Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




A Guide to Alien Terms Useful in the Human Diaspora

As you travel the spacelanes, the argot of your fellow beings may at first confuse and disconcert you. This guide is offered to help you acclimate to your new world and the strange beings that people it. All terms will be presented first as definitions, then used in context.


Origin: Tarukhxi, noun.

The process of “scooping” fuel in the form of hydrogen from the corona of a star, nebula, or gas giant.

See also: il’arakua, mild pejorative. Scooping fuel from nearly-empty space; cf. “bottom of the barrel.”


Origin: Vanakh, noun.

Literally: “Sunrider.” A short-range ship designed for solar sailing inside a system. May be pejorative: “That old ore-hauler is little more than a csil-rikh.” May also be used, with scorn (or envy), for rich idlers with luxurious solar-sailed yachts who are in no hurry to get anywhere and have the excess hydrogen credits to be able to afford such.


Origin: Sei’azhi, noun.

Literally: “cradle of graves.” A generation ship.

Datapoint: Sei’azhi used generation ships for their initial waves of colonization, overtaking their own ships when they discovered the waygates. Some believe that not all the desh’k’lakeu ships have been found—that some still drift towards distant stars, filled with ghosts. This is likely no more than spacer mythology.


Origin: Xi’a, noun.

The knowledge that pain is coming, as inevitable as gravity or time; the grief you feel before mourning is required by death or separation, but feel, nonetheless.

Usage Note: You’ll find this one of use when you hear that a friend or loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal, intractable illness. When the knowledge of mortality’s end is inevitable, and you begin to pre-mourn. Intriguingly, members of this hive species feel this so intensely that they have a word for it.

Leliasro / Mesiasro

Origin: Vanakh, noun.

Leliasro: Something small that you once took for granted, now lost. The touch of someone’s hand, a laugh, the look in someone’s eyes.

Mesiasro: Something that once mattered a great deal, but now seems petty, in retrospect.

Usage Note: These paired Vanakh concepts will prove useful with Vanakh traders. They’ve been known to lower price of hydrogen cells for people who understand that the argument you had daily with your spouse is the now only thing you can remember about them . . . and that now you wish you could remember anything else.


Origin: Xi’a, noun.

The feeling of acute loneliness when you are apart from your own kind, no longer part of the hive, surrounded by alien beings. The sense of being drowned in otherness, through your own choices. Lack of connection, loss, having been cut adrift.


Origin: Aiel, noun/verb.

The sense of time as a river that separates you from those you once loved, either through years spent apart or because relativity has ensured that they died centuries ago, while you’ve remained young.


Origin: Vanakh, noun.

Literally: “home-traitor.” A term used by sedentary Vanakh for those who have made their home in the stars; by extension, the sense of anger at those who have found a feeling of home or belonging outside the tribe. By further extension, the rage felt by those left behind for those who do not wish to return to their homeworlds or clans.


Origin: Aiel, noun/verb.

The sense of joy at being reunited, even with an old enemy, after a long span of time spent in isolation. Literally: “the return of sunlight to leaves.”

The delight in hearing one’s native language spoken without accent, a song from childhood sung spontaneously in one’s hearing. Comfort; home-feeling.


Origin: Sei’azhi, noun.

A biological imperative, without which one might perish. Most urgent level of necessity, such as water, air, food, shelter. Cf. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. “We wouldn’t ordinarily approach you for fuel, but it’s a matter of tei’aska; without your aid, we won’t make it to the next star system.”

See also: rei’azhal, a need of lesser severity.

See also: vi’ezhash, bodily urgencies such as food, urination, or sex.


Origin: Tarukhxi, compound noun.

Literally: “fishguts-system.” A planetary system with poor resources in terms of fuel, oxygen, and/or water. To say a system is “not worth urdka” is to say it is a place in which you certainly wouldn’t wish to be stranded.


Origin: Terran, noun.

Longing for a world forsaken—a world that no longer exists or exists only in memory. Can be the result of cataclysm, poor personal choices, or the outcome of paioullae.


Origin: Xi’a, verb

Literally: “emergence from death-cocoon.” Death as rebirth; transfiguration, transformation. Coming to terms with loss or grief.

Being received back into the embrace of the hive after a long journey.

• • • •

You may feel joy when you first leave your homeworld, but perhaps it will be mixed with ks’nis’x, the pre-mourning for all those you’re leaving behind. The longer you travel as the only human within lightyears, either alone in an old csil-rikh or on a ship populated by beings totally alien to you, the more you may come to feel that you’re il’arakua yourself. You’ll probably enter into nx’xiaxh soon, drowned, subsumed in loneliness or other identities and cultures. You may even begin to feel that you’re not worth urdka.

When you meet other humans again, you may find yourself feeling alien to them—and they to you. A sensation of awkwardness may prevail between you; they may consider you qsil-cri. Or they may have spent as much time as you have among the stars . . . and may have lost themselves, too.

But it’s possible, too, that you’ll overlook the mesiasro, the petty, in the rush of relief at hearing a human voice again and realize that both it and leliasro, the thing overlooked, can be a need as intense as tei’aska.

And that perhaps, just perhaps, we can all cross the desert—the void of Weltverlassenesehnsucht—and enter the grace of y’shiv’nix wherever we choose to call home.

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Deborah L. Davitt

Deborah L. Davitt. A middle-aged white woman with brown and purple mid-length hair, wearing glasses, a black top, and black pearls, smiling into the camera.

Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Reno, Nevada, where she graduated first in her class from UNR in 1997 (as Deborah McRann). While an undergraduate, she focused heavily on medieval and Renaissance literature from Beowulf to Shakespeare. She received her MA in English from Penn State, and later found work as a technical writer on projects ranging from nuclear ballistic missile submarines to NASA to computer manufacturing. She currently lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and son. Her poetry has received Pushcart, Rhysling, and Dwarf Star award nominations and has appeared in over fifty journals including F&SF and Asimov’s. Her AnLab-winning short fiction has appeared in Analog and Galaxy’s Edge. For more about her work, including her poetry collections, The Gates of Never, Bounded by Eternity, and From Voyages Unreturning, please see