My Extended Death
—A serialized novelette from the worlds of the Human Legion—
Sentwali had not accounted for the time it would take to choose the right words for ser narrative. Yet to rehearse would be to diminish ser message; sie needed it to come from the eternal spirit within.
After staring bemused at ser fingers, fusing hour-by-hour from manipulators to clumsy shovels, sie fumbled at the nav access screen until sie succeeded in delaying the dirigible’s descent. It set off on another lazy circle high above the patchwork city of Kongwe-Ziara that held within its grip a polished jewel of perfect innocence: the Pristine Colony.
After a moment’s thought where to restart ser story, Sentwali set about dictation once more.
On the day the Provost-General declared my pup, Kelilekwanza-pya, to be dead, I told Kelile that sie had been right: my pups should have mated with sers. My words must have sounded as dry as dust to ser, and as scentless.
Of Kelile’s pups, both had matured to the juvenile state by then. Sentwalikwanza-pya had been apprenticed to High Planning where sie helped organize the work in the farms. Sentwalipili-pya apprenticed as a physician.
Fear lingered after the attack on the Nest four years earlier. Our Great-Parent, Folashade, had used that fear to break with our nest’s long tradition and launch armed raids beyond the colony’s territory. My Kelilekwanza-pya had taken second-leader post in one of these raids. In theory, this was a stunning affirmation of ser qualities and a path to great glory.
Except no one returned from the raid.
No one survived any of the raids. Ever.
You made sure of that. For a thousand years, your poisons and traps had killed any one of us who stepped outside what you judged to be the limits of our territory.
After Kelilekwanza-pya’s death, I transferred my parental patronage to Kelile’s pups. (Of my other twelve pups, ten had also died and the remainder shunned me for the perversion of my love for Kelile.)
Something else changed that day. Kelile and I spoke no words but somehow we both agreed silently that when the time came, we would mate.
One of us must die at the other’s hand, consoled by the knowledge that our flesh would be consumed by the other and transformed into new life.
Suddenly, the last vestige of Sentwali’s great-parent state fell away and a procreative thrill of anticipation filled ser love sac. While the nav control still recognized ser voice, sie changed course toward the forbidden zone over the bubble of authenticity at the heart of Kongwe-Ziara City.
Not much longer now.
Sentwalikwanza-pya matured early. One day, not long after ser formal caste change, ser flanks went orange, ser body smelled of lust, and ser words spoke of little but Korfa, an older worker colleague who shared with ser the work of tending the fungus farms
“Korfa’s midlimbs are so strong,” said Sentwalikwanza-pya. “Korfa’s scent is so sophisticated.”
I tried to encourage ser to say more, wishing to know the threat sie faced.
“Korfa is blessed with two surviving pups. The eldest, Girma, has recently parented serself, re-emerging as a really smart scribe in the hospital. Sie is so friendly, often visiting us in the farms. Korfa’s other offspring, Hagos, upsets ser, having drifted past workerhood through the change to spinsterhood.”
I stopped Sentwalikwanza-pya with a wave of my forelimb. “Do you intend to kill and eat this Korfa?”
That tripped up ser worship. Sie drummed the floor with ser forelimbs, lost in thought for long moments before sie looked me in the face and answered: “Yes.”
“Good,” I said. “You have been schooled to fight. Now I must train you to kill.”
A sudden memory of Kelile evoked a rush of blood to Sentwali’s flanks. Sie could feel the heat flushing them bright orange dappled with crimson. The cabin reeked of come get me pheromones.
The computer mind inside the dirigible proved immune to the erotic charge.
Far above, in the orbiting defense shield, the first AIs noted the dirigible’s descent into the restricted flight zone above Kongwe-Ziara.
You with your infinite supply of electricity lead a visually dominated life with scarce a pause to consider whether that is how we were meant to live. In the Pristine Colony, dimly luminescent fungus coated the ceilings of the more frequented galleries and tunnels, but we largely ‘saw’ our way through scent and sound and touch.
From the observation ledge overlooking the mating chamber, just enough fungus grew to illuminate the red crustiness of the rock the pair below loved and fought over. When I arrived, Korfa and Sentwalikwanza-pya were still engaged in the final lurches of mating. The bites, gouges, and growls seemed vaguely threatening, not yet fatal.
Korfa’s offspring, Girma, was already sitting on the bench at the centre of the ledge. Sie was a scribe; by then I was a worker. I deferred to ser unquestioningly, edging away nervously from the anger and fear radiating from ser soft little body.
By the time Kelile joined us, ser pup’s fight had reached a phase of mortal intensity. Barely into workerhood, Sentwalikwanza-pya’s agile body could dart in under Korfa’s powerful lunges and fade away before a fatal blow could connect, just as I had taught.
The two shadowy figures flowed over the soft-packed red dirt in a violent dance of death and rebirth.
The sight made an elegant backdrop to the snick of cutting claws, the smell of a fresh gout of blood, and the scent signals of lust, violence and parenthood.
I prayed to Magomu, God of Deep Places, that Kelile’s pup would prevail over ser older mate, but I had no way to be sure which way the fight for the right to pup would go.
At last the dance broke. One of the combatant parents-to-be stumbled. Just a leg giving way, soon back in place, yet I chose to believe Magomu had given me a sign that my prayer had been answered, that Kelile’s pup would nick and slice and bleed ser older lover by a score of injuries until sie revealed a fatal weakening.
As the minutes passed, Sentwalikwanza-pya’s scent strengthened, its vigor crowding out Korfa’s fading odor.
Seconds later and the fight had finished. After a scuttle of violent motion, we heard Korfa’s head being ripped away, followed swiftly by Sentwalikwanza-pya’s cry of triumph and loss.
Fearful of Girma’s rage, Kelile and I stole away without waiting to watch the stronger parent consume ser weaker mate. Korfa’s flesh transformed into fuel for the metamorphosis from which Sentwalikwanza would emerge reborn as a scribe, the pup-less suffix stripped from ser name. Alongside the new Sentwalikwanza, growing into their own chrysalises, would be two new pups. Sentwalikwanza had already named them Taban-pya and Roble-pya.
Although I did not witness Sentwalikwanza’s feasting, it preyed on my mind. We had walked halfway down the ramp from the viewing ledge when I pulled Kelile to a halt.
After several deep breaths of the heady mating chamber air, I was finally able to talk.
“When our time comes,” I said. “I wish for you to eat my flesh.”
Kelile rubbed ser forelimbs lovingly over my cheeks. Sie tilted ser head to show deep understanding.
The emotion of that moment so captivated me that I failed to notice the absence of agreement in ser scent.
An insistent pinging noise filled the cabin. Sentwali peered at the emblems written on the backlit polymer screen. They swam a dance of confusion until sinking into incomprehension. The gift of reading had departed.
Sentwali guessed the words meant someone wanted to talk to ser. Well, they could be banished for all sie cared.
“Make it go away,” sie ordered the dirigible’s computer.
It did. For a while.
Text (c) 2015 by Tim C. Taylor. All rights reserved. Alien insect image (c) bluecrayola / Shutterstock