Aphelion Issue 254, Volume 24
September 2020
 
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On Paper, Rock and Water

by Margaret Karmazin




The Chairman spoke to an audience of more than two hundred million. They gathered in their homes, dining establishments, sporting locals and places of work. The farmers in the fields stood and listened to their wrist screens; the children in their camps watched the screens of their teachers.

Arun stopped to listen, along with his fellow brewers, though he had been in the middle of a sensitive mixing of ingredients. Beer brewing had never been his choice as a profession, and he resented being forced to engage in it but it was his nature to do a decent job regardless of his feelings. His brewing partner in the factory, Josel, had so far been the originator of two new formulas, one of which had won an honorable mention at this year's regional contest. Arun had grown to consider Josel almost a brother and did not want to disappoint him or hold him back from furthering his creations. This was something he fully sympathized with for very personal reasons.

In his secret heart, not a day passed in which Arun did not mourn the fact that he himself could never create in the way he yearned to do.

The self-aggrandizing of the Chairman was, as usual, highly irritating. He could not let pass even one of his speeches without pounding home the forever rule that "no citizen of this great green and blue world may ever degrade and contaminate it by…" here he would pause for dramatic effect…."engaging in the making of art." At this last word, the Chairman spit.

What no one knew but Arun was that each word on this particular subject felt to him like physical stabs in his chest.

"Apparently," said Josel, "someone has jumped the fence again."

Josel would be proven correct for three days later two "atrocities against the Community" were dragged out in front of the world and humiliated. Their sentences were pronounced: one who was "more guilty than the other" was to be "cancelled" by some supposedly painless means and the other imprisoned on a lonely moon.

Arun said to Josel. "Bashti, like many gas giants is, I hear, loaded with moons and many have atmospheres. I can't imagine why they waste them on penal colonies. You would think-"

Josel interrupted. "Think? Well, maybe those who committed the crimes should have done some thinking in the first place."

Arun felt a door shut somewhere inside him against his friend. He studied Josel as he worked, adding another mash of grain to the vat. Josel was short for a Hareen and a pale shade of teal. This came from his grandfather who was a Naroc from the South. Some Narocs, Arun had heard, were even green - possibly a form of camouflage from their history of living in forests. Most other Hareens were various shades of blue, depending on what region their people came from; though Hareens had not been on this planet for very long, four hundred years at the most and those at the time small groups of willing settlers.

Arun himself was a light shade of ultramarine and his eyes, like those of eighty percent of Hareens, were large, slanted and golden and fringed in thick black lashes. He was a physically appealing young Hareen, more attractive than the norm, something not always good to be, considering the potential jealousy and reaction of the older, in command males.

Josel often punched him in the arm and kidded about needing to keep a low profile. "You won't want them to notice you, my friend. Remember what happened to Locan."

Everyone remembered what happened to Locan. Like a fool, the Hareen had directed his attentions to a brooding female above and beyond any passably friendly interchange when anyone with half a brain knew that only older males were permitted such privileges. She was even sitting on her egg sack when he reached out and touched her arm.

"It had nothing to do with Locan's looks," Arun said with some annoyance and in a foul mood that day already. He had not slept well the night before, the odor of the brewing beer was giving him a headache, and…his longing to do the forbidden was again reaching a pitch. "If the idiot had not touched her, nothing would have happened to him, other than a stiff scolding."

Josel quieted down, having experienced Arun's moods before. "I'll go check gauges," he said.

Arun knew this was a small ruse in order to take a long break but he was glad. His frustration was rising and he needed to relieve it, if only temporarily, and if only in a very unsatisfactory way.

The brewing ale filled the large vat almost to the top and was the color of amber. Streams of bubbles rose from the bottom, creating intricate and, to Arun, beautiful designs. Watching them in relative peace, considering that other batch makers stirring their vats were close by, Arun gently stuck his stirrer into an intersection of bubbles. Moving the stick this way and that, he caused the streams to form a pattern, and then quickly while taking a huge chance, he twirled the stick and caused a line of bubbles to take on the outline of a face.

A neighboring brewer appeared behind him and spoke, scaring Arun so badly that he almost dropped the stirrer, but fortunately, his sudden jerking dissolved the face.

"What temperature have you set yours at?" asked his fellow worker. "I'm having trouble with my current batch – the yeast is off. If it's not that, something else is wrong."

Arun, heart pounding, faced his co-worker and said, "It might be that second order of krogum. It just didn't smell right to me." They went on talking but Arun did not fully recover from his fright until he was home and behind a locked door. And then his intense craving returned and he knew that he had to satisfy it the best he could or go mad.

He turned off his devices, flipped them face down or covered them with dark clothing. He relocked the door securely and stuffed a cloth under it. He turned his two windows dark and to be safe, tacked blankets over them. He set the door notification to Do Not Disturb/Sleeping and checked the ceiling for probably the thousandth time for holes, even the tiniest.

Nervously satisfied, he dimmed the light, moved a woven rug aside and lifted out a slim panel from the floor. From a flat aperture, he removed a sheet of paper from a roll he had stolen from his school years before. His long, blue fingers worked as fast as a scuttling insect. Braving self-annihilation, his entire system in high adrenalin and with a swimming sensation in his head, he gave in to his forbidden desires and spread the paper out on a table.

Eyes darting about though he was surely alone, he returned to the hole in the floor and took out a ryada, an ink depositing tube used by small children when learning to write. He had stolen it from his granduncle's farm when the uncle's female was again brooding and her servants attending her instead of minding the older children. It was red, Arun's favorite color.

Feverishly, he drew, his hand flying as he worked. He covered the paper with fantastic creatures, some of them Hareen though with added characteristics such as wings, strange headgear or extra arms and eyes in the backs of their heads. Creatures appeared that had never lived upon this small planet the Hareens now occupied, such as four-winged bats, hairy and horned fantas, eight-legged sea creatures, and giant insects with pointed heads. By second moonrise, the drawing was done and though he had calmed down some, he longed for one more thing and that was to have another Hareen see what he had made. For what is art if not communication? And if no one else sees it, creating it is surely like screaming into space from some empty moon.

Of course, most Hareens were taught since childhood that all is One in the Universe, that whatever we do affects the whole of things, but as Arun grew older, it became more and more apparent that his elders only gave lip service to that idea. Clearly, he thought, if anyone actually followed the Teaching, no one would stifle or hurt another and yet probably more than half of whatever the government did worked to this very end, to raise up some and degrade the rest.

No one, not even Arun knew, how many drawings or paintings or small figures of clay he had constructed so far over his lifetime and all of those destroyed by his own hand immediately after. Though in one case, he had let a tiny clay figure live for two and a half days before smashing it with his foot and then stealthily let the mess fall to the ground on his way to work. Fortunately no one had seen this.

He knew no one else personally who was, in his soul, an artist, though of course if there were such a person, he would never speak of it. But the year before, the news screens had been full of that poor Hareen from North City who had jumped a barrier and during second moonrise, bomb-painted a giant face on the side of police quarters.

Arun remembered his granduncle's reaction. His entire family had been present to celebrate First Moon Holiday and Granduncle had sneeringly announced the news. Swishing his hand impudently at the wall, he turned on the holoscreen in the grand room so everyone could see. Several burly police were leading a sobbing prisoner into a small space-rover. "Blascus Ruel will be spending the rest of his probably short life on Detris, the fifteenth moon of Boshti. He will live underground in the dark, so it is unlikely that he will be creating any more art."

Hearing Granduncle snicker had struck fear and hatred into Arun's heart.

One of the young children, not yet afraid of speaking his mind, stood up respectfully and bowed to Granduncle. "Sir," he said, his voice high pitched and confident, "why are people imprisoned for making art? And what exactly is art?"

There followed a pregnant silence before Granduncle bellowed, scaring the child so much that he teetered backwards. "Art? You ask what art is? I'll tell you, young smartass! It is an abomination akin to sexual aberrations, such as young males believing they have rights to any female! Akin to fornicating with animals! Akin to defacing spiritual property or spreading lies or embezzling credits or…" he stopped. His face was flushed a dangerous, dark blue. Arun remembered wondering if Granduncle might foam at the mouth and keel over dead, but no, the old Hareen was still alive, a ripe one hundred and thirty-one. He still impregnated females even with their scarcity relative to males and the number of his offspring was legion.

"Art (he pronounced the word with derision) is what caused the downfall of Civilization One! It is what almost finished off the Hareen race! Art is what stirs up revolution and revolution is what causes true civilizations to crumble. War results and vast numbers of people die. Our ancestors came here, as you have been taught, four hundred years ago from Haradi One to populate this world and what happened shortly after, children?"

Cousin Steela, who always did whatever adults told him to do, stood up and answered in a sing-song voice. "Haradi One got sick and caved in and everyone on it died."

"It did not 'cave in,'" said someone else. "Worldwide volcanic action resulted from the weapons of mass destruction Civilization One used and this caused world annihilation."

"But that is not the point," thundered Granduncle. "The point is that unrest and revolution were spread by artists in Civilization One and this new young Hareen world could not afford to take such risks. We were the only Hareens left in the universe, as far as we know. If art and revolution had been allowed to continue, we could have wiped ourselves out entirely!"

The adults nodded in agreement and someone dealt the questioning child a light blow to the back of his head. This was painful since the bony ridge there was sensitive. He wailed in pain and humiliation.

"Anyone," finished Granduncle in a booming voice, "who dares to engage in this sacrilege called art deserves to die an excruciating death. But being that Hareens are enlightened and compassionate even in the face of potential personal destruction, we usually send them to lonely moons instead. So, children, if you do not want to experience an early death on some cold, miserable rock in space, wipe the idea of art out of your minds forever!"

But since Arun had been a small child, he had known what he was. When small, a couple of times he had innocently produced a drawing in the sand or scribbled on a wall with soft stone. After the first incident, a softhearted guardian had merely scolded him but after the second offence, he had been punished more severely. Two days without food or washing and no sleep. They had played loud music all the night and if he nodded off, someone poked him awake. He certainly learned from that, but not what they had hoped. Instead, since the urges within him did not diminish, he learned to be devious.

He could, he discovered, draw things in the air or with a finger inside a pocket. He could do it in scum on the surface of water and then obliterate his work before anyone saw. His childhood guardians had never noticed the animals he created in his food before eating it. Josel had never spotted a thing, though hundreds of times Arun had created faces in the bubbling beer. Indeed, he had kept this up for most of his life with no one the wiser, but now he was, unfortunately, experiencing urges to go further.

"Since art is communication," he whispered to himself after finishing his complicated drawing, "the communication is not finished until someone else sees it. Someone must see it."

Surely, he had lost his mind. How was he to take this thing he had made past the street guards and police, past the watchful eyes of the perpetually nosy street cleaners? Nevertheless, the excitement grew within him and begun to override any sense he still possessed. He was starting to feel that constantly hiding who he was was possibly worse than risking a short life of punishment.

In a state of questionable sanity, he rolled the drawing into a neat tube, put on his darkest cloak and stuffed the tube under it.

Though second moon had risen and first moon had sunk behind the North Mountains, it was not very dark. But it helped that Arun’s cloak was a blackish green and included a hood, which he pulled up over his long head. He had no friends or close associates in the section where he currently lived, so did not worry about having to stop and talk should he run into a neighbor and no street cleaners were in sight.

There was, he remembered, a dark place by the canal where sometimes river craft docked for various reasons, including shady ones. The police and guardians occasionally gave the area a going over, but it wasn’t one of their top priorities. It had a kind of natural overhang to shade it made of rock and twisted roots. It was the sort of place where Hareens who might not be getting on in regular society met others of their own kind for various fleeting reasons.

As Arun hurried to the water, he experienced a war of emotions, but he pulled himself together and set his jaw in determination since all that mattered in the moment was to share with just one person what he had made.

Suddenly before him was the small archway leading to the sunken steps down to the water and then he was there under the overhang where two dark figures huddled close together as they discussed some nefarious business or other.

Arun hesitated, backing into the shadows, not completely sure how he wanted to go about his mission. The two Hareens had either not seen him or were ignoring him. He found stones scattered about and filled his pockets with them, then with another glance at the other two who were still deep in conversation, he squatted down, spread the drawing out on the ground and laid the stones he'd collected around its edge to hold it in place. He couldn't resist giving his work one last look before making a dash for the stairs.

Half way up, someone grabbed his arm and he almost fell. "Please, no!" he gasped, but the grip was like steel.

"What is your name?" a deep voice growled. Arun did not answer.

Someone else joined his attacker and pressed his wrist screen to the side of Arun's neck. "He is Arun ye Veedinisa, ward of Narak. A beer brewer. No record."

Arun's mind raced. Narak was his Granduncle.

"Who are you?" he asked in desperation.

"Who do you think?" the Hareen sneered. "Police. And it seems that you left something on the ground back there, something most interesting."

"I-I don't know what you're talking about," sputtered Arun, but really, what had he expected?

They dragged him along painfully toward their vehicle hidden in a clump of trees. "How fortunate to have been there at that very moment," the one joked to his companion. "Just a routine little sting on the local degenerates and look what we found instead - a world-class offender! It looks like major promotions for both of us, Edu. And the grandnephew of that pompous ass Narak! Knock him down a bit, eh, shut his big bragging mouth? Let's take this piece of grat in and go celebrate. We're going to be famous!"

The trial followed swiftly and was a global sensation, though afterwards Hareens who had never before entertained thoughts of art now could not but help but have the idea of it seep into their minds. Each new offender just piqued their curiosity.

The Chairman himself announced the sentence: "You, Arun ye Veedinisa, grandnephew of Neendrah ye Narak the Director of District Quoan, are sentenced to life imprisonment on the Moon Veriz, sixty-fourth of the gas giant Boshti where you will live out your days alone without friends, relations or offspring, with no one to communicate with and no hand to ever touch you for now and ever. An implant to monitor your vitals will be installed into your arm, which will inform us when you have expired. We don't imagine that you will last long after your supplies, given to you from the generosity of your government which you have so callously shamed, run out."

The Chairman slammed down his ceremonial dlikta and the sound reverberated far and wide.

Arun was permitted one last contact with a family member or friend and he chose Josel but his old friend and co-brewer refused the contact. His granduncle, now humiliated, was out of the question. The authorities wasted little time and quickly clamped Arun into the wall of a fyton transport and blasted off to Boshti and the chosen moon, one of many equipped with an atmosphere.

The tiny planetoid had a desert climate, cliffs and dark caves. His guards unceremoniously pushed him out of the transport, one literally kicking him in the rear, until he fell on his face and rolled down a small hill. "Here, grat!" shouted this guard as he flung after him two colossal, stuffed bags, which crashed into Arun at the bottom. "Your supplies!"

"Until they run out," laughed the other guard. "You had better learn how to live off the environment. It's either that or starve."

Arun managed to gather his wits to ask one final question. "Are there other prisoners on here?"

"Not yet, grat," said the guard. "Not so many people stupid enough to do what you did." And with that, he and his associate disappeared back into the transport and loudly slid shut the door. They were gone before Arun had time to stand up and brush himself off.

His arm smarted from where they had inserted the monitoring implant without bothering to numb it first. Well, that was the least of his worries. He looked around now for some kind of shelter and saw mainly scrub brush and hills. The sun was smaller in the sky than on Haradi II, but he was not especially cold. Being dessert though, he knew at night it would be freezing.

The gas giant loomed in the sky, an intimidating sight though he had seen holos of the different planets and some moons in the system when a child. But experiencing this in reality was terrifying. He dropped to the ground and sobbed. A wave of horror and regret passed over him; he had been incredibly stupid and cavalier and look where it had got him. He would never see another soul again unless they brought another prisoner and if they did, it might be a murderer instead of a political offender. But by then Arun would most likely be dead with that chip broadcasting the news to his jailers who would gleefully announce it to the world.

A small animal darted past, then stopped a safe distance away to observe him. He wiped his eyes and looked. It was the size of a gibbel at home, scaled in the front of its body with thick fur in the back and ending in a bare tale with a tuff at the end. Its face was snub-nosed, cute even, though Arun could see teeth sticking out over its closed mouth. Was it carnivorous? If so, what did it eat?

As if in answer to his question, the thing suddenly stiffened and stared at something behind Arun. His system pumping madly, Arun whirled around to see a smaller creature similar to the first one, though fatter and squattier. The first creature shot past Arun as if he were invisible, attacked the smaller creature and ripped its throat open.

"Predator and prey," Arun said to himself. "Now I know which is which."

He set about the exhausting task of rolling the two giant bags across a small plain to the hills beyond in search of shelter.

It took all his wits to survive. He realized how pampered his life had been until now. Before this, he had never had to consider or wonder how things other then beer were made. But he surprised himself with his ingenuity and used what they had given him to create meager comforts in his small cave. He made fire using dry brush and later strange, twisted wood from some kind of tumbling plant. He found water after following the two different animals, which he had simply christened "Eaters" and "Meals." He made friends with one of the "Eaters" and occasionally, it slept in his cave. One day, about two-thirds into his supplies, he clubbed a "Meal," roasted it and ate it. From having watched what this animal ate, he made a salad of some of the brush and greased it from drippings. It was bitter and horrible at first, but he soon got used to it. He found orange and yellow fruits on succulent plants, tested them by setting them out for the "Meals" to eat and then dared to try them himself. A bit bitter, but edible. More than two at time and he would suffer for it, but if he regulated the amount, he was all right.

Settled in and no longer living in continuous terror, he explored. The friendly Eater accompanied him. They walked over a long rise and what he saw astounded him. A canyon was below, surrounded by cliff walls and Arun's first thought was: these are made for art.

Arun named the almost ever-present Eater "Geeto" and, as his supplies dwindled, hunted with him. He transplanted several edible plants into a garden outside his cave and worked out an irrigation system. It did not rain but he found underground water and ways to bring it to the surface. One day, he crushed soft rocks until he found certain ones that made yellow, red-brown and blue. Adding fat from the remains of "Meals" to the crushed rocks, he produced paint. He secured the tail and ear tufts of "Meals" to the straightest sticks he could find to create brushes and one day, with Geeto at his side, walked down into the canyon and chose a wall.

"Go hunt," he told his pet, but at first the animal stayed where he was and watched. Without a doubt it had never seen art being created and for that matter, neither had Arun in this particular fashion. With the small sun over his left shoulder and the gas giant to the right, Arun forgot where he was as he fell into a pleasant trance and painted like someone gone wild. Fantastic figures including Hareens of legend, animals of Haradi II, Eaters and Meals and beings who had no name. He painted until sunset, until his stomachs contracted in hunger and the air grew cold.

There were no other Hareens, nor anyone else for that matter to view Arun's now daily work, but he remembered the Teachings of his people, how the Universe was One. Somehow this thought seemed more fathomable now.e

Was it simply enough to produce art if no other sentient creature other than himself laid eyes upon it? If the Universe was itself conscious, would it not "see" the work and wouldn't that be greater than any other observer?

Sometime while Arun had been feverishly working, Geeto had captured five Meals, which he kindly laid out for his new friend's inspection. Arun grabbed them up and contentedly and said, "Good work, Geeto. Let's go home."



THE END


2020 Margaret Karmazin

Bio: Margaret Karmazin’s credits include stories published in literary and national magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Mobius, Confrontation, Pennsylvania Review, The Speculative Edge, Aphelion and Another Realm. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Mobius were nominated for Pushcart awards. Her story, "The Manly Thing," was nominated for the 2010 Million Writers Award. She has stories included in several anthologies, published a YA novel, REPLACING FIONA, a children’s book, FLICK-FLICK & DREAMER and a collection of short stories, RISK.

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