I have met the Theisen. I had met them before but had not known it.
Trees. Light-year spanning, world bearing trees. Trees with leaves big enough to shelter a sun. Trees so vast their being spans the multiverse. Trees that root in universes we do not know and gather light in universes we can not name. The youngest is the age of my race and the oldest form the Towers of God. They talk to me in words I won't live long enough to pronounce and tell me of their people, the Aguirrans, and my own.
The Theisen travel the stars multigenerationally. They have no concept of time or space. To them everything is here and now. Yet they have memories, race memories, of seeding a hundred billion worlds. Each Theisen is a history of their kind, yet everything they know is happening to them as they speak of it. Is this where the Goatmen learn their songs?
They know they have travelled and there is no place other than "here" to them.
"How can you know everything on all worlds, even ones I've never seen? You're parts of my dream, aren't you?"
"We dream each other. You are part of the millennia long dream of trees."
I say nothing because I desperately need to believe I sing to myself.
"Do you know where you are?"
I turn to walk away and see the Alpha Tower across a great divide and in the distance. Many elder Goatmen are there. There is much turbulence in the air between us. They start to sing and a pathway forms.
"Do you know where you are?" The Theisen's leaves shake at me although I feel no breeze.
"Do you know where you are?"
I understand the words and they are not really a question. It comes as the sound the translator couldn't parse. This is the cultural icon, the mythic symbol of which the Goatmen speak.
I take a step onto nothing but sound, nothing but song, and I'm back aboard The Merrimack looking at Galen and Tellweiller. God. I never told them they kept me sane. They were the epitome of the Pro-Choice movement's slogan at the turn of the 21st century; Life begins when you mind your own business. Galen -- Tom -- was athletically thin, something I attributed to his being the youngest of us and always able to find good looking, intelligent women he genuinely wanted to spend time with. Pale skinned, clean-shaven with freckles, aquiline green eyes and copper hair, he had the uncanny ability to answer questions which were asked rather than the questions implied. I envied him that.
No guile. What a gift.
-- Why am I thinking of him in the past tense? --
Nash, definitely the oldest of us, was also the most talkative and often engaged you in conversation unless you asked him not to, then it's "Oh, I'm sorry," and the next thing was, "Do you think Tom's around?" If not Tom, then Sanders or Tellweiller. He was an old Texan with a square face and a slight hump which he'd never allowed Fleet-Med to reconstruct. Part of this I blame on his arcane religious beliefs, part on his sense of independence, and perhaps a little on his "fear of the knife" as they use to say.
I liked his drawl.
-- God Damn It! Stop! --
He's traveled so much you can't really notice it anymore, except when he laughs and talks immediately after. His laugh is loud and abrupt, high in his head and right in your face. He is the kind who genuinely laughs and whose whole body shakes when he does, which is interesting to watch as he is a field geologist and grisly hard and permanently tanned from exploring half a dozen worlds.
I left them in Common. "Damn, it's quiet out there," Nash said, his eyes so wide on the screens. I had to laugh. If he'd been looking out a window, he'd be at home in a horror-vid.
"Probably just your ears getting use to the lack of wind and rain," Sanders said.
"No. Christ, I wish Gordo were here," Nash said, wanting an ally, I think. "He's the xenopologist. You watched his reports. He understood more than any of us what all these biologic anomalies were about."
-- I dream -- dream? -- Now they talk of me in the past. What is going on? --
"Listen," he continued. "It's quiet."
"Huh? Maybe. Whatever." Sanders shrugged. "I'm going to C3I. We'll find out in a couple of days what the fauna's circadians are. We can analyze the last of Bank's transmissions then if we want."
A moment later I'm in C3I with Sanders as Tom walks in. "Sanders, I have something for immediate uplink."
Sanders didn't respond. He sat there, his face flushed and his eyes red, until his breathing, which had been harsh at Tom's entrance, was more normal. Finally he stood up.
"What's wrong, Sanders?"
"What's wrong?" Sanders eyes opened wide, as if Galen were an apostate and his sins should be obvious. "What's all this...crap -- Crap! -- in your personal logs?"
Tom's stared back at Sanders. "You went through my personal logs?"
"Damn right I did, and a good thing, too. All this talk about how beautiful Aguirra is, all these poetic descriptions about the land, the sky, the birds -- the fucking birds? Number One, a lot of this is from Bank's observations. And he's dead as far as we know."
"-- I noted where my observations are substantiated or reinforced by what Banks transmitted."
"And Number Two, I decide what goes out, not you."
Tom stood for a moment, his face showing the effort of trying to understand. "Wait a minute. Do you mean to tell me you haven't uplinked any of Gordo's transmissions? None of his holos? You had no right -- "
"As commander of this mission I made it my right. With all the stress he's been under I had to make sure he could still carry out his duties, didn't I?"
Tom was speechless. He kept his eyes fixed on Sanders. "You had no right. No regulations allow for this."
Sanders grabbed the holo-cube away from the younger man. "What's this that you need uplinked so quickly?" He popped it into a viewer and adjusted the controls. Holos of the Goatmen appeared, life size, between the two men.
The audio came on and I heard my own voice, rich and full, with more life and strength than I'd heard in it before. "It is worth studying the transmitted holos against holos of terrestrial goats. For males of the same age and weight, the goatmen's head is wider, longer, and generally larger, their necks are about the same. With the goat being bigger in the chest by several centimeters. The goatmen are five centimeters taller, eight centimeters longer in the leg and twenty centimeters longer in the body. The goatmen have no tail, and the feet are twice the size of terrestrial goats."
"Captain, I'm demanding a Level Ten Field Transmission. Give me the cube, please."
Sanders hesitated. I think if there'd been a weapon near by he would have used it. Instead he backed away from his console. Tom's fingers raced over the pads then dropped the cube into the reader. He pressed another tab and said, "Append: The decision may be called questionable when taken with respect to any previous transmissions regarding Xenopologist and Acting Mission Redact Gordon Banks. It is my belief, based on many years experience as mission personnel and a long relationship with Banks, the increased responsibility assigned by acting Captain David Sanders has jeapordized both the life of Xenopogist Banks and this mission. At the time of the assignment, Banks was not fully capable nor a totally productive member of the crew. It is my belief that the lack of confrontation with his problem and non-acceptance of his familial status impeded his re-adjustment to The Merrimack's five-man society."
In another step I am on my mission previous. Another step takes me on the mission previous to that. There is a rustling above me and I am standing on sound canopied by Theisen. Part of me fears their singing will stop and another knows it won't.
If you live knowing only a process, you can never have all your options. If you live knowing there are options, one of them can be to partake in the process, they tell me.
Would I like to see my world? they ask. I accept. It comes at me like a newsview montage, everything at once, because that is how they feel it. There are little wars claiming the peace, tiny exultations where one doesn't think the other is right. Companies, vast multi-systems, their employment records reading like census briefs from minor and not so minor worlds, deciding political strategies for planet-nations fighting planet-nations. Peace only exists where it generates acceptable profit.
The Theisen tell me no memories come from there now and the montage stops. How so? I ask. Our children there now are not, translates their one word reply.
What? The Earth gone? Were there no warriors for her in all the people I knew there?
They do not.
I am leaving Jeremy one last time. I am playing with him on the gold hills of Teindien.
My leaves are folding through space, mapping it like the back of a hand I don't really have.
I am with Robin at his birth.
My shoots and roots engulf the stars and suns burst from dust, blaze, then grow cold instantly.
I am with Robin.
Mother, father, sister, come quickly then are gone.
Oceans like worlds and worlds frighteningly like first oceans.
Seeds and vines burst from me and grow free of me. They float through space, gripping worlds and running through them.
My foot lands on churned, moss covered ground.
The singing stops.
Listen. I ask the Theisen. Listen to your children. Don't they call you?
We know not.
Tenku takes my hand. He leads me away. I'm not sure where we're going. My eyes are cataracted with blood and tears.
Tenku wakes me early in the morning. He is as excited as I've ever seen him.
"Where are we going?"
"Yes." He gently butts me.
I know what he means. The nannies are kidding. The field behind the village is littered with nannies on their sides, their legs folded slightly up towards their bellies and their eyes glazed. They do not scream or weep. There seems to be no pain at all. Tenku leads me to Hepob. Gomer is with her.
I ask questions, the xenopologist in me still strong even though I'm sure my transmissions are no longer reaching any ship.
Kids are born one hundred twenty-eight Aguirran days after conception. Kids are always born in the village. They're only single births with twins being very rare and it is unusual for any individual pair to have more than two children. If there is is a methodology for deciding which partners will have more kids it eludes me.
It is dawn and the kidding begins. Like popcorn in an old style popper, the plateau pops with the bleats of first one kid then another, the sky filling with bleats and nays and hinnies as the kids pop from their mothers, the air turning first rich then acrid then pungent as puddles of blood and bowel and afterbirth meet the rising sun. The kids' coats are damp, matted flat and mucousy. They steam as they dry. This is perhaps why they are born so early in the day; to ensure their coats being dry and fluffed before the night's cold and rain. Close my eyes and I can hear the nannies' tongues licking, scraping, and cleaning their kids, followed closely by the hollow sucking as the nannies consume the afterbirth.
It is the first time I've seen kids this early in their life. They more closely resemble goats back home --
Where am I?
There is a cracking sound inside my head and I feel myself drawn into the ground, my spine and legs fused into a trunk and roots reaching deep.
Where am I?
-- although their craniums are noticeably larger and the eyes more obviously placed for binocular vision. But male and female kids walk on all fours and follow their mothers around just a few moments after birth, butting their mothers legs, near knocking the nannies over to get at their milk.
Hepob is on her knees before me, a newborn billy nipping her coat to get at her teats. Gomer comes over to me and places his left hand forward. "She is yours now. I have given you a son."
He leans forward and grabs my testicles in his hand. His left hand. He takes his hand away then grabs me with his right. He says something, an untranslatable word but now its meaning is clear to me. Home. The untranslatable word is "I-Am-Home." The meaning is not transitive but transcendental. It is an equivalence.
Does this thing work anymore? The lights come on. I know it records. I just don't know if there's anybody listening. Or anyone to listen.
Tenku is dead. Gomer, soon, I think. Age, when it comes, comes quickly to them. Gracefully, though. He has left me his Wa'asis. Hepob is teaching her daughters how to grow and cultivate it. What was once so unique I now know as ordinary. Unlike us, Goatmen mate for life. A mate's passing is announced with a song. I suppose it would be translated as "He/She waits for us" that starts with the mate and finishes when the youngest has chorused that line.
The Theisen are always with me now. They've told me about their technology, one we had long, long ago and forgot because something inside us didn't let the blue-eyed Neanderthals live.
I have blue eyes.
Our technology, they tell me, was developed because we feared the unique, the different, thus we created a science which ultimately made everyone equal without and did nothing to make us equal within. We developed the means to give everyone equality then mocked and mistrusted those who used the means.
How is it here the Neanderthals lived? How come evolution provided no challenges?
A young nanny has asked me to take her to the Theisen. I was afraid of this. As soon as she asked, by a communication I do not yet understand, Gomer was there. "Come," he said. After some walking we are near a cave I recognize but don't know where from. "You go in. I'll stay here and watch."
There is no need for Wa'asis this time, but I take some anyway. Dutch Courage for what's inside.
I'm climbing the Theisen. There is no indication of how long I've been doing it, although I feel many days and nights have passed. As always with them, I am naked.
Long before I see their tops, I see Aguirra fall away below me. Shortly after, stars dwindle in the distance. Galaxies come and go. Nebulae bathe me then recede. The gravity storms of blackholes and radiation tides of pulsars wash over me without affect as I pass them, one by one.
Still the tops of the Theisen aren't in sight. There is something, though. A barrier of some kind. It is semi-solid, firm yet yielding, and like Ezekiel breaking through to see the mechanisms of the Universe, I go through.
I know where I am. Robin is gone. So is Jeremy. So is The Merrimack and her crew. Earth is no more. There is no taste or scent of her.
Definitions are by what, not by who, and at the top of the Theisen the what and the who are one.
I see myself reflected in the whirlpools of this space, a goatman with broken horns staring at me. He waves and smiles.
And I remember. When I was a child. Shopping for Christmas Trees. It was a large lot. A field. Acres and acres of trees. Getting lost. Not hearing my parents voices or the voices of any elders or other children at all.
Just hearing the voices of the trees.
Screaming at what they said. Not wanting to accept or believe but knowing it was true.
I let go of the Theisen and start to fall, unafraid of the descent, knowing where I am and knowing now which direction is down.
I emerge from the cave and know many days have passed. Gomer, my first-friend and -brother, has died outside the cave. Hepob seeks comfort from me and weeps. Between sobs she whispers "He waits for us" and, not understanding, dimly aware, I quietly join in.