Dissolving Utopia

People all over the planet Tarva were celebrating in the streets, celebrating centuries of peace and the abundant life all could enjoy. It was, quite literally, a utopia at the height of its life. It could just go on forever.

Or could it?

Korba looked once more at his notes – he was to give a speech before the World Council, that itself would be broadcast planetwide to all three tarvan races. This news could radically change everything for the tarvans – just because the world was a utopia, it didn’t mean that the challenges had disappeared; they had just discovered ways to deal with them in creative ways. And once again, they would have their creativity tested.

Korba sat in the hallway with his colleagues, Tsheiba the historian and Kex the geologist – each one a chief in their respective field, except Korba. Katxa the chief of astronomy was too old to travel, so her chief assistant Korba had to go to represent her.  They were to present their case before the World Council, a small group that represented the interests of the entire planet. The Council was mostly nominal, with little need to exercise its power, though the power it could wield if necessary was great. It would occasionally convene when a planetary problem arose, such as now. The three experts had come to make their case as three harbingers of doom.

Korba then stood for the seventh time to begin pacing the hallway again. Tsheiba, trying not to show her nervousness, snapped at Korba.

“Sit down!”

“I can’t, the waiting is too much!”

“Sit down!”

Before he could do that the usher, a short, slim and blue-skinned teilan, like Korba, came out, “The Council will see you now.”

In that instant Korba froze, and it took some encouragement from the usher to move.

The Council Hall was a medium-sized room, with a crescent table for nine people, three chairs for a representative of each of the Tarvan races. Behind it there was a long window looking out onto the city of Gorbon. Before the table, in the centre of the room, were placed three chairs, in which the three experts were expected to sit down. Kex and Tsheiba did so straight away, used to this place and its protocols. Korba did so hesitantly.

They waited just a few seconds, the longest few seconds in Korba’s young life, then the Council entered. First came the three teilan representatives, the most populous race on Tarva. Following them came the three taller kemphan representatives, three bulky figures covered with sandy coloured scales, though slightly darker and older than the geologist Kex. Next came the three zadican representatives, pale, tall and lithe, and hardly visible under their flowing robes.  There were few of them on Tarva – Korba had rarely seen any, and never this close.

Whilst the other council members sat, one teilan remained standing, and commenced speaking.

“The Council has read the report and we are in agreement over the findings, but we would request an explanation on the issue from yourselves, for our benefit and that of all tarvans.”

But the explanation isn’t half as interesting as the events leading up to it, so let us begin there…

 

It was four months ago to the day when Korba noticed the signal coming from the moon whilst observing a cluster of stars. At first he thought it was a glitch interfering with the radio telescope, but technicians soon discovered the source of the signal and found complex patterns within in it, which could only be understood as code. Then an odd thing happened – another signal responded from within Tarva back to the moon, and it continued, a regular interchange of signals between the planet and its moon. Korba called the chief astronomer, Katxa.

“What do we do, Katxa?”

She thought for a moment and with a flick of her wrist a screen on the wall lit up showing the face of a kemphan. It was Kex, head of geology.

“Katxa, my old friend, what may I do for you?”

“Kex, no time for pleasantries, I’m sending you some coordinates. A signal is being sent from the moon and back. There appears to be some code within it.”

Kex looked away from his monitor a moment at something off-screen and furrowed his great eyebrows.

“That is very odd, extremely. This is the site of a protein pool that has drained itself. I was just arranging to send teams down to investigate.”

“Drained?”

Kex nodded his head gravely. Nothing like this had happened, ever. And if it happened to other protein pools? Vast swathes of Tarva’s population would starve – the protein pools were what fed kemphans, teilans and zadicans alike.

Katxa took a deep breath, “Kex, I leave you to your work. We’ll carry on here and get back to you when we’ve found something significant.”

Kex nodded again and the screen went blank.

Turning to Korba, Katxa said, “Contact Tsheiba, we may need her expertise.”

Korba was confused, why they should contact the head of tarvan history – surely dusty old tomes would have nothing to say on this matter. And he voiced it.

“She has a vast archive in which we may find clues, Korba! Just get on it.”

Meanwhile, the astronomers’ own teams were getting on cracking the code, but with little to go on they couldn’t get far. Not until Tsheiba came back with some clues.

“Katxa, we’re getting a call from Tsheiba.”

A moment later her face appeared on the video screen.

“We have found a mountain of material on codes – I’ll forward those to you now. Also, I have found a curious passage about what appears to be the protein pools. Have a look.”

When sustenance dries up, an entrance be revealed.

Armed with key, make bold steps, and to the centre you must march.

Key in place, start the process, and watch Tarva unfold into space.

Katxa thanked Tsheiba and called Kex to show him the passage.

“Most curious!” exclaimed Kex, “Yes, there is a small tunnel in the drained pool. We have investigated it, and at the end there is a door of some kind leading to a very small room with lots of buttons. Seems to be an elevator of some kind. We haven’t done anything yet, we need more confirmation of what it is.”

Kex’s image disappeared from the screen and there was a palpable tension in the room. They were really getting somewhere, except for the “key” mentioned in Tsheiba’s passage. What was it? Where was it? What on Tarva did it look like?!

And then an exciting thing happened. Korba was watching on his screen the signal going between Tarva and its moon, and then watched as another signal was being sent directly to their position! And a small gasp went up from Katxa. Korba turned and saw, to his surprise, a glow coming from Katxa’s broach, which was a sign of her office as head astronomer. It was a piece of jewellery that had been handed down to each head astronomer from time immemorial.

“It’s never done that before,” she whispered.

Korba instantly stood up and, taking a small, handheld device, scanned the broach, which bleeped in confirmation.

“This is it! This is the key! We must get it down to Kex.”

“No, Korba, you must go yourself. Do the action yourself!”

 

Back in the World Council’s chamber, the representatives listened to the evidence. When all had been said, a Teilan stood up.

“We have heard the evidence, as have the world’s citizens. We now turn it over to them to decide whether to keep Tarva as it is or willingly submit ourselves to this process of planetary disintegration. Let the voting commence!”

Wherever the tarvans were, they took up their devices and voted. The results were coming in thick and fast. Within half an hour, sixty percent of the world’s population had voted, and nearly all in favour. Within an hour, nearly all the population had voted, with just a few holding back, as they had further doubts and queries to voice before they decided.

Two hours later, the votes were finally counted and the result was in: an almost unanimous vote in favour, with more abstentions than against.

 

And that is how Korba found himself on his way down a tunnel towards the place deep within Tarva, where the process of Tarva’s deconstruction would begin.

Korba moved down the tunnel carefully, aware that a whole planet was watching his movements. He clutched the key in his hand, as it was he who had the dubious honour of turning it, and taking the biggest gamble in Tarva’s history. Kex followed just behind, and one of Kex’s assistants lead the way.

Korba didn’t understand why it couldn’t have been one of them – after all, it was their natural habitat, and certainly not his. These small, cramped conditions did nothing to instil confidence in him, and he would have run out of there screaming… if two squat and stout kemphans hadn’t been blocking his way.

Lost in these thoughts, Korba didn’t realise that he was suddenly in a small chamber filled with buttons, which made him feel even more claustrophobic with two kemphans crowded in. The door closed.

Kex looked at a chart in his hands, a chart Tsheiba had given him from some of the oldest scrolls in her archive.

“If I’m right, these buttons,” and he seemed randomly press a combination of buttons, “should take us to our destination… deep within the planet.”

Suddenly Korba felt movement and a sinking feeling in his stomach. They were going down! He nearly passed out, but Kex’s assistant kept him from collapsing.

It took a while, and Korba wondered if there was enough air in that small space to breath. Just as he was feeling short of breath, their transport slowed and then stopped. The doors opened and before them was darkness. They carefully stepped forward, not sure where to go.

Kex looked at a machine in his hand, “If what I have here is right, we go straight forward. There is a large protuberance in the middle of this chamber. I’d say we head towards that. Sound fair enough?”

Korba and the assistant nodded in assent and they all walked into that darkness, until they came to a free-standing pillar. On closer inspection, they found a small dent into which the key in Korba’s hand would fit.

 

Korba placed the key in its place in the middle of that dark chamber and was amazed at the foresight of their ancestors. They knew that Tarva couldn’t go on forever. At the point when Tarva was at its strongest, it would then begin to degrade, slowly but surely. There was little choice: do it in a rational and organised way and send its people out into space to create new worlds, or let the planet fall apart and the people with it.

The lifespan of Tarva had already been decided. It wasn’t quite the end for Tarva, but it was the beginning of the end. Everything they had built over the centuries must now be slowly and methodically undone. And the people had willingly decided to do it, almost unanimously.

The key glowed more and then started melting, becoming absorbed into the pillar. All over it, glowing lines appeared, stretching all around that huge chamber, along the floor and up the walls. Korba and his companions were amazed.

The process would take several centuries to complete, but it had been irreversibly begun. The first ship detached itself from the surface of Tarva and went out into the stars. A whole universe before it.

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Rain Splash

"Rain Splash"

“Rain Splash”

Another course of EcoArt begins so I’ll share my work here. Beginning the course was Movement. I watched the rain falling, and a continuous stream of water dropped from the roof and was hitting the floor, droplets of water splashing in all directions, leaving the ground soggy. Water is a very powerful example of movement in nature.

The Arena

Latest short story addition to the Tsorbanth series

“The pictures don’t do it justice.”
“No, they don’t at all. It’s huge and just so magnificent!”
The Arena loomed up ahead – its shadow was awe-inspiring to the passengers of the small space shuttle heading towards it. It wasn’t a little stadium, but a huge comet-sized rock hanging now in orbit over the world of Kasnein, where lived the kasna, a feline-like humanoid race.
“Just imagine, it’s going to take days, if not weeks to get to the core. We don’t have enough supplies.”
“Not at all! Remember your training, not everything is as it seems on the Arena. And if it does take that long, the forest will provide.”
Every year the Arena would stop off at a planet. It was Kasnein’s turn this year to host the Arena and take part in the Game, a gruelling challenge where a small group of candidates would have to gain access to the centre of the Arena to find the Eternal Star, where they would be gifted with a substantial supply of energy for their planet.
“They say it has no pilot and just floats in space.”
“Yes, and there are no cities or villages.”
“The ghoots live as animals in the forest and the hallan are said not to need physical sustenance.”
The team shuddered at their names – the beastly ghoots and ethereal hallan were the creatures native to the Arena, sworn to protect it and its treasure, and would provide many traps and challenges for the chosen team.
The leader stood up.
“Get your equipment ready, we’re almost there.”
They started picking up packs and adjusting straps, and they donned their helmets, covering their expressions of worry and determination. Orzz, the leader, was the most confident of them all, it was her job to make decisions, keep the team coordinated and orientated to their destination. Herrun was the most worried, and it was his job to carry the star node that would collect and store the energy they won. Then there was Kren and her brother Jarron, who would act as scouts and guards. They were forbidden to carry weapons in and, like the ghoots, would have to use whatever they could find on the forest floor. Still useless, of course, against the hallan, whose attacks were based on fear, distraction and deception.
The team’s craft set down and the hatch opened onto a rocky plateau. They ran, in formation, across it until they reached a precipice that gave them the full view of the Arena. They saw a huge bowl, surrounded by the wall of stone they stood on and filled with forest, all centred around a great lake. From this lake rose an island, glowing with the promise of the Eternal Star. It was magnificent, it was real and each one felt an excitement building up within them.
But, their senses heightened, they all suddenly turned, feeling something behind them, and standing there stood a pack of ghoots, hairy beasts on two legs bearing a mixture of hooves, horns, claws, fangs and tusks. All were heavily armed with crude clubs, stones axes and spears, and they had a look in their eyes that said they were ready to use them.
One particularly tall and dark one stood forward, and spoke with a surprisingly civilised tone of voice.
“You are most welcome to the Arena – we hope your sojourn here is an interesting one. We will give you one hour of safe time to descend the wall to the forest and make plans – then the hunt is on.”
The ghoots seemed to dematerialise before them, dissolving into the blackness of space behind.
Orzz quickly regained her wits, “Come on then, you heard what it said – down we go, now!”
They found a way that was like a very steep, windy and narrow stairway down the cliff’s face. The kasna were, fortunately, an agile race, so they were soon down, making camp and planning their next move. Orzz had been scanning the landscape, but trees and thick vegetation made it difficult to make out the contours of the landscape. They would have to walk into it fairly blindly and had only the guidance of a compass to tell them where they were. It didn’t point north – there was no North here – but the closer they got to the core, the faster it span. Some mysterious force interfered with most technologies, and so only skill and native wits would have to serve.
Orzz ordered Jarron and Kren off in two different directions to get some idea about routes.
“Get as far as you can and come back in twenty minutes.”
The scouts left, leaving Orzz to think through strategies – all of which were useless in the Arena, but they served to focus the mind – and Herrun to tend to the star node. He took the fist-sized crystal in his hand, turning its glowing form this way and that.
Almost exactly twenty minutes later, Kren arrived. She glanced around the clearing quickly and there was the faint flicker of concern in her eyes.
“Where’s Jarron?”
“Not here. Report first.”
“There’s a clear path ahead that leads to a stream, and seems to go beyond. And Jarron?”
“We wait one more minute and no longer. Our priority is the Eternal Star.”
Orzz was right, Kren knew, but that didn’t make having her brother missing any easier.
One minute went by, but Jarron still did not appear, and so it was they went ahead without him. Kren lead the way and Orzz took up the rear, leaving Herrun protected in the middle. They were given “safe time” but they still kept their wits about them. It would serve them later not to let down their guard now. They reached the stream where there was a ford, with only a couple of minutes left to spare, but when Kren looked around for Orzz, she was nowhere to be seen. Herrun hadn’t noticed either; he just looked at Kren with a lost look in his eyes. He was a technician, and though he’d had some military and survival training, his expertise couldn’t be relied on to get them through this situation – that honour fell to Kren, she was now the leader.
It dawned on her just how strange a situation this was – they’d been given safe time and yet two members of the team had disappeared. The ghoots had lied to them! Following the path wouldn’t be safe, and all rivers here led to the lake, so she decided to go with the flow. The water was deep and flowing, so Kren looked around and found a log. She set it afloat and the two remaining kasna grabbed hold of it, and let the river follow them.
For a while things were quiet, but occasionally they’d hear things moving around in the forest. Sometimes there were ghoot cries that seemed to come closer and then fade away as if they were chasing some other quarry. At one point the noises came so close that the kasna had to propel their craft towards a bank and hide beneath the overhanging vines. A ghoot came and stood right over them, close enough to smell, but its attention was drawn away by something. They waited for a while longer and pushed off, carrying on down the river.

They had been floating quite a while, but Kren had the impression they weren’t getting anywhere.
“Herrun, next time we come across a break in the banks, we’ll swim towards it. I want to see where we are, okay?”
Herrun just grunted in affirmation, too occupied hanging on to the log to give another reply.
Finally they reached a ford, allowing them to get out of the river and look where they were, but what they saw disheartened them. It was the same ford they had started from earlier.
“How can this happen? All rivers lead to the lake, don’t they?” Kren said.
Herrun seemed to have thought it over, “It could be the hallan. They’ve tricked us!”
Kren thought about crossing the ford and carry on down the path, but she was distracted by the smell of wood smoke and food. Neither hallan nor ghoot had need for fire, so it could mean only one thing. Orzz or Jarron were about.
“Herrun, follow me!”
And so they followed her nose in the direction of the smoke until they came to a clearing. In the centre there was a fire, with an animal of the Arena on a spit. She caught the whiff of meat and felt hungry. By the fire sat two figures, Orzz and Jarron, quietly waiting for their food to cook.
They then turned towards her with smiles on their faces, but something didn’t feel right to Kren, their eyes were blank and staring.
“Herrun, Kren, you’re just in time, we were about to eat.”
Herrun ran forward, dropping his bag on the floor, “Oh good, I’m famished and so cold! Make space.”
“Herrun, it’s another trap!”
But he wasn’t listening he was reaching for the meat, and suddenly the two figures of Orzz and Jarron melted and disappeared, along with Herrun. What was left was the clearing and a ring of ghoot surrounding Kren. They began to close in on her.
Suddenly two shadows came from behind and began attacking the ghoot, throwing mud and stones and swinging sticks. It was the distraction Kren needed, she saw the bag containing the all-important star node and she took it up and went through a gap that had opened up in the circle of ghoot.
She would have to finish this mission by herself. Herrun was the engineer that knew about the star node, but they’d all been trained a bit. She ran through the jungle, not bothering about direction, hearing the sounds of battle continue behind her.
She hadn’t been running long when she came across the shore of a lake. Could it be the lake, she thought to herself? It was covered with a thick mist, and she couldn’t see a thing. Nothing could be trusted here, everything could be a trick created by the hallan, and the mist that began to cover everything seemed to confirm this.
A log floated nearby, one that looked remarkably similar to the one she’d used earlier. She had only her instinct and gut feeling to trust, so she stepped towards the log, caught hold of it and floated into the lake. Kren could see nothing, and couldn’t orientate herself, she just kicked her legs and headed away from the shore. The more she went on the colder it seemed, and though the lake was big, it didn’t seem deep, because she’d often feel her legs bumping against solid stone or entangled in weeds. It wasn’t until a stone moved and some weeds grabbed Kren that she thought maybe they weren’t what they seemed after all.
One tendril, from foot to knee, wrapped itself around her and pulled. She grabbed tightly to the log, which was just enough to keep her afloat. More tendrils wrapped themselves around her, and slowly pulled her down log and all. As the tendrils wrapped around her Kreb wrapped herself around the log, using all her strength to stop it from floating back up. Slowly she freed one arm and took her knife from her belt. She hacked at the tendrils, and with each swipe she felt the log move up. With one final swipe the log shot to the surface carrying Kren with it. She took a long gulp of air, and tried to maintain her balance.
Kren looked around, still virtually blind, but then listened carefully, and heard water lapping gently on a shore. She had to get out of the water as quick as possible, so let go of the log and swam in the direction of the sound. Every time something brushed her leg she cut with her knife just to make sure, but it seemed the tendrils hadn’t come back. She was tiring quickly, getting very cold, and afraid of another trick, but she soon came upon solid ground, that really was solid, that rose until it emerged above the waters. Kren was on land, but what land she didn’t know.
She collapsed, not caring for a moment if she was caught, but then she thought of her planet and her people’s hope for energy from the Eternal Star, and of her companions Orzz, Herrun and her brother Jarron, and their sacrifice that allowed her to get here. She stiffly got up and walked inland, and the mist slowly parted, revealing a stony floor and what seemed to be a cliff with a cave in it. She couldn’t believe her eyes, had she finally made it? She warily approached the cave, but neither saw nor heard anything to arouse her suspicions. She entered the darkness, sniffing the stale air, and listening for any movement, but all was silence. Where she walked the walls illuminated her way, showing a corridor lined with doors. But Kren’s attention was on the faint light up ahead.
Finally, Kren came to the end of the corridor and entered a big chamber at the centre of which was a small, natural plinth with a depression in the top, just enough for the star node to fit. She went towards it, took the node out of her backpack and held it over the plinth where it floated and started spinning. As it span it began to glow brightly as the energy channelled up from the Eternal Star began to fill it. So much energy, her people would be able to use it for the development of their society, as a boost for many of their projects, which in turn would improve their lives and lifestyles. Some races glutted themselves on it, using up the energy all in one go, and then regressing to their previous state for another hundred years. Her own people had already drawn up plans to invest their energy in the development of infrastructure, technology and research, with long-term results. But only if their candidates overcame the twin challenges of the hallan and ghoots and achieved what few did.
As the node brightened, Kren noticed a change in the chamber, figures began appearing, as did tables with food. She realised she was surrounded by a feast populated by a variety of alien species, all participants in the Arena’s history.
She even recognised the faces of previous candidates that had attempted and failed the challenge of the Eternal Star, never returning to their home planet. Three faces particularly caught her attention, and her heart froze in surprise, it was her companions! They grinned sheepishly at her and she just ran towards them, wrapping her arms around each of them in turn.
“What’s happening? How did you get here?” she couldn’t understand any of this.
Had she really found the Eternal Star or was it another trick of the hallan?
Kren’s didn’t have to utter a word, her questioning face evoked an answer from Orzz.
“We are in the presence of the ghoot and hallan. This is the Feast, when the inhabitants of the Arena shed their forms of ghoot and hallan and become what they were before. They were all candidates, people that came to the Arena and failed, and for that they must remain here and live as ghoot or hallan, whichever they choose.”
Sadness overtook Kren’s face as she looked at Jarron.
“Does this mean…?”
Jarron grimaced, “Yeah, sis, we’re staying here, as ghoot or hallan.”
Kren and Jarron hugged, knowing this would be the last time they saw each other.
There was still one thing that she didn’t understand, one doubt hanging over it all.
“Jarron, what happened to you right at the beginning, did the ghoots take you?”
“No, they still kept their promise, they didn’t touch me, or Orzz for that matter.”
Kren furrowed her eyebrows, but then she had it, remembering the moment that she was surrounded by ghoots and then they were attacked.
“You’ve been with me all along! It was you and Orzz that attacked the ghoots when I was surrounded, and you’ve been distracting them all this time, drawing them away when they go close to me and Herrun. You and Orzz have been planning this from the beginning! Were you in on it, too, Herrun?”
“I’m ashamed to say that I wasn’t, I didn’t even know about their plan. I was meant to be with you at the end, but the hallan got the better of me. Not the life I imagined for myself, but at least this was we get to see the universe!”
Just then a great mammoth of an alien lofted a drinking horn, “We welcome Orzz, Jarron and Herrun to our fellowship and congratulate Kren on achieving what so few achieve. May the light of the Eternal Star go with her and her planet! Now back to the feast!”
The rest of the celebration was bitter sweet, with beautiful music and delicious fare from the forests of the Arena, and of course the glory of gaining energy for her planet, but it was all to great personal loss. She had known before that she could lose her brother and companions, or even herself, but it still hurt. If each member of her race could feel the same loss, would they allow? Probably, she would, but she’d like to think they would value this sacrifice correctly. The energy of the Eternal Star was a great gift, and was not to be taken for granted.

Time’s March and Flow

It’s a common theme: need more time! Well, why not transform the relentless March of Time (which is a human fiction, anyway) to the Flow of Time (which is natural).

March of Time

March of Time

 

The Flow of Time, bathed in the elements of nature, leaving the March of Time as just another archeological layer of the past

The Flow of Time, bathed in the elements of nature, leaving the March of Time as just another archeological layer of the past