Alien Sacrifices

Alien Sacrifices

Over on Tumblr I participate in the #writeblr community. Some have started posting spontaneous prompts and so far I’ve really enjoyed answering them. So much so that I wanted to share my responses here. These are written off the cuff, without any planning. Today’s prompt was:

“The local aliens keep bringing their injured people to the more technologically-advanced humans for healing. There’s a bit of a language barrier. You’re the human who figures out they’re supposed to have been sacrifices to the Two-Legged Gods.”

It fits one of my (previously unintroduced) Domerin settings so well that I just had to take advantage of it!
. . .

Domerin gritted his teeth as he set one hand against his forehead and dug his fingers deep into his scalp. All the willpower in the world wasn’t enough to calm the insistent thumps beneath his temples. It had been a long day. So had yesterday. Not to mention the day before. He didn’t see an end to this any time soon, and if he lit another cigarette he could just imagine Sesha flying out of the med bay to yell his ear off.

He counted slowly to ten. Then did it again for good measure.

“How many does this make?” he asked again, as if he expected the answer to change.

“There are eight of them now, sir,” the private repeated with more patience than Domerin would have expected.

“Four yesterday and four today.”

The private nodded.

“And we still can’t make heads or tails of what they’re saying?”

“Not enough for the doctors to determine how they all received similar wounds in such a short span of time, sir, no.”

Right. Of course. Because that would make his job easier. “Thanks for the report.” It was a dismissal and the private took it as one, scurrying out of his office before the major could think of another task to assign him. Not that Domerin could blame the kid; the entire base could use a break.

No aliens had ever come through a rift in such numbers. Normally they opened and closed quickly enough to leave an individual or family stranded on the wrong side. The fact that an entire tribe of primitive aliens had been able to pass through the latest portal made him wonder if they hadn’t had some way to control it. But why would they ever have wanted to abandon their homeworld for another so obviously different than their own? No one could piece together more than two or three words of their rapid, chittering language, and the snippets they had deciphered gave them little insight into their origins.

If they didn’t have some kind of breakthrough soon, they’d be overrun with injured refugees. They were already out of beds in the medical bay.

With a soft sigh, Domerin abandoned his comfortable office chair and hurried down the corridors to the large meeting room where Kevin had been holding sessions with what they could only hope was the alien chief. Kevin spoke more alien languages than just about anyone they had available. If anyone was going to work this out, it was him. But he was shaking his head when Domerin entered, waving his hands to try to get the alien chief to stop talking, and he sighed when Domerin sidled up and sat beside him.

“No luck?”

“Not enough.” Kevin sounded as tired as the rest of them. “I suppose it was inevitable we’d encounter someone who didn’t speak galactic common, but there’s always been a similar enough thread for us to translate.”

“What about all those weird scribbles that looked kind of like cuneiform?”

Kevin held his hands up, palms spread outward in helpless defeat. “They still translate to an alien language that doesn’t match any of our records.”

“Damn. All right, you want a break? I can give this another spin.”

Kevin said nothing, merely motioned for Domerin to take over. He didn’t rise to leave, though, leaning back in his chair to observe instead.

The chief had been waiting while the two of them spoke, though it seemed obvious he had no idea what had passed between them. He looked at Domerin with obvious admiration, bowing his head respectfully when he introduced himself for what must have been the hundredth time. Names and greetings they seemed to manage okay. It was the rest that went to hell.

They had already tried all of the common languages they were familiar with and none of the phrases had worked. On a whim, Domerin started trying the more obscure alien words he had picked up over the course of his career, hoping one of them might trigger something. Out of desperation, he even tossed in a few Earth languages, but he should have known that French and German weren’t going to help. He had high hopes for Latin, but the chief only looked at him as though he had sprouted a third eye.

At his wits end, ready to give up and smoke that cigarette after all, Domerin reached for something that had worked for him before; sign language. Of course, the aliens who usually signed with him had been living on Earth long enough to learn their version of it. But he’d interacted with enough aliens by now that they had provided him with gestures that corresponded to phrases that originated elsewhere.

The chief’s eyes lit up like Christmas and he began a rapid series of gestures that Domerin couldn’t follow. He caught the man’s arms and made a circular signal with one hand, hoping the man would understand that he wanted him to repeat the same gestures. When he did, Domerin held up both hands, palms out and patted the air. Slower.

It seemed to work. On the fourth repetition he started to catch familiar gestures. Something about stars, or perhaps the sky. Something about stairs. An altar. Sticks, knives, spears. The chief pantomimed a ritual and Domerin repeated it, pointing to the rest of the aliens silently waiting for the meeting to conclude. The chief nodded and Domerin slid back in his chair, perplexed.

“Huh,” he murmured, biting his lower lip.

“Don’t stop now,” Kevin protested. “You’ve gotten farther than the rest of us.”

“Maybe not. If I’m interpreting this at all, it sounds like they’ve been injuring themselves.”

“Injuring themselves? What? Why would they do that?”

Domerin pantomimed the ritual again and held up his arms sideways, as if in question. It was inelegant, but it worked. The gestures for stars and altar came back. The chief made a wide circle with his hands and indicated passage through it. Then he pointed at Domerin and lifted both hands as if offering him a gift.

Domerin’s jaw fell open. “Shit.”

“Care to elaborate?” Kevin sounded annoyed.

“This is just a guess, but I think they were performing some kind of sacred ritual when that portal opened. That could be why they all just hopped through it like it was nothing.”

“They think they summoned it?”

Domerin nodded. “Worse than that. They seem to think that we are their gods and we put that portal there so that they would come join us. I’m not sure, but they might think they need to give us something in return for all the food and shelter we’ve been providing to them.”
Kevin’s eyes widened. “Sacrifices?”

“Bingo. All those broken arms and legs are so that their offerings can’t get away.” Domerin sighed as he slid to his feet, once again setting fingers to massage the pain out of his temples. “I’d better get down to the medical bay and tell Sesha. We need to make it clear that they’ll be getting all these ‘gifts’ back. Try to think of some way we can convey that the help is free, will you?” He barely waited for Kevin’s answering nod before he trotted from the room.

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