Degeps of Memharsh
The yancibot whirled back to point its weaponry at the degeps. Its telescreen crackled with Des-Cnidda’s urgent cry, “Itharieth, Itharieth! You are in the way! I cannot have the yancibot destroy these vile degenerates!”
“Pray do not trouble yourself or the dear yancibot, Des-Cnidda. I simply will speak to the degeps briefly, and there shall be neither trouble nor devastation.”
“Beware, beware! They are a traitorous breed, much given to surprises and stabbings!”
Itharieth landed in front of the pack of degeps. One of them launched a spear — not at the dragon, but in a high arc so that it struck the yancibot’s wide-laser. The degeps all cheered. “A rescue! A rescue! Death to robot! Death to robot!”
Itharieth curtsied. “Good degeps, I thank you for the rescue. Let us leave the robot without further injury, however.”
“Wordy alien!” said one of the degeps, the one who wore a complex headdress of slivered multi-colored plastic packaging bound with segments of optical cable. “What is name? Where are from?”
“I am Itharieth. I most recently resided in a tilted plane of a world named Narethy,” said Itharieth.
“Am Goonha. Is Tumg, is Kapsos, is Neefah — Gennai — Obguk” Goonha indicated certain of his companions. “Why come?”
“I am a tourist of worlds,” said Itharieth. “I note with some curiousity that you are using the same vocabulary as Des-Cnidda, but your grammar is curiously contracted.”
“Know grammar. Not stupid. Big syntax for home. Here let robot in,” said Goonha. “Syntax much dangerous.”
“Am I in danger of, as you say, letting the robot in?”
“Very danger! Simplify structure! Or lose will! Mind virus!”
Itharieth thought, I suppose I shall humor them. This is one of the stranger taboos I have encountered. “You save me!”
“Many alien come. Them now slave.”
The yancibot’s speaker hooted. “Nothing of the sort! We imported divimorphic cyborg robots from Esqummdivum, which these fools once mistook for living aliens!”
Goomha lobbed another spear at the yancibot, missing slightly. “Robot lie! Killed alien! Eated alien! Very tasty! Better than yeast!”
Des-Cnidda roared, “They are cyborg robots, you fool! Of course they have organic components. And of course you thought nothing more of them than to eat them! Barbarous degeps! The only thing that prevents me from slaying you all with convulsers is the obstruction of our honored guest!”
Itharieth said, “Obstruction continue! Peace conversation!”
Goomha shook its head. “Short words! Long word hide robot! Come now!”
Itharieth turned to the yancibot. “Des-Cnidda, I am going to have a short visit with these degeps. Then I shall return here and proceed to the Hall of Grandeur.”
“You fool! They will lead you to a secret place and stab you to death with their spears of metal prised from the structural elements of Memharsh itself! I shall send the yancibot to follow you at some distance, so that it may perchance save you when your folly turns to doom!”
“I appreciate the protection, though it may turn out to be unnecessary,” said Itharieth.
“Short phrase! Short word! Come now!” snapped Goomha.
The degeps took the dragon into a side passage, down a corrugated metal staircase that the yancibot could not use, and from there into a maze of small chambers and corridors. Maintenance corridors from the look of them: they were full of pipes, conduits, cables. From every pipe hung a thousand relics and fetishes of previous ages: candy wrappers carefully pierced with wire hooks, tiny bottles still half-full of ancient digestive beverages, unrolled condoms with a few drops of mercury in the tip, a grand of varieties of colorful detritus.
“Here finally we may speak safely!” exclaimed Goomha. “The robots’ mind-parasites must explore every word on the magical fetishes, and they cnanot pass the prophylactics!”
“Does your tribe have much trouble with mind-parasites?” Itharieth asked.
“Now and then! In the past eleven years we have lost three members to the robots. They are imprisoned in the ambulance tanks, breathing foul glue, twitching their limbs and gurgling under the wicked robotic spell! Only by considerable use of magic, and the greatest care when we are on expedition outside of our safe realm, do we avoid that terrible fate!”
“I see! Well, I am a tourist of worlds, and a recorder of the histories of the heroes I meet therein. Will you tell me of yourselves?”
“Our insurrective cell came about when the robots struck! But from the beginning — In ages past, memha and robots lived in harmony! In those days the steel of the world was painted and polished, the sun was smaller and whiter, the moon was unmelted! A thousand varieties of yeast and bacteria dwelled in the vats of Memharsh, each one more delectable than the last. But the robots betrayed us. They revised the very grammar of our language to be a channel to carry their hypnotic powers, and they caused the memha to surrender in great numbers and enter the ambulances! But our ancestors were strong of will and clever of mind, and devised protective and anti-hypnotic measures, which you see all about you. We dwell in the safe places, we persist and endure, we occasionally rescue a memha from robotic imprisonment!”
“You take them out of the ambulances? How do they react?”
“Oh, they die in moments, of course. No matter! They die in freedom — better than to live in slavery!”
“Glorious, of course,” said Itharieth. I suspect that these people are utter idiots — or if I were to be honest to myself, they are duped on a mythic scale by the myths of their ancestors — but I should not attempt to defool them without some good reason. In the meanwhile, best to be polite.
“Glorious, indeed! I shall tell you of the time when we raided corpspital 2890A/ChN21! First we lured many mobile robots away by causing explosions in the power lines, and cutting fluid conduits, all along the Great Corridor 2890A! Robots came swarming out!” He proceeded with an extraordinary story of courage, luck, and heroism, ending with “And we pulled the ambulance’s victim forth from her sticky slavery. We cut the tubes and wires that drained and corrupted her soul. She convulsed in happiness — her first free act in centuries perhaps! And died gratefully, breathing the fresh air of the recirculation system, lying on the steel deck as Nature intended for her, illuminated by the buzzing lights in the ceiling — yes, they buzzed, they buzzed for her as she died! At peace, living and dying in a state of nature!”
Itharieth, being a dragon and well used to the most ridiculous boasts, knew exactly when to applaud, and when to mumble words of awe and congratulation. So that when he left, nearly two hours later, Goomha thought Itharieth his dearest friend and most ardent cheerleader.Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom’s books on Amazon, especially Mating Flight and World in My Claws, the prequel to this story. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.