Robin de Voh
writer, developer, nerd

Nanoprep 2020 Day 14: Singular They

By Robin de Voh on 2020-10-22

They took a first step forward and almost fell over. This was awkward. These leg things were not doing what they had expected, but as a god-like abstract concept they honestly hadn't known what to expect. They'd watched these humans waddle around in their blood-filled flesh bags for centuries, somehow building giant structures and having a somewhat coherent society. They'd seen them love, hate, fight, other things, and they'd been intrigued. They had watched, listened, and attempted to smell and taste.

But they had never before become a physical being like them.

Izel, they were called. An old, long forgotten nature god. Or something. They were from before when gods were made to be like humans. In the few drawings ever made of them, they were either a circle, made from a tree trunk, starting and ending upon itself forever, or a cloud with tree leaves, hovering in the sky, even above the sun itself. Abstract. That's what they felt like as well.

This physical experiment was honestly born from boredom. They had been sidelined by modern life, belief in Izel, the nature god, infinite tree and/or tree-cloud, had become non-existent. There was this one little group of people in the amazon rain forest in the north of Brazil who still believed in them, but that's 30 people on a world population of billions. They treated them well and made sure their harvests were always good, but it was nothing on the grander scale.

So here they were. In a body designed to be attractive but not too attractive. Elements taken from the most famous of humans.

Another step. They felt the bones moving in their hips. Hips. Those are new too. What a fascinating design, the human body. All these interlocking... Things. Working together to create movement, giving the power to manipulate things directly. That's something they didn't have, everything they did was wishy-washy magicky stuff that indirectly affected things.

They stuck their hand out to touch a wooden pole that was on what they had gathered was a 'side walk'. They touched it and the experience made them stop for a second and just really take the moment in. Feeling was a new thing, and it was as if they could single out the individual nerves being fired.

Like a musician watching a band play a live show, they had trouble separating the inner workings, the details of how things work, from actually just enjoying things for what they were.

They pulled their hand back, shook their head, and exhaled. Also an interesting experience, having to take in air to survive. They had tried not to, but it had caused other nerves to send pain signals and it had become clear that air was a necessity in this form. They touched the wooden pole again, this time keeping their mind away from the details.

The experience was shaking them and they closed their eyes. The nerves sent their signals of touch along, and they tried not to focus on where the signals were and what they were triggering, but it was as if it washed from their hand to their brain.

They opened their eyes again and smiled. Interesting. That smile was unintended. There must be some kind of process hard-wired into these bodies that caused that. They tried to smile again, but it felt fake, so they stopped.

Looking around, they found themselves in a small city. They had chosen this specific place, because it wasn't too busy, and it wasn't too quiet. They might be able to talk to some people, and get that experience in as well.

The streets were dirt-covered stone, materials they knew well, since these humans had taken the raw materials from their realm. They looked across the street and saw some people. They seemed to be going about their routines, not really communicating with each other but just milling about.

There weren't many of them -- they had chosen an early hour to prevent being overwhelmed -- but they felt emboldened to go up to at least someone and attempt to strike a conversation. After centuries of observing, they knew almost all the languages. The only problem was they'd never spoken them. With a mouth. An actual physical mouth. They'd gone over them and learned as much as they could in what some would call their brain -- but cannot be explained in useful human terms in any of the languages they knew -- but it had not prepared them for this moment.

They walked across the street to a female human, who was packing her bags into a carriage.

"Hi-lo," they said as they approached, raising a friendly hand up in the air.

The woman turned around and screamed, then dropped all her bags and ran away.

Odd, they thought. But, human interactions were not their strong point, so they shrugged -- another involuntary move -- and moved onwards.

There was a man further on, who seemed to be feeding his horse.

"Hi-lo," they tried again, this time not raising their hand, thinking that might have been the problem before.

The man looked at them and shock flooded across his face.

"Uhm," the man started, pointing at them.
"Yes?" they said, smiling. Contact had been made.
"You're not wearing any clothes, buddy."

They looked at themselves. Naked. They looked at the man. There was a noticeable difference in how they each looked. They pointed at the man's clothes.

"I have to wear clothes like those?"
"Yes, not specifically like these, but you're definitely supposed to wear clothes," the man said, now getting annoyed. "And you shouldn't be out here naked like you are, there are children about!"

They were shocked, not because of being naked -- this was something they'd seen humans do all the time, so it was obviously a natural thing -- but because they had insulted this man. And all his children. They considered what their options were and something in their now more limited human brain triggered a panic response.

They retreated immediately. Left the physical plane and went back to where they usually resided, somewhere between the aether and the skies.

That was not what they had expected. They would observe more, perhaps try again later, but for now, they needed to work through their new thoughts and emotions.

The man they had talked to, however, back on the physical plane, was standing in front of what seemed to be a dead, naked man. He had a hell of a lot of trouble explaining to the local sheriff that he definitely had not killed him.

Singular they/their is an interesting way to write. It's really rather unnatural to me and I kept slipping into she/her, but the whole point of Izel is that they transcend human likeness, including gender or sex. I've noticed I've been proof-reading documents and suggesting 'they' instead of 'he/she' and 'their' instead of 'his/her', for the purpose of readability (this/that is awkward), but also for inclusivity. You never know who's reading a document, and you don't want to have a possibly negative response just because of word choice.

Consider using it too!