Lost Souls

The Long Night

part of: The Wanderers

by Lora of Many Generations

related by Lora, Twilit Majz of the Fourth Generation

Marla came flying down the hall, her breath rasping. Somewhere in the back of her mind she heard Johannah urging her to breathe deeply, exhale completely, to get control of herself. “I know you are right mother, but right now I am too afraid,” she thought. “The coming of the Shadowed Ones have changed everything,” she thought urgently as she headed for her sept’s door. The Shadowed Ones were here now, downstairs. Marla had felt them arrive. She didn’t know what they were up to, but it never paid to stay around and find out. She blessed her Deznahdorean training. It was going to save her life, and her sept’s lives tonight.

It had been four generations since the first attacks on New York City. The cancer of terror was no easier to control in the social body than it was in the human body. Simple surgery and other such blunt techniques only removed the symptoms. They did nothing to effect a cure, to ease the imbalances which gave rise to tissues that fed with blind abandon on the healthy body. The first terrorists to die because of New York had only been a few heads of a million-headed beast that replicated each detached skull seven times over…until now—now it was a massive, writhing hydra lurking under every city on every continent, each one of its millions of deadly eyes blind to anything but determined, surgical vengeance. And it wasn’t just the terrorists who had become part of the legions of the Shadowed Ones…those who refused to acknowledge the light in other people’s minds….they were men and women from every nation who slunk through the world’s streets hunting others ruthlessly, all other projects in life forgotten but the extermination of their enemies. “When the last human eye they despise has been closed by death, will they find peace at last?” Marla often wondered.

Seven generations ago Euro-US conglomerates had begun their march to control the material resources of the globe. Marla had dreamt of the beginning of that disaster once. In it the wife of one of the US Presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson she thought, had insisted on climbing to the top of a huge, metal tower that allowed her to see all across the world. She had climbed up there at great risk to herself. Her husband had built the tower and she was determined to see what could be seen! She even had her little dog brought up, where it perched nervously on her lap. She was infinitely graceful, infinitely naive….as the builders of the tower had been too. Wealth and power had made them blind to the requirements of fair Choice. “Might makes right, or at least eases ambiguity in the minds of its wielders,” Marla thought sarcastically.

And mighty the old builders had been! Mere fortune had placed them in a bountiful land separated from the predations of Europe and Asia by two enormous oceans. Europe and Asia had consistently spent themselves over and over in torturous wars until they placed themselves in US hands at the end of the Second World War. How the US shone in those days, striding across the oceans bearing the flaming sword of its Will focused through the riches of its land and the intensity of its people, to rid Europe and Asia of the scourge of War. How it distinguished itself by rebuilding the societies it had rescued and those it had defeated! In so doing, its leaders in business and government accepted the reins of world power in a way no one had ever done before….by NOT becoming rulers, but by becoming partners.

The US itself was tired of war, tired of bombed out cities, tired of piles of dead bodies, tired of rebuilding, tired of the dreadful sameness of it all. How many thousand years had humans chosen to live this way? Somewhere, deep in the sanctified halls of power in the US, men gathered to discuss this problem, to find a way to make it go away! Clearly war wasn’t the answer to any human problem….it created too many problems all its own…it was in the way.

The US was driven by a simple, single goal…progress. Nothing must be allowed to stand in the way of progress….not even this ancient, much venerated human activity.

But, somehow, by the end of the 20th century, the drive to progress had gotten as completely out of control as war had and those who wielded the power of the US let themselves believe their ends justified their means…the end being to unify the entire world as the states of the US were united…separate societies sharing resources for the common good.

“Fools,” Johannah had once said. “The states of the US came together at a time and place ripe for such an enterprise to bear sweet fruit. The rest of the world had not come to such a place yet and no amount of force—economic, military, or otherwise—could make happen what only necessity and willing accord were capable of bringing about. Even the Europeans have never quite managed to make it work as seamlessly as the people of the 50 states have. We are a happy anomaly. I wish our forebears could have left it at that and found some other way to pursue their dreams of expansion and infinite progress. Knowing when to give up without blame or rancor and take another route is as important to success as knowing when to invoke the will to persist in the face of overwhelming obstacles.”

“The entirety of the Milky Way Galaxy might have been a nice replacement for the rest of the Earth,” Marla had noted, not a little sardonically.

Johannah had just sighed, ignoring Marla’s dark undertones. “Perhaps. The effort of space exploration requires a lot of resources, not just material ones, but resources of will, workpower, brainpower. I wonder if even the massive might of the US would have been up to it all alone?”

“Probably not,” Marla replied. “Not with the rest of the world convulsing itself in relentless, epileptic fits of war as predictable as the operation of Old Faithful.”

“Yes. I can see why they wanted to unite everyone. Their methods guaranteed failure though, simply because unity cannot be coerced, bribed, or forced. It must be freely given. Coercion, bribery, force snarl the threads of human intent and will. We see the outcome of such attempts right now in the Gordian knot of our present impasse.”

Marla was amazed to feel this train of thought make its swift way through her mind as she ran….then she crashed through her front door.

Johannah, her mother, was sitting in the corner. Her eyes were tense. She sensed something was deeply amiss. Marla wasted no time. “Shadowed Ones, they are here!”

She didn’t need to say another word. Johannah leapt up, grabbing a carefully prepared bag from behind her chair. “Children, get your bags, we are leaving!” she ordered. Marla could hear the children rustling about, grabbing bags from under their beds. Stephen, Mike and Jonas heard the call and grabbed sets of bags from the kitchen, bathroom, and living area, including a portable computer. Marla ran and grabbed her bag and the whole family moved quietly through the halls to the outside fire escape.

“Marla, what do you sense,” Jonas asked quietly. Marla was the most sensitive of the family.

Breathing deeply, exhaling completely, Marla focused within on her deep nerves, and the place where they intersected with the feel of the moment. Her body picked up all kinds of signals her mind was slow but sure to recognize. Over this last week too many odd occurrences—wrong people in the right place, a sense of building disquiet. She was rattled from her run and the shock of knowing death for many might be near at hand, but she soon quieted under years of training. She felt a huge knot of energy just under her right shoulderblade. It felt like a volcano about to burst. Was it fear or were they really here? Because her body signals had been right so often she urged, “We have almost no time.”

Back in the hall Stephan decided to risk Marla was wrong. He pulled the fire-alarm as he ran to the fire-escape. Its roaring klaxon crashed through the early evening, startling the residents of the building into frantic activity. They too had been drilled. It was not uncommon for bombs to go off at random throughout the city. Any alarm at all would be taken most seriously.

Outside on the metal steps, Marla lead the way down, breathing, breathing, forcing her feet and her brain to move through her fear without tripping. The children followed, keying in on her solidity, Johannah, Jonas, Stephan and Mike behind. They made it to the street and ran. It didn’t matter which direction really. They needed to make it as far away as possible to minimize the damage from the concussive force of the blast.

“Children, put in your ear plugs,” Jonas shouted, just remembering.

They all did as they ran, fumbling, barely managing the task. They rounded a corner just as the blast came. It was small, as such things go. It gutted most of the first floor and started an immense fire. Forty-two of the 90 inhabitants left in the building when Marla and her sept exited survived.

Marla and her people collected themselves and continued to make their quiet way through the streets. This was a drill well-rehearsed. They would go slowly upstate, toward the Canadian border, then across to the waiting arms of friends in the Bush Community. They were lucky, they had friends who could take them in. In their bags were all their most precious articles, and they were few. There were also changes of clothing and light blankets. Jonas and Mike carried food and water to last four days. The little group was well-prepared.

The War of the Shadowed Ones had gone on for four generations now. Strike and counter-strike, poison in this coffee shop, disease in that one, raids on this cell, executions for that one, small disasters right and left, till no one slept in peace and there was no place to run where terror did not shadow sun or moon.

That night, sleeping in a train going north, Marla had a strange dream. In it she saw a tall man with a long dark beard in a turban. He was born in a land of sand, oil, prayers, poverty, and precarious prosperity. His People were guided by one simple drive—their society should remain exactly as it had been 1300 years before when their Great Prophet had strode across a burning Earth bringing order, holding out the promise of Peace. This boy was the last child of a wealthy man under the gun of his father’s hot, measuring eyes in a land where the Will of one’s father was supreme and his approval a thing of great consequence. One night this child had a dream in which he saw himself leading all peoples of Earth to the Prophet and Allah at last. He saw himself as a great leader of an army of men…he was acclaimed by all…as sinner or savior he couldn’t tell. Then, at the height of his power, a woman stabbed him to death in his own bed, once, twice, thrice, in the name of her people. He woke up, shaking, believing he had just witnessed his own destiny. He vowed to live up to the many harsh requirements of such a destiny and to prevent any woman from such a cowardly deed. From him sprang one half of the Shadowed Ones.

In another land of kachinging cash registers and cautious conceit dwelt another man, tall and lean, with piercing eyes and a swift mind. He too had a dream. He was striding across a clean, gleaming chrome-thatched earth, but no one knew he was there. He smiled benevolently as he watched people count their money and calmly do their daily work, well-pleased. His wife, much revered, perched atop a great tower and watched the world unfold from a high, safe place. From these two sprang the mates to the Shadowed Ones of the east.

“It is no longer remembered how and why these people came to their high places,” a blank voice said, somewhere in the background of Marla’s dream, “only that they did, and their coming unravelled many things which might otherwise have been. They were not bad people. Nor were the people who followed them…not bad, but guided by flawed reason and a grasping, a terrible grasping that brooked no dissent. In secret they have worked their will. In secret they each died a quiet death in their own beds. They were constrained by nothing and no one but their own deep minds rising up to taunt them as they slept, as the Shadowed Ones rise up, to haunt their progeny day and night.”

Marla woke suddenly, her heart lurching drunkenly in her chest.

“How may the Shadowed Ones be laid to rest?” she screamed.

Johannah was there, staring into Marla’s eyes. “Little one! Wake fully now!” she ordered.

As though she were still a tiny child, Marla threw herself into Johannah’s arms and sobbed. Johannah soothed her, brushed her hair back from her sweating brow.

“What did you dream,” Johannah asked of her only child.

“I dreamt of the people who gave birth to the Shadowed Ones,” Marla said. “I dreamt that our generation must lay the Shadowed Ones to rest…but we don’t know how!”

Marla looked into Johannah’s tense, white face and sobbed.

Johannah sighed and looked over at Jonas, her life-long mate.

“What can anyone do to stop the Shadows,” Jonas asked quietly?

Johannah had pondered this question all her life. After a long pause looking inward, she said softly, “the Shadowed Ones can only be stopped in each heart dear ones. When it is more important to look into your children’s eyes than bear and pass on grudges and fights, when the sun shining down on your skin at dawn is more important than wrong or right, when you see the world turns whether we are here or not and is just fine in either case, then the Shadowed Ones will begin to lose their power and fade. These are choices only each person can make. Until then, we pack our bags, stay as much out of harm’s way as possible, and keep the fire of humanity alive in our own refusal to grasp or to hate.”

Marla considered what Johannah was saying. “But that… but that…”

“Can’t be voted in or mandated, forced or created by any other forces than necessity mated with full willing accord,” Johannah finished for her.

“So when it seems necessary enough, then it will happen?” Jonas asked.

“Yes,” Johannah said, her immense faith shining bright in her ancient face. “And in the meantime, we must endure this particular twist of fate, as so many of our human family have endured it before us. In that endurance, somehow, we will survive.”

Deep in the east, outside the train, the sun slowly began to rise.