Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Sassa Guard: Chapter 2
For several minutes there is conversation, just marching. Lance can no longer hear the moving of water, and so he figures they must be moving away from the river. The wheezing of the boy continues, marking each inspiration with a red flag. He sneezes and moans. Para continues to look around, as though searching for something.
Lance looks at what he thinks Para is looking at, and sees nothing but things expected: trees, bushes, animals. What's going through Para's mind? What's he looking for? Whats he expecting?
"Your efforts did not work," says Mistoosha. "You wish to lose your life in a failing effort."
"He will get better in time now that the cat is gone," Lance says, quickly setting his head forward, his eyes on the master. The master does not look back.
The day seems to linger long, and Lance isn't sure if his feet can last until the end of this day. The pain in his hip joint aches hard, and he starts to limp. Para and Clan seem to be impervious to the impacts of the long journey, as though they've done this many times before.
"I think the Sassa Guard will love our gift," says Clan.
"I think they will too," says Para."
"The question is, what will they do to him. I hope they spare his life."
A cool tingle rushes up Lance's spine causing his eyes to bulge and his mouth to pop open. "What! I thought a gift was purchased in that last town we passed," he says.
"No!" says Para. "Zinka paid the toll."
"Toll?" Lance said. "What do you mean toll?
"We have to have our presence well known, and sneaking on the path is punishable by death," Para said. "So we sent Zinka to pay the toll."
"And so I'm the gift?"
"Yes. I'm sorry for that. But you are from Earth, and humans make the strongest slaves. You will probably be useful for lifting heavy objects for the king."
"I cannot do that!" Lance said, kicking his feet into the macadam, bringing up a puff of dust.
"You can and you will."
"I cannot! I will not!"
"You can and you will!"
"I will not. Mistoosha must kill me as was his promise when I saved the boy."
"Mistoosha will not kill the gift."
"THEN I WILL NOT GO FORTH!" Lance shouts. He kicks his foot into the dirt along the side of the path, and only quits when the boy sneezes. "Shit!" he says. God, what do I do not! I can't go into the woods because I will die and the boy will die. I can't stay here or I will die. I can't march forward because I will die. I can't go back because I will die. Why doesn't he just cut off my head!
Lance spits, only to have it land on his own face. I can't even spit right!
Several hours pass without conversation. Lance continues to glance back occasionally to check on the boy, who continues to sleep. What kind of work will they have for me?
"I'm sorry that I got angry," Lance said.
"It does not matter that you are sorry," said Para.
"What do you mean."
"You have no more control over your destiny than we do. We do what we are trained to do. We do what the Sassa Guard want us to do. We are born with free spirit, but the Sassa Guard take that spirit away."
"How so?" It was a rhetorical question. He saw how the Sassa Guard rid you of spirit.
"In Alton our free spirit is protected by our Constitution. It prevents the government from making any law taking away our natural rights."
"It's like the U.S. Constitution then."
"The U.S. Constitution. It's the only Constitution in the world, um, on earth, that tells a government what it can't do, as opposed to telling the government what it can do."
"Yes. The Alton Constitution is like that. But the Sassa Constitution says what government can do. And the government can take away spirit. It does not matter that we don't want our spirit taken away."
"That's too bad."
"It's been this way on Sassa for ever."
"How long is forever?" It was another rhetorical question, one that Tsatso answered on Alton One.
"Since the Guard was formed out of the outcasts of Alton. They believed the Alton Constitution should be a changing document, one that changed as society changed. So what happened is that they created a document that allowed it to grow, like a flourishing tree. Only, what happened is that so many laws were made that men were no longer free. Government leaders turned into dictators and kings. So you see what is the result. We now have to fear for our lives. We now have to be monitored wherever we go."
"What do you mean be monitored?"
"You will soon see when the pterodactyls arrive."
"Yes, the drones."
"What are the drones?"
"I must say no more about this. Stop looking back now. Stop looking around. We must now act like the Sassa. Well, soon anyway." He shakes his head. "Actually, I think we have time to answer some of your questions. A little time. Then we must act like Sassa.
"Why is there no science?" Lance asks, wasting no time.
Para stops. He waits until Lance catches up with him before he starts walking again, now alongside the human prisoner. He says, "Technology is forbidden in Sassa. It is against the wishes of the gods, who chime that ignorance and poverty is better than knowledge and materialism. The god Titan, the god of the common man, of which Mistoosha is and we are not, wishes that we not focus on materialism, which knowledge promotes. If we are ignorant, we are more likely to concentrate on the gods and not so much on our stuff."
The alien looks at Lance as he speaks, walking backwards, and this was the first time Lance has a good shot to look into the its face. Para has a smooth face, as though it was well taken care of. He is a slave now, but Lance can tell by looking at him he was something more prior to being a slave, but what? Now was not the time to ask. Instead, he said, "Can... er.. may I speak?"
There is a silence for a long moment, and then Lance repeats his question, only slightly louder. Mistoosha said, in a voice that is barely audible, "You may. Just do not let anyone know you were spoke to by a member of the Sassa. We will all die. That is all I am saying."
"Thank you," Lance says.
"Consider it your gift for saving the life of my slave boy."
"You may speak." Para said, and Lance sees what he figures to be a slight frown on the alien's face, sees a sparkle in his large eyes. Lance remembers something Tsatso said once, Surely he was an alien, but he was still a person, and people are the same wherever you go, wherever time goes. Societies change, societies are different, but people are the same.
Lance said, "That sounds much like how the Roman Empire ended. People were forbidden from being educated for the next thousand years by the Church. The Christians were great, even eventually lead to democracies and republics and capitalism, but it took many thousands of years for the Church to realize that people can be smart and believe in God at the same time."
"You mean gods!" said Clan, who slows down and is now walking alongside Para, although not looking back, and not walking backwards as Para was.
"You are wrong to say smart," Para said. "All people are smart in their own way. Some people are music smart, some are talking smart, some are book smart, some are political smart, some are rock smart as my friend Para is."
Clan smacks Para on the chest with the back of his hand.
Ignoring the hit, Para says, "Some are society smart as our master is. We are all smart, you see. The word I think you meant to use is ignorance. We are also all ignorant in anything we don't know. Your ancient philosopher Socrates taught us that."
"There is science here. That's how I got here," Lance says, his chains jangling as he gesticulates. "Where is it? Why all the horse and buggies, when you guys have space ship? How you know about Socrates? What do you know about earth?"
"You're head going to burst with all these questions," says Clan.
"And why all the formality? Why the horses and buggies when I know you guys have science?"
"Shush!" Clan whisper, and stops, and places his little, cool fingers over Lance's lips. "You must never speak of thus. I will not speak to you if you ever mention this again, unless we get free and are out of earshot of the Sassa. They must not know what you just thought. You understand!" It was NOT a question.
"Yes!" Lance whispered. "I thought by you speaking we were out of earshot. Sorry."
"We are never out of earshot."
"Oh, I... thought you said we were."
Para turned and continued marching forward alongside Clan, just behind Mistoosha. "Shit!" Lance thinks, kicking dirt again. Yet once again he reasons, and stops. He marches along, thinking again that he's not heard any sneezes or coughs from the boy in a long while. He looks back briefly to see the boy is still sleeping well.
A cool, refreshing breeze causes a sudden whoosh of the heavy leaves, and Lance notices it brush across his face. Being he must have walked over 20 miles along this darkened path, the breeze is ominous. His chest feels tight. He speaks: "I was wondering," he said aloud, "if you could explain about the trees. I find that so fascinating."
Para's voice radiates smoothly: "The trees have a wonderful history. They are called Sassafrass trees, which means they are guardian trees, protectors of all the Sassa. The trees are possessed with the spirits of dead men from the various families in the city. When a Sassa dies, his spirit becomes a Sassafrass tree. When you see them, you will know there is a Sassa city nearby. That is why we must be careful. And that is why Mistoosha may have to do things that you may not like. The Sassa are a rough and gruff people. Where you and I see white, where the Alton sees white, they see black. Where you in America on earth use the colors white to show innocence, new and virginity, and black to show death and the end, on Sassa it is just the opposite. Sassa is dark, gloomy, melancholy, solemn, or any of those types of dark words."
"Dark men," Clan says.
"Sassa is where the term black magic comes from.," says Para. "Sassa is where melancholy comes from. Those are Sassa terms. Those are not terms of primitive humans, but of Altonians."
"Those are terms used in the ancient world on earth," Lance says, excitingly. "Black magic is evil magic. It's when the spirits, gods, or other such transcendental forces use their ability to cause harm, sickness, and death. It's what primitive and ancient worlds thought caused disease. The evil eye was black magic, and could actually cause disease. So you mean..."
"Yes, that those terms come from Sassa. Your country was invaded by the Sassa years ago, many years ago," said Para. "I do not know the year, but I know it was long before the first Altons traveled to earth. However, it was an Alton ship that was used. It's always an Alton ship. And the Sassa who stole the ship were outcasts of Sassa."
Lance has no response for this. Instead, he rolls Para's statements over and over in his mind. It's always an Alton ship. And the Sassa who stole the ship were outcasts of Sassa. That was never in any of the Sassa History books Tsatso had in his office. "You mean," Lance said, "that the first visitors to earth were not Altons."
"So what about the miracle?" The miracle is a wrinkle in time that allows transport of a ship from Alton to Earth in only a few months, as opposed to millions of years. The miracle is a time warp, with an opening near mars, on the earth side of the asteroid belt, and somewhere close to Alton.
"What are you guys talking about?" says Clan. "What's a miracle?"
"Yeah," says Lance. "I figured you wouldn't know about the miracle. Tsatso said it was esoteric men."
"True," says Para. "We should not speak of it. I was wrong to answer your question."
"I'm sorry," said Lance. "I never should have mentioned it."
Lane closes his eyes, and thinks up another question. So many on his mind. Yes, he thinks, Clan is right in that his could easily explode, bursting question upon question. Yet he must be careful.
Yet, instead of freeing his head of one, Para asks one of his own: "You know how Columbus is credited for discovering America?
"Yes!" answers Lance
"And you know how the Vikings traveled to America long before Columbus?" Para asks
"No, tell me about this miracle," Clan interjects."You guys need to stop flipping around. I want to know about this miracle."
Para turns, walks backwards again. He says nothing. Lance says, "Yes, Para, and you mean..."
Para says, "That the Sassa are akin to the Vikings."
Lance's jaw drops. "Holy Cow!"
"Yes. There is more to history than what is in those books you read, wherever it was you read them. I know it wasn't on earth, because there are no Alton books on Earth."
Through an opening in the trees ahead Lance sees a gray tower. Over the tower circles two large objects that look, from his view and distance, like pterodactyls. Given what he had seen so far, and what Para said earlier, he can't rule out in his mind that that's what they were.
"Are those the pterodactyls?" Lance asks.
"Yes!" Mistoosha says. "I pray they didn't hear you guys talking or we are all dead."