Monday, November 16, 2009

The Quantum Mechanic: Chapter Fourteen

The Quantum Mechanic
A Superhero Story of Ethic Contortions

Chapter 13 - Chapter 14: And Behold, It Was Good - Chapter 15

"High in the mountains there is a small, hidden valley. In this valley there is small town. Physically isolated, modern communication technology keeps it in touch with the rest of the world. Even so, the town's people still remember traditions passed down through countless generations. When a new idea comes along, they don't dismiss it; but neither do they ignore the hard-won wisdom of their ancestors."
- James Huber,
The Physician and the Priest

Sage travels through the village, leaning upon her staff-of-walking. She smiles at people, greeting them in passing. The Sun hangs low in the sky, dark red through the exhaust belched by the rock-eaters. Invisible at this distance, Sage knows that the smoke-gatherers must be flitting to and fro throughout the cloud, cleaning up the waste of the rock-eaters in order to do their own building.

As Sage stares off into the distance, the feeders return from their labor. People in the village whoop and cheer as the pack lumbers into the village, exchanging hugs, kisses, and the occasional playful bite with all who they pass. The gatherers begin to scamper up Mother Tree, collecting her fruit to share with all her children. At twilight, the great song-flowers open their chitinous bodies, exposing their delicate vocal cords to the cooling air, harmonizing with one another as they prepare to sing their lullabies. A few impatient ones grab low-hanging fruits and begin to eat immediately.

Everyone in the village moves from their places-of-working to return to their home in Mother Tree, enchanted by the building harmonies as the song-flowers hear each other out underneath her great canopy. Feeders, tillers, tenders, all file into their mossy knots-of-resting to wait for the gatherers. Sage watches her brothers to to their places, waits for the gatherers to deliver the nightly meal, and then begins her climb. She smells each knot-of-resting briefly as she passes. A few have been injured in their labors, but they are calm and they shall be well. Towards the top, one of her youngest brothers is troubled. She smells this.

"Child, what is your name," she asks to the reclining youth within.

"I have called myself Grass."

"What is your trouble, young Grass?" He sighs, fidgets nervously.

"I'm not sure. A few things have been on my mind today as I watched the tenders pick up Mother Tree's fallen branches."

"Then think on what troubles you. I shall return to you after I have eaten." Sage kisses her brother upon his forehead, then continues her climb to the top of Mother Tree, to her own place of rest.

Sage does not have a knot-of-resting, as all her brothers do. She was born from the great flower atop Mother tree, the first and oldest of the children to open herself to the Sun's warm embrace. Soon, Sage shall grow her wings-of-journey and fly over the horizon, out of sight from the Mother Tree that gave birth to her, and she shall become a Mother Tree herself. She shall then birth her first daughter, who shall watch over all her other children as Sage now watches over her brothers.

But now, it is time to eat from Mother Tree's bounty. Unlike her brothers, Sage does not wait for a passing gatherer to bring fruit to her. Sage grew up before the gatherers were born, and she ate from the fruits that grew around her. The gatherers leave these sun-ripened orbs for her, taking only from the fruits that grow down the thick hanging vines beneath Mother Tree's expansive canopy. Today, the fruits that are ripe for Sage are a dark red bloodfruit, and a bright pink sweetfruit. She savors the coppery taste as she slowly sinks her teeth into the bloodfruit, carefully sucking the thick juice so that it does not run down her face. She contemplates life as the sky grows ever darker. A speckled spice fruit tempts her, but it is not yet ripe. One day, she shall have it; until then, she shall be patient. Green sky-berries continue to grow around her sleeping place, and once they are blue, then she shall eat them one at a time until she has grown her wings-of-journey.

Her meal done, Sage descends the stair-like boughs of Mother Tree to return to the knot-of-resting of her brother, Grass. She strokes his hair and asks him to tell her his thoughts.

"I do not feel my calling, as others seem to do. I don't know what's wrong. I feel like I should be called, and yet I am not."

"Have patience, my brother. Your calling shall come in time."

"And what if it doesn't? What then? All our brothers have their callings, even the youngest who have not yet molted. What is mine?"

"I cannot say, brother Grass. It is not my decision."

"Then whose is it?" Sage draws a deep breath, closes her eyes, and calms herself. It is sometimes difficult for her to remember that her brothers do not share the great chain-of-memory that has passed from Mother Tree down to her. She finds her center, opens her eyes, and speaks from her heart.

"It is no one's decision, for nothing is decided. The earth beneath us speaks to Mother Tree, and she listens and passes the message on to each of us in our sleep, from the holes-of-dreaming you see all around your knot-of-resting. But the earth does not decide, it simply is how it is. Mother Tree knows how to listen, and she tells us in our dreams."

"Yes, yes, the song-flowers lull us to sleep with these tales every night. But what if they're wrong?"

"I see. The seed-of-doubting has taken root in your mind. We shall call a meeting, and summon the Who Man to show us the way."

"Do we have to call a meeting? I don't want one just for my own sake. Besides, the summoning of the Who Man at a meeting is for the time-of-doubting, when all have fallen from the path. I am the only one of our brothers who has not heard his calling. Can't the Who Man just tell me?"

Sage thinks for a while. She has never summoned the Who Man without a village meeting; but then, she has never summoned the Who Man at all, in her lifetime. Her memories of ancestral summonings in days long gone grow cloudy. She knows not what to do, so she listens to her brother instead of her memory.

"You listen to the song-flowers well, brother Grass. You are right, this is a different situation. I shall summon the Who Man, and if he does not come, then we shall call a meeting. Is this fair?" Grass nods. Sage helps him to his feet, for drowsiness makes him feel heavy in his own body, as this is normally the time for sleeping to the sounds of the song-flowers. They climb the rest of the way up Mother Tree. Sage takes a large orange berry from the vine-of-calling, crushes it between her fingers, and rubs the juice on the palms of her hands. She works her hands through the mossy mat on which she sleeps, reaching down to the heart-of-calling, and massages the berry juice into the large gland. They wait a few moments. Mother Tree shivers, though there is no wind upon the plain.

Crackle. Poof.

A glowing orange figure appears atop Mother Tree. Grass squeaks in surprise, and grabs for Sage; she wraps her arms gently but tightly around him. She greets the Who Man as its orange glow fades to gray.

"Argh," the Quantum Mechanic slaps its metal forehead. "I told you guys like a million times, it's 'hyoo-man.' Human. Anyway, what's going on? This doesn't look like a meeting."

"Our apologies, hyoo-minn." Sage pronounces the word stiffly, for it is her first try. "I am Sage, this is my brother Grass. The seed-of-doubting has grown in his mind, for he does not hear his calling."

"So? He's probably still young. Give it time, kiddo. You'll perk up."

"But I am not the youngest of my brothers, and they have heard their callings!" Grass is still frightened by the robot before him, but not too frightened to speak his mind.

"Hmm, I see. You'll have to bear with me, I didn't build you guys, but let me take a look."

"You did not build us? Are you not the Condom Mechanic?" Sage is evidently confused as she speaks. The Quantum Mechanic does another facepalm.

"I - look - argh. This is what we get for programming Earthling language into non-Earthly life. I am not the Quantum Mechanic, I'm his wife, but I'm borrowing this body so I can help. He's working on faster-than-light travel, and they're just about finished. But the last steps are the hardest, so he's using his full attention for that."

"Light - travels?" Grass is evidently confused.

"Quiet, Grass, the song-flowers have not yet told us of the outer heavens. This shall be explained to you in time."

"But - "

"Silence. If you must know now, then I shall sing to you of the great clouds and their children, the stars, after we have spoken with this human." Grass is satisfied with this.

"OK, so - Grass, right?" He nods. "Good. Look, I'm not sure why you haven't heard your calling yet. You say that all your younger brothers have heard theirs, though?" Another nod. "OK, that's good. This isn't a seed-of-doubting we're working with, then. In all likelihood, it's just something to do with you. Let me look at your knot-of-resting - it's the only empty one, right?"

"Yes, I can take you to it."

"No need. The holes-of-dreaming are secreting their pheromones even now. Here, let me put you to sleep for a moment, and I'll see what's going wrong." Grass nods, then goes limp in Sage's arms. Aromatic compounds fill the air, and Sage wafts the vapors into her brother's nose. Alvina peers into his brain, watching neural connections as chemicals dance around them, simulating his dreams in her own mind. Something is missing. She looks more closely. There's a misfire, somewhere. Maybe a developmental defect, though those are rare. Maybe an injury, those are more common. It doesn't matter, she has found the misfiring cluster and created a new connection. Everything is working perfectly once again. She guides Grass slowly out of his slumber after making sure that he can hear his calling now. His eyes open, and Sage can smell that his mood has improved already.

"I heard it! I heard it, Sage my sister! I know my calling now!"

"Good, my brother. How clear was it?"

"It is far off yet, but it is clear. I am to be a tiller, keeping the earth soft so that we may walk upon it. I shall molt my body and be as my other brothers, in time. But I can hear it now, just like the song-flowers tell us! It's exactly what I had dreamed!"

"Good, very good." Sage kisses her brother on the forehead, then lifts him to accompany him back to his knot-of-resting. "Thank you, human, for all of your help this night. We are sorry to keep you from your work."

"Oh, it's no trouble, sweetie! My husband's the busy one, this kind of thing is what I'm here for. You folks have a great night, and keep up the good work."

"We only walk the path you have laid before us."

"Then you walk it with grace and wonder. You walk it very well, indeed. Farewell, sister."

"To you, as well."

Crackle. Poof.

Grass sleeps soundly, and dreams of his calling. Sage feels her faith flowering anew in the depths of her heart. She dreams of the day far-off when they shall all eat of the black fruit and join the human in his fight against his lesser self, the darkness who pretends to be light. They shall wrap themselves in darkness and tear asunder the very heavens to come to the aid of their maker. Sage does not hope for battle or bloodshed, but she does look forward to the final vanquishing of evil.

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