Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Interrogatory Sentence

One of the science fiction stories from The Claw and the Eye:

The cafeteria was huge and crowded. There must have been thousands of Chuzekks there. Most were in uniform but some, both male and female, wore dresses or shirts and pants. Jade saw two or three pair of blue jeans. The guards took her to the door but didn't follow her inside. The food-dispensing pillars were easy to spot and she began to make her way through the crowd and over the uneven floor to the nearest one.

One of the uniformed Chuzekks grabbed her bicep. “Gashh,” he hissed, glaring at her tauntingly, and let go. Several times she felt hands stroking her head or claws playing with her curls, and she didn't object. She was, after all, apparently the only one there with hair.
When she got to the food dispenser, a uniformed soldier was just leaving it with his tray of food. When he saw her, he balanced his tray on one hand and grabbed his Personal Device. He spoke to it and the Device responded, “Do you know that it serves Earth food?”
His companion, who was female and also wore a uniform, spoke into her own Personal Device, and it said, “He's talking to you, Human.” The Chuzekks themselves always sounded congested when they spoke English, because they couldn't say their M's or their N's. But the Personal Devices had no impediment: they spoke with a perfect Cleveland accent.
“Thank you,” Jade answered politely, and both Personal Devices translated in unison.
“I'm Lidd and this is Vaikk,” said the female through her Personal Device, and extended her hand.
Jade shook it.
“That's not how you should greet,” Lidd responded, and Vaikk said, “We'll show you how to greet, at the table, if you will eat with us. Will you eat with us?”
“Thanks,” said Jade. “But how do I order food? Do I just talk to the thing?”
“Yes,” Vaikk answered, then said to the pillar, “Show me the earth food selection.”
The dispenser responded before the translation came. On the side of the pillar appeared a series of pictures of dishes, labeled in Chuzekk and in English.

“New England clam chowder!” Jade exclaimed, very surprised to see such a regional dish on the menu. The Chuzekks didn't really have a presence in New England, as far as she knew.
The chowder came out of an opening that looked something like a small oven. It was on a tray with coffee and juice, a set of ordinary silverware and an ordinary napkin. It smelled good.
There were no chairs around the table, only hard metal contraptions for kneeling in. She set her tray on the small orange table and knelt, ready for her knees to hurt. But the uniform-boots they'd made her wear were thickly padded in the front, and shaped just for this purpose, and she found the position very comfortable. She adjusted the back of the contraption and settled back on it.
“How to greet,” said Lidd through her Personal Device. She and Vaikk were both still standing, and after checking to be sure Jade was looking, each grasped the other's right upper arm with the right hand.

So that was why people kept feeling her right bicep: they were trying to shake hands. Jade stood and grasped Lidd's arm, and Lidd grasped hers.
She turned to Vaikk to do the same with him, but Lidd gently took Jade's wrist and said, “First, tell us your name.”
“Oh, sorry,” she said. “It's Jade.”
“Jade,” Lidd repeated. “You have a Chuzekk nickname, then.”
“No, that's really my name.”
“We're lucky then,” said Vaikk, kneeling. “Most human names are hard to say. Yours sounds just like a Chuzekk name.”
“When we greet,” said Lidd, “we are not silent. We say each other's names. Or if the person you are greeting outranks you, you should say his or her rank.”
“But only if you mean it,” said Vaikk. “Never say it if you don't mean it.”
Jade settled onto her knees and realized eating would be awkward since the table was so high. “I don't understand,” she said. “Only if I mean what?” The chowder tasted like it had come straight from a Boston diner.
“When you say a person's rank in this way,” Vaikk answered, “you recognize his or her authority over you.”
“So it's a gesture of respect,” said Jade, to confirm that she understood.
“It's more than that,” Lidd answered. “It's a promise to obey.”
“How do I know what rank someone is?”
“You can ask,” said Vaikk. “The most common rank is Chijj, and the insignia looks like this.” He pointed to his own chest. It bore the claw-and-eye symbol and another symbol that reminded Jade of a necklace. She looked at Lidd's uniform and it matched Vaikk's.
“So when I greet you two, I should say, 'Chijj'?”
They had all been kneeling, eating, and Jade stood again and extended her hand to Lidd. Lidd stood and they practiced the greeting.

“Chijj,” said Jade, grasping Lidd’s right bicep, or at least as much of it as she could manage.
“Jade,” said Lidd returning the gesture.
Vaikk stood and they grasped arms.

“Chijj,” said Jade.
“Jade,” said Vaikk.
They knelt again.
“So where are we?” Jade asked. “I mean what is this? Is it a ship? Are we going somewhere?”
“We're going in circles,” answered Vaikk, between bites of something that looked remotely like a thick spaghetti sauce. “This is a Kivv-ship and we are in Earth orbit.”
Jade wasn't sure whether that was a joke or not. “What's a Kivv-ship?” she asked.
Neither Chuzekk responded to this immediately. The two consulted each other and their Personal Devices for a minute before Vaikk's said, “mothership.”
“Buthership,” Lidd repeated, then she continued through her Personal Device, “It's like a city in space. Everyone on this ship reports to the Kivv, so it's called a Kivv-ship.”
“How many people are there on this ship?” asked Jade.
“The actual number varies,” Vaikk answered, “because not all the Kivv's staff is on the ship. Sometimes our jobs take us to the surface, or to other ships. But a Kivv is responsible for 22,620.”
“Wow,” said Jade. “That’s a lot of people for one ship.”
“Maybe,” Lidd suggested, “you’re thinking of the smaller ships, the ships that travel.”
“This ship doesn’t travel?” Jade asked. She wanted to say, ‘then how did it get here? It couldn’t have been built here,’ but she didn’t want to sound disrespectful—not yet, at least. She needed to get her bearings first, and come up with a plan.
“Of course it travels,” Lidd replied, “but it doesn’t travel much. It’s like a city, not a vehicle. The Kivv takes it to the place it needs to be, and then it stays there until the mission is over.”
“Oh, that makes sense.” She was glad she’d kept her mouth shut: she would have sounded stupid, or worse. “The symbol on my uniform,” she said. “Sorry to change the subject, but I don't see anyone else with this. Lots of Chijjes, though.”
“It means that you're a prisoner,” said Lidd, still speaking Chuzekk and letting her Personal Device translate. “In Chuzekk, the word is 'prisoner.'” When she heard the translation, she slapped the device as though it were a naughty child. “Gashh,” she said, slowly and clearly, and her Personal Device said, slowly and clearly, “Pris-on-er.”
When she had said goodbye to Lidd and Vaikk and made her way out of the cafeteria, the guards met her at the door. She reached for Koll's bicep and Koll returned the gesture.
“Chijj,” she said solemnly.
Koll’s response was polite and easy. “Jade.”
She repeated the process with the other guard, and they all began to walk through the hallways with their strange floors, back to Jade's room. It wasn’t quite like they had installed extra features in the floor—features like mounds and dips, ramps and steps. It was more like the floor had never been flat, had never been intended to be flat. Walking in the Kivv-ship felt a little like walking on Earth, outdoors in a wild place. Jade would have expected to trip at least occasionally, but she didn’t. It must have helped that the floor’s color varied along with the terrain, so it was easy to see its contours.
“I have a question,” said Jade after a minute, “that I don't know if you can answer.” Koll said nothing but appeared to be listening, so Jade continued, gaining confidence, “Why am I here? Why was I captured? What's going to happen to me?”
Koll grabbed her Personal Device. “Repeat, please,” she said.
Jade said it again, and Koll's Personal Device translated.
“Three questions,” Koll said. “Why was you captured? I don't know. Probably somebody ordered. Usually Zidds do order the captures. Usually a prisoner knows--”
“What are Zidds?” Jade interrupted.
“Zidd is a rank.” Koll explained. “Zidds are few. You must give much respect to Zidd.” Then she continued, “Usually a prisoner knows the reason for the capture. Often, prisoners lie to say 'I don't know,' but only very few prisoners truly don't know why. I cannot know which is you. But if really you don't know, then probably is an error and you will go home soon.”
“I met a Chuzekk before the war,” suggested Jade nervously. “It could have something to do with that.” Koll stopped walking and looked intently at Jade. “Zukk Gevv?” she asked.
“He said his name was Zukk,” Jade answered apprehensively. “I think he was a Zidd.”
Koll said something in Chuzekk to the other guard, and he reacted with obvious interest. He took out his Personal Device and set it to translate.
“I just tell him that you is the human who sees Zukk Gevv on Earth. Everybody knows the story. Nobody knows is you. But I don't know if this why you was captured.”
“I'm concerned,” said Jade, even though 'petrified' would have been a more accurate word, “that they may think I have some kind of secret. But I'm not in the military. I don't know anything, except what I see on TV.”
“I think you should not worry,” Koll reassured her. “Zukk's pod failed because...” She consulted her Personal Device for the correct word. “...fabrication error. He fixed the pod because he is very smart. He used resources he had. He had you. He used you. This not makes you look like a spy, see? If you really don't know why you is here, probably is an error and you go home soon.”
“Thanks,” said Jade, relieved.
“Thanks for what?”
“I feel much better now.”
“I say what I think only.”
“Well, thanks for saying what you think, then.”
They walked the rest of the way in silence, and when they got to the painted shape that was Jade's door, Koll grabbed her Personal Device and said, “I will report that you is here now.” She held it to her face like a human with a cellphone, and had a conversation in Chuzekk. Jade thought she looked surprised.

She put the Device back on her hip and looked at Jade intently. A sly, sneering smile spread over her face. “You did lie, Jade Massilon,” she stated, her voice a mix of amusement and triumph.
“About what?” Jade asked, confused.
“Chegg Jeigg did order you captured.”
“Who's that?”
“Chegg Jeigg is our Kivv. He is commander. Very big. He was very expert interrogator. Still now, very expert interrogator.”
“The CO of this ship ordered me captured?”
“C-O” Koll said to her Personal Device. The translation was long, and she shut it off. Then she looked back at Jade and demanded, “What is CO?”
“Commanding Officer. The highest-ranking officer, basically.”
“Yes,” Koll answered simply, then repeated, “You did lie.”
Jade’s heart was pounding. “Lied about what?” she asked.
“You did say you not know why you is here.”
“I don’t.”
Koll’s smile freshened. Her face said, “You don’t fool me.”
Jade switched tactics. “So what happens now?” she asked.
Koll just looked at her. The other soldier shifted impatiently and looked at Jade’s door.
“What will happen?” Jade corrected. “The Kid gave the order for me to be captured; you think I’m—“
“Kivv,” Koll interrupted.
“Kivv, sorry. The Kivv gave the order to capture me, you think I’m lying. What happens next?”
“Next, you sleep,” the soldier answered, “and tomorrow you go to Kivv for he interrogate you.”
Jade couldn’t help feeling that she had just been handed a horrific sentence without being allowed a trial, without even being allowed to know what the charges were. “The Kivv…is going to be my interrogator?” she asked weakly. She swallowed hard, trying to calm her stomach.
“Yes.” Koll wore a broad, sneering, cold grin that spoke of victory. Jade looked at the other soldier and he wore it, too.
“Why?” said Jade. It was almost a whisper.
“Because you is big spy.”

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