Nilwii Janss iw-Raan wasn’t a particularly dedicated student, but she knew rocks. Her hatchclub, his collective, and the greater alliance that protected the hatchclub and collective from scavenger onslaughts lay at the foot of some of the greatest mountains of her world, not that she or anybody else she knew had any idea of other mountains elsewhere. The foothills on which they lived was The World, with plenty of anecdote and myth to explain how they got there, and as far as the surrounding plains stretched, nobody she knew had ever traveled so far that the mountains were no longer visible on the horizon. The scavengers saw to that.
Among her hatchclub, the assemblage formed when multiple egg-clusters were gathered and hatched in the same place at the same time, Nilwii was the only one who knew rocks. Others hunted wild animals on the plains, others cared for other domesticated ones, and still others cared for the plants growing from the domesticated animals’ flanks. Those plants they knew for a fact were edible. Others could be, but depending upon where and when they grew, a previously perfectly safe batch of bluethorn could turn out to be poisonous or, worse, parasitic. Still others watched for wild animal herds and scavengers, and a few were particularly skilled at putting walls, animals, and people back together after the scavengers came to visit. Nilwii argued that “scavenger” was a poor word, because that implied that they were only interested in things that had fallen down instead of actively pushing them down. When she started this argument the rest of the hatchclub ignored her.
A few others in her assemblage knew rocks, and she learned everything she could from them. It wasn’t just the matter of knowing which rocks were best for cutting blades and which ones for fat lamps, but which portions and how to prepare them. Nilwii was already famed for rolling boulders of sharpstone into the middle of the collective’s huts, starting a fire around the boulders, pulling them out to cool, and then demonstrating how much better they fractured for delicate blades and tools. However, she kept experimenting, learning that some types of sharpstone turned brilliant colors when heated this way, and blades made from her stone were in demand all through the greater alliance. She was searching for boulders of just this sharpstone when she came across the Thumper for the first time.
She originally found it at the base of a landslide, where several huge boulders had formed a cave that protected it from the worst of the slide. Much of the slide had washed away from the boulders over time, leaving a hole atop that allowed the white sun to shine in from time to time. Because of that light, she not only noticed it while poking through the cave, but saw it glistening in a way she’d only seen once before, when a trader from the far side of the greater alliance gave her angular stones that could be mashed flat and bent. Those whitish lumps had the same sheen as this block, which itself reflected light back like ponds and streams under the sun.
Nilwii had four eyes, two for long-distance observation and two for closeup examination. She wiped her close eyes carefully to remove any speck of dust from their lens covers, and carefully sidled up to the thing protruding from the rock face. it was unlike any rock she had ever seen. She touched it, first with her manipulating nozzle and then with one of the claws that unfolded from her chest. Remarkably cool, with a polish also unlike any rock she had ever seen. She rapped a spot with a claw, four times, and heard it clank. Several of the shapes coming out of the slab were able to move, but as much and as far as she did, she got no response. She finally started to head back out of the little cave and promise to look further when the slab knocked. Four times.
Shocked and intrigued, Nilwii knocked again, three times, this time with a rock in her nozzle. She waited, and waited, and then the slab thumped back, three times, with the same space between knocks as she had made. Thus began an experiment: different series of knocks with the stone, faster and slower. After a time, it came back, but in a completely different order.
Thus began a regular semicommunication. After her hatchclub and collective responsibilities were finished for the waking period, she returned to the Thumper, trying to learn more. She tried a series of thumps followed by a scrape and then more thumps. They came back with the total number of thumps. She discovered that some attempts at abstracts on the Thumper space, such as using shell or plant stem, were perfectly audible at her end but were apparently unable to pass through the slab. Tapping some of the extensions produced different thump tones, and she rapidly assigned values to those tones: live, dead, light, dark, new, already existing. The Thumper gave comparable tones back. It wasn’t a conversation, but she learned that she could share large numbers by using multiple extension tones to set up longer multiples. After a time, she noted that whoever was working the Thumper tended to use a base of ten knocks and then use the extension tone to elongate it. Nilwii started assigning names to each of the end results, and within a week, she was able to send back the end sum of ten times ten times ten times ten.
It wasn’t enough.
While her people generally treated new things as novelties to be celebrated instead of harbingers to be feared, Nilwii still waited most of a hatchclub development cycle before sharing her Thumper knowledge with anybody else. She finally shared it with Muumtil, a hatchclub mate who kept a particularly open mind. Between the two of them, they managed to improve both on recordkeeping and on creating codes to get across more complex ideas. They rapidly discovered that they needed more help, and they oversaw a clutch of ten times three hatchclub mates, collective elders, and alliance specialists by the time the Thumper divulged a method to code-share its other user’s own language. The response, “Hello,” meant nothing as far as the assembled clutch was concerned, but it was the beginning of so much more.
Eventually, the mountains became a source for new building materials, “metals” as the code listed them, and with those metals came ways to drive off the scavengers. Every new major development changed everything, and by the time Nilwii and Muuumtil were elders, they barely recognized the small city that had been their little mountain enclave. They never met the person or people on the other side of the slab, even after removing the whole Thumper from the mountain and mounting it in a place of honor in the middle of the city. However, their descending hatchclubs would, eventually, even with half a universe between them. On that day, they finally got the chance to hear how “hello” was expressed by the concept’s creators, coming from their own communication organs. On that day, they not only met old friends, but discovered the perfect host organisms in which to raise the next generation of hatchclubs.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)
Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth“
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.
Shirt Price: Sold