Many Paths muttered to herself, “Perhaps I should rename myself, ‘She Who Walks in Many Circles’.” She glanced down at the ground, still damp from the morning’s rainfall. She chuckled. No, she thought, actually, I’m walking around in the same circle, over and over. I cannot find a way to guarantee that someone won’t betray us. She sighed. Then, her awareness blossomed outwards. She heard voices. Happy voices. Tu-Swift! And, Cat Eyes! Soon, the couple appeared at the edge of the granite-bouldered clearing atop the small mountain where she had come to meditate. They walked hand in hand, smiling. When they saw Many Paths they both waved, sang her name, and embraced her.
Many Paths smiled wanly. “It’s nice to see you. I was just…thinking.”
Tu-Swift and Cat Eyes glanced at each other. Tu-Swift said, “Yes! I imagine so. After all, you have an important meeting to think about! The last thing you need is to talk with your friends!”
“Indeed,” added Cat Eyes “we had come up here to find some of those low bush blueberries to add to our lunch porridge. But we’ll be on our way. Why spoil a perfectly good dish by adding ingredients to it? Best eat everything on its own, wouldn’t you agree?”
Many Paths narrowed her gaze & pursed her lips. “I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
Tu-Swift said, “Putting different things together just complicates everything. We should eat one thing at a time. As with a song, for instance. Best to stick to one note, sung over and over.”
Many Paths chuckled. “You two are talking nonsense. That wouldn’t be much of a song. And, of course, it makes sense to combine different ingredients for a recipe.”
Many Paths stared at their faces for a moment. “But you know that. You’re … did She Who Saved Many Lives send you by any chance?”
Tu-Swift and Cat Eyes both shook their heads solemnly. “No, she did not,” they said in unison. But beneath their words and expressions, Many Paths sensed a shared joke of some sort.
Many Paths sighed and said, “I suggest you do get some blueberries. There’s a patch, as you well know, right beyond that dead tree. It’s nice to see you both, but I need to … get back to what I was doing.”
Tu-Swift nodded gravely. “Yes! I can see you’ve just about finished making your circular fire pit.” He pointed down to the circle of bare ground Many Paths had clearly been treading. “How about if we help you trample everything for a few minutes and then you can help us pick berries?”
Many Paths shook her head and chuckled. “She Who Saved Many Lives sent you. She did. Did she not? She thinks I need some one of some thing or some one to shake loose my thinking since I have been literally walking in circles and thinking in circles at the same time. Am I right?”
Cat Eyes bit her lip. “You’re right that you’ve been walking in circles. That we can see easily enough for ourselves. I say again though that you’re wrong if you think the Elder Leader sent us here. Neither of us have spoken with her today. As to whether you’ve been thinking in circles, well, that only you can tell.”
Many Paths nodded. “I have been indeed. All right. You win. I’ll tell you the problem and perhaps you two have come across something to help in your reading. Then you can return to the Tribe Mother and say you’ve helped me.”
Shadow Walker appeared at the edge of the clearing. Many Paths glanced over to see him smiling like the sunshine she so desperately missed. She smiled back and said in a tone of accusation and pleasure, “You!”
Shadow Walker strode over quickly and embraced her. He kissed her fondly and said, “Yes! It was me. I love you dearly. But you’ve been as gray as the weather. It’s time for a rainbow instead! The four of us are going to share your problem and see whether we can make some headway. I knew only that you said you were going around in circles with the problem. I didn’t know that you were — literally — going around in circles!”
Many Paths laughed. “I should have known you would be behind this scheme. Well, all right. You know the problem well enough. How do I ensure trust among the people who come from other tribes? Wait. What do you mean by the four of you?”
A strong voice came from behind Many Paths. “My legs needed some exercise so I came up to join you.”
Many Paths smiled at the Elder Leader. “Ah, you are always welcome. If you’re here…. You always seem to show up where you are needed most.”
She Who Saved Many Lives smiled. “I wish that were true. But I did bring a considerable number of hickory nuts to add to the porridge. That’s my contribution. If only we had some honey.”
Shadow Walker held up a wooden bowl filled with honeycomb. He smiled at Tu-Swift who said, “I say that five of us pick some berries and we will have a fine lunch indeed. Then, we can talk of more serious matters.”
“Yes,” said She Who Saved Many Lives. “Serious indeed. But serious need not be grim. I think a pleasurable meal, jointly prepared, and joyfully shared is always a good prelude to serious thinking.”
Cat Eyes added. “Indeed. If we share a meal and everyone brings something which everyone eats, that in itself would build some trust. Would it not?”
Many Paths nodded slowly. “You’re right. Of course. We should begin with a shared meal. I can see much wisdom in that.”
Tu-Swift nodded. “Me too. Speaking of which, I’m hungry! And the Tribe Mother is right. Serious doesn’t mean grim. Recall some of the weapons that we came up with by playing around? Make the meeting festive and joyous, not grim. In the books we’ve been studying lately, there are some suggestions for some rituals that might help as well. I’ll describe some. After lunch. Now, let’s get those blueberries.
Many Paths smiled at her “little” brother. He no longer struck her as little at all. She began to look forward to lunch. She took the Hand of Shadow walker in one hand and that of the Elder Shaman in the other and began walking toward the blueberry patch.
The sun peeked out from the clouds and sparkled on the wet leaves.
Cancer has not only “forgotten the face of its fathers” (as Stephen King’s gunslinger says).
Cancer has forgotten the fact that it even had fathers and mothers.
Cancer has forgotten the fact that its life is made easier, every day because of those who went before.
Cancer has forgotten that every little victory it feels today comes about because of millions of choices and struggles of other lives that went before.
Cancer doesn’t care.
Cancer acts as though it is the only life form in the universe that really “counts.”
Throughout history, there have been many individuals who act as cancer.
A few of them have gotten into positions of power and used that power to blackmail, strong-arm, and manipulate others into joining the cancer. Their “relationships” are based on lies and power.
Now, we live in an atomic era when cancerous people in power use that power to restrict the ability of their own people to know the truth.
We live in an atomic era when cancerous people in power threaten to use atomic weapons unless they get their way.
Cancerous leadership has never been a good thing in the same way that having a cancerous tumor in your body has never been a good thing.
Perhaps you think: well, I don’t really care much about politics.
Okay, then what do you care about?
Sports? Guess what. Sports are ruined by dick-taters. Outcomes can be predetermined or overturned by the dick-tater. Cheating becomes common. If you don’t “toe the line” politically, you won’t be able to play or you’ll be imprisoned or poisoned.
Business? Maybe you just care about business. Guess what. Business success is determined by how much “protection” money you pay to the dick-tater. Whoever pays the most will succeed. And, even then you aren’t safe. When business people become too successful under a dick-tater, the dick-tater destroys them and takes their assets. Just like Putrid.
Your family? Maybe you focus your attention on your family so you don’t really care about whether you live in a dick-tater$hit. You should care. Under dick-taters, the children are taught to spy on and inform the authorities if the parents do something “bad.” Of course, since it’s a dick-tater$hit, what counts as “bad” can change from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time. And your children might or might not understand what you actually said. No matter. Turning in the parents will be a “feather in their cap.” How do you think that will change your family? Husbands and wives are also encouraged to turn on one another. Romantic love and family love — these are antithetical to a totalitarian state. Everyone should love the dick-tater more than anyone in their own family. And, they’ll be asked to prove it. Tell your teen-ager they can’t date a drunkard. Yeah, that might make sense. But understand: if they get upset with your parental guidance, they may turn you in. They’ll make up crap. There’s no burden of proof in the courts that are run by a dick-tater. The dick-tater doesn’t really even care whether you’re guilty or not. Having an innocent person jailed for crimes against the state, especially if they’re turned in by their spouse or kid — that sends a nice strong message to everyone else in the Teliot.
You may have thought I was going to end that paragraph with the word “country.” I considered that. But it no longer a real country. It is more akin to a toilet. In an ordinary toilet, the waste is flushed. But in a dick-tater$hit, the waste is kept. Whatever is decent, honest, truthful, creative, loving — that is what is flushed away. Instead of a country, you have a reverse toilet — a Teliot.
Not caring whether or not you and your family and friends live in a dick-tater$hit — that makes exactly as much sense as not caring whether or not you and your family and friends have cancer.
“I don’t care if I have cancer, because I’m really into sports!”
If you die, you can’t play or even watch sports.
“I don’t care if I have cancer, because I really care about my business!”
If you die, you can’t run a business.
“I don’t care if I have cancer, because I care about my family!”
Maybe ask your family whether cancer affects them.
“Well,” you might say, “Democracies are far from perfect too!”
That’s true. Democracies are not perfect. Sometimes, people are unfair, even in democracies. Sometimes people are cruel. Sometimes people are corrupt.
Similarly, even if you are cancer free, you might stub your toe, or cut your finger shaving or slicing vegetables. You might sprain your ankle. And a few people will die in auto accidents. Does that mean it doesn’t matter whether or not you have cancer? Cancer, if left untreated, will necessarily be bad. It is the very nature of cancer to be bad.
Imagine a world in which you don’t just suddenly “get cancer.” You don’t have some weird symptom, go to the doctor, have some tests and find out you “have cancer.” No. Imagine that the only way you get cancer is if you choose to have cancer. You go to the doctor and he offers you a choice: “Would you like cancer? I can give you some, really cheap.”
Imagine a society who decides, “People stub their toes and get sick anyway so let’s all get cancer!”
Imagine a society who decides: “People aren’t perfect under a democracy so let’s have a dick-tater run the country!”
Maybe all you really care about is food. Guess what? Food will be worse under a dick-tater$hit. Regulations about food safety will be rolled back. Your food will be more tainted.
Maybe all you really care about is art. Guess what? Art will be regulated under a dick-tater. In the Teliot State, the good stuff will all be flushed away, along with the artists who produced those works. The dick-tater will decide which are gets presented and most will be commissioned to glorify the dick-tater.
In the Teliot State, everything good is tainted. Everything good dies. Everyone decent is suppressed. Even the military is tainted, as the ineptitude of the massive Putrid war effort reveals. The police. The courts. The politicians. The shopkeepers. The business tycoons. The teachers. The parents. The kids. Everyone must allow the cancer of totalitarianism to invade and corrupt their body, their mind, their soul.
Democracy is hard. I grant that. And often it is messy. But it is a path to life. The Teliot State is a path to death. Don’t believe me. Ask the Russian journalists who have been disappeared. If you can find them. Ask their families. Ask the mothers of the thousands of Russian soldiers who were sent off to die — supposedly to “liberate” Russian speaking Ukrainians. A big fat lie, of course. Everything is based on lies in a Teliot State.
Don’t believe me. Ask the Russian athletes who are banned from international competitions.
Don’t believe me. Ask the families of the Russian oligarchs who were murdered in the last few days. Oh, wait you can’t, because they were killed too.
Don’t believe me. Ask the Ukrainians how much they’re enjoying their “liberation” so far. Ask the raped women. Ask the mutilated children. Ask the dead. Ask the tortured.
I’ve known many people who have had cancer. The treatments are painful and dangerous. But they’re still generally better than letting cancer take over. Because once cancer starts, it wants to take over everything. Cancer finds it distracting from its past failures so it keeps wanting to try to conquer new parts of the body. Same with Putrid.
Like all dick-taters, Putrid delivers far less than he promises. Of course he does. The Teliot State squelches incentives, creativity, innovation, truth, science, medicine, and life itself. To some degree Putrid and his ilk, tell lies about how well they’re doing, but the truth cannot be totally hidden from the people. So, Putrid, like all dick-taters is terrified of having the people find out just what a horrendously bad job he’s doing. That’s why he lies to the public and makes sure everyone else tells the same lies. If people don’t realize what a horrible job he’s doing, maybe an angry mob won’t tear him to shreds.
What better way to distract from your own failures than blame someone else?
So Putrid blames the west, NATO, the EU, the UN, Ukrainians, oligarchs who don’t spent enough time kissing his a$$, military commanders — in short, everyone but himself.
Remember the Berlin Wall? That was not erected by the West Germans to prevent poor people from East Berlin coming in and taking stuff. That was put in place by the Russian dick-taters to keep East Berliners from finding out just how bad off they were under the communist totalitarianism than were their brothers and sisters and cousins living in a democracy right next door! People were killed trying to get into West Berlin.
Every day, all around the world, people are trying to escape the cancer of the Teliot State. They risk their lives to do that. Why do you suppose they would do that? Because they have seen first hand what a stench-filled place a Teliot State becomes. The criminals run the Teliot State.
There may be honor among some thieves, but not among the sort of thieves who aspire to being dick-taters. They literally kill other members of their own families just so they can feel more assured none of them will try to replace them.That happened fairly recently in Saudi Arabia and in N. Korea. Putrid is now killing his oligarch supporters to strike even more fear into his fellow Russians. “See? You think I won’t kill you if you don’t support me? This long-time ally and friend had the nerve to ask me whether I should stop this war. The nerve! So, I killed him and his family.”
Maybe Putrid felt a teeny surge of heroism when the gave the order to kill his allies for gently questioning his wisdom, but mainly he did it to make sure every Russian understood the message: “I’ll kill anyone for anything so you do what I say or you’ll be next.”
As the Wicked Witch of the West once famously observed, “These things must be done delicately. “ So, Putrid made these murders look a little bit like suicide, but they were carried off with the same MO at almost the same time so that everyone in the country would get the message that these were killings ordered by the Teliot Tyrant but that everyone was supposed to act as though they were suicides.
The Russian people are in a tough spot. Ideally, they would rise up as one and get rid of the maniac; rid themselves of cancer. Ideally. But it’s a lot to ask. It’s one thing to go to a surgeon to put you under anesthetic and have them remove a cancerous growth. It’s quite another to perform the surgery yourself on your own body! Tom Hanks, in Castaway damn near killed himself taking out a bad tooth. It took a lot of nerve. And it will take more to take out a cancerous growth. But what choice is there? If you don’t kill the cancer, the cancer will kill you.
Meanwhile, we still have a choice. Do we want to put a monstrous cancer in charge of our country? And, that will not just mean that they are put in charge of government. Please understand, once in charge of government, they work to be in charge of everything up to and including your sex life. Before you decide that’s a good idea because everybody should have sex just the way you like it, you’d better understand that a dick-tater could just as easily decide and implement a policy that everyone should be trans or that everyone should be gay. At first, of course, a dick-tater$hip will implement policies that are supported by either a majority or at least supported by a violent minority. They need some support to gain absolute power. But not to keep it. Once they control the police, the courts, the army, they don’t need to institute policies that are popular any longer. They can institute any policy that benefits them. Any. Policy. Including your worst nightmare. It doesn’t matter what they say now. It doesn’t matter what they “really” believe. It doesn’t matter how many people agree with a position. Once they have absolute power, they will make it stick. They will accompany an unpopular policy with a host of lies to make it more palatable. These lies will not be debunked by the “free press” because there won’t be any. And if you yourself do not repeat these lies, you are subject to arrest — or worse.
Given any absurdity, given any cruel and stupid policy, I can write a paragraph of lies “explaining” why we’re doing this. Of course, it will typically be pretty transparent, but so what? It doesn’t have to stand up to debate. It doesn’t have to stand up to an election. It doesn’t have to stand up to the scrutiny of a free press. Everyone will be required to recite said paragraph. Everyone in such a society knows in their hearts that the policy is bad. And everyone knows in their hearts that they themselves are being evil by perpetrating it.
Can you image how that feels inside? To know that you are doing what you yourself know to be wrong, and yet, you feel compelled to do that evil every single day. On top of that, you’re required to encourage others to do that evil and to lie about it. It’s a whole evil and elaborate charade and every participant dies inside. But it makes the dick-tater feel good. The dick-tater is the only beneficiary.
In Russia right now, there are about 150,000,000 losers and one “winner.” Ultimately, the only person who benefits is Putrid. I have to qualify “ultimately” because of course, in the short run, some see a short term benefit of some kind (not be put in prison, receive bribe, steal neighbor’s wife, get his son a better grade) but at the same time, no matter how much people try to rationalize it, they know they are doing wrong.
In the USA, right now, we still have a democracy. But it’s hanging by a thread. There is nothing “conservative” about destroying democracy & instituting a dick-tater$hit. This is not a question of conservative versus liberal or left versus right. We can have those debates in a democracy because they are meaningful. Debates are shows in a dick-tater$hit. They are not meaningful. It doesn’t really matter to the dick-tater what philosophy he purports to adopt. One dick-tater might call themselves a “Communist” and the next one might call themselves a “Nazi” and the next might call themselves “Bicameral” and the next “Hufflepuff” — The dick-tater doesn’t believe any of those philosophies. Their “philosophy” is that the only thing that matters is them and whatever they feel like should determine what everyone does. And, if he goes absolutely insane and insists everyone in the country should all go eat poison ivy three times a day, most will pretend they did it and some will actually go do it. And on TV, there will be testimonials from people who ate poison ivy and it cured their gout or their heart disease or their “Ravenclaw” tendencies. People who die from eating poison ivy will not be counted in the official total as having died from poison ivy. It will be listed perhaps as “political putrefaction” but the world will find out fairly quickly.
Eventually, so will the Russian people. But by that time, something else cancerous happens first. People who survived the purges of Stalin, by definition, are more pro-Stalin and acted to please him more than the millions who were put to a fast or slow death. And the pro-Stalin survivors acted evilly for decades under him. One way to assuage your guilt about doing evil for a long time is to convince yourself that it isn’t really evil. The dick-taters like Stalin will give you a reason that you can tell yourself. The dick-tater knows it’s a lie; you know it’s a lie; everyone outside of Russia who thinks about it knows it’s a lie. But it makes you feel a little better. You start by habitually doing evil. Then you begin to habitually feel bad. Then, you find that believing the lies of the dick-tater makes you feel a little better. And now you have told yourself the lie so long that you actually come to believe it. That, in turn, means there is a lot of truth that you cannot listen to. You not only repeat Russian propaganda, you also self-censor because you don’t want to hear the voices of Western journalists, etc.; they will only make you question that which you do not want to question.
Question yourself now. Before it’s too late. Too late for you. Too late for the world.
Over the next several days, Shadow Walker’s memory and thinking improved. That turned out to be a good thing because otherwise, even though he asked, indeed insisted that Tree Vines tell him in excruciating detail everything he saw from a number of public executions, he himself would have become hopeless. But Veritas were trained from an early age to push away hopelessness and instead to plan. Of course, this did not make them impervious to circumstances. Understanding the reality of one’s circumstances, even if unpleasant, always proved crucial to maximizing one’s chances for survival.
As Shadow Walker and Tree Vines reviewed the latter’s memories of the killings together, Shadow Walker probed for more and more detail. Veritas early memory training, it became clear to them both, proceeded along similar lines and had similar benefits on both sides of the Twin Peaks. Tree Vines had learned more of the Z-Lotz and ROI languages than Shadow Walker. He explained to Shadow Walker that his friend Eagle Eyes, if she had survived, would likely be in prison not too far away. Rumors were that NUT-PI had planned some sort of giant celebration with lots of torture and killing to take his people’s attention away from a rampant plague that was killing scores of people. Apparently, NUT-PI had at first refused to believe there even was a horrible disease among the Z-Lotz, and then he claimed it was only the impure in spirit or those who were disobedient to him or his interpretations of the Great Sky Bear’s law who had anything to fear. Many from among the most devout of the Z-Lotz had also died.
Food and water were scarce. On the one hand, Shadow Walker felt the need to conserve his energy for an escape attempt that might require every ounce of energy. On the other hand, he also needed to keep his bones and muscles strong. So, he exercised for short periods of time, but very vigorously and he encouraged Tree Vines to do the same. The exercises themselves helped them from slipping into a vague and vacant hopelessness. Shadow Walker encouraged the other prisoners to follow suit. At first, only a few joined in, but when the other saw the obvious improvement in mood, they began to join in.
Shadow Walker avoided dwelling on those aspects of his current reality that most distressed him but he did need to note them. Most disconcerting of all were the uncertainty about Eagle Eyes and the fact that his pouch containing his six Rings of Empathy was missing. He assumed someone had stolen it when he had been clubbed on the head. Somehow, playing with the rings always made him feel closer to Many Paths. Now, he had to be satisfied with closing his eyes and imagining he had the rings.
Another disconcerting thing was the weight and discomfort of the large extended collar that hung around his neck and then opened up into a kind of chest covering. It seemed to be made of the same stuff as the strange metal door that he had encountered on his first visit to the Z-Lotz and the sword that he had taken in the burnt forrest. All the prisoners had these strange shiny collars. These collars seemed impossible to remove and each prisoner’s had some of the strange marks that Tu-Swift had begun to decode. Every few hours, Shadow Walker’s mind returned to the idea of somehow using these collars as weapons. They should be useful. They were made of the same strange stuff as the swords … but how could they be used when they were so tightly attached? The puzzle maddened him and Tree Vines shared his intuition about their potential value, but other than trying to smash a guard with the chest plate, they couldn’t work out how to remove the blasted thing in order to use it as an effective weapon.
On sunny mornings, which predominated in the summer, a bright shaft of light streamed into the otherwise dank and cheerless cell. Tree Vines smiled one morning as he sat in this shaft of light and said to Shadow Walker, “Watch this.” At night, a fair number of rats stole into their cell searching for bits of food the prisoners had dropped or overlooked. The prisoners generally shooed them away. Tree Vines used the sun’s reflection off of his metal shirt to chase the rats away. Shadow Walker chuckled appreciatively. “At least, these damned things are good for something.”
One morning about a week after Shadow Walker’s capture, everyone in the cell awoke early because of a great commotion and chatter among the guards. The prisoners could also hear the hum of activity outside. Their only window was too high up to see anything except sky, but they could tell that a great many people seemed to be gathering and chatting excitedly about something. Soon, the prisoners themselves were speculating, mostly in Z-Lotz, about what was up. The door to the prison cell slid open and many warriors entered along with the guards. For a moment, Shadow Walker considered trying to run out the open door, but there were too many warriors and they were too concentrated. They had swords and clubs and their demeanor made it clear that they would brook no nonsense. They strung a long chain through a hole at the back of the collar. The guards held the ends of the chain and ushered the group outside.
They were greeted by a beautiful summer day. They were led over to a long bench. The prisoners needed to squint against the sun which was now high in the sky behind the throne on which NUT-PI sat in his golden crown. Shadow Walker strained to lean forward so he could better look to the left and right. He could see Eagle Eyes! He tried to catch the eye of Tree Vines but with his neck constrained and three people between them, it proved impossible. Shadow Walker caught a glimpse of the man’s face. A worried smile seemed to play over his features like a summer day with racing shadows from passing clouds. Shadow Walker glanced up. There were no clouds today. Only a circling flock of birds high above.
Shadow Walker craned his neck forward and backward trying vainly to whisper to Tree Vines. He saw that the female prisoners had all been outfitted as well with the same metal collars which, in the case of the women and girls, covered their ribs and stomachs but not their breasts. Suddenly, a loud gong sounded and reverberated through the stone walls of the Z-Lotz city. A man with a very loud voice stood next to NUT-PI intoning: “SILENCE! You may cheer when the rape and torture begin. First, let us hear from our great leader. If you talk while he talks, you will miss the entertainment. You will become part of the entertainment.” Everyone fell silent.
NUT-PI stood and a thick fake smile spread across his lips as he spoke. “Thank you so much for your attention. Our great city has suffered a plague brought by strangers to our fair land. Luckily, because of my leadership, we have defeated this enemy as we defeat all enemies — with strength of purpose and fierce loyalty to me and the words of the Great Sky Bear told through me! Now, that we have defeated this plague, it is time for some much deserved entertainment. First, on offer, we have three score young women and girls. I don’t want to spoil the surprise ending but for starters, they will all be brought before me and forced to look at me.I can watch them look at my eyes while they are raped. Then, I can watch the life drain out of them as they are slowly strangled. Or not, as is my fancy. Then, we will do the men as well. But first, they can watch their wives and daughters be raped. Guards, bring them one by one over here for my pleasure. Start with the youngest.”
Despite the threat of death, some of the women began to scream and beg for mercy. One voice rang out above the rest. It was the voice of Eagle Eyes. She was not begging for mercy but singing some weird toneless, loud, and long scream. What was she doing, wondered Shadow Walker. She’ll get herself killed right away! He heard a distant echo of her scream from the … no, it wasn’t really an echo, he realized. The pitch was higher. What — ? Then the motion caught his eyes and they reflexively shot upwards. He saw a score of eagles diving toward NUT-PI. A moment later, he saw them them too. At first, his mouth stood agape, but then, he grabbed his nearby Killing Stick and took aim at them. All at once a host of … bees or butterflies flew around his face. He fired the Killing Stick. So far as Shadow Walker could tell, he missed all the eagles, but several of the nearby Z-Lotz screamed and fell.
Shadow Walker shook his head. He couldn’t believe that someone had trained bees or butterflies to … no, no… he realized suddenly that they were not bees or butterflies. Those are reflections, he said to himself. Eagle Eyes and many of the women were adjusting their shiny collars to reflect the sun into the eyes of NUT-PI so that he couldn’t see clearly. Forgetting the guards warnings, he shouted to Tree Vines. “Focus the reflection of your collar and chest plate onto NUT-PI’s face. Tell the others to do the same!”
At first, a host of reflections scattered around NUT-PI, the gong, and the throne. NUT-PI waved his hands at them as though he were scattering a swarm of bees. Then, a thin and piteous scream emerged from his lips as more and more of the reflections converged on his face. He dropped the Killing Stick as he tore at his eyes and tried to cover his face with his hands. The back of his hands began to burn. The smell of burning flesh seemed to antagonize the eagles who now pecked at the squirming writhing NUT-PI. Blood began to pour from various places. NUT-PI screamed out, “Kill them! Kill them!”
His guards looked at each other, wondering who it was they were supposed to kill. Prisoners? Eagles? The Z-Lotz? No-one wanted to be responsible for misinterpreting an order. They were still wondering what possible order to follow as NUT-PI collapsed and fell silent. The voice of Eagle Eyes rung out loud and clear. “Your King NUT-PI is King no more. He dead. He defeated by messenger from the Great Sky Bear. Shadow Walker! Guards! Unchain new King. Unchain Shadow Walker! Fulfill the great prophesy of Great Sky Bear! He has used the power of the Great Sky Bear to become new king!”
Shadow Walker felt even more confused than when he had been banged on the head and awakened in prison. He squinted and frowned at Eagle Eyes. He vaguely felt the chain being slid out of his collar and the guards did something to unlock it. He had constructed numerous example plans for escape but none of them looked anything like this! Eagle Eyes had her own plan apparently. He walked toward the throne, his mind racing about how to embrace and amplify her plan. A conversation with Cat Eyes sprung into his head. Many of the Z-Lotz did not even believe anything about their religion, but they all acted as though they did. If that were true, maybe he could convince them that he was their new king. No, he corrected himself. He didn’t need to convince them. He only needed to act as though he were king and they would accept it. They had accepted NUT-PI as their ruler — clearly a deranged and cruel leader who cared almost nothing about his own people. He had been a coward at the battle of the three roads and he was a coward in ruling and a coward in death.
Play the part, Shadow Walker told himself. Play the part. Slowly and with as much dignity as he could summon, he strode to the throne. The birds jumped away for a moment as he neared and he noticed among the wreckage of NUT-PI’s finery, the leather pouch which held his Rings of Empathy. He snatched it up. He looked out at his audience of prisoners, ROI, and Z-Lotz. He could see that many were still sick, swaying feverishly and covered with ugly red dots on their faces and hands. This was NUT-PI’s idea of “conquering” the plague? No time for that. People expected him to be leader, so that’s what he needed to be, at least for now. He glanced at Eagle Eyes and allowed the slightest flicker of a smile to cross his face.
Shadow Walker turned to face the crowd. He wished he could speak more fluent ROI or Z-Lotz, but he didn’t. So he used sign language to enhance communication. He forced himself to speak in a strong steady voice.
“Greetings, brave and strong people of the Z-Lotz and ROI. I have bested your king. I am now king. That is your way. Our way. The way of the Great Bear in the Sky. The Great Sky Bear told me to come here. The Great Sky Bear said that the Z-Lotz need new King. Old King did not help you cure your plague. Old King was cruel. Old King hated families. Old King liked killing. Great Sky Bear does not like killing for no reason. Great Bear of the Sky loves you. Great Sky Bear loves all things that swim, fly, and walk. Great Bear of the Sky does not love Killing Sticks. Shadow Walker swallowed hard. He wasn’t sure what would happen if he tried to break the Killing Stick. Perhaps it would kill him first. He considered taking it and throwing it in a lake or burying it, but destroying it immediately would be far more dramatic…and far less safe. He noticed where people had been hurt. The Killing Stick was pointed toward them like a spear or an arrow. So, he made sure that part of the Killing Stick was pointed away from everyone as he smashed it against the stones behind the throne.
After he did that, he heard a cheer. It was Eagle Eyes. But many joined her cheer. He did not want to lose that energy and have people begin to miss NUT-PI. So, he continued to speak. “I bring you great news from Great Sky Bear. No more are we to steal children. The Great Sky Bear loves families. The Great Sky Bear loves families together, not apart. Release the prisoners! The men had already released themselves, but now the guards released the women and girls as well. It seemed that nearly all prisoners were part of families. Shadow Walker reflected that all of these people had come to the middle of town to watch entertainment, so he’d better provide some and quickly, he reckoned. But what? What?
“Let’s go! It’s time to go!” The impatient voice of Trunk of Tree rung out too harshly in the soft glow of sunrise which reflected off the glaciers atop the Twin Peaks and suffused the village in a soft pink glow.
“Patience, friend,” said Fleet of Foot. “I want to try one more time to convince Cat Eyes to come with us. And, since you’re in a hurry, have you chosen a book yet?”
“I don’t want one. Just extra weight. They are mostly nonsense and lies anyway. Huh! Animals with necks as long as their bodies? Go have your conversation and then let’s go!”
Fleet of Foot shook his head and stared at Trunk of Tree. He sighed. “How can you … can’t you see how important these books are? You can at least see that they are important to this entire tribe. You know that many of the Veritas of the Center Place…” Fleet of Foot shook his head and broke off. He could see by the look on the face of his friend that he would not be convinced. At least not this way, he thought to himself. “Never mind. I’ll go talk with Cat Eyes one last time. I won’t be long.”
Cat Eyes was not difficult to find. Ever since they had arrived she had been an object of attention and now, all of these Veritas of the Twin Peaks treated her with a reverence beyond her years. Fleet of Foot stood quietly amid a small circle of people of all ages. Now, this particular group was dialoging about something called “logic.” When a decent cesura in the flow of conversation appeared, Fleet of Foot stepped forward and said, “Cat Eyes, I am sorry to interrupt you but may I please have a word with you in private?”
Several of the Twin Peaks Veritas glanced at Fleet of Foot. The group walked a few yards away and continued their dialogue. It seemed that the treasure that they had uncovered included books on almost every topic imaginable. Once Cat Eyes had brought the secret of decoding to her tribe, they had spent much time on these artifacts. The knowledge of how to decode them had spread quickly through the entire tribe, though decoding was still a slow process. Gentle Talons, the leader of the Twin Peaks Veritas, had gifted each of the Veritas one book of their choice to take back with them to the Center Place.All had eagerly and thankfully accepted.
Jaccim had chosen a book about training horses. Hudah Salah picked a book that promised to show how to use water on a desert to make it a field. She remained skeptical that such a thing could be done, but if it were possible, it would mean something wonderful for her tribe. Lion Slayer had opted for a book about lions and their close kin. Fleet of Foot had found a book with many pictures that claimed it showed how to run faster. Only Trunk of Tree had eschewed choosing any book at all.
“Cat Eyes, I think you know what I wish to speak about.”
“Indeed, Fleet of Foot. You want to persuade me to come with you. I suspect you do this mainly on behalf of Tu-Swift.”
Fleet of Foot blushed. “He does … he does hold you in high regard.”
Cat Eyes reached into her shoulder pack and brought out two books and a small piece of bark. “I wish you to give him these.” She handed him books as she said, “These are two books about training birds. I hope he will find these useful. One is my choice and one is Trunk of Tree’s though he doesn’t know that.” She smiled, “I know Tu-Swift is working with Suze to train Eagles to attack NUT-PI. Maybe these will help. I think they will. And…” Cat Eyes, who had always seemed confident, but even more so since returning to her home, especially so. Now, however, she hesitated, unsure whether to go on.
Fleet of Foot looked at her. “And…?” he prompted.
“And, although I tried to express how I feel in what I wrote for Tu-Swift, please convey to him my feeling which is hard to put into marks on paper birch. I feel split in two. I really loved my time with the Center Place Veritas, and I especially loved Tu-Swift. He will always have a special place in my heart of hearts. Look at my eyes. You must tell him this so that he believes it. I know that in some way he fancies me as well. But he and Suze have something special as well. To me, the two of them seem better matched to each other. I am an oddball. I was a child here. Then, I was a slave. Then, I was a stranger in your Center Place. But now — now, I am home. I not only belong here. I can do something important for my people. I am teaching all of them about the wisdom of these books and — I think Tu-Swift will understand how important that is. But you must make him also understand how I love him.”
“I will do that.” Fleet of Foot again reddened as he said it. “Why not come back though and tell him yourself. We have the tunnel. It is only a few days journey. You can come back and describe what is here and then when you feel like it, you can come back again.”
“Perhaps I will one day visit. I have no faith right now that the tunnel will keep working. Based on what I have read so far, no-one alive really understand how those tunnels — and especially the doors — really work. Jaccim certainly doesn’t — and what disturbs me even more is that he doesn’t care that he doesn’t know. He doesn’t seem to care that he has always just done what he has been told to do — what he was expected to do — even if it was to steal children. He isn’t even cruel. He seems like a nice man; fundamentally kind. Yet — he stole children. And he uses things with no idea how they work and he’s never made any attempt to learn. The people who made the tunnel, and I now think the city of the Z-Lotz, are long dead. They were killed in some horrendous wars. If you get back to the Center Place and many people explore the tunnels and we read more in the books about how they work, maybe I will some day visit — visit — the Center Place Veritas and Tu-Swift. And perhaps I will hold the children of Tu-Swift and Suze and tell the stories about my birthplace. But for now, this is my place. You see that yourself. I know you do.”
Cat Eyes sighed and continued. “Tell Tu-Swift that someday I hope we shall meet again. Meanwhile, I wish him well in his endeavor to teach the eagles to hunt for NUT-PI. And, when we hopefully are done with that monster, I have another request. I am hoping he can train the eagles as well to hunt for, but not attack, my parents. No, don’t make that face. I realize that they are probably dead. But one never knows. They may have journeyed out to find me and ended up in a place by themselves. I know. I know. You need not put such a look upon your face. It’s been many years. I realize that. But I myself was lost from here for many years. Yet I am alive. And here. These are some likenesses of my parents from my memory and from the memories of two others who can make good likenesses and knew my parents well. It’s hope, Fleet of Foot. It’s hope. You must understand. I was hoping that they would be here. I need the hope. Even if they are never found or never return, I can still hope. It is a way to keep them alive in some small way.”
Fleet of Foot nodded. “I do understand. I will give Tu-Swift your messages — and your feelings.”
“There is something else. I feel … the Eagles have their own life. To use them as a weapon… I would be glad if something came of training them besides murder. Tu-Swift wondered about turning the Eagles into weapons as well. Is that any better than Killing Sticks? It bothered him but he resolved it. He overcame it. But I wonder how different that is from whatever went on in Jaccim’s mind to allow him to steal children from their parents.”
Fleet of Foot nodded. “Yes. As you say, Eagles do have their own lives. Many in the great web of life use others in the web. But the Eagles are free to attack or not attack, however you trained them. A Killing Stick however is not alive. It has no use I can see except to kill. It is not part of the web of life. It is not like the Eagles. At least I don’t think so. Tu-Swift, and Eagle Eyes before him, love the Eagles. If the Eagles choose to kill, it is partly due to that love returned. I don’t think of it as I do the Killing Sticks.”
“Nor I. But I think all of us would feel better if the Eagles were also trained to find people and lead us to them. Imagine. Wolves can also be trained for such a purpose. But for that…wolves do not see well like Eagles. They can smell the scent of animals though. I don’t have any artifacts from my parents left. After they had been gone for years, people began to use the things they left behind. But I suspect that my scent must be like their combined scents. So, perhaps you can use this scrap of my tunic to have wolves find them too. It’s not likely. But it’s possible.”
Fleet of Foot blinked. “That is an amazing idea! To use the wolves to find people by scent!”
The cat eyes of Cat Eyes twinkled. “Yes,” she chuckled, “though it isn’t mine. I read about it in a book. It can be done. Or, at least the book claims that it can be done.” Now Cat Eyes laughed aloud. “I can see your friend Trunk of Tree over there pacing and glowering, impatient as ever to get going. You had better begin your journey. I do wish you luck. I hope the tunnel still works and all of you return to the Veritas of the Center Place. And I hope… I wish Tu-Swift luck. That sounds cold. Just tell him I love him. But my life is here. And his life is with Suze. And with his sister. And you. And Shadow Walker.”
“He’s … young,” said Fleet of Foot.
Cat Eyes laughed. “Yes, he is younger than I, but he has … you must understand … it is not just years. He and I, of all the Veritas I have met were the only ones who were stolen from their parents. We share that. And… if you can survive it, it ages you. He is older than he seems. Or, let me say instead that he seems older than he is. Of course, you’re right. He should be with someone of his own age, like Suze. Farewell. Leave now or Trunk of Tree will shed all his bark!”
Fleet of Foot glanced at his friend and could see that Cat Eyes was right. He laughed and Cat Eyes joined. Fleet of Foot took her hands gently in his. “You are a remarkable young woman Cat Eyes. I do believe we will meet again. I hope so. On behalf of Tu-Swift, I thank you for the gifts.”
The small group of Center Place Veritas stood at the entrance to the path toward the tunnel and said goodbye one more time. Cat Eyes stood far off and waved to them. Even from a distance, Fleet of Foot could see the tears on her cheeks. Among the group returning through the tunnel was one from the Twin Peaks Veritas. Gentle Talons had chosen one from among his tribe to accompany them on their journey and to return in due course. This young woman’s name was “Flowing Waters.” She had artistic talent and, although quite bright and articulate, had been unable to master the decoding of books. Gentle Talons was hoping she could bring some drawings of the Center Place and its inhabitants back to Gentle Talons and his tribe some day.
A small number of Twin Peaks Veritas accompanied them on their journey back up to the door of the tunnel. Cat Eyes was not among them. She was already busy decoding more books and teaching others to do the same. Those who had come stood well back from the tunnel door acting for all the world as though some dark evil monster might emerge.
Hudah Salah noticed this wariness among the onlookers and considered. The only thing that had ever come out of that tunnel prior to the small Veritas delegation were child stealers. So! That really was a dark evil monster. No wonder they looked nervously toward the entrance, ready to bolt at the slightest urging.
Hudah turned and watched carefully as Jaccim opened the tunnel door. It opened and though no obvious monsters emerged, the Veritas from beyond the Twin Peaks drew no closer. They continued to stare as their visitors, now including one of their own — Flowing Waters —entered into the oddly lit corridor that stretched beyond sight. They continued to stare as the doors closed. The onlookers collectively sighed. It seemed as though the entire party had been swallowed by a gigantic monster of rock. They turned and walked back home, eager to learn more of this wonderful world through the magic that The Chosen One had revealed to them all.
Inside, the returning Veritas, along with their guest, again gaped at the odd lighting and high ceilings. They strode along the smooth path confidently. Only Fleet of Foot found himself wondering whether this tunnel might collapse. On the way in, though he had been awed, the didn’t imagine the tunnel would “stop working” any more than a tree would stop growing or a bee would stop buzzing. Now, thanks (or no thanks) to Cat Eyes, he realized that this tunnel was not something to be taken for granted. It did not just spring into being. It had been built. And the people who had known how to build such things were gone, if the books were correct. Fleet of Foot thought about some of the many gifts the Veritas had received from their ancestors. How to start a fire, bow and arrow, which plants could be used for which diseases. Why had he always accepted these as part of the world? They were part of his world, but each meant his ancestors for thousands of generations had worked to make these devices better. Everyone he had known his entire life had experimented to make things better.
Almost everyone, he realized. What if the likes of ALT-R and POND MUD had made these tunnels? They might have constructed them to appear an easy path — and then, they could collapse thus trapping and crushing an entire party under a mountain of hard rock. Did the books lie? Could there really have been a people so blind that they knew the story of the Orange Man and yet made the same mistakes again destroying in the process not just a single tribe but an entire civilization? No point in dwelling on a danger he had no idea how to defend against. He may as well walk to the end with as much happiness and joy in his heart as he could muster. If these were to be his last few moments on earth, he may as well enjoy them.
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He smiled and caught up with Flowing Waters.
“Thanks for traveling with us, Flowing Waters. I saw some of your drawings. Excellent! I especially liked the sunset on the Twin Peaks.”
“Thank you, Fleet of Foot. I like to draw. Do you?”
For three days and three nights, Tu-Swift and She Who Saves Many Lives slept little and ate less. They worked hard to keep Many Paths cool in the hot summer days. That was far from their only labor however. Among the Veritas, a large number fell ill with the mysterious plague of red dots. Fever and delirium were common as well as almost constant sleep. One had died.
It fell upon the few who somehow stayed well, including Tu-Swift and the elder Shaman to prepare food as well as to care for the sick. No-one worked on decoding what the Z-Lotz had called “books.” No-one hunted or gathered food. Only the well were hungry. The sick had no appetite and little energy. It was difficult even to convince them to drink a little of the tea that the Elder Leader prepared with rose hips, honey, black elderberry and willow bark. Usually, after some coaxing, they could only manage a few sips and then, they fell back into a restless sleep.
On the third night, just as Tu-Swift began to nod off for a well-deserved nap, Many Paths sat bolt upright. She cried out, “Shadow Walker!! Shadow Walker!!” Tu-Swift and She Who Saves Many Lives both went to Many Paths to reassure her.
Many Paths frowned in the dark room. “Old Mother? Honored Shaman? Why are you in my cabin? Where is Shadow Walker?”
She Who Saves Many Lives patted Many Paths on the shoulder and said, “You are in my cabin, not yours, Sweet Daughter. You came in her quite ill and somewhat delirious. Tu-Swift is here too. He was tending to you. Your fever has broken and perhaps you will now be on the mend. You should continue to rest though.”
Many Paths persisted. “Where is Shadow Walker though? Is he well?”
Tu-Swift took his sister’s hand, “Many Paths, I am glad you are getting stronger. Shadow Walker and Eagle Eyes went to see what is happening with the Z-Lotz; perhaps steal some Killing Sticks so that we might better prepare to fight against such weapons. Do you remember?”
Many Paths looked around the room, lit only by a few moonbeams. Everything was out of place. Then, she remembered. She wasn’t in her cabin. But her mind, her memory, still seemed out of place. Shadow Walker had gone off with Eagle Eyes? Her friend? Why, she wondered, had Shadow Walker preferred Eagle Eyes? Hadn’t they…? Were not she and Shadow Walker connected forever by love? She said aloud, “Are we divorced?”
Tu-Swift smiled. “No, sister. No, what do you mean? You and Shadow Walker are in love. Everyone knows that! It’s obvious.”
“Then, where is Shadow Walker? Why did he go off with my friend Eagle Eyes? Where are the Rings of Empathy? Did Trunk of Tree take them? Where is he? Isn’t he supposed to be with Eagle Eyes? Did he go too?”
She Who Saves Many Lives sighed. She patted Many Paths. “All is well with you and Shadow Walker, my dear. We were visited by the Z-Lotz. A few days later, we discovered that one of their so-called gifts was a poison rock that they called glass. Stone Chipper and his son, Sees Horses, both have sick hands. We have kept everyone else far away from this glass. I am not sure, but it seems that these Z-Lotz …”
Many Paths interrupted her in a panic (which was uncharacteristic of the Veritas in general and almost never happened when She Who Saves Many Lives spoke). “But where is Shadow Walker? Is he okay? Where are the rings?”
She Who Saves Many Lives put up her hand. “Many Paths. All will be well. Be patient. I will answer all your questions. There is much to tell. And all will be told to you. But you will learn more quickly if you do not ask so many questions.”
Many Paths squeezed the hand of She Who Saves Many Lives. “I’m sorry. Please tell me in your own time.”
She Who Saves Many Lives nodded her head and squeezed the hand of Many Paths. “Your well-earned Rings of Empathy are right with you in your pouch as always. Perhaps you should hold them and you might feel better.”
Many Paths reached for the soft leather pouch and took it into her hand. It did calm her. And, then, she remembered to breathe. And, to take inventory. She was alive. She could hear. She could feel. She could see. She could remember, but not very well, apparently.
She Who Saves Many Lives continued. “Many were involved in the tribe’s decision to send out two scouting parties. Shadow Walker, strong and smart, was chosen to visit the Z-Lotz. Eagle Eyes went with him because she has seen this great city before and knows a way in. Also, as you know, Eagle Eyes usually sees trouble before any trouble sees her. It is a dangerous mission. That, no one can doubt. But not finding out more about Killing Sticks could also be dangerous. The Z-Lotz are not to be trusted. If you recall, Cat Eyes, who lived among the ROI and the Z-Lotz, claims that the wealthy among the Z-Lotz do not even believe in their rigid belief system. They only use it to fool everyone else. When they visited us, they insisted that you believe as they believe — even though they couldn’t even tell you what that was! They wanted you to go visit them — alone! I do not trust them at all. And, of course, they are now led by our old “friend” NUT-PI. He is a terrible leader and lost almost his entire tribe. It is astounding that the Z-Lotz, or anyone else, would chose such a man as a leader.”
The Older Leader paused. “Does any of this sound familiar? There is no rushing danger, Many Paths. If you need to go back to sleep awhile, that’s fine. You are better but by no means well. The people need you as a healthy leader.”
Many Paths nodded. “You are helping me put my memory rooms back in order. I remember everything clearly except — maybe a week or so seems less clear than everything else. Isn’t that odd? Anyway, please tell me the rest. I am tired. But I cannot sleep until I hear the rest. How are the people?”
She Who Saves Many Lives continued, “There are many who are sick just as you were. Luckily, not all of have gotten ill, but most have. It might be that the Z-Lotz intentionally brought this illness but … “
“What!? No, surely, not even a people who steal children and make Killing Sticks would be so … low … so evil … so cowardly as to intentionally bring a plague to us! I’m sorry Revered One; I interrupted again. I’m not quite myself yet. Please continue.”
She Who Saves Many Lives got up to open some slats so that more moonlight could illustrate the rest of her tale. Then, she returned to sit on the edge of the bed. “You may recall that Cat Eyes told us of Veritas brothers and sisters who live over the Twin Peaks. So Fleet of Foot, Cat Eyes, Trunk of Tree, and our friends from the Nomads of the South accompanied them. Jaccim said he knew a different way and so he led them. We know they got there safely. But they have not yet returned.”
Many Paths nodded and felt her eyelids begin to droop. “Perhaps I will rest now.” She closed her eyes and began to relax. Then, she sat bolt upright again. “Wait! What do you mean you know that they made it over the twin mountains when they haven’t returned? How?”
She Who Saves Many Lives smiled, “Ah, for that, Dear One, you must thank your brother Tu-Swift, Sooz, and your friend Eagle Eyes! They have been training the Eagles and Hawks to deliver messages. And, Cat Eyes sent such a message back here.”
Many Paths smiled at her brother. “That’s amazing!”
Tu-Swift returned the smile and said, “Thanks! And, Cat Eyes didn’t just send a pre-arranged signal. She wrote to me! She wrote to me! She said: ‘All safe. Kin here. Much wisdom.’ She fit all that in small marks and attached it to Smart One.”
Many Paths tilted her head and said, “Smart One? Oh, that’s the name of the eagle?”
Tu-Swift smiled. “Yes, and it seems your brain has emerged from the fog. Now, go back to sleep. All will be well.”
“Knowing I have such a clever brother,” said Many Paths. “That should help me sleep. More Veritas. It’s true. Hmm.” Many Paths, the Rings of Empathy still grasped in her hand, began to imagine the Veritas beyond the Twin Peaks and how that first recent meeting must have gone. She wondered how joyous Cat Eyes had felt. Had she met her parents? What would that be like?
The musings of Many Paths soon became images and the images soon became dreams.
Tu-Swift glanced at She Who Saves Many Lives and spoke. “She seems better at last! Sooz was supposed to come see me here at moonrise. And, the last time I saw her, she felt a little ill. I’m going to check on her.” Tu-Swift exited the cabin of She Who Saves Many Lives and she watched his silhouette in the moonlight. He still walked with a slight limp, but, thought the Elder, to my old eyes, it seems that his limp continues to lessen over time. Perhaps, she thought, we should try spicebush and witch hazel hot poultice on that knee.
The inner eye of She Who Saves Many Lives began to swirl like the darkest of storms. Killing Sticks. My dream of Killing Sticks even before we knew of them. People as evil as NUT-PI. The corruption of ALT-R and POND MUD. Of course, the world has always had death, she thought, but this is something different. Have none of these people heard “The Myth of the Orange Man”? How could they think the same horrible consequences would be avoided. If you subvert language in order to mislead people and steal from them, it destroys trust. It destroys real communication. It destroys pleasure and love. It destroys everything. We then are just single individuals mistrusting and fearful of everyone else and have no real way to survive as such. And, even if we did… what kind of life would that be?
And yet, thought the Tribe Elder, there are these amazing young people who will be here after me. Many Paths, Cat Eyes, Eagle Eyes, Tu-Swift and so many others. The heart of the Veritas still values love and truth and honor. Plague or no plague. Evil or no evil. We who are on the side of life will prevail. Anyone can die any time. Everyone will die eventually. But life? Life is safe. Life is huge. Life is diverse. Life is endlessly creative and inventive. Life listens to the sounds of the truth. Life looks at reality so that the truth is revealed. Life feels and learns and thinks and cooperates and loves. Of course, life will survive.
And then, despite her dark prophetic dream; despite the threat of the Z-Lotz and the remnants of the ROI with their Killing Sticks; despite the disease that was spreading among the Z-Lotz, the elder leader smiled because she knew in her heart; she knew with absolute certainty of logic that Life itself was well beyond the clutches of one such as NUT-PI. And as she smiled, knowing the final outcome regardless of the inevitable pain along the way, She Who Saves Many Lives fell into one of the most restful and peaceful sleeps of her long and loving life.
The blizzard had passed; now, calm, serene.Snow glittered on the Bostonsuburb of Woburn. “Perfect time for a walk,” John thought. Sun played hideand seek as he set off to scale the “mountain” whose summit offered Boston skyline glimpses.
The woods were beautiful, bright and deep.Across the spit of land between marsh andlake, Sunday afternoon, he strode with confidence.Atop the summit, Boston glowing gold in sun.
Wading waist high through snow drifts, John could hardly see ahead.He’dclimbed this hill a hundred times.He knew the way, if only he could see anything beyond white horizontal hordes of sleety flakes; if only he could hear beyond wind howling through his head.
“Notice how snows falls into your boots?Note you’re breathing?”
“Whatever. I’m making progress.I’m strong; moving through these chest-high drifts.”
“Progress?A funny term.You’re moving.Toward what though?No sun, no visibility.Towards what?”
“I know where I’m going.”
“Using stellar navigation or solar?”
An hour later, home with kids, weather and worrier defeated, John wonders only for the briefest moment if things might have turned out differently. He laughs and Worrier sighs and pulls the lid back in place atop his sarcophagus.
I type —
Hey! Clatter-clatter keyboard of ascii:
Chatter chatter; chat me up and down the great grey scales of my
Wide webbed world!
Hey clatter, clatter keyboard of ask me:
Look at me and truly see I’m rainbow-swirled.
Share my image morphed; visualize my visage;
Stay and portray me; play me; slay me.
Vibrate my thought through the slick copper wire
Send my second self through the tiny fibers of fine desire
Do deadly dragons and flagons and flames and fire!
I think —
Hey! Let me find and remind our larger mind
Of who we may yet — build to become:
A race of not so numb and not so dumb,
Plumbing instead to the very depths of distant stars,
And no less, the innermost realms of mirth and Mars,
Till the mystic magic oneness of math and rhyme
Manifests so patently, so patiently, so perfectly in mime.
Find the micro-time to sweep my musical spheres and spears
The tears and cares of play and work no longer clash;
Till micro-cash flows like water through all the all-time
Help-hungry waiting wings of the world-wide watersplash;
Till ripples trip tugboats of data, mined from far fields,
Crash breaker-wave upon analyses and syntheses and shields.
I see —
Strangely dreaming wrecks of old preconceptions shatter,
Clatter to the floor, rearrange, derange themselves re-making,
Tattered by the shreds of cyberworlds waking, shaking
Our millenial group-sleep of not seeing all the wide over-tried
Over-tired, over-mired, over in the four-leaf field of clover spied
World around surround of miracle of sight and sound
From air to ground, and sea to land, and rainbow band and bound.
I hear —
Instruments that sing as they soar, tinkle, roar and storm;
Slap each other silly, go dancing willy-nilly; form and reform
Glancing blows and prancing foes and smiling awhile,
Rising for a virtual ever-upward sky-high mile,
Suspended, then — falling for eternity below the lowest low,
Dropping stone-like into so slow, slow, no-go flow.
Reloaded and rebooted, I readily roam —
Freely through city and pity and pious and pi,
Splash through wavelets and warrants and warriors and why,
Surf terrier and harrier and hairless and house
Matrices of miracles, at the merest touch of my magic mouse!
Is a dream
Is a dream
More than merely the sweet but senseless scream
Of the heat-oppresséd brain
From the drip drop drain
Of chemical overflow — I don’t know —
Random neurons on the go go go?
Is a dream
Is a dream
Maybe something more —
Something from the core’s core
The inner inner being’s being’s store
That is the outer out of all of it and all
Closing the circle
From the very very small
To the universe’s universe and all?
Original drawing by Pierce Morgan
Is a dream
Is a dream
Progress Reports from worlds we somewhere create
Building those great green meadows
Those roiling purple oceans and the wild fangéd beasts
Orgies and ogres and fencing and feasts
Shadow worlds where we fly and die and love and hate?
Somewhere across the galaxy a house stands
High on a rocky crest above the blue-green sands
And all the twists and turns of that strange place
Are but reflections of the flickers on our lids and face.
Original drawing by Pierce Morgan
Is a dream
Is a dream
A searching striving blindly groping for the One Great Light
The true Truth that will astound us; lay us flat
Knockout punch us with the crystal clear of its utter it-ness
So we lay paralyzed, helpless, beached in awe
Our whole life strange, deranged, and rearranged
Making sudden sense so simply put
Like a wild child’s smile
But only flashing for awhile…
On waking, the lamp extinguishes the Light
As artificial praise will do the wild child.
Is a dream
Is a dream
Just the dumping of the shredder basket by the night crew
Our mighty triumphs of the day and defeats
Little more than last month’s memos
No-one any longer cares; yet no-one dares deny
The overwhelming importance of tomorrow’s report
Destined to be edited and commented upon and committeed
Re-issued, dated, filed, archived, and then all copies shredded.
So too, so too, the very paper fabric of our lives?
Is a dream
Is a dream
Maybe — Perhaps — could it be a trifle more
A beacon lighthouse glowing guide to misty shore
Where you and I and all of us could be;
Put right our jade and sapphire spaceship earth at last
Scoff the troubles of a silly selfish past
Our eyes wink open and awake we’d finally see:
Shimmering, vibrant, the radiant rainbow of reality.
Turing’s Nightmares describes possible futures of human-computer interaction in a world of Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Ubiquitous Computing, Big Data Analytics, and explores the social and ethical implications.
Many Paths awoke with a smile. Without looking, she could feel the heat of Shadow Walker beside her. She slid carefully out from under the covers so as not to wake him. She had agreed to meet Eagle Eyes out by the river for some early morning fishing. Of course, the real reason was to talk. Both Eagle Eyes and Shadow Walker would be leaving on the morrow to follow the trail of yesterday’s unusual visitors. It was something of a compromise between following immediately — when they might be detected — and waiting too long and thereby losing the trail. The ROI raiding party that had stolen Tu-Swift had done a terrible job of hiding their trail.
Many Paths prepared herself and gathered up her things as well as her thoughts. She hoped that she was encouraging the delay for those reasons and not simply because she would miss her two best friends. But no matter how she turned it over in her mind, Eagle Eyes and Shadow Walker would be the best two for the mission. Eagle Eyes would likely see any trouble before that trouble saw them. And, she would be invaluable in seeing whatever was needed. Shadow Walker, on the other hand, she counted on to make wise decisions under pressure. Her one concern was that he would fight when they should be running. He had assured her that his ankle had completely healed. She believed him. And, she believed that he meant it when he promised not to get into a fight against an overwhelming odds. But she wasn’t sure he could always control it. Yesterday, when the visitors arrived, she could see that he was struggling with himself to keep from killing them on the spot.
For his part, he could not understand how she had not confronted them about the deaths and mayhem that they had caused including, most principally, stealing her own brother! She asked him, “to what end?” Their exchange became spirited and lively, but they not only loved each other; they respected each other as well. In the end, she agreed that there was some possibility that overt confrontation would change them, but it was very slim. They had to already know that it was despicable to steal children. Many Paths wanted the ROI — or Z-Lotz, if that is what they now called themselves, to be uncertain about how much they knew.
Many Paths strongly suspected that the man whom Eagle Eyes had described being killed with the killing sticks was, in fact, the leader of the ROI. The recent visitors had said they were now all Z-Lotz but that their leader was doing just fine. That seemed very unlikely, especially with people like NUT-PI. She thought, not for the first time, that from NUT-PI’s perspective, it had been the Veritas in general, and Many Paths in particular, who had been responsible for defeating him so badly in the battle of the three roads. The Cupiditas had been decimated. Hardly a recommendation for NUT-PI! And, yet, he seemed to be “in charge” of the entire large village of the Z-Lotz? How could that be? He must be using the Killing Sticks to threaten everyone else. They had used poison and they used fire. Now, Killing Sticks. What else might they use as weapons?
The cheery voice of Eagle Eyes broke her out of her reverie. “It is a good dawn! Are you ready to catch some breakfast? You looked as though deep in thought. Anything I should know?”
Many Paths smiled. She felt a tug in her heart about sending Eagle Eyes off on a dangerous mission — and with Trunk of Tree. “I was just trying to imagine what other sorts of weapons they might have. You know. The Z-Lotz.”
Eagle Eyes took her friend’s hand and turned toward the river. She glanced over and chuckled. “You’re very well-named! Always turning things this way and that in your head. And, speaking of weapons, did you know that your brother is not only skilled with the horses, but also with the eagles and hawks?”
“No. I didn’t even realize — I thought he was splitting his time between horses and decoding the — what I guess are called ‘books.’ So, he is also training the hawks and eagles, eh?”
“Yes. He’s quite good. And, yesterday…I wanted to show you this. I drew these last night.” Eagle Eyes held forth two pieces of paper birch with a likeness of NUT-PI drawn on them.
“Eagle Eyes, those — I have never seen such incredible likenesses…of anyone! How did you do this? Oh, the coins! That’s why you were so interested in the coins. But why? I mean, he’s not very beautiful. But those are great drawings.”
“I wouldn’t mind making pictures of you and Shadow Walker. And of Trunk of Tree though… I’m not … I do hope he’s okay, but even if he is, I’m not sure we’re okay. I wish I could talk with him before I left. Well, if he comes tonight, so be it. Otherwise, hopefully we’ll both get back here and have time to decide on next steps.” She paused as she completed baiting her hook.“If there are any.”
Many Paths had finished baiting her own hook. She padded carefully to a hiding spot near an overhang, hunkered down, and waited while she watched and felt for the tug of a nibble or a bite. She reflected that many things in life were like that. Patience. Making sure you were doing the right thing. If you waited too long, the fish would simply eat the bait. If you jerked too soon, you would scare the fish away.
Many Paths glanced at her friend. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Eagle Eyes sighed. “Not — not right now. He’s away. You know? We didn’t leave on such good terms. I thought about … I confronted him … not in a mad way … about his advances … and he got angry.” She sighed. “He even called you a liar. Tried to make out like you came on to him. But that — I could not believe. Anyway, I don’t want to talk about that right now. Aren’t you curious about the drawings?”
“Well. You make many beautiful things. I am a little surprised you picked NUT-PI as a subject, but it’s really nicely made. Perhaps you could take them as a kind of gift. In case you do get found out, you could say you were merely following instructions and that this was one of the gifts you brought. Although … they are looking to meet with me. Alone? I don’t think so! I don’t trust NUT-PI at all! Do you?”
Eagle Eyes felt a real tug and jerked the pole. “Fish for breakfast! Thank you fish! Let’s get a few of your brothers.” She unhooked the fish and put it in her bucket. “That’s a good sized one. We’ll have better luck if we’re quiet. But yes, I trust Trunk of Tree. But I don’t think he always sees things as they actually are.”
Many Paths snorted, “I agree with you there! If he thinks I came on to him! But we were talking about NUT-PI. Do you trust NUT-PI?”
Eagle Eyes frowned, “No, of course not! Oh. I’m not … the reason I made these pictures is this. I am going to have Tu-Swift and Dah-Nah train the eagles and hawks to attack these. I am hoping I can get them to attack the real person. If need be. If he pulls out Killing Sticks I will all the eagles to attack. I don’t know whether it would really work. But they did a number on — do you think Trunk of Tree somehow holds me — responsible — for being attacked? I mean, that would be crazy, right?”
Many Paths hauled in a fish of her own. Once the tricky part was over, and she had again baited her hook, she glanced at Eagle Eyes and said, “Men do get jealous sometimes when there is nothing to be jealous about. I can tell you that. But whether Trunk of Tree specifically — Wait. What is your plan with NUT-PI? You are going to have the boys train the eagles to attack him by recognizing his picture? Will that work?”
Eagle Eyes shrugged. “I do not know for certain. But I know for sure that I can recognize people. And I also know for sure that the eagles can see far better than even I can. And, by the way, they can also see fish in the water and snatch them right out! Maybe I could even train them to fish on our behalf. Anyway, I think it might work. You’d be surprised how smart they are. We will see. Anyway, I don’t want to talk about Trunk of Tree any more.”
Many Paths smiled, looked at her friend and said, “I promise not to bring him up again, Eagle Eyes.”
Eagle Eyes nodded and said, “Thanks, Many.”
They fished in silence for a few minutes. Eagle Eyes got another bite and landed the third and largest fish which they judged enough for now. Normally, they would catch more fish, but Eagle Eyes was mindful that her friend wanted to breakfast with Shadow Walker. She put the top back on the fish bucket and wrapped the vine around her pole. She suddenly shook her head and looked at Many Paths. “You’re making a joke! You didn’t bring up Trunk of Tree. I did! Rascal! No fish for you! I’ll eat them all myself!”
“Oh, you don’t want to go down that path. It’s slippery as a … as a fish! Share and care, Eagle Eyes!”
“I will. Now, go wake your man up and I’ll clean and start cooking the fish. You’ll have to unclench when you smell the fish cooking. Or, if you can’t help yourself, you’ll just have to put up with cold fish!”
“Hah. Very funny! I’m sure we’ll be able to satisfy all our hungers, thanks.”
“Many Paths! You’re going to rub it in because Trunk of Tree isn’t here? Not nice.” Eagle Eyes pretended to pout.
“I’m so sorry, Eagle Eyes! I promised not to bring him up again and yet there I go.”
The two of them were still laughing when they returned to the Center Place.
Eagle Eyes grinned at Shadow Walker who apparently sensed the arrival of Many Paths and leaned out the door and greeted them. “Ah. There you two are. Can you come here for a bit, Many Paths? There’s something I need to discuss.” He smiled. Many Paths strode a few steps toward their cabin, turned and smiled at Eagle Eyes, and then turned again to enter their cabin. Fish? That was the last thing on her mind.