10 Aug

Am I turning into a neuropath? worried Rixo Hylet with anxiety that mounted each day. Should I seek professional help? If the matter became known it could harm his career as an aerodyne engineer for Madrepore Skycraft.

The young man, lanky and ruby-skinned, decided it was best to reveal the problem to the famed airship designer, Eblis Chine. Rixo saw this older man as his protective mentor and guardian. After all, they were the only two Simics employed by the aviation company at its central facility in the capital of Madrepore.

Rixo went to the office of the great designer and told the personal aide that he had to speak in private with his boss at once. Within seconds, the young engineer was admitted into the closed-off sanctum of Eblis Chine. The latter’s round, roseate face held a clearly sincere smile. “Sit down, my friend. What is it that brings you to me today?”

It took a little while for the visitor to settle himself into a soft gummi chair, then organize his introductory statement and explanation. Only then did he speak.

“My work is suffering because of a non-physical ailment that has assailed me. My mind is in a state that I have never experienced before. The situation is growing more and more serious. It will soon become impossible for me to continue my work for the company.”

Chine gave him a searching look with his deep umber eyes. “Will you, please, describe this condition of mind for me? How do you feel when it comes upon you?”

A few moments of hesitation followed, then Rixo’s words flowed out in a gush.

“It seems as if a feeling of absolute emptiness takes hold of me. I cannot act or think. Everything becomes null. A vacuum appears to take hold of all my being. Do I continue to exist? my mind wonders. It is as if my personal identity turns void. All my thoughts and emotions become nothing.”

Eblis Chine gazed penetratingly at his face. His voice fell to nearly a whisper. “You feel a nothingness when that happens?”

“Yes, that is how it then is.”

The aerodyne designer thought privately for a short while, then posed an unexpected question. “I remember that you were born and grew up here in Madrepore. Am I correct about that?”

“Yes, sir. My grandparents moved to this city at the time of the Astralic conquest of central Simicula. That was a difficult time for those forced to flee their homes.”

Chine pursed his lips. “I myself was born in Verzem Native State, as it is now called by our conquerors. But tell me this, if you will: why haven’t you gone to a licensed alienist for psychiatric therapy? Isn’t that a logical step for you to take?”

“I don’t need a conventional doctor of the mind,” answered the engineer. “Their science is questionable to me. As far as I know, it has never been of benefit to people like me, a Simic of old Simicula.”

The older man reflected a few moments.

“There exists an alternative. Are you familiar with the onticians who practice back in Verzem? I know one who could help you, if you saw him.” He paused a while. “Why don’t you apply for leave of absence and go to Verzem City, where my friend lives? I will help make the arrangements for you, so that you can stay right there at the ontic keniset.”

Somewhat overwhelmed, Rixo succeeded in giving a nod of acceptance.

“Yes, that might be the way to cure this sickness.”

“I own a small cottage on the edge of that city,” added Eblis. “My plan is to spend some time there later this month. I hope that we are able to see each other while we are both in Verzem City. I am confident that ontics can make your despondent nihility disappear. I know that it works, believe me.”

Rixo flew in an almost empty twelve-seater. He quickly realized that it was a provincial, low-traffic sky route. There was to be someone to meet him at the landing terminal. It was a surprise when this turned out to be the ontician who was to treat him, Azakh Niu.

The latter was a short, slim, ascetic figure with the deep purplish, red carmine complexion of a tribesman from the back country. Rixo had rarely seen anyone with such sanguine, almost crimson coloring.

“How was your air trip, my good fellow?” inquired Niu as he led the traveler to a parked cabriolet. “I trust it was a pleasant flight. You are probably eager to settle into the keniset and have a look around our place.”

“Yes,” agreed Rixo. “That would interest me greatly.”

At that moment, a high buzzing sound broke out.

“My talk-cube,” said Azakh with a smile, taking a tiny remote box from the side pocket of his silk coat jacket. The hum ended when he pressed the speaker-control of the cube.

“This is Azakh Niu here,” said the ontician, holding the instrument near his mouth.

An excited male voice flowed forth, loud enough for Rixo to hear the message.

“Come at once, sir, to Principality Square. A student demonstration is being suppressed with force. There have been many arrests already. The Princely Sentinels have arrived, supplementing the city police. The demonstration leaders do not know what to do.”

“I shall be there as soon as possible,” said the little man with the crimson face. He closed off the electron wave connection and put the talk-cube back in his jacket pocket.

“Jump in quickly,” he told the patient. “We have to reach the trouble spot at once.”

The cabriolet stopped at the edge of the square and the two men climbed out.

Rixo caught sight of injured bodies lying about a great monument fountain, being bandaged and treated by comrades. A troop of rough giants in yellow uniforms were marching off demonstrators under arrest, placing them in motorized prisoner carriers. The battle was visibly over, won by the official Sentinels. The young people’s defeat was evident to all participants and witnesses.

“Stay here,” indicated Azakh Niu to his companion. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Rixo watched him walk away toward the disoriented remnants of the demonstration.

What caused this tragic confrontation? the newcomer asked himself.

A picket sign lay on the pink blocks beside the cabriolet. What was written on it? “Give me isonomy” it said. Isonomy? Rixo searched his memory for a definition. In seconds, he understood the demand. Equal political rights for Simics within their own country. The same civil powers enjoyed by the Astralite conquerors. Equal standing and position for both ethnic groupings, that was the goal being sought.

Rixo grew curious about the connection of Azakh Niu to these protesters and their demand. He watched him conversing with the leaders of the defeated young demonstrators. The ontician was speaking vociferously, as if he was taking command of those left in Principality Square. Gradually, the numbers diminished to a handful. At last, Azakh turned around and returned to the vehicle. Not till both men were once again inside the cabriolet was any explanation offered the visitor.

“Most of these young men and women are students at Technical University. They have been saturated with the rigorous scientism of the Astralic conquerors. There is little knowledge of ontics or its history among them. Equal rights for the natives of Verzem is their immediate aim. That is why they formed the Isonomic League to agitate for that goal.

“When some of the youth came to me, seeking help and protection, I could not refuse. The central keniset became their secret headquarters.”

Rixo took this all in with amazement, thereby encouraging the other to go on.

“You must be familiar with our history,” said Niu. “Ontics began as a metaphysical system that the common people of Verzem accepted almost as their religion, as far as they could understand it. This wide popular support has always been central to the many kenisets established across the land centuries ago. Today, we see our youth demanding equal rights and ethnic autonomy. I cannot stand apart, on the side. You will see for yourself what I mean to do for them.”

The driver started the engine of the cabriolet and drove off from the square.

Where the main altar of the keniset had once stood, there was now an open space surrounded on four sides by loggia galleries with doors to ancient meditation cells. An aide to Niu led Rixo to the one assigned to him for his stay. His luggage was delivered there shortly. After a rest, the new arrival was ready for lunch with his advisor-therapist. An aide guided him to a small, round table in a secluded gallery where the Director was waiting for his newest patient.

“How did you like your quarters?” asked the older man.

As an attendant served them poulard patties off of a wheeled cart, Rixo gave a reply. “Adequate and comfortable, sir. I’m ready to start my studies in ontics.”

“Good,” smiled Azakh, continuing to talk as the other started to eat.

“This location we are sitting in was once the sacred adytum of the original keniset on this site. Only the most advanced adepts were permitted to enter here. But all that has changed, of course, since therapeutic philosophy replaced the religious aspects of ontics. Yet the great discoveries of that first, early phase are still with us down to today. You will see all that for yourself as you master the ontic methods of thought.”

Rixo gave an affirming nod. “My aim is to overcome my nihility and its effects on my life.”

“That shall come about,” promised the Director, “when the principle of Unbeing replaces the Nullity at the center of your mind and soul. This may not seem clear at present, or for some time to come. But eventually the truth will grow lucidly visible to you.

“Being differs from Nothingness, that is evident to everyone. But beyond complete Nullity, there is a state more empty than any Nihility of mind or soul. Your exercises here will take you beyond even Non-Being, to the most extreme possible distance. The ultimate destination will be Unbeing, something that was there before Being itself was. It is the Primeval Unbeing that can never be erased from our unconscious memories. Yet it will not be easy to reach that place at all. You will experience the truth of what I am saying.

“It is very difficult to describe for you what is going to happen as you move forward as a student of ontics.”

Rixo noticed that Azakh was looking behind him. Moving his head around, the engineer caught sight of a small group of men in yellow uniforms approaching. The squad stopped in unison, as if in formation. One of the men with the shoulder insignia of an officer spoke in a rough, chill voice.

“Director Niu?” he demanded.

“Yes, what is it?”

“Please come with us, sir. You are, from this moment, under arrest. We are responsible for your safe delivery to the central lockup. Get up at once, please.”

Rixo, totally stunned, watched as the Sentinels marched off the therapists.

Making his way back to his cell, the new patient met a group of about a dozen young people who resembled the protesters seen at Principality Square. The platoon approached him in silence, walking in the opposite direction.

Rixo stared at the group, gliding to the side to make way for them.

All at once, a short female with a rosaceous complexion halted by his side. The rest of the contingent of youths also stopped.

The young woman’s umber eyes studied the stranger’s face with intensity that approached rudeness.

“Are you now here?” she curtly said with a seeming lack of rational logic.

“Yes,” he muttered in confusion. “I arrived only today to study ontics with Azakh Niu.”

“You must go down with us to the inner penetralia. A state of emergency has been declared by the provincial government. Prince Migne has suspended all civilian institutions and taken over plenary power. That places all of Verzem under his dictatorial rule. Have you seen Dr. Niu yet?”

“I was with him when a group of Sentinels came and arrested him. They took him away from the keniset.”

She frowned darkly. “You must join with us. We are all Isonomics. You will be safe among us.”

Rixo did just that, walking beside the small female who had addressed him. For the present, he kept up with the former demonstrators. Where were they headed? He had read of secret ontic sanctuaria built in the early days when the movement was dominant. That had to be where this crew was going, at this moment of immanent danger.

The walking group entered an area concealed behind a latticed screen. Rixo and the others stopped here among shadows. The short woman whispered to him.

“I will be the last to descend and you shall go down with me. Do not be afraid. Watch me and learn how the conveyor operates. It is easy to use once you know how to work it.”

Rixo gazed into her circular face. She gave him a smile of encouragement.

Two by two, the Isonomics disappeared behind a latticed partition. In only moments, Rixo and his guide were left the only persons present.

“Follow me,” she gently told him.

The pair moved into the shade behind the screen, into an area paved with rectangular slabs of argillaceous rock. Rixo could not remember ever having seen such unusual flagstones before. The woman placed a hand upon his right forearm and led him to a large central piece of argillite.

“Stand here by me,” she commanded him.

As the two of them stood facing each other and looking into each other’s eyes, a feeling of sudden motion struck Rixo.

“This descender takes us down into the substruction of the keniset,” she said with a sudden grin. “Do not be afraid. There is safety for us down here.”

The deep penetralia were full of surprises. Chambers, vaults, compartments, and twisting passages lay around. But nothing was a bigger surprise to Rixo than the identity of the person who had brought him here.

“Varab Chine,” she informed him at the first opportunity, as they sat across from each other at a small drupewood table.

Rixo swallowed hard. “I work at Madrepore Skycraft under a man named Eblis Chine.”

“That’s my father!” she excitedly said. “He moved there when my mother separated from him. I have not seen much of him since then, almost nothing at all. We hardly communicate except once in a long while.”

It was plain to Rixo that she did not wish to continue on the subject of her father.

“Azakh Niu has been our movement’s patron and protector,” she continued. “At every step, he has given us vital support. It is a tragedy that the Sentinels have arrested him. The Director has become the most prominent victim of this oppressive government. For now, we will have to hide as best we can.”

Rixo studied her attractive face, trying to decipher what was behind it. He decided to tell her more about himself.

“Your father is the cause of my journey here. Let me explain. He advised me to come to the keniset for ontic study and guidance. You see, I have suffered severe nihility of mind and soul. Director Niu has taken responsibility for my therapy. We were about to begin our work together, but his arrest intervened. Now, I am without a guide through ontics and its methods of treatment and meditation.”

Varab Chine suddenly seemed distant. “I cannot help you on that. Neither can any of the Isonomics down here with us. Ontics is a fossil relic from the past for us. None of us take it very seriously.”

Rixo decided to change the subject to something more immediate.

“How long will we have to stay in these penetralia, do you think?”

“That is hard to say. This hidden refuge may have to shelter us for quite some time. The state of emergency above ground is an absolute one. As long as it is in effect, the streets are not safe for any of us. But we have plenty of food and water here. There is no necessity forcing us to surface until conditions are safe and secure.”

“I see,” sighed the aerodyne engineer. “We have to keep busy until we leave, though.”

“There has been planning and preparation for what my comrades and I will be doing down here,” said Varab. “Is there anything that you think could keep you occupied in the days ahead?”

He thought a moment. “Yes, I intend to work on ontics by myself.”


“It will have to be that way, it appears.”

Life formed into routines in the substruction under the keniset.

The Isonomic crew planned future demonstrations and mass actions,keeping in touch with other units by means of sonic transponders. Endless discussions ensued among the groups of activists. The course of the state of emergency was monitored by Varab and her associates. Developments throughout Verzem became known to them.

“The Sentinels are everywhere,” comely Varab told Rixo. “They see and report everything. All our people’s rights and liberties are gone.”

“What can your movement do now?” he sadly asked her.

“Little, except wait,” muttered Varab. Suddenly, she changed the subject.

“How is your ontic work progressing?”

“It is slow, because I knew only a few general principles before coming down here with you and your friends.”

Her eyes brightened. “Would you like to have some advanced volumes and folios, Rixo? They could be obtained for you from above by using the hidden levator.”

“Yes,” he smiled at her, ” that would be a wonderful aid for me. I would appreciate any such materials, if I could see and study them.”

“Come along with me, then.”

It took but a few minutes for the two of them to ascend to the ground level of the keniset and find the library. Shelves bulged with volumes and paginals. Rixo broused through the titles and labels, delighted by the contents indicated.

“I must take some of these below with me,” he told his guide. “They will be of infinite help to me.”

“Let’s find something to carry the folios in,” suggested Varab. She found two large pasteboard boxes and gave them to her companion.

“Here, put what you want into these.”

Rixo chose the folios of greatest interest to him. “The Secrets of Unbeing”, “Nothingness and the Numen”, “The Sickness of Nihility”, “None-existence and the Mind”, “The Curricle of the Void”, and “Psychoasthenia and Nullity”.

When the boxes were full, they left the library, Varab turning off the ceiling lantern. Each of them carried a box toward the great chancel screen, placing their loads on the argil plate of the conveyor. Working the tiny, almost invisible, floor switches, Varab sent the two boxes of folios down to the bottom.

The two of them stood close together, watching the flagstone descend.

All of a sudden, Rixo felt an inner surge.

How it happened, he was never certain later on. But when the levator plate returned to the ground floor, he and Varab were in a clinging embrace, kissing each other with heated emotions.

Not until several minutes passed did they take the conveyor below to the penetralia.

Rixo studied, meditated, and came to understand the ontic concepts and methods. He had a partner now, for curiosity about the ancient system germinated and grew in Varab. From a scoffer, she became an enthusiast, thanks to the influence of her lover.

Varab now joined him in reading and contemplative exercises. Ontics drew them closer, cementing their feelings for each other. Both became enthralled with the ontic system of ideas.

“We need more folios,” said the engineer. “Both of us have read what we carried down here from beginning to end.”

“That means we have to return upstairs,” she told him with a grin.

“Ontics is making you a changed personality, Varab. Do you sense that?”

Her face turned serious and reflective. “You too are becoming a new you, my dear,” she said softly. “I will be forever indebted to you for all that has resulted.”

In a short while, they were back on the ground floor of the keniset, making their way to the library. Each of them held a gunny bag in which to carry reading material. Rixo also carried a portable lantern. It was he who first spotted a moving shape behind the lattice screen as they passed it.

Signaling Varab to stop, Rixo put down the lantern and the sack. He then tiptoed over to the alcove where he had noticed the movement. Out of the darkness emerged a short, rotund figure. It was a fat man in the yellow uniform of a Sentinel. His features grew distinct as he came closer.

Diamond-sharp eyes peered forth from out of a pale pink face.

“Who are you?” demanded Rixo of the stranger.

“I might ask the same of you, my good man,” said the latter in a languorous voice. “Which one of us is going to identify himself first.”

The round man in uniform seemed to be unaware of the presence of Varab, still in the shadows beyond the light of the lantern.

All of a sudden, the plump body began to sway from side to side, then backwards and forwards. Somehow, he managed to restore a measure of equilibrium to himself.

“You have to excuse my condition. I am not well, not at all. That is my reason for being here, I have to confess.”

“You are ill, then?” asked Rixo with increasing curiosity.

The large round head nodded yes.

“And you entered this keniset seeking alleviation?”

The fat one hesitated, but then spoke.

“Conventional medicos cannot help me. I suffer spasms of…nothingness. I believe it is the ancient malady called nihility. My mind falls into a state of total vacuum. I felt it coming a while ago, early this evening. Something had to be done. I have read about the onticians of old. An inner voice commanded me to try to find this ancient form of therapy. Perhaps it is true that its philosophy can save me from the nothingness plaguing me.”

The two men stared at each other. Finally, Rixo decided what he had to say.

“I think that I can do something for you, my friend. Could you spend the rest of the night here in the keniset?”

“Yes, that is possible.”

Varab stepped closer, becoming visible.

“I can help,” she informed the stranger. “Let’s find a place to sit down.”

Soon the three were seated in rattan chairs round a small table.

Rixo, his hands shaking slightly, turned to the heavy young man. “Tell me how the nullity came upon you,” he gently requested.

The stranger was led into the intricacies of ontic thought. The first hours were the most difficult. The ensuing ones became easier and easier.

Varab listened as a non-participating observer.

Finally, the Sentinel admitted that he was thoroughly exhausted.

“I believe that I’ve reached my limit, for now. Could we have a stop for tonight?”

“Certainly,” replied Rixo with a smile, also feeling a need for sleep. “But when shall we continue our work together?”

“How about the same time tomorrow evening?”

“Yes, that suits me,” answered Rixo, realizing that would give him a day of added preparation in ontic healing methods, still so new to him.

“Tomorrow night, then,” said the stranger. “I will be here an hour after the setting of the heliosphere.”

“Till then, practice the exercises I taught you,” commanded Rixo.

“Yes, I certainly will.”

With that, the weighty body rose from the table and noiselessly departed. When he was gone, Rixo stepped over to where his partner sat.

“He believes that I am a trained therapist.”

“You did a good job with him, Rixo. But your ontic knowledge will at some point run out. What will you do then?”

“That is why I must obtain advanced folios and study them before tomorrow night. Will you help me with that, Varab?”

She nodded yes, looking him straight in the eye.

“There is something you should know,” she said in a whisper. “All during the session, I stared at the fat man. There was something familiar about his face, but I couldn’t place him.”

Rixo looked at her anxiously. “You think you know who he is?”

Varab bit her lower lip. “I think he is someone famous and well-known, but rarely seen in public. He is shielded from the population of Verzem.”

“Who can he be?”

The words came out of her mouth rapidly.

“Prince Migne, our reigning ruler. I am told that the Astralites have reduced him to a puppet without personal power. And we may now have him in our hands. The future of this country lies with this ontic patient of ours, Rixo. We are shaping the thoughts in his mind.”

The engineer considered for a moment.

“I plan to recruit him into the ontic way of life,” he said, taking the hand of Varab into his. “There will come an end to this oppressive state of emergency. Everything is going to change now. The Prince, as one of us, becomes the key to a new day for Verzem. I can see it in the future.”

“So can I,” she spiritedly assured him. “So can I.”

That evening, a rebirth of ontics began, centering on the conversion of the ailing monarch to that ancient philosophy for overcoming nullity in human beings.


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