Dr. Robert B. Marcus Jr. - Author

 

 

 

 

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 same conclusion.

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 sijine.

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 and waned.

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 was.

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 Councilmen?

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.

Deriae nodded.

“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 uneasy.

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 conclusion.”

“I don’t see that at all.”

Deriae struggled to contain his anger. “I have devoted most of my life to the study of this problem.”

Sjane looked at him with surprise.

“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 to overcome.

“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 the gods.”

“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?!”

“Yes.”

“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.”

“But Desgrave—”

“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 as Rangi.”

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 right.”

“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 retorted.

“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 atmosphere. “

“True, but what is beyond our atmosphere?” Deriae snapped. “What is beyond those clouds?”

“Who cares? I don’t see that it really matters.”

“I care. And you should,” Deriae said.

“You’re just being stubborn, Jans.”

“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?” Deriae asked.

“I would be a fool to do so.”

“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 entered it.”

“The lives of our children are at stake.” Your children, Deriae thought. He had often regretted not having children. Now he no longer did.

“Are you finished?” Sjane asked coldly.

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 changed.

“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 say?”

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 eyes.

“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 Witness.”

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 don’t understand—”

“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 it?”

“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.

He turned and started the long trek uphill to his quarters, knowing Rangi continued to sweep outward into the deep interstellar night.

(End of Sample Excerpt)

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Copyright © 2013 by Robert B. Marcus Jr. All Rights Reserved.