Looking through the window of my room at the forbidden planets which Station 000402 (Fortitude to inhabitants) patrol, a single tear rolled down my soft, pale cheek. I had been losing sleep and, as a result, color the past few cycles. A cycle ago my skin had a beautiful, dulled glow and the color of the inside of a watermelon; not quite red, not quite pink… the perfect complexion of a well sought after Wilvarok. Now, pasty and almost white, I am a disaster. I look and feel like death and yesterote my anxiety got so bad I quit producing silk in mid-knit. My horns haven’t turned black yet, but they are a little darker than they were just a few rotations ago. My mom had always told me to come see her immediately when they did turn black, though I am not sure why.
Mom and dad worry light and night about my health. They tried to talk to me, but I couldn’t bear to speak of it. They thought I was just acting out as part of my coming-of-age teenage angst and fed me some psychobabble about it being perfectly natural for a child my age to become detached from her parents or, in my situation, wonder what her real parents were like. If only they knew what I was dealing with, if only they could understand. I loved them and in my mind they always have been and always will be my real parents. That love, that irreplaceable connection I feel with them, that unconditional, indefinite gratitude I have for them bringing me in when I had nothing, when I was nothing. That is why I cannot bring myself to burden them with the details and the dangers of what has truly been bothering me.
No name on the file, no return-tracker data, and no way to trace the IP. The document had been professionally wiped, as if it were an official document from a Kerhah Agent or even a GECO. The mail contained a picture of a simple haiku written on a piece of Wilvarokan silk fabric being suspended between a pair of horns.
The blood of your blood
Still alive, but not for long
Soon you’ll understand
The signature was a drawing of Wilvarokan horns with a single drop of blood between them making an H. I read the note over and over again, took a screenshot of the signature, and deleted the file. The words were branded into my mind forever, but I could tell no one. Whoever sent this to me wanted me to read it and no one else.
Unable to sleep, I decided to go for a walk. Since it was night time and I had no worries of running into anyone too prim and proper, I decided to save the hassle of wearing my headdress. Only the eldest of the Tilverhans minded if I didn’t anyway. No one else really understood their protest, since they had never been around any other Wilvaroks and had definitely never lived with any. The elders, however, still remembered when the Wilvaroks and the Tilverhans lived in harmony with one another before the Great Migration from the forbidden planets.
One of the elders, a storyteller, often spoke of his remembrance of pre-migration when the children would ask about my headdress. He had woven a tale he would recall, always flexing, playing, and making faces at all the right moments. Though he was a bit biased and narcissistic, even I must admit he can tell a captivating, memorable story.
“In these forgotten times, the two species mingled on one another’s home planet. The Wilvaroks viewed themselves as ‘superior in intelligence but equal in rights’. Though most Wilvaroks and Tilverhans did not even acknowledge the existence of this divide, there were many Wilvarok who maintained illusions of grandeur and generally pompous attitudes.
In exchange for their valuable silks and technological advances, the Wilvaroks were permitted to do harmless, non-intrusive scientific studies on the Tilverhans. They were intrigued by their culture, their mannerisms, and especially by their physical prowess and magnificent hybrid of reptilian and mammalian traits. I quote a certain lovely Wilvarokan scientist’s journal. Green scales covering their broad hindquarters and lower torso flow seamlessly into vibrant purple flesh which encompasses their entire upper body.
They have four scaled legs stemming from their lower body. Their hind legs are extremely powerful with muscular feet, each of which has six digits tipped by curved, non-retractable claws and a seventh, much larger claw extending downward from the top of their heel which is jointed and capable of movement much like a bird’s talon. Their front legs are much more slender and have long, webbed feet, each with only four digits and straight claws. The bottoms of their front feet are scaled with teethed scales, providing them with excellent traction and allowing for quick and sudden turns, bursts, cuts, and stops.
Gigantic, bat-like wings with straight barbs at the tip are folded gracefully against their sides. Though they are incapable of flight, they can use their strong hind legs to leap high into the air and then use their wings to glide, allowing them to travel great distances in short time with little expended energy.
Their upper bodies are usually slender and have four appendages as well. Each arm has two elbows as opposed to one, allowing their arms to bend in almost any imaginable direction. Their hands have short, knife-like nails on each of their five fingers and thumb. Their faces are beautiful and, sans the creases in their cheeks, completely smooth skinned—much like our own. Their eyes have slit-pupils and are amber or hazel in color.
Most amazing of all, from the top and back of their head they have something they refer to as hair sprouting out. It is like fur, except extremely long and soft. It reminds me of a permanent fixture of silk combined with the texture of a mammal’s coat. They can cut it, pull it, twist it, turn it, and braid it with other strands, just like silk. Many of the women make extravagant weaves and the men typically either keep theirs cut short or in tight weaves so it does not restrict them in battle. They are truly magnificent beings.”
After flexing and posing through the majority of the account of the Tilverhans ‘obvious physical prowess’ he would smile reminiscently and stumble for his place in his own story. “Oh…where was I… right, the headdresses, right. They followed strange rules of social status, etiquette, and discretion to remain ‘politically correct’ as they call it. Since Wilvarokan horns play a large role in their mating rituals, they were considered profane to show in public, so they were required to keep them covered at all times.”
The elders tell children all sorts of different stories of pre-migration, but this one was by far my favorite. I see a lot of myself in the scientist who allegedly wrote the pseudo-voluptuous description of the Tilverhans. However, magical tales of a mystical land where animals roamed in fields of grass, where Tilverhans farmed and robots didn’t exist beyond a non-sentient state and weren’t even advanced enough to till a field, where everyone had less cares, less worries, and real sunlight, did have a certain allure. They ate of the earth and drank of the water which flowed naturally from gigantic lakes and rivers. Their claws unwrapped and their barbs unfiled, the Tilverhans lived entirely free, oblivious to the problems just on the horizon and in the company of the beautiful and intelligent Wilvaroks. To think one rotation soon, once the last of the Tilverhan elders pass on, those stories will be speculated and thought of as nothing more than fairy tales.
Immersed in my recollection of stories and thoughts of pre-migration, I had finished half my walk without even noticing. Fortitude was a small space station designed specifically for Tilverhans, so it was difficult to travel as a Wilvarok to some of the upper levels. Most of the inhabitants were very friendly and I never had to look hard to get a ride to the higher platforms during the light, but come nightfall I usually had to just walk a lap around the ground level. At a comfortable gallop it took about twenty minutes for a Tilverhan to complete a lap compared to my staggering, savory three hours.
With each step on the cold pitrinium floor, I spread my toes so my webs would press against the cold metal. Such a wonderful feeling to have the cold, pitrinium steel against my feet. All three toes spread wide, claws retracted, and completely relaxed so my webs can make full contact with the floor, I walked slowly savoring each step—each chill running slowly from my toes up to the base of my horns, like a dry wick soaking up oil and longing to be ignited. These slow walks at night were a self-indulgence no one else could really understand. I had never even spoken to another Wilvarok and, other than the occasional ambassador, had never seen one. The elders say “we have dangerous minds” but I have never felt like this was true. Yes, we are very intelligent and yes, there are accounts in history where Wilvaroks have done horrible things, but so have the Tilverhans. Besides, without the Wilvaroks they would still think that the Tilverhans are the only “intelligent” life force in the galaxy. I couldn’t understand where they were coming from but I liken my ability to comprehend their reasoning to their ability to understand why I would walk around at night with a vacant, satisfied look upon my face.
Even with my walk, I couldn’t relax entirely. There were too many thoughts running through my head. Did I have siblings I did not know about? I had always wondered growing up if I had been separated from some sisters at birth. Did I have living grandmothers? Aunts? Nieces? And whose horns held the haiku? Did my birth parents die because of some ill will toward my family? What if that is the case? That’s it! What if they are wiping out my biological family one at a time? What if they do kill whoever they have held then come for me? How will I protect myself? More importantly, how will I protect my parents and my friends and the rest of the Tilverhans at Fortitude? My birth parents were probably GECOs whose identities were discovered and they were killed by political anarchists. I can’t let them fall to danger, but what can I do? I am trapped, I am nothing. People call me a bashakai behind my back. Not most, but some. All the elders do. They hate Wilvaroks. I shouldn’t be here. I don’t belong here. I don’t deserve the love of my parents or the life I live. They should have just eliminated me. At least then I would not burden anyone with my worthless existence.
My mind continued to wander and my subconscious only became more and more self-destructive. I was actually feeling physical pain from what my mind was doing. I tried to stop thinking and couldn’t. My vision blurred in and out of focus like a magnifying glass was rapidly being brought closer and farther from my eyes. I kept walking. My head started pounding and my thoughts became like screams in my own mind. What started as idle chatter had become a verbal assault in third person. I began to stumble and could not hold myself up anymore. I fell to my knees, holding the sides of my head, writhing in pain. My heart was racing, my skin was hot to the touch, and I couldn’t open my eyes. The throbbing pain in my head epitomized into a sudden, sharp pain going all the way down my spine. The pain was so intense my eyes forced themselves wide open. I could see my reflection clearly in the polished steel floor. My skin was blood red, my horns black, and my eyes as white as stars. This is it. The message didn’t matter. My death came sooner and somehow at the mercy of my own mind. The last thing I remember wasn’t the feeling of my head hitting the steel floor, but the sound of a loud hum resonating inside my head like an archaic tuning fork.
“Sha’ayr, Sha’ayr can you hear me? Sha’ayr, nod if you can hear me.” I leaned up and weakly nodded. “Thank goodness, she’s conscious mister and misses Ellehar. Eyes are responsive to movement, color is changing properly to light stimulus, skin is pink and horns are white. I think she is okay.”
Everything was muffled and I felt like I must have been out for at least a cycle. “Mom. Dad. I love you.” They ran to my bed and wrapped their arms around me. “Oh we love you too flower! Luckily a couple of the guys were out past hours sparring in the ground level halls or you may have not have been found in time. They said they heard a non-Tilverhan scream and came running to your aid. One went home to avoid getting in trouble and asked that no one spoke of who it was. Given the circumstances, it was agreed upon to keep a secret. The other hasn’t left your side since you were brought in. You are lucky to have such a devoted admirer.”
A surprisingly muscular Tilverhan reached his bottom right hand out to shake mine. I took hold of his hand as he spoke. “I am glad you are awake, my name is__”
“Brindel. As you heard I am Sha’ayr, it is a pleasure to me__ wait. How did I know your name? Oh, right you must have said it while I was passed out. Thank you so much for saving me, I owe you my life.” I smiled a weak smile at Brindel, but a worried look seemed to have spread across the faces of everyone in the room. Brindel forced a smile, said his farewells, and went on his way. “Mom, what’s wrong? Why are you guys looking at me like that?
My father put his upper right hand on her shoulder. “Should we tell her dear?”
“I don’t see how we have a choice now.”
“True, but what of the letter, we cannot just dump all this on her at once, she is only seventeen. She isn’t even a woman yet!”
“Again, I do not see how we have a choice now.”
“I knew this rote would come I just… I never imagined time had passed so quickly.”
“Enough!” I shouted with a surprising authority I did not know my body was capable of at full strength, yet less at my weakened state. “I am your child; I am not some bashakai to be talked about as if I am not even here! What in the name of the stars is going on here? What the j’karn are you talking about? Tell me!” As my mother started weeping my anger subsided instantaneously. “I…I’m sorry mom. This has been a rough cycle, well, was a rough cycle until I passed out. I don’t even know what rotation it is now.” My mother quit crying and actually let out a laugh and smiled. “Dear, you have only been unconscious for eighteen hours! You passed out on rotation twelve of cycle three, it is only rote thirteen now!”
“But, I dreamt, I dreamt a whole world. Rotations and cycles passed in my dreams. There’s no way…”
“That is allegedly common with a bad Wilvarokan attack”, interjected the doctor, “There was a case in a medical journal that claimed a young lady was once out for three cycles after being attacked by a Wilvarokan anarchist. In those three cycles, she developed methods for warping space-time which allowed her to develop the plans for the black hole slingshot technology we use now to travel between star systems. A hundred turns’ worth of research at least—in three cycles.”
“How could I have been attacked by a Wilvarok? I am the only Wilvarok here, right?” My mom let out a deep sigh and lay down in the floor beside me placing her top left hand on my shoulder. “Honey, you…you attacked yourself.”
“I would never commit suicide! I have just been stressed mom, you have to believe me! I was just walking and I got dizzy and passed out, that is all! I swear!”
“I know honey, you didn’t do it consciously or on purpose. Oh stars, how do I explain this? The elders…when they say you are dangerous, they are not being mean. They are right. Wilvaroks are very dangerous, especially in mixed company. It is one of the reasons for the separation of species during the Great Migration.
“I don’t understand.”
“I know you don’t dear, just listen and I will explain everything I can.” My father, who had been holding my hand on the other side of the bed, let go and left the room. He could see my confusion and could sense my innocence and ignorance being drained from me. He couldn’t take it. But how did I know exactly what he was feeling? Not just speculate, but know for sure. How could I?
“When Wilvaroks come of age, as you know their horns turn and point forward instead of outward and their silk turns from white to a beautiful array of color two rotations per cycle. These are the physical changes that take place, it is natural and every Wilvarok experiences it. Well, those are only the physical changes that take place.
It could be a turn after, it could be twenty turns after, but once a Wilvarok’s mind has matured, it too goes through a change. This change is brought upon through extreme euphoria, sadness, anger, jealousy, introspection, or any other strong emotional stimuli. On Wilvarokan stations, they are surrounded by other Wilvaroks who can sense these changes and can immediately help them process them correctly. You didn’t have that assistance, so your change became a full-fledged attack. Luckily it was toward yourself.”
I burst into tears. “LUCKILY?! You wanted me to die didn’t you? To rid you of the mistake you made when you adopted a dirty bashakai like me!” Her top left hand still gently on my shoulder, her bottom left came forward with untraceable speed and struck me across the face. I said nothing, my tears ceased, and I could feel a trickle of blood running from my nose. My mother had never struck me and I was mortified. I could feel her anger. What was going on?
“Sha’ayr, if I EVER hear you refer to yourself as a bashakai, I swear to stars I will declaw you and take a notch out of your horns, do I make myself clear?” I nodded vigorously and apologetically. “I said luckily because if you would have been experiencing any of the dark four, you could have killed any Tilverhan on Fortitude and no one would have known what happened, not even you, so it could have happened again and again. I had hoped that I would be there to help console you when the change began, but I wasn’t. So THAT is why you are lucky it was toward yourself.”
I was ashamed, amazed, and still confused. “What are the dark four?”
“Emotion is broken down into four main groups; happiness and depression; love and hatred; courage and fear; hope and anxiety. Each of these has a positive and a negative side, referred to respectively as ‘the light four’ and ‘the dark four’. That is the dangerous weapon of the Wilvaroks. Some Wilvaroks are drawn to light, some to dark, and some have a mix of both. Up until recently, I had never seen any of the dark four in you, but for the past cycle I have been worried that perhaps your mind was evolving into maturity and with it came changes I could not help you with or explain.”
“Why are you just now telling me this? If I had known about all of this I may have been more prepared when it happened. Why would you keep this from me?”
“It is never spoken of before the maturity process; that is the way of the Wilvaroks. It is thought, and occasionally proven by violations of this rule, that self-awareness of the potential dangers Wilvaroks possess before their mind has time to mature on its own can lead them to become power-hungry and malevolent and have much higher chances of evolving into the dark four. Now, one of your dispositions, at least, is in the dark. I need to know which one it is.”
“Anxiety. It has to be. I was very worried about…something before it happened. I was having a panic attack and I became incapable of controlling my own thoughts. My subconscious divided itself and angst started being driven into my head relentlessly. That is when my vision blurred and I passed out.”
“Oh thank stars! That is the best outcome I could have hoped for. You are still the same loving, smiling, courageous, obsessive daughter I raised!” We both started laughing. “Well I suppose that is better than me being a hateful, mopey, compulsive brat!” We both laughed jauntily for a bit before the seriousness of the situation caught up with us. We acknowledged this realization with a deep sigh as I nodded to mom gesturing for her to continue.
“Where was I? Ahh, yes, clairvoyance!”
“You have to be kidding me? I am not psychic just because I hit puberty. That is ridiculous.”
“No, of course not, the brain is too complex for true psychic abilities to exist in ANY species, even the Wilvaroks. No, that is merely what the mental maturation process is called, and for good reason. Brindel, the stunning young man who saved you, never once spoke his name to the doctor. Or to me, or to anyone here. He signed in as an X because he didn’t want to waste time filling out his information and did not know yours. So you saw that on your own.”
“So let me see if I understand this. I was a normal teenage girl, then my horns turned, my silk prismed, and all of the sudden I can read people’s minds? What part of that makes any sense? And I thought you said I wasn’t a mind reader.”
“You aren’t. Well, you are in a sense, but not inclusively.”
“Mom, I am not an all-inclusive mind reader so you’re going to have to elaborate.” She smirked at me shaking her head playfully. “Alright smart mouth, you can read thoughts, but not processes. Whenever you are about to speak or you are feeling a really strong emotion, you will say whatever you are about to say or whatever you are feeling aloud-within-your-head. Wilvaroks are so in tune with their brains and other people’s brains they can latch on to this single thought stream and can feel what others are thinking. It is theorized that all creatures have this ability but only the Wilvarokan mind is powerful enough to translate these feelings into actual words. Hence why everybody gets uneasy feelings or premonitions from time to time. It is just them retrieving these messages but being incapable of translation.”
I looked at her, puzzled. “So, I am able of picking up one what people want to say or are about to say. Interesting… but I don’t see how that led to me being in this condition. Explain to me how I attacked myself. How does pseudo-mind reading become a weapon anyways?”
“Well, that is actually a subset of development. The dark four control your attack force. When you collapsed, did you notice any strange physical changes?”
“Yeah. My horns turned black and my skin red, and my eyes were bled of color. It was really frightening.”
“You went into Wilvarokan attack mode.”
“Now I have modes? Clairvoyance and multiple settings? I am not some sort of j’karn machine am I?”
“No dear, nothing like that. Many Wilvaroks refer to this ‘mode’ as ‘the metamorphose’. Think of it like this: when anyone gets mad, regardless of species, they have a rush of enzymes and hormones that make them stronger and more agile, right? Well, that is their “attack mode”. In mature Wilvaroks it is just much more intense and changes the way their mind works temporarily. For a short time your mind__”
“My mind ceases to be mine. It detaches from my body and works on its own. It does whatever the stars it wants with no regard for me. That is what happened, right? I get it now. My mind attacks the mind of others, it goes rogue and just starts breaking others apart psychologically. No wonder Wilvaroks would become power hungry with this kind of information. No wonder Tilverhani elders hate us. We ARE dangerous, to others and ourselves.”
“Generally, yes, that is the gist of it. However, there is one key detail you are off on. See, the reason you lost complete control is the attack was focused inward. Normally your mind stays completely in your control, you gain power of your subconscious, and it links with their subconscious. At this point you can make a conscious decision to attack one of their light four emotions with an overabundance of dark emotion.”
“That’s awful. You mean Wilvaroks fight other organic creatures with their mind? They break them down so much that it kills them?”
“Eventually, yes it does.”
“Why didn’t the Tilverhans design robots to wipe us out then? If we can only hurt organic creatures, it would have been in their best interest.”
“Well, it isn’t spoken of now but they did. Apparently, when Wilvaroks go into attack mode they can link their subconscious to a machine’s attack module in its AI. When this happens, they can take control of it and wreak havoc. Granted, it is from what I have come to understand a different process and is more difficult for a Wilvarok to do, but the results are catastrophic.” We were both silent for a good couple of minutes. Finally, I had to break the tension. “Wow. I want to be mad, I want to be furious at the Tilverhans for trying to kill my entire species, but I cannot blame them. Why has everyone been so nice to me here? Well, most everyone. No wonder some of the kids at school call me the sha’bashakai. Wilvaroks are more of a threat to existence than any beast and any disease. If we can virtually hack into the mind of any creature or machine, how did the Tilverhans prevent a hostile takeover?”
“Well, not all Wilvaroks are bad. Many sided with the Tilverhans in political debates back on the forbidden planets. As you know, Tilverhans and Wilvaroks can mate amongst one another, though since all Wilvaroks are female only Wilvarok children can be born from the mating ritual. So, many Wilvaroks took Tilverhan husbands and wives and shared with the Tilverhans the secret to combating against the Wilvaroks.
See, even though it only dampens the attacks from the Wilvaroks, the countermeasure is simple: ignore your instincts to be drawn toward the dark four during combat and pick a light emotion and just think about something that invokes it as hard as you can.”
“Mom. Not to be cynical or anything, but that seems like it would just delay the inevitable.”
“Well there is an interesting point I am getting to. Wilvaroks can access the subconscious only during attack mode, so any conscious thoughts will not be detectable. So they cannot tell which of the light four you are focusing on. So when they try to attack your subconscious you have a one in four chance of picking the antithetical emotion they choose. If you succeed in this, it delivers a powerful blow to their subconscious, causing them to suffer the agony they would have inflicted on you and temporarily breaking their mental connection, allowing you to attack.”
“But isn’t emotion more complicated than that? How can you say that any feeling is just a part of one of these four categories? Feelings and emotions are much more complex, right?”
“Yes and no. Every feeling you have has a primary emotion and has other emotional influences as well. The gamble is, if the emotion you fabricate to protect yourself isn’t strong enough in any of the light four, it will not effectively harm the Wilvarok, but can dampen the effects of their attack. So, complex emotional focus can be a defensive action whereas pinpointed emotional focus can be offensive, leaving you mostly vulnerable.”
I lifted my hands and leaned over the bed slowly and carefully so I wouldn’t lose balance and fall and hugged my mother’s upper torso. “Thank you for telling me all of this mom. It is a lot to deal with and a lot to understand, but I think I get it all. I assume my ability to process this and the relief of stress I have been feeling all cycle is a direct result of the clairvoyance?” She smiled, tears filled her eyes, and her nictitating membrane slid across to wipe them away. “I love you dear.”
“I love you too, mom.”
“Ventreus, the letter,” my father said as he re-entered the room, “we have to tell her.” Dad came up to the bed with a piece of silk parchment in his hand. The vent in the hospital room made the edges of the parchment dance lightly and carelessly in his hand. I stared at the parchment, filled with a sense of peace knowing more about who I was. As the parchment danced, the bottom corner turned up. Suddenly, all tranquility was gone. I could feel the colors shifting wildly in my eyes. My heart began pounding. I thought I was going to pass out again, but fought my headache and managed to open my mouth just enough to let out a scream, but my vocal cords seized up. Breathily panting, I tried and tried but just could not make a noise. My eyes were fixated on the parchment, my throat was dry, and my parents were screaming at me to try and discern what was wrong. Their voices echoed in rapid waves, as if I were inside a pipe they were yelling into. Finally I was able to utter one word:
Thorns by Kevin Copenhaver is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.