Flash Fiction: Pas de Deux (Entrée)

This week’s fiction challenge is space opera, but I’m afraid this came out rather space ballet.

This is actually the second one I wrote. I’ll put up Pas de Deux (Variations) in a couple of days, for the amusement value thereof.

***

The interior of the Wasp reeked of stress and anxiety despite the pulsing hum of the pheromonal scrubbers.  They held formation with the other Wasps, the Bishop’s voice steadying nerves, but certainly not enough.

Delivers-Sweetness’s gestures were wild and shaky.  “Who are they?  What Synod would build a ship like that?”

Embrace-the-Sun tapped firmly on the controls, and added a sharp, “Attention to work!” with a clatter of nails.

“But who are they?”  Her agitation threatened to press buttons.

Embrace tapped again, and added, “You know the Bishop has asked for God’s attention to the matter.”

The sharp tang of Sweetness’s distress hormones was now bringing out a hum of unease from the rest of the crew.  Embrace tilted her head back and tried to filter out the scents and the vibrations, tried to reach through the chaos for the presence of the Bishop.

Before she could organize her thoughts to say anything to the Bishop, his voice cut through everyone’s attention.  “I am coming through.”

Someone in one of the ships must have panicked, must have cried out that it was not safe, for he spoke again.  “I must see for myself, and bring the news closer to God.  No Synod we know has claimed interest in this planet.  The Pantheon Council wishes us to learn what has happened here, no matter the cost.”

His presence vanished, leaving the Wasps’ crews to keen their distress until he safely returned, in a pulse of tachyons, so much closer, sounding so much more secure, being so much more at risk.

The presence of the Bishop in the system seemed to settle Sweetness’s nerves a little bit, which meant that the scrubbers managed to clear some of the panic out of the air and everyone was able to feel a little calmer as they watched the strange ship approach them.

“It’s so big.”  Tidings-of-Woe’s hands flicked twice outwards for emphasis.  “Is it a God-ship?”

“Alone?  No workers, no warriors?”

Tidings thrummed in distress, which threatened to set off Sweetness again.  Embrace frantically tried to come up with a notion to calm her crew, or at least to prevent them from spiking her own stress pheromones, and was interrupted by Quicksilver-Feet vaulting over her workstation to stand in the open space at the center of them.

“Sisters all, let us recall,” she declaimed, her hand positions taking on the precision of a trained actor, “the sagas of old!  The wars that established the Pantheon, where many warriors strove!  We have had generations of peace, and now we stand on the frontier, face to face as the legends were with an unfamiliar Synod!”

The distress vibrations were turning excited, and Quicksilver spun, echoing the epic dances of the great performances as she continued to sketch history in the air.  “We will be the ones who meet the warriors of an unknown God!  We will be the ones to have our names remembered forever!  They will dance of us like they have danced of God’s-Sorrow, of Stole-The-Bishop-Away, of Eyes-like-Jewels!”

Now the scents were thrilled, ready, prepared.  Embrace breathed a little more easily and reached for the Bishop, speaking in her soul-voice rather than with her limbs.  “When the time comes that one Wasp must approach alone, we volunteer.”

“You are the first to speak,” answered the Bishop.  “God will know your names.”

Embrace’s throat drummed hard enough to interrupt Quicksilver’s performance, and drew the eyes of her crewmates.

“What news, first sister?” Quicksilver asked, her wrist turning elegantly, perhaps to hide her irritation at the intervention.

“When it is time to approach this new Synod alone,” Embrace said, taking time to gesture with as much precision as she could muster, though she could never match Quicksilver’s grace, “our Wasp has been selected for foremost honor.”

The vibrations in the ship battered at their drum-sense, bringing thrills of unified purpose to them all.  Embrace-the-Sun tasted her sisters’ love on the air, feeling like daylight after the long cold voyage.

When the Bishop ordered the Wasps to halt, they were filled with quivering anticipation.  Theirs was to bring forward the banner, to dance the greeting, to learn if they would be making peace or war.

“Go forward, sisters, for the glory of God.”

They trilled and drummed, and set themselves into motion towards the strange ship.  Once the course was set, Quicksilver again took the center floor to dance, swinging each of her sisters in for a turn at proclaiming herself for the sake of history, knowing the Bishop was listening to their soul-voices as they performed.  Quicksilver-Feet, lorekeeper; Delivers-Sweetness, botanist and healer; Tidings-of-Woe, tactician; Numbers-the-Stars, scientist; Scales-of-Green, logistics; Embrace-the-Sun, with the wisdom to be first sister; warrior-kin all, bound to the glorious mission of the Bishop Clearwater, who would secure a new world and win himself a God-marriage or die in the attempt.

The Bishop’s approval warmed them all like the sun, and as they crossed the vastness of space, they danced and composed epics of the accomplishments they would win.  Then, satisfied with their unity, they returned to their posts, attempting to glean more from the strange ship.

Numbers thrummed, and heads turned towards her.

“I… don’t think it’s a Synod.”  Her hands fluttered with uncertainty.  “It might be… an alien.  It doesn’t even make sense, the way it’s put together.”

Uncertain drumming threatened to break morale once more, and Quicksilver broke in with, “An even grander epic for us to dance, sisters!”  The vehemence of her gestures drew eyes and settled nerves.  “Glory to our Bishop and to our God, to be the ones to first come face to face with an alien Synod!”

Numbers shifted uncomfortably, and Embrace suspected she was consulting privately with the Bishop.  She did not smell of fear, though, and she continued her work as they drew close to the strange ship and brought themselves to a relative halt.

“It… flashed a light at us?” said Scales, uncertainly.  “And again?”

“Is this ineffective weaponry?” asked Tidings.

“Two flashes,” said Scales.

“Three,” added Numbers, without looking at what anyone was saying.

“Five,” said Scales.

“… Eight,” said Numbers, and then she looked up, her hands spreading wide.  “They are flashing the numbers of the Purity Spiral!”

“What do we do?  Why do they have lights to flash?” asked Sweetness, stinking of anxiety again.

“We cannot dance when they cannot see us,” pointed out Quicksilver with as much reasonableness as she could gesture.  “Perhaps an exchange of numbers is how they express goodwill.”

“How do we give them numbers back then?” asked Scales.

“I have an idea,” Tidings said, her words small and tentative.  “We could use the sting.”

“That does not express goodwill!” Sweetness snapped.

“Aim the sting away from them.  It makes a light.”  Tidings spread her hands.

And so, with the approval from the Bishop, it was done.  They aimed the sting well away from the alien ship, the planet, and anything else of substance, and charged it just enough to fire a pulse of light.

“I’m doing pyramid numbers,” said Tidings, as she fired off three more quick shots.

They all watched the big alien ship with apprehension.

Six more shots fired.

The aliens flashed ten, and the smell of relief filled the Wasp.  Tidings cut power to the sting.

“Now what do we do?” asked Sweetness again, though at least she was not spewing panic into the air.

Embrace stared at the vision of the huge ship.  “I think we have to go over there and face them,” she said.  “For the glory of God.”

“For the glory of God,” they agreed, and they started maneuvering the ship closer.

“They’re flashing lights again,” said Scales.  “They seem to be… indicating a hatch, first sister.”

“Position over the hatch.  Suits on.”

The call for the pressure suits brought on a round of displeased drumming, but there was nothing for it, the hatch was immense and their connectors would never match.

Embrace drummed, and they all turned towards her.  “Quicksilver, you lead.  I certainly cannot dance a greeting adequately in this.”

Quicksilver said, “First sister,” in acknowledgement, muffled by the gloves of the suit.

Sealing their helms was left, as always, to the last possible moment, and the soothing soul-voice of the Bishop echoed out, comforting, saying, “Sisters, you may unseal if their air can be breathed safely.”

Embrace sent her thanks, and then they swung out into nothingness, and onto the alien hatch, and pulled it closed behind them.  There was enough space for them all inside, though it was cramped and strange to be so close and so cut off from each other.  When the inner door opened, they stumbled out and stared.

The aliens were so very tall, if roughly normal-shaped, their flesh ranging through tones from sand to fertile earth, fronds of different colors coating their scalps.  Their unpleasantly mobile faces had strange sunken eyes, and their mouths kept moving, like they were constantly chewing.

Quicksilver opened her helm and took in a deep breath, before going still, apparently slightly stunned.

“Your sister says that their scent is chaotic,” said the Bishop.  “Be warned.  But it is safe.”

They all opened their helms, then, reaching attention for the comforting pheromones of sisters, drumming uncertainty.  Their humming was met by sharp crackling pressure shifts from somewhere above, and they all managed not to wince, even Sweetness.

Quicksilver took a step forward, then another, and said, “Here we go,” and began to dance the dance of greeting, one Synod to another, when there had not been an exchange of Bishops so that the Gods might speak soul to soul.  They gave her a moment to begin, and then joined, supported, letting sisterhood speak.

The aliens watched, their mouths moving, pressure shifting around them in nothing so comprehensible as drumming, and then one of them vanished down a hall.  Not knowing what else to do, they continued with the dance.

The alien returned a few minutes later, another alien following it.  The new alien watched their dance, waited politely for them to finish, and then its arms and hands moved, fingers taking precise, if unfamiliar, forms.

It was, to everyone’s relief, obviously language.

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