icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle


I. An End to Games
They had already committed to orbit when their argument focused on the most critical issue facing the planet. Kohrek adjusted her passenger restraints and looked at the young varok sitting erect in the adjoining seat--her colleague, Lok Antalorian, called Lokan. He was young, with a grand mind still exploring its potential, a nearly mature varok still a Callisto cycle away from graduation at the Concentrate. He had won a position as relief scientist to help address the crisis on the newly discovered planet Ellason--a wild place not yet fully understood. His dedication to the project was clear, but his ideals shone through, his words as raw and vulnerable as his person would be, too soon.

"We can win over the ellls, Kohrek, if we can find a way to communicate with them--I mean understand them on their terms--not ours. Surely the Directorate will not overrule this approach. Surely."

The fire in his eyes danced with urgency that his mentor, the aging varok Kohrek, found tragic. Usually, Lokan's young face stretched with laughter and sagged with disappointment, as if words of honest feeling would, at any moment, spill from his lips. She hated not to reassure him. "We haven't cracked the ellls' sonic code, and now we have evidence that they communicate with pressure signals on their body tiles. We'll be aliens with no way to communicate, Lokan."

"Aliens? What do you mean by aliens, Kohrek?" Lokan asked.

"Fearsome creatures from an unknown place beyond Ellason, a place they can't imagine, a place we can't describe--or won't, because they don't have a language within our sound range."

"Is that the lab's assumption? What about the electromagnetic signals from their tile lines. We understand the lateral lines on Earth's fish, don't we?"

"Ellason is not Earth, Lokan, and ellls are not fish."

"Bioluminescence? Chemicals?"

"Unlike everyone else in Ellason's oceans, ellls have none. They stay dark, and they don't indulge in chemical conversations. Both are probably a result of defensive selection."

"So we are aliens--beings they can't possibly understand? Is that what you imply?"

Kohrek loosened her restraints and tried a definition. Still a tiny ball of mist, Ellason had come into view, but the elder didn't want to interrupt the conversation to point it out. There would be better views later, but not a better chance to talk. "Aliens are something alive, and I agree that life knows life and may share some biochemistry, some basic needs like food and shelter, but--yes--life on Ellason may be so different we will never understand it. On Varok different languages cause different thought patterns, even among us varoks. The ellls may never understand us."

"So if we learn to understand each other, we will no longer be alien. Right? I claim there is no such thing as an alien. The word alien comes from a failure to recognize that every living being is a person, a conscious entity, no matter how they sense their environment or communicate between themselves."

"I like your idea," Kohrek said. "Treating every living being as a person could make a huge difference in how we treat the ellls." Here was the attitude varoks at the lab needed in order to make real progress.

The Legend of the First Loner
The epic poem telling the story of The Unheard Song--found in the reconstructed Library of Ellason, Ellason, circa 3705 ir. (Varokian Calendar) From an early Elllonian translation of the great-fish Epic Presentation

In days gone by, where days do not exist,
Beneath the deeps where varoks dare not range
And human search still fails,
Within the seas of Ellason
There lived an elll born strange.

She longed to chase the lohn birds through the moss,
To find the stars before the dawn's renewal,
To hear the sighing mists,
To see with mind and know with heart
The world beyond the school.

The school, the throbbing life-blood of her kind
Was wracked with pain, and not from her alone.
Oh Ellean, speak truth.
Is not your illness shared by all,
The ancient ways o'erthrown?

Though ellls were born to swim the warmest deeps,
She sought the misted rocks and shallows rife--
And valued solitude.
A mind apart, she longed to know
The deeps and mists of life.

Where Ellason's long tides creep into dark
She crossed dry land alone to fill her mind,
But failed among the rocks
Without the gentle throbbing press
Of signals from her kind.

When strangers come to worlds they do no know,
They act upon raw guesses made in haste.
Tho' all intent be good,
The world perceives nought but the wound,
And good intent's laid waste.

"Come, Ellean, the school throbs hollow now
"Without you here, where all our hearts reside.
"Your place cannot be filled."
She knew their pain and grieved for them,
But rode the loners' tide.

Where wave and terror mix too well with stone
She saw her life--joy gone and welcomed death,
Until a stranger came
To seek the heart of Ellason
And breathe its sweet sea-breath.

"Come, hear my voice, come know my every thought,
"And through your mind your heart will be my guide.
"Our lives must soon be joined.
"We cannot let this chance go by,
"And fail while worlds collide."

The great-fish found her in the varok's grasp
And took her from that lethal devotee
To safer, healing arms--
To ancient hollows drawn with moss
Beneath the warm-red sea.

"I see myself," the varok told the youth,
"In you my rage is harnessed once again.
"For Ellason. Go forth.
"Go find your elll, and wisdom too
"Within the great-fish den."

The varok trusted none,
Although he knew that great-fish see the whole,
The parts for what they mean in fine relief.
How could they understand an elll
Whose life was edged with grief?

The great-fish taught her more than senses five,
Convey to those who view the waves with dread
But somehow miss the storm.
They showed her paths that few ellls know
And none would choose to tred.

When fate gave anger's vent its awful chance,
The broken ellls let vengeance fire their zeal;
Thus violence split the school,
For gentle hearts, once torn by hate,
Are rarely known to heal.

The varoks clung with fear to plans undone;
The patterns of their minds were etched in stone.
Entrapped in all by pride,
They could not credit ellls with this:
A vision not their own.

Her dullnes to ellls' gentle words of touch,
Her deafness to their high-pitched call to rule
Had bent her mind away.
Thus blinded as no elll had been,
She saw beyond the school.

The water moved the weeds in dances wild.
Waves filled with blood, tossed high, bedecked with grief,
Fell crashing round her soul.
The school was split; the tide was turned;
The sea cried disbelief.

Upon the rocks she found a comfort strange,
A mind that knew hers well, yet could not say
What dwelt within its own.
As one, they sensed the edge of doom
And ran from danger's way.

There is no helping one who paints his face
With lies, and robs the truth of all its worth--
Or heedless, mocks it sore.
There is no friend in those who smile,
Denying faith's rebirth.

The elll and varok saw how life was good.
They knew the joy that caring love compels.
As one they nurtured hope
And dared to probe the secrets held
Beyond the hearts of ellls.

What end so fair is worth a trick so foul?
To take a free-born soul and close him in
For purposes ill-found?
What good can come from trust betrayed?
Where else can love begin?

On secret ahl-leaves, precious to the ellls,
The varok searched for clues to link their lives,
But found instead their lack.
Their differences multiplied
And mocked the sealed archives.

They traded gifts of self--far more than love--
And put themselves aside to learn the new,
To sing for all in turn
A new-found song of trust in life,
With verses written true.

Are those less true who take the traitor's name?
Can means be all that matter in the end
When visions overlap?
Whose cause is locked in rigid thought?
Can truth be traitor's friend?

"Stay my hand, so I won't trespass here.
"An unintended danger leaves its scar,"
the varok told the elll.
"I'll bend your songs to shape your tongue,
"And fathom who you are."

I thought I knew the depths of fear, until
I saw a strange new people throw away
The history of their race
To keep it out of alien reach,
Secure from sore display.

If in the mind's true bent an angle sharp
Distorts the straight line flowing toward the truth,
Then where can trust be found?
The line is spoiled; the dent is firm
'Til forged again in faith.

What horror now. To look in tortured eyes
And fail to stop the pain of those defiled,
To understand too late
That though communion is at hand,
They won't be reconciled.

Their fear made masks of faces raw with doubt.
Then gave them nerves of steel--a devil's gift
That stoked the fire of grief--
As into blood they plunged their hands
And set their souls adrift.

The tragedy of tragedies is this:
When good will, taken wrong, its good intent
Left broken on despair,
Turns full upon itself in flight,
Destroying all it meant.

From rot of time eternal shot with grief
I heard a cry of hope from alien tongue
That told me I was free.
"Just free?'" I cried. "What good is that?
"When all my life's unstrung?"

The gentlest of ellls, confined in time,
As one pure moment follows blind the next
By senses overdrawn,
Are soon o'ercome by moments' loss,
Their flooded souls perplexed.

When reason lost the battle for their minds,
And varoks desperate sent the ellls in flame
To horrors never meant,
They closed their minds upon themselves
To question not their aim.
"Though all your thoughts were centered here in mine,
"And I became more than I alone could be,
"I could not know your mind,
"Until we shared a grief that tore
"Open reality.

While ellls went mad with pain, and varoks then
Bound up their minds in rigid reason's girth,
Two youths, too keen with life
To let such horror rule their time,
Destroyed the set with mirth.

"All hail, good friends, we bring you songs of hope.
"Why don't you stop? What strange disease has turned
"Your minds to purpose void?
"What mad design could bend your minds
"And leave all life-joy burned?"

"Sing Ellean. Sing Lokan. Cure the school.
"Divide mad minds and save our will to live.
"Drive home the wedge of love.
"Then as you watch your life dissolve,
"Forgive us all. Forgive."

Thus Lokan left her with a soul grown strong,
Determined still in spite of death to free
The growing minds of ellls,
And with the varoks find a way
To forge their destiny.

All hail the loners' legend--Ellean,
The blind, the slow, a traitor to the past--
She turned the future on.
She sang her song as strangers met
And found their lives recast.