ashmusing: (playing with mummy's shoes)
Ash ([personal profile] ashmusing) wrote2011-01-08 12:39 pm

FIC: Speak, Friend, and Enter: Prologue

TITLE: Speak, Friend, and Enter: Prologue
FANDOM: James Cameron's Avatar
CHARACTERS: Norm Spellman, OCs
WORDS: 1845
A/N: Contains extracts from The Fellowship of the Ring, by JRR Tolkien. And massive thanks to ceitfianna and the_croupier for beta-ing, and lordolorien for cheerleading.
STORY SUMMARY: Information Technician Norm Spellman first met Lance Corporal Trudy Chacon in on a ship in 2134. Twenty years later, Doctor Spellman and Captain Chacon (long-time friends and sometime lovers) are reunited on Pandora. This follows the time between, and what happens after.
EXTRACT: ...his mother seems to take Pandora's biota as a personal insult. On more than one occasion, Norm has thought that if he hears anyone else argue about the function of Pandoran bioluminescence, or allude to the Cambrian Explosion to explain different body-plans, or debate whether the Na'vi are symbiotic parasites from another planet, he is going to kill someone. Even if Professor Eugenie Spellman is an evolutionary biologist, her ire at Pandora's apparent lack of 'genuine originality' seems somewhat excessive.


February, 2127
Washington Metropolitan Area, USA

The window-seat is Norm's favourite part of the entire Spellman apartment. The kitchen is the next favourite, but this is pretty normal. Kitchens are where the family actually live, as opposed to the so-called living room, which is normally relegated to tv room and bedroom and the room where you entertain guests that you don't actually like. But the kitchen is often full of people; neighbours, his mother's friends, his mother's students who try not to try too hard to impress her. He likes people, likes watching them and listening to them and talking with them, but they can be exhausting. Particularly when it is his mother's post-grad students and fellow professors. Particularly for the last month, since the latest report from Pandora.

The reason for this is that his mother seems to take Pandora's biota as a personal insult. On more than one occasion, Norm has thought that if he hears anyone else argue about the function of Pandoran bioluminescence, or allude to the Cambrian Explosion to explain different body-plans, or debate whether the Na'vi are symbiotic parasites from another planet, he is going to kill someone. Even if Professor Eugenie Spellman is an evolutionary biologist, her ire at Pandora's apparent lack of 'genuine originality' seems somewhat excessive.

Tonight, as soon as he could and as usual, he excused himself from the table and retreated to the living room, book in hand. An actual paper book, with pages he had to turn instead of a pixelated button he had to click. A book with weight in his hands and its own, distinctively bookish smell. He loves books. He lives in an apartment full of them – bookshelves covering all the walls, even the hallway from the front door right through to the living room at the other end of his home – and he loves them. His favourite thing to do is take a book, be it paper or electronic, and fit himself on the window-seat, and read there by the light of the metropolis. If he sits one way, he can peer up and catch sight of the lattice of bridges above; if he sits another, he can watch the sidewalk two floors down; and if he sits yet a third way, and looks very hard, and at a certain angle, some days he can even see all the way down to the ground-level road, twelve stories below. He's still short enough that he can sit sideways in the window, back against one side with his foot braced against the other. Which is exactly what he does, tuning out the conversation drifting through the apartment.

(“Eugenie, you keep forgetting about convergent evolution-”

“And you keep using that phrase. I don't think you know what it means,” Norm's mother observes drily as the rest of them laugh.)

He has more important things to worry about.

"Well, here we are at last! ' said Gandalf. "Here the Elven-way from Hollin ended. Holly was the token of the people of that land, and they planted it here to mark the end of their domain; for the West-door was made chiefly for their use in their traffic with the Lords of Moria. Those were happier days, when there was still close friendship at times between folk of different race, even between Dwarves and Elves."
"It was not the fault of the Dwarves that the friendship waned," said Gimli.
"I have not heard that it was the fault of the Elves," said Legolas.
"I have heard both," said Gandalf; 'and I will not give judgement now. But I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends, and to help me. I need you both. The doors are shut and hidden, and the sooner we find them the better. Night is at hand!"

It takes a tense couple of pages for the doors to be found, but there are problems with not even Gandalf knowing the password to open them. “Good,” Norm tells the book – Gandalf has been more than a little aggravating to the boy. A know-it-all, like so many professors he knows through his mother. And a know-it-all who bristles at Pippin, who is so far Norm's favourite character. And there are wolves howling and he can't remember if they have another way to go or not (he's pretty sure it was either under through the Mines or over that impassable mountain pass), and so he keeps reading hurriedly.

"I was wrong after all," said Gandalf, 'and Gimli too. Merry, of all people, was on the right track. The opening word was inscribed on the archway all the time! The translation should have been: Say "Friend" and enter. I had only to speak the Elvish word for friend and the doors opened. Quite simple. Too simple for a learned lore-master in these suspicious days. Those were happier times. Now let us go!"

Norm stops, and stares at the page. Suddenly frowning, he rereads the last couple of pages.



In Elvish, they...are the same?

Norm stares out into space, frowning and thinking quickly, ignoring the dramatic plight of Frodo being seized by a something. In English, obviously, speak and say are different, and it's the same in Russian ('сказать' and 'говорить'). Marking his page, Norm gets up and quickly makes his way to his room. Finding his reader, he turns it on and quickly goes to the Spanish dictionary supplied by school.

say (vt) decir, hablar.
speak (vt, vi) hablar; decir; conversar; pronunciar.

Interesting. At first, he just wonders how on Earth someone would translate the mistranslation into Spanish. But then other issues started to form. He's already well aware that he can say some things in Russian than he can't say in English, and vice versa. But he'd never really thought about the differences language could make before.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, it was a momentary plot point, albeit an important one. Speak, friend. Say friend. It matters to characters, but the implications are contained by the fact that they are made-up. And he knows what happens in the real world, mistranslation and a lot of well-paid translators. As his grandfather is fond of telling him, translations can either be beautiful or faithful, but rarely both.

(Of course, his grandfather also usually adds, 'translations are like women that way', which strikes Norm as just a bizarre concept to hold.)

But that's not what he is thinking about because he is, abruptly, aware that he is thinking in English. Which he doesn't always. Sometimes, it's just English, sometimes just Russian, and other times, it's this odd mix of both that any telepath would have to be exceedingly bilingual to understand. And when he's learning Spanish, or trying to get a handle on Mandarin, it helps if he starts to think in those languages, instead of English and then translating. But it's not just a question of languages and different words. Logically, the language would shape those thoughts, wouldn't it? A bit. Maybe.

Speak, friend.

Say friend.

“-used the same words on two different continents,” he hears from the kitchen, courtesy of his brain tuning his ears back to the conversation next door.

“Oh, for-”

Another person – Madison, he thinks – says, incredulously, “What, the same words?”

“Yes, they used the exact same words. Exact grammar and-”

“Bull. Shit,” says the person (male, older, Dr Vertov?) who said the 'oh, for'. “It has to be a colony of the other. And the distance is far too great for any communication between the two, there have to be dialect words.”

“Jesus,” Norm's mother says. “If they have evolved some form of planet-wide communication system, can't they have been decent enough not to have oral language, too? Ugh. The aliens on Europa make far more sense.”

“But they are not nearly as interesting, my dear,” Vertov says, in an apparent change of direction. “We don't argue nearly so much over your beloved squid- ah, young Vasily!” At the doorway, Norm flushes at the use of his middle name. (Seriously: Norman Vasily. He has no idea what his otherwise fairly – for an academic – sensible mother was thinking. His older sister Tash has far more normal name of Natalia Anne. Maybe his mother got inexplicably more fond of her Russian heritage in the eleven years between her children.)

“I, uh, overheard-”

“Impossible not to in this tiny apartment,” Vertov says, to derisive snorts from the rest of the table. At three rooms plus a bathroom, the Spellman apartment is practically a mansion. Norm's flush gets worse.

“The Na'vi only have one language?”

“It's an hypothesis. Not quite a theory yet.” Enrique says. “But that's what the evidence suggests.”

“Scanty evidence,” Eugenie says, watching her son. “Humans have only been on Pandora, what, twenty-four, twenty-five years. The RDA haven't even finished setting up their colony yet. We haven't been poking around the place nearly long enough to have any real idea what's going on. I- Oh, do sit down, Norm. You're allowed to join the grown-ups.”

“Absolutely!” Madison says with a beam. “We can corrupt you!” She glances at Eugenie, and has the grace to look a little shifty. “I, mean, uh.”

“Ah-huh,” Professor Spellman says, eyeing her student with aloof amusement as Norm squeezes in on the bench. “No corrupting of offspring just yet.”

“What kind of language is it?” Norm asks, uncomfortably aware of his awkward elbows and limbs. “I mean, um, I know humans can learn it, but does it have any similarities to any human language, or, uh?”

“Hard to tell with what little the fuck, I mean, freak. Freaking RDA will release,” Madison says, “but from what we can tell, it's similar in sound to some Polynesian languages, and it has some other elements from other languages from around Earth, but in combination it's all unique.”

“Not to mention it's probable that there are words and meanings that can only be understood when spoken in conjunction with movement of the ears and tail,” Ayesha adds. “Which is why the Avatar Program is so important-”

“And yet immoral,” Vertov says darkly. “That man should never been allowed to study, let alone be given free reign in a laboratory like that.”

“Dr Lovecraft?” Norm asks, eyes flicking around the group.

“May he be struck down with failure and lack of tenure,” his mother says. “If he wants to go and play at being Dr Frankenstein, he can go and write a damn novel. Or join a special effects team.” The conversation rapidly distracts itself with questions of ethics, bioengineering and the differences between Earth's DNA and just what Pandora's lifeforms use, before heading back to language, and communication, and different modes thereof.

For the first time, Norm stays for every single word.

It won't be the last.

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