- a novel -
by Joel A. Wendt
Stepping Off The Cliff
Ayree knew where the sound was coming from. She could feel Scree's agitation, and hear him moving around as if trying to get away from something. Once she started to run, T' and the Captain ran after her.
It was hard to see in the dark, but as they closed on the noises, which included more screams, T' raised his hand and made light. The sight that greeted them was both disturbing and funny, all at the same time.
There on the back of Scree, holding on to the bridle for dear life, was Valentine. It was he who was screaming. Scree, despite the capacity to do otherwise, had not tossed the boy off his back, but was instead giving him what seemed to be a kind of playful ride, moving quickly too and fro, but not quite so sharply that Valentine would be thrown.
As the three of them stood there, catching their collective breaths, Scree's movements slowed and ceased, as did Valentine's screaming. T' started to laugh as did the Captain. Even Ayree began to join in as she walked up to Valentine and helped him down.
She could see tears on his face, and the remains of great fright. But mixed with this was a kind of joy coupled with some kind of raw strength she didn't expect to see on the countenance of a young boy. When Valentine turned and reached out to pet Scree on his great scaled neck, Aryee felt even more of a shock. Scree accepted the boy! This was unheard of. Never before had a horgon been known to accept two riders, but clearly Valentine would be welcome on Scree's back, whenever he wanted.
With a surprised look on her face she turned toward T', noticing that he too was unprepared for what had just transpired. Behind T' stood the Captain, who clearly did not understand all the implications, but who could see from Aryee's face that something unusual was going on. Fortunely T' took charge.
"Well Valentine, I'm sure you have a nice story to tell us. Come to our campfire and have some hot chocolate, and then you can tell us all about it.
After Valentine had told his story, much to the disbelief of the Captain, who still found much that was happening around him far outside his prior understanding of the nature of reality, T' spoke to him:
"This young man is to be one of our companions as we go back to your megacity. There are two others we will gather up when we arrive at Santuary. That trip to your megacity will not be direct ... we will have to visit some other places on the way, places that might surprise you some more. You should relax and enjoy this, you are going places few of the numbered ever get to go."
The grandmother Agnes and the school teacher Miss Irina consulted, before telling Valentin's parents about his "disappearance". Agnes knew from T' that Valentin had arrived safetly to the place on the trail leading to Sanctuary, where Aryee and T' and the Captain were camping. His parents were relieved when told that in about two days time, the travelers, including Valentin would arrive home. Miss Irina was concerned about the Captain - what kind of reception would he receive. People in Sanctuary had prejudices against City people - deep seated and somewhat justified prejudices.
At the same time Agnes and Irina needed to pack .... they didn't expect to wait long to leave.
Jon had a problem - how to spend his time. If he didn't keep to his usual routine, others would notice, especially enforcers. He did some hand talk with Fay, the woman he had gone down below with, and together they decided that it might be best if he returned to his regular schedule. Whoever was the source of the black card had to know what they were up to, but as long as they exercised some discretion, they might be able to do a lot more than if they plunged ahead and took too many risks.
Jon went to an inceptor booth, and instead of putting in his inceptor, he put in the black card. There was a long pause, and then the sliding granite voice was there.
"What do you want?" it said.
"To go back to work, to return to normal, mostly."
"The beginning of wisdom" it said.
The inceptor tray hummed, and Jon inserted his hand. He was given a sleeper, and told in the usual way which coffin to enter. When he awoke he repeated his ordinary behavior, a trip to a relieving station, a food station visit, and an inceptor trip, and then he walked in the direction of his usual "office" over the plasma corridor. When he arrived his station opened, one of the regular other operators got out. There was no hand talk. Jon got in and found that for the first time in many many hours he felt comfortable again. We might have said days, but days were again not a concept with which he was familiar. This was familiar, and he would have called it "home" except there was no word in his language for that idea.
T' wanted one more night on the trail, before entering Center, Sanctuary's university city. After dinner they all four sat around the campfire, but mostly T' asked the Captain questions, and Valentin and Ayree just listened.
"Well, Captain, what is your idea of where our species comes from? Are you a product of mindless evolution? Are you a human animal ? There is no right answer here, just share with us your own thinking and conclusions."
Once more the Captain paused - he was reflecting inwardly, and wanted to speak carefully. Certain aspects of how he thought the world were shifting under his feet, and he needed to steady himself. Yet, somehow the truth would be best, ... in fact She of the Tower had said so.
"I don't know. All I have is questions."
T' replied, "how about I help you and give you some questions built out of my own experience, which yet I suspect will fit in with your own experience."
The Captain nodded his head.
T' continued ....
"You do something you call thinking, yes?"
"What do they call this 'thinking' in the mega-city where you grew up to become a Captain?"
The Captain was surprised. "We called it the 'brain weakness'. Sometimes the 'meat confusion'. When I was taken out of needing a regular inceptor contact, and guided into the ranks, I was given a series of drug injections and told that this would enhance my brain's weaknesses and confusion. I was told I needed this enhancement in order to carry out my duties, because I would no longer be guided by going to an inceptor booth regularly. I was to become a kind of independent node of the Guiding Intelligence, and the drugs would enable me to think by myself. There was a lot of training, many new words, and the more creative my actions - like I told you before about how I survived by being 'creative', one of my rewards was better drugs for my down time."
A puzzled look came over the Captain's face. New thoughts in the form of more questions flooded into his mind.
T' said: "Would it surprise you to find out that thinking was natural to the 'meat', and that some of the drugs in the inceptor booth were designed to suppressed truly independent thinking?"
The Captain thought a while and then said: "No."
Jon was directed sliding granite voice to take some downtime in the recreation room after several cycles of work over the plasma corridor. Fay was there, and a couple of others from after he had been given the black card. They started to hand talk, but Fay almost right away stopped and spoke out loud: "Look", she said. "We are either caught out or not. I think we can just talk. Whatever is going on, something is different, and one of the differences is we don't have to try so hard to hide.
So they talked. It was exciting to just talk this way. Scary too. Nothing was decided. They talked and would go back to their routines and see what happened. No one was surprised when a few cycles later, they were once more given shared rec-room time. Nor was anyone surprised when Fay proposed another trip down into the lower levels.
T' continued to ask questions of the Captain.
"All of us sitting here probably also 'think', right?"
"Can you see our thoughts?"
"But you see, or are aware of yours, right?"
Valentine laughed. He couldn't help himself. It all seemed silly. The Captain frowned, as did T'. Ayree put a hand on Valentine's arm, which got his attention.
T' looked at Valentine and spoke. "The Captain is from a mega-city, Valentine. His life was very different from yours, and you need to respect that."
Valentine looked at his feet. "Okay" he said.
But then he looked up at all of them and said: "Does Scree think?"
Fay and Jon went down, using the black card. They were stopped once by an 8, an enforcer, who wanted to know where the meat was going. They showed him the card. He read it, and after handing it back, disappeared quickly.
When Fay and Jon got to the guard room at the end of their descent, these guards were different. But showing the card worked wonders, and soon the guards equipped them with some kind of breathing apparatus, some special shoes and coveralls, and some hand held lights. They walked around the base of the guard area, in the dirt and rocks and debris, in ever widening circles. They heard noises, and a couple of times saw movement at the edges of the beams of light.
Jon lost his nerve, while Fay wanted to continue exploring. They argued. Jon said that whoever gave him the black card, give him the card, and Fay should know that meant Jon was in charge. They went back up and parted unhappy.
T' tapped the ground, and then his arm. "Stuff", he said. "Meat stuff, and not meat stuff. Right?"
The Captain nodded.
T' got up and went over to the Captain and pinched his arm so much the Captain jerked away, scowling.
T' sat down again. Touched the ground and then his arm once more. "Inert stuff, and alert stuff", he said. "I pinch the ground it doesn't move away, I pinch you, you move away. I pinch Scree maybe he knocks me down." Then looking at Valentine, he adds: "Maybe Scree thinks first before he knocks me down."
"This interior life, whether ours or Scree's, is invisible to others, but not to us - at least our interior life, our 'alert' nature, is known to us, but even that experience is not exactly visible in the same way eyesight sees. Right?"
Everyone nodded. Ayree grew up knowing this stuff, as did Valentine. It was part of the meaning of the words they all used in Sanctuary. But until now no one had ever explained it so simply before. T' now had everyone's attention.
T' took a small dead tree branch and drew a figure 8 on the ground, but called it an "infinity" symbol, not an 8. The Captain had never heard the word "infinity" before, although the other two had. T' drew the figure over and over again, in the same place. Looking at the Captain he said: "Endless. I can keep this up forever, should I live forever."
The Captained frowned harder than usual. "I don't know these words ... endless or forever."
"But you can see this, right", said T'. "I could keep doing this if I could live on and on and on. On and on and on is 'forever', and drawing this over and over again is without end, or endless"
"Hard to think this," said the Captain.
"Yoga for the mind," said Ayree. "Yoga is about stretching something, in this case stretching the thinking - the mind." She smiled at T', wanting his approval.
"Time for a break," said T'.
The next time Jon went to an inceptor booth, before going to work, the sliding granite voice said for him to go to a certain hallway and door, and there would be someone who had instructions for him to follow. The door and hallway were inside the plasma corridor itself, a kind of side door that Jon walked by all the time on the way to his station.
The people walking ahead of Jon on the way to their stations, kind of bunched up, because as they passed that short hallway, and the door at the end of it, there was a hooded figure standing there. This was unexpected. Jon turned down the hallway, the hooded figure led the way, through the door and into another lift, but this one going down. The figure, with gestures, explained to Jon how to use the lift. The trip down took some time. With another gesture, the hooded figure showed Jon through a door into a brightly lit room that was very strange. While Jon was getting used to the extra light, the hooded figure left, using the lift.
Jon was alone. There was a kind of humming sound, and this long long long wall extending off in both directions. It was transparent in a way, although Jon didn't have that word. The colors shifted, the humming varied. This was familiar. After a bit Jon realized he was looking at the plasma itself, and seeing it without the instruments he normally used at his station. He recognized the humming, and felt in a way the tune - the harmonies - through his feet and his skin and his eyes. He felt the changes and knew then that far above him others were adjusting the flow, keeping it free of "glitches".
At one point he saw one - he saw a glitch. It was like a kind of wildness, something out of control, but again Jon had no words like those for describing it. He just felt it and saw it. It came from his left and moved to his right. A distortion in the harmony. Something chaotic some past thinker might have thought, but which Jon could not think. It was just a glitch, but seem alive. It grew bigger as it drew near, and then smaller as it passed by, fading away when some operator above him fixed it. The colors got darker, more vivid, and then softened into a kind of uniformity. The humming louder, less - musical somehow - again a word Jon lacked. Then harmony restored.
There was some noise behind Jon, and he turned around to see the wall behind him open, and a chair, something like what he rode when he worked slid out of the wall, facing the window on to the plasma field. An invitation to sit, so he did. The chair had a few instruments, but not many. He slept after a time, for the humming and the light were pleasing and relaxing. He dreamed but did not know he was dreaming. The drugs from the inceptor normally kept his kind from dreaming, but the sliding granite voice had changed Jon's drugs - and he dreamed of wild things, things that needed to be free, but were not free, and were imprisoned, controlled. Used. When Jon awoke he had been sweating. He watched a few more glitches go by, and felt some of the leavings of the dream, but not so much consciously. A kind of foreboding entered Jon. He almost was able to articulate it. Something lived in the plasma. Like in the below where Fay and Jon had been going. There was life here too - on the other side of that transparent window/wall.
After some tea for T', some coffee for the Captain, and hot chocolate for Ayree and Valentine, the resumed their seats, on grass and rocks or whatever seemed suitable.
T' inscribed in the earth a large infinity symbol. Through the crossing point he drew a large capital "I" - bigger almost than the symbol itself, and at right angles to the lay out of the figure 8.
To the Captain he said, pointing to the "I" - "This is you, as someone who has conscious experiences. You are the experiencer, and ultimately also the actor in the play/drama that is your life. We are all this - all human beings.
Then, from the crossing point, at right angles to the "I", he drew two small lines ending in arrow points, which points lay in the center of each circle of the figure 8 infinity symbol. He then placed his stick, like a pointer, in the middle of one of the circles, but further in than the arrow-like end, and said: "This is the world of experience. Look around at the forest and hills in which we sit. You see, and are conscious of seeing and changing your point of view. You can look close, or far away. You can look at one of us, or at the sky. Much of what you see you can reach out and touch, and this touch too is a sense experience. Now listen for the sounds. The wind, the birds, me speaking. Smell the smells. The other day you kissed Ayree and that was touch and taste as well.
Valentine giggled. Ayree frowned. The Captain looker perplexed, and T' looked ... happy somehow.
Next T' asked the Captain to stand, and walk around a little, even bend over and touch the ground. Then T' had him spin around, holding his hands out for balance, and when the Captain started to wobble a bit, T' told him to close his eyes and stop as quick as he could. The Captain almost started to fall, but caught himself - he was after all in good physical shape.
"That's another couple of senses", said T'. "A sense of movement and a sense of balance. There are more"
When the Captain had sat down again, T' asked him to remember something from before he came to Sanctuary - something from the mega-city. The Captain started to recall She in the Tower, and her instructions, and when T' asked him to relate his memories he felt, for the first time, trapped. That was the one memory he didn't want to share, but She had said he was to be honest, for the old man would see through any falsity, the Captain then - reluctantly - told his tale.
He kept it short, left some things out, and no one commented.
Then T' said: "What is memory?"
That puzzled the Captain. His first thought was everyone knew what memory was, but as a question from T' something more seemed to be needed in order to reply. He struggled to give order to his thoughts, and then confessed he could not.
"Good" said T'. "It is always good to notice when something has a quality of mystery, especially something so familiar that we have to realize we have never thought about it much at all.
T' then tapped his stick in the same circle once more. "If this is the world of experience, is it something different from that which we experience. For example, you see Ayree, but do you know Ayree. Is your seeing also knowing?"
They all frowned at that - except T', who announced it was time for another break. The Captain was very relieved. His head seemed to hurt.
When Jon got back up the lift he turned and walked to the area where the coffins were. He needed to rest. To digest his recent experiences he might have said, if he was otherwise more self aware. After a time he awoke. He had questions, but who to ask. He was afraid to ask the sliding granite voice. Then he thought, why not? So he rolled over on his side and faced the speaker grill in the side of the sleeper coffin. "Hi", he said.
"Growing some balls?" said the sliding granite voice almost immediately, like it had been watching him.
Jon paused, a long time. He had not really expected an answer. He tried to think of a good question.
"Where are you?" he said.
"Well ... everywhere would be too grandiose, lets just say for all intents and purposes I can presently be anywhere you are."
Emboldened, Jon asked: "What do you really want from me?"
This time the voice paused for a long time, and Jon mostly tried to hold his breath.
Finally ... "Change is coming. My time on ... well lets just say my time is near to ending. Had a nice run. There are going to come a few visitors soon. You'll get to meet them at some point. Hard to predict - the numbers don't always work out."
Then, after a moment, more: "You need to be disciplined and not try to talk to me when anyone else is about. Most will get really confused, and maybe become afraid of you. Some of those might not be smart enough to realize how dangerous you are to them. Might act without thinking. You could get hurt. I wouldn't like that."
Jon thought for a while and then said: "You didn't really answer my question about what you want from me."
"You're right I didn't. Lets just say it is probable that at a certain point in time I'll need a friend, or if not really a friend someone who doesn't have an agenda as far as I am concerned, or think they have something to gain by taking a risk. You could be such a person - a neutral person in a way. That would be useful to me. Whether I'm useful to you, hard to say."
"Also hard to say. Like before, best for you not get too far out of routines. Lots of folks might notice that. Some of them are unpredictable. Still, your choice. Go to work. Go eat. Go to rec. Go to an inceptor booth first, maybe. You decide now. That's going to be the hard part for you. Making certain kinds of choices you are not used to making."
T' asked the Captain: "what is spirit, to your thinking".
The Captain replied: "something you can't see ... its invisible, and because its invisible it might not even exist, right?"
T' continued: "Do you have a self, or something you think of as a 'self'?"
"Can I see it? Is it your body?"
After a pause, "No".
"How do you know its not your body?"
"I'm not sure. Its just that my self and my body are not the same things. My self is more ... personal somehow. My body serves my self, but my self doesn't serve my body. I drag my body around. I make it do things it doesn't want to do. I guess that's the key - my being able to make my body do stuff it - the flesh - doesn't want to do. I can override pain and tiredness. Hunger. I run it, it doesn't run me."
"Can you see Aryee's self, or Valentine's?"
After another pause, "No".
"But we treat each other as if we had this 'self', yes?"
"So, we can see each others physical body with our physical sense organs, but only with our thinking and feeling do we 'see' this self. Yes?"
"Do you see me or others do this thing we call 'thinking'?"
"Yet, it is with this invisible thinking that you know you have a self, and with this invisible thinking that you believe others too have a self. Yes?"
"So self is invisible exactly like spirit, and thinking perceives this invisible spirit in us and in others. Yes?"
"Could anything be more simple?"
* * *
Dear Reader: This story could go on, and on and on. Publishers like big long books these days, and readers seem to like endless series. As a writer, my personal take is that Iím not interested in satisfying such appetites. Others do, and thatís fine. Itís just not my cup of tea. If you wanted world creation and many books to have to buy, sorry ...
This is a book about ideas. Thatís where we started and thatís where we ended ... with some of the central ideas. You either like it or or you donít. Not my problem. All the same there are some ... shall we say, implications and bits and pieces of understandable questions about what is going to happen to these characters. So here is a summary of what I could write were I to want to add another couple of hundred pages to this novel of ideas.
The various travelers assemble in Sanctuary: T' - perhaps an actual wizard; the Captain - one of the numbered from a mega-city; Ayree - a young Earth Ranger from Sanctuary; Valentine - more than a boy; Miss Irina - Valentine''s teacher; and the grandmother Agnes, perhaps an apprentice to T'.
They go on what might otherwise be a long arduous journey - an adventure where true dreams are realized. For part of their quest they travel by airship - large dirigibles, with outrider ultra-lite companions, for protection and scouting. They descend outside the mega-city, where Jon and Fay and she-of-the-tower resides. Valentine somehow walks into a plasma corridor, takes Jon's hand and brings him out - red haired, very thin, and taking Jon's hand, Valentine places it inside the hand of Miss Irina. They have much to talk about, and will shortly find a way to go ďhomeĒ.
While T' and Valentine then go into caverns beneath the mega-city, and visit the shadow in the cave - the one of the granite voice, who had called out to Valentine in his dream, Agnes, Ayree and the Captain are escorted to the high den of she-of-the-tower, and at the moment when Valentine helps the shadow in the cave finally pass out of his physical-avatar body and return to the source after over three hundred years of a very lonely life, she-of-the-tower cries out, faints, and then is held for a long time by Agnes, while she weeps. Later, Fay (having been given her own black card), Ayree, the Captain and Agnes, with the support of she-of-the-tower, descend below the city and come to the aid of the inhabitants of that Underworld, who are not just human beings, but fey spirits as well.
Miss Irina and Jon on their return to Sanctuary, lead ordinary lives, she to returns to teaching and he to seeking to understand the beings he discovered in the plasma stream, with the help of the Library. The Captain and Ayree begin to go on their own adventure, which might consist of a romantic running away from everything - Sanctuary and the meta-city included. If you want, they can have babies, and find a way to get into space (see my forthcoming novel: Strangefire, the story of the first self-aware space traveling Cathedral). Write your own versions as you like.
In the cavern where the shadow in the cave lived, far beneath even the Underworld, protected by T' and now she-of-the-tower, Valentine does his touch-some-stone thing - in this case at an altar in the cavern of the shadow in the cave, and in this way Valentine unites his being/consciousness with the singing tones of the starry world and the deep bell-like sounding of the deeps of the earth. Then Valentine begins to glow like a sun, surrenders to this process, and this light shines not just in the physical, but also in the most subtle way into the minds of all the numbered everywhere on the earth, like a secret warm winter's ending fire, helping a healing Sun to Rise into all the Minds of all human beings, should they seek to follow such a path. After this Valentine too returns to the source.
Waking up from their inceptor controlled dreams, the numbered rebel against the domination of the mega-cities, and a great war breaks out, for the numbered who are no longer asleep realize the basic truth - there are far more of them, than there of those who would control them. Not everyone, however, seeks to do the good or to think with the hearts.
If you are beginning to think this has all been a metaphor for our 21st Century age, then go for it.
The mega-cities begin to die, the numbered flee into the surrounding country side, there to discover that nature needs them to remember how to farm, and appreciate the real stuff of a non-technical world of living beings, both visible and invisible. The needed information was that which the priest in the first part of this novel accused the Catholic Church of hiding - the New Revelation (all that is true by the way - the Church did committed this spiritual crime in the 20th Century).
From the different Sanctuaries all over the earth, various teaching rangers go to meet the now escaping numbered. But hidden among them are those who had become too machine-like in their minds to recover. These formed their own culture and civilization - essentially clinging to their previous materialism, too afraid to abandon those vain dreams. It was not a perfect world by any means that was coming into being as the great change in the beginning of the middle of the Third Millennium flowered.
In some places, hidden in secret, are found the Libraries seeded 300 years ago, preserving all the wisdom that had been lost due to the Catastrophe. Those escaping the mega-cities find this resource and all that was before is not yet lost. And, with the aide of the Rangers, the ideas of magic are wedded to the ideas of material existence, leading to many surprises. As Ayree pointed out, the relationship with Nature, once it was rediscovered to have consciousness and being, still had much to teach human beings.
A thousand novels could not cover all the stories that burst forth like a decades long cascade of fireworks, as the Phoenix stretches its wings, and flies into the light of day, magical and incandescent. Maybe the reader would like to write their own stories, only write them in their lives as deeds, not as fancies and dreams. Life has many possibilities.
All the same, T' had not just been one place - his spirit had been, over the years of his own long life, in all places where the will to do the good lived, and people thought with their hearts, just as J.C. said at the very beginning of this novel to Hex-man. Tí was, after all, the spiritual archetype of a Teller of Stories.
Before the Sanctuary to the South of the time of Rider's Tale ended, to dissolve like seeds blown on the wind, T' met with the star children one last time and told them this one last tale:
The greatest gift is the Now. It is the only reality. Each of you are what all are meant to become. All of us are star-children. All of us are tellers of stories. The World of the Earth is a living metaphor - a poem sung by the Gods, of which we are their children. We've all been given the greatest of powers, which is to decide what to name the World - how to define what the world and our lives mean.
Great cities prowled the earth in the before-time. They were not just physical places - they were alive because they could not exist outside the deeds of human beings. But this is just the outsides of stuff - of matter. What is crucial is the insides. Only the insides live on after the outsides decay and are no longer needed. The snake sheds its skin in every season. The Phoenix rises from the ashes because its true nature could never be destroyed.
So too with our stories. Our way of seeing the world. These survive just as did the Great Myths of our most ancient human stories.
There is always a before-time, and always an after-time. Always past and future, but only in the Now - in the Present - can we make the new story.
In the most recent before-time, the machines we called television sets and computers and cell phones dominated our stories. We, as individuals, not knowing we were star-children, let that which was outside our own minds tell us the stories of who we were, to what we should aspire, and how to care. Yet as the wisdom stories tell us: "And this too shall pass".
The modern mega-cities of the before-time sucked the life out of the earth and used electricity and atomic powers and fossil fuels and all manner of ways to eat - to consume - the earth. Billions lived in these cities - billions, we could hardly number.
But societies gave them numbers anyway - credit card numbers and social-security numbers. One teller of stories in the before-time, in a TV show called The Prisoner, sang: "I AM NOT A NUMBER!!!"
Always the Now - the same-time - is made up of what leaks out of the after-time and the before time. Always what the Now - the same-time - means, or even the before-time and the after-time means, ... that is up to us to tell. Make your own stories. Make them true stories. Make them good stories, and make them beautiful stories.
Even the most ancient stories know how to do this. One such story has people greeting each other with words that mean: I salute and honor the god within you. Another blesses all, with these words, which I give as my last to you: ďMay you always walk in Beauty".
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