By Rajan Khanna
Read by Josh Roseman
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Originally appeared in Basement Stories Issue 1 (2010)
All stories by Rajan Khanna
All stories read by Josh Roseman
Rated 17 and up for sexual situations
Part One: Contemplation
The human came to She Shalu on the Day of Flowering Awareness. Damo met him near the Still Garden, the fumes of the exiting shuttle mixing with the sharp spice of the tall, white twizak plant. Damo wore a humanoid shape so as to minimize the stranger’s discomfort.
Damo studied the human with the practiced eyes of a Synan. Dark hair covered his head and parts of his body, and he was sleight of build, despite the solidity of his form. About 1.7 meters tall. His features were mostly smooth, bones prominent, eyes with the barest hint of a slant. A mouth surrounded by full lips.
“How may I help you?” Damo said, trying to sound gracious.
“I came to study Wan She,” the human said.
Damo felt his features flow with his astonishment. Perhaps he had not heard correctly, or his translation module was malfunctioning. “I am sorry,” he said. “Wan She is the Path of Flowing Shapes. It is a Synan practice. Humans, being incapable of shifting, cannot practice it.”
The human smiled, revealing straight, white teeth. “I know. I’m writing a book,” he said. “But isn’t it true that the first stage is concerned solely with contemplation? Surely that is not beyond a human.”
Damo stifled his urge to shift in response to his unease. Uncontrolled shifting was against the teachings of Wan She. “That is true,” he said. “But Wan She is a path. Not a series of distinct teachings. To step on that path is to begin a journey.”
“All I ask is that you let me speak to your Tanshe. Let him decide.”
Damo was all too willing to accommodate the human in this. Let the Tanshe decide. It certainly saved Damo the trouble of having to assimilate this odd request.
“Please follow me,” he said.
He led the human through the Still Garden, inhaling the heady scent of it, delighting in its exoticness. Most of the students overlooked the Still Garden, and in doing so missed out on one of the true beauties of She Shalu.
They moved through the pearlescent designs of the sanctuary’s hallways to the Tanshe’s bubbled door. “Wait here,” Damo said, then entered.
The Tanshe was in an original form, multilimbed, eyeless, lacking both ears and nose. Turning inward. Her bright amber skin was splattered with black inky spots. She looked up as Damo entered, eyes appearing from inside her face. Damo let his features droop in the customary manner. “Tanshe, there is a human to see you.”
The Tanshe’s features flowed and shifted until they were almost exactly a human’s. “Send it in,” she said. “And wait outside.”
Damo’s skin settled. He was not to be involved in this discussion. It was good. The Tanshe would deal with it and send the human away. Damo did as the Tanshe asked.
He waited outside, letting his features relax into the default Synan shape. He’d worn the humanoid one as a courtesy, and because it was polite and expected, but he disliked it. It was distasteful. Too firm. Too set.
He waited for some time, then the door bubble opened. He quickly shifted back into his humanoid form and turned to face the human, now exiting. “She told me to send you in,” the human said.
Damo looked at the human’s firm, immobile face. So alien. So disgusting.