Archive for March, 2016

Snake Charmer

The Serpent Goddess


High above the dense jungle, Olberon perched upon a stone pillar and watched the sky, horror warring with awe inside her chest. They had come. The rescue ship. It hung like a giant moon above the planet, its orbit geosynchronous, blocking out half the sky. Even now, Olberon could see the shuttles descending through the atmosphere, their anti-grav a halo of light around the skin of the little ships, looking like a rain of shooting stars.

She wondered if the natives could see this. How could they not? The witch-doctors would have to be quick on their feet, this day, inventing a new lexicon that included a second god-ship. Shabak, the old charlatan, would come out of his cave and claim he had foreseen this day long ago.

She needed to go back to the encampment before they came looking for her. That was the last thing she wanted, to have her family stumble upon her secret forest lair. Olberon closed her eyes and found the waves of energy that had been beating against her mind, day and night, ever since the Elders finished building the machine. She turned in that direction and glared sourly at the golden tipped pyramid.

Machine was a generous description. The beacon had been a desperate attempt to harness enough energy to pierce the void of deep space and attract the attention of a passing starship using only the primitive tools that were at hand. Their starship, broken and drowned in the deep ocean, could not help them. All they had were a handful of shuttles with anti-grav drives; shuttles that had failed one by one without the technology to keep them in repair. Survival had out-weighed rescue for the first hundred years. The planet had a thousand ways to kill you and they had lost many in the first century.  Now, a thousand solar cycles later, they were stuck in this one encampment not far from the pyramid, a band of refugees waiting for the day that the heavens would open up and save them.

The plan to build the beacon had been brilliant. The best minds of the galaxy had been on their ship, en route to the battlefront, intent on fighting a war that raged across three galaxies. A war Olberon only vaguely understood. As the youngest and least in rank, the Elders very seldom bothered to tell her anything. Had it been sabotage or accident, this crash landing? Olberon did not know. She was not privy to that level of information.

The beacon machine took years of labor. It had not been hard to enlist the aid of the natives. Float a few stones in mid-air. Heal the dying. Make it rain. Tell a story about the near future so they could watch the prophesies unfold. Olberon snorted in disgust. And she dare call Shabak a charlatan.

The natives carved the tunnels and then watched, confused, as the Elders broke the last wall and opened them to the river, flooding them. They had not understood the explanation, unable to fathom the unseen effects of the ebb and flow of the water in the hollows of the earth. Then they built the pyramid. The giant monolith whose layers of crystalline rock mimicked the engines of the starship and stole the life of the planet under their feet, turned stone into a quantum generator, its golden tip pointed at the stars as it bled its call into the sky. The strength of that call changed as this world changed, breathing in and out, slow and rhythmical, like some great sleeping giant asleep in the Dark of space.

The stone giant finally did what it was meant to do. She could barely credit it. In fact, she had counted on it never happening. Why else would she have disobeyed the Elders and done something so unforgivable? In ten thousand years she would be the last, as the hearts of her people finally faded and they turned to stone – a future she meant to change.

Olberon jumped from the spire and floated down to the forest floor, her mind playing games with the fabric of space-time, her fingers buried in the walls of the gravity well around the planet. What the natives chose to see as wings was merely the refraction of light around the stress lines in the matrix of the world. Feet touching earth, she ran.

The encampment was in chaos. Elders scurried everywhere as one by one the shuttles landed and opened their hatches.

“Olberon!” Hedrix shouted as he ran by, “Gather your stuff. We are going home!”

Olberon kept going, headed towards the barracks. Excited chatter filled every corner of the building, coming from every cubicle.

Deter looked up from his clipboard and spotted her.

“At last. I was about to send a search party. Get your stuff together and report to the transport pad on top of the temple to get your debarkation number.

“Yes, sir,” Olberon said as she ran past him. She would be last on the list. Youngest. Least important. Last in leaving. She slowed and caught her breath. Why was she in such a hurry?

In her cubicle she dug a satchel out of her chest and began stuffing things into it, grabbing at random from shelf and drawer. Picture cubes of home. Books. Flutes. Drums. Pottery. Shabak had given her those. All painted with glyphs of gods; work from their best craftsmen meant to honor the people from the god-ship. It had amused her, to see the natives copy the text from the building plans that had built the great machine. She had tried teach Shabak to read them even though, this too, was forbidden, but Shabak’s mind could not grasp the language of the math of light, the dimensional shift of quantum mechanics, or the principles of star travel using time warping. Shabak knew only what he could see with his five senses, his brain not evolved enough to grasp the infinite mysteries. In time, his people would grow into this knowledge and seek the stars. But that time was impossibly far off.

Time. She thought she had more of it. Now her experiment in the forest would go unfinished.

Olberon found the queue for the shuttles. It wrapped around the temple and half way down the courtyard. Olberon sighed as she shifted the weight of her satchel on her shoulder, her eyes wandering to stare at the jungle at the edge of the stone plaza.

How could she leave and not say goodbye?

Olberon looked around and then eased out of line. She would be last. There was no point in waiting to learn of her place in the hierarchy of transport. Slipping around a stone column, she paused. How long would this rescue take? A day? Two? They would have to dismantle or destroy the hulls of the disabled anti-grav engines and the other small machines to keep them out of the hands of the natives. She could go back to her hiding place and say goodbye and be back before anyone noticed.

The old argument played out in her head as she walked down the game trail towards the stone spire. Had they not altered the course of this planet’s future by landing here? A band of near immortals who could manipulate space-time with their minds surely changed the destiny of this planet forever. Was that not damage enough? What she did was a crime but it was nothing compared to what had already been done to the development of the sentient species living here.

Why wait for rescue when they could alter the natives to suit their needs? That had been her logic. Her people needed to build a star ship. The indigenous people would help build them one after she rebuilt their genetic code. They were not so different from the star travelers they called gods, though they had not yet evolved beyond stone tools. All they needed was a little nudge in the right direction.

It had been simple, really. Inseminate a carrier, and what was born was half her, half native. Release it into the world, it would be like a virus, ever evolving, changing the creation matrix, putting it closer to the place in time when something sentient would step off this planet and seek others star travelers

Her children came out to greet her, coiling around her feet. Vipers, asps, constrictors. The first thing she had done after their birth was teach them how to speak.

“Mother,” they said, their voices soft in the back of her mind.

“The star ship has come,” she said. “I am being called home.”

“Home. Home. Home,” they said in unison. “We are going home. I remember home. Purple skies. White star. War ships and battles. Blood. Blood. Blood.”

“No. No blood,” Olberon said, hushing them. “Calm yourselves, my bloodthirsty children. I go home. You must stay here.”

“No. No. No,” they cried. “You are Mother. We are one.” They began to sing. It was the song she had taught them. The song that shifted the mind and made it infinite. It was like a drug, that song, numbing the heart, steeling it against hurt, soothing the loneliness. She let it take her. This would be the last time. She had to make it count for something. Olberon built the matrix of the universe inside her mind and led the minds of her children down all its infinite paths, teaching them everything she knew.

It was dark when she next looked up at the sky. On what day, she had no way of telling. The serpent song wanted to suck her back into its heart.

“Stop!” she cried, stamping her feet to shake her children off her legs as she shook them out of her mind. “Listen. I have made you for a purpose. That purpose still exists. In ten thousand years, you will remember this day and take flight, seeking the stars. Go coil around the minds of the shamans and sing them the songs that I have taught you. The humans will become your hands and build you a star ship. Come find me. I will be waiting for you.”

“No, I don’t think you will,” Deter said, stepping out of the jungle. A squad of Elders came behind him.

“Flee!” Olberon cried to her children. The snakes uncoiled and slithered towards the jungle. The Elders had guns. Her children died, one by one. Olberon shrieked in agony as she felt them ripped from her mind. Launching herself at Deter, she came between his gun and the serpents.

All went dark.

It was still dark when she woke. She lay on stone and could not move. They had done something to her, going into her mind so that she was paralyzed. Olberon blinked. A faint blue light emanated from the walls and ceiling of this place. As she watched, the light flowed like water down the walls. She was inside the machine; the pyramid was doing what it was designed to do – creating energy in the form of luminous plasma. Panic set in. At its height of power output, anything in the tunnels would be turned to ash.

She did not die.

Then she remembered that it was the dry season. The tunnels under the machine were half empty, the machine semi-dormant. She tried to break the mind-hold they had put on her but all she could do was blink. Sweat pooled around her, making her cold. She could not shiver. They had not even left her that.

Deter and the other Elders came eventually, bringing light that hid the glow of plasma in its glare. The light illuminated the nature of her prison. She lay in the bottom of a stone box. Olberon pressed her teeth together to keep from whimpering.

“You have made a mess of things, haven’t you,” Deter said genially as he lifted her satchel over the lip of her box and laid it at her feet. “Playing god. We wage a war to fight against that very evil, and yet here you are, in the heart of our ranks, betraying us.”

“What are you doing to me?”

Deter ignored her, not done with his lecture. “Well, you will have to fix it, won’t you, when and if the time comes.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Olberon asked, having a hard time breathing around the fear in her heart.

“We did not kill all your pets. Some escaped into the jungle. That was unfortunate. We know what you did. This will be your resting place until the thing you created bears fruit. The codex that will release you from this prison is now carved in the stone walls inside the temple. When they can decipher the writing and read the messages, your tomb will open and you will be free.”

“I don’t…”

“Listen, you little fool. You have put your faith in such fragile vessels. The humans will more likely destroy this planet and all the life on it with the knowledge you have bequeathed them. The odds that they will evolve a mind that can grasp the nature of the infinite is astronomically high. When they arrive a the cusp where they can bend time and star travel, you will wake and guide them to the path that will keep us all safe. If we are lucky, incredibility lucky, they will go extinct and you will die inside this place, fading to stone without ever having to wake and pay for your crimes. It is as benevolent a sentence as I could get for you.”

Olberon cursed him.

“Yes,” Deter said. “As you say but I am blameless and your curse can only reflect back on you. I am sorry.”

Deter nodded to the other Elders. They pointed at something and made it levitate. Olberon saw it. It was a the heavy stone lid meant for the top of her box.

She began to scream. Deter reached down and touched her mind and everything went dark. She was asleep before the stone settled into place. That was the only mercy they showed her.

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