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THE SONG OF OMANAE


      Omanae moved in pulsating rhythms through the cold rocks, its amorphous pale body sliding backward
through gaps not a hand’s thickness in width.  As it moved, Omanae tasted the air pulled in behind it,
searching for the scent of prey from above.  Its tendrils were sensitive enough to detect minute traces of
organic molecules in the slight and dusty draft created by the creature’s fluid passage through the fissures.
      Then it stopped, two meters beneath the surface - directly under a small pock in the volcanic plain
above.  Pulsating slowly, it searched for the fissure leading to the warm-blooded scent it had detected.
      Omanae’s body massed as much as a human, but squeezed among the crevasses, it extended nearly
four meters in length.
      Selecting a promising fissure, the creature shifted itself to a new position and began to thrust its tendril
covered head upward toward the surface... toward its sleeping prey.
      The powdered dust packed into the cracks could not stop it.  Once the seal was broken, and the
human smell escaped into the crevasse, the patch was useless.
      The man did not feel the cold wisp of draft from the corner of the pock opposite his sleeping body.  He
stirred slightly at the whispered sound of the patch being pushed out, but he did not wake.  Mercifully so,
because there was no place to flee, save into the afternoon fury of Okiakai, above his shield lid.
      The tendriled head emerged from the crack and moved toward the man.  As it oozed across the short
distance, it exhaled a sweet breath of nerve deadening fume.  The man stiffened slightly, as if a nightmare
visage had invaded his dream, and then his body slumped completely slack.  His dream state only slightly
disturbed, the man’s subconscious drifted back to the memory of the hunt, two nights past.
________________

      He was on the lava plain:  Aldebaran was a shimmering ruby eye in a purple black sky.  Cloudless but
for a vermilion streak of high cirrius clouds catching the predawn rays of Okiakai, the sky  was fading from
black, obscuring the constellations and milkywae.  Aldebaran - the Mother - was low in the east, threatening
the Stahlfelge mountains.  They would prevail however, as the brightening dawn reduced the star to a dim
ghost, passing toward the zenith.
      This was the time for hunting, before Okiakai brought the hellish red day to the lava plain.  The night
creatures would soon be scurrying for their holes even as the dawn animals emerged for an hour or so of
foraging.  Hunters would become hunted, sometimes by those they had preyed upon, as the rising
temperatures and intensifying radiation turned the ecology upsidedown for a short time.  Then, even the
dawners would have to seek protection from the fierce noon of the plain.  
      A kukuda devil, motionless in the still air except for a rhythmic twitching of its massive head, was one
creature that had little to fear.  Its two large compound eyes were combined with five smaller ones to give it
uncommon vision relative to the host of blind or nearly blind smaller animals.  Not even a large hunting pack
of the crusty brown ants could bring down its powerful frame.  Mounted on six legs, the two rearmost of
which were designed to carry its half meter long body, the kukuda was invincible on this plain.
      Almost invincible... there was one species, introduced to this hot dry planet two millenia before, that was
to be feared, had the kukuda a nervous system advanced enough to know such a concept.  
      The newcomers had been human when they had come.  Now it was arguable.  Isolated from outside
contact for over fifteen centuries and subject to brutally harsh conditions, their civilization had broken
down.  On the plains at least, the human presence consisted of isolated individuals, knowing few
relationships with others of their kind.
      The only habitats available were small pocks in the otherwise featureless plain.  Bubbles of gas in the
cooling lava had created the small craters eons ago.  There were no trees or brush, except the low thorny
masia scrubs, less than a meter in height.  The velvet brown masia was all that could survive the gamma
and ultraviolet radiation from Okiakai.  During the ovenlike days, no living creature larger than microscopic
size dared to venture out.
      Barne’s pock, like the other human inhabited holes, had the protection of a shield lid.  The meter and a
half wide conical disc was a miracle from a time two thousand years before.  A composite of exotic materials,
probably a remnant of a supply pod reentry shield, it was just big enough to protect one person - or maybe
a mother and child - from the deadly photons from Okiakai.  Shield lids were virtually indestructible, but they
were also in short supply.  Since survival on the plain was impossible without them, the human population
almost exactly matched the number of shield lids.  Perhaps beyond the mountains there were humans that
still lived in groups... but Barne would probably never know.  The lids were heavy and no one traveled more
than few kilometers from their birth pock, throughout their lives.
      The kukuda devil’s optical system, superior though it was, could not differentiate shapes very well.  It
relied on sensing movement and was also thought able to detect heat.  And there was movement... and
heat.  The kukuda moved laterally in order to gage the range for its deadly rush.  The “prey” was only three
and a half meters away.  Gliding slowly toward its goal, the kukuda made no noise.  It would charge once it
was within two meters.
      Then, in a blinding flurry of red dust, the animal made its hellish move.
      Barne stood quickly and stepped back as the kukuda came within a half meter of his unprotected
hand.  It was possible to fool these big arthropods by laying motionless except for three fingers twitching in
simulation of a brown ant’s movement.  The kukudas move fast though, and a second’s delay would result
in a painful bite.  And they were so silent in stalking, until that frightful rush.
      Barne had played it almost too close this time;  the kukuda’s charge took it over a meter past where his
hand had been, before the creature collapsed in a heap, its limbs drained of energy.  A kukuda’s
metabolism was geared to that explosive burst of movement, after which it would be unable to move for
several minutes - until its tissues restored their electro-chemical balance.  It lay just a hand’s width from his
bare ankle, its ugly head still twitching.
      Must be more careful, Barne thought.  The bite of such a big kukuda would be fatal, although
indirectly.  He was nearly sixty meters from the protection of his pock, and the venom would bring a
paralysis quickly enough to prevent him from reaching safety under his shield lid.  Okiakai would have
roasted him to death before the venom wore off.  He had been bit other times but never so far from safety.
      Snapping up the kukuda by its large rear section, he whirled and threw it in a high arc in the direction of
his pock.  The force of his swing prevented the ugly beast from bringing its finger sized fangs to his hand.
      Feeling satisfied, knowing he would eat well tomorrow, he jogged confidently back to the pock.  There
were no crevasses big enough for the kukuda to hide in, and it was too traumatized to pull itself to safety
before the sun trapped it on the magma surface.  By nightfall, it would be slowcooked to perfection.
_______________

      Like angry fingers of yellow white, the dawn was making its way toward the zenith.  Against the glare of
the east, Barne could see a few moving figures, about four hundred meters away.  
      “Jana..........Jana!”  A woman’s voice.  From the northwest.  The hot still air seemed to surround and
suffocate the sound.
      Another voice, from the west and farther away,  “Barne.......Barne!”  His brother was still well.
      The Call D’roll continued across the plain as the isolated humans shouted out their own names in a
feeble remnant of society’s structure.  Barne was close enough to clearly hear only a half dozen, although
he recognized a few others by voice.  He knew that this ritual was preceding the rising sun across the plain,
maybe around the entire planet.
      He waited until last.  Jana, his brother Barne, Nika, Cage and Byll... none of them had hunted
successfully this morning.  It was his turn and he raised his voice with pride, “Barne.....killkukuda......Barne!”
      The scraping of heavy shield lids on smooth rock cut the warming air as the disc of Okiakai peeked
above the Stahlfelge range.  A few seconds of exposure to the rays wouldn’t burn but the radiation was
cumulative.  Okiakai was a god that killed if you dared to look at Her face.
      The Call D’roll was more than just an attempt at maintaining human contact.  It served the community of
isolated individuals by conducting a daily census, a way of monitoring the health and success of the
neighbors.  If an individual had not lived to call his name, others would know to soon claim his shield lid.  
Possession of an extra shield would mean the comfort and pleasure of a mate for whoever was quick and
strong enough to garner it.  Mating couples stayed together until a baby was born, the man caring for his
temporary family.  Then the man would go elsewhere, leaving the extra shield lid for the child.
      Barne could remember when the Call D’roll brought his family name three times.  But four years back,
his mother had failed to call.  She had perished at the age of thirty-four, probably of the disease.... or
maybe she had let Omanae, the Peacebringer, into her pock.  Barne would carry her name for as long as
he survived.
      His shield lid was in place so he began his work.  The pock was a cylindrical hole about a meter and a
half deep.  Working in the gloom, he pounded the dusty powder into the fissures and cracks of the pock,
using his handstone.
      Barne was tall, two meters in height and strongly built.  His brown skin was hairless and mottled with
dust.  His sharp features were offset by a peaceful, slightly dull expression.  Clothed with a rough fiber cape,
orange like the interior of the masia stalks from which it had been fashioned, he was shoeless and
essentially possessionless, other than his shield lid, the cape and his handstone.  
      He finished packing the cracks, insurance against small invaders and worse.  Tomorrow, he would eat
again.
      It had been ten days since his last real meal.  The brown ants and other small animals didn’t count for
much.  No one would shout “killbrownant” at Call D’roll.
      Over fifteen centuries on this rocky planet, fourth from a minor yellow sun, had evolved a race of
humans who could easily survive thirty days without significant food, and a dozen days without water.  
However, if the physical evolution had been positive, the mental effects were mixed.  Barne could neither
read nor write.  His grasp of mathematics extended only to numbers up to ninety-nine and involved only
rudimentary concepts of geometry.  On the other hand, his rote memory was highly developed.  All
knowledge was passed on to the next generation in the verbal form of songs and stories.  Barne, like his
mother before him and the other citizens of the plain, could recite the songs of wisdom nonstop for over
twelve hours.
      Through the songs, he was aware.... of the nature of man, his place in the universe, his race’s long
history.  Much of the stories and songs were just words to him, but occasionally, in the gloom of his pock, he
would ponder their meaning and beauty.
      Like all plainsmen, he was an artist.  Now, through with his chores but not yet ready to sleep, he
eagerly settled down to contemplate his calendar.  Barne had seen a few other calendars but he felt that his
was the most beautiful.
      The cylindrical wall of the pock was covered for half of its surface with his emerging masterpiece.  What
had begun with a single ring near the top had become a tapestry of many rings, each recording a year of
life and work.  The births and deaths of his neighbors, his hunting exploits, the change of the seasons,  all
were lovingly rendered in relief carving and painted images.  As his ability to picture objects and scenes
developed over the years, Barne had continually reworked the earlier images until this barren stone womb
had taken on a glowing life of its own.  Time moved slowly and there was no reason to rush.  He would have
to live with his worst mistakes so he gave much though to each addition before committing himself.
      The colors were mostly from the earth although he had some good blue and purple pigments derived
from the sour berries that grew in deep crevasses near his pock.  Those colors faded badly, but since he
loved them so much, he repainted them every year.  
      Like all the calendars of the plains people, his had a single element in the center of the bowl shaped
floor.  A simple black spiral, finely drawn, symbolized Omanae - the Peacebringer.
      Before he slept each day, Barne would slowly trace the spiral with his finger, working from the outside
in, as he softly sang the song of Omanae.  The song spoke of death and rebirth in the minds of the
Ancestors.  It was a lonely and poetic dirge that usually left him feeling at peace.  If he died before he woke,
Omanae would come for him and carry his spirit away to be with the Ancestors.
      Sketching with his finger in the dust beside the spiral, Barne experimented with how he would portray
this day’s hunt... and his narrow escape.  To have died on the plain, out of the comforting reach of
Omanae, would have doomed his spirit and he would never have known the minds of the Ancestors.
      Shivering in spite of the growing heat, radiating from the shield lid, he wiped out his sketch.  There
would time to try again tomorrow after he ate the kukuda.  Sleep came slowly as the image of his spirit,
burning in the fires of Okiakai, would not leave his thoughts.
________________

      Saio hung in the western sky, a pale red half circle smiling down at the cooling plain.  Its ragged eye
seemed less threatening than usual as the light from Okiakai cast a gentler shadow on the huge crater in
the upper portion of the moon’s crescent.  The massive scar crossing the lower face of the moon from side
to side, was roughly s-shaped, causing the pink orb to assume the aspect of a huge face with one eye.  The
moon was in its first quarter, in the youth of its cycle.  Its scar made a smiling, though not happy mouth.  
Later, in its waning half, Saio’s mouth would widen into a jagged frown and the eye crater would reduce to
an evil slit.  Hunting would be bad then as every living thing seemed to draw in, in fear of the coming dark
nights.
      Overhead, the Reflector crossed the zenith in its silent journey across the milkywae.  Much closer to the
planet than the moon, the Reflector’s orbital period was measured in mere days.  Tonight, almost square on
to the planet, its detailed gridlike shape was easy to discern.  Square in outline and composed of smaller
squares, the enormous artifact was missing segments, ample testimony to the violence of the annual meteor
swarms.  Its colors, iridescently transparent, ranged from yellow orange through purple.  If he could find
pigments like that....
      Only the greatness of the Ancestors could have created such a magnificent calendar.  Not filled with
symbols and flat dull colors like those of men’s’ art, its segments spoke of spirits long gone.  The stars
shining through the filmy squares took on strange and beautiful colors as if transformed by the massive
object.
      In the light of the moon, Barne searched out the kukuda.  It had managed to drag itself much farther
than he had thought possible.  It was still hot from the day and was lying in a semidried and sticky smear of
its own fluids, boiled out of the carapace by Okiakai.
      Squatting on the plain, Barne began to pick the creature apart, eating it as he did.  The four front legs,
yielded little meat but, by cracking open the big rear leg shells, he was rewarded with hand sized chunks of
delicate pink flesh, succulent and flavorful.  The middle segment of the body was stringy and tough, but still
delicious.  The rest of the animal, its ugly multi-eyed head and lower segment, was inedible.  He saved the
dry translucent wings for his artwork.  Pounded to a powder with his handstone and mixed with masai sap,
they would brighten his calendar.  He would use the remains of the kukuda to paint its own image.
      Leaving the rest of his kill to the impatient finger sized ants, Barne moved off to the south where he
could obtain umber and black pigments from a little hollow in the rocky plain.  A shearing of the surface
there had exposed unweathered rock which could be scraped loose and powdered with his handstone.
      Hours later, he returned to the pock, carrying the pigments and kukuda wings in fold of his cape.  Saio
had set in the west, and the reflector was low in the star sprinkled sky, hanging over the horizon like a giant
transparent blanket.
      The Call D’roll concluded with the dry scraping of shield lids on stone and then all was quiet in the
spreading dawn.  Below the surface, the humans industriously packed the cracks in their pocks with
powdered earth, while deep below, Omanae moved silently through the narrow crevasses that networked
the planet’s crust.
________________

      The kukuda’s image seemed to glow in the dim light finding its way under the edge of the shield lid.  
Inspiration had driven Barne to sculpt and paint the menacing image until, exhausted from intense
concentration, he had finally fallen into a deep, satisfied sleep.  Toxins in the kukuda’s flesh produced an
almost hallucinogenic euphoria, released in an obsessive flood of artistic energy.  Powdered stone and
pigment littered the floor of the cramped space.  The scent of Barne’s dusty, sweaty body permeated the
pock. filtering through the unpatched cracks into the crevasses below.
________________

      The big sluglike creature had chanced upon Barne’s forgetfulness.  It had followed the scent and
invaded his pock, catching him asleep.
      Having anesthetized the helpless man, Omanae unhurriedly pulled the rest of its amorphous body into
the pock.  Then, exploring with its tendrils, it searched out his head.  Finding it, the creature embraced the
back of Barne’s neck and head with the pulsating tendrils of its head/mouth.
      Twelve needlelike tubes pushed through his skin, thrusting upward through the base of the skull to his
brain.  The flexible hairlike tubes entertwined into his cerebral cortex, working their way between the tissues
from the outside of the brain, much as Omanae itself had invaded the rocks of the planet without rendering
or damaging them.  Two of the tubes penetrated into the cartoid mass and its rich blood supply.
      This would not actively kill him, although death would be the inevitable result of its invasion.  Drawing
from his fluids, it would nourish itself... until he eventually died for lack of water.  In an induced catatonic
state, the human could live for twenty or more days, as measured by the travels of Okiakai around the
planet.  
      The time as measured by Barne’s mind was another matter altogether.
________________

      He was back on the lava plain: Aldebaran was low in the east, vivid against the sky.  The kukuda was
rushing toward him in slow motion, its rear legs kicking up plumes of red dust with each powerful stride.  
Eyes glinting in the predawn, fangs dripping with venom, its body twisted in violent rhythms as it dashed at
his bare hand.  Dreamlike, he slowly pulled his hand back and rose from his crouch.  He could feel the
individual muscles in his back and legs respond to his mind’s commands.
      The arthropod strained its hideous head to the side, trying to follow Barne’s fleeing hand.  Fangs
snapping shut, the beastly thing missed him, its momentum carrying it onward.  One... two... three... four
more strides, then it stumbled and fell, sliding to a stop in the dust.
      He already knew the outcome so he was not afraid, although the sensation of awe and fear and of his
pounding heart was palpable... real.  It was like a dream, but very different.  Replayed from his memory,
every sensation - though not consciously noted at the time - was available to observe in splendid detail.
      “Barne... killkukuda....Barne!”  The primeval feeling of power and life washed over him again, felt in
every fiber of his being.  The flavor and fine texture of the sweet pink flesh... the luminous quality of the oval
wings... the holographic remembrance of the entire event was much, much more than a dream.
      Omanae was invading the man’s brain to an incredible degree.  Extending from the needle tubes, a
matrix of silky fibers - finer than the thinnest human hair - were growing through his tissues.  Pushing their
way between the brain cells like microscopic surgical devices, they were not damaging the brain or
upsetting its delicate functions.  Yet, virtually every section of his brain and upper spinal column were being
traced.
      By nightfall, the insidious invasion was complete, and Omanae began to hook into the man’s neural
activities.  The fibrous web connected directly to the creature’s own nervous system, a vast edifice
integrated throughout its soft body.  Through this complex feedback network, it would soon control the man’
s entire system, keeping him in a narrow range of unconsciousness... controlling his metabolic rates.
      The millennias old creature had communed, in this intimate embrace, with thousands of humans and
untold smaller animals during its long existence.  A virtuoso of neural control, Omanae had sampled the
minds and blood of all the generations of mankind, during their two thousand year occupancy of this
planet.  It knew not of the cycles of the surface world.  Time was a variable to its awareness.  Moving
through the rocks, existing like the lowest of creatures, its sense of itself and its environs was that of those
creatures.  But, when it connected with the miraculous complexity of a human mind, Omanae exalted in the
supple reservoir of experience and thought.  While drawing from Barne, it would also be able to draw upon
the stored patterns and awareness of its thousands of previous hosts.
      Omanae was an incomplete being.  A zombie-like universe of stored ideas, it needed a human brain to
use as a processor.  It became aware and sentient, but only through the mechanisms of an alien mind.
      Now, time began to race for it, its internal mental clock increasing to a rapid rate.  The creature was
waking from its long slumber.  Aware now of the man, Omanae felt kindness, even love, for him.  It knew that
its vampire kiss would doom Barne. but the man would also share in their new enlightenment.  In taking
Barne’s life and thoughts into the vast karma of its massive memory, it would give back, perhaps far more
than it stole.
________________

      Beginning with his most recent and vivid memories, Barne’s thoughts moved back toward the past.  The
image of his beloved calendar became a visual map for his journey.  Seeing the work of art as he had never
before seen it, through mere eyes, he had a new sense of continuity with his world.  His life had been close
to nature and nature’s rhythm’s had become clear to him now.
       Barne saw his mother before him.  She was singing the songs of history, teaching him their mysterious
words.  The songs had always struck him as poetic and beautiful, but the meanings had been a vague
puzzle.  As his mother sang, the stories she told brought a flood of understanding.  For the first time, he
could begin to grasp the ideas expressed, and fit them into a greater whole.  It seemed so simple and right,
as the shroud slowly lifted from his mind.
      The love and concern on his mother’s face made her vibrantly alive: she was his link with generation
after generation of mankind.  Behind her, in the cloudless sky, the moon gave testimony to the endless
cycles of nature.  And, on the horizon, the Reflector’s awesome presence was ample evidence of the power
of his race to shape their worlds.
      The starry background seemed to shift as he watched.  The Reflector was now almost edge on, still
transparent but no longer set against the heavens.  The white streaked curve of the planet loomed as the
new background.
      His name was Boris Malenkov.  His little triangular craft had carried him to space for a simple mission,
that of repairing an unreliable component on the KM-eight orbital reflector.  However, the booster pack had
malfunctioned and he had not achieved orbital velocity.  He was going to come down on the North Arias
Plain, a desolate and uninhabited region of the planet.
      Boris could look forward to his destiny as clearly as he could to his past memories.  Time as a linear
continuum now extended in two directions.  He knew he would survive the landing and would seek shelter on
the plain.  He also knew he would die in the embrace of the one called Omanae.  His spirit would not
become one with his ancestors, but with his descendants instead.
      Barne-Boris-Omanae moved on, a mental construct thousands of times more complex that a single
entity.  Scores of images from scores of different personalities merged and flowed.  Barne was the latest to
join the construct; Boris had been the first.  Thousands lay in between.
      Reaching across time, identities - made sharper and more distinct by the merging - sought out the
universe of what was now common experience.  They all had long ago died, except for Barne... but now they
live again, in him - through Omanae.
      Barne was still an individual personality, but now he could read and write like Boris, in Russian.  He
could do the same in a dozen other languages as well.  Perspectives on life and its events came from any
single viewpoint and all viewpoints at once.  His intellect had expanded, through Omanae, and was sufficient
to effortlessly handle the bombarding maze of images and ideas.
      He saw himself as his mother had seen him.  He experienced the miracle of his own birth, but through
her eyes and body.  The tapestry of life, relived from a multitude of viewpoints, was instantly accessible to
him.  He knew, simultaneously, every moment.  Yet he could - at will - experience any single event, in slow
motion if he wished.
      There was so much to savor, so much to LIVE.  Even the painful memories were something of  wonder
within the context of life.
      By Okiakai’s time, he would have twenty days before he died: but Barne-Omanae’s mental clock was
racing now...  and their time was expanding at a phenomenal rate.
      He would explore it all.
________________

      The new moon was an hour from setting in the western sky.  The night air, cold and damp from the
recent storm, was gusting across the plain, its low throaty moan a lonely song.
      Two thin figures approached Barne’s pock from the west, moving closely together in the cold wind.
      Cage and Jana had tried for the last four nights to move the shield lid, but it had stubbornly refused to
budge.  They had come to try again.
      Without a word, they took positions on either side of the miracle artifact.  Struggling in unison, they
pulled upward with all their might.
      With a metallic snap, the lid on Cage’s side gave first, then it popped free.  The couple hefted the
heavy cone to waist height and moved it to the side, setting it carefully on the damp surface.
      Cage took both of Jana’s hands in his, and they turned to look back at the pock.  Its opening was
sealed, a gleaming black calcium shell, molded to the shape of the shield lid’s underside.  The hard stony
shell had picked up a trace of the waffle-like pattern of the lid, but there was no mistaking the elegant
perfection of a dark spiral, winding smoothly from the rim to the center in ever finer coils.

                                                              THE END

Allan L. Flowers, 1988,  rewritten 1998