Goksar and I knelt on prayer rugs beside each other on the cliff behind Bencap's Takofuea, watching Kaybok (class G1V star), rise above the ocean. Behind us, at the Takofuea proper, male and female monks bowed before a ziggurat-like structure, chanting prayers and singing to their god, Ponai. The sky purple sky reflected the deep burgundy ocean water.
I'd become fluent enough in Wava to ask for the information I wanted, I just didn't know if Goksar had it.
Everyone said the old monk knew more about ancient lore than anyone else on planet Pathilon. If Klargish or Wava codexes on Jesus existed at all, he would know about it. An apocryphal prophecy, an alien Midrash with the right messianic notes, a Klargish Targum containing fragments of a gospel story...these things could justify Christian missions to outer space, the conversion of extraterrestrials.
The features of Goksar's craggy bearded face combined aspects of humanity with that of a rodent. His ears looked like fish fins. Anchored to them, atop his head, he had on something like those hats worn by DEVO band members, but black, called a gi'uz. Bony legs, covered in fur like a tortoiseshell cat, stuck out below his long, bell sleeved monk's tunic.
I wore one of those alien dolphin skin robes myself, but with leggings, as the nights tended to be cold. I adjusted my flower pot shaped gi'uz. "How was your rest, puebuku Goksar?" I had a little computer with me that had a Wava translator, but I'd spent enough weeks at the Takofuea for it to become unnecessary. Use of the honorific, I hoped, would make him that much more inclined to tell me everything he knew.
His goat-like eyes gazed into mine. "I enjoyed my rest very much...Matthew." His attempt to address me respectfully, because I didn't like `mister' or `brother.' "...How far did you get in Roskecia?"
It's kind of like Genesis, except their god created everything out of a precisely directed explosion, and shaped their race, the Abreyas, out of a soup of amino acids. They had dinosaurs, and an actual industrial revolution before they broke Ponai's laws and got expelled from paradise. "Um...the part where one guy conquers an entire army with a bunch of Grunkiahu."
A Grunk actually flew past the cliff while we talked. Body like a turkey, but horse sized, giant sow's ears, a reptile's tail sticking out its rear end. It mooed at a flock of smaller birds
Goksar gave me a pleased nod. "Roskecia 124:210." He held out a hand, frog-like fingers extended to the sky. "`Grasp tightly to the tail of Ponai, and g'ni shall grant you victory.'" Ponai isn't a he or a she or an it, it's g'ni, gender unknown.
I pantomimed gripping that invisible tail really tight. "I'm trying, Goksar. None of this has been easy for me. I left my whole life behind to...do this."
"Nothing you do in service to Almighty Ponai is ever lost." He smiled. "Your Wava has improved remarkably well."
"I hope it has, puebuku, because I have something very complicated to ask you, and I don't know if you'll understand. My people have spoken to dozens of Abreyas, and nobody's sure what the real answer is...have you heard of Jesus?"
The monk's long, opossum-like tail curled into a question mark.
"Y'shua. Jessie. David. The son of Mary. John the baptist...uh..." I pantomimed hanging on a cross.
Goksar furrowed his brow, clearly baffled by all this. In fact, he spread his arms like I did, quoting a passage from Rupatlu, their book of hymns: "`Great are you, Ponai, I stretch my arms in endless praise.'"
"Interesting take on a very painful death." I shook my head in frustration. "An innocent man. In a place called Jerusalem...got unfairly executed by a bunch of soldiers and religious leaders. He died, but he came back to life. Do you have anything like that in any of your religious texts? Anything at all? Maybe a child being born under a star in a barn?"
This only provoked a lot of head scratching. "This is one of your religious leaders, I take it?"
I nodded vigorously. "He's the religious leader. The son of our god, in fact."
Goksar stared out across the Rocbish Sea. A long necked sea creature emerged from the waves, pecking, duck-like, for food. "Let us meditate and pray. We will not find what we seek without the guidance of Ponai."
It seemed as good an idea as any, so I did some myself.
After several long minutes of prayer and meditation, he rolled up his prayer mat in his tail. "Come with me. I have some things I'd like for you to read."
The Takofuea stood atop a mountain. The layout was circular, with minarets at four points. In between lay immense stone cubes, shared dwellings and other stuff, connected by crawl tubes. It reminded me a lot of the Habitrail things they made for hamsters. The worship plaza lay along its center axis.
I followed Goksar into a crawl tube on one of these blocks. Tunnels like these were supposed to teach a monk humility, but they mostly reminded me of those things kids slid through in a McDonald's Playplace. Some of them even had bubble windows. I'm claustrophobic, but the tunnels were spacious enough for me to be comfortable.
We reached a connector and turned a corner, crawling up an inclined tube. At the end I found a library. Being six feet tall, I felt my hair brushing against the ceiling when I stood up. Goksar, two feet shorter than I, appeared to be quite comfortable. Happily, not every room had been built like that.
As I said, their version of Genesis involved an industrial revolution, so half their selection lay in digital storage media of various shapes and sizes.
The computers resembled Feng Shui sand gardens with little tiles floating above them in the vague shape of a keyboard. Goksar pulled up a stool in front of one of these, typing away.
I guess it was a catalog system, for them he was digging through shelves, sticking a black Rubik's Cube thing under a laser scanner. He squinted at the holographic display, pushing more keys. "I need more details about this `Jesus' god you have. Who were the soldiers? Why did he get executed?"
I took a seat next to him. "Maybe I should just run through the whole thing from the beginning."
Since we had no directive to preach, no Wava translations of the bible existed. I pretty much had to piece the gospel together as I went along. Nothing ultra specific (it would take forever to read through and translate every passage), just a general outline, throwing in a couple miracles as an afterthought.
I thought I was being sufficiently clear and specific. I got very excited when he pulled up passages from Kisostrom, Rantag, Zajyaf and Mailetta, along with a dozen from their book of ancient hymns, but it seemed there had been a misunderstanding.
Remember that guy with the giant birds? His name was Stopamoya. An older translation said he was born under a comet. "It makes more sense than a star," Goksar said.
"In 2020, on my planet, there was a bright star just like the one I'm describing. People used to navigate by them. Not a comet."
"I do not see why this matters. You said they called the man a prophet. This is a prophet born under a star. A shooting star. It is a very good prophecy."
"No, it is not. Good for you, maybe, but not me."
"Guep! Good for you as well!"
"No, I don't agree. What else do you have?"
"Your Jesus taught many lessons. Loving others...Stopamoya Jerz...same."
"That's great," I groaned, wondering if I came to the Takofuea for nothing. "What about the crucifixion? Anybody getting nailed to anything wooden?"
"Yok. That is a horrible thing to do to someone. Who would do such a thing?"
"I can think of a few," I said dryly.
"I, however, cannot. Even in the Todroc Captivity, and in the slaughter of Rocbish did we not stoop to such barbarism."
"Not even a slight mention of hanging from a tree?"
Boy did I pick the wrong search topic. Abreyas did a lot of things with their tails, most frequently activities involving trees. "Good grief. How about wrongfully executed?"
Goksar pulled up twenty passages. "The Quaceb faith has many martyrs."
"I can see that."
We must have spent hours reviewing various alien scriptures, but every time I inquired about something Jesus did, a miracle or what have you, Goksar found some other prophet or hero that did a similar, but not identical thing.
"The one you are seeking is obviously Stopamoya. It is a great sign from Ponai that your faith in him sent you here."
"What?" I stared. "You think I flew across the galaxy just to learn about your prophet?"
Goksar nodded. "Ponai brought you here to learn true scripture and bring you to Chisda."
"You...think my scripture is false?"
The alien didn't say yes. "There can be truth in myths. Myths can bring the lost to the truth of Ponai...You don't need to worship Stopamoya anymore."
"You don't understand. I don't worship Stopamoya."
"You do. Stopamoya is Jesus."
"No he's not."
"Stopamoya did miracles. He was born under a comet. Check your scripture. Jesus must also have summoned the Grunkiahu to win battles and restored the tails of injured Abreyas."
"What? No! We don't even have Grunkiahu on our planet."
"But he came to be a warrior king, just like Stopamoya."
"No, it's a spiritual kingship."
"Guep! Spirits who do battle to destroy the enemy, so that Ponai reigns victorious."
Fuming, I stared out the window, taking deep breaths and trying to control my anger. Blowing my fuse would not get me the answers I sought.
The library window overlooked the swampy maceva paddies surrounding the complex. After worship, the monks would be out, harvesting the plants to make a type of bread that tasted of seaweed...if the sacrificial hoyroq didn't get to it first. Already I saw the reptilian, dog sized guinea pigs sampling the crops.
"I think your god is actually Stopamoya. He raised the dead, healed the sick, did other miracles." Goksar then showed me a familiar sounding passage from their book of laws: `Ponai is one entity, there is no god apart from g'ni.' "You shouldn't be worshiping three gods. It's against the law of Ponai. you should worship one god only."
I'd had enough of this debate from my Jewish friends. "He's not separate from God, it's still one god. Jesus is a facet of God."
"Then why does God call himself from the wooden thing? Why does he speak to himself in the bathing ritual?"
"I don't know, but He does."
Goksar just scowled. "You worship three gods. The holy Gaxea has very stern laws against idolatry. You will not go to Chisda if you worship other gods."
"This is getting me nowhere. Thanks anyway." Disappointed, I wove my way through the monastic Habitrail to my quarters, to pack up my belongings.
It should come as no surprise that I had a room with Spartan furnishings. Other than the Quaceb symbol on one wall, I had no decorations. A giant alien gourd served as a dresser, I had a little desk with a lamp, powered by wireless electricity. I had the room with the tallest ceiling in the place.
My bed looked like an oversized jellyfish stuck on a gigantic sea cucumber. The first night, I wondered how it fit through the crawl tunnels, but then I stubbed my toe on it a week after and found it shrinking into sort of an army cot. A squeezed tentacle made it swell back to its original size.
I had to crawl down a tunnel to use the toilet, and we had a communal bath.
Other than the library computer, the monks didn't use any sort of phone or electronic communication devices. I only had a talking tube, one step up from a string and a tin can. You pushed a buzzer to get a monk's attention in the central service room and talked through the hole. I heard rumors about foot biting muadwomps sneaking through them from time to time.
I gathered my belongings from around the room, packing them into a suitcase.
"So Stopamoya was the sole reason why you came."
It seemed Goksar had followed me to my room.
I stuffed my underwear and thermals into a silk lined corner of the container. "Every science fiction story I have ever read involves some metaphorical alien messiah coming to save people on an alien planet. I used to think it was only because science fiction fans hate Jesus, but now I'm not so sure."
Goksar gave me a blank look. "I do not understand."
I sighed. "Never mind. Yes, I only came here to ask you about Jesus. Our people paid a lot of money to send me here. I took time out of my life, and went through a lot of trouble just to find out you don't need to be saved. I used to think Jesus was literally Lord of all."
"You have lost nothing. today is a great victory for your people. You learned very valuable lessons. Ponai is not three gods, and Stopamoya fulfills all prophecies you asked about, except for that horrible one about the nails. Clearly this is the message you should bring to your people."
Into the suitcase went my jeans, my shorts. "No. It is not."
"During your stay here, you witnessed how we pray, how we atone for our own wrongs with sacrifice, prayer, and turning from our evils. No greater message can be shared with the universe."
"We have a book called the Old Testament that tells us the same thing."
"Your tone of voice makes this sound like a bad thing. Why?"
"We have scriptures that say basically the same thing."
"Then you should follow them."
I shoved in my hoodies. "It's easier to say than do. That's why we have Jesus. His death is like the sacrificial hoyroq your people use. Understand?"
"Yok. I do not."
"Never mind. Just know that I have the information I need. I'm going."
Goksar looked sorrowful. "I'm sorry to see you go. Your presence here has been...entertaining."
"Well gee, I'm glad I entertained you!" I threw in more shirts, then my computer.
"What will you be doing next?"
I closed the lid. "A bunch of church organizations, you know, vansebs, paid for my trip over here. They didn't know when I'd be done, so I have to get a transport at the Coly-Myxcin, which means I'll also need a ride."
"I'll have Bonbon fly you back."
Bonbon. The mere mention of the name made me cringe. The female had taken a vow of celibacy, but when we got on the back of her flying `steed', her hands tended to wander. I caught her staring at me in the bath, too.
Goksar was already at the talking tube. A few minutes later, the female waddled in, clad in tunic, and traditional neflah, a sort of hijab with decorative cat's ears projecting from it.
Bonbon resembled Goksar, with the mouse features and fins, but her skin had a grayish coloration, and gray furry legs.
She smiled, bowed to me and my mentor respectfully. "How may I help you, puebuku Goksar?"
"Teweta Matthew wishes to go home. Would you mind flying him to Bencap?"
The female looked sad. "He's leaving?"
"Guep. Is your Grunkiahu ready for flight?"
"Oh!" Her eyes widened. "...Of course!" I might have imagined it, but I thought I saw her making suggestive gestures with her long ropey tail. "I would happily fly him to...the place!" I'm certain she could have said something more specific, but she seemed to have trouble saying things when she got near me.
She paused. "Did he say why he was leaving?"
"I confess I do not fully understand myself, but I think it has something to do with his worship of prophet Stopamoya."
Bonbon's mouth formed a large `O.' "Does it have anything to do with the passages you asked me to look up for you?"
She passed him a piece of rewritable paper.
Goksar scowled at the scribbled Wava. "What is this? This makes absolutely no sense."
"It hasn't made sense to any of our scholars for centuries. When I was looking in the computer, I remembered what you told me about it. You said it was written in a language other than Klargish or the other ancient tongues, and that's why nobody could decipher its meaning. I was thinking Matthew might possibly know something about it, he has a very unusual and beautiful sounding language."
A frog fingered hand passed me the note.
I took one look at the flowing handwriting and felt a chill run down my back.
All it said was, "`Go ye therefore unto all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.'"
This was a story I posted at the Reedsy website but I have to credit them for the prompt due to some legal rules