Authors: Alyx Shaw
Waiting for the Sun
By Alyx Shaw
"Noooo..." I said patiently. "Not
, it's a ball. Can you say 'ball'?"
"ARF! ARF ARF RARARARF! ARF!"
I sighed. "This is pointless."
The Faylan shook his head while blowing a raspberry. I looked at Tiff, who was lounging on a Romanesque couch under a simple shelter of woven branches, reading.
"So what is this thing?" I asked, referring to the little red humanoid before me.
what it is, Sebastian. It's a Faylan."
"But what is it
than a Faylan?"
"A right pain in the ass," said Tiff dryly.
I looked at the pretty reddish creature. If you took an Olympic gymnast and crossed him with a greyhound, you'd get a Faylan. They're beautiful little beings, but they make me crazy, and have done so since I arrived on Sferkkaa. No one seems to have any idea what they are, and what
makes me insane is no one much seems to care. It's a Faylan. Well that's not good enough for me; I'm a natural scientist, I want to know what it is related to and how it fits in to the eco system. But I'm already boned right from the start because they're not native to Sferkkaa, and don't seem to fit into any category of which I can think. They're little hermaphroditic barking boneheads obsessed with small flying things, have a voice that can cut glass, and come in two varieties: arboreal and not arboreal. I refer to them as 'he' because that's the most obvious gender of the two, but even
piece of information is not technically correct as there is a second fully functional set of parts that only becomes evident when the creature is pregnant. And at the end of the day, with all my years of training, all I can say is, "Yes, it's a Faylan."
If Hell had Pekinese, they would be Faylans.
"Leave the poor creature alone, Sebastian."
"But I want to know what it IS!"
"It's a Faylan," said Tiff, his tone implying I am a complete knob.
it's a Faylan, but what is it precisely?"
"Off hand I'd say about four feet tall when standing erect, arboreal, and probably in heat, which is likely the only reason he's putting up with your persistent attempts to teach him to speak."
I looked at Tiff. "They have a heat cycle?"
"They do when the outside temperature and humidity is right."
"Well there, my life hasn't been a complete waste; I learned they go into heat."
I gazed at the pretty red creature with the little foxy face. He gazed back at me, exhibiting no 'heat' behaviour that I could see. No trilling, rubbing, flirting, no enticement of any kind.
"So why isn't he coming on to me?"
Tiff flipped the page of his book. "Because he doesn't know where
fit into the grand scheme of things, either. Faylans have a very carefully structured pack life. He doesn't know if he ranks high enough to mate with you. For that matter he's not about to have sex with you if you don't rank high enough to have
." Tiff closed his book and gave me a thoughtful look. "You know, Sebastian, if you really must learn about them, I have a distant cousin who lives not far from here; he has a pack of about forty. Frankly, if there is anything he does not know about Faylans, then it is not worth knowing."
"The nut case, right?"
"That would be him." Tiff smiled.
"I thought Draephus lived up north?"
Tiff smiled. "He does, but he comes down to make sure his Faylans are all right. So shall we go?"
"Yeah, why not? How often do I get to learn about a new species from a crazy man?"
"Faylans are not new, my love."
"They are to me."
"They're not new to you either; they've been in the trees the entire time you've been here."
I looked at the Faylan I had been trying to teach to speak. "You just have to take his side, don't you?"
"To you too."
I tossed the ball to the Faylan. He watched it go up, then down, then roll to a halt. He then gave me a look that implied I was some sort of moron before leaping roughly twenty feet straight up to catch hold of a branch and pull himself onto it.
"I could do that," I said, staring at the little red form. "I just don't want to right now."
"Of course, darling."
I walked over to Tiff and lay down beside him on the broad lounging couch. It had been eight years since I had moved here, and I still couldn't speak more than a few simple sentences of Sferkkaan, much as I would have liked to. Believe it or not, that didn't make me dumb. Sferkkaan vocalizations were many and varied, and they could reach pitches a human voice is simply not capable of producing. It's part of why music was so universally important to all the cultures on this planet. I could speak Sferkkaan if I were capable of producing their range of vocalizations. I was just lucky they could do English with little to no effort.
I frequently heard how dull my language is.
Another thing I wanted to do was ravish Tiff to within an inch of his little alien life, but it was the height of the Sferkkaan summer, which was an awful lot like living in the bathroom with the shower running full blast spewing nothing but boiling water. The air was hot and wet, and everything in the area was happy but me. I trailed my hand down Tiff's chest, my fingers wandering over the damp cloth of his uniform shirt. His black hair was stuck like wet black snakes to the pillow, and the lenses of his shades sparkled with droplets of water. I picked the glasses off and set them aside so I could see his beautiful green eyes, and kissed him.
"I really want to do unspeakable things to you," I said.
"I'm not stopping you."
"It's too hot and wet."
"We could go make love in the swamp."
"Yeah, but I hate the way the frogs all line up and stare."
"They are frogs, my love; they are not staring at us."
"They are. In fact, I'm sure they are offering commentary."
Tiff set aside his book and rolled onto his side so he could face me. Beautiful little Tiff. I could stare at him forever. Beautiful, lovely, delectable...
Something landed on the couch with a thud. I turned to look at the cat-sized arachnid, all black and gold and hairy. Ah yes, the Touskanian Cave Spider, known for its preference for fruit rather than insects, its ability to mimic words, and its lousy timing.
"Do you mind?" I asked it.
With perfect clarity, the spider said, "Bite me."
I raised one eyebrow. "Who taught you to say that?"
Tiff laughed. "I rather suspect it was Shahira."
"Great. You'd think an Imperial Bird of Prey would have better things to do."
"You'd still think a royal warrior from an ancient bloodline would have better things to do with his golden years than teach rude come-backs to the local arachnids." I nudged the enormous spider on its way. "Where
Tall, Beautiful and Arrogant, anyway?"
"Visiting his tall, beautiful and arrogant friends."
Oh, that sounded good. I ran my hand along Tiff's side. "And all our other base-mates?"
He blinked beautiful big green eyes at me. "Off getting supplies. They will be gone all day."
"So it's just you and me." I nipped his neck. "Whatever shall we do?"
I glanced in the direction of the noise. The spider was now sitting on the table and barking like a Faylan.
"Let's go inside," I suggested.
"But then I'd have to move," said Tiff. "And it's hotter inside."
He had a point. At least out here in the misting rain we were cooler. I began picking at the front of his uniform shirt.
"Well, it would be wrong of me to make you move," I said.
I slowly undressed him. It wasn't especially easy; damp clothing makes for a charming visual image but it tends to cling to the skin. Still, what I found beneath those layers and folds of wet fabric was well worth the hunt. Tiff had a body that made me wish I could sculpt. He's all lean muscle, which was what I like. I never found huge muscles attractive. I much preferred 'boa' to 'beefcake'. And believe me, Tiff can sit on a branch and entice me to taste his fruit any time he likes.
He gleamed in the shadowed sunlight, pale silver slicked with mercury, the light following the lines of his body, as did my tongue. I tasted him all over, my hands wandering over each line and curve. Funny how after all this time I still couldn't wait to touch him, and each time was as good as the first. He's all soft compliance in bed, my Tiff. Probably because he could kill me in one swift motion. It was a bit daunting, making love to a man you knew had personally killed at least thirty people in hand-to-hand combat. He's a warrior, a weapon of flesh and bone. He could snap my neck without a thought and there's nothing I could do to defend myself. But all I have to do is touch him and he melts. His eyes glaze over and close, and he opens himself up to me like a demure concubine giving his master his due. I don't know why he lets me have him. But I'm damned glad he does. I settled over him and pushed myself deep into his perfect, gleaming body, and we began to make love in the misting rain.
Shahira stepped out of the woods like some great lethal bird, almost seven feet tall and clad in black, scarlet and gold. He paused briefly to pick something off his coat, and cast me a disdainful look that let me know just precisely what he thought about some meager Earth scientist fucking one of His Imperial Majesty's most decorated veterans.
"Tiff, when you're done with the monkey we really do need to address the situation with the radio; it's just not working."
He then strutted away, fourteen hundred years' worth of breeding and bloodlines, death crafted into art and made flesh to guard the royal family. What I wouldn't give to just once see him break an ankle.
"Sebastian?" said Tiff quietly.
∗ ∗ ∗
The only way to live on Sferkkaa and not know who Draephus and his friends are is to be born deaf and blind and live your entire life in a cave. They are, quite frankly, the biggest thing on the planet, war heroes as well as musicians, making them almost god-like on a planet that venerates both. Out of all of Draephus' esteemed companions, I've only met one - his lover Raski. He's like a Chihuahua on speed. He makes me nervous and all I have to do is hear his name. He showed up here at the base once because he used to be a pilot stationed here. I like Raski, I do, but it's exhausting being around him. I don't know what he's like at home, but here, so close to the place where he was once injured so badly that he died and doctors had to drag him screaming back to life, he's an absolute hyper wreck. I can't be around him because he gives me an anxiety attack, and he hates me because I once scared the crap out of him.
In all fairness, Raski is beautiful. He's honestly one of the most gorgeous men I have ever seen. He's South Continental, so he has that striking black skin, and I do mean
. No shades of brown at all to warm it. Just hematite black layered over slate to form a color that looks like you could put your hand in it. His hair is black, too, gleaming silvery black, hanging in a long waterfall down his back. And that was how I first saw him: from the back, wearing his uniform, talking to Tiff.
"Oh Sebastian! There you are! I'd like you to meet Raski. He used to be stationed here."
So there I am, all pleased to have a chance to show off my fine Sferkkaan manners that I just learned, and Raski turns around and he's got these
FREAKY BLUE EYES THAT GLOW IN THE LOW LIGHT!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!
I have since learned that the pale blue eyes are a logical adaptation to life in a jungle that is really quite dark. The human eye lens is smooth and... well... lens-like. The lens of the South Continent Sferkkaan is actually made up of tens of thousands little reflective surfaces that catch the light, refract and re-reflect it, and enable them to see better in the dark. Pale blue reflects light, whereas dark lenses would absorb the light. What this all boils down to is, stick Raski Jervyas in a dark room and his eyes will glow. Yay. Thanks for the warning, I almost crapped myself. So Raski went one way, I went another, both of us screaming for entirely different reasons, and there you go. One of the heroes on the planet personally hates me. So why do I care if Raski hates me? Well, that would be because Tiff's cousin Draephus is in love with Raski, and if there is a case of free-roaming Delayed Shock Syndrome on the planet, it's him. So Raski hates me, Draephus is insane, and we're going to visit them.
To use a popular North Continent teen expression: Grim. Totally grim.
"Why did I let you talk me into this?" I asked as we hiked along a path that, in two months, would be under water.
"I thought you wanted to learn about Faylans," said Tiff.
"I do but I don't want to end up
"Draephus is a sweetheart. He wouldn't hurt anyone. He's just a little tightly wound."
I thought about the time I saw Draephus on the Sferkkaan version of a television. "So that time you and I were watching him on the Visual and he took a flying leap at a man's throat was just play."
Tiff laughed. "Sebastian, the man was claiming to have been at a battle Draephus personally survived. Old warriors tend to take exception to that sort of thing."
"All right, I can see his point," I said. "He's just a bit aggressive for my liking."
"He's a darling. You'll love him."
Famous last words.
Draephus' shack was not far from the base, but it still took a long time to cut your way through the jungle and reach it. In our case it was two hours, and the last thirty minutes of it was accompanied by Faylans screaming back and forth. Jungle security; nothing approaches that Draephus doesn't know about. All around were invisible sentinels, hiding in the trees, sounding warnings to one another. I hated that noise; it's a hellish sound, rising and falling like the tormented cries of Indian spirits echoing in a tomb. I had nightmares about that sound.
We reached the shack, stepping out of the dense jungle growth into a small clearing, and the moment I walked out of the bush, the first thing I saw was a tall, rangy figure in a long coat that may have at one time been white or pale grey. He was leaning over the railing with the barrel of the most insanely large rifle I had ever seen pointed straight at my head. It was at least six feet long, lean and black, and the barrel had to be over an inch in diameter. It looked vaguely like a cross between a rifle and a rocket launcher. I froze in cold terror, which is quite a feat in a steaming jungle. Tiff was oblivious. He just waved and said something, and Draephus lowered the weapon. As he was setting it aside, I took hold of Tiff's arm.
"What is that thing?"
"It's my cousin."
I rolled my eyes. "The thing he was holding."
"Oh! That is a long-muzzled night stalker gun. Draephus has a few. He's very good with them. They're not terribly subtle but they do the job they were designed for."
"And what is that?" I asked.
Tiff gestured at something I had yet to notice. "Killing night stalkers," he said simply, and walked toward the shack to greet Draephus.
I looking in the direction he had indicated, and felt my eyes grow large at the sight of the rotting remains of an enormous machine. It looked at first like a gigantic wolf spider; in fact, it lay rather like one, on its back, legs curled, hydraulics and wires exposed as small jungle creatures picked the carcass clean of anything useable or shiny.
I slowly approached it, walking over to the dead thing, reaching out to touch it. The machine lay where it had fallen years ago, three enormous holes blown through it. In what would be the thorax was a cockpit. I had heard of night stalkers, but until now I hadn't realized how terrifying they must have been. Spiders are renowned for getting into places people would prefer they didn't, and that was what the machine was designed for: infiltrating underground bases. The night stalker would creep through the jungle, delicate and highly sophisticated sensors listening for the sound of a human heart beating in terror, scenting the fear of its victims. It would then either release toxic gasses that would kill everything in a three mile radius, or simply hunker down and wait for reinforcements. It was a monster in every sense of the word, and I couldn't help but be glad it was dead.
I turned in the direction of Tiff's voice, and saw that he was motioning me to come to him. My immediate reaction was to look up, because almost every time he calls me it's because the sky is about to explode.
"It's not raining," I said.
Permit me to digress here a moment. Actually, it
raining. The rain never stops, but after you have lived here eight years you begin to start thinking in the Sferkkaan definitions of raining. Allow me to explain the variances:
Not raining/sunny = High cloud cover, fine misting rain.
Damp = Slightly denser cloud cover, light rain, some fog.
A bit wet = Vancouver in January.
Raining = Black skies, rain hammering down, occasional mud slides.
Storming a little = You round up the animals, I'll start building the ark.
We should probably stay in = Was that ocean there when we went to bed?
"Just come over here."
I did, crossing the clearing through the low plants and grasses and going onto the small porch. I had to walk past Draephus to reach Tiff, and I have to say it was not a comfortable feeling. Draephus was a very big guy, well over six feet, and he had the gun in one hand and a cigarette in the other, a pair of shades on his face. When I first came to Sferkkaa I didn't understand why everyone wore sunglasses on a sunless world, but I do now. On days when the cloud cover is high and the ground is steaming, the air takes on a strange over-bright glare. I'm not sure what creates it, but it can definitely cause something very similar to snow-blindness. It doesn't bother me too badly, but for delicate Sferkkaan eyes used to dim light, it can be damned painful.
"What are we waiting for?" I asked.
Draephus was standing just to my right, looking up at the sky. "The sun."
He had my full attention.
"The sun? I thought it never shone here!"
"It only does once every century or so," said Draephus. "I've never seen it. But they have." He pointed into the jungle at things I could not see. "Fayla is a sunlit planet. And they know when it is coming. Watch."
I did, my eyes searching the dark green foliage, until at last I saw something move. A lean red body went up a tree, heading for the highest point it could reach and sitting there. This was a large Faylan, and he had a heavy collar around his neck, decorated with hematite.
"That's Wrath," said Draephus. "He's an alpha. He lets everybody else know if it's clear. There's his little mate, Bird."
I watched the little form flit through the branches of the tree, reaching the limb where Wrath was perched.
"He's cute," I said.
"He's a little monster," said Draephus. He showed me a forearm wrapped with bloody bandages. "He's what we call a bad breeder. The moment he gets pregnant he picks fights with anything and everything, then he ends up miscarrying because all he does is fight. He's too territorial. It's a bad trait, and it's causing trouble."
"Can you do anything about it?" I asked.
"Well I am, as far as they are concerned, the head of the pack. They do what I say. I'm waiting for his next heat cycle, then I'll go out and put him in his place. If the pack leader takes exception to a member of the pack who is in a receptive state, then others take that as a sign there is something not right and they shouldn't breed with him. As far as they're concerned I can mate with anybody I want to." Draephus smiled faintly. "I... prefer not to."
"Get any offers?" I asked, tremendously amused by all this.
"Daily. Especially at this time of year. Here's my unrequited love now." He pointed out a small Faylan creeping toward us, moving on all fours along the railing, approaching Draephus and crawling into his arms. He was very little, with a streak of black in his hair. Draephus held the little creature, a faint smile on his face. "This is Theyrie. That means 'streak' in case you're wondering. The others don't like him because he's too small and he's a funny colour. You do see black occasionally in the arboreal Faylans, but it's rare. I'm going to take him north with me when I go. I've got another arboreal at home who will adore him, and he won't get picked on."
I reached out to touch him, but the small Faylan gave me a strange look, and he began rolling his eyes back in his head.
"Careful," said Draephus. "He'll bite, and those teeth go through flesh like knives."
I withdrew my hand, then once more looked toward Wrath and Bird. More Faylans had joined them, spreading out in the yard, and the clearing was filling fast. The Faylans were seated in the deep grass, swaying, their faces pointed toward the sky.
"Why are they swaying?" I asked.
My heard turned so fast I heard my neck crack. I looked at Draephus in astonishment.
"Sun worship? Do you mean as in they enjoy the sun or...?"
"I mean as in sun worship. Watch them. They line up in ranks, see? They do this on days when the cloud cover is at its thinnest. New mothers there with the babies, the old warriors there, elders in the middle...."
I was astounded. "So they're not animals."
"No," said Draephus. "They're Faylans. People always expect intelligent life to look and act like us, and if it doesn't then we say it isn't human and we treat it like a lower life form. These guys are on our branch of the life tree. I'm not sure where they fit in, exactly. I'm thinking they may have something in common with the lemurs you have on Earth. But simple as they may be, they're definitely not animals."
Theyrie suddenly leapt out of Draephus' arms and made his way to the edge of the pack, taking a place near the young adults. Then suddenly the entire pack of forty froze into place and stared up.
"Here it comes," said Draephus.
I'm not sure what I was expecting. A gradual opening of the clouds, perhaps, but no, it was as if the hand of some god waved, and the clouds opened, swirling away and leaving nothing but clear blue with a ball of purest molten gold in the middle. It had been so long since I had seen it. I didn't even realize I was crying.
I stepped off the porch and walked over to the pack, taking a place near the back beside Theyrie, seating myself on the wet grass and looking up. It was so warm on my face, and the entire clearing lit up with a thousand colors I hadn't seen when I first arrived. The drops of rain were suddenly blazing diamonds, and every hue and nuance of the jungle flowers showed up in painfully vibrant detail.
It was all so damned beautiful.
For a full hour the Sferkkaan sun shone, and for a full hour I sat in it, rejoicing in its presence. Gradually the clouds came and hid it away, putting the golden toy of the gods back in the box for another century. The Faylans went back to their normal business. Theyrie bounded over to Draephus, allowing himself to be carried inside, and I walked onto the porch, where Tiff was waiting for me.
"Did you know the sun was going to shine today?" I asked, putting my arms around his solid little body.
"No," he said. "I honestly didn't. But I'm glad it did, and you enjoyed it."
I kissed him. "I loved it. This place is so beautiful, I wouldn't leave if I could."
He smiled, and we turned and walked into the cabin. It was pitch black inside, my eyes still adjusting to the dim lighting. There was a man in front of me, but I could only vaguely make out his shape. Then he turned toward me and there were those
DAMNED FREAKY GLOWING BLUE EYES! AUGH!
I screamed. Raski screamed. Raski ran to Draephus for protection, and Theyrie cleared the entire room including the kitchen table in a single bound and sank his teeth into my face. It took fifty-one stitches to close the wounds.
I have decided to leave the Faylan research to Draephus and just stick with frogs.
If you liked this book you might like: A Strange Place in Time, The Thunder-Horse, Road trip, A Christmas for Vice, Sleep Walk With me, and Life Out There.
Waiting for the Sun
Copyright (c) 2011 by Alyx Shaw
All rights reserved. No part of this eBook may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address Torquere Press, Inc., PO Box 2545, Round Rock, TX 78680
Printed in the United States of America.
Torquere Press, Inc.: Sips electronic edition / April 2011
Torquere Press eBooks are published by Torquere Press, Inc., PO Box 2545, Round Rock, TX 78680