This is a story about people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.
By then Vighdi had been her direct boss for several months, long enough to register that Ella was fairly bright and to take a shine to her. She—Vighdi—put Bhotil up to teaching Ella to read and write Varn.
He knew she was literate in Samdi, far from a given with felons deported from her world. Though he’d made a mental note to get her some training in Varn, he was a busy man. If it wasn’t written down, he soon forgot it.
Reminded, he arranged for her to come up to his office each day for an hour or two of tutoring.
Like most things Varn, she found the written language bizarre.
“Why,” she asked, mystified, “do they put every word inside a box?”
“So as to show it’s a separate word?” Bhotil responded, puzzled by her puzzlement. This seemed obvious to him. Each word was represented by sets of more or less phonetic symbols arranged in patterns within rectangular borders, according to fairly rigid conventions.
“Then…when you read something in Varn, it’s like a ball bouncing across the street, not like water flowing down the road? In your head, it goes Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah, not Blahblahblahblah?”
“Well. It flows together. I mean, when you take it all together.”
“No, it doesn’t. It chatters along like rocks tumbling down a hill.”
He chuckled. “I think it all comes down to the same place.”
“That’s what they say,” she replied. “But…it doesn’t, does it?”
“Sure it does. You understand what it means. I understand what it means. We understand what it means.”
“But I’ll bet what we each understand is different. I’ll bet what you think what it means is different from what I think it means. Because you’re Varn and I’m Samdi.”
He looked at her in surprise. “But we’re not different, really. Varn and Samdi come from the same genes, the same people.”
“Naw, Bhotil! That’s a fairy tale.”
“’Tis not. It’s science. And history. That’s why you could have a child by a Varn. Or an Ondai, or even a Michaian.”
“Sure. Because we’re all fairies.”
He sighed gently and gave her A Look, attenuated. Don’t get smart with me, please. She dropped her gaze, silently apologetic.
“Look. If we took a drop of your great-grandmother’s blood and a drop of my great-grandmother’s blood,” he resumed, “and we ran some tests on them, we’d see that from way back in the darkness of time, they both had some ancestor that carried genes from Varnis. That’s why your people walk on two legs, just like mine, and why we both have two hands with five fingers and one head with two eyes.”
She laughed. “Sometimes I think I need two heads to keep up with you!”
“You do just fine at that,” he remarked.
“In the Way-Before Time, before the Second Empire covered the galaxy, before the first dynasties of the Kaïnas, the people of Varnis had spread across all the starfields they could reach. But that was before they knew how to move through hyperspace, so there was only so far they could go in one person’s lifetime – or two lifetimes, or ten.
“But they could tell – they had the science to tell – where in the galaxy there were worlds that could support life like ours. And what kind of creatures were evolving there. So they sent out capsules bearing Varn genes, only engineered to be taken into the creatures’ bodies and blend in with their existing genetic material. And guide them to evolve, over many tens of thousands of years, into thinking, speaking Varn-like creatures.”
Blend in? Do you mean “infect”? She restrained herself from expressing the thought aloud.
“And that’s why now we have the peoples of Samdela and Kana and Tamehal and Michaia and all the other worlds that belong to the Empire. We can prove it by comparing our genetic make-up. And it’s written in the ancient historic records.”
If it’s written down, it must be true, hm? “Can you read those things, sir?”
“Me? No, of course not. But there are translations. Would you like me to order up a copy for you?”
Oh, dear gods . . . will there be a test? “Mmm. . . no, sir. I think that would be over my head.”
He smiled. “I doubt it.”
What an idea, she thought, that the people of Samdela, her Samdi, were somehow, in any way or in any part, the same as the dusty-skinned gray-eyed aliens of Varnis. And yet, yes. She did know a few individuals who supposedly had sprung from a Varn and a Samdi. Supposedly.
Why, one could not imagine. But…strange things happened.
This man, this Lohkeh that she had seen across the base, saw him every now and again: he surely was all Samdi, solidly built and authoritative in gait.
He was, she had learned, indeed a capo. It wasn’t easy to find out. But by now she knew a guy…one who had access to state records.
He, on the other hand, didn’t seem to realize she herself had been a ranking member in the organization back on Samdela. No doubt, she figured, because he hadn’t noticed her.