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EXCERPT FROM SECOND COMING
By Kathryn Flatt
General Gat paced and stole glances at Tok the Seer who huddled over the cylinder which allowed him to view beyond the world. Silence shrouded the room, as murky as the daylight seeping through the yellowed and crazed dome of the derelict alien warship. In a shadowy recess, Tok’s apprentices--one at the end of adolescence, the other barely weaned from mother’s milk--watched their master and struggled against their youthful energy to remain still and not disturb him. Gat shared their impatience, but not out of restlessness. He wanted answers.
Finally, Tok raised his head, and Gat tensed. “Well?”
“Matha comes,” Tok rasped.
“Are you certain?”
“The instruments do not lie.”
“Ah,” Gat sighed. The announcement brought both swelling satisfaction and deep dread. He caught himself stroking his white whiskers out of habit and made himself stop it.
Tok squinted to scan the room and then pointed a shaky finger. “You! Rin. Come look.”
The older apprentice scurried over to assume his master’s position at the viewer.
Tok ambled to Gat’s side with the extreme caution required by his advanced age and physical disabilities. “You appear troubled, old friend.”
“Indeed.” Gat tempered an urge to express his deepest feelings because a leader must never show weakness. “We cannot truly know what will happen when Matha arrives.”
“I know she will smile upon us,” Tok consoled wisely. “We kept her memory and teachings alive.”
Gat nodded and turned to wander across the circular space, through the jagged break in the metal hull, and halted at the portal to the outside. Just ahead of his toes, the packed-soil floor ended in a sheer drop. Far below, his people, as tiny as insects, tended the crops in the perfectly round field. The rust-red cliff face, pockmarked with openings similar to the one he occupied, arced to the left and right to encircle most of the cultivated land. The Warrens, the home of the Righteous Ones.
Straight ahead, through the break where the cliff ended, he eyed the smooth stone wall which hid the city built by the Nonbelievers. The sight angered him as it always did for Matha would surely judge the building of such a thing as an abomination. The sun setting behind it turned the sky as red as the flames of Matha’s retribution when she came again as promised.
“Soon they will learn, eh?” Tok questioned from close behind him.
“I once hoped it could be different,” Gat observed glumly. “But hope for the Nonbelievers died so long ago. They will not accept the error of their ways until Matha comes to show them.”
“Show them?” Tok cackled. The subject always riled him. “Matha will rain fire upon them! She will destroy their blasphemy!”
“Perhaps some may redeem themselves,” Gat offered, mainly to dampen Tok’s agitation. While the Seer was not much older than Gat himself, injuries suffered on the Night of Stones left Tok more fragile than his ego allowed him to admit. “We have all waited for Matha’s return, have prayed for it, and when I was younger, I prayed I would live to see it.”
“And now you doubt?”
“No,” Gat countered quickly. “I do not doubt Matha’s return or the fate of the Nonbelievers. I simply doubt how much I desire to witness it.”
“We all must be strong,” Tok advised more calmly. “I too remember the First Coming. Death and destruction, confusion and despair. Until Matha saved us all.” He turned and shuffled back inside to join his apprentice at the viewer.
Gat watched him for a moment, reflecting on those dimly recalled days of his youth. Only he and Tok remained from their generation, the only witnesses to history. Time and life had blurred the memories until he no longer knew where memory left off and imagination began.
The Keepers of the Day sounded the horns to mark the end of work, dislodging him from his thoughts. The workers in the field began to cluster together and flow into the pathway through its center to the tunnels which led into the Warrens. With no offspring of his own, Gat felt a fatherly pride while observing them. They are all my children.
Movement by his side startled him, and he looked down at the apprentice, Rin. I am truly old. In my prime, such a young one could never have approached me unawares.
“Master Tok asks if you will pray and eat with us,” Rin invited respectfully.
Gat patted the boy’s head. “Tell your master I accept.” Rin scampered away.
He took one more glance through the portal before returning to the round room. Shadow figures played on the outside of the dome as gatherers returned from the highlands with their loads of plants for spinning into silken fibers. Tok spoke gently to the younger apprentice as they set places for the meal which Gat knew would be more lavish than most of his people enjoyed. Age has its privileges! And so does the position of General.
The Keepers of the Day blew the second time.
“Will you lead us in prayer, General?” Tok asked. “My voice requires too much wind these days.”
“Thank you,” Gat accepted. He sank to his knees and gazed up at the ivory dome. “Mighty Matha, we give you thanks for this meal and for the safety of our home. You gave us the knowledge to survive by living together and protecting one another, and to make our lives rich and rewarding. For this we worship you, Matha, and we await your return to see how we honor you and to strike vengeance on the Nonbelievers.” He savored the sense of completeness the prayer always brought before looking at the faces around him. “Let us eat.”
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