The Carminokite’, Kimberly Kaufman

Illustration © 2019 Martin Hanford

 [ Carminokite fetuses, © 2019 Martin Hanford ] “This is where we keep the vulnerable birds, like the Presiti-moniaks,” the zookeeper explained, pointing at a bundle of wispy-white feathers that looked like a bouquet of daisies. “Quaron once was filled with diversity, beautiful animals of all types, but that changed about one hundred years ago.”

“The discovery of shatite-mineral mining?” I asked, unsure of Quaron’s recent history. My visit on this planet was to study its ancient literature, mainly the Second-era epics starring the god-like warrior, Sharmona.

The zookeeper, a man of uncertain middle age, dressed in the light grey robes common on Quaron, pressed his lips together and scowled, which I took to be more genuine than the words that followed. “Which was the beginning of our science-based glory, the Greatest Age,” he said. “Would you like to see the Carminokite fetuses?” he asked, changing the subject.

The remains of the demon creatures that once plagued Quaron were the reason I came to the zoo in the first place. Sharmona fights a Carminokite in a story I was translating from Marunite, a dead language, and I was struggling with a few lines of text. I couldn’t decide whether “talon” or “fang” was a better way to describe a part of the creature that slices off Sharmona’s arm before she catches her axe with the other hand, decapitating it. The green blood splatter across Sharmona’s long, black hair, as she stands atop a verdant mountain, gazing down at the fallen carcass of the Carminokite, still gave me goosebumps every time I read it.

We walked into a long hallway, lit only by tanks filled with pink liquid. The brown “fetus” inside the tank was larger than a horse, and the body part in question could either be talons or fangs, since the top of its body was covered in multiple mouths, filled with rows of razor-sharp, teeth-like fingers.

“We used evidence-based genetic-reconstruction,” he said, beginning to describe the complicated, and expensive, process. But I didn’t hear him. I was imagining the fetus breaking free from its tank, growing to full size, and running through the sterile streets of Shatite, the Capital of Quaron, killing most humans, and forcing the rest to flee. I pictured the Carminokite on its thick hind-legs, ten mouths snapping at the air, spraying black poison, gleeful to have the planet back from the small and resourceful humans who had brought it to extinction.

Later, on the hover-plane ride back to the white-plastic streets of Shatite, I zipped up my jacket from the cold. When I got back to my one room apartment, I pulled out my computer and the various papers and scribbles I had been using for my translation.

To give the Carminokite that feeling of unleashed horror and wild freedom it deserved, I needed to rewrite each word of the epic. The demon stayed inside me as I ate the mealy packets of food delivered daily, reimagining a world of exotic beasts, bright, flower-covered hills, and the hardy humans who fought daily to survive. The Quaron of yesteryear. At the end of the month, satisfied with my translation, I got on the ship and left that cold and mostly lifeless planet, believing that my rendition of the Carminokite would ignite imaginations for perhaps another generation or so.

A few years later, news reached Earth of the end of life on Quaron. With the shatite minerals depleted, the once green planet could no longer support even the most technologically advanced life, and the remains of that civilization scattered across the galaxy, many seeking asylum as DERs (Destroyed Ecosystem Refugees). About a year after Earth took in a handful of the DERs—we couldn’t accept many, as we weren’t doing so well ourselves—who did I see but the zookeeper I’d met on that grey day in Quaron. He was walking out of a plant store, holding a large potted peperomia, looking strangely younger than he had five years earlier, his curly black hair having only a few strands of white around the temples. I stopped him, and we chatted a bit about the coincidence of seeing each other, when my ego got the better of me, and I asked him what he thought of my translation.

“Well,” he said, shifting the potted plant to his other arm. “I liked the prologue where you describe preserving the fierce splendor of the Carminokite for future generations.” And then the zookeeper gazed up into the sky, the sun blurred by the thick, grey clouds that lay on the horizon, and shook his head, shaking some of the sweat off his brow. “But as one of the last to leave a dead planet, I have to ask: have you thought about saving your own Carminokite?”

I wanted to object, thinking of the dinosaurs. But then I remembered. He meant the whales, the lions, the eagles, the koalas, the frogs, and the parrots. They’d all died off in the last few years or so, and even that peperomia might die soon, plants being among the remaining, but dwindling, life forms. They would all be blank spots in our minds soon, a vague feeling that something great used to be here. I went back to my apartment, turned on the air conditioning and the air filters full blast, and sat down to write something eloquent and timeless about the beautiful animals of Earth. But all I could write were these words, written in the most meager and modern English.

© 2019 Kimberly Kaufman

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