The mountain air—fresh and brisk—rushed up like an old friend, caressing with long, tender arms. The wind sang sweetly as it whisked through the gorge, causing her glistening onyx hair—long and silky, with streaking wisps of gray, blanched and fading at the temples—to stretch out and thrash.
Sunn-kim sat lotus-position with her eyes closed. Warm rays of sunlight enthusiastically kissed her honey-colored skin with delicate puckers of heat. She could feel the vast depths of the Xiágǚ, even though it cut through the land twenty feet away. The perfect vantage turning her thoughts, guiding the enlightenment she wished—as all her kind did—to come.
Her eyes fluttered then open, revealing pupils that were the color of a gray cloud-laden day. She struggled to keep her thoughts under control. She’d made the arduous journey to this spot because that had been a problem lately. The early summer thaw rumbling—like the grinding roar of a jet—through the arroyo. Being here, in this place, helped her to feel again. It has been so long.
‘There are times, Huā,’ her father would say, ‘when you must leave the sea. You must go to the mountains and reacquaint yourself with the land.’ Huā: flower, the pet name her father had used. It has been so long. She moved her hand from her lap, grasping clumps of moist grass in each hand, then digging her fingers into the dirt, thinking ‘I can feel my father in this place’. She brought her soil stained hands to her face.
Blue tinged lids closed over unseeing eyes—she sniffed deeply—letting the smells of fresh grass and new earth fill her nostrils. I can smell him in this place. She opened her eyes again: she regretted—for an uncountable time—that she could not visually take in the beautiful scenery.
She could not see: In fact, since she was six, her eyes have been useless. All the same, she looked in the direction, or at least in the direction she remembered them to be. She knew they were there. They’re always there. Besides, her keen ears were picking up the rustling leaves. I remember what they looked like. In my mind, I can see them clearly. Wild sunflowers grow here, not like the neat rows in Brother Hiram’s garden. It had been so long since her ears had witnessed the spoken words. So terribly long. I am in my seventieth year. My father has been dead for sixty of them. She thought of him often.
The wind rustled the sunflowers. “Huā.” The word fell from Sunn-kim’s lips like fall leaves tugged gently by a late October breeze. Gravity pulling the colorful vegetation to the ground, like so many forgotten dreams and horrifying nightmares.
“Listen to your heart Huā. Our connection to the earth takes many forms. When your heart calls Huā, mother earth is speaking to you. She wishes to talk.”
“My heart does not talk father, why?”
“It does Huā. Your ears need only tune to its voice.”
They sat for what seemed to Sunn-kim all day. In reality, it had been less than three hours. Just long enough for six-year-old Sunn-kim to fall asleep. When she woke, she lay on her mat at their small hovel just outside town.
She peered into the deepening darkness. Hovercrafts whined past the opening in the thin flaxen and mud walls, causing the walls to vibrate. When the walls vibrated, the fish hanging—tied together with the spare lengths of twine her father braided every night—from wooden pegs, flopped against the walls. Sunn-kim watched as clumps of dirt fell to the wood floor, disintegrating into crumbs. I’ll need to repack the wall soon.
Sunn-kim wondered for the millionth time why they lived poorly. Others have so much. She knew what father would say if she posed the question yet again. “We follow the why of Tathagata, Huā. Tathagata gave up the trappings of his princely life. He sat under a tree for five years. The tree providing shaded him from the sun. We are no better than He, so what need do we have of a hovercraft, the latest model of wall communication screen, or a personal transport device? Regardless of the world’s advancement, we will live frugally, just like Tathagata, and we’re better for it.”
Sunn-kim’s six-year-old mind could not comprehend such logic. All she knew was that other kids had toys and a proper house. She could not prevent the disappointment from swelling. Sunn-kim got up, slipped her feet into her songba boots, then entered the main room.
“You’re awake, Huā.” Her father sat at the small shrine hung on the far wall. Sunn-kim often wondered how the insignificant figure stayed on the wall, since the fish flopped and dirt fell to the floor with remarkably little provocation. She breathed deep, the air laden with incense. She loved the sweet cinnamon-ginger smell.
“Yes, father.” She trotted over to him. “May I go play with Gong-ren?”
“Yes.” Sunn-kim’s father smiled. “Play with your friend, but do not be back too late. We have mud to pack and twine to braid.”
Sunn-kim bowed to her father. “Yes, father, I will not be late.”
She rushed out the door and down the street. Few people walked along the street. Most used their transport to get from one place to another. In their small section of town, most could not afford that luxury: the rest—those like her father—for religious reasons refused and rebuffed such amenities. Gong-ren’s family was like hers: poor by choice. Though, Sunn-kim never really believed that Mrs. Li truly enjoyed following the ways of Tathagata. Sunn-kim found her vein without compassion. The hover craft whizzed by, causing Sunn-kim to jerk to a stop as it rounded the corner. The pilots of the hover crafts always used the poor part of town as a shortcut. Because of the traffic, walking was difficult and scary. At Gong-ren’s house, she kneeled at the door and knocked timidly.
A lilting voice floated out to Sunn-kim’s ears. “Who’s there?” The door slid open. Gong-ren’s mother kneeled at the door on the inside.
She is so beautiful, Sunn-kim thought, quickly lowering her head, showing deference and respect. Sunn-kim asked, “Good afternoon, Mrs. Li.” She never wanted her father to hear that she had been disrespectful. “Can Gong-ren come out and play?”
“He went into town with his father, Sunn-kim. They will not be back for a while.”
Sunn-kim could not hide her surprise. “They went into town?”
“Yes, to the market. It surprises me that Tu-meng is not there. Today is an excellent market day,” Mrs. Li declared.
Sunn-kim thought Mrs. Li said that haughtily. Is she saying my father is lazy? Sunn-kim did not know, so she said thank you with a fleeting smile and a quick bow of her head. When Mrs. Li slid the door shut, Sunn-kim kneeled there, wondering. Why is Gong-ren at the market with his father? My father will not let me go to the market. I even do more work than Gong-ren. I help my father weave his nets. Gong does not do that, he told me so. I pack the mud on our hut. Gong-ren does not, he told me so, and his mother does not scold him. I do so much more than Gong-ren does, and I am not allowed in the market. Gong-ren gets to go, why can’t I? It occurred to her she was still kneeling at the door of the Li hut. Embarrassment caused her face to turn red. Her being Master Shen’s daughter did not prevent her from feeling hurt.
Hover crafts whizzed by, though the frenzied sound did not distract her, as before, from her thoughts. What makes it worse is that now there’s nothing to do and no one to play with. Frustrated, Sunn-kim left the house, idly walking along the busy roadway, wondering what to do for the rest of the day.
She meandered through the neighborhood. She took the shortcut she and Gong-ren used to go to the field on the north side of the settlement. Weaving in and out of the little yards, she climbed over makeshift fences standing between the yards. She climbed the last fence and dropped into the last yard, sitting at the edge of the settlement. The wind had been warm and stuffy uphill, so now she was hot and tired. Sunn-kim ducked beneath a line of clothing flapping in the unnatural wind. The wake of the speeding hover crafts pushing the breeze downhill. She stood at the edge of the yard belonging to the Shi family. Between her and the field, a wide thoroughfare held zooming hover crafts.
A little dog whined and nudged her hand. Sunn-kim looked down at Kuai, the Shi’s dog, standing next to her. She rubbed the dog’s head vigorously, cooing as she did. She heard the rumbling, whooshing sound, but she did not understand what the sound meant. As a result, she paid little attention while standing at the edge of the road. The errant hover craft struck her.
Sunn-kim and the dog lifted into the air. She could see everything and nothing in particular. The little shrine that the community used, sitting solemnly in its nest of trees, the house nearest the corner—where the baker lady made candy cakes, selling them to the children for a penny a treat. The snow-capped mountains in the distance, high and regal, and New Beijing glittering like a diamond below. She twisted. The brown, slightly muddy, dirt road rushed toward her. Landing face first—she should have been unconscious, it would have been a gift if she had—Sunn-kim’s little body bounced and then rolled over and over until she was too disoriented to know up from down, and sliding an additional six feet before stopping. The dog landed three feet from her and didn’t move. “I hear the birds,” she said.
The accident startled the birds resting in the field, and they screeched their discontent as they flew away in fear. When she heard the voices of people hovering over her, she wondered, why can’t I see them? She could feel her eyes. She knew they were open. They feel strange…there but not there. Then a lilting voice she recognized drifted to her ears. “get Master Shen. Tell him to come quickly and meet us at the doctor’s house.” Sunn-kim heard the urgency in Mrs. Shi’s voice. She heard the footsteps of a child’s feet slap-slapping, receding across the muddy dirt road, but more than that, she felt distinct vibrations through the ground. The air was sweet—even though the air around here usually had a tangy smell to it—with cinnamon and ginger candy cakes.
Rumbling: the sound pulled her from her meditative state only to present her with the question. Where is it coming from and how could it have come from here? This high in the mountains of Tibet fighter craft don’t fly here, there are just too many micro climates. Twin petal thin eyelids slowly opened, revealing useless cottony white jejune eyes. Sunn-kim let her ears tune into her surroundings. Filtering out the mundane, opening up her senses, allowing the useful to penetrate deep. She heard the metallic pop of a door opening, pursued by the hissing discharge of pressurized air, then the low grind of a metal plank extending to and connecting with solid ground. Those three sounds together could only mean one thing: a ship.
The tingle started behind her eyes, somewhere in the upper nasal cavity, and then grew to encompass the whole of her forehead. Sunn-kim pinched her eyes shut. The pain continued to grow. She heard a footfall on the metal plank, then another, “Who are you?” she said in her native Chinese. No one replied. Another stab of pain. She winced. “Who are you?” Sunn-kim repeated this time in Japanese. The pain hit like a blow, knocking her onto her back. Face toward the sky, the sun basking her in its warmth…and light. Still footsteps advanced. She didn’t care.
Tentatively, a sliver of light fell onto unused eyes. She squeezed her eyes shut. This cannot be. I’m blind. Darkness is all I know. I should not be seeing bright, beautiful light. I’m in a trance; it is the only workable solution. I am still sitting there—here—on the mountain. If that is true, then I must have attained enlightenment. This thought sent a bolt of auspicious glee through her. “Satori,” she flung her eyes open, instantly regretting her jocund act. Painful tears flowed freely. Overcast eyes brushed aside by glistening, sunny yellow flecks. Though she did not want to, Sunn-kim closed her eyes again. She pushed herself up on one elbow, and then up to a sitting position. She covered her eyes with her hand and opened them again.
The cushion of grass around her, she had not seen the color since childhood, was the most beautiful green. “The grass is so lovely here.”
“You’ll see much.”
Sunn-kim did not hear the words. They came like a thought. How is that? She looked towards the ship. She noticed the feet, first, standing on large white blossoms. Sunn-kim recognized Him, not because He was someone she knew, but because He appeared as she always thought He would look, tall and handsome, skin the color of caramel, eyes the white-blue of Himalayan snow-top mountains reflecting a clear blue sky, His body healthy and beautiful: Bhagavat.
One of his sacred feet stepped toward her. Before she could control the involuntary movement, she flinched backward. She looked up at His face, still shielding her eyes. The beatific physiognomy looked upon her. Bhagavat’s lips spread into the most alluring smile, revealing strong, beautiful, bright white teeth. The sight of Him made Sunn-kim weak. He took another step towards her, a flower lotus she realized, grew, wrapping and caressing his bronze colored feet, so they would not meet the ground.
Bhagavat’s powerful voice echoed through the vast expanse, saying, “You are chosen.” His lips never moved. Still, Bhagavat’s powerful voice echoed through the vast expanse.
She asked Bhagavat in a halting voice, “For what am I chosen?” Her voice issued halting from a dry throat.
“I am Tathagata. You are Arahant. You are to watch over me.”
Sunn-kim looked up at Him through watery eyes. He reached down, cupping her chin with one powerful hand. “I have looked for an exceedingly long time for the one who will watch over me.” His smile was dazzling, so close to her face. “You are the one.” Bhagavat kneeled before her. A lotus sprung from the ground, its petals brushing her legs. A pocket of wind whipped up from the gorge, lifting His coal black hair in a halo about his head, revealing multicolored scars to either side of his head. Bhagavat did not have those in any of my studies, not to mention he arrived on a ship.
“What are they?” As Sunn-kim voiced the concern, the multicolored scars began to pulse and glow. Fear groped around her heart. She could not move.
Bhagavat took both her hands in his, and said as He lifted them towards the scars, “Our destiny.”
When her fingers came in contact with the scars, Sunn-kim’s head exploded with colors brighter than any natural world could produce. Then the world receded through lulling clouds of blackness.
* * *
When she woke, alarms were going off, and a voice showing imminent danger. Her head hurt with every beep, blip, and shriek of the surrounding environment. A strong odor emanated from somewhere close, permeating the claustrophobic space, pungent and oppressive.
While getting her bearings, Sunn-kim observed that the gift was still in place. She lay on a cot inside a ship. By the sway, she thought it might be in orbit. Beside her, Bhagavat lay on his stomach naked within a glass case, a Stasis chamber. His hair pulled into a tight knot—festooned with rubies and diamonds—perched at the crown of His head. He looked peaceful. The multicolored scars had turned a mottled gray, and where the scars joined at the apex of His spine a pulsing multicolored line lead to a bulging sack of skin. Sunn-kim looked around the small ship. This is not a hover craft. This is defiantly a ship designed for limited space travel. Possibly between two close worlds. Being blind for most of her life did not make her immune to the advancements of modern technologies. She held a strong interest in flying ships. Over the years, many have expressed a disbelief in this interest of hers based on what others often labeled as “her tragic history.” Though she saw it differently: The accident was just that an accident, no more, no less. She accepted a long time ago she could not change that has been; only control what is to come. She had to learn that lesson the hard way, and they repeated the lesson in the most horrible manner. A way, she told herself, which had nothing to do with her blindness. Though she knew that, superficially the repeated abuse of her body by the man who assumed the role of her guardian had always, at the very least, started and continued because she was blind and therefore assumed helpless, but she would never allow her past to limit or control her future.
The alarms were still going off. She attempted to stand in the narrow aisle between her cot and the stasis chamber. I want to turn them off. The ship swayed to the left, causing her to stumble and plop onto the bed.
Even with a keen interest, she did not possess any practical knowledge of space ships. I have never been off-world. Those insistent alarms must be significant. I have to check. Sunn-kim stood again, stooping slightly because of the low ceiling, and went to the console. She looked at the controls. The symbols on large geometric buttons initially where confusing than they blurred and rearranged themselves into Chinese characters. Sunn-kim blinked, and then rubbed her eyes. How is that possible? She pushed the button that blinked insistently red, and had written on it ‘Rear Stabilization Boosters.’ The ship shuttered, and then stabilized. Surely that could not have been all I had to do? It apparently was. The alarms abruptly stopped beeping, blipping, and the annoying voice stopped shouting. Her head settled as well.
She needed an explanation for what had happened and why she was on the ship and where they were going. What she needed was an explanation. Sunn-kim looked back at the prostrate form in the glass tube. Of course, he is the only one that can answer those questions. Sunn-kim stood and walked back to the chamber. She laid a hand lovingly on the glass. An uncontrollable urge to love and protect the being lying in the chamber swelled within her. She snatched her hand away. What am I doing? I do not know this man. He is not Bhagavat. If he were, he would not need my help. So why did he bring me here?
His voice floated out of hidden speakers. “Hello, Sunn-kim Hanana.” Startled, Sunn-kim spun around. There, in the middle of the floor, stood a holographic image of him looking back at her. “Welcome, my name is Tel Tesslamoo’r, future oot’Tar of the Vatourian Collective, Subterranean Capital City Kesnur seat of the Kesnurria Protectorate. If you have accessed this video likeness, you have woken from the sleep of interstices. Your body is changing, you are becoming. The first thing that will happen is your mind’s ability to decipher my speech and read my language.”
“You will have many questions. I am aware of your need for answers. There is one thing you must remember: do not leave the vessel until I wake. The protective field around the ship is the only reason you keep your sight. If you leave, your body will revert to its natural state.”
“My body’s natural state,” she put a trembling hand to her face. It was smooth. She looked at her hands, astonished. They’re young. The hands of a twenty-year-old. She remembered how her hands felt when she was that age and smiled.
“You must stay in the vessel for two of your earth years.”
“Two years?” She nearly screamed in disbelief.
As if he had heard the question and her tone, he replied, “Yes, two years, but do not worry, you will return to when you left.”
“Earlier, I said you’ll have many questions,” he replied, as if he heard her question. “You’ll get your answers in time, and you will need to understand your role in the infiltration process. In addition, your role as protector shall consume you. At all cost follow the instruction you will receive over the following months. It is in your best interest.” The hologram flickered and ended.
Her head spun. No, this can’t be. It will trap me here for two years! The rhythmic hid in Sunn-kim’s chest thumped uncontrolled, threatening to send her into a panic. She tried unsuccessfully several times to exit the pod. Breathing deeply to calm her racing heart and with nothing else to do, Sunn-kim meditated.
Four years later, Sunn-kim sat with her father on his Sampan. She listened as the water lapped against the flat-bottomed boat. Sunn-kim reached out her hand, feeling for the edge of the boat. When she found it, she leaned over the edge, letting her fingers trail through the water. He has felt these last years it was his fault. He is ashamed. It doesn’t make sense. How could he have known? What could he have done?
They had lived a muted existence since the accident. Since the accident, they had been following a structured and predictable routine. Long days on the water fishing: tossing the net and waiting. In the evening, they repaired the netting. Every Thursday, they spent the day at market selling the week’s catch.
Sunn-kim had thought the market was an enjoyable and wondrous place when she was six before I lost my sight. Now she feared the place, the bustling nature of the market too manic and uncompromising. Thursdays were a nightmare. She would walk beside her father, tightly grasping his shirtsleeve, as he cut through the crowd toward his stand. He carried one basket and pulled the other. The baskets contained their total catch for the week. Father had the largest stand and best spot. Everyone said so. He yelled for people to move, but no one heeded. Every time the crowd jostled and pushed Sunn-kim as they walked.
Though the market was a nightmare, she loved their time on the boat. Usually, the atmosphere on the boat was calm. Most days when they were on the water, it was just the two of them, but not today. Today Sunn-kim could hear the laughter in the distance: boisterous. An engine revved. She heard the splashing as the ship cut through the water. Their little boat rocked, slicing through her thoughts with panic. Sunn-kim pulled her hand out of the water just in time to catch the edge of the boat and stop her fall forward. She heard a stifled scream and a splash.
“Father?” No answer. “Father?” She felt her way down the boat towards where he should be. Feeling her way down the boat, she searched for her father and touched the unthrown netting that was still in place. “Father,” she yelled louder. Her hands roamed along the edge of the boat, coming upon the snag in the netting that stopped it from going into the water. The netting covered boat’s wooden bottom, causing her knees to hurt as she crawled along. Sunn-kim continued to feel along the edge of the boat, letting her right-hand glide along the netting while using her left to tug and pull at the net. “Father,” she screamed, panic finally entering her voice. There was a sudden and insistent pull on the net. The net yanked from her hands and pulled from beneath her knees, nearly knocking her over the edge. She knew it—as well as she knew the water would be cool when she dipped her hand into the bay—her father was gone. “Father, where are you?” She whispered.
They found her father’s body two miles down shore. After the burial, Mrs. Li handled clearing out her family hut, “You cannot live there alone,” she said, “you are only ten. How will you care and feed yourself? I will clean it out, and you will stay with us. My husband will take over Master Shen’s boat and fish stand at the market. He will sell our old boat and rent our old stand. We will put the money we get toward your keep.”
It sounded reasonable. They should get decent money for Master Li’s boat. It’s not as large as father’s, but it is an excellent boat, and Master Li’s stand, though not nearly as large as father’s, but not so far from father’s stand, they should be able to demand top dollar for the spot. It would be several years before Sunn-kim learned the truth.
Two days had passed before the hologram came on again. To anyone other than a monk, this would have been something akin to a death sentence. To sit locked within a room with nothing to do but watch the walls. Early on she had asked herself, “What am I to eat? Where do I go to the bathroom?” These basics, she had thought, the alien had not taken into consideration. But later that first day, the hologram had flickered to life.
Tel Tesslamoo’r stood before her and said, “You require sustenance.”
Sunn-kim gave the hologram a sardonic look. “Do I?”
If she were being honest, she hadn’t thought about eating, much less being hungry. Though now that he brought up the subject, her stomach growled loudly. The sound of a lock unhinging and a door falling open behind her caused Sunn-kim to look in that direction. A small door about two feet wide towards the back of the small pod had opened. Inside a steaming container of something that smelled amazingly like Tsao Mi Fun drew her near. That was when she noticed the small room in the very back. It was just a small closet, really. It was narrow, the toilet against the side wall at the furthest end. She realized the entire room was a shower in disguise. She wondered where the water went and then remembered that the spacecraft had recycled all body waste. Her gaze returned to the steaming noodles. I’m uncertain if I want that now. Growling in protest, her stomach disagreed.
Most of the time, Sunn-kim meditated. She had essentially forgotten about the hologram. She had formed many questions in her mind, even though she knew the projection could not answer them. Not that she had not thought long and hard about what the projection said.
He stood where he had previously. She had sat or lain on the cot for nearly two days. My legs need stretching. Sunn-kim got up, starting toward the front of the small ship. Yesterday Sunn-kim had a fleeting sense of accomplishment when she figured out how to raise the screen covering the front window. It also offered her a bit of solace to see the beauty of the plateau beyond. As she rose to walk, Sunn-kim noticed that the video projection followed her movements. When she walked through it, there just was not room to maneuver around it. The likeness spun to face her. Sunn-kim sat in the only chair on the ship, the pilot’s seat. She pushed the button that raised the screen.
The green valley with its rushing river far below stretched out before her. Starboard is to the right, she remembered, where she had been sitting on the ledge. Beyond that, off in the distance, were the walls of the monastery. Sunn-kim had also been experimenting with other buttons and switches. The console before the pilot’s seat had a flat panel display, and a few hours before, she had touched it just to satisfy her curiosity. When she did, the ship lurched, then spun one hundred eighty degrees. She had not been brave enough to do anything since, until now, that is. When the screen opened, she saw the falls crashing to the rocky landscape below with the monastery to port.
“Let me first explain your involvement, Sunn-kim Hanana. You are The Protector. The Protector’s role, superficially, is exactly as it sounds. More deeply, the Protector ensures the young’s survival.”
“What?” Sunn-kim looked around in surprise.
“Yes, Sunn-kim, the child is incubating. If you look closely at my back, you will see the incubation sack. The child grows within. The survival rate for the Host is low for a healthy individual, for a Host of my advanced age. Yes, Arahant, I may not wake. That is why it is your responsibility that our child survives. Be advised: there are many dangers.”
Sunn-kim had noticed the sack, but that it held a child had not occurred to her. She knew nothing of this man. If he is a man, since on earth men cannot bear children, I’m reasonably certain that he is not: if he’s not human then what? Sunn-kim did not know, since a—for lack of a better word—pregnancy was unexpected. She had disregarded the sack.
“The child grows, as in any—and here I will use the human word for such a thing—pregnancy, by feeding from the host. Normally, the host is awake during gestation, but I have been searching for nearly a century for a suitable protector. I am old, even by my race’s standards, and should not have allowed myself to enter Dusa, but without an heir, the remnants of my people will fall prey to my enemies. Dusa is the Vatourian word for the joining. I am the oot’Tar of the Vatourian race. A human equivalent of an oot’Tar would be a combination of King and President, not to the level of an emperor but as close as one can get.
Tel Tesslamoo’r waved his right hand in a sweeping motion and the interior of the pod ship dissolved. She now sat upon a hewn red rock, all around her a vast chamber, underground chamber, she realized. Though she couldn’t figure out how the vast space was lit, she could see every detail clearly, but was unsure of the illumination’s source. With barely audible popping sounds, people appeared. She stood then and realized when she struck her head on the low ceiling; she was definitely still within the confines of the pod ship. “So this is a very elaborate hologram.”
“You may have surmised by now that this is a very elaborate hologram.” He said, parroting her words.
“Not sure if I will ever get used to that.”
The figures mulled about in normal everyday stuff; she figured. Then there was a sudden explosion somewhere out of the scene. “My race has been in a war for many centuries with Skyotour. They are parasites that prey on the destruction of other races.” He said this with such palpable vehemence, Sunn-kim could practically feel the hatred. The Vatourians ran in every direction, some holograms passing right through her. Then a bright blue hole opened in the airspace of the vast cavern above the chaos and two small ships entered the underground city.
“How did they do that?” Sunn-kim asked in surprise, but did not expect an answer.
As soon as she asked, a pocket of Vatourians dissolved and disappeared as a blue beam issued from the front of the leading ship and another hole opened in the airspace and the ships went through, vanishing into the circle of light that quickly closed behind them. As they went, another blue circle opened at the opposite end of the cave and more ships entered and the process repeated itself.
“They have invaded many planets that were our allies. I was—am—oot’Tar to three hundred and fifty planets throughout my galaxy. Three hundred harvested by the Skyotourians. That long after they invaded this world, Vatouria, my home world, to decimate the seat of the Royal Government.” The scene changed: a small crowd of brightly dressed men, women, and children—that was the only way she could describe them, clearly they were, what was the old sci-fi name for that, humanoid, but clearly not human—ran down a long wide corridor. Many of them favored Tel Tesslamoo’r’s likeness. They must be the royal family. The royals entered an enormous cargo bay, filled to near capacity with several large ships and hundreds, thousands, of Vatourians wishing to be evacuated.
As they approached, the crowd separated for the royal family and they all entered the ship with ease. The scene changed again. This time, many ships were in the vastness of space around an earthlike planet. A giant star beyond the planet that she assumed was Vatouria washed the planet with a cool blue light. It had to be millions of light years away, Sunn-kim knew, but it was so large it appeared to dwarf the planet. Several of the ships she had seen in the previous scene were now jettisoning away from the planet. Coming around the planet, a flotilla of much larger ships soared into view. Sunn-kim couldn’t help herself. She yelled, “Look out! They’re coming!” Several red-orange beams shot through space in rapid succession, piercing the less fortunate Kesnurrian ships, unable to engage their hyper drives fast enough.
“They destroyed six of the twenty Vatourian Royal Armada ships that day.” Tel Tesslamoo’r looked sadly at the floating debris. “Nearly a million of my family’s subjects killed. The Skyotourians hunted down many of the ships and killed or enslaved another seven million. They believe that they have annihilated the entire royal family. They have killed many of them. I had thirty brothers and sisters, and they all had many children: ten of my eldest brothers died in the destruction of the Royal palace.”
“For several millennia, we were a peaceful people. I held the seat of Kesnurria, a small group of planets, about fifty, at the far reaches of the Vatourian Collective. Because of its distance from the main administration of Vatouria, I did not suffer the fate of my family members. What you have just seen is the initial attack on the Vatouria. After the initial attempt at whittling away of my family, many escaped to the Kesnurrian system in search of refuge, though we could offer little. My family has never looked upon me and my government with favor. They say I was extremely comfortable and wielded a lazy government. Their opinion has never been favorable and of little secret. It is the reason they gave me a sector so far away from the main Vatourian government, but I treated my subjects well and they respected me for it.”
“It was difficult, but we did all we could do for the refuges. Many of the forest planets fall under protected status in the Kesnurrian system. Many with aboriginal people designated anthropological gems to be preserved at all costs. They were to be allowed to progress at their own pace. It was the mandate of my government to protect and preserve these primitive planets, which left only twenty-two planets at my disposal. Because of this mandate set by the royal family, we couldn’t grow our populations to facilitate our proper insertion into the collective.”
“Fortunately, this mandate meant I possessed a large population of military personnel. Ninety percent of my adult citizens were active or reserve military. Unfortunately, this military comprised, like myself, the rejects and unwanted of the entire fleet. Many of my subjects still harbor resentment toward the Royal Collective for having to serve so far from their homes. As a result, there was much infighting and disagreement. Especially from those that arrived with the refugees. It made for a difficult situation.”
“Those that felt my decisions lacked legitimate military judgment soon left Kesnurria to strike out on their own under the leadership of one of my sister’s sons, with many of the remaining royal family traveling with him. My informants tell that the enemy soon discovered and harvested them. That was a sad day for me.”
“Of the royal family, only I and ten of the royal children survive. I, and then my heir, am the next in line to be named High oot’Tar of my remaining people, not that means much considering the circumstances. Unfortunately, my military force proved to be no match for the Skyotourians. Many of my people made themselves decoys for the invaders, allowing myself and nieces and nephews to escape. After we were out of harm’s way, my loyal followers took the ten children and brought them to Earth, placing them in different time periods by using a Time Dilation Sphere. Where the children are, I do not know. My followers’ instructions were to hide the children from all, especially me. I took this pod ship as a decoy for the Skyotourians if they had followed us, hoping they would pick up my trail and ignore the children. I chose this route as a safety precaution in the event of my capture—and for a long time, that was a real possibility. If reinstated, the government would have at least one royal left to take the throne in the event of my death. Each royal child traveled with the host’s escort. Each escort has a dilation sphere to ensure that the hosts can be located.”
“I have spent the intervening years waiting for the pull to guide me. Across countless galaxies, I have made my way here. I am fortunate that my race possesses the gift of a long life. In earth years, I am four hundred and fifty. Very near the end of my ability to gestation a child. I approach what humans would consider middle age.”
The image flickered then went out, the sudden abrupt return to the interior of the pod ship leaving Sunn-kim with more questions than answers.
“Do you think I do not know what you do with him? I know.” Mrs. Li screamed. “He comes to you instead of me?”
The bamboo switch whipped through the air. Sunn-kim moved just in time to avert the business-end of the switch from hitting her across the face. Mrs. Li was determined to whip her for the fifth time that day to satisfy herself. Orienting herself, Sunn-kim reached out, groping for the nearest wall. Still, the bamboo struck her along the length of her back, biting into the skin. Sunn-kim flicked along the wall until her hand made contact. Mrs. Li has the advantage. She can see. But, I have a better understanding of the new house from cleaning it for four years.
At first, life with the Li’s was tranquil. The hut the Li’s lived in was larger than father’s hut had been. Sunn-kim even had her own room. In Gong-ren, Sunn-kim had someone to talk to and play with from time to time. Two years had passed before things changed. Little things happened along the way, but it was two years later that Sunn-kim’s life began its evolution. Mrs. Li told Sunn-kim she could not attend school.
“But I like school.”
“We cannot afford to send you. The expenses for Gong-ren’s classes need to be covered. We cannot pay both. Besides, what good is going to school doing you? You can never get a job being blind. It is better that Gong-ren receive the best education that we can buy,” Mrs. Li said.
“But you have my father’s money that will pay for my schooling,” Sunn-kim begged.
“That money’s gone for more than a year now. Besides, I need you here. You will help me around the house.”
That day Sunn-kim became less of a family member, and more a servant. Sunn-kim did all the cleaning and washing. Mrs. Li spent her days keeping a strict eye on the family finances. Within a year, the coffers had grown to where the Li’s could afford to move from the poorer neighborhood to a higher class residence nearer the city.
For the next three years, Sunn-kim cleaned and scrubbed the house, cooked dinner and served guests during the Li’s frequent parties. The blind servant. Gong-ren went to an expensive school in New Beijing, destined to be an Astro-Engineer. Sunn-kim was jealous. She liked space ships. It had been her who told Gong-ren about the new space navy. She had told him she wanted to go to school at the new base in New Beijing. But after Mrs. Li told her she could not attend school anymore and Sunn-kim had gone to Gong-ren to enlist him to get her to change her mind, he quickly told her of his plans, and it all became clear.
“You’re blind. Did you really think that you could do those things? If you did, you are dumber than you look. You’re just a blind servant and that’s all you will ever be,” Gong-ren had said haughtily, and she accepted her fate.
It was also during this time that Mr. Li came to her room for the first time. He forced himself inside her, holding her down until he finished.
“No! Stop! Please, stop!” she cried, but he ignored her.
She could feel the rivulet of liquid trickle between her legs when he removed himself from her. She knew what it was. It could only be one thing: blood. He hadn’t gotten far enough into the act to secrete anything in her, at least not in any significant amount. The wet spot grew beneath her, but she wouldn’t move. She refused to give him any satisfaction. When he finished, the small cot creaked as he got up. She heard the slow padding of his feet on the floor as he left. There was a small click as the door closed behind him. Long after he left, the blood - now commingled with his unwanted contribution - continued to drain slowly between her legs. It hurt. She found it burned when she finally roused herself and went into the bathroom to cleanup. It took several washings to get the blood out of her sheets and mattress.
The next night, he returned. He has continued to come to my room at night for four years now. Gradually it became less and less physically painful, though the fear and psychological affects immense. I can only thank Bhagavat for sparing me the curse of having his child.
Now Mrs. Li has found out about his visits to my room, and she blames me. The switch caught her again along the back. I’m nearly in my room.
“You have shamed my house,” Mrs. Li yelled, “you will leave. Get out, you Jìnǚ, get out of my home. Jìnǚ, Jìnǚ, Jìnǚ.”
Sunn-kim stumbled into her room and pushed the door closed on Mrs. Li’s insults. Tears rolled down Sunn-kim’s checks as Mrs. Li continued to yell Jìnǚ.
“We are going to send you away. Put you somewhere that will cure you of your sickness Jìnǚ. I do not want your sickness in my house anymore. Pack your things.”
Sunn-kim heard the click-click and knew what it was. I’m locked in all this time and I did not know there was one there. Such knowledge only made her predicament worse. I could have kept him out. Maybe I am just a Jìnǚ.
After Mrs. Li’s ultimate declaration, Sunn-kim heard her steps fade down the hall. Sunn-kim cried for the rest of the day. She fell asleep leaning against the door. When she woke, she felt her way over to her little window, and knew night had come. The sun shined through the little window for most of the day. Sunn-kim spent many evenings, after she finished her work for the day, letting the sun warm her face. I may never do that again. Two days later, I stepped into Tsur Monastery’s walled garden. The sweet floral smells a delight to my nasal passages. It had been hard initially, but I grew accustomed to my surroundings. I loved my new home.
Now I am weary. Standing at the top of the road, she could feel the coming storm. The air was clammy and heavy. Like a snail, night slithered over day, leaving a damp, cold trail of slime in its wake. I left that ship fifty years ago. I raised him, cared for him, and he’s leaving.
After the accident, their trips up to the mountain increased. Her father wanted for her to learn how to feel the color of nature. ‘If you know and respect mother earth and her beauty, she will protect you with all her ability.’ In stark contrast, the smells of the end of summer soothed her; ripening, lifting her spirits. The relative peace gave her a sense of things to come, but the foreboding remained at the forefront. Sunn-kim knew something was coming—had known since that day she left the ship—She had left the bloodied and unresponsive body of its father in the glass stasis unit; with a bundled, newly born…what…baby. Because she knew that was when it started. I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop, and now what do I do? I have to let Be’ca go. He is a man now, and I am an old woman. Be’ca grew to adulthood as she aged to her true seventy years and beyond. Fortunately, the reversal of her age was not as Tel had said. It had been gradual. So when she returned to the monastery with a baby, no one knew her face. The effects also granted one more astonishing side effect: long life. At one-hundred-and-twenty, she felt no older than the seventy years that she now looked again. As she aged, her eyesight regressed. Now again, I am fully blind.
He was gone. Though she couldn’t see, she knew Be’ca had faded into the tree line at least twenty minutes ago. She turned as she walked. Like a coiling snake, the monastery closed in around her. The air, stale and stifling, as she moved inward scented with the musky odors of the few monks she passed. All of whom, she could tell by their footfalls, were solemn and introverted. Until she heard the slapping feet of one, she knew well: Brother Hiram. Or should I say he came upon me, well even that isn’t an apt description. He pounced like a cat on a mouse.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Sister Sunn-kim.” Hiram said with little empathy.
“My son has taken a trip. He has not left this world, Brother, but thank you for your concern,” Sunn-kim replied, being cordial.
“He will be better off, though,” he said as they walked toward the main cloister.
“Do you?” Sunn-kim asked her annoyance with Brother Hiram had reached its limits long ago. Sunn-kim didn’t like his insistence on imposing himself. It’s so un-monk-like. But she had tolerated it up to now.
“Yes, he lacks the inclination to be a monk, so will never be one.”
What a pompous thing to say. “Brother Hiram, I have never been in the habit of discussing my son’s business with anyone, but I will say this: you do not know my son. You haven’t been a resident of this monastery long enough to draw any conclusion about him, so please refrain from doing so.”
“I am sorry, Sister. My comment was just an observation. I didn’t mean to impose.” Hiram said, suitably taken aback by Sunn-kim’s sudden outburst.
“If you must know, Be’ca had proclaimed his desire not to be a monk when he turned ten years old, so I had no illusions about such things. He only stayed on here at the monastery to care for me, but he has realized that I do not require his attention on such matters.”
“Yes, Sister, I see,” Hiram said.
“I wonder. Why you speak so frequently of my son?” Sunn-kim asked suspiciously,
“I find the juxtaposition of a monk who became pregnant to a nonexistent father during her stay here in this isolated place and gave birth to a child, alone without help, interesting. Very Nativity wouldn’t say.” Hiram said testily.
“His father does not wish to be known. Do you have an issue with that, Brother Hiram?”
Growing up blind gave Sunn-kim a resilience that she wasn’t aware that she possessed. Often, that resilience made its presence known at unexpected times. This, she would soon realize, was just one of those times. The surrounding air rippled subtly, like bubbles from a fish breaching the placid surface of a lake. The undulating wave broke over her like a warm sea, belying its ominous portent.
Then the sound reached her sensitive ears, throwing her back to that day, so long ago, when the hover craft bore down on her. The engine whine increased in tenor, a twin sound joined the first in chorus, and without warning the engines were a choir. Though she could not see it, she remembered well how the hologram had sounded and recognized the beam of light that hit the ground for what it was, and the world exploded around her.
The quake rumbled through the earth all around them. Somewhere nearby, off to her right, a monk fell to the ground; she heard the oomph of breath that left him just before she heard the crack of skull to stone.
Hiram latched onto her left arm and pulled. She allowed him to pull her along. She said, attempting to be heard over the cacophony, “We must go to the ship. It’s the only place to hide.”
“What ship? I thought the monks shunned such modern amenities.”
“Are we near the cloister?” Sunn-kim asked tentatively.
“Yes, we are. Why?”
She could hear the growing annoyance in his tone. They didn’t have time for this. There was an explosion, and she heard the creaking of wood. She knew it was the tree of life that shaded the cloister even before it fell onto the nearby buildings. Screams of agony emanated from inside.
“We need to get out of here, Sunn-kim. We can’t save everyone, so let’s save ourselves.” Hiram screamed at her.
“I realize that. Remember, you asked about Be’ca’s father?” Sunn-kim asked.
“This isn’t the time to confess, and besides, I’m not Catholic.”
“Yes, Brother Hiram, what I’m telling you is that he is here, and I have control of his Pod ship.”
Sunn-kim heard the strangeness in his tone. She was sure anyone else would have missed it, or chalked it up to their current predicament, but not to Sunn-kim acute hearing. She took it for what it was: recognition. He’s been in a pod ship before, or at the very least he has heard of them. How?
“I can’t explain now, obviously. You must trust me. Do you?”
“Yes, why do you ask?”
“Because we will need to jump into the river.”
“You must leave him Arahant,” the words rang in Sunn-kim’s head. “They have found me and detected you.”
She stumbled to the ground. Groping for purchase along the cobbled road, through the link, she responded, “We can save Hiram.”
Brother Hiram put his arm around her and lifted her to her feet, then said, “What the hell? How did we get here? Where are we?”
“I used the ship’s transport module. Haven’t you used a transpad?” A male voice from behind them asked in surprise.
“No, we live the lives of monks; remember,” Sunn-kim said, “When did you wake Tel Tesslamoo’r? You have been in stasis for so long.” The tingle of pain behind her eyes returned; she blinked.
“The ship’s AI started the re-awaking two months ago when sensors detected enemy energy signatures.” The ship shuddered. “They detected you first. Through you, they found me.” Sunn-kim put a hand to her head. Tel said, “Your eyesight is returning now that you are back on the ship. The pain will pass.”
“Would someone like to tell the uninformed what is going on? Hiram asked.
Sunn-kim opened her eyes.
“Your eyes look different. Wait, what did he mean by your sight is returning? How the hell does that work?”
“You know, Brother Hiram, for a monk, you swear a lot. Is it safe to assume that you are not?”
Hiram glared at her. “You didn’t answer my question. I’ve noticed that you do that frequently. I wonder why?”
“Interestingly, you’ve avoided my question with your own.”
Sunn-kim looked past Hiram through the front window at a pinprick of light. Hiram followed her gaze. The pinprick grew into a large, fiery ring of blackness.
“What the fuck is that?” Hiram asked, astonished.
The ship lurched; seconds later they were in the void of space.
“Oh…my…God; this is a Pod Ship isn’t it?”
“Of course, I told you that already.” She said to Tel, “Where are we?”
“The dark side of the moon,” apologetically, Tel said, “I can only make small jumps with this ship.”
“We have to go back. What about the monastery? What about Be’ca.”
“You have taught him well, Arahant; Be’ca will survive. They do not know of his existence. You must forget the monastery. You cannot help them.”
“But there are people there that I love, people that I need to protect.”
“I am Tathagata. You are Arahant. That intertwined our fates. I trust you to keep me safe.”