Friday, September 12, 2008

[Fiction] Friday: Culture Shock

[Fiction] Friday prompt for this week: Stranger in a Strange Land
Pick a small, inexpensive toy from your childhood. Now give it to someone from a foreign (or alien) culture. What do they do with it?

This comes from a bizarre new world, species and story that appeared from no where yesterday....

Culture Shock

Ka’Ru looked perplexed by the coil of light metal in his hand. He moved the two ends apart, and the spring collapsed, falling into a deep U in front of him. He began swing it around, revelling at the sound that it mades as it cut the air infront of him.

“Careful! You’ll get it tangled,” Shet said outloud, before she remembered that the young Th’Urn wouldn’t understand what she had said.

She took it off him with a little more urgency than she realised and began to untangle the coil, her fingers trembling as she unwound the kinks and returned it to it's original compact cylinder state.

A normally rational and level headed woman, being on the Th’Urn’s planet had given Shet a dose of culture shock that had rocked her emotional stability. Shet feared she’d dissolve in a flood of tears if the slinky broke, if it could never again move under its own steam. It seemed too much an omen – she wouldn’t be able to function here if the slinky broke. Now she had a dose of magical thinking as well as emotional instability. What was wrong with her?

The psychologist and anthropoligist’s reports had declared Shet a very low risk of developing a debilitating form of culture shock. A little was normal and to be expected, she'd been told as she prepared to leave. How did she know though – the difference between a little and a lot?

“What is this? It is important – no?” His voice asked in her head.

Shet looked at him, still disturbed by this brand new form of communication. She wished that the Th’Urnian scientists would hurry up and create a working translator from their conceptual mental models, so that they could all speak out loud to each other and be understood.

“This - is - a - slinky,” she said in her head, focusing on each word to make certain her mental dialogue as clear as possible and distracting her from the unsettling melee of emotions.

“You don’t need to speak slowly. I’m not dumb,” Ra’Ku commented haughtily. Shet flushed scarlet and Ka’Ru reached out a bluish finger to touch her burning cheek.

“I’m embarrassed.”
“What is this emotion?”

Shet struggled to put her thoughts into a coherent form. She’d never been good with people - that’s why she’d chosen to be a geologist. Rocks didn’t require you to be magnanimous or articulate, and engineers she worked with back on earth were known to be downright anti-social. She’d fitted in perfectly. How was she to explain emotions when she didn't totally understand them. Shet had been told that Th’Urn were a solitary race, but she’d found that the head mining engineer’s eldest son was curious and full of questions, much to the chagrin of his father.

“This slinky,” she said outloud, taking the uncoiled toy from Ka’Ru’s hands. “It is a toy … I mean it’s a toy. A slinky”

She organised a set of temporary steps on the table and set the slinky off downwards.
“It moves by itself .. this slin-kee.”

Ka’Ru picked it up and set it off again, a smile spreading across his thin lips.
“But what does it do? It has a purpose – no?”
“It’s just a toy. You use it for fun.”

Ka'Ru’s face became solemn as he thought.

Shet was unsettled more by the humanness of Ka'Ru than his otherness. She had been prepared for the bluish tinge of Th’Urnian skin and the sensual, lidless almond eyes that were so deeply embedded in the human psych as being ‘alien’ they seemed familiar. What she hadn’t been prepared for was the high cheekbones, the strong square jaw and open forehead, nor the curling dark hair that the young Th’Urn wore long.

“This is what you do when you have … day off.” Weekends, holidays, time off .. even sleeping in were human activities, institutions, that Shet had tried to explain when she had first arrived and discovered that the myth about the Th’Urn were correct. They worked, worked and worked some more. The Protestant Work Ethic had nothing on these guys.

Shet laughed, her cheeks cooling slowly in the artificial environment of the living pod.
“We play with them when we are kids. It’s fun. Do you not play as children?”
“We don’t remember our time with the Empress and her nurses. There is only work.”

Ka'Ru watched the slinky ‘walk’ down again and then handed it back to Shet.
“Why did bring it with you - you are grown, matured - no?”
“My brother gave it to me. It was my favourite toy when I was a kid. He thought it would help me remember home.”

Shet looked down at the table feeling the tears well up in her eyes. How was it possible that she even missed her brother? Perhaps she was losing it – she did have a serious case of culture shock. Maybe Kyle gave her the slinky purposely to unnerve her? Unhinge her – undermine her? If she couldn’t get it together they’d send her home and she would have failed on her first assignment as a Scientific and Cultural Envoy.

“Your brother Kyle…” Ka’Ru’s voice filled her head.

She looked up startled, feeling the deepest kind of violation. “Keep out of my head!” she screamed and fled to her sleeping cubicle, trying to slam the door behind her.


Annie said...

wow!!! NOW that is your NANO book..

Annie said...

is this coming from someone who doesn't write sci fi??? hummm - great - no - FANTASTIC entry.

~willow~ said...

lovely! :) I like the world you've built here: the telepathy angle is done well, and the flawed (or is she?) geologist finding herself in a Scientific and Cultural Envoy position? Excellent :) :)

Lenore said...

nicely written, there's more, yes?

Jodi Cleghorn said...

Yes more - it seems that the Universe has gifted me this for NaNo after months spent trying to develop another idea :)

The Countess said...

Back then I used to think slinkys were the greatest invention of mankind. Right after bubblegum. Cool spot for your NaNo!