The following has been taken from Envoy- Acceleration. © Laura Ridyr 2013
May 4th, 2033—:45 pm
Saunint City: South of Geneva, Switzerland
A man appears in the middle of the cobbled street in front of her. He’s blue, scale covered and feather crowned, with the ozone reek of space travel clinging to his uniform. She halts; he recoils. She lunges for his hand, and he freezes in her grasp, scales stretched across tightened muscles smooth against her palm. He eyes her warily.
“I don’t know you,” he says.
December 21st, 2008—11:15 pm
The McPherson Residence
Kiowa, Colorado, United States of America, Planet Earth
Grey leans against the porch rail in below-freezing weather, watching her breath turn to fog in front of her. The makeup doing its best to work its way out of her lashes and onto her eyeball is a leftover from the city capitol Christmas party—adornment she hadn’t felt like putting on for a holiday she doesn’t celebrate with coworkers from a job she doesn’t like. The obnoxiously purple mitten she wipes it away with is more her speed for this time of year. She’d fished it out of the pocket of the jacket she always keeps by the door for the midnight walks she always takes in hopes they will lure her to sleep. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. She’s happy if she sleeps sixteen hours for every thirty-six she tries. Hoping tonight will not be one of those, she shoves herself away from the porch rail to the hissing tune of scattering snow and begins to walk.
There is a ravine that runs behind her house, and by the time she trips into it her jeans are soaked almost to the knee, rendering them useless against the cold. She wasn’t exactly patient about leaving the house, or about changing out of the ridiculous—if impressive—sausage casing of a dress she’d been wearing before. Taller boots, for one thing, might have been in order. Too late now.
She slides and scrambles her way into the streambed where the snow is deepest but at its most compact, and picks her way without purpose along the avenue of the ravine, dominated by dormant trees and spidery, scraggly scrub oak as naked as old bones. She pauses to look up at the stars peeking out between the taller branches, at Orion sinking towards the horizon and the murkier darkness to the west where the mountains block out even the stars. She studies the inkier black against the existent dark and fiddles with the zipper on her coat with mitten-clumbsied hands. The sound is loud in the stillness. The wind-resistant, plastic fabric sounds like a scratching record where the zipper pull strikes it. She scratches out an absent melody while she stares into stars she doesn’t usually dwell on. Her song is interrupted by a sound. A long hiss and a snapping branch, the breaking of packed snow, the whisper of fabric, and a word. Or something like one, anyway. It sounds closer to a bird call than a voice.
Grey turns around fast enough to lose her footing.
Stumbling back to an upright position, the thin springy layer of hair she calls bangs bouncing into her eye as she recovers, she searches for the source of the sound. At first she sees nothing but a dark shape along one slope of the ravine, hidden among the trees, but then the shape drags itself from among the branches and steps into the open in one long stride, landing neatly—almost too neatly, as if it’s picking its way around the deeper snow—a blue scaled foot clad in a shapeless, leathery, ankle high boot.
The thing is scaly everywhere it isn’t clothed, and would probably be blue in full daylight. The crown of nearly flattened feathers on its head, and on its arms, might be brown—which might match its slit-pupil, squarish eyes. It has tear ducts like a cheetah, long and pointed to match the outer corners of the eyes, the sharp cheekbones, the bony ridges of brown and sharp talons on the ends of each of its three long fingers and short thumb. It’s a sharp, flattish face, and scaly. And roughly humanoid.
Grey can’t do anything but stare.
For a brief, silent moment of mutual staring, nothing happens. It takes the adrenaline that long to reach the rest of her body. Then she swears. Then she runs.
She doesn’t turn around to do so; rather, she stumbles backwards until she impacts the grabbing branches of the nearest scrub oak with a yelp. Cornered, but too afraid of the creature to look away from it, she gropes at what’s behind her, searching for an edge to the plant. She finds none, but a long, jagged, dead branch comes away in her hand. She holds it out in front of her, pointy end first. She’s sure she’s gotten that right if nothing else in this suddenly backwards world: the pointy part goes first.
The creature’s eyes narrow and it releases a quick rush of air through its nose. She wonders if it is smelling her, and if so, what it eats. And for that matter, what it is. It certainly doesn’t belong here; though it seems to want to be here. She can tell because it has an expression. A genuine, intelligent expression, albeit one she can barely see in the dark. It has an expression and for some reason she cannot possibly fathom it looks . . . wary of her. And, more senseless still, irritated.
Good job, McPherson, you pissed it off. You pissed it—it—
“Crap,” she squeaks aloud. She tightens her grip on her weapon. Stick. Pointy thing.
She wishes she hadn’t. When she speaks, its expression changes. Though its nose is flat compared to a human’s, with no bridge to speak of, it crinkles a little under its blue armor and she can see the flare of its slit nostrils. She finds the fear of it eating her immediately subverted by the exponentially greater fear that it might actually speak.
No no no no, she thinks. Even her internal monologue starts and stops and sputters as she tries to string a coherent thought together: No no no, don’t talk, if it talks that means it’s probably real, don’t talk—
But it is real, and it does.
“Are you Grey McPherson?” it says. He says. The creature’s voice is distinctly masculine by human standards; a resonant tenor register and an accent that twists her name into a bouncing, vowel-heavy thing. He flips the R in Grey.
Grey squeaks again in reply, jumps when it—he—shifts his weight, and moves her stick into a position like a batter waiting for the pitch. Its eyes narrow to slits like gashes in the shadows of its bone-brows, while the pupils hiding behind the lids dilate to something more like circles.
Do something. Do something do something do something come on McPherson you want to talk for a living, say SOMETHING . . .
It lifts a foot to step towards her, and something finds its way out of her mouth with a hurried, shrieking vengeance.
“Stop right there,” she commands, although the way her voice is shaking between hyperventilated gasps and falsetto probably detracts somewhat from the force of her words. The creature tilts its head towards its shoulder and stares at her. “Not one more step. Do you understand me?”
The creature looks down his serpent’s nose at her, and places its foot back in the snow. She hopes its patience stems from understanding, and not the carnal desire to gore her at a more opportune moment. She repeats herself to be sure.
“Do you understand me?”
“I understand,” it snaps. It—he, she’s reminded again by the voice—almost hisses when he speaks, and his leaping intonation seems punctuated with unintentional spacing. It reminds her for an instant of an accent she’s heard before from a Nigerian professor who’d taught one of a multitude of undergraduate comparative politics courses, and for a moment bitter hope bursts in her head.
I am hallucinating.
Why would a giant bird-lizard-monster-man speak English with an African accent? Why would a bird-lizard-monster speak English at all? He does, however, and seems intent on demonstrating that fact. Accent exacerbated by the longer sentence and what she suspects—blanching at the prospect—is mounting irritation, he speaks again.
“You did not answer my question.”
He hisses the “S” in “answer” and bites down hard on the word “question” as if intent on forcing it out from between his teeth. This is not what Grey had hoped for. Though she’s never hallucinated before, she imagines that the average fantasy wouldn’t be quite so hard to work with, and that it would get easier to speak to as the minutes ticked by, rather than becoming more sophisticated. She feels for a moment as if her heart has stopped, her blood turned to sludge, like the Earth has moved out from under her. True panic, she thinks, feels a bit like dying. Which she will be doing shortly if she doesn’t stop holding her breath.
Obediently, her heart resumes its ticking, her mind fizzling to silence. Her mouth is less cooperative.
“What question?” she snaps at the creature, and finds it surprisingly easy to discern that he is incensed by this comment. Oh, good. I’ll understand him when he eats me.
“Are you,” it hisses, literally through its teeth this time so that she barely understands it, “Grey McPherson?”
She doesn’t dare ask yet why he wants to know. Or how he knows.
“Good,” it snaps. Hope blooms in her chest again: she has lost her mind. What real paranormal creature would be so unassumingly blunt? Grey stares at it for the duration of several horribly dragging seconds until, slowly and without much functionality left for any other response, she is able to shake her head at him. He replies by dipping his temple towards his shoulder.
Is that attention? That’s attention, McPherson, grab it and run with it.
“Who wants to know?” she blurts. He inclines his head a little further before answering with a selection of words so mundane that they tear a hole in her perception of the universe.
“My name,” he says, “is Seneca.”
The human is panicking.
Why he expected anything else he doesn’t know, and what he’s going to do about it is just as much a mystery. The older version of her he’d met was calm, was wiser, and had left him with the impression of knowing. This younger Grey is stunned and frantic and confused. Bright eyed and sharp tongued and resilient enough to have made it this far without fainting, but difficult. Naïve.
The older one should have told him what to say while she was at it. Unhelpful creature, he concludes.
The thought is interrupted by the human attempting to stab him with the stick she has been clutching for the last seven minutes.
© Laura Ridyr 2013