The moaning of the wolves filled the frigid air of the fading twilight. Indigo and D’naia had already eaten their sparse dinner and were warming by the stove of their cabin when they were startled by a knocking at the door.
“Don’t answer it,” D’naia plead, grabbing hold of Indigo’s arm.
“It’s all right.”
“How do you know it’s not a Sunstein Agent?”
“It’ll be fine. I’m expecting someone.” Indigo gently pulled loose from her grasp and went to the door. He stood before it for a moment to listen. The stove crackled. He took hold of the latch. The light of the fire splashed the walls of tiny cabin. The wolves bayed. He swung the door in…
Framed in the pinewood doorway against the gray forest, illuminated by the glow of the dancing stove light, stood a spaceman. What the congruity of it meant was indecipherable to Indigo. The Sunstein Agents were into elaborate mind games after all. Perhaps the man bear was part of the ruse. Indigo couldn’t plot where this game would lead but the anachronism burned a mark into his mind.
“Take off your helmet,” Indigo ordered.
The astronaut remained still, flickers of orange flame danced in his opaque black flash shield.
“Take off your helmet,” Indigo ordered, again.
D’naia rose from her chair, wrapped her shawl tightly around herself against the cold pouring in and backed slowly into the shadows.
“This is the last time I’m going to tell you. Take off your helmet or I’ll rip it off your head myself.”
The spaceman gradually raised his gloved hands up to his helmet and loosened the fasteners. Twist. Twist. Twist. He clasped the orb with both hands at the ears. Then slowly, he lifted it upwards off his head. His face, bearded and emaciated, was not immediately recognizable to Indigo, but it couldn’t have been a Sunstein Agent any more than the man bear was. They stared at each other for a moment, then the haggard visitor smiled which revealed his identity. He was Indigo’s lost brother… his twin birthed from the womb of the Astarte.
“So you’re alive,” Indigo said.
“Yes, Indigo, more than ever,” Staley answered in a voice deeper and slower and more gravelly than Indigo had remembered it. “Are you going to invite me in?”
D’naia stood behind the bed staring at the ascetic in a space suit standing in the doorway as the dogs of doom howled and moaned in the night. She interrupted Indigo just as he prepared to answer. “Don’t invite that Sunstein Agent into our house. He’s come to take us back,” she exclaimed.
“If I was coming for you then don’t you think I’d bring weapons and a posse? Go look outside for yourself. There’s no one out their except the wolves,” Staley explained. “And they don’t take orders from me.”
“How do I know you’re not a wolf in astronaut’s clothing?” Indigo asked.
“Because I’ve come to warn you of the real wolves. If I were one of them, it wouldn’t be of any benefit to warn you. A pack divided against itself cannot hunt.”
“It’s okay, D’naia,” Indigo explained. “Come in, Staley.” He led Staley into his chair near the stove so that he could warm himself. He closed the door and braced it with a cross beam.
“Do you have anything to eat?” Staley asked.
D’naia shook herself loose from her terror and went to the cupboard to fetch him some salted venison and soy cube rations.
“Where’ve you been?” Indigo asked. “I thought you were dead.”
“I was dead and then I was reborn”
“You look older to me.”
“I am… in spirit.”
“He looks ill,” D’naia remarked, as she brought him a bowl and a mug with fresh water. “How long has it been since you’ve eaten?”
“I eat saplings and roots and bark every day and today I ate a raw trout. It was a feast.”
“You look frail. We need to get you to a doctor.”
“I’m fine,” Staley replied with a grin. “One’s girth is not always an indicator of one’s health. Besides, I didn’t come back here to be put under anesthesia again.”
“What did you come for, then?” asked Indigo.
“I came here for you. I came here for you and for her… the three of you.”
“How do you know about that,” D’naia asked.
Staley answered her only with a smile. “I have seen things with new eyes, Indigo. I have heard things with new ears. There is no going back to the dead. There is only going forward… forward into life.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Indigo asked.
“You know the difference between life and un-death, Indigo. I know you felt it when we were a hundred million kilometers from here. I know you felt it because I was feeling it, too. We experienced it together, together in that titanium can. I know you felt it when the plasma inducers no longer induced and our minds started to unravel by the solar radiation. I know you felt it when the crew went totally insane. I know you felt it when Cain got the illness.”
“What are you talking about?’
“I’m talking about the difference between life and un-death. Living and existing are not the same. Man cannot live on protein powder alone.” Staley ripped and chewed the dried venison that D’naia had brought. His teeth had grown strong on the wild diet and the absence of sugar. The dried meat seemed to invigorate him. He took a drink of water and then a deep breath, savoring the crude meal. “The difference between life and un-death… It means that you and I are humans, not bees. This is what I came to understand while I was living with my new family. It means that man cannot live by some program or order or routine. Man cannot live merely for the hive.
“Man must have his free will or he ceases being alive. Without free will, men devolve into savagery. Men without free will follow orders without reason or conscience. Without free will, there can be no virtue. Without virtue, man is capable of any form of violence and evil. This world paradigm has stripped man of his virtue. It has turned men into slaves… no more than workers bees in a hive. Men of the hive exist only for their rations and their merriments. He follows his orders without thinking. ‘Gather that.’ ‘Clean this.’ ‘Build this.’ ‘Destroy that.’ ‘Heal her.’ ‘Kill him.’ To a man without virtue, it matters naught what the order is, so long as it comes from the hive. Man has lost his virtue and has thus lost his humanity. The Paradigm has rendered him nothing better than a soulless worker bee. You know you can’t stay here, Indigo. The drones of the hive are coming. They are coming for the three of you. They take their orders, too, and their orders are that no one leaves the hive.”
“What are we supposed to do?”
“Let me tell you how I got from there to here, first. It is a journey that you must take as well. First, there was despair, Indigo. Despair grew within me. The despair grew while we cast our lots in that space can a hundred million kilometers from here. I stepped off the ledge then. I stepped off the ledge when we voted over who should live and who should die. My brain could reconcile it, but my spirit could not.”
“I don’t believe in spirits and I don’t need to revisit the Astarte,” Indigo protested.
“Just listen for a moment longer,” Staley continued. “The brain is flesh and the flesh is weak. But the mind is more than the brain, Indigo. The mind is the vessel for the spirit. Our brains were conditioned but our spirits were not because spirits cannot be programmed. The spirit of a man will not join a hive mind.
“The brain is flesh and the flesh is weak, Indigo. The spirit calls out in each of us but the voice is soft and low. It flows within the mind beneath the electro-chemical reactions of the physical brain. It flows like a warm, slow undercurrent beneath a turbulent sea. The brain calls out loudly. It resists the spirit. It drowns it out.”
“What do you want from me, Staley?”
“This was my struggle, Indigo. This was our struggle. They tried to turn us into worker bees… busy bees, always busy, buzzing, bee-having, beeing bees. To bee or not to bee, that is the question. And the spirit holds the answer. The spirit will not bee. I know you see it, Indigo. To survive out there, we suppressed our spirit. But that was not living, that was merely un-death. We both know the spirit can never be extinguished, Indigo. It lives on, even when trapped in the flesh. It will kill the flesh before the flesh kills it.”
Indigo buried his face in his hands. The anguish and guilt of their fate onboard the Astarte rushed into him like poison hemlock.
“We saved our flesh by casting our lots but we were only fooling ourselves, Indigo. We tried to kill the spirit when we ejected the airlock into the void. And yes, we did do it because we did not stop it. Our brains failed. Our brains failed because you cannot save your life by killing your spirit.”
D’naia listened as she shoved another log into the stove. Indigo had never told her about the things Staley was revealing.
“What good would it do to kill a spirit, anyway, Indigo? What good I ask you? Many try to do it. They allow themselves to be medicated by the inanity and ritual and substances of modern life. But what kind of life is it for them? What point would life be without a spirit? Is the point to go out and gather nectar and serve it to the drones? Is that the meaning of life? Is our purpose to do one’s duty for the hive? And for what reward? So that we may be permitted to drink the drone’s excrement once they’ve engorged themselves?
“That’s the Paradigm, Indigo. And who created that system, I ask you? You know who did. The drones did. They invented the system. They tricked you and me into becoming worker bees. But they will ultimately fail, Indigo. For like I said, you cannot kill the spirit. The spirit lives. The spirit fights the flesh. The brain rages against it. The rage of the flesh manifests in many ways. Sometimes the rage is turned outward, viciously. Sometimes the rage is covert, passive. Some men revolt by inaction and denial. Others by self immolation. But the spirit burns ever on and the flesh rages against it.
“My rage turned inward, Indigo. That is where I found myself. That is where I was when I put on my space suit and walked out of Hegeltown and across the moraine and up into the mountains to die. I wanted to kill the spirit that had caused me so much anguish. I injected the last of my opium into my veins to kill the flesh and thus the spirit along with it. I wanted my body to die but I could not kill it, Indigo. My spirit would not let me die. It was not my time. That’s where they found me. And that is how I got from there to here.”
“Who found you?”
“Them. The Gaians call them ‘unhumans’ and ‘humates’ and other insults, yet they are more human than any Gaian.”
“But they’re cannibals,” Indigo declared.
“Cannibals? Savages? Humates? All lies! They live, Indigo. They live. It is a hard life but they live it fully. They do not need to extrude their tongues and prostrate themselves to receive their life. They are not slaves to any drone.
“They found me on that rock in the woods and they carried me away with the needle still stuck in my vein. They nursed me back to consciousness and then back to health. They resurrected me, Indigo.”
“Why? Because they have virtue.”
D’naia interrupted them. “They helped you because you are a celebrity and they intend to use you. It sounds to me like you just changed hives.”
“I am free to do as I please. I’m not bound to them. They were not compelled to help me. They helped me because it was their virtue, but not a virtue beholden to some abstract concept. It was their personal sense of duty to their fellow living man. Their spirit would not allow them to leave me to die.
“I could stay out there as one of them if I chose to, but you are correct in that my ‘celebrity’ gives me some standing. Not standing with the humates who rescued me, mind you, but rather with the undermen of Gaiastan. My celebrity means I can reach them and even help some of them. Not many, only a few… a few of them who have ears that will hear. But I must try. I have been given much and from me much is expected. Now that I have seen how a man can live I can’t help but to try and help others to see it as well. That is my gift to them. My spirit cannot just allow them to die.”
“So now you’re their prophet?”
“No. I’m your prophet.”
D’naia made her way to the window to look out at the darkness. Somewhere in that night lurked the wolves that had stopped moaning at the cold. She sensed them. They were near. “So what do you want us to do, then?” she asked.
“As I said, you cannot stay here,” Staley explained. “The hive has given orders for the three of you. They’ve set the drones loose. Don’t worry, your guide will explain it all.”
“Our guide?” Indigo asked.
“The Sunstein Agents will come and they will haul you back to some terrible fate. You must be prepared to leave as soon as possible. Be ready, for your guide may come at any moment, like a thief in the night.”
“Who is this guide?”
“You’ve met him. He wears a bearskin and a tinfoil hat.”
“Where will he take us?”
“He’ll lead you as far as he can on the path to the living. It will be an awakening of the spirit of man. There will be a sacrifice.”
“Why can’t we go with you?” D’naia asked?
“Because I have work to do. I’m going into Hegeltown.”
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