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The Leaves of October

By Don Sakers

PART ONE: Traveller



I am but a sapling, yet already I have become proficient in the reading of the First Language, in the rustles and whispers of the Second Language, and even a bit in the vast soundless waves of the Inner Voice with its meanings from beyond the sky.

I am also skilled in relations with the other orders of life, although this world has circled its sun but a dozen times since I broke soil. You may find it strange to hear a Hlut speak of relations with other orders -- these are the Hlutr, you may say to yourselves, who stand so far above the others that they touch the clouds, who live so long that the watch mountains change, who talk among themselves in their two languages (for what can you know of the Inner Voice?) all oblivious to the world. How, you may ask, can they even be aware of others?

And your thoughts are partly right, Little Ones -- but only partly. True, the Elders . . . those who are old even as the Hlutr count time . . . do not pay that much attention to others. True, they live so slowly that your lives are but a flicker, and to them you are less than goats are to a mountain. Yet you must not make mountains of us, Little Ones, for we are alive (even as are you) and we know the pains and beauties of living. We feel kin to all life.

Let me assure you that the Hlutr do care, tiny and ephemeral as you are. We know you and feel you and chreish you, although you may not think so; for truly, we do not speak with you and seldom acknowledge you. We are aware of the flying creatures who perch upon us, of the land beings who jump, walk and creep around us; of the grubs and many-legged crawlers who live on us and in us and within the ground beneath our roots. We appreciate, we feel for, we cherish all Little Ones -- down to the tiny, primal bits of pulsing, growing, mindless life within you and their dull feeling for the Inner Voice, their dull awareness of the great world about them.

I have been taught to be even more conscious of you, Littles, than are my brethren Hlutr. I have been taught by Elders and normal Hlutr alike, living so fast that I have fit many of your lifetimes into my scant dozen years. With each day I grow better with the First and Second Languages, the expressions of my people; with each day I become more attuned to the waves of the Inner Voice . . . not only that I might communicate with my brethren of far-off worlds, but also that I might talk with you, Little Ones.

Why, you may ask, have I been created this way, why have I been bred and trained into such a non-Hlutr type of Hlut? You may wonder what need the Elders have of a Hlut like me. I wonder too, my Littles. I have some idea. There are whispers in the wind, and pulses in the Inner Voice, that bear news across the galaxy and around the world to me. There is news from the Ancients of Nephestal, whose culture is almost as old as the Hlutr.

The Daamin, the Ancients, tell us that there is a new race ready to come forth and join the Scattered Worlds of the Galaxy. We will all have company soon, dear Little Ones, and I believe the Elders with to be ready for these new ones.

There are strange stories about them, stories which I do not quite understand. The Daamin tell of these new ones, these Humans, and of their distant planet and their odd ways. We have learned of our stunted relatives the Redwoods of Terra; we have been told of Animals and Dolphins and some of the Humans’ strange societal customs (some of them a little like the many-legged crawlers and some of the grubs). In their own way they have studied the Universal Song and learned some of its principles. Enough, at least, to harness some of the power of the First Cause. And they are coming, Little Ones; already their seeds flash outward from their world at speeds as fast as the Inner Voice can move, and soon they will be here among us.

Little Ones, we must prepare for the Humans.

You are afraid of them, Little Ones. Their silver seed sits in the clearing, and it frightens you. Their odd alien smell hangs over the wood, and you are alarmed. They have come among you with boxes-that-make-noise, and you have run from them. And now you seek sanctuary among us.

Do not be afraid. The Hlutr will care for you. As we have cared for you, for your mothers and their mothers, back beyond the memory of the Eldest of us all. Ever have the Hlutr cared for all innocent Little Ones. Ever have we delighted in you. Ever.

Look with me, Littles, at these new creatures. Try to hear the Inner Voice as it sings in them. For truly they are alive, and they are children of the stars as are we all, Hlutr and Flyers and Grubs alike.

They move among us now, as you tremble and scurry into your burrows and caves, frightened by their noise and their odor and their strangeness. Only the Hlutr stand, unafraid.

Let me help you to know them, that you may not fear them. My brethren Hlutr speak to me, asking me to explain the Humans -- let me explain to you as well. Those harsh sounds are like unto the Second Language, although clearly they lack the quiet soughing beauty of Hlutr speech. Listen to me, Little Ones, and you may grasp something of what they say. The smaller one speaks.

“It’s the trees, Karl. Listen -- no wind, and yet they seem to be making noise at one another.”

“Talking trees. Right.”

“What else? Look at the color changes in those trunks. There’s some sort of pattern there, I’m sure of it. That’s communication on some primitive level.

She feels wonder, Little Ones, the same wonder that all feeling creatures experience when they contemplate the mystery and majesty of the Hlutr.

But the other . . . it sends discord in the Inner Voice. Listen:

“They’re plants. How would they even sense the color changes?” He listens to his boxes; they seem to speak to him in some bizarre form of the First Language. “Ship’s instruments misread. There’re no ore concentrations here. Lousy site for a settlement. Let’s go back.”

“No, Karl. Look -- the leaves are multicolored. Maybe each one absorbs a different shade. Or maybe the black ones are sensory apparatus. This needs more study.”

“Two more worlds to check on, and you want to study trees.”

“We can take a specimen back to Terra.”

“Sure, you’re going to bring back a fifty-meter tree. I can see Captain’s face now.”

“Look at this one -- it can’t be more than three meters tall. It would fit in a corner of the starboard cargo hold.” (Surely you have noticed, Little Ones, that the Elders have not allowed me to grow to but a fraction of my potential.)

“Fight it out with Captain. I want lunch. Here, mark it on the map so you can find it again.”

They wander off in the direction of their silver seed. Yes, I can see that you did not understand more than a little of what they said. I must confess that I understood all too little myself.

But the rustles in the wind convey meaning to me, meaning of the Elders’ plan, and I am afraid that I understand far too much. Fear stirs in me, just a bit. I ask if there is no other way, and they remind me of the story of the Redwoods. We cannot allow that to happen to the Hlutr; for where would the other orders be without the Hlutr to protect and guide them?

Perhaps Humans acted with ignorance, with the Redwoods. We must see that it does not happen again. We must understand why it was allowed to happen in the first place. A Hlut must go with them, back to their world.

For the last time I listen to the wind of my home world; for the last time I feel the coolness of my home soil.

A Hlut must go to Terra.

Remember me, faithful Little Ones, when I am gone.



  Such a different world! And yet, in some ways, not so unfamiliar. You are here, my precious ones; true, you are not the Littles of the world I have learned to call Amny -- but all Little Ones are the same for all their infinite diversity. Already there are flyers and crawlers about me, already I can feel some grubs tentatively testing the new-scattered dirt at my roots. Welcome, Little Ones, welcome.

It is good to feel fresh air, fresh soil, fresh light again. They have been kind to me, these Humans . . . and the voyage was not a long one. I lived slowly, more slowly than I have ever lived before, and it seemed no more than the merest flicker before we were on Terra.

I have shouted with the Second Language until my leaves hurt from quivering, and all the answer I have received is the meaningless murmur of wind, and the rhythmic whisper of waves on far-off shores. It is lonely -- although we have these sounds on Amny, there is also the rustle of intelligent conversation from my brethren.

Here on Terra, though, all the plants are nonsapient. However much they may resemble Hlutr form, they lack the Hlutr mind. The Redwoods, perhaps, were intelligent (although they never communicated by Inner Voice with the rest of the Hlutr. Perhaps they were deaf in that sense). Some form of Hlut, no matter how primitive, must have existed on Terra to guide the long march of animal evolution from Pylistroph seeds into customary channels -- for the Humans are of the same biochemistry and general structure as so many other races in the Scattered Worlds. It saddens me that none of these ur-Hlutr are left to perchance answer my calls.

No matter, though -- there is enough else to keep me busy for a long time.

Those who watch me, for example. I have an honored place in the middle of a botanicalgarden and many Humans come to stand before me, looking at a tiny metal rectangle and gazing at me. I greet them with the First Language (which is not as much of a strain as the Second) and they watch. Some even respond with flickers of glee.

Terra has spun six times since I arrived here; and although the first five turns were spent in isolation to make sure I was rid of all Amny’s Little Ones, the watchers came. I have learned much about those-who-watch.

Most are full-grown Humans (how strange to call “full-grown” creatures who cannot be three-seventieths the height of a mature Hlut!) making the unending noises they call speech, their minds filled with distortions of the Inner Voice concerned with time and rush and ever, ever with movement. With a few, there is curiosity and even a healthy appreciation of me. (My brethren are delighted to learn that Humans can be awed by the sight of a Hlut, but all too often my brethren think too highly of the Hlutr place in the Universal Song.) But none of these adult Humans, not one, is ever content. Their thoughts and feelings, when they can be read at all, are fastened upon something else. Always they have little regard for the Universal Song of which everything is a part -- Humans, Hlutr, botanicalgarden, and Terra too. Always they have even less regard for the magic and beauty of themselves.

There are others, however, who come to look . . . and I find them much more pleasing. These are the Human seedlings, who are always in the care of the mature Humans (you need only think of the many-legged crawlers who protect their eggs and larvae). The seedlings make noise too -- and their noise is more raucous and less soothing, even, than the speech of the adults. Despite that, my Little Ones, if you will look at them with the eyes of the Inner Voice you will see that they are simpler than the adults. These children are more like you, Littles, the way they happily watch as the colors of the First Language race across my trunk and through my leaves. Sometimes I feel that I can talk to the Human children, as I can talk to you, my dears.

Some come who are upset -- as you are often upset, when you are hungry or your young are threatened, or when your mate has died. For some of them, those who will listen, I can work a twist of the Inner Voice and they go away happier, more peaceful. I do not mind this work -- indeed, when has a Hlut ever minded helping the Littles?

But I feel that there is more important work I should be doing. The Elders have not expressed themselves well in the eddies of the Inner Voice -- and those eddies are hard to read across the parsecs, with all the interference of all the Hlutr on other worlds. I shall think hard, and consider deeply, and perhaps it will come to me. Following the orders of the Elders, I shall try to talk with the Humans -- although I have been here six days, and have had little if any success in making them realize that I can speak. However, we must not expect Humans to be as fast as a Hlut would be; I shall give them time.

Meanwhile, I have those-who-watch, especially the children. And I have you, Little Ones.



  There are parades, there is joy and cheer all around. The Botanical Garden is hung with bright holos and flags and signs, and the children skip about shouting and laughing at my colors; I am shouting in the First Language to produce pretty patterns for them.

You must be careful, Little Ones, not to get hurt on this day of joy. The Humans are often forgetful of you, and you are all too used to the careful attention of a Hlut. So scurry when you see the Humans coming, and watch their feet lest you are tromped on. Their children are the most careless. You must not think ill of them -- for if you could but see the Inner Voice within them as I do, you would know that they are filled with joy and not malice. Their minds are small, though, and they can only pay attention to a few things at a time. And some of you are so little that you cannot take much of their joy.

Why, you may ask, are the Humans so exuberant? You have seen before parades and fairs and celebrations, but none in your experience match the reckless joy of this day. Gather around me, Little Ones, and I shall try to explain. Although I do not fully understand.

You see, Humans love one another with a powerful feeling. You may understand this, tiny crawlers, but the others may not be able to see it. And Humans have a strange desire to see themselves in many places in the Universal Song. The more places, the more Humans to love. (Yes, birds, you may rest upon my branches.)

Well, my Littles, this day we see the declaration of much love for many Humans in the Galaxy. This day, there has been the proclamation of an Empire. (Come, squirrels, and sit with me.) This day, starships will begin to sweep across the Scattered Worlds and unite all the colonies of Humanity. There will be much pain and much joy and ever so much glory. It will be a beautiful and tragic addition to the Universal Song.

Yes, I know it is a difficult thing to explain. I must admit, now that you are all confused by my explanation, that we Hlutr do not grasp the Human drive for Empire any better than you do. We have received some conception of it from the Daamin, and even more from the sons of Metrin, who have a similar drive. And there have been many examples in the distant past, from sad Iaranor to grand Avethell and all her daughter worlds.

It must be a very animal thing, not known to plants. It is but one of the mysteries about the Human race. They will lose themselves in this power-and-glory struggle, lose themselves to the most evident joy and the strongest emotions.

Why Humans should wish to lose themselves is another question entirely.

It has been almost sixty years, my Little Ones, since I have been on Terra. I have grown, as all Hlutr grow (either slow or fast as they wish) . . . can you believe that there was once a time when I was only as tall as a Human, I who now stand as tall as ten Humans one atop the other? I have seen many things: I have watched children grow and adults die, and I have seen new ones born. (They are truly delightful when they are born, so very vegetable, just like tiny seedlings pushing their heads into the light for the first time.) Still I do not understand them. I have been living very quickly, as quick or quicker than Humans themselves live, and I have been thinking very much.

I suffered, Littles, across Human light years with the rape of the ecologies of nearby Laxus and Leikeis and other worlds. I have watched thousands of red and beautiful sunsets, and have rejoiced with all the creatures at the stinging freshness of Terra’s clean rain. I have sung with the Whales, greatest of my Little Ones, once I found the way to pick up their own Second Language from the world-seas.

Humans have not talked with me. My brethren on Amny and other worlds tell me that Humans ignore them as well. After a few regrettable murders, the Human colonists have left the Hlutr alone. Every once in a while someone wonders about our color changes (although to my knowledge, not one has ever suspected the existence of the whispers of the Second Language -- mayhap because it sounds so much like the wind) . . . but they have never quite realized that the First Language is language.

That is why I am so happy today, Little Ones. I have great hopes for this Empire of theirs. I sense a new spirit in the Inner Voice of these creatures; they are taking a good look at the Universal Song, and it is possible that they will begin to discern the place of the Hlutr in that Song.

Ah, here comes a child. No, my Little Ones, don’t flee from him. Stay, and see how innocent he is. Mind, now, don’t get stepped on.

Welcome, child. You children, sometimes, watch my colors with curiosity -- perhaps you, lad, will grow up and retain your wonder at the pretty colors you watch so absorbedly, and will discover that the Hlutr actually talk.

Run along, now; my leaves quiver to the sound of your parents’ voices, you must return to them. But . . . perhaps you will be back.



A terrible thing has happened, Little Ones, something which has shocked the Elders and the Hlutr of all the Galaxy.

Could I intercede for the Humans, I would. But I do not understand. Elders, Stars, Universal Song . . . why?

I of course never saw Credix, grand world that has now become one of the Provincial Capitals and a major military base for the Empire. Yet I have seen images of it still burning in the minds of those who visited. And I have sung the melodies of the Inner Voice with the ancient community of Hlutr who lived there.

Gone, gone. Not one Hlut remains on Credix. Few enough died directly from Human bombings -- perhaps twenty times seventy. More Hlutr than that die naturally all over the Scattered Worlds each Terran year. But oh, twenty times seventy Hlutr in the middle of their lives, living fast or slow or in between, growing and sheltering -- and all the Little Ones that dwelled with them. The backlash of the Inner Voice killed every other Hlut on the planet. Even on Amny, eight hundred parsecs distant, some of the frailer Hlutr died.

Why? you Little Ones ask. And why, ask my brethren from beyond the sky. Why?

Can I explain how important this Empire has become to these Humans of Terra? Can I explain how they have invested all their being into its realization, so much so that they are willing to deforest whole subcontinents to build spaceports? Stars and Music, how can I explain when I do not understand?

There are those of my brethren who wish me to take revenge. The way is clear . . . we Hlutr have taken it before. We alone of all the creatures in the Universal Song, we possess the ability to manufacture those helices of matter that are the very stuff and foundation of life.

I could . . . I could.

You, my Littles, could provide the basic materials upon which I could work. The Hlutr have guided evolution on seventy-times-itself-seventy-times worlds, large and small. We possess the control to make you over, Littles, into beings that would have the means to kill every Human on this world. A plague, one of my brothers suggests to me -- your little pulsing bits could be converted into other little bits that would spell the end of Humanity.

I could do it. It would require my death -- that death-detonation which is the ultimate meaning of the Hlutr race, that last gasp that so few of us have ever really undergone -- to spread the synthesized substances far.

I could. I will not.

Listen to me, brethren. I plead for the Humans. They did not know what they did. It is my failing, for I have not yet been able to make them realize that we are sapient. Just as a Hlut does not hesitate to destroy a nonsapient plant that is in his way -- so these Humans did not hesitate to destroy what they imagined to be nonsapient Hlutr on Credix.

Let me work harder, brethren, and let me make them see what we are. And then . . . then they will hurt us no more.

The Elders answer with a sigh that is both dirge and decision. Until I can do a better job, until I can convince the Humans that we are sapient . . . they will be spared.

A terrible thing has happened, Little Ones. Now the sap of all those Hlutr, all the forests of Credix and all the dead Hlutr beyond . . . are my responsibility. Ever in the Universal Song will my failure be noted, and ever will I be linked with Credix in the tales that will follow.





Winter comes . . . as it has come over three-times-seventy-times since I have been here. I have watched the leaves of the trees with which I share the Imperial Botanical Garden turn color and fall many times, and I shall never grow tired of the sight. It is a joyful vision, which we do not have on Amny; for Amny has no winter, only eternal spring.

The Humans also like to watch the leaves. They cannot guess that within those colors is preserved a genetic memory of the Hlutr spores from which these trees’ ancestors of millions of years ago sprang. For the yellow-red-orange pattern of the leaves is the same pattern seen on a Hlut deep in communion with the Inner Voice, listening contently to the ebb and flow of tides from brethren Hlutr and from life the Galaxy round. It is the sign of a Hlut experiencing the profound joy without which the Universal Song is toneless and without purpose.

These last few winters have been even more delightful for me. There are few of you about, with the snow gathering -- and nowadays you tend to come near me less and less, for the Research Station’s new building was put up less than five man-lengths from me, and many of you still fear to approach it.

I am left with the company of crawlers and grubs, and a few brave birds. You, birds, no longer nest in my upper branches -- thirty man-lengths is a bit high for a nest -- but I cherish your homes in my lower branches. I have cared for your young, as much as I am able; for the Hlutr do love you, Little Ones. Yet you feel that I am more distant from you than I have been in the past.

True, I have not spoken with you much. I have been very busy.

I have been living faster than I have ever lived, save for the hectic days of my saplinghood on Amny. It is necessary, you see, to live quite fast to keep up with Doctor Rubashov and the others of the Research Station. It is important to me, Little Ones, and important to the Hlutr as a race, that Doctor Rubashov be given all the evidence he needs to prove the Hlutr sapient in Human terms.

I do the bidding of the Elders, in this and in all things. For this I was sent to Terra, for this I have stood in this Botanical Garden for Human centuries.

Now young Doctor Rubashov approaches, and I must concentrate all my energies upon the seedlings’ talk which we have managed to improvise in the First Language. His apparatus is all set up; I greet him.

“Good day, Doctor. Are you understanding me?”

A televisor screen flashes color-patterns at me. Were he to shout, I could understand his speech -- in my time I have become quite good at reading Human speech -- but it is easier to use the First Language.

“I am reading you. Good morning. Are you ready for the day’s experiments?”

“Certainly.” To tell the truth, Littles, the prospect of another day of numbers and simple concepts, as if I were a seedling being taught by the Elders, is abhorrent. I don’t mind living fast to talk with things, but I dislike doing it simply for numbers.

Before he starts the day’s trials, Doctor Rubashov adjusts some of the leads which monitor my biochemical states. When his hand touches my trunk I have a sudden flash of Inner Voice clarity.

“Doctor, you are disturbed. Why?”

“I’ve been working for two years to show that you are intelligent. I’ve convinced myself time and again, but the (something) are not yet convinced. With such slim evidence we won’t ever be able to get the (something else) to recognize you as sapient. And that’ll be the end of my career.”

“Have you noticed how beautiful yon city looks all covered with snow? Does not appreciation of that beauty qualify me as sapient?” (You may wonder why we include appreciation of beauty and wonder in our definition of what constitutes sapience. Why, certainly one of the most important things we share with other sapients, Iaranori and Avethellans, Dolphins and Metrinaire, even the poor children of Nephestal -- surely it is this ability to be profoundly stirred by the simple miracles of the Universal Song.)

“Well now, you may think so. And I may think so. But I don’t think the (something) agrees. Now let’s get started.”

“But are the hills not beautiful?”

“I suppose so.” He is still disturbed, and I cannot read his feelings well enough to do more than guess. I live more quickly and try to match my own chorus of the Inner Voice with is cacophony. There are shattered images -- a Human woman, and unpleasant scenes of anger, and -- but it all fades back into the private reaches of his mind.

“We have a lot to do today,” Doctor Rubashov continues, “for we won’t be able to work the next few days.”

“Yes, of course. Let me wish you a joyful Solstice, Quen Rubashov.”

“Where did you learn that?” He sends a quick wave of surprise in the Inner Voice out toward the stars.

“I have been here a long time. I have observed much of your race and your customs. Oh, and I have an important matter to discuss with you -- in the spirit of Solstice.”

“Go on.”

“My brethren and I have noticed the new center for emotionally disturbed children that was built a few kilometers from here. Disturbances in the Inner Voice have made it difficult for me to communicate with my brethren Hlutr beyond the sky.”

“There’s no way to have that center moved further away. How do you know about it? Has one of the techs . . . ?”

“You misunderstand, Doctor. No, I don’t want the center moved away. If you will move the youngsters closer, I believe I can help heal them with the Inner Voice.”

There is a long pause. “We’ll see.” Then Doctor Rubashov starts flashing numbers at me. I settle down to a long day’s work.

Little Ones, Little Ones, come close to me. How the wind rushes through my branches, how it shakes me to the roots!

How could he do it? No, Littles, I am not asking a literal question. I know how he could do it. He took a dropshaft to the top floor of the Imperial State Building and threw himself off. And after long seconds of freefall, Quen Rubashov was no more.

How? Why? Because his work was going badly? Because that woman left him? Because, because, because . . . a thousand so-called reasons beat in the minds of those on the research team. They have not told me yet -- but there is no hiding it. I was attuned to his own theme of the Inner Voice. There was no mistaking his cry on Solstice Eve.

How could a sapient being do that? Littles, I fear I will never understand Humans. How can any living being embrace nonlife? How can it hate itself so much as to wish to be not-self? Make no mistake, my faithful simple Little Ones . . . what I felt in Quen Rubashov’s mind that night was not only anguish, not only dread, but a feeling of welcome for the fate he had chosen.

How can an individual be able to perform such a supremely unsane act? How, when faced by all the wonders and mysteries of existence, can he choose to embrace its opposite?

One tiny voice in the Universal Song was stilled that night, Little Ones, stilled by its own hand because it preferred silence to the Song.

I do not understand.

Come closer, Littles, please. Feel the wind . . . .



  Children are delightful, my Little Ones . . . their minds are almost as simple as yours, yet so very complicated at times. Through it all, though, they have an awareness of the Inner Voice like none I have seen in other Humans. The others call these seedlings disturbed. They cannot be aware that the disturbance stems in many cases from a talent for understanding the Inner Voice. They come to the Center, in the buildings of Rubashov’s old Research Station, and they play with their blocks and toy trains and dolls; and all the time I soothe the raucous noise of the Inner Voice that they project. In time, many are cured and they leave.

The ones I like best, Littles, are those who are never cured. The ones who sit and stare deeply into my trunk and the patterns that race there, and who listen to the Second Language as if they could understand. Oh, they are bothersome, with their rages and hatreds and deep depressions. But there are times when the Inner Voice is at peace in them. Those times, I can almost get through. I send waves of the Inner Voice after them and they strain to hear.

Lately, I think a few have even begun to answer.

I must tell my brethren Hlutr. The Elders will be very interested. Maybe, even, the time will come when these children can cast ripples of the Inner Voice outward to other Hlutr.

Perhaps the nurses think that they are caring for the children, perhaps the programmers think that they have worked miracles. I know better. And more and more lately, I believe that the children know better too. When they look at me their eyes are bright and aware, and the Inner Voice sings. I am on the brink of communication.

In addition I have you, my Little Ones. For you must never imagine that I have forgotten you. Birds and ants and spiders and squirrels and worms beneath my roots, I remember and feel and cherish you one and all.

And I live for October each year, when the beautiful colors sweep through leaves around me, when I am reminded of my sapling days on Amny, and of other Hlutr.

I have not seen any of my brethren since Amny; had I stayed, I would have been surrounded by a forest of them. It saddens me a little, my friends. I have a mission, and I content myself with the sight of autumn and the remembered whisper of the Second Language. Humans have yet to find me sapient, and I have lately been much more content with autumn than with my mission. And, of course, with the children.

I think little Chari Anne is trying to talk with me.



  Chari Anne comes now, Little Ones -- I can feel her vibrations in the Inner Voice. You mustn’t be afraid of her, nor of the tiny one she brings with her. She has learned much, in eight decades, of the way of the Hlutr and their concern for the other orders of life. Chari Anne cherishes you, Littles, as do I.

You see, she walks among you without harming even the smallest, projecting peace with the Inner Voice. She moves to the equipment that once belonged to Quen Rubashov, in the abandoned building of the Center for Disturbed Children. The children have been moved away, over the years, as Human psychologists learned more about the Human mind and began more and more to distrust this alien creature. I have felt loneliness, but I have at least been able to live a good deal more slowly. That is a good thing, for I am coming near the end of my span. I have always lived fast, however, when I am visited by some of the children from the old Center: Chari Anne, Staven, Daris, Kaavin, and the few others.

Chari Anne sits before the communications screen, holding a Human boychild on her knee, and switches on the equipment. Since adulthood her command of the Inner Voice has been fading, and meaningful talk is now difficult without the equipment.

“Good morning,” she says.

“Good morning, Chari Anne. Thank you for coming to see me. Are the leaves not beautiful?”

Her Inner Voice radiates warmth that I have learned to associate with her smiles. “Yes, they are. You always did love to see autumn leaves.”

“I always did.” She waits. I think she is tired, and I fear it will not be much longer before she passes out of the Universal Song. Once, Little Ones, I would have told you this is the way of all creatures, except the Hlutr, who are so old they live hundreds of your lifetimes. Now, as I near the end of my time in the Song, I am not too sure.

“Chari Anne, who is the Little One you have brought with you? His mind is delightfully sharp.”

“This is Elsu; he is my first great-grandchild. Elsu is Liene’s son.” Chari Anne is the progenitor of many Humans; she always brings the infants to me, and while they grow they are much in my company. As adults, the return every so often. I remember Liene as a child, Littles, and now Elsu gives me the same wondering look, coos in delight as I race patterns of the First Language up and down my trunk for him.

All my children from the Center -- they all bring me their young ones. Were we to gather every one here on this hill, we could fill the old building to overflowing.

“What news do you bring of the others?” I ask.

“Daris has finished her major composition at last, and her troupe is touring with it. The show is very popular.”

“Daris dances well.” I do not tell her what I have seen in Daris’ mind when she dances, for it cannot be put into words. It is a feeling of the Inner Voice, when all harmonies are matched and one is in union with the Universal Song. Daris feels it when she dances . . . and in Daris’ children and grandchildren I have caught the same joyful melodies.

“Kaavin sent me a long holotape just the other day. He’s working at some far-off system, testing some theories he has about stellar formation or some such. I didn’t completely understand what he said -- but then, few enough of us ever understood Kaavin.”

“He is happy.”

“He certainly seems to be.” Elsu imitates his great-grandmother and hits keys on the board; the equipment transmits a raucous squawk. Chari Anne feels my glee, and she laughs. Elsu chuckles as well. “Oh, Staven has some good news. Do you remember the problem he had with those Kaanese?”

I thought. Yes, Staven had told me just a while ago. Half a hundred nonhumans were trapped on a Human world, because their home was across the border and a war was going on. Staven made it his lifework to study and help nonhumans. He’d been trying to find a way to get those Kaanese primitives home.

“He succeeded?”

“Yes. More than we hoped. Both governments made a truce across that border long enough to get the Kaanese back where they belonged. It’s the first truce ever between Patala and the Empire.”

“I am proud of Staven.”

“We all are.”

For a while neither of us says anything. This is fine, Little Ones, for I can feel Chari Anne’s Inner Voice melodies, and I listen busily to and sing with the innocent song of Elsu.

Finally Chari Anne puts hands back on the keyboard. “I have news. I just learned yesterday. The Empress is going to sign the bill declaring Hlutr legally sapient. The Imperial Council passed it along with all the attendant protection laws. Staven’s data and my own experiments convinced them at last.” With the Inner Voice I can hear her listening. “What’s wrong, aren’t you excited?”

“I sigh, Chari Anne. Yes, I am excited. My brethren will be pleased to hear it. And yet . . . well, Chari Anne, I am not long for this world.”

She is concerned. “What’s the matter? I thought that Hlutr lived . . . well, if not forever, at least a very long time.”

“Again I sigh. How long we live depends upon how fast we live. The Elders, who are as old as my world, live very very slowly. Here on Terra, I have been forced to live very quickly. And I am nearing the end.”

“I am distressed.”

“Don’t be. All that is mortal passes from the Universal Song. We must accept its passing.”

The Inner Voice is disturbed with her rage, and it drowns out the background murmur of all the life around us. Even Elsu feels it. “Damn it, how can you be so philosophical?”

“A tender smile, Chari Anne. There is no other way. I have watched Humans die for four hundred years and more, and it has not upset me. I have watched the other orders live and die countless times since I arrived on Terra. The life is important, Chari Anne . . . but more important is the way it is lived. I have lived mine well.” Again we say nothing for a time, while I use the Inner Voice to calm the seething storm of Chari Anne’s mind. Littles, this is one of the jobs of the Hlutr. Being masters of the Inner Voice, we naturally try to use it to help others when we can. “Chari Anne, I would like it very much if you could do something for me. Now that the Empress is declaring us sapient, I will not be needed for study.”

“I suppose not.”

“Do you think that you and the other children -- “ (for I still think of Chari Anne and the others as the children they once were. The important part of them never did grow up and become lost) “-- could arrange to have me shipped back to Amny, so that I may die among my own kind?”

Again her Inner Voice is in turmoil. “If that’s what you want . . . except . . . Staven pulled a lot of strings to get those Kaanese home. Especially after Patala attacked Karphos. I don’t know if he could get another truce so soon. He doesn’t want to push things. If Amny is anywhere near the war zone -- “

I am not ignorant of galactography, Little Ones, and I calm her fears. “Amny is near Credix, Chari Anne, across the galaxy from Karphos.” The Elders are deeply disturbed by the destruction of Karphos and the progress of the Human war. There have been Hlutr killed, and their pain echoes yet on crests of the Inner Voice around the galaxy. And Humans have died by the millions, at the hands of their brethren . . . ”

“We’ll do it. We’ll have you taken back to Amny.”

There is another long pause, and I look at the brilliant, joyful leaves of October. Soon I will leave you, Little Ones, birds and squirrels and insects and worms; I shall remember you fondly, and I hope you will remember me until your little lives are over. “One more thing, Chari Anne. Before I go, do you think it would be possible . . . for me to say goodbye to all the others, and their children and grandchildren?”



  Again I feel the soil of Amny below my roots, and again I am among creatures of my own type. True, Amny has the smell of Humans now; their city dominates the clearing where once a grassland stood in happy golden awareness. True, their airships drift through the sky bearing cargo, and their starships arrive and depart on a daily schedule from the spaceport. These changes cannot overcome the feeling of my home world.

For the first while, Little Ones, the world seemed wrong. I was too heavy, the air was too cold, the sun was not the right color. I learned to forget these minor differences. Amny, at least, has something Terra never did -- the intelligible rustles of the Second Language, the colors of the First.

At my request the Terrans placed me in the middle of a group of Elders. They were impatient (insofar as an Elder can be said to be impatient) to learn of Earth and Humans, and I knew they would use the First Language. Had I been placed in my original spot, out of sight of the Elders, they would have been obliged to use the Second with its much lower information density.

I live slowly now, Littles, almost as slowly as an Elder. I tell them all I saw and felt and heard.

They debate; the sun moves against the stars. A message comes through the waves of the Inner Voice, a message from the Hlutr ambassador to New York. Chari Anne has died. So, my Little One, I have outlived you. I am saddened, as no Hlut should be for the passing of a lesser order. I shall remember you joyfully and with wonderment, Chari Anne.

The Elders debate for seven years; near the end they are living almost as fast as normal Hlutr, and I am living almost as slowly as the crystalline Talebba. Finally one of them lives slowly enough to talk with me; he is the Elder who trained me, a lifetime ago.

“Brother Hlut,” he says with the First Language across seasons, “we have debated with ourselves and with Hlutr on the other Scattered Worlds. The Inner Voice has been in turmoil with our discussion. And we have reached a decision.” More of the Elders join us; and in slow pulsations of the Inner Voice I am aware that Hlutr Elders from all over the galaxy are joining this conclave. “I shall repeat our decision to you.”

“Thank you, Brother Elder.” I have trouble with the First Language . . . age is telling upon me. Is the sun shining? I feel so cold.

“You were sent to Terra, you know, for a mission. The Humans investigated you, and finally they judged you and the Hlutr sapient. That was not the purpose of your mission.”

“This I have suspected, Elder.”

“From what you learned about Humans, we must needs rule on their own sapience. We must rule on whether they present a menace to the Hlutr and the other orders of life in the Scattered Worlds.”

“Let it be so, Elder. For the Hlutr must protect life and the Inner Voice. So has it been since the first seed vessels of the Pylistroph (blessed be!) set forth into the Scattered Worlds, so shall it be when the last star dies.” I am so cold. Chari Anne, will I see you when I die? Do Hlutr and Humans go to the same place when we pass on? Chari Anne, do we go anywhere?

“Then hear the decision of the Hlutr Elders. You have watched Mankind slaughter Hlutr. You have watched him slaughter other orders. You have watched him turn his back on the miracle of existence and slaughter his brethren and himself.”

“This I have watched.”

“You have seen that most Humans are nonsapient. You have seen that they do not appreciate the wonder of the Universal Song and do not even delight in their own lives.”

“I have seen cases of this, Brother Elder. Many cases. But -- “

“Hear then the answer of the Elders. Man is fundamentally a beast, we proclaim. He grew up on a world with barely any supervision of Hlutr. He destroyed the last vestiges of Hlutr control on his planet. And now he spreads through the stars with his strange unsane ways. Man is a beast -- and a beast with too much power. He does represent a threat to the Hlutr and to life. And so Mankind must be destroyed.”

Living slowly as I am, it is hard to feel strong emotions quickly. Yet the blast of impatience I send out on the Inner Voice must rock all Hlutr on Amny. Elders, you do wrong to decide this way. Let me be heard.


Humans all start out as wonderers, as children delighted with every segment of the Universal Song. A few do not lose these qualities into adulthood. Whatever their ultimate fate, all men begin as sapients. On the basis of the potential that Humans show as children, and on the basis of those few who never lose that potential, I beg that Humanity be spared.

I feel no agreement from the Elders -- only astonishment that I should speak this way. The one closest to me projects feelings that, in Humans, are associated with a sad shake of the head.

“Brother Hlut, you are blinded to the danger of Mankind. Look with me.” He sings in the Inner Voice, a terrible song that I had almost forgotten.

Credix. A thriving planetful of Hlutr, and then came the bombs. To clear a spaceport, in the name of all the gods! The Elder sings to me the deathsong of all those Hlutr, and it shakes me to the core.

Another Elder sings, sings of Laxus and Leikeis and a hundred billion Little Ones destroyed, fast or slow, by Human ecological meddling. And he sings to me the song of the Humans who did it -- not even criminal, they were totally unconcerned.

And another Elder sings to me of Karphos, of great naval battles and of Humans killed, Humans suffering, Humans fighting Humans and glorying in the task. Of Human colonists on a thousand planets, colonists who delight in stripping whole forests, in slaughtering herds of animals, in hunting for the sheer pleasure of cruel destruction.

My teacher projects sadness. “This is the beast that you want us to spare, Brother Hlut? Because of a potential that may never be realized? How many more times does Credix have to happen, how many more Battles of Karphos must there be, how many Little Ones must die before you are convinced that we do right?”

He addresses the other Elders. The way is simple. We know Human biochemistry. We can construct diseases that will kill all Humans but spare other Little Ones. There are enough of us on Human worlds that we can strike before they even become aware of the danger. And then the threat of Humanity will be finished.

All that is mortal passes from the Universal Song, Chari Anne. There is no need to be saddened about that. Then why am I so unquiet? I am glad that you died, Chari Anne, before we could destroy your race. I only wish Staven and Daris and Kaavin, and all their children and yours, could die first as well.

I wish I could cry, Chari Anne, for the passing of Humanity.

I wish the Elders could have seen the wondering sparkle in your eyes.

NO! This time my Inner Voice roar shakes all life on the planet. Even the Humans feel it touch the edges of their minds. Elders, hear me.

They sigh. “Speak,my teacher tells me.

What to say? You tell me that Human potential may never be realized. That too few ever retain their original wonder and delight in the Universal Song. I say that you are wrong, Elders.

I know Humans, Human men and women, who are entities worthy of Hlutr friendship. One of them, who just recently passed out of the Universal Song, was so alive with the glory of existence that she spent her entire life working so that Hlutr could be declared sapient.

That is one case, Brother Hlut.

Yes, Chari Anne was one woman. But when she succeeded, and Human beings realized we were sapient . . . then all of them ceased hurting us. One Hlut now stands in New York as ambassador to Humanity. Laws have been passed, Elders, laws which protect Hlutr in the future.
I quiver. For four centuries Humans thought us unintelligent, and so our deaths were to them little more than the passing of a grassland. I grant you that very few ever wondered, in that four centuries, whether we were intelligent. Yet when Chari Anne did wonder, when she and Staven proved us sapient -- all other Humans agreed. Credix and Karphos cannot be erased, cannot be forgiven . . . but they will not happen again. And these are the creatures you call beasts?

Another Elder sings, from kiloparsecs away. Not just Hlutr are endangered by Humans. They fight among themselves, showing total disregard for life. Many of the lesser orders will be hurt, have been hurt already.

Let me tell you of Human attitudes toward the lesser orders, Elders. The Kaanese are surely one of the least progressed races in the Galaxy. They can barely be said to have self-awareness and language. Yet my Little One Staven convinced Human governments to stop their war long enough to bring some Kaanese home. Staven is one man, one very exceptional man who has kept his own wonder and respect for the other orders -- but what of the diplomats, Navy officers, the Empress and the Patalanian President? They still have flickers of the innate and original goodness of the Human being.

This has been a long speech, Little Ones, and I am living far faster than I should. I cannot feel my upper limbs. Elders, Stars, Universal Song . . . do not let me die before I have pled my case.

Let me tell you, Elders, of the wonderment that Humans retain for the Universal Song. I sing with the Inner Voice -- I sing as Daris does when she is dancing. This melody is one that is Hlut-flavored in all respects. Yet it originates in a Human mind. Do we have the right to destroy the mind that can produce that song?

Brother Hlut, you yourself guided that individual in her development. If she sings glorious melodies, it is because you taught her. Ordinary adult Humans cannot learn to sing such songs.

No? Then listen with me, Elders, as Daris dances.
I cast out with the Inner Voice, seeking a pattern I know so well. In a little while as we Hlutr count time, I find Daris and her troupe dancing before an audience of two thousand. Listen, Elders, to Daris’s Inner Voice. Then listen to the Inner Voice of those who dance with her. And listen to the Inner Voice of those who watch. Do you not hear the same theme repeated over and over? You say that I taught Daris to sing . . . who taught her audience?

They listen, and they hear what I have described. And the tides of the Inner Voice that flow through this conclave begin to change.

My teacher tries one more time. Brother Hlut, all the arguments you have used depend upon the fact that you, a Hlut, taught these Humans while they were children. You could go through all the descendants of these Humans, and the answer would be the same: they are what they are because a Hlut taught them. Not because they live up to their potential on their own. In the four centuries you spent on Terra, you have managed to change only a small number of Humans. The vast majority of them are still a threat to the Universal Song.

Now I am saddened in a new way. One has respect for one’s teachers, one always thinks that they are intelligent and worthy. It is a terrible thing to be shown otherwise.

Brother Elders, can the Hlutr not try to help Humans more? Must we turn our backs on them and destroy them, when with time and teaching we might be able to help them alter themselves? The few Humans I have helped -- who are now helping to change others of their kind -- show that progress is possible. Are we now to close our senses to that possibility, are we to deny this order of Little Ones the help that they so plainly need, and so plainly can profit from?

They had no Hlutr to help them when they were growing on their planet -- now, when the job is more difficult, are we to put aside our ancient obligations and consign this entire order to nonexistence? Elders, I believe that the Hlutr are better than that. I ask that Mankind be spared.

Cold, I am so cold. I cannot see beyond this grove -- I would have liked one more sight of the stars.

My teacher speaks slowly. The Elders have made their decision, Brother Hlut. Hear it now. Man is a beast . . . but a beast with the potential to become sapient. Hlutr can help him to realize that potential. Therefore, Man will be spared, and the Hlutr will take up their obligation to work with him, that he may become more fully what he could be. Let it be so.

Let it be so, Brother Elders. Brother Hlutr.
I am cold, so cold. Chari Anne, are you there?? It must be autumn, Chari Anne; look how my leaves are red and orange and yellow. Are they not beautiful, my Little One? Is not the Universal Song a grand and glorious thing, to have contained two such as we?

I always did love the leaves of October.



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