KALP HAS a sore neck.
It is left over from lying on the cot, surely, but it also comes from stooping low to bend over Basil's blueprints. Kalp longs for a taller table, but would not presume to ask for one. How then could Gwen and Basil read from it, if it was tall enough for Kalp?
Attempting to be subtle, Kalp raises his fingers slowly and presses the back of his own skull, applying pressure to two little knobs. Right below the skin are knots of nerve endings and hormone centres that help regulate the flow of chemicals that keep his body functioning correctly. Though he knows it will not last much beyond a few moments, he feels temporary relief from the release of the enzymes produced by the pocket of chemicals there. He lets out a long breath.
"Whatcher sighingova?" Basil asks, forgetting to be articulate, to scrub out his argot.
Kalp snaps his eyes open. "I beg your pardon?" he asks, careful to use the politest form of requesting clarification he knows.
"You sighed," Basil repeats, conscientious this time of his speed and word use. He is leaning on the brace of his hands, elbows locked backwards in a pose that makes Kalp's arms sore just witnessing it. These humans seem so stiff and angular, until he witnesses them doing things like this, turning their arms around in their sockets, or the way they pivot on the balls of their feet when they wish to move fast, seeming to ignore the existence of their own toes. He has seen contortionists performing on television.
Kalp does not know this word, "sigh," and pulls his eyebrows down to indicate so. That, at least, is one facial expression their species share.
Basil huffs out a breath, repeating what Kalp did earlier. "That's called a 'sigh.'" He does it again and clarity washes through the air. Then Basil touches the back of his own neck in the same place Kalp had touched his. "Why?" he asks.
Gwen, who is leaning over a pad of paper upon which she had been scribbling translations as Kalp made them, looks up in interest.
"I have pain," Kalp says, deciding not to lie. If he explains what the problem is, perhaps they can correct it. At the least, conversing will allow for the excuse of the momentary drop in productivity. Breaks are often very informative in this office, even the unofficial ones where they must stay inside and cannot venture forth for refreshment.
Kalp has learned — and taught — more about their differing cultures during these small conversations than in all the classes he has attended. At least, it feels that way.
"Pain?" Gwen repeats. "Your neck is sore? Or is it a headache?"
"Both," Kalp admits.
She sets down her writing instrument. It threatens to roll off the table's surface, but stops at the edge. "Is it from doing the translations? We can take a break. Or are you thirsty? I always get a headache when I'm dehydrated."
"The translations do not pain me," Kalp says, trying to explain carefully that it is not work that is hurting him. He wants to be clear on that. He does not want work taken away from him; it is the last thing that is keeping him sane, from dwelling too long and too often on the tormenting past. From the loneliness. "Though I will require water soon."
"Could use a cuppa myself," Basil says with a bob of his head that indicates affirmation, though his words are once again puzzling and Kalp is unsure with what Basil is agreeing. Kalp decides that it will take especially long to learn how to communicate with this particular human.
"You can always go for a cuppa," Gwen chides, and this is humour Kalp knows, has seen before on the television. She is being derogatory but with a smile and a pleasant tone — teasing. "So what's causing the pain, Kalp?" Gwen asks, using his name directly.
YOU ARE READING
IN THE NEAR FUTURE, humankind has mastered the arts of peace, tolerance, and acceptance. At least, that's what we claim. But then they arrive. Aliens--the last of a dead race. Suffering culture shock of the worst kind, they must take refuge on a wo...