There was a Time before the world was stone…
There was a Time when birds of flame rose from pits of the same, soaring from cavern to chasm, spreading fire with their wings; nigh invisible in the furnace that was the world. There was a Time when life bled from the earth, burning the ground alive.
Those birds are gone now, and the world has grown old and rigid. Where it was soft and warm, it was now hard and cold. They thought of her as a Mole, but in her heart she was the Phoenix…
In the faint light of the cave, sulfur drifted from underground pockets, caressing her cheek and tearing up her eyes.
She donned her helmet before placing the drill directly between her legs. A subzero draft whistled its way from the mouth of the caves, high above and far behind her, along the narrow halls and sent a rare shiver through her neck and shoulders.
The motion of the drill freed stones in small clusters, sprinkling around her feet. The smell of sulfur intensified as a hole started to appear in the rock; a gust of smoke rose through it, revealing the familiar red glow underneath. She raised her helmet long enough to spit through the crack, her saliva turning almost instantaneously to a puff of mist, raised her boot heel and brought it down hard on the fragile crust. Rock gave way beneath her feet, she tossed the drill on her back, stretched her arms along side her body and let herself drop.
The school day had ended early, Rina tripped over a small flowerpot, sending dirt and seeds flying around her as she fell. The sun was setting over the ocean behind her; ahead Bees were covering the fields under protective sheets of electric threads, over and around the plantations. In a few minutes the sun would set, the sheets would register the drop in heat and light and disperse electricity through their threads, shedding light and heat on the plants for the night. In the morning they would deactivate with sunrise, the Bees would remove them, and tend the plants until sunset.
Water was channeled through thin tubes from the giant cisterns by the mountain, heated to keep the water flowing at night and distributed to the plants through irrigation veins dug along the rows of vegetables and fruit.
The Bees work was down to five months a year, her father joked that they would not be busy Bees much longer. She had asked what that meant, an old saying he said, Bees must have been busy some day, go figure.
After the summer the Ants would blast the plantation, bringing up fresh soil, Bees would sow it, and install the sheets for several weeks, tending to the plants only when there were signs of growth until even the artificial heat could not keep the cold out of the ground and the water; meanwhile, Bee women and children would secure the produce from the summer and organize it in rations before submitting reports to the Council for distribution. Male Bees would move further southeast, behind the mountain for grazing until the winter.
A hand grabbed her by the neck and yanked her off the ground.
“Why, you little…”
Rima turned to stare into the face of an angry old Bee.
A young man rushed in, whispering something in the old man’s ear. Rina could not make out his words clearly, something about Mole girls, rushed talk, and something about Hades. Whatever it was, it mollified the old man, who put her down, and dusted his hands. He looked down at her strangely, turned on her, and walked away without a word. The younger man patted her on the head.
“Don’t worry about him little girl, cold is working his joints, he gets like that sometimes…but, you!” Rina jumped to attention. “What’s you’re name?”
“Well Rina, I’m Dan, and you need to do two things, one of them is watch your step, that’s food for the colony you just spilled. Understand?” Rina nodded vigorously. “Good, the second is to get home before nightfall. You Moles are really easy with your girl children, but besides your mother, you got Beasts to worry about along the way, now scram!”
Rina ran through the Bee neighborhood on the outskirts of the colony, through the Beasts quarters and followed the smell of smoke around the mountain to where the Moles resided, guarded and dug the Divine Undertaking.
The caves were safe, safe and warm, through the storms and the winters, through the cyclones and the floods, ever higher, ever fewer, but safe, and warm.
At night children would cower from Azhi-Dahaka’s fetid breath, and his evil master Zahak; and they would dream of Fereydoon and Kaveh, of Maccabee, and David. Sometimes, a whale would break the waters in the distance, and mothers would cradle their children at the edge of a cave, and speak of Jonah, sitting in its stomach, waiting for the waters to recede.
Stories meant to keep children alert, to keep them calm, while unrelenting, the world unraveled outside.
Sometimes the waters would pull back for months allowing them to grow meager things. Sometimes the waters would leave things behind, littering the mountainous flanks with old objects; they found use for everything. But the waters always returned, only to rise higher, pushing them deeper into the caves and higher into the mountains. Azhi-Dahaka’s breath became a beacon, a scent that led them to safety, to warmth, and the comfort of the Cave.
The common room was empty when she cracked the door open. She shut it quietly behind her and rushed to her room, staying there until noises drifted through the door: Hadar, her sister of fourteen and two years her elder, warming up the stove in the small kitchen by the window.
Her room was windowless, on the top floor of a three-story house, built against and inside the mountain wall; there was just enough room for her bed, a small table to study, and a string to hang her clothes. Each of her three sisters had rooms of their own, which made her brothers horribly jealous, boys shared their rooms, and with six brothers, Rina’s few square feet were the envy of most of her male siblings.
“Hadar, take some rest, I’ll warm up the stove.”
She heard her sister shuffle her feet to a chair and breathe deeply. The pregnancy was weighing heavily on her, and now that her 4th mother was between children, she could relieve her of domestic duties.
“Rina?! Get out here!”
Chaya’s voice drew her into the common room.
“How was school?” She asked. Her smile slid from Rina to Hadar and back.
“Fine.” Rina smiled back warmly at her 3rd mother. Chaya was a loving woman, and had recovered well from carrying Noah, her strength was returning, and she could get back behind the stove. Hadar made a pale cook, and Rina had never really met her 2nd mother. She had stayed with them less than a year, died in childbirth and lost the baby; Rina’s father was her third husband. It was fortunate for her father that Chaya’s husband had passed and she needed a new home.
“You done with your homework?”
Rina nodded hesitantly happy that Chaya had turned her attention back to the stove, lying to Chaya was half of what she considered homework, and she would have recognized Hadar’s grunt for doubt at her sister’s honesty. Rina winked at Hadar, who smiled faintly, and pulled herself up to look out the kitchen window.
Mole quarters spread east and west below the Divine Undertaking. Beneath them stood the Ant, Beast and Bee neighborhoods, on a lower ridge below the Mole District, opening on the plantations. Stretching all the way down to the lower plateau before the cliff, the Fish quarters still occupied most of the colony, and ended in a perimeter wall, circling the settlement, manned day and night by Fish armed guards. Beyond the wall, smaller Fish communities dotted the edge of the cliff, overlooking the waters that were the world.
From the kitchen window, she could see down passed the narrow streets of the Mole quarters, all the way to the furthest Fish settlements, distinguishable only by the faint lights in the pitch darkness, dwarfed by the brilliance of the colony.
Rina’s mother had died two years earlier. After delivering Rina her health deteriorated, she could no longer bear as many children, nor could she offer any contribution to the Divine Undertaking. Community members had tried to convince her father to let her go, but he had stuck to her in spite of their advice.
Dror and Ora, Rina’s mother, had five children between the two of them. Rina had two younger sisters and two younger brothers from her mother, three older brothers and an older sister from a woman she had never met whom Dror had married before Ora. With Chaya’s baby boy, Noah, asleep in her father’s room they totaled at ten.
The frail woman lying in bed most days, sick and heaving on others, as Rina painfully remembered her mother, and her 2nd mother after her, was disappearing to Chaya’s warm smile and food.
Hadar’s stomach had started to bulge; she would be sent to her husband’s home once his wife had passed. In the meantime, Chaya was happy to have someone around the house helping her, first while she delivered and recovered, and now more than ever with Noah piercing the neighborhood with screams, to help her stay sane. Rina looked up, her 3rd mother was leaning over the window, her face tense and hard.
“Rina.” she said without turning away from the street. “Go fetch your little sisters, your father and brothers are coming up. Get the table ready.“
Bless the grain from Neptune’s winds
Bless the bread from Hades’ warmth
Bless the seeds sown by our hands
Freeze the world and warm our hearts
Dror had left the table early followed by Chaya, leaving Rina and her siblings to finish the meal alone.
After a few minutes of silence, Rina asked for permission to go to the bathroom. She walked to the small hallway where her father’s room stood across from the restroom, pretended to slam the door, tiptoed across the hall, and stuck her ear to a small crack in the wooden door.
“…losing it…get worse everyday…forget their orders and beat us for not following them, forget why they are beating us halfway through and beat us for it…”
Her father coughed heavily, a wet, pulpy sound that made Rina’s dinner lurch in her stomach.
“Rest, husband.” Chaya said.
Rina checked the hall, and listened for footsteps from the dinner table, when she was sure they were still all seated, she glued her eye to the crack, trying to get a glimpse of her father.
Only bits of him were visible, and steam blew through the crack, filing the room. His face disappeared intermittently; Chaya’s hand wiping his brow and face with a damp cloth. Steam rose from the bowl at the foot of the bed by her toes. Dror caught his breath between fits of coughing.
The cough was getting worse, Rina could not make out the words her father made, and stumbled forward when her 3rd mother pulled the door open.
“Rina!” She started.
“It’s alright.” Dror interjected. “It’s alright…let her in…you get Eitan…I’ll talk to him…later.”
Chaya gave her a long look, as if her 3rd mother was seeing her for the first time, not as her child to care for, one in a long list of many, but as something else.
She shoved her way into the room, pushing past her 3rd mother, diverting her eyes from that uncommonly long and appraising look, and up to her father’s bed.
The shadows that danced on Dror’s face by the candlelight dinner revealed deep bruises under the brighter electric light of his room. He coughed up blood and doubled over. Rina yelped.
“It’s ok sweetheart…just Hades…bubbling up…haha…nothing…we haven’t seen in the caves.” He attempted a smile, but his lips twisted in a rictus as he tried to stop himself from hacking up more blood.
Rina rose, pushing her chair back and knocking it over. A knock rang at the door, and her oldest brother, Eitan, walked in. She ran into his arms and started crying. Eitan rested a hand on her head and ran it through her hair. Hadar was standing in the doorstep, her eyes weary and wet.
“It’s gonna be alright Rina.” Eitan tried to reassure her, but her father chose that moment to go into a bout of damp, raspy breaths. Hadar walked in and drew her out of her brother’s arms. She would not let go; Eitan forced her to the door with Hadar’s help, and closed it on them. The sliver of light under the door went out, and Rina heard a whisper coming from the room followed by another fit of coughing.
A storm brewed on the horizon when she walked into the common room in the morning. Sirens were ringing from the perimeter wall, warning the rest of the colony to the incoming onslaught of wind and water. From beyond the wall, the wind carried the sound of Fish drummers beating at the storm, a thumping of sticks on goatskin, rising and falling with the gusts of wind, deep rhythmic pounds, followed by staccatos of rapid-fire drumming between sirens.
Dror, Eitan and the rest of her brothers were already underground and would not come back until the tempest had abated. In a few minutes, a Priest would come a knock to home-school the girls for the duration of the storm. Chaya rose from her chair and shut the window when wind began to knock candles over, and blew cutlery off the table. Rina sat down to drink a cup of warm tea, a spatter of red dots sprinkled the table where her father sat less than an hour earlier; she reached over, most of the stains were dry, some still sticking wetly under her finger, she scrubbed them frantically with her pocket tissue, removing some, leaving little pieces of lint glued to the table over others.
She scrubbed until the Priest knocked and Hadar went to open the door for him, and scrubbed until his hand stopped her, and he sat at the table.
 For Moles, mothers are counted by the women married to your father starting from your own mother (unqualified), Rina and Hadar have different mothers, Hadar is also Rina’s older sister, therefore, Chaya is Rina’s 3rd mother and Hadar’s fourth.
 Priests and Priestesses do not have a separate residential area; they reside within each community.
 Residents of the colony are by culture troglodytic (cave dwellers). Housing arrangements outside the caves reflect that cultural specificity. Houses are partially dug inside the mountain walls, and often connected by short tunnels dug between houses (aboveground) and sky bridges connecting rooftops. Only the Fish maintain outposts outside the perimeter wall.
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