Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Same As It Ever Was

Arilla sits beneath the fateful tree, a small parcel in her arms and glances skywards. She remembers the day the heavens rearranged and familiar constellations danced with unfamiliar light as their world changed. She remembers the day when the two familiar suns became several and the stars descended from the sky. She remembers Archorid slinking into the shadows beneath the stillness of the water as glistening transports blew the surface dust; their downdraft deafening and forcing spiral swirls. She remembers the scream of engines subsiding to an unknown hum as each metallic monster came to rest on the arid floor of Tamin.

“What are they Mani?” Arilla asked her father.

“I don’t know,” he’d said whilst brushing the child backwards and bidding her stay silent behind a boulder.  “Stay there. Keep quiet.”

Arija Malrik, might be father to the inquisitive Arilla, but to his people, he is a leviathan of a man, a Goliath, a warrior, a leader without equal. He is flanked by tribesmen, armed with little other than pliable Mali spears, dipped in the numbing but non- fatal poison of Ranwol venom; all that is normally required for the hunt.  He’s resisting the urge to flee as these first invaders of a peaceful planet make their presence known.

The Tamin are a passive population, small, close to their environment, and making less impact on their surroundings than the twin suns that beam down upon them. The arrival of pale-skinned bipeds with gloved hands is more quizzical than disturbing. They are gingerly placing samples in airtight containers and occasionally jumping backwards as an agile Wispworm emerges from the soil and takes flight. Their inspection, prodding and poking of the landscape appearing comical, odd; their suits and gleaming equipment, strange, and yet fascinating.  The appearance of what would soon be known as colonists raises curiosity rather than fear.

By now, others from the tribe have been aroused from afternoon slumber as the hiss of teleporters and swarms of silver-suited humans  arouse curiosity as they begin probing the soil, and frown while holding metallic objects in the air.  They busy themselves erecting barriers around the now-grounded ‘stars’ prodding antennae into the red soil, establishing what would soon become known as killing sticks to fend off would-be aggressors.  Except here, there are none.  Here, there is nothing to fear save fear itself, and the Archorid.

So began the invasion. Men the Tamin tribes would come to know, came from earth and would now occupy their haven. The foreigners had deemed the planet Terra Nullius until first contact with what they considered to be, primitive inhabitants,  the  aborigines of Tamin. 

The first fleet was small, just 7 galleons protected by half a dozen fighter escorts.  The galleons brought intrepid engineers, tradespeople, scientists and breeding couples. Also, they brought a small stock of strange animals and birds for food and company. Two craft had not stayed more than a few months, returning to the stars with samples of vegetation, bovinoids and ruminants. The rest had remained; erected agri-pods and habi-tents, gleaning local knowledge from the Tamin by trading trinkets. They were to be the first humanoid settlers on a small brown planet so far from, yet so similar to their own.

At first there had been skirmishes as Marik’s tribes were warned from their settlements and wondering grounds  to make way for irrigation and mining.  Newcomers fenced enclosures for strange pets and created habitats so alien compared with the indigenous bush retreats. But after time, the invaders realised the innocuousness of the Tamins and allowed them to integrate. They even became useful when imparting their indigenous knowledge. Some were in the employ of settlers as domestic help or labourers. Others kept to themselves and maintained the old ways. Tamin superstitions were easily tolerated, as long as the humanoids could perform their experiments unhindered and choose supplicants among the natives to do their bidding. There’s much to be done in a new world.

The Tamin also benefitted from their visitors.  They exchanged local knowledge and sated their curiosity for what lies beyond the heavens. Humans cure the itch on their skin, offer them chickens, stock their pools with fish, and teach them to read. They provide doctors for their pains and school for those who wish to learn.

This new breed of travellers has learned from their mistakes and is intent on peaceful coexistence. It seems their ancestors had learned little from the subjugation of their own indigenous people.  Wars had been endemic and their third worlds had given way to fourth and fifth as the planet began to starve.

Attempts to thwart global warming by injecting massive amounts of sulphur into the atmosphere had failed. Deflection of life-draining heat from their tiny star through the immersion of trillions of mirror shards in the upper atmosphere, resulted in little more than space junk, heating up the surface and forcing exploration into the heavens. The only recourse for what had become the worst virus on the planet – humans – was to create an ark, and reach for the stars.

With their technology, the humanoids brought their beliefs and moral code. The powers that be, permitting the inclusion of Clerics, intending to provide comfort to new settlers; sanctify their marriages, baptise their children and send their dead to meet their maker.

But Tamins have their own religion, one that binds them hard and fast to the land and all upon it.  Unlike the invader’s invisible God, theirs is real, tangible and respected:  A living omnipotent God.

The most revered creation tale is that of their spiritual father, benefactor, judge, juror and executioner - Archorid.

Legend has it that Tamin was created after a fiery battle between two suns. The physical conflict between them so passionate, so violent that it produced a shower of stars that formed a raging torrent, spilling landward and filling the craters of a barren asteroid. The stars liquidised on impact and streamed into each indent, leaving sweet and sparkling freshwater pools.  The duelling stars were confused when looking down upon the many newly created waterholes. Their own unrecognised reflections danced frenetically upon their fluid surface.  Thinking the reflections were a great army, gathering to keep the peace, the suns abated and sent Archorid to abide within the watery depths to keep the perceived enemy at bay; Archorid, the guardian and taker of life, the protector of the  pools, a terrible being that dwells in the sparse but deep waterholes on Tamin. The ruler of all things; benevolent by day, a force to be feared and respected by night. The giver of life and the harbinger of mortality.

No humanoid will approach the pools, day or night. Not since Ray Portland and his new wife decided a moonlight dip might cool their skin and ignite their passion.  He thought she was playing the fool when she submerged and he felt her hand against his thigh. Archorid appeased his appetite as stealthily as he’d slid beneath the surface, punishing young lovers for their invasion. Only Arilla had seen the heavens reflected in the water dance, as they had the night the two suns fought. Only Arilla saw the surface punctuated by scales and spikes of a creature beyond description as two human lives were dispatched swiftly, deftly, silently, by the great one.

The Tams have no fear of the pools as long as their guardian suns are bright. They bathe and play within the sacred and cooling waters.  As evening draws, they pay tribute to Archorid to appease his appetite.   No longer are the dead and dying offered up as sacrifice, a concession to the newcomers made many years ago. Archorid’s appetite is now sated by straying animals or domestic poultry.  Some settlers had tried to rid the settlement of Archorid, spearing his hulking form. Yet he’d re-appear…another pool…another night, when the heaven rearranged itself upon the Doppler waters, or one of the old Protectors made an illegal offering; his scaled and glistening form barely visible before jaws emerge, hungry and in need of sustenance. 

The pools are the playground of Tamin youth, a proving ground for strength.  Archorid ignores their raucous play, he's no match for so many midday revellers with their rough-house splashing and flailing limbs. He'll rest upon the bank, jaws agape but not ready to snap. This predator stills his soul until night, while prey plays devil-may-care upon a swinging rope.

The sky reflects  on the limpid pool, only the tiny ripples rearranging the heavens dance upon its surface. Their aquatic park and playground an oasis, tree-lined and lush. A sacred place avoided by outlanders, a place to stem the arid heat and avoid punishing radiation.

Tamin boys brew up a maelstrom as they plunge and play, their laughter answering back from mighty layered cliffs above, before laying sprawled on moistened rocks as quiet envelopes.

Sliding gracefully along the outstretched limb, a native arboreal commando shimmys, with the dexterity and grace of a tree-borne predator. Sleek and confident, glistening droplets on his cocoa skin, soaked dreadlocks drip into the now-placid pool below.  He lowers his body onto the snaking rope and winds adolescent limbs around its spiral. Once in place, he begins to swing. His body becomes a pendulum, each arc gaining momentum as he's encouraged by his fan club's chants, emanating from below. Swinging free and strong, the arc is right . . then back, release.

His world moves in still frame, onlookers  gasp in awe, as he draws knees up to his chest, tucked beneath his chin made small  by a beaming smile, prehensile tail wrapped tight around his folded knees. White row upon white, flash luminary against his charcoal face. Jewels of moisture are released, twinkling in his wake as he begins his descent. His fall commences, contrived, controlled and practised. He has no fear as he makes contact. A human meteor making waterfall. An impermanent and liquid crater marks his landing and closes rapidly over his sun-bleached hair leaving circles to expand, then fade to calm.

He doesn't surface. Only moments pass before it's clear something's awry. Friends scramble splash and dive. His name is called, screamed, cried until finally he is retrieved, lungs soaked, limbs limp, the rag doll youth is dragged onto the bank, motionless but alive. Archorid casts an eye, jaws gaping but remains motionless.

Arilla hears the call. Her grandson, bent and broken and despite her instincts she seeks the comfort of medicine offered by humans.

Tears no longer fall from his glazed eyes, saline and Vaseline emulate their formation.  Respirators rasp, drowning out his pleas as he slips in and out of consciousness. He feels no pain she knows but he also feels nothing. It is this she cannot bear. Nothing below the neck. No urge to urinate or defecate, no pain, no pleasure. No childhood pleasure, no diving, no racing  with the wind; unable to embrace. This is no life. 

She weeps and sings a funeral song but he shows no recognition. Her tears fall where he has none as she leans across his tiny shape, hand on his shallow chest and turns off the respirator. He sighs two sighs and passes. There's no time to waste. There will be no Cleric’s burial for her once playful boy.

The ward is all but empty, a single human at the desk. An orderly patrols the corridors with the disinterest of Archorid in daylight. Aware that no alarm will sound, just a console light ignored by the distracted nurse, she knows what must be done.

She enfolds the inert corpse and lifts him from the bed. He has no weight or  substance and even with her advanced age he is no burden to hold. She navigates the cliffside muru dusty trail and slips quietly along the pool’s still edge.

The water is still and turquoise, darkening with the fading light.  No children frolic here at evening as Archorid begins to rouse, watching, waiting, fixed with jaws now closed. Arilla lays the child beneath the killing tree. This is now his sacred place where his spirit can be free to swing and sway.  This is where his life began, this is where it will continue. This is where they'll share their souls since all things are connected.

Cradling the lifeless child, Grandma Arilla sings a funeral song, her wails echoing along the pool's whispering escarpment. Archorid opens an eye.

That fleeting light between day and night encroaches and red eyes begin to shimmer, she waits, silent and becalmed, holding a parcel beneath the bough, waiting for Archorid to come.

The reflection of four moons once again rearrange the heavens upon a sacred pool as Archorid slides silently into the water, arching his body, flexing his scales and claims two souls; as it has always been, and as it ever will.


 Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Rearranging The Heavens"

5 comments:

  1. Aw, sad ending. I liked the beginning a lot, but I got a little confused at toward the end. The Tamin have tails?

    Lots of typos, but I'm chalking them up to three pins and a cast. :-)

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  2. Some beautifully written discriptions.
    The time line is a bit confusing ... telescoped in some places, stretched in others. But perhaps it's because; Same as it Ever Was.

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  4. This isn't great yet, but it easily can be. You have no idea how big my smile was when I read this. Chalk one up for sci-fi!

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  5. a real surprise, reading this. You can write sci-fi as well as anybody, and in your great descriptive style. Could use a rewrite - a bit confused in parts - otherwise you're back on track!

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