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Pod and Planet, fall 2013. 8,000 Suns Category. "Slavery of My Soul"

Straight Jacket Bears
#1 - 2013-11-02 18:19:29 UTC  |  Edited by: Vehestian
in one piece at

Slavery of My Soul

Let no one say that the gods are not real. Let them neither say that there is only one god. I have seen them. Say neither that they are immortal. I have watched them die, burning alive in their ships, screaming in wretched desperation like animals until their voices weakened and melded with the roar and tumult of flames and the hiss-crackling reverberations of metal caving in on itself, wave upon wave the heat blasting their cocooned bodies in their invincible starships; passing aeons through lifeless space only to burn belly-down, defeated and driven into death by an unknown and living world.

It was late afternoon. The sun was red and still heaving heat waves low through the horizon when Irahi and I saw the first light flicker above us. Tuldi, the horse star. For a long while we watched the star as we picked through the valley looking for hydrogen cells left over by the ancients. Viggod City runs on the old power cells and without them we would be just as blind in the night as the first few from the Gate so many thousands of years ago. Still, we use fires in the evening like the old tribes. Great wicker columns built in the day by the Thukker apprentices come alive at night and cast smoke and glow over the lower Vigg down to the River Oth where it goes further down into mountains that no one has named. The apprentices must learn to work in wood before they can use metal – it is too precious to be wasted – so we burn the wooden effigies of ships that will one day make the long arc into the heavens again.
The valley leading to the mountains was made by the Starship, so we're told. There is a wide swath where nothing grows and ancient metals line the basin on either side of the river, jutting from rocks, melted into the side of cliff faces, growing up from the ground in the forest like imposter trees insisting on life despite their ruin.
Irahi, little sister, seven ages old carrying her Gate toy with her, pointed up at Tuldi and asked shortly “does anybody else think that could be this?” She held up the little stargate, illumined with red fluorescence from river plankton locked away forever in its housing. She made a droning noise.
I smiled back at her as we descended the ravine along the old salvager trail. “I don't see why it couldn't be that. I guess we'll know when when we finally fly with the gods again.”
“But mama said that we weren't s'posed to ever be with the gods.” she stated, hopping down after me, her dark locks trailing and fanning out behind her as she landed. Her woven sandals slapped the little river rocks and a red frog dove for the water.
“I don't know what we're s'posed to do in the end,” I admitted. At twelve, I was the oldest, and papa had given me the right to make decisions that our mother might not agree with, so my word carried weight. But it is only the unwise that go ahead of the judgment of their mothers before the world has learned them otherwise. “But if we fly up there again, we'll find out if there really are any gods at all.”
“Oh I want there to be gods!” Irahi squeaked. “They would be strong and rich, and smart, with big towns that had lots of animals. We only have sheep but they would have the cows that are in the holoreels.”

From down in the damp of the riverbed the sky above was an immense wash of evening colors from the deep purple-black in the coolness of the darkening land to the bright streak of Hek as it cascaded red off the distant asteroid fields that crawled like a ghost-worm across the fading sky. Irahi and I never minded wandering in the riverbed. Mother always sent us out late. It was never as hot, and there are no animals except the fish in the slow shallow river. Their fins cut the surface lazily like up-pointed knives and make slicking sounds when they spook away from our approach.
The old hydrogen cells give off a cool golden glow and the long bank in the ravine, going to the deepest cut of the old starship wreck, has produced hydrogen cells for years – locked away in the silt of the river or wrapped about in the roiling tree roots of the red willows, radiating sadly like candles left unspent in memory of those who once called the ship their home, and to whom it became a grave.
“Pollur!” chirped Irahi, dancing along the shallow bank and pointing up to the ruddy sky. She and I were silhouettes, honored observers witnessing the awakening of the night. The moon, Pollur, was making its swift course skyward, trailing its thick dust and sparkling meteorites across the upper atmosphere in blue and red and gold effervescence – an aurora of light and color that many considered a gift. The ancient ship, when it crashed, struck Pollur on the way in and shattered a portion of the small moon. Like the hydrogen cells, it too pays an homage of silent brightness amid the dark to the ship and those whose names will never be known.
But a strange thing happened as we watched Pollur's dust cascade across the sky. A bright flash on the horizon, followed by a reverberating crack that echoed through the valley, sent a stream of day-bright light across the ravine and then went out and a streak of red drove low across the sky just over the riverbed. A smoke trail chased it and it skittered heavily across the water, sent up plumes of mad steam, and sank itself deep in the high incline of the opposite bank in another bright furious collision of noise and light. A hot wind fell down through the valley. Irahi and I ducked the noise and flash and hid among the exposed river boulders, our eyes shaded in the night for the intensity of the light from the impact. And then we heard screams.
Straight Jacket Bears
#2 - 2013-11-02 18:20:02 UTC
This was not our language. Even the language of screams from your own kind is familiar. This was not. It held in its material a rage and terror that bespoke furies in long lineages, borne of minds birthed among the distant and unknowable places, nestled in deep shadowed gravity wakes of red giants bellowing solar winds across aeons in silent power. Theirs was a collective mourning of defeat and surprise.
“Somsa!” Irahi called out to me. “What is it?”
I could not lie to her, nor could I speak the truth if I knew it. “It is the gods.”
For a long moment we half-stood in the after-blast of the moment, stilled by shock, minds blank with primal rigor as the ship coiled into itself. When one of them stood forward from the wreck and staggered, fell, staggered again and walked for a way, we did not separate it from the whole event, and did not think about him until the fear had dwindled. An acrid smoke coiled along the riverbed and the light of the dead ship was still bright – bright enough to light the lone survivor as he, etched into the blackness beyond in the deep ravine, made ungainly steps to a cleft in the rock where he slumped into shadows and disappeared.
Irahi had dropped her toy gate and I picked it up and put it in her hands while she stared still after the survivor, or where he had been. There was nothing there now but a flat plain of exposed river rock powdered with ash and grey wind-smoke. There were no sounds coming from the ship, no voices, no terror. It made the hiss and pop and low roar of a festival pyre, not that of the crematorium it had become.
“We should leave.” I said. “We should walk home.” We had never returned without a power cell, but this was enough reason to. As I turned to climb the steep trail I felt a tug at my hand. I looked down behind me. Irahi's face, hidden in the night on one side and lit bright as red river clay on the other, scrutinized me with a desperate intensity. “He is hurt.”
Straight Jacket Bears
#3 - 2013-11-02 18:21:28 UTC
Along the trail were bits of molten metal, cooled into bright pebbles, and flecks of still-warm glass forged in the crash. We stepped over these with reverence like stars fallen at our feet. Down into an alcove we walked silently and full of trepidation until we heard breathing in the dark.
Without hesitation or fear, Irahi broke from my hand and ran to him, using the gate as a light. What she came to was much, much less than a god. I cursed and held Irahi away from the man. He stared off into the rocks, stricken, and I was terrified as his eyes slowly rolled in their orbits to peer at us through the carapace of a shattered helmet that must have only recently been bright like gold. There were designs of all sorts, graceful and coiling, etched into the metal. He wore a bright suit made of a material we did not recognize. If he were standing he would be very tall. There was an immense solidness to his presence and his face was neither blemished nor worn by age, but he had all the trials of a hundred lifetimes in his eyes and his withholding of his pain. He seemed to be relieved all at once and let out a sigh and that's when I saw his leg. From hip to heel it was slashed, bloodied, and contorted in a way that legs are not meant.
“Are you a god?” asked Irahi.
He stared back at us with no answer.
“Don't worry. We'll get some food, and some help, and a blanket because it gets cold,” she made quick promises and he watched her intensity and concern and in his mind understood what her strange language could not tell him. He held up a hand for her to slow down. He shook his head and covered his mouth with a hand and stared at us.
“He wants us to not tell,” Irahi looked up at me.
“I think so.”
The man then removed the once grand helmet and let it fall by his side. His face was angular and very pale. No hair grew on his head. He reclined as best as he could and popped tense vertebrae in his neck and then looked at me a moment while he thought. He gestured to his ruined leg and there I saw a small ovular attachment to the clothes. It looked like half of an eggshell. He waved for me to remove the thing. On doing so, it chirped in my hand and four little red lights blinked on and stayed. I gave it to him and he reclined on the rocks, holding the thing close to him.
“We have to go,” I said. He understood my meaning and nodded. Some actions are older than all the languages. When Irahi went to tie a small carrying scarf about his head he motioned her away and drew over a long black hood from the nape of his suit. His shrouded visage sunk backward into the cloth like some distant creature recessed into a cave, after whose passing at the threshold there is nothing but darkness again and the vacant arch where it has gone.
“At least you won't be cold,” she said. “We'll bring water, too.”
Straight Jacket Bears
#4 - 2013-11-02 18:22:53 UTC
Mother and the village had heard and seen nothing. Pollur sends down bolides nightly and the crashed men would have seemed no more than that from a distance. Explosions and screams would have drowned in the river before they reached the ears of the tribe. The tribe danced their night dance and sang songs to the stars, promising to return to them. Irahi and I ate in silence by the firelight of a Frigate pyre the apprentices had made. It's two-barreled body burned bright and roared strong but there were no screams from it, no staggering wanderers plodding off to die in the dark.
I could not sleep that night. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw bright flashes and smelled the sharp air and the man stared back through it all while his friends burned to death around him. Irahi, however, fell asleep with a smile on her face, fantastically content and clutching the little stargate that glowed on into the night and lost its light only when it was finally overpowered by the morning sun-glow in the room.
At sunrise we ran back down to the man in the ravine. The wreck of the ship was surprisingly hidden in its own destruction. At night it had been so distinct, but by daylight it was concealed in a blasted stand of trees and a fall of rocks, all scorched and ruined. Any other bodies would have been burned to nothing, as there was nothing there but ash and the last few beams of metal from the skeleton of the craft and a long slick of liquid ozone still ascending in clear columns that distorted the light.
We carried fresh water and tea leaves, a salted goat rib, and tough bread that would last a few days. We feared he would be gone; that the crash was never real, or that it was real but no one had lived. As we coursed down through the rocks I saw his ragged leg first and then the rest of him, laid out as he had been, motionless. We halted.
He looked dead. In the daylight his pale face hung heavily against the ornate breastplate and seemed as lifeless as the newly deceased, as when an elder has spent their last breath. On his descending robe there was an arched metal design like two sets of antlers or claws, intertwined one up and one down, in bright brass. His hands were loose at his sides. Irahi and I marveled at how perfect this being appeared. He seemed untouched by reality, as if he had spent too much time without gravity and just the weight of existence had beleaguered him overmuch unto death. But it was not so. As we approached, one gray eye opened and fixed on us and a small grin crept in the corners of his mouth.
Straight Jacket Bears
#5 - 2013-11-02 18:24:37 UTC
On seeing him awake, Irahi jumped like a mouse across the last few rocks in the path and up to the man and presented the water in its huskbag. He reached a tired arm toward it and drank carefully. We passed and shared the bread and goat with him as well, none of us speaking. Irahi was calm and enrapt with how he moved his hands and maintained his poise despite his wounds. We would have to make a splint for his leg if he was to walk. After we had eaten our fill, we wrapped the leavings in a flat coarse paper and he accepted them with a nod and then looked very sternly at Irahi.
“I don't know,” she looked at me. He was glaring at what she held now.
“He's looking at the gate.” I said.
“Do the gods use gates to get around? I would think they didn't have to.”
I leaned in close to her, “he's not one of them.” For the first time, looking again at the man's ruined leg, she did not move to argue.
The man motioned to see the bauble closer and Irahi passed it to him and he held it a moment, then moved it upward against the sky. With the other hand he took a small rock and moved it to the gate and then passed it to the other side and set it down away from him, then back up again and to the gate form the other side and made a low hissing sound, signaling the arrival of the rock on the other side again. He nodded toward the crash.
“You do use the gates!” whispered Irahi. But what he said next was not expected.
He pointed up to the star, bright and hot above and thankfully shaded where we were, and said one word, “Hek.”
I did not know it then, but I should have killed him. I should have taken a rock and broken his head and not stopped until I had tired beyond lifting the rock again. I should have done this when he tapped Irahi on the forehead with a smile and said “Matari”, and then touched his own chest flat-handedly and said “Amarr”. I should have spilled his knowledge on the rocks and taken the food we had left and let the ants and beetles tend to the remains – for my sister, my mother and father, and all the people on this world and others, I should have destroyed him. But I did not know. I smiled instead and wondered at how he knew what we called our people. Irahi and I held our dark arms up next to his and laughed at the stark difference in our ruddiness and his astral paleness. He seemed to enjoy our time, and even once managed a full smile. I wondered how he could do this with all his friends dead in a burned-out ship just a thousand feet away, but he had made no mention of their deaths, as if it did not matter and they could be resurrected again somewhere back up in the stars. Perhaps this is how gods think – without consequence. Without death.
I moved to gather some small saplings nearby to make him a splint, but he refused. He instead retrieved the small half-egg device from between the rocks beside him. He looked at it a moment and then set it on the ground and touched it on the side. When he did this, a small columnar light issued forth and a voice came from it.
“Is it spirits?” Irahi whispered, eyes wide and alert but not frightened.
The man spoke back to the light and tapped the device again and then another light, bright red and thinner than a hair, shot straight upward through the trees and pierced the sky and continued on into the deep blue distance above where it was lost to the eye. The red line hung there like a rope, taught, as if attached to something, and in moments there was a cracking sound, just as before the crash, and something small flashed in the sky and then darkened as it made a half circle through the altitudes and clouds, growing in size in its descent.
“Irahi!” I waved for her to come with me. I was leaving. The man had called his fellows and if they crashed again we would die here in the shifting shade trees by the rocks. Irahi was staring upward, unfettered, even as the wind began to shift the tops of the trees and the low drone of the object in descent became louder and more powerful in the air.
Straight Jacket Bears
#6 - 2013-11-02 18:26:04 UTC  |  Edited by: Vehestian
I reached to grasp her hand but I was too close to the man and he gripped my arm and held me in my place and shook his head fiercely for us to remain. I am glad we did.
A monstrous pillar of heat and light blasted downward from the craft and shook the bark from the trees. The noise was thick like boiling oil and deep water. When the light went out, the most fearsomely beautiful thing I have ever witnessed stood solid and strong where there had been green trees just minutes before.
The ship was long and gold, with a hawkish face and one grim slit for an eye that went across the front of its head, lit deep orange from the inside. Four large jets emitted a bright blue after-glow in the radiant sunlight and four heavy guns receded into its skin as it powered down. The whole ship looked like a sentient thing – graceful, star-fed, and deadly. In moments there were men walking out of it and as they approached I saw they wore the same suit as our wounded man. They passed us by and walked straight to him and raised him up by the shoulders where they kept him half-standing a moment. As if we had never existed, they walked past us and I thought they would depart with no words or gestures whatsoever, as if we had also died in the crash and weren't worth the slightest consideration, until the man made them stop.
He leaned down to Irahi and tapped her forehead with a single finger. She smiled a big childish grin and he turned to me then and placed the small device in my palm and closed my fingers over it. He looked at me and raised his arm, fingers splayed wide. “Matari zun zithar,” he said calmly, and then closed his fist over the sun so that it made a silhouette. He nodded again toward the device, and then spoke the four words that I will always remember, in our own language, as if he had known it forever, “That will save you.”
The men then turned away, never looking back, and entered the ship. The beast thundered against the ground and roared low and graceful off the riverbed, accelerating into the sky and past vision into the un-markable plate of the firmament. A final cloudless thunderclap issued down to us, and there was silence.
“They might be the gods.” There was nothing else I could say. I thought then and held up the device the man had given us. I gave it to Irahi, who held it and the gate very close to her. Her face was sad and a tear had sprung up in each of her eyes – they were tears of wonder and of sadness, but also of abandonment. For all their sure and mysterious power, the gods had given no explanation, and no suggestion as to what should be done with what they left behind them – wreck and mystery, that was all, and a small trinket that would save us from a threat we did not know.
Straight Jacket Bears
#7 - 2013-11-02 18:26:41 UTC  |  Edited by: Vehestian
For ten years we reflected often on the man. Father passed away one year working in the fields and when the men brought him to the house he was very peaceful and still bore the sweat of his work. But unlike the god we had seen, who looked very old but young, our father looked young even in his age. His body was beaten by years of work and dirt and injury, but the life in it had been young, only once spent. The god-man, there had been many lives in him, perhaps thousands, and it was not long after we buried our father that we told our mother about the god-man and showed her the tool he had left with us as children. She wanted to believe us but her despair was too great and she spent a long time mourning. We hid the device out in the rocks where no one would find it but us and we hoped time would not destroy it. And then, one warm spring morning, a fist closed over the sun. The dew was just glistening off the grass blades and the wind was thick with the fragrance of new flowering plants in the field, and there came a shadow moving in the sky. It hung heavy, miles above, immense as a moon. The gods came after that.
They came calmly at first, with more ships than we could count, and then they came with violence and great numbers. They scoured the Matari cities. For the first week we watched plumes of smoke rise from the capital Viggod many miles away over the mountains. Bright golden rods of destruction rained down from the darkness suspended above and metal sprites sprinted low through the sky, blasting the villages with red beams of heat and death. It was Irahi who reminded me of the tool the man had left, the morning of our choosing, as the drones wailed overhead in our own village, igniting the shipyards across the river, scaling the mountainside and dropping down again in a rage of flashing rapid lights burning into houses, farms, livestock, people. Mother would not be moved from the house, so Irahi and I ran the way many others were running – to the forest, the rocky escapes, the old river tunnels where we had hunted energy cells as children. We found the device and, mimicking what the man had done years before, caused it to issue upward a red hair-thin beam.
“Somsa.” Irahi said to me as if it was any other day. “Mother must come here with us.”
I was frantically hoping against time and hope itself that something magical would happen from the light – that the drones would cease to fly, the distant booms and smoke pillars would go silent and dark, that the shade over the sun would dissipate, and while I looked up to where the beam vanished in the burned sky, Irahi disappeared. I looked back down to where she had been standing, and she was gone.
Straight Jacket Bears
#8 - 2013-11-02 18:27:04 UTC  |  Edited by: Vehestian
I saw her strong dark hair sway behind her as she ran back up the river road, lithe as a deer, strong and sure. Two drones scattered overhead in different directions and without thinking I found myself also running away toward home. My legs burned, the air burned, the noise of detonations thudded through the air and another noise came to meld with the ongoing cacophany – a low drone, heavy to the ear like deep water, resounding into the ground itself like long thunder. As I rounded the hill to the house, the fire began. A cloud of drones swung low over the narrow road, houses on either side still decorated with spring flowers and bright painted windows under strong solid wood beams the fathers and sons had built, and spit an array of bright violence into places where sacred memories would always be – home.
The last I saw of my sister, she was opening the front door. She turned around, her plain cloth skirt waving round, and she smiled. Mother had met her at the door. She had decided to come with us after all. She saw me as well, from a distance, and in a flash they were gone and a wall of fire took their place. A ripping in the air around me drove me back to the trees and I ran furiously to the alcove. I wanted the man to be there. I wanted to show him what he had done, and then wrap my hands about his skull and press until it gave way – until his ruin lay at my feet. Tears of fear and fury distorted my vision. All was a blur of bright flashes and passing leaves, the rapid heavy thudding of my feet along old familiar ground I could have run blind in the darkest night. Suddenly, I was there. He was there as well. The hawk-faced ship sat gracefully in the riverbed just as before. The man stood outside it, with solid presence, un-aged and perfect as if re-made. He extended his hand to me and grabbed my arm and looked about for my sister. I saw a brief sadness and regret sweep across his face, and then we turned against the destruction at our backs and went inside the metal beast.

Do not say that the gods are not real. Say neither that they are immortal. I have seen them, I was saved by them, and by them I was destroyed. Somsa Barodbur, I alone escaped Hek during its razing. My body was spared the bond of slavery by the honor of the Amarr to repay their debts, but the slavery of my soul is eternal, and will not die with the Amarr, though that is a good place to start.
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