Gillow 53X

J’amu

The tendrils of my mother’s mind slowly dissipated. She was strong, the strongest of our pod. But even my mother was not able to withstand the incessant barrage of unfathomable hate streaming from the unblendable earthbound bipeds.

We had been gliding as one: riding the up draughts, swirling and wheeling in the bright morning sun, ripples of joy echoing between us. We were making our way back to our mountain home, roughly following the Great Mother River. Hunting had been good, the silver fish slipping easily down our gullets, all eight of us radiating fullness and comfort. But the annual Changra storm was approaching and we had to reach our caves before the burning sulphuric acid sparks tore viciously into our skin.

J’anu, my strong brother glided by my side, I tasted his joy at having filled his belly with a huge fish. Mother was in the lead and spotted our off-world guests. These people were new - a different sort of land bound biped. We had kept them under observation for a few days and had unsuccessfully tried to communicate from a distance. Initially they had bubbles round their heads and we thought that was why they couldn’t hear us, but even after they’d taken off their bubbles, they refused to communicate though we believed they could see us.

We’d therefore decided to leave them alone as they might have little to contribute to our Great Story.

These people, dumb humans, let’s call them are a different sort of biped. Everything about them is hard and noisy. They are clothed in a shiny silver outer layer and they do not tread softly.  Not like our own earthbound P’aje bipeds who wear little and tread softly through the forest.  The P’aje are our kindred spirits and peacefully share our world. Their dreams are warm and friendly fuzzy.

The Silver Clads quickly set up camp and started to rip the earth apart. They tore down trees and set up machinery. They are clumsy, noisy and deaf to thoughts. Even the poor P’aje who can’t fly are able to blend with us.  Though we have little to do with each other, we don’t interfere with them and they leave us to fish the teeming rivers. Our stories intermingle with theirs to produce our overarching Great Story structure. We with them are one, as are the trees and the whole planet structure, but these are interlopers. Oh yes, we’ve had off world visitors before who have come, explored, communicated, added to our Great Story and left knowing that they have blended; and left us with a clear understanding about distant planets.

Then the Silver Clads came in a roaring, whining semi flying rocket which came down vertically with huge toxic flames.  Scorching the leaves and bark of our brother trees, it eventually settled on the burnt ground. Shortly afterwards the small group of noisy, Silver Clad bipeds emerged. We gave up trying to reach them – they were deaf and dumb.

We were flying back then, to escape the Changra storm. Happy and content, but in a rush when mother made her fatal decision. Knowing that these were off-worlders who probably didn’t understand our rapidly changing weather systems, mother had elected to make one last urgent attempt to communicate and warn them that they must take shelter. She observed the etiquette of flying around them a couple of times before diving to get closer to communicate. Perhaps she was a bit hasty because we were after all short of time ourselves but then the unthinkable happened: as she glided towards them mother was shot by what we assume is a laser pistol.

We called, and probed but there was no blending, mother was gone. We had to get home. If there was the slightest chance she was alive, we would not leave her behind but as time was critical by now the collective decision, reached with great sadness, was to leave her and race before the storm.

We flew on to get home and mourn her passing with heavy hearts.

We made it to the caves with only moments to spare.

We had to wait for three moons until the Changra storm had passed. Safe in our caves, we mourned as we wove our brave and too kind mother into our Great Story

On the fourth day we ventured out. We had to go back to mother. Her shell corpse would be of use if we recycled it to the river so the silver fish could consume it with glee and we would eventually eat the fish. This way we’re all happy.

We wondered what to do with the Silver Clad corpses – there was no doubt that they too would be dead from the storm but not being part of our balanced planet network, they would probably do more harm than good if floated down the river so we had elected to pile them up and leave them for the elements – if the insects were interested then that was fine.

Mother lay with one shattered outstretched wing and a laser burn gash in her chest. J’anu and my two other brothers took her in claws and beak – they would be gone only a few minutes to take her to Great Mother River.

Meanwhile, three of us were left to pile up the lacerated bodies of the Silver Clads. The stench from the acid and their leaking body fluids made us gasp for breath, but like the persistent dung beetles we carried on.

Turning to go I saw that we’d missed one of the bodies – it was wedged just under their fallen rocket transporter. Uncle J’clar and I grabbed the body but it felt different, the stink wasn’t as great. This one was unconscious, probably knocked out by the noxious gasses, but seemingly escaping injury from the deadly acid splashes. In a few rapid thoughts we had agreed that the best way to deal with this was to take the Silver Clad back to our cave. We couldn’t kill it, we don’t kill sentient beings, and neither could we just leave it to die – that would be the equivalent of killing. By taking it to our shelter, the thought was that at least we could care for it and maybe there was even a chance of weaving it into the Great Story. Was this the right decision – we had time to think about it back in our caves.

Adam

Pteradactl

Monstrous pterodactyl type creatures [1]

I woke up slowly – as if climbing out of a cotton wool ball that had been suffocating me. I was on a rough floor in what seemed to be a dimly lit cavern. Four of the monstrous pterodactyl type creatures we’d seen from a distance stood between me and the cave opening.

I looked around hoping to see any of my nine crewmates. I assume they were killed in the vicious storm which had ripped through our environmental suits, lacerating the skin. I didn’t know how I could possibly be alive but had dim memories of somehow trying to shelter under the rocket lander.

There was a movement near my head and I screamed as a large beak jabbed towards my eye. The creature sitting quietly just behind my head was much smaller than the others. The four by the entrance were almost as tall as an average human; this one was the size of my golden retriever back home. This was a very young one. At my scream, the adults turned towards me, the baby cocked its head on one side and stepped back a little, as if warned by the adults. Strangely, apart from my scream, the cave was eerily quiet, despite the presence of the ungainly big pterodactyls. I edged a little away from the smaller one, hopefully out of reach of the dark, slightly curved beak.

Baby J’au

It was white and silver and crawly and when it opened its eyes, they looked like fish eyes - my favourite food, so without thinking I tried to spear the eye, but the creature moved and let out a screech. Mother J’amu told me sharply that this was not a fish; in a few seconds she showed me how these beings had come in a rocket and how they had been destroyed by the Changra storm, but also how they had killed my grandmother. It was confusing; the others also added their thoughts and memories of the scene and showed how they had transported this creature back to our cave. It’s intelligent they explained. Mother and the other elders told me not to attack the creature but to stay near it while they went to find fish. We’ll bring back fish for you and for the Silver Clad they promised. I settled down to wait near Fish Eyes; the eyes had closed so I sat patiently dosing and dreaming.

Aaaargh I awoke with stabbing fear. Why was I afraid? I’d experienced this only once before when I was a young chick and I’d stepped too close to the cave entrance and been shocked and afraid by the vast expanse of light and space around me. The elders had calmed me. Had something in my dream prompted this? Then I saw it, Fish Eyes was teetering on the brink of the cave entrance, and I saw through Fish Eyes the horror of the long drop down the almost vertical cliff. Fish Eyes couldn’t fly and if he fell now, would certainly break and die against the rocks many wing spans below. I took hold of the fear in my/his head and rotated it to show the calm nest of the cavern behind. I might also have added a glimpse of a cute little J’au who likes to be preened and stroked. Slowly Fish Eyes edged back from the mouth of the cave. There was still jagged fear but now, more controlled. He moved slowly back towards me, breaking the silence with strange noises coming from an orifice below the eyes. But, while he made the noises, I also understood the meaning in his mind. He was curious, wanting to know if I’d shown him the picture of calm in his mind.

Adam

The adult alien bird-like creatures flew off leaving me alone in the cave with the younger one. I couldn’t be sure whether it was left there to guard me or if it just couldn’t fly - I was almost certain that I was off the menu or it would have eaten me earlier. After a while its eyes closed and I relaxed enough to take a closer look at the cave which was probably about the size of half a football pitch back home. There was no exit on the back wall. The roof was about the height of three or four men. Unfortunately, it seemed that there was only one entrance, the mouth of the cave. Reasoning that I’d better make myself scarce before the rather scary adults returned, I realised that my only means of escape was through the cave entrance. I moved as quietly and quickly as I could and was horrified when I almost stepped out into nothing ... aaargh the drop was vertical and immense – a wide expanse of cloudless blue sky dropped away to nothing. A long way in the distance I could see the ribbon of a wide river and an expanse of trees but there was a sheer, vertical drop of miles below me. I panicked at the horror of the situation but almost at the same time I could see the cave behind me, looking very inviting and even the image of ‘smiling’ cute duck like creature rather than the pointy pterodactyl I’d left there. How could I do that – it felt as if I was looking in two directions at once? At least though, I hadn’t fallen out of the cave. Heart still pounding with fear, I took a couple of steps backward, and turned to see the young bird sitting and observing me, head cocked cutely to one side.

I moved back to the space I’d occupied, warily sitting down next to the creature. Again it had its head on one side and gave me a slow blink. I was so much reminded of Rocky, my golden retriever that I almost stretched out to scratch it behind the ears – except it didn’t have any ears. I stopped, afraid of the vicious beak, but again the picture of a cute duck with smiling face and a picture in my head of my hand rubbing the back of its head. “Okay, Donald Duck” I said out loud, “it’s just you and me here, OK, I’ll give you a rub”. I couldn’t believe it; the bird dipped its head and moved closer. Giving it a rub, waves of satisfaction rolled over me, I was getting the same positive feedback like a cat’s purr or my dog wagging his tail. But, with the cat I can hear it, and with the dog I can see it, but this, this was something different: with the bird I could feel the ripples of satisfaction and calm inside my mind.

We sat like this for a while: enjoying the calm and the camaraderie just as I would of an evening back home with Rocky. But, this wasn’t home – I was on an alien planet, stranded in a cave, my crewmates probably all dead. I felt totally alone. But as soon as I began to feel the despair, there was the calming image of myself in the cave with smiling Donald Duck. As the hours dragged by I began to feel hungry, at first I wondered about the rations in the lander, presumably if the lander was still there, then they’d be fine – they were our pack rations designed to last for up to three months, not tasty but at least nutritious. But then, DD imposed his thoughts: my square vacuum packed images gave way to shiny, silver fish: “yummy” he was saying. I was almost ready for that – fish, great I thought. But, then came the next image, how I was to eat it: Mother J’alu would bend down and regurgitate the fish from her beak to mine. Except I didn’t have a beak, “Get out”, I said out loud, “get out, stop that picture” and then, “this is what I’ll do, I’ll take my fish from YOUR mother, not mine, and use my hands. As I said the words, I made the picture in my mind, DD looked down at my hands, obviously asking the question so I showed him, flexing my hands, and mimed eating a fish. Yes, he liked that, another positive purring there. So we waited.

As the sun was setting, the light at the cave entrance was blocked by the return of the four adults. One, mother J’amu came towards her offspring; J’au, I caught its name for the first time.

J’au opened its beak and Mother J’amu heaved up from her gullet a pretty big fish, J’au was sending out even more intense beams of satisfaction – this is what he’d been anticipating.

Then, another of the massive creatures came towards me, I could sense J’au pass on the message to ... ?uncle (I couldn’t catch the name this time) that I would prefer to use my hands and I got the message, no longer sure who it was coming from, that I should hold out my hands. Uncle heaved from his huge beak, a large silver fish, it flopped slimy and silvery into my hands. I’d never eaten raw fish whole before, but I remembered sashimi, a Japanese delicacy and took a bite – wet, jucy and delicious. I tried to send the same feeling of satisfaction back to J’au and to make more certain the message was getting accross, I added grunts of satisfaction and a ‘thank you’ to my provider.

J’amu

We had wondered what the alien Silver Clad would eat, should we take him back a fish or ask the P’aje for some of the fruit they pick from trees? Instead, we thought we’d try him with fish. Entering our cave home we could feel that something was very different. J’au was happily blending with the alien – their thoughts both on fish. The Silver Clad, opened his hands and took the fish from brother J’anu. A noise came from the mouth, but now we also received a very clear message of gratitude. Ah, so the aliens weren’t deaf and dumb after all, perhaps it was just that we’d expected too much of them. Baby J’au had succeeded where we’d failed – he’d kept things simple, speaking in only baby images so had made the breakthrough. In fact, J’au explained that the breakthrough had been achieved when the alien had woken him with waves of sheer terror as he’d almost fallen to the depths below. Luckily J’au had calmed him and blended. The two were now in tune. Could we take it to adult level and communicate the more complex ideas of the Great Story of our culture and planet?

Adam

Baby J’au continued to send waves of satisfaction while we enjoyed our fish. As we settled down after the fish though, the others, especially J’amu (mother) began to send me images and questions. These questions were more complex than ‘what are hands, or how do you eat fish?’

Dysprosium chips

Dysprosium chips [2]

They were more like ‘which part of the Great Universe do you come from’ and most importantly, ‘why are you on our planet’. At first, I found that I had to accompany the pictures in my head with words from my mouth to make sure I was getting the message across, but gradually I realised that thought images were much quicker. I was, it seemed, communicating with all four of the adults (one female called J’amu and three males), and to some extent the baby. I explained how we came from Earth, and that this was one of our very first exploratory missions to find and collect much needed rare earth elements such as dysprosium for our space travel industry.

We were delighted when our scans had shown copious deposits of rare earth elements on this planet which we had named Gillow 53X. Our investigations had shown the planet to be an uninhabited M-Class planet with no indigenous intelligent life forms and a stable planetry atmosphere. How wrong we were on both accounts!

J’amu

Slowly, over the next few days and moons we were able to communicate with the human named A’dam. First we tackled the practical issues of food, water and rescue for the stranded being. We took him down to the Silver Clads’ campsite to retrieve the Earth-made food packs which would sustain him until help arrived. Despite being irreparably damaged on the outside, their lander still had functioning internal equipment. A’dam was able to send a distress message and request pick up from their Earth Station 9 somewhere between Earth and Gillow 53X.

The more challenging commuication task was to introduce A’dam to our Great Story and at the same time impress upon him the imperative to maintain the delicate planet equilibrium which we had all worked hard over millenia to achieve.

Adam

If someone from a primitive, isolated community back on earth were to encounter and then enter a structure such as Milan Cathedral they would be struck with awe and wonder but initially they would not be able to comprehend it – the size and complexity would be too daunting. I was that naive primitive from a back water entering a structure which had taken generations to build. Slowly the creatures, who called themselves the J’anzu, showed me round their magnificent structure.

Mykado sticks

It reminded me of the Mikado game I’d played with my sister [3]

The thought patterns were almost solid, the group communally held and constantly built upon their Great Story which encompassed knowledge about their own world, and that too of other worlds gleaned from travellers. From the Great Story I was shown how the fabric of the planet was held in equilibrium. All the native species of flora and fauna, both sentient and non-sentient held a special, unique place in the structure. It took me days to understand how important each piece was to the whole. It reminded me of the Mikado game I’d played with my sister long ago. The object was to see if you could remove a stick without bringing the whole structure toppling down.

It soon became clear to me that our arrival in the rocket had been bad for the planet – the knock on effects of our incendiary landing alone would take years of patient recovery. Our killing of J’amu’s mother had been catastrophic, not only for this small family group, but for the wider community of J’anzu and inevitably, too for the whole planet.

The day following my fish meal J’amu arranged for us to go back to the lander so that I could retrieve food packs, but more importantly to send a distress message to Earth Station 9. Panic flooded me again when I envisaged having to scale the sheer drop to reach the ground hundreds of feet below. But, now that we’d established communication I was shown clearly how two or three of the adults could carry me safely in beaks and claws. It was a scary thought, and as I hung from them looking down at the plain miles below I was grateful for their calming thoughts and their confidence in their own strength and ability.

We circled what looked like a crash site. The area had been scorched when we landed, and the damaged lander was toppled over. Even more distressing for me was the sight of a small pile of what had once been my crewmates: there was now very little to identify them as human in the small disintegrating pile.

Baby J’au

I can fly! Yipppeee, I can fly! I had been very impatient to fly but mother J’amu had explained that I had to wait till my muscles were strong enough to take my weight. I waited impatiently. But, happily that was the time of A’dam the human so at least I had some company for those long hours when the elders were out hunting for yummy fish. A’dam showed me life on his planet and what it was like to fly in a machine through the stars.

On my third day of flying I joined the others and circled above the humans as they came to collect our guest. Till the very last, I was able to circle around near him, holding the blending, sending the purring satisfaction that he enjoyed so much but which was now tinged with farewell sadness. The J’anzu have no need to travel to distant planets, and now with some understanding of our presence on the planet and our Great Story we hope that humans will not visit again. Perhaps, one day they will learn to tread more lightly.

Valerie Pickard
February 28th 2021

[1] Image by Matthew Martyniuk CC licence

[2] Image by Materialscientist at en.wikipedia CC licence

[3] Image by Martin Sommerfeld at de.wikipedia CC licence