Written for the Other Worlds contest
Before she was Roa, Queen of Brood Tak, she was Takro, Foundling of Brood Lok.
Before she was Takroa, First Mate of starship Sailing Shadow, she was Takro, hunter-gatherer for Brood Lok and their accursed swamp.
Before she was Takroa, Ambassador to Mankind, she was Takro, the herbal and healer.
But all of this was on the planet Parvane, long before the humans came.
The traditional opening to the oral history of Tak Ro A.
Excerpt taken from Tarnic and Takroa: Parvane’s Unlikely Inter-Species Alliance.
Takro was patrolling the eastern banks when the man-star fell.
Balanced in the fork of a goragora tree, her thick hind legs and one mid-leg gripping the trunk, she leaned out, a blowpipe clutched in the other mid-leg. She brushed the leaves apart, softly so as not to reveal her position to the troupe of simians in the tree opposite. No wind. Her tongue darted out in satisfaction and she fought the temptation to lick her drying eyes. No, the movement might spook the simians and she would have climbed all the way into the canopy for nothing.
Slitted amber eyes never leaving the troupe, Takro shuffled the blowpipe up from mid-leg to fore-leg, loaded a dart, and raised the pipe to her snout. She had selected her mark, the solemn looking male with the sorrowful eyes and tawny fur. Those haunches had enough meat to see her through two meals and the pelt should trade well when she returned to the brood.
She sucked in air through her gills - quieter and more effective for this than her nostrils - and blew out the dart.
And at the same moment, every single lookout in the troupe threw back its head and screamed. Takro’s target dropped to all sixes and swung upside down under the branch and disappeared - along with the entire troupe - into the canopy, the dart harmlessly embedded in the trunk above.
Takro hissed. That shot had been almost perfect! Even if it hadn’t stuck the tawny simian in the chest, it should have got its shoulder or belly. Enough to allow Takro to retrieve it from the jungle floor when she’d navigated her way back down the goragora tree.
And she’d been certain the simians hadn’t spotted her.
Coiling back into the tree, she re-holstered her blowpipe, narrow tongue flickering in displease. Meat would have to come from somewhere else.
At the base of the goragora, she dropped into the gloopy swamp mud, letting the soupy air wet her eyes and scales. Satisfied that blowpipe and darts were secured back in their places on her many belts, she trotted into the undergrowth. With so little light trickling down to the jungle floor, it was tempting to rely solely mindsense, but a good hunter used all her senses; so Takro slid back her second lids and contracted her eyes to full circles, and tasted the air around her.
For a while she made do with foraging; bosa, and sharproot, whistle-leaf, and bila. Snapping off vines, pinching out new growth, pulling up tangles of root balls, Takro filled several pouches, all the while watching for prey. Avians flitted about, but their leathery wings were impervious to darts and their bodies too gritty and small. Not worth the effort. I should find more simians or a bellyslinker.
Her stomach gurgled in hunger and she trashed her tail into the mud in frustration. Dropping to all sixes, she gave up foraging and slipped through the heavy undergrowth with an undulating ease. Pausing only to orient herself now and again along the planet’s magnetic paths, she followed the unseen sun further away from the eastern banks and deeper into the jungle.
Something is wrong; the jungle is so very quiet. By dusk Takro conceided that something other than herself had spooked the simian troupe. Where there should have been other troupes of all types - short-snouts, two-tails, black-jowled, blue-jowled, striated- and regular-bellied simians - only a solitary wide-eyes stumbled across Takro’s path. Propelling herself upright, she snatched it out of midair with a bone shattering snap of her crocodilian jaws. The wide-eyes’ spindly arms and matted tail hung from her snout momentarily before she jerked her head back and swallowed the unfortunate simian whole. She puffed her gills in distaste; well that was hardly a meal. Where are they all?
Resigned to a hunger-filled night, she shinned up a bila tree and sprawled out on its lower branches. The bark felt pleasantly rough and she scraped off a few old scales from her throat, aware that a full body shed was probably only a few moons away.
Skimming her belts off, Takro rolled over and let the bila bark scratch where her belts had rubbed. The canopy was always thinner over bila trees, the enormous branches that made such comfortable beds also elbowed out other plant life and Takro could actually see the night sky from where she lay. Little Sister moon wouldn’t have risen yet and Elder Brother moon would not show himself this cycle - perhaps if she climbed higher, she could even see the stars tonight?
Galvanised by the thought, Takro flipped over and began pulling herself further up the main trunk.
Mists bathed the jungle, burying smaller trees and muffling the calls of night avians. Overhead, the sky was littered with bright glowing eyes of the ancestors. Nestling into a deep V, Takro gazed around with unalloyed delight. Reaching out with a fore-leg, she traced the stars - murmuring each constellation with her mindsense. Soa of Vo, Meha of Q, Jua of Vo, Dre of Lok, Mi of Lok, Gia of Lok. Craning her neck southward, she sought she own ancestors, but they had yet to rise. Perhaps she would awaken early seek them out before sunrise. It would be nice to actually see them the next time she prayed. She bobbed her head in respect to the Lok elders above and stretched her left hind-leg down the trunk ready to descend, but her attention was caught by a falling star on the north-east horizon.
The priests, both Lok and Tak in agreement for once, taught that the return of an ancestor marked change in the world.
Takro tilted her head and pondered; and what changes do you bring, Great One?
When she awoke the following morning, the falling star had disappeared, but a pillar of tarry black smoke spiraled up from the Karshi Swamp, less than a three-day journey away. The Great One had arrived.
Aboard the Shadowsail, Solma kicked his bunk in irritation.
“Seriously, boss, the sooner we get off this damn clunk-a-junk the better.” He threw himself backwards and traced a crack in the ceiling with a thick finger. Dangling his leg over the side, Solma continued to beat a frustrated tattoo against the cot post.
Tarnic pushed Solma’s foot aside and climbed out of the lower bunk.
“Twelve more days, Sol. Minimum. Deal with it.”
“Easy for you to say, boss. You like it quiet.” Solma tossed, making the steel bunk rattle. He tried plumping his thin pillow. Gave up. Threw it to the floor in disgust. “How you spacers put up with such pathetic quarters, I’ll never know. Me, I like to feel dirt under me feet. Ship grav just ain’t right.”
“Want me to gag him, boss?” The springs in the opposite bunk creaked as Dan Brecca rolled over and looked at Tarnic through half-closed eyes. “I could always heave him outta the air-lock.”
“Bring it on, big guy. Way I feel, even a quick tumble in the Dark would liven things up.” His voice brighten; “hey, how’s about hitting me - send me down to the med-unit? That pretty little red-head ain’t got much to do…”
“Sure; I’ll hit you -”
“Solma! Brecca. Can it. Both of you. You wanna talk, go do it in the mess. You wanna fight, go do it in the mess. You wanna do anything but be quiet, you go do it. In. The. Mess.” Tarnic stretched. Dammit, next time we go galaxy-cruiser. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide. And no way to stop Solma talking! He stifled a groan; eighty-three days into a projected ninety-five day flight. However you looked at it, Parvane was one distant planet. And hell knew what was out there; a three year posting on an outer planet. Joy. Solma’ll go crazy. And probably drive me there first.
“Sure thing, boss. Me an’ Brecca’ll shut up. Won’t we, Brec? Cos, y’know, you’re the boss, boss.”
“Stop. Talking. To. Me.” Tarnic dove under his pillow, his infuriated snarl only half-pantomimed. In the cot next to him, Brecca chuckled softly.
“Damn ship is too small,” Becca commented. He spooned another mouthful of cereal. Chomping absently, he scanned the tiny mess.
“Well thanks for stating the obvious, sergeant.” Tarnic swirled his mug, his eyes following the tea. “Sorry, Dan. You’re right; it's not good being cooped this long. Be good to make planet-fall. Getting bleddy claustrophobic, me.”
“Y’mean nervous.” Brecca corrected. He waved his spoon at Tarnic, trailing a splash of milk reconstruct. “Scared shit, if you’ve any brains. No, don’t look at me like that Tametri Tarnic. I know when you’re panicked.” He leaned closer and Tarnic caught the sweet milk smell on Brecca’s breath. “We’ve known each other too long to feckin’ dance, sir. Even Solma’s worrying about you. Bleddy gorilla’s talking to anything that moves. And half the things that ain’t. Driving me nuts.” The spoon stabbed at Tarnic. “You’re folding up inside your own head, Tam. Don’t do that to me. Three years; that’s all we gotta get through and then hoola-hoola we off rotation. Go back home for a spell.”
“An’ do it all again t’morrow…?”
“All that bureaucratic and paperwork shit aside, you’ll manage just fine, Tam.” Brecca gave a lazy half-smile and shrugged; “you always do.”
“Boss sure bein’ quiet last few days. Not his usual quiet. Different sorta quiet. Terse. Lah-con-ic even.” Solma stretched his already thick accent into a molasses rich drawl. He kept his voice low as though Tarnic could hear him from the wash unit.
“You sure gotta way with words, Sol.” Brecca laced his fingers under his head and stared up at the bunk above. “We make planet-fall, we watch him, ‘kay? Don’t want a repeat of Vearon.”
The movement in his periphery vision showed Solma nodding slowing.
“Damn straight. Little git nearly got sent down for that episode. No worries, Sarge. I ain’t about to replace either of you for some jumped-up iron-pressed uniform. We’re an outfit.”
Brecca closed his eyes and exhaled slowly.
“If that was some attempt at a pun, Trooper Solma, I will hit you.”
Two doors down, in the wash unit, Tarnic stared into the cabin mirror.
A tired, sallow-faced man stared back; high cheekbones and pinched in jaw. Cropped black hair and deep-set mahogany eyes with lines beginning to crinkle out. A papery yellow tone to his normally dusky skin.
When did I start looking so old?
He rubbed his legs with a towel that was simultaneously worn through with holes and yet still stiff and unpleasant. Still, long showers were a glorious decadence, but with only hours until planet-fall, Tarnic had needed to clear his head.
‘Leastways the ship has real water showers. Never feel clean in a sonic. He straightened and turned back to face the mirror.
“You knew it was coming,” he told the reflection. “D’you really think they’d let you stay with Dan and Sol forever? You’re an officer now, dammit. Time to play with the big boys.”
A sudden jolt of the ship flung him sideways. He flinched as he caught his elbow on the basin, and then tensed as the entire room strobed orange.
Outside, in the hallway, a klaxon started. The ship lurched again and an ugly metal shriek ripped the air.
The Shadowship was plummeting through Parvane’s atmosphere and towards the ground.