A Short Story
A moment later, Brukana stood atop an eastern crest of the massif under a stark blue sky, gazing down the steep slopes, past the belt of brutal wintry climate—the stretch of mountainous terrain boasting unendurable conditions that had proven impossible to breach for any of the curious adventurers from the southern tribes living far below.
She smiled and turned away from southerly view, then strode across a stretch of rocky ground that took her along the mountain crest to the shore of a broad lake, its dark waters stretching out to the north in somewhat oblong fashion. She breathed in the air as a cool breeze wafted toward her from the surface of the lake, grateful for the chance to experience the same physical sensations as the inhabitants of this land. After taking a few steps forward, Brukana knelt on the grassy shoreline and cupped her hands, plunging them into the water and drawing up as much as she could hold, smiling as she felt the frigid wetness against her skin. She leaned forward and let her lips drink in the liquid, reveling in the burst of flavors within her mouth: sweet, spicy, metallic, fruity, salty, and so many more.
Still smiling, Brukana bent forward even farther to stare at the reflection offered by the water’s now glassy surface: beige skin, black tresses, umber eyes, and a thin nose above full lips that curved upward even more, finally parting so that a light laugh could escape.
Again, she dipped her cupped palms into the lake, but this time she did not bring the water to her lips. Instead, she gazed at it, this time letting her eyes drink in the liquid: utterly, perfectly clear … no coloration or uncleanness … no flecks or fragments or motes or sediments … pure through and through.
Brukana inched her hands apart, letting the water dribble its way back into the lake. A smile still playing at her lips, she rose and ambled westward, soon coming to a shallow rivulet flowing out of the lake and southward down the slope. Only a few paces below the crest, the tiny creek expanded out into a wide stream, and little farther on, she spied something covering the surface from one shore to the other and stretching downstream for quite a distance: pearlescent white bubbles … with winged insects hovering over them—the breeding waters of a giant colony of stinger-flies.
Now Brukana’s eyes looked beyond the eggs blanketing the water, tracking southward along the flowing waterway as it broadened out into a fast-flowing river before it disappeared in the wintry belt of land hidden from view. Her gaze, though, picked up the water’s trail farther on, but it soon disappeared amidst a sprawling forest. Allowing her eyes to keep following along the same trajectory, Brukana soon saw a familiar chartreuse flag blowing in the wind.
She nodded to herself and then stepped over the rivulet to stroll farther west, soon coming to yet another outflow of the lake, this one much wider and deeper than a rivulet from the outset. The stream lazed its way toward the mountain slope, but Brukana’s eyes stopped when she noted the undulating motion of vegetation in the water: leafy jaxweed dancing back and forth for as far downstream as her sight allowed, just before the banks stretched away from each other into a brawling pink river that tumbled down the hill and into the winter climate belt. As before, Brukana looked far to the south along the same general line of sight and saw a fuchsia flag fluttering in the breeze.
She smiled, then leapt over the stream and continued on, soon coming to a stretch of rocky ground that featured a trickle of lake water flowing through its cracks. Brukana nodded to herself and stepped over the driblet, looking south as she went on, noting how the splash of water soon widened out over a swath of flat black-brown rock and then plummeted onward as a waterfall before becoming a river that disappeared amidst the glacial zone—her eyes skipping farther on to a white flag with black specks on it.
Now Brukana moved ahead faster, but soon stopped to behold a wondrous tree with white leaves, dark red fruit, and yellow bark. It stood on the far side of a smallish river flowing out of the lake. Red resin oozed from the tree’s porous skin, flowing down onto its massive roots, many of which meandered along the stream bank and into the water, the tree sap bleeding into the gurgling water and coloring it a ruddy hue.
Brukana splashed through the red river, stopping on the opposite shore and looking southward once again, spotting a crimson flag far off in the distance. Her eyes tracked westward from there, her gaze pausing only a moment here and there along the way to take in the various flags she saw: hazel, ochre, aqua, mauve, and finally lavender, standing near the western coast. From her previous study of this land, she knew that a similar line of villages lay to the north of this mountain mass, all the way from the western coast to the far east, where dwelt the Livnek people that she’d claimed as her own tribe for this mission.
All of the northern tribes lived under their own colorful banners, which stood tall above village wells that provided flavorful, nourishing water, despite any “impurity” or “uncleanness” … and all with similar stories of explorers unable to complete their ascent up the mountain to find the mysterious headwaters because of the insufferable conditions halfway up the slopes—in this case, a wide swath of desert land that allowed no animal or plant life to exist because of the scorching sun and winds that baked the sandy surface.
Moving forward again, Brukana picked up speed and, in a scant amount of time, had soon not only traversed the southern shore of the lake but the entire northern side as well. Having seen every outflow of water from the lake and the various flags in the distance, she made a mental note of all she’d witnessed.
Now, standing on the easternmost side of the lake atop a towering coastal cliff, Brukana looked out to the great gray sea that surged far below. A gust of ocean air washed over her, along with a blast of sea spray. She laughed at the sensation of the cold water on this flesh-covered body, the feeling of the crisp air in these nostrils, even the touch of the rocky ground against the soles of these bare feet—again grateful for the chance to experience the physical form of this planet’s denizens, if only for a short time.
Once more, Brukana reached for her shoulder bag, this time pulling out a small silver device. She touched its screen several times, then slipped it back into the pouch. Closing the eyelids of her current visage, she concentrated, and a moment later, the human façade disappeared, replaced by her own natural form—still with a general hominid shape of a torso, two legs, two arms, and a head upon a neck, but androgynous and having a shimmering yellow skin and no facial features.
A moment later, a small vessel descended in a blur from the sky overhead and landed. The blurriness faded to unveil a sleek opalesque craft, followed by a hatch opening to reveal another androgynous being—taller and with muted gray skin. It stepped out of the vessel and offered a small bow to its yellow counterpart.
“Aselle,” said the gray being in a language that would have been unintelligible to the humans of the world it stood upon. “Finished already?” The question came with a lilt of humor.
Aselle laughed and nodded. “Yes, Fallo. Let’s go home.”
Both boarded the craft, its opal exterior returning to a blur after the hatch had closed.
Fallo guided the vessel up through the atmosphere and between the planet’s twin moons. Soon after, Fallo turned to Aselle and asked, “So … how did you find this planet’s inhabitants?”
“Fascinating,” Aselle said in a hushed tone.
“Hm. … And our prior research—did it prove accurate?”
“Ehh, only in part.”
“Hope remains for these beings, for some of them have opened their hearts to the Universe—to the Essence of All That Is.”