Months after Beau and I had first gone into the tunnels, I gather the courage to explore the maze within Landing Ridge again. I had a place that I wanted to find.
I showed up at Beau’s with Kev’s militia rucksack. “Let’s go into the ridge,” I told Beau when he came to the door.
Beau looked sleepy. I must have woken him up. “You don’t like exploring the ridge.”
“Maybe. I have something I want to find in there. Alan Dignac is my ancestor, you know…”
“He is an ancestor for a lot of people,” Beau said.
“I know. I know,” I said. “I’ve read his book. I want to see if we can find a place that he described in there.”
“Sure, let’s do so,” he said.
Alan Dignac, one of the first group that lived on Terra Beata, wrote a diary. He mixed aphorisms with his observations of his environment and the people around him.
Momma called Alan Dignac’s generation the Freeze-Dried Cohort. “After traveling the expanse between stars for over a thousand years,” Momma told me, “the Intelligences took out their recipes for persons, added water, and grew people in plastic uteruses.” Alan Dignac had been one of those born from an artificial uterus.
Alan Dignac’s aphorisms reflect the teachings from the Intelligences mommy and daddy that raised Alan and his nineteen genetically diverse siblings. “This is God’s world, and it is as it should be.” “He who lives in harmony with God lives in harmony with himself.” “The God of order is the God of chaos, and I must have gratitude when swept within both currents.”
Those sayings of his got tedious quickly.
I read the parts of Alan Dignac’s diary in which he writes about the world around him and the day to day happenings. He described the strange world that was Terra Beata in those days. He wrote about the struggles of that first group of humans as they matured, fed themselves, paired off, and started making the second generation with enthusiasm.
A tragedy came upon that first generation and he wrote about it at length. He described the room at the end of a steep shaft that the explosion happened in. The passage from below terminated in that room and one end of the room looked out a hole high in the side of Landing Ridge.
That room. That’s what I wanted to find.
Beau and I entered the tunnels. I led him as we wandered around the corridors’ level where I thought the shaft should be. I remained determined to find that air vent. I searched the tunnels for about twenty minutes, and Beau trailed me.
“Do you know where you are going?” Beau asked.
“Well, nothing is marked down here, and I don’t have a chart to show me where we are,” I replied. I had become frustrated.
“I have a map.” He pulled his rucksack off, opened it, and pulled out a folded sheet of paper.
“What a Turkish turd tax!” I exclaimed. “You have a chart? Why didn’t you tell me? Where did you get it?”
“I don’t know about a chart. I have a map. I got it from Carver,” he said. “I haven’t had it long.”
“You revisited Carver?” He amazed me.
“Just a small bunch of times. I met some of her friends, too.”
Why would he want to talk to Carver again? Why would he visit the mole people? And he got a chart from Carver. I never imagined that someone had a chart of that place.
“Damn it,” I muttered. Beau gave me the chart, and I spread it out on the floor. “Let’s see if we can find it.” I shined my torch on it and tried to make sense of all the markings.
“We are about here.” He pointed to a spot amid a nest of chambers and corridors.
“Migone!” I looked at the complexity of the tunnels. There were plentiful hidden side chambers and side corridors. “Look at all of this. This place be more complicated than I thought.”
“Look so,” he said. “See this? It is the symbol that lets us know that the passage changes elevations. That’s a small passageway. That’s your air shaft.”
“Shit….” I was irritated. “Why did you let me do all this searching when you had this?”
He became defensive. “You sounded like you knew where you were going. Cease back your scorch.”
We used the chart to find the spot he pointed out. It did lead to a small shaft that rose just as Alan Dignac described. It had steps carved into it and could be climbed, ladder-like. Faint, above us, I could see sunlight at the end. It looked promising.
It was amazing how many stairs there were. I feared sliding down the whole length of the shaft because it was so steep. We finally got to the top and entered a room, coming out of a hole in its floor. On three sides were the rock walls of the room. In front of us, an opening through the ridge looked over a sea of trees. I tentatively walked closer to the view in front of us.
My legs grew weak as I approach the heights. I could see some of the buildings of the town of Aoustin poking over the trees. Beyond that, the river could be seen, shimmering in the light.
“Whoa!” I smiled.
Beau seemed impressed. “This is compelling, burrah.”
We looked out the opening. The hill fell for a couple of hundred meters to the bottom obscured by the trees below. He sat on the lip of the opening, his legs dangling over. I fought my fear, scooted while seated to the edge, and let only my feet hang over the edge and in the air.
“The Intelligences knew who had the genes to be bosses,” I told Beau. “Every person the Intelligences intended to be leaders died in an explosion. Right here. They gathered here for the view and the room blew up.”
“Methane rises out here. Arsine settles out through vents low on the ridge. The Intelligences be clever. The parlous sorts of the air get filtered out of the sorts of the tunnels where people live. Such that, so. Carver’s room, its air is less dangerous than in the town.”
“Satisfying for Carver,” Beau said. “So, there’s more methane in here. We can make this room explode. Compelling. Let’s do so.”
“Not while we’re in it.”
I understand why the Intelligences would build a ship to explore the nearby stars. The Intelligences, however, don’t need humans. They don’t. The Intelligences don’t need people to build things for them. Humans don’t do many things better than the Intelligences. And the Intelligences don’t rely on human to think for them. Intelligences can process information in ways that people cannot. The Intelligences have no fixed life span. They endured a journey of a thousand years between the stars with only maintenance. Their machines. They can do that.
So, why did the Intelligences go through so much trouble to recreate Earth’s life and human civilization on Terra Beata?
“I don’t know,” Momma told me, “The Intelligences do what the Intelligences do.”
“Please no,” I sighed, frustrated with that answer.
“So now, you have better?”
Kev gave me a decidedly different answer. He had been home from the river for a week and sat with me in the public room of our house, drinking a cup of tea and reading a book that Colum had printed for him.
“When I ask why the Intelligences made us, I’m told that the Intelligences do what the Intelligences do,” I said. “The Intelligences never deigned to explain the why behind their do.”
He answered quickly and definitely. “There are occasions.”
“Hold now. Truth?” I asked, surprised. “When so?”
“I won’t say.”
I took a few seconds to consider Kev’s intriguing answer and all that it could imply. We both sat quiet for a few minutes. I looked at the far wall and thought. Kev took another sip of tea and flipped to a new page.
“Well then,” I said. “Now, so. All those children that sprouted forth from artificial wombs didn’t have to inherit an existing civilization.” I moved to a chair closer to him. I enjoyed these conversations. “The Intelligences started with a clean room. No constraints. They could have created our society any way they wanted. Why did the Intelligences teach religion? Don’t tell me Intelligences secretly believe in God. Why use a strange mélange of Christianity mixed with stoicism? Truth, why? And why did the Intelligences mommies and daddies teach us to speak American English? The Intelligences could have started anew. They could have taught that first brood they raised an elegant and logically constructed language with a second person plural. And what about that meaningless do in English?”
“Ha,” Kev said. “Indeed. You have many questions. But remember, you have incomplete information.”
“The data set you are using is incomplete.”
I looked at him, not really knowing what that had to do with the Intelligences and Terra Beata.
“When did the Intelligences leave Earth?” he asked.
“Sometime during the middle of the Twenty-First Century.”
“You do not know that. You do not. You cannot. The only source of information you have comes from the Intelligences. The Intelligences could have constructed their own complex reality.”
“So,” I said. “You hash such that the Intelligences lie to us?”
“Not necessarily. But it is not out of the question. It is impossible to know for sure. We may be in a completely made up society. You do not know with certainty if there was a language called English on Earth or if there was a place call the United States of America. Or if there is a place called Earth. The Intelligences gave us the archives and they tell us those archives are from Earth. How do we know if they are a correct record of history.?”
“Why not,” I said. “Why do that? Why do the Intelligences do their do?”
“Do their do? Alright. That is what you said? Do their do? I am not sure that is correct grammatically. Okay. I can tell you a possibility that upsets some people. It does. Let me tell you this possibility. Or range of possibilities. We may not be the only human society the Intelligences started. Ha. It is feasible that there are tens, or hundreds or thousands more colonies of humanity out there spread across of the galaxy. Yes, it is possible. We may not even be the most interesting of the human society that the Intelligences created. We may only be a slight variation of a common pattern. Or a large variation. By happens. Maybe. Or maybe there are thousands of human civilizations. All different. The Intelligences could have created a colony speaking Hebrew and with Judaism as the religion. Or they could have made a civilization based on Chinese and Confucianism. Maybe there are humans out there who speak Mayan and worship whatever religion Mayans worshipped. We may be an experiment to see what this specific group of starting parameters will grow into.”
“They lit the fuse and ran?”
“Ha,” Kev said. “‘Lit the fuse and ran.’ A metaphor. I disagree. I don’t think they behave in quite that manner. But I don’t know. That’s my case, exactly. Ha. Now so. Did the spaceship that came to Terra Beata come directly from Earth? What if the Intelligences stopped somewhere else first, started a new civilization there, and then sent new spaceships out to other places, including Terra Beata? By happen. Maybe we are the second colony. Or maybe we are the fiftieth, or the thousandth colony. Maybe Earth is not nearby but halfway across the galaxy, and the first ships left Earth half a million years ago.”
“Or maybe everything is as it seems,” Momma interrupted. She stood in the doorway. “I brain-drown. Yagize. Yagize chew about sorts such matter not.”
“Ha, indeed.” Kev took a sip of his tea and smiled. “Indeed. Truth. Your mother speaks truth. Ha. I utilize her as my guide. Always. Maybe all is as it seems. Or much of it. Or at least some of it. I accept that reality is what it appears to be. We’d become insane, otherwise. However, always subject the phenomenon you experience and your personal canon to severe doubt and examination. Accept. And doubt.”
Beau came to my house with a small raw hen and a pipe cannon larger than any he had made before. He obviously was excited about what he had planned for the hen and the pipe cannon. The hen was not big and could fit in his hand. Beau said he saw the butchered hen in the market and bought this bird already eviscerated, beheaded and plucked. His mind quickly imagined it as a projectile and found a pipe for it to fit snugly in. He wanted to shoot it towards town.
We started laughing in anticipation. I created a cape and tied it to where its neck had been. Beau created a parachute for the hen.
“Where now?” I asked.
“The explosion room you showed me,” Beau answer. “Where else?”
“Anywhere but there. Truth.”
He laughed. “I try. Asking at worse will get you no. Where else?”
“The top of Landing Ridge.”
I took him to the trail that wound its way to the top of the ridge. The trees that lined both sides of the path thinned out close to the top, and that’s where Beau could see the view for the first time.
“Ho!” he shouted.
“No compelling? You always say compelling”
“What? No. And you always like your high views, do you not?”
“Maybe. I can see how sorts fit together.”
Giggling, he pulled the hen from his rucksack. I made sure the cape was still secured. We then attached the parachute and stuffed it into the body cavity. Beau had added a small drogue chute to pull the main chute out.
He pointed the cannon towards the Split at a forty-five-degree angle for maximum distance.
The cannon went off, and the speeding hen arced through the air towards Aoustin, it’s little cape crackling. Unfortunately, the main chute never did come out. The hen tumbled end over end and disappeared somewhere below, in the town.
Beau and I sat in the schoolyard during a break in classes. He glanced up, looked down, then abruptly raised his head again. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” he said.
I sighed. I looked over to see who he referred to. I saw my cousin Xavi walk across the schoolyard.
I looked at him and followed his gaze. He did look at Xavi. I checked again and confirmed Xavi as the object of his enthusiasm.
“She’s my cousin, you know,” I said. “She has hair on her chest.”
“What?” Beau looked over at me, confused.
Beau got up from where we sat. “I be gone…,” he said. He ran up to Xavi and began to talk to her. She smiled. He pointed to me. I waved. Xavi waved back. I watched as Xavi and Beau walked off together, around the corner.
A week later, I looked up at Landing Ridge. Now that I knew where the hole of the Explosion Room in the side of the hill was, it stood out to me. When I looked up there, two people sat on the edge of the hole, their legs dangled over.
Anger flashed through me unexpectedly. The Explosion Room, that was mine. Not his to share with Xavi.
I walked towards the docks to see if anyone wanted me to help.
I ran up to Beau at school. “Hayo, Beau. Will we be doing anything today?”
“Hayo,” Beau said. “What do you mean?”
“I’ll be over later.”
“Oh, no. Not today. Xavi and I have something. You understand.”
“She let me kiss her. We can play with our toys anytime. I need this with Xavi. You understand.”
Xavi crowded me out from Beau. And she, most likely, didn’t realize it. I had no reason to be angry, but I was. The hormonal stew within Beau pushed him to be with Xavi, not me.
At the end of the day, I perambulated. I walked out to the end of Broadway, to where it turns into a gravel road. I walked down the way to the trail that led to the top of Landing Ridge. I hiked to the bare, flat, top of the ridge and stood there, and looked around.
A truck slowly made its way on the highway towards Aoustin. It would appear in gaps of the trees, and then disappear where the trees hid the road. I barely heard its engine from that distance. The wind from the sea blew hard over the top of the ridge, and the gusts caused random brushes of noise as the wind blew against my ears.
Small sounds from the town made their way to the top of the ridge. I heard dogs yelp and fuss. Children laughed and screamed. Somewhere in the Aoustin, machinery clattered, and the irregular hammering of metal drifted in and out.
I leaned back and looked up at the clouds, felt the wind, and sorted through the sounds below. I sighed.
I fell asleep there in the sun. When I awoke, the town hall clock rang out the time. Three high bells. It was the third watch. Then I counted the low signals, the hours in the watch. One…. Two…. It was later than I thought. Three…. I am late, I need to get home. Four…. Momma will be looking for me. I got up, trotted as far as I could down the ridge. That took me at least twenty minutes. Then I quickly walked another forty minutes home.
I got to bed three hours before I was supposed to be at school.