chapter 8: The Valley, part III
by Tala Bar
“Nunez,” Lilit said aloud, uttering his name in full, “you’ll have to snap out of it.”
“What is it? What is it, Nune?” Nim got close to the man, encircling his middle with her arms, laying her head on his chest. “I’m not afraid, now. Please, don’t you be afraid, because that will destroy me completely.”
The fisherman, almost automatically, Dar thought, hugged the girl tight to him. At first, he did not look at her but kept staring at the dancing figures. The dance, however, gradually diffused into the moonlight, and soon nothing was left of it or the transparent people doing it.
“Thanks to you, Nim,” Nune said, kissing the tip of her head. “It’s because of you she’s gone. I don’t think she’ll ever come back to haunt me now, because I have you, Nim.”
She pulled him down on to the blanket, beginning to caress him, paying no attention to the others. Lilit made a sign; Dar and Zik joined her on the other blanket, covering themselves with the third.
There was no escaping the decision to move out of the cave the next morning. The question was only, whether to look for another cave, or create their own kind of dwelling.
“In my opinion,” Dar said as they were having their breakfast, “we should start planning to build a proper house. The cave will never serve for our children.”
“Our children! Dar, how could you?” Nim cried, then silenced herself, looking at the older woman with her mouth open.
“Oh, Dar!” She rose, came up running and hugging her. “I hope it will be better for you than it was for me.” Tears sprung into her eyes, and Dar took her in her arms. “You’ll have your chance too. You’re young and healthy,” she repeated her promise to the young woman.
Nune, on Dar’s other side, hugger her shoulders. “I’m so glad, for you and for us.”
“But what are you so glad about?” Zik demanded, failing to understand.
“She’s having a baby, ninny! Didn’t you get it?” Nim cried, rising and performing a short dance around the company, her eyes glowing.
“Dar?” Zik sounded astonished. He obviously had never connected their lovemaking with any idea of having a child.
“You said yourself I wasn’t too old, didn’t you?” She raised smiling eyes at him, stretching her arms toward him. “And isn’t it natural enough for you?”
He came up and into her arms, nesting his head in her lap, caressing her flat abdomen. Then he sat up abruptly. “But who’s the father?” He burst out with the question.
In the silence that fell, Dar said quietly, “Does it matter? We’ll all be its parents, won’t we? I don’t think individual fatherhood, or even motherhood, is that important, as long as any of us can be its parent in fact.”
“We’ll start looking for material for a house tomorrow morning,” Nune said, decisively. “We must make it a proper job, though none of us is an expert builder or carpenter. But we’ll give it anything we have to make it the best dwelling anyone can have. And we must finish it before next winter.”
It was a long enough speech for Nune, and no one felt like talking after he fell silent. They were a real family now, five adults expecting their first baby, and hoping for a better future.
It was the end of summer, and the simple house, made up from thick branches badly cut, put together and smeared with thick mud, was standing at last. It contained only one room, which had served for all purposes around the house. Only a utility hole was dug in the ground outside, for hygienic purposes. All during the spring and summer seasons, the five family members spent outside. They got used to working in wood, twigs and leaves, using the three knives they had among them, with the aid of the rocks strewn about. They got quite proficient in working with their hands, doing carpentry, weaving, hunting, and all the other jobs described in the best tradition of Robinsons in history and fiction.
With Lilit’s help, Dar had had her baby without complications. She got into the habit of carrying her around in a sling on her back, but she was helped by all the others, who felt themselves as much the child’s parents as Dar was. For the purpose of naming their shared daughter, they called a family meeting, discussing the subject in all seriousness. In the end, they gave her a series of names, but for practical purposes they had to be satisfied with just one nickname, which was Spring. It symbolized the first fresh water source that had helped them after the arduous troubles they had gone through before arriving at the Valley; they sense of fresh season which pervaded when they arrived; and the essence of their new life when the settled in the Valley.
She was a dark-skinned girl, signifying her origin from Zik rather than Nune, but her eyes were hazel rather than Zik’s dark brown. Dar hoped the five of them together would fill up the Valley with a multicolored race of humans.
The thought brought to her mind one serious problem. “There are just too few of us here,” she said one day to Lilit as they happened to be on their own, “to really create a new human society. It will lead to too much inbreeding, and in the end there will be no chance for our new race to survive.”
“I know,” Lilit replied seriously in her vibrating, ominous voice. “But I have a feeling you don’t need to worry, this is going to change.”
“Change how?” demanded the physician, looking suspiciously at her companion. Then she added,” Do you know something we don’t, and not telling us?”
“I don’t know, exactly,” Lilit said, calmly, “Not in facts. I know it in a way I can’t explain.” She would say nothing more, and Dar had to be satisfied with that, as unsatisfactory as that answer was.
* * *
Summer slipped into autumn, and the family members were busy gathering provisions for harder, wintery days. They did not expect the winter to be too harsh, having got used to the mild weather in the Valley, but there was sense in always being prepared.
Nim and Zik went out one morning, bound on a special discovery outing; Dar, carrying the baby in a sling on her back, accompanied Nune on his foraging-hunting mission. As a former fisherman, he had become particularly adept at hunting and foraging, more than anyone else in the family; Dar, on the other hand, loved these outings, with the sights of the open landscape, and the finding of new things all the time. It was definitely the sharpest contrast to her former city life as could be.
Nim and Zik, more and more enjoying each other’s company, did not care what they did as long as they could be together. That day, they decided to go and explore a certain mound on one side of the Valley, which did not seem to be a natural part of it but a very heavy earth fall. Having planned to stay out the whole day, they took enough food and water with them so as not to waste time gathering them on their way. They had been walking some way, climbing piles of earth that had been hardened after the heavy rains. Various weeds had started sprouting amid the rubble of rocks and dirt, and Nim was glad to wade through them, picking some of them and burying her nose in the fresh vegetation. Suddenly, she cried out, “Look, Zik, what do you think that is?”
They stood together, staring at the marvel of a relic of their own ruined civilization, which they thought had vanished forever from the face of the earth.
“Why, it’s a dish antenna!” Zik cried. “What’s it doing here, in the middle of nowhere?”
They walked round the strange technological artifact, so far from any civilized world, reminiscent of past life they had almost forgotten. The dish was lying on the ground, partly buried in some soil, not directed at anything. “Its stem is broken,” Zik pointed out.
“But who could have been using it here? There’s no sign of any building, or anything like that,” Nim pointed out.
“It must have rolled down from the top of that natural hill, there, where it would get a clear sight of the sky. Maybe it was used once and abandoned, even before the Catastrophe,” suggested Zik.
“But we decided that this pile of rubble is not natural, didn’t we? Maybe we should dig it up. Maybe...” Nim could not say what she meant.
Zik looked at her, sensing the mixture of mystery and hope sunk deep in the girl’s heart. He himself was quite happy and satisfied with the small family he had found for himself, having grown up in the crowded orphanage; but Nim, he knew, would have preferred a larger community, more new and different friends to fill up her life. He sighed to himself. For a time, he was Nim’s best friend, but she would never want him exclusively, he knew.
“We could never dig it out by ourselves,” he said, sensibly. “We should call the others for help, and get some tools because it’s impossible to do it with our bare hands.”
“Okay, let’s go back and tell them,” Nim agreed. As they got down the mound, she sent back a warning look at it, as if sensing something unusual was going to come out of that mysterious pile of dirt.
The next day all five of them came up to the place where the dish was lying, armed with some makeshift tools they had made of wood and rocks. They dug the whole day, moving enormous amount of earth, recovering the length of the dish’s stem.
“I think I can hear something, like knocking, don’t you think?” Nune said in one of the breaks they had taken from digging, for rest, a sip of water and a nibble of food. He must be thinking, reflected Dar, that although he was not too old to create a new family, this kind of useless digging was a little out of his expectations.
“Listen,” Lilit commanded. She had not sat down with the others, continuing digging as if she had not tired at all. Now she had laid down her tool and cocked her head. The others dropped everything and rose to their feet, looking at her. Lilit closed her eyes, concentrating.
“There are people down there, below,” she whispered after a while. “Many people. They are very distressed, feeling trapped...”
“I would feel trapped had I been buried under all that pile of earth,” mumbled Nune.
“I hope we are in time to help them,” replied Dar, returning to her digging.
* * *
It was not an easy task, though; the pile of fallen earth and rock that had created the mound had been very high and thick. It took the five of them a few days to clear it down, having neglected everything but the most essential work about their own home. At last, a trap door lay before them that proved it was indeed a man-made edifice.
As they laid down their tools to stand still for a few moments, Lilit asked, “Can anyone understand the mechanism of opening this door?”
“It wouldn't be difficult,” Nune replied, “if it had not stuck because of all that dirt and moisture on top of it.”
“Shouldn’t we let the people inside know about us?” Asked Dar.
“Yes, Morse code should do it. You know it, Zik, don’t you?” Lilit turned to the young man.
Zik, wondering for a moment how she knew, kneeled and, using a hard rock, started knocking a series of signs Dar could not interpret. Then he paused, and they were able to hear a clear answer.
“They seem to have been waiting for us,” he declared. “They are going to try operating the mechanism from inside, and we can help them from up here.”
In the midst of a lecture at the lobby area of the Shelter, a woman, one of the managers, said, “Listen!” Her voice was so compelling that all sounds stopped, no one uttered a word. Everyone kept silent, listening for sounds that seemed to have come from above. And above meant the outside world. It was a scraping sound, which had kept its even tone for a long time, continuing persistently. It kept on and on, all day and many days, until it finally stopped. When it did, in the silence that fell, everyone could hear the knocking.
“That’s a Morse code,” said one man quietly, but he was unable to interpret it. One historian came up to the trapdoor and, with a stick he had been using as a drummer, he made his reply. After some exchange, he turned to his companions and said, “We need the strongest people here to come and help turn that fucking mechanism. They are going to work on it from the outside.
* * *
“Rima! Rima!” Crying and laughing and stretching her arms to take hold of her long lost sister-in-law, hugging her so tight she finally had to release her for a breath of air, Dar did not know what to do with herself and her newly found relative and friend.
“Dar, what is it? What’s happened? What are you doing here? And where are Bard and the children?” The artist, mentally hardened during the difficult time she had spent in the Shelter, looked with wonder at the physician. In her memory, Dar had always been a quiet, rational, middle-aged professional who looked younger than her age. Instead, she found her a strange being, deeply suntanned with a parched, scratched and bruised skin, looking on the other hand plump and healthy, with an aura she could only associate with young motherhood...
‘It would take such a long, hard time of explaining all that’s happened’, thought Dar, as she led Rima to their dwelling.
* * *
“That’s it, then,” Lilit said to Dar. Winter rains were coming down in force, and the five adults and one child of the Family were sitting in the one large room of their simple house. They were busy with their endless house works of cooking, weaving, wood carving and so on; they had even built an oven for pottery, which they had learned to mould by hand, using a natural deposit of clay in one corner of the Valley.
Nim, pregnant again, tried her hand with some success in sewing with needles they had got from the Shelter. She was trying to patch some clothes that had been worn out from overuse, though others of the family were beginning to resort to pelts and skins. Nim was wearing an unusual expression of peaceful satisfaction on her pretty face, and Dar enjoyed looking at her from time to time. The young woman — finally completely grown up from a girl — had gone as far as any of them in turning into a pioneer settler.
“Yes,” the physician answered Lilit with a sigh, partly in satisfaction, partly in wonder at what the future was going to bring.
Rima had not joined the established family; instead, finding the arrangement comfortable, she joined with her physicist friend, two other women and another man, to create a family of their own on the same pattern. Dar thought it might be the structure of the family in the future, which up till now seemed to be working. Whether or not it was going to work for everyone, she could not tell, nor did she want to.
“At least, a group of three hundred people is better than five individuals,” she said. She had got used by now to Lilit’s telepathic insight into her own mind.
“And the human material?” smiled the old woman.
“The best that can be,” Dar had to admit.
“There’s that pretty young mechanic..." Zik expressed himself, dreamily.
Dar laughed. There could be no sexual inhibitions among the new human society — mixed genes as much as possible were the need of the day. “I don’t suppose Nim would mind,” she said, just the same.
“Why should she? She has her baby, and she has Nune, and you and Lilit. And I am not going anywhere, am I? I don’t think this should disrupt the family.”
“No, you’re right,” agreed Dar.
“As a matter of fact,” said Nune, “I noticed others beginning to organize themselves into families the way we are — it seems a very functional way to do it, and these people have been chosen for being highly functional.”
“Yes,” agreed Lilit, “that seems to be the motto here, in our new society. I hope it actually works that way.”
Functional... ‘Was that what the new society is going to be based on?’ pondered Dar. It did not sound very romantic, rather dry and heartless... Was it a good thing?
And what about all the spiritual and emotional values humanity had always believed in faith, love, wisdom, and the rest of them? What was going to happen to those? Dar had no answer, but she had hope, and this she was not going to give up. Ever.
Copyright © 2004 by Tala Bar