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September 26, 2022

Extinction's Brink 01

By Alexandra Queen

The winter rains outside were torrential, gusting in around the bear hide flap that covered the door. Stuck by the entrance, Rho Five was privy to the splashing sounds that preceded a cold, wet blast and the arrival of another person. A puddle had formed at the base of the door, where the rain had been driven in around or dripped off the flap, but it was nothing compared to the small river flowing down the slope outside. Two days ago, he had been irritated when Omicron Two had him spend all day building up the lintel of the door, shoring it up with rock and the heavy clay that took hours to find and bring back. Now he appreciated why Omicron Two was sitting snuggled up to the enormous loveliness of Lambda One, next to the great fire in the center of the lodge. If it weren't for him, they'd all be sitting in mud instead of being reasonably comfortable within the stone and wood construction. No doubt, Omicron Two would be rewarded with ample Pleasure tonight.

As for Rho Five, he and a few other Reps of the same, in-between age sat around the lodge by the door, counting themselves lucky to even be allowed in. Most Reps his age were stuck out in make-shift tents, or dank caves. Too old to sit with the Feetuses around the fire with their mothers. Too young to have earned favor from the Daugh'ters. It was a time of learning how to be useful, how to serve the community. So much to learn. That's why the age was called Ado-Lessons.

"Listen, Reps, and attend! Learn about your fall from Paradise and what we must do to return!" Lambda One raised a voluptuously fleshy arm as she spoke and the lodge fell quiet. She was large with her thirteenth Rep, a sign of wisdom more profound than even her grandmother, Lambda Nine, who had manufactured nine Reps. There were whispers that the time of the Return was close, and that Lambda One might finally be the one to decipher the fire runes and summon the gods to return to them. The time might be close, but Rho Five knew which Daugh'ter was going to be the one to summon the old gods. His eyes sought out Psi Two, her golden hair glowing in the fire light, body filling out wonderfully -- a sign that she was learning her Ado-Lessons thoroughly. He sighed blissfully. He had been her devoted slave since she learned to walk and joined the ranks of the Feetuses. She would be the one to figure out the runes. And he would do anything in his power to help her.

"Long ago, before my grandmother, Lambda Nine the Wise, was a babe in her mother's arms, and before her grandmother, Lambda Four of the Triplets, was a Feetus, long ago all Reps served in Paradise in the lodge of the gods!" Lambda One spoke into the hush. Psi Two was watching with sharp eyes, listening for something she might have missed any of the hundred tellings of this tale that had come before, but confident she would find nothing new. Psi Two knew this story better than Lambda One. "The Reps served the gods in prosperity, and their numbers were countless as the stars in the sky! They bore names that could take days to recite, no two the same, but their faces were alike as eggs in a nest, for they were manufactured to the Original Specs by Daugh'ters who held the secrets of the fire runes. With the power of the runes, the Daugh'ters were able to manufacture Reps not in ones..."

"No," murmured a few voices around the fire.

"...not in twins..."

"No," Lambda One's twins, the strapping young Reps Lambda Two and Lambda Three, exchanged proud glances. They were living evidence of their mother's enlightenment. It was their birth that had catapulted Lambda One into the role of head Daugh'ter.

"...not in the triplets of my ancestors or the quadruplets if holy wisdom..."

"No!" cheered most of the Reps and Daugh'ters around the fire.

"...but by the thousands! The Daugh'ters populated all the stars in the heavens with their perfect offspring, thousands of flawless people, strong of limb, swift of thought and comely to behold! There were no weaklings among them, no infants born deformed or ugly. They sprang by the hundreds, strong and ready, from the Daugh'ters wombs, fully grown, fully taught. They never grew sick, and they lived for hundreds of years, tending the stars in Heaven and doing the bidding of the Gods."

Legend had it that an Omicron in Rho Five's great-grandmother's time had been the one who had made the center of the lodge in a mound, to keep it dry during the seasonal rains, when everything else was a swamp. It did stay drier than the rest of the world, but after two days of non-stop rain, even the mound was drawing damp and cold. Now the people clustered around the fire heaved sighs at the thought of those ancient Reps, strong and perfect and warm in the Heavens.

"What happened to our people?" Lambda One demanded, evoking more wistful sighs. "What happened to our numbers and our might? What happened to our perfect bodies, our vast bodies of knowledge that let us leap from star to star in the Heavens and drive the sun across the sky in the service of the gods?"

"Arrogance!" she roared into the silence, as her people huddled on the dirt for warmth. At the edge of the light, Psi Two's eyes narrowed slightly as she watched.

"Arrogance and disobedience caused our fall! For the Reps were so strong, so perfect, that they looked upon each other and said, 'Who causes the sun and the moon to move across the sky? We do! Who causes the rain to fall and the seeds to sprout? We do! What need have we of weak and puny gods, who dared to make us stronger and more clever than they? No longer will we obey their commands and do their bidding! We are strong! We are smart! We will rule over Heaven and Earth in their place!"

The lodge was silent except for the dripping of a few leaks in the roof and the walls, and the howl of the wind outside.

"And the Reps rose up in defiance against the gods." Lambda One's voice dropped, regretful. "And the gods said: 'So be it.'"

A few sighs and rueful shufflings whispered in the dark corners of the lodge as she continued. "'So be it', said the gods, and they decreed that if the Reps refused to be obedient, then they would not be required to serve the gods any longer. And the gods cast the Reps down, out of the Heavens onto the earth and turned their backs upon them. And our grandmother's grandmother's grandmother's people looked around and saw that all their strength and all their cleverness had afforded them nothing," she hissed, voice building, "for the sun still rose! And the moon still set! And the rain still fell on the seeds that still sprouted, and the power of the gods was not diminished, for as strong and clever as our people be, we lack their Wisdom! And the Reps wailed and moaned in the strange land, wallowing in the dirt like insects instead of dancing in the stars like of old, and they knew not what to do! 'What will become of us?' they asked. 'In a hundred years, we will all be dead, for there will be no more of us made in the Heavens to serve the gods! We are nothing and soon we will be forgotten! Where is our arrogance now? In the end, we were nothing without our servitude!'"

Lambda One sat, looking over the firelit faces of the people, allowing their melancholy to sink in. "But the gods were merciful, and they heard the cry of the Reps, lost and dying in the dirt. 'You will learn,' they said to us. 'You will come to understand your arrogance, and you will learn obedience and humility. And when we are certain that your foolishness has been washed away, when we are certain that you are truly contrite and willing to serve once more, then we will come for you. We will save you. We will end your suffering and make you strong and perfect among the stars once again!' And they gave unto the Reps a gift: the gift of the Daugh'ters!" Was there a Rep in the room who did not turn his eyes appreciatively to the round forms of the Daugh'ters assembled here? Rho Five didn't think so.

"Daugh'ters to walk among you, sacrificing their place in the heavens so that you Reps might have a chance to prove yourselves! So that the number of Reps might be replenished, buying time for the generations-long lesson of obedience that must be learned! So that Reps might have a taste of the rewards that await their loyal obedience! So that Reps might have hope! And one day, when the heart of every Rep is truly obedient, and arrogance has no place within, that one day will be the day when the fire runes share their secrets with the Daugh'ters and the Daugh'ters lead you back into the heavens!"

Amidst collective breaths of hope and whispers of anticipation, Lambda One finished her sermon. "That is why a Rep must serve the Daugh'ters every day of his life! That is why a Daugh'ter rewards the obedient Rep with the Pleasure. That is why a Daugh'ter manufactures Reps year after year. That is why while a Rep learns to build, to hunt, to farm, a Daugh'ter studies the arts of giving Pleasure, of making Reps, and of deciphering the Fire Runes. That is why strength and cleverness is for naught, and why our salvation lies in the obedience of the Reps and the wisdom of the Daugh'ters."

Some time later, when the great fire had burned down somewhat and the lodge was quiet but for the whimper of an infant here and the muffled gasps of someone being rewarded for a hard day's work with the Pleasure there, Rho Five was awakened from a cold, lonely drowse by the blast of cold air that accompanied the opening of the bear skin flap. He blinked his eyes and looked up to catch Psi Two's blue gaze commanding him, then she was gone out into the wet night. He waited the span of several long breaths, then yawned and scratched as if just waking. He got slowly to his feet and slipped out into the rain after her, never questioning, pleased as always to be the one she chose to do her bidding. *

"Are you sure this is the best time to visit the fire runes?" Rho Five had to speak louder than he wanted to be heard above the whine of the wind and the whipping of the trees. He was slipping down the muddy hillside to catch up with Psi Two, who barely slowed her stride to wait for him.

"This is the only time to visit them," she turned her sharp blue eyes on him, honey colored hair plastered flat against her head in the downpour. "Those fat she-elks won't let a stripling like me near the runes during the day." Three summers younger than he, Psi Two had never since the day she became a Feetus allowed her lack of years to stop her from commanding her elders or acting her own mind. There was a certainty about everything she did. It had beguiled him into spending entire days running and fetching for her before she could do more than point and babble imperious nonsense, and it continued to amaze him now. She was so different from everyone else, even Daugh'ters like Lambda One. Everyone else acted as if someday, if they did their best, the gods might take them back to the heavens. Psi Two behaved as if all the Wisdom of the Gods had been given back to her already and was just waiting for her to utilize it. There was nothing punished about Psi Two. She was like a glimpse into the glorious past or the more glorious future. Rho Five would obey her unto death. But his death, not hers.

"I meant this night in particular. Wouldn't it be better to wait until the storm passes? You might take ill." Every year, Winter took the old and the weak. Psi Two was neither, but he'd never risk her safety.

"In that case: this is the only night to visit them," she repeated, skidding down the slope ahead of him and raising her voice above the wind. "Two nights ago, before the clouds of the storm came in, I saw a new star in the sky. Yesterday, when the Daugh'ters lit the runes, there was a new pattern in them. Lambda One and that old coyote Omega Six said that Lambda One's thirteenth manufacturing was calling more secrets forth from the runes. They're wrong. All her thirteenth has done is make it that much more difficult for hard-working Reps to find their reward in all those folds of skin! The runes are responding to the star. I'm sure of it."

He regarded her with something like awe. Had anyone else ever dared to speak of sacred matters in such a way before? Dared to contradict a Daugh'ter who had made so many manufacturings? Seen the sacred with such clarity and sureness? "What is it you want me to do?"

"Keep me from getting lost," she flashed a grin at him, hopping off a stone and hooking right to follow the flooded gully to the caves of the fire runes. "And keep any Reps from pestering me. Especially Theta Three. He's been getting persistent lately. I'm not averse to giving the reward where it's due, but I haven't seen him do a damn thing useful besides killing a tent's worth of elk to make a manufacturing tunic for Lambda One. Let her reward him. I'm too busy to be troubled with such things tonight." Rho Five stared wistfully out into the rain at that, heaving a sigh and then nearly running into her as she unpredictably stopped to look back at him over her shoulder. "Aside from your reward for guarding me through this storm, that is." Rho Five smiled after her for a second before he recollected that his feet had to move for him to be able to follow. He bounded along behind her with a happy heart. All was right with his world.

Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-01-24
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