by Resha Caner
Table of Contents
part 1; part 2
appeared in issue 254.
Aphelion and Perihelion
part 1 of 2
Mythic religions often find their place on dusty basement shelves, or they are reduced to children’s stories. Never would a mature adult give them serious consideration. Jargos was forced to accept this as a young Graseq boy. His father’s dinner time stories seized his imagination, demanding to be accepted, yet the realities of life on Calmeron demanded something else.
Jargos believes a dragon has destroyed his father’s workshop, and he sets out to save his family and his village. Instead, he discovers something much worse — humans have arrived to take his planet. From the moment of their arrival until he is a young man, Jargos fights the humans and becomes the leader of the Graseq. Though his eventual defeat seems to be the end, it is really the beginning.
Condemned to the slave mines on the moon of Nemesis, a human sacrifices his life to save Jargos. As the number of enslaved Graseq grow, Jargos lays plans to make them into a new nation. Then someone arrives to show him that the old stories are not as empty as he once thought.
Aphelion and Perihelion: Respectively, the farthest and closest approaches of a celestial object to a sun. The general terms apoapsis and periapsis may be more appropriate since Nemesis does not technically orbit a sun. However, its complex orbit is an exception to the rule. The gravitational influences of Calmeron and the sun cause this moon to make a radically extended orbit that “wobbles” about Oced, bringing it very close to Oced once every seven years, and then very close to the sun at the other extreme.
Though Nemesis possesses a breathable atmosphere, these extremes mean life is very sparse. Astronomers theorize a collision between Calmeron and Nemesis changed their orbits, and they think another collision may occur between Oced and Nemesis in the future. The periapsis of Nemesis with Oced is blamed for earthquakes and extreme weather patterns on Nemesis.
Rajin shivered in the bitter cold as the shuttle lifted into the air. The blast of the jets kicked up a hurricane of sand from the surface of Nemesis, and the particles burrowed into her skin. She reluctantly turned her thin face away, not wanting to surrender the last remnant of hope. Her long red hair whipped about her face and shoulders. She continually blinked jade-colored eyes, trying to glimpse one last view of the shuttle as it pulled away from the moon and headed back toward Oced. Even though it was night, the planet dominated the sky, and Rajin was tempted to reach out for it.
Someone stepped up behind her. “Let me help you.”
She turned to see Ethred, and pulled away. He disgusted her. His ruddy hair was braided, and twisted about his head like a nest of snakes. Dark green eyes, deeply set, peered like beasts from a cave. Ragged scars ran up and down his bare, thickly muscled arms.
“I’ll be fine.”
Ethred looked about the barren plain on which they had been dropped, then turned his gaze up the mountain where sentry lights faintly marked a pass. “It’s a long hike.”
“I’ll be fine,” she repeated. Hefting her share of the equipment, she took off for the slope to follow the other Graseq who had been dropped with them.
The steep incline quickly stole her breath, and she began to pant heavily. As she sucked in each gasp, the chill stabbed at her lungs. She began to cough, and her steps wandered back and forth across the path.
“This is moronic,” she declared. With a defiant heave, she dropped her pack onto the path, then collapsed beside it to catch her breath. “They don’t give me a decent coat, and then expect me to carry who-knows-what to the top of a mountain. Why should I?” None of the others even gave her a glance, but continued the struggle to carry their loads to the pass.
“Because they won’t let you in.” Ethred stopped beside her, carrying his own load as if it were only a sack lunch. He jerked his chin up toward the pass. “You have to pay your way in. You’re in a different world now, Elena.” He reached for her pack.
“You are impossible,” Rajin huffed. She snatched her pack away, lifting it once again onto her back. Ethred’s grotesque insinuation added new energy to her step. “I don’t belong here,” she called back over her shoulder.
The stocky man easily caught up, then checked his pace to stay beside her. “As far as the cold goes, I understand we’re done with the worst of it. Nemesis has already passed its aphelion, and we’ll be getting closer to the sun each day.”
“What are you?” Rajin scoffed. “A weatherman?”
“It should be very pleasant in a few weeks,” he continued. “I’ve heard the transition causes some terrible storms out in the wastes. But, once we breech the pass, the mountain will protect us.” He rubbed some warmth into his arms. “Of course, a few years from now, when Nemesis reaches its perihelion ...”
She gave him a curious glance before she could catch herself. Idiot, she thought. Like a schoolgirl caught up in a ghost story.
Ethred curled back his lips to reveal a pleased smile of broken teeth. “I’ve heard the heat killed the first pioneers.” He held up a finger like a school teacher making a point. “Now Oced uses slaves to get the ore. The weather is not the only inhospitable element here. People don’t last long without a friend.”
“If you need a friend, Ethred, I suggest you catch up with the others.” She stared at him, punctuating each word with a flash of her eyes, “I — am — just — fine.”
He didn’t leave her side, and the growing anger and frustration she felt propelled her toward the pass. The thought that he might know she hated him, and that he used the hate to motivate her, angered her even more. Rajin was not a girl who should have ended up a slave on Nemesis. She was a friend of the humans. She once had dinner with the President of the UPO, the United People of Oced. She had not stolen those secret congressional papers. It was a lie. She cut off her thoughts and gave Ethred a nervous glance. Maybe what bothered her most about Ethred was her inability to feel him through the Maartos. She could tell how much the others despised her, but somehow he kept himself closed off. The ancient myths told of Graseq who could shrug off the Maartos, but Rajin had never paid attention to silly old stories. She was a modern girl — more comfortable among humans than Graseq.
“Why didn’t they drop us on the other side?” she gasped.
Ethred grinned. “They’re afraid.”
The other Graseq pulled farther and farther out in front of them, melting into the dark night. Ethred stepped slowly and patiently at her side. She would not give in. Though the desert floor seemed ever so close and the mountain ridge ever so distant, she would take her own pack to the summit. Breathing became more painful as the air seemed to lose its usefulness to the cold heights. Each time she exhaled, the moisture froze on her lips and tongue. Her feet ached, and the tips of her fingers began to buzz.
The pink light of dawn played with the horizon before she finally reached the ridge. Two guards stood on either side, looking like something she had only seen in pictures. History had never been real to her. The lost wars with the humans were just a pathetic attempt to hold onto a glory that probably never existed. But here they stood, steel helmets hiding everything but their eyes, bodies wrapped in leather and steel bands, discers strapped to their arms.
The ridge suddenly fell away into a deep valley, and the vision made Rajin gasp. Rather than dropping with the mountain, the path wound its way back and forth across a steep slope that quickly plunged over three hundred meters to a narrow floor. The opposite side rose just as rapidly. Nestled between each switchback were rows of adobe brick houses. Sitting on terraces, the houses were perfectly square, and the walls rose straight and even with neat corners. Animal skins stretched over the doors of a few houses, but most were open to the elements, as were the windows.
The village stopped about ten meters before the very bottom in a perfectly straight line of houses that made a ring all the way around the floor. The floor itself was mathematically divided into individual garden plots laced by irrigation and recently plowed for the approaching spring.
The valley was closed at both ends, preventing the winds from tunneling through and creating the raging storms that Ethred had mentioned. At one end it closed in a sharp point, but at the head it opened slightly to form a small, natural amphitheater. A mining entrance was cut into the base of the mountain at the center of the amphitheater, and wagons clustered outside, half filled with ore. A partial tower shrouded in scaffolding stood directly above the mine entrance. Though the construction was incomplete, the scaffolds appeared old and neglected.
Hordes of Graseq were leaving their adobe houses and heading down into the valley to begin the day’s work. As Rajin watched them, she leaned forward slightly, trying to ease the weight of the pack. The falling slope of the valley made the ground feel unsure beneath her feet. She shuffled, trying to find her balance, and her eyes grew blurry with dizziness. She was cold and hungry, and hadn’t slept. She lost control of the pack, and it pulled her forward.
“Rajin?” Ethred’s voice sounded mushy to her.
She put out her hands to brace for the fall, but her arms collapsed under the weight of the pack, and she rolled down the slope, unable to gain control of her own body. Pain shot everywhere, and her mind slipped toward nothingness.
* * *
“Such a little thing to be in a place like this.”
Rajin heard dripping water, then a warm cloth passed across her forehead. Her eyes fluttered, and finally opened to see an old Wandi woman leaning over her.
“Oh, good!” Rajin said. “It was just a dream.”
“I’m afraid it wasn’t,” the old woman smiled compassionately. “You’re still on Nemesis. Here, eat some soup.”
Rajin struggled to sit, and took a steaming bowl in her hands. The heat felt good, and she hoped it would soon please her stomach. She looked toward the woman, waiting for a spoon.
“Go on,” the woman motioned, the jerk of her head causing a gray strand of hair to fall across the dark skin of her face.
“Yes,” Rajin said. “I’m still on Nemesis.” She lifted the bowl to her lips, and carefully took a sip. “Mother of Barmoor!” she cursed as the foul taste of rotted mush burned down her throat.
“My,” the woman drew back. “Where did a pretty girl like you learn such language?”
Rajin huffed. “How did a Wandi end up in the Graseq camp? Aren’t you on the wrong side of the moon?”
“She’ll be alright, dear,” the woman called into the gray recesses of the house. “She seems feisty enough.”
“Good,” a deep male voice rumbled back. An old Graseq man came out of the shadows, stooped and slightly shriveled, but with bright eyes and thick, grayish-streaked hair.
“My name is Sukomo,” the Wandi woman said. “Most just call me Su. And this is my husband.”
“Husband!” Rajin choked on the soup.
“Is such a thing possible? I mean — well — you’re human. He’s ...”
“Graseq. Yes,” Su smiled. “It’s possible. But no, we have no children. Some people choose to, but we thought it just too cruel to bring a child into this place.”
A knock sounded on the lintel, and Ethred pushed aside the animal skin. “Oh, good,” he said.
“This young man hunted for your meal,” Su spoke like a mother with her daughter’s future in mind. “It’s a rarity to find meat on Nemesis. The cats are too reclusive, and the rats ...”
“Rats.” Rajin looked down into her soup, then up at Ethred. “I should have known.” She set the bowl aside, trying to calm the sudden convulsions in her stomach.
The aged Graseq snickered. “You remind me of my little sister.” As soon as the words passed his lips, his eyes grew sad, and he looked down at the floor with a sigh. “It’s been so long. I wonder. I always wonder what became of her. With each new group of Graseq that the humans dump here, I hope not to see her, yet I hope someone will know her.”
Rajin resisted the temptation to ask his sister’s name. She didn’t want to know. She didn’t want to be a part of this place.
“Well,” the old man began, as he drew himself up, “down to business.” He stepped toward the doorway, but Ethred didn’t move.
“Yes, down to business,” Ethred said with a bit of mockery. “Have you considered my offer?”
The old man shook his head. “I gave you my answer yesterday.”
“I thought a night’s sleep might recharge your mind.” Ethred sneered. “Make you sensible.” The younger Graseq pushed into the room. Looking past the old man, he spoke to Rajin, “I doubt you know the honor of the house that has cared for you.” Ethred held out his arms in a dramatic gesture, “Behold, Jargos, the Raqturon.”
Rajin stood slowly, her eyes sweeping over the elderly man. He gave a half turn, looking toward her sheepishly, then moving away to stand next to Su. Rajin felt as if she had not only been transported through space, but also through time. The real Jargos should be dust. This must be an imposter before her, or a statue in a museum. Sitting with her friends in a café, she would have denied anyone famous could ever have an impact on her. After all, she had once met the President. But the sound of the old man’s name brought a rush of emotion.
“Yes,” Ethred pressed his melodrama, “here he is — in the flesh. Most don’t survive their first year on Nemesis, only a few make it past five. Yet here he is. How long has it been, Jargos? Twenty-five, thirty-five years? And we’re so close, aren’t we? The plan is almost complete.”
“What plan?” Rajin asked.
Ethred rolled his tongue over his jagged teeth, savoring the moment. “It is not by accident you are here, Rajin.”
Copyright © 2007 by Resha Caner