Thursday, February 5, 2009

No Name Brand

The following excerpt is from No Name Brand by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Enki books in April 2009

On entry the shield cut out for 15 seconds.

The shuttle cabin was so hot that Bishop’s chest felt like a burnt, empty kiln. His eyes were dry. He blinked furiously. Sweat dripped off his forehead.

The shield resumed and the shuttle desperately restored itself.

“Hot enough for you?” laughed Calvin.

“No,” straight faced Bishop “but no need to turn it up just for me”

The shields dropped again. Critical alarms sounded.

Bishop’s sweat evaporated now. Every part of him felt dry.

Bishop looked at Calvin. His skin was red. His eyes were bloodshot pools and he gasped in shallow inhales as if that was all the searing air he could take in.

Bishop’s tongue swelled in his mouth.

He lost consciousness.

The shuttle landed itself on autopilot.

When Bishop came to Calvin was already overlooking the console. Bishop licked his cracked lips.

“The shuttle nanos are slowly repairing it.” Said Calvin,” It’s going to take at least a week before the communication is repaired enough to contact the ship.”

Bishop nodded. There wasn’t much else to say. The policy was for the ship to treat them as dead. In a week they would call and be picked up, simple as calling a taxi, but until then nobody would look for them.

“Okay,” said Bishop “But how long till we can get out of here?”

“Normally 4 hours but with all this damage it will take at least 55 hours.” Calvin looked bored already.

It was a lot of sitting. They joked, posed riddles, gossiped, researched the planet, got in an argument, and resolved it. They stared into space for hours. They reminisced about childhood.

The talked about what they were going to eat, then ate, and then talked about what they just ate.

Outside the shuttle was so thick with fog that the men stopped looking out the window for distraction. Then suddenly a figure staggered out of the white backdrop.

It lifted its long neck and turned its flat, featureless face towards the shuttle. Its mouth puckered a few times and the smooth pale skin over its forehead moved a little. Then it stepped back into the fog.

“Did you see that?” shouted Bishop.

The two men talked about it for 5 hours. This was going to be first contact.

As the repairs to the ship completed the men ignored the petty distractions used to entertain themselves and speculated relentlessly about the upcoming encounter.

When they finally stepped from the shuttle the fog lifted. Far down the embankment from the landing was a series of marshes leading to larger body of water. More aliens waded along the muddy shoreline.

It was wrong, potentially interpreted as aggressive, but Bishop ran towards them.

He shouted and waved and smiled. The aliens were hunched over; digging through the mud, hauling out fleshy globish sea animals and dropping them into clothe bags. The never looked up once.

“Hello! Greetings! Salutations!” Bishop laughed and smiled at them. There was no acknowledgement.

Calvin ran up behind him and placed universal translators over their chests. Slowly it took in the conversation between the aliens.

They spoke with low, guttural tones like they had no tongues. The translator took in the grunts and pieced together words.

“If I cook this with a sour sauce it will be delicious” said one

“Hello, I am honoured to be the first of our species to meet?” announced Bishop in their language.

“I find the sour sauce does not keep long enough” said the other alien.

“We are from far away.” Bishop sounded anxious now.

“The sour sauce has to be very fresh.” The aliens would not acknowledge either visitor.
Bishop and Calvin checked the translator. Everything worked. They progressed up and down the beach. Every attempt to communicate was met with indifference.

The Aliens worked quietly and efficiently. They talked amongst themselves and the men moved freely within them and listened to the mundane conversations.

Bishop tried harder to draw their attention.

“Helloooo” he sang out and waved his hands back and forth before their eyes.

There was no response.

He grew more desperate and screamed into their faces. His mouth was so close to one that spittle sprayed on its grey skin.

“Wake up” he shouted.

He was frustrated now. He shoved it. It fell into the grimy bog then stood up and resumed fishing its hands in the mud.

“Calm down” pleaded Calvin. “Control yourself for God’s sake.”

Bishop’s face flushed with embarrassment.

They stood in a defeated silence while the aliens dug quietly in the water.

There was no first contact.

Eventually the creatures trundled to their raft and piled in their belongings.

Not knowing what else to do, Calvin and Bishop pulled themselves onto the raft as well.

Bishop stared out at the soundless horizon as they sailed. Around him the translator told him about the everyday events the aliens discussed.

“It’s like they are in a different world” he said

“Its like we are ghosts,” said Calvin “I think maybe we died in that crash.”

Bishop wanted to tell him he was insane but couldn’t.

The raft pulled to the shore of a village. Huts and long buildings were made from the bones of enormous animals.

Bishop and Calvin walked through the houses. They moved past families eating, parents and children arguing, intimate couples, and sales transactions on the street.

“Are we dead?’ asked Bishop.


They turned. An alien stood behind them.

“You don’t exist yet” it said“You have no names. Our society understands the power of language. It feels the weight of words. Too much trouble of has come from people saying one meaning while others understand a different meaning. This is especially true when new travellers arrive with new concepts and new beliefs. We must preserve the meaning of words. Nothing, not a person, not a thing, not an idea, can exist until someone in my role gives it a name and then we all agree on what that name means.”

“How do we get a name?” asked Bishop

“What do you call yourself?”

“Bishop. Calvin.” He gestured to himself and then his partner.

“Bishop and Calvin” it said

The street erupted with questions and shouting as everyone saw these new creatures amongst them.

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