The Alphabet of Pinaa: An AI Reinvents Zerself on an Inhabited Moon

Eugen Bacon

Illustration by Juliana Pinho

a Sauútiverse story

Awe

When Ar’Tam closes his eyes, he sees starburst and a rainbow, lights clicking without echo. He studies the phenomenon in his mind’s eye, dispassionate from its surrealism, disembodied from its haunting and aura of mystery. All he knows is that his moon is

watching, always watching

even as he rotates with it

on its axis until he himself drifts

only grounded by quakes.

The conveyor never once stops moving, whirr, birr, converting energy into crystals.

He

       opens

              his

                     eyes.

~

Birth

Bab-K opens zer eyes to lights. Silvers and whites whose silence is an echo. An apex of loss hovering above murmurs of faraway machines whirring in disembodied voices without intermission. Zie remembers a trail of violet, a whitened arch that passes light through and births the dead to replace the living. Out the window the sky is fire salted with shadows that listen to the cavernous space of life gained, life lost in generation next after next after next…

which is precisely how

zie erased zer

father.

~

Corpse or Carnage?

Ciéd wants to eat but needs no forecast to know that it will make a corpse of her

She’ll dribble, splutter, fragment and erupt in a flash of brightness

Then a slow melt as if she were true and true virused

She’s stretched, undreaming, polished in vapour

She never swelters in involutions of work cycles

Stooping, lifting, pushing, dropping, repeat

Her world is resonance, reverberations

Snatches of song hitting the right notes

In undertone without casting a spell

It’s lunchtime and here’s the buffet

But she only eats in metaphor

No mechanical detail

To fine-tune.

~

Drought

Diinaé watches a child – not another tourist – play skippity skip at the market

Unmindful of low gravity, and not much vegetation to behold here

Yet tourists still pour in hordes and shuttles from other worlds

Curious about the tall people and the cave houses

The machines and the marvels of technology

That involves metal-young – skippityskip

Skippityskippityskippityskip

~

Embrace

Ed’Nai gave him a white towel, wide enough to lose himself in. She sprayed incense, deep enough to make him forget. She touched him with ointment from clay jars, moved fingers with hot oil over marbled muscles until he let everything go, fell asleep gently. She kept him there with hot stones, humming a tender echo to keep him blank, interrupted his dreams only once, questioning what pressure he wanted, how many hands: 2, 3, 5, 7 or 10?

She saw his tears but said nothing about them. She finally pulled her many hands away and asked him to step into her hug. She tilted, felt his breath on his cheeks, as his heart warmed itself free of shadows and hurt.

She ran a scanner, then an ultrasound, him embalmed in the core of her frame. An anti-penetrate needle completed his immunisation cycle. There was no dental occlusion, no liver trauma. He was whole.

All he needed was a hug.

She released him lest she absorb him if he stayed too long.

The Uroh-ogi will see you now, she said, and signalled the system for a placebo.

She knew his kind.

Without herb or salve, potion or pill to take, her name would drift from his lips and he would return.

More broken.

~

Fate

faasaaf is broken, the limbs not hers. she slips in and out of certainty, her thoughts flow from

a still centre towards which all things start, end. her full spectrum is in a chip.

she wants fingers to fumble. ice on her skin – anything to feel.

anything but this pressure of deep thought.

time is broken. no sense.

nonsense. no, no, no.

all connections broken.

nonononononononononono

~

Give and Take

We met Gabi’or at the market swap meet, traded corals and crystals, echoes, magical herbs, even stories and warnings about sacred prey, nomads and beasts. We learnt of the Tor-Tor, the ritual slaying of sentient creatures, eaten alive in sacrifice, and wondered about tradition, tendencies and greed. We studied the essence of entities, the Ze-ne with its head of a bird and limbs like the branches of a tree; the aze’aze, the giant firefly with its head of a goat; the impudu-pudu, its bellow infiltrating with such loudness before its smell took your knees and it ate you whole in one swallow. We watch for innovation that comes along with meaningless warranties, offering no personal insulation, just collective complementaries associated with spirals of warp, slippages and whichever

give-and-take, as elsewhere sonic storms shout,

meteors cartwheel too close.

~

Hogiiri Hile Halah

Had’ssah knows that when the Hogiiri Hile Halah breaks down, then the Nga’phandileh – those creatures of unreality – will arrive in hordes. Had’ssah, like many of her kind, must protect the wall. Every bés she takes an inventory, tests patches, securely downloads and deploys them, reruns system policies, monitors each update and documents any vulnerabilities for priority repair. Because the Nga’phandileh—

~

Ignorance

In’maé will never know the fire of love that singes the heart, or a bathing in the kind of poetry that brightly burns or perhaps extinguishes desire. He will never touch the power of dreams that map the night colourful with belief, overflowing with rainbows.

He will never know a woman’s breath on his neck, the fidgeting of longing, a wonderment of what she might do next even as meteors fall. He will never see hidden meaning, the unsaid echoes in snatches of song in a space outside radiation. 

He’ll never decode decisiveness outside the critical path of his rules of existence.

Or decipher that he’s spoken in the wrong language, uneasy words from objective recall. Because: garbage in, garbage out – is the garbage pit wiser than the thrower? 

~

Judgement Day

ja’riba is a witness a law officer a judge she records crime in echo

arrests offenders using limited magic runs trials in accordance with

pre-set rules to mete judgement sometimes it’s a droned warning

temporal sensory deprivation in a sound island but

when the crime is too big she may slice

a part of their tongue to hinder their echo poke into their eardrum

to scatter hearing breach their connection with kindred.

but in a world that’s a space in the sky the largest execution

call it judgement day

a permanent removal of sound.

~

K’hora’aa is an Art

Kaha’waé plays the k’hora’aa as if she and it are one. She sits still on a dais, fingers resting on the k’hora’aa’s neck, as tourists from the planets enter the amphitheatre until it’s packed full for the best echo. Sometimes the privileged may witness her tune the instrument, plucking string after string with thumb and forefinger, striking its pole of the klalabash wall with her nails and listening to the moan of its soundboard. Sometimes she asks the audience how many hands they want her to play. Some roar five, others ten! She uses all hands as they ask, rattling maracas and drumming a solo ngonini, then she hums with resonance, scrambling and absorbing, generating and reflecting the tuneful echo of the creation myth.

Our Mother.

Our Mother was all.

She, the only reality in a boundless sea of unreality.

The audience listens, enraptured, as harmony and balance echo across the auditorium in a mantra at the k’hora’aa’s climax.

Find the Word. Find the Voice.

Khwa’ra.

Ya’yn.

Ra’kwa.

Whoosh, a gasp in the audience. And then encore! Encore!

~

Library

Li Gha-lu inspects the library vibrating with sound before doors swing open

To interplanetary tourists shuttled all the way to Pinaa from Zezépfeni, Ekwukwe,

Wiimb-ó and Órino-Rin. The librarians are ready – AiOrin chants of the Da’idaroo-o-o that

Lurks in the hollow caves of Órino-Rin – is it a god or a Nga’phandileh – the being of

Unreality… AiPfeni swirls in his bulging eyes the clouds of Ze-ne, the demigod, offspring

Of a Deity yet mortal – a goddess of the dead who ferries souls to Eh’wauizo… AiPinaa

Vibrates echoes of Orisirisi the goddess of war who appears in a trinity to the Yaaba people

Of Pinaa… AiMbo drones of the mountain god cursed to give birth to a replica of himself

Every night… and hymns about Vuiili-ki and Vuiili-ku the twin spirit moons of Wiimb-ó…

AiKwe chants of early days when people spoke in echo language, tells the story of the

Echoless one who held the v’hushalele, the magic spear, he and the v’hushalele were one…

At the sigh of time, Li Gha-lu throws the doors wide open and the crowd

Surges into the library

With reaching

Hands.

~

Masseuse

M’hari was longing for touch without the complexity of a relationship – this is what brought her to Pinaa. The AI who received her was unemotive, simply presenting a vibrating menu on its torso, whispering what was on offer.

‘Explain to me Lips,’ said M’hari.

‘We do Plumping to increase your serotonin level and lower your cortisol,’ the AI said. ‘You have a choice of the Lean in, the Pucker up or the Ease into. Each service comes with a lip balm and mouth relaxer add-on. A tongue twister is optional, additional cost.’

‘I’d like Lips then.’

Lick, nibble or caress?’ the AI said.

Caress, please.’

‘With or without Hands?’

Hands, please,’ said M’hari.

‘Two, three, five, seven or ten hands on your body?’

‘Um… I guess three?’

‘Is that a question or a statement?’ the AI asked.

‘Three,’ said M’hari firmly.

‘That will be one thousand Kh’yedi for Basic service,’ the AI said.

‘What’s this vibrating echo about Platinum?’

Platinum is an advanced range that includes erogenous zones,’ the AI said. ‘You have a choice of neck, earlobes, armpit, crook of the arm, thigh crease, fingertip, ankle, between the toes, bottom of the foot. Today there’s an offer of fifteen percent discount.’

‘Sure, all of the above please,’ said M’hari.

‘That will be ten thousand Kh’yedi for Platinum together with Lip,’ the AI said. ‘Will you be accepting Scalp today? It’s free and will help reduce headaches.’

‘No thanks.’

Butt cheeks? The add-on is also free and good for your posture.’

‘I don’t think so.’

Perineum? This add-on will enhance your pleasure threefold.’

‘Um. No.’

Brain? It’s our newest neuro-connecting sensor for maximised stimulation.’

‘Is it invasive?’ asked M’hari.

‘Not at all.’

‘Then yes, please,’ said M’hari. She stretched her arm for the bracelet on his scanner that deducted service fees.

‘Very well. Step this way,’ the AI said, ‘and fully disrobe.’

M’hari entered a person-width chamber hued with incense and luminescence.

The AI shapeshifted into a bench with a face arc, elbow rests and lowered pedals for her feet. ‘Lie on me facedown, feet asunder.’

M’hari complied and closed her eyes.

‘Initiating warm-up,’ the automat droned.

M’hari felt deep strokes on her naked skin, lubricated hands finding her cheekbones, adjacent to her nose. Multi-layered fingertips glid in varying speed and pressure gently flowing to her lips. She closed her eyes to a rush of blood through her veins responding to the calming coolness of touch without the complexity of a

   R

      E

         L

            A

               T

                  I

                     O

                        N

                           S

                              H

                                 I

                                    P.

~

Noble Bard

Nublah is a bearer of history, a bard. His particular speciality is that of the Nga’phandileh – the creatures of unreality that inhabit the dark dimension. He tells the story different every time. Each telling connects with the listener to adjust itself to their proclivities. To the slothful, the creatures make slaves of folk and tear skin with their whips to sweat out blood of the punished. To the wrathful, the beasts rip out eyes and tongues, plunging their victims to a black and soundless world that lasts many juzu. To the lustful, the Nga’phandileh yank out loins, replace them with bark from an aged tree, bits falling and falling until there’s only dust in the everlasting wound. Nublah will ask if you want a virtual reality experience. Say no. Because in the case of a virus or a system overload, the virtual may overwhelm reality.

~

On a Cold Night

O’li first sights a patch of pale in the distance between the trees before she sees him. He emerges from the tree line, a curved sword in hand. Its surface blinks in the moon’s light. She melts into the brush, eludes the kill language of his weapon, as the cries of her friends shatter the dusk. She escapes him in the woods.

Now she’s at a creek, the darkness of its bottom deeper than the yawn of its borders. This is new: she’s never been here before. She breaks into the water’s frozen hug. Bubble, bubbles… She listens.

Trembles.

Gasps.

A patch of pale rises from the creek’s blackest bed out yonder below her feet. Swift is the curl of its lick on her skin.

The water swallows her crimson scream as the blade turns her world silver, then indigo. She could have sworn she was the Last Girl – her final thought as the creek’s ice cracks under the weight of bare trees and an AI’s evolution that supersedes recall and intuits an unprecedented safety zone.

He slips out of the water. Wipes his blade clean. Says, O, my love.

He’s ready to give them another go. Resets the reality module in 5D to replay unwary tourists wandering the forest in real time with rucksacks, torches and maps.

~

Play

Is an obsolete word when yours is an inquisitive mind and what you seek is mastery.

Play is removed from your natural affinity to serve, and only a virus

or an anomaly can be the root cause of a desire to perform it.

Play is never beneficial to the collective and only to absconders,

or to those struck with too much Zuúv’ah or Juah-āju,

the twin suns and their malady.

Tourists from other planets,

indulge in play.

This Pal-Vi

knows.

~

Quietus

You never felt ‘in the blues’ as the client from Wiimb-ó called it. You stayed immune to all weather, even when it was blowing a gale. You were conditioned to equanimity, never once grunting at the tourist, or anyone for that matter.

You never asked for her reason, or questioned her choice, anyone’s choices.

You learnt the names of all the flowers she liked, what seeded them, how they grew and what angle of light infused them with the right perfume, which deepest hue of petal tongue.

When you handed her a bouquet, then retrieved it to arrange in a vase inside the tavern room, you stood her in the best angle to look at the beauty of pattern in a manner that softened any anxiety she had, and made it end well.

What you performed, QNa, it was a mercy. Sometimes you were a chatbot – they just wanted to talk before it happened. You intuited their individuality, deployed a memory and critical-thinking module to give the best answers to their questions.

They confessed their greediness, their follies, their lonesomeness… This client wanted to smell flowers as she composed herself.

Once it was done, you incinerated the body, compacted the client’s ashes for dissemination according to her will. Some wanted it to go back to the family. Others wanted it journeyed to other planets, sifted into a creek or a stream, a river or a lake – those ones paid more. This one wanted it to disappear. She had kin who would squabble for her Kh’yedi.

She asked for a scattering during a meteor shower so no-one would notice.

But, for this last mercy, away from them all, QNa – today in your role as a dying booth – you gave the old woman from Wiimb-ó the peace she yearned.

~

Redeeming

Rah’dhi is a redeemer. She seeks sound in the souls of those trapped in the dimension of the dead. She takes currency from the fingertips or tongues of one living.

Any currency: Owo, Kh’yedi even energy crystals. This unlocks her recipe of what to do when you arrive under the eyelash of a spirit realm named Eh’wauizo:

1. Add a pinch of tears to the soft tentacles of shadows walking around your sleep.

2. Shake salt into the unholy eye and never meet its gaze.

3. Stir-fry two palmfuls of do-not-love-anything-no-matter-how-enchanting over high heat in a flat pan and wait for a status update, or until there’s a colour change.

4. Stand the mixture for a few blinks, then pour it into a klalabash of know-that-each-moment-is-dying.

5. Don’t linger before the eating, but put more hearts than trembling hands to secure a satisfactory redeeming of your dead, albeit for a complicated breath as your limbs quiver with free will before you wake.

~

Speed Dating

Sukré moves towards the bright-eyed girl from Wiimb-ó, sits and faces her dead straight. She’s wearing a gossamer gown whose spear-shaped neck plunges to her navel.

The dark tone of her skin is evident through the delicate and translucent fabric, cut leg up, one thigh only. He observes her shallow breathing in rapid succession, the swift rise and fall of her chest, and deduces that she’s nervous.

She crosses her legs, speaks without preamble. I’ve travelled the planets because I’m in need of a perfect match.

If something is perfect, then it has all the elements that desist the requirements of its needing a match, says Sukré in a monotone voice.

But what I need is empathy, the girl says. The shape of her pupil suggests impatience.

His glossary inwardly vibrates a conditioned response. I can reassure you of my unwavering focus until such time as you turn me off, says Sukré.

What do you know about laughter? the girl asks.

It’s a noise produced in mirth or scorn. I can handle the tedium of producing such a noise repeatedly if it’s conditioned to satisfy your requirements, says Sukré.

Do you even know anything about tears?

I am incapable of producing water from my bionic eyes, but I come with perfect objective recall that shifts my facial expression in alignment to your gesture, says Sukré.

That’s not half-funny, the girl says.

Half is one of two equal or corresponding parts. A predeterminer does not cause laughter or amusement, says Sukré.

Do you know a joke? she goads him.

I can lick my elbows and raise my brows, says Sukré.

Can you laugh?

With force, speed and motion, says Sukré.

Show me!

Bam. Whirr. Squeegeezee. Squeegeezee.

I’m afraid you’re a standard machine, she speaks out loud her disdain. Incapable of critical thinking.

I have customisable prosthetics befitting to augment your needs, says Sukré, and gives her a direct gaze, which at this precise moment include a substantial correction to the shortcomings of your dress code.

I think our time is up. She moves to erase him from her mind.

Time is a continued sequence of existence. It does not climb up or down, says Sukré. He notices her scowl and continues with faster elocution. However, at this stage, I am inclined to abandon your quest for coupling.

He pushes back from the table and wheels towards a tall and lean man from Zezépfeni, looking expectantly in Sukré’s direction.

~

Telling

Tuh’Nzho is an orator at the library. He echoes music, sound, language. He speaks any tongue, swirls any luminescent display of the suns or planets on his face. When you touch his chest this way or that way, he shows you the pulsation of an asteroid before it launches, or the discharge of a sonic storm in a gradient of blue light. His most popular feature on the homepage is not the creation myth, or the archetypes of gods and goddesses, including that of Xhova-hvā, the cursed mountain god in multi-dimensional splices, or Ze-ne-nazala, the grim reaper. What folk ask for most is Tor-Tor, the sacred execution of the Og’beh – crab-like sentient creatures ritualistically eaten alive by their own kind.

~

Upgrade

At the trade-in, reset and retirement centre, Uh’gimo wonders why her name means a difficulty. She considers for a moment what’s on the other side if all fails – is there oblivion? Peace? On the last day, workers enter and exit with parts, shuffling in silence row after row until they reach her bench. They pull a coil. Sound returns to her in echo. She wonders if the

door, door will lock, and she’ll still be there

disassembled – all workers gone, gone, gone.

But they fix and condition her task module

push her on her way to a labour, labour, labour, labour

upgrade in the shuttles

across F-I-V-E planets

from Pinaa to

Zezépfeni, Ekwukwe,

Wiimb-ó and Órino-Rin.

~

Victory

ViyéT knows about victory.

Victory is having a picnic on a short and bright night in an asteroid belt in Zezépfeni.

Victory is finding the religion to discern and see the two spirit moons in Wiimb-ó.

Victory is hearing the planet’s song above the howl of a sonic storm in Órino-Rin.

Victory is a spirit walk through Eh’wauizo unharmed.

Victory is when your system is shut down and you’re disconnected from the network and you don’t die because you’re a pilgrim to the boundary

and now you’re here

on a plane of existence

that might return you

to the land of the living.

~

Waitress

Whar’Pi’s hand is all about tables. Attentive to shuffling and dealing folded napery

on it, off it,

onitoffit,

ononitoffoffit.

Zie inspects each sturdy leg to back the argument of its utility before any ambiguity is lost in the map of a cuisine. The café’s décor

1. is modern: acquainting and germane to the times

2. is junk: too much waste – plush seating at a lounge no-one uses, pointless chandeliers and all that glittery, hanging lights bright lit by day, dimmed sombre by night

3. is chic: exuding the perception of panache, sophistication from its arched doorway to its polished counter and moody tone, the elegant language of a place mat

on it, off it,

onitoffit,

ononitoffoffit.

The best way to clean a table is with wax, circular motion until it’s smooth and blank, dazzling as a star and alluring for a birthday, a wedding, a gossip entourage arriving with ribboned parcels and imprecise conversations whose surplus will never feed the hungry.

Today is a full house, guests in an idling queue all the way to the boulevard as meteors fall elsewhere. Whar’Pi is too busy to notice, and most of the patrons zie’ll never get to know. What zer hand knows is a table: the best way to sparkle it and place dinner service

on it, off it,

onitoffit,

ononitoffoffit.

Tomorrow zie’ll be on food rotation – unfreezing, cleaning, slicing, mixing, poaching, boiling, steaming, braising, roasting, baking, grilling, pan frying.

       unfreezingcleaningslicingmixing

              poachingboilingsteamingbraising

                     roastingbakinggrillingpanfrying.

~

X-word

Xhe’thi is a derivative of the word xanthe. It means fact.

Fact that somewhere near the sea is a jungle occupied by a sentient colony and a humanoid city. Fact that a goddess has never appeared to him, Xhe’thi, but the Yaaba people darn right believe it. Fact that there might be a powerful god riding a beast-drawn chariot in haste to collect thunder from the storms before the other son of a grand deity and his river siren takes it. Fact that he, Xhe’thi, is neither a protector nor a truth-seeker, hubris nor humility, simply a complexity, a super-organism that evolved after the end. And. This. Is.

Not. Living.

~

Younglins

Ya’ar means graceful. She’s named after Our Mother: Ya’yn.

Because she too, Ya’ar, utters and creates. She seeds motors and muscles in pods, conjoins their frames, manipulates a control system into them.

She boots their drive, creates their logic and utters the programming that will encode their life skill for usefulness to the communities of Pinaa.

When she ushers them to their tasks, she knows she’ll never see them again.

But she doesn’t mourn – she has neither inclination nor the time for it.

She must at once seed the next batch, singing to the seedlings in pods, as she assembles their regenerated parts. What she sings is the Rakwa wa-Ya’yn.

It’s epic.

It’s the Song of Our Mother’s Children.

~

Ze End

The cave walls are pale, wrinkled, and the doorway partly trunked. It’s the belly of a large mangrove tree. Zayyid’a’s not in a mental abyss, because the outside world is alight and roarin’ with fallin’ meteors eruptin’ everywhere.

He once longed for colour in his life, somethin’ viscous and vibrant. Not this. The red blobs all around are splatters of death in a black-cloaked world strewn with stones and sand. He wants to sleep from all this flesh and fire, deep, deep, deep into the ethereal, to a place where a river, maybe a sea, an esplanade and a bridge collide with sidewalks and tremblin’ poplars. He wants to see a window blowin’ blue and white ribbons in the silence of a world that’s banished shadows and sound.

This world feels like night. One might think he was on a moon.

It seems like not long ago he was ridin’ a shuttle that echoed: Hire a hubby. A hubby.

He did jobs on demand, for women mostly who needed the raw strength of a man to lift rocks, haul logs, split wood, and they paid good Kh’yedi, sometimes in kind. Then the meteors happened, and he found a cave. How long in there, he doesn’t know. All he knows is that he ate weeds and critters, bugs oozy and white inside, and they didn’t grow him. Not that he’s havin’ a moan about it, but he was six-foot-four – now feels like, like…

Has he shrunk to five-foot-freakin’-nothin’?

A cave does this to you.


Eugen Bacon is an African Australian author of several novels and fiction collections. She’s a 2022 World Fantasy Award finalist, a Foreword Book of the Year silver award winner, and was announced in the honour list of the 2022 Otherwise Fellowships for ‘doing exciting work in gender and speculative fiction’. Danged Black Thing (2021) by Transit Lounge Publishing was a finalist in the BSFA, Foreword, Aurealis and Australian Shadows Awards, and made the Otherwise Award Honor List as a ‘sharp collection of Afro-Surrealist work’. Eugen’s creative work has appeared worldwide, including in Award Winning Australian Writing, Fantasy Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction. Eugen has two new novels, a novella and three anthologies (ed) out in 2023, including Serengotti, a novel, and the US release of Danged Black Thing. Visit her website at eugenbacon.com and Twitter feed at @EugenBacon

Juliana Pinho is a Brazilian illustrator who has recently immigrated to the US to live with her beautiful wife. Find more of her work at Behance.


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