Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Originally published in Perihelion Science Fiction. Free science fiction stories, science articles, comic strips, reviews, and more, on the Internet. Every month, Perihelion presents solid stories with strong plots, intriguing characters, with a sense of wonder reminiscent of the classic science fiction pulp magazines from the ’60s and ’70s. Artwork is by award winning illustrators. Articles are by experts in their fields. Established in 1967, originally as a print magazine, by Sam Bellotto Jr. and Eric M. Jones, the magazine was revisioned in 2012 as an online publication, and has been published regularly every month since. For the best in entertainment and information, bookmark Perihelion on your favorites list.

Copyright © 2015 by Nancy S.M. Waldman.


Sound of Chartreuse

By Nancy S.M. Waldman

MY SPRING GREEN GREAT-GRANDDAUGHTER has come home from her Earthstudies for a visit.

“We learned about Great Aunt Sonjec’s Birth of CaROUSal in History of Music, Grandma Carinth. They call the frequlet the most important innovation in music since the gramophone.

“Bah,” I say. “History’s all guesses and lies.”

Her hair ripples in the light as she shakes her head. “Don’t be a poor sport just because your sister is famous and—”

“Think I care about that? I don’t. But I lived that history. 2215, right here on planet Pas. The Birth of CaROUSal ... oh, yes. But what historians don’t know is that I served as its midwife. If I hadn’t been there, CaROUSal would have been stillborn.”


I sat, watching from the shadows at the back of the open-air bar. My synesthetic response was deepred-shimmery: detached anticipation, as Sonjec, nineteen in earthyears—two younger than me—climbed onto the platform that served as stage. On the wall behind her a banner read: CaROUSal.

Her thick straight hair lay like a thatched roof over her forehead, short and shaggy around her ears. She wore a bright blue shirt and tight grey-green pants shoved into heavy boots. Two other people were on stage: a keyboardist, whose name I never got, and the percussionist, Ruk.

Ruk is P’twua, one of the three humanoid races on Pas.

The first, and—at that point—only, frequlet hung from a plaited strap over Sonjec’s left shoulder. The scrolled brass and copper box with curved sides and a dozen or so touch-interfaces lay flat against her diaphragm.

As she adjusted the instrument’s settings, I noticed my dry mouth and sweaty palms. The red shimmer had transformed into vibrating mud-green: low-grade anxiety. Why? I had nothing riding on this performance. I didn’t care whether Sonjec did well or not.

I’d felt only irritation when she recently showed up. Sonjec had always stayed on Earth with her father, while I accompanied our mother on her diplomatic posts. New languages, people, cultures fit not only my interests, but also my sensitivities.

Ruk moved to the front of the stage and spoke in his language, Dwa*p’ti. P’twuas made up most of the crowd.

I picked up the gist. He explained that unlike most music where you stay quiet and listen, CaROUSal’s music was made on the spot from the input of sound and Sonjec’s talent. He instructed them to make as much or any type of noise they wished.

“The frequencies will flow from all of you into Sonjec’s instrument and back out—transformed. You will be an integral part of the music and it will be unique to this night.”

Sonjec’s music changed passive listeners into active participants.

Her implanted binaural conductors meant she and her multi-layered contraption were one highly-integrated circuit. That night, the input from the Dwa*p’ti language—which includes a variety of pops and ticks of the tongue on the cheeks, lips, teeth and from the throat—made music unlike anything I’d ever heard.

But even while appreciating the raucous, rhythmic melodies with surprising tangents and harmonizing vocals, I felt my anxiety grow to high alert.

Chartreuse: edgy, risky, headed toward danger.

Then, the complexions of the P’twuas, normally a pale green-ivory, went coral.

Disoriented, I jerked my head around the room, trying to figure out what was happening. I don’t see imaginary colors; I mentally associate colors with emotional content. But, coral, like all colors, had meaning to me.

Coral-pale: teasing.

Coral-sharp: mocking, taunting, ridicule.

Ruk, looking distraught and stunned, no longer played, but Sonjec, eyes closed, didn’t notice.

I stood, overturning my bar stool, every muscle tense as the playful boisterousness in the room disappeared. I didn’t know what it meant for P’twuas to suddenly go coral, but I knew the vibes had changed from fun to furious.

She has to stop the music.

I strode toward her, jostling through the small tables and standing, shouting, fist-waving P’twuas. Inside me, hot pink-bright: outrage, streamed alongside spinning, intense, viridian green: violence.

Someone tugged at my shoulder and spun me around. I was in the middle of a tight circle of very angry people.

“Asshole Earthens! Go home,” a tall—to my collarbone— P’twuan shouted in excellent English. He reared his fist back and flashed it forward, hitting me in the jaw. Pain sliced through my skull and I staggered. A follow-up punch to the chest thrust me backward onto the reed-covered floor. Three sharp kicks landed against my rib cage as well as grinding pressure on my right knee, as if someone were standing on it.

Flashes of yellow-white-hot alternated with red-streaked black.

“Ffffuck!” I shouted, once I’d caught my breath. I bucked and flailed. I was bigger than these people and, more importantly, I hadn’t done anything wrong. “Back off!”

There was no more music, just crazed commotion.

An open hand reached down. I grabbed it and was pulled up, only then seeing that it was Ruk. He spoke in a firm voice to the people around me, but my brain was in no shape to interpret a language I’d only begun to learn.

A bubbling froth of grey-dirty: disordered, disgruntled confusion had replaced the fuchsia and sickening green.

Sonjec stood at the back corner behind the stage holding her instrument against her chest. She motioned for me to come. I touched Ruk. He glanced up for the briefest of moments and nodded. I left his calming presence and ran out with my sister.


“I didn’t even know you had come,” Sonjec said, mashing a cold pack on my swollen knee.

We’d escaped to Mother’s swanky apartment deep in the diplomatic section of downtown O*p’toc where she served as Earth Colonies Ambassador.

“It’s been a while since I’ve heard you play.”

“It went well,” she said, reclining on the plush couch perpendicular to the one I was on.

I barked a harsh laugh, but she didn’t join in. I looked at her. “You were kidding, right?”

“The music, I mean. The music was going great. I loved what their language was adding. I’ll have to work on the recording tomorrow.” She reached over to the table, picked up her bottle of brew and took a long drag.

“Shit.” I shook my head, feeling pain in my ribs, knee, chest. Once again, Sonjec gets off free and clear. “You’re missing the tiny little fact that you caused a riot.”

She choked, sat up and coughed. When she recovered, she shot me a withering look. “Right, Carinth. I caused that mess.”

“Are you completely unaware? Something in that room changed when you started playing. Well ... not at first. It built ... It—”

“It had nothing to do with the music. They were drinking. It was a bar fight. Like that never happens.”

She was definitely the most clueless person in the world.

“Ask Ruk,” I said.

“Yeah. Ruk.”

“Where’d you pick him up?”

She shrugged. “He’s the reason I came.”

“Huh. I thought you came because your family’s here.”

Sitting forward on the couch her elbows resting on splayed knees, hands holding the ale, she looked at me for a long moment. “Yeah, well, things come together that way, don’t they? He wrote me. Fan mail. Asked me to come. Talked the place up. Lots of water, beaches, beautiful scenery, and he said they were a peaceful race who love music. Hah!”

“They are peaceful. They keep to their own, but I’ve experienced no hostility. Not till tonight.”

“Humanoids will be humanoids.”

“This is serious. It could cause trouble for Mom.”

“Isn’t that my role in the family? Some things never change. Need something for the pain?”


Sonjec disappeared.

I didn’t know until the next evening. I slept off the drugs she gave me, felt lousy and stayed in bed.

Mother came in around supper time.

It was hard to believe that Sonjec and I were her offspring. She exuded professionalism, elegance, competence, intelligence, and attractiveness—all composed into a complete package that most people found reassuring. The contrast between all that and my gawky, scattered, unfocused self was simply undermining. I had nothing of her in me.

“What do you know about last night?” she asked.

I sat up, alert for the first time all day. “I was there.”

She arched a perfectly defined eyebrow from her perfectly matched set. “That was nice of you to support your sister. Tell me what happened.”

I did. Honestly. I left out my sensory data, knowing it wouldn’t help, but conveyed my opinion that Sonjec’s music had somehow, for some reason, riled up the locals.

“You’re injured?”

“Sore. Nothing’s broken.”

“Unfortunatley, this incident—bar fight or whatever it was—hasn’t gone away. I may have a crisis on my hands. Where’s Sonjec?”

“Haven’t seen or heard from her since last night.”

Mother sighed. “She isn’t here. I’ve messaged her multiple times with no answer.”

“She’ll show up. Why would she hide if she didn’t think the uproar at the bar had anything to do with her?”

But I was wrong. Another day passed with no word.

The brawl boiled over, giving rise to protests in the courtyard by Embassy Row. On the feeds there were calls for Mother’s expulsion and a growing ugliness toward off-worlders. So far, because of the respect with which she was held, her diplomatic counterparts were being patient and calling for calm.

“What are they saying Sonjec did?”

Mother shook her head. “It’s something she communicated through the frequlet, but I don’t understand the nuances. She deeply offended the P’twuas by breaking some subtle cultural taboo. That it was inadvertent hardly matters at the moment.”

Mother feared Sonjec had been kidnapped.

Later that day, I sat in the apartment in front of the VID and watched my mother the Ambassador, in formal ceremonial uniform, as she held a press conference and apologized as thoroughly as any person could.

Afterward, I went to find Ruk.

Mother had instructed me to stay in the apartment, but I wasn’t too worried about my safety. I didn’t really believe Sonjec had been kidnapped.

Still, when I walked into the empty bar—the scene of the crime—I felt grateful for the first time in my life that I looked nothing like my mother or my half-sister. It was unlikely that anyone would associate me with them.

I spoke to the tender. He knew Ruk and messaged him for me. I waited out back on the lanai. The barwas on the outskirts of the city proper, near a broad ocean inlet. The stiff breeze off the briney, lavender and white water had something in it that made my skin tingle.

Why do I think I can trust Ruk? I thought, rubbing my cheeks to get rid of the itch. Maybe he lured Sonjec to Pas for political reasons. Maybe I’m walking into a trap.

I thought back to that moment when his hand reached down and pulled me off the floor. My overwhelming perception, even in the midst of that melee, had been one of bluesoft-transparent: trustworthy calm.

Bluepale is stand-offish or shy, common among P’twuas.

Bluebright involves intensity of spirit. And genius.

Ruk came around the corner. As I watched his fluid, supple stride, I re-measured this view against my first impression. No alarms sounded.

He sat down and said, “I am responsible.”

“How? On purpose?”

“No. But I asked Sonjec to come. I did that because I’m convinced she will revolutionize music, but nevertheless, I brought her here.”

“What happened?”

“It will be difficult for me to communicate.”


“My people— We, eh, exchange meaning on more than one level.”

This was news to me. “Other than spoken language?”

He nodded. “This is a difference between earthhumans and us. Correct?”

“We understand the concept of non-verbal communication. Like ... body language.”

“I didn’t know.”

I shook my head while running thumb and middle finger down my glass, rubbing condensation off. “Not well-developed. It tends be just outside our awareness and is usually disregarded, at least consciously. There are pheromones—smells—as well, but we’re hopeless in understanding those.”

“I see. It is helpful that you understand there can be ... levels. Ours is highly developed. In some ways more so than the words we use.”


“No. It’s a common understanding of sensory perceptions.” He sat back in his chair and looked away over the water, as if trying to decide how to explain.

I had been hunched forward, elbows on the small table, tense. I sat back, too, and breathed in the tangy smell. His words moved me; scrambled pieces of myself shuffled into a more orderly arrangement.

A language of perception. Of course. I had known that could be possible even though those words had never formed a sentence in my head. A shiver went down my spine. I leaned forward again.

“You perceive something ... a sound, a sight, a smell, the combination of several of these and it means the same thing to you as it does to the tender in there or any other P’twua?”

His head turned slowly back to me. He put his graceful, long-fingered hands on the table, faced me directly and took his time responding. “How is it that you get this so quickly? I have attempted to communicate it to Earthens and they do not understand.”

“I have some ... ways of perceiving that most of my people either do not have or ignore. It’s called synesthesia and has never been of much use because earthhumans who have this trait don’t necessarily agree on the words they use to talk about it. In me, it is an intersection of emotions and color.”

He didn’t have eyebrows, but his forehead wrinkled as his yellow-brown eyes widened. “I’m completely stunned. I had no idea.”

“But it’s not a form of communication between us. It’s ... internal. Private.”

Now his forehead wrinkled downward in a serious expression. “Yes. Ours too, but I think in a different way. We have much to learn about each other. And we have not even been introduced properly. I am Ruk Tur*ki’tua.”

I extended my hand across the table. “Carinth Kellen.”

He smiled. “Sonjec is your sister?”

“Half-sister. The illustrious Ambassador is our mother, but we have different fathers. Do you know where Sonjec is?”

“No. Don’t you?”

I explained the situation.

He took out his communic and began to make calls.

I waited, thinking, not about my missing sister or the looming interplanetary diplomatic incident, but the concept of a common awareness of sensory perception.

“She was seen at my home earlier. We should go there.”

“Mother thinks she was kidnapped.”


“You tell me. What pissed everyone off?”

“I never anticipated what happened. The vocals and sounds that her instrument remixed and produced were deeply insulting.”


He struggled, and then said, “Translating is proving impossible. If there are English words, I don’t know them.”

“Let me tell you how I was feeling.”

He nodded.

“Do you know the word chartreuse?”

He shook his head.

I took out my communic and pulled up a color chart I often referred to. I pointed to the sharp yellow-green.

“What is the word?” he said, nodding vigorously. “I must remember. This chart is excellent.”

“I’ll send it to you. That night, I felt nervous and that built to a high-tuned uneasiness on the edge of danger: chartreuse.”

He looked at me wide-eyed. “Are you part P’twuan?”

I smiled and shook my head. I didn’t know much about my father, but I knew he was an earthhuman.

“This is right,” Ruk said. Chartreuse—our word is n*dua’k’ti—was present for me as well. It is a complex feeling for us. Risk, yes. Unease, yes. But also a—” He raised his hand and ran his thumb over his fingers repeatedly. “—a feel.”



“Oh gods. This is crazy. I understand you. So ... but just that wouldn’t cause a riot.”

“No. I have thought of nothing else since it happened. When Sonjec took our vocalizations—what is our public communication—that wchartreuseent well. But her frequlet also picked up our sub-communication, this emotional-sensory layer the meaning of which is in our voices, but with no words. And she collected it and suddenly, there it was, this non-public thing, being transmitted, broadcast for all to hear.”

“Communicating what?”

He shook that question off. “What’s important is that we didn’t like even that much. Perceptual communication is wordless, therefore private. Something we all understand but rarely talk about because ... what would be the point? We felt exposed by her music and then when everyone began to express that vulnerability and displeasure, she picked that up and put it in the mix. By the time the riot broke out, the room was full of what I will call, because my English is not perfect, orange-pointy.”

I stared at him with my mouth open. “Ruk, everyone’s skin-color changed.”

He looked down and I knew I’d inadvertently evoked a strong emotion in him.

Yellowpale-muddy: shame.

“We do,” he said, softly, “upon occasion, have tinges of color change in our normal complexions. It showed?”

“To me. But why is this shameful?”

“You are so direct, Carinth. It’s a bit hard to handle.”

“My apologies. I don’t want to offend. Teach me.”

“No, I like it. It’s just different ... and amazing. You pick up so much.”

I couldn’t respond. His words filled me up as nothing ever had.

His eyes narrowed. “I’m getting a perception that I would not mention if you were P’twuan. We would both simply know.”

“Tell me.”

“Let me look at your chart.”

After a moment he said, “Orchid.”

I smiled and then laughed. “Brilliant. Purple-orchid: gratitude, joy, fulfillment.”

“A pure, uncommon emotion.”

“We understand one another.”

“So back to our evening of music ...”

“Oh, god. Yes,” I said, “orange-pointy is what I would call coral-sharp.

He took in an audible short, crisp breath. “Exactly. I would explain this as ridicule, which mixed with our shame at having our private thoughts broadcast. Our reaction was re-mixed and blasted out of the frequlet in a complex perception that I will attempt to communicate as ... passionate contempt.”


“Yes. What color is that?”

“I don’t know.”

He sat back, nodding. “It is complicated.”

Neither of us needed to say another word.


We took the chairway to Ruk’s neighborhood.

I messaged Mother. She responded that she hadn’t heard from Sonjec and asked if I’d seen the local news. Ruk and I put on a feed to find out that the protests in front of the Earth Colonies Embassy had grown.

“This is getting out of hand. Mother seemed rattled and that never happens.”

“I’m communicating with everyone I know,” Ruk said, “but my friends are not influential. I can’t believe this all started from those music-heads at the bar. They’re not political.”

“Don’t have to be. They only had to tell their story. It would be picked up and used as a weapon by those who do have an agenda.”

“How do you know so much about politics?”

“I don’t. You just absorb stuff when you’re the daughter of a diplomat.”

After he unlocked the sliding door to his one-room apartment, he stood back and motioned for me to enter. “As you see, she is not here.”

I turned to him. “I didn’t think you had her.”

He shrugged. “You don’t know me.”

Oh, but I do.

A young P’twuan woman came to the door. “Ruk?”

He introduced us. She looked at me suspiciously and asked Ruk to come out in the hall.

He came back with a paper in his hand. “It’s a note from Sonjec. I’m having trouble reading the handwriting.” He gave it to me.

I read: Ruk, Sorry about the mess at the bar. It’s not your fault. I probably won’t be playing the frequlet in public ever again, so I appreciate you asking me to come. Again, sorry for the trouble. Don’t know what happened. Thanks for being such a nice fan. Sonjec/CaROUSal.

“She’s bright blue, isn’t she?” Ruk asked.

“I don’t like to admit it, but yeah. Bluebright-deep: the extreme intensity of creative genius.” Those were certainly words I’d never said out loud before.

“She will be depressed if she really thinks she can’t play her music anymore,” he said.

“Very. She’s also, um ... redcherry-choppy: impulsive.”

“My neighbor told me that she followed Sonjec outside and joined a group your sister was talking to. There was a ... I don’t know ... a heated discussion.”

“About what?”

“That night. Sonjec seemed sorry, but clueless. They were, you know, kind of in awe of her, but also trying to figure out if she was a jerk or not. It wasn’t a fight, just talking. A small crowd gathered. People my friend knows. Most hadn’t even been at the bar. And then four others came up. They were P’twuan, but not from the area.”


“No. Friendly. They told her there was a great bar where she could play music near Ku’wuat*u Beach.”

“She went with them?”

“I’m guessing.”

“She wasn’t forced?”

“Doesn’t sound like it.”

“How like Sonjec to have us all worrying about her well-being while she’s out partying at the beach.” I sighed. “Then again, what better to lure her with than the opportunity to play music? I’m still worried. Do you know this bar?”

“No. That’s the problem. It’s all small rooming houses along there. A place for families. I don’t remember any bar scene.”

We went on Ruk’s scooter.

I tried repeatedly to reach Sonjec.

It was night by the time we arrived. Two of the moons of Pas were shining over a vast expanse of deep-purple water. The sand shone pearlescent in the light. The crescent beach was bordered at both ends by maroon rock outcroppings whose edges curved downward, echoing the shape of waves about to break.

“It’s breathtaking,” I said over the low hum of the scooter.

“Let’s ask about her at the rentals.”

We moved through the little tourist settlement rapidly. None of the room-keepers had seen an Earthen woman. They told us the closest bar was another hour down the road.

I felt panic creeping in.

Ruk found a handlight and we walked the length of the beach, finding no one. After searching the rocks at one end, Ruk said, “Should we try to find the bar?”

My heart sped up with each passing moment. Every instinct screamed, “This is where she is!” But I couldn’t find her. “I don’t know. I don’t— Let me calm down ... because—”

“What? You think she’s here?”

Then I remembered. “Oh gods, I can simply tell you.” I almost hugged him, hesitated, and then did it anyway. “I’m getting greenblack ... um, greenblack-hollow ...? What would that mean to you?”

“Not good. That’s for sure. I don’t know the word. Darkness. Depth, but not good depth.”

“Depression,” I said. “No cherry red. No bright blue.”

Sonjec didn’t want to be abandoned, alone. I knew that for certain. She wanted me to come for her. Frustrated tears filled my eyes. She might have already walked into the waves. Sonjec could do that. That it would ruin Mother and me might not ever occur to her.

Ruk put an arm around my shoulders. “Let’s go to the other end. We didn’t search the rocks as carefully down there.”

As we walked, I screamed her name and kept my eyes on the water, but saw only shimmering light on choppy waves. The dark green feeling wasn’t out there. That’s what was confusing me. Where was she?

Ruk tugged on my sleeve and said, “Look!” He pointed up and out toward the cliff that reached out over the sea.

I couldn’t see anything but purple sky and dark rocks. I shook my head, tears spilling out of my eyes. “What?”

“On the end of that sharp jut. She’s there.” He brought me over in front of him, one hand on my shoulder, the other pointing.

“You’re sure? You see her?” I brushed tears away.

“Yes. It has to be her. What do you want to do?”

“I want to kill her. Sonjec!” I screamed so hard it made me cough.

We reached the rocks and he shone the light as we searched for footholds. As we came onto a small plateau, the wind blew toward us.

I gasped and we turned to face each other. “Music!”

He took my hand. “This way.”

We took mincing steps on a less steep route toward the water, but then had to climb again and could hear nothing but the waves. The rocks were wet and it took all my concentration not to slip.

“Do you swim?” I asked him after we both had negotiated a steep crack between boulders and were sitting atop them, resting. We could hear the music once again, which let me know that Sonjec was alive. I was able to catch my breath.

“A little.”

“What if you slipped?”

“What if you slipped?”

“I’m a good swimmer!”

He looked down. “We’d hit rock here anyway. Let’s just not fall.”

“Deal.” I stood and screamed, “Sonjec!”

“Why can’t she hear us?”

I stopped yelling then, realizing why. She was playing the frequlet. Her implants activated, she wouldn’t hear anything outside her music.

But the instrument had heard us.

As we topped the highest ledge, my voice arose within the composition—changed, re-patterned—but undeniably my harsh voice, screaming her name.

She, sitting near the edge, heard it too.

Sonjec stood, turned toward us and then rocked backward on one foot as if she wanted me to witness her fall.

I held my breath for a heartbeat and then rushed toward the cliff to get my ass-blast sister out of harm’s way.


She was all cut up.

I wanted to get a room, but she refused to move from the beach. Ruk begged a couple of blankets from a roomkeeper. We wrapped her in them and Ruk built a fire. It wasn’t that cold, but she was wet and her arms and legs were covered in wounds. Some were scrapes from climbing the rocks. Others were precise, self-inflicted cuts.

“How’d you get here?” I asked.

“Rowdies,” she said. “Four boys who thought they’d picked up some fun.”

“Did they hurt you?”

“No! I don’t know what they expected, but I pulled out my knife and told them to fuck off.”

“So you weren’t a political hostage?” Ruk asked.

“Hardly. That would have at least been interesting. This was the same old tiresome shit that we women put up with almost any place in the universe.”

“They didn’t hurt you, so you hurt yourself?” I said, nodding at her arms and legs. There was a long silence. Finally, I spoke again. “Do you know what’s happening in the capital?”

She nodded, looking into the fire. “I’ve been following the news feeds. But, Car, I don’t understand what I did.”


He gently explained why the P’twuans had gotten so riled up. Sonjec asked lots of questions, getting less depressive and more energized the more she found out.

“It’s fascinating. I mean, it backfired this time, but the idea that I can communicate on another level using my music is pretty awe-inspiring. I had no idea that was possible.”

“Nor did we,” Ruk said.

“But, I’ve fucked up everything for Mother.”

“If you fucked up everything for Mother, then you have to fix everything for her.”

She snorted and kicked sand into the fire causing a small shower of pearly sparks.

“I’ve been thinking about how you can do that,” I said.

“Thinking always was your thing.”

I bashed her on the shoulder, knocking her backwards.

This startled Ruk, but Sonjec picked herself up and said, “It’s okay. It’s the way we’ve always related.”

“Do not put me down for trying to repair the damage.”

“I’m all ears,” she said, in a softer tone.

“You have to face the music ... so to speak. You’re going into the city and you’re going to change the message. I’m going to help, and even though he doesn’t know it yet, so is Ruk.”


For some reason, I was certain we could pull this off. That is, right up until the moment—three days later—when we walked toward the large oval plaza where the protests continued.

Sonjec was somewhere between panicked and turned-on. Consummate performer that she was, the thought of playing her instrument to such a large assemblage excited her, even as she knew there were attendees who hated her.

I looked over at Ruk.

He was already watching me. He reached out and took my hand in his large, flattened, soft fingers. He exuded yellowpinkpale-smooth: serenity. I took a breath, remembering that I would be a conduit for emotions and had to stay calm. His touch helped settle me as we waded into the milling crowd. Someone was making a speech at the other side of the plaza, but the words didn’t reach this far.

Our plan was to start on the fringe where people were more likely to be only curious—not involved. If this worked, we’d move closer to the core group as we won them over.

But the activists would do whatever they could to turn this to their advantage. Angry, rude noises would come from that crowd and, somehow, Ruk, Sonjec, and I had to turn those sounds into a message that would send most of these people back to their homes with forgiveness in their hearts.

Sonjec was wired for this. She hopped up on a decorative railing that bordered a small splashing pool and smiled at those nearest her.

A man jeered, “Hey, it’s the foreign devil who started this!”

I climbed up next to her and placed my hand on the small of her back. Ruk was at my other side.

She began, as we’d discussed, with the amazing composition she’d recorded on the beach. Sounds of waves crashing on the rocks woven with the calls of sea birds and the susurration of water being pulled back out to sea over tiny pearlescent sea animals and stones.

She sang with the music and her voice rang with confidence.

“Go home, bitch!” the same man yelled.

Several people glared or shushed him. Either they didn’t know Sonjec or they didn’t care. Two other P’twuas came up and talked to the man who’d shouted.

I held my breath as Sonjec set the frequlet to input and allowed the crowd to become a part of her music. So far, about ninety percent of the people were rapt, but the others were either not paying attention, or in case of the group of three, actively trying to drown out the music by yelling.

“Go home, go home, go home!”

Sonjec’s concentration faltered. I put pressure on her back and said out loud so that the frequlet would pick it up, “Peace. Calm. Peace.”

Ruk and I had used the last three days to work out our part of this. Now he, with an intensity that I can feel to this day, began to pour out the color-attribute combinations that would communicate what we wanted the crowd to pick up and understand. As he communicated to his people, I said it out loud and placed my intention on it as hard as I was able. I did this with a newfound belief in the ability to communicate my perceptions.

To go with the water-laced composition, we used a lilac-fading: tidal calm frequency. Then boldly, Ruk broadcast magenta-deep: sincere sorry. He dropped in green-muddy: stupid error, followed shortly by yellow-pale: open, easy.

Ruk got immediate feedback. When it was good, he told me, I told Sonjec and the message became a feedback loop of the kind of perceptions we needed to communicate. As we collaborated, Sonjec caught the spirit, even while not knowing the meaning of the colors or attributes. Her frequlet recorded the frequencies of this unspoken language in musical form for the first time.

Well, for the first time intentionally.

Ivorypink: sincerity; Magenta-smooth: sorry; Green-spikey: unintentional mistakes; Bluesoft-transparent: trustworthy calm; Magenta, Magenta, Magenta-waves: unrestrained sorry; Ivorypink, Yellow-pale, Greenmedium-even: equality.

As the music reached those around us, we stepped down and walked deeper into the crowd, across the plaza. Brownlight grayblue-vertical stripes: respect, respect, respect, respect, respect, respect. Browngreen-red-yellow-ivory-round: non-judgement, understanding.

They listened.

It was all we could ask.

Burnishedbrass-deep: forgiveness. Pinkorchid-light: friendship.

Over and over the message wove into Sonjec’s amazing improvisation. I felt the crowd becoming attuned to our simple message, “Please forgive this mistake. Let us be friends once more.”

We went up on stage. There, the audio devices picked up the frequlet onto the feed and broadcast it all over Pas. We made music every P’twua in Pas could understand. Every P’twua, and me.

The song came to be known as “Understanding Worlds” and became a classic.


That evening, at Mom’s apartment, Sonjec came to me emitting yellowbeige-pale: humble thanks. She didn’t know that was what she projected, but I had a new respect for my own perceptions.

We stood in the kitchen pulling this and that out of the cooler, making tea, stuffing our faces.

“I have always looked up to you,” she said.

“You have a strange way of showing that.”

“I know. That’s my pride. Seems to be built into us.”

Pride. Straight-up blue.

“What have we got to be proud of?” I said. “Oh well—silly me—you have your invention. But let’s face it, if your dad hadn’t encouraged you and helped you so much, you wouldn’t have refined the frequlet.”

“Your dad was never there for you in the same way.”

“My dad was never there for me at all.” It didn’t hurt because I missed having a dad. It hurt because she got one and I didn’t.

“Carinth, Mom chose our fathers.”

“Well, of course.”

“I don’t mean that she chose to have sex with them. She picked them for the traits she wanted in her children. Not that reliable maybe, but she told me that, as far as she’s concerned, it worked perfectly.”

“She told you that because you got something good. I got nothing.”

“You can say that? Today of all days?”

“I’m pretty good at languages, I guess.”

Mother walked in. “You’re a synesthete, like your father.”

I stared.

She walked over and put her hands on my upper arms.

“Carinth, you’re everything and more than I imagined you might be. Both of you got your confidence from me. Oh, I know, you girls aren’t fully mature yet, but it shows up sure and strong like today in the plaza. You knew. And you knew to bully the rest of us into listening to you. You got that from me and, I like to think, your openness to other peoples and cultures. But your gift? That’s from your father.”

“I never even thought you understood my synesthesia, much less would want it—choose it—for me.”

“I had a feeling it was a trait that would be significant somewhere, sometime. As usual, I was right.” She grinned widely and then enveloped me in a hug.

Periwinkle-striped with white: pride in one’s children.


“Probably that same Kellen pride made me want you to know the story,” I say to my rapt great-granddaughter.

“I can’t wait to tell my professor.”

“Don’t be surprised if it’s not well-received. Who wants truth? So what if Sonjec never mentioned me? I’m just her older half-sister who stayed on Pas.”

“You and Grandp’twua accomplished a lot, including making our big family.”

“Yes, doll, we made our own kind of music. Grandp’twua Ruk tells me I’m laverty much of the time now. Unfortunately, all Sonjec’s achievements couldn’t give her that.”


From the “Common Lexicon of Perceptual Communication” by Ruk Tur*ki’tua and Carinth Kellen. Laverty—lavendersilver-velvety: satisfied old-age. END

Nancy S.M. Waldman lives and writes on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Her short fiction can be found in “AE—The Canadian Science Fiction Review,” “Fantasy Scroll Magazine” and upcoming in the anthology, “Futuristica,” from Metasagas Press.


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