The world of aliens with a racial memory described in the prologue posted last meet men. Those with the advantage of perfect memory have spread through the world and subdued it. It would be a very homogenous society but accidents still happen. Can those with damaged memory survive?
Generation 27 of the new Third Bloodline peered through the fronds of a fern-like leaf at the new clearing. Her skin was a tiger strip of black and bright green with just enough dapples of yellow and orange to break up the pattern and mimic the blossoms on the air plants that hung everywhere. A smaller copy of her camouflaged visage, Generation 28, looked from behind her shoulder, gripping a fighting arm for reassurance. The way she clung was a step back from the healthy independence she had just started to show. If any of her sisters had added a generation 29 word had not reached her yet, but she was close to breeding age.
She was terribly fond of her young daughter. She didn’t have what human’s considered a name, just the twenty-eighth generation daughter who lived in the big valley beyond the wide river on the edge of civilization, and a mental picture of her unique pattern of tiger stripes and spots. Even the valley and the river had no name beyond being associated with all the visual true memories since the first Sister walked up to its banks and saw it. Everybody knew what you meant by the river unless you made a point of saying the old river across the mountains where our mothers used to live. That did not mean they were simple or any less given to discussing deep questions than humans. They had three times as many words for rank, status, and social standing as humans used. And while theft of personal items like a spear or necklace was unknown, theft of real estate was a very serious problem. One that was usually associated with murder of the owner.
She reached awkwardly across herself with a small unclawed feeding arm and gave a reassuring pat to the delicate long fingers curled around her muscular lower arm.
“No dear,” she assured her daughter quietly, “I know this isn’t anything at all like we have a true memory of, for all that is worth.”
The rumble of a bulldozer pushing dirt toward them made them confident they could speak safely with privacy. The horrible racket had awakened them at first dawn vibrating through the earth more than the air. But here in sight of the strange monster the air was so thick with its noise they both folded their ears down flat in discomfort and squeezed their ear orifices almost closed. Their overall appearance was strongly reptilian, with a smooth slightly pebbled skin capable of color changes, but the ears were huge scooped affairs worthy of a fox. Another of the strange things had flattened the top of the hill removing all vegetation and pushed a collar of protective dirt around both sides of the huge egg sitting part way down the slope. But the near one was steadily pushing a ridge of dirt parallel to the unpaved track marking their territory.
It was a relief that this new thing apparently recognized the treeless trail marked ownership and was not to be ignored. The same sort of trail to their left that marked another Sister’s territory was getting the same respect. Where the two boundary trails turned away from each other, the long pile of dirt had turned with each leaving a small triangle of neutral ground about fifty paces on a side. Technically, they were on neutral ground too, on the outside of their perimeter walk. The strip that ran between them and their neighbor’s boundary roads was a free zone anyone could use to travel through between their territories, although neither neighbor kept it as free of small trees and hazards as the walkways to each side. Some might cheat taking the landowner’s walk to avoid pushing through the brush, and trust their ears and nose to duck back in the neutral center if someone came patrolling their land. But it wasn’t a smart idea and some were so surly they would turn and track you if they found strange scent or tracks along their road. On the inside of the road there was no question how to behave. An intruder there would be attacked without challenge or quarter. If that ridge of dirt was a boundary of sorts or would be flattened into a real perimeter road, they had even left a decent gap for a neutral zone, not trying to see how close they could come without a challenge like some pushy neighbors. Still, yesterday the land there had been unclaimed wilderness, and 27 had not thought anyone would be marking it off so soon. She had rather hoped for her daughter to claim it and live next to her. That was a distressing hitch in her plans.
“Look, what are those?” 28 asked. Some things came from orifices in the egg which closed back up. They had the look of living things, flexible with proper arms and legs which the thing pushing dirt around did not have. She wondered briefly if the huge egg was somehow living also, but rejected it. It had that hard look of a made thing like the dirt pusher, although not the boxy shape. It didn’t squish out at the bottom from its weight and it had that hard shiny look like a rock that the dirt pusher had even though it’s shape was complex. Besides what living thing could lay an egg that big? It would be the size of a mountain. It was disturbing but somehow she was sure they were both made things as much as the spear in her hand.
“Whatever they are they at least have arms and legs even if they are short a pair,” 27 said lifting her heavy middle arms. The three middle fingers and two thumbs curled around the shaft of her weapon mirrored the symmetry of her finer feeding hands, but were not only short and less flexible but held long curved retractable claws that were not entirely under conscious control.
“They are carrying things!” her daughter exclaimed. Indeed the three creatures had a number of items hung on straps and clipped on belts. Two of them had items in their hands that seemed adapted to carry. 27 had never seen a handle and had no word for it. I suppose that is what you have to do if you don’t have enough hands, she thought to herself a little smugly. The third creature was colored much different in splotchy greens that reminded her of her own coloring much more than the bright colors the other two showed. There was something about the way it carried the single dark object before it that made her uneasy. It had an at-the-ready manner that reminded her of an irate landowner with a spear in each great hand.
“Do either of you fools have anything to do with this perversion?” A voice asked them from entirely too close.
27 slowly turned her head and forced herself not to take a step back. Her neighbor had joined them on the neutral strip so stealthily they had been unaware in all the noise. She was blended in the jungle plants and shadows perfectly not ten paces away, which was the purpose of their coloring after all, but she was shamed anyone could walk up on them undetected even with the roar of the dirt pusher and the overwhelming stink of raw dirt and crushed vegetation.
“We have no idea what this new thing is neighbor. We came to see when we heard. You we have seen passing on your patrol road of course.” She did not mention she had never slowed to exchange a greeting or news like neighbors sometimes did if they were civil. In fact she did not even know the Sister’s lineage she had been so stand-offish.
“Do you have any true memory of such creatures, Neighbor?”
“Indeed, I do. I am of the Eleventh Lineage of the Twelve and Generation 112,214 of my Line,” she bragged, “and we have memory of very similar creatures over 80,000 turns of the seasons ago. They had six limbs not four but they were all clawless grasping hands like you see there, because they were all tree dwellers and very tasty too. My line ate the last of them very quickly because they were such a treat and slow of wit.” She turned her head straight on so all four yellow eyes came to bear on them, the two on top of her bulging brain case and the two wide set in the hollows above her jaw hinges.
“They smell just as tasty as I remember too,” she said her nostril slits opening wide with no mannerly covering hand wasted on them. 27 wondered how she could smell anything over the earthy smell with a faint burnt tang to it even though she saw no open flames.
“And yet these seem to walk on the ground and are busy removing all of their trees instead of climbing in them, and it would seem very odd for witless beasts to carry so many made things,” her young daughter was brave enough to speak up and suggest to their neighbor.
“My error offering treasure of experience to…” Her words failed her not having one to describe her contemptible neighbors. “Has your egg mother told you why your heritage is as short as a tree slug youngster?” she asked with her lips curling back in disgust showing shocking pink gums above a mouth full of shark’s teeth. “Or has she been too ashamed to tell you what sort of world you’ve been brought into?”
“I understand our mother of 27 eggs back was a story teller and went to the sea. She fell on the rocks and hit her head so hard it cracked and was even misshapen when it healed. If she lost much, she still remembered many old tales, which we remember quite well thank you,” she said defensively. I see nothing to hold any shame. We didn’t push our ancestor onto the rocks nor have we memories of eating our own Nest Sisters as I am told some Lineages must bear.”
“How dare you,” the nasty neighbor hissed, all the color draining from her face until it was gloss black. “The shame you should remember is the shame your mother should have felt knowing she was going to drop an egg with no legacy of memory passed on. If she had the mentality left to feel shame. The undamaged rest of the Third want no part of you I can tell you! She should have thrown herself in the sacred sea when she woke so damaged. Or at least had the sense never to wade in the river and expose herself to the males in season. She had to know she’d make some mental cripples with no heritage – no experience.”
“Every Line from the Mothers of the First Dozen Eggs started with no memory but her instruction,” 27 pointed out. “In a million turns of the seasons I doubt there will be all that much difference between us and the original twelve. They all survived through a twenty-seventh and twenty- eighth generation and muddled along on that skimpy heritage, so we will too,” she assured the prejudiced neighbor.
“If you survive,” their neighbor admonished. “There have been other defective Lines arising from the twelve because of injury or disease and I don’t remember one that lasted 1,000 seasons without the wisdom of their dames. And the Great Mother had to have many Sisters in which the True Memory didn’t awaken, yet where are they? They certainly didn’t compete having to learn everything anew each generation like the animals.”
“Agreed then, we’ll just have to see won’t we?” 27 replied, struggling to keep her lips relaxed, and happy she could still see the strips on her nose despite the taunts.
The bulldozer that had been industriously working back and forth stopped this time when it came up to the berm it was constructing and didn’t back up. There was a single round shape on a stalk that turned to them and the dark eye that looked at them was much like a water bug would turn to you before you snatched it from the rocks. It had that hard surfaced look rather than a wet eyeball, but none of them doubted it was an eye observing them. The creatures by the egg stirred, excited about something and the two bright ones abandoned the things they had carried out and started walking toward them. The one in mottled colors plucked at them trying to hold them back, but when he was holding one the other would advance and he couldn’t hold both at once. Of course the poor thing only had two arms. Finally giving up he seemed to decide if they were going to approach the jungle, he would be in front and hurried around them gripping the object he carried differently now.
“Well of course they are the road builders,” Jason told Edna. “If they weren’t they would stay well away from the track there, because it’s a good place to become prey.”
“I wish you could have at least taken time to go back in the shuttle and put on body armor and get a heavier weapon before approaching them,” Lieutenant Hamilton complained. “Look at the size of these creatures. I only come up to about that heavy middle arm, and I bet they cover a good two meter in one stride.”
“Ah, here comes lunch,” their older neighbor sighed. “There isn’t much meat to them it appears. I hope you don’t mind if I claim seniority of the hunt since this isn’t on either one of our territories?”
“Your privilege,” 27 acknowledged, but I’m not sure these creatures don’t regard that ridge of dirt as their own boundary road. They could be going to go along and flatten it when they are done. They are so different, who is to say they don’t build things different too? But they seem intelligent to me using made things. If you cross that line they may be offended by your trespass.”
“Hah! As if I’d respect a boundary from such bite size stuff. We’re talking about a snack not people fools. I know you remember so little, but these tree dwellers often mimicked intelligent behavior. But one good roar and a charge and you’ll see they throw down any branch or rock they picked up and scatter in panic. If I’m too slow to snatch all three help yourself to a little snack. You’ll probably never get the chance again. I thought they were all extinct even on the edge of unsettled territory like this.”
“That doesn’t look like something they picked up off the forest floor,” 28 whispered to her mother. Now that they were closer, the shape the front one carried was complex. It had all kinds of boxy shapes and a large rod sticking toward them with a hole on the end like a reed when you snap it off to pick your teeth.
The three strange creatures were smaller than even the young daughter, but still bigger than most of the game they ran on their land. All the big game was only True Memories long hunted to extinction. The humans hung back behind the bulldozer that had fallen silent now, seeming to find comfort in the shelter.
“Man, look at the size of that sucker on the right,” the one in camo greens exclaimed.
“Oh! I didn’t even see that one,” the woman confessed.
“You better hope there aren’t another half dozen none of us see in the shadows,” he suggested.
“All the data we saw from orbit and from the drones was there were seldom more than one big animal in each marked territory,” Jason reminded them. He always had an opinion and was quick to share them. “I think we are looking at both our neighbors from those two plots behind them. One large creature in each well marked territory suggests they must be carnivores too. If they understand territorial marking, they may be smart enough not to come over our berm without some sort of invitation. Look, they all have spears. What I wouldn’t give to get one of those and see how the head is fastened on and from how far away the stone was collected!”
“Just stay close enough to get behind the dozer, and be ready to duck, because I don’t want to be pulling one out of your chest,” Lt. Hamilton told him.
“I’m going to see if I can communicate with some simple signs,” Edna informed them.
“Let me go up behind the blade, and you both stay back here until I’m in position,” Hamilton ordered them. “Then you can step out – but not more than two steps away from the back of the dozer and wave your cap or whatever the hell you think will amuse these monsters. They scare the crap out me,” he admitted.
“They’re beautiful,” Edna protested. “Look at the colors. I think I saw that big one ripple its stripes on its nose like a chameleon just now.”
“Uh huh,” Mark Hamilton agreed. He was estimating the big one must weigh about five hundred kilo or a bit more of it was anything like a bear internally. He dialed the projectile size on his gun up to 25 grams and left the velocity at max which would be about 1,200 meters a second. There was no way he could hang on to it dialed up like that at full auto so he dropped the bipod on the front over the dozer blade to absorb the recoil.
Even Jason was a little nervous now and took his laser pistol out and made sure the safety was off and the power set on high. Somehow, it didn’t seem sufficient protection anymore looking at the native from less than a hundred meters.
“Of course we want to avoid hostilities if at all possible,” Jason reminded them. “If we get on bad terms with these fellows we might have to even move to a new location to get somebody who will talk to us.”
“Uh huh,” the lieutenant agreed never taking his eyes away. He was more concerned with surviving the next ten minutes than long term relations.
“I’m going to ease a bit closer, slowly,” the crabby neighbor informed the mother and daughter. “You’d be surprised how close these tree dwellers will let you sneak up on them if you don’t move too sudden. I remember hundreds of successful stalks,” she explained as she edged away.
“Why does she keep insisting they are tree climbers, Momma?” 28 asked in frustration. “We haven’t seen one in a tree and she already admitted the ones she remembers had six limbs instead of four.”
“Well daughter, I’m just like you. I don’t have the memories of a 100,000 ancestors rattling around in my head just as vivid as if I lived it myself. But from what I have seen these old ones have so much True Memory it’s hard for them to have an original thought of their own. It’s true our poor damaged Line mother was hurt so bad she had to be taught like a nest dwellers new chick who doesn’t know how to fly the first season, but these old ones seem to think there is never anything truly new, just variations on what they remember. Sometimes I think if they didn’t remember a Line Mother doing it they couldn’t squat and take a piss on their own.”
The big native the humans watched walk out of the ferns and brush moved slow and smooth, gradually standing up until it was on its hind legs. It had the hindquarters of a Kangaroo – built for hopping – and took exaggerated high steps to clear the thick bushes. The rear feet showed the digging claws with which it ripped encroaching small trees and bushes out of the ground on it’s boundary roads as it patrolled, and the rear had a single huge talon curved down that would let it perch like a bird or disembowel prey larger than anything they had seen with their sensors.
The lower set of arms were heavy with huge hands more like paws set on definite shoulders. The neck that came up from those shoulders was massive though, almost as thick as the torso below. In the front set closer together was another pair of much more delicate arms and dainty fingers sprouting from where the sloping shoulders blended into the neck, but naturally going up from those joints instead of down like the lower. They were folded in front now unused in almost a prayerful gesture.
The eyes on top of the domed skull were foreword looking and in a crease that offered a little shelter. Below, another set of eyes just above the jaw joints were so far apart the creature must have near 270 degrees of vision. The muzzle was obviously a carnivore, fairly heavy, not slender like a crocodile, with the nostrils like a pair of curly quotes very active with the slits moving and the size of the upper snout suggested a huge volume for processing smell. The skin was finely textured without deep wrinkles and brilliant with camouflage that combined all the best elements of a tiger and a salamander. The mouth showed no teeth protruding when closed and any doubt of its intelligence was lost with the spear it carried in it’s middle hand, and the fact there were bracelets around both wrists of those heavier arms.
Edna stood where she had stepped out from behind the dozer frozen by the sight of the native free of any obscuring foliage. “It’s a dragon!” she exclaimed at the sight of the native uncovered by any vegetation. Finally, she remembered her purpose and held her hands up palms open to show they were empty of any threat. Unfortunately, the gesture was the same as a native used to display threat by spreading its fighting arms ready to slash. Although she lacked the proper claws, her fingers still did a pretty good imitation.
Number 112,214 of her line reacted with all the hardwired memory of seeing that threatening gesture thousands of times over the centuries. That such a puny creature would dare make the gesture was infuriating. She threw her own fighting arms wide in a threatening sweep claws unfolding in a deadly arch of black points. She dropped her spear as irrelevant. Weapons were for people not game, and screamed a response that ran off the high end of the human’s hearing into the ultrasonic. But the overpressure still painfully hammered on their ears. The size of her open maw of bright pink lined with rows of black triangular teeth was impressive. Edna, who had taken two long steps out from behind the dozer made it back to shelter in one leap.
Seeing the tip of her tail whip back and forth with increasing frequency, the lieutenant, who had owned many a cat who did the same before pouncing, instinctively knew that an attack was a virtual certainty now, and it was just going through the internal programming for the rush. He dropped the butt of his gun aiming well over the native anticipating her leap and was as scared as he had ever been on any score of nightmare worlds.
Behind the challenging neighbor, the mother and daughter were disappointed to see her crouch to spring. They didn’t know what these new things were but their neighbor was obviously too far gone in battle lust to stop, and both doubted if any of the small creatures would escape.
As the stripped shape threw itself across the ridge of dirt, Lt. Hamilton realized it would cover a third of the distance to them in one hop. He squeezed the trigger back pushing down hard to try to track that upward leap, but the front support came off the blade he used as a rest and the muzzle climbed free on full auto and tracked her better than he could have consciously. The line of bullets climbed up her front one round hitting right through the massive skull and the last three rounds cutting the empty air ahead of her before he could let off the trigger. In all six rounds as big as his thumb hit and warming from impact the memory metal in them expanded from a blunt cylinder to a mushroom with a 20mm diameter head. They exited her back making a wound you couldn’t cover with a flat hand. Even something the size of a small ground car could not survive such massive wounds, but the head wound alone was fatal.
The mother and daughter looked at the broken form of their neighbor laying sprawled in death in shock. They had not anticipated such a reversal. Their mouths hang open like a human in surprise. With their dentition, however, it was not a very friendly gesture.
Lt. Hamilton pushed himself off the front of the track where the recoil of his weapon had pushed him and brought it back down at the ready again on the top of the bulldozer blade.
“Please, please, please don’t do the same,” he softly begged aloud of the two still standing watching him from the other side of the dusty ridge. It was the first time he had ever shot an intelligent alien and he found it profoundly disturbing. Shooting humans had never hit him a badly as this. He was also shaken to realize if the dragon had not telegraphed what it was going to do he might not have been able to track and shoot it before it was on them. These things were fast! He really didn’t want to shoot the other two and have his name go in the history books as slaughtering the first contact on this world.
“I’m going to do something,” the mother told her daughter, “You stand still, and if it is the wrong thing and I die remember not to make the same mistake.” She lowered her fighting arms dropping the spear on the ground and held her small feeding arms up palms out, fingers spread, in the same gesture the bright colored two armed creature used.
Lt. Hamilton responded by moving the muzzle of his weapon slightly off center from pointing right at the bigger one’s torso.
“Well, that’s one thing learned,” she told her daughter nervously. “Now I’m going to see if she will let me take a step away if I do it again.” She made the same gesture and took a step back toward what she thought of as the safety of her territory. When she didn’t die in burst of thunder like her neighbor, she did it again.
“I think I’ve got it. Why don’t you try it and see if you can catch up with me here?”
The daughter copied the gesture and repeated step by step until she was back even with the mother. When they were all the way back out of the neutral zone on their own road they stopped. The three at the dozer had a discussion they could hear low and the two behind stepped out and repeated the open hand gesture and backed away toward their egg. The one with the weapon backed away too but never laid the weapon down to make the gesture.
Sudden realization hit 27. “That’s what they were showing us with the hands. They were saying we are not armed. They don’t have claws even, and they don’t have any other arms to carry weapons so it is an absolute statement. The one with the weapon of course didn’t do so, but he wasn’t stepping away from shelter and seeking a parley. Our neighbor made a big mistake.”
No, she corrected herself thoughtfully, she made a whole series of mistakes.
Now that they were back at their egg, the small creatures seemed reluctant to go inside although they had the opening working again. The smaller one who had made the first gesture made another. It seemed harmless since the armed one stayed still.
“I’m not sure what it means mother, but just repeating their gestures seems to be safe. May I respond this time?” 28 asked her mum.
The young dragon one raised a single dainty open hand and waved. That seemed to satisfy the three and they filed back in the hole in the egg which closed.
“Whatever are we going to do with these strange new neighbors who are so dangerous mother?”
“We are going to patrol our land and go over and patrol our late neighbors land too, until you can hold it yourself” she said still staring at the distant egg. “And next season although you are too young I will swim in the river and hope for another quickened egg, and we will stop each time we pass this strange place on our road and make the gesture of peace and what I think is the respectful gesture of leave taking, and we will wait until your sister is as big as you and I can take turns patrolling your boundaries with both of you. Then when our legacy is safe in you and a generation sister I will walk over to these creatures’s berm and try to learn more about how to talk with them. Who knows? Perhaps they will try to talk to us again if our neighbor did not scare them away forever.”
“We know two gestures and I will speak of what I plan with you both so that if I fail you will not only pass the True Memory of what has worked from today but you can even learn from what has failed if the worst should happen. It seems to me now that all these old wise ones carrying such a treasure of memory are perhaps carrying a burden when they have to deal with a new thing and try to impose the narrowness of what they know on it. They remember everything that worked and was preserved in memory. I intend for us to learn the other half of life’s lessons – what doesn’t work. The Sisters of the Twelve have been throwing away half of life’s lessons because what kills you is never remembered.”
27 started walking along their road away from the alien egg and strange activities. She was still thoughtful and walked until the clearing was out of sight and groomed the trail yanking encroaching bushes from the edge with her huge rear talons as if it were any normal day, and not the day everything changed. 28 stayed silent sensing she was still not done with her answer.
“And if we succeed in communicating,” She finally added, “I intend to find out what sort of memories these strange small creatures carry that have such powerful weapons, and I don’t intend to share it with our esteemed sisters of the Twelve Lines that hold us in such derision. No, I don’t even want to be accepted back as a crippled part of the Third Line anymore, and have to remember the shame of years we were outcasts. We will simply be the The New Line apart from the Twelve with no false pride in Generation numbers and no disdain for anything new. The Twelve can scramble to keep up with us if they want to share our new world.”