Ichthys

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Contently Deranged Travelers


A hundred years from now, the last foreigner is being expelled from China. Sequel to IN A GROVE and NEAR DEATH. Continues in IDOLS, ETERNITY, OF DOGS AND MEN, THE FORCE, and EDEN DELETED.


Shanghai, September 2120

I

Nahum pushed the decrepit door leading into a colorless hall dubiously decorated by a scabrous, dimly black statue of Qin Zhiguo, the celebrated Chairman of the last century who had heralded the then-new political current of the Great Heavenly Isolation. Nahum cast a weary glance at the statue. Chairman Qin did not react to that.

“Room 714, please,” Nahum told the receptionist, a middle-aged local woman covered by fake golden retriever curls, who was proudly donning a T-shirt with the English phrase Kiss Me Hard engraved in Gothic script.

The receptionist flashed several nicotine-stained teeth at him.

“Last time, eh?” she said, handing him the key and trying hard to suppress the pitying notes in her voice.

“Something like that,” Nahum mumbled, fumbling with his pockets to make some room for the key amidst a few hundred-renminbi coins and an illegal outdated iDevice he'd stubbornly refused to stick onto his temple like everyone else.

The receptionist nodded with the slightly malicious compassion peculiar to the female Shanghainese.

“Back to Laowaiguo it is, then,” she said, then added with genuine understanding, using the local language: “Nong ve zi ngagonin, nong zi zangheinin… eeeehh!

Nahum smiled and replied in Mandarin with good-natured bitterness: “Tell this to the government.”

He took the elevator to the seventh floor and walked through a circular corridor, relentlessly pursued by the sticky odor of urine emanating from both toilets. He unlocked the door to Room 714 and entered. Inside, between a heap of broken iDevices and a pile of conspicuous synthetic Party-approved condoms to be distributed among the students in the next semester, he found what he was looking for: a small piece of wood with a strange symbol painted on it – a crude drawing of a fish.

 

II

You aren’t a foreigner, you are Shanghainese.

Those were the words of the receptionist with the tacky hair. And Nahum once again felt the familiar pangs in his chest. He had spent twenty years in Shanghai, watching the magical city gradually succumb to the merciless, icy tidal wave of the Great Heavenly Isolation. The Middle Land had been treating laowais benevolently, with mildly condescending magnanimity, up until the threat had become impossible to ignore any longer, undermining the pillars of Asian rigid social philosophy with its dynamic, wild growth: Christianity. Outlawed in the United States of Democratic West due to its conflicts with the state-sanctioned agnosticism, the old faith had risen from the ashes, thriven in the most energetic and vital of the world’s three superpowers. By the year 2090, Christians had constituted forty percent of China’s population – about a third of it consisting of Westerners unable to practice their religion openly in their progressive, modernized homeland.

Then the inevitable happened. The Caliphate had its own faith, harmoniously interwoven with politics - as it had always been the case with that religion ever since its founder had killed and conquered and spread the word of a god who would never sacrifice himself. The USDW reveled in the decadence of global acceptance - undoubtedly bizarre, yet of its own invention, born long ago in sunlit cities where the search for truth had resulted in seeking oneself and living in barrels, orgies and self-mutilation, and eventually complete indifference equally cold in its Epicurean or Stoic outfits. The rulers of the Middle Land, on the other hand, knew that the source of its incredible success was something alien, something weird, something that ran contrary to anything they’d ever deem healthy or even appropriate.

Swearing full allegiance to the Party did not help. The Christianity of those who did that soon disintegrated, dissolved into the familiar tenets of Asian beehive-building. One cannot serve two masters – the truth of those words rang in the ears of every Chinese Christian. Social pressure was relentless, old superstitions excavated and promoted with ferocity, patriotism becoming denser and darker. Qin Zhiguo launched The Great Heavenly Isolation, thus officially endorsing a policy of discouraging laowai presence. A mass exodus back to the long-lost land of Laowaiguo ensued. By the year 2118, only a few highly valued foreign Christian specialists remained in the country. Two years later, Nahum Horshan, Professor for Laowai Literature at East China Normal University, born 2076 in Jerusalem, non-smoking, divorced, no outstanding diseases, was requested to leave China, effective immediately.

 

III

Nahum rode the 926 magnetic bus, famous for having inspired an eponymous tune by the legendary laowai jazz musician Archie Bloedtraum. The bus smelled of indifference and stinky tofu. Old Shanghainese ladies were sticking their elbows hard into Nahum’s solar plexus in a coordinated battle for coveted seats.

A young, attractive local woman worked her way through a couple of overweight rosy-cheeked kids, going straight up to Nahum.

“Hey,” she said defiantly.

He recognized her instantly.

“Harmony,” he said.

“Asshole,” she said.

Two or three old men were listening to their conversation with vigorous attention.

“Can I see my son?” Nahum asked.

“Over my dead body,” Harmony said.

Nahum thought this through.

“Look,” he said with an expressive, theatrical sigh. “I was a lousy husband. We both know that. But I want to see my son. Our son. He needs a father –”

“He has a father,” she interrupted.

“Stepfather,” Nahum said. “It’s not the same.”

“You’re right, it’s not the same. It’s better. He is better. He is a better person than you. Much better.”

“You just have to rub it in, don’t you?” Nahum said. “That’s what you do, rub stuff in. You’ve always been so good at that. Soooo good!”

“Oh yeah? And you know what you’ve always been good at?”

“No, I don’t! Please enlighten me, Your Highness!”

“At being an asshole!”

“Oh yeah? Really? That’s what you think?”

“That’s what I know, and you want to know how I know? Because you are an asshole, that’s how!”

“I can see why you guys aren’t married anymore,” the driver said amicably.

“Right, ‘cause you can’t keep being married to an –”

“An asshole, yes, I got it! Anus! Butt cavity! Pelvic orifice!! Fissure in the derriere!!!”

They went quiet for a few seconds. Old Shanghainese people around them were readily gossiping with seraphic smiles on their kindly faces.

“Listen,” Nahum said softly. “You are right, okay? I did some bad shit. Everybody do bad shit. You know why? Because we are humans. And humans do bad shit. You can deny anything, deny any interpretation of any fact, any ideology, any philosophy or religion, but you can’t deny a simple fact: everybody do bad shit. And those who say they don’t, those who think they’re better than others… Well… They are mistaken. And this mistake is going to cost them some day.”

“That’s bullshit,” Harmony said sternly. “You did bad stuff, and now you’re trying to justify it by saying everyone is doing it. That’s just not true. I was never as moody and as crazy as you are. And most importantly, I didn’t cheat on you!”

“You did,” Nahum said quietly.

“What?”

“You did,” he continued, as they both got off the bus at the Old Northern Gate, strangely intimate in their conversation and almost unaware of their surroundings. “I know about your affair. You forgot to desynchronize your iDevice, see? So I know. We both screwed up, sweetheart. We both did. Only I admitted it right away and everybody judged me, while you hid it, so that deep down you’d still think you were better than me.”

“And you,” she said with passionate anger, turning her face to him, “by saying what you just said, don’t you think that you are better than me? Because you are oh so honest, while I’m a bloody hypocrite? Aren’t you judging me yourself, right now? Aren’t you making yourself feel better by basking in your refined moral superiority? Come on, answer me that! Ha! I knew that. I didn’t study psychology for nothing. So who is the bigger hypocrite now?”

Nahum didn’t say anything for a while. It was getting dark. Moist, damp air pressed down by the unbearable weight of ominously gray, polluted clouds. Around them, gigantic neon signs were beckoning the forty million inhabitants of the gargantuan city to visit party-regulated bars and engage in mechanical, fast sex with young village girls from Hunan or Hebei who came to Shanghai to make a quick buck. Nahum suddenly stopped and took Harmony’s hands into his.

“Harmony,” he said warmly. “I don’t know who is the bigger hypocrite. And frankly, I don’t care. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all this time. We all do bad things. We all lie to ourselves, invent stupid excuses and justifications, and you know why? Because we want to be right. But we can’t! We can’t be right, Harmony! See – ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are not human concepts. They are God’s concepts. If there is truth in this world, it can’t be our truth, because how can we ever find the truth when we don’t even know who we are? How can we ever change ourselves if we don’t even understand ourselves? How can we have faith in ourselves if every single damn time we think we know what is better, yet for some mystical reason can never become truly better? That’s why I don’t want to be right. I just want to love and forgive. Can you forgive me, Harmony?”

She looked at him with slight disdain, weak and weary, just like the remnants of her love to him. She shook her head softly and took her hands away. When she spoke, her expression became firm and cold, like the pretty outlines of her homeland’s teachings, like the voice of a creature who does not crave salvation:

“That’s exactly why I don’t want my son to see you, Nahum. You are not normal. You think too much, you keep dragging mythological symbols into everyday life, you…“ She shook her head again. “You need help, Nahum.”

“That’s what I was saying,” he replied hopefully.

“No!” she said aggressively. “Not help from some guy who lived over two thousand years ago! Help from professionals, okay?”

“He is the best professional of all,” he said stubbornly.

“He is dead, Nahum! That is, if he ever lived at all.”

“I’d rather doubt that I’ve ever lived at all.”

“That’s because you’re –”

“What? Again, an asshole?”

“No, worse! You are crazy! You came from a crazy world, you brought craziness into my life, now take it and go away! Go away!”

“Let me see my son, Harmony! Please! Let me see Eli!”

“Go away!!”

 

IV

Blag Town, February 2121

One by one, they entered the dilapidated office once used by the late Archbishop of the now defunct Russian Orthodox Church. Bitter cold had gripped Blag Town, a squalid settlement on the Amur River, its former, much longer and soothingly sounding Russian name remembered only by a few older residents. The border between China and the United States of Democratic West was heavily patrolled on both sides.

Like the others, Nahum put his fish drawing on the table. There were about twenty people in the room, old and young, men and women, of different skin colors and ethnicities. Speaking quietly, they introduced themselves to each other. Then one of them, a tall, thin black man with a naïve, serious face, raised his hand and spoke:

“Brothers and sisters, my name is Jacob Oduya, I’m from the State of Kenya. We are gathered here in the name of our Savior, just like the first witnesses of our faith over two thousand years ago. Their symbol was the fish, ichthys in old Greek, an acronym for the name of our Lord and His mission. Such is the title of our organization as well.”

He paused, coughed, and continued:

“It is not a secret that a horrible war is about to tear this planet apart in a few weeks, if not days. Tensions between the three superpowers have escalated, and one of them – if not all three – is going to unleash its nuclear arsenal upon the others. We can take no sides in this war, brothers and sisters. All three empires have succumbed to extreme forms of idol worship. It is of no difference to us whether the idol is a deity, a society, or humanity itself; anything and anybody is an idol as long as it is not our Lord. Revering a tyrannical god ruling over a world where human beings are deprived of free will; constructing elaborate social and political mechanisms while neglecting individuals and their souls; disregarding sin and letting humans rot in falsely understood liberty where everything is allowed – all three are equally disastrous, and the proof is here, right now, right in front of us! Brothers and sisters, it’s the minds of human beings that lead them into devilish folly, and this folly has produced its terrible fruits!”

He took a glass of warm water, drank hastily, and then spoke again, visibly trying to contain his impulsiveness and sound as convincing as possible:

“We have several spaceships at our disposal, all ready to be launched from different spots we have secured with great difficulty. Only a few of us have agreed to leave the planet. Make no mistake, brothers and sisters: venturing into deep space, outside of the doomed Solar System, will be as dangerous as staying and trying to survive the nuclear war, if not more. But we hope that at least some of us will be able to find a new home for humanity. We have to take this risk. My task is to recruit those of you who are willing to do that. Each one of you has been invited here following your expressed wishes and prolonged correspondence – and now you need to make a choice. Please, take your time. Make sure you won’t regret your decision, whatever it may be.”

Jacob bowed in a somewhat comical manner. A few scattered applauses were heard before indistinct murmur began to fill the dingy room. Nahum grabbed an oat cookie from a cheap plastic plate, gulped down a glass of artificial mixed fruit drink and went straight to the Kenyan who was standing in the corner, isolated, his glance gloomy and tense.

“Hey,” Nahum said. “I’m Nahum Horshan. Professor and all. Nice speech.”

Jacob’s face lit up.

“You think?” he said with a broad grin. They shook hands, looking into each other’s eyes.

“Are you related to Tal Horshan?” Jacob asked cautiously.

“The founder of modern spaceflight technology or the soccer player?” Nahum asked. “Just kidding, I know you mean the scientist. Yes, he is actually my great-grandfather.” 

Jacob nodded, looking at Nahum with renewed interest.

“Anyway,” Nahum continued. “I’ve made my decision a long time ago. I want to go.”

“Are you sure –” Jacob started, but Nahum interrupted:

“Yes. I’m sure. I want to go. On a spaceship. Boldly, where no man has gone before.”

“No woman either,” Jacob said seriously.

“It’s a quote from an old show,” Nahum explained.

“What, like Space Tolerance IV: Non-Terrestrial Octopus Persons?"

“Much older,” Nahum said. “Much more fun, too. Never mind. What I wanted to say is that I’ll go, but I have one request. A strong request. Like a condition.”

“Sure,” Jacob said. “What condition?”

“I have a wife,” Nahum said. “Well, ex-wife. And a son. I want them to leave Earth as well. On the same spaceship, if possible. If not, never mind. I just want them out of here. I don’t want Eli – that’s my son – to live in vaults and fight radioactive scorpions for water-purifying chips or whatever. I want him to do truly great things. Like, find a good planet for humanity to colonize, or something. Make discoveries. That kind of stuff. This place here has no future. I want my son to have one.”

Jacob nodded several times while Nahum was speaking.

“You realize, though,” he said then, “that we cannot force people to leave Earth. Especially those who haven’t joined Ichthys.”

“Don’t care how you do it,” Nahum said. “But if you promise me you do, I’ll take the wildest trip. Will do anything necessary. Be the first to face any danger. Be the perfect servant to the crew. Whatever you say, I’ll do. Don’t tell me you don’t need that kind of guy around.”

“You seem to be very eager to do all that.”

“Let’s just say I’m in dire need of atonement.”

“Alright,” Jacob said after a short pause. “The Lord sees your determination and will reward you accordingly, you can be sure of that. Your boy will be safe.”

They looked at each other, then Nahum grinned and said:

“Gotta give me a cool code name now I’m part of the team.”

Jacob squinted at the ceiling.

“You want to be a servant,” he said. “That’s good. There is nothing humiliating in serving the Lord or fellow human beings. Nothing is ever humiliating when done with real humility. And even our Lord Himself took the shape of a servant when He walked the ground of this poor planet.”

“So, Servant it is, then?” Nahum chuckled. “Pretty lame nick, I have to say.”

Jacob thought about this and raised his finger:

“There is another word in the English language that comes from the same root as servant, but sounds much cooler. Any idea what it could be?”

“Dude, I got no time for riddles,” Nahum said, smiling.

Jacob smiled too, took a step forward, patted Nahum on the shoulder, and said:

“Welcome aboard, Sergeant.”

 

THE END

 

 


Submitted: September 20, 2015

© Copyright 2022 Oleg Roschin. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Salma Said

The story seemed so real! Loved it! The whole story I felt bad for Nahum and I hated his wife. You are a great writer Oleg! *Smiles*

Tue, January 5th, 2016 9:30am

Author
Reply

Hahaha, thank you for your comment, Salma! That wasn't my intention at all for anyone to hate my... oops, I'm sorry... his ex-wife! ... ...

All right, I must as well admit that of all my characters Nahum Horshan is the one most based on myself. Harmony Horshan-Lewis, however (you can also meet her in my story "The Force"), is not that similar to any real people, she is more of a cumulative image, if I may say so. But of course there are some real experiences in there. I really tried to be objective when I was writing that dialogue, but I guess I failed, subconsciously presenting myself as the more likable character of the two... That's not cool at all, so I'm now planning a prequel that shows everything from Harmony's point of view...

I'm very glad you chose this one story, I think it's my least popular one because it has way less imagination and catchy science fiction concepts than the others, and actually almost nothing happens in it. But at the same time, it's very essential to the whole big picture, because it introduces many key characters that appear in other stories. It's more of a "hub" story, like a root with different branches growing out of it.

Tue, January 5th, 2016 7:52pm

Amanda Stein

The details of the environment and the background of the upcoming political downfall and apocalyptic war is very logically set up. The conflict between Nahum and his ex-wife Harmony was emotionally honest, although they are obviously on different sides of this Christian issue. He wants forgiveness for admitting his affair (as a very Christian like thing to do) and saying she is a hypocrite for not admitting hers, but she feels that forgiveness in the name of the Lord is more a self centered way for Nahum to dump his guilt and move on. Now he wants to bring his son and ex-wife along on a voyage to the stars. May not go over very well since, at this point, there doesn't seem to be a destination except to "go where no man or woman has gone before." Interesting.

Thu, April 7th, 2016 5:03am

Author
Reply

Thanks for your detailed comment, Amanda! The difference between Nahum and Harmony is not that Nahum "deserves" forgiveness any more than Harmony does, but that he puts forgiveness above other emotions. True, there is something in Nahum that makes us feel he "uses" Christianity to receive absolution for his sins, hence the duplicity of his character. That is why in the end he realizes only actions can truly make up for what he did. And he sacrifices his life to start the civilization of dogs in "Of Dogs and Men", so don't be too harsh on him... :)

Thu, April 7th, 2016 10:18am

Amy R. Beckett

Another great story. It's great to see the concepts from before explored in different ways here, and I liked the mixture of dystopia and hope for the future

Wed, April 20th, 2016 6:05pm

Author
Reply

Thank you very much! All my stories are connected, and this one is like a "hub" with a lot of sequels going in different directions.

If you want to know what happened to Nahum, read "Of Dogs and Men".

If you want to know what happened to Harmony and Eli, read "The Force".

If you want to know what happened to Jacob Oduya, read "Eden Deleted", which has its own sequels.

Wed, April 20th, 2016 10:19pm

hullabaloo22

Interesting story. I particularly enjoyed the discussion between Nahum and Harmony. Wonder what the other paseengers made of it all!!

Sat, April 30th, 2016 7:40pm

Author
Reply

Haha, thank you for your feedback! This story has more autobiographical elements than any other of mine so far. I've been living in Shanghai for eleven years and am still fascinated by the ability of local residents to act unfazed no matter what drama might be evolving right in front of them...

Sun, May 1st, 2016 8:26pm

Teddy Kimathi

I really enjoyed your story!!! I could see the images of events as they unfolded.....

Wed, May 11th, 2016 8:48am

Author
Reply

Thank you, Teddy! Always appreciate your kind feedback :-)

Wed, May 11th, 2016 3:24am

ElSabioComico

Not the most successful of your story, but one of my favourite. Every part treat about a specific question. You are a good critic about your area of interests: religions, human society, human relationships... It's always easier to judge a situation from outside, and it seems you see right through the core of everything you write about. Society values and beliefs really need to be challenged cause many of them are questionable. Thanks to people like you, we get the chance to think more like a wise person.

Mon, July 25th, 2016 12:23am

Author
Reply

Thank you so much for your kind comment! This is one of my least popular stories, and for a good reason: it barely has any plot, and it's very sketchy. It is, however, an important "hub" story that introduces key events (the Ichthys project, from which all the subsequent space travel originated), and characters such as Nahum Horshan ("Of Dogs and Men") and Jacob Oduya ("Eden Deleted").

I'm very grateful to you for your continuous support of my work, my friend. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Sun, July 24th, 2016 8:54pm

Richard Mapes

I loved the narration. Something about the way that you write the scenes in this story really speaks to me. I will say though that this story could have done with better dialogue. I was really getting into the ideology and the history of this world, but the moment Harmony and Nahum started arguing, it pulled me out of it. Still some of the best narration I've seen on this site so far though. So good job.

Tue, August 22nd, 2017 5:33am

Author
Reply

Thank you very much for your feedback, Richard! This is definitely not one of my best stories - it's unfocused and lacking a coherent tone. It is, however, one of the more realistic ones, and it introduces quite a few important topics and recurrent characters. The conversation between Nahum and Harmony is actually based on real events :()

Tue, August 22nd, 2017 12:10am

CrazyA

I have to admit I was so lost through that whole thing until the very end. Then everything clicked into place. I do love all the questions it leaves you with at the end and through the story. One thing I do have to say though is that it did move a bit slow. It was detailed well but in some parts a little to well so that it got to the point where I just wanted the next thing to happen. At the beginning there were some things that didn't make sense and also some things that may not have been needed. All of the extra information at the beginning I think was good for people to maybe go back and read if they wanted to but it didn't really need to be there. Either way it was still a good story and you did a great job with it!

Fri, August 25th, 2017 7:03am

Author
Reply

Thank you very much for your kind feedback :) This is yet another very unpopular story of mine - but, unlike with "Forward to the Past", I do agree that I messed up the structure. You see, the thing is that, at that time, I didn't know how many stories I would write in this setting, so I crammed too much into this story, I wanted to give both information about the world as well as follow Nahum's personal story, but the result is that the transition between the paragraphs became somewhat painfully artificial, and the whole thing feels awkward and confusing. I'm glad you liked the last paragraph, though. It's the most important one.

Generally, this story is important, because it introduces recurrent characters such as Nahum Horshan ("Of Dogs and Men"), Harmony Horshan-Lewis ("Eternity", "The Force"), and Jacob Oduya ("Eden Deleted").

Fri, August 25th, 2017 12:21am

Ramon Galaxure

2nd story that I've reviewed today coming from your work. Compare to the first story this one is a bit good but not compare to the other. Still it's a great story to be honest. The choice of your theme to every story is very interesting especially with the history of this world not to mention the ideology was getting into me for a bit. The values that you can learn from these characters their beliefs often reflect with the society. The flow of the the story this time is a bit slow but I can undestand since it needs concentration of the message that you are giving to the readers. Overall its a very recommended story!

Thu, February 8th, 2018 5:28pm

Author
Reply

Thank you, Ramon! This is certainly not one of my best stories, but the thing is that it contains very important background information for many other stories of mine (since they are all interconnected). I wrote it almost three years ago, re-reading it feels awkward, but I haven't edited anything :)

Thu, February 8th, 2018 9:46am

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