MD Kerr

The Travellers

Excerpt from a short science fiction story, The Travellers, published in New Writing - The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing 4.1, 2007

"I first met the Farquah as a twenty-three year old college graduate, when the last thing I wanted was to learn another language, meet another species, come to terms with another world. I was feeling, more than anything else, displaced. I slid the shutter of my cabin up, stared glumly at the indigo sky, too tired to wish it any other colour, too tired to hate it or feel the thrill of novelty I’d felt on Earth, and slammed the shutter again.

I was born a mulatto on New Tokyo, when we were still under Earth rule. My mother was a local, and people said quietly that my father was a fool to marry her - much less reproduce with her - but fool or not, he was also the Team Statistician, so nobody dared question his judgement face to face. I wasn’t still born, although I had no twin, which every New Tokyan does. I was deformed, because I carried traits of both lineages - my father’s slanted eyes, black hair, and yellowish skin, and my mother’s flexible rubbery limbs, and elongated stature. By the time I arrived in college, some light-years later, the word had changed its meaning, just as my father said it would: by then it meant a species unable to survive. Fook knows what it meant now, as I lay in my cabin. But even that was an anachronism: no-one but a handful of fundamentalists believe in Fook, anymore. The whole religion was a linguistic mistake, I’m told, because the first colonists used to say “Fuck knows,” and the New Tokyo locals added omniscience to the properties of their god-complex. Not that I was ever that devout. My mother believed, but my father forewarned me to keep an open mind.
“It’ll make the future easier,” he said. He was right, of course. Statisticians are.

So there I was, a rubber-limbed, black-haired child in Lin, New Tokyo. I was the only mulatto in my class, but there were others in the younger years - where my father goes, others follow. Locals, humans (we don’t use that word now, but they did then - let it stand) and one little mulatto alike, we all learnt to recite Earth poems together, drew skyscrapers, and obediently coloured the sky in blue. I never thought that our tall, angular vegetation looked much like skyscrapers they showed us on the CD-Rom fly-through, and our phosphorescent flowers were a far cry from the neon lights of flashing adverts, but that’s how we got the name New Tokyo.

I spent my spare time hiding from my father and playing in the sauna-like air under our blood-red sky. (Blood-red… brick-red… hibiscus-red… none of these apply to all the worlds I’ve lived on; how can I describe the sky to you? The colour of my blood.) I nearly froze to death the first time I got to Earth. But we had this game on New Tokyo, of climbing to the top of a tree, two or three of us, and leaning till the weight bore the tree-trip down to earth. Then two would jump off, and the remaining child would soar aloft on the buoyant treetop. The local children let go at the top and flew gently into the air, completing the arc. The human children (exearthians, whatever) were strictly forbidden to do that: they had bones, which might break. I wasn’t sure what category I fell into, so I played it safe, and reached the ground again by sliding down the tree, careful not to damage the phosphorescent flowers. They were already an endangered species, then, though plentiful enough to us. They’re artificially grown under perspex in vast fields now; the glow can be seen for miles, and confuses the hell out of the insects who splat onto the transparent plastic. So now the insects are endangered…. Unless things have changed, which no doubt they have. I’ve only been on Farquah a few months, and haven’t updated on everything yet. Sometimes, I’m tempted not to bother: I’ll only have to update again after my next trip, so I could do the whole lot in one go then. But they say you should update after every trip, otherwise it’s “incommensurably difficult to reintegrate”. Typical Earthspeak, all long words. In college, we learnt that long words are “less susceptible to semantic alteration and therefore more reliable” - I reckon no-one understands them in the first place. Still, as you might have gathered, words are something of a problem for those of us who travel..."

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