At first, the announcement was almost inaudible. In order to reach them, it penetrated two kinds of filters. It passed, first, through (what they believed to be) the mountain air, which was clear and cold. It passed, second, through the guts of a quadruped, which were thick and hot.
At their skin, it evoked a faint vibration. Within their bodies (long and thin and intensely simple), it became... a shudder.
In each, at last, it converged at a minute knot of nerves, which served as a kind of brain.
Here - even here - it was difficult to characterize. In it, they sensed the reproof, without being particularly offended by it. The sting (if it could be called so) consisted only of a premonition. Something would be lost, they felt. (They could not, however, articulate whether it would be awful.)
In response to the announcement, a few became ill. Into the intestines of their hosts, they vomited, vaguely. Nutrients (so recently assimilated) burbled and sloshed.
Outside, into the air, these soft noises also passed. Here, they formed something of an invitation. It was composed of a mixture of strands, part curiosity, and part a desire for self-punishment. (Each emotion was atypically complex.)
"I am listening...."
In later years, the announcement became a little louder. (Or, perhaps, merely easier to apprehend.)
Gradually, at the announcement's own urging, they became rather different. In their heads, they acquired a new set of tissues, which somewhat resembled mammalian ears.
Their appetites also shifted. Using modified bodies (with tongues and lips), they pursued new sources of nutrition. Within the outermost flesh of their hosts they congregated, munching upon muscles and skin.
They breathed, too, a bit of the external air. (In their chests, feeble bags (little lungs) rose and fell.) It was not quite fresh, since hair- and sweat- and pus-glands diluted it. It was tinged, nonetheless, with a new kind of awareness. It suggested a continent quite distant from Asia... it suggested, also, a countryside that was flat and non-mountainous-quite close, in fact, to the level of the sea.
From the announcement (using a new kind of brain), they extracted new tones. Their response, in turn, was articulate and measured. It consisted of precise sounds, shaped by a purpose-driven voice box.
"I am still listening..."
After several more years, the announcement was much clearer. Towards it, they swiveled their ears. (Their ears, now, were artful spaces, with crevices and protrusions.)
What they were, now, was a blurred thing. The "host," as such, was just a vestigial shell, consisting of scraps of a crumbly kind of hair, which may (in the end) have simply been dirt. The "parasite," in contrast, now occupied the whole. The flesh upon which it had once been dependent (upon which, later, it had actively feasted) was now its own.
Their eyes (set, now, at the surface) assimilated definite pictures. They saw dark soil and clusters of farm buildings. They saw signs (in English), written in a quaint lettering. (They dreamed, still, occasionally of Tibet (or of the false idea that they retained of it) but it was a secret dream, of which they were ashamed.)
From their torsos, legs protruded. (They were braced by bones.) They were wrapped in muscles, and tipped with hooves.
In response to the announcement, they spoke rather more fiercely. (They understood, now, the profound power of words. Words could shape a body's growth. Words (on a more limited scale) could dictate a body's destination.)
They said: "I am coming."
At first, they moved quite frantically. Towards the sounds, they leaped and trotted. (They squelched through mud. They tore themselves, attempting to wriggle through barbed wire.) Snorting and oinking, they descended into the wild.
As they came closer, the message became considerably louder. At this new volume, they began, physically, to better understand a portion of it. Like a statue. It was not, as they had previously assumed, a metaphor. It was, instead, a literal description.
The realization was visceral. It began at the very softest flesh (the intestine; the lungs). It moved out, slowly, forming a hard web.
As their insides became marble, their motions slowed. In the ground, they left deep marks. They scraped against (or crushed) obstacles, unable to dodge them.
Tiny, essential structures, deep inside of themselves, were impaled or powdered.
To no one in particular, they said: "It hurts."
Slowing required many decades. Prior to becoming motionless, they operated on highly rarefied timescales. (Over the course of an entire winter, one of them might extend a stone hoof a few inches. During the following winter, it might finally touch it to the ground.)
In a meadow, they came (more or less) to rest. Grouped as a herd (stone against grass), they were very beautiful. Their faces (derived from living creatures) were exquisitely detailed. The eyes, half-lidded, were rather elegant. Their snouts, casually up-cast, seemed somewhat tragic.
Over the years, their bodies, sleek and dark, had appealed as a canvas to certain vandals. (Some were defaced with English jargon, which lightly mocked the convictions of other Westerners: "Enslave Tibet" and "Kill the whales.") These additions (which were, in any case, mostly illegible) created a vivid mantle.
In the meadow, the announcement was very loud. To most ears, it resembled a scream. Vandals (and other rare visitors) were forced to wear special headgear, in order to avoid being damaged by it.
At the statues' ears, however, sound was processed very differently. In them, vibratory tissues had mostly ceased to vibrate. What little that was perceived possessed a very different tone. It was much deeper and much dimmer. In their heads, it formed a slow hum: "Dumm... Dumm... Dumm..." It reminded them, in a vague way, of their once-functional hearts.
Against the ears' hard surfaces (stone pits and protrusions) many of the sounds simply bounced back. The echoes, overlapping, converged upon a single whisper. It expressed perfect subservience.
"I am not..."
The circle is a symbol of the eternal. In ecology, it describes behaviors that are sustainable. Within it, the "end" (a term of convenience) is continuous with the "beginning."
For a long time, they behaved as perfect statues. They perceived nothing, and they performed nothing. Their one-time flesh (now stone) was very very hard.
Inside each head, there was a nodule, composed of an exceptional stone. A thin layer (which had once been the skull) surrounded it.
After decades of careful listening, the nodule had been intricately inscribed. Small marks furrowed it. In them, the announcement itself, as an auditory memory, was encoded.
The other parts of the body, by contrast, almost entirely forgot the announcement. What they had learned, during decades of repetition, was, in the silence, mostly obliterated.
The limbs and torsos ached. (They pined, again, after a very different kind of anatomy.) Through their feet and bellies, the harder minerals were leached away. With the new substrate (now malleable), they aggressively re-molded themselves. In their insides, many small segments appeared, which resembled tubes.
Eventually, a great mass of proto-worms filled each interior. They exerted considerable pressure. At the same time, the shell of stone, surrounding them, became increasingly brittle.
When (inevitably) the statues exploded, they released two kinds of products. From each, first, thousands of tiny worms were thrown into the sky. In the air, they tumbled violently, end over end. ("We are tapeworms," they murmured to themselves, half giggling. Their tone was bright and naïve. In a slightly more subdued way (though with at least equal pride), they added: "We are Tibetan.")
In the wreckage of each statue, there appeared, second, a distinctive nodule. Activated by the explosion, it was, now, much more than a memory. From its base, grappling parts emerged, which burrowed into the soil. Its upper half, which remained above the ground, served to re-project the announcement. "ATTENTION..." it said, over and over and over.
Following their violent dispersal, the worms, finally, came to rest. On the ground, they lay for a time, stunned by the journey. As they recovered, they began to wriggle. At first, their movements were tentative. Soon, however, they became coquettish. They flicked, in languorous sequence, their heads, then their tails. (They hoped, in this way, to entice a quadruped to devour them.)
Later, perhaps, in the gut of a host, they might begin to perceive the announcement. The sounds would intrigue them. (It would, however, be many years before they would recognize them as words, and many years more - if at all - that they would recognize them as having been transmitted by their ancestors' bodies.)
In the course of time, if they survived, they might undergo a profound transformation. (With it, they would exchange an invertebrate body plan for a vertebrate one.) In it - if they yet survived - they might begin the journey towards the ancestral meadow, from which the sounds originated. Here, hardening, each would spawn. Their exteriors cracking, they would release a host of new offspring-infant worms, wriggling and wild.
Now, however, the future did not - could not - disturb them. Of the upcoming metamorphosis (of bones, or proper ears), they remained entirely ignorant.
In their dim little brains, they could articulate only affirmatives. For them, there existed no "nothing" and no "not." (They comprehended, in this way, neither insult nor irony.)
They basked (shivering) in the air and soil of their beloved country. They felt significant, and they felt beautiful.
"We are..." they thought.