2017-08-01 14:00 fiction return-to-ebyx short-story

Return To Ebyx: Ila

Ila nudged the TokTok, throwing her thumb to the side, and pointing. The TokTok smoothly and slowly grabbed the ends of both sinews and began to stitch them together. Its face crinkled with concentration.

The four arms of the TokTok began to move more quickly. She'd noticed since they'd been on the surface that TokTok appeared to work faster. She wondered if it was the higher temperature. They didn't seem bothered by it, unlike the Pilgrims. She found the heat was oppressive. It was deeply affecting all of them. They'd become confrontational. Tempers flared. A few of them had even voiced opinions about going back up to the ship. Which was ridiculous. However, they'd all voiced concern about the site itself. Why not at the poles? It would be cooler. True, they wouldn't have the better light to grow with, but it was cooler... She'd gotten dizzy again, the TokTok was holding her up, she must've fainted.

"Kik? Kik?" The TokTok said in a rasp, almost a click. She pulled herself up, moved carefully over to the soft-bucket and splashed water on her face. "Ugh yes thanks... This isn't the first time the heat has gotten to me..." As the water dripped away and she got her bearings and suppressed the lingering dizziness, she quite clearly heard the TokTok behind her say "I'm sorry".

She straightened and turned to look. The TokTok had gone back to work. As the dizziness ebbed she struggled to understand. TokTok didn't speak this way. They had no expression for "I". And the voice, it was perfectly clear, no rasp, no clicks. And as she considered these things she'd realized she hadn't heard it at all, that it just appeared in her head. There was no other way to put it.

This wasn't something she could easily dismiss. The more she thought about it the more certain she was that it actually had happened.

They'd never known the history of the TokTok before they arrived. Maybe they'd always lived in small nomadic groups, no one knew. They built simple but beautiful structures for themselves from common materials, like birds do. They kept no tools, they did not adorn themselves, they had no technology, they had no written language.

It was said that soon after people arrived on Aok the TokTok began living near them, evidently curious about people. Over time they became domesticated and lived in special areas in the village and sometimes in people's homes. But they weren't pets. They were fascinated by people. As people worked, they mimicked them, eventually doing work themselves. They would accompany people on journeys. They would watch over property and supplies, protecting them from scavengers or intruders. They were loyal, helpful and soon became a common sight. Domesticated TokTok, a name given them because of the repetitive clicks they would make when happy or excited, understood basic words and concepts and were remarkably perceptive of body language and moods of their human companions.

Ownership did not quite describe the relationship, the people and their TokTok lived together, and while there were occasional incidents of cruelty and abuse, it was forbidden by law and strictly punished. And there had never been a case of TokTok attacking anyone.

The next few hours as they worked she thought about what had happened. She cycled between believing she'd imagined the entire thing, to believing the TokTok had put the words in her head.

When she'd turned and looked at him, his eyes widened slightly, nose flared -- a frequent look that they'd all come to interpret as a smile.

The only thing that had been unusual, and she was not the only Pilgrim to have noticed this, that in the new climate TokTok seemed more fluid, their movements seemingly freer, as if weight had been removed even though the gravity here was almost identical. They also chattered more frequently, making that "kik kik kik" sound.

They walked back to the village, winding through the alternatingly thick then sparse jungle. She hummed to herself meditatively. The TokTok picked up on it and hummed along too. This was something she'd seen him do before, in a pleasant lower register, approximating her cadences the way a child might, not mocking her, but enthusiastically.

It occurred to her as a matter of interest, as a test, to make the rambling hummed tune more structured and more complex. She remembered an old composition, one she'd sung as a child, but fairly uncommon, one she was pretty certain the TokTok had never heard. She quickened the pace walking and the song too. The TokTok kept up with her. He accurately reflected the subtle changes. How was this possible? Then, without warning, she stopped, suddenly, and in mid-note. Although in her mind she continued singing.

The TokTok continued to sing, a song he'd never heard, and he sung it exactly as it was in her head.

She wondered how long TokTok had been able to read their minds. Maybe since the beginning, but only now, here, in this new climate had it become obvious. Given their propensity for understanding their human companions she suspected they always had been able to do this... to some degree at least.

But what had changed? Why was she the first to notice? If it was the climate, then why? She would have to be careful how she presented this to the others. Of course -- she looked ahead at the back of the TokTok walking in front of her -- if it were really true, he would already know she knew.

As she thought this the TokTok turned his head back, ears perking a little, smiling at her, and distinctly like before, she heard words directly in her mind that she knew were from him, "It's OK, we will still love you."