|Public Domain Science Fiction Writer||
The Parables of Hexoto
Today was just typical. Awakened by the alarm at the usual time, lazily he washed and put on the clothes that had been left out neatly on his bed. Strolling over to the kitchen he began to fully feel the effects of yet another new day. On the table ready prepared was his breakfast - fruit juice, coffee, toast and cheese. He ate nothing spectacular. Neither did he like having a large breakfast nor could he stomach just having a pill at that time of morning; a bit healthy but it could so easily be much better. Slow digestion of his meal was part of the recovery from the trials of night as he let the fleeting thought of healthy improvement pass by. As he finished eating the robot asked if he wanted more, declining he decided it was time to work. |
Dragging himself over to the study he turned on the audio-visual and keyed in his details:-
Mandar Collector 06031241C
Beginning his day as usual with a search of the archives (the memory banks of the computer) for the new meta-terms he had decided on, he remembered back to that morning just about a year ago. He had been keying in the required data as usual when instead of the usual formal computer reply he saw an image of the Controller. Nervously he immediately perked up his attention even though the Controller couldn't see him, and when ready pressed the image enable key together with interaction mode.
"Good morning Collector Mandar," greeted the Controller adequately. Automatically Mandar replied his greeting, but the Controller gave him no time and continued succinctly "In view of the decreasing number of new works being discovered, it has been decided that your work will now involve the cataloguing of existing recorded myths and legends under type, as well as title and author's name where appropriate. You will use your discretion as to the meaning of type, and will incorporate this meaning into the archives. Good day, Collector Mandar." The image on the screen went blank immediately, as did his mind. His whole future work routine would now be completely disrupted from a 2-minute screenchat in which he had not been allowed to speak. "Type" - he had no idea what that meant, and didn't know where to begin.
Apart from the immediate disarray the chat had caused, he decided that no-one, including the Controller, was really bothered about the classification by type, and he had enjoyed deriving his own system. In some cases he had found that number played an important role in stories, for example in early myths there was the duality of good and evil - God and the Devil, the holy trinity, 12 apostles and the 12 Gods of Olympus. In other cases he had found similarities in the type of conflict, good and evil, black and white, order and chaos, dynamic and static, and life and death. After deliberation over time he had developed a dual classification involving number and conflict-type.
Back to the present his work had been progressing well until he came to two stories he wanted to classify as the same. The first was Hexoto of the Six Limbs - an ancient Polynesian myth, and "First Time Right" - an anonymous science-fiction novella of the late twentieth century. Originally his classification was "Type - 6, Life", but he revised that to "Type - 6, Dynamic" Maybe he would invent a new category for these two works, putting aside his dilemma it remained "The Parables of Hexoto".
The First Parable - Hexoto of the Six Limbs
In a valley between the mountains of Kah and Ketoc on the Polynesian isle of Marquata is the village of Thra-Loma, a small but happy village skilled in hunting - but little else. For the people of Thra-Loma living in the Valley of the Wild Boar this valley was so elemental that all who lived there could only be warriors (and elders - old warriors). Thra-Loma eked out such a bare existence that sadly there were no craftsmen, and even the High Priest spent most of his time hunting. But although they led a dangerous life they were happy ad enjoyed the simple pleasures. Particularly their occasional feasting was famous, mainly because when they did celebrate they were famous for their generosity. One such celebration was the marriage of Magra and Teluna, and this feast surpassed all others because Magra was the son of the chief of the Ja-Ketoc, a wealthy people from the nearby mountain. But for all its promise the feast turned into a catastrophe. |
And the culprit was the death God, Uron. He arrived during the wedding feast and was completely taken with the delightful Teluna. There she stood resplendent in her life-giving garments, those always worn when embarking on this fruitful journey of marriage. She was smiling, Teluna the Innocent - not in body for this was not the custom, but in spirit she had retained the qualities of childhood known as maturity. For the community there was much rejoicing for such as she could not help but produce future treasures for their great tribe. But in stepped Uron the death God.
Not spectacularly for that was not always Uron's style, but simply through the dying embers of the wedding fire. The fire roared for the final time and although one elder raised an eyebrow at this he eventually ignored it - like many occurrences ignored in old age. By the wedding fire stood Magra the groom, a strong but simple warrior, son of the great Kemonan, this was a marriage of courtesy and fruit yet within was the potential for more - the fulfilment of love. But all was unimportant as this night belonged to the lust of Uron. Surveying the scene Uron laughed without pity at the helpless couple. Then lustfully he pounced jolting Magra as His spirit entered powerfully leaving Magra trapped deep within his own body. Teluna shivered as an icy chill ran down her back, but when she turned around to her betrothed Uron-Magra simply smiled. Not realising , she squeezed his arm, and the libido gave him the heat to recompense. The ceremony over they repaired to the marriage room behind the shrine where amidst the ardour and splendour was conceived Teluna's child.
Uron departed leaving a bemused Magra awake in his marriage bed. "Such a night of passion will produce a real child of Death," laughed the God scornfully, and with thoughts of deep satisfaction an amusement he sought his Quake. He would return to Thra-Loma on the birth-date of his child, he thought wistfully.
In time Magra had put his amnesia and befuddled darkness down to the festivities, and was now greatly anticipating the birth of his own child. Teluna, although experiencing great difficulty in pregnancy, took the pain in her innocent stride until the day of birth. The village again was celebrating for not only had their union been fruitful, but away from his father's continual advice Magra had become wise - definitely an asset to the tribe. At the moment of birth Uron returned, not unobtrusively this time, but with the usual embellishments of the Death God - the spouting volcano, the hurricane gusts, and multi-coloured flashes from the dying embers which gave him earthly entry. The villagers collapsed to the ground and all prayed to the God, Kethon.
But they were too late, for Kethon was only able to dismiss Uron after the Death God had viewed his work. And was he pleased, for in that one despicable act of lust Uron had taken the death of Teluna and produced the mutant life of a six-limbed child. Although handsome of face few would look past the extra arms, the six-digited appendages .... and its lack of sex. So great was the displeasure of the village they immediately killed the impure Magra, only later realising that he had been possessed by Uron's spirit. Next they were going to sacrifice the child to Kethon, both as a slight to Uron, and as thanks to Kethon for his aid. But the God Kethon stopped them and said "If you choose to do me favour, then place the child, whom I name Hexoto, in the depths of the cave near the summit of the fire-mountain, Ko-Rellon. Six warriors must carry the child to this cave, but afterwards none may ever return. Except one! And for him the journey will be arduous, for all others trying to enter the cave will mean death."
And ignoring all questions Kethon disappeared amidst the swelling tides of the Marquatan Sea. He spoke to the Death God in his mind, "Uron you may have taken two lives for Hexoto, but if the humans know how to use him they will gain more life than any you have taken away." Leaving this poignant thought behind He sailed with the sea ensuring that Hexoto's protected cave would have the food required to grow the blighted human.
Many years later, after Hexoto had almost become an unspoken myth forgotten in time, there appeared a number of deaths among the warriors of Thra-Loma. Yet these weren't the normal deaths of the hunt, but more sinister, for the marks of death were not those of living beasts. The warriors now hunted in great fear; fear of death in the course of a hunt they knew, but this unknown so occupied their minds that they made very few kills and food for the village steadily dwindled. The Winter stocks were almost used and yet it was only late Autumn. The chief called a meeting of the Elders and the Warriors. He chastised the warriors but so great was their fear that this merely irritated them.
Then one of the Elders spoke to the chief "Your words don't strike home with the same power as the claws of the unknown. Rather than discussing the failing hunt we must find and destroy this fearsome beast."
"But how do we know where to look?" asked the Head of the Warriors.
"You must hunt in the forests beneath the fire-mountain," replied the Elder, stunning those present into silence. This came as a complete surprise to the meeting as no-one ever spoke of the forests beneath the caves of the fire-mountain since the Lord Kethon had sent Hexoto there. In fact the Elders had prohibited them as hunting grounds.
"Never," shouted the warriors in unison, their craft made them far more superstitious than the elders of their village.
"You must," answered this brazen elder, once the warriors had quietened; words were his trade and taboos merely social necessities. "All other areas have been searched except these forests - and of course the holy mountain of Ko-Rellon itself." At the mention of this name there was yet another fearful gasp. "There," he dared to point at Ko-Rellon "must be the lair of the beast. Or the beast could even be .... Hexoto himself."
At the mention of Hexoto one of the warriors fired by the fear born of deep-rooted superstition rose spear in hand poised to be thrown at this irreverent elder.
Then suddenly a deafening roar cannoned around the village and there, to the rear of the gathering, floated the most hideous creature they had ever seen. Floating forward with teeth gnashing and its dragon-like tail threshing aside flailing warriors whilst its pointed claws knifed others to their death, this monster created havoc as its mighty arms hurled further unfortunates to the outskirts of the village. One warrior stood aloft and with his utmost effort threw his spear deep into the right eye of the creature. Yet at the moment of expected impact the spear just carried on flying through its head landing harmlessly a short distance away. The creature snarled and with contempt - if this is a word that can be used of mythical beasts - walked back to its lair, towards the fire-mountain. By this time the villagers were prostrated on the ground vainly calling for their protector, Kethon, yet one man stood up alone in the centre of the village. In a trance he shouted "Quiet" eerily, and they all listened for this was the High Priest of the Lord Kethon.
"Find Hexoto," he commanded, and still in the trance he collapsed to the ground.
The chief again called the Elders and Warriors to him. "We must send a band of warriors to the cave of Hexoto as our Lord and Protector has decreed." Thus he interpreted the actions of the High Priest.
"But we can't for He said only one must go," said one elder remembering the words Kethon had spoken so many years ago.
"But one man alone will not survive the forests or the fire-mountain," said the Head warrior fatefully.
Again there was quiet at the gathering because the warriors were too afraid to speak as they were all gripped by their life-long superstitions. Then up spoke Ilonis, a young blond warrior. Ilonis was newly of age not yet old enough to have properly understood the mystery of Hexoto. "I will find the cave of Hexoto," he shouted defiantly. Looking around he saw all the warriors staring despairingly at him, shaking their heads hopelessly at the novice. But the good sense of the chief had to give way to necessity, and as there were no other offers he sent Ilonis to Ko-Rellon. Yet in his heart he felt sadness for the loss of one so young because no-one ever entered the forests of the fire-mountain, and returned alive. And that was before the existence of this fiercesome creature they had named Pta.
As Ilonis strode magnificently towards the fire-mountain he began thinking of his reckless actions. Until now he had been known as cautious but competent. This had certainly changed, and his actions warranted the name, Ilonis the Foolhardy; it was so unlike him to volunteer for the smallest hunt let alone this awe-inspiring mission impossible. The more he thought the deeper his fear took roots and his regrets increased. He even thought of returning to the camp but such dishonour would only ostracise him. His only escape was success - or death!
But Ilonis's quest was not the impossibility he first thought. Unbeknownst to Ilonis, in his volunteering to find the cave of Hexoto he had invoked a spell cast by Lord Kethon. Amongst others this spell rendered him invisible to all the creatures of the death God, Uron, and Pta was one such creation. Had Ilonis known this his fear would have been unchanged, his fear of death far outweighed any faith in spells. Because of the spell his quest amounted to little more than a warrior on a trek to the fire-mountain, yet in itself this was no mean task.
Unfortunately Ilonis knew none of this so he walked towards the fire-mountain his heart heavy with fear of both Pta and Ko-Rellon. He sighed completely enwrapped in his own self-pity when suddenly from the bushes charged an enormous wild boar. Almost too late Ilonis flung himself to one side barely escaping the boar's tusks. Turning, spear at the ready, he faced the beast's next charge, but the animal careered on through the bushes. It was only then that Ilonis realised the beast was not charging, but fleeing.
The boar had awakened Ilonis from his semi-somnambulate state, and suddenly it dawned on him he was now in the forests of the fire-mountain. In his self-pitying fear he had walked many miles from the village; and luckily he was still unscathed. He cursed his carelessness and regained alertness, his warrior-mind attuned to the slightest sound amiss in the forest. He heard a scurrying growing louder and louder, and from the direction he was heading he saw many animals fleeing. It was only then he remembered the fleeing boar, what could possibly frighten all these creatures?
He climbed a tree to get a better view of the cause of the flights. All he saw was a shimmering deeper in the forest but it was not heat, and it just served to enhance his fear. He altered his course slightly to try to by-pass this strange hue but he couldn't divert too much from his path. Like all the warriors of the tribe his sense of direction gave him the whereabouts of his home village, but this was of no use in trying to follow the path to Hexoto's cave. Suddenly he came upon a clearing and gasped, for there not more than 50 paces away stood the monster Pta. Yet at a further glance he was not standing, he was moving. Not only moving, but running - directly towards Ilonis. No wonder the animals were fleeing, came a fleeting thought, this beast was awesome. He remembered the devastation the creature had caused in the village. Still perfunctorily he readied his spear - vainly for he knew it would not help against this mammoth. He prepared to defend himself and just as he was going to strike the creature it veered and continued on through the forest. That was lucky, he thought, but he knew it was more than that because the creature had been gazing at him, right into his eyes. He shivered because this was the second time he had been ignored, thankful though he was. He wondered whether his body had lost substance since entering the forest, and if there had been a stream he would have mirrored himself to see if he was more than a wraith.
He continued shakily on his journey - the same path Pta had just emerged from. Again he was fortunate for Pta had now frightened away the animals of the forest. All Ilonis had to do was find Hexoto's cave - but how?
Walking along the path he relaxed in the knowledge that the dangers of the forest had fled the fiercesome Pta. Gradually the path began to ascend Ko-Rellon, and as the trees began to disappear he noticed the path zigzagged to the summit of the fire-mountain. Was this his chosen route? He continued to stare at the beautiful mountain with swathes of forest giving way to less dense growth finally yielding a dark brown igneous layer which must have been formed by recent eruptions of the fire demon, Ko-Rell. As he stared there was a strange feeling, almost an emanation, coming from an unusual are of land to the right of the path near the summit. This land appeared like a patch of lower forests transported higher. He was irretrievably drawn there and although he had no real choice he began to search this oddity of a grove. As he approached he found it more alive than anywhere else on the mountain, it seemed that Pta had not frightened creatures away from this wood. And then a worse thought, if the creatures had not fled from here how many had actually sought refuge amongst these trees?
Entering the wood he was tense and scared, but instinctively his warrior awareness was active to any evil or hostile attack. Once inside the wood however, he felt a strange feeling of calm spread over his whole body; there was no danger. Nearby he saw a wild boar, and prepared his spear; the animal just continued walking. There recurred his wraith-fear, but then he saw a deer near the boar and presumed she would have been attacked as she was easier prey. Yet the boar ignored both of them, so Ilonis continued with greater confidence. Gradually he got the impression that this emanation of calm came from deeper within the wood, so forgetting his mission - he knew Hexoto had not been left in a woodland cave - he searched for this emanation deeper in the wood.
Then suddenly the trees cleared and there was an empty glade in front of him, and at the far end was a huge cave with a freshly-lit fire burning at the entrance. He thought of the many warriors exiled by the Elders of Thra-Loma, and assumed this habitation belonged to one of them. He shouted a courtly greeting of friendship amongst the warrior caste, there was no reply. Then a general greeting, still nothing. Now frightened his fear then led to anger, and he strode over to the cave prepared to force entry. He reached the fire and using its light he stared deep within the cave, and then stood back quivering. For there before him stood an eight foot monster with six limbs. He continued to stand there shaking, then fighting back his fear he stared again at the creature. It didn't seem so frightening, apart from his extra appendages it looked quite human. It was only then that he realised he had found the cave of Hexoto.
His teeth chattering he mumbled with as much bravado as he could muster "I am Ilonis from the tribe of the Valley of the Wild Boar. I seek Hexoto, son of Magra and Teluna (he purposefully didn't say Uron), to save my village Thra-Loma from the dreadful Pta."
"Be not afraid, Ilonis the Fair, I will not attack you," replied the deep friendly voice of Hexoto. "No-one is attacked in my wood," he added "freedom from hunger is one of Lord Kethon's gifts to me."
He paused. "I am indeed Hexoto, son of Uron and Teluna," he looked aglance and smiled at Ilonis "you may use the Death God's name here with safety. That same Hexoto," he continued looking pointedly at Ilonis "who was exiled to this cave by the Elders of your village. No, by the village itself."
At this bitter note Ilonis began muttering and stumbling with fear, but after a moment Hexoto put him at his ease continuing in a friendly voice "What is this Pta you are talking of? I know nothing of such a creature, he never enters this wood."
"Pta is the most terrifying creature I have ever seen. He has a dragon-like tail, and pointed claws as long as knives. He walks on four legs yet is taller than any other living creature. But when he stands on two he is so tall it's as if his gnashing jaws would consume the very clouds above. His mighty arms can pick up a man and hurl him from one end of the village to the other," replied Ilonis, his frenzied description producing a sweat of fear on his brow. "His teeth can bite the head of a man clean from his body, and ...."
"That creature has no earthly origin," interrupted Hexoto calmly "I think the work of my father has manifested itself again on our little island of Marquata. It also explains why I have never seen this creature, for no being born of the death God could ever enter a realm of Kethon.
"So young Ilonis you have freed me from this idyllic prison," Hexoto smiled ironically at the young warrior "Now I must fulfil that purpose for which the gracious Kethon has put me here. Come," he motioned to the warrior "we depart for your village."
As they left the cave a great sadness befell, and the creatures all stood and watched as Kethon's spell departed with Hexoto. Gradually would return the rigours of survival common to all animals except those who had lived in this enchanted forest. Sadly many would not now be able to cope.
"I too will adopt a cloak of invisibility to the creatures of the Dead until we reach your village," muttered Hexoto half to himself.
"I don't understand you," answered Ilonis haltingly.
"You truly are a blind instrument of Fate, fair Ilonis," laughed Hexoto. "About you is a cloak which makes you invisible to all creatures not of this world. With my dual vision I can see all creatures of Marquata yet you were invisible to me in the world of Kethon. How strange are the spells of the Mighty Kethon, young warrior."
"But also you know nothing of the spell of my cave. When it had no effect on you I thought it was your strength of purpose, in truth it was simply ignorance," he smiled to himself "You are the first creature to have entered my cave alive that Kethon did not mean for my nourishment. Truly you are a warrior in the legion of Fate, for I am sure you would have shown greater fear if you had known," chided Hexoto, again beaming a broad smile.
"I would still have entered your cave because that was my quest," he replied forthrightly, but his words were those of bravado. Hexoto roared with laughter at the stout-hearted human, maybe his words were tinged with truth as well.
As they walked Hexoto became very pensive, and Ilonis also began to wonder how Hexoto, although impressive, could possibly overcome Pta. So deep were their ponderings that they had descended the fire-mountain in no time at all. Because Hexoto was so deep in thought Ilonis became frightened that they would be attacked by creatures of the forest. He was readying his spear when Hexoto put one of his arms on Ilonis' shoulder. "That will not be necessary," Hexoto smiled warmly "no beast will attack me for I am protected by the Great Lord Kethon. And so are you while you are with me," he added reassuringly.
They continued until they were not far from the village when Hexoto stopped in his tracks. "It is time for us to part, fair warrior," announced Hexoto "you will continue in safety to the village and advise the elders of the following:- "Hexoto has come to destroy Pta and never again will any creature of Uron attack a village on Marquata" "Deliver this message," continued Hexoto "Farewell young Ilonis, warrior of Fate," and with that final remark Hexoto ran off in search of this awesome Pta.
Ilonis entered the village and there was such rejoicing, but when they noticed he was alone they became saddened. Despite their original lack of faith in Ilonis' quest they had stull clung to a vain hope deep in their hearts that he would return with Hexoto and so end their troubles. Now hat hope had been dashed.
Then Ilonis announced "I have returned with Hexoto, and he has vowed to destroy Pta." The villagers ran round him cheering, and then they chaired their hero to the fire where, sat next to the chief, Ilonis recounted his tale. He described in detail his journey through the forests beneath Ko-Rellon, how he had escaped Pta through his cloak of invisibility, and how he had finally reached Hexoto's wood. He talked of his brave encounter with Hexoto, for the story grew in the telling, of his eventual return and Hexoto's enigmatic parting words.
As he finished there was a flash of lightning in the distance, and they heard a long deafening death cry. Then the High Priest of Kethon, who had been listening to the warrior's tale, stood and espoused in his most affected and exalted religious voice "Pta is dead, Hexoto has killed him". At this the village all cheered Ilonis, and there followed great feasting. For many a long year they told of the quest of Ilonis the Fair, and his encounter with Hexoto of the Six Limbs. But none knew the real end for they weren't present when Hexoto finally vanquished the awesome Pta, creature of the Dead.
After Hexoto left Ilonis he headed back towards the fire-mountain. On his way to the village he had sensed the creature Pta, but he could not determine exactly where the creature held his lair. But how could he possibly sense a creature who was not of his realm? And then he understood. Sheltered in his wood, he had only been aware of creatures of Kethon, but now that his sphere had widened he was also in contact with creatures of the other realm - Death. For Hexoto of the Six Limbs was a hybrid - a creature of Life and Death. Born of the loins of the Death God, Uron, gave him access to the realm of Death, but once he had been aided by the Lord Kethon he had gained entrance to Life's realm as well. Realising this Hexoto's purpose was now to fully establish Lord Kethon's rule on Marquata by destroying all of Uron's creatures. With the understanding of his dual nature he would now be able to find Pta's lair.
Returning to the spot where he first felt uneasy, he found traces of the creature. He knew that Pta's lair lay to the right of the path, East he thought, and not many miles distant. On his way he fashioned a spear of oak, and using an incantation handed down to him by Lord Kethon himself, and known only by a few High Priestshe gave the oaken spear power beyond the needs of any weapon - except this, the spear that would destroy Pta. Calling upon his Lord Kethon for strength he strode forcefully towards Pta's lair.
Once in front of the creature's cave he called "Come outside Pta, hideous creature of the Dark. Prepare to meet Uron, your creator and master."
From deep within the cave he heard a large grunt, he had wakened the creature from slumber. Slowly it crawled towards the cave entrance annoyed at the disturbance. If it was capable of thought its attitude would have been patronising, what weak and feeble creature dared to wake him. But such beasts possessed strength, not a thinking mind, and this was Hexoto's leverage.
As he reached his cave entrance Pta was puzzled at Hexoto's appearance. Unlike all the other humans this one was very strange. Its shape was different, but this was no problem for he was stronger and larger. But he felt power from this human, a substance much greater than any he had ever encountered. Not only was it greater but it felt equal to his own, and yet there was a part he did not recognise and the power of this was beyond his own. All this passed not as conscious thought but as a gradual realisation of fear on the part of the enormous beast.
Despite fear's warning the stupid beast instinctively attacked. Wary of the creature's tail Hexoto dodged dancing nimbly from limb to limb wearying the beast. Tiring, the beast's speed slowed, and this gave Hexoto his chance. He readied his spear.
Pta obviously unused to such a powerful opponent began to panic, and its attacks became more frequent but less dangerous. Making its last vain attack, the creature, snarling with his mouth huge and wide, made a lunge for Hexoto. Dodging, Hexoto instantly hurled his spear into the monster's gaping jaws. Unlike other human spears this one did not pass through the creature, the incantation gave it substance in the realm of this creature. The spear went inside the gaping chasm of the creature's mouth lodging itself in the back of its neck with the shaft jutting out through its teeth. At first the beast didn't notice the spear - often had these humans hurled twigs at him to no avail. But this one. He began to feel another affect of Hexoto's incantation as it felt like a fire. The fire started in his neck slowly moving inside as if burning away its own innards. Then the spear appeared to explode, and the force of the explosion somehow directed its force downwards into the body of the enormous beast. Within the body of this creature of Death there developed a battle between the essences of Kethon and Uron, and Hexoto watched with growing triumph as the creature's pained expression grew and grew. Then Hexoto had to flee as Pta began careering around the clearing crashing into fallen trees and bushes, even into the walls of his own cave, as gradually the power of Kethon was victorious over his enemy, Death. With a mighty roar it gave vent to its death fury, and just as it was keeling over the creature was catapulted into the air by a mighty explosive force. Hexoto continued to watch as, rising, the creature disappeared off into the distance, then there was a final flash of lightning as the creature died, its death force returning depleted to its master, the death God Uron.
Resting a while Hexoto regained his composure, and once recovered he left the clearing. As he wandered he began to think of his dual nature, his horrific birthright from his father, the Death God, and the strength given him by the great Lord Kethon. Whilst walking he reached an important decision. His dual nature was the only important aspect in his life, his earthly body was only an encumbrance. Leaving his deformed carcass his spirit rose, and he began wandering the mountains and valleys of Marquata conscious of his role as protector of this beautiful island from the creatures of death.
As he wandered all about became calmer. The animals of the streams and forests weren't so drawn to the two extremes of Life and Death now that Hexoto had undertaken his task of mediation in his embodiment as fusion of Light and Dark.
Many years later two Elders were sat chatting by the camp-fire.
"There are strange anomalies about the legend of Hexoto," muttered the first, Redun.
"How do you mean?" asked the other, Idens, surprised at a reference to this long-forgotten creature.
"Firstly this Hexoto is born from the loins of the death God, Uron, then changes to a creature of Life and comes back to destroy Pta, beast of Death," mused Redun.
"Yes but these are the strange ways of Gods, ways they manifest their divine struggle," replied Idens faithful to his tradition.
"But since then how calm the village has been. The warriors are not nervous, there aren't tribal wars any more. There has been a great Change on the island, and new Life has begun," said Redun.
"Yes, Hexoto seems to have embodied that Change as it all happened from when he disappeared," completed Idens. They both stopped and silence reigned as they were both thinking of the import of their words.
Far away their conversation was overheard, and the Joker said to himself, "Now we wait for the Stasis which will lead us back to Death." He laughed aloud at his irony, but no-one heard - no-one ever heard him.
The Second Parable - First Time Right
Lazing on his back lawn Orville stared at the peace and contentment of a well-kept sedate garden. Looking around at how beautiful this appeared, he thought this is what I've always wanted. Contentment, a chance to write, perfect calm all around, yet he continually felt dissatisfied. He knew part of the reason was the time of day. Michelle would just have heard the last bell, and escaping the last mothering request she would be climbing into her car to leave the turmoil of the school. She enjoyed the work but he knew it got her down; of course she'd never say.
Dissatisfaction and guilt seemed to go hand-in-hand, he thought, I ought to get up and at least try to write. But it was too easy just to lay there, apathy usually won. Anyway they would be returning soon. His writing friends envied the silence of his country haven; none of their children could get nursery places - David only had his because he was adopted.
Yet Orville still didn't write enough. He knew it was irresponsible but then no one was going to complain - especially himself. So why did his doubts still remain?
For many years in his writing, Orville dreamed he was the hero - he had managed to write a token amount. Always he single-handedly defeated the enemy, whether society, criminals, or even at one stage aliens, but secretly he felt he hadn't the strength to face anything alone. Since he had begun thinking as a child he had become aware of the nuclear threat. He had read many books on the catastrophe at Hiroshima, and on the dangers of nuclear fallout. Naturally enough he knew little of what happened behind the Iron Curtain - sometimes he wondered how much more dangerous was the fear based on collective ignorance than any actual threat itself. Anyway he did know more of dangers present in the West.
Many years ago he had seen a documentary on the American early-warning system, how it was possible in the case of failure of communication between those in authority and the lieutenant in the bunker, for that Lieutenant to start a deadly ultimate Third World War. He did not feel that a backwoods lieutenant, who had joined up because an Audie Murphy film had made him feel patriotic, was a person to whom he, Orville, could trust his life - let alone the life of humanity. He also knew of other instances in which the faults of the American early-warning system were shown up. For instance the fact that a flock of pigeons shaped as a rocket had been considered by the computer's radar to be the first strike, and the computer had recommended retaliatory action. This bug(!) had been rectified by the computer programmers, but were there other bugs they were unaware of?
He had also spoken to many computer programmers about this subject, and they were the ones most pessimistic. His friend, Harley Jackson, had explained to him once how a computer programme was written. As you can imagine a computer programme as large as the American warning system cannot be written by one person. So the top programmer or system analyst splits the programme up into specific areas or "modules" which other programmers can then write. These programmers write and "test" their modules so that each module does what it is supposed to do. To "test" a module each programmer invents as many possible situations he thinks would arise, and then sees whether his module gives him the correct results. Of course being human he cannot think of every possible situation. If his results are almost right he is not going to quibble - he doesn't do the job because he saw an Audie Murphy film he does it because he is earning a wage. In addition if he takes too long over a job, his boss will not be impressed, and he will lose promotion. To the programmer this and other wage-earning considerations are far more important than minor programme details.
So the system analyst could have imperfect modules, do they always do what he has planned? Once the modules are completed he slots them together, and then tests the overall programme. Does he think of all possibilities in his testing? It is easy to conceive that such a design could have computer error, an error leading to Third World War. "A very depressing subject," concluded Harley morosely.
Orville readily agreed, in fact to such an extent was he in accord that he was beginning to save for his own nuclear shelter. In his spare time Orville had been designing his nuclear shelter, he had even gone so far as to think who he would like to share it with; he did tend to be idealistic and a dreamer. However one day one of his books would sell, and then he would have his shelter. But Orville's planning didn't end there. He knew that he could survive radiation fallout in his shelter - nobody could survive a direct hit, but could he survive afterwards?
One day a book sold, and he could afford his shelter. In it he stored training equipment along with food, books, tools and other items he thought necessary. And finally he installed the cryobeds. These cryobeds were the only modern equipment he would allow himself, he distrusted machines of any sort but he thought these necessary. A cryobed enabled its subject to remain in suspended animation indefinitely, but Orville had a special alarm designed. When the Geiger-counter reading fell below the minimum radiation count that would support human life, the cryobeds would release the occupant from the state of suspended animation. Orville built six beds for himself, his wife, Michelle - they were now married, their child, Harley Jackson and wife, and a spare bed in case. He remembered, when younger, talking a great deal of a shelter, they tolerated his idealistic dream. He hoped that no-one, except Harley, would think of it as any more than that.
Many years after the shelter had been completed, Orville's son, David, was at home with his fiance, Angela, and they were discussing the North African crisis. Orville overheard Angela talking "It is right that the Russians should send help to the Middle East and the Russo-African coast, after all they are neighbouring countries, Culturally they are similar, whereas the capitalistic Americans are continents away."
Orville was immediately overcome by a bout of nostalgia. Remembering back to his early twenties he recalled how he had tried to lie out his idealism. His mind wandered with fondness to Cynth. He remembered her dark hair and how attractive she was. He loved her politics, her feminism, her instant strong reactions of anti-capitalistic outrage, but then he felt she was all for nought as she lacked any practicality. She did temper with age however, and in the end he was never comfortable with either Cynth. So that was why he was so patronising to Angela, he pigeon-holed her as a nice girl with an excess of youthful emotion.
He began regretting feeling old when there was a newsflash on the now intermittent video-screen programme "There has been a nuclear explosion on the North African coast. The ensuing mushroom cloud has been observed as far afield as Switzerland and Nasutu. ...." the announcer paused "we fear the worst."
This was the day, Orville knew. Feeling sad at human folly he put his mind to convincing others it was time for the shelter. Harley phoned "We are going to the shelter, see you there", and rang off.
This call triggered Orville into action. His wife simply nodded, and Orville began to speak to Angela who was starting to panic. David readily accepted the need for the shelter, but even he was surprised when Angela asked to get her L.P.s. Orville looked at David almost in pity, but they both took her to the shelter and switched on the cryobeds.
Fully awakened he began to take stock of the situation. Deciding his own recovery had been traumatic enough, he let the others recover at their own pace - without interference. He then consulted his "survival notes", notes he had made as to his course of action on recovery from cryogenic sleep. He checked the radiation level, tolerable - only just! The nitroxy ratio was acceptable as well as the nitroxy percentage, although in truth it was a bit low. After many more functional checks he relaxed, he felt pleased with his thorough presentation on survival. Noting his physical condition he began to exercise, others might not think it important but he was certain. Whilst using the bicycle he began to watch the gradual recovery of the others. Presumably they were going through similar falling experiences, despite himself he found their expressions amusing. Aglance he saw strange shadows in the air whilst they were recovering, but when he blinked for assured focus they had disappeared.
Finishing his exercise he began to cook a meal, and by the time it was ready they were all physically aware, although in various states of shock. He began by explaining the situation as far as he understood it, and then continued "The environmental conditions are such that we can theoretically survive, however it will be difficult. I suggest that we don't all go out at once, as although atmospherically conditions are tolerable we don't know how the radiation has affected animals, even human life."
"What do you mean, Pops?" cried Angela, almost shrieking.
He hated her using that word but it was the only non-formal address she would use. He began to explain "It is well known that one of the foremost dangers from radio-active fallout is gene mutation. When I was revived by the cryobeds, I found that we were 160 years in advance of the time we slept."
"160 years," the Jacksons exclaimed. "I didn't realise it would take that long," Harley continued realistically "even if everything had progressed normally during that time we still would not recognise anything."
"I thought it would take longer," contradicted Orville, a bit too cockily "it seemed obvious to me that the Third World War, so-called, would be all-out nuclear confrontation. For it to have shortened someone must have shown some sense.
They were all quiet, all having their own ideas about their implications of Orville's last question. Immediately they saw images of subconscious daemons, in human form, coming to "greet" them as they emerged from the bunker. When Orville spoke again, they were started back from their fears. "I suggest that David and I go outside to reconnoitre the situation," and he added noticing David was beginning to disagree "because we are physically the fittest." David concurred in aggrieved silence, because the others had accepted the situation.
When they tried to open the hatch it was stuck and immediately Orville's nightmare of being trapped in the bunker sprung into his mind. A cold shiver ran down his spine as he imagined chauvinistic squaring-off amongst the men and innumerable bitchings amongst the women, depraved sex orgies as the boredom took control, until finally hunger-crazed contests for the last of the meat-surrogate. He tried to avoid imagining trying to put a bullet through his own head.
None of these visions were particularly appealing so when the hatch moved he breathed a sigh of relief. Through an inch gap he realised what the problem was. "Fetch me a hunting knife, Harley knows where they are," he added to explain "there's some kind of root covering the hatch." As David went off to fetch the knife Orville was glad the hatch-door had been vacuum-sealed - perhaps they'd have been strangled in their cryo-sleep, or even death by dehydration. After an hour of hacking and chopping he finally got the hatch opened, and he and David stepped out into the light of a new era.
They stood gaping in amazement as they did not recognise the landscape at all. Although they had lived in the country, it could only be considered countryside by the late twentieth-century urban dwellers. This was more like the forests of New Guinea, mused Orville thinking about his war years. But then it wasn't, for the plants were nothing like those of the tropics, neither were they creepers nor was the growth as dense. To him the overall effect seemed tropical, but the plants themselves were indescribable. There was a plant which was a cross between a bright red rose and an oak tree with what he supposed were oakapples growing at the end of huge thorns. What he supposed was grass had grown to two feet in height, and there were harsh prickles growing out of evolutionary-thickened stems. These were the growths he could relate to, he could guess at their origins but as for the other hybrids he decided it best not to try to conceive of their beginnings.
In David's mind there was none of the cold evaluation of his foster-father. All, as he saw it, was a mystery, he could not conceive of the differences as being some form of natural evolution. He thought of time-transference, of special teleportation or even Hades without its fires, and all led him to a reaction of flight - he started to retreat into the womb-like haven of the bunker.
David's movement to flight brought Orville back from his reverie, especially as David started shouting "Where are we? What is this? This is not where we lived." Orville almost laughed at David's naivety, but refrained when he realised how frightened David was.
"I warned you of the possibilities of gene mutation caused by radioactivity. What you see is mutation of the flora, I think you must prepare yourself for even more grotesque transformations of the animal life" or so-called animal life he thought to himself.
"Look out," shouted David petrified, something had moved to his left. He pointed "there was movement over there". This time he did dive back into the bunker.
Orville however was slower to react, his own approach was cool and logical, analysing the new situation - almost enjoying the freedom to act out the hero in one of his stories. Slowly he turned to the left, and what he saw caused the adrenalin to flow swiftly through his veins gaining seconds on David's flight reaction. He almost knocked him over as they went through the hatch.
Orville also took a lot longer to recover from what he had seen, leading Harley to think that even with all his talk of physical fitness the first time he's outside, he panics and his age catches up with him. Regaining his composure Orville began muttering "It wasn't the size of the beast that worried me," he smiled, their mocking taunts amused him "it was the genetic make-up. If I was a zoologist looking for a Latin name for this creature, I would call it Homo Unicoleonis. The creature was bi-pedal but with a lion's head and front paws with a huge horn in the middle of the head. It walked upright and it's body was clearly human."
"Did it have a lion's or human genitalia?" asked David sarcastically.
"Shut up!" shouted Angela with annoyance "this is no time for your pathetic sense of humour."
"It's all right," smiled Orville waving his hand with a gesture of appeasement "anyway he wouldn't lift up his fig-leaf when I asked him to show me." They all laughed heartily but it was nervous laughter rather than spontaneous from the humour. It felt good to Orville. His comment was weak but there was a need to relieve the tension.
Orville waited as the laughter died down, and he decided they had to go outside again. He knew that if he didn't go outside and face this or any other creature he might never go out. He would remain forever in his twentieth century haven amidst a twenty-second century holocaust, all his planning would have been a waste of time. When his courage was finally more than a thought David and he stepped outside again to find that Homo Unicoleonis had disappeared. Orville breathed a sigh of relief though he knew he couldn't relax. He had his loaded laser gun with him, together with a revolver, but he had the strangest feeling that he shouldn't use them .... even that it was better not to use them.
Walking away from the shelter, Orville almost dragging David, they came to a clearing. A clearing, there was none of this mutated vegetation. Orville was puzzled. "What's this place got that others haven't?" he mumbled to himself.
"Eh! What's that you are saying?" asked David.
"Oh nothing. Just being a trifle melodramatic," he said drolely.
"Look over there," exclaimed David making Orville jump.
"There's a small dark patch in the middle of the area," continued David "I think we ought to investigate. But ...." he paused and looked intently at Orville "do you think it's safe?"
"I think we should investigate as well," answered Orville, ignoring the perturbing question. They went over to the patch, and reaching it they were surprised to find the remnants of a fire. More disturbing, around the fire they found footprints, and Orville said weakly "I think we have found our man Friday."
"I think we've found the rest of the week as well," said David, pointing to a group of characters at the edge of the wood with his left hand whilst hurriedly trying to get his gun out with his right. He was just about to fire when Orville stopped him. "Don't shoot unless they make an aggressive move. We could probably finish this lot off, but we would bring down every creature in the woods on us. I don't think we could handle them as well."
"Do they look that aggressive to you?" asked Orville "not like the creature I saw earlier on." Orville continued to stare at "the rest of the week". What a strange group they were! They were all humanoid having two arms, two legs and a head. And all the heads were human.
But there the similarities ended. For there were lions' legs, dogs' legs, rabbits' paws, and one even had wings but they didn't look as if they functioned. Finally there was one being who had a horn in the middle of his back - probably for when he was backed into a corner!
But what was also astonishing was that not one of the group moved, they all stood with an amazed, almost reverent, look on their faces. The one who had cats' legs and a tail stepped forward, and in a feline voice exalted "Praise be to Sapiens", and bowed to the ground. The Hughes were struck dumb but then Orville began to guess at what it meant. He was immediately apprehensive.
At least Orville had the presence of mind to say "Stand Up!" He then motioned to the cat-man to come towards them, although not being the strongest the cat-man appeared to be their leader in some way, he thought. Reluctantly the cat-man walked towards Orville, although obviously with some form of discomfort; when he came to within two yards of Orville he fell prostrate to the ground crying "Praise be to Sapiens" repeatedly. Orville waited but the cries continued incessantly, and finally Orville shouted "Be Quiet" angrily; the cat-man lay quivering at his feet.
Orville relished, and to some extent enjoyed, the knowledge that he could completely control these creatures. His joy was heightened when he saw David behind him obviously still frightened. "Keep quiet," he told him "don't say anything at all. This is a very awkward situation, but if I understand it correctly we could be in a very fortunate position."
"What do you mean?" asked David, even more puzzled.
"I'll explain later, but whatever you do, don't ask the cat-man any questions," replied Orville confidently, Orville's apparent lack of concern stifling further questions from David. Orville felt sorry for David, he hadn't realised how much David had relied upon twentieth century reality. Reality? he thought ....
Orville quickly reviewed his summary of the situation to check his own logic. These creatures were obviously mutations, yet they had retained basic human form primarily, as he saw it, because they retained the human head the controller of being. And from what he surmised these neo-humans were proud of their differences yet they wished to be completely human. Apparently ancestors of the group in front of him, after surviving the nuclear holocaust, had developed a wish to again be Homo Sapiens. From this wish had developed a religion in which Homo Sapiens had taken on a deified role. But this analysis left Orville with a doubt, what pre-defined role had these mutants given Orville and David? What were they expected to do for the tribe? He hoped to find answers but his immediate problem was to find the best way to phrase the questions.
From the way the others had accepted his lead he guessed that the cat-man performed some form of religious function. This was both an advantage and disadvantage. The cat-priest could tell him more of the religious history enabling him to understand development since the holocaust, but the disadvantage was that the cat-priest would be expecting some form of divine act.
Making a pretence to stand imperiously he motioned the cat-priest to arise, there was no response. Orville spoke quietly "I realise you are frightened but you have no reason to be. However," he paused "I shall be annoyed if you continue to lie there quivering on the ground - I have questions to ask. Arching its back the creature rose gradually to its full height, its tail spasmodically wagging as it stared at Orville. Smiling at the way the confrontation had begun seemed to put the creature at ease - a desired secondary effect.
"What is your name?" asked Orville in a demanding voice.
"I am Pranxas, the high-priest of the tribe of Gallacians, member of the holy guild of Felinity, pledged to the service and memory of Homo Sapiens, and praying for the day when Homo Sapiens will return to this planet to convert all those he deems worthy into the Almighty Homo Sapiens again," replied the cat-priest with the verbosity of cant.
Orville touched Pranxas' forehead, possibly conceived of as a gesture of blessing, but from his point of view he was simply pleased. That one bit of recanted dogma had given him most of what he wanted to know. The Feline amused Orville for in the cat's nervousness he had reverted to pomp in describing his high position in their social structure. How typically human! Deciding to play on the cat's superstition that one touch on the cat's head had produced such obvious glee that it had eased the tension. Perhaps too much.
"When do you intend attacking the Athehoms? Their heretical beliefs must be destroyed," asked Pranxas now much surer of himself."
"Do not question me," Orville responded sternly, recognising his control had lessened. But mainly it was a diversion as he didn't have a clue what Pranxas was talking about.
The cat-priest was most upset, he realised he had overstepped the mark. He murmured apologetically "Revered Sapiens, you appeared at the camp-site recently occupied by the Athehoms." He paused and then a huge beam crossed his face "you have already attacked them".
Orville chose not to deny this, feeling it useful that the cat-priest believe he had already performed some powerful act. Deciding to quit while he was ahead, Orville announced "It is time for us to go", and then nudging David to move he instructed the cat-priest "Do not attempt to follow us."
As they were leaving the clearing Orville turned to David "Can we rig up some device which will create a lot of smoke? Using the laser perhaps?"
"What? Some of the things you are doing at the moment are a bit screwy to say the least," David retorted obviously still having little idea of what was going on "I'm beginning to get a bit worried."
"Oh shut up!" Orville snapped angrily "Just do it."
He was feeling the strain, and realising this apologised. Softening his tone he asked "Can you do it though? Enough to hide the two of us when we go into the bunker."
"Oh I understand," smiled David "I think I can do it, but will they follow us? After all, if I understand what was going on they think we're some kind of Gods. They will be afraid, and do as instructed," he confirmed with bravado but there was still doubt in his voice.
"You are probably right," agreed Orville "but some might try to follow and" he continued to explain "if we disappear mysteriously it will add to our mystique."
When David began to think about how to create this smoke screen, he remembered that the laser had a flare setting. He told Orville of his plan, and when they reached the hatch they both kneeled down keeping the guns hidden and fired the lasers, now set on flare, into the ground. Quickly they rose and ran towards the bunker as two seconds later the flares exploded, and there appeared behind them a smokescreen. They heard a gasp of amazement, and Orville realised his precaution had been necessary and worthwhile. None of the tribe will follow them again.
Hidden behind the smokescreen they both climbed into the bunker to find Harley beginning to organise a search party. He and Angela were just deciding when to go out as the two explorers returned down the ladder. There was an immediate barrage of questions which Orville eventually quietened, explaining the events - as much to David as to the others.
"The area is not devoid of life - we already knew that," he began "but it is also not devoid of intelligent life. When we got out we walked North-East for about a mile towards where the old village had stood. We must have been on the edge of the village when we came across open ground. David spotted a bare patch in the centre, and we started to examine it. While we were doing this, a group of creatures had gathered at the edge of the field."
"What do you mean creatures? Like "homo unicoleonis", is it?" asked Angela interrupting.
"They were all weird but they were all human. With human heads at least," David tried to elucidate.
Orville clarified this explanation. "They again were mutated, but the mutations in this case were only in the body; they retained their basic human control centre, the human head and presumably the brain. They were friendly but only in reverence; they look upon pure humans, homo sapiens, as some kind of God. They appeared to regard us as prophets who will lead them to salvation. And I think they believe their salvation is to somehow evolve into homo sapiens."
"But that's impossible, we can't do that," exclaimed Michelle "what will happen when they find out we can't?"
"As I see it there are only two alternatives," replied Orville "either we must avoid them completely or we must convince them somehow that we can help them. I am against the first because the only way we can do that is to remain in the bunker." He looked around and there appeared tacit agreement.
"For the second alternative," Orville continued "we must somehow bluff them that we can fulfil these prophetic roles that have been prescribed for us."
All remained quiet, and he took this silence as agreement, or at least not as complete disagreement. But how to bluff them?
"Dad, what did they mean by Athehoms?" asked David.
"Ah yes," mumbled Orville "I've been sidetracked. This group don't appear to be the only intelligent beings around here. There are the Athehoms. Pranxas seemed to ...."
"Who or what is Pranxas?" asked Michelle.
"He's the cat-priest I spoke to," informed Orville.
"Doesn't it seem strange to you that after 160 years these creatures can still speak a language that we can understand completely?" Michelle queried "especially after going through a nuclear war .... you would think the ensuing disorganisation would disrupt the form of communication, if only slightly."
"I would agree with you that the language could have degenerated," replied Orville hesitantly "but I think that this tribe in their efforts to be as similar to their idol as possible have tried to retain the language."
Michelle seemed satisfied with this explanation, so he returned to his previous point, the Athehoms. "Pranxas expected David and I to be against these Athehoms even to the extent that we would lead the tribe against them. Whatever the reasons for their differences, they appear to be more than territorial, I would prefer to stick with Pranxas. At the moment, at least, we are safe with him."
"We also have a problem with our own survival. There is enough food in the bunker for us to eat well for a month or sparingly for longer. So we need to think about food. Obviously there must be food value in the mutated vegetation, but we don't know which is edible. As we can tolerate the environment I think it is safe to assume that we can find tolerable food. A dangerous assumption but one we must make. But our "divine" position gives us a ticket to be shown where the best food is grown. At the moment Pranxas will help us but if we can't show him any signs of the salvation he seeks, then there will no further help. Has anyone any suggestions?"
"Can't we find out which plants are edible and then live in the bunker making foraging expeditions into the undergrowth every time we run short of food?" asked David.
He must still be having difficulty accepting the situation, thought Orville, and although sounding practical he knew the emotion behind the proffered solution. He also knew it wouldn't work, but how to convince the others.
"If we live in the bunker all the time and only go out for food, we will only get on each other's nerves. Also if we can't learn to adapt to these new times, then we are likely to be easy prey for when we are foraging. Eventually we will run out of ammunition, so if we can't survive on our own we won't be able to then," replied Orville.
"I say we cross that bridge when we come to it," said David convincingly.
Orville could see in most of their faces that although they didn't disagree with Orville at the moment, they preferred David's situation. The security and comfort of the bunker certainly was more inviting, but Orville knew the more they relied on the bunker the harder it would be to survive afterwards. He said so, but to no avail the others preferred security. Conceding for the time being Orville wanted time to evaluate how each of the six had reacted to the new situation. At present all, except David, would follow him because the bunker was his idea, and they felt a sense of loyalty because of this. But this weak loyalty was not enough to keep a group together, and he did not wish to establish himself as an authoritarian leader as yet - even if he could. He changed the subject.
"Does anyone have any ideas about how to convince these mutants that we can give them their salvation?" asked Orville hopefully.
There were a few mumbled replies but it was quite obvious that the group weren't really interested in the problem. This was the bridge they might have to cross, but because they felt the crossing wasn't immediate, the bridge didn't really exist. He smiled, but it wasn't funny.
"What's the plan of action? Should David and I go to Pranxas to find out which plants are edible?" suggested Orville.
"I think Harley should go with you - he hasn't been outside yet," David was quick to reply, too quick.
"I think that's a good idea," agreed Harley "although I'm scared of going out I'd better try to get used to it."
"That's the spirit. I was frightened of going outside, still am, but we must try to overcome this fear otherwise we'll never survive," agreed Orville wholeheartedly. They tended to agree with Orville but didn't understand his vehemence. But Michelle did. This new situation was going to his head, and that he was trying to live out one of his stories. She was resigned to this; she had long since been aware how often Orville's world turned to fantasy.
Suddenly it struck Orville what had happened. David had worked himself into the position of not having to go outside. Orville was very worried about David, he could see that David had already made his mind up that he was not going to leave the bunker. Despite this he accepted "Well that's settled. Harley and I go to the village tomorrow, and try to find out more about the food and other situations." Having said he went off to bed.
That night he lay awake trying to work out each of the six's positions, especially his own. In order to survive he felt it was necessary to be able to adapt to the existing environment, and then begin to live in it. Any additional advantage that came with the superior technology they'd brought with them was welcome but must only be of secondary importance. This is where his position differed with David. Out of fear David had reacted to looking after himself outside, and he had begun to rely too heavily on the bunker and its so-called advantages. This was a glaring conflict he hoped could be solved amicably.
Michelle he felt was going through a different problem. Her astuteness had shown her the developing rift between he and David, and her emotional nature was trying to resolve this. For her it was not a problem of survival but that of father and son, perhaps this was just another aspect of survival, he mused to himself. Except where emotions like these were concerned she was eminently sensible, and he knew that he could appeal to her sensibility. Michelle would follow Orville.
Angela was a different case. For all her political views she was very much in love with David and would very likely follow him, though she appeared to sense there was more than logic behind David's reasoning. He felt Angela would follow David.
Harley was a practical man - he always had been - his practicality often seemed to counterbalance Orville's own tendency to wander into the realms of fantasy. Perhaps that's why they had remained friends for such a long time. When Harley had agreed to come along to the village he knew that Harley's practicality had overcome his obvious fear. He knew he could count on Harley. And in that case he could count on Gloria. For, although she was very nice and often showed diverse interests, she always followed Harley. He felt that if it came to the crunch there would be a 4-2 split. This was not what he wanted, in fact he wanted to avoid it.
In their shock the tribe's first reaction was to go for their weapons, but when Pranxas appeared he lay on the ground muttering reverent chants. The rest of the tribe then followed suit. After a while of dutiful chanting Pranxas gained courage and approached Orville; Orville was sensing trouble.
"How did you find our camp, Revered One?" asked the priest.
Orville glared at the impudence and declined to answer. The priest muttered "Sapiens" respectfully under his breath. "Is today the day of our salvation, Exalted One?" asked Pranxas anxiously expecting a rebuke.
"You presume too much, Pranxas," replied Orville haughtily "salvation comes only to the humble." Orville enjoyed playing on Pranxas' primitive superstition, he hoped he would not overdo it.
"I beg your pardon, Sapiens," apologised Pranxas asking with a deep ostentatious show of fegined humility "can I help you in any way?"
"We Sapiens," said Orville imperiously "wish to be shown your source of food. While we are here," he added pompously "we will need some sort of nourishment."
"But we can feed you," replied Pranxas quickly regretting his lack of manners.
"We would expect that," answered Orville dismissively "but as true Sapiens it is essential that we be independent and determine our own food supply if necessary."
"But haven't you seen where the sources of food are, Gracious One?" asked Pranxas somewhat incredulously.
Looking around Orville spoke quietly "We only have time for the general picture. Sapeins do not have time for details." He was getting good at this, he continued critically "Can't your people tell us?"
"Of course we can, Exalted one," Pranxas answered "gladly. In that case I will get one of the female hunters to show you the fruit we eat, and then perhaps you would like to accompany us on one of our hunting expeditions. But .... we must be careful as there are many Athehoms about today. Perhaps you have already disposed of some of them?" Pranxas was obviously seeking information.
Ignoring this Orville answered abruptly "Your female hunter will accompany us, and then later we will join you on a hunt." His heart missed a beat, perhaps he would meet one of these Athehoms. Not wishing to leave himself open to further questioning he turned to Harley. "Leave us Pranxas," he added.
Pranxas bowed and shuffled backwards reverently, and once out of earshot Harley murmured complimentarily "Very impressive. I don't think I'd have had the gall to say what you said."
"You will when it's necessary," assured Orville.
"By the way how did you know the way to the village?" added Harley.
"I didn't. I just felt I had to go that way," Orville said airily.
"I think this playing God is going to your head," criticised Harley, but he had to admit they did go the right way.
Then they saw Pranxas approaching accompanied by a girl with beautiful long blonde hair. Harley stared, and then as they got nearer he saw she white feathers, white wings and short arms. Pranxas introduced her as Dovan, his cousin. One of evolution's quirks that in time a dove and a cat become cousins, mused Orville.
"Are they good for flying?" asked Harley pointing to the girl's wings.
"What's flying?" giggled Dovan, obviously embarrassed at being spoken to by a Sapiens. Pranxas laughed "Very funny, Sapiens."
Harley turned and spoke quietly to Orville "Have you seen any birds since we've arrived? It's obvious there's too much radiation in the atmosphere for the birds to survive."
"Good lord," shouted Harley stepping back "what are they up to now?"
As he'd been speaking, Pranxas had fallen to the ground chanting the holy word "radiation"; Orville and Harley had to laugh at the irony.
They then went off with Pranxas and Dovan searching for food. Both men tried only to speak with Dovan as Pranxas was becoming annoyingly inquisitive. Finding out all they thought they needed to know, the Sapiens returned to the camp and announced that they were ready to hunt. Giving Orville a tired look Harley didn't argue.
The party then formed for the hunt. Apparently when they had been out looking for edible plants, one of Pranxas' assistants had been spreading the news of the Sapiens' hunt. By the time they had returned, everybody in the village wanted to go on the hunt. They watched as Pranxas had a hard time trying to control who was allowed on the hunt, or more especially those who weren't. Eventually the party moved off with a much-rested Harley, grateful for the petty squabbling as it enabled him to sleep.
Immediately the party set off, Pranxas joined Harley and Orville. Obviously he was trying to impress the others on the hunt, the high priest and his close bond with the Sapiens. Of course it was not only this, he was trying to question Orville about the timing of the attack on the Athehoms. Just prior to Orville's appearance Pranxas had been having difficulties with the village elders, who were becoming threatening, wanting to kick the Felinity out of the village. As a last desperate effort he had promised the elders that there would be a great event soon, and that the Sapiens would make their presence felt in some way. For a priest this was quite a commitment, and the elders thought they would have their excuse to get rid of the Felinity; in fact one or two of the elders were in league with the Athehoms so would want the Felinity removed.
"When the two venerable Sapiens arrived, I was in great favour with the elders, but after a while some of the elders began to comment on how ineffectual the Sapiens looked," Pranxas informed both Orville and Harley expecting some form of angry response from his deity. ""Where was the Radiation they were supposed to control?" some elders asked of me," Pranxas reported "All they have is their little gadgets at their side."
Pointing to the guns Pranxas asked what they were, and Orville evaded "They are just .... gadgets we carry. They are not important," he stressed. Pranxas eyed him suspiciously and, having said his piece, walked away keeping a wary eye on the two Sapiens.
Turning to Harley Orville confided "Pranxas is worried about his neck. We turned up just in time to save him from being thrown out, but we haven't done anything to prove ourselves yet. I think we should be just spectators on the hunt and hope we can get by without any problems. We shouldn't make use of the guns, they are our last resort and as such they will make more of an impression. Anyway I don't like relying on weapons that will eventually run out, do you agree?"
"Up to a point," answered Harley cagily "but you seem to know what you are doing, so I'll follow your lead," he paused " .... for the moment." Both then continued to watch the hunt, although they were aware of Pranxas' constant gaze.
Orville turned to Harley. "This is a bad situation; we are too involved. I will go over and see if I can help. You'd better come with me in case there is trouble." By the time they had reached the body, the chief was making an announcement "We will leave my son here. He will die soon, and it is better he be food for the lion than a carcass rotting in some corner of the village."
"Wait," said Orville "let me look at the body." The hunting party surrounded the body, and wouldn't let Orville through. Looking at Orville intensely the chief suddenly decided motioning to the hunters to let Orville through. Examining the mutilated body Orville announced "A female Sapiens will come and repair your son's body. Take him back to the village."
He turned to Harley "Walk away and don't look back else the daggers you imagine in your back will become real." They walked back towards the bunker - the longest walk they'd ever taken. Initially a few followed but gradually those few returned to their village. The religious propaganda the Felinity put out still meant something, but less and less the more the tribe was in contact with the Sapiens. Not surprising considering the degraded state Sapiens had let itself get into.
When they arrived back at the bunker and told Michelle what happened her response was very expressive, neither polite nor constructive. Eventually Orville managed to persuade her. "If we don't wish to become six against the world then we have to cultivate our relationship with this tribe. Pranxas talked about the Felinity .... there must be other tribes with similar beliefs, and they could be our passport to a happy life if we could string them along. But first we need to show them we have something to offer, and although I wouldn't have asked for this situation this is the perfect opportunity."
Michelle looked at him dubiously but eventually agreed, whilst David snorted with disgust muttering something about a waste of time. Orville chose to ignore him.
Immediately Harley, Orville and Michelle set off for the tribal camp. They felt the tension inside themselves as they neared the camp but this was nothing compared to the animosity when they actually walked in. If the chief's son died they'd be lucky to get out alive, if they did there wouldn't be much ammunition left in their guns. On seeing the son's body Michelle panicked, it was impossible to cure him. She glared at Orville. Not needing any imagination to interpret what her look meant, he motioned to Harley to make sure the weapons were ready.
What was the plan for escape! Orville looked around. There were maybe 50 in the village, armed but with wooden and metal instruments, nothing as sophisticated as ballistics and certainly not laser weapons. All the warriors seemed keen to attack the Sapiens, and Pranxas was so scared for his life he would do anything to redeem himself in the eyes of the village. Therefore all, at a given signal, would attack at the same time in a disorganised melange. Orville decided that he must set his laser on wide stun, then when they attacked he could incapacitate most without permanent injury. Also he rigged up a gadget which when connected to the laser created a visible golden field around the laser. If he used this gadget correctly he felt he could create a saintly appearance, and under cover of this escape. Or so he hoped - he was relying a great deal on the tribe's primitive superstition. Had he gauged this correctly?
Michelle, not knowing any of this, continued to work diligently to save the young man. Although she hadn't been a practising doctor for that many years, she had seen many car accident victims in far better condition than this lad, and they hadn't been able to survive with surgical equipment. With no equipment there was little chance, and she began to curse Orville for letting this situation develop. Her mind lost focus as she began mentally cursing and blaming Orville. Then catching herself she realised there was little point in such blame; focussing her mind she began trying to cure the warrior. His major problem was loss of blood, but his body was strong and she expected he had an extraordinary will to live. This gave her cause for hope. She bandaged him up as well as possible, then trying to get him to drink water, held his head tightly hoping he would live.
Orville and Harley were both amazed at Michelle. She worked so fast, and concentrated so much on her healing she didn't notice the tribe's worrying and menacing looks. Sitting there with the patient's good hand clasped between hers staring at his forehead, she became trance-like. After an hour or so of increasing tension, Michelle stood up and said "I am convinced he will get better but not for many hours. He needs to be on his own without all these tense worried people surrounding him." She stopped, and Orville, incredulous, asked "That is all you have to say? Is that what I am supposed to tell the chief?"
"I don't know what you should tell the chief, but it is clear that if he is left on his own away from this debilitating atmosphere, he will recover. There are probably some here who would even wish him dead - after all he is the chief's son; they can't be much help." Orville looked at her, this wasn't the hardened practitioner he had known for many years - she would have laughed cynically at this ten years ago. But then they were all changing under this environment governed by survival; he accepted what she said. How was he going to convince the chief and the rest of the tribe?
Orville whispered to Harley "I don't expect to be able to convince the chief. Be prepared for action, set for wide stun initially."
Turning to face the chief, Orville called him near. Eyeing the Sapiens suspiciously the chief walked over. From the corner of his eye Orville caught Pranxas huddling with warriors behind the chief, this would end in bloodshed. Speaking to the chief Orville announced "The female Sapiens has cured your son, and says that if he can rest on his own he will survive. But it will take a few hours."
The chief was undecided, he didn't altogether believe what Orville had said, but he so much wanted his son to survive he would clutch at any straw. The chief was still deliberating when Pranxas wandered over and asked "How do we know that our great leader's son will survive? We have only your word."
"Wait and see," Orville replied confidently - yet he felt far from confident.
"By that time you will have figured a way to escape," said Pranxas looking at him suspiciously, yet with a smile on his face as he knew that he was controlling the situation.
Orville thought for a moment. Pranxas had obviously decided to redeem himself by changing side completely; he must be desperate. Even if he did succeed the others would never trust an ex-member of the Felinity. Yet Orville knew desperate men were the most dangerous as they were often irrational. Expecting Pranxas to make the first aggressive move, he turned to Harley and whispered "Pranxas is desperate; he will try anything to get back in favour. You must shoot and risk the consequences." Harley agreed hesitatingly, would he be able to shoot in cold blood?
Turning quickly to the chief, Orville advised "You might have noticed a change of approach by your high-priest. He is very anti-Sapiens, and is trying to stir up your whole tribe. This will not help your son, and might hurt some of your tribe. Despite this, we will stay until your son recovers." Feeling that Pranxas was beyond reason, he had to make Pranxas react emotionally in order to regain some control. Hearing the cat-like snarl he knew he had succeeded to some extent, but how desperate was Pranxas? Was knowing that his appeal to the chief had had some effect enough?
"I suggest you put your son in a tent on his own," Orville began, but paused anxiously as he saw an evil grin on Pranxas' face matched by the glint of steel from the catman's knife in his hand. Their eyes were locked yet Pranxas moved gradually but stealthily. What would happen?
The silence was broken by a loud report as Harley shot Pranxas close-range through his head. Immediately Pranxas' warriors rushed forward to surround Harley, Orville and Michelle almost trapping the chief as he tried to retreat. Orville fired his laser, and the leading warriors fell stunned to the ground. Switching on his auric gadget a stunned silence befell the tribe, and he turned to the chief "Your warriors will recover, but do not send any to follow us for we will not be so generous next time. Remember to put your son in his own tent and he will soon recover. With that the three backed off with lasers in view threatening the tribe, at a distance they set off into the woods. After a while it was obvious they were not being followed so they slowed as Orville switched off his aura; they all visibly relaxed. Strolling through the woods towards the bunker they were all much relieved.
Without realising they had walked into a trap as a lion-nets fell on top of the three of them. Inside his net Orville struggled but was unable to move his hands. Neither was Michelle but Harley managed to free one hand. Reaching his laser he managed to shoot a hole through his net, and fixing the laser to wide-stun he blasted his way through the now-approaching warriors. The first rank fell stunned to the ground, the rest ran frightened allowing Harley the space to escape. Looking around there was not much time the lion-warriors were amassing. They had circled Orville and Michelle, and he decided there were too many for him to attempt a single-handed rescue.
These warriors were wary of him now, he did not have surprise on his side. Why hadn't they killed Orville and Michelle? Why had they tried to capture all three? That gave Harley some time to effect a rescue later - but not much later. These weren't the tribe they'd just escaped from, he felt certain of that, and they wouldn't be of the same religious ilk as there was no reverential awe towards Sapiens to say the least. Perhaps they were the Athehoms that had been spoken of.
Although he had been processing all this info, Harley had been primarily keeping a watchful eye on the terrain as he made his escape. Suddenly he heard a movement to his right so darted to his left to hide behind a rose-tree. The noise turned into a creature walking past, its eyes staring from side to side obviously looking for prey, and its lion jaws wide open waiting to grab at any food coming into his purview. As the creature stalked off Harley felt a sense of relief - he could have killed it but that was pointless and unnecessary. He paused, it was beginning to get dark - getting back to the bunker in daylight was the priority. He rushed off.
In the bunker his bedraggled state was enough for the others to know there had been trouble. Rushing over Harley's wife began fussing - clearly very worried. All she said was "Are you all right, dear?", and getting him to sit down she became annoyingly fussy. David, seeing Harley was no more than weary, asked "Where are Mom and Dad?"
Harley began "To be quite honest I don't know, Dave. We had a sticky time with the tribe. Michelle had tried to cure the chief's son, she had bandaged him up and we all hoped he would recover. Or, at least," he wavered "she said he would recover in a few hours' time. Anyway one thing led to another, and Pranxas with a bunch of his thugs had attacked us. We managed to escape, and ran off into the woods.
"I'd have killed the lot of them," shouted David angrily.
Disturbed Harley looked at him, there was something about his attitude - not quite right. Yet he continued "Orville had rigged up a laser device which gave him an auric glow, it scared the life out of the tribe who were too afraid to follow. Then we made a fatal mistake, we relaxed. Thinking that we had escaped the tribe we forgot about all the other dangers in the wood, and we got attacked by another tribe. They caught us in lion-nets. I managed to get one hand free and blasted a hole in the net. Shooting wildly, I escaped and got back to the bunker.”
His account finished, he paused then “the big problem is what are we going to do now?”
“There seems no point going out in the dark. We don’t even know the dangers in daylight,” said David immediately – perhaps too quickly. With concern Harley looked at David; the reason seemed very plausible – and was probably true, but something didn’t feel right.
But eventually he agreed. “David, you and I will go out tomorrow, and try to effect some sort of rescue,” he added trying to gauge how David felt. It was apparent David didn’t want to go – but knew that he had to.
“I suggest we sleep on it,” Harley concluded.
Although he was very tired Harley couldn’t sleep because he was trying to work out some way of rescuing Michelle and Orville. But there were too many unknowns so his plan became a sketchy “retrace steps to the point of capture and see what happens.” That’s a clever plan, he thought to himself ironically.
Turning over he was beginning to drop off when he heard David shouting “I’ll kill you all. Get away from me! Get away!” A nightmare. Harley tried to think it was just that, but failed. Becoming very worried he hoped he could control David tomorrow …. hoped. Eventually he drifted off and got some sleep.
His wife woke first and was cooking breakfast by the time Harley woke and went to the store. “You will have to get David up, he’s been sleeping in late dear,” she said.
Going over to David’s cubicle he shook him by the shoulder, “Come on, Dave, it’s time to get up. Busy day, ahead.”
“What time is it?” David asked drearily.
“8 o’clock.” Harley’s brief answer.
“Can’t I have another two hours sleep?” muttered David “what does it matter what time we go?”
“The sooner we go the less likely Michelle and Orville will have come to any harm,” explained Harley wearily.
“True,” admitted David begrudgingly getting up.
“Hurry back,” Gloria told Harley “we cannot last many days without replenishing stocks. We have been eating too much.”
“Nervous eating, I suppose,” Harley said with a smile.
But he reassured her “We will hurry back”, and with that David and Harley left the bunker leaving Angela and Gloria very anxious.
4) Captured by Athehoms
Harley had been very impressive, thought Orville, yet here he was trapped like a baby in a pen – utterly useless. With Harley now gone the creatures bundled them up carrying their prey on sticks – just like hunters do with their newly-gathered food. Michelle was shocked but not hurt, her obvious alarm was more about apprehension than anything she’d experienced so far. Orville felt much the same.
Being carried along Orville started considering the situation analytically. The first thing that struck him about this tribe – obviously not Pranxas’ tribe – was their ape-like features. So they were the same basic human form but their mutations were ape-like. In fact he thought back a moment to confirm, yes he hadn’t seen any of the previous tribe with ape-ish characteristics.
But their attitude was different. There was none of the primitive religious respect given by the other tribe – in fact there was almost an air of superiority about this group. He had difficulty understanding them, there were subtle differences in language that made it hard to catch – especially from his upside-down position.
Suddenly the party stopped, they had obviously arrived. The creatures holding the poles just dropped them so the humans landed with a thud on the ground – then they felt a further crack as the poles landed on top of them. Not very considerate, mused Orville, deciding not to inform his hosts to that effect. However the hosts did wish to be informed, because one of the ape-creatures approached the netting and took out a knife. Smiling viciously he then hacked away at the netting until Orville and Michelle were able to climb out. Standing up Orville giddily looked around but stopping as he heard a gentle thud, Michelle had fainted. Helping her up he realised there wasn’t much chance of escape at the moment.
“So you are the great Sapiens, you feeble creatures,” snarled the ape “to think that the Felinity had pinned all their hopes on you to save them from the true race, the Athehoms.” He laughed, and ordering one of the other ape-creatures to tie them up he walked off his head high in the air. Orville felt a sarcastic cheer rise but held it in check as he looked over to Michelle. She had recovered but the ropes were too tight cutting into her wrists – sadly she would have to bear this.
But would she? Orville remembered the small knife under the belt of his trousers – they hadn’t taken it. Snuggling up to Michelle he told her where the knife was, and with much pain – her wrists were bleeding now – she took the knife and cut through Orville’s cords. His hands now free he cut through Michelle’s ropes, but then sharply he said “remain still”. Crawling round the back of their canvas prison, he began to cut a hole large enough for them both to climb through. Pushing away the newly-cut tent flap, he poked his head out and was astonished to see an ape-creature laughing at him.
“You think we wouldn’t watch you?” he derided the Sapiens. “We are not primitive mutants who look awe-inspiringly upon the evil men who created their mutation. We are the true race, the truly-evolved people; we belong to the life of the planet now and not to a mythical dream you and the Felinity tried to create around you.”
Thoroughly trussed up inside the tent Orville became seriously worried. These Athehoms seemed to have a much clearer grasp of the situation than the other tribe; not only this they had his weapons – weapons had been Orville’s major advantage. Harley and David might argue over who would come back for them tomorrow, but would they be capable of overcoming a naturally-superior enemy? He doubted it. Hearing Michelle cry he crawled over towards her; together in comfort and exhausted they quickly slept.
The next morning they were awakened by an ape-creature who seemed in a less condescending frame of mind. “Good morning, I hope you had a comfortable night,” he said in a humorous rather than sarcastic tone. Again the ape-creature smiled but it seemed not so hostile this morning – Orville almost smiled back.
“I would like to explain some of the history you were absent for,” Anthreps continued “Somehow, as yet I don’t understand how, you are humans from the pre-war period, and you have managed to turn up here. I, as historian, am interested in your story so I asked for your capture. However, the others have said, and I agree, there will be no coercion to obtain information. We know about your hole in the ground; we will leave you alone – if you reciprocate.” There was a pause, and the meaning of the last phrase was clear to Orville – it was no idle threat.
Who is Wai Zandtao?
Biopic of Wai Zandtao.
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