Art Pact 279 - Comodina

Of all the worlds in which I might have lived, the great moon of Comodina-5 was the one that I found most pleasant. When I was a boy of a mere six hundred and ten I fell from the sky and landed in a clearing in the centre of a Mushtik village. It was midday during a dark month - the period during which the moon was cut off from sunlight by the great bulk of Comodina itself, which filled the noontime sky with rolling red clouds and violent flashes of light - the result of lesser moons and rings falling into the atmosphere of the gas giant and being consumed. I fell hard - I had dropped a lot of speed coming through the atmosphere, at the cost of my clothes which had been ripped to shreds and were no doubt flitting around the upper atmosphere, but not enough to prevent me from embedding myself three meters into the soil of the clearing. I lay there, staring up at the me-shaped patch of red sky that was all I could see (I did not know at the time that I was seeing the sky of another planet, not the one of the moon I was on), and I was just beginning to wonder how I could pry my limbs free of the earth and get out of the hole when a head popped into view above me.

"Chomack?" said the head. It was broad and flat, and split vertically by a horrid-looking mouth flanked on either side by two pairs of glistening black orbs that I chose to assume (correctly, as it turned out) were eyes. "Chomack Amatu?"

"Yes," I said. "Yes, please."

If the creature was surprised that it could understand me, despite my obviously foreign language, it did not show in its mind. It seemed to be taking the whole thing rather matter-of-factly, as if naked aliens dropped out of the sky on a regular basis, and it vanished for a few moments to return with a rope, which it lowered down to me. The end of the rope dangled tantalisingly near to my belly, but I was unable to free my arms from the soil they had fallen into, the blow having compacted the soil quite handily into a thick clay consistency. I struggled against it for a moment then saw the rope being winched back up, repositioned, and lowered again so that it fell directly into my right palm. I was able to grab that easily enough, and with the extra strength of the local pulling up with his rope we were able to free my right arm. Once that was out it was trivial to free the rest of me, and finally I climbed out of the hole on my own by bracing myself against the sides. The creature was surprised about that, and when I got out I saw why - it was only about half a meter tall at the shoulders, although it was close to two meters long. For it, being in a hole three meters deep would have been quite a prison, and although it was obviously not phased by my presence or the other unusual facets of my appearance, the fact that I was tall and not long seemed to be something out of the ordinary for it.

It was a common body plan on Comodina-5, I was later to learn. All of the creatures who lived there were longer than they were tall, and in some cases comically so, so that there were insect-like creatures with the cross-section of my thumb but perhaps ten or twelve meters in length, so long that it was not uncommon for the animals to criss-cross their own paths while foraging, and for animals to physically tie themselves in knots accidentally. The intelligent people - the Mushtik, of whom my rescuer was one - were less ostentatiously long, but they were still more centipede than ape in appearance, and it was clear that my height would provide a constant source of amazement and amusement for them.

"Fretmao?" asked the local, pointing up at the sky. "Oman Fretmao Chomack?"

"Oh, no. I mean, yes, I did fall from the sky. But not from that place. From space. From elsewhere." I made a big gesture, in case the local was unfamiliar with the concept of space but somehow an expert at charades, but it was unnecessary - I could see in its mind that it recognised that I had come from further afield.

"Koka May?" it asked.

"No, I'm fine. I've fallen farther before. Maybe a few bruises."

I had fallen farther before, and faster. I'd been falling through space for approximately thirty years by that point, and as I'd been ejected from the ship at around half light speed it was clear to me that I must have lost a lot of energy coming through the outskirts of the system - if I'd hit the moon at 0.5c I would probably have blown the thing in half. Whether the impact would also have killed me I did not know - they'd obviously hoped that at the other end, but I had good reason to doubt that anything so simple as kinetic energy would be the end of me.

"Mischey?"

"Yes, please! I'm starving."

Now we were on firm ground. The native could accept that I had fallen from the sky, it was unfazed by my appearance in general although boggling at my aspect ratio, and it had moved on from there to simple hospitality. I wasn't sure whether I would be able to eat the food that it gave me, but it wasn't as if the process was vital to me anyway. If the food was poisonous it wouldn't be able to kill me, and I didn't need any nutrition from it one way or the other, so as long as it was something that would fit in my mouth and that I could break with my teeth and swallow, it would be good. There was the matter of taste, of course, but I was confident that no matter how disgusting the fare I would be able to grin and bear it and be polite to my hosts. If it filled up my stomach and took away the awful pangs I'd been experiencing for the last couple of decades that would be worthwhile.

The first hurdle was caused, of course, by my height. The natives, my host included, lived in flat buildings stacked on top of each other, carved out of the body of what I discovered was the local flora - a squat thing about as tall as me into which a low helical path had been cut, leading to several openings in turn, each of which was a house - or hut, or whatever you want to call them. My host disappeared into one and just when I was wondering whether I should crawl in after it on my belly it emerged again, holding a cookpot (apparently the design of some kitchenware is universal) and some chunky yellowish globes that I assumed were fruit. He scuttled down to the base of the house, pausing at each door to call in to the inhabitants. Most of them were either empty or contained locals apathetic towards his call, but two more emerged from their houses, and tagged along after my host when his body had finished passing their door. The three of them formed a little train that spread out into parallel lines at the bottom as we all walked back towards the clearing and the hole I'd made in it.

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