Corbalk: The conflicting emotions created by First Contact (used especially in reference to a homeworld-centric species).

I learned corbalk in the basement pantry, seven years old. The smell of leather and gun oil, my father’s skin, pungent with bitter sweat. Sammy crying, his fear contagious as any virus, Mom shushing him, rocking him in the dim deep darkness, framed by metal shelves and boxes of Cheerios.

The rifle stood like a sentry in the pantry corner, Dad’s face lit by the blue eye of his phone while he looked for a safe place and surfed the news.

When the Bishkekk floated through our neighborhood, the gravity fields on their tanks flattened the flowers and set car alarms wailing.

I remember Sammy, still crying, Mom’s hand pressed against his mouth. He gasped, hysterical, shaking, struggling in her grip.

I ran upstairs, ignoring my father’s hoarsely whispered commands, slid into Sammy’s room and scattered books until I found his favorite: The Planets.

My father cursed under his breath, his knuckles white, when I slipped back into the pantry closet. Sammy and I sat in the corner, him sniffling as I turned the pages.

Saturn, I said. Look at the rings. We’re going to see the stars, I said.

My father shook his head and settled the rifle across his knees.

I never told Dad I had looked out Sammy’s window. I saw a Bishkekki soldier moving alongside the tanks. Long silver limbs, large eyes set on stalks, tapered fingers grasping the handle to a plasma cannon. One eye turned toward me. It looked at me for a long moment. The long fingers tightened. The eyestalk swiveled forward again, and the Bishkekki army floated onward.

I poured over that book. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to be ready to learn about the Bishkekk, about space travel, about their language, their customs.

Sammy’s eyes kept turning up from those glossy pictures of our solar system to look at the rifle.

* * *

Fislehn: 1. A distasteful action necessary to positively influence the character of a loved one. 2. An extreme act of love.

My language partner, Aklen, taught me fislehn when I was twenty-three. “This war,” he said, his manacles flashing under the harsh fluorescents of his cell, “is fislehn.”

“This war is an act of love?”

“A terrible act for the betterment of humanity.”

“That makes no sense.”

He blinked his eyes sideways, the Bishkekki equivalent of a shrug. “You cannot grow beyond this planet in your fractured state. You needed a common enemy.”

I visited Sammy’s grave that night, a drooping bouquet of irises in my hand. I kissed the top of his headstone. Three years gone, at the Battle of Berkeley. If he had gone into xenology, maybe he would be beside me. Maybe.

“This war is fislehn,” Aklen had said.

A year later the global government formed, and the war shifted. Within two years, the Bishkekk surrendered and withdrew from the planet.

Stellar jump drives. Food modulators. Gene twisters. Solar sails. They left all those things behind. No weapons, though. They hadn’t forgotten any of those.

* * *

Inzahmil: To learn the connotative meaning of a word through context and/or experience.

I was invited on the first ambassadorial mission to the Bishkekk home planet.

My first night planetside, Aklen walked with me along a raucous stream. His delicate finger directed my eyes to an unremarkable yellow star. Home. “You are feeling aleel.” He said it gently.

A pinprick of light from the sun, older than the pyramids, had followed me here. If I stood there long enough I would see light born in the same moment as the light that filled my backyard as a child. Light Sammy and I had played in, been burnt by. Light that had filled the oak tree with golden cobwebs in the late afternoon. Light that washed over my brother’s body, his eyes unseeing. Humanity’s light.

* * *

Aleel: 1. A combination of wonder, pride and homesickness, caused by seeing one’s homeworld at a distance. 2. Having traveled far, but at great personal expense. 3. The deep sadness experienced after a life accomplishment.

Aleel,” I said. I knew the word.


Previously published in Daily Science Fiction (2015). Reprinted here by permission of the author.