The books of Jim should have been a dire warning... but to whom?
|I settled into my captain’s chair and fiddled with the dispenser controls. “I wish I’d have just replaced the whole damn thing at the last base. I should have never trusted that Gorski fellow. Fixed my ass!” I shouted with only the empty walls of my ship to answer. After another minute, I cocked the control at just the right angle and coffee poured into my cup. “Finally!”
I smelled the steaming aroma while the last few drips plunked into my mug. I cupped my hands around the warm receptacle and put it to my lips. My nerves soothed. Nothing like a nice cup of coffee in the morning. Well, as much as there is a “morning” in space. I smiled at my own quip.
As was my habit, I clicked on the navi-computer and checked my progress against my flight plan. Not bad. I should be home in a week. I hate these long trips, especially alone in this cramped little ship. Nothing to do but read, play with the radio, and type letters to home, or try to figure out some problem or other. I could put that jigsaw puzzle together again or...
I fished for my toolbox under the console and eyed the dispenser. Maybe I can make that blasted thing work a little better.
As if on cue, a buzzer blared from the propulsion terminal. Used to such technical glitches, I sauntered to the panel and perused the status. “Overheating on the B3 injector. Curious.” I stated. The chatter of my typing filled the cabin and the familiar whir of the diagnostic system kicked on. I waited.
After forty-five seconds the screen started spewing forth data. My eyes froze on one number. “That’s not good. That can only mean there’s a leak in the centrifugal chamber or at least three of the mix rods are failing.” My fingers flew across the keyboard as various analytical systems lurched into motion. Beads of sweat clumped together and streamed down my forehead and plopped onto my lap. The last numbers scrolled onto the screen. I glared at the data, trying to decipher something other than my first two inclinations. No doubt remained – the mix rods were the culprits. I am such an idiot. I've been thinking about buying some spares, but no, there was always something else. I have to find a place to land.
Scanning the chart I saw no habitable planets nearby. I launched three short-range probes perpendicular to my course into the unknown. Come on baby. I need somewhere to land and fast. Those rods won't last long.
My eyes rolled over to the cargo bay. Three bottles of wine and a case of whiskey in there. I resisted the urge to break them out as I knew even if I did find a planet, I’d need all my senses to land. I can’t be drunk for that. I licked my lips, but turned back to the read outs.
The default settings on the probe were set to two hours before sending any data, but that seemed like an eternity. The alcohol in the hold seemed to taunt me. Please let there be something out there, I repeated over and over in my mind. My teeth clinched with every second passing. Two hours of excruciating waiting only to probably be disappointed and be adrift in space. The idea of being stranded out here for a minimum of a few months did not settle well with me.
The chronometer blinked in steady rhythm. “One more minute,” I said. The chit-chit-chit of the computer hummed and stopped. Too short of a data stream. Nothing on that one. Dear God let there be something on these last two. I wrung my hands awaiting the second probe’s information. The computer again hummed, chattered, and beeped. That’s better. Yes…. I paged through a couple of screens of data. This looks promising. A planet. I might even have enough juice in those rods to make it.
I re-routed the flight path to the tiny planet well off my star chart. At least the initial scans said it was habitable. Here's to hoping. I pressed the auto nav button. The left thrusters engaged and the ship turned.
Flipping on the overhead, I watched for hours as the tiny dot grew. I ran five more analysis and my fears eased as each one came back that I had enough power to reach the planet. I just hope the landing won't burn the rods beyond repair.
A bluish-green spinning planet hovered on my overhead. Clouds drifted throughout its atmosphere. "This is incredible. It looks almost like .... well, Earth." I said between disbelieving blinks.
But I had little time to admire the view as I continually calculated, and typed in new navigation commands. I decided to shoot for a plain on the largest continent. I started my descent. The roar of the engines hitting the atmosphere caused a lump to push into my throat. The mix rods were under extreme pressure, but I kept to my landing procedures. Flaps down. Ease off the throttle. Stabilizers on. Landing gear down. "Easy baby, easy."
The long burn of the engines kept my senses on edge. My skin tingled. My eyes widened as the ground came closer and closer. At last the landing gear touched down and, exhausted, I let out a long breath. Thank God that's over. Now I need to see where I'm at and whether I can repair this thing.
I ran diagnostics on the air, the soil and radiation levels. All three times the results returned in the acceptable range. "This has to be the most amazing planet I've ever seen. So much like Earth. It's astounding." I studied each report again, but found no anomalies. No hints that I couldn't just walk outside.
Glancing at the exit, I picked up a bottle of oxygen with a mask and groped for the hatch handle. "Guess we'll see." I eased the handle back and heard the sudden rush of air release. I'd done this hundreds of times, but never to such trepidation. I sucked in a small breath and could taste... yes, taste... a wonderful honey scent sift through my lungs. The air just seemed to drip with the smell and I sucked in another.
I pushed the hatch open and scanned the plain with a volcanic mountain range towering nine or so kilometers away. That same bluish-green tint seen from space lingered on each plant against the pale brown dirt. The star which warmed this fifth planet touched the horizon and I knew exploring would be out of the question until this world's morning. Time to sleep. I fumbled with an apt name for this tiny planet, but the best I could come up with is 'Earth II' before I slipped into dream world. I never was one for creativity.
Morning arrived and I resolved to see those mix rods, but that required taking apart a good section of the engine. So, I took to my work. It ain't going to take itself apart. I could hear my grandfather say. After four hours I came to the last cover. I unscrewed it and pulled it away. Two rods completely burned up. The odds of repairing them was slim. Damn. The third rod, while damaged, could be salvaged. I had a subspace radio, but at this range it would take at least eight months to reach anyone. For all intents, I was stranded. I stared at the red emergency beacon button which activated the radio. Not yet. I need to see if anyone else might be here with a way off this rock. No sense sending a signal out until I know for sure. A day more isn't going to make much difference.
A scouting trip seemed in order. My pulse raced with excitement. I couldn't help it. Expecting another week in that cramped cabin, I got to instead explore a wondrous planet off the star charts. I shoved a med kit, change of clothes, small tarp, rope and a few tins of eats and water in a bag. I remembered doing this with my dad when I was about twelve. Camping. Nights under the stars looking up at that sky. I had the same awe inspiring feeling now. I grabbed my hand computer, knife and flashlight too.
I opened the hatch once again and smelled that same honey sweet air. Slow and steady, I marched over dry terrain toward the mountains. The biggest appeared to be a dormant volcano. Well, I hope it's dormant. The scented air seemed to grow stronger as I approached the tree line. Must be some sort of flowering tree or plant making that delicious smell. A water vapor lingered among the tall trees while a gentle breeze pushed through the limbs and rustled the leaves.
"I can't get over this. The trees are like bigger versions of maples, oaks and pines." I brushed my hand across the bark of one in full bloom. Eight-legged insects traversed up and down its trunk. The blooms smelled of the sweetest of honey. "So, you're the one making the air smell that good. No wonder the insects like you." I stated -- to the tree.
I entered the forest and spied tall rock faces perhaps two kilometers away. I seemed drawn to them. I strode through the woods pushing through bushes and underbrush until I happened upon a worn trail. I fingered my knife holster. Some kind of bigger animal made this. I'd best be ready for anything. I followed the trail for a kilometer or so.
I rested upon a boulder. The sun glinted and danced upon the path. I sat there taking it all in and focused down the path where there appeared to be a cave mouth. Heavy fog billowed from it and the light breeze whisked it away into the trees. Curious, I took a long swig off my water jug and replaced it at my belt. My feet seemed heavy as I plodded forward. A creature scurried across the path and into the bush. My heart pounded in my ears. Small animal there. Looked a bit like a rabbit. I sighed. No worries.
I peered into the cave, but instead of seeing total darkness I witnessed a thin beam of light coming down from the volcanic shaft, illuminating a mass of golden reeds, much like cattails. I inched inside. My eyes adjusted to the lowered light level.
Something stirred in the mist. I strained to make out its form. My hand instinctively felt for my knife. But there, like an aura from a dream, she emerged. Her long golden hair shimmered in the eerie light as she strode toward me. Her frail frame appeared similar to the reeds she walked amongst. Her brown eyes intent and focused, she came and stood before me. A thick dark animal skin covered her while a wooden necklace encircled her neck. On any planet she'd be beautiful. To me, right here, right now, she seemed surreal.
“Hello,” I said not sure of what to say.
She stared at me. Her eyes wandering up and down my frame and then settled on my eyes.
“I… I don’t want to intrude, but my ship…” I pointed back from where I’d come. I hope she can understand what I’m saying, and more important the metal I need to repair those rods. Maybe I should draw a pic...
“I know who you are,” she stated. Her voice quivered, but in perfect English.
“English? You know English? But how is that poss....I mean how could you know…” I stood with my finger poised in the air. I'm sure a quizzical look crossed my face.
“I was chosen to come. To be your servant.”
“My servant?” I blinked hard a few times, “I’m afraid I don’t understand. Where is this? And who are you?”
My mind raced with possibilities. A lost human civilization? No. She isn't human. Maybe an offspring of a human?
“It is our sacrifice to you, the Destroyer of Worlds.”
“Destroyer of….” I rubbed my stubbled beard. What is she talking about? "I'm afraid you have me confused with someone else. I've never destroyed any world and I certainly couldn't have been expect..."
She knelt before me on both knees and bowed her head.
I reached out my hand and brushed the top of her head. “I’m not…”
An energy pulsed through me from her.
What the hell was that? I stumbled backwards and tumbled to the ground. I gasped for a few breaths. What just happened? No pain. My heart felt more like it was beating from my throat. A name pushed into my conscientiousness ‘Shayna’. I whispered it aloud.
“Yes?” she replied, “The elders told me you might know my name. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have spoken.”
“Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. What is going on here?” To say I was a little freaked out would be an understatement. My mind sifted through images. A village. Caves. People. A forest.
"I have come to bring you to the village. Come. I will show you." She arose and took a few steps.
I could feel the energy still coursing through me. Somehow, I now knew her. This place seemed familiar. She walked into the mist. I got up and followed, but I already knew the path. My thoughts spun with odd visions, but they all seemed to emanate from her. As if they were her memories. Should I run? Hide? This is so weird, but I'm not afraid. Feels like I'm hiking a well-known trail in a local park. Around this bend is a stalagmite... yes. There. Up the path it gets brighter. Yes. There it is! Markings on the wall around the next turn. Yes.
We hiked up the worn stone trail. Symbols lined the walls, and I recognized them. A green fifth planet circled a ball of fire. A spacecraft lay in the middle of a thriving village. Atop it stood a humanoid and the villagers bowed before him. A name filtered though my brain Jim.
We entered the village, full of straw thatched huts. A light emanated from high above and down the long volcanic shaft. The bright light illuminated a gigantic old craft with NASA visible on the side. This looks just like the path symbols. Strange isn't even the word for what I'm feeling right now.
Eyes peered from behind dark windows. The quaint simple streets were empty, aside from two guards at the doors of a larger building that had the spacecraft symbol etched high on the A frame and something right above the doors I couldn't make out. Whispered voices in my head all saying the same thing -- Jim.
“Stop,” I whispered to Shayna. “I can hear these people. I mean. They aren’t saying anything, but I can hear them. I guess what they are thinking. What is this place?”
She halted and turned to kneel before me.
“No. That’s not necessary. Please stay standing. Shayna, why are these people so afraid of me?”
“You are the new Jim, the Destroyer of Worlds. He said he would return this very day, and now you have. Your powers are written in the books of Jim."
“The books of what??” What kind of …
“Yes. Would you like to see them? I can take them to you.”
“Am I dreaming? Does everyone here speak English? How is that possible?”
“Yes. The Jim taught us. We were forbidden to speak our tongue before him. Many speak both, but English is our language now.”
Who is this Jim? What is going on? I’m no one to be afraid of. Just a guy whose ship’s engines developed a problem with its mixing rods.
“Please. Who is this Jim?"
"The Destroyer of Worlds. The writer of our law -- the Books of Jim. Only the book of DJ is forbidden to open. We can only open the three. The Jim said to give it to the next Jim which is you."
"I don't know who you think I am, but I'm not this Jim guy." She knelt before me but said nothing. This is crazy!
"OKaaaay." I said elongating the word while trying to think. "Lead me to the books then.” Maybe it has some answers.
Shayna arose and walked to the largest building. The doors made of some sort of solid wood with intricate carvings upon them -- One of a large bear-like creature, another of a large bird similar to an Albatross with a wide wingspan. The doors were twice the size of any others in town. The emblazoned image above them looked like that of a man with what appeared to be lightning coming from his fingertips. I knew -- I don't know how -- that it was a temple -- Jim's temple.
I scanned the nearest huts and saw a set of deep-set eyes staring at me. When my gaze fell upon them, their face retreated into the darkness. Over and over their thoughts repeated the same things. The Jim has returned. Destroyer of Worlds. The all-knowing and powerful. He comes to kill us for being disobedient. I could hear Shayna’s thoughts too. Make the Jim happy. Don’t upset him. The Jim can do all and he knows all. Please don’t hurt me. I could turn my attention to each person and hear them. Like picking out voices at a party.
“Shayna I won’t hurt you. I won’t hurt any of you,” I said half in response to her thought. The swirl of thoughts inside my mind almost made me dizzy.
She paused and looked back over her shoulder. “Your powers truly are remarkable. Please, do not hold my thoughts against me. I beg of you.” She dropped and grabbed my ankles and began to weep. Her thin frame shook and the power surged through me again.
“No, no. Please get up. I won’t hold them against you. Shayna just show me the books.”
“Yes, my Hulant.”
“Hulant?” I asked.
“I am sorry. Hulant is the ancient tongue. The elders were very clear that that was the only name we were to call the Jim. He seemed to like that title. I will call you whatever you wish if that displeases you.”
“Stop!" I yelled. "I am not this destroyer. This Jim person. I'm just a guy. I..." I suddenly realized my voice level.
Please don’t be angry with me. I know I can please you for my people.
“I’m not angry. Just stop … worshiping me. I am not this Jim person."
“Please. No one could know my thoughts but Hulant Jim. No one. The elders told me so. He is the only one. You even came to us the same way and on the day foretold.”
My eyes shifted up to the pail blue-green sky through the volcano's shaft. Foretold? Fine. I’ll play along for now until I figure out what’s going on. I can feel that these are good people, but they are so afraid. But somehow this all seems familiar. Must be some sort of residual effect to this mind reading thing with Shayna? The books will tell me more I’m guessing. Whoever this Jim is.
“Just show me the books,” I resigned.
She opened the large doors and we entered the big building. We approached a glass dome with four books enclosed. Light beamed from eight different holes carefully crafted to have a circle effect around it. Shayna touched both her shoulders and lifted her hands high in the air and into a fist. Her eyes rolled back in her head. What once was a fist spread out until all her fingertips were at maximum distance with each of her middle fingers touching the beams of light on each side of the dome. Slowly her hand fell upon the glass dome and slid down to a latch on the side. A click resonated in the silence, and her eyes rolled back into their natural position.
Quite the little ceremony. I wonder if Jim taught them that?
I rested my hand on Shayna’s shoulder and felt the energy tingle in my fingers. Shayna’s thoughts became so much clearer without the clutter of the other villagers. Forgive me, Jim. Please do not punish me for opening the sacred dome. Death will be too good for me now.
“I won’t pun…. Nevermind.” How am I reading her thoughts? I wonder if this Jim had the same experience? Imagine being able to read their thoughts. They’d think you were a god.. My mind stopped for a moment at the realization. He must have taken advantage of them. Anger suddenly welled within me.
The first book, set apart from the others, had ‘DJ’ imprinted on it. The others were numbered 1, 2 and 3 with gold lettering. The ‘DJ’ was clearly not of this world while the others seemed to be fashion from paper possibly from the reeds at the entrance of the village. The DJ book lay encased in hard clear plastic with a lock.
“Do you have the key to the DJ book?” Something tells me that's the book that has the answers.
Oh, my Hulant. He will surely kill me if I answer no. Please be merciful.
She retreated a few steps and looked at the wall. After a moment, she swallowed hard, turned, and knelt before me.
In a hushed tone she replied, “No, my Hulant. The key always remained with the Jim."
“See if someone kept it. Meanwhile, leave me alone with these books.” I waved my hand toward the door. “Stay out until I call you back in.” I felt strange saying it, but it seemed the only way to get rid of her in my newfound position.
Shayna scurried out the door and the soft thump of the door against the frame deadened in the room. The smell of dirt, dried sticks and honeyed air pushed into my nostrils.
I reached out and took book number one. Surprisingly light, I flipped the book open to the first page and read. Rules of how to treat each other, fairness in trading, no stealing, punishments against killing. All seemed well thought out and just. I perused the second book. More rules of dealing with other tribes, councils set up, and judges. Again the rules seemed fair. Much of these laws would be found on nearly any society on Earth. Perhaps I misjudged this Jim. My eyes grew tired of reading once I finished. Probably been three hours at least. I grabbed my water jug again, screwed open the top and took a long drink.
When I opened the third book the rules took a stranger turn. These rules were not about the village society, but about ‘Hulant Jim’. How his food was to be prepared. How he was to be greeted. The more I read, the more lavish and egocentric the writings became. The last rules were all about worshiping him and what was acceptable, and more importantly what was not. Then the last chapter and its title – The Jim and his final decisions of life and death. The last line of the tomb being the most chilling: “All of The Jim’s decisions are to be carried out absolutely and are to be done without question under penalty of death. The Jim knows all and should never be questioned.”
A chill shot through me. “What happened to this man?” I mumbled, “I have to find a way to get to that last book. If I don’t miss my guess, that’s a daily journal. No wonder he didn’t want the villagers to see it. It would show him to be the fraud that he is.”
I attempted to pry the glass open but the thick plastic and strong lock thwarted me. Winded, I rested cross-legged on the dirt floor. Damn him for taking advantage of these people. Damn him.
A thought passed through me, ‘The Jim’ I chuckled. What will they call me? ‘The Harris’? Maybe ‘The McElroy’? I wonder if he made that up or did they? I will give him a little credit. It must have been difficult to teach them English.
“Shayna,” I called.
The doors opened wide, and Shayna and two others marched into the room. They all knelt before me. I stood up.
“Who are they?”
“They are your loyal servants, my Hulant. This is Nimbus and Criner," She said pointing. Their eyes downcast toward my feet. I approached the one she called Criner. He grabbed my ankles and a surge rushed through my frame. Not again!
“Arise…” My muscles tightened and my breathe became shallow. I felt dizzy for a moment. I stepped back a few feet and my body quivered and shook. What’s happening? I feel… I feel… strong and …. I want to… hurt… no…. crush someone.
My mind raced with images of grabbing Criner by the throat and choking him. What is this? Why am I doing this? Before I could resist further, my hands wrapped around him, and I lifted him high in the air, and threw him through the grass-mud wall. He struggled with all his might, but that just made my annoyance swell.
I strode over to him again and stood over his battered body. Bright red blood flowed down his cheek. He shook off the attack and his eyes grew wide with fear. I could hear him thinking. What did I do to anger The Jim? He scrambled to his knees and grabbed my feet. This just caused more power to pulse within me. The urge to crush his skull with my bare hands intensified almost beyond what I could bear. I lashed out and struck a support post, snapping it in half. The roof sagged, but held. My God. My strength is at least a hundred times what it was.
Fear welled up inside me. What have I done? He just touched me and that energy... It consumed me and I …
“Forgive me, my Hulant. I did not mean to anger you. We should not have accompanied Shayna. We were just curious.”
“It’s all right. I … I… You are forgiven, my son.” The words didn’t seem to be my own, like someone else spoke them.
I can’t touch any of these people. Humans seem to be some kind of conduit to this weird energy. How is that possible? I've got to find some answers. Maybe that DJ book.
Shayna ran toward me and knelt. “Oh, please forgive me. They meant no harm. Please punish me, Hulant. Not them. I'm the one who told them they could come.”
“We must find the key to the book of DJ." I imagined throwing her body through the wall too, but I summoned the urge to resist it.
“You are exactly as The Jim of old did for us. He destroyed others who came, burning them with fire from his hand.”
Villagers all bowing down before me gathered in the square before the big building. I walked through the street imagining myself tossing them like rag dolls. I had to contain this animalistic behavior. I have to stop this. I must go somewhere alone to calm down.
“No. That’s not necessary. I am not ‘The Jim’," I said sweeping my hands in the air for them to get up.
“Only he could do these things. You are ‘The Jim’,” Shayna replied. The villagers repeated her. "You are The Jim. You are The Jim."
“No. My name is Harris. I come from Earth and I wish you no harm.” I half-yelled above the soft chant.
“Whatever you wish to be called. ‘The Jim’ told us you might want to be re-titled. Hulant Har-nis." She struggled.
“It's Harris. But you have to understand. These powers. I didn’t mean to hurt…”
“We understand,” Criner stated, “The burdens of our protection is yours. We will follow your command, Hulant Har-nis.”
How do I get through to them? That book might do it, but I don’t have the key. The strength ripples through me, and I feel so aggressive. Maybe it wasn’t Jim’s fault. He did try to protect them. Gave them laws.
A tall man, thin and frail like the other villagers approached. He walked with a quiet confidence and was dressed in nicer animal skins. My hand clenched in a fist and images flashed through my head of his broken body on the ground. I closed my eyes to calm myself.
“Hulant, your quarters are just as you left them. My father served ‘The Jim’ faithfully, and now his son will do the same. Would you like to go there?” He knelt on one knee and bowed his head. He spoke with a quiet authority.
“Sure.” I’ve got to get this rage under control. I can't be around these people much longer. “Lead me there now.”
The man clapped his hands twice and five men lined up on each side of us, and we tread through the streets to the largest building in the town -- second in size to the building of the Books of Jim. A three story dwelling built of a mixture of wood and stone stood before us. ‘The Jim’s’ house no doubt. And from Shayna's thoughts I believe this man is the Chief of this village.
The Chief opened the door and extended his arm for me to enter. I strolled through the large doorway and walked into a living room with incredible comforts – a couch, several large stuffed chairs, two fireplaces, and a hand-crafted hammock.
“Should you need anything, Hulant Harris.”
“Yes, I’ll call. I guess.”
“As you wish…” He closed the door.
“None of this makes any sense,” I said. A soft echo greeted my disbelief. “This house is incredible given the state of the rest of the village. It must have taken years to assemble this. Stone from probably miles away. No way this is volcanic. Wood too. I saw forests, but not like this. Amazing. No wonder these people worshiped ‘The Jim’. These powers even amaze me. But what could cause such powers? I mean just a simple touch and...” I left the thought unfinished.
I lay in the Hammock and the weariness of walking so far fell upon me. I closed my eyes to fitful dreams. My nose full of the honey sweet air, I stared into the waning darkness. My mind consumed with making sense of the Books of Jim.
My eyes fluttered open. The early morning light filtered through three large skylights in the ceiling. I pushed myself from the hammock and breathed in. An aroma filled my nostrils and smelled like nothing else I’d ever sniffed. My paltry description of a mixture of fresh baked bread, some kind of herb, and a hint of nutty bitterness left me wanting for more words.
“Hulant Harris?” I saw her deep brown eyes peer through the crack of a partially open door.
“Oh. You startled me, Shayna.”
“I am sorry to disturb you. Would you like to eat now?” She asked.
I stared at her lovely form. Her hair still glimmered like the reeds. She was, in a word, breathtaking. Only a handful of villagers held a candle to her beauty.
“Yes.” Wait. I can’t seem to read her thoughts.
“We made your favorite dish. Mushlin Biscuits.”
“Is that what that wonderful smell is?” The smell of the biscuits and the honey air, made for a real delight.
“Yes, Hulant. The mushlins were picked from over seven kilometers into the Canyon of Seven.”
The urge to touch her welled within me and I reached out and brushed her arm. The energy coursed through me. Her thoughts raced through my mind. She seemed completely unaware of the energy surge.
Please the Hulant, Shayna. Please the Hulant. I smiled. The return of that power felt wonderful. I flexed my hands, but the hulk-like strength was not in them. I felt no aggression either. I wonder where Criner might be? That one scared me. I felt so invincible.
“This way, Hulant Harris. The banquet hall is ready. I have been practicing your new name. Do I have it right?"
"Yes. Harris. You have it right." I grinned at her. Cute and beautiful at the same time?
I followed Shayna and read a few more of her thoughts. Her father was the chief. Her brother was the Nimbus fellow.
“After breakfast I’d like to read the book of DJ.”
Shayna paused in front of me. The book of DJ is forbidden. But why am I afraid. This is ‘The Jim’. He is allowed. I must cleanse myself. She raised her fists high and slowly unclenched them, similar to her ritual in the big building but a shorter version. She exhaled a long, smooth breath and her eyes met mine.
"Of course. I will ask my father about it. Perhaps he knows where the key is."
She turned and we traversed through a long hall with forty men with spears lining each side; Their stares rigid and straight forward. I heard Shayna call them the 'guardians'. We emerged into a spacious banquet hall.
Fifteen long tables spanned the entire length of the room with a much smaller perpendicular table adorning the farthest wall. The thoughts of the many people began seeping into my mind -- most full of fear or reverence.
‘The Jim is back.’
‘Hail the Jim.’
‘The Hulant has returned. I must remember to address him as Hulant Hart-nis.’
‘He brings the amazing powers back to us. The Chickasee will be no match now.’
‘Please the Hulant Harris. He knows all. He sees all.’
'I hope my son doesn't throw anything at the Hulant.'
Will he shoot flames at us? So awesome.
I smiled as I saw the mother with her hand death-gripping her son's shoulder. Her head bowed at my passing. The boy grimaced, but followed suit.
As I approached the front table I noticed a stout man in full painted embellishment. I recognized him to be the confident tall man from earlier. Shayna’s thought told me all I needed to know. Father. He looked quite different in his Chief's clothing.
“Welcome, Hulant. Your food is prepared and is ready. We hope you enjoy it.” His voice boomed in the large hall as if it were more of an announcement.
You will treat my people well I hope. His eyes stared at me like arrows through flesh. Or you will regret it.
I nodded and half-smiled. “I will treat them well.”
The chief’s face flushed with astonishment. Grandfather was right! He does read our thoughts!
“Yes, I do,” I replied.
The chief looked away. I heard him think again, but the language was strange and choppy. It reminded me of native American tongues on Earth. I shrugged, but had this uneasy feeling about the final words I heard in my mind – meleheari deft melago.
Two servers ushered me to an ornate seat. Before it, a simple place setting of a fork and spoon straddling a ceramic plate with a decorated cup set above it. All the other villagers, including the chief, had crude bowls with a matching cup. I stared at the setting as the servers portioned out the delicious smelling entrée which appeared to be some kind of grilled fish-like creature along with a flatbread filled with some kind of berry. I assume those are mushlins and the flatbread to be the biscuit part.
The whole assembly paused and stared at me. I heard several thoughts around me.
I hope he likes it. Does he know how to use those things?
When will he start so we can eat? I'm hungry.
I am hungry and if he doesn’t like this … He could destroy us.
Maybe he prefers a bowl and cup?
Please, Hulant. Please like it. I cooked the mushlins for three mordas.
I realized they all waited for me as was written in the third Book of Jim. I grabbed the fork, scooped up a few morsels, and placed it in my mouth. The savory spices and tender meat complimented each other well. I took a drink of bitter water and smiled. I nodded my approval. A cheer arose and the whole assembly picked up their bowls and banged them upon the table. A cacophony of various sounds followed -- water being poured, raucous conversations, wooden spoons plopping the mushlin on plates and, of course, chewing.
The villagers relaxed and the fear prevalent before, diminished. Several thoughts spoke of the Chickasee people, whom I inferred were this people’s enemy. I practiced singling out thoughts. Not surprisingly, it reminded me of trying to hear voices in a crowd. They have so many questions, but are so afraid to ask me.
An older lady approached my table as I reclined. The mushlin berries still tart upon my lips.
“Hulant,” she said and bowed low.
“Please… I’m not…” I sighed. I’m wasting my time. They’re not going to believe I’m not the Hulant. And with these powers, I can't say as I blame them. I paused and waited. Her face tilted toward mine. “What do you wish?”
“My name is Inalen and mother of seven. My number is 56 Great Festivals. My son was lost in the Great Battle. He was one of five warriors we lost with The Jim. Could you bring him back to me?”
A stone silence ensued. I had no idea what to say to this women. Of all the questions, this one took me off totally off guard. I hung my head low.
“I’m sorry. I do not have that power.” My words flowed from my mouth with no emotion.
She nodded in reverence with her eyes downcast. I thought the Hulant could do all…
“Not all, Inalen. No one has the power over death,” I added. “What was your son’s name?”
“I see your loss is great.” I slid my hand across the table and she placed hers in mine. An energy coursed through me. Damn. I keep forgetting about touching anyone! My throat became dry. I grabbed the glass and downed the rest of my water. My head became light as my breathing became difficult. I clutched my neck. Several villagers noticed and brows furrowed in concern.
I suddenly felt light-headed. I fumbled out a few slurred words as I waved my hand. I still didn't understand these powers, but one thing I did know -- I was drunk. Really drunk.
The next thing I remember is awakening in my hammock. Shayna stroked my hair. I looked deeply into her brown eyes.
"Hulant, we were worried."
"No need. I feel fine except for a bit of headache." Even has the hangover effect... oohhh.
"My Father has punished the cooks for their food preparation. They will carry the water for two weeks from sun to sleep."
"No. I don't think it was the food, Shayna. Release them from that labor. They did nothing wrong."
Her eyes darted toward the door. "As you wish, Hulant Harris. Shall I go now?"
"Yes. Go now. But come back right after."
She bowed low and backed out through the door.
I poured a glass of water and drank. The bitter taste stayed on my tongue. I lay back in my Hammock and rested until I heard her return. I'd guessed about a half hour had passed. The soft thump of the door hitting the frame alerted me. She came and knelt before me.
The Book of DJ rested in her hands with a small key atop.
"The book of DJ. Thank you Shayna."
My father had the key. "As you wish, Hulant Harris. I cleansed myself before bringing it."
I nodded. "Please leave me. I wish to read this alone."
Shayna arose and bowed and stepped softly out the door. Criner and Nimbus stood guard outside.
I turned the key in the lock and the clasp yielded. I opened to the first page.
'Daily Journal of James Metz'.
Just as I thought. DJ does stand for Daily Journal.
I began to read.
April 10, 2307.
Let's see. That would be 37 years ago.
My name is James Metz. I landed on this planet just a few days ago and have explored it with great interest. The vegetation and animal life is like a mirror image of Earth. The biggest difference I've found so far is that its made up of about 55% water. So far, no higher level animals, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if there were some. Intelligent life on another planet. Something we scientists dreamed of for years.
April 12, 2307: The more I explore, the more amazing this place is. I'll attempt to hike into the mountains tomorrow. I analyzed a few berry bushes and it seems to be good food. I gobbled up several large handfuls, but something didn't agree with me.
April 13, 2307: Sick. I feel awful. The med kit is a life saver. Don't feel much like writing or hiking today.
April 14, 2307: Very weak. I have replicated some water as the planet's water is so bitter. There seems to be a honey scent that's drifted into my ship though. I like it but can't seem to shake this illness. Trying to sleep, but diarrhea keeps returning. Never should have eaten those berries. Still sick.
April 15, 2307: May be my last entry. Can barely move. Tried eating, but to no avail. Just keep throwing it back up. I hope this gets better. So weak.
April 17, 2307: Don't know what happened for the last two days. Slept mostly. Finally ate something and kept it down. So tired of this ship. I did go outside a bit. Love that honey scent. I'm guessing it comes from the mountains. I wonder what causes it? Ugh. Must rest some more. I think I overdid it. Wasn't real sure I'd be writing this entry a couple of days ago.
April 18, 2307: Feeling better. After examining some of my own blood I realized there's some kind of bacteria that's ravaged me for the past week. Finally getting over it. I seem to have gotten the right antibiotic in me now. Too reckless. I should have known better. New planet. New food. New bacteria. Thank goodness I had antibiotics that fought it.
April 21, 2307: The antibiotic worked. I think I'll study the soil and a few plants before exploring. Maybe that will give me a heads up on what to expect.
April 22, 2307: I had visitors today! A small tribe of humanoids. They call themselves the Minnesaw. This planet is full of wonders. They were in awe of my ship, but something told me not to let them inside. Perhaps it's just me and my NASA training. Anyway, I stepped outside and was retrieving some test equipment from the outside hold when they approached. Awfully thin people like willow branches or something. Their skin almost shimmers. They seemed to like me, but they spoke quickly in this gibberish language. I got them to call me Jim. I guess that's a start.
April 23, 2307: Seems I have some persistent neighbors. The Minnesaw came back with a few berries. To say the least I will put those away for later. These are different than the others I ate. I'm guessing they're OK. One thing is for sure is they are just as curious about me as I am of them. Not sure if they realize I came "from the sky". I think that they think I built this "hut" of mine by myself. I can see why they're curious. I must look like a giant to them, given I outweigh any one of them by a good 35 kilograms.
April 26: I haven't seen them in a few days. I was hoping they'd come back again and we could attempt more communication. I've analyzed the soil and several types of vegetation. Very similar in composition to Earth, but much more glycosides. I guess that explains the bitterness. I'm very concerned with the bacteria here. I'm sure I almost died. If not for the antibiotics, I'd guess I would have. I already can create six deadly poisons with the plant life. I mixed up some potassium cyanide just to see whether I could produce it. No problem there. I kept a vial of it in storage. You never know what you might encounter.
April 27: Back again. Several were wounded badly. I'm guessing they were in some kind of skirmish with (I gathered) a rival tribe? Curious though when I went to bandage one, a pulse of energy transferred to me. Scared me half to death. But the sensation was very strange. My eyes watered badly at first, but once they cleared I could see for several kilometers in each direction as clearly as seeing across a room. It was amazing! I could see animals darting from tree to tree. Hunters from their tribe laying in wait for some kind of beast. I've never had such a sensation. My eyes felt like they were binoculars. Just incredible. I seemed overly excited and I must have seemed a little too much so, as a few of the ten or so, became a bit alarmed. One even went so far as to point a spear my way. I wish I could have described it a bit more to them. But I had no words. I might start working on teaching them some basic English phrases. There is no way I could learn their language due to this strange tone they emit when speaking. I can not physically replicate it. They don't seem to have much of a problem with English though.
I bandaged a couple others but had no such sensation. One did have the same energy pulse though, but I had no reaction at first. I do feel a bit different -- more energetic somehow. I have lots of energy and can see great distances.
(evening) The effects are wearing off. I didn't really note the time the touches occurred, but around six or seven Earth hours I'd guess. I have noted that their days are shorter at around 22 hours and 38 minutes. My vision is back to normal with no ill effects. Excitement of the possibilities. One man with a boundless testing ground. I can't imagine what kind of energy that was or whether it can be replicated. Strange. Exciting. Mysterious. Just what every science geek needs.
So, he was an explorer and scientist. At first he was fascinated at the powers he garnered. I guess who wouldn't be?
Living with them for several years he'd completed several tests. Just as I suspected the villagers had some kind of aura within their DNA that stimulated a piece of our DNA. He never could isolate what power would be gained from any one villager. Just as important, he realized that if this news made it back to Earth these people would be slaves. I realized the same. The more the writings went on, the more the people thought of him as a god. He knew he had to stay to protect them. No other course of action made sense to him. Leaving and putting it up to chance that some other Earth dweller would be just as gracious didn't sit well. While he had no other human to test his theory, the likelihood of them giving them powers was 90% or better.
I read far into the evening pausing only to eat twice. Shayna attended me both times. The Great Battle with the Chickasee was described in detail. Only five warriors lost their lives while the other tribe was decimated mostly by lightning bolts from Jim's fingertips. He described the overwhelming pleasure of it all. The hulk-like strength combined with that.... My mind pushed back to that feeling. My fist clenched at the thought. Yes. I licked my lips and the salty taste of sweat greeted my tongue. I must admit. The powers are… intoxicating… even to me. It occurs to me that only two people in history have known that feeling.
I re-read the last few journal entries:
October 15th, 2324 – I have not written in the journal much recently, but have been thinking about my situation here. My mind has been clearer as I haven’t been touching many of the villagers. I only attempt to maintain one or two powers at a time now. The lightning power frightens me. I can still see the faces of the Chickasee writhing in agony. They haunt me. I may leave this place. I have to think that no one else knows about the Minnasaw. Only me and that’s enough. My mind races with terrible thoughts with the hulk strength. I want nothing to do with Matto (the one who gives it to me).
October 18th, 2324 – The final repair has been made to my ship. At first, I reasoned that it could be a means of escape for me and the Minnasaw, but now I find myself longing – after nearly eleven years – for home. A curious thought if the DNA will be stimulated off this planet should I choose to take a few of them with me? Perhaps it is attached to this planet somehow. Another unknown.
October 25, 2324 -- I have taken a few of the villagers up in space with me and the powers remain. It is definitely within them and not environmental, but I suppose that could wane after a generation away from here. Time will tell. I gave them a thrill when I fired my blasters at a couple of larger asteroids and annihilated them. Haven’t done much of that since flight training. That was fun. The Minnasaw are fine people. Good hearts but they have never seen anything like my ship. I wonder if I could somehow mask the planet from discovery too? I doubt it.
October 26, 2324 – The villagers have begun to call me “Destroyer of Worlds” given my little asteroids shooting display plus my powers. I can see their point. I don't much care for the nickname though.
October 29, 2324 – Touched Matto by accident and I killed one of them. I cried (in private). The broken body of the teen named Koki is burned in my mind. They are afraid of me again. I think I need to leave sooner rather than later. The chief seems to despise me. He keeps his thoughts hidden. More of that gibberish they call a language. I've picked up a few words here and there though. If I have that hulk strength and I hear it... I shudder to think. I killed Koki. I just can't get that out of my mind. I need to go or find some means of controlling it. God help me. I just can't bear the thought of another Earth human making these people slaves. But perhaps it's just my DNA that stimulates? Surely there are human's with DNA that would do the same. Perhaps even garnering different powers touching the same tribesman? I have no way to know. I need to sleep.
DNA? I figured it was something like that. So they stimulate some strand of our genome and humans get some kind of power. Fascinating.
Shayna slipped into the room and stood in the shadows. My mind wandered to her thoughts.
I wonder what the Hulant has found in the forbidden book? Father will want to know.
With the last sentence I raised my head and my eyes met hers. She looked away.
“Tell me about your father, Shayna,” I stated very matter-of-factly.
Why does the Hulant ask this? She glanced at me, shifted her feet and pushed her eyes to the opposite corner.
“He has been our leader for all my life. I was born just before the Great battle. He cares deeply for our people.” Then as if answering her own thought said, "And is very loyal to the Hulant."
“Yes, I know. Was he the chief when Jim was here?”
“No. That was my grandfather. He died in the Great battle, one of the five who perished, and my father took over as chief. Jim was the Hulant. No one questioned…”
“I know. The Jim’s word was law. I am curious though. What exactly happened to Jim? I mean…” I slid the journal toward me and flipped to the last entry and pointed. “The books don’t exactly say anything concrete. It just says he thought about leaving and then nothing. Listen to this."
November 8, 2324 – Am planning to leave tomorrow. Will update on who I will be taking with me, if anyone. Not sure it’s a good idea, but the journey is long and lonely. The killing must stop somehow whether it be the Chickasee or Koki. It must end and no one must ever know about these people. I just don't know how to do that. I sent a star chart change into the Central on Prylon 6. Hopefully with my clearance level they will delete this whole planet from the maps.
I glanced up where Shayna stood only to find that she had lay prostrate on the floor with her arms outstreched toward me.
“It’s ok, Shayna.”
“I have heard the words of the forbidden book. Please forgive me. I tried not to listen.”
“I read them to you. It’s OK. Now, do you know what happened to The Jim?”
“My father says he left with four. That is all I know.”
“But there are pieces of the ship still in the middle of the village. Surely he needed a few of those to leave.”
“You must ask my father. The counsel does not ask my opinion.”
I pondered the situation. The Chief knows more than he allows me to know. Jim had 37 years to make it back to Earth. Yet, I’ve never heard of him. I'm sure that would have been big news unless he somehow kept it quiet.
“I must rest now. The hour is late.” I reached out and touched the top of her head and felt the familiar tingle of power well within me. “You may go. Please sleep on the sofa just outside my door. I want you to take me to your father in the morning. I want to eat breakfast with him.”
“As you wish, Hulant Harris.”
The soft thump of the door closing and Shayna nestling into her temporary bed were the last sounds I heard. That honey scented air made it easy to go to sleep.
At breakfast, I stayed quiet. I must admit that Mushlin Biscuits were delicious. The only way I could describe them were a mix between a soft tortilla mixed with fruit or berry the Minnesaw called Mushlin. Mushlins tasted like a rough pineapple or pear with a sweet honey aftertaste. For a simple people this dish had to be one of their finest. I acted as disinterested as I could while downing eight or so of those biscuits.
I listened to the people's thoughts as I kept Shayna at my side. This power -- to read minds -- was the most intoxicating of all. I could only dream of this as a boy. After listening, I learned of another great battle after Jim left. The Minnesaw tribe was much bigger and they are but a fraction of what they were. The Chief sauntered in and sat a few chairs from me. I gave him a few moments to settle.
"A fine morning. I can tell Shayna really cares for her people."
The Chief answered without looking at me. "Yes. She is much like her mother. She has the same strong manner."
"A bit like you as well. She is brave and loyal too."
He glanced at me, lifted his cup and took a long drought. "She gets that from her mother as well."
"I just recently learned of the second great battle. When did that happen? Can you tell me about it?"
The Chief's face creased and his eyes lowered to stare at his cup for a full minute. He nodded a few times. He will find out anyway. It might just as well be me. "I will tell you." I hadn't noticed a scar from his ear down to the back of his jaw. He clinched his teeth and he began -- his speech slow and deliberate.
"The Jim had left. He was not to return, but we always hoped that he would. The Chickasee were much smaller due to the first battle, but they were still a threat. They wished revenge upon us. The Jim killed many of their brothers and sisters. Many hundreds of them. Some say a thousand or more." He paused and glanced at me. He shook his head and continued. "We took great heart that we had the Jim to protect us even at that point. We felt he was still with us. But we were wrong. I failed my people."
Shayna, listening between us, reached out and touched him on the shoulder. "You have never failed us, Father."
The Chief placed his hand atop hers and patted it a few times. "You say kind words, daughter, but we both know the story of the second battle. The warriors had become lazy. They relied upon the Jim for protection. We didn't think of the Chickasee as a threat. Their numbers were small. We were not ready. That's where I failed. I was a young Chief. I waited - and trusted - just like the rest of them. But I was the leader and should have known better. The Chickasee attacked in surprise. Our warriors could not match their fury. We lost over half of the tribe that day. We fought several other battles, but at least we were ready. Two uncles and our whole counsel died. I was the only leader to survive. And I was the only one worthy of dying that day."
The table fell silent. I couldn't think of anything to console him. No wonder he despised the Jim and me. I must remind him of his greatest failure. The Chief stayed stone still in that silence. The creased lines on his face seemed to suddenly make him much older. He arose and peered across the dining hall filled with his tribe. He sucked in a deep breath and nodded. Meleheari deft melago
He glanced at me and spun to leave.
I felt I had to say something. "You are a good leader, Chief. You care a lot for your people and they for you."
"Yes," he agreed. "They are my family. No one stands between us. We are one spirit."
He walked from the hall with that same confidence, like a general reviewing his troops.
"He blames himself, but no one except The Jim would have known the hearts of the Chickasee," Shayna said. Her eyes followed him until he disappeared down the hall. The two rows of warriors fell in line behind him.
"I don't want to lead your people, Shayna. You have a leader."
"But you are Hulant Harris."
I know it's pointless to argue. I nodded. Perhaps I can figure out a few more powers. I peered out over the few left in the banquet hall. Two young men ate and conversed. I concentrated and watched them. The odd sensation of reading minds was that just before someone speaks they say it in their head. Plus they say things while the other person is talking. I found it took practice to sort through it. The older one, Nikoli, spoke to his younger brother, Mallion.
I got up and walked within earshot. I took care not to have realize I was there.
Nikoli said, "The chief said we should be preparing."
Mallion, his wooden cup near his lips, replied, "It's been more than three months since the last skirmish. The Chicks won't attack us now. If they did they would be sorry. Did you see what he did to Criner? Threw him through a wall then snapped that pole in half with one punch."
Nikoli nodded. "He's powerful all right. I'm sure our warriors could kill the Chicks without him, but with Hulant Harris they would have no chance. We haven't even seen the lightning bolts yet. Father swears it is true. It just rips through them. Kills them like Tutsi flies. The bodies had designs of crystals burned in them. He said he'd never seen anything like it. Father killed six Chicks that day, but The Jim slaughtered hundreds and he didn't even have a weapon."
Mallion sat seemingly pondering the last statement of Nikoli. Wow. If Hulant Harris is anything like the Jim, he will wipe out our enemies and at last we can have peace. Perhaps we'll even take over the lower grounds and grow our food down there. I hear the water is sweeter and plants grow in just days. He looked at Nikoli, "Do you think we'll ever move down to the lower grounds? I mean if Hulant Harris destroys them, we could grow all our food instead of hunting all the time."
"Hmm. I hadn't thought of that. You know the little hut near the river down there?"
"That's the one I want after we take them out."
"You don't think the chief will take that one?"
"Nah. Too small. Besides..." Nikoli looked my way mid sentence. His eyes grew wide at first.
I nodded and smiled. I should go over. I made my way over to the two brothers and sat across from them.
"Hulant Harris. It is an honor." Nikoli blurted.
"No need boys. I know you two think I am some kind of powerful warrior, but I'm just a person. Not much different than your father. I'd like to ask you if you remember anything about the Jim or could tell me where he might have gone?"
Mallion shook his head. He's sitting right here. Any moment and he will toss me through the wall."
My eyes drifted toward Mallion. "I won't do that."
Mallion stared at me. "I didn't mean that. I mean you..."
"It's all right. I know thoughts aren't always the way people really feel. I understand the sentiment. Now, about the Jim."
"That was twenty of our full seasons. We are but 22 and 25 seasons. We do not remember much other than the stories."
"Tell me some."
"Fire from his fingertips. All the boys would play Jim games. Punching through walls. Killing the Chickasee. Of course, we had to rely on our bows. The Jim did teach us improvements to our weapons."
"How did Shayna know when I'd be coming?"
"You are the Hulant. How is it that you do not know this?" Nikoli asked. His head slightly tilted to one side.
"Just because I'm the Hulant does not mean I have all knowledge. I can only sometimes do things." I just can't bring myself to explain to them how I get these powers. I guess I figure they wouldn't understand. Plus I'm not sure it would matter to them anyways. The powers to them are from the supernatural. They know nothing of DNA."
"You? You are the Hulant. You can do all things."
"No. And I'm not sure I'm the person to lead you. Your Chief is that man."
The young men looked at one another.
"The Jim told us when you'd come. Our father told us the very date from when we were small."
"I must leave," the Chief stated. "I will return in a few weeks." His demeanor was one of mystery mixed with determination. His brows furrowed. His voice dead serious. The only thought I could pull from him was "I must go." He glanced at me as he thought it, then turned and motioned three warriors to him.
He spoke in the old tongue. Frustration must have fallen over my face as Shayna laid her hand on my shoulder. The energy pulsed from her and through me like I'd grown accustomed. Father is going away to a distant land. Many days journey across the Tempolkta. Nimbus will guide them. I smiled at the second hand interpretation. The chief may have thought he concealed his thoughts from me, but with Shayna I could read him like a book. I attempted to mute my expression, but the Chief eyed me nonetheless.
The Chief spoke a few more words to the warriors who hurried off, presumably to prepare for the long trek ahead. The Chief stared again into his water cup and drank long and hard. I could almost taste the bitterness as it cascaded down his throat. He slammed the cup to the table and grunted. I did fail them, but no more. I will not fail them again. Not this time. He arose and left the dining hall. Attendants scurried after him.
The whole tribe became enthralled with the trip. The thoughts of everyone drifted to the topic. They ran the gamete and the rumors flew like the wind. "The old Jim will come back." "He is going to pay homage to the old Jim's grave." "He is bringing back more warriors." "He seeks a great weapon." Truth was, only the Chief knew. I could dig nothing out of anyone with any real meaning.
Laden with leather sacks full of bread, fruits, and nuts, they loaded up a couple of Ginkras (similar to donkeys on Earth but in general a bit smaller). The four men each held a spear and a war hammer hung at their belt. Nimbus led them down the path and into the golden reeds. I strained to hear the Chief's thoughts but that yielded no clue. An uneasiness stirred within me. The Chief had something to hide. I just had to decide what to do about it. Then that phrase came into my head again... meleheari deft melago.
I turned to Shayna. "I have something to ask you when we're alone."
"Yes, my Hulant. Whatever pleases you." I hope he is not angry with me.
"I'm sure it's OK. I just need to ask you a simple question. Just not here in the middle of the village."
She smiled meekly. As you wish, Hulant.