As soon as the Haaks started to slither in, the team got anxious. These things were fairly large and chances were they could and would swallow a human whole if needed. Earth didn’t have as many of the snakes as it used to but then again, Tara thought, snakes were dangerous whether they were in great numbers or not. Maybe the Haaks were sentient beings, the way they moved and the way the Jhaaks talked about them, it certainly seemed like it.
The Jhaaks down here were healthy, had a nice green head area and there was just a hint of water in the earth. Their boots almost squelched in the soil, making them wonder just how far below the surface level they were and where the water source was. Tara wondered at their survival. To find and make room underground and make sure everything survived from above the surface was not something she had thought possible, she wondered what kind of culture these people had.
The Haaks slithered around and made a circle around the Jhaaks, almost as if they were the protectors of the Jhaaks. Tara simply didn’t know enough about the social structure to understand what was happening. Shahid stepped forward and bowed his head to the one who looked like he was in charge. Shahid spoke, his voice clear in the cave, “I am Shahid, I come from a planet called Earth. Our planet has trees which are somewhat similar to you but they are not quite sentient, we also used to have Haaks but not quite. We called them snakes, not many are around any more.”
He paused while the machine chirped the information back to the Jhaaks. The Haaks swayed in place as they listened and they seemed mostly docile in nature. Their speed from the day before was not seen here, there was no urgency today and Tara was almost glad of it. It meant that they probably weren’t going to attack them. The Jhaaks almost tilted their upper body as if puzzled and then spoke.
“You do not tell me why you are here, you tell me you have Jhaaks and Haaks. Tell me why you are here.”
The question was to the point and it was apparent that the Jhaaks were truly confused as to why the answer hadn’t been given. Shahid himself looked a bit uncomfortable but he had to introduce himself, he had to tell them where they were from, that was how introductions worked after all. Still, he shook his head slightly and answered, “Forgive me for not answering your questions immediately, it is our custom to introduce ourselves first before we talk of important things. To answer your question, we are here because we are researchers, we find planets and try to know everything about it. It’s an academic interest, do you have such things in your culture?”
The machine took a long time to parse through the words this time and by the time it actually started to say something, the residents were clearly getting antsy. However they did listen to every musical sound and then, looked at the team with surprise. If the leaves moving in their heads almost immediately was any indication. After long, tense moments, the spokesperson finally replied.
“We do not have such things in Leecha, we raise the young, we mate, we live and we die. Then the next generation starts the process just as it was intended. We do not seek knowledge like you seem to.”
The answer didn’t really surprise them, after all, despite being sentient and very comfortable with their own technology, they obviously didn’t go out of their comfort zone. If they had, the rest of the universe would have known about them. However, the way the Jhaaks had spoken of having a family and that being the only intention for life seemed at odds with their intelligent minds. For only intelligent and clever minds could have come up with an idea of getting everyone downstairs and thriving in less than ideal conditions.
It was however the Jhaaks culture and they weren’t here to disrupt their way of life. That was the last thing they wanted. So, after taking a few minutes to discuss it within the team, Shahid finally stepped away from the team and presented himself to the spokesperson.
“Would you mind terribly if we were to gather some information about your lives and your world? It would help us terribly in collecting data, we would never use it for malicious purposes, it is strictly academic.”
This was the only way they could perhaps present their case to a people who were not overly interested in academic or knowledge unless it was absolutely needed. They hadn’t really encountered a species which hadn’t tried their best to better themselves. Of course, they had only been on ten planets in their mission so far, so that wasn’t saying a lot. Maybe for this species, this was the very first time they had come out of their comfort zone. Tara so desperately wanted to ask them questions regarding their lives and how they could move if they were so tree like, did their roots move along with them or did they not have any? If they didn’t then how did they grow?
All the questions were whirling around her mind like a cyclone but they were all pushed aside when the Jhaaks started to speak among themselves. They were discussing things and that showed that the community was at least, at face value, democratic. Even the Haaks were hissing and warbling in between the musically haunting speech of the Jhaaks. As the talk started to get more and more passionate, one of the Jhaaks broke away from the discussion and came to stand in front of the research team. He tilted his head at them and intoned, for once the sound not quite as musical.
“Forgive our talks, we have to decide this communally. We get…hot when we discuss things but do not let that bother you. Please, will you have some food?”
As the translation came through, the Jhaaks had already started off towards a corner of the cave. There was a stone slab, almost like that of the lift but this one was balanced on large rocks. There were various mounds on the slab, apparently food to the Jhaaks. Grace looked at it curiously and as the Jhaaks gestured towards them, she touched one. It seemed quite solid and the smell was almost herbal. Rick and Hari were already debating if they were going to eat some strange herbs and if they should. The outer layer of the mound was almost soil-like and they came to a rather obvious realisation. The Jhaaks liked to eat soil, or something close to it and while the team didn’t want to offend the Jhaaks, they also couldn’t eat a ball of dirt.
So, with an almost sheepish look on his face, Hari told the Jhaaks accompanying them that they couldn’t eat it as they wouldn’t be able to digest it. That it wasn’t really suitable food for humans. As the Translator finished, the Jhaaks reared back and his upper area trembled for a moment. He looked very disturbed and they only hoped that it was just confusion and not offence. They had no way of escaping the cave, after all.
He bowed slightly and told them that he would be back soon and just left them there, near the stone table. Grace spoke quickly, her voice almost whisper thin, “I am not sure if he was just upset at the news or super offended and we can’t leave on our own and I am not feeling too good about this, guys.”
Hari shook his head and told her, his voice a touch louder and firmer, “I am sure he’s just confused, we are perhaps the first species they have met that can’t eat the dirtballs, it’s ok. I think. I mean, I would be confused too if someone came up to me and told me that they can’t eat the Idlis I offered. Well, confused and slightly offended to be honest. I mean, who doesn’t like hot, steaming Idlis?”
Rick just shook his head fondly as Hari went on one of his food related journeys, he did this frequently, Hari did. Nobody stopped him though because it brought them a sense of comfort. Hari was just about to start on Dosas when the Jhaaks came back and with him came two others. Their upper bodies trembled even as they came to a stop.
“We do not understand this, we offer food as a gesture of Hapa…why you would refuse this?”
As the words were repeated, the trembling got worse.