Thursday, 21 December 2017
Funeral Rites of JZKU-712 Flash Fiction
Both the digital recorders and our own analogue bodies inform us that gravitational force on planet JZKU-712 operates more strongly than that of our own. We deduce that is the main structural determinant of the aliens’ spherical body shape. They do not have protruding (facial) features as such. The distinctions are to be found in the patterns of tiny raised surface nodules or speckles which vary from individual to individual. We assume this is is also functional, in providing more surface friction to enable their locomotion. They operate with two modes of motion, by bouncing with a forward movement, or by orbiting, in which presumably they give themselves to the gravitational force of each other and large objects in order to cover greater distances. To see this is rather beautiful, like dancers or ice skaters passing on a partner to another, though of course they lack for open hands with which to do so.
We have also observed their funerary rites. The point to keep in mind is that all stems from their body shape. They have no need of rectangular coffins and graves as we do. Nor do they opt for interment in the ground or cremation by fire. Instead they have what we surmise is a rather touching send off that engages the whole community with grace and due dignity and won us over form our initial irreverent treatment of their race as glorified basketballs.
The first thing that obtains with death is they seal the departed up in a transparent membrane, which is also perfectly round. This is for the wake, which takes the form of each individual spending time with the deceased before gently and precisely rolling them on to the next mourner. The actual interaction can seemingly take many forms, from their form of whispered locution, which can best be approximated by the sound of letting air out of a ball, through to gently nuzzling or a slightly firmer contact which can induce rotational spinning of the decedent. Now you can see the reason behind our initial irreverence.
But from the wake we move to the funeral ceremony itself. The late individual has ended up with geometric precision unnoticed by us, right in the epicentre of the community. They all move to form a series of concentric circles radiating around the corpse orb. With military exactitude, they all start bouncing on the spot in rhythm with one another. That tempo changes repeatedly, but not a single creature misses its beat, the transitions are mellifluously smooth. The volume is not deafening, this is not a tattoo, instead it is clearly respectful. We conceive of this as their form of lamentation.
Then on to the funeral march. No pall bearers and no jazz bands to serenade the way. Rather the concentric circles break up as everyone moves into one long single file, with the deceased at its head. Again, with flawless uniformity, each rondure takes a single pace (if ‘pace’ can be applied to brings of curvature), so that the file nudges forward exactly one pace, with the deceased at the head also rolling one pace only. The march inches forward with heart-breaking (to us) agonising slow solemnity. We imagine no individual can feel a personal grief out of whack with the rest, for to do so would be to send the decedent ricocheting off in the vanguard.
Finally they arrive at the burial grounds (‘burial’ again being an inappropriate term). It appears to be a lake of some sort. There is a gentle lap, but it is certainly not tidal. For lined across the water are rows and rows of spherical corpses to which this one is added. The lack of tumultuous swell means that just as with our graveyards, the dead retain their position in the ranks so that private grief can be visited upon them at a later date. While we infer the membranous skeins to be waterproof (and also to prevent any damage of an inert entity being rolled, nudged and all other funereal impact given the lack of rigor mortis), we have no idea if the corpse decays within. Do putrefying gases within provide the flotation upon the water, where we might presuppose gravity to otherwise press them down into the depths? Whatever the physical processes at work, there is an undeniable delicate propriety to their final resting place.