by Lawrence M. Schoen
Release Date: December 29th 2015
2015 Tor Books
Hardcover; 384 Pages
Genre: Fiction / Science Fiction
Lawrence M. Schoen shares a scene from Bask: The Elephants’ Graveyard
In Barsk the main characters are anthropomorphic elephants. They’re sapient, they walk upright, have opposable thumbs and science and art, build relationships and cities and governments. But they’re not the only “raised mammals” in the book, and several other characters come from other animal species, or races, and play important roles. I thought I’d share a bit of a scene involving some non-elephants.
I’ve lifted this particular bit from Chapter Four and it’s from the point of view of an Otter named Lirlowil. She’s a very talented young woman with a rare telepathic gift, but she’s also utterly irresponsible and the very definition of a hedonist. Her life to this point has pretty much been a never ending party. She’s availed herself of every vice that comes her way. That all changes when the galactic government has a need for her and shows up to change her life forever. Here’s a snippet of that scene.
A Bear from the Patrol had shown up at her home on Sharv. One moment she’d been fast asleep, dreaming of the debaucheries from the night before, and the next he’d been standing over her bed with a writ of transference in his hand and trailing a small entourage made up of a Prairie Dog wearing a civil parson’s ring in one twitching ear, and an Otter, only a few years older than Lirlowil, garbed like a physician’s assistant.
“I am Urs- Major Krasnoi,” said the Bear. “I do not need your consent, but I do require you to be fully conscious. Can you tell me your name?”
This didn’t make any sense. She wriggled her neck and shoulders a moment in thought, remembered the distinction between dreams and hallucinations, realized she was in bed and made a leap of faith as she asked, “What the fuck are you doing in my dream?”
The Bear had frowned at her, but his next words hadn’t made it into her memory. Perhaps she’d gone back to sleep. The next thing she recalled was the feeling that her heart would explode, it was pounding so fast. The PA was leaning over her, an empty ampoule in one hand. As Lirlowil began to sweat, puke, and piss herself into a clear-eyed panic, she understood she’d been slipped a sobriety agent which was systematically purging any and all toxins from her body as if her life depended on it.
Gasping, she sat up in bed and grimaced. Nudity in front of strangers didn’t bother her but being covered in her own filth surely did. The Prairie Dog stepped up, wrinkling his own nose, and opened a small book.
“The universe is vast and complex, comprising many peoples and many worlds.” Lirlowil rolled her eyes but managed to suppress a giggle. Still, the solemnity of his words were marred by the shrill pitch of his voice. “Rarely do any of us have the opportunity to be of service beyond the immediate circle of our own community. But when that chance occurs we must welcome it. Failing that, we must rely upon that same community to recognize the circumstance for what it is and surrender us up to that need. Gaze with me now upon such an individual and bear witness to what we do.”
The Bear stepped forward, opening a small pouch on his belt and withdrawing a notary seal. “Her mark, now, if you please,” he said to the physician’s assistant who took Lirlowil’s hand, smeared a green gel over the pads of her fingers, and pressed them to a piece of cardstock. The Urs reviewed the impression and passed the card to the parson.
“I do place the seal of my office alongside your mark, confirming your change of status from Citizen to Resource.” The parson tucked the card away, waited for the PA to pack up her things, and then both departed, leaving Lirlowil alone with the Bear.
As her chemical panic subsided, Lirlowil asked “What . . . what just happened?”
“What had to happen. There is a need and only you can serve it. We’re leaving in ten minutes. You can use that time to pack whatever you can carry, or not. I don’t much care. I’ll give you another five minutes to take a shower. I won’t subject my crew to your odor.”
“Where are we going?”
“Your new home,” said the Bear. “Nine minutes and three quarters.”
And with that, this Otter is whisked halfway across the galaxy and put to work as part of a government attempt to overthrow an eight-hundred year old treaty that will forever change the balance of power and the fate of the Elephants on the planet Barsk. Except of course, things don’t work out as planned, and Lirlowil’s trials are only beginning.
Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, and the publisher of a speculative fiction small press, Paper Golem. He’s been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award, the Hugo Award, and the Nebula Award. Lawrence lives near Philadelphia. You can find him online at LawrenceMSchoen.com and @KlingonGuy.