written by Olga Fyra
Gchlo’s cheekbones are humanlike: acute angles under the valleys of attentive black eyes. Nora Keizik never knows what exactly Gchlo’s looking at, it's as hard to tall as trying to count the rotations of a black glossy ball around its axis, and once again she feels that maintaining eye contact is difficult for her. But in moments like this, she reminds herself that it works both ways—Gchlo also sees in her eyes nothing but the colorful reflections of the serpentine lamps and reflexes of lights.
It’s because their eyes are the same.
“Would you like to see your home once again? See Yeller?” Keizik asks with sadness, that she doesn't have to fake. Asking the homeless about their home is disgraceful, if you aren’t one of them. Asking this is almost easy when you are one of the few who are not indifferent. And there are no those indifferent among xenologists. (It’s such a pity that even this rare virtue will never make enough for science to overcome the unquenchable thirst of mankind to get what it wants at any cost and enter new worlds before the soldier's boots do). Stars know, Nora is deadly against moving on to this phase of contact, she had too little time to look at them, too little time to talk, too little time to get to know them either, but instruction is what it is.
Gchlo gracefully shake their oblong head, move it in an almost figure-eight pattern (a gesture of confusion, a gesture of anxiety) and before answering take a sip of thick syrup from a tumbler glass, which in the bar lights seems to be blue, crimson and red at the same time. Nora understands them perfectly. It's hard to talk about it sober, although Gchlo don't drink much compared to other Yellerians. (“Four”, thinks xenologist Keizik, she has met only four “others” in five years of work, and Gchlo is the first in the last two years, this is an amazing luck).
“I do not have a home, Nert, not anymore. Now it is in every face familiar. Now you are my home,” their voice jumps octaves out of human hearing range, but Nora's implant deals with it well (since three Earth years ago one of the Yellerians agreed to fill a black hole of gaps in automatic simultaneous translation system into standard language. Into human language). “I do not want to see how my planet has changed, because it is no longer mine. Because it would mean enduring the unbearable pain of losing what was once a part of me and is now dead, lifeless, distorted. Do you want to go there, Nert?”
“I've been there.”
“And what is it like now, Yeller?”
“Dead. Lifeless. Crucified,” Keizik says deafly, and immediately feels chill down her spine. Either it’s the syrup or the atmosphere of mutual understanding, or Gchlo themselves made her forget herself, distract. Stars! What have Yellerian heard just now? How did her implant interpret them a word that doesn’t exist in their vocabulary? (No one has ever been crucified on Yeller. Unlike on Earth).
However, Gchlo don't look surprised, and Nora hopes the interpretation was acceptable. She doesn't have time to get a grip of herself enough to continue the conversation, as Gchlo lean closer across the narrow table between them and place a wide triangular palm on her elbow. Xenologist Keizik is out of breath, she almost suffocates, but does as she was taught—puts her forearm along theirs and presses together and then covers the warm crease of their elbow with her palm (gesture of trust, gesture of support). (And at the same time it is cold and hot to touch Gchlo not in order to secretly take a sample of biological material or satisfy purely professional interest of a scientist). Just to think of it, she is comforted by a creature whose race is on the verge of extinction because people have taken away their home while clearing a springboard for future discoveries and conquests. And Nora… Nora deceives them, those who have to live with the hope of seeing a familiar face. She could only imagine what it’s like when, after a long fruitless subconscious search that never stops, which became a reflex, you recognize someone of your own kind in a crowd. You could be strangers to each other on your home planet, but torn from it, eternal strangers everywhere you go, you are so close. (She herself felt the same way every time she met an Yellerian). By her very appearance she gives Gchlo a false hope to couple, forget about loneliness, have descendants who could give the Yellerians a future. This race is lucky to be completely non-binary so any of them has ability to deliver children, otherwise they would disappear much faster. And Nora must do everything to save them. (It is a pity that Yellerians won’t allow to be saved by those who killed them. As under no circumstances will they become close with a human. Only with their own kind. Or someone in disguise of their kind). Gchlo are the last of three or four dozen representatives of their race, who are alive simply because humans were too busy for total extermination.
Nora looks into the glossy black eyes and then strokes the soft crease of their elbow with her thumb. Instruction is… order is what it is. Analysts say that their relationship is in all respect optimal to reveal the truth. (That is, almost certainly to lose Gchlo forever).
“We work together with humans,” Keizik says quickly and softly. Gchlo are silent and don’t take their hands away. That’s a good sign. “They want to help—the scientific community ‘Lighthouse’, which has enough weight down on Earth to keep full independence of their research and programs. They study other races, come into contact with them,” Nora bites her tongue. Stars, her words sound so dry and сold! “Humankind has committed a terrible, unforgivable crime—it did not want to study when it could get what it wanted by force and violence, but ‘Lighthouse’ wants to help save the unique races, their culture, their knowledge. For you are so beautiful. You, Gchlo,” she adds in a whisper and covers the palm on her elbow with her hand. A triangular palm is trembling. “You must survive. I’ve been looking for you for so long, I was afraid that it was too late, that I won’t find anyone anymore…”
For an infinite minute Gchlo do not move…
…And then Nora is surprised to feel them gently stroking her own sharp cheekbone (friendly gesture, exclusively human gesture).
“But you didn’t find,” says Gchlo, and their body starts shimmering and rippling. Nora Keizik feels out of breath again even before she comprehends. An elbow under her arm suddenly feels like a standard xenologist field uniform. The flicker of the camouflage field disappears. “So didn’t I.”
For the first time in three months, Nora sees exactly what her vís-a-vís is looking at.
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