Summary: Civilization on the Moon has reached a crossroads. People are deciding what shall take them into the future; the bright, reckless pursuits of science, or the staid, temperate process of tradition. A brother and sister are at the center of this change, as believers and practitioners of the oldest religious traditions but with the hope and imagination of youth.
The playful waters, shifting shades of blue and gray, licked around his heels like fawning children. He gazed into them steadily, his meditation uninterrupted. Source of his power, source of the strength of the moon. What was to happen to them now that this wild scheme had been thought up? Should they abandon the power they had always found in the waters to embrace the strength of the sun, whose shifty face had heretofore been always a secret to them? Such thoughts did not sit well with his mind. To the end, he determined, he should be constant. As constant as the waves and water that he placed his eternal faith in.
Sulire ma, quy naa ta mastaka cui, Asaka?
"Why are you so grim, Asaka?" a lively voice cried out behind him. Reluctantly, the young man pulled his feet from the water and turned to face the wild, unrestrained face of his sister. She walked forward, her steps like those in a whimsical dance, and embraced him gently, almost as if her normal grip would break him in two. He shut his eyes as he felt the soft folds of her overrobe, her himsul, caress the skin of his bare arms.
This is real, he reminded himself firmly, this is real, and nothing may take these feelings away from me. He slipped his hands down to his sister's waist and swung her up off the ground as he used to when she was a child, hearing with delight her sudden shriek of laughter. The forbidden sound echoed through the austere halls of the tamamilure, the high temple. Atasa put her hand to her mouth, muffling the sounds of her joy, while her eyes danced with humor.
When he placed her on the ground, she regained some of her composure. Smoothing her gray hair back from her temples with a dignified gesture, she reprimanded her brother with mock solemnity. "Asaka ruo Tempesu, how dare you lay hands on a Lady of the Eternal Waters? In all my life I…"
"In training." Asaka interrupted her, squeezing her cheek in a patronizing manner.
"You are not supposed to mention that!" she protested, pretending to storm away from him. "I will be a real Lady one day."
Asaka sobered quickly. "You may never be now."
Atasa shook her head. "Oh, my brother, why are you so worried? This has been discussed and analyzed over and over again. Do you really think that you, with your water gazing, have found something so catastrophic that they never noticed, with all their science?"
The man shook his head in poisonous frustration. "That is just the thing! I can find nothing. Nothing to prove that what is going to happen will be the wrong thing. But nothing else have I found to prove that it will be the right thing."
Familiar with her brother's moods, the other said nothing; content only to stare at her clasped hands. They stood in silence for a moment, on either side deep in thought. Suddenly, the younger girl clapped her hands, as if brushing the whole matter off her mind.
"I wanted to tell you Asaka, since I knew you would be interested." She said, with girlish enthusiasm.
"Tell me what?"
"There is a lecture, being given by one of the scientific team, Luria ruo Masumete, about the construction of the sun dome. I thought that you would want to know."
Asaka grabbed her sister's elbows in a fever of excitement. "Where? And when?"
Atasa caught his excitement. "At the Ryutela. But it was supposed to have started precisely at afternoon ha'tide. I only learned about it around then, and when I came to get you…"
The water gazer stared at the pylon suspended in the inlet of the temple. The tide was now nearly all in, and he groaned. Most of the speech would be over by now.
"Come," he commanded, restraining his swift stride only because the laws of the temple were carved into his mind, the first and foremost of which was: Maintain a steady and unhurried pace while on the temple premises.
His sister, well versed in the laws of the holy place, also held her place steadily at his side. They both paused at the door and dipped their thumbs into the shallow, carved bowls, which contained water specially blessed for leaving and entering the sacred grounds. With dripping thumbs, they drew the symbol of the moon, a round circle, on their foreheads and right palms. They both then stepped swiftly into the street, pulling the hoods of their robes from their heads.
The bustle of mid-afternoon traffic was full upon them as they dodged merchants and entertainers in the City Common, a large business epicenter fully intent on milking every last resource from the open inlet into Sulime Acturimasta, the largest sea on the face of the moon. This inlet was rigidly policed and regulated by the temple's ministers—and rightly so. After all, since the oldest, and current, religion of the moon revolved around these seas, there was no way that the ministers of the temple could let them be defiled. To permit careless behavior on the waters was to disrespect life itself.
Asaka and his sister skirted the seawall, where the commerce was a little less fierce and the eyes were given a respite from the constant glaring of the harsh, white lights suspended from the atmospheric dome. In the silence though, the man heard the constant hum of the fans, pushing the same stale air around, and around…and around. The groan of these monstrous giants was enough to drive anyone out of his mind, there was no doubting that. The gazer could not blame anyone for desiring a difference in his life, especially when it entailed destroying the atmospheric dome for a real, vibrant, lush, planet. But it was his opinion, and the opinions of several others, that the moon could not support a real atmosphere, and therefore, was doomed to a life of eternal living death.
His people had always been advanced technologically, mixing their dogmatic religion with a desire for knowledge and a passion for the best that had thrown their culture ahead in time several hundred years. He knew and accepted the facts that they had traveled in space for decades, had discovered a way of replenishing their oxygen source, and had created the functional artificial atmosphere. Indeed, they had striven to refine the last two until the systems were, from the standpoint of many scientists, nearly perfect. Both though, had the same flaw.
They were not real.
The people of the moon felt not the sun on their faces nor saw the twinkle of the stars at night. In fact, the only changes in the hours that they knew came from the tides of the sea and the strength of the lights that illuminated the interior of their dome.
Oh, cried some poets, how they longed for the sun!
The cry echoed in his soul as his mind came back to him and he concentrated abnormally hard on the firm, blue paving stones beneath his feet. They had covered nearly all the distance to the Ryutela, but already they could hear the shouts of the crowd as they roared at the things that the speaker declared. Asaka heard the woman's powerful voice as she cried into her magnifier, pleading with the crowd for their endorsement of the new sun dome.
"I know that all present share with me the same feeling of disgust for our artificial life, and our longing for a real, vibrant planet, which is now made possible through science." Asaka strained to hear her voice, though it was so loud, for the crowd shouted and applauded at nearly every word she spoke.
"Too long has our planet been maintained by a strict religion, an institution which has kept us from advancing as far as we might have. We have the power to abandon our atmospheric dome, and I do not believe that anyone here wishes to remain in darkness any longer."
Asaka caught his sister politely clapping to this, and he granted her a dour glance, which she answered with her roguish smile. But her demonstration was not nearly as violent as some of the other audience members, some of whom were throwing their veils and cloaks into the air and deafening all those near them with their screams. Asaka, raised in the quiet of the temple, found the crowd terribly confining, hot and uncomfortable. He gasped for air, leaning heavily on his sister's shoulder. Atasa responded immediately, resting her cool palms on his fevered face and forehead. Her healing strength flowed into him, and he stood upright once more, thanking the power of the water for sustaining him once more.
"Embrace the sunlight!" Luria cried, her voice rough and breaking. Asaka saw, in sharp relief, the sweat dripping like diamonds off her face. The lights are too strong, he thought disconnectedly, they are too warm. And the sun is greater still. How shall we survive that?
"We shall see the face of our source of life!" she cried, and in that line, she destroyed centuries of ingrained doctrine. She swept religion away in that instant, and while some in the crowd still cheered wildly, others became strangely subdued. Many of the latter were marked with the kyoritas, the mark of consecrated birth, which was a small tattoo impressed onto the right palm, signifying belief in the dogma of the Eternal Waters. This belief was, chiefly, that the waters of the moon had been the source of all life, not the sun, which had never cared for the lunar children, and had indeed destroyed many until they had learned to adapt to life upon the surface with the atmospheric dome.
"You are wrong!" a voice, weary yet strong, cried this from the corner of the Ryutela. Swiveling to face this new speaker, Asaka and his sister beheld one of the high priests, one of the arkmastuna, and they both fell immediately into the traditional bow, with which lesser religious members greeted their elders. Peering up between his arms, which met above his bent head, he saw the high priest raise his traditional staff high above his head, thereby invoking the aid of the ancient powers in his fight against evil. The young man was shocked by the severity of this conflict that his master should use such a sign, and, judging by his sister's terrified gasp, she was as surprised as he.
They rested in their position until the priest began to speak again, and Asaka, when he rose, noted with disconcertment the looks of scorn and fury of those around them. When had the lore of the ancient moon become so reviled?
"You say that the sun is the source of our life, but where would we be today if the waters had not been our eternal aid?" the priest challenged the woman at the podium. "It was the waters that saved us from being destroyed by the sun!"
"Yes, yes," she answered with a careless wave of her hand. The nonchalance of her tone horrified Asaka. Why, only several decades ago she would have been stoned for speaking in such a manner to an arkmastuna! "We have all asked ourselves the question of which came first, the water or the sun." She smiled indulgently at the older man who held her gaze firmly.
"It was the sun!" she cried, and there was a great outcry, both for good and ill in the Ryutela. Asaka could only distinguish one more phrase from the woman as she was swept off the stage by the riotous crowd.
Atasa sat, in the shade of the seawall where she and her brother had fled the rush of the mob, white with shock and confusion. She lifted her helplessly puzzled eyes to her brother's face, whose expression was scarcely less pathetic than her own. She shook her head, staring at the mark on her palm as if it could explain things to her.
"Our beliefs," she choked out, "are being ripped apart. When was it ever this bad? I can never remember feeling such…controversy, such hate in my life!"
Asaka shook his own head, sliding down the wall to rest beside her. "We have been living blindly, just assuming that the view of the Eternal Water was the only one on the moon. We should have seen that the discontent over the atmospheric dome would come to some sort of pinnacle sometime."
"How were we to see that?" Atasa cried, whirling towards him. "We were raised to believe this, we have spent our lives studying the documents of the ancients. We know this is true! Should it be natural to question all you have believed in? What you have believed all your life?" Asaka tried to cut her off, but she burst through him. "No! Asaka, I am not going to let them challenge the truth like this. We must do something."
"We must." He agreed, but there was no enthusiasm in his voice. "But what? How do we prove…something so huge?"
Atasa was silent, seeing the hitch in her plans. "We always have the resources of the Record's Chamber."
The older brother shook his head. "Those are records of the temple. Will the scientists accept proof when they think we may have changed the writings?"
The younger girl sighed, desperate, her hands clutching her robes, searching for some answer. Then she groaned. "We must find some scientific way of showing that the waters came before the light of the sun, and nurtured us until we could manage creating our first dome."
"Exactly." Asaka understood at last. "They cannot prove their theories, when we might be able to, but they forbid us to use our own sources. They force us to compete on their own terms."
"Mekke!" she spat, the word a harsh snarl in the back of her throat. Asaka was stunned, for his sister rarely swore, and he had only heard that word pass her lips once before in her whole life.
"Atasa!" he cried, shaking her shoulder. "It will be all right. We shall find some way of showing the world that we are right. Do not fear."
"I fear not." She told him, her anger unabated. "I am furious! How dare they…how dare they?" she turned to her brother, her impotent anger painful to him. "I should not mind if they proved their point through a factual basis and presented their plea for a sun dome logically. But this…their argument is subversive and insidious. They cut away our basis as a people, so we are weak when they come in for the final blow."
The young man nodded, sharing in her agony for one precious moment. But the coming time was not going to be one for anger and resentment. It was going to require unstinting love and devotion to the temple and the work they had, though not aloud, set themselves to do. For a moment, he rested there with her. Then, closing his eyes firmly, he lifted her to her feet.
"Let us go to the temple again and ask for guidance. I shall gaze into the waves and see what they tell us to do. We must clear our heads of anger," he said as his sister looked like to explode again, "for it is necessary to remain calm for the work we must do. Come."
His gentle command, repeated softly, finally compelled Atasa to join him in a prayer for patience, and afterwards, the two turned their backs upon the Ryutela and walked again to their temple.
If his sister had been angry before they began their journey, the magnitude of that was nothing compared to her raging frenzy when at last they reached the temple door.
Half of the city had been there, witnesses to the speeches made by both the scientist and the priest. Of that half, half had been on the side of the scientist, so a quarter of the city's population believed not only that the scientist was right, but that the temple was restricting and more than willing to sacrifice the chance of seeing the light to remain the group in power. As such, neither Asaka nor Atasa was welcome in the city proper to them. While they walked, the young man tried not to notice the looks of utter spite he received when some looked upon his and his sister's traditional vestments.
Suddenly, a sharp edged fragment of paving stone sailed through the air and struck the water gazer on the nape of his neck, drawing blood and staining the hood of his robes. Atasa cried out in fear, and removed the bit of rock with a quick jerk of her fingers, but before she could heal him, another, larger stone, thrown even faster this time, smacked her in the hip. She groaned and nearly lost her balance from the pain in her limb. Asaka supported his sister and hurried behind a pillar supporting the walkway on top of the seawall, massaging her hip to help the pain as he heard the curses of the group of people tossing the stones.
"Go back underground where you came from, you tastranias!"
Atasa gasped and tried yet again to heave herself up off the pillar, but her leg failed her halfway and she collapsed again, crying out as a fresh wave of agony hit her unprepared. Her brother pushed her back against the stones and murmured a prayer for lessened pain, since she could not concentrate to complete the spell herself. However, while she was able to heal small wounds completely, he was only able to grant the blessing of numbness. She staggered to her feet, and Asaka shielded her body with his own as they dashed from stone pylon to pylon, curses and stones flung at them all the way.
The healer was crying and her brother was nearly ready to do so by the time they reached the familiar door of the temple wing that they occupied. Atasa fell to her knees once they were inside the solid stone building, praying for justice and vengeance while the tears streamed down her cheeks.
The water gazer drew his sister up onto a chair and gently lowered the edge of her robe until he could see the darkening bruise at her hipbone. He shoved away from her and paced the small anteroom in which they rested, his footsteps angry and echoing on the slate floor. Turning suddenly, he slammed his fist down as hard as he could onto the table upon which rested the bowl of blessed water. The impact of his hand rocked the elegantly carved wood, and several drops of water spilled over the edge.
Atasa forced herself to her knees where she made the voluntary obescience before the spilled water, but the young man stayed firmly on his feet. Ever sensitive to his feelings, the woman said nothing to him, neither reminding him of his duty nor joining with him in his rebellion. Furious when she entered, the ebb of her emotions led to the swelling of his, but that was often the way it was with twins. The extreme of one soon shifts to the same extreme in the other, and now she was drained of rage and he was filled with it.
"Now who needs to be calm, my brother?" the phrase might have sounded sarcastic had it not been for the exhaustion in her voice. Both of them were tired from the extremity and sudden shifts in their emotions, and right now, she knew that she wanted to rest—and forever would be too short a time for her to do it.
His chuckle was dry and humorless as he turned to face her; she still kneeled on the ground, her hands tucked into a small bundle in her lap. Yes, she was tired, and he was too.
She pulled herself up. "Come," she said, as she gently tugged his arm, "we need to sleep before we take on the world. There are, after all, some things that one cannot do on the verge of exhaustion, and fighting, or beginning to fight a holy war is one of them. Rest."
Swayed by her gentle words, the siblings walked slowly through the narrow corridors of the temple, heading, in some vague way, towards the sleeping wing. Atasa parted from him when he continued on to the male barracks and she turned into her own cell, where she promptly fell into a sleep full of terrible visions of the sun, an orb that heretofore had only been a dream to her. Unfortunately, it was now becoming a frightening potential reality.
Asaka lost his compass when his sister's gentle hands left his shoulder and instead of going towards his own cell as he might have done, he continued into the alcove where he had spent his unhurried morning, gaining visions from the sea. He paused next to the low wall that separated him from the waters, listening to the rush of the tide on the submerged sea rocks. He looked at the deceptively calm face of the water, seeing through the dark surface into the darker, wilder currents beneath.
His vision was disturbed by the fluorescent lights reflecting their artificial brightness off the surface of his element, and he glared up at the dome in exasperation. Suddenly, terror gripped his heart in a paralyzing grip, as he saw the harsh glare of a giant sphere of light reflect off the cool waters. The sun! They had already destroyed the atmospheric dome! He jerked his head up to see…
…the same dark ceiling from which was suspended the same lights. The icy touch of fear dissolved slowly, but the cold of it was still fresh in his heart.
No. This must not happen. Now he knew, beyond a doubt, that it would be wrong.
Asaka somehow managed to find his way back to his own room, and after a while, he found himself waking from a long, quiet sleep. He stretched gratefully, peering out his window to catch a glimpse of the tide. At least it was still during morning er'tide, so he had only rested for little more than half a day. He lay back on his bed, resting with closed eyes for a moment longer before he knew he would have to force himself up again. His ears, sensitive to the murmurs of the tide, caught the slight sound of rumbling outside his temple compound. His eyes opened slowly, trying to discern the puzzling sound.
Eventually, there was nothing for it but to get up and try to find Atasa, who likely already knew the origin of the noise. He swung himself off his bed and changed his robe, splashing water along his face and forearms. Deciding himself presentable, he swung open the heavy door to his chamber, where, curiously enough, the sound intensified. He walked quickly along the hall towards the main gate, where his sister would already be on duty welcoming newcomers to the place of worship.
As he rounded the corner into the main foyer of their temple, he was disturbed to see his sister, looking very harried and upset, pacing the flagstones anxiously, directing others of her order to add another barricade to the closed and locked door. The noise, which he now recognized as the dull roar of an angry crowd, emanated like a herald of doom from outside. Asaka swiftly moved to his sister's side, recoiling in shock when he felt how cold her hands were.
"We are beset upon all sides Asaka," her voice was terrified through and through. "They want us to give up the old man who spoke yesterday, the arkmastuna. He came here last night for shelter. And they vow they will not leave until we have renounced our protection of him."
As if to emphasize what Atasa had said, the crowd banged ever more viciously at the door, cracking some of the heavy wooden posts wedged into the jamb. Asaka shivered. If the crowd wanted him, there would not be much they could do to stop them from accomplishing their goal. But they would do all possible. He grasped his sister's hands, warming them between his own.
"We will take him into the strong room where we keep the oldest, most valuable records. There he should be safe."
Atasa nodded, but she still looked at and considered the nervous young women and men under her care. "What will happen to the rest of us? We cannot hold them back for long, and—"
"The safety of the arkmastuna comes first. Now send one of your ladies to go see to it, and I'll see what we may do here. Wait—" he cried, taking his sister's wrist before she could go, "have you asked the aid of one of our superiors?"
Atasa nodded. "But I'm not sure whether or not he may be able to get through to us. The crowd stops all traffic in and out, and I am afraid his life will be in danger if he tries to get to us."
Her brother sighed, hugging his sister comfortingly. "It will be all right. Go now." She smiled her own encouragement at him, and then she was gone. The young man turned to the door and studied the situation, trying desperately to find some way to strengthen the wall between them and the maniacs outside.
The door itself was of mahogany, one of the strongest woods available to be grown under the atmospheric dome, but it was old, and already it was split in several places from having to withstand the fervent pounding outside. At least it had been barricaded with strong lengths of pine, which helped a bit, but they too were splintering under the pressure. A wall of stone would be the best to hold them back with, but the only articles in the temple made of stone besides the walls themselves were all holy pieces, used only for the rights of the Moon.
He hesitated, weighing the need on one hand and the sacrilege on the other. Finally, he turned and told the men behind him to break the circular altar in the center of the foyer and carry it to the door.
Gasps and silence were the only sounds to greet his order, and he told them this, which, ever after, was the single action of his that he could remember clearly.
"If we do not stop them from getting through this door, we will have no way of protecting anything in here, including this altar! Separate the sections and pile them on each other and stop them!"
At least they obeyed him them. It took four women and five men, all present, to pull the five sections of the massive stone structure apart and carry each piece to rest against the door. The stone wall created though was higher than his head and five feet thick, even if there were gaps here and there. It should hold the mob back for a little while longer, until they could be advised by a superior as to what amount of force they were allowed to use to drive the riot away.
Almost as soon as Asaka turned around it seemed, his sister was back at his side, reporting that the high priest had been secreted as well as they could manage. She saw the door, but said nothing to it, as he expected she might have. She took his arm, where he could feel her fingers trembling, and squeezed it. Her face was calm if resigned to the worst. He envied her calm, because he himself felt as if he was going to scream with the helpless feeling inside.
A few minutes after that, one of the acolytes stationed at one of the other doors of the temple arrived in the tow of a superior priest to either Atasa or himself. The whole community seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as he entered the room, and the man himself was nothing if not the epitome of confidence. He surveyed the situation with the air of one who might have done things better on his own. Finally, with a sigh of condescension, he deigned to give his orders.
"Who broke the altar and put it against the doors?" he asked, his voice like thunder. Atasa's hand contracted on her brother's shoulder, telling him not to step forward and admit his sacrilege, but the older man acknowledged that he had been the one to order the destruction of the temple artifact.
The priest looked on him as he might the lowliest commoner in the street. "You shall go to your cell and remain there until this is over. I do not need someone who is obviously weak in his faith to aid us."
Some of the others present, including his own sister, murmured to themselves and the others around them, trying to find the courage to protest the order of their superior. The punishment for disobeying a superior was severe, and though Asaka felt Atasa gathering her strength, he whispered softly to her when the priest's back was turned.
"It is not worth the risk, Atasa. I will go."
"It is unjust," she whispered fiercely. "I shall speak against him, and will likely be pardoned at a trial. Others will join me, I know."
One shake of the head from her older brother however, silenced her protests, and the priest, giving directions to some of the lower novitiates, ordered Asaka again to leave. The young man gathered his dignity about him as a thick cloak, and left the main foyer.
He had maintained a steady, unhurried pace while in the presence of his superior, but one in the side hall that led to his cell, he broke into a furious run, the sound of his shoes slapping the stone floors a sonorous echo in the silent place. He reached his room in the space of a few minutes and he slammed the door behind him, pacing the small confines of the chamber in a rage. His hands tore ineffectually at his robes, almost as if his whole body yearned to break as many of the regulations of the temple as he could. Eventually, he was drained, the fury taking too much of his energy to support for long. He sat on his bed, panting softly, and laid his head in his hands.
It was a while later before he woke, not having realized he was asleep, and he stood up shakily, his legs uncertain of their footing. Through his haze of exhaustion, he heard strange sounds coming from the usually peaceful hallway. They sounded like people running, doors being opened and closed rapidly, and muffled shouts from searcher to searcher.
Suddenly, Asaka knew. They had failed, and the mob had broken into his haven, his peace. Atasa, the others…what had happened to them? What was going to happen to him when they found him? There had to be some way out of the temple other than the doors.
Well, there was, but it was definitely forbidden to any of his kind. And to everyone else on the Moon, for that matter. However, Asaka decided that it was more important that he evade capture, so as to aid the others if he could. He cracked open his door, verifying that no searchers were in his immediate corridor.
Asaka stole quietly down the hallway, heading towards the grotto where he observed the waves and currents. As he walked, he removed his shoes, one at a time, and stuffed them into one of the numerous cracks in the old stonework of the walls, praying that they would not be discovered by those who sought him. When he reached the grotto, he removed his cloak as well and hid it underneath one of the larger boulders.
His eyes glanced over the rippled waters of the sea, noting the larger than average number of boats and ships straying over the surface, and he understood that the way stations along the coastline must also have been invaded. His breath came short as he realized how unlikely it was that his escape attempt was going to work. But it was too late to turn back, and if he did, it wouldn't even matter. He would walk into the hands of his enemies.
He walked into the water silently, feeling the strange rocks and slimy life of the sea bottom caress his feet, and with a push, he was floating in the water, swimming outside of the protection of the overhanging seawall. Swimming as silently as he could manage, he maneuvered around the edge of the wall, peering up to anticipate any attacks and surveying the wall to see where he might be able to climb up onto the top walkway.
At last, his chance came, when he saw a broken down section of wall where the fallen stones had so piled on each other that he could have constant toe and hand holds. He lifted himself out of the water and pulled himself up the jagged rocks, feeling the stones crumble underneath his feet, plopping back into the water with significant splashes. His heart in his throat, he inched himself over the top of the wall.
Unfortunately, he collided with a pair of legs, legs that belonged to someone who was not pleased to see another temple rat, as he was so designated. Asaka was pulled roughly to his feet by two pairs of unrelenting hands, and his knees were beaten from behind by two sticks, so he collapsed onto his forearms.
The young man was swung over a shoulder, where he kicked as hard as he could before the man carrying him dropped him quite soundly on his head for a few times so he understood that escape would not be possible. Asaka hung, feeling incredibly humiliated, borne through the horde of unwashed peasantry, all of whom felt quite happy to beat him with whatever they had, including fists, legs, and rotten fish among other leftovers.
He groaned, his head throbbing violently, yet refusing to beg his captor. If he went to death, then he would go without a word or a struggle.
'Please,' he begged the Waters. 'Please let Atasa be all right.'
It seemed as though, after an eternity over this man's shoulder, that he was nearing the end of his journey. Upside-down, Asaka recognized the blue and white paving stones of the Ryutela. He also saw the prints of temple shoes imprinted in the dust, and his heart leapt for joy to think that his friends might still be alive. At last, he was dropped unceremoniously on his shoulders among a mass of people, all of whom smelled as savory as he did.
He struggled to right himself as the man above him spoke to the woman at the podium.
"That's the last one lady. All the temple rats are out now."
Her voice, oddly familiar, carried over the crowd to Asaka's ear. "Thank you. You may go, and, as promised, anything you find in the temple is yours, save the manuscripts. Leave."
Asaka struggled upright, aided by his fellow 'temple rats', and looked up into the face of Luria ruo Masumete. She presided over the impromptu conglomeration of temple officials with an air of infinite pride and condescension. All of the others looked stonily back at her, refusing to show an ounce of emotion at their kidnapping.
"Oh, come now, my friends," she smiled patronizingly, "you could not expect that your little ruse of superiority would work forever, now could you?" Seeing that her insults got no reaction, she prodded a bit further. "Certainly, you held the entire Moon in thrall for millenia. But now we know infinitely better. Your antiquated ways would not have lasted, even had we never had the inspiration for the sun dome. Now however, they are simply ineffectual a little sooner."
She bent forward, almost as if she might have whispered the next phrase. "You had your time to rule the planet. And now, it is our turn. The sun dome will be the first fruit of the new, scientific regime. You might be grateful to me, you know, since I am going to let you all live to see it. When it is complete, I shall bring you here to look upon the face of the sun, and after the whole world sees how we have triumphed, I shall kill you all."
Her face, with its cold, calculating cruelty made some of the younger members of the order shudder. Asaka himself felt her icy hatred slide its way into his stomach like the freezing blade of a knife. The woman's face contorted into a hideous mask of laughter as she choked out the next sentence.
"You might think of it as a sacrificial offering to the glory of the new order of things. Or you might not. Either way, it matters not to me. Either way, in the end, you will die."
Asaka heard the cries of some of his comrades as they were taken up again by harsh hands. His soul burned with rage against the ghastly woman, certain that she was insane, and his hands twitched with longing to place them around her throat and choke the life out of her slowly and painfully as he could. He heard the voice of his sister, raised in a furious outcry, before it was stilled harshly and suddenly. He burst to life, pushing past those who came to take him again to try and reach his sister's voice, to try to help her.
His own drained strength was not enough though, and in the end he was carried by one of the strongest men there to the same cell where other male captives were being herded. They were underground now, in the bowels of the public prison, where all the other, real criminals had obviously been set free to make room for them. Thrown down onto the rocky floor, Asaka sat stunned for a moment, so he lost his opportunity to throttle his captor and steal out the door. When at last he got up from the ground, the cage was shut and locked, and armed guards patrolled the halls relentlessly.
He turned to the others in his cell, which were all of comparable age. They looked at him with sad, hopeless eyes.
"We are not going to escape from here."
It was the truth. They waited, in the dark and cold, for months, though no one could tell how much time was going by, silent and dispirited. Talk was forbidden among the prisoners, so Asaka could never tell whether or not his sister was all right, and a plan for breaking out was not even conceived, so far as he knew. His own group was far too apathetic to do anything. After all, what was the use?
They would only be caught again. Luria, Asaka grudgingly admitted, was no fool at least. When they were concerned, she kept guards upon guards upon guards. She knew how catastrophic they could be for her plan. She was right. She kept them in the dark, silent, and disorganized. They had not a chance of destroying her plan.
Years must have passed while they waited in the dark, but Asaka could not tell the passage of time, as he had known earlier. All he knew was that the cells were getting more and more diseased as time went on, since they were never cleaned, and all the refuse of the group remained exactly where it was. He saw three prisoners in his cell die because he could do nothing to help them. The bodies rotted in the cells along with the living.
Lying on his side one day, facing out into the darkened corridor of the prison, away from the skeletons of his fellow prisoners, Asaka felt the complete and total despair of his situation. Had he wanted to even now, he could do nothing. There was one other man in his cell besides him, and the two of them together had not the strength of one. Sickness was getting into both of them. Let the end come, he thought carelessly, and the sooner the better.
Suddenly, as he felt distractedly the rough ground under his hands, he heard the sound of the gate that led down to the level of the prison screech open. He sat up slowly, conserving his strength. It was not the time for the guards to change hands. Someone different was coming.
As it turned out, it was Luria. Resplendent in robes as yellow as the desert sands of the Earth, she descended into their hole, sneering in vengeful anticipation at the people upon whom she had inflicted so much pain. Nodding to the guards, all of the gates were unlocked. So beaten and cowed were they by their torture, none of them at all moved towards the open doors.
Another nod from Luria and the guards, with their prods and whips, drove the prisoners from their cells, leaving the beaten crowd to stare with bleary and tired eyes at the woman whom they had hated so much. But hatred required energy, and none of them had any of that to spare, including Asaka.
The scientist stared at them all with eyes triumphant. She had done it at last—she had broken the spirit of religion, and now she was going to break the influence of their stone-age ideals. Her power over the Moon would be complete today.
"Today is the day where you shall stare up at the sun and die knowing that you were wrong, that your theories were wrong, and that your religion was wrong. You shall die knowing that everything you ever believed in was wrong. When you die, I hope all of you shall remember that you are solely responsible for keeping the people of the Moon in the dark for generations."
Her insults and therefore attentions over, she just gestured to the guards and led the way up through the jail and into the sunlight, where an expectant crowd waited to catch their first glimpse of the sun. Asaka was nearly blinded when he caught even a glance at the harsh lights of the new dome, the lights that would hereafter be obsolete. He assumed that the dark dome was just the old atmospheric dome that would be removed just before the sun dome was opened for the first time. When his eye strengthened though, he saw that the lights were suspended, but the dark covering was just temporary, probably a dramatic curtain hiding the new dome for the perfect instant.
He was shoved from behind, and led along with the others to the center of the Ryutela, where years before he had knelt in the same place, watching this same woman destroy everything he had ever known. Forced to his knees again, the young man waited for Luria to bring the curtain down on the old era of the Moon. He waited patiently now for his death.
She mounted the steps to the insignificant podium and silenced the crowd with her hands. Like expectant children hanging on the words of their parents, the people of the Moon waited for her to speak. Luria herself hesitated, almost as if even she felt the huge responsibility upon her.
"My friends," she began, "we have waited generations for this. We have waited all of our lives to see the sun, the power that, we know, brought us into existence. Some of us have waited for the system of rule by religion, that great and incompetent beast, to come to an end. Today, we see all of that happen."
The crowd went wild with screams, tears, blessings shouted and curses of enthusiasm. The air was thick with flying scarves, and Luria pretended to wipe the moisture from her own eyes as she went on after the mob silenced itself.
"As I have warned all of you, however," as she spoke again, her tone was more serious, "it shall be a time before any of us may truly look upon the face of the sun without some kind of protection. So, as you all recall, special goggles were created for this purpose and given to all of you. Wear them now, and any who have misplaced theirs should come to the front where they are in those boxes you see there."
Asaka felt a shift at his side as someone moved aside to let another body take his place. The young man looked over to see the smaller, gaunter face of his sister peering up at him. Asaka nearly cried out with joy and tears to see his younger twin again, but she quieted him with a gesture, her familiar hands brushing his bare arms. Her own eyes were brimming with tears that she did not wish to shed.
"I have been trying to contact you all this time," she murmured, a stray crystal tear making its way down the side of her filthy face. "I wanted to talk to you so much!"
Her brother immediately put her streaming face into his shoulder, burying his own wet face into her gray hair, and the pair sat sobbing silently for a moment. But time was precious, and the crowd was not going to be sorting through goggles and whatnot forever, and he wanted to have all the time that he could with his sister before they died.
"Atasa," he murmured, feeling with joy the familiar syllables slide over his tongue, "how have you been?"
Her face had some of its old aspect of eternal cheer as she answered, in an undertone, "Well, I assume you can tell what a hard time we have had of it, setting up temple in such a damp, dirty place."
Asaka heard her old, pleasant banter with tears welling up in his soul, understanding how hard she was working to cheer him up. Her voice did not waver, however, as she spoke again.
"Besides, we have gotten no one to come to us for holy rites when we have been here. Honestly, you would think that one of our usual elders had been behind this relocation, but it was not, as well you know!"
Asaka chuckled as he heard her veiled insult about the religious structure and its odd whims, since they had often made their own jibes about the stupidity and seeming carelessness about temple functions. But now the crowd was nearly all settled, and the siblings had to settle for holding each other tightly while the loathsome woman standing over them went on.
"Of course," she cried, when she got her audience under control again, "we shall not give any to the 'temple rats', and I am certain that everyone knows why that is so." The crowd leered and booed loudly at the clustered, huddled people in the center of the speaking place. Asaka felt his sister's back muscles tighten, as they always did when she was getting upset. He almost weeped when he thought that he would never feel it again.
"And now," Luria cried, her own exuberance seeping through her heretofore professional demeanor, "I present to you, the sun!"
Nod and smile to her henchmen on either side of her podium, and signals relayed all over the Moon at the same moment, the darkness of the temporary lighting fell away, and the first rays of sunlight poured down onto the surface of their world.
Asaka felt the agony of sunlight pierce his tightly closed eyes, and he rolled to the ground, his arms covering his face and his sister's. She was crying out with the pain of it, and for a moment, the young man could hear nothing but the piteous wails of his friends. The sunlight was too strong, was too bright! And they seemed not to be the only people who could not stand the strength of the light on them.
As he groveled and wailed in blind, horrible pain on the ground, his ears distinguished the cries of pain coming from the crowd, though they too wore protective goggles over their eyes. The crowd stampeded, blinded as all of them were, trying to find some respite from the brilliance in the shadows, the welcome dark. Asaka was sick on the ground, rolling over in his own bile and praying his life would end.
Suddenly, from overhead, he heard a violent crack, but he didn't need to look up to know that the dome itself had shattered from the strain it was under. Huge fragments of building material rained down on the assembled masses, impaling hundreds with javelins of glass and metal. Asaka covered his whimpering sister as best he could, feeling in terrible anguish the nearly invisible splinters of the stuff wedge their ways into his arms and back.
For an instant, there was silence.
Then the winds, all the oxygen underneath the dome, shrieked out into the empty void of space, ripping people and buildings from their roots and pulling them out into the vacuum as well. The young priest heard, with terror in his heart, the waters of the sea being uprooted with terrible rushes and the temple itself collapsing and joining the rush into the sky.
It had seemed impossible, and indeed it was, but Asaka and his sister were still on the planet, lying still and taking small, ever dwindling breaths of air. Soon, they would die. But they would die together. Even though they were alone, under the harsh eye of an enemy to them, without the protection of the Waters, they would die together.
Eventually, they did. The whole moon died with them, and the rest of the sun dome that fell to the surface, along with the rest of the buildings and their own bodies, turned to dust under the eye of the sun.