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Igms issue 4, p.3

IGMS Issue 4, page 3


IGMS Issue 4

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  So I stuck with the atheists and agnostics in trying to ignore the potential religious aspect of Alla Beeth.

  Nothing was settled that night, of course. But the hard feelings engendered by the argument disrupted the work the various scientific teams had been doing. Over the next few days as I tried interviewing different scientists about their work, I could see that the crew had fractured: whenever possible, they avoided their colleagues who were on the "wrong" side.

  Mozart didn't help in resolving the dispute. In fact, when he revealed that he could not show us a picture of Alla Beeth because the Creator had commanded against making images of living things, the arguments erupted with new fervor.

  There are several possible rational scientific explanations for the Aurorans' visitor, none of which involve the intervention of any god or other supernatural entity. Since the Aurorans have no pictures of the visitor and are relying on memories passed through several generations of mergings, it is possible that some significant details have become distorted, and a natural event has been imbued with mystical significance. Our descent from the sky was then connected to memories of that event. Another possibility is that the visitor was from another alien race, one which is humanoid in appearance. Under the theory of convergent evolution, it is quite possible that an intelligent, tool-using species could look superficially like us -- even some of the Aurorans walk on two legs, have two arms, and have a head with two forward-facing eyes. Perhaps we will encounter such a race in a few years and be able to resolve this mystery. Until we have actual evidence, though, nothing about "Alla Beeth" can be said with any certainty.

  "He trusts you more than any of the rest of us." Commander Gutierrez sat on my bed, facing me in my chair. Her voice was tired.

  "Maybe so, but he believes Alla Beeth was a human, and I don't think I can change his mind."

  "There has got to be more evidence than these memories and traditions. Some artifact left behind. Something. The crew is splitting apart: I spend all day ordering people to share their data with each other. Some of them have actually gotten physical. I'm sure part of it is just the stress of the mission, but this mystery has pushed us to the breaking point. We need proof that this is something explainable by the laws of science, like you said in your column. Then, I think people will calm down."

  I shrugged. "What can I do? I'm just a science reporter, not a scientist."

  "Mozart and his people see you as our ambassador." She gave a half-laugh, half-sigh. "I've been careful never to call you that, you know. But I didn't try to put a stop to it, either. Interpersonal dynamics: people need a scapegoat, and I felt you could take the jokes. But now, I need you to be the ambassador. Ambassador Lawrence Jensen, descending from the sky with the full unity of Earth behind you. Push Mozart, push his people, until they show you everything they know, everything they have. Find the truth."

  Find the truth. Scientist or reporter, it distills to that: Find the truth.

  The nearest large city, which we call Metropolis, has a massive building near its center that rivals the old cathedrals of Europe in its intricate craftsmanship. Since only members of a certain priest class are allowed to enter, most Aurorans have never seen what it looks like from the inside. Mozart is a member of that class, and he explains that it is a place of scholarship. It was from that building that he was sent to find out if "Alla Beeth" had truly returned. Though we proved to be a disappointment to that hope, he stayed on to learn from us, as we learn from him. Despite the vast evolutionary and cultural gulf between our people and his, he has become our friend and has come to trust us. I leave it to you, the reader, to draw your own conclusion from that.


  "Yes," I lied.


  "She is in charge of the ship that brought me here, but I am the Ambassador."

  He bobbed his head affirmatively, a gesture he had learned from us.

  "One of my functions is to find the truth, and report that truth to my people."

  Mozart piped surprise.

  After six weeks, his English was good enough that I knew the capitalization was not accidental. "Yes, I am a Seeker of Truth." And I'm willing to lie in order to get it.


  "What you have told us about Alla Beeth is causing arguments among my people. I must find a way to resolve those arguments. I must find the truth. Is there anything more you can tell me or show me about Alla Beeth?"

  He tapped the tips of his tentacles against his forelegs for a few moments.

  I suppressed a grin and replied gravely, "I would be most honored."

  Commander Gutierrez had one of the pilots take us in the blimp, so we arrived in Metropolis before sundown.

  It took him nearly half an hour of consultation with members of his order before he came over to me and began typing on the portable computer we'd brought with us.


  "I thank them."


  He led the way, and I followed him into the cathedral.

  I probably hadn't been in a church more than a dozen times since I stopped going with my mom, mostly as a tourist. I could tell that the Aurorans had spent years of painstaking effort in creating this building, carving delicate patterns into solid stone. We passed through various archways and doors, and I started to hear Auroran voices harmonizing. Finally we entered a round room; about twenty Aurorans stood in the middle, singing.

  I felt a chill on the back of my neck, like I used to get sometimes listening to the choir at my mom's church. But there was something more; there was something about this tune that made me nostalgic, homesick even. It felt like a memory that I couldn't quite pull from the depths of my mind.

  Then Mozart walked to a curtain that hung on one of the walls and pulled it back.

  There, in violation of one of their commandments, was a painting of a man -- definitely human -- dressed all in white.

  My childhood Sunday memories came flooding back, and between the music and the picture there was no doubt in my mind as to who had been the first ambassador from Earth.

  "Alla Beeth" was the Aurorans' way of saying "Elvis."

  Anyone else on this expedition would have to be taken seriously. But not me. I'm a proven liar. Even worse -- I'm a tabloid reporter. I would be accused of fabrication, of planting the evidence, of corrupting Auroran culture as part of some tabloid hoax.

  The biggest story of my career had fallen in my lap, and I couldn't tell anyone without ruining whatever credibility I had managed to regain. Whatever powers that be must not want the publicity.

  Of course, my mom would say this was punishment for having lied.

  "Thank you for sharing the secrets of Alla Beeth with me," I told Mozart as we left the cathedral.


  "You were right: Alla Beeth is human."

  Mozart trilled joyfully.

  "But his message is intended for your people, not mine." I sighed. "You were right to keep the image hidden. You must keep it hidden, because my people would not understand. They would reject your belief in him."

  After a pause, Mozart asked,

  "The truth," I said. "I will tell them the truth."

  I refused Commander Gutierrez's request for a private briefing on what I'd found, insisting instead on speaking to the assembled scientists. After everyone gathered outside the LM, I sat on the rim of the airlock and recounted exactly what happened up until the moment Mozart pulled back the curtain and revealed the picture of Alla Beeth. Then I stopped.

  After a long pause, Khadil said, "Did you recognize the person?"

  "He was a human," I said. "Unmistakably. We are not the first to travel the stars. But as for who it was . . . You really want to know the truth?"

  "Yes," said Cacciatore.

  "Do you?" I looked at him. "If I say it was Mohammed, will you become a Muslim?" I turned to Khadil. "If I say it was Moses or Elijah, will you become a Jew?" I shook my head. "You want me to give you scientific proof of your religious beliefs? Well, I'm not going to; it's called 'faith' for a reason. Here's the real truth: you've all been acting like a bunch of ignorant yahoos, not the cream of Earth's scientists. So quit bickering and get back to work."

  I rose, turned my back on them and stalked through the airlock into the LM.

  Commander Gutierrez caught up with me just outside my quarters. "That's it? That's all you're going to say?"

  I stopped. "Yes."

  She looked at me appraisingly. "You know they'll all hate you for that little show and not-tell."

  I shrugged. "As long as they're united again. . . That's what you wanted, right?"

  Gutierrez nodded. "Just between you and me, though, who was it in the picture?"

  Cocking an eyebrow, I said, "Assuming it was one of the great religious leaders of the past, how on Earth -- or Aurora -- would I know him from Adam?" I hit the button to open the hatch to my quarters. "Now, if you'll excuse me, Commander, I have a column to file."

  The mystery of just who Alla Beeth was and how he got to Aurora may never be fully explained. But as Earth's first ambassador to Aurora, he prepared the way for peaceful relations between our two worlds. And for that, we can only say, "Thank you, thank you very much."


  by Ada Milenkovic Brown

  Artwork by Julie Dillon

  * * *

  When Dahlia got out of Junior's truck in front of the three story house, the first thing she noticed was the face in the leaves. The stone carving jutted out from the center of a rock terrace, a carving of a man's face with a leaf beard, his eyes peeking out from more leaves all round them, as if the leaves had wound together as they grew and that had somehow made a man. For just a minute, she tried to make it out that it was Garner's face. But of course it wasn't.

  A mess of flowers, mostly red and yellow, surrounded the terrace along with a rock garden, with here and there a weed in amongst the rocks. Garner could have told her the names of the flowers. But Garner had been gone five years now.

  Junior waved and drove off, his riding mower rattling a little on top of the flatbed. Dahlia straightened her tote bag and looked again at the garden with the face watching her cross up toward the house. If Garner or even Junior had care of it, they'd have made sure the yard was better weeded.

  A lady with wispy silver hair and a bright yellow sun dress stood nervously beside the front door. She cleared her throat, so Dahlia looked at her.

  "Are you Mrs. Meeks?" the lady said to Dahlia. She talked like she came from up north.

  "Most folks call me Dahlia." Which was true about white folks anyway, at least the older ones. The younger ones had been calling her Miz Dahlia, just like everyone else, ever since Civil Rights had made its way east of Wilson. But she felt it wasn't her place to tell anyone to call her Miz.

  "The kitchen's this way." The lady smiled like she was having her picture made. It often seemed to make Northern ladies a little nervous to have hired Dahlia to cook. But they didn't really have no choice about that. Dahlia was the best cook in the county.

  The lady said, "I did tell you, didn't I, my tea is at one p.m. tomorrow?"

  "That's fine. I'll be baking the cakes today, and then tomorrow morning I'll come back to fix the sandwiches and the shrimp." Dahlia followed the lady through the living room, winding past two over-stuffed sofas decorated with vines and big flowers. The pattern was echoed in a border that ran just below the ceiling. It was funny about the white folks Dahlia worked for, how a lot of their houses looked alike. The rooms were too big and the furniture too far apart -- like they never wanted to sit close and be friendly. No way to even sit outside at all except fenced in by a swimming pool. Swimming pools didn't set with Dahlia. Drown you if you weren't careful.

  Their shoes tapped along the oak floors into the kitchen. Dahlia opened her tote bag and pulled out a faded calico apron and put it on.

  The lady -- Miz Torrance, Dahlia recollected finally -- pointed out canisters of flour, sugar, and cocoa. Then the pans and the bowls on shelves. "I think I've got everything you mentioned on the phone."

  Dahlia nodded. "I'll get to work then. Oh, and Miz Torrance? Tomorrow my son's landscaping over by Chocowinity. So I'll need you to come pick me up. As I don't drive."

  Miz Torrance blushed a little. "Of course. Could you write down directions?"

  Dahlia handed her a piece of paper where Junior had done just that.

  "The second stoplight -- is that what this says?" Miz Torrance stuck the paper out to Dahlia.

  Dahlia told her she didn't have her reading glasses, but yes, if she was talking about downtown Grimesland, you turned at the second stoplight, which was Beauford Street. Dahlia edged toward the refrigerator and hoped Miz Torrence had no more questions about Junior's note, or at least not enough questions to figure out that Dahlia couldn't read good. But Miz Torrance just smiled weakly and backed away. So Dahlia paid her no more mind, but washed her hands and set the butter out to soften.

  When she got to running the mixer, two pairs of feet pattered in behind her.

  "What are you making?" This was a tow-headed boy about five.

  Dahlia ticked it off on her fingers. "Caramel cake, coconut cake, and dirt cake." The last was for the children.

  "Dirt cake! Yuck!"

  On Dahlia's right was the girl, who was taller, but looked just like the boy except with dark braids. She clicked her tongue at her brother. "It's chocolate."

  "That's right. See? Gonna crush these cookies for dirt." Dahlia held up a package of oreos. "And put in candy worms."

  "Gummi worms," the girl corrected her.

  "Cool." The brother ran to another room where soon a TV was coughing out explosions and foolish music.

  The sister got on tiptoe and set her head on folded arms on the counter beside the cake bowl. "Sometimes I think he's developmentally delayed." She pronounced it very carefully.

  Dirt cake brought Dahlia back to thinking about Garner. Dirt was his element. When they had married and moved into his Great Aunt Euphemia's shotgun house in Grimesland, there'd been nothing around it but dead grass and dirt. Garner had dug and planted and weeded. And little by little, year after year, it all turned green.

  Till his heart attacked him.

  Now, all that was left of Garner was leaves -- sycamores, hydrangeas, weeping willows, and wisteria. It was all Garner. It had his stamp. She'd just never thought to look for his face in it.

  She pulled the coconut layers out with silvery mitts, ignoring the heat breath of the oven, and put in the big flower pot of dirt cake batter.

  Time to get started on the frostings. Caramel first, that was the tricky one, you had to stir it just right when you heated it up or it come out grainy.

  Yes, if you could see anyone's face in the leaves, it would surely be Garner's.

  That night Dahlia tossed and turned in bed -- on her right side, on her back, on her stomach. It had been no use trying to sleep on her left side since Garner died. Because that was the side of the bed he slept on. Because even without turning that way, she could feel he wasn't there.

  She wished she hadn't see
n that carving. Now she wanted to see Garner's face in the leaves. Dahlia threw off the covers and put on her shoes. She slipped out the back screen door, which creaked as it closed, and she stepped into the grass.

  The yard was warm and humid and bathed in moonlight. The sycamores raised dark branches like fingers into the air; the willows hulked over in mounds over their trunks. She studied the trees as she wound her way through. No face.

  She circled past the hydrangeas, their blue flowers white in the evening, to the middle of the yard where the wisteria grew on a circle of trellises covered over with spokes of planking. It had been Garner's present to her on their thirty-fifth anniversary, and now the vines and grape clusters of flowers tangled down in their gazebo shape. She went all around it looking in through the leafy vines and cones of flowers. Then she went in the middle under the spokes to sit finally on the stone bench Garner had put there and stare at his gravestone.

  Maybe the children had the right of it. Maybe it was foolishness to have him here instead of at the cemetery down by the church. Junior thought so sure, though he never said, but you could tell by the set of his back as he trimmed around the gravestone with his edge trimmer. Her daughter Larissa never stopped talking about it the minute she set foot in Dahlia's house. Mama, you shoulda' this and Mama, you shoulda' that. There was plenty of shoulda's Dahlia could say about Larissa's business -- Dahlia's grandbabies playing on that computer till all hours, getting no sleep -- but Dahlia kept out of other folks' business, and they should keep out of hers. Plenty of folk had family cemeteries on their land -- you could see graves every which way on the country highways. And besides, Dahlia would have felt in the church yard like she was leaving Garner. I'm here, she whispered. I won't go away this time. She stared around in the semi-darkness. Should have done this in the daytime. I'm here to touch your face. I'm here to hold your hand. No one answered her in the dark.

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