Before these tales are told I will give a short preface about the tree, and a little of my relation to it. I will tell you what facts I can regardless of whether or not I am to be believed; I will not take pains to mask what I say in consideration of others’ sensibilities or beliefs, so dear to their hearts. They must look to themselves as to what they will believe.
He sat down hard on the ground, his energy spent. His descent and contact with the ground caused such a cloud of dust that it filled his mouth, ears and eyes. He would have wept if circumstances had not deprived him of all excess moisture.
As he sat surrounded by the heated desert air he felt overwhelmed by the seeming futility of his search.
He had spent the last twenty years seeking the tree of knowledge which was said to exist at the end of the earth.
So many he had asked and they seemed so sure where and what the end of the earth was. Each lead had brought him to incredible experiences, even so very close to death. But people always seemed to be misinformed as to what an end was.
No matter how objectively he presented his need they always interpreted it according to their very biased understanding, and send him down many subjective paths – theirs!
But after all, he was the person who went down those paths. No one forced him to go, but he went nonetheless.
Many of his experiences left him muttering to himself on the perversity of human behavior. But in the end he could not deny the perversity that seemed to lie at the base of his own actions. The only real difference between them was that he was aware of his own foolishness.
He could not remember exactly when he had begun to search for the “tree of knowledge.” As he contemplated this it came to him as through a fog that when he had started off, he had done so at the behest of his teacher. But his teacher’s command had been that he seek knowledge even unto China. Actually now that he focused he realized for the first time that it had not been a command but a simple request that was entirely in his own interest. But because of undue concern on his part he had listened to the words but not the content of what he was asked. He had started out with high hopes and filled with arrogance. Then over an unknown period of time his asking directions and advice about the nature of his search had gradually grown into the search for a tree on which the fruit of all knowledge grew. Soon people began to tell him that this tree was to be found at the end of the earth.
Responding to each new piece of information, his search became narrower and wider at the same time. More and more extraneous rituals and journeys crept into his search, wearing him down until he felt quite fragile.
Finally sitting in the dust he began to understand what had happened to him, how his search had become distorted by his multitude of desires and lack of self understanding that had caused endless accretions, accretions which covered him so thickly that he felt he no longer had any vision left at all.
As he sat there thinking these thoughts a cool breeze and delicate shadows dappled his face.
Startled, he looked up and saw that he was sitting under a tree which, with profuse blossoms, was shading him suddenly from the intense heat.
Those who saw him sitting in the dust merely saw a man apparently at the end of himself and not worthy of their notice. Some of these had sufficient inwardness to notice the look of astonishment in his face, which was accompanied by a smile.
He had come among us to live as an exemplar, far from his people.
He had been the recipient of the deepest and highest experiences known to any of his kind yet he talked quietly, walked modestly and in general was the most unobtrusive of creatures. None went from him without receiving what they needed. No one spoke in praise of him. In fact not many really noticed him. Yet just because of his attainments one can only speak of him in generalizations, for fear of being too specific and by being so bringing personal ignorance and assumptions to bear.
What some might consider accomplishments he would perhaps smile and nod at, yet these things would have no bearing on him and what he was. If one word could be brought forth as a description of what he was, it would be “understanding.” Others passed on what they could, but he understood about levels of understanding and always gave what was essential, what was truly there.
To the High Federation Council
From Braitor Gamlin Fresmen
5th Grade, Junior
Quadrant 3, Sector 9
The research into the creature known as BUHKDNIT JAHDU-ISP and possible methods of approach to the eradication of same from Federated space or, failing that, some means of accommodation.
In the following report, I will state the known as well as the less known about the “Galactic Scourge,” that a more complete picture may be formed in the minds of those who will read it, perhaps giving rise to a solution.
The August Council has bestowed upon me the rather singular honor of discovering a solution to this thorn in the Galactic body politic. If I were of a suspicious nature I might suspect the illustrious members of the Council of visiting this “honor” upon me for some horrible past misdeed or imagined slight upon the immaculate virtue of some of the senior members of the Council – But, being a very junior member and lacking anywhere else to lay the burden, I must grudgingly acquiesce and put before you what you will no doubt consider most unpalatable.
BUHKDNIT JAHDU-ISP. A strange name, yet perhaps no stranger than many non-human appellations attached to even more unusual looking denizens of known space. Yet, that it is the most talked about and feared name in all the expanding boundaries of life in this galaxy need hardly be said.
It is an Assassin. It kills prominent figures, insignificant individuals, cultures, even worlds.
Its history is quite well delineated, though no guarantee can be given as to the reliability of the facts, as they all originate with the Creature itself. The Creature is charming and loquacious, willing to grant interviews to all who ask. The fact that a creature gives the appearance of having been made of spare parts left over from an insect and a Terran moose may not seem to lend itself to charm, yet it does and is. In conversation the Assassin is genteel, almost elegant, and waxes humorously philosophical. In fact it appears most amused by what it regards as our quaint sense of fairness and morality.
According to itself, its origins were in the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51 (NGC5194). It became affiliated (its own word) with our galaxy 5000 Terran years ago. It spent about 3000 of those years traveling about, studying various cultures to determine what mode of activity would best suit it and its host galaxy.
It finally chose the profession of assassin.
It has given the distinct impression that at some future date it will cease being an assassin and choose another career.
It presently adheres to no laws, and cannot be stopped or apprehended, although many have tried. Trying to understand such a totally alien creature is daunting in the extreme.
It jokes easily about many things, yet it is not at all clear when it is being humorous and when factual. An example: asked for a translation of its name into Galactic Standard, it contemplated this for a short while, then said that we might call it “Buglepuke.” It said a more accurate rendition would be “the Left hand of God.”
Chéshtah had lived for a long time, longer than any she knew, though not as long as some she had heard of.
She sat in the sun’s midday heat, absorbing into her ancient form every trace that would give her a moment’s more life and sustenance. As with her kind, she took nurture from all about her. Every molecule, atom and low- and high- resonance substance she drew from was a blessing which increased her longevity by sometimes immeasurably small increments.
As the ages passed she had seen the shape of the events form, evaporate and reform. The shapes were marvelous. Sometimes violent and promising, at other times peaceful, long and totally useless.
Always she had been a vigorous and willing participant at the feast of life, allowing no grain of experience to slip away unconsumed.
At least so she had thought.
Eea-Ahash watched through the welter of great Booahss leaves as the lights in the valley lifted without a sound and winked out of sight. Try as he might, using all the concentration that his teachers had gifted him with, he could not see where the strange ones went. Of course it was the dark and the Booahss were exuding their heady nightly wastes. He uncharacteristically excused himself with the notion that such things were enough to disrupt the most even understanding, the normal exhalations of the Booahss notwithstanding.
Eea-Ahash’s eyes were dilated fully in the dark, and only contracted to pinpoints when the immense lights burst forth before lifting and vanishing into what he did not understand.
He felt the lack of understanding shared by the presence which had just materialized at his side. Shimhoo-Tistehm, his blood relative and co-worker, was as deeply immersed in puzzlement as he. Together, they peered out between the breathing Booahss leaves at the incomprehensible.
They sat among the lives of the Great Green which was their world. The heritage of luxuriant growth and sensuous aromas which would intoxicate even the most sophisticated of entities swirled about and above them mostly unnoticed. Mostly, but not completely, because on the level where harmony reigned they were minutely aware. That living, breathing world flowed in their veins and gave glowing brilliance to their huge round emerald eyes.
The fierce eye of morning rose abruptly, and out of the silence that had shrouded the night-cold desert, a great moaning heralded a storm. The sound struck Oahs-Prehktha out of his inwardness and into another day.
He peered into the shrieking wind with a feeling of expectation that always arose with each new day. It was not an expectation that needed fuel or reward to give it life, but was part of his being, a being of vast experience and wandering among the strangenesses of many incomprehensible worlds. Perhaps, he thought, expectation was not the correct name for that which held its present configuration in his mind. Among the people expectation was deemed the primitive reaction of an ignorant or at the very least an untrained mind. This seemed much more so in the light of his recent experiences. Awareness, then, seemed more appropriate. Awareness generalized and without need of direction or judgment.
The storm suddenly vanished in a swirl of thunderous magenta clouds over the nearby mountains, leaving him sitting exposed in a fiery burst of heat from the morning star.
His tall, black body steamed as the moisture fairly boiled from his skin. Slowly his large gold eyes took in the world about him. It was always almost frighteningly curious to see what new wonder this active world would produce each living day. The conditions of the world were so variable that a stalwart purpose or implacable cause was tantamount to idiocy and foolishness. No civilization would or could arise there, for coherence as it was known among the sentient ones was ludicrous. Even he, whose strength went far beyond simple physicality, was taxed endlessly every waking and sleeping moment.
As he stood, stretching to his full height of thirteen feet in preparation for the expulsion of the nightly gatherings of poisons from his system, the ground shook with one hard convulsion. His senses had given him small warning, and he was knocked to the ground, hard. It stopped literally as soon as it had begun.
He picked himself up and wondered once more how such a world could hold itself together. Unlike the other active worlds he had traversed, this one was not in the throes of evolution in any accepted sense of the word. One thing did not necessarily lead to another, or even out of another. Wet could follow dry to be replaced by freeze, and scorching heat by groundquake then flood, in endless combinations or variations. It was not just the awesome permutations that frustrated the senses but also the uncertainty of duration. Expecting rain, it froze. A sweltering, desiccating heat of ten minutes was replaced by a six-second earthquake. A flood of two minutes boiling up out of the ground would vanish to be replaced by a glacial rain of five minutes or an hour or any unpredictable time at all. Never the same way or order twice since he had been grounded there. It took all of his skills to stay alive. In fact he knew that if he were to stay there very much longer his sentience would probably deteriorate. Even now attitudes not felt by him or his kind for millennia were attempting to impose themselves on his consciousness. He knew that the only thing that had saved him, was saving him, was that he was Rahst-Jerrooahsh.
The final lightning flared in the distance, casting a ghastly pallor on Shellis-Ehammerrah’s anguished face. Thunder stuttered gently as the storm receded over the mountains. Wet was everywhere.
Gendliss placed her loving hand on his shoulder. By the pressure she applied he understood that she shared the sorrow that lay so deep within him. Shared as well as such intense things can be shared. He longed for the delicate air, the flight of his people–the exultation that cannot be understood by those forever rooted by gravity’s curse.
It was in these times of storm that he climbed to his mountain lair and sat in the furious wildness that battered stone and whatever flesh was tempted to expose itself.
His mate, Gendliss, had taken in the last year or so to accompanying him to these violent heights. Not that she approved of his actions–she had spent the better part of two years trying urgently to get him to see the danger and folly of them, unsuccessfully. Finally, in desperation of love, she went with him in some slim hope of imagined protection. Her first time on the heights had frightened her nearly witless. None of the ground can ever leave the basic fear of being swept away rootless into the bottomless well of the sky.
Shellis had no such fear of course, in fact the opposite. The ground was, in his deepest mind and spirit, only a place to rest before reentering the world of wind, sky and soaring clouds. Any time not spent among the tops of mountain crags and shearing winds must be considered wasted by his kind.
Deep pain cut him in a place where no salve nor sleep nor grounded joy could reach.
He sat, naked to the elements, his knees drawn up to his chin, arms clasped about his legs. Even seated, his tallness was startling. Thin as he was, his strong musculature rippled with the inner tensions of innate responses to long unused biological cues, cut off in the frustration of unfulfillment.
He knew with the passing of the storm that the time he dreaded most was at hand–a return to the lowlands and the home which Gendliss had made for them. He closed his eyes and, as always, tried to will the storm to return that those elements of beauty might allow him to soar, at least in his mind.
He was aware of Gendliss at his side and almost resented her obvious anxiousness to return to, what was for her, the normality and peace of their domestic life. Almost. He unclasped his legs and held her hand, still looking in his mind’s eye at the fiery heart of the departed storm. He felt the coolness of her hand and the warmth of her love. He knew what sacrifices she had made, what desperate adaptations had gone into the making of this thing that she and her kind called love and life.
Rising slowly to his full seven foot height and sighing deeply, he allowed his mate to lead him into the warmth of the small cave which he could enter only by stooping. Once inside he could easily stand with comfort, as it expanded to a vaulted ceiling. She, as always, had a roaring fire in front of which he dried and warmed himself. Food, his favorite dishes, was arrayed in pleasing fashion to await his tasting.
Shayrah Eevoo stepped out from behind the counter, slick with the drinks of many persuasions, and into the mêlée which had arisen. The tenth of the day. It was not even early evening, but these contentious creatures had decided not to wait until the usual hour for their altercations.
As he moved his great self out into the room where the noisy fracas had erupted, people who knew him moved quickly to a place of safety, cautiously balancing their drinks that nothing might spill. They knew that until this disturbance was quelled they would get no more from him.
He stood, hands on hips, staring at the two contenders who had commandeered the center floor at the expense of two broken chairs and some broken glass. Usually the mere sight of this mountain of a man was enough to stop such problems dead in his, her or its tracks, Twice already today it had not been enough, and he had been forced to act with a roughness which was actually far from his true nature.
Fortunately, the two who were about to take issue over broken glass and abstruse ideas knew him, and his presence was sufficient to sober them enough to read the consequences of any drastic measures. Sheepishly they apologized, paid for the broken utensils and departed lest they drink more and forget themselves to their regret.
Shayrah stared narrowly at the retreating backs of the two as they scurried out the door. He sighed deeply and returned to his stool behind the counter. From that vantage point he could see every place in the entire bar. Once again he pondered his position as owner, settler of ridiculous disputes – judge and jury to a hundred lifeforms as dissimilar as the potables which were dispensed from behind his bar.
The arduousness of his life was written in the scars on his face and hands, but the deepest cuts were hidden away from public view within the very private person that he was. A man of his size was both protected by it and plagued as well. Most gave him a wide berth, but an occasional character of perverse or suicidal tendencies would challenge him for trivial reason or for no reason at all other than some personal pain. Somehow his life had all fallen, bit by bit, into this forsaken corner of the galaxy like pieces of broken pot swept into a corner. When challenged, he simply became an unfeeling stone on which others broke their hearts and bodies. He hated it but life had really given him no other way.
He had used what was left of his severance pay to purchase a fifth-rate hovel, and with the patience common to big, sensitive men he had turned it into a first-rate bar. First rate, that is, considering the world on which he stood and the exotic nature of his clientele. At times it did have very rough edges as different physicalities and psychologies met here and, often uncomprehending, collided. But as a veteran of many conflicts, Shayrah Eevoo really expected nothing else in his life. He had fought against and alongside many of the oddments of what passed for intelligence in this corner of creation.
As he gazed about, his eye caught his reflection in a slit mirror across the room. He paused and stared at the hulk which stared back at him. For a big man he was well proportioned and had a rugged, almost comely symmetry to his cragged face. Even the scarring had not destroyed that patrician cast which many thought was haughtiness but which was really only a genetic disposition over which he had no control.
He let his eye roam about the rough-hewn beams and dark wood of his establishment. As it traveled slowly over each object it revived the days and months of hard work when he lovingly or brutally fashioned them with his hands.
His last stint on the dread nameless world had given him sufficient capital to construct this place – that and the amount which had been left to him by Shaltah-Oris and Ahril-Flehs. The image of Shaltah-Oris laughed her beautiful laugh in his memory for a moment before he gently laid her to rest among the rubble of his past. Ahril-Flehs had been the truest and most durable of friends. They had even childishly fought over Shaltah’s beauty until they had come to love each other in a far deeper way. They had formed a pact on that evil world that if one or more did not survive, the remaining member or members of their love should take what was owed them and do something far away from the senseless killing. They were gone, and he had done that. He closed his eyes against the old pain.
Even now he expected them to walk through the door and laugh at their terrible joke. No joke, this, he knew – forever done.
The delicate thread of past life so painfully squeezed into the present was sundered by the entrance of a Grammensi.
The tall warrior, dressed from head to foot in battle armor, had to stoop to pass through the doorway. Shayrah watched him or her with interest. One could not tell what gender lay beneath the total concealment of that nearly indestructible shell in which they lived and died. As warriors either sex was equally proficient so one did not bother to inquire. Shayrah simply called them he out of habit and convenience. He had fought alongside them once at Far Light and Shayrah had been glad that they were on his side.
The first glimmering of russet light cracked the broad ocean horizon. Slowly the enormous, tumid red sun peeked over the water’s edge, sending its first true rays to strike the crystal mountains. The mountains commenced to murmur as if conversing among themselves in low voices of the events of the evening past and hopes for the day to come. As the sun spread itself over more and more of the horizon, the speech of the mountains turned to singing, which rose in pitch until an exquisite and complex melody caressed the land and ocean.
Sfah moved out of his dormant mode as he always did to the crystal chorus of the mountains. In all the many centuries that he had been guardian of this planet he never tired of that wondrous sound. Motionless he stood, letting the waves of tintinnabulation wash over his glittering body.
Soon the sun filled the major portion of the sky, staining everything with its redness and bringing to an end the daily concert.
All too soon, he thought. It was time to leave that particular sector and travel farther afield on his rounds of inspection. Actually he knew from the part of him that was mechanical that he could sense from any place on the planet the information pertinent to his position as guardian. Still, the part of him that was biological preferred the travel and change which accompanied such actions. Illogical it was, he knew, but as it did not interfere with his duties, and as it satisfied some distant urge within him there seemed no harm in the minor indulgence.
the palaces of
where they lie
to ascend the
the foot falls