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Volume 6074

Chapter 4: JER'OK-TA
Chapter 5: HERITAGE
From the Journals of the Terran
Log, Gemini Wanderer, Day 30

      The Admiral waited with a patience I could not match as I twisted and poked at the recalcitrant tape.  In a moment or so it reluctantly moved on its track.  I stole a look at the Admiral, but he was staring at the stars overhead with an expression I cannot interpret.  After a while he looked back to me as if only now recalling my presence.  I nodded without speaking.  My voice might break some spell which had been cast.  The tape was running smoothly and none of his narration was lost.  He continued as though their was no interruption.  But I cannot forget the way he was staring at the stars or how he looked at me. . . .

[Log, Gemini Wanderer, Day 40, Transmission resumed]

Narrative Transmission 4
      AS LAEL STARED warily at her ta, the dangerous fires overhead gradually ceased their activity.  There followed an interlude of unnerving silence.  Then Mael’s roar swept through the clearing, twisting the trees in a grotesque parody of Pers-Alata.  Lianas and thick clumps of epiphytes torn from their parasitic holds on the trees whipped through the air.  Nea’s rains followed close behind Mael.  Every being was throwing its full force into the fury of this terrible night.  It seemed some monstrous battle raged among all the beings of the air and sky.  With the appearance of Nea all the rest retreated.  But Nea vented her fury against the creatures bound to the earth itself.

      Never before had Lael experienced the equal of this night’s deluge.  Aranda terror held her in its fierce grip.  Without thought for any risk to her own person, she hunched her back and tried to protect her son from this newest attack.  But Mael, at least, had indeed retreated with the departed Jera, leaving the jungle to Nea.  Lael’s heart pounded with many rapid beats before slowing to a more normal rhythm.  Powerful though she was, Nea did not seem to bear the fury of either Jera or Mael.  Perhaps this was, after all, merely the downpour to be expected with the coming of one shadow.

      Lael shook off the misery of Nea’s soaking with that of Jera’s more devastating earlier attack.  As she calmed, Lael knew she must determine whether her son was already sleeping the sleep from which he would never awaken.  But the she hesitated.

      If he did awake, would it be her son who opened his eyes – or another?  In the dark aftermath following the incredible conclusion of Pers-Alata, Lael could not clearly see the huddled form she attempted with so little effect to protect against the torrent.  What might Jera have created?

      Lael was possessed of more courage than many of her kind, but the night grew old and started to alter with the coming of first dawn before she dared reach forward to the figure she was so carefully guarding, perhaps without reason.  It is possible the hunterfolk dama was not unlike her humankind counterpart in knowing a certain reluctance to confirm that her child was already beyond whatever small protection she could provide.

      It was with oddly humankind hesitation that the Aranda she at last reached forward to touch his shoulder.  With the warmth of life beneath her fingers, Lael was reassured.  Emboldened by the knowledge that He-Who-Had-Been-Ta’el still lived and did not resent Aranda contact, Lael shifted her position to gain the purchase needed to lift him.  But where could she take him?

      The Aranda prefer solitude at such times.  The she looked about her, but no refuge beckoned.  Then Lael remembered that Ta’el had passed many a day in the peculiar lair of starfolk origin where she had found him so long ago.  It was not far away.  Perhaps he would prefer meeting whatever fate awaited him among his own.

      THE LIGHT OF Sanjera was already clearing the lingering darkness between dawns before Lael, burdened with the heavy weight of her son, reached her goal.  Nea’s torrential rains had tapered and then ceased not long after they had commenced.  Lael shuddered.  The events the Aranda she had experienced during the cold darkness that should not have been were all beyond her comprehension.

      Upon coming at last to the place she sought, Lael did not immediately enter the long-abandoned lair.  The courageous creature had all the natural timidity of Aranda when faced with the unfamiliar.  That quality in combination with the haunting events of Pers-Alata stayed Lael’s step at the very entrance of the shelter, where she froze in an attitude of alert attention.  She waited.

      There was no stirring of her burden or any other sign to suggest a demand that he be carried into the lair.  Lael sniffed the air with deep-seated suspicion.  The she postponed entry into the awesome place until such time as it might somehow be clearly demanded of her.  With renewed resolution Lael stooped and tenderly lowered her son to the soft grass that grew just beyond the entrance.  Still He-Who-Had-Been-Tael remained utterly quiet.  His chest hardly stirred with his shallow

      With the return of Sanjera, the Aranda she was for the first time able to examine the hurts Jera had inflicted upon her son.  The loyal creature still thought of the foundling as her child, though she knew the time had come when she must accept that he was now neither Ta’el nor hers.

      Parental ties are never easily torn asunder.  Unless her foundling demanded it himself, she would not give him up to long sleep or to Jer’anda or to any denizen of the jungle without a battle which could conclude only in death, Lael’s or that of whoever sought her son.  If he was to be removed from her care by force, she would not be living when he was taken away.

      With that resolve sustaining her, Lael turned her attention to the harm Jera had visited upon her charge.  A single glance at the young one’s condition told Lael that she should abandon her son to the solitude Aranda instinctively seek out when they are about to enter into long sleep.  Indeed, most humankind mothers would have resigned themselves to their loss at the sight before the stricken eyes of a creature we presume to deem less than human.

      The intensity of Jera’s fierce heat had left the naked hide of the foundling the angry red of the flames sometimes encountered on the vast dry grasslands following a storm in shadow death.  As Lael anxiously searched for greater harm, she noted what appeared to be tiny specks of Jera embedded beneath the peeling hide.  And yet as she ran a gentle hand along the length of her son’s arm, Lael discovered that the underlying flesh remained unbroken.  Although she knew nothing of
microbes nor of the mode whereby they enter an Aranda to wreak their devastation, Lael was reassured by this observation.  From past experience she understood that this fact vastly improved her son's chance for survival.  Lael wisely turned from the alteration Jera had worked on his skin.  She instead looked carefully to determine what more dangerous damage Jera had inflicted.

      There was an ugly burn on the right leg where the strange Jer’anda object always at the foundling’s side had held and intensified Jera’s touch.  Carefully Lael slipped the crystal knife out of its improvised sheath, but she left it nearby, lest the foundling miss it should he have need for its protection.  She was aware it somehow served him in his search for food.

      Lael smiled at the fleeting memory of her son's extraordinary success in hunting.  Lael and her ta always ate well and sometimes shared their bounty with the shes and ta'els of less skilled Aranda hunters.  She bristled anew at the memory of her band’s reluctance to accept her son as one of them, despite his obvious gifts.  Had Char not been slain, her mate would have demanded Ta’el’s acceptance, by sheer force if necessary.

      Lael’s memories did not keep her from the task at hand.  She continued her anguished examination.  She saw that it was her son's face which had suffered the greatest of Jera’s hurts.  Lael was uncertain what she should do.  These ghastly burns were unlike anything in her previous experience.

      The Aranda do not have use for fire.  For them Jera in any of his myriad forms is a thing of awful fear, to be avoided whenever avoidance is possible.  Lael had never felt Jera’s touch, but those who had assured her that the slightest contact with him is excruciating.  There was nothing which can sooth the small bit of fire lingering in the body of one who has dared to touch a flame.  And the pain is one that dwells on long after the touch itself might be forgotten, to remind the unfortunate victim that this unpredictable being demands both distance and respect.

      The foundling's face burned with one of these lingering fires.  The skin was raw with it.  But worst of all was the black mark across the foundling's brow where the chain worked from Sanjera's light had rested.  And over his left eye was a deep furrow which still oozed blood.  The crimson streak extended from the black band far into the foundling's dark hair, in a narrow line where it had been burned away along Jera’s path.

      As Lael was inspecting the last of her son’s wounds, his eyes fluttered and opened.  Ever so slowly they focused on her anxious face.  But Lael’s joy at this show of renewed life was immediately dashed by the terror rekindled by the sight of those eyes.

      Ta’el’s eyes, sometimes the green of new growth in the thickets and other times almost the gold of Sanjera, had always been more than a little discomfiting to the Aranda, but now they were truly terrible.  The green had deepened and was now flecked with gold.  As the Jer’anda eyes sought to focus on her familiar form, there was a flash of shimmering gold as though Sanjera himself now resided behind them.  When those dread eyes found what they sought, the dark pupils opened from the merest slit to fill the surrounding green overlain with golden flecks of light.  The result was two bottomless pools of burnished gold, but Sanjera’s clean light seemed to have been tinged with blood.

      Lael’s courage nearly failed her when she stared into those endless depths.  The she would have fled from the side of this terrible creature had she not heard him murmur her name.  The intense focus of his eyes faded as the fiery pain claimed the foundling and he called softly for help no other would give him.  Lael’s heart went out to her son in spite of her fear.  He was, after all, the victim, not the creature of Jera.

      “Jer'ok-ta,” she whispered in a voice touched with awe no Aranda could have suppressed.  The she cradled her son’s body to her heart, “Son of Storm, Lael of the Aranda will care for you.  Do not fear.  It is over now.”

      But in truth Jer’ok’s suffering was far from over.  Jera, in summoning Jer’ok-ta out of Ta’el, had very nearly succeeded in destroying his new creation in the very instant of transformation.  In the security of his dama's maternal embrace, the newborn Jer’ok yielded readily to the stupor which engulfed him.  He did not fight or cry out, nor did Lael attempt to revive him.  She understood that Nature's healing must be allowed to follow its own path.  There was little Lael could do for him in
any event.  She had no medicine, no salves to heal him nor balms to ease his pain.  Of these humankind boons the Aranda know nothing.

      THE SMALL SERVICES of which Lael was capable were crude it is true, but they saved Jer’ok’s life.

      She carried him at least once each day to the nearby brook to allow him to drink and to bathe him in Nea's soothing coolness.  The worst of the wounds, the ugly burns on his face, she gently licked whenever the fires seemed to be burning with their most intense heat.

      As it happens, Aranda saliva, like that of many of Gemini’s lesser mammals, carries with it a natural antibiotic component.  Thus, not only did Lael’s ministrations prevent what would certainly have been a fatal infection, but this tender service of hers also prevented all but the worst of it from scarring.

      Jer’ok, bereft of a luxuriant coat, would never have the beard for which he also yearned, but the only scar that would be left of Jera’s great hurt was the one over his eye and deep into his hair.  When the burned hair grew back, there would remain a fine streak of pure white that marked Jera’s touch all the way to the crown of Jer’ok’s head.  But unless Jer’ok’s hair was pulled back from his face, the dark strands were to hide the white imprint of Jera’s fury, and none would know of it.
The scar over his eye eventually faded into his tawny skin, becoming nearly invisible until recalled by the fires of unquenchable rage.

      After her ministrations, the most important service Lael offered Jer’ok was protection from predators while he was unable to defend himself.  No Aranda so sorely wounded as Jer’ok would have long survived alone.  If not the predators, then the scavengers would have quickly found him.  And he would have been completely vulnerable had Lael yielded either to instinct of long standing or to her own recently engendered fear of the youth himself.

      MANY WEEKS PASSED before Jer’ok’s recovery commenced in earnest, and he regained sufficient strength for Lael to dare leave him to tend her own needs.  His odd eyes reflected his concerned gratitude when at last intelligence returned and Jer’ok for the first time regarded her gaunt form.  Lael was not eating enough to maintain her own strength.  Jer’ok knew she would not leave him until he could protect himself.  Her deprived condition gave his dauntless spirit the needed additional impetus to return to life.

      As soon as he had the ability to stand alone without trembling, he insisted that she assist him into his favourite lair.  Once there it was no easy task to convince Lael that, if he closed and barred the barrier between the lair and its outer shelter,
he could remain within in total safety without becoming trapped himself.

  [Log, Gemini Wanderer, Day 46, Transmission terminated]

[Log, Gemini Wanderer, Day 40, Begin Transmission]
 Narrative Transmission 5

      LAEL’S ARANDA BAND had spent all of one shadow and shadow return and most of two shadows away from their place of Pers-Alata.  After the manner of their kind none of them particularly missed the she or experienced the slightest curiosity regarding the fate of the despised foundling.  Aside from the terror of Jera’s attack, both Lael and the Jer’anda-ta were forgotten for as long as they remained apart from the band.  If the memory of the latter returned, it is probable he was believed to have entered long sleep – or returned to the Jera of the skies, where he belonged.

      Among the small band only Bran had ever returned to the natural amphitheatre.

      Today when the buck entered the clearing, Sanjera was filling the jungle with his bright warmth.  The alata's cursory glance about revealed to Bran no trace of the terrorising events by which all the hunterfolk had been held in thrall.  Indeed, for all that remained, this most nearly memorable Pers-Alata might not have taken place for countless returns of Solea.  Even the altar-mound stood empty, for scavenger beasts had found and carried off what was left of Pardu.  Their lingering stench was strong in Bran’s nostrils.

 Of Lael or her stricken ta there was no sign at all.  Not so much as a trace of the spoor of either remained.  Bran was not inclined to pursue the matter.  All that would remain among his band were vague memories of Ok and images of the furious Jera forever burned into their inner sight.

      After only a few moments of idle searching Bran happened upon a tree laden with his favourite fruit.  The alata ate greedily, pleased that for once there was no demand to share his delectable find with the others.  Only when his hunger was sated did he return to his band.  Whatever his original mission at the place of Pers-Alata, it was forgotten, lost in the uncertain memory of Aranda.  The alata and his band wandered off in the ceaseless search for food.

      EVENTUALLY, MANY RENEWALS of Solea, the moon, following the night of the terrible Jera, Bran, the leader of Lael’s Aranda was moved by an inexplicable urge to return to the familiar territory near the band's place of Pers-Alata.  At first, this urge was so subtle the alata did not recognise it, though he could not elude its call.  Initially at least, Bran experienced no more than a vague but nonetheless nagging restlessness which faded only when his steps took him in the direction of that particular territory.  The sensations were not so pronounced as to cause Bran to respond overtly.  He merely found himself somehow more comfortable whenever he by chance obeyed the subtle command spoken deep in the recesses of his near-human mind.

      Without any other knowing it, each Aranda buck was experiencing the same peculiar sensation with a greater or lesser intensity.  Many of the shes were also moved toward what was destined to become their permanent home territory, the place of a profound Aranda alteration to come.

      The urging was even stronger among the youngest of the ta’els, who did not speak of such things to their elders.  A few of them communicated some expression of the strange stimulus when alone among their peers, nothing more.  These individuals were, however, greatly relieved when eventually it became obvious the band was returning to the territory for which each now longed, though the Aranda knew not the source of the longing.

      When, in generations to come, the meaning behind this first stirring became manifest, there would be none who remembered.  Only the occasional elusive clue, puzzles for future paleoanthopologists of Gemini and beyond, would be left behind.

      JER’OK-TA WAS HUNTING for himself and for his dama.  His long strides quickly took him far from the place where cool Nea raced to meet the deepening blue of the endless water of salt, Sa’nea-nox.  As always the lost son of Chimur felt a surge of curiosity when his gaze fell upon that vast sea.  What wonders lay within those unknown depths?  What lay beyond?

      Jer’ok’s active imagination was hindered by his Aranda conception of the environment in which he found himself.  The shadows of the starfolk could do little more than raise his awareness to the potential wonders beyond the perceptions of his people.  Alas, the foundling had no way of pursuing what his imagination hinted.  After one last glance at the sea, as must a proper Aranda buck, Jer’ok resolutely turned his thoughts back to the hunt that lay before him.

      The hunt was of today.  It filled today’s need.  The great salt sea of Ashtar was for some other time.  It filled no need the hunterfolk could acknowledge.

      The time of near-darkness was upon him before Jer’ok commenced his return trek to Lael.  His hunting had carried him far from her side.  Not long after the second twilight dimmed the jungle to its eerie half-light, he had sighted a herd of Eos, the small, timid creature more equine than of the antelope or their kin.

      The time thereafter had passed without reckoning by the hunting buck intent on prey, as he selected his quarry from among them.  He had patiently stalked the young stallion until finally he could make his swift and grimly efficient kill.  Then Jer’ok lightly lifted the carcass to one coppery shoulder and raised his head in an instant of attentive survey of his surroundings before turning unerringly in the direction of his distant lair.

      Jer’ok was not one to waste time on meandering forays into the forest unless such was his mood of the moment.  Because he knew Lael would be hungry, where his earlier path had twisted and wandered lazily with the grazing of Eos, it now proceeded in a straight line to the lair from the place where he had made the kill.

      His dama had been out of sorts and short of temper of late.  He did not wish to provoke her ire.  Where there was a game trail Jer’ok moved swiftly on the ground.  Where there was none, the agile creature of the forest launched himself into the trees with an ease that belied the awkward burden slung over his shoulder.  Once in the middle terrace he fairly flew on his way.

      JER’OK’S HOMEWARD ROUTE took him past a gentle hill that lifted its rich green contour above the lowland trees.  The hunter’s glance strayed in that direction.  He faltered but quickly recovered before coming to a complete halt.

      Forgetting his desire to make the best speed homeward, Jer’ok stared at the sight of the familiar jungle landmark, for it was no longer quite so familiar.  With only the slightest hesitation, Jer’ok absently cached his hard-won dinner high aloft in one of the jungle patriarchs through which he had been traveling with such single-minded purpose.  With that duty attended, he turned aside to examine the curious changes being wrought on the serene hillside.

      As he drew closer, Jer’ok’s sensitive nostrils informed him that it was his own Aranda who were engaged in creating what appeared to be an intricate pathway.  Recognition of the band brought a twinge to his heart.  He had not encountered them since the fateful night of his Naming Pers-Alata.  Second shadow had returned twice since he and Lael had last traveled with the band.

      With a certain longing Jer’ok approached noiselessly and soon found himself able to identify individuals as they passed before him, so intent upon their mysterious task they were unlikely to become aware of the presence of this intruder. Though he once had been one of them, Jer'ok doubted his welcome among Bran’s people.  At the thought of the alata Jer’ok searched and found Bran off to one side.  The alata was from time to time speaking to individual members of the band, but most often he was looking upward.

      To the watching son of starfolk it seemed as though the old leader was searching for something in the empty sky.  Jer’ok’s flesh suddenly crawled with a sensation that was not to be explained.  He puzzled for a moment.  His untoward reaction was engendered neither by fear, of which he had no knowledge, nor by awe, which he had seldom experienced; but by something akin to both.

      Jer’ok turned his attention to that which his Aranda brothers were creating.  Once again he felt an internal stirring that brought the short hair at the nape of his neck upright.  Just below the crest of the hill the hunterfolk had cleared what Jer’ok at first glance took to be a trail.  But as he stared at the area of intense activity, he saw that what the Aranda had created could not be a trail.  It began and ended there on the side of the hill.  Moreover, the Aranda had begun the labourious process of
filling in with light-coloured rocks and pebbles the area they must have laboured many returns of Solea to clear so thoroughly.

      No, whatever Jer’ok’s people were creating, it would make a poor pathway for their travels.

      Consumed with curiosity and his own personal mission now completely forgotten, Jer’ok intently observed his people's odd behaviour.  At length his mind began to perceive the pattern.

      Jer’ok moved back through the middle and upper terraces to make out the symbol’s form.  As perception clarified before his mind’s eye, Jer’ok experienced a profound sense of wonder that served only to mystify him still further.  The perplexed beast-man had no concept of what it was that so strongly drew not him, but something buried deep in his mind.

      As he studied the artifact, he began to understand that the design being worked could be clearly recognised only from a vast distance.  It was as though the Aranda sought to focus the attention of the stars on their handiwork.  Jer’ok puzzled long over the strange device civilised humankind would have described as a spiral in whose centre is the symbol for infinity – far too complex a design for any creature to stumble into creating through the machinations of sheer chance.

      The Chimurian son of Ashtar’s most advanced beast, though he could not have known it at the time, was witness to the end result of an age-old experiment in evolutionary genetics.  The detonation that had been triggered forgotten years in the past had at long last exploded.  The nascent humankind who were the Aranda had commenced the irrefutable proof of their ultimate advancement.

      The design that so moved Jer’ok is the universally recognised device of Earth-Mother that represents the first inkling of deity to stir in the breast of the beast who would be humankind.

      As the possible implications of what the Aranda were about began to dawn deep in the convolutions of Jer’ok’s untutored mind, he stood upright on the broad branch of the great tree from which he was watching.  Balancing lightly without conscious effort, he rested one hand on a second, smaller branch to steady himself.  He lifted his eyes from the device being engraved for all time in the fertile soil of Ashtar to the faint stars emerging as the last light of the distant, unseen sun faded.

      As the beast-man who had never set eyes on his humankind fellows witnessed the incipient human acts of those who yet remained folk – though it was they who had nurtured him to maturity – he staunchly resisted the compulsion to take part. At the same time the Jer’anda-ta found himself in a second stupendous struggle to overcome the impulse to approach the band to tell them a thing of profound import.

      Even as he waged the mighty, internal battles, Jer’ok puzzled anew over what it was he thought he must tell the Aranda.  When at length he regained control over his will, Jer’ok was left with a sensation of immense personal longing, so deeply wrenching his heart ached with the intensity of it.  For the first time the son of two worlds unknowingly found himself torn between Ashtar and Chimur, Aranda and Jer’anda.

      It was a battle that was to rage relentlessly in the heart of Jer’ok-ta throughout his life.  Even this first time Jer’ok was prophetically hard-pressed to conquer the conflicting forces within.  The young beast-man could not know that he was always to find it far more difficult to reconcile the humankind with the hunterfolk dwelling together within his own heart and mind than to overcome the most formidable of his many enemies.

      The beast-man shook his head to clear away the remaining vestiges of the unfamiliar emotions roiling within.  This gesture was purely Aranda.  But Jer’ok’s attention could not so easily be pulled away from the Aranda.  Thoughts of his delayed dinner and of Lael’s short temper had by now been completely banished by the disturbing surge of emotions holding him in their thrall.  Jer’ok dropped lightly to the ground but neither approached nor withdrew from the unique scene.  He did not, could not know no other humankind of any planet had ever before witnessed this phenomenal evolutionary event, though many had died still dreaming of the possibility.

      For a moment Jer’ok-ta froze in statuesque immobility, straight and tall against the dim sky that precedes daybreak in the Gemini system.  There could have been no doubt in the mind of any chance observer that here was a creature of the forest who had attained splendid maturity.

      The son of Leede and Sabratha Southerly stood well above the average Tuathan man.  The hide that flowed over the mighty thews and sinews was extraordinary.  Jer’ok’s skin was the tawny red of Tuatha, but it shone with coppery highlights that were his alone.  Not even Jer’ok knew how very extraordinary was this gift of cruel Jera.  But the most striking features which comprised the legacy of Jera were not visible.  Jer’ok himself was yet to discover them.  At this he would spend a lifetime.  And not all of them were gifts.  There were others he would discover only to his everlasting regret.

      So superbly muscled was this son of two worlds that he seemed slender.  Jer’ok’s great stature and massive strength did not impinge on the senses until the observer was close enough for a friend to speak in confidence – or for an enemy to engage in hand-to-hand combat.

      All of this young man’s senses were as fully developed as they would have been had he been truly born to Char and Lael with the blood of hunterfolk coursing in his veins.  His eyes, however, were unmistakably of Tuatha but for the alterations worked by Jera more than two years before.  As with all the beasts of Ashtar, Jer’ok’s expression was alert, but rather than crafty, that expression was strongly marked with open intelligence.

      In repose his features relaxed into a surprisingly pleasant expression unflawed by the savagery required for survival on Ashtar.  His were the fine, but entirely masculine, features of his noble father.  The young Leede’s handsome face was framed with the shock of chestnut hair so dark it seemed black in the poor light.  Jer’ok kept it shorter than do hunterfolk bucks by the effective if not fashionable hacking of the elder Leede’s crystal knife.  The result lent a look of ferocity to the fine features – a look more in keeping with the wild creature’s temperament than was the well favoured countenance.

      While Jer’ok had not experienced the craven side of humankind, neither had he yet embraced the tradition of honour that was the heritage of his Tuathan forebears – with the occasionally notorious exception.  He embraced only the law of survival on Ashtar.  He was in every sense a savage beast of prey whose humankind nature extended no deeper than his coppery skin.  Only exposure to humankind would determine which side of this untested man would prevail.

      There he stood in the Ashtarian near dark as dawn approached.  Poised for the moment between hunterfolk and humankind, Jer-ok of the Aranda watched the former species taking the metaphorical and literal first step into becoming the latter.  In that moment the beast-man endured some inkling of the reality that his destiny was not of the one or of the other.  He, of all the peoples of the jungle, was indeed totally alone.  Jer’ok turned away and melted soundlessly into the jungle.

 [Log, Gemini Wanderer, Day 40, Transmission terminated]




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