Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Odnose B

Carlos Dészegerégy, Linguist First Class (non-Whorfian), rubbed an inky hand across his forehead, smearing blue pigment on his skin.  He sighed, unaware of what he'd done, and picked his fountain pen back up again, intending to write a couple more lines about Odnose B and noticed that the pen was sticky.  Looking at it more closely he realised that it was leaking ink from the new cartridge he'd put in there just ten minutes earlier, and for the first time he didn't put the pen down and curse the manufacturer.  Instead he turned it around in his hand and wondered.
Could it be, he thought, twiddling the pen, that the fault didn't lie with the pen or the cartridges at all?  After all, he'd been given the pen thirteen and a half years ago as a graduation present after he'd successfully defended his thesis that dead languages could be successfully resurrected amongst small children deprived of other stimuli.  It had worked perfectly every day since then, until two days ago, when he'd started writing notes on Odnose B.  Could it be that the language itself was somehow breaking his pen?
It was surely ridiculous, but over the last three days studying the language the computer translation systems had steadily lost languages until now he was translating Odnose B into Latin, that being the last language the computer had left that he could understand.  The various sub-systems of the computer kept malfunctioning, and the heating and water-purification systems now needed near-constant attention.  Almost as if on cue, the fans in the heaters stopped turning and the noise died down to near-silence.  He put the pen down and got up straight away – if the fans weren't restarted the heaters would melt them, and without the heaters he'd just freeze slowly to death.
A cursory study of the heater revealed that he'd have to turn it off and replace the ball-bearings if he wanted heating again, and then he did swear a little.  This time though, instead of discarding the ball-bearings that had given out, he put them in his pocket.  When the heaters were back on and the fans turning again, he got the ball bearings back out of his pocket and took a look at them.  Then he found a magnifying glass and took a closer look at them.
They were square.
Impossibly, the tiny perfect spheres of titanium had somehow become cubes, and no longer fitted into their joints properly.  Corners now caught and scratched and stuck until the fans stopped working.  Yet it was strictly opposed to the laws of physics for something to move to a less entropic state like that.  It made no sense.  Which implied sabotage, which brought him all the way back to Odnose B.
He sat back, and thought about the peculiar language.  No-one here seemed to speak it, and although no-one had admitted to it, he was pretty certain that they burned any books or documents they found that were written in it.  He'd been lucky to stumble on a buried cache of books written in Odnose B that had been hidden away in a small cave system, simply because he'd wanted to use it for freezer storage and had started to clear away a rockfall.  The books had been behind the rockfall, with various bones and skeletal fragments scattered around them.  Yet more evidence of disaster around the language, now he was looking for it.  But was he only finding the evidence because he was looking?
The books weren't cheerful reading, if the computer translation were accurate.  One might be a history of some kind, but it was pretty miserable.  The people it described seemed always unhappy, prone to fighting for no apparent cause, and quick to commit suicide over minor misunderstandings.  He could quite see why such a people would have died out.
So... and here was the heretical thought: had they died out because of their language?  Had their language somehow brought about their own doom?
Was that too far-fetched?
The computer beeped, indicating that a programme had finished running, and he shook his inky head and went over to the touch-screen to see which one had completed.  The screen informed him that the speech module had synthesised three sentences from the book he'd taken to be a dictionary of some kind.  With just a hint of trepidation he tapped the Enter key to hear what Odnose B sounded like, as best as the computer could determine.
Three seconds later the power failed and the computer stopped speaking, leaving him shaking and pale-faced (underneath the blue ink).  If the computer was to be believed, Odnose B sounded like the speaker was being strangled and tortured, the kind of noise that made him want to kill himself.  Perhaps the language had been the death of its speakers, he thought.

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