Sahara Light: a Novel. Part III. Chapter XIII.

22 Mar

The technical problem was not the luculentor sending out rays in all directions, concluded Hermes. In order to achieve long-distance transmission of invisible transilient light, he needed a new receptor with special inducing ability. How could that be done? Hermes, though laying in bed, wrestled with this photonic question.

The receiver would have to resemble the emitter. The latter contained a screening collimator in front of its luculentor. What might happen if a similar paralleling device were placed within the main inductor of the receiver? Resolving to try this out the following morning, he fell asleep with the image of imprisoned Echo Syringe in his mind.

They are members of a worshiping cult here in Arethusa, Atlas told himself after studying a handwritten scroll given him by Callisto.

When she brought a tray with a midday lunch on it, he had questions to pose to her.

“How did you and your brother become followers of Artemis?” he bluntly inquired.

Sitting opposite him, she beamed an affectionate smile his way.

“Our parents passed it on to us. We are not part of any formally organized temple group or threskeia. There are only Endymion and I, plus a few lifetime friends of ours. There has never been any missionary work of recruitment by the adherents of Artemis. They inherited their belief in her, as we did from our parents. It is all based on simple tradition that was passed on to us.”

“That is quite different from recent experience with Apollo in Gamara,” said Atlas. “I am, of course, referring to the Apollonian surge of enthusiasm in the tower city. It grew and spread, but ended in a total disaster.”

“Our worship is so secretive that it can be termed clandestine,” she added. “No one beyond us is allowed to know what we do.”

“But why must your knowledge be kept so private?”

She pursed her mouth and frowned. “That became an unbreakable tradition for our ancestors on the desert. Our parents insisted on maintaining privacy. Once that rule was set down, it was continued and has never ended.”

“I still do not understand why your faith had to be hidden,” he said stubbornly.

For several seconds she seemed reluctant, but then told him the reason.

“You have heard mention of my namesake, Callisto?”

“She was a nymph who became the companion of the goddess, Artemis,” he answered.

“Her story is a complicated one, but will explain why things turned out this way for us. Callisto was a nymph in the land of Arcadia, where her father was the all-powerful king. Let me start with that monarch. He was Lycaon, son of King Pelasgos. His pride and vanity knew no bounds.

“One time, the god Zeus visited him in disguise, to see whether this haughty king would recognize the ruler of the universe, the primary divinity on Mount Olympus. King Lycaon, with suspicion in his mind, decided to have his guest undergo a test for divinity. Among the meats served at their dinner, he had human flesh placed. Would the mysterious stranger eat it or not? Some say that it was the flesh of the king’s son, Nyctimus, but that cannot be proven.

“Zeus was not at all deceived. He identified himself and punished Lycaon for fooling him into digesting what was unacceptable to an Olympian. The king was turned into a wolf and roamed the wilds of high Mount Lycaeos. He became the first human turnskin, to be hunted down like the feral animals. But Artemis, goddess of the hunt, took pity upon him and placed this wolf under her protection. She shielded him from the eternal wrath of mighty Zeus.

“Callisto, as the daughter of Lycaon, lived under a cloud of danger and potential injury. Zeus attacked and raped this innocent virgin. She bore a son of the god, Arcas by name. Artemis, feeling compassion for this victim of injustice, transformed her into a bear. Legend said that Arcas, while hunting on Mount Lycaeos, encountered this animal, who was his own mother in a changed form. He would have shot her with an arrow had not Artemis convinced Zeus to carry the two up into the sky. They became two constellations, according to tradition. They can be seen in their positions in the heavens at night.

“All the persons in Arcadia who were descended from this royal family came to be called turnskins. There came to be many thousand of them. A few came to the Sahara Desert in the Great Migration from Greece.”

“Are you and your brother part of that group?” asked Atlas with intense curiosity.

“That is the historic truth,” she replied. “There are ancient books brought here that claim that Zeus produced the world deluge that destroyed all mankind except for Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha, out of anger at King Lycaon for his trickery. There remained an undying hatred for the turnskin descendants in Arcadia. That animus seems to have followed us to the sands of the Sahara.”

“But Artemis was always more just and honest than Zeus, wasn’t she?” inquired Atlas.

Callisto grinned. “There is an honorary title that we turnskins have always given to our protectress, Artemis. We call her the one who saves us from all evils, and that is the truth.”

“That is a beautiful way to describe her!” declared Atlas.

“She guards the chastity of the young, punishing evil people with her bow and arrow. Artemis assisted Apollo in his combat with the Python. She is a healer and purifier. Our forefathers came to settle in Arethusa because she is the goddess of springs and oases. Our ancestors set up flour mills and bread ovens, for these are precious to her.”

“You and your brother, then, see her as revenger against wrong-doers,” concluded Atlas.

She answered with a nod. “Think of the story of the Aloidae and how the Huntress punished them. They were Otus and Ephialtes, twin sons of Aloeos. They were giants with superhuman strength and height. They tried to make war against all the gods on Mount Olympus, piling the mountain called Pelion upon another called Ossa in order to storm into heaven. Who was it that destroyed them before they could kill or injure the gods? Who saved mankind from the scourge of these twins? It was none other than Artemis.

“Both brothers tried to win her in marriage, falling in love with the Huntress. But she devised a way to defeat both of them. One day, when they were hunting, Artemis appeared between them in the form of a gigantic stag. The brothers shot their arrows at the same instant, but instead of hitting this animal, they killed each other. This was a deserving punishment for them, putting a final end to their wickedness.”

Atlas decided to take a daring leap with what he said next.

“I believe that Artemis would not tolerate the evil oppression that we live under today,” he asserted. “In school I learned how the goddess punished Orion and Meleager for their criminal transgressions. Can you imagine how Artemis perceives the tyranny of our present Prostagor, Nessos Asriom?”

No immediate response came from Callisto. “I must go now,” she said to him. “We shall talk about these matters again, my friend.”

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