The Fiction of Philip Kaveny
The last battle
Copyright Philip Kaveny 2015-04-04
First this novel in serial is dedicated to dictated to Glenn and Paul Norton in 1978, who both hated it, because like the Spartan child left to starve on the mountain of indifference it grew up very strong. (Ciel does need sky in French and I need someone who spiritually and physically resembles that character to donate a picture. I also need on for the character Pele who should be small but smart and tough like a wolverine.
The two Vernan female scientists desperately worked the archeological site on the planet Terra. They worked as if their lives depended on it, because they did, they had to translate the ancient Terran texts and find out how their meaning played out in every aspect of the Terran’s, because somehow the Terran’s, after fighting a hundred year nuclear war, turned away from war and all forms of institutional violence, though murder and street crime did not disappear.
Not only did their lives depende on it, but the life of every member of their expedition and every life on their planetary system because after three millenniums of peace, all hell was about to break lose. The accord that had worked since the mists of time, was starting to fracture, and the shock waves along its fault lines were cutting across their solar system, and threatened the delicate balance of geo planetary interests, which kept them all alive. In a very real sense, cultural change of tectonic force was cutting across their time and space and the purpose of the entire expedition was expressed in the imperative voice, as the falcon was about to escape the falconer, and the center could not hold, as their civilization poised on the edge of the abyss.
The Terrans had a secret that had become so integral to their lives and very existence that they no longer remembered it as part of their consciousness, yet they all them lived the secret every day of their lives. The Terrans had the secret and the Vernon’s needed to lean it or die. It seemed so simple; they had to learn to love one another more than they loved themselves, but, not in a simple pragmatic sense, that was what had broken down, and not in a religious sense, because religious conviction always led to self certitude, spiritual pride, and the destruction those who were branded as “other”.
Ciel and Pele was both scientists. Pele was the expedition leader, and Ciel was her assistant. They could not have been any more different in appearance or world view. Ciel was tall red haired and beautiful. Her legs were long with fine drawn muscles. Ciel could have been a swimmer or a high jumper, but she did not want to waste her time. Ciel had the latent talent to do nearly whatever she wanted and what she wanted to do was translate one language to another; something that even after a three thousand years computers, could still only perform badly. The trick, Ciel said was to convert meaning from one sign system to another, and not lose context in the process, and in the process she refuted the lie that meanings is conditional.
Pele was the only other soul on Verna who understood what the phrase “to translate from one sign system to another without losing meaning” meant, so she hired Ciel over a thousand others who clamored to be her assistant, even though nearly aspect of Ciel’s persona abraded against Pele’s very being. Ciel was just too much like Pele had been thirty years before, except that Pele was nearly a third of a meter shorter and fifteen kilos lighter, and in way reminded one of a gazelle. Pele was in her early fifties, and climbed the ladder power over scores of males, through force will, talent and a sense that politics were more than anything the art of the possible.
They were now working at one of the countless archeological sites on Terra, the kind natives simply ignore; much like a seventeenth century Scott might have found a Roman ruin. Perhaps they might poke around looking for treasure, but lose interest finding none.
Their home planet, Verna, was forty light years away. Still even in a starship with hyper space drive it was a two month trip like an ocean voyage in the first human age of sea exploration twelve centuries before. Like the voyagers before them, they had drawn themselves inward in order to survive in such close proximity to their fellow expedition members. Now they were a little warmer to each other.
Pele spoke first,
“Ciel what can you tell be about this site,”
Ciel did not answer immediately, and then she looked up at Pele, and said in a condescending voice,
“Pele if you don’t let me work I can’t tell you anything.”
“Okay” Said Pele as she continued as she ignored Ciel and continued talking in expository lumps,
“This site is the earliest post deluge site we have found. It seems to have been a kind of library or repository for the most precious text.”
Ciel looked up at her from her squatting position holding one of the text in her long delicate finger tips, as the sun seemed to catch her red hair and make it shine like burning copper bright as the sun itself and said,
“Tell me something I don’t already know, or stop wasting my time. I can’t work if you keep telling me what I already know”.
Then Ciel rasped under her breath,
“You old cave bat, I wish I never signed on with you, thirty years ago you may have been a big deal, but look at you now”
Ciel was wearing thin on Pele, and in a way she wished she had organized the expedition along hierarchical military lines. But she knew the rest of the team would not accept it from the start, so she suffered Ceils treatment but her patience was not that of Job.
But just at that instant, Ciel showed Pele why Pele had chosen her above all the others as she started to read from the pages she was working on as they turned to dust in her fingers. There would be this chance only to read, at least at this site. Ciel read in a poetic voice because that was the only way to give life to the twelve-century- old dead and crumbling text. So Ciel glanced at the pages she held in her hands one last time as they turned to dust.
After the last battle those who were able dug themselves out of the earth and crawled home, the others pulled the earth over their heads and slept forever. This is our chronicle, this is our fate, and we are the ones who did not die. We are the ones who tried to understand.
Ciel’s voice trailed off as Pele snapped at her impatiently,
“Ciel what does the rest say?”
As Ciel tried to translate the ancient script, it crumbled to dust in her hands, leaving only a light powder on her long thin fingertips.
Then Ciel wrinkled her brow and looked for an instant like she was forty-five rather than twenty-four.
Then she said,
“I wonder what they were talking about. I wonder where this site fits in with the rest of the dig.”
Ciel rose to her feet and continued,
“When I closed my eyes I could see them. I could see the Terran’s twelve-hundred years ago. But they were not like they are now; they had cities like ours, they had weapons, forged they said, by rebel angels too proud to serve God.”
Pele had waited the whole day for this moment, as any clever older person does when dealing with a talented and somewhat threatening subordinate and said,
“Ceil, poets are a dime a dozen, the bars are full of them on Verna, I don’t need a poet I need a translator.”
Pele had also been waiting a the entire day to say,
“The sun is setting. We have an hour run to the base camp, because we could freeze out in this desert, so strap on your gear and we have to triple time back to base camp”.
Ciel was really pissed off. She was used to being the star, she hungered to be called brilliant but it was like salt water to her thirst, no one had ever talked to her like this before. She looked at Pele, and she did not look like a little old lady. Far from it, she looked like a Wolverine, small menacing, now her hair did not look white it almost looked blue grey.
From the low mound, they could see the camp in the distance. The ship was a mere outline in the horizon. Ciel caught the sun in the mirror she held in her hand four times, and signaled base camp. It was answered by two slivers of light.
“Wouldn’t it be easier to carry a transmitter, or better yet travel in an airs sled?” asked Ceil.
Pele was relentless with her answer
“That is why you will spend the rest of your life as someone’s flunky technician.”
Pele’s voice deepened,
“I have had four cycles of students just like you and they all ended up in someone’s institution chopping mud off of pot shards.”
Ciel thought of tipping the older woman over. The expression “Ass over teakettle”, so to speak, came to Ceil’s mind. But, there was something in the way that Pele easily balanced her weight on the balls of her feet that made Ciel think better of it.
Instead Ciel lashed out with her tongue.
“What do you know about science you old cave bat, what do you know about anything when was the last time you got laid?”
“Old cave bat,”
Thirty years before Pele was just as beautiful as Ceil, though things were much harder then. It had taken her half a lifetime to get where she was, but she did not have time to explain it all to Ceil, it was not part of the mission.
The shadows were getting dangerously long and the shape of the ship seemed completely out of sight.
“Save your strength Ciel we have a long run back to camp, and I don’t think I can carry you”.
Ciel meant to run the old woman into the ground, for every one of Ceils long strides Pele’s short legs easily made two.
“Tall beauties with long legs have it so easy. Run. Run. Can’t you keep up with these old short legs?
Ciel did not say anything, but her side felt likes someone was twisting a spear into it. They ran a couple of more kilometers and Ciel collapsed holding her side and gasping like someone saved from drowning. Pele had seen it happen many times before and knew that she could not push Ciel any farther.
They would have to spend the night away from the rest of the party. As Pele helped Ciel to her feet, she thought out loud
“They always ask the same stupid questions; always the same stupid questions. We don’t carry a sled because it is too heavy, but more importantly before you can understand a people, you must walk their land as they did. You must sense their footsteps and hear their voices.
They must be shapes just on the edge of the horizon and only then can you start to bridge across time and know a people. Forget your toys, your sleds and your transistors. They’re all extra weight on your ship.”
Ciel could not talk well and it was hard for her to move.
Then she said softly.
“Pele, I could have studied with any of them. I was first in everything. But I chose you. We have all read you since we were children, so I chose you.”
“No, Ceil, I chose you. I made you come to study with me. Test, test, what do I care about firsts in tests. You can read Terran Languages. Now we must make a shelter before we freeze. Ciel could walk now and helped Pele inflate the bag that they would sleep in. They both removed all of their outer clothing to keep the heat from being conducted away from their bodies. They were both uneasy at the closeness and warmth of the other. Each found the shape of the other’s body strange but reassuring. Ceil, obviously, a bit uncomfortable, started a series of questions which Pele, at first, ignored.
“Is this the last time you are going out? Why don’t you just teach at the institute? They all worship you there. They say you’re afraid of something, though.”
Pele answered in a drowsy voice.
“When you get older you will find that you must make things simple in your mind. You cannot think about all questions at once.”
” Yes, this will be my last trip out and when I go back, I intend to spend my time with my children and grandchildren and eventually I intend to spend my time making friends with death. I will have nothing to do with the institute.”
Pele was now almost talking in her sleep.
“Why are we here?”
“We are here to hunt for an idea, to look for substance and the origin of the myth of the Law of Love. They had the power to destroy themselves and they used it. They threw it away too. They have not fought a war for three thousand years. They have no written language now but they have passed on as legend “
Ciel was nearly asleep now and Pele was talking to herself.
“For a while they kept their language, but now it is lost and we must read it.
You can read some of their language and perhaps in this forbidden area, we can find out how this legend was written. Most of them seem to remember the legend even now they are not warlike. We will try to connect their past with what they are now. But now we must…”
Ciel was sound asleep on her shoulder. For the first time Pele realized how young and beautiful she was. Pele hoped Ciel would not be scraping someone’s pot shards in a few years.
Pele was very tired and shared the blackness of the sky ’til the first glow of morning turned the sandy expanse before her into a sparkling sea of light.
The walk back to base camp took half a day. Both Pele and Ciel were now a little cold towards each other. Ciel found herself torn between feelings of hatred and admiration towards Pele.
She thought “Is this what I really want to be in twenty years?”
Ciel thought that she had said too much the night before. She felt that she had laid out the purpose of her lifelong mission against the blackness of the night sky and the night sky cared nothing of it. The silence was in a sense comfortable for both of them. Neither chooses to break the brittle wall between them.
As they rounded a small hill they were upon the landing site and base camp the ship’s surface was scored from recently entering the atmosphere. Its shape was that of a small cylinder 60 meters high and 10 meters thick with stubby wings to slow its decent and an organic shield which regenerated sixty days after it was burned away. Trans light would have made a difference in their ages on a longer journey but in this case it was negligible.
Ilya, the navigator and cartographer, a red-haired female with thick wrists, strong legs and a wrinkled forehead, looking rather strange bent over a table full of ancient parchment maps. She looked as if she could be cutting marble or laying bricks rather than struggling with ancient maps. Cal, the pilot and information specialist, was just breaking off contact with Verna III.
“I have nothing to report nothing to report at all. I think the council is happy to have us out here to chase that abominable myth. It is just their idea of a bad joke.”
He slammed the receiver down on the transmitter and walked in the general direction of Ciel and Pele. He saw them and spoke abruptly.
“What did you find out there?”
He asked sarcastically in a series of rapid fire staccato questions.
“Did you have a vision?” “Is it all clear now? Did God talk to you in the desert?”
Cal was a nasty little man whom the rest tolerated not out of fear, but, because of his nastiness, they could treat each other better. Any act of civility or kindness made them look like saints in comparison.
“I don’t give a rat’s cock for this project. I never wanted to be assigned to you, Pele, but you had to pull strings. I was fully happy flying cargo until I ran into you, instead of being trapped with this troop of women, on this primitive back water the call a planet”
“You should be a little more careful who you go home with. You never know where or with whom you may wake up.”
She smiled with a twinkle in her eyes,
“Nobody put a phazer to your head; nobody made you take this job,”
Cal growled in a stage whisper knowing that at least for that moment he had met his match,
“Ben Franklin the greatest philosopher of Terran was wrong. He was completely wrong about old ladies”
Pele was out of her role as exhibition chief and liking it a lot as she said,
“Oh so sorry I guess you were expecting gratitude on my part, and now you claim you were Shanghaied
Cal released an exasperated sigh, and then,
He sighed and asked again, “Did you find anything at all out there?”
He sort of hated the fact that he was interested,
The exhibition was the only game in town and he had a part of it.
“We found an inscription but it fell apart before we could date it. It could be any age. I wish we had brought a carbon dater.”
“Yes and an anti-matter powered magnetic levitator, so I didn’t have to carry the forking thing around ”
“They’re only accurate plus or minus a thousand years.”
“Ciel looked at Cal and said something that she wished she would not have, but she said it anyway, she just could not stop herself.
“Cal you use anti-matter powered magnetic levitator, to levitate yourself.
It was one of those moments when time stops, she wondered what horrible thing he would say or do to her, Cal came very close to her, and looked up into her eyes, he was old enough to be her uncle and he was built like bag of door knobs. But then he laughed the laughter of the Gods and just sang hi a harsh yet strangely musical voice, an Irish song which had spread across the galaxy since it was first sung by Irish fisherman untold millennia before
“Women, women, women, Rubin, Rubin, I been think what a wonderful world it would be, if all you women were transported far beyond the stellar sea. “
Pele spoke as if she were giving a graduate seminar, giving Cal a look of condescending indulgence, the kind that brilliant and confident women give to men who remind them of deck apes.(that’s is to say men whose knuckles seemed to reach their knees. She only did it because in a way his almost alien intelligence and lack of deference always kept her off balance.
“I think it is real and blends with the rest of the sights.”
“ I think it was written after the last battle,” Said Ceil.”
Cal shrugged and stuttered to himself,
“She will have me believing it too, if I stay here long enough.”
Cal was not really suited for much besides flying a space craft. His knees were bad, barely able to support his short ungainly but powerful body, but he had been the best pilot on Verna III before he lost this ship on a simple dice throw and been banned from piloting commercial flights for recklessness and bad judgments
The only thing he was allowed to do was taken out expeditions and he wished he had stayed home the night he went out and was seduced into pilot this one. Cal climbed back into the ship to think of great cities and sky harbors where one could win a fortune on a fall of the dice.
There was not much action for him on Terra. He also missed the soft skinned compliant females who hung around every space port, for a quite reasonable fee they would they make him feel at least for a little while as if he had led the most interesting life in eternity. In doing this he had always cheated himself out of what he wanted most yet never allowed himself to have, and now he was certain it was too late. Cal went to his quarters a very sad lonely little man.