Pattern of Infinity - Part II - Rain of JudgmentBy J. Kel
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The will is infinite and the execution confined . . .
The desire is boundless and the act a slave to limit.
-- William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida
After Vastator shattered the heavens, in the depths of Dreamtime, few ventured beyond their worlds. It was a time of strangeness and terror. Of civilization, reason and rules, laws and love, little held. Only fools, madmen, and Aurons (as the saying went) braved the galactic chaos to travel to the cutoff worlds of Man.
At that time, Aurons had not genetically separated from humans. They had not yet crossed the line into shadow and secrecy -- their legends were in the future. They were different -- though how different was a question they were just beginning to answer. They were searching, they said guardedly. They were hoping, but of what they were unsure. Theirs was a quest for the infinite; such quests are derided. To their listeners, the last days, which could not be far off, were a more pressing concern.
But pronouncements of doom were premature. Vastator had destroyed much, but much remained. Science was smothered by superstition, but poetry and art, music and song, prevailed. The mind was in hiding, but was far from dead. And Aurons were children of the mind.
Aurons, it was whispered, could speak with mind alone. (So there was fear along their footpaths.) Aurons, it was said, were experimenting with the soul. (So anger and violence followed them.) But they were, they replied, only trying to help.
. . . Some Aurons became Songmasters . . .
It was rumored the Songmasters could impress secret songs into the heart, songs that only Aurons could summon, songs that were whispers of truth, murmurs of memories, telepathic dreams.
In these rumors there did reside a kind of truth. The songs were implanted lines of information. They moved like restless waves of wheat over a windblown field of consciousness. They twisted, cross-connected, knotted together heart and mind. They were the cultural lifelines of the lost Auronar -- a way of finding direction and knowledge, of solace and sustenance. The songs were a secret language, a code to bind their wanderings whatever stellar paths were taken.
. . . For the Songmasters, Auron receded into the galactic mists, never to be seen again. That was the beginning of the Auron tradition of exile and of the quest for "New Auron" . . .
Around these song nodes, Auron communities formed. Here some Aurons, always having mixed feelings about their wanderings, would stay. Even as they were banned from world after world, they would find peace in the song web. A tradition grew of listening for the "songs" and in this way the galactic net that bound their extended communities during Dreamtime came into being.
The Web grew as the first Vespera receded. It strengthened during the First Federation, held through the second Vespera, withstood the Second Federation. The telepathic network of songs and messages became a spiritual home, one their planet had never been able to provide.
. . . And at their song intersections they would wait for that great day when, led by their liberator, they would depart with all humanity for the Eden of New Auron . . .
The Tree Of Life
I survived alone.
And if in disbelief you should demand to know how I was not deprived of life or past, I assure you that memory is invincible. It sustains life as it eventually defeats it. Eventually your disbelief will be validated.
The woman stood by the cave entrance. There was a fire (heat of hatred), and the glow brushed over her (glow of lyrical beauty). Her name was Jenna Stannis, though it was a name (valorous) she had not used for years. She had many aliases now.
I endured. I would have thought it impossible without him, but I lived. Yet as an achievement, it might be judged a hollow one. I faked my death. Or did I?
(Against an obsidian sky, a pinwheel galaxy is snared in the branches of a leafless tree.)
For years, she viewed herself as the last survivor of an epoch she had barely escaped. The bitter pride of that realization strengthened her. She plotted revenge; then pursued, she sought refuge. She found only despair. That was understandable, for in truth she was not as alone as she would have preferred.
No, it was not her companion, tending the low fire inside the cave. There was another, but she would not save him. Now that justice was triumphant (as her enemies boasted), she longed to bring that justice to completion. She would do that because she could not bring herself to believe the epoch had truly ended.
I ask that I be allowed a few dreams. And then one day, I will be free to find a home without them.
She still dreamed of a country life: marriage, children (dreams of happiness frequently conspire in their banality), but wished she could be less cynical about it. As a wish for the future, as one hid from the past, one could do worse.
There was a village not too many kilometers away. In the early evening quiet, she could hear bells. She was not born here -- was, in fact, a child of Earth -- but she felt this planet was probably as close to a home as she was ever likely to get.
A voice entered her mind, not altogether welcome, disturbing in its brashness. It too was a reminder of the past.
//He will be here soon.//
The woman by the fire was black-haired, with a soft, thin face, high cheekbones and an angular chin that gave her eyes a look dignified and remote. Her name was Molli. She was an Auron and a Songmaster.
Jenna did not reply. The doings of "Lord" Avon were hardly news. He was alive and it seemed that all existence conspired to remind her of that unpleasant fact. He could not be silenced. He too was a voice in her mind, and she wished they would all go away.
Nor did Molli expect a response. Her companion had been sullen ever since Molli announced her decision; the silences between them were becoming frequent and brittle. Consider a metaphor. Think of silence as a lifeless tree; tension as dry branches breaking. She tossed a twig into the sparking fire.
The night was clear, cold, cloudless; typical of early Spring. The stars burned very bright, and the sound of a remote river faded in and out like a dying echo.
Some of the "stars" had cause for being so bright. They were rather closer than the others. They were Federation warships, and Jenna knew well their orbital patterns. To a skilled observer, as she certainly was, it was easy to the point of obviousness to discern how they scanned the planetary surface. Servalan's forces had no reason to hide these days.
//He saved one of my people,// Molli continued in silent communication, pressing to bridge the widening gap between them. //And the Auron he saved will be accompanying him.//
Jenna was weary as she reentered the cave. "So they say. Saved? Saved from what?" She knew the story as well as her companion, but gave it rather less credence.
Molli hesitated. The details of what had happened were admittedly unclear -- but that was not unusual. The network was ambiguous, operating as it did on a "carrier wave" of emotion; what passed from Auron to Auron in this manner was acquainted with fact, but hardly intimate with it. In truth, "Telepathy" was a mixed blessing as far as improving communication. In fact, Molli was not even a true telepath (such had never been born of Auron science, though the effort certainly had been made), but a "telesend": that is, she could transmit thoughts easily, but could receive them from only an extremely narrow range of senders -- Aurons biologically and psychologically "tuned" to her. Without that fine tuning, "telereceiving", if you will, was mental static that warped, twisted, and all too often shredded meaning.
But there were messages, not like those she sensed in the network, which seared into her mind with violent and stunning clarity. They had started almost four years before, and they were the reason she was in hiding. None had been sent since she fled the city, however: a fact for which she was very grateful.
Yet despite the confusion, Molli believed in the story's veracity. Well, she hoped in it. As she had with hope absorbed the strange words from that place lost in time and obscurity called . . . Terminal(?).
The story had, after all, been relayed in the best of faith. And she wanted very much to return that faith. It was close to an obligation. She treasured the incident; so it had to be true. It would be improper to doubt it. The story was hopeful; Molli was never one to relinquish hope.
She spoke aloud then, dropping the telesending which she knew annoyed and, in some way, hurt her companion. Was it the implied reminder of her sister? Jenna always denied that, but it was done too strongly.
"There was an attack. It was aimed at Lord Avon. There is little more I can be certain of. There was an Auron named Mykal Hodos(?) -- he was about to be killed, but Lord Avon saved him. That is all I know. I would think it would be enough."
"Why don't you ask him when he arrives?" Jenna at once regretted saying that. Molli handed her a plate with food. Jenna sat beside her, but showed no interest in the contents of the plate. "We have a long hike tomorrow," she said.
Molli nodded, stirring the fire. They were going back to the city. The city that had been her home for almost twenty years, more than half her life. Despite what awaited her, she was relieved. A relief Jenna could not comprehend. From unbounded optimism, deliver me.
"We will reach the terminus shortly before noon," Jenna went on, returning to the confident tone that so suited her, now that the annoying subject of Avon's "heroic deed" was dropped. "There should be quite a crowd. There is a risk, but it is slight. They haven't found us in three years; there is a good chance they won't expect us to return now, but we must be cautious."
"Lord Avon complicates things," Molli added.
"He has that affect," Jenna agreed.
"They might think whoever hid me intends him harm."
Jenna looked at her closely. Tougher after three years of wanderings, Molli retained her "aura" of innocence, but she was far from naive. "I agree they suspect that whoever has been hiding you is no friend of his. They are correct."
"I am tired of running," Molli said, standing. "Aren't you? We have been doing this far too long. You, even longer. I know you are unhappy with my decision, but it is the right one. I am not a fool. If Lord Avon saved one of our people, then there is reason to hope. I don't expect you to agree. How could you? But he may truly be a friend."
"You may come to regret your choice of friends, " Jenna muttered. "I would warn you against trusting him. Those of us who have are reduced in number."
Molli stared at the wilderness outside. A meteor burned across the sky, leaving a red-lightening slash. A breeze stirred the branches of the bare tree. "You never suggested an alternative," she said. "There is none. We will go together, as you insisted, to the capitol and then we will part. I will tell them the truth -- as you say, they will not believe me at first. With luck you will be gone by the time they do. Eventually, they will give up; then you will be free."
Molli stooped and put her hand on Jenna's shoulder. "I am grateful for what you did for me. I am aware of the depth of your pain." Jenna looked away. "But I am not afraid."
"You ought to be. You will be. You don't know what they are capable of."
"I'm sorry," Jenna whispered.
Molli felt increasingly lost. There was such anger and frustration in her companion and sometimes the depth of the emotions frightened her, but more often they brought out compassion, but it was compassion without object or direction. She had never spent so much time with another person. She had been alone since leaving Auron in her late teens; even from her own people she had felt isolated. Despite her songs, she did not fully understand friendship, let alone love.
Her feelings for Jenna were frozen somewhere between sorrow and wonder. It was not often that one was aided by a legend, and even less one aided a legend in turn. Legends, unfortunately, grow tiresome; more to be endured than admired. After three years, it was only the reality of Jenna that affected her, but that reality was elusive.
In these last conversations before parting, both feared they might sound too harsh, too bitter. Both searched for consolation. Both wanted their three years together to be more than a gesture of defiance.
Molli said, softly, "Would you like me to sing for you? You used to like that. I have been writing a new song for the Festival. I could sing it," she said; then added: "or I could sing of love." She hoped that somehow that might make the end smoother, less an act of harsh finality. Songs, said the tradition, always helped. And it was the only gift she could offer.
"I would like a song of forgetting."
"Then it cannot be a song of love."
They had spent so much time together, and yet it could hardly be said that they were friends. Jenna insisted that was the way it must be. So Jenna led, Molli followed. So Jenna decided, Molli accepted -- until of late.
For three standard (Earth) years, Jenna's strength and knowledge had kept them free from a Federation increasingly desperate to find Molli. At first it had been easy, almost fun. The open country had provided them with many resources and Jenna was skilled at finding them -- and of contacting the right people (many an old debt was paid off) when they could not. She knew the planet; knew it far better than Molli, who had never been outside an urban environment since the beginning of her self-imposed exile from Auron. When Molli was weak, Jenna gave her strength. Whether crossing river torrents, or boulder covered fields, whether through cold caves or dark forests, it was Jenna who guided her. More than once, Jenna had saved her life.
It was strange to hear rumors and realize they were about oneself. There were rumors that she had died (understandably, Molli was tired of hearing those), or that she was leading a guerrilla band against the Federation (how very silly!), ala Cally. How odd to experience one's life and observe it as a fantasy through the eyes of others. Slowly, with a sense of mounting dread, her life became a waking dream, a song with words and rhythm discordant.
The Federation's pursuit was connected with the strange messages she had been receiving, the "star whispers", but she did not understand why. Their "reception" was astonishingly clear, but they were so meaningless -- so much word play and obscurity. Hardly a call for insurrection. Jenna could make nothing of them, though she too believed they were important. Did they mean Cally was in some way alive? Both doubted that.
Forgive me, my friend. You are right. We have followed each other enough.
Now she was going back. The Festival of Judgment, the singing, that had been her life and life was desolate without it. Her famous sister had made a different choice, extraordinary considering her background and upbringing, but that choice, noble as it was, was not Molli's. And that was a problem. It could not be said that she resented Cally, but she was upset by the arbitrary way in which her sister's notoriety had increasingly interfered with her life. She was not Cally! Would never be Cally! It frightened her that Jenna sometimes slipped and called her by that name. Just as it frightened Jenna to be told that sometimes she would call out in her sleep the name that history had engulfed: Blake.
It was not right, this stranglehold of the past. If one broke the sequence, the pattern, one should be able to achieve a measure of freedom. But what if the pattern was life? An uncomfortable thought. The burden of Cally was too great; soon, Molli would carry it no longer. So she would sing one last time, be arrested, and then accept her fate. She had nothing to hide. She would tell them what she knew -- indeed, that had been her intent, before Jenna interfered and insisted she go into hiding. She had done nothing wrong, had never even composed a song (until now) for Cally, or the ill-fated rebellion her sister had been a part of. She had wept for Auron, but had never considered it home. If only she could make them understand!
Jenna took a drink of water and turned in for the night. "If Avon will be here shortly, then perhaps you are more right than you know. Things will change. I might be able to get off this world, if there is a planet to get off of."
"You still hate him?"
I offered him these words -- Do not let them break you. I could not imagine life without him. Yet I lived.
"Was there ever any doubt?"
"I will not help you."
"I am not asking for help," Jenna said sharply. "I am taking you to the Festival; then I am leaving. Let him come and get me."
"Then I will lose you both."
"I am no one's to lose. Neither is he."
Molli knew little of the story between them; it was obviously something Jenna did not like to discuss. She and Avon had never been close, even at the peak of their early triumphs. And then when the rebellion was smashed, they found themselves adrift, stranded, very far apart: one in the outer worlds, the other at the center of galactic power. Waves of violence had separated them as enemies. Now the ripples were bringing them together once more.
Molli's lips trembled. "I meant only I care about you both."
There was sighing in the branches as the wind picked up. Molli saw the distant light of another meteor as it burned through the atmosphere. "It's going to be a cold night," Jenna said absently. She wrapped herself in a blanket, her back to the fire.
"I will not sing for you tonight," Molli said, "but I will sing for you at the Festival."
In the morning, they rose in silence. They ate and packed quickly but as they left the cave, Molli leading, her footsteps swift and sure, Jenna hesitated. She stopped and looked back. The tree was now outlined against the dawn sky. It looked for a moment like a dark crack spreading across pink glass. The tree was an irritation to her. It should have been dead, but it was a triumph of determination, only determination lacking a point. It had rooted in rocks under a boulder and grown to achieve a twisted path to freedom, but it would never flourish. It was alive, and in a few weeks it might blossom briefly in some tortured fashion, but that would be all.
They could have used it. They had spent several weeks in the cave, longer than in most of their sanctuaries. It had not been a pleasant refuge -- the cold of the long winter was only beginning to fade at these altitudes, and the walk down to the river for wood had been irksome. She wondered why she had spared the tree. It would have burned slowly, with steady heat and little smoke. Yet something about it had stopped her. She wanted to destroy it, but could not bring herself to do so.
She turned and went down the trail after Molli. Her lungs filled with cold morning air and that felt very good indeed. It cleared her mind. Nearly forty, she found signs of sentimentality distressing. It was all so pathetic. She should have taken an ax to the thing.
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