“Gallery of Vanquished Art” by Daniel Ausema

“Gallery of Vanquished Art” by Daniel Ausema

This artifact I won in the Tepheli campaign. The Tephei were an ugly people–the universe is no poorer for their absence–but they could create art. The colors, so subtle, so whimsical, yet I always feel there’s a reason underlying each curve and line. Not a pattern exactly, but intention, meaning, significance.

Perhaps it is not to your taste?

Here, this urn is from the SempĂ©. You’re probably thinking, urn: death, a logical inference, here of all places. But to the SempĂ©, urns symbolized love. As a love grew, the couple or trio or quartet would add to the outer design and carve whorls into the interior. If it helps, you can imagine that this urn’s continued existence means that somehow some alien relationship’s love lives on, despite everything.

You’ve been sneaking glances at the mummy while I talk. You think I had something to do with its death and preservation? No. To the Hengals this was art. Notice the layers of cloth–not practical for people of so hot a clime. I enjoy the aesthetics of this, though. When a beautiful person died–perhaps unnaturally early, for all I know–their bodies were preserved with desert salt and various chemicals. Then every year, they wrapped the mummy in cloth with that year’s pattern. These layers thereafter form a kaleidoscope of years, and artful slashes reveal the ever-changing mixture. I like to think of it as an archeology of the beauty that died each year. Stunning work. Here we’ve done what we could to preserve their lost skills.

Perhaps you’re curious about the Abarian campaign. The build-up to the invasion was certainly memorable. The Abarians valued ephemeral art: sculptures woven of vines already rotting, paints that faded to a dullness as soon as they dried, flowers that took a generation to cultivate into the perfect pattern only to flower for one short summer night and turn barren. Their highest form of art was a display of smoke rising from a carefully tended fire. With particular woods dried to a specified degree and placed in elaborate arrangements, they made sculptures of smoke, towering monoliths and delicate intricacies that lasted only as long as the next breeze. It is fitting, then, that the only memorial to them here is the fleeting memories of their brief resistance among those of us who fought.

No guns here, you’ve surely noticed. That seems to jump out at civilians. No weapons at all, you see, because the art of war has moved far beyond the street weapons of law enforcement and criminals. The weapons of war today are of a scale unfit for our gallery. Too large, some of them, bombs and missiles that would dwarf our paintings. More, though, are too small–microscopic weapons we could never frame or display. So I hold no emotional attachment to such petty things as handguns and rifles.

I did, however, commission a piece to honor the work of war. Peek through this darkened window while I turn on the UV light. Beautiful, don’t you agree? Each color–each shade and tint–is made by a different engineered strain of disease. I had my war-scientists engineer them further to emit the color I desired. I chose a pastoral scene. Very calming when maneuvers get chaotic.

Last we’ll take a look at the centerpiece of the gallery. It comes from our most recent campaign. The Taenish did not have visual art as we think of it, but their language itself was an art, each word capable of commanding the same emotional force as a painting or sculpture, each syllable a testament to the speaker’s craft. Spoken, the language rivaled any artistic force we’ve yet encountered. Even in written form, it was said, the letters and words activated those regions of the brain that appreciate art, flooding them with electrical pulses and increased blood. The vowels alone could drive a murderer to weep and repent. The consonants encompassed the full range of notes we consider musical, adding layer and texture to the conviction of the vowels.

We certainly do not keep any examples of the Taenish text here. Far too dangerous. Our translator from the campaign, however, created this mixed-media impression of the language. She grew to love the language and did her best to capture it in the furrows of this clay, in the oils dripped into the cracks and the smashed bits of tile and glass forced into the piece. She created a piece of surprising violence and power. She did not return from that campaign, unfortunately. Tragic. Yet her work now anchors the entire gallery, wouldn’t you agree?

There is much more, of course, works from across the galaxy to commemorate our former foes, but you must go, I know. Please remind your superior that our talks resume early tomorrow. I do not like to be delayed.

Daniel Ausema’s fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous publications, including Kaleidotrope, Nemonymous, and Everyday Weirdness.