I feel like a desert owl. The gate to that other world approaches and I must prepare. I spend my hours looking inward, considering what manner of man I must become to birth a world destined for more greatness than my brother’s.
What does a caterpillar endure as it tears out its hair to make its cocoon? Does it know everything will turn out well as it shivers naked under the fragile tent of its own skin? If so, I envy it.
When I grow weary of my thoughts, I exercise in all 75 modes of Raja Hun. Sweat pours down my back like mountain streams and my muscles are earthquakes, but I bare my teeth and laugh. On Earth I lacked the spirit and discipline to reach the fifteenth mode. Did my brother know what this journey would make me? If so, he is wise to send me to a place beyond returning. I wonder if he can see me in his dreams; if I walk in his nightmares like a fanged shadow.
I asked Brother Takigen a favor and he has granted it, to his own peril should the Khan find out. I have in my hands the plans for the Sakha Ata and her crew, lists of supplies and equipment, theses on what may lie beyond the wormhole and how we are to survive. I’ve strewn the pages around my living quarters like wind-blanched leaves.
On Earth I did not concern myself with this journey. It was best I did not, for I would have despaired rather than drunk in the last days of blooming jacarandas and sunk my teeth into the sunrise flesh of mangos. Even then, in the deep fires of my spirit, I sensed doom’s approach. These wind-blanched leaves spell it out in fine words and fancy script, they elaborate on a billion permutations of one inevitable outcome: death.
Ignoring that point, much intrigues me. I discover that my room is in the outer ring of the ship. This ring spins around the rest of the Sakha Ata, creating false gravity and explaining why I do not float around my room. That I hadn’t considered this before astounds me, and I seek to rectify my lack of curiosity. I read and reread everything until I understand it, until the blueprints and emergency procedures and operation manuals blaze in my memory.
I leave the crew profiles until last. Through these I learn that 256 other souls live aboard the ship. I say souls, for to call them human is too generous a term. They are heloz - gutter slum, human garbage, classless shysters. Not even Brother Takigen can I exclude from this.
The Khan recruited the entire crew from the dregs of Geri Khanate. The lot of them are beggars, murderers, and con men. Life! To pass by such a person on the streets of the royal city would taint me for a week.
I pace my room in fury, cursing my brother. What does he mean by this? Was this whole mission an elaborate scheme to strip me of honor? The shame of it fills me with the thunder of oceans. My muscles convulse like jellyfish.
There is no doubt in my mind that once we are beyond the gate, this rabble will unite and throw off the chains of authority. If I could be certain of an admirable death, I’d face my doom with courage. But they can do worse, much worse.
Like an eagle forced to eat its own heart, I see only problems with no way out. My difficulties stem from this one fact: a man cannot gain honor for himself. On Earth my honor came through my wealth, high status, and royal family. My boldness and strength, even my conniving, have added merit points, but not enough. Not enough once I am beyond the gate and the royal family of Geri Khanate loses its leverage and jurisdiction over this ship and its occupants. Should they wish, the crew can deny me my rightful place. They can claim that no family or name has bearing beyond the breach. I have no wealth to set me apart, for the ship and her contents are common to us all. As for boldness and strength, my companions possess these traits in equal or greater measure. I see knives everywhere.
I pull out my hair, pace back and forth, press hot palms to the cold walls of my prison cell. Soon there will be no one to defend my honor, to back my claims to royalty and respect. I sweat and shiver in my sleep, my nightmares are rife with fear, with horror, and with coming shame.
It is not I who haunts my brother’s dreams, but he who haunts mine. He laughs at me, nostrils narrowed, arms crossed over his rich tunic. In the nightmare I lie at his feet, clothes torn, covered in excrement, lowlier than a slave. Is this the fate he wishes on me?
Even in the light of this false daylight, I cannot shake off the dream. It seeps into me like poison, thick as the fog-slopes of Randur Kilm. Longing pierces me for sun and sky and the strength of mountains beneath my feet. There is nothing firm here. I am a loose stone, doomed to fall forever. My spirit floats away from me and I am helpless to call it back.
Sick at heart, I force myself to eat the food Brother Takigen brings me. I act nonchalant, unaffected, brave; but inside I am a quaking pile of disembodied intestines.
Go to Universe Prince Part 4
"Oehoe, Bubo, Eagle-owl" Photo by giselaglb CC BY-SA 2.0