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The unofficial Bruntian motto was “if it’s not going to last a decade, it’s not worth holding on to”. We thought the Ellanois silly. They thought us Bruntians stubbornly primitive. That had been going on for centuries. Definitely worth holding on to.
We hated the ever-changing fashion trends. This was why it was so galling that some of us had to work to provide fashion items for the Ellanois. No one took jobs at the model workshop between the Bruntians’ Grotto and the Ellanois’ City willingly. It was a dumping group for Bruntians with weak lungs, weak limbs and weak Bruntians in general.
This destiny was thrust on these unlucky ones from a young age. It hit me when me and the other young Bruntians were playing ‘Sandstorm Racers’. I had run through a huge sand cloud kicked up by ten racing feet and, in a few seconds, I felt like I was being strangled. I used what strength I had left to race home before any of the others could see who had exposed their weak lungs. I wanted to delay the inevitable onslaught of bullying for as long as I could. I hadn’t stopped coughing by the time I got home. My mother ran to me as soon as she heard the door. I collapsed on the floor and, in my last moment of awareness, I saw her throwing herself away from the room to bawl.
Over the course of my education, others tried to show me the good side of maintaining models but my family would only be disappointed. Any positive feeling I had for my future vanished as soon as I saw their faces after school. The same faces I had seen of those who were pointed at and gossiped about behind their backs by all those families who had strong children.
Just before I was due to leave school, my teacher took me to see the workshop’s manager. I was expecting and dreading a flappy-wristed Ellanois who would call me all sorts of silly names depending on whatever new planet had been discovered. I was very glad when I found myself face to face with a fellow Bruntian with mouth feelers hanging almost to his chest. His sentences weren’t too long and his voice was low. In fact, he was just like the Bruntians I had grown up with.
The workshop managed to dispel my dread as well. It was made of redstone brick with a flat ceiling and no windows. The workshop was hot and smelt like a sharp mix of oil and molten metal. There wasn’t a single Ellanois in sight, only Bruntians fiddling about with the models clustered in the centre of the building. Perhaps working in fashion wouldn’t be too bad, I thought to myself. When I got home, I gushed a few sentences of the experience then I realised my parents weren’t taking it in. The fashion industry was the fashion industry, no matter how Bruntian some people tried to make it.
It was a good thing they never accompanied me to the City square. The task of buying food was left completely to me. They would be horrified if they saw me spending the amount of time I did in front of the jumbo television in the town square where fashion shows were aired weekly. In my defence, I needed the rest. Walking too far made me wheeze and, without rests, I wouldn’t be able to breathe by the time I got home. That fact never stopped my family sending me alone every week.
I only looked at the models, not the clothes, and, when I could find an abandoned newsbook, I would compare them to the pictures of the newly discovered species. They were extraordinarily good copies. It was hard to believe that they were androids. That was all down to Bruntian workmanship. Ellanois would never have the skill to construct an android to exactly mimic the appearance and movement of new species.
My sense of pride could not be quelled as I went in for my first day at the workshop, despite my family’s efforts to make me feel like a disgrace to all Bruntians. I made friends with all who worked there and I was delighted to find that they shared the same feelings as me. Some, like Santep, were gleeful about it.
“We’ve tricked them into displaying our talents. They say our work is dirty. They don’t want to be associated with it. Well, they’ve got no choice, have they? They’ve gotta associate with us if they want their shows to go ahead. No so dirty now, is it?”
There was an excited sense of rebellion among us. Like we were partaking in some underground movement to throw off a mighty oppressive system. It was just silly talk. We weren’t rebels. We were just badly-born Bruntians who couldn’t work anywhere else.
Despite the pride in our work, no one pretended that the other Bruntians didn’t hate us. The staff felt it was only safe to go down to the Grotto for refills of leafcrush and wafer-bake slices in the middle of the day so they didn’t come into contact with the miners. I found this out the hard way when I went out for leafcrush when the Worm Moon was out, an hour from the end of the day. That was when the miners were coming out for their break before five more hours in the mines. There was a huge group of them lining up outside a meat skewer stall. As soon as they saw me in my pinkish-white overalls, they started cooing in high voices like the Ellanois.
“Whoo, you starting to feel your mouth feelers shrinking yet?”
“It is. I can almost see her mouth.”
“Where’s your pretty season frock? Don’t you love wearing them when the Ellanois are done with them?”
I tried to hurry past but the biggest one took a run up and kicked up dust in front of me. The cloud hit me right in the face and sent me into a fit of coughing. The miners jeered at me, throwing more taunts about turning into an Ellanois, until I ducked into a side alley. I drank three whole cups of leafcrush that day just to reaffirm that I was a Bruntian who liked the taste of leafcrush. It gave me the screaming squits for an hour that night but I didn’t let myself regret it.
No matter how hard I denied it, I had to admit to myself that I was developing more Ellanois aspects as time went on. No Bruntian spent more than a minute (as the Earth people call it) looking at the television screen. I gave myself two minutes and no more. I was still Bruntian at heart. I wasn’t like the Ellanois who would gladly stand in one place, gaping up at the screen while a Bruntian prankster tied something dirty to the end of their scarves.
‘Scarves’, ‘models’, that’s what they call it all nowadays. Earth fashion is the thing. Everyone who’s anyone will speak in English and the old Mennalese tongue will be discarded. Wiped from the minds of Ellanois forever and remembered only in repeats of old fashion shows shown late at night with subtitles. Earth was a huge problem where language was concerned. There had never been a planet so diverse in species, speech and clothing discovered in Ellanois or Bruntian memory. It had taken a month longer than usual for the fashion designers to decide which one to use.
At last (and probably because it was closest to Mennalese), English and ‘Western culture’ were chosen. Every Ellanois performed the ritual of flicking eagerly through their special start-of-season editions of their fashion magazines and picking out their new name. Names like ‘John Smith’, ‘Elizabeth Jones’ and ‘Alex Wright’. Yes, even names were subject to fashion trends. I can’t think of anything more ridiculous either.
I tried to pick up as few words as possible but I still picked up the new descriptors Ellanois used in reference to Bruntians. We now had long ‘fingers’ like ‘snakes’. We had ‘purplish’ ‘bumpy’ ‘skin’ like the surface of an ‘avocado’ and our ‘mouths’ were covered by ‘tentacles’. The Ellanois used their own descriptors more often, of course. They had ‘tall wide ears’ like a ‘fox’, ‘downy’ ‘buttercup yellow’ ‘fur’ like a ‘cat’ and their ‘heads’ were shaped like ‘diamonds’. I always get confused with the last one. It’s the same word they use for a clear jewel that humans and then Ellanois seemed to prize by the way they charged sky high prices for ‘diamond jewellery’.
I gave my focus to the human shape and how difficult it would be to imitate. I was an engineer by that time. I was trusted with making sure each model’s circuits and various devices were in place before each show. It was a very intricate job and something only a Bruntian with our ‘snake-like fingers’ could do.
The human form didn’t look like a bad shape, all in all. It was rather uncomplicated with a great focus on symmetry. The only downside I could see was the colour. The pale pink ones especially looked like a very different colour to blend. The brown ones would be easier but Ellanois never had any consideration for model mechanics.
I guessed right. The models’ shells appeared from the shell-smiths in just a few days and most of them were a pinkish yellow hue. Penn moaned about the ‘hours’ spent mixing the colours and that, if he’d his way, he’d make them all brown.
One of our rivals had the shells made quicker and crammed the models into them at light speed. It made me smile to see most of them were brown and some had been very carelessly manufactured. A ripple of dismay went through the crowd when the model turned around and revealed a crack in the shell running from ‘neck’ to ‘waist’. That’ll teach the now ex-engineer to rush.
The Ellanois grumbled around me. They had hoped for more of the pale ones they’d seen on the news channels they only flicked through. And the ones with the yellow hair. I smirked inwardly. Despite their constant need to change themselves to imitate other planets, they still gravitated towards those closest to themselves without knowing it, “We’re multicultural,” they said, taking their time over the long word. “We accept all cultures and races.” They certainly accept the pale, thin and yellow races very readily.
The day came, a week (the workshops operated on human time whether we liked it or not) after the first disastrous (another long human word the Ellanois were fond of) show, when I would put the shell on my model. I had only just got my head around the new time system. All of us were late the first day this was implemented, including the owner. He didn’t want to operate by the moon-like object with marks and hands running all over it either. Nevertheless, ‘orders are orders’ as he said in a very resigned tone that made his mouth guard droop.
I got to the workshop when the Rose Moon crested over the sky. No matter what gadgets or charts they throw at us, a Bruntian will always measure the day by our eight moons. The moons had been circling our planet for millennia so it was the most accepted thing in Bruntian society.
In human time, the rising of the Rose Moon would be seven o’clock. I sometimes wondered (without meaning to) whether this was considered early by Earth time as well. There was no one to throw dust into our weak lungs or insist our mouth feelers were shrinking on our way to the elevator out of the Grotto. We could actually pretend that we were ordinary Bruntians who weren’t going to the workshop because our badly-made bodies gave us no other choice.
My model was naked when I approached her. She was just a cuboid (it’s a silly word to use for that shape) of wires and essential circuits. She didn’t have a face, limbs or even skin but she was alive to me. I knew how clever she was and what she could do in her shows. We weren’t supposed to give the models names or get attached to them. They were just serial numbers in a computer to be assigned a name fitting their shell at the show. I did, though. I named mine Grakelle. Her shimmering copper and bright green wires reminded me of the feathers of the Grakes that had roosted in the roof of my flat.
One had to be very gentle with a model. If a Bruntian was too rough with their checking, they could knock a wire out of place and, as the humans say, ‘there would be hell to pay’. Everything seemed fine with Grakelle, though. I did a walk-around first, checking for external damage before slipping my fingers into the wires to check internally. Her wires parted at my touch. They were smooth and in all in the right places. I bent my second, third and fourth finger joints, questing the fuel pump. Whatever the Ellanois say, Bruntian fingers are not like the slithering curvy snakes in the wildlife catalogues.
The fuel pump felt smooth and dry to my touch. There was no sign of anything leaky. When I withdrew my finger to double check, it came out clean. I pushed my middle finger into a place near the top of the machine. I found the central console but I was sure it wasn’t supposed to be there. It was too far up. I knew why, of course. The Mellanese’s natural movements were so aggressive and the programmers were too eager to copy them exactly. The workshop owners had been on the edge of their seat every show, sure that something was going to go wrong whenever the model gave a high kick. By the feel of this damage, it was a miracle that nothing happened on the catwalk.
I pushed the console down and felt it click into its right place. Thank goodness I had detected the problem sooner rather than later. Only one more check remained. Where had the time gone? Soon, it would be time to squash Grakelle into her shell. I took my time bending my finger in a ‘zigzag’ (that’s a fun word) and gave my full attention to each wire and clip. All too soon, I reached the limb sockets. I wished there would be something wrong. I wished that there would be some form of catastrophic rust or sabotage that would mean a week in intensive re-soldering so Grakelle would allowed to remain in her true form. No such luck. The metal was smooth. The clips and locks were in perfect working order. My Grakelle was perfectly ready for her show.
As unwillingly as my child self going to a school full of bullies, I backed away. Despite the heat in the workshop, my fingers felt cold as I retracted them. The clanking and clattering of machines told me my co-workers weren’t taking nearly so much time over their model as I was. Santep’s model was being squashed into her plates and Erit’s model was already having her head pushed on.
I sent a thought-apology to Grakelle and flicked the switch on the control pad with one finger. The machines advanced on her, mandibles raised. The legs came first. They aligned themselves with Grakelle’s sockets and, with a hard shove, forced them up into place. Two clicks announced the legs had successfully attached themselves. The arms were no less of a brutal task. As soon as the machinery had backed away, the arms flopped to Grakelle’s sides and I almost stopped the machinery, worrying about wires coming undone.
If I was Grakelle and had a voice to scream, I would be howling to stop the machines now before they forced me into those curvy pale plates. I was powerless. I would be sacked and left to starve, coughing at every dust cloud like so many vagrants in the Grotto. The front plate came forward with its two unsightly lumps near the top and squashed itself into her wires. The machines squeezed her middle to an indecent degree to fit. Humans had such spindly middles that accidently snapping in half must be a major problem. The back plate was no better. It was just a reversed version of the front one.
The redeeming feature was the head. The eyes were shiny and had all sorts of different colours depending on the individual. Grakelle had been blessed with bright green eyes, a bit like the skin of baby Bruntians. The nose was a nice size with the holes tucked away at the bottom. The mouth was nicely proportioned as well. I rather liked the soft rounded parts surrounding it. Lips, they called them. One of my fingers moved up and fingered my mouth feelers. What would lips look like on me? Grakelle’s head was bare and I would have liked it to remain so. She was destined for silly wigs as soon as she entered the fashion show. Probably in one of those horrible yellow swirly ones the Ellanois loved so much.
Grakelle stared forward towards the door with immobile glazed eyes in the form of a bare hairless human. I didn’t think it was a bad shape but what did Grakelle think? I found a long polished copper plate next to one of the machines and held it up in front of her, “What do you think?” The light shifted as one of the mechanics reeled the bulb to the side for repairs. It was probably this that made it look like Grakelle’s eyes and mouth were moving.