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Dances With Snoglafanians

Aimee Ogden is definitely not six angry badgers in a trenchcoat. She enjoys baking, reading comics, weightlifting, and digging cozy burrows. Her work has also appeared in Shimmer, Apex, and Escape Pod. You can keep up with her on Twitter or at her website.

The earthman arrived on a holy Nineday, when the wet winds blew out of the jungle. In the boiling-hot breeze from the rocket's engines, the ribbons tied to the spiraling Tower of Prayers snapped and shook--until the ship landed directly atop the Tower and crushed it into sacred rubble.
The People came slowly down from the shelter of the skin-trees to greet the new arrival, who introduced himself as Steve, or something to that effect. "I've come to protect the planet Snoglafane from the greatest scourge in the Galaxy: my own kind. They'll come soon to loot this place of its precious resources, but don't worry. While I'm with you, you have nothing to fear."
The elders exchanged glances. Finally one moved forward, all four arms making the Sigil for peace. "Dar-o ily'ep menik," the elder said. "Be most welcome here."
So the earthman came down out of his rocketship to live among the People, and he begged them to teach him their ways. "Only in understanding you," he said solemnly, "in becoming one of you, can I truly protect you."
First they demonstrated for him the mastery of the Thorny Windbeasts that, generations ago, the People had wrestled into submission. The earthman soon learned to fly the great crested creatures. Lacking a third set of limbs, he signaled his mount with knees as well as hands and feet. After three days had passed, the elders came before him, and told him he had already surpassed their boldest youths in the daring and acrobatics of the sky. The earthman bowed his head in reverence, one hand resting on his Windbeast's flank. The Windbeast took a nip at his fingers and nearly cost him two.
Next, they taught him the ancient combat art of the heroes of the past, the Seven Sacred Ribbons of Glory. Though the balance of the advanced forms challenged him, lacking in limbs and tail as he was, he was passing strong, and managed well enough, if one didn't examine too closely the hindlimb position or quantity of ribbonblades he could capably manage at once. After a week of study, the elders ordered him to assume the Sigil for wisdom, adjusted his posture slightly, and announced that he had attained the very highest level of the Art. To signify this honor, they bestowed upon him a crown of clawfronds, to which he experienced only a mild anaphylactic reaction.
Last of all, they made him hew his own weapon from the mightiest yillameg tree in the forest. "I don't understand what he thinks he's doing," murmured one of the new pups as they watched the earthman sweat and struggle against the ancient wood. "He's going to use a really big stick to defend us against his people's orbital defense platforms?" But the elders hushed the youngling just as the earthman finally wrested a fearsome spearfruit free from the yillameg's mighty embrace.
And then it was time, time for the earthman to prove himself worthy to be the champion of the People. "Brave Chris," said the holiest of the elders. "You must look into the Shadow in the Choking Wastes of Namindeep, and defeat it.
"I thought his name was Steve," muttered a gravid eggbearer, but no one listened.
The elder laid a pair of heavy claws on each of Chris's, or Steve's, shoulders. "Only then can you protect our world."
And so the earthman was adorned with fragrant auzik-vine and beeki flowers by the women of the People, or rather what he assumed were women, as the People had five sexes, none of which corresponded particularly well to human conceptions of "female." Armed with his mighty yillameg-spear, he ventured down into the Wastes, while the People watched from the cliffs above.
"What if," a second-decade drone whispered, "what if the Shadow refuses him?" And they clung to each other, claw-to-claw, hepatopancreases churning anxiously.
But the Shadow fell long and dark across the wind-gnawed plain, and it darkened the earthman's determined features. Are you worthy? it rumbled, and the wind screamed in chorus.
"I have dominion over the Thorny Windbeasts of this world," the earthman cried. "Will you not face me?"
Are you worthy?
"I've danced the Seven Sacred Ribbons!"
Are you worthy?
"I asked the forests for my weapon, and they answered!"
The Shadow held still. Up above, the People watched in silence. Then, finally, the Shadow shivered. Yes. I accept this sacrifice.
Brave as a Windbeast-rider, solemn as a ribbon-dancer, stern as the yillameg tree, the earthman did not scream when the Shadow consumed him. That was, the elders confirmed, a very positive sign.
When the Wastes had drunk deep of the earthman's blood, and the Shadow had stilled in its terrible throes, it raised the swell of its head to the cliffs. My people, it said. I have digested the knowledge, the shape, the essence of this earthman. Now I can see how you will be safe. I will show you how; let us begin.
And the Shadow reached out to embrace its people.
Survey Ship BR-23 landed on Snoglafane IV at 0800 or so on the shipboard clock. When the captain stepped out onto the ramp to look down over the glorious new world that lay before him, he was surprised to find a small crowd of human men staring back up at him.
"Dar-o ily'ep menik," one of the men said, and another elbowed him.
The captain blinked. For a second he'd thought the guy had four arms! Too much space travel on the brain--spend that long in the void and it was a near guarantee your first fresh sight of land would play tricks on you. "Beg your pardon," he said. "I thought this rock was still unclaimed."
"We think you will find our paperwork in order," one of the men said, and held out a Tab with the official seal of the Quadrancy on it.
Upon the captain's inspection, it proved to be a genuine writ of colonization, made out to one Chris Stevens, and dated a few weeks before the captain's own permit. "Well, blast," said the captain. "Here you are then, Mr. Stevens." Three different sets of hands reached out for the writ, before two quickly retreated. They did look a lot alike; well, a lot of colonies were started with clone stock, anyway. "Best of luck to you. Hope the Snoglafanians didn't give you too much trouble."
"Not at all, sir," said the colonist--Chris Stevens, was it? Or Steve Christian? The captain retreated to the airlock and Survey Ship BR-23 blasted off in search of greener pastures.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, January 19th, 2018
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