Just Not Possible
“Adoration to Karoh for creating us in His Image alone among the stars, for making us, his children, masters of the world and universe, all at our command and for our use, So Be It, our Creator.”
Jai listened to High Nakim Faree with half a mind. A fourth of his mind was on the current publicized quest of a team of archeologists and another fourth obsessed with guilt. The guilt was due to the fact that he should not be paying attention to the archeologists at all. If anyone in the temple were to know about this particular interest, he would be in trouble. Not only with the cleric himself, but with Jai’s family—possibly not his youngest sister, but she carried little power.
He could see that Nakim Faree was gearing up for a fiery lecture and admonition against the depravity of science and above all that of the archeologists setting out to disprove the official temple history of the Creation of the people of Diadia. Jai had heard variations of this sermon at least five times in his own temple and once when visiting his uncle’s in Unami. Different Nakim, same words.
After the Prayer of Eradim, the Nakim caught Jai on his way out. “My friend,” he said, extending his hand for an open palm touch, supposedly signifying the two of them were equal in the eyes of Karoh, but fooling no one including each other. “I wonder if you would find the time to take a look at our coolers. I know how busy you are, but…”
Jai had little choice but to comply. Aiding the temple and its grounds was expected of parishioners and ones like Jai with their special skills were regularly in demand. He often wished that his profession was something others had little use for. He worked in maintenance for the university for very modest remuneration, yet family, friends and acquaintance seemed to expect free help. Someday he would probably advance to Maintenance Head, but until then he lived modestly in a one room flat and bought most of his meals at a cheap restaurant in the same building.
“The coolers, you say,” he said.
“Yes,” said the Nakim, dramatically wiping his neck with a colorful cloth. “So hot lately, and everyone in an irritable mood. We would all so appreciate your help.”
As Nakim Faree ended his sentence, Jai could not help but notice his prolonged gaze, as if he were checking Jai carefully. As if he doubted Jai about something. The look made him want to shiver, but he managed to control himself. He had felt for a long time that there was something oily about the Nakim.
“I will see to it immediately,” Jai said. “If it isn’t done by tonight, I’ll be back tomorrow after the workday.”
“We appreciate it, as always,” said Faree. And again, that look.
At home, after Jai had tinkered with the temple’s coolers and would have finished the job except that a part he needed would not be available till the next day, he settled into his chair and turned on the catcher. His older sister had given him hers after her spouse had brought them a more advanced one.
Sitting now in front of the tiny screen, as he ate the soup he’d bought the day before, he studied the small figures moving about. Before this, people could only listen to their news and entertainment, but now some wonderful scientists had invented this pleasure. Every evening, Jai could not wait to turn on the machine to see the tiny figures as they spoke and moved about. The full name for the machine was Wave Catcher but everyone called them “catchers.”
One of the tiny figures on now was a world-renowned archeologist, Master Hiang Pyrit, complaining about the small group of his associates leading the controversial expedition to unearth whatever was under the Great Stone.
“There is no reason to disturb this priceless monument,” emphatically stated Pyrit. “Their reason for doing so is pseudo-science! We have already established that we diadi evolved from primitive animals and that is that. Anyone with half a brain can see by observing the skeletons of miascams and peralutals that we are related to these life forms.”
Jai flinched when he saw the next figure to speak–it was Supreme Priest, Nakim Basonai from Jai’s own district. The Nakim was irate. “You have no real proof of that absurd theory, Master Pyrut,” he said. “Certainly, you have your fossils and whatnot, but there are vast empty spaces in your charts of what developed and when. Huge spaces and not a single thing to explain the sudden appearance of civilization! There is no definitive scientific evidence that shows exactly how we diadi first came to be. Yes, you have the climbers and you have the plains runners and yes, they resemble us in some ways, but show me exactly when they changed into diadi. Just show me that skeleton, Master Know-it-all!”
Jai was surprised to see Nakim Basonai dissolve so quickly into anger, but then probably it was to be expected. The Temple had been in long disagreement with scientists in general, and now this new archeology team about to dig was riling him up even further. The fact that Pyrit also did not support the dig did nothing to assuage the Nakim’s anger.
“We don’t have ‘that skeleton,’ as you put it, Nakim,” replied Master Pyrit with barely concealed contempt, “but the day will come when either we do or,” and here he paused before reluctantly going on, “we will have found a different kind of evidence that will change our world view entirely.”
The Nakim’s expression morphed from fury into what looked distinctly like fear and then back again to rage.
Jai opened the communicator box on the wall and pressed in the number of his friend Babit. “Can you meet me at Vlus?” he said. It was late, and he needed to be up early, but he felt an overwhelming need to talk to someone.
The friends slid into secluded seating at the back of the tavern and ordered a pitcher of radi beer. “Mmmmmm,” said Babit after a long swallow.
“Yes, good,” said Jai impatiently. He was not there to praise the beer. “You have been hearing about the expedition, right?”
“Huh?” said Babit.
“The archeologists! The one led by Master Wopam! You do not get the news?”
“We do not have a catcher,” Babit said. “My father broke it in a drunken frenzy.”
“Well, you do not read?” said Jai with exasperation. He seriously had to get some new friends. “They are going to dig under the Great Stone. You know … where the information might be.”
Jai sighed. He had known Babit since they were infants and felt like they were brothers, but how wonderful it would be to have someone to discuss serious matters with. Everyone he knew just struggled to provide themselves with food, shelter and financial security and had no time for advanced learning. He felt he had been born into the wrong level of society, his mind was so restless, and he could not see a way out. He would surely be a maintenance diadi the rest of his life.
Of course, there was no rule against having a hobby. People made art, they played music, they danced, they collected rare objects. There was no rule against such things.
“Babit, they might find information that changes the world. Wake up.”
“Nothing is going to change the world,” said Babit. “We are stuck with it.”
“I am volunteering to help,” blurted Jai.
Babit looked up from his beer. “What? Why? What for?”
“Because if I do not, I will go crazy,” said Jai. “I cannot explain it, but I will.”
* * *
Jai had no idea if volunteering was even permitted, but he called into work and said he needed a personal day. He was permitted three of these per year and on Second Sun year, four. This was a Second Sun year, and he had not yet used any. When he arrived at the Great Stone site, everything was roped off, and guards stood around the perimeter. More guards stood near the entrance into the restricted area. Jai approached one of them and politely asked if he could speak to one of the archeologists.
“Absolutely not,” said the guard with a smirk. “Go home, you are not permitted here! Who do you think you are?”
Humbled, but angry, Jai replied, “I am nobody, that is a fact. But I have come to offer my services in my free time. For instance, should any of the team need food, I can go get it for them.”
The guard laughed and was about to give Jai a swift kick in the shin when a tall diadi approached the gate and tapped his metal badge. “What is this?” he said to the guard. “Did I hear this young diadi say he would run errands for us? Well, let him in! We can always use a strong back.”
Jai could not believe his good luck. Once inside, the diadi said, “I am Master Gris, assistant to Master Wopam. I believe I have seen you around the university. You are in maintenance, am I correct?”
“Yes,” mumbled Jai, embarrassed in the presence of this lofty scientist and amazed that he remembered someone such as himself.
“Well, a good maintenance man is exactly what we need in this endeavor. Carefully and gently cleaning what we find is a talent and a profession. If you show any skill at it, possibly I can get you transferred. But let’s just wait and see how you do.”
The fence around the excavation was high and solid to outside viewers. Nevertheless before the second sun was up, protesters had gathered in the street. The group included females, and they were dressed in the indigo robes of the strictest Karohites. Jai did not see any Nakim in the group, but there was a minor leader that he had seen on the catcher. “Descendants into evil,” the group chanted. “Karoh protect us from the fabrications of science!”
For a moment, Jai became faint of heart as he imagined that possibly someone in the crowd would report seeing him entering the archeological site. Whatever the case, he was soon inside the fence and heard the gate close firmly behind him.
He saw that most of the workers had shaved their heads. The day was cloudy yet they were already sweating. “It is for cleanliness,” explained Master Gris who had not shaved his own. They will get very grimy with all the digging and sorting. If you want to join in, you may want to do the same.”
Jai could never do that, but he did not wish to explain why to the archeologist. Nakim Faree and his entire family would be scandalized should he shave his head. “Karoh made the heads of diadi to sprout hair and cultivate it respectfully,” he could hear the Nakim pronounce in his thunderous voice. No matter how sweaty or hot he ever may become, his thick silver mane had better stay put.
That evening when Jai informed Master Gris that he would not be able to return until his next day off, the master startled him by saying, “This is a project of the university, and you are an employee of same. I will speak to the Head of Employment and see about having you transferred to our department. He is a personal friend. You work quickly but very carefully, even one could say delicately, and would be of value to us if you continued.”
“Oh, I do not know—“ said Jai quickly.
“No need to worry about losing your position. I will see to that. Or possibly after we are finished, you might consider staying with us.”
Jai was temporarily speechless. It would not be prudent to have his family know about such a change in work. It was one thing to sneak in to help the diggers when on off time, but quite another to fully identify with the project. But temptation overrode his hesitancy. He felt hungry inside, maybe starving was more accurate and this was food. “All right,” he muttered, and the master nodded with satisfaction. But Jai was terrified.
* * *
The worksite was one hundred jarares by a hundred and fifty. The team’s sounding machines had identified an underground room with its back third under the Great Stone. The chamber was estimated to be approximately twenty-seven by thirty-one jarares with a depth of eight. Steel braces had been constructed around the Stone and over the chamber area with supports holding the Stone up from the back just in case, though since it had not sunk for thousands of double sun years, most likely it was secure.
The outside part of the hidden chamber would be unearthed first, then more supports installed under the stone. It was a risky business and only permitted because the current government leaned to the progressive side and the Premier’s grandson attended university to study biochemistry. The Premier’s favorite periodical, according to catcher news was a scientific one, for which he took grief from opposing forces. But at present, in spite of the screaming opposition outside the fence, the team was permitted to proceed. Karoh help them should the Great Stone fall.
“Jai?” It was his sister on the communicator. He was home after a physically exhausting though exciting day and having his supper, some delicious leftover stew from the jobsite the cooks had allowed people to take home. “I stopped by the maintenance room, and they told me you were not working there now.”
Lyna was a student at the university. She was permitted to attend two classes in order to become a record keeper. Their second eldest brother ran a shoe making business, and he would watch over her when she worked for him.
Jai was about to tell her that he had just taken the day off, but changed his mind. “I am working somewhere else temporarily,” he said.
“Where?” Lyna was his favorite sibling. She was sweet, unlike their elder sister who was angry and bitter most of the time.
He did not want to answer her; the information could cause nothing but trouble. “It is only temporary,” he repeated.
He wasn’t normally a liar but he said, “It is secret. I am not at liberty to say.”
“Oh, please, Jai-jai, tell me, tell me! I won’t tell anyone, I promise!”
He looked to the ceiling for help but none was forthcoming. “Seriously, Lyna, I am not permitted to say. Maybe after it is over, I can tell you.”
She pouted and grumbled, and he experienced a moment of fear. Lyna, because she was young and so pretty, was used to having things go her way, and if they did not, she could exhibit a will of solid rock. “I could get into trouble if I tell,” he added weakly, embarrassing himself.
“Mmmmmm” his sister said.
* * *
By the fifth day, the team had reached the bottom of the chamber, and by the sixth, installed the steel supports. Soon everyone felt safe enough to enter the part of the space directly under the Stone.
“This is it, my friends,” said Master Wopam after he had gathered everyone together at the edge of the neatly squared cavity. We have worked around the artifacts while our insides boiled with curiosity, but now we will open up the mystery, assuming there is one. We need to prepare ourselves in case there is not. The ancient writings certainly hint at the existence of one, but such clues have been known to lead archeologists on wild chases. With that in mind, let us begin.”
Jai, though not permitted to descend, felt such a thrill that he feared he might explode. He knew that as soon as they could, the team would carefully bring what they found to the surface to be deciphered, catalogued and studied. He silently prayed to Karoh that he would not have to wait sunyears to hear the results.
* * *
That evening, his father and brothers showed up unexpectedly at his door. Jai knew by his father’s expression and skin shade and the way his brothers stood with arms folded that he was about to receive a long, hard lecture. The diadi had even put on their serious garb, their violet robes reserved for various religious duties when invited by the Nakims.
“Sit down,” his father ordered, and Jai reluctantly obeyed. He resented being told what to do inside his own small home, but he had been trained to show respect.
“Your sister stopped by maintenance at the university and asked the guard there where you had gone for this temporary other employment you told her about. Someone there told her what it was, and I, your father, am shocked and offended. What on Diadia do you think you are doing? How dare you shame our family in this manner? Do you not realize that you are destroying any chance of finding you a proper mate?”
The brothers stood behind their father looking as threatening as they could manage, though Jai could detect in the eyes of the younger an almost pleading expression. I am being forced to go along with this, his eyes seemed to say.
“I don’t quite know what you mean, Father,” said Jai, though of course he did.
“Do not play stupid with me!” roared the father. “You know perfectly well what the agenda of those archeologists is! Why you would align yourself so publicly with them, I cannot fathom! Your mother is continually sobbing, do you understand?”
For a moment, Jai wished he could disappear from the face of Diadia. Why had Karoh created him to question things? Why was he born unable to believe everything that they had taught him? Why did he know deep inside of him that there was more to any story, particularly the one about their Creation, than what he had been told?
Jai did not reply to his father, and in return received a hard slap to the side of his head. His ears continued to ring long after the little group had left, slamming the door behind them. “You keep it up, and I will disown you,” were his father’s final words.
He sat in darkness while the brighter sun dropped below the horizon, and the other dimmed behind a thick layer of clouds. His gut clenched, and his mouth was parched, but he did not move. Before him stretched what he saw as a potentially long life of loneliness since he understood that in spite of what he stood to lose, he could not make himself stop. In the morning, while his mother cried, he would once again join the archeological team.
* * *
Immediately upon his arrival at the site, he felt an aura of celebration in the air. Some of the team had been there since before the first sunrise. They had set more tents up, and tables were covered with small artifacts. But this did not interest Jai as much as what was going on in the original examination tent. He stood outside the flap, and Master Gris motioned for him to enter.
“Look, my young friend. What you are seeing has not been viewed or touched for thousands of sunyears. I would estimate possibly over a hundred thousand of them! Look closer, my friend, and tell me what you see?”
Jai wondered why Gris was so kind to him, but he certainly appreciated it. He was nothing in this team, just a strong body, but the great diadi treated him with respect. So different from his family, he could not help thinking. Now he peered at what was a large metal tablet covered with a soft cloth.
“What is it?” he asked.
Upon the cloth was a large steel tablet covered with strange writing consisting of rows of carved characters under colored pictures seemingly burned into the metal. The pictures were very lifelike, almost like those on the catcher, only what sort of beings were the figures portrayed? What kind of diadi were these with their strangely colored skins, odd-looking eyes and hair? Were they Karoh’s Messengers, so famous in the holy writings?
Master Gris grinned, showing a great many of his orange teeth. He was a rather ugly diadi, but he radiated so much joy that he seemed almost handsome.
“These, my friend, are who created us. These are our ancestors.”
It was if someone had punched Jai in the chest; he actually felt winded. “I-I do not know what you mean. You must mean the Messengers of Karoh, no?” But in spite of his alarm at what Gris had just said, he felt a trickle of excitement.
“Whatever you wish to call them. Perhaps they are indeed the Messengers of Karoh, but the code breakers are already deciphering the writing. It resembles that of the first civilized diadi in the city of Rulama. It is the forerunner of their language. But already we believe we understand that first line there.” He ran his fingers across it.
“What does it say?” whispered Jai.
“We believe that it says, ‘And from the stars they came in their great flying ships, tall travelers from afar, from a heaven called Earth, carrying their seeds of life. And they took the bent-over creature and with it blended their seed to create the Children of Diadia.’”
Jai felt that he had lost the power to breathe.
“What I pretty much expected all along,” said Gris cheerfully.
When Jai could manage to speak, he said, “But maybe it isn’t true. Maybe it’s just the old gods primitive people believed in?”
“This particular sentence does not fit the old god stories, Jai. Though possibly later after we diadi were up and running, so to speak, our creators were still here, and we worshiped them.”
Feeling a stark fear, Jai said, “But this might mean that there is no Karoh who created us. This could mean that we are nothing but animals! This would mean that we are not special in the universe, we are nothing really, nothing at all!” Tears ran down his face, and he couldn’t seem to stop them. A few of the workers turned their heads to stare. It had to be the most embarrassing moment of his life.
“No, no!” said Gris, but Jai could not hear him over the roar in his head. He should have listened to his father, to the Nakims; he should have listened!
Master Wopam walked into the tent and fixed both Jai and Master Gris with his stern black eyes. “What is going on here? What is this digger doing here? He is causing a commotion!”
Master Gris laid his hand on Jai’s shoulder. “We will talk after work,” he said. “We will enjoy a beer together.”
Why was the diadi so kind? Jai wondered. “I am sorry,” he said, “but I need to return to my old work.”
Master Gris looked disappointed but jerked his head to say he understood, and Jai returned to his former life, dull and predictable, but at least his mother stopped crying.
Though not for long. At first, the news leaked out in periodicals of dubious reputation. However, as time passed, the information appeared in scholarly publications and programs on the catcher. Jai’s father and of course the Nakims were bound to see and hear it all and of course, eventually they did.
As Jai entered the Temple on Communal Evening, he felt unpleasant electricity in the air. Diadi seemed to be jumping in their seats while the females on the floor around the sides whispered like buzzing insects. It did not take a huge brain to know what was coming.
High Nakim Faree stood up from his throne and waved a hand for silence. His dark gray skin was streaked with magenta, his shiny black eyes bugged out, his mouth stretched wide in a frightening grimace.
“What evil, what work of the Dark Force has emerged from the hell-pit of the university this time?” he roared. “They have sunk lower than ever in the history of Diadia! Insulting Karoh this directly is the most outlandish attack they have ever devised!”
Faces in the audience glowed with excitement. They egged on the Nakim with their murmurs.
“It is clearly just the beginning of the scientific agenda to bring down the Temple of Karoh, to poison the minds of the followers and cast them into eternal darkness! To imply in their obviously manufactured way that beings from some other planet could come here and create us, what BLASPHEMY!!! To imply by this that we have no soul, that we are nothing but the bred animals of some superior race of diadi!” He paused for dramatic effect. “Do not succumb to this story, my friends! Do not forget that you are the Children of Karoh, and the proof is in our holy writings, the true history of the diadi! Do not let these creatures of darkness suck out your souls while pretending those very souls do not exist! What they say is just not possible!”
Jai had, since running away from the archeological site, been doing some hard thinking about this. He whispered to his elder brother next to him, “Why does our being created by some other creatures imply that we do not have souls? What if Karoh used these other beings to go out into the universe and create new containers for souls?”
His brother shot him a look that could wither the most vicious of jungle beasts. “You talk rubbish,” he snapped. “Shut up. Shut up, brother.”
It was with a desperate sense of fear and relief that Jai stood up and walked out of the temple. Once outside, he sucked in a deep, shuddering breath of fresh air. He paused and before he took another step, he understood that he was going to continue walking away from the temple and his family until they became nothing but memories. He would visit Master Gris, and even if he had to kiss that diadi’s feet, even if he had to serve the master’s family and clean their household toilets, he would plead for a job in the master’s department, and he would, even if he had to starve, somehow attend university until he had completely severed all ties to the narrow world he had been born into.
After all, he came from the stars and such a being as this deserved truth.