The Darkness to Come
When you live on a world
where you rarely
see the sun or stars,
reality isn’t easy to understand.
Now there was no doubt in
Jans Deriae’s mind. He had checked the calculations over
a hundred times and always the figures led him to the
He wheezed slightly,
clambered to his feet and hobbled across the starkly
furnished room, coming to a stop before the gleaming
metal sink. What would Dorins think if she could see him
now? He was just a gnarled old Rangin who had outlived
his health, dependent upon pills to prod his heart to
beat and his lungs to inhale.
Deriae smiled and thought
of his mate. She always said he was the most obstinate
person in the world. Too obstinate to die, Jans thought,
as he shook a tiny blue pellet from an unlabeled bottle,
put it in his mouth and chased it down with a glass of
The pills were illegal,
of course. The Council had decreed it was unnatural for
any Rangin to be kept alive by artificial means. When
death beckoned one must always answer the summons.
Deriae spat in fury, then relaxed. They—the members of
the Council—did not know. They did not know he had
friends, a chemist and a biologist, who had joined
together to create his pills of life. It gave him a
great deal of satisfaction to know he had succeeded in
deceiving the Council for fifteen myuths. Many times the
Council had ignored a proposal of his; now he was
ignoring one of its laws. But that was not the main
reason he had to continue to take these pills. To stop
would be to condemn the entire planet to death. His
death would be the death sentence for Rangi.
He sighed heavily. His
work was almost finished. He had only to convince the
Council…then his death would no longer matter.
Deriae gazed through the
polished glass of his window at the heavens far above.
The clouds, a mottled bronze, clung to the bowl of the
sky as if painted there.
It would not be easy, he
thought. Few on the Council had ever seen the stars, and
perhaps none had seen the star that gave warmth and
light to the planet Rangi. Deriae had glimpsed it only
twice in the two hundred thirty-three myuths of his
life. But the last sighting had been only two myuths ago
and it had been enough to convince him the sun was
smaller now than it had been the first time he had seen
it. His measurements confirmed this. Taken together with
the data of the Masters, Desgrave and Evere, only one
conclusion was possible.
Deriae shivered, knowing
however his chill was completely psychological. His
quarters were still warm, even though the temperature of
Rangi had dropped ten units since Desgrave’s time and
fifteen since Evere’s.
He shook his head and
lowered his gaze to the surface outside his window.
Narrow gravel paths wound through clumps of wiry
purplish-green vegetation which resembled the feathers
on Deriae’s body. In the distance the muddy waters of
the Tagrew River rippled with the turbulence of a storm,
and even farther away a row of hills wallowed on the
horizon, intermittently visible as the mists thickened
A good day for a walk,
Deriae reflected, as a young couple, arms entwined,
strolled into view on one of the paths. It seemed like
only a day ago that he and Dorins had walked the same
path. But Dorins was dead and had been for thirty myuths.
Much had happened in those thirty myuths. He no longer
ruled the scientific world. His theories were no longer
popular. Jans knew why. One Rangin was responsible for
his fall. Aviam Winsz.
Deriae watched the couple
and envied the boy’s full wings, but what was the use of
having them if one was too weak and too old to fly? Like
most male Rangins over a hundred myuths his wings were
clipped. It was odd. Why didn’t Rangin females have
wings capable of flight? Theirs were small and weak from
birth. The case of the dyyplres provided a parallel
example. The dyyplres were rare, living only in one tiny
region of the planet, but they were much like the
Rangins, though not intelligent and possessing no hands
which could be used to grip things easily. But they,
too, exhibited the phenomena of a flying male and a
non-flying female. In their case it was because the male
did all the hunting and was the only one that needed to
fly; the female was usually pregnant, in part the result
of an extremely long gestation period, similar to that
of Rangin females.
Was there a connection
between the two species? The difference was that his
people lived primarily beneath the ground and had
domesticated animals to eat; there was no need to fly.
It was an interesting comparison, though, and one worth
considerable study. He wondered if he would. How would
he ever have the necessary time? There was so much to
discover; so little time.
He turned away from the
window, a wave of depression washing through him. It was
always the same. Looking out his narrow window started
him thinking, and thinking usually led to depression.
And yet he would not trade his surface apartment for one
mired deep below the ground. Once all Rangins had been
surface dwellers, but now few could afford to have an
individual apartment built above ground. His wealth had
advantages. How much the others were missing! The beauty
and raw force of nature often elicited strange emotions
that he savored for myuths afterwards. No, they could
keep their artificial caves; he was content where he
He smiled again, sadly
this time. Their subterranean apartments would probably
keep them warm for many myuths after the sun had shrunk
to the size of the other stars, but it would do them
little good. All food was raised on the surface. And it
would die. And so would they.
The moment Jans Deriae
brought his two companions to the zastrif garden he
realized his mistake. It was too serene here. The tiny
golden flowers danced by the millions in the wind. It
was almost impossible for even Deriae to believe his
world was in danger. How could he convince the
As Jans listened to his
friend, Liez Sjane, he tried to steer the other two
Rangins out of the zastrif garden and toward the pits at
the bottom of the hill.
“I’ve always supported
you before, Jans,” Sjane was saying.
“I’ve helped procure the
money you needed for your research. And when you wanted
the Council to revoke the law forbidding any kind of
life-sustaining drugs, I was your voice.” He paused and
rubbed two hands together. “But this…this I can’t do.
You’re growing old, Jans. And your mind is aging too.”
Sjane carefully avoided Deriae’s gaze as he spoke and
his red crest rippled as all Rangins’ did when they were
The third person made no
comment but Jans could see that, though he was trying to
be objective, he sided with Sjane. He was a head taller
than Deriae and almost as tall as Liez. Deriae had not
wanted to invite him but as President of the Council,
Qouiy Asderw would be useful as a Witness in case Sjane
proved difficult to handle.
“Are you trying to
suggest I am approaching senility?” Jans asked mildly.
He had to put his friend on the defensive.
“No, but I think you must
have reached the wrong conclusion,” Sjane said.
“From the data I have
gathered,” Deriae said icily, “there is only one
“I don’t see that at
Deriae struggled to
contain his anger. “I have devoted most of my life to
the study of this problem.”
Sjane looked at him with
“Yes, almost my entire
life! I have memorized every observation and measurement
that Evere recorded, and read every one of Desgrave’s
theories and writings about the stars and our universe.”
“And you believe Desgrave?
He spent the last thirty myuths of his life in an
asylum,” Sjane remarked.
“Desgrave was a genius
and Rangins do not treat genius kindly. We do not
readily accept the truth.” Even the Council recognized
his work, Deriae added to himself. Desgrave was
proclaimed a Master, an honor given to one scientist
every hundred myuths. Jans knew he would never join
Evere and Desgrave in receiving that honor, however.
They had lived in different times and Rangi had been
ruled by Councils that were not as anti-science as the
present one. Besides, Aviam Winsz had too much influence
in the Council. He alone would be an obstacle too great
“You’re different, I
suppose?” President Asderw said in a dry tone. “You
always recognize the truth instantly, don’t you?”
“When it reaches out and
plucks my feathers, I do.”
Sjane hesitated, flexed
his wings. They were unclipped, Jans noticed, though
Liez was beyond the age of flight. Sjane was slow to
admit his age.
By now their path had
brought them to the foot of the hill, where the pits
lay. Deriae sat down on a nearby stone bench and the
others followed his example
“OK,” Sjane continued,
“let’s assume you are right. What can we do about it?”
“I am not sure. All I
know is what I have told you. Our planet presently
receives most of its heat from a nearby star which
Desgrave simply called the sun. Now my calculations show
that Rangi has not always orbited this star. In fact,
Rangi’s present orbit is not a closed one at all, but
rather a hyperbola.” He paused, to magnify the effect of
his words. “Our planet does not belong to this sun! Once
Rangi circled a sun which is now inconceivably distant.
Sometime in our past Rangi traversed that great chasm of
emptiness. I do not understand how it was done. Our
civilization has not yet developed the technology needed
to transport an entire planet across that immense
distance. But someone possessed the knowledge; some
other civilization. It could only be the people we call
“What?” Sjane exclaimed.
“I believe that the key
must be in the Chamber of the Gods.”
“Are you suggesting that
we open the Chamber of the Gods?!”
“But the gods—”
“They were not gods;
merely members of an advanced race from some other
world. They did not mean for us to revere, or worship,
them; they came only as friends to help us.”
“Stars? Other worlds? I’m
sorry, but I can’t believe any of it.”
“I know what Desgrave
hypothesized—I’ve read his theories. He envisioned a
universe cluttered with thousands, perhaps millions of
stars, many of which might be surrounded by planets such
Deriae was surprised by
his friend’s knowledge and he must have let his feelings
show, for Sjane added:
“I’ve even read some of
your theories, Jans, though I don’t understand the
mathematics in many of them.”
“Then you must see I am
“I see nothing of the
kind. Face the facts, Jans, Rangi is our universe, our
entire universe. Your theories and Desgrave’s theories
are beautiful intellectual exercises and are very
interesting, but they are still wrong.” Sjane was too
dogmatic; Deriae knew he still had a chance. Whenever
Liez was unsure of himself, he became dogmatic.
“But there have been
hundreds of authenticated sightings of stars,” Jans
“I don’t deny that—there
is little doubt that they exist. However, I am sure they
are nothing more than atmospheric phenomena. You have
said many times we know so little about our upper
“True, but what is beyond
our atmosphere?” Deriae snapped. “What is beyond those
“Who cares? I don’t see
that it really matters.”
“I care. And you should,”
“You’re just being
“Call it what you like.
The future of our race depends on my stubbornness.”
Sjane shook his head and
flashed a hard smile. “I’ve had enough of this. It’s
difficult for me to believe a man of your intelligence
can be so obstinate.” He stood up.
“Then you will not
voluntarily bring my proposal before the Council?”
“I would be a fool to do
“All I ask is to be
allowed to examine the Chamber of the Gods.”
“That is impossible,”
Asderw interjected. “It is forbidden. No one has ever
“The lives of our
children are at stake.” Your children, Deriae thought.
He had often regretted not having children. Now he no
“Are you finished?” Sjane
Deriae scowled and walked
over to the glass wall that separated the three Rangins
from the pits. He stared down at the thousands of
mhinreqs teeming in the artificial chasms below.
According to legend the gods had built these pits, just
as they had built the five underground cities in which
all Rangins lived.
Jans studied the mhinreqs.
They were members of the only group of animals who could
not fly, chiefly because they were too big. However,
many of the bones necessary for wings were present just
below the shoulders, even though the mhinreqs had no use
for them. They were strictly ground animals and the main
source of meat for the Rangins.
As he stood there an idea
approached him. It had to do with the dyyplres—and the
mhinreqs. It was such a farfetched idea, he thought. But
the facts were there. The mhinreqs had primitive wing
bones. Was it possible that the dyyplres were ancestors
of the mhinreqs? Or more plausible yet, perhaps they
descended from an ancestor common to both, yet different
from both. And the same animal, gradually changing over
many thousands of myuths. Was it possible the Rangins,
like the mhinreqs, would one day lose the ability to fly
altogether? It was a strange idea, but utterly
fascinating. It also contradicted the current theory
that Rangin had been created 1,500 myuths ago, since the
earliest known records, which dated back 1,450 myuths,
described the mhinreqs and dyyplres as being identical
to their present forms. And neither had the Rangins
“Look at them!” Deriae
exclaimed suddenly, waving a hand at the mhinreqs. “If
the temperature drops another fifteen units, they will
die. Twenty units and most of the plants will die.
Thirty and only the very hardiest plants, which are
completely inedible, will survive. On the original jump
across space, the animals must have been kept below
ground level. There are immense grassy areas in each of
the five underground cities. These areas are now parks,
but once could have been grazing fields for the mhinreqs
and cropland for vegetables. But the planet was
internally heated then. Now it was not—at least not
enough. There cannot be a second jump.”
“It is a scientific
fact,” Deriae replied.
“But we are not
scientists,” Asderw said. “You do not expect us to
understand such matters. Isn’t that what you meant to
Deriae did not answer
immediately. “I am a member of the Natural Academy and
as such I have the right to demand a Council hearing
every five myuths,” he said.
“Did you bring me here to
demand I place your proposal on the agenda of the
Council?” Sjane asked with a spark of bitterness in his
“Yes. As a member, you
can do it much faster than I can. You can thank one of
your inane laws for compelling me to ask this of you,”
Deriae remarked. He paused. “The president is my
Asderw made no comment
but nodded slowly.
“It will destroy my
career,” Sjane said.
“I am not asking you to
help defend my position,” Deriae responded.
“That doesn’t matter. You
“I am truly sorry, Liez.
You are well respected in the Council and you are on the
agenda committee. It is within your power to schedule a
hearing for me far sooner than anyone else could. I must
have that hearing. I thought you would be willing to
help me. “It seems I must force you. I would rather not
do it but—”
The spark in Sjane’s eyes
flared into fire. “As you wish—I have no choice.”
Deriae glanced over at
Asderw, to bring the president along. If he had not,
Sjane might never have admitted that he had been
approached about the proposal. His career was worth too
much to him.
“I will bring your
proposal before the agenda committee tomorrow. You will
have your hearing within five days.” Sjane turned and
left, leaving ripples of anger behind him, ripples that
bounced off the pit walls and spread until a thin veil
of anger covered everything in the vicinity, including
Jans Deriae. So close, Jans thought. Success had not
been far away. Liez had almost agreed to his desire
willingly. It was not that Liez believed his dire
predictions, but because of the friendship between them,
a friendship which stretched back eighty myuths to the
time when, on a hunch, Jans had lent Sjane the money
necessary to finance his bid for a Council seat.
The president looked at
him. “An hour ago you had a friend; now you have an
enemy. I can’t blame Liez for his actions. Was it worth
“He is no enemy; he is
merely angry,” Jans said, but his thoughts were along
the same lines as the president’s.
He watched President
Asderw walk towards the Pit Sector III lift. Was it
actually worth the sacrifice to save an ungrateful
world? He had little time left in this life; he would
not survive to harvest any benefits.
He could not blame Liez
completely. After all, he had placed Liez in the
position of having to make an extremely difficult
choice, but then, he had done that to him before, and
Liez had always sided with him. But time changed
everyone. Liez had become at last like most of the other
Councilmen; too concerned with his own future, his own
career, to view new ideas objectively. The demon of
ambition had seized control of Sjane’s mind.
Deriae smiled once again,
a little sadly. He was hardly one to be thinking like
this. He was one person to whom nothing mattered but his
cold equations. He had devoted his life to writing
numbers in a book and now he might not even live to see
if his most momentous calculation was correct. He was
certain it was—he could find no mistakes or even hints
of mistakes—but wondered what relations a few numbers
could have with the reality of the universe.
He gazed up at the sky
and thought for an instant it was black and emblazoned
with stars. But it was only an old Rangin’s weary
imagination deceiving him.
turned and started the long trek uphill to his quarters,
knowing Rangi continued to sweep outward into the deep
(End of Sample Excerpt)
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