Chieftain Jo Clearwater was a young man at the time. His tribe had just settled in the valley.
‘T was a quiet early morning when Jo found himself walking down the river.
And, mind you, Jo loved the river.
First he walked on wet sand, then moved through fresh chilling water. Little fishes swam away, escaping his clumsy steps.
Jo’s mind was at ease.
Suddenly, his keen eye caught something glistering in the water.
Curious, Jo picked the thing up. His find turned out to be a shiny cubical object, about an inch wide. Jo wiped water drops off the cube and held it to the sun, taking a closer look. His careful inspection was inconclusive – Jo hadn’t the slightest idea about this object’s origin and purpose.
An animal sound in the bushes diverted his attention; out here Jo was supposed to be hunting for dinner. Having been reminded of his purpose, Clearwater returned to his duties and forgot for a while about the odd little object in the leather bag tied to his waist.
“Are you saying you don’t have the map? Where is it then?” The Inquirer couldn’t believe his ears and was visibly losing patience.
“Sir… We do not have the map’s location yet, but the best men are out searching,” Damon realized he would lose his position, if not his life, should the map not be returned on time, but his plan to indemnify his nation for the sake of the greater good had to come to a conclusion. And so he had sent a squad on a wild goose chase, to cover up his tracks.
“The Council will be summoned tomorrow. I don’t need to tell you what happens if the map is not found by then. Now go and remember, you have until the morning.” The Inquirer dismissed Damon with a gesture of a neurotic man. Relocation to another planet was their last hope to find the solution for the growing threat coming right from the very heart of their system – the star of Algol was going supernova. Most recent data on habitable planets in neighboring systems revealed one in particular being very attractive, and stellar charts and paths were mapped and stored in a tiny device that was now missing.
Tomorrow, The Council will be voting on the relocation budget, although those details were just the formalities – it had already been decided who goes and when, and funds and resources had been set aside. The vote was needed to keep appearance though, and prevent a public revolt that would most certainly mess up their ingenious scheme.
“How strange,” The Inquirer thought to himself, “Not a single person on The Council expressed a wish to surrender to the fate. Algol’s future is pre-determined, and they act as if escaping the destruction now would somehow avert the inevitable later… Their nation was – and The Inquirer knew that without a shadow of doubt – coming to its demise, and it was only a matter of time till Algol perished in history.
Damon walked down an endless corridor, one of myriads connecting the expanding system of habitable cells and convenience areas where his people passed their time now. Their entire planet was covered with a maze of tunnels, interlinked and equipped with transporters, capable of instantaneously bringing passengers to their destination.
Damon was sad, but it was a sweet kind of sadness.
His understanding of what was to come increased – it wasn’t the supernova that was threatening the Algol Empire but people’s own actions, choices that had been made in the past and continue to be made in the present.
For centuries, his people were perversely abusing the power given to them over their planet and their entire stellar system; it all started quite so innocently… First they became uncomfortable and needed to improve the living conditions. That would be fine, but they just had to go on and build ridiculous expensive and inefficient machines – nobody wanted to acknowledge that, especially because machines provided for more comfort of the selected few and stole from the unfortunate masses living in slums.
In the end, resources were depleted and they had to scavenge neighboring planets. New colonies were just as barbarian, and before they knew it, Algol became dependant on mining at distant facilities, a complication that led to irreversible social changes.
Damon was preoccupied with uneasy thoughts. The Council will most likely lynch him for what he did. Knowing this, will he have to tell the truth tomorrow, and will the truth make The Council see their wrongdoing and spare his life? The dilemma kept tormenting him. As a civilization, they had maybe a decade to live which meant nothing in the scope of history. As a person, he wanted every single moment of that decade.
And then there was The Inquirer. He seemed such a wise man with his mind set on the right things, but at times Damon couldn’t get through to him. Just like today. The Inquirer wanted the map that showed the stellar path to a unique habitable planet in a rather distant Galaxy, the trip to which would be possible for a chosen group, so high were the costs of travel. The Council, however, unanimously agreed to vote on the selection procedure, and, though they knew the preparations for the trip would deplete their resources and leave nearly everyone behind in poverty and damnation, they were determined to proceed. Tomorrow, the map would be revealed and all last details would become known.
Only Damon made sure the map never reached The Council.
Whatever Damon did with the map, The Inquirer didn’t want to know. Damon was a promising young diplomat, raised in the family of educators and now a worthy successor, if only he wasn’t acting foolishly at times, like today. The Inquirer’s sole concern was to fulfill his obligation entrusted in him by the people. In his old age, he was still a believer in the people, and still looked for silver lining in everything, including politics. His last days as the governing head of The Council were coming and he preferred to leave in peace, never to return to the maddening mayhem. Now that idyll of peaceful retirement was being shattered by a shortsighted act of one who decided to play a hero. Reckless, Damon, how reckless, but The Inquirer couldn’t even get angry; he was just too tired. Maybe tomorrow he will have to let it all on the open, for one last time, to be truthful, truthful with himself first of all. Maybe.
After the late meal, Jo was smoking a pipe in the circle of tribal elders. A soothing routine chat around the fire and the smoke drew the veil of sleep over his eyes. As he was making himself comfortable and his mind wandered off, an image of a man in a long robe, surrounded by light, popped up in his head.
Jo sat up straight as if hit by an arrow in his behind.
The man moved closer, but Jo couldn’t make out features of his face. Then he heard the voice, and the words were spoken in a strange tongue, only Jo understood them as if the language was his own.
“Keep it safe,” the stranger said, and repeated, “Away from people’s reach.”
“What?” Jo shouted out loud only no words were coming out of his mouth.
“The cubic object in your bag, keep it safe,” the stranger pointed to Jo’s earlier find.
“It’s useless to me,” Jo responded, “Why would anyone want this? And who are you?”
“Young and stupid,” Damon thought to himself on the other end of the halo connector, and to Jo he said: “My name will tell you nothing. The cube is yours for safekeeping. It’s a pathway to your world, and if you want your world to remain as it is, you will honor my request.”
Jo was utterly confused and had about enough of this nonsense. He shook his head, but the stranger didn’t go away. Instead, the mental link between them intensified, and now Jo was able to see more – the stranger was in some place without light, yet light was all around him. Jo found it even stranger than the stranger himself, but could do nothing other than just sit there feeling stupid.
Damon pushed a few buttons on a barely visible panel in front of him and Jo found himself among the stars, following an invisible path from one constellation to another till his feet reached a blue ball that looked surprisingly inviting.
This is when Damon hid the panel and Jo woke up. He looked around. Nothing changed. Elders finished smoking the pipe and lazily fell on the sides around the dying fire. An older woman tried to maintain some order and cursed in a kind soft voice at the mess they left after themselves.
Jo stood up and returned to his place. He decided to quit smoking, at least until the medicine man has examined his head. And as to the shiny cube in his hand, he tossed the darn thing into the farthest corner.
On Algol, the Scholars were getting ready to vote after the presentation of the pathway and the simulated demonstration of planetary relocation, knowing already that their decision had been made and was unanimous. In Damon’s understanding this would mean the inevitable destruction of yet another occupied world that would be chosen to join the Algol Empire.
Powerful technology made Algolians arrogant and blind… and weak. Now the Universe aligned against them, killing their source of vital energy, and all the Scholars did was fuss over who gets the front seat.
Men in robes were chatting in anticipation of a big show. Damon saw the Inquirer walk across the assembly towards the stage, surrounded by his subservient entourage. His posture, his face… something pointed out to Damon that no special revelations could be expected from The Inquirer today. On his boss’s approach, Damon rushed to step up onto the speaker’s stone in the centre of the stage. Now or never, he thought, while facing the crowd.
A wave of harsh whisper spread over the rows of seated men.
“Friends, fellow Algolians,” Damon turned towards The Council, “Today we were to decide on the fate of our nation. Only the truth is it is not ours to do so. Our fate, my Scholars, has already been written. And the evidence is in everything we have seen happen to Algol so far. A closer examination of facts will prove the truth of my statement. Today I urge you, open your eyes. We cannot go down in history as the nation that brought destruction to alien worlds. We owe it to Algol and to ourselves, to account for our wrongful past, to go with dignity in our final hour.”
A hostile uproar coming from the auditorium interrupted his speech. The Inquirer made a nervous gesture, and silence fell over the place.
Damon continued, “The Inquirer had entrusted me with an important task, but for Algol’s sake, my Scholars, what I did instead would prevent another, much bigger, disaster. You can’t build your home on someone else’s ruins. Face the truth, Algolians. Know who you are… ”
A shot was fired from the auditorium.
Damon fell, uttering his last words: “You will never have your peace…”
The medicine man found nothing wrong with Jo’s head.
Camilla Stein ©2014. All rights reserved.
More adventures of Chieftain Jo Clearwater in ENCOUNTER