A Single Strip of Purple

Bienvenida frowned at her reflection. There was a single strip of purple in her otherwise blonde hair. It wouldn't have bothered her so much had it been centered, but it started just above her left eye, headed immediately rightward, and curved around the top of her head. With a judicious arrangement of mirrors, she was able to determine that the strip continued down the back of her head and ended just above her left shoulder blade.

Wonderful. This would have to happen tonight. Well, she would have to make the best of it. She wasted several minutes confirming her suspicions that neither bleach nor black dye would change the strip's colour any. After experimenting with several different hairstyles, she managed to get her hair into a pseudo-bun form where the strip could be easily concealed with a ribbon. She had one that matched, and nobody would be looking that closely.

The matter finally settled, to her relief, she continued her preparations.

"So what did you want to show me?"

"Here, sir."

"What the hell is that?"

"We're working on it. I didn't think you'd want to wait for us to have specific results before being informed, though, sir."

"I hope you have a good explanation for why nobody's noticed it until now."

"Pure luck, sir. Our orbit is only a little longer than the planet's rotation. Note how close it is to the terminator. It'll disappear from sight in a few minutes. On all our previous orbits, it was in the dark when we passed over. It's possible that it was visible on our last orbit, but it would have blended in with the terminator."

"Are you recommending a change of orbit?"

"Only a minor one, sir. Now that we know where it is, we'll be able to track it whether it's in the light or not. And in the darkness, we may be able to detect effects that would otherwise be drowned out by sunlight."

"Very well. I'll effect the orbit change. But remember there's three more planets left in this system. We have orders to complete at least preliminary surveys of all of them as soon as possible. After that, I don't doubt we'll be returning here, since this tops anything else we've seen so far."

"I understand, sir."

"And let's not let this get around through the crew. We don't want them to start calling this planet Grape or anything, just because of a single strip of purple."

Quebalan had a very important mission.

That was what the Twolegs had told it. "Quebalan," the smaller Twolegs had said. Quebalan didn't know why the small Twolegs said that pattern of sounds, but he had learned that that what they said after it was directed at him. (He really didn't conceive of himself having a name, since the concept was foreign to him.) So after the small Twolegs(which he thought was female, but he wasn't sure)said his name, she(?) said, "We have a very important mission for you."

Quebalan had quivered his shoulder-tentacles in anticipation. He liked doing important things. The Twolegs didn't let him very often. They normally made him do boring things like guard the Fourlegs, and make sure they didn't run away. Dull and boring. He understood now that they didn't want him to eat the Fourlegs, or at least not these ones--other ones might be okay, sometimes. He couldn't fathom all their rules. But that was okay, because he had the Twolegs to tell him what he should do. Even if it was boring.

But now it was important! His shoulder-tentacles quivered again, though not as much as they had before, because now he was traveling as noiselessly as he could(which was good enough to sneak up on a Fourlegs, or even an Eightlegs if he was downwind)through the jungle. His shoulder-tentacles were too busy quietly moving bits of fungus and foliage aside, catching small Winglegs to keep his energy up, and tasting the air for other vibrations, to quiver too strongly.

The female Twolegs(he was fairly sure she was female)had told him to go and find the other group of Twolegs. He knew their scent, and didn't like it because they'd tried to kill his Twolegs before. But he had to be careful, because they had also killed other Sixlegs like him. He didn't like these Twolegs at all.

The female Twolegs had told him to find out how many of them there were. But he hadn't known what she meant by that. The other, larger Twolegs(male?)had said that every time Quebalan saw a Twolegs, he should put a small object, a pebble or a twig or a mushroom or a dead Winglegs, in his pouch. Then, when he got back, they could count the small objects and then know how many of the other Twolegs there were. Quebalan didn't understand that either, but the Twolegs did many things he didn't understand. He hoped that he didn't have to put too many things in his pouch, which wasn't nearly as roomy as it would have been had he had the chance to mate this season. By now the small Sixlegs would have left, and the pouch would have been distended. But the bad Twolegs had killed the Sixlegs he might have mated with, so he would have to make do.

Suddenly his tentacles quivered, with real sensation this time, not just remembered. There was an odd sort of emanation ahead. Not quite the trace left by a Twolegs, but not anything that any other sort of creature of Quebalan's memory would leave, either. It reminded him most of when a lot of energy had built up in the sky, and then released itself at the ground suddenly. Not that feeling, but more the feeling before, when things were charged up. But while the feeling was there, he didn't know where the charge would be.

He continued forward, but cautiously. The charge seemed to get stronger, but it still didn't seem to have a certain direction.

Then he saw a flash, just ahead of him. It was a bright flash of a colour that he had discovered the Twolegs couldn't see. His eyelids nictated automatically, but somehow the image lingered in front of him. He couldn't quite see it, though, so he retracted his eyelids.

Yes, there it was. It was just a single strip of purple, but the coiling of the strip drew his eyes to follow it, and the image bored deeper and deeper into his mind.

Now he could sense the approaching Twolegs, but he did nothing, lost in the pattern.

"Are you sure it's safe?" said one in a deep voice.

"Of course," another responded, sounding nettled. "The Sigil's in the ultraviolet, so only the creature can see it. You may feel some subliminal effects, but nothing too terrible." The Twolegs bent down to Quebalan's ear, so even though it didn't know the sound-symbols the other Twolegs used, he knew he was being addressed. "Were you sent here to attack us?"

Quebalan twitched his tentacles in denial. "What does that mean?" the deep- voiced Twolegs said.

"No, it wasn't. To scout us out?" Quebalan twitched affirmatively. "Well. It doesn't matter. You can lead us back to where your master and mistress are encamped, can't you?"

Quebalan affirmed this again, exuberantly, the purple symbol floating in his mind. He liked having important missions.

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The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com