Monday, August 11, 2008

Friday Fiction for August 1st, 2008

This week's entry is the fifth chapter from the book, "Her Father's Star", which is the first of two existing sequels to my first novel-length project, "The Eridanus Dream". The reader should be advised that, in this science-fiction scenario, the world of Epsilon Eridanus IV, called "Qi'le" by the natives, is a Matriarchal society. The mother is the dominant parent, and as such the Eridani people refer to God as Mother. This is not to promote changing the Bible or how we view our Father God; rather, the purpose of the fiction is to hopefully make us think about why we see God the way we do.
In this story, the main character is Se'Ana, daughter of the two main characters in "The Eridanus Dream". Se'Ana has longed to go to the stars since her earliest memories, but accepted her duty as a daughter of a priestess to likewise accept the training and ordination of a priestess. After her ordination, her first assignment is travel to Earth and assist the Priestess B'Tra in the Eridani Embassy. B'Tra is married to a Terran named David Cohen, an ordained Christian minister pastoring a church near the Eridani Embassy in Oregon. This chapter picks up as Se'Ana first visits David's church during her first weekend on Earth. I chose this section because I liked seeing the typical Christian church through the eyes of the Eridani priestess. All dialogue in italics is in the Eridani language.
Her Father's Star (Excerpt)
by Rick Higginson
Chapter 5

Service is not our obedience to God’s command, but rather our response to God’s mercy.
~ The Prophetess Z’Fa of Qi’le

The decision to pair Se’Ana with Elizabeth for the day made sense; they were nearly the same age, the proprieties of Qi’le would not be violated as they might have been if David Jr. had been allowed to escort the priestess for the day as he had volunteered to do, and the class the eldest sister attended would be the one most appropriate for the visitor.

Still, while the daughter of B’Tra had expressed acquiescence to the idea, it was clearly not a duty she was enjoying. The expression she wore in response to the questions and comments sent her way – most of which were not translated into Qi’le – was one of embarrassment and discomfort.

Are you going to wear those robes all the time?” Elizabeth asked.

This is the garment a priestess wears,” she replied. “It is how my mother and my grandmother dress to serve.”

That alone appears to me as a good reason to wear something else.”

She let the comment go unanswered, and returned her attention to the details around her. The architecture and decoration of the church building fascinated her, and she wished she understood more of what she was seeing. There were similarities between the practice of the Terran religion and the traditions of the Qi’le system, but the concept of the church building and the congregation was something completely different from what she had been raised with.

In the hallway they walked down, the walls were covered in illustrations depicting scenes from the Christian Bible stories. She recognized some of them from the times her father had recited the tales to her, and since the style of the other images was similar, she surmised they also corresponded to some event from the Terran Scriptures. She paused in front of one, showing a discretely positioned naked couple, with the woman handing a piece of fruit to the man, and a legless creature hanging from a tree behind her. Adam and Eve, she remembered her father telling her. The creature had tempted the woman, who transgressed first and then tempted the man to sin as well.

In the Qi’le Scriptures, it was the man who succumbed to temptation first, and then enticed the woman to follow along. God had declared that the man had shown he was not suitable to lead, and therefore was put into submission to the woman. From what she knew of Terran history, she was inclined to think God had spoken of the men of both worlds in Her pronouncement. Earth certainly had more than its share of men who had proven to be poor leaders.

She sidestepped to the next picture. The crucifixion; she had been told the depictions of it in artwork rarely approached the reality of the practice, and even still the cruelty of the practice disturbed her. The Terran peoples had conceived of many horrible ways of executing prisoners throughout their ages, and nailing a person to a wooden frame was said to be one of the worst. Even if the man had not been God and had been guilty of the worst blasphemy imaginable, the death should not have been a torturous process.

We can look at the pictures after services if you wish,” Elizabeth said. “We need to get to our class now, though. It does not reflect well on my father if I am late.”

My grandmother, the priestess Noma, said much the same concerning my behavior in the priestess school.”

I would not think it as important, since my mother speaks of the number of priestesses in the village of T’Cha.”

Because of the school, there are more priestesses than would otherwise be in a village of T’Cha’s size, but Noma served many years as the priestess elder of the village. Even after the priestess Sh’e took over as priestess elder, my grandmother was still held in high regard. I would venture that to be a daughter of T’Cha in the village of T’Cha is much as it is to be the daughter of a pastor.”

Elizabeth led her into medium sized room, and every face around the table turned to stare at them. Several conversations started, and she managed to catch only a select few words of English. Thinking of her grandmother, she wondered how long Noma would suggest allowing the discourtesy to continue.

If you are going to discuss me, at least you could allow me to introduce myself,” Se’Ana said.

My apologies, honored priestess,” Elizabeth replied.

It irritates you to call me that; I would rather you call me Se’Ana, if the customary title bothers you so much.

My mother would not approve.”

Se’Ana looked around. “I do not see the priestess B’Tra anywhere nearby; besides, a priestess may give anyone she chooses leave to dispense with the formality. My mother told me that even the High Priestess Ch’Sa preferred to drop the formal titles in normal conversation. If the High Priestess could do so, then I believe it is quite acceptable for a young priestess from a minor village to do so as well.

It will not offend you?

If it did, I would not have offered. I have not been a priestess long enough to have become accustomed to the deference, nor have I ever felt that such esteem was due to me.”

“Liz?” One of the young men at the table questioned.

Elizabeth waved off the intrusion for the moment, and then smiled and nodded at Se’Ana.

I am the priestess Se’Ana, daughter of Y’La, of the family T’Cha, of the village of T’Cha. I am honored to meet you.” She waited while her words were translated.

A young woman stood up from her chair, her jaw agape. “Y’La?” she said.

Elizabeth belayed the question. She went around the room and gave a name for each face, which Se’Ana dutifully repeated and fought hard to remember. When she had finished, both women took their seats.

The young woman spoke again, never taking her eyes off Se’Ana.

Is there a problem?

Holly has always been fascinated by the Columbus mission,” Elizabeth replied. “She wishes clarification that you are the daughter of the Y’La that met Sean Scott beside the lander Pisces.”

Tell her that I know the Pisces almost as well as my father does; these robes are my birthright as a daughter of Y’La, and Pisces is my birthright as a daughter of Sean of the family Scott.

Holly listened to the translation with awe in her eyes.

She said she has studied all about the Columbus mission and the stories of your parents,” Elizabeth said.

The priestess laughed. “What a coincidence,” she said. “So have I. Perhaps we should sit down one day and discuss what we have learned. I would love to know if I have missed anything.

Holly looked surprised when the statement was relayed to her.

She wonders how she would know something about your parents that you do not know.”

Se’Ana smiled. “Do your parents tell you everything about their meeting and courtship?

The conversation was halted when the class instructor entered the room. He, like many of his students, did a double-take on the newcomer. Unlike his students, though, he recovered quickly and lowered his eyes as Se’Ana stood. “Honored priestess,” he greeted.

Se’Ana stood and introduced herself. “You know the courtesies of Qi’le,” she added afterwards.

Those who teach here work quite a bit with my mother. While she does not require the courtesies of them, my father has explained that they can often help her when she is feeling homesick for the village of T’Cha,” Elizabeth commented. “That is about all the Qi’le Fred knows, though.

Please tell him I am a young priestess from a small village,” Se’Ana said. “I merit no special treatment, nor do I require any other than you translating for me. I hope to not require that service before much time has passed as well.

Holly spoke with the instructor after Elizabeth conveyed the message, and Fred laughed at her words.

He says you have made an impression on his sister. Fred is Holly’s older brother.” She tugged gently at the robe. “Please sit; it is time for class to begin.”

The lesson seemed to pass too quickly for Se’Ana. She did her best to catch English words as she could, as well as following along in the English Bible she shared with Elizabeth, but still required ample translation. The lesson was from the book of James, and she liked the man’s practical approach to things. Fred extrapolated applications for the lives of the young people around the table, and more than one blanched when some principle touched an area they struggled with. The expressions needed no translation; she and her fellow students had worn very similar faces during some of the more difficult lessons in the priestess school.

When the class was over, several of the young people mulled around chatting until it was time for the main service of the morning. Holly proceeded to pepper Se’Ana with numerous questions, which the priestess patiently tried to answer even as Elizabeth became frustrated. David Jr. showed up to invite them to join B’Tra in the crying room for the main service, and she followed the siblings to the small room where their mother sat cradling her infant daughter.

You may sit with your friends, Elizabeth. It will be easier for me to translate this portion anyway,” B’Tra told her.

She does speak Qi’le quite well,” Se’Ana commented once the two priestesses were alone in the room.

One learns what one must,” B’Tra said. “We did not wish the children to learn the language of Qi’le just for the heritage it represents to them, but also so that they would be able to communicate with any of our people that might arrive here. We have not had many, but it has been helpful for the children to be able to interact with them and offer assistance as needed.”

Honored priestess, why did you request a priestess from T’Cha be sent here? What is my task to be?” Se’Ana asked. “If I am to try and convince your daughters to accept their duty and become priestesses, I may not be the best one for such a task.”

I had hoped that my daughter Kimmie would be ready to begin priestess training by the time you arrived, honored priestess, and that would have been one of your duties,” she replied. “She is a bit older than a daughter would be upon entering the training on our world, but she is even less willing than Elizabeth was at her age. She has even forsaken her name in favor of a similar sounding Terran name.”

Her name, honored priestess? How does one forsake her name?”

Her name is K’Mi, after my mother. Some of the people here, though, preferred using the Terran name Kimmie for her, which they found easier to say. She decided she likes it better as well.” She glanced down at the sleeping baby in her arms. “This one will be my final chance to have a priestess follow in the Re’Fa lineage.

Perhaps her heart will be inclined to the world of her mother, even as mine was inclined towards the world of my father.”

I can only pray that will be the case, honored priestess. I fear, though, that she will be like her siblings and think that this is how all faith should be.” She gestured with a glance through the window that divided the small room from the main area, where the musicians were taking their places for the start of the service, and people moved to take their seats. “My husband’s people have their own order of things in worshipping God, and in its way it is good and beautiful. Still, it is not the way of Qi’le to worship and serve in this way. To my children this is the only way it should be done, though.” The chorus began and B’Tra rendered the words into Qi’le. It was odd hearing the English words and the associated melody juxtaposed on the words in Qi’le with the melodic elements of that language included. The congregation sang two more choruses, heard a list of announcements, and then one more chorus.

The worship leader held up his hand for a moment. “We have a special request from the pastor’s daughter, Kimmie this morning,” he said, and B’Tra translated. “If you will all stand, we have one more song to do.” The congregation rose as the musicians began the introduction phrases of the song.

This is my Father’s world,” Se’Ana listened to the translation. “And to my listening ears, all nature sings and around me rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father’s world,” the song continued even as her thoughts wandered.

She knew the song referred to God as the Father whom the world belonged to, though she found the double-entendre that it applied as well to her own father an interesting twist. Yet, even as she considered it, she realized that this was her father’s world, but that it wasn’t anymore. She understood what the priestess Alice had been telling her that night. It was not just the B’sela that held her father to the world of Qi’le; it was his embracing of all that the B’sela had offered. It was easier to see as she looked out at the men in the congregation that her father wasn’t a man of the Archipelago anymore. For that matter, when he’d left aboard Columbus the various worlds hadn’t even adopted that term yet. They were still the colony worlds. It had been a speech made by one of the chairpersons of the Colonial Council that had first used the term Archipelago to describe the scattered worlds inhabited by humans from Earth. The Archipelago had grown while her father had settled. He would never be fully Qi’le, but Alice was right; he was more Qi’le than Terran. As she listened to the final phrases of the song, she wondered which heritage was actually stronger in her. She had once thought she was more Terran than Qi’le, but she was no longer certain.

This is my Father’s world, the battle is not done. Jesus who died will be satisfied, when Earth and Heaven are one,” the song concluded.

She knew that in many of the Terran languages, the word heaven could refer to the place of paradise in the afterlife or it could refer to the sky and on to the stars. Is the song prophetic? She wondered. Was there yet another world in the heavens that God had planted humanity upon, and the ultimate plan was that those worlds would end up united? The Christians still waited for the return of Jesus; would that happen once the Earth and heavens were one?

The Qi’le scriptures taught that the B’sela was always given in accordance with God’s plan, and that She had a given purpose in who She brought together. It had certainly accelerated the interfacing between the expanding Terran colonies and the world of Qi’le, both through her own parents and through B’Tra and David. Only a few other B’selai had occurred between Terrans and Qi’le in the years since, and the first two such unions were still the pivotal ones.

As she listened to David begin to teach, she reflected how she had long felt that T’Cha had been much too small a village for her. In a moment of epiphany, she realized it hadn’t been her that the village was too small for; it had been God’s plan. She wasn’t a big tree in a small forest; she was merely a branch on that tree, obligated to grow in accordance with the tree or be broken off in the process.

Somewhere in the growth of that tree she had a service to perform and she prayed that she would be able to complete her task. She had thought the village too small for her; in a painful admission, she confessed that she had been too small for the village. Looking over at B’Tra, who held the infant suckling at her breast, she understood the weary look on the woman’s face.

The strength of the priestess is in the community of priestesses, their lessons had stressed. God worked through the unity of the priestesses. B’Tra had been serving a lonely post far away from the strength of other priestesses, and for as little time as Se’Ana had been on Earth, she was painfully aware just how far she was from the encouraging presence of mature and experienced priestesses to support her. She could look to B’Tra, but at that moment, it was B’Tra who needed the support.

Alice had commented that for a moment she had sounded like her grandmother, the priestess Noma. Even with the health problems and having endured the loss of her husband, Noma exuded a strength and confidence that was enviable. Se’Ana began to wish she could do more than just occasionally sound like Noma. It was too late to accept her grandmother’s offer of help with her priestess studies, and much too far to seek the older woman’s wisdom in the unknown tasks that lie ahead.

Se’Ana saw herself as a very small branch on a very big tree in an immense forest. It wasn’t the kind of revelation she had hoped for in life.

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