Hell_or_High_Lava

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 2 (v.1)

Submitted: October 01, 2013

Reads: 160

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Submitted: October 01, 2013

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Narcissus leaned over the pond, catching his own reflection in the stillness of the water. Water had not always been still; his Will and his Will alone had made it so. What trees would not bend to it would crack, what water did not still to it would spill, and the land would bear forth the fruits of his desires, lest it withers and dries, and crumbles from sand to dust, and dust to powder and dissolves before his Will.

 

Narcissus leaned over the pond, catching his own reflection in the stillness of the water. But the sun rose high above and reflected in the water, blinding him to his image. So he set about to mask the sun, and built walls around the pond, and a roof over his head so the sun would bother him no more.

 

Narcissus leaned over the pond, catching his own reflection in the stillness of the water, and the shade of the roof. But the waters were dark, and the weather grew cold. So he set about to start a fire to warm himself, and mock away the sun.

 

Narcissus leaned over the pond, catching his own reflection in the stillness of the water, and the shade of the roof, and the warmth of the fire. But the smoke burned his eyes, and the roof stopped the air, and the water grew warm, and from its depths rose a shape, a shape that was a hand, a hand that was a fist, and Neptune drew Narcissus into the pond, into the boiling waters which bubbled and bled, fiercer and louder and higher until they killed the fire, burst through the roof, put out the sun and spilled over the world…announcing a new Time.

 

Narcissus’ Folly

 

__________________________________________________________________________________

 

“Rina! Rina Arfazadeh?!”

 

A short, blond girl walked out behind the Priestess, her head low, but smiling faintly. Rina stood up.

 

Hadar had left only a few days after the storm. Dror had never come back. Eitan had not said, but almost two years later sitting in the Priestess’ anteroom[1], waiting for her Fertility & Fitness Evaluation, she could still feel the honey-like stickiness of his drying blood on the table, tingling under her fingertip. The Priest’s dismissive look at it, raising his eyebrows cynically as if telling her to grow up, before lapsing into Mole female duties, brought something up in her, and it was shaking with memory that she walked into the medical room.

 

It was her first time in a medical room. Mole medical facilities were less clustered, and admitted only girls and women. This room had a bed larger and longer than her own or her father’s, Eitan’s now, and medical equipment she had never seen and did not understand.

 

A group of Ants were busying around the machines, making last minute checks before leaving Rina alone with the Priestess. She pulled a chair behind a table, and sat in front of a list of names on a sheet.

 

“Grab a seat girl. Rina Arfazadeh, have you turned fourteen yet?”

 

Rina looked down at the paper and smiled inside. Why else would I be here?

 

“Yes, Priestess.” She answered meekly.

 

Her inner smile must have broken through, because the Priestess’ face hardened. She slammed the pencil down and grabbed Rina’s chin pulling her forward, scanning her face with her eyes, never focusing on any specific part.

 

“Are you even fresh, girl?”

 

Rina struggled with her grip, frightened by the dizzying effect of trying to lock eyes with the Priestess.

 

“Are you even fresh?! Girl!”

 

Rina was fresh. Eitan had refused to keep Chaya after Dror passed, claiming she was not, or not enough. Noah was her only child with Dror, but she had twelve other children from her two previous husbands, and Eitan was right to think she would not be as good a wife or mother than a younger girl. Later Rina had asked Hadar what fresh meant. Rina had giggled that it must tickle; Hadar had not answered, but smiled at her sister and pulled her head to her stomach…

 

“Feel that?” she asked.

 

The child in Hadar’s stomach moved, and kicked under Rina’s cheek.

 

“Yeah!” Rina replied.

 

Hadar ran her hand through her hair.

 

“If it’s a boy, only nine more and I’ll be off pregnancy duty.” She said.

 

Rina smiled up at her.

 

“Then I hope it’s twins!”

 

The Priestess let go of her face, and she rocked back into the chair. Hadar was pregnant for the third time now, and both children were girls. The Priestess ticked her name off the list.

 

“We’ll find out soon enough if you let Narcissus tempt you girl. Makes my job easier if you have.” She nodded over Rina’s shoulder. “Head over to that bunk and take off your skirt.”

 

________________________________________________________________________________

 

Narcissus’ Folly drew Neptune’s ire and destroyed Hermes’ gifts, glimmers of intellect turned machine, from a Time when the world was right.

 

The casts evolved out of necessity, from the skills and tidbits of knowledge they held on to and salvaged. When children got too question-some, and mothers could not answer, they turned to those with books, when the children grew warm and they could not cool them, they turned to those who knew medicine and herbs, when they did not know where to look to in times of despair, they turned to those with religion, and from those came the Priests.

 

When the trucks broke down, they loaded their equipment onto carts and wagons, and when they could not use those, they dragged and carried them. When batteries ran out, when machines fell apart, when there was no more drinking water, they turned to those with screwdrivers and hammers, with knowledge of physics and thermo-dynamics, of filters and recycling, and from those came the Ants.

 

When the food ran out, and the wind blew everything away outside, when they could no longer scavenge from abandoned buildings and fields, they turned to those with knowledge of roots and seeds, of animals, insects and lizards, those who could grow wonders from small patches of dirt, and make a meal of the most unsavory creatures, and from those came the Bees.

 

In every community there are those whose skills are lesser, whose intellect is less sharp, who are stronger and duller, but no less valuable, and from those came the Beasts….

 

_____________________________________________________________________________

 

She looked up to the door from the couch, and put down her drink. There was something familiar about the man who entered the comfort house. She felt an invisible hand pat her head, a sense of confusion, and being admonished. Dan!

 

The man smiled at her; if he recognized her he gave no sign. She remembered falling, it seemed a long time ago but could not have been more than four years, of being picked up and saved from a hideous old man by a handsome young hero. What would that hero turn into inside these walls?

 

______________________________________________________________________________

 

…In every community there are those whose skills are misplaced, whose intellect is mostly guile and cunning, who are stronger but brutal, or simply selfish, greedy or stupid, who seem unredeemable, but not without their uses. From those came the Moles, useful enough not to throw to the lava pits, or drown for their crimes…

 

________________________________________________________________________________

 

Eventually, you give up on heroes.

 

_________________________________________________________________________________

 

…They died by the dozen, and as they grew larger, by the hundreds, at the Fish’s whips and fists, and boots, to stone falls and lava spills, leaving only a trailing scream and lingering echo when they fell, or no sound at all, every day paying Narcissus debt, every day and night digging, burrowing, drilling life through stone. And as they grew larger, as the Ants seemingly wished new wonders out of rock and metal; first they carved humble homes under the mountains, and uncovered underground water streams, then cleared giant caves for crops, and connected complex tunnels, built low hanging bridges over thousand foot drops, and high hanging bridges over magma flows, staircases spiraling into glowing darkness and rising to unseen ridges, and never seeing the sun, in the true light of Hades’ heart, and the Comfort of the Cave.

 

And the Fish never relented, and many more died. Died for the community, died for their families, died for amusement. Died because life was hard and Fish temper was short, and some just died because their time had come. Hades claims us all, but claims Moles first.

 

They were called the Children of Narcissus before they were Moles, just as the Ants were the Children of Hermes before they were Ants, but they knew themselves to be the Children of Hades, and when Neptune’s Time had passed, they would rise.

 

When the waters started receding, eventually freeing the lower ridges and the broad plateau that were to become the colony, the Moles ordeal worsened. Fish power grew as they explored more waters, and with time, their behavior became increasingly erratic and mysterious, but always more violent. Their demands for the colony were overwhelming, and the Priests would not relinquish the caves…

 

___________________________________________________________________________

 

 “…and then what?” “Then? Haven’t you listened? Then we…”

 

The conversation had started before she’d even left the room. The two Beasts inside were fools, or did they think her as deaf and mute as the couch she lounged on between passes? Furniture has few privileges, listening in on sex-drunk, over-confident patrons could be. She would not be the first girl to curry favor with the Fish by reporting to them things said carelessly by patrons from other casts. Life is made of little things; people waste it looking for the one big thing instead of building it themselves out of tiny moments.  She was one of those things now, a tiny thing, and a short moment.

 

The Priestess had confirmed Rina’s freshness with a hint of disappointment; it would have made her job easier indeed if she had let Narcissus tempt her, but not by much. The Fertility & Fitness test was conclusive. Rina was barren, and for barren women, the choices were simple, either leave for another cast, hoping a male Ant, Bee, Beast or Fish would take an unfertile woman for wife, living the life of a house slave; or the comfort houses, where you would be cared for, fed, and lodged until you were too old to serve the house’s patrons and served there as a maid. Un-fresh Mole girls did not get to choose, having chosen Narcissus over Hades.

 

She had chosen the comfort house as much out of ignorance of what it implied as out of fear of living her life at the hands of non-Moles and their families, at the mercy of libidinous husbands, jealous wives, cruel children, and the mockery of other Moles. Her mothers had told her about cast outs, at least you can eat goats, when a goat dies you can skin it for its hide, Rina had added that goats were also too stupid to know better. Her 2nd mother had liked that, even as she was bleeding internally, dying from a failed pregnancy.

 

Shutting the door behind her, she stepped onto the balcony overlooking the common room. Rina doubted she would have chosen otherwise even if she had known. An older woman bumped into her, cursing something under her breath, and disappeared into a room, letting smoke and the hint of string-music drowned in male and female voices drift out into the hallway. She avoided the common room and headed for the staircase.

 

Rina went to her room in the basement, where all the girls bedded. When she had first seen her room, almost six years earlier, she had giggled, remembering what Hadar had told her about her freshness, and pounced on the soft, large bed that was to be hers, in a room with five other young Mole girls. The room had been empty when the Priestess handed her off to one of the maids to show her to the girls’ quarters, and start her training.

 

Comfort houses were located throughout the colony, inside the Priest residential areas, except for the Fish quarters. Fish men would patron the houses on occasion, but Fish held more store by blood and family than any other cast, kept a closed lid on matters inside their community, and seldom wandered out of their quarters outside of their administrative duties.

 

There were no windows in the basement, but all the rooms on the upper floors had views over the colony and onto the ocean. The better rooms had verandas, and the best rooms, for councilmen, larger balconies. Girls were only allowed to leave once a year for two weeks to visit their fathers[2], and were thus especially fond of the councilmen.

 

Training lasted for a year, night after night. Try though she did, there are some things you can never learn, but of the few she did, that some things could not be unlearned. That the body had a memory. Some lessons just stay etched into the skin, no matter how many showers you take, how many drinks you have, no matter how hard you scratch, through the dermis to the raw nerve, some itches never stop, and you learn to live with a prickling under your skin, and when the shaking stops, the sobs subside, either the itch becomes energy, or you scratch yourself to death.

 

_________________________________________________________________________________

 

There were always fewer Fish patrons; the other districts were no longer safe for them. For hundreds of years the Fish had guided the community, warning it to storms weeks before they happened, sharing visions of the future that kept them all alive, visions that allowed them to navigate the deepest waters and return laden with bounty. The other casts used to worship the Fish, offering them their daughters and sending them their youngest children to be initiated, and if worthy, become Fish some day. It used to be an honor to serve a Fish. But not anymore.

 

The Dream, the state of trance in which they claimed to catch glimpses of Neptune’s plan in their sleep, was taking over their daylight hours, disrupting council decisions, and their overseeing duties, their predictions ever less reliable and intelligible. How many crops had they lost because the Fish could not agree or could not be bothered to care? How many lives lost to the storms? How many Moles beaten to death for failing the Divine Undertaking? Why would they care? Floating away in the ocean, lost to their musings and wanderings. Rina suspected that they might, if only they were aware of the gravity of their condition.

 

Fish went missing now, and inevitably the blame landed on the comfort houses, but they took it out on the Moles laboring at the Divine Undertaking. Fish patrons were treated with care and deep wariness, kept a close eye on when they walked away from the comfort house, and still more went missing, were found dead, and more went over the edge.

 

She could not see through her eye, but felt the pain on her face; she passed her tongue timidly on the torn flesh above her lips, stinging herself.

 

When the Dream took over, Fish could be unpredictable, some would freeze mid-motion, some would drop unconscious for minutes or hours. Those would go over the edge soon, days, weeks maybe if they were lucky, but not much longer. She knew to tell the signs. Fish had tried to hide what happened to all of them sooner or later, but it was a hushed secret now, and every time Fish drums rose on quiet nights, she knew whom they were wishing away. But when they did not freeze or faint…

 

She cleaned blood out of her left eye enough to see herself in the mirror. The lower half of her face was covered in it; the bite to her lower lip had torn most of the skin off.

 

She knew it was not their fault, that when they came to, they could not recall what had happened, and the look on their face told her all she needed to know about what they saw in hers. Sometimes, on good nights, just her fear, and sometimes, the reason for that fear. Those would walk over the cliff by the morning, perhaps as soon as on their way home, they would never come back. Some left the room running, some backed away slowly, it made no difference to her, on those nights she needed medical assistance, and several days rest. She used to look for sympathy, but they never apologized, there was never a measure of pity, just shock, and sometimes a faint echo of her fear, but not a hint of an apology, never a sliver of empathy, the Dream was all-consuming. When drums rolled on those mornings she would not hear them, there were no windows in the basement.

 

She held herself up against the wall, leaving bloody fingerprints on the stone; her vision blurred, she slipped, her hand went to the glass in front of her, she leaned her weight on it, but her fingers slid down and smeared the mirror. Some Fish had their favorites; knowledge that this would be his last visit helped her cross over into limbo, but it would not heal her wounds.

 

______________________________________________________________________________

 

In the early days, it was despair that drove people over the edge. It was insanity driven by hunger, cold and death that made a few daring refugees brave the elements and dive into the murky, angry waters that slowly ate away at their homes and memories.

 

The Fish, Children of Neptune, or so they claimed, were revered for their bravery, but largely regarded as severely unhinged.

 

The Fish brought food from the sea to complement the meager meals Bees would scrounge from the caves, but it rapidly dawned that the sea creatures were not edible anymore. When Fish would haul a giant carcass from the waters, sometimes dragging it still lashing about and fretting into the caves, hunger would overcome their fear, and they would find use for its bones, inner organs and teeth, once the flesh was gone and consumed, and when children first complained of stomach aches, of violent, searing pains, they remembered how hungry they were and the warm feeling in their stomachs, and threw caution to the winds that would not stop beating them, but when able-bodied males and females started dying, when children were born with deformities, then they realized that they could no longer depend on the sea for sustenance.

 

The Fish’s role changed. The Bees became more adept at sustaining food for the community, and the Ants’ steady labor at perfecting remnants from the old world allowed the Fish to remain underwater, deep, and for longer periods of time, searching no longer for food, but for the ruins Neptune saw fit to leave behind, in cities, factories, buildings or tunnels: rusty pieces of equipment, glass, plastic, metal, old batteries, fuel and power sources of any kind. Anything that could be salvaged was handed over to the Ants to be melted down, fixed, or recharged. Through their mutual collaboration the colony made leaps, and survived through the brunt of Neptune’s anger.

 

The Fish’s responsibilities were few in the early days, and someone had to supervise the Moles. The Fish became responsible for monitoring their progress and reporting to the Priests who held sway over decisions made by the colony. Gradually the Fish began overseeing Moles’ labor in a more direct manner, making them the Moles’ masters, a title no cast acknowledged, but taken for granted by the Fish, and never questioned, to the point where Priests could not make decisions about the Moles without first consulting with the Fish. 

 

Moles were not servants, there were Beasts for that; rather their curse was one of redemption. The Children of Narcissus toiled day and night for the salvation of the colony, offering their sacrifice to quiet Neptune’s rage at their father and his progeny. The Fish kept them isolated in their labor, and cowed into submission; but it’s the Priests’ moral condemnation that damned them in the eyes of the other casts.

 

Meanwhile, the few insane daredevils that were the Fish died of strange ailments that no herbs could cure. Even after the colony had renounced eating from the sea, Fish still developed mutations from birth, and started showing signs of mental debilitation at an early age. The numbers were few, but they were always fatal. The Priests urged them to renounce the sea, said Neptune was punishing them for their daring, and that overseeing the Moles was of a greater good to the colony than slowly killing themselves, but they would not or could not stop diving.

 

Unbeknownst to them, the waters were laden with chemical and radioactive pollutants from every factory, nuclear power plant, oil rig and sewer in the world. All that men had tried to contain, hide, drown, bury in ditches and blast into space were leaking through every crack in the concrete, every broken plastic container, radiating from every fusion reactor on the planet, dripping from every motor in every vehicle, and changed the waters, its inhabitants, and all those who ate from it, drank from it, or dwelled therein.

 

Radiation gave way to deformity and death; and deformity to prescience and a bond, and that they named the Dream. The colony grew dependent on their labor for its machines, on their predictions for finding new and higher ground ahead of storms. The Dream gave them an aura, and cemented their status as the Children of Neptune, draining the old cities of their treasure, bringing forth Hades, and prosperity in the comfort of the Cave.

 

When the waters freed the plateau, it was the Fish who insisted that the colony spread out of the caves.  The Priests had not conceived of the Divine Undertaking yet, but understood that their authority depended on Man’s intimacy with Hades. The other casts however, saw opportunity in the lands that the water was leaving behind and followed the Fish out onto the plateau and the ridges. The balance of power between Fish and Priests remained delicate, and the Moles suffered from the tug of war.

 

Moles were divided over the Fish’s decision. Some believed that not only their salvation, but everyone in the colony’s lay in the caves with Hades, others yearned to see the Sun, and hoped against all evidence that once they had broken from the Cave, the Fish’s demands would lessen, and they would be free to worship without being forced into crippling labor.

 

They were mistaken. The tension between the Fish and the Priests meant the Mole’s labor doubled. The Priests forced them to continue working on the caves, even after they had abandoned the deeper grottos for the houses dug along and inside the walls on the outer surface of the mountain. The Fish turned the Moles’ talent at making the inhospitable caves livable into a giant enterprise, attempting to rebuild life outside the caves, and a sprawling project that included not only the plateau and ridges now accessible, but also land still under water as it was freed, progressively giving way to the colony as it had grown for almost four hundred years since.

 

Mole numbers were not sufficient for the challenge. In consultation with the Priests, the Fish decided that they would further divide the Moles into sub casts and define roles and responsibilities by sex, giving way to further cultural isolation of the Moles.

 

Mole men would work the cave and the cliffs, indiscriminately and at need, but dividing labor did not make up for the paucity of their workforce. They needed more Mole children. Whereas in the caves, Mole men and women worked together under the same oppression, condemned for their ancestors’ crimes and Narcissus’ Folly, and augmented with new law breakers as they were uncovered, outside the caves female Moles no longer had to accompany the men into forced labor. They would have a labor of their own.

 

From birth, Mole girls were granted privileges compared to their brothers, and given schooling, education and regular medical attention. An aggression against a Mole girl was considered a high crime. In return, every Mole woman would have to bear ten male children as part of her pregnancy duties. Once that number delivered, she would be allowed to remain with her husband if he would have her, or could chose to leave the cast for another as a free woman. The condition was that they were fertile, and remained untouched until the Priests chose a husband for them. Those who did not meet the requirements were sent to the comfort houses, which took only Mole girls.

 

Mole women seldom left the cast as free women, or remained with their husband. Moles died daily inside the caves, a Mole woman was unlikely to remain with one husband throughout her life, and until she had delivered ten male children, she was required to take new husbands and deliver new babies. Most of them died in childbirth, or of the consequences of multiple pregnancies; rather than remain or leave, many ended in the recycling vats, where everyone went when they died, for their body to be made use of again, for the good of the colony.

 

 

 

 

[1] Priests and Priestesses alike conduct religious and medical duties along gender-segregated lines for medical duties. Priests alone are responsible for education; Priestesses tend to, and manage adult girls’ (14) duties and responsibilities in casts where women serve a purpose different from men’s.

[2] Or their oldest living male relative.


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