Semi Articulate

Wouldn’t you know? There’s rhyme and reason to this phonetics lark after all. Not a kind I’m a natural at, but eminently sensible. The key, as always, is in giving things names. Even and especially those things whose existence we’ve taken for granted while using them to name everything else along the way. I don’t think too highly of the particular choices at work in the field’s notoriously cryptic symbols, but just because I wasn’t on the committee doesn’t mean there’s no good to them. In fact I ought to get to the bottom of the complete set.

You see, I’ve actually been on the brink of phonetics all along.

Once upon a time, in the hazy disconnected funk of the last century, before even this story’s ancient genesis, I cobbled up a little speech synthesiser. Give it a listen, I dare! This was 1999, and what else were you going to use your computer for when kicked off the family modem? Civilisation, usually, but sometimes I did projects like this. That one little demo sounds like I was onto something. I remember showing it off, well pleased with my invention, until people asked to make it say something else. Bugger.

The particular wheel I’d reinvented was concatenative synthesis, a fact I only checked up on years later. I’d figured out a basic set of sounds, and wrote out and sampled myself saying a list of words which contained the lot. Then I snipped the recordings right down to their individual units, named them by my system, and saved the lot to a trio of folders from which my synthesiser script stacked them end to end when asked to play. The result was pretty choppy. That’s because the art of gathering sounds was more nuanced than I thought. I hadn’t taken stress into account at all, or intonation. But the part of my system which stayed in mind is still present in my work. The bit where I identified and named those sounds.

My little proto-phonetic system was so simple that I’m still proud. It works like this. Capital letters represent their “name”, so [A] rhymes with hay, and [E] rhymes with tree. (I’m borrowing the phonetic habit of wrapping square brackets around my old symbols, I didn’t consider such matters of style at the time.) Lowercase letters represent the “sound”, rather like phonics, so [k] rhymes with cat, not hay, and [p] rhymes with plop, not tree. I think I just called the capitals the “names” and the smalls the “sounds”, but I’d been taught the difference when I learned to read so it was hardly a giant leap. Indeed, I was initially so naïve as to ignore the difference between consonants and vowels entirely. So capital [B], [C], [D] and so on existed too, although the lot of them were of course just [bE], [sE], [dE] and so forth. I culled them soon enough, along with such phonetic absurdities as the letters C, K, and Q all representing the same thing. (Interesting to me, the one I kicked the others for was [k], the same choice as made in phonetics.) There was one more group of sounds besides these two. I’d also figured that “th” and “sh”, and indeed “ch” and “ng” (think the end of “ting”) weren’t just awkward spellings but true, separate sounds. So I included a third list, that I merely titled “specials”. I recorded samples for those, and wrote them with parentheses: [(th), (sh), (ch)] and so on.

So in my old system, “speech synthesis” is written: [spE(ch) sin(th)esis]. Almost readable. But how about this: Project Andala is written [projekt andala]. Very almost identical. In fact, so much Anatara is exactly that way. Because this is how I seem to approach sound naturally.

It may be my way, but it’s not phonetics. Yet it was a start.

Something I’ve learned since is that there’s more to vowels than I thought. I’d made just the two versions of each. [A] is in say, [a] is in sad; [E] as in knee, [e] as in head; [I] as in bye, [i] as in sit; [O] as in hope, [o] as in hop; and [U] as in huge, [u] as in hug. But [U] was an awkward exception. Does it sound like “you” or “ew!” How about “oo”? I added [(oo)] to the specials list and left [U] as it was, but I could tell there was something awry. Indeed, the multitude of vowels is something I’ve come to appreciate since my first stab at collecting them. As vowels are every bit as important as all those consonants we bung between them, one kind so very often after the other.

In fact, vowels are the main sounds that we make. If you play around with a waveform editor, as I did in the process of making my synth half a lifetime ago, you’ll see the graphic truth. Consonants are the busy little valleys, full of whispers, between the mighty vowel hills. Speech is their sequence. And what a complex sound it is.

Fortunate for us, our brains are well tuned for it. Like the maddening complexity of what our eyes do and do not see, sound is handled as an unconscious process for us by the superhuman genius with which we share our heads. What we can “hear”, rather than wiggling charts of noise, is what the book I’m reading describes just perfectly as “gestures of speech”. In fact, let me quote the opening of its first chapter:

We will begin by describing how speech sounds are made. Most of them are the result of movements of the tongue and the lips. We can think of these movements as gestures forming particular sounds. We can convey information by gestures of our hands that people can see, but in making speech that people can hear, humans have found a marvelously efficient way to impart information. The gestures of the tongue and lips are made audible so that they can be heard and recognized.

Peter Ladefoged in A Course in Phonetics

Now that’s just a superb way of putting it! Speech is a uniquely fast and precise way to articulate ourselves. But fundamentally it is just the same as waving our arms or making gestures with our faces, as exploited by sign languages the world over to great effect. The core of it is recognition. We understand what others are saying, right back when we begin, by expressing it with our own mouths. We hear when someone has their tongue to their teeth, or when they pop their lips. The gestures themselves are at once universal and yet quite meaningless. Language is how we’ve come to put them together, to make meaning from our shared fluency in sound.

The way I was going to make my matrix for Aznush, and so also Anatara, was as a grid of vowels and consonants. It still is, but now I’m learning that there are more of these sounds than my own ancient alphabet described. From the lexis I’ve already contrived, I can tell I need a few. Not least if Azutara is indeed to be the subject of its own writing system! I’m forever into minimalism — keep it simple, stupid! — until the moment I actually get to work. Languages, notoriously, are anything but logical, optimised, minimal sets. They are organic. So it’s only right that I should learn on my feet, as we all do while acquiring, living and making them for ourselves.


The Spoken Matrix

It’s not with natural confidence that I insist on language-making for my story. But that I must. It’s a thing. I never have picked up another one besides my native tongue. Languages are such complex things, absurd the moment you stop to look at them as an object, and not a means. Perhaps that’s a sign you never should! Perhaps. Certainly, while I studied German at high school, it felt to me that this was the scale of thing that only children ever know.

Anatara, the prime language of interest given the characters in this story, is written, like ours, in someone else’s writing. I’ve established that this is the Azu syllabary. Note it needs a name. Aznush is my favourite so far. But when I wrote that, I hadn’t the foggiest notion of phonetics, or how this would work in practice. So, I’ve been reading.

One real life syllabary I really like is the Kana in Japan. Whether in its Hiragana or Katakana visual forms, as they both read the same, the Kana makes a natural grid of consonants and vowels: the Gojūon, “the fifty sounds”. Where every consonant and vowel meet, there is a Kana. Well, for all the combinations still used in Japanese. A writing system developed in historical isolation from our own, still relying on the same vowels and consonants. They’re very almost universal, this world at least!

Some genius came up with another way to order the fifty Kana, a thousand years ago or more. Instead of a simple grid of sounds, they can be arranged into a Buddhist poem, using every one of them, just once. The poem’s called Iroha:

以呂波耳本部止
千利奴流乎和加
餘多連曽津祢那
良牟有為能於久
耶万計不己衣天
阿佐伎喩女美之
恵比毛勢須

A translation:

Although its scent still lingers on
the form of a flower has scattered away
For whom will the glory
of this world remain unchanged?
Arriving today at the yonder side
of the deep mountains of evanescent existence
We shall never allow ourselves to drift away
intoxicated, in the world of shallow dreams.

Not bad for an alphabet! Indeed, the word “iroha”, from the poem’s opening line, means the same in Japan as when we say “the ABCs”, and the letters are used to label seats in theatres there to this day. Somehow I don’t think I’ll be pulling artful tricks like this when making up my language, but the sky’s the limit when you have the logic and the skill.

But what I will make is a matrix. Like the Gojūon, I am working on a vowel and consonant system to begin with. And I’ve got a twist. Not every word in Japanese or my creation is simple consonant-vowel consonant-vowel, stacked end on end. Japanese has other marks to silence and emphasise the basic kana. I’d rather bake such a thing into the design. I’m not sure how, entirely, but I do have one sneaky idea. It has some playful implications too, that I could use in the story.

How about mirror image writing? If I make a matrix of characters which read as consonant-vowel pairs, I could flip it over and have them read out the corresponding vowel-consonant instead. This is my idea for now, and it gives me space to do something else later if it turns out quite unneeded. I like the idea of symmetric readability —being able to read aloud a line of text in either direction — quite enough in its own right. Because it makes every piece of writing ambiguous. Not least when you switch directions anyway, like an ox ploughing a field. A boustrophedon. An idea I may well seize, another pleasing alternative, I think, being writing in a spiral. All these forms could have their place, just as we use different styles.

Skill would be required to tell quite where to begin reading any text. You’d have to read ahead, just a little, to ever know. And even then, the author might still be playing tricks on you! Not least the like of he behind iroha.

What if you failed, while reading aloud? Quite the faux pas, and one worthy of jokes about the fact. Not least when one people is using another’s writing. I could use this, all right.

The truth is I’ve still a lot to learn. I only have the dimmest notion of what much of this stuff is, let alone how it comes together and works. So I’m looking into it. I’m a couple of dense packed and thoroughly intriguing chapters into A Course in Phonetics by Peter Ladefoged. It’s been half a lifetime since I felt so inundated as early in a book. High school German no less! Ah, language. But there’s really no point in writing of that I do not know.

Watch out for the good stuff. You’ve been warned.


Proteus Part LXI

Cosmic considerations in a room of speculation. If not a garden.

The closer I looked at Maigan’s model of Andala, the more I was intrigued. I pulled it close to me, to see just how she made it. But nothing about the little globe felt the least bit artificial. I saw no seams, no paint, no ink. In fact, as I held the orb up to the distant light, I’m sure I saw the clouds take on different shadows, until, in the tiny dusk, ruddy haze spirited them away to night. It really did look just as worlds do from out in space. Not to mention that it felt as though it hadn’t any weight, and I couldn’t see what held it up.

"This, this is quite impressive." I stammered.
“This is Andala.” Mina said to Tani, a broad smile on her face.
"Mmm!" Grinned Tani. “But my Andala is more big.”
“Tani, your globe doesn’t begin to compare to this!”

I held on tight to Maigan’s model. I couldn’t even tear my eyes from it, indeed, it felt like the most precious thing I’d ever touched.

"We are…" Mina said, hovering a finger over the world, "move your hands…"
“Right. Sorry.”
“…here!”

She tapped the very spot where we stood. But she quivered.

"What do you think this is made of?" Mina whispered to me.
“That’s the thing. I haven’t the least idea. Not a projection, at any rate. It feels like…”
“Like air?”
“Like cold air. But then you press into it.”

By now, Tani wanted to have a go, too. I noticed her hand grasp the world away from me, and only then did I realise she’d let go of my waist.

"Marie!" Mina gasped at the sight of me, free beside her in the air.
“This Andala is quite good.” Tani observed, twisting the globe around single-handed, pondering it like an apple she fancied tasting with a bite.
“Apparently this is fine.” I said, putting my hand on her shoulder. Although she’d let me go, I couldn’t move any more freely than before.
“I see her mistake!” Tani shouted, startling the lot of us.
“Mistake!” Said Maigan, now right next to us. Tani shot a surprised glance at her.
"Anaya," she said, gesturing to the thumbnail sized patch of the globe’s surface which mapped her homeland, “is more small. Too small. You Azu is playing your none sense!” Although Tani spoke in our language, Maigan could well understand her. She pinched her fingers over the surface of the globe, letting a rather nervous Mina free while doing so.

A brief exchange of angry Anatara followed while Tani and Maigan each took the model in their hands and dismissed the other’s foolish ideas. I enjoyed watching them mirror each other’s gestures and condescending looks.

"Who won then?" I asked as they finished. Tani took a moment to come up with her answer.
“We go to Bee and we will see Anaya is more big than this!”
“It looks about right to me. Goodness, you can even see the glimmer on the Aykataliya river.”
“Everything is on purpose by Azu.” Tani grumped. “She knows.”
“Marie.” Said Maigan quietly, as she tapped me on the elbow to take me away from Tani. I felt a gentle sway as she moved me up with her, little Andala in her other hand, toward Kai where it belonged.
"Kariala?" I asked, pointing to Andala’s nearest little sister moon.
Maigan nodded, careful with Andala in her fingers as she righted the world.
“And over there is "Sankarala?"
"Mmm." She smiled, expecting we should know as much about the neighbourhood.
“But where is Jaramala?” I said, shrugging my shoulders to emphasise the question.
Without looking up, she waved off in Kai’s direction. Sure enough, just behind its rings, I saw the smallest of Kai’s four moons, and more or less as slight as it looks in Andala’s sky.
“How on Earth did you make those rings, I wonder?”

Once she put Andala back in its right place, Maigan pulled me right beside her to see what she was getting at. She traced the line between night and day on her model, the terminator, a good while from us in bright Zuba, where she pointed next. Indeed, she’d got the alignment perfect. Close to Andala’s orb, everything out in space looked quite as it did in reality. But one thing wasn’t there. She pulled us back away from Andala, and went a sixth of the way around Kai. I could tell by how the moons changed. Then, where there was nothing in the air between us whatsoever, she pointed an emphatic finger.

"Zancra." She said, with a provocative look on her face, like I was meant to be surprised.
“What? I don’t see anything. What’s Zancra, Tani?”
"Azutara." Shrugged our Ana assistant, a good way below. “Not any thing sense able.”
“Look where you are, Marie.” Said Mina, down there with her. “Would you say that she could be pointing to…”
“L5?”
“Proteus!”

Right enough, she was. From where I stood, Andala looked the same enticing orb as when we first arrived, desperate for a place to save ourselves. I stared at it, reliving the memory for a moment. The blue circle that got ever bigger until we touched down. Our ship, we left behind out here right where she pointed. Out where the balance between Andala’s gravity and Kai’s would keep it safe. Maigan was quite right, of course.

"Proteus." She said.
“Yes. Proteus.” I pointed to the same invisible dot, between our heads. “Our ship. We call it Proteus.”
“But how did she see it from this distance?” Mina called from over there, where Andala itself was but a toy.
“Wouldn’t I just love to know.” I said, looking into Maigan’s glowing eyes.

Out beyond the planets and the moons of her model, painted on the walls of the circle shaped room, blue lights glistened against the orange red of Andala’s sun. Sharp blue stars so dazzling that we even have names for them on Earth, hundreds of lightyears away. Alcyone, Maia, Electra, Caleano. The one the Ana call Sahra, the one we call Merope, glowed the brightest of them all, proud and electric far behind where I’d looked before. It really was a little universe in here, a microcosm in the most literal sense I’ve encountered.

And even so, on this scale, how far would our homeworld lie away? I shuddered at the thought of explaining such a thing. But if there was anyone who could understand, it had to be our star builder. She was still watching me once I’d thought all this. Had she to know? How could we lie to her?


Proteus Part LVIII

Touching down, Marie meets Maigan face to face.

"We should touch down now." Said Mina, leaning over the back of my chair. "Before our visitors try to find their way inside."
“Good idea.” I concurred. “Do you want to do it or should I?”

If there was anyone you could truly count on, it was Mina. She was terrific at staying focused and keeping cool, even out here in a strange old world we never thought we’d find. But something unnerved her this time.

"Oh, yes. Right." She laughed, and returned to the empty pilot’s seat. Tani joined her up front, where Maitel had been, tiny in her chair. She watched every action of Mina’s at the flight controls, up on the window, until something made her sit bolt upright.
“That’s the ground below.” I explained as Mina pulled up a visual on our nadir.
“Then why is it out there?” Tani demanded, waving her hand at the projection.
“It’s just an image. We can move it wherever we want.” I said as Mina indulged her and pushed it to her side.
“You make down go up. You move chairs above the sky. But still you can’t even fly?” She declared. "Humani!"
“You must teach me how someday.”

Mina slowly took us down, while Maigan and her coterie watched from right outside. Bee’s gentle sway seemed to both surprise amuse them, as Mina picked our spot. I worried a little, remembering what Ganaks could do to our little lander without the least ado.

"Say, where is he anyway?"
“Quiet, Marie, please. I am trying to set down precisely between the trees.”

Right enough, around the tower lay a rather picturesque garden of trees and stones and flowers. The one thing it didn’t have was a lawn.

"Let’s hope it’s not some sort of Zen thing they have going on here!" I joked, not exactly to her amusement.
“Zen?!” Shrieked Tani. “Out here?”
“Probably not the same word you’re thinking.” I shrugged. “Whatever that is.”
“Less philosophy. More shutting up!” Mina commanded.

Bee did fit. Just about. Little stones scattered as Mina squeezed us in between the leafy swirls. We touched down ever so gently, but with quite a crunch nonetheless. Bee’s feet were meant for hugging barren desert terrain, not being delicate with colour coded gravel.

"Shutting down." Mina declared while going through procedure.
“Nicely done.” I thanked her.

The last time we stepped out of Bee, right into the heart of Ayanakert, the summer heat surprised me. Kentaken, Tani’s home and our original landing site on Andala, was so much cooler. Zuba was a lot closer to the equator than anywhere we’d been before. I quite expected a blast of tropical haze when I stepped through the door.

"What temperature is it out there?"
“Good question.” She pulled up a panel of statistics on our new location. “303 Kelvin.”
“That’s, remind me?”
“Would you like it in Celsius, Fahrenheit or Electron Volts?” She grinned as I cribbed my answer from the display myself.
“Oh, summery!” I smiled. “That’s a relief.”

The women who had watched us now settled around our ship on the ground. With the engines off, I could hear them talking. That whole other language of theirs that none of us knew.

"Tani. I want you right with me. Okay?"
"Mmm." She nodded earnestly, with bitten lip. “Azu is all around us.”
“Yes. And you don’t upset them. Right?” I bent down to whisper. “I need your protection.”
“Yes Tani.” Added Mina. “We all do.”

How our young Ana smiled.

"So, who wants to go first?" I asked, the door already unlocked in my hands.
“You are getting the knack for it.” Said Mina. “Now is Tani’s turn.”

And so out strode Tani from our ship, head held high. The light out there was fantastic. Golden, so rich, and bronze too. Her jet black hair looked almost chestnut in the glow. I watched her from the door as she marched between what looked like olive trees. She swivelled on her heels and looked back at me, aghast. Then I heard the laughter. The august college of the Azu thought her perfectly hilarious.

"So much for that idea." Sighed Mina. "Hold the fort." I told her and ventured out myself.

Tani bit her tongue, I’ll give her credit, as the Azu ladies laughed around her. Even Maitel grinned, but didn’t say a word. They were all Tani’s senior, most much so, and I suppose the last being they expected to come out of so alien a vessel was an uppity Ana girl. Their cries, which neither of us could understand, masked my approach. Only when I was out in the open, did Tani point them to me.

That shut them up all right.

We stood in stunned silence for a moment. Tani gleaming, and Maitel the only one watching anybody else’s eyes. I looked at them all in turn. Boy, were they taken aback. Then I came to the lady in white. She didn’t have shock in her stare, but some other piercing thing.

"Tani. Stay still now." I told her as the woman rushed to me, without once setting foot upon stone.
“Marie?” She welped, but did as I said.

The lady stopped right before my face, uncomfortably close. In one motion, she wrapped her left arm around behind me and put her right hand over my nose. She nudged me side to side, staring deep into my eyes.

"You must be Maigan."
"Maigan?" She muttered in a gravelly, distracted voice. What she was really thinking about was the skin around my eyes. Our difference in appearance absolutely consumed her.
“I am Marie. Ma-Ree.” I said, while she continued pushing me around. She wasn’t rough, really, but less delicate than any other Andalan who’d grabbed my face. Of which there had been a few.
"Marie." She mumbled, dreamily. Then, interest served, she pulled her head back to look at my whole face. "Marie?"
“Yes!” I nodded, and forced a cosy smile. She did still have a grip behind my ears.

Maitel was right by me, too. Really close, in fact. Something like a dentist’s assistant, you could say. Maigan had been so intensely in my face I didn’t even notice. They exchanged a few words, and without breaking eye contact, Maigan called to Tani.

"Tani hata stera takaytara?" Tani knows their alien language?
"Maigan hata stera Anatara?" I interrupted. Maigan knows Anatara?

Maigan curled her great eyebrows in inquisitive wonder. And tilted her own head to the other side, as she had done to mine.

"Marie stera Anatara. Maigan stera Anatara. Marie stera Maigan!" She smiled, and I knew there and then that we would get along just fine.


Proteus Part LIV

Their arrival in Ayanakert now complete, the crew are off to see the wizard. Told you she was coming.

I followed Mina out into the crimson dusk. For the first time since we arrived in the capital, what felt like days before, the air was cool and calm. The king’s house, Baiyana, sits down on an island in the river. It’s more or less the lowest point in Ayanakert. So nowhere can you see the clear horizon. You’re surrounded by a ring of urban mountains, instead; the audience looking in. The sky darkened as Aira set beneath the rooftops, leaving mighty Kai and its other moons to shine among the sapphire stars. Shadows fell and the people’s lights lit their windows all around us. Years had passed since we left our own world, and yet here we were in town again.

"I wonder what we will do to them." Said Mina, almost to herself as I joined her for the sight.
“Well, there’s only four of us.” I answered, and she forced a hopeful smile.
“But look out there, Marie. Look at their little homes. The candlelight. The empty sky.” She flung her hands up to the spotless twilight above. “Listen to the silence!”

Truth be told, it wasn’t quiet. Our fellow guests chatted away nearby, and people came and went between the buildings in the distance across the water. But she had a point. Any town on Earth would have cars zipping above your head so early in the night, let alone Aria.

"What do you reckon we should do then, Mina? Given that we’re here."
“And will be for a while.” She sighed.
“Never count out Proteus!” I assured her. “She survived. We survived. We’ll get back home.”
“Your uninformed confidence is meant to inspire me?” She smiled.
“Yes, it is!”

The captain ambled over to us, a tumbler full of water in hand. He lifted off his glasses, ocean blue, and surveyed the purple haze.

"Ain’t no damn better with ‘em on or off."
“Kingston, just between friends, how do you rate our chances getting home?”
“Huh?” He stammered in surprise.
“I mean we’ll try anyway, of course we will. But what’s your gut feeling?”
“She been drinking?” He asked Mina with a laugh.
“I don’t think they even have alcohol here.” I replied without thinking.
“Well, seeing as we’re feeling candid. Between friends, right?”
“Absolutely.”
“I rate us about, oh, say.” He took a deep draught of water. “About a hundred percent.”
“A hundred?”
He grinned. “Give or take.”
“How so?” I demanded.
“Our engineer may be a royal pain in the ass, but he makes up for it in expertise.”
“You underestimate him.” Said Mina, a cold look on her face.
“See Chen. Even Doctor Khatami here has total confidence in our safe return.”
“You underestimate how much of a liability he is for all of us.” She told him.
“Yeah, well, y’see that’s what I mean by a hundred percent.”
“How?” I asked.
“Because there ain’t no damn way in all the circles o’ hell I’m spending the rest of my days down here with him!” He laughed. “Incentives, ladies.”

Out of instinct, we wondered there and then just where Robin was. I spotted him a good way through the mingling crowd from us, by Akanai. Naturally, the king always had people round him. But even so, I was pretty sure I saw what I just did.

"Kingston?"
“Yeah, I got him.”
“Are he and the king having a spitting contest?”
“Apparently.”

The captain left to intervene. And as he did, I noticed someone stare at him while he rushed by. Most people at the gathering had gotten at least superficially used to us by now. But this lady was perfectly startled. She wore a thick robe and cloak, as well, and looked like she’d just landed.

"Seen her before?" I asked Mina.
“No.” She said, wary to look at anyone. “She looks like Ganaks. Or his people, at least.”
“Yes, I think she’s Azu. But different, too.”

We didn’t have to wait long for our mysterious stranger to introduce herself. Ganaks intercepted her and took her to the king, who soon enough showed us.

"Akanai says she is Maitel.” Tani explained.
“My-tell?” I smiled and looked her right in her big brown eyes. She had the intense focus of most everyone we had met here, but, like Ganaks, she was no Ana.
“He says Maitel is messenger. From big teacher of Azubayeer.”
“Big teacher of Azubayeer, eh?” I grinned. “That’s the Azu city.”
"Mmm." Tani concurred. “Azubayeer is far in Azuya. She says she take all day.”
“To reach here?”
“Azu is stupid to live where Azu live!” Tani said with satisfaction.
“Kentaken is pretty far away too, Tani.” I joked, and she pulled her triumphant grin right off her face.

Maitel was a fairly high ranked scholar in her own right. She had the freedom of Ayanakert, and knew the place quite well. But she was here on bigger business. Her superior had a message for the king. One which must be delivered in person.

"She saw what?" Kingston gasped, before Tani as much as told us.
“Dinnae be daft!” Cried Robin. “Proteus is twice as far frae here as the Earth is frae the Moon. Naebody’s makin’ out a ship at that kindae distance!”

And yet it was so. Maitel’s mentor, Tani’s so-called great teacher of Azubayeer, really had detected our ship out in its Lagrange orbit around Kai. No matter quite how impossibly faint it was for any of us to see. Maitel was sent here to warn the king about this mysterious object, in lockstep with Andala. You had to wonder what she made of us as she arrived here to find her own answer.

"Who is your great teacher, Maitel?" I asked her and Tani passed it on. The king and messenger spoke between themselves, and the fact that my crewmates translators went silent became obvious as Tani’s face, too, turned puzzled.
“Akanai speaks Azutara?” I whispered to her. She looked so cross!

Ganaks, the first Azu we had ever met, smiled a knowing smile. Akanai was all Andala’s king. Not just his own people, the Ana, but the Azu too.

"He says you go to Azubayeer." Tani said, once she could understand again. "To see Mai… Yan."
“Maigan.” Akanai corrected.
“Maigan?” I checked. “Yes, we really should. I’d love to know how she spotted us.”
“This the big city they’re talking about?” Asked the captain.
“I believe so.” Said Mina. “The first we detected.”
“Wherever we go, you go too.” I told Tani. “If you want to?”
"Mmm." She sighed, in mixed concern and relief. “Azubayeer is not safe place, so you will need me. But Azu lives there, and I not speak their nonsense.”
“But Tani,” I chuckled, “learning one another’s nonsense is what we’re here for!”