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art by Melissa Mead

Nova Verba, Mundus Novus

Ken Liu (kenliu.name) is an author and translator of speculative fiction, as well as a lawyer and programmer. His fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov's, Analog, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons, among other places. He has won a Nebula, a Hugo, a World Fantasy Award, and a Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Award, and been nominated for the Sturgeon and the Locus Awards. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

This is Ken's eleventh appearance in Daily Science Fiction.

After one hundred and eighty-four days, the Sesquipedalian reached the end of the world.
The Atlantean Ocean poured over the edge in a magnificent waterfall. Scales on the tumbling fish reflected the setting sun like liquefied gold. The crew, awed, fell silent. Only the panicked squeaking of dolphins plunging into the abyss could be heard.
"The world is indeed flat," said Doctor Denham. "Captain, you have earned your place in history."
Captain Baffin nodded almost imperceptibly.
Everyone held their breath as the caravel drifted closer to the edge.
"Launch the aerostat," said Baffin. "This is merely a turn in the path. Plus ultra. We must go on, no matter where it takes us."
For a moment, as half the ship hung over the precipice, the crew, clinging to the rigging for dear life, thought the keel might break.
But then the aerostat, a billowing tent of waxed silk many times the size of the ship, puffed up with hot air from the flaming drums placed all over the deck. Tethered to the aerostat, the ship became airborne and began to slowly descend over the edge of the world.
About twenty crewmen had jumped into the sea to swim home. Captain Baffin said a brief prayer for their foolish souls as their exhausted bodies tumbled past.
The curtain of water thinned to mist, and a great, circular rainbow appeared. Through it, the crew peered eagerly to find out what held up the upside-down mountain that was the world.
An immense, gray creature bellowed a greeting at the ship. "An elephant," said Captain Baffin.
"Then it is just as the Hindoos say," said Doctor Denham. "The Sesquipe..." he strained to finish the sentence. "I seem to be having some difficul..." His eyes bulged. "I cannot think or speak as I wish to."
"That is surely some supersti..." The captain swallowed and shook his head. "Well, it seems we're limited to words of three syllables or less as we sail toward the foundation of the world."
The four trunk-like feet of the tusker stood on the back of a monstrous turtle.
"The cara... the shell measures three hundred miles across," said the doctor. "Damn it, now only words of two sylla..."
"Onward," cried the captain. "Onward!"
The turtle poked its head out of the shell and glanced at the ship without speaking.
"What's below the turtle?"
The light dimmed, and they saw that each leg of the giant turtle rested on the back of a smaller one, and each smaller turtle, in turn, stood on four more turtles even smaller.
"The greater is founded upon the smaller, the complex on the basic," said the captain.
Down and down, the shells and legs now so small they could not be seen.
No more light.
"Prime, dark mess," said the ship's cap. "The base void."
"And soon, no more thought," said the doc.
A moan from the crowd.
"At the start, there was the Word," said the cap.
His eyes grew bright.
"The base of the world, which no one can break, I call an 'iotam.'"
The doc gave a jolt. "'Iotam' has three syl..."
"Iotams build up new things, just as words shore up new words," said the cap. "We still have words that can be said in one puff of breath, which I call a 'syllanant.' With words of one syllanant, I can build sense for words of more than one syllanant, to name iotams. I name you 'doctist' and me 'shipcap.'
"Through rules, I shall make new words in groups, not just one by one. To add '-ian' at the end of a verb sets it in the here and now or turns it into a noun; addian '-en' to a word makes a new word that means more of the old; addian '-te' to the back of a word makes it the same thing, but in the past."
The crew shoutte in joy as their thoughts, full of chaos, clearte. The ship stopte fallian and startte to rise.
Shapes fadete out of the haze: small motes blendian to biggen ones, takian new forms. Legs, shells, long necks--"I name you 'torter,'" said the shipcap, "for your twistte feet."
"And biggen torters shall stand on smallen ones," said the doctist, as the ship rose and rose.
True, biggen torters loomte out of the brightenian gloom.
At last, risian past the giant hosenose legs and through the mistbow of all hues, the Says splashte down in the brillig sea and heavete. Slithy toves squeakte, and the mimsy borogroves did gyre and gimble in the wabes.
"Home," said the smilian doctist.
"The same," said the shipcap, "yet not the same."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, August 13th, 2013
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