TQ v.1:12

The Termite Queen
Volume One
The Speaking of the Dead

Chapter 12
And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
                                                        – from Gospel According to St. John 1:14

       Four days later, on 11 September, Kaitrin was sitting nervously between Prf. A’a’ma and Luku in the front row of a small auditorium in the Off-World Investigations building.  The eight members of the Committee on Off-World Expeditions sat on the other side of the center aisle.  Prf. Gwidian was on the podium, finishing up his scientific presentation.  A’a’ma had already had his turn, speaking about administrative matters – the ship, the financial situation, personnel.  Her speech was next.
        The meeting had been transferred to this good-sized venue when campus-wide interest had flared.  Nearly one hundred people were in attendance, the intellectual elite from many departments of Shiras-Peders and the Consortium at large.  Kaitrin’s palms were sweating.
       Gwidian was saying, “Now I’ll turn the rostrum over to Asc. Kaitrin Oliva, Joint Specialist in Xenoanthropology and Linguistics, who will speak about her investigations of the hypothetical language capability of this isopteroid species.”
       Kaitrin collected herself.  A’a’ma bobbed his beak at her; Luku nudged her arm.  She passed Gwidian as he descended from the platform and he gave her a small, tight smile.
       She loaded her visuals and composed herself, looking out across the sea of faces.  Most of these people were not fools; if her presentation was not powerful enough to draw a response out of them, they would dismiss her as an immature sentimentalist.
       “Members of the Committee, esteemed colleagues, interested guests.  When Prf. A’a’ma first asked me to consult on this project, I admit I was skeptical.  This obviously was an unusually large, possibly mutant, extraterrestrial insectoid.  Was it in any way reasonable to assume that such a creature could have evolved an intelligence capable of language?  Some aspects of its behavior, however, suggested a persona that had an individual consciousness and could experience psychological suffering.  Its brain was unusual, comparable to a human’s in size and of unfamiliar construction.  I suggested using a neural interface language recorder to try to detect electrical activity that might originate in brain centers capable of producing language.  And signals were duly received and recorded.  It appeared that a capacity for language really was locked inside this mute creature’s head.  All that was necessary was to find a way to access it.
       “That, gentlemen and ladies, is not as simple as it may seem.  All extraterrestrial languages are unique; they have no known correlatives – no historical precedents or derivatives – no key – on any world other than their planet of origin, but every language that we have discovered up to now shares the quality of being communicated acoustically, or, if extinct, to have been preserved in writing.  This was an electromagnetic form of communication – I’ve elected to call it a spectrographic language since it can be recorded directly only by means of EM patterns.  Hence, I made the initial error of assuming that it had to be some kind of non-verbal coding system.  But the processes of the speaking mind are not a series of binary choices – they are a set of random responses to the mind’s environment that express themselves through a system of syntactic organization.  I acknowledge a debt to my colleague, teacher, and friend, Prf. Tió’otu A’a’ma, for setting me on the right path in this matter.  His suggestion was that I stop regarding this as some kind of soulless technical exercise and start looking at it humanistically.
       “The creature’s antennae transmit and receive a carrier wave by means of which the brain sends EM signals that partake of the character of lexemes – that is, minimal units of meaning – loosely, words.  You and I communicate our words by means of pressure waves in the external medium of air, received by auditory organs on the sides of our heads and thence transmitted to the brain.  The significant shared characteristic here is that both the termite and human beings use their lexemes in a comparable way – to communicate – to ask the questions and make the decisions that enable us to live our lives in the most satisfactory way possible.  I realized that the only way I could unlock the meaning within the termite’s words was to transmute the medium of its speech into a form accessible to human senses.
       “We broke down the spectra derived from the recorder into a repetitive pattern of large and small components, of hiatuses of different lengths, of almost imperceptible signals.  I hit upon the idea of supplying the framework thus created with a set of randomly selected, utterable phonemes, giving this creature words that can be acoustically spoken.  I have only intuition to inform me as to the meaning of those words, however.
       “The recording was made as the creature was dying.  I have tried through empathy (I can find no more apt term) to conceive what it would say in those last moments of its existence.  Surely it was speaking of itself – its name, its home, the individuals that meant something to its life.  Surely it was trying to express its fears and its suffering – to beg for help – to remember what made it a person of unique value.  Would those of you present here today not be reacting similarly at such a time?
       “I measured my insights against the repetition patterns from the analyzer.  One of the waveforms occurs sixteen times.  I’m convinced that is the termite’s speech of itself – its ‘I am.’  I believe it wanted to be remembered.  And I believe it uttered its name.”
       Kaitrin poised a finger over the touchpad.  “I was with the creature, making the recording, when it died.  I recollected only last week that all activities inside its enviro cube were being continuously holographed.  We reformatted the grams as vid.  I would like to show you how it died.”
       She touched the panel.  The oversized viewport behind her came to life and she turned to observe.  “Here I am entering the cube, kneeling, placing the transceptors.  You can see, gentlemen and ladies, that the termite flinches away in the beginning.  It has been hurt so many times by creatures entering the cube.  But it responds as I touch its head.  It crawls toward me.  It places its head on my knees, its antennae against my torso, and it raises its foreleg and snags its claw in my shirt.  Shortly thereafter, its antennae sag.  It has died.  I beg you to indulge me if I do not appear scientifically dispassionate; anthropology is a mixed discipline at best.  I found this a very moving experience.”
       Abruptly, she changed the picture.  The vid rewound; the angle zoomed in to enlarge an image of the termite’s blind mouth and head and its outstretched antennae, quivering against Kaitrin’s chest.  Words appeared at the bottom of the screen.
       sho|ti’shra’ze| ||      
       Another set of letters appeared below.
       I am Ti’shra.
      sho|ti’shra’ze| || ‘I am Ti’shra,’” said Kaitrin.“This creature had a name.It is I who have assigned the sounds of human speech to the name, but the name is the creature’s own.Let me show you the rest of what it said.”
       The full text of Kaitrin’s transcription flashed up on the screen – morphemes, determinatives, linkage symbols, dividers, lulls where the creature momentarily stopped speaking – the form and the texture.  “I will endeavor to point out some patterns,” she said, “and present some interpretations.  I caution you against taking anything I say as literal truth, for it is all conjecture.  But it is valid as a point of departure.”
       “The arrow symbols are what I call linkages, substituted for almost undetectable but consistently employed blips that seem to indicate syntactical relationships – verb to object, for example.  These isopteroids’ minds seem instinctively capable of formulating detailed grammatical structure.  An analysis of the patterns produced by these linkages has allowed me to reach some tentative conclusions as to word order, morphology of lexical units, and so forth.
       “Consider the initial pair of words.  What was happening when the recorder began to pick up signals?  I had just placed the transceptors on the creature’s head, next to the antennae.  I believe the first pair of words signifies something like ‘my antennae’ or ‘near the antennae.’  If shvei’ga’zi| does mean ‘antennae,’ it certainly would be a plural.  The first waveform of sho|, which appears at the beginning of the word shvei’ga’zi|, is employed in several other places as an initial element.  The analysis of the grammatical linkages leads me to conclude that sh- at the beginning of a word can denote a plural. 
       “Other examples occur in line 5 – shkwi’sho’zei| – and in line 8 – shshi’zei|.  Observe that in line 5, shkwi’sho’zei| appeared previously in the sentence without the initial sh-, in what I take to be a singular form.  These words end in the same morpheme, -zei.  I take this to be a noun marker.  The unit at the end of ti’shra’ze| could be a different kind of noun marker; the fact that it occurs only in this combination helped me to hypothesize that it marks a proper noun and that this word is the termite’s name. 
       “The -zei determinative appears six times, in five different words.  Three of these words follow the word sho|, for which I am positing the meaning ‘I am.’  Observe that the sentence of line 5 begins with ‘I am’ plus the noun kwi’sho’zei|, which is repeated one word later in the plural.  In line 8 sho| occurs again – ‘I am’ plus another plural noun.  They are all something that the termite is – connected by a sign possibly linking the verb to its predicate.
       “From these analyses, I have concluded that -zei probably defines a personal noun.  Ti’shra says something like ‘I am a termite’ or ‘I am a frightened person.’  One of them may be the name of its people, as we might say ‘I am an Earther.’  If only we knew which!
       “The marker -zi occurs five times in noun-positioned words, but never following sho|.  One of them is ‘antennae’ – shvei’ga’zi|.  I believe -zi indicates a common noun.
       “Now, the construct sho| appears five times as a separate word, but eleven times, nine of them initial, as an element of another word.  In some of these cases I think it signifies not ‘I am’ but simply the pronoun ‘I.’  Look at line 3: sho’laio|preivo| loi’zi| ki’bei| ||.  The frequently occurring terminal element -o may denote a verb form, and I’m surmising that the sign I have represented as a pair of reversed vertical arrows marks the infinitive form of the verb.  preivo| also occurs in line 1 combined with sho|; the first person singular may be constructed merely by combining sho| with the infinitive form.  The construct sho’laio| occurs four times.  In three cases an infinitive appears to follow.  ‘I’ plus a verb plus an infinitive.  What could the dying termite be saying?  ‘I need to eat.’  ‘I try to speak.’  ‘I want to understand.’  We cannot yet determine what it was seeking to convey.
      “One of the most frequently used forms – eleven instances, either alone or in combination – is wei|.  I have concluded from its positions that it must be a negative.  Look at line 4: sho’laio| wei|weio| kwi’il| ||   ‘I’ plus verb plus ‘not’ plus infinitive.  ‘I try not to fear.’  ‘I do not want to suffer.’  Again, we cannot know.
       “But perhaps this sentence provides a clue.  The infinitive is also rooted in the morpheme wei|.  ‘I’ plus verb plus ‘not’ plus – ‘to be negated?’  ‘To die?’  Can Ti’shra have cried out, ‘I do not want to die’?
      “The last line.  sho|weio’zei| vi| fa’gano| || The infinitive weio| plus the personal noun ending -zei. A noun meaning ‘The Negated Person.’ ‘The Dead One.’ 
       “sho|weio’zei| ||  ‘I am the Dead One.’”
       Kaitrin paused.  The room was totally silent; every eye was locked onto her face.
       “I will now read the entire text for you,” she said.
       oi| shvei’ga’zi| || …  ist’zi|she| wei| || … sho’preivo|tu| fa’u’isto| weil|sho’a| ||
       bei’paho|reisho| wei|sho’a| d’il| || sho|ti’shra’ze| || bei’taio|loi’zi| ||sho’laio|preivo|loi’zi| ki’bei| || … sho’laio|tu| bei’gano| ya| sho’a| || … yino| o| sho’a| … || sho’laio| wei|weio| kwi’il| || … sho’laio|zifo|bei’a| || …
       sho|kwi’sho’zei| ja| shkwi’sho’zei|shfash|wei’zi| … i’zot| shfash|kwi’il| || …  
      galto|tu| ti’shra’ze|⇄ fa’weiot| ist’il| ya| shfa’a| i’i| lo’ro’ra’mi| … ja| fa’tait|↺ ru’zei| … vi| fasht| ↳ wei’thel| wei| || …
       sho|ti’shra’ze| || …. sho| shshi’zei| || … na’ta’zei|⇄ ta’she|↺ a’kha’ma’na’ta| || …
       sho| weio’zei| vi| fa’gano| ||
         Kaitrin read with care, carefully adhering to the pronunciation norms that she had set for this language – stressing each syllable equally, gently rolling the r’s, preserving the differing values for e and ei.  When she was finished, she continued, “There is only one way to verify if my hypotheses are correct.  That is to take this language home.  Can the compassionate scholars of Shiras-Peders University sit comfortably here on Earth and deny Ti’shra – an intelligent creature whom we destroyed, albeit without evil intention – deny Ti’shra an opportunity to speak again to its people?  Can you deny this seed of my beginning a chance to germinate and flower?  The motto of Shiras-Peders is ‘Humanity seeking a universe of knowledge.’  To the creature whom we destroyed in the name of science, we must make amends in the name of humanity!  Grant us the means to mount our expedition to 2 Giotta 17A and set the matter right!”
       Kaitrin ducked her head and swiftly left the podium, hoping to gain herself a moment of respite before the questioning began.  Instead, after an almost breathless pause, someone began to clap, then others, until finally the whole assemblage was applauding.  There were even shouts of “Bravo!”  People stood up.  Kaitrin was dumbfounded.  One’s colleagues did not applaud at meetings like this; they remained critical and dispassionate and a little bored and they tore you apart after you were done.  She came up to A’a’ma, who was still hunkered at the end of the row, bobbing and twittering.
       “Good grief,” she said to him.
       He tilted back his head to look at her.  “The funding is ours,” he croaked.  “But you took a gamble, Kaitrin.”
       She drew a deep breath.  “Well, sometimes it’s necessary to err on the side of passion.”
      As she uttered these words, she looked up in time to catch Prf. Gwidian’s eye.  His eyebrow twitched ambivalently.  “Congratulations, Associate,” he said.  “I’d say, plan on departure in, at the most, eight weeks.” 
       “Good grief!” she said again.
       Behind her, someone said, “Riveting presentation!  But I’d like to learn more about your methodology.”
       Kaitrin turned to see Prf. Kromwel, the Chairperson of Xenolinguistics and one of Kaitrin’s principal postgrad Professors.  As a member of the Committee, her judgment was especially important, but her opinion mattered to Kaitrin over and above that.
       “It was more intuition than methodology, as I said.”  She smiled down at the tiny woman. 
       “Well, intuition isn’t always reliable, but in your case it seemed to work!”
       Prf. Marron from Ancient Classics had appeared behind Kromwel.  “Been brushing up your rhetoric, I see,” he commented genially.  “You turned those administrative types to putty.”
       Kaitrin laughed.  “It was well rehearsed.”
       “The most successfully rehearsed speech sounds the most spontaneous,” said Kromwel.
       “I was envisioning you declaiming in the Agora,” said Prf. Marron, “although I don’t believe women did that in those days.”  With a grin, he added, “Perhaps you should think of running for the Assembly!”
       As Kaitrin took a breath to protest that, other less positive remarks became audible.
      “Nothing but an attempt to play on the emotions.  Not a shred of proof.  Backs up what I’ve always maintained:   Xenology is bastard science!”
       “Pure fiction, I agree!  Surely the Committee won’t waste the University’s resources on a project with such a weak foundation!”
       “Uh oh!” said Kaitrin.  “Just what I was afraid of!”
       “Oh, that’s Prf. Tate,” said Marron, with a dismissive gesture.
       “And Gloykin,” added Kromwel, standing on tiptoe to peer over shoulders.  “What can you expect from a temporal-quantum theorist?  I can’t imagine why she even came!”
       “Tate is a pure logician,” remarked Prf. A’a’ma.  “To him language exists in a theoretical vacuum.”
       “They quite missed the point,” said Marron.  “You never claimed to be presenting the definitive study of the subject.  Your goal was to stimulate interest and sway opinion and I’d say you were very successful in that!”
       At that point a babble of other voices interrupted
       “Asc. Oliva, you’ve achieved a first!  I’ve never attended a semantics lecture before that wasn’t as boring as an anatomy lesson!” 
       “Kaitrin, what a tour-de-force!  But I’d like to learn more about these linkage symbols.  I noticed you vocalized them with short syllables like ‘yu’ and ‘hei,’ but you chose not to write out those syllables.”
       “I kept a symbolic representation in the written transcription because in fact these signals are not words, only indicators of syntactical structure.  However, the translation device we hope to construct will need to hear a vocalization in order to operate.” 
       “What makes you think that this creature would enunciate its name using the copulative ‘to be’ in the Inj manner?  After all, the concept ‘My name is … ’ is expressed using a variety of idioms in the different languages of Earth; an example is Spainish, where the turn of phrase is ‘I call myself … ’  And our Prf. A’a’ma here would say ‘You call me … ’”
       “What meaning might your intuition suggest for the final two words?  What could follow ‘I am the Dead One’?”
       And yet another question, “How quickly will this be published?”
       “Was it being holographed?” asked Kaitrin.  “Yes, I see the cams are even still running.  It will all turn up on the DB soon enough.”
       “That takes awhile, unfortunately.  Maybe you could … ”
       “Probably won’t take too long,” responded Kaitrin with a grin.  “My mother works in the L & L Section – controls priorities.  But I’d be glad to address some of the complexities … ”
       “How about commenting further on this incredible carrier wave theory?  You barely touched on that – only whetted our curiosity!”
       “Oh, for that you should talk to Prf. Chandra over there.  He’s the one who did the practical work … ”
       So the spontaneous discussions stretched on and Kaitrin escaped the ordeal of an formal Q and A session.
       Near the end, as the crowd began to thin out, someone spoke her name and Kaitrin turned to see Prf. Lindeman. 
       “Gad, you had me weeping for that insect,” she said with a grin.  “I’m a little jealous of you, you know.”
       Kaitrin’s stomach did a little flip.  “Jealous?” she repeated stupidly.
       “I’d give anything to be going on this expedition!  I would have to be chained to this Chair right now.”
       “Oh!” said Kaitrin, hoping she looked less foolish than she felt.  “Yes, it’s a shame.”
       “What an opportunity for you to achieve your Professorship!”  Then, as Kaitrin simply gaped at her, she added, “Don’t tell me it never occurred to you!  Prf. Gwidian says your ambition is to make Professor before you turn thirty.”
       Kaitrin had been so hung up on the !Ka<tá project that she had never thought about shifting her goals to this new endeavor.  “I suppose you’re right,” she replied.  “It honestly hadn’t occurred to me.”
       “Griff is a super leader when it comes to off-world missions,” said Prf. Lindeman.  “I’m sure you’ll have quite an experience.”  She leaned forward confidentially.  “Did you see that it was Prf. Gwidian who started the applause?”
       “It was?  No!  I … ”  Damn, I’m flushing again
       Lindeman laughed, cocked an eyebrow suggestively at Kaitrin, and moved away.

Coming Monday, final post before publication:
Chapter 13
Another glimpse of the Shakespearean termites:
 The Chamberlain Mo'gri'ta'tu unsuccessfully challenges
 the Holy Seer, then begins the process of subverting
 the loyalty of the Commander Hi'ta'fu and
of his Second-in-Command Chief Lo'lo'pai.