Transference

2,008 words | Sci-Fi

Some like to ask and wonder why it is that we fight. The Peacekeep tries to argue that all conflict can and should be solved through peaceful negotiations and political discourse. But those are beings who have never bothered to turn the pages of time back far enough to learn what we have sacrificed to be where we are now. And what allowed us to get there was not sitting around a roux table smoking kasha herb but fighting with every claw and fang on our body to protect the land we held dear.

If one were to ask me, we were all making a grave mistake by allowing those bolt heads to walk into our cities. Scouts had reported seeing them since the last Weeping Moon festival. And I’d bet every hair on my body that they had been spying on us for far longer.

But what did I know anyway? It wasn’t a servant’s place to speak the thoughts on their mind. I was quite useful when it came to polishing limb cuffs, wrapping turbans, and delivering chilled delicacies to the cackling mouths of the higher-order. But my mouth was to remain sealed at all times. That was, only if I valued my life of course.

“It’s your turn to scrub the rot, Zho,” a fellow servant said to me.

They had their hands filled with preparations for the next moon’s feast. The freshest vegetation from the vine fields had been plucked, weighed, and now prepared to be baked into sourstring pies. My mouth salivated thinking of such a treat, but I knew such things were only meant for the higher-order. And if I wanted to keep my position and my dignity, I couldn’t be caught sneaking a taste of something not meant for the likes of me.

I nodded my head and showed my colleague my palms— “I am open to do anything” it meant.

The rot in the undergrowth may not have been the most luxurious part of the Stromslit Cathedral, but it was somewhere that I could remain without having any fears that I could do anything to cause myself to be punished. There was no one of the higher-order to accidentally speak to and there was nothing improper for me to touch. If anything, the rot was truly where I belonged.

At least, that’s what I was reminded of as I made my daily rounds. There was always a particular order for everything. And one had to learn quickly so as not to be removed of their dignity. As I liked to think of it, it was better to stick to the lower-orders than to rise too high only to fall.

Before I had a moment to step into the courtyard, I felt a tap on my shoulder. My colleague had apparently more to say than they previously let on. I nodded once more and showed my palms. But what I was given was silence and a single note. They turned before I could read it in front of them. If it was what I thought it was then it was for the best that we didn’t draw too much attention.

“The well just before the last bell rings. Bring nothing but yourself,” they said as they disappeared down the lower end of the hall.

I adjusted my collar and turban before rushing through the courtyard to reach the dark undergrowth. A contrast to the glossy white walls that refracted light, the undergrowth was the land’s way of fighting back as we built our grand structures into the skies. The swamps we once called home had never given up their fight. No matter how often we dug up the roots and scrubbed the mold, new plantlife returned in the rich, fertile soil.

But the land’s soil was one of many reasons why we were able to prosper for so long. Nowhere but in these swamps were we able to grow the crop fields we had. And nowhere could we find a location where the vegetation tasted any better— the mawberries burst in one’s mouth, the bite of the celenroot was crisp, and it was the chilling sensation of the tonic vines that made our city much more than a pilgrimage stop.

As I reached for the spade, I spoke the prayer words. We were under the light of the third sun, the coolest of the distant tri-stars. And that meant that we recited our words with grit in our throats. I’d thicken and extend my vocal cords and squeeze air through a tightened passage to create a graveled sensation. From there, I’d speak the phrase: “Si’rit hish i tiré”. It was lucky that the friars weren’t around to hear because they always complained about my ‘lazy tongue’.

With the prayer finished, I was allowed the right to take life by the Gods. What an odd thing it truly was. The scriptures taught us how sacred and pure the life of everything was… but yet we had created a prayer that made it acceptable to destroy such beauty. It was no surprise to me. We Wikreet always had a knack for conveniently interpreting the wills of the Gods to fit our desires.

Digging my spade into the roots, I watched the plants shriek and shiver. Dense, thorny brush was reduced to piles of dried twigs as they were cut off from their source of life. For so long, I had pushed back the rot, but the sounds I heard never stopped discomforting me.

For as much as the Peacekeep liked to spare the lives of the neighbouring tribes to the east that had been encroaching on our fields longer than the cathedral had even been built, they had no qualms with committing mass genocide on the life that had been on this planet debatably longer than any of us Wikreet had roamed this planet.

The remaining vines tried to wrap around my limbs and pull me through the depths of the rot. I appreciated their efforts, but all it took was expanding my muscles for the fibers to snap and wither. My limbs contracted and spiraled to be thin once again, letting the vines slip onto the soil.

My shifting was limited. As one of the lower-order, about all I could do was augment my size. From as small as a pebble to as large as a harvest caravan stacked with two bushels of the season’s juiciest mawberries— that was about the best I could muster. And knowing my circumstance, I didn’t imagine I’d ever achieve much more.

Traveling to the deepest points of the undergrowth required me to shrink my body smaller and thinner until I was standing barely taller than the bulbs I was clearing. If the vines wanted to seek their revenge, they had the perfect opportunity to constrict my organs and have time to regroup and regrow until the next servant came to do the job.

But luckily for me, the roots seemed to lack the sentience to plot their revenge. At last, I was safe. Not only from the plant’s retaliation but also from wandering eyes which meant to ensure the natural order of things was being followed. It was the perfect time to check the note.

A small square tin of metal with a round button in the center— older technology such as this was cheaper but ultimately more conspicuous. Outside of pleasantries, rarely would one send a note. And if they did, it seemed unthoughtful to send one in such inferior technology. There was a reason second-generation notes had such a stigma attached to them and that was because they were often used in divulging dubious deeds.

Pressing the square, there was no cheery jingle or explosion of flashing lights— just a single click allowing me to fold the note open. From all around me, the screams were returning. I needed to make things quick as to not stay in the undergrowth for too long. Servants were tasked with clearing the rot because of the dangers it could cause. Since I was appointed as the cleaner, failure to complete my job correctly would be my very demise. Well, it would make me wish for my demise in any case.

Letters flashed on the screen inside of the note. It wanted identification of who I was. I felt a tickling feeling in the back of my throat. They had given me far more dangerous details than usual. Most notes were viewable by any who gazed upon their screen. To use a second-generation model and an identification lock? I feared what I was getting myself into.

There was no time to turn back. A note with sensitive information already existed with my DNA as the password. I needed to read and dispose of it as soon as possible. As much as I wanted to hope that no wandering eyes had seen our exchange, one could never be too safe.

I loosened my turban and searched for a loose strand of hair. Taking the silvery thread in hand, I poked the root of the hair into a small hole beside the screen. It sucked it up like a vacuum and the letters changed to show my name— Zho. There was no clan, title, or ceremonial name. My name was always going to remain as insignificant as I was to the eyes who saw me.

After another click, I lifted open the screen to find what I could only hope was the final part that would lead me to the note’s contents. And sure enough, underneath the screen was the needle. By that point, I was uncomfortable. It made me question who these Civil Defence members truly were.

The moment I placed the needle against my skin, it locked into place. I winced and loosened my outer layer to ease the pain. Whoever had set up the note— Pehr I presumed —had a questionable desire to either frighten me or I had gotten caught up in the wrong movement.

My skin burned as I felt the chemicals entering my body. It was difficult to track their sequence as they mixed into my blood, but they had the information I needed stored inside of them. Hardening my blood, I trapped the chemical in place. It burned to help me isolate it in my body which I supposed was both a blessing and a curse.

As I focused, I finally understood what the message said, “Not the well. A diversion. Follow the fields to the fermentation shack. Pick a barrel of tonic vines along the way. Only when the moons are crescent-shaped.”

After retrieving the message, I reached for the spade and cut an opening in my flesh. I gasped as my blood was drained and the chemical seeped into the soil. From what I understood, the roots couldn’t understand our words so I was safe to dispose of the secret in the rot.

Well, even on the off-chance that they could, I supposed I could understand the roots’ desire for revenge. After all, that was what fueled the ‘meeting’ I was attending in the first place. What happened in Fone Crossing spelled the end of peace for many. The fact that the friars were so determined to let the waters distill left those of the lower-order feeling vulnerable.

Some still harboured hatred from the time that ship first landed. As for myself, ‘hate’ seemed too strong of a way to describe how I felt. ‘Uneasy’ and ‘skeptical’ was a better fit. Unlike what others had been saying, I didn’t believe that those beings meant any harm. But they didn’t come to this planet to be our friends either.

The Peacekeep had good intentions by reaching out and holding a conversation with our new neighbours. I, like many though, wished to have a back-up plan for when and if everything sank into the mud. If the friars could justify destroying the life in the undergrowth to maintain their pristine cathedral, I had a feeling they’d also allow a threat to be eliminated.