Sigils and Unions/Catacombs of Oralius
"The Spark in Yartek's Eye"
6 Ma’avoun, Ninth Year of the 302nd Ăstraya
Earth Year 1620
“Miti!” Tehir called, thundering his way up the solid wooden staircase of his Lakatian rowhouse to the bedroom where his wife was hard at work at the desk by the window on illustrations for his next book. She started her work early every morning once the light was right; candles and gas lights just couldn’t provide the same evenness and quality of light as that of Verkoun.
“You pound like a hound,” Miti chided as soon as he turned the corner into their room. “Our poor neighbors are going to think we’ve had an earthquake. And have a care for Lanorr here.” She gestured at the meticulously-inked figure of a Hebitian adventurer on the page. “You almost gave him an inkblot right on his eye ridge. Would you like to explain to him how he ended up with an assassin’s bullet right through his head?”
“Tempt me and I just might write a murder mystery,” Tehir growled with a smirk; he loved how he and his wife could talk about his beloved characters like children. Very…odd children, he added privately.
He made a grab for his wife’s fountain pen. She cocked an eye ridge at him, carefully swooping her equipment away from him at an angle that wouldn’t spray ink all over the page. “No, you don’t!” This wasn’t just for the illustrated Lanorr’s sake, but the protection of her drawing equipment: the soft tips of each gold-nibbed pen adapted over time to the precise angles at which their users held them and borrowing tended to result in getting back a pen whose nib was completely bent out of shape and useless for the original owner. And the way people in the Mejurak house ran through pens, they couldn’t afford that kind of waste.
Especially not with the difficulty of getting a male author published in the speculative-fiction field. Tehir’s contract could end up canceled at any time if he were found out by the public; his publisher had been very clear on that matter the day he’d signed it. And with that, the biggest venue for Miti’s illustrations would dry up too. Which meant that for their real children’s sake, the Mejurak family needed to save every last silverchip they could, just in case, especially since their daughter Elin was carrying Tehir and Miti’s first grandchild.
Miti capped her pen and turned towards her husband. “So…what’s got you excited enough to bang your way up the stairs like a herd of untrained riding-hound puppies?”
Tehir unrolled the broadsheet he’d been clutching in his right hand with a flick of the wrist. He didn’t need to look at the title line; he’d memorized it already.
Scientists Believe Breathable Atmosphere on Yarte’krinek!
“This isn’t the Blabber anymore, Miti…if the Sentinel is running the story, that makes me think they know what they’re doing. We already know Yarte’krinek is a pretty reasonable size, that the gravity would only be a little lighter than ours, and now the spectroscopic readings make it look like there’s enough oxygen that we could breathe, and probably not anything else that could kill us. The air might be thin, the way it is in Arhit-in-the-Mountains, and it would be cold—really cold—but we could adapt. Which means if we could figure out how to make crops grow, Hebitians might be able to live there! Isn’t this great?”
Miti pretended to think about it. Then her grey eyes lit up. “That depends. Do you think you can write a book about it?”
“I think so! You know, I could even make Lanorr a starfarer. Or his wife,” Tehir appended as an afterthought; he wasn’t sure how believable it would be to the average reader if Lanorr himself was supposed to have the advanced technical knowledge he suspected the journey would require.
Miti pursed her lips at that. “Or both,” she suggested.
“Co-commanders,” Tehir replied. “I like that. Maybe by the time people are ready to go to Yarte’krinek, they’ll be ready to think of men as being part of the discovery and invention, and not just bringing the brawn to build things with. Or slaughter innocent Hăzăkda with.” Tehir sat down, his thoughts ticking along like a timepiece running much too fast. “The way things are going…maybe the Hăzăkda would be running to the stars to save their race.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me one bit,” Miti sadly agreed. “Even if the Hăzăkda are a different species, who’s to say Oralius didn’t create them for a reason? That they’ve got any less right to be here than us?”
Tehir snorted. “Some people would say that ‘reason’ is to show us just how far we’ve come from the wild. ‘The Tan Man of the Sand.’ Might as well take the word ‘man’ out, the way some people act.” And some people did deprive the Hăzăkda, by virtue of their tan hue and the strange, craggy nature of their macroscales of any privileges of being Hebitian. They looked like sand, such people said, so they must be creatures—sub-Hebitian creatures fashioned to blend in with the ferocious desert and spring their traps on any good, but unsuspecting Oralians who came their way.
Well, if that’s true, Tehir thought derisively to himself, then I guess that makes the grey man a stone demon. Maybe we should think about becoming one with the mountains.
“Some people are wrong,” Miti firmly replied.
Tehir rolled his eyes. “You think?” They had to be Hebitian, and as such, deserved to be treated just like any other Hebitian. Then—despite the residual twinge in his stomach that warned him not to speak against those of such authority—he declared, “Some Guides need to shut their mouths.”
“And Ăstraya is doing herself no good by not opening hers,” Miti added.
And that was another reason Tehir’s publisher insisted that he write, and his wife illustrate, under pseudonyms: the locals in their sector strongly suspected—and they were quite right—that the Mejurak family only went to the temple for appearances. Given that, Tehir hadn’t been able to produce a letter of recommendation from his Guide when his editor asked for one…and that meant—in addition to his gender—the only thing standing between him and the end of his career was the public buying, demanding his books, and never knowing who wrote them. As far as the public was concerned, ‘Nemel Mayak’ was an invalid woman who couldn’t get out to do readings the way most of the popular authors did.
It wasn’t that Tehir and Miti didn’t believe in Oralius…they did; it was just that he got the feeling the Oralius they believed in wasn’t the same one most people around them believed in. Tehir’s Oralius wouldn’t create people specifically for the sake of treating them like servants or imbeciles. It specifically said in the Hebitian Records that a Hebitian might err, but no Hebitian was an error.
Though certain self-righteous Guides might say that meant Oralius had every right to create people in different parts of the hierarchy, some to lead and some to serve forever and through the generations, and that this was design and no error, that made no sense to Tehir. Why would Oralius give less of her creative care to one race and not another? If the grey man were the ideal, that would imply that the tan Hăzăkda…was in essence an error deliberately made by Oralius herself. Did the Guides who ignored or encouraged what was going on in Hăzăk simultaneously believe that Oralius was without error and that they were helping her cover for what common sense said would be an error on her part?
“Well,” Tehir said, “If Ăstraya thinks keeping silent on this is going to win her any friends with the Leaderless Sects, she’s making a poor calculation.”
It wasn’t that the so-called Leaderless Sects were without hierarchy—nothing ordained by Oralius would be—but they did not recognize the authority of Ăstraya, the name always adopted by the highest member of the Oralian clergy. And according to some reports, which Tehir suspected might be sensationalized by the Blabber and similar publications, they disregarded tradition left and right. What was certain was that among a few groups, men had been ordained as Guides despite the traditional belief that as strong and smart as men could be, they lacked the spiritual discernment, self-control, and creative ability possessed by women. And that had to crawl all over Ăstraya—especially since, ‘leaderless’ as they were, they had a tendency to ask some very uncomfortable questions.
“At least they’re not being attacked the way the Hăzăkda are.”
“Like dismissing someone from their job and slandering them so they’ll never find other work is so much better,” Tehir countered. “I guess that way she gets to pretend she isn’t the one who’s starving people.”
“She’s never suggested anyone should,” Miti reminded him. “People make their own foolish decisions.”
Tehir’s eyes flashed. “But she isn’t condemning it. And that’s the problem. If we keep up this way, the Hăzăkda and a lot of other people will be dead by the time Lanorr and his starfarers would probably make it to Yarte’krinek.”
That gave Miti pause. Then she regarded her husband with a long, uneasy look, accentuated by the naturally wide, round shape of her eye ridges. “Tehir, what if we find people on Yarte’krinek?”
“I would guess they’d be therapsids like us,” Tehir figured. “I wouldn’t expect reptilians to survive on such a cold world. So more than likely, either therapsids, or mammalians.” He smiled at the image of aliens resembling a walking getil. “Small, furry people. Maybe even kind of cute. You think you could draw that, Miti?”
The illustrator didn’t return her husband’s smile. “That’s not what I mean, Tehir, and you know it.”
“If we were to do it right…well…I don’t think it should matter even if the Yartekda were primitive. Maybe Oralius will have spoken to them already; if not, then that would be our job.”
“You can’t mean—”
“No, Miti…you know I would never, ever approve of that. Never by force. Never. What isn’t chosen isn’t valid, and it’s not the injured soul that will be held responsible. It’s the one who does the injury.
“I think we can be a little more creative than that.” Miti grinned at that choice of words; Tehir couldn’t help remembering the day she proposed marriage, telling him that she wasn’t one of those artist-women who had a problem being married to a man just as creative as she was, in his own way. “If we’re going to say they’re a little mammalian race, then maybe Hebitian strength would be a commodity to them. I say we serve. I say we hire ourselves out to the Yartekda as labor and domestic help. That way the flow to Oralius would come naturally by giving them the kind of service she wants. Not by beating people until they say the right words.”
Miti considered it for a moment. “That could work. But it could also teach them we don’t deserve an equal place in the hierarchy.”
“If we worked hard, we’d be rewarded with one. But that would come over time, after we’d proven we weren’t there to take over. That we knew how to be obedient, too. I think at that point, we and they could occupy any place in the hierarchy that Oralius deemed fitting.”
The shadows over Miti’s eyes deepened. “That’s still troubling. I like the idea too…but somebody could get impatient. And if the Yartekda are smaller and weaker, the way the Hăzăkda are more primitive, not everybody is going to want to work for primitives and do things their way.”
“That will be a problem,” Tehir acknowledged with a subdued nod.
“There’s the central conflict,” Miti announced. “You should write this.”
“Could be hard to get published,” Tehir observed.
Miti stood up and wrapped her arms around her husband. “Take some time and pray. I will too. If we still feel it’s the right thing, that it won’t put the children in danger, don’t you let anyone stop you.” She pulled him tighter. “Maybe you can figure out how they get there and I can go ahead and make some illustrations. What do you think they’ll need to get there?”
Tehir narrowed his eyes. If he were to look up, he could just barely catch a glimpse of his own eye ridges looming over his eyes as he thought. “Well…the first thing that’s coming to mind is for after they get there, though it might also help with the problem of getting their ship off the ground. What I’m thinking is that they’ll have to have a source of heat…probably constantly if it’s as cold as it looks like it’ll be on Yarte’krinek. Look at how many people have died trying to reach the poles here on Hebitia; hypothermia is going to be a big concern. Not only that, I’d be willing to bet they’ll need hothouses for their crops; I wouldn’t think Hebitian plants would grow well if it’s too cold and the seasons are out of rhythm.
“I’m thinking these people will run through gas and coal very quickly. And Yarte’krinek doesn’t look very green through a telescope; they might not have wood like we’re used to. So they’re either going to have to get mining operations going on a large scale very quickly, or be getting constant supply runs and risk freezing if a cargo hauler doesn’t make it on schedule. That or they need another source of power…something new, something different.”
“You mentioned hothouses,” Miti said as she sat down and picked up a pen. “That makes me think you could get power from the sun.”
Tehir cocked his head, feeling the tendons of one neck ridge relax and the other one tighten. “Maybe so, but with Yarte’krinek being further away from the sun, I wonder if that would make it more difficult. Still, I’m not sure if that would be enough to satisfy the energy needs a starcraft would have in order to break out of orbit, or to heat the colony. I almost wonder if they could bring a piece of Verkoun to them somehow.”
Miti shook her head. “There’s no way that kind of harvesting mission would work…not with any kind of machine that makes sense. Your hypothetical ship would melt before it even got close to Verkoun. Metal would melt and traditional fuels would ignite.”
“You’re right, my little tinkerer,” Tehir said with a smile. Like many Hebitian women, Miti was quite adept with household repairs—a practical skill that women had honed for over a thousand years while the men went away to war, and one that gave women a privileged window into the way things worked. “But what’s interesting is that the spectroscopic lines we’ve gotten from Verkoun suggest that the elements we’d need to start a reaction like that on our own are easy to find in our own atmosphere.”
“I can’t imagine that would be easy…not to mention dangerous.” Miti shuddered. “All I can think of is that horrible explosion in the Tillok District. Two whole blocks of homes—burned up just like that just because of a tiny leak and a spark. Whatever kind of fuel it is you’re thinking of, if it’s enough to power a star, couldn’t that blow up the whole planet? Maybe even light the whole atmosphere on fire if those are the same elements that make up our atmosphere.”
“I don’t think so, if it were contained properly. I mean, if stars were that unstable, I think we’d be seeing supernovae far more frequently than we do. We’ve had two Starblooms thirty-two years apart, but that was a rarity to have them that close together. For the most part, the stars in the Hebitian sky have been unchanged through the ages. Containment would be the tricky part, and I think we’d have to ignore some of the difficulties because I don’t really know how it could be done. It is possible to store static electricity in a bottle, though, so I imagine some kind of bottle design would be convincing. Let’s call it a sunbottle.”
Miti grinned at that. “I like that! Are you thinking that’s what’ll keep the steam heated, for the colony’s power plant?”
“Maybe so,” Tehir replied. “They might find a different way to harness the sunbottle’s power without overloading the system, but I think we should go with steam just to be sure.”
“That’s probably the most elegant choice to draw,” Miti concurred. “I’ll work on a few designs and let you see what you think. Maybe that’ll get you to firm up your story ideas some.”
Tehir leaned down and even before his lips made contact with the blue-hued bioelectric node at the center of her forehead, she smiled and shivered in anticipation as his field grew more and more intense.
That reminded him—he was going to have to think of some sort of insulator material to say the power plant was lined with. The krilătbre-yezul picked up artificial power currents quite readily, just as it did naturally-generated fields. Making people feel like they were constantly surrounded by predators, or prey, wouldn’t be good for their nerves; that was for sure…
He shook that out of his head. And just kissed her.
6 Ma’avoun, Ninth Year of the 302nd Ăstraya
Earth Year 1710
Skadren pulled his heavy coat tighter around himself as twin landers descended, bearing the last of the reserve crew from the ringship orbiting above, and with them, completion of the first wave of Hebitian colonists to Yarte’krinek. What a long journey it had been for all of them—fifteen months in transit and all the time before that preparing their immune systems for first contact with their new world.
The young Hebitian smiled. He’d wondered during the banquet before they went into pre-launch isolation if Ari Velet, the grandson of ‘Nemek Mayak,’ had gotten tired of hearing colonist after colonist gush about how The Spark in Yartek’s Eye had set them on their path to this place of stone and algae. They had conjectured so much—the hothouses, the electroinsulation suits worn by the workers in the most highly-charged parts of the power plant…well…Hebitia hadn’t quite invented fusion reactors yet, but scientists were hard at work on the theory now. How Tehir Mejurak had foreseen that without any knowledge of the atom…coincidence? Vision? What?
A miracle, Skadren decided. How far we have come…from gaslight and steam to a home in space in ninety years. That was another miracle. Skadren wished the prescient couple had lived to see this day. To enjoy their fame under their own names.
The landers touched down in flawless synch on the tarmac. The screech of engines gave way to the chanting of Guides as the final passengers disembarked. And the light of Verkoun gently teased at the gold script shining on each vessel’s side:
Tehir Mejurak. Miti Mejurak.