Chapter VI.

21 Jul

There was no reference whatever to heliac rays and cosmic energy derived from them in any of the technical guides or manuals of Emies Plasq.

Yie was in a quandary over whether he should bring up the subject with his master on his own. Would his interest in heliac power from a sun arouse suspicions about what he was thinking about? Would it cause him avoidable trouble? There was no way to predict ahead of time. Any initiative by him would be a gamble.

In fact, it was Emies himself who opened the door to discussion of that particular variety of radiation and energy, still unexploited.

The two were walking back to their apartment from the dynamics station, where they had spent the morning in inspection and calibration. It was Emies who began to think aloud.

“I have often speculated about the weak ultra-galactic rays that bombard Tegumen all day and all night. Of course, they are mixed in with the galactic ones. And during daylight, with what we receive directly from the heliac above us in the sky.

“Those rays are not as clearly evident as the others. But I wonder at times whether we are producing iotas from them along with the galactic rays we concentrate on catching. Are they included, but not separated or distinguished from the other type of rays, like the iotic?”

Yie seized the opportunity offered him by this statement from his teacher.

“Are we also utilizing radiation from the heliac without recognizing what its source is? Is such self-deception possible, sir?”

No answer came immediately, because Emies was still pondering deeply. When he spoke, at last, his voice sounded distant and unnatural.

“There are certain important topics that were studied a long time ago and settled then in a final sense. Those matters are part of that established area. When our stations were first set up on the mountain peaks, the questions you mentioned were brought up. Ever since then, the conventional interpretations of light rays and energy prevail. No, there is no actual heliac radiation involved in any of our operations. This is true both at night and during the day, when the orb of the heliac shines down on us. There is nothing but light and heat descending, without iotic energy of any kind coming directly from the heliac.

“Does that answer your question, Yie?”

“I guess so,” muttered the prentice. At least for the time being, he tentatively conceded to himself. But the young man from the valley knew he was not finished studying heliac light rays of the sun, a topic that intrigued him profoundly. He still did not know as much about them as he wished.

Joa had some news to relate to him that evening in the depository.

“I convinced my father that you should be invited to his Settler Day banquet. It is the greatest holiday that we celebrate in the claustrum and is held in commemoration of the pioneers who traveled to Tegumen so many eons ago. There is nothing else approaching it. The celebration is our greatest and happiest one.

“He was hesitant to have you there, since you are not one of us by birth. There has never been a belower attending before now. You shall be the first and only one, Yie. Isn’t that quite an honor? I would certainly think so.”

The prentice grimaced. “But I have no fine clothing to wear, only what I use for work and study, nothing more. How would it appear if I came looking like that? I fear that I would cause myself profound embarrassment that would never be forgotten. My being present might create a terrible scandal.”

Joa grinned with good humor. “That cannot be an excuse for not being there with us. There are no dress requirements as such. It will be a come-as-you-are invitation to the prentice of Brother Emies. No one will expect any sparkling fineries on you. There can be no excuse for you not attending, none at all. You must be present and enjoy our most important holiday.”

“I shall have to be there, then,” carefully concluded Yie with a serious, sober face.

In the next two days, Yie steeled himself for attendance at the Hegumen’s celebration of the Settler Day, a holiday totally unknown to the people of the valleys. It had never been heard of before by the young dorper.

His mood was a desolute one, for he had failed to find any further information concerning the heliac energy in any of the depository sources. His mind had sunken into deep despair. He was frustrated in what he had hoped to find out.

In his everyday costume of dark brown, he walked with Emies to the hegumenia. His tutor led him into the great reception hall that was an integral part of the palatial residence at the exact center of the Zeviv Claustrum.

Festive decorations had been placed and attached everywhere. Red ribbons, wreaths, and decorative laurels hung throughout the entertainment hall. At the head table sat the Hegumen, his daughter, and the highest officials of the claustrum community. Males and females, both married and unmarried, filled the large space available. A solid crowd packed the whole hall. There was movement and noise on all sides.

“First, we take us some food,” said Emies to his prentice, steering him toward a long table loaded with rich delicacies of many kinds.

Yie had never seen or tasted most of what was offered there.

The two picked up white ceramic plates and filled them with chevrotain, serow, and slices of wild pig. Barley and oat pancakes formed high piles. Coastal fruit transported great distances was available: pomegranates, mangoes, quince, soapberries, mammee fruit, etc.

Never had Yie seen such abundance of eatables. His mentor had to identify most of the food for his benefit since he had never seen most of them before.

With overfilled plates, the pair moved to the head table, where two empty places were set off for them. Joa smiled with joy at their approach, pointing to the empty seats reserved for the pair.

Her father appeared oblivious of their presence, talking on one side with one of his subordinates. No greetings came from him for the two new arrivals.

Does the Hegumen intend to be insulting? wondered Yie. But it was the daughter, in a fine pink taffeta gown, who leaned over to ask the young man a question.

“What do you think of our Settler Day? Isn’t it magnificent?”

He nodded. “Yes, I find it extremely impressive. Thank you for the invitation to attend and share the occasion with you. I have never witnessed nor participated in anything like this. All that I see overwhelms me.”

The two were exchanging smiles when the voice of the Hegumen interceded between them, the pair about to talk to each other.

“What do you think, young fellow?” asked the chief of the claustrum. “I wager there is nothing like this far below in the valleys.”

Yie jerked himself to attention. How was he to reply to this challenge?

“I find everything I am unfamiliar with most interesting, Your Grace,” he said in a polite voice. “It touches me to observe your continuation of old traditions in this way. I am moved by what is happening in front of me.”

“Yes, we cling to our past and do not abandon it. That is what fills our people of the height with pride: our steadfast loyalty to the concepts and ideals of our hallowed ancestors. We must never stray from what our history has given to us. Our legacy from our ancestors is a priceless treasure that must be maintained and preserved.”

Yie made no reply to this, so the Hegumen went on.

“Our distant founders came to Tegumen as pioneers who had to tame a wild, uninhabited planet. Their goal was to preserve and never lose the intellectual values that they brought along with them. That heritage is what we are assembled here to commemorate, as well as keep alive for the future. Nothing of our inheritance must be lost. It must survive and live on.”

The glaucous eyes of Joa, fixed onto his face, seemed to be demanding that Yie break his silence with some appropriate response.

“Each individual knows best the people and the customs among which he was raised and grew up. So it was with me, sir. I am familiar with the ways and the holidays of the valley where I was born. But up here in your claustrum I am in a new, different realm. Today, I am experiencing Settler Day for the first time in my life. It would be similar, sir, to your climbing down the mountain to observe how we belowers celebrate Declension Day.

“Are you familiar with that valley holiday, sir?”

Taken by surprise, Nomb Aacn frowned and scowled angrily.

“No, I do not concern myself with anything so strange and foreign to me. Not at all. I have no knowledge whatsoever of anything like that. All of that is a mystery to me.”

With that, the Hegumen inclined his head away and began conversing with the subordinate sitting on the opposite side.

Both Emies and Yie attacked the food on their plates with eating utensils. Joa dared not speak with her new closest friend. No more exchanges occurred. As soon as he was finished, the prentice excused himself to those at the table and made a rapid exit from the hall.

He had not felt comfortable at all in surroundings so alien to his own experience. How could he ever fit into a society so strange to him?

Was he expected to make drastic changes in himself? How could he deny what he had learned down in his valley?

Yie realized that he was never going to be a part of the life of the claustrum and its inhabitants. Their lives were those of a privileged elite to which he would never belong.

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