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Shen - Chapter 25

They went to Medical, back to their room, and it was there. It looked like so much light, at first. But light contained, moving within a crystalline space and revealing various facets. It occupied the spot on the floor where Vavnu usually put Brahm's pallet. She moved the Udoran to one side, and lowered his bed so he could watch. She knelt nearby.

This close, she could see there was more to it. The light was the product of innumerable pieces, moving with the telepathy of fish or birds, so they expanded and compressed. When they came together, it was with an idea. They did it three times before the doctor was sure. They seemed to want to make a body.

Eventually they did, moving less and less until the shape was definite. It was almost as real as flesh, and the face recognisable. Yet she could see how the pieces of David could so easily be something else; his image would sheen, ripple, reveal a chink of shadow or light or another idea. Vavnu reached out carefully and tried to lay her hand on his cheek.

Her fingers passed straight through. She couldn't believe it. Any Kroxi shamana would have been happy with the first miracle, the transcendence of Brahm. But here she was, witnessing a second. She looked at the Udoran for confirmation. He was back to his unsettled state, not quite himself and not quite...

“What is he?” Brahm managed to ask.

She was about to say when she noticed David open his eyes, or give the appearance of it. He turned his head in the direction of the question.

“What are you?” was his reply.

“None of this is simple to explain,” Vavnu interjected.

Then David looked at her. His features were dancing. “I'm on the ship?” he asked.

She nodded. And she wondered what he thought of himself, as he lay there. Perhaps he was remembering how he died; he should be able to do that. But it would be an odd memory, or so she'd been taught.

“How do you feel?” she wanted to know.

“I don't,” he said, after a pause. “Should I?”

“Try to move.”

It wasn't like moving, he told her. It was like virtual reality, whatever that was. He sat up, mentioned the lack of sensation again. “Weird,” he said. In response to the activity, his particles became more restless, and his legs dissolved for a moment, came back only slowly. He observed the phenomenon himself.

“Maybe you should start explaining,” he said.

“Let's get the others first,” she replied.

Everyone respected her now. She sent a message to the Control Room, and the Ilaons came. They didn't presume to enter the room, but stopped outside, and waited for her permission. All of them could hear Cha Cha run down the corridor, and she bounded inside carelessly, until she came face to face with David. Then she screamed.

“That bad?” he remarked. But he was standing now, giving full expression to his new state of being. There was no consistent quality; every inch of him came and went and then came back again, but in a slightly different way. He was present only in the barest sense of the word. The Ilaons, she noted, were terrified all over again.

She raised Brahm's pallet to its normal height, fixed it to the wall and helped him sit up. Then she turned and stood between them, the two marvels.

“What I'm going to say,” she began, “some of you might already know. But I can't presume. My people have a long history of trying to understand the stranger things that are seen and heard, in our world and in others. Whatever we witnessed, even if we could not explain it, we wrote down or memorised. And if it seemed there were actions to be taken, we picked out certain children from certain families and trained them so that they would always be ready to carry out those duties. I am one of those children.”

David took at step forward. It was too much for Cha Cha; she hurried to the other side of the pallet, where she could take Brahm's hand.

“Most of our experiences were rare. A few were so rare that I have not met anyone alive who had witnessed them, or anyone who could remember a witness who had once lived. The stories passed down to me—I had to trust they were true. That was difficult,” Vavnu confessed. “And it will explain why I was not happy when I came here. I thought all the things I'd learned were a waste, and that I would die without being useful to anyone.”

She filled her lungs with air. There were tears waiting to come out and express her amazement and joy, but she could save them. “Now that has changed. The rarest things are happening, have happened. Right here.”

Tarne, the bravest Ilaon, put up his hand. “Excuse me,” he asked, “but which one of these is Ahm Lat?”

Vavnu dropped her head. If she didn't, they would see her smile.

“We need to speak with him,” Tarne explained.

“I'm sorry,” she said, looking up. “I can't make this simple. You don't know how many years of study and practice it takes before you can--,”

“Commander Sesom needs to know how to he should proceed. He needs to know what his next orders should be.”

She felt the change. Brahm could now impart a different quality to the air in a room. You could still breathe it, though it didn't seem entirely safe, but more like too much would poison you. The doctor turned to see if he was fine but Cha Cha was in control. She held him against the wall, propped up his head.


The voice started yesterday. Who knew where it came from? Brahm never moved his lips.

-Sesom does not command-

“Thank god for that,” David said.

-David does-

“What?” The edges of David's face turned effervescent. “This is really some dream.”

“You're not dreaming,” the doctor told him.

“I am. I have to be. I'm dying.”

“If it helps,” she added, “the term I was taught is volax. You are volax.”

“Which means?” David asked.

“You are dead.”


“But you are not finished.”

“Am I a ghost?”

“Ghost?” Vavnu wondered if this word had anything to do with virtual reality. She shook her head.

“Am I a soul--,” he saw her frown, and so he tried, “spirit?”

She frowned again. “I don't understand any of those terms.”

“All right, all right. Am I...a consciousness that's trapped, say? I can't move on to the next place I'm supposed to be?”

“This is the next place.”

“Right. And so what am I supposed to do?”

“Command this ship.”


“Because Brahm says so.”

“Seriously? Because Brahm is...?”

“Brahm is also something else.”

“And the technical term for that is?”

“There are at least ten—that I know of,” Vavnu said.

“Ten different words for the same--,”

“No. Ten different things he might be. At least.”

It was good to survey the room after that exchange, and see that everyone had the kind of expression that was better, healthier. That had listened, tried to make sense of it, and failed. Now all they could do was stand with open mouths and nothing to say.

“Good,” Vavnu said. “This is good. Of course, I'm happy to teach you what I know. If you're willing to learn.”

No one answered, so she considered the explanation over. Brahm had closed his eyes, so she went to him, pinched the back of his neck to ease the tension and asked Cha Cha to take his feet and help her lay him down. They arranged several covers over him, one carefully cowled round his face. And on his forehead Vavnu placed the coloured bracelet. Cha Cha recognised it, pointed, and smiled.

David came up alongside the bed while they worked. He watched Brahm's face. He didn't look perplexed or worried, though it was also true that he couldn't easily hold any expression. Perhaps he'd have to learn how to do that. Vavnu wished she could say more to help him, but volax had never been easy to study.

“Well,” he said at last, when they were done, “If I am going to command this ship, I'll have to know what everyone needs.”

The doctor replied. “Brahm needs me to stay with him all the time.”

“All the time? When do you sleep?”

She shrugged. “Now and then.”

“Can't anyone help?”

“They could,” Vavnu winked at Cha Cha, “if they had training.”

And then David turned to Sesom.

And then he turned to me, this man who is not a man, yet not a god. This creature of dreams crossed the room and he asked me, what did I need?
(End of Part One)


January 2015



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