but also creation,” she said, her voice sounding metallic and watery due to the low audio quality. “If you compare the lexicons of various languages, you will find that some words are more effective than others in communicating concepts or bringing about action. These tend to be either descended from ancestral word forms, like Proto-Indo-European, or spontaneous–and mysterious–words that arise almost like genetic mutations.”

Dr. Sinneslöschen wiped her brow before continuing. “It sounds crazy, but my research has led me to believe that–if properly constructed out of ancestral and mutant morphemes–it would be possible to create ur-words. Not nouns, verbs, or adjectives, but Nouns, Verbs, and Adjectives. To merely speak a Noun would bring that which it describes into being. A Verb would unerringly bring about the action it describes. An Adjective would cause the quality so described to immediately and permanently be applied to the subject.”

“It’s been the realm of fantasy authors and visionary madmen, and now I believe it is within my grasp.” She reached up and apparently muted the audio. Placing a small orange upon a nearby table, Sinneslöschen spoke at it, her lips moving but no discernable word on her lips.

The fruit splattered into pulp second later, and the video ended.

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