Day 31. 98 pages, 47,037 words.
Once tempers were settled and displeasures soothed, the little brotherhood of the secret junk-filled warehouse returned to amicability and even managed to chuckle a bit more at the whole regrettable incident. Superstition, Adithol Wren said, was a powerful force on Earth.
He seemed neither embarrassed nor particularly proud of this fact – he might as well have been saying that nitrogen was a dominant gas in the Earth’s atmosphere.
“To us, this is more than just a curse,” he explained. “More than the […], the word unforgivable. It has a meaning and a life. It is a thing of bygone days. And the Þurs have e’er lived it more […] than we ourselves, with our fleeting and […] paltry existence on this good Earth.”
It became clear to Massington, as he numbly ate a third sumptuous golden whatever-cake and nodded and listened earnestly, that even before he’d innocently said “giela”, he’d been wrong-footed with this whole shambolic contact scenario. Which was hardly his fault – he wasn’t trained for this. Still, he was here. And he had started out with a devastatingly erroneous misassumption.
He’d assumed that because the Ogres were comically brutish and rough-spoken, and the humans were just a small step removed from howling and throwing faeces in the treetops, that there was nothing familiar in the two species at all. That both were so very different, so alien, so disconnected from anything in his life experience, there could be no useful unifying traits in either native life-form. And therefore that nothing in his cultural toolbox could possibly be compatible, or applicable.
But there was an important connection. In their own way, the Ogres were at least as revered by the humans as the aki’Drednanth were by the Molren. Yes, the overwhelming majority of human beings had no idea the Ogres existed, but those who did know about them considered them mighty beyond their mere physical strength, and beyond their strange theoretical immortality. And part of that regard lingered in the human cultural consciousness, even if they thought the Ogres themselves were nothing but a children’s tale.
The Þurs had endured on this strange, hostile, impossible world for untold centuries, and they had fought for the lives and the futures of their little human friends in wars that not even the custodians of the warehouse fully remembered anymore. They had saved the world, time and again. Perhaps more than the world.
Big Thundering Bjørn, Fat Tuesday, and their long-gone fellow Ogres had stood, tusks bared and horns lowered, against the Gods Themselves.
Massington wasn’t sure what that meant, exactly, whether it was a cultural shorthand or just pure hyperbolic myth, but he knew it was more than just a story. It was more than his life in the Fleet had prepared him to understand at short notice. And the humans believed it, with exactly the same bright-eyed and unquestioning veneration as the Molren, Blaren and Bonshooni believed the aki’Drednanth had saved the Fleet from the Cancer in the Core.
This wasn’t to say he was sceptical concerning the historical accounts of the aki’Drednanth and Fergunak uprising, led by Mogn Haal and the other great aki’Drednanth rebels. He didn’t question the tale of their defection from the Cancer and their destruction of the Damorakind force that had threatened to annihilate the then-Twin Species. On the contrary, he knew that those stories, while doubtless exaggerated by generation after grateful generation of Molranoids, held a significant kernel of truth. It was, despite the damage and wholesale death that had preceded and followed the last Damorakind wave and the Fleet’s escape, a matter of recorded fact.
And so it was with the Ogres.
The Fleet had arrived here absolutely unprepared for what they’d found, and now that they were here there was no going back. They had gasped their last, and now they had to live with whatever this world, this … this place, deigned to share with them. And while he was arguably meeting with a tiny and obscure subculture here, Massington had a strange feeling that what was within this warehouse – living and otherwise – would prove to be of crucial importance to the future of the Five Species.
He remembered what Mer had told him about the Ogres, how their long lives and regeneration came at the cost of expressiveness and memory. They might never be able to tell him for certain what had happened in the mists of their youth. But who was Massington Karturi to say, with his seventeen years of crawling through the starless void and talking with the machine mind that was his only friend, what constituted history?
Fat Tuesday and Big Thundering Bjørn were history. Embodied. In all its battered, bewildered, unspeakably violent glory.
“What are you thinking, Massington?” Truck asked quietly.
That you can be the one to say ‘Damorakind’ to them, he thought.
“I’m thinking,” he said, “that Big Thundering Bjørn and Fat Tuesday should meet the rest of the aki’Drednanth. And that Adithol, Boriel and Katter should see their world from the window of one of ours.”