by Bacci Galu
Tenth Brother, Fourth Tribe of Quantar
“Hamalzah is the well from which I drink. And I shall thirst no more.”
I was alone in the void the night the waking dreams came. A hint of a whisper in the corners of my mind, slowly building to a crescendo, unnoticed until I thought I’d go mad. Light and sound becoming one behind my eyes…then vanishing; a wraith in the night.
I’d shake it off, shut my eyes and open them wide, trying to stretch my mind. ‘Hamalzah,’ I spat, ‘what the Hell was that?’ Was it the relentless hours mining the cold, irradiated rocks in the unforgiving vacuum finally catching up with me? Was it the exceptional Quant prayer spice I’d inhaled with reckless abandon causing flashbacks? Was I having an aneurism? Or was I just getting old. I was too tired to answer and too cynical to care. I fished out some jack-root to clear up the cobwebs, pointed my ship to the QDS gate and slammed the throttle wide open. Mining in a dense ‘roid field was not where I wanted to be if I had a real mental breakdown. Maybe I just needed some rest.
But the dreams came back. Just flashes of light and fragments of sound. At the same time comforting and horrifying…like something was trying to get through.
When I docked, I just sat in my cabin, afraid to move; afraid to stay still; petrified. Echoes of laughter and screams still haunting my mind. And through the cacophony, a single voice cutting through the walls of sound whispering a single phrase,…prepare…I am coming…prepare…
When the blackness cleared, I found myself doubled over in the corner of the cargo hold, trying to heave what wasn’t there. Maybe that was it. You can’t live on prayer spice and jack-root alone. Sooner or later you’re gonna have to put something in your belly, and for me that something was a drink. I headed for the nearest bar for a tall Quan Ice. But supplies being short and money being tight, I settled for some local station rotgut. More like ether cut with acetone. Cheap, but tidy.
As I sat there, feeling heady and relaxed, my eyes and mind started to wander around the room. The denizens of this dim lit, low toned bar were cut from many a different cloth, but of the same cloth as well. All were space farers. All were genetic jigsaw puzzles. All were without real destiny; no future outside their present. Regardless of faction, these were my people. And as my eyes traveled from table to table I caught the eye of one. I saw him clearly, but not clearly. He looked at me, into me, and through me. He sat still and danced around the edges of my sight. But through all these contradictions of senses, he mouthed these words, like a cool, heavenly breeze silently exploding in my skull
…prepare…I am coming…prepare…
Hamalzah. Hamalzah. Where am I? I can’t see anything. I can’t hear anything. I can’t feel anything…except…Hamalzah. After all I’ve said and done, You haven’t abandoned me. But why? What worth am I to such as You? Hamalzah. What are You trying to tell me? I have not been the lion. I have not been the weapon. I have not been one of the faithful. Why have You not abandoned me, for I have certainly abandoned You. You took away from me what was mine, the only things that made my life meaningful. I, in turn, took from You the faith of one person, hoping it would hurt You. Hamalzah. Why have You not abandoned me? Why won’t You abandon me?
***I cannot. I cannot.***
Light started to linger in around the edges. The steady, rhythmic sounds of the station started to slowly, gently work their way back into my head. I opened my eyes. I was staring at the ceiling of my cargo hold. How did I get here? What is happening to me?
I got up slowly, taking stock of any bumps or bruises but found none. I reached for some jack-root, but then decided not to. Maybe too much, lately. I shook my head, squinted my eyes, and tried to clear my head. My mind felt foggy, like the trailing edge of a ion storm…quiet, still, yet unable to discern any details. What was happening to me? All I can remember was…Hamalzah.
I made for the cockpit and checked the instrumentation. Repetition and familiarity would help clear my head. I went through my routine checking power levels, capacitance, structural integrity, then I stopped dead. The chronograph showed today was 105.2.10. The chronograph must be wrong. That would mean…three days have gone by. I know it was wrong. Because today was…today…today was…sixteen years ago today…
Hamalzah…what is happening to me?
It was on the Felsi Q’tuun, The Plains of Rest, on Perasca that my life changed forever. I was a Level 5 ore/component conversion engineer for Venurian Prospecting Ltd. on a much-needed sabbatical with my family. My family. My wife, Suminchi and my sons, Duri and Marn, twins, 7 years old and already far ahead of their class in mining and ore conversion theory and the pride of us both. I had seen little of my family in recent time. Quantar was at the height of the Jihad al Din with Hyperial and the Fa’hil Memta needed everyone to be the lion, to be the weapon; to “Build Quantar for Quantar.” We were all part of Hamalzah’s Sword in one capacity or another. I was a faithful child of Hamalzah and the sacrifices my family and I made assured the preservation of Hamalzah’s will and the prosperity of Quantar.
The Plains of Q’tuun are expansive, peaceful and untouched. It is said the Hamalzah Himself, rested here after the Great Confrontation with The Beast. He cast down his sword and slept for a thousand years. When he awoke, he felt he had never rested so calmly, so deeply, and so completely and declared that this must indeed be a place like no other. Since then, it has been a place for weary Quantar to rejuvenate. I was there for just that reason: To rest, to enjoy being with my family and to take part in the Ovec Q’tuun, The Days of Rest. Three days of contemplation, atonement, forgiveness, and bonding with my family. It was the last time I would visit the Plains, the last time I would speak to Hamalzah and the last time I would see my family. This was the year that the Plains of Rest became Norda L’thot, the Fields of Death.
Hyperial, reeling from loss after loss in its war with Quantar, needed to strike a psychological blow to Quantar; to let the Fa’hil Memta know that Quantar was not invulnerable and Hyperial was not to be taken lightly. Hyperial needed the war to be over and thought a strike to the soul of Quantar would swing public sentiment away from the jihad. They were right about one but so wrong about the other. The war would be over, sooner than expected, but the massacre at one of Quantar’s most holy places would not have the affect Hyperial desired. Every Quantar turned their utter rage at Hyperial. Every Quantar put heel to ground in the final clash of the jihad that would leave Hyperial a shadow of its former, pathetic self. Every Quantar would taste the blood of the enemy and serve the infidel’s heart to the dogs. Every Quantar, except the thousands slaughtered at Norda L’thot. Or the few who survived. Or those who cursed Him and forsook His name for allowing such utter ruthlessness to occur on His holy ground.
I lost my family because of our devotion to Him. And He did not protect us. I wanted no more to do with “Building Quantar for Quantar.” No longer the Lion, no longer the Weapon I would never again would I set foot on a world where Hamalzah was said to have trod. I would live within The Void. I would take the rock and hack it up and sell it for profit, my profit. I would fight only when it suited me or I’d watch in a withering malaise as others died at their own hands. I would become non-value-added. Never again would I speak Hamalzah’s name in prayer, but as a curse. I would deny Him my faith.
But one cannot simply walk away.
***Bacci…Bacci…wake up, Bacci…***
The words echoed without sound. Within the depths of my mind I heard them careening off the walls of my consciousness, my sanity. But there was no sound. No substance. No escape. Someone called my name, reaching out from an unfathomable depth or down from an unattainable height. Perhaps from the darkness that hides behind the night. Perhaps from the light that is too bright to see. I didn’t know and I didn’t care. I was being tormented by waking dreams that threatened to leave me painted across a ‘roid in some anonymous sector. I was being set upon by visions that left me too terrified to leave my ship. I was being plagued by voices that tore at the fabric of my mind. I felt I was going mad, but I felt like I was being directed. For benevolence or malevolence, I couldn’t tell. But who would know where the unknown path would take them until it was too late? I was too terrified to move yet too drawn too look away.
Inertia. All aspects of the universe can be related to inertia. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. And the faster an object travels, the more stable it becomes. Until, that is, it reaches the limits of its structural integrity. It is easy to affect an object’s inertia when its momentum is low. Perhaps that is what was happening to me. I had been at rest for so long…sixteen years…going through the motions but not really going anywhere. I had become that which I had used to ignore: A person with no purpose, no faith, no one. Perhaps my inertia was being changed. Hamalzah, let me know my limits
***Bacci. Bacci. You have slept too long. You need to prepare. I am coming. I cannot abandon you. You will be the lion. You will be the weapon. Wake up, Bacci.***
When prayer spice is inhaled in large quantities, your head grows warm, your eyes grow heavy and you body goes numb. You sink into a long, dim, muddled world of muted sounds, blurry visions and hallucinations. This feeling may continue for days. Dreams become acute reality and reality slides into the farthest recesses of your mind. You may wake up and find yourself curled into the corner of your cargo hold, or dancing with the dust outside you ship.
Taken in ritual by the devout, it frees the mind to move among the rock, to sail about the sky and to commune with The Lion. It allows the devout to feel the ore, to see its light, to hear its rhythms; it is because of these amazing reactions that prayer spice is highly secretive and can only be produced by devout Quantar who have had the ceremonies of initiation conferred upon them. And all Quantar have these ceremonies conferred upon them. And all Quantar keep this secret above all secrets. And all Quantars know that in order to derive the desired affect, the spice must be taken in a particular manner, through the eyes: The portals to the soul and the path for the light.
Only the dispossessed and the infidels sully the sanctity of the spice and soil the image of Hamalzah with their selfish abuses of the holy spice. That the spice is even known outside the faith is of great irritation to Quantar. That it is abused is an affront to Hamalzah, Himself. And that a Quantar would abuse the spice is abhorred. I…am abhorred.
But I don’t care. Hamalzah took from me that which He should have protected. Why? There could be no plausible answer. Why would Hamalzah allow the infidels to desecrate His holy ground? Why would He allow the slaughter of so many of His devout followers? Why would He impose such suffering among the survivors? What possible good could have come of it? Only Hamalzah knows. And He wasn’t telling. Or…was it that I was not listening?
For the first time in sixteen years, touched the tips of my fingers to my head, heart, then tongue; I touched my fingers to the spice I had long abused; I looked up to the ceiling and touched my eyes with my spice dusted fingers tips; and the ceiling became the stars. And I began to pray.
Hamalzah. Hamalzah. Why, Hamalzah?
***You have awoken, Bacci. You have much to do.***