Saturday, 14 July 2012

Arriving on Höllenstein

Carlos Dészegerégy was a plain man, perhaps 5'8 in his stockinged feet, and he was indeed the kind of man to wear stockings rather than socks.  He had a slightly pointy chin and slightly pointy ears, and cruel people made remarks about leprechauns in his hearing if he forgot himself and wore the green tunic his mother had given him before he left home.  His hair was usually tousled but was jet black; so black in fact that more than one lover had asked him when he found time to dye it.  On his left hand he wore his Linguist ring, the ring awarded only to postgraduates of the Royal Academy of Linguistics.  His right hand was slightly claw-like, due to a near permanent writer's cramp.  He only smiled when he thought of something funny, which seemed to happen less and less.
He was frowning at the moment as he read through the notes his colleague, Irina Novosibirsk, had left for him.  He'd arrived on the world of Höllenstein twelve days earlier and she'd crashed into him as he came out of the arrivals lounge.  He'd barely had time to recognise that the silver-haired screaming woman was Irina before she'd recovered herself, thrust her satchel into his arms, pushed him over, and run off again, still screaming.  A kindly couple nearby offered him a hand to help him up, which he gratefully declined as they were old enough to be his grandparents, and when he was finally on his feet and dusting off his trousers, he thought to look around for Irina.  A brief walk in the direction she'd taken brought him to the departures lounge, and the pasty-faced guard stopped eating a beignet for long enough to tell him that a screaming woman had indeed gone through as she had a ticket valid for travel.  Which Carlos did not, for another six months.
Outside the travel-port, which had the impressive name of President Harkos II the Illuminated Travel-Port for the Nation and the less-impressive building standards of an agricultural shelter, there was a taxi-rank and a bus-stop.  Without stopping to think, Carlos joined the queue for the bus and started listening.
Two minutes later he realised his mistake: everyone coming from the Travel-port was a tourist, and so they were speaking a multitude of langauges, and all of them were complaining about the expense of the taxis.  Carlos left the queue and join the (much shorter) queue for a taxi, and within five minutes was being driven to the Queen Agnetha Embassy.  The taxi driver was talkative and appeared not to speak any Anglo, so Carlos listened attentively, his right-hand cramping slightly as he tried to control his urge to take out his notebook and start making notes about the use of the language by native speakers.  He contented himself with singling out the most useful observations and trying to memorise them to write them down later.
"Here then we are, goodman," said the taxi-driver, slowing the taxi as they approached the Embassy.  "Soldiermen shots not good are, taxi new is but.  Here then descend you. "  The taxi stopped, and Carlos asked the driver to repeat himself again, intrigued that the driver appeared to adding a suffix to the verb when he moved it out of its traditional place in the sentence structure.  The taxi driver looked at him as though he were simple, repeated what he'd said, and looked even more surprised when Carlos added an extra ten to the tip by way of gratitude.
As the taxi-driver pulled his taxi away, Carlos noticed that the soldiers at the gates of the Embassy were taking aim at him with their guns.  He pulled his passport out of his pocket and held it in front of him like a shield as he walked to them, his heart racing and his breathing suddenly ragged.
A shot rang out, and he fell to the ground, hurting himself on the square corners and hard edges of the books inside Irina's satchel.  He lay there, wondering how he'd know if he'd been shot, and if they were going to keep on shooting, but silence filled the air until a boot kicked him in the ribs and he grunted as the air rushed out of his lungs.
"Get up," said the soldier in accented Anglo.  "What do you want?"
"I belong here," said Carlos, not getting up but holding his passport up instead.  "See?  I'm expected at the Embassy."
He felt the passport being pulled from his fingers, and risked looking up.  The soldier's lips were moving as he scrutinised the passport, and finally it was dropped on Carlos's upturned face.
"Fine," said the soldier.  "Another funny language man, great.  You're not as cute as your colleague, you know."
Carlos got to his feet, wondering how worried he should feel about the implications of that statement, and traipsed after the soldier.  Höllenstein seemed quite different to all of his other postings so far.

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