Flash: Words on a Wall

The Pinkas Synagogue located in Prague, Czech Republic, serves as a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust

where the names of 77,297 Czech Jewish victims during Nazi occupation are written on the synagogues walls.

Chapter 1

“Director Allegra, would you be available to come topside?” appeared in Holly’s direct message queue from Dr. Kateryna Senko. She and her assistants rotated who covered the museum floor, usually the most boring duty at the Memory of the Fallen. Few people visited her obscure little monument to humanity’s long history of wars.

The ancient curator shifted back in her chair, the furniture sinking and adjusting to her new position.

If visitors do make it all the way back to True Earth, instead of the virtual tour available through the Federation’s dataspace, they usually did it on credentials like the four researchers from Nuevo Rio Grande using the archives today, swinging by her museum on the way in or out from a dig. Holly DMed Winona that she was needed upstairs. These researchers were more the assistant’s baby anyway, newly returned from the Nuevo Lardo dig and the mass graves quietly filled for years from the Processing Center’s sweat chambers leading into the Third World War, a particular passion of Dr. Wildman. If the researchers and Winona could match enough of the names of the missing transients recorded in the NRG genealogies to the skeletons from the pit graves, the Memory of the Fallen would have a new wall next week.

Winona sent her a shooing meme.

Nodding, to answer Winona, and doing a quick finger sweep to send a dataspace DM to Kat to let the woman know she was on her way up. Holly reached for her cane. Today her pain flared, hips, knees, and ankles. A message to the chair helped lift her to her feet; a quick rearranging of medbots fixed her problematic balance, though she didn’t trust them to fail her so she keep her cane at the ready. She hobbled to the lift.

She had sat too long.

But she was as interested as the rest of the group to give names to the Fallen.

The Asclepius app recommended upping the pain blockers, and loathed as she was to depend on them, she swiped acceptance when the pings arrived. Her museum customer service app dropped them into her queue when the lift doors closed. Upstairs two Federation Protectors waited.

And they wanted to speak to her.

Chapter 2

Following the living voices echoing through the Memory to the Fallen took practice, but Holly had nearly two hundred years within these walls, plus the dataspace let her cheat. They were located in the climate collapse section; those horrible years during World War Four before the Sasathapaka rescued humans from themselves.

“Sentient beings,” the museum curator clasped her hands together in the Sasathapaka manner in welcome. “I regret the wait, but these old limbs do not move fast.”

The two visitors dressed in government gray skinsuits with the color dot pattern of Federation Protectors running in the stripe down the left side. The one on the alien was about as wide as Holly’s two thumbs side-by-side, while the human’s was barely wide enough to make the pattern discernable. Not that it mattered; their info tags screamed their credentials in dataspace.

Holly accepted the info transfer just to turn off the pressure. Most of it matched what the pings she had unwoven on the way up provided. Only difference was her particular searches – the Sasathapaka, according to her ping, attended human and Idrytis orchestrations whenever traveling off Paka. On world, it had season tickets to a local music chambers hall as well as the expected Federation Chambers one of its stature must have to meet social requirements. The human collected a few datacaptures during the required primary education virtual tours and never erased them from his database, but nothing since he entered the Protector training program. Pity he let his interest in art lapse; skinsuits leave little to the imagination, and she could see the side-eye Kat gave the man. Protectors would have brains, but it’s art that make one human.

“Understandable, ancient one.” The Sasathapaka’s translator spoke from the utility harness covering the top of their long body, as well as direct message the meaning to her conversation queue. “Your swimmate was explaining the purpose of the words on the walls. They are like reef memory singers, but no voice.”

“Yes, Protector, humans work best with visual reminders, as your people work best with audial ones.” The curator directed the floor to bring up benches for her and the visitors. Kat stepped alongside the nearest wall, blending into the background with a few quick lighting adjustments. Good girl. “May I offer you refreshment?” she asked as she eased down on her bench. Transitions when her joints acted up added a level of terror in social situations, but she managed to sit without falling this time.

“I cannot partake, apologies.” The alien indicated the full face and digit covering of its skinsuit, human atmosphere far to dry and thin for the water world being. Its human companion indicated simple water through a DM.

Holly pulled her customer service module, and DMed Dr. Senko her requirements, including a request for visinada for herself. Her fellow curator stepped around a wall to process the customer service routine datadump that just landed in her queue.

While waiting, Holly activated the sound dampeners for the alien’s comfort and arranged her dark green sud around her.

While most humans, especially shipboard, wore only skinsuits, Holly preferred a full-length sud over her ebony skinsuit, and her assistants followed her lead. Best to leave the impact of age to the imagination. Kateryna’s sud always swirled with bright blue and yellow on the flowing cloth with a red trim of pysanky-style patterns along the lines of her arms and legs, matching her red skinsuit. Below, Winona’s sud consisted of a pattern of seashells; other days she wore suds appearing to be made from feathers, beads, or mud, depending on her mood. Unlike most, she spent discretionary income on extra skinsuits, in patterns varying from optical illusions to planetary topography, though a simple turquoise was her normal choice at work.

When Kat returned with a tip-tray, she offered each person containers according to the instructions Holly had dumped on her. The human male, being the lowest rank present, received his glass of water plus a small cup of fish flakes. Confused at the extra dish, he set it down on the side table which had just risen beside his seat. Kat then placed a hot cup, likely hot cocoa based on the small bowl of marshmallows she set beside it, on the table beside the chair Holly had called up for her while she had been gone.

Dr. Kateryna Senko then approached her, sending a DM saying this ranking was wrong, and gave Holly her cherry drink and wafers. While Senko tipped the tray to show her the final two objects, Holly highlighted the portion of the datadump explaining the Sasathapaka tradition of serving the highest ranked guest last, even if the hostess outranked them, even if the visitor was unwanted, in deference of their using their valuable time to visit. For the audience, she nodded at Kat to complete the hospitality ritual indicating she, as the hostess, thought the offering was acceptable for guests.

The alien picked up the glass and swirled the cloudy liquid. Agitated, the supersaturated solution crystalized a salt matrix around the edge, drawing a sharp sound the translator did not process into words but dataspace indicated as pleasure surprise similar to human laughter. It placed the glass on the stand beside its bench. The Sasathapaka picked up the final bowl, and discovered within a granite stone shaped like an egg about the size of a human fist.

“Why, thank you!” the translator indicated delight as the alien dumped the stone into its hands.

Sasathapaka ancient, ancient ancestors filled a niche in their ecosystem similar to otters and beavers, if Earth river creatures could be transcribed onto the Paka sea world, like humans shared ancestors with monkeys before the climate collapse killed their distant cousins. The food ritual of welcome served a secondary purpose of putting things into their mobile hands, something they psychologically needed. Holly figured out this workaround to the cultural ritual shortly after opening the museum when she still got officials visiting all the time and shared it with the museum community. While it had leaked into the greater human community, where she seen it offered in some alien courtesy course, most humans preferred to keep their interaction with aliens, especially their “overlords”, the Sasathapaka, to a minimum.

At four generations or more from the last war, most humans had forgotten the debt they owed the aliens. Certainly, they wouldn’t have rescued humans if humanity’s machines hadn’t reached Alpha Centauri with that scattershot swarm launched a year before the war started, making us officially an interstellar species and therefore an automatic member of the Federation. The Federation gave every species a chance to fail to leave its crib, humanity squeaked by on a technicality. Two more years and there wouldn’t have been anything to rescue except the twelve people living on Mars.

And now humans were talking again about war. Holly didn’t appreciate Mr. Arnold and his assistant Penny yesterday rubbing her face in the fact that peace would soon be replaced. Two hundred years hadn’t taken the fight out of humanity.

The Protector juggled the stone between its hands, admiring the sparkles from the mica flakes while the three humans sipped their drinks and nibbled their food. The food was an over and above on required hospitality. Even the lowest ranked Sasathapaka offered salt transfer, snacks though were required of the uchch and a full meal by the behatar before business could be conducted. By offering a small portion of food, Holly placed her rank at uchch, equal to the Protector, or at least a doosara putting on airs. Normally among humans, still the youngest species in the Federation, only a planetary governor would dare be so bold.

Holly learned long ago always shoot for the stars. That is where dreams can come true.

Realizing she had been negligent, she pulled up her customer service manuals and transferred copies to her assistants with the meeting tag to review them in three rotations before the museum opened for the day. Holly stared at her special customer app, then copied it to the two as well.

Chapter 3

When the human male finished his drink, the Sasathapaka placed its rock on the side table.

Holly’s research-level dataspace reported an exchange of direct messages between the gray-suited officials. Likely they saw the datadump she had just sent her assistants. Being Protectors, they may even been able to intercept the exchange. Oh well, at her age, she got things done when she thought of them. Who knows if she would wake up tomorrow.

“Thank you for the prasaad,” the human said. “Tejee se Tairana appreciates your welcome.”

“It is my pleasure and the pleasure of the Memory of the Fallen to host Tairana and his ghar.” Holly replied. “But all things pleasure must come to an end, and the time of effort must rise. How may I, Holly Allegra, doctor of memories and memorials, nineteenth among the Rescued, a bachaaya by grace, and my ghar help you?”

The human male blinked, clearly unused to high courtesy found among his partner’s species.

Holly felt her datatag get a full perusal, alien fingerprints all over it. That title of bachaaya would have done it. Nineteen hundred humans saved out of fourteen billion, and she had been one of the oldest among them then. Yes, Tejee, I got nearly a hundred years on you, bet you don’t meet many humans that can claim that. In fact, only sixteen bachaaya remained, and she was the only one in the system. Most of the Rescued ran hard and fast and far away from True Earth as they could when they got the chance.

Another quick exchange of data messages happened.

“Ancient one, we following the path walked by one Elfrid Arnold. Could you tell us about his visit with you?”

“Mr. Arnold visited us yesterday.” Holly sent a search request to Senko. “Let me dump you the record.” She limited the video from the moment he entered, to the moment he left and focused all the recording on him. The museum was a public place, so no expectation of privacy was expected within the hall.

“Thank you.” The man looked over at the masked alien, reading something in the body language instead of DMing. “Did you notice any unusual behavior? Dizziness?”

Senko shot a news brief of the Arnold CEO falling to his death at the New Earth Hospitality Suites.

“No.” Holly shook her head in the human manner. “He was belligerent, but that appeared to be a habit, not a health issue. He didn’t seem disoriented at all, nor did his son Napoleon. What has happened?”

“As you no doubt have found in the historic recording, Mr. Arnold managed to deactivate his UV protection and jumped from the thirty-four floor of the NEHs last night.”

“Oh dear,” Holly raised a hand up slowly, to not activate dataspace, touched her mouth and moved her hand away from her face, before dropping it to her lap. “How ever did he remove the shield?”

“It’s not possible during the day, but the Hospitality offers the option at night to better see the stars.” The man looked over at the alien again. “We understand he wanted to show his son Orion.”

The curator nodded. “That makes sense.”

The Sasathapaka long torso leaned forward. “Could you please explain?”

“Another name for Orion in mythology is ‘The Hunter.'” Holly suppressed a smirk. “Now I don’t think Mr. Arnold knew the full mythology of Orion; if he did, he would have been disappointed. But the mystique of a stellar hunter forever hunting the bull would have appealed to his worldview.”

“Thank you. I don’t understand your stargazing, but applying patterns to the dots, then giving greater meaning to those symbols, like these words on the walls. That is consistent with your species behavior. As a species, you have shown to value symbols more than your own lives.” The alien leaned back, spine twisting as it stood to face the human male. “We will next go to the restaurant.” The alien placed its hands together, words following from its harness, the DM indicating sincere gratitude. “The prasaad did your ghar proud. I will sing honors of the Memory of the Fallen and the words on the walls here.”

Holly stood, or tried to, and shot a DM to Senko who came over to act in her stead, pressing her hands together. Holly said, “May your voice remain strong, and the tides be in your favor.”

“Sir, if I may have a moment longer.” The human male asked, “These are the memories of my people and I would like to listen to them.”

The alien moved to the front door as a DM transmitted between the Protectors.

Chapter 4

Holly brought her wooden cane to between her legs and rested her head on top of the smooth handle. “Dr. Senko can show you around, if you have a particular name you are looking for.” She waved at the blue and yellow clad woman.

“Actually I have one more question to ask you, strictly off the record.”

“We are in a public space, nothing is off the record here.”

The man lips turned up at the edges, and not in an attractive way. “Nothing we have done here has been on the record.”

Holly pulled up the recordings and found even the Protectors’ entrance had been removed from the recordings.

“Fucking shit.” Kat said, discovering the same thing on her end. “How is that even possible?”

“Kat, go.” Holly ordered. “Downstairs. Now.”

“But.” Her assistant waved at Holly and DMed her ‘you can’t even stand up.’

‘thanks, I know. but this is above your ranking.’

‘he could do anything’ Kateryna rocked from side to side ‘we wouldn’t even know down there’

‘i’ve lived a long time, I think I got a few more hours in me. go, this isn’t for you’ Not yet. Maybe not even your generation, God willing.

Kat squeezed Holly’s hands where they rested on her cane, then made her way to the lift. While she did so, Holly returned the furniture to the floor and turned off the sound dampening. When the lift doors closing echoed through the hall and the only sound left was the two of them breathing, Holly sent the talk icon to the Protector.

“You know more than you are saying, director.”

“Name please.” Holly bounced the cane on the floor. “If you are going to stand on your own, I would like a name.” She indicated the walls around them. “I found them important.”

The male tipped his head. “Protector Scamp Holland.”

“And why do you think I know more that the video I sent?” She raised her eyebrows while looking up at him. “Everything is there.”

“Why do you think he died?”

Holly turned her cane handle back and forth, watching the movement. “Because he was annoying.”

“He was murdered.”

“Why do you think that?” The woman, unable to stand, asked the man hovering above her. Her voice full of a distant curiosity.

“He fell over thirty stories and didn’t splat.” Holland snorted. “There wasn’t a drop of blood in his body.”

“So this is a murder investigation?” Holly turned her cane handle again, “Strange to destroy all recordings.”

“No,” the Protector sighed, “True Earth doesn’t want the bad press; the Sasathapaka understand murder even less well than stargazing and words on a wall; and the Arnold group, now in the hands of Napoleon, has asked a quick resolution so the child can mourn the loss of his only parent.” He took a step back, running a hand through his hair. “Elrid Arnold had a dizzy spell, likely from the change of air pressure after releasing the UV shield, and fell over the edge. The NEPs will upgrade the walls on the balconies to prevent accidents like this in the future.”

“Sounds like an acceptable truth.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Holland’s nostrils flared as he inhaled deeply. “Someone is getting away with murder. There is a monster out there, and I’m going to have to let them walk.”

“Protector, if you will take some advice from a very old woman, sometimes we need the monsters.”


“Because war is worse than any monster, and sometimes humans forget that.”

(Words 3,085, first published 5/28/2023)

Undying Series
1. U is for Undying (4/24/2023)
2. Words on a Wall (5/28/2023)