by C. Kellerman
Dar-El could hardly contain his excitement. He hurriedly grabbed the letter he had received and moved quickly to the town square, stopping outside the small food shop where Reen worked for her Father. He wanted to share the news with her first.
He entered the shop, letting his eyes adjust to the dim interior. Spotting Reen placing leafy vegetables out for customers, he hastened to stand right in front of her. Noticing someone’s presence she looked up, greeting the young man with a wide grin.
“Dar-El, how are you today?”
Too excited to answer, Dar-El blurted out, “Reen, I’ve been chosen!”
“You mean to represent our Village at the Capital University?” she asked almost as excited as the young man.
“Yes. In thirty suns I am to present myself, along with nine others, in the Capital. There we will be among the first to see the use of Cloban’s new telescope!”
He pushed the letter over the vegetable bin. She grasped it eagerly and read it aloud.
“Oh, Dar-El, I’m so happy for you. When will you leave for the Capital?”
“Probably in fifteen suns,” he replied. “I’ll take the Myral Waterway to get close then I’ll be on foot for half a day”
“That worries me, Dar-El,” Reen said, her brow furrowing. “Are you sure you’ll be safe all alone?”
“That’s just it,” he assured her, “I’ll be traveling with the merchant, Ja-Sen, from here in our Village. He’s taken the trip to the Capital many times and he said he would be happy to have me along”
Reen and Dar-El could only clasp one another’s hands to share their pleasure. Reen’s ever watchful Father would come down hard on her should she show an undue sign of affection between her and the boy.
With a backpack loaded by his Mother and Father for his trip, Dar-El went to the edge of the canal where he met up with the merchant, Ja-Sen. Ja-Sen had rented passage on a small barge to carry his wares to the small village of Littleton, perhaps another half day on foot from the Capital.
A small, two-wheel wagon, having two protruding arms forward, was already stowed aboard. Ja-Sen would pull it to the Capital where the sales of his wares might make the trip profitable.
While in the Capital he would purchase wares that were hard to find in his native village. He motioned for Dar-El to stow his backpack on the wagon. Dar-El handed Ja-Sen two small coins.
“Now, young man, I told you this was not necessary”
“I know, Ja-Sen, but my parents wished to thank you with this meager payment as a way to say thank you”
Smiling his approval Ja-Sen pocketed the coins.
It was a half-day trip for the pair upon the barge so that meant only a half-day on foot to reach the Capital.
“So, my young friend,” he said to Dar-El as they laid upon the barge floor, “by what measure did you earn such and honor in our Capital?”
“My marks in school were very high,” he said proudly, “especially in science”
“Your Mother and Father must be very proud” said Ja-Sen.
It seemed like no time at all and as the sun was reaching its zenith the barge had docked at Littleton, just three leagues from the Capital.
While Ja-Sen did most of the cart pulling Dar-El took time to occasionally spell him. Resting after covering more than half the distance, Ja-Sen rested beneath a shade tree.
“What do expect to learn from your visit to the Capital, Dar-El?” the Merchant asked.
”Well, first of all I want to meet Professor Cloban and hopefully look through his new telescope” the young student replied.
“What do you expect to see?” the Merchant queried.
“Some people wonder how we came to be on our world. Some believe looking at our neighboring world might be a clue”
“Be careful not to stir the pot, my young friend,” replied Ja-Sen before going silent. Dar-El could only puzzle exactly what he meant by his statement.
By late afternoon Ja-Sen and Dar-El were able to see rooftops in the Capital. They reached one of the Village Squares where an open-air market bustled with vendors and shoppers.
“I’ll meet you here on the morning of two suns” he instructed Dar-El.
Dar-El happily shook his hand and began making his way to the University and the promise of a new learning adventure.
Dar-El’s walk to the University was a treat as he heard conversations of the citizens and marveled at the dress of those more sophisticated than those in his remote village.
Reaching the University he mounted the steps and once inside the main building saw the sign telling invited students to report to one of the antechambers within.
A seated receptionist greeted him; and once showing his invitation was assigned a room where he would be sleeping for two nights.
Before retiring he wandered the campus marveling at what he witnessed just as he had on his way to his destination.
He partook of some of his food his Mother and Father had provided but it was long after nightfall before he could fall asleep.
Still excited the next morning, Dar-El refreshed himself, ate at the University dining hall, compliments of the School, and that morning was ushered into a large room where as many as thirty people could be seated.
In front of him was a platform with a curtain draped across the front and the large windows to the side suggested to Dar-El that the new telescope rested on that platform behind the curtain.
The other nine Students from other villages on planet Yusem were seated in the front row. What Dar-El judged to be dignitaries and statesmen also were entering and being seated. Robes and vestments identified some as scholars and others as Government officials.
An hour passed when the illustrious Professor Cloban entered from one side, bringing the buzz of conversations to a halt. During that time Dar-El had time to meet and speak with a student seated to either side – they displaying as much excitement as he.
The government official stepped to the podium and announced himself as Grand Minister Fulgar. He then gave a short overview of what the new telescope pioneered by Professor Cloban would mean as far as exploring our neighbors in space.
He then introduced the learned Professor Cloban and turned the podium over to the distinguished inventor.
Professor Cloban spoke for roughly a half hour, telling of how he was able to grind lenses making the new telescope possible and that this very evening, because of very favorable conditions, he, his fellow scientists and the invited students, would be able to look out upon their closest neighbor in their solar system.
He then opened the floor to questions.
A media man opened the questioning wanting to know what drove Cloban to pursue academics and science. Many of the students who had been invited by the Academy asked what he expected to see on the world closest to them – how did he expect his inspection of space to advance the people of Yucem and other science related questions.
At last Dar-El was recognized to render a question so he stood and addressed Professor Cloban.
“Professor, when you examine the world that has already been discovered by less powerful telescopes, do you believe it might give us some answers some ask as to how we came to be on our home world?”
Immediately the Grand Minister strode to the podium.
“Young man, it is already established by scholars from time immemorial that the God created our peoples and gave us this home world in which to live and prosper. Now, that will be all the questions for today. Please retire until later tonight when the first use of the advanced telescope will be shared with all who attend”
He then gave a disapproving look at Dar-El.
Dar-El had supper and went to his room. He wondered why the Grand Minister cut off his question but felt that it must have some reason those who made the decisions for the people of Yusem understood.
It would be very late indeed until the viewing time was most favorable so he immersed himself in studying some of the books from the University Library in the light of a candle.
It was still with roughly two hours before the group would gather to share the use of Cloban’s telescope when Dar-El heard a soft tapping at his door.
He rose and with curiosity encountered an older boy whose clothing identified him as an upper classman at the University.
Immediately he put his finger to his lips signaling that Dar-El was to make no sound. Then, leaning close to Dar-El he whispered, “Professor Cloban has asked you to come to his chambers. But quietly! Come along, I’ll take you”
Dar-El was beside himself with wondering what this was all about but he dutifully followed the upper classman through darkened hallways. Then, stopping before a large wooden door, the man gave two soft taps on the door, then paused and gave another tap.
Still in awe of the events Dar-El was ushered to the Professor’s well-furnished apartment. Dar-El’s guide excused himself and within seconds the distinguished Professor strode to Dar-El, extending his hand.
“I am honored to meet you, Sir” Dar-El stammered.
“It is I who am honored, Dar-El” replied the gray-bearded Professor while motioning the young man to accompany him to his bed chamber.
“I wonder what this is all about?” Dar-El asked himself being surprised that he was being invited into the Professor’s sleeping quarters.
The Professor took Dar-El to a small table with two chairs. Along the wall stood a somewhat ostentatious desk made of wood. Upon being seated the Professor looked sternly at Dar-El.
“My young friend, I read your letter of application to attend this event with delight. You, among all other applicants were most curious about the origins of the people of Yucem and pondered the question of perhaps we might have ancestral roots on other worlds”
“Thank you, Sir” was all Dar-El could muster in response. “How may I serve you by being here?”
The Professor lowered his voice before answering.
“Dar-El, did you notice how the Grand Minister seemed to disapprove of your question about the possibility of our ancestors being from other worlds?”
Dar-El could only nod acquiescence. Professor Cloban then continued.
“Dar-El, such a question as yours puts you among those the State might label as a heretic”
“Heretic?” exclaimed Dar-El.
Then, motioning with his finger to his lips cautioning Dar-El for quiet, he went on.
“The State has an official position that the God chose us as a race of people to be granted life on this world. Anything upsetting or even alluding to anything different from this ideology can cause one to be arrested, imprisoned and even killed”
With this Dar-El leaned back showing a degree of alarm. When he once again composed himself the Professor leaned forward and in even a lower voice said,
“Dar-El, tonight was not to be the first use of my advanced telescope. As I sit before you I must tell you that in secret I have already looked at the night skies and many things have been revealed to me – things that I cannot allow to be made public for fear that it will endanger me and others.
What I have discovered in the night skies will turn the adopted State ideology upside down but by doing so they will react and the reaction may be violent”
Dar-El’s brows furrowed as if he could not believe what he was hearing. But the Professor continued.
“In our night sky I have made a very close examination of the reddish-blue planet that is our neighbor. My observations revealed, when conditions allowed me, to see evidence on our neighboring world of things that could not be explained by just the natural course of a lifeless world.
Many of my colleagues in private discussion have wondered if we had come from that world many, many years ago, perhaps as much as a half a million years ago. I now have evidence of that being so”
Dar-El’s mouth fell open.
“So, what I too have imagined may be true?” he asked.
The Professor nodded silently.
“Now, why I called you here, my learned young man. I have documented my findings and have kept them secret from everyone else on our world. But, if the Grand Minister finds these documents, I am sure to be imprisoned for heresy against the State.
These documents must be preserved, they must be hidden away and kept for a time when the minds of those in charge are more open to scientific discovery, even though it challenges the State’s religion – and what it portends for the thousands of years of being told of our origin here.
The elderly scholar then rose and silently moved to the rear of his large wooden bed frame. Gingerly he went to his knees and with one hand reached under the foot-board, after a clicking sound he extracted a valise that appeared to have a fair amount of contents.
“Here, Dar-El,” he said upon rising and approaching Dar-El, “here are my notes, drawings, analysis and speculations. These must be taken away – they must be hidden for the future of Yucem”
The Professor placed the valise on the table then reached inside his robe, pulling out a small square object, white in color but made of a material Dar-El had never before seen.
“I was at many archeological digs, Dar-El. At two of these digs we found artifacts of this nature that could not be explained. Two of my associates at the time went to the State with their findings but I kept this piece and hid it on my person.
When the State was told of these artifacts the digs were immediately stopped, any artifacts found were confiscated, never to be seen, or discussed again. Alas, my colleagues ended up dying, mysteriously and without explanation. If I had revealed this very artifact I might not be standing before you today.
However, Dar-El, my study of our neighboring world and the artifact I kept, has led me to believe
our ancestors came here, perhaps from that neighboring world, to begin the race of people that now inhabit Yucem.
If you remember from our world history, we know of generations that lived many, many thousands of years before us. We have the bones of those that tell us this story. But remember, in our history it also tells of a great many conflicts among our ancestors on Yucem, the results being that nation-states erupted in war, destroying each other; and only after many years did cultures and societies begin to rebuild – as if they came out of a dark ages – coming out of thousands of years of ignorance – beginning to explore science and nature once again”
Dar-El stared off into the distance as if being before God himself.
“What, why are you telling me this?” he asked Doctor Cloban.
“I chose you because of how you think, Dar-El. I chose you because I believe you can be the one to take this valise and get away to your village and find a place to hide these scrolls”
Dar-El again stared off into the distance, now realizing just exactly what Professor Cloban was asking of him. His worried gaze then again looked upon the Professor.
“Dar-El, I see the surprise – and perhaps the fear in your eyes. Admittedly, I am asking you to put yourself at great risk, even great danger. But, my hope is in you”
After a few moments of absorbing the severity of what the Professor was asking of him, he volunteered,
“There is a place some distance from my village. It is believed to once have been a seabed – they call it the Dead Sea. I have been there – there are caves there where I can hide these things where I am sure they will never be found”
“Perhaps, not in our lifetime, young man, but by future generations when the minds of our people are more open to challenging archaic beliefs” the Professor replied.
Then without another word, the Professor opened the valise and placed the artifact inside, closed and locked it.
“Will I be given the key?” Dar-El asked.
“No, Dar-El, should you be caught you may claim ignorance truthfully as to its contents, even if they were to drug you. If some time years from now this valise is found the scrolls inside could be easily accessed by merely smashing the locking mechanism”
”When do you wish me to do this, Professor?” Dar-El asked. “Do you want me to take this with me after the viewing tonight?”
“No, no,” replied Cloban, “you must leave immediately. You must go now, before the viewing tonight. When the Grand Minister first sees that world near us all chaos will ensue. No, you must leave now”
Dar-El’s mind was racing as the Professor placed the valise within the young man’s hands, and then motioned him to the exterior room and towards the chamber door. There he softly opened the door and bade the upper classman to re-enter.
“Take Dar-El with you as we discussed, Eban, and may God guide your footsteps”
Dar-El obediently followed the older boy. First they returned to Dar-El’s room where he packed his belongings and stuffed the valise inside his backpack. Eban then led Dar-El to a small door that opened to a torch-lighted stone stairway that appeared to twist down into darkness.
Grasping the torch from the wall, Eban motioned Dar-El to follow him downward.
“Where are you taking me?” Dar-El whispered.
Eban briefly stopped and turned to Dar-El.
“I don’t know anything of where you plan to go or why Professor Cloban has asked me to do this. I am merely instructed to take you to a door that will lead to the street outside the University. Other than that I know nothing”
Silently the pair went a little further downward then stopped before a heavy metal door encrusted with rust and appearing to have been rarely used.
Eban undid the metal latch, swung the heavy door open with the door giving a rusty squeal as it moved on it long-sleeping hinges. He then nodded to Dar-El indicating this was to be his exit.
Dar-El stepped into the clear night then heard the rusty door close behind him and with a final clank Dar-El knew the door was once again sealed.
As the night advanced Dar-El found himself outside the University and had to wonder just how such events had befallen him.
He made his way through the dark city streets to place where he was to meet Ja-Sen for the return trip to their village. He judged that Ja-Sen had moved to a safe place on the outskirts of town to sleep overnight but Dar-El had no clue as to where he would be.
He decided to find a niche on the side of a building and await the dawn. In his mind he wondered just what would happen as the time for the viewing through the Professor’s new telescope came and passed. In spite of all of the excitement, Dar-El fell asleep.
The sounds of voices stirred Dar-El from his slumber. It was daytime and already people were gathering in the marketplace to shop. Dar-El stood, wiped the sleep from his eyes and moved into the morning daylight. It was only after a brief search he spotted Ja-Sen with his cart.
“Ja-Sen!” said Dar-El with relief, “happy to see you this morning”
Ja-Sen looked intently at his young friend and without a smile said, “Come, Dar-El, we are leaving now for the village”
Dar-El fell in step with Ja-Sen noticing his half-filled with market treasures he could see once arriving home.
Ja-Sen spoke to him in a low voice.
“Seems you’ve got yourself into a little mess, huh, Dar-El?”
“What do you mean?” Dar-El said back.
“Perhaps you haven’t heard yet but the news on the street is that your friend, Professor Cloban, was found murdered last night. And, it is reported that his killer may be one of the young students invited to the first viewing through is telescope”
“What?” cried Dar-El, but Ja-Sen bade him to keep his voice down.
“It is also reported that student stole State documents related to the new telescope and the authorities are now searching”
Dar-El’s face was ashen.
“Come,” said Ja-Sen, we hit the road now”
Once they reached the outskirts of the Capital the two began to talk. Dar-El relayed to Ja-Sen the events of the previous night and the dire warnings given him by the Professor. He only told Ja-Sen the Professor had ‘asked’ him to do something for him, omitting the fact that the his backpack held incriminating evidence.
“I’ve known your Mother and Father for years, Dar-El,” Ja-Sen said, “they are good people; and I’ve known you your entire life and I know you are a good man. It is best that you do not share with me anything about what you may have in your backpack.
But, if you just may have something on your person and intend to carry out any wishes of the Professor, I suggest that once the canal barge arrives at our village, you cross the canal walkway and move far away to complete your task. I will speak to you parents to assure them you are okay. I will tell them you decided to remain one more day in the Capital”
For the rest of the journey home Dar-El and Ja-Sen spoke only in generalities, not broaching the subject of the happenings at the Capital.
Without mishap they reached the canal and took the barge back to their village. Once arriving there, Ja-Sen handed Dar-El a small amount of provisions along with a flask of water.
“Once you get away from here, scratch my name off that flask, would you please?” said Ja-Sen.
Dar-El agreed, giving Ja-Sen a hug, left the barge and moved to the canal walkway, wistfully waving at Ja-Sen as the Merchant once again grasped the handles of his cart. Dar-El felt so much better when the man smiled broadly as he waved goodbye.
With one last look westward toward his home, Dar-El walked across the canal and through some of the small streets that led to the east end of the village.
He reached the village’s outskirts but continued on into the wilderness. Eventually the shrubbery and small trees that were closer to his village gave way to a scrubland, marked by intermittent growths of small trees that eventually led to a more barren landscape.
After an hour he reached the shore of what his people called the ‘Dead Sea’, where the land fell away into a flat, arid and rocky ground. In the distance he spotted the low mountain area that served as his destination.
It took Dar-El roughly two hours before the flatland gave way to rocky outcroppings and a rising, small mountain terrain. He had not been here for many years but remembered a general area where he had come across caves that led deep within the rocks.
He stopped for a while to take nourishment and water as the shadows of small plants began to lengthen.
Refreshed, he began to climb, trying to remember exactly where he had seen the caves many years ago. After a half-hour climb he spotted a familiar rock face, one he had called ‘Big Nose’ for the distinctive rock jutting outward.
Patiently he moved around the area of ‘Big Nose’ and was rewarded by finding a darkened area among the rocks. Moving closer he confirmed this was the very same cave he had discovered as a boy.
What alarmed him at first was that the small opening to the dark interior seemed so much smaller than before – then realized he was larger than before.
Still, he squatted down and found that he could squeeze through this opening – only by removing his backpack first and pushing it ahead of him through the hole. With a little wiggle he gained the interior.
Inside the cave Dar-El noticed that it would not be very far from the opening that allowed daylight to enter he might be in complete darkness.
“I’ll go a little into the dark to find a place to stash the Professor’s valise,” he thought. But before doing that he rested just inside the cave where the light still illuminated an area inside.
For a time he sat there wondering just what the Professor had given him and it was then and there he decided to give in to his curiosity. He removed the valise from his backpack and positioned the lock as best he could upon a flat rock. He then took a smaller rock and swung it downward. It took three blows before the hasp was broken.
Nervously he withdrew the contents of the valise, knowing that he alone on the world of Yusem might learn something known only before by a now deceased scientist.
From the inside of the valise came three scrolls. Sitting in the cave’s entrance and using the sunlight, he unwound each scroll. On each were drawings and notations on what the Professor had seen via his new optical device.
Dar-El could barely control himself. There on the drawings were representations of what the Professor had seen on the world closest to Yucem. The drawings depicted straight lines and written notations suggest these lines were far too perfect to have been formed by geological events. Besides the drawings he included notations of ‘roads?’ or ‘canals?’
“Only can be made by a civilization” he had summarized. This gave Dar-El the answer to the question he had tendered at the University – and why the chance of Yucem’s ancestors having come from this reddish-blue world could now be strongly supported.
The last scroll summarized Professor Cloban’s belief that Yucem’s ancestors had indeed come from their nearest neighbor in space. And this is what would go against all of the dogma and teachings of the Grand Ministry. Dar-El finally understood the price Professor Cloban had paid for his discoveries.
As he began to replace the scrolls his hand encountered the small artifact. It was white in color and had some unknown lettering from some unknown language on its surface. He looked at the strange markings.
Earth United Colonization Expedition Mars
Try as he might Dar-El could not interpret the strange letters. He pushed the artifact down into the valise and using a strap from his backpack, tied the valise shut. Then he moved into the darkened area of the cave where the light was extremely dim and buried the valise beneath soil, gravel and rock.
Dar-El came back into the light of day. He felt as if for some unusual reason he now knew something that the Grand Ministry already knew but kept from the people of Yucem. As promised he scratched his friend’s name from his flask of water.
He journeyed back to his village and greeted his parents and saw Reen, agreeing with Ja-Sen’s explanation that Dar-El had chosen to remain at the University one more day before returning home.
Nothing was heard by anyone of officials coming to his village from the Capital seeking Dar-El. He only thanked his good fortune, telling no one of the events that revealed Yucem’s ancestral heritage probably came from that third planet from the sun.
He felt that someday, perhaps many years distant, someone would find the valise and share its contents – perhaps when minds were more open to science and its possibilities – more open to reason and that having questions about life and science would not cause a person’s life to be endangered.
“Time will tell,’ he thought, ‘time will tell”