“Begin a scene with this line: Why is the world upside down?”
I saw this prompt on “A Writer’s Path”, it was about pirates. I didn’t plan to write anything for it, but as it sometimes happens, one of the phrases stuck, ran away and did its own thing. There are no pirates, I’m sorry, and even the prompt is slightly skewed. You could say that I’ve been listening to Pink Floyd’s Endless River once too often. You may be right. However, drugs were not involved, except for some red wine. Take this little piece of silliness as a tribute to Rick Wright, and all the other musical heroes of my time who have passed away far too early.
After travelling through space for years, I should be used to seeing my world upside down, but this here is something else entirely. When you swing up and down on a rubber-like rope that’s tied to your ankles, and try to hit some large, resonant tubes with a huge wooden club you hold in both hands—you have to hit just at the right angle, just with the right force—then your worldview undergoes a serious shift, to put it mildly. And this is what I’m doing right now, that’s why the world is upside down.
Nausea doesn’t bother me, the swinging motion that my mass is inflicting upon the rope is kind of fun, as was the jump from the top of the huge, curved gates that tower over the arena, or whatever you want to call this place. What does bother me, though, is that I can’t fully enjoy the fun because I have to concentrate. If I miss a beat, I’ll ruin it. The Lemurs will be upset, and who knows how they’ll react. I better watch what I’m doing.
The Lemurs still see us as idiots, I’m afraid. They’ve painted the spots I need to hit a bright, fluorescent blue. I can even see it in the long, drawn out, moody dusk. It is the only bright spot visible apart from the matching green spot they painted on Kyle’s tube. I risk a quick peek over to my friend and can’t suppress a grin. He clearly is delighted in what we’re doing here. His silhouette almost looks elegant, swinging up and down and approaching the tube with every third bob. My count is four, I better stop watching him and concentrate on my own job. One, two, three, four, hit on the left spot with both clubs, one blow.
The effect startles me while I’m pulled upwards again. They’ve let us practice, but not with the real instruments. The wooden tubes we’ve been hitting for practice only emitted a dull sound, and the Lemurs were mostly interested in our ability to count the beats rather than wasting time with explaining all the details of this important event. There was no way to anticipate a sound like this.
“You shall understand it when it happens,” Gral, the teacher, told us.
So far I understand that I made an impressive and quite wonderful sound. And not only that. As the tube vibrates from my blow, a soft purple glow rises up. Is that dust? Insects or some other critters? Particles in an excited state emitting their energy triggered by the vibrations? There are a lot of questions Gral will have to answer after this event, but right now, I’ll have to focus. Three swings down, and it is Kyle’s turn.
Just as impressive. The high sound winds itself around the residues of my “Gongggg…” that still echoes somewhere back from the mountains, or maybe from the bottom of the caldera. I don’t know, I don’t care, I’m thunderstruck. The glow caused by Kyle’s sound is a dark blue, barely visible, blending with the waning light of a sun that has set hours ago. Our earth hours, that is. On Shimaka, the blue hour has barely started. They have a different concept of time. As they have of everything else.
I’m on my fourth swing, I better pay attention.
“Gong, dongdong, Gonnnnnngggg… Gongdonggongdong… ”
I beat as fast as I can, trying to keep the beat steady before I’m jerked upwards again, and I think I nailed it. This, my second turn, is the important one, it is the signal for all the others to chime in. From now on, I only need to count to four, and add one “Gonggg… ” at every fourth turn. Which is a good thing, because I lose focus, and my mouth falls open as I see the Lemurs perform.
With my last beat, they jump from the gates surrounding the caldera, and some hammer on tubes like Kyle and I do. Others pluck on strings that are strung to the gates, giving them the look of giant harps. Some Lemurs use stone clubs and beat on something that would be called drums in our world. The effect is overwhelming. With every acoustic vibration, the colourful dust is rising up, dancing a magical dance, colours swirling, forming clouds of many hues, merging, separating, dancing, spreading incredible joy. Auroras on our planet don’t even come close. I feel so elated, I could shout from joy. Or cry. Or both. Glancing over, I see tears streaming into Kyle’s hairline as he produces his next “Diiiiiing.”
He has the easy part, hitting one spot, once, every third swing down. I’m the one who was challenged with the Prelude. Maybe it’s because they heard me play the guitar. I know that impressed them. My music cut the gordian knot that had become of our relationship with the Lemurs, the amazing dominant species on this planet. We thought they were just slightly advanced primates, somewhat like the Lemurs on Earth. They look quite similar, after all.
Once again, our barely suppressed cultural arrogance led us astray by dismissing their efforts at communication and trying to impose our own ideas on them. We should know better by now. We never managed to communicate with the long extinct intelligent non-human species on our own planet, after all, so why should it have worked here? It was a total desaster. The Lemurs understood what we tried to do, and blocked our efforts, effortlessly. We had no idea about the impressive civilisation hiding in—or blending with—the enormous forests of this huge southern continent.
Playing the guitar that evening was the best idea I ever had. From then on, they were willing to acknowledge us as somewhat intelligent, conscious beings. Consequently, after taking some time to get acquainted with us, they invited Kyle and me to participate in their ritual. And here we are, dumbstruck, watching them perform something only a mad genius on Earth could have envisioned.
The Lemurs dance. This whole event is one gigantic dance, a happening, a concert, a ballet, or perhaps all of it combined. This is incredible. Now that I don’t have to concentrate so hard any longer, I can appreciate the art and skill that goes into composing such a piece. Kyle and I swing at the centre, from the largest of the musical gate-towers. This makes our clumsy and artless up-and-down movement part of the greater concept. We are a part of this. All around, the sleek, lithe, Lemur people swing. With their powerful tails, their long arms and strong legs, they barely touch the ropes that govern their movements. They swing up and down, from left to right, and every which way, but always mindful of the music. The combination of those athletic bodies, the colourful, dancing clouds, and the overwhelming sound creates an aesthetic sensation that is dissonance and harmony in one. I don’t think anyone has really lived who hasn’t seen this. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but that’s how I feel. No wonder the whole thing is the most important ritual on this planet.
“Vibration was, is, and will be.” Gral says after freeing our ankles. “Everything is part of it. You now belong, too.”
The idea that the substance of the universe is based on vibration isn’t new. It is a view, a conviction, really, held by many people, on many planets. On ours, it’s called quantum physics. The Lemurs, however, are the first we met who live the concept. They make it tangible. We have a lot to learn from them, and I only hope that they find what we have to offer to be of similar value. I’ve looked through my music files and put together a collection for them, as a start.
That fateful evening, when the Lemurs and we finally acknowledged each other as people, I’d played a piece of classical music on a replica of my antique Fender Stratocaster. The music was composed by a group called Pink Floyd hundreds of years ago, during the hopeless era of ignorance. I have a lot of their music on file, to me, it’s always been a beacon of light in the darkness. And I have samples from other groups, too; music our scholars call the true archaic, classical music from the darkest ages. There are wonderfully harmonious compositions by people called Bach, Mozart, Beethoven… too many to name them all. Earth has a long history of music, often representing, mirroring even, the spirit of its time.
Music will be our bridge for communicating with the Lemurs–I should call them Shima now, that’s what they call themselves. In our enlightened age, the exchange of culture, knowledge and philosophy has become equally important to the exchange of goods, skills, and resources. I hope I’ll be considered for the ambassadorial staff, or maybe even as Lady Ambassador. I think I deserve it, and I know I can live up to it. After all, having participated in the Harmonious Vibration Dance once means that you’re expected to do it again, and again, and again. And I’m ready to do just that. Life will never be the same after this.
All images are screenshots from iTunes’ visualizer while playing Pink Floyd’s last album ‘The Endless River’.