The Zja'na Plain

Editor's note. Parthney never found it easy to talk about Reginal, either in his youth while living with her or in his old age while deciding what tales to pass on to his grandchildren. I believe that he felt an obligation to inform his grandchildren about the conditions under which he and Kach grew up on Hemmal, but he also feared that there were some facts of life on Hemmal that Hana adamantly did not want her children exposed to. Had Parthney included his ideas about Reginal in the message that he passed on to his family then he would have risked alienating Hana and she might never have allowed her children to be exposed to any of Parthney's stories. I've resurrected the following passages about Reginal because they deal with topics that were of great importance to Parthney and which are useful to anyone on Earth who wants to understand Parthney's origins...and our own. The introductory part below, put in italics to mark the emphasis that Parthney himself placed on the story, is the myth of Zja'na as presented by Parthney to his grandchildren.

Here is the story of your grandmother, a richly evolved saga that involves many people and places and if rightly told must begin far back in the mists of time. I ask that you carefully examine this story of your family's past and take all the time you need to make sense of your heritage. You might think of me as a desperate and decrepit old man, but please hear me out.

Hana has taught you a simplified version of your origins and indoctrinated you to believe that, as liberated humans, it falls upon you to start human civilization anew on Luk'ru. That is her vision of your future, but always remember, your grandmother was born a Kac'hin, so we must wonder if you too can communicate with the Creators. We must explore that possibility even though your mother hates me for insisting on this. I understand if you are tempted to play the role that Hana has long planned for you, but you owe it to yourselves to be aware of other options, other possible paths for your young lives.

Given what I have learned about your genetic inheritance, I must wonder if you have the power to find your grandmother and bring her back to us. It is selfish hope that forces me to defy the will of your parents and tell you this story. Who am I to tell this tale? Sadly, I am a poor messenger: it will frustrate you to learn that the foundation of my knowledge of the origin of the Creators, the origin of Humanity and the origin of our family is rooted in the myths and legends of the land of my birth, a planet in a far galaxy called Hemmal, a world that you so far only know as the home planet of your father.

The most numerous and popular myths on Hemmal explicitly pertain to Earth, but in my youth I was always intrigued by the few scattered tales of another place called zja'na. I will explain how it came to pass that during my stay at Lendhalen I finally had access to the written history of Zja'na and why the Pla believe that to be as close as we are likely to come to knowing the story of the creation of our species. The Pla were the first human scholars, so you owe it to yourself to understand their view of our origins. However, it is fitting for me to start my story of the past with the oral version, the myth of Zja'na as I remember it from my days at Demon Lodge on Hemmal. After finally reaching Earth and actually having a chance to observe the mother-child relationship and after learning the myth of Adam and Eve, only then did I begin to appreciate the relevance of Zja'na to my own life and my personal origins. As you shall see, all these wispy strands do knit together and form a fabric that explains my time spent with Reginal at Demon Lodge. Nothing was left to chance, but through the naive eyes of my youthful self I viewed my life as a carefree game...long days devoted to play and fun. Hana would prefer that I not tell you such things, but Reginal was my mother, lover and playmate. Hana fears that this knowledge will pervert your relationship with Steph, but I trust that you will not misuse the knowledge that I share with you. So, the myth...

The first people were not born of people. What was there before? Some say that zja'na was the thinly forested plain where the first people were born, but others say that Zja'na was the mother of humanity. The grassy plain of our origin was crafted and sculpted by the Creators upon a barren world. The Creators provided a fruited plain where the first people, the children of the gods, found it easy to survive and grow to adulthood. Early memories of Zja'na faded and the grown children knew only each other and the land and forgot their birth mother.

Some say that there were only two children born of Zja'na, but that is wrong. In truth, there were two sexes: male and female. How many of each sex is not clear. There were more females than males because it was planned that the number of people should grow rapidly: there was need for many mothers.

Food was always at hand, growing ripe and heavy on the life-giving trees of the glades along the sparkling brooks of zja'na. There was another kind of tree with sour fruit like small green pellets, but that tree of yerny had sweet, fragrant flowers. It is said that the magic of the yerny tree awakened the sexual instincts of first Na'ma then Hy'wy: they became flower eaters and the first lovers among the people. Later, Vec'te too awakened to the power of yerney and he soon impregnated Na'ma and Hy'wy. Others among that first family later came of age and all found their way to Vec'te except for We'see who helped care for all the new children but never gave birth.

Some claim that We'see was Zja'na and a demon or a goddess, not a person, and that We'see lived long and later took some of the people from zja'na to Earth. 


It should not be hard for you to understand why a rare myth about males and females was of great interest to me. As far as I knew, I was the only male on Hemmal. But can anyone trust an ancient myth? What really was our origin as humans? That is one of the questions that fired the curiosity of your grandmother, that drove her search for the Creators and brought you, her grandchildren, into existence. I never worried about such grand questions nor even my own origins until I was on Earth. My friend Yandrey tried to get me to think about origins, but it was far too easy for me to simply hear and unquestioningly accept the myths of my youth without imposing any critical thought. It was fun to live in a fantasy world of the imagination.

Hana believes that she and Boswei are playing out the roles of Na'ma and Vec'te (or, Eve and Adam, in the myth of Hana's home world), but Hana wants to make sure that there will be no lurking We'see to take some of her children away from her and send them off to a distant world. These myths have great power over us. From a very early age I was fascinated by the idea that there could be men and women living together in a community.

It was only much later, after I had the opportunity to use Nereid technology to probe my own early memories, that I began to understand my own personal "Zja'na". I'll say this bluntly: I  have come to imagine that Reginal was my mother. If it was not Reginal who birthed me and who nursed me then it was some other pek. Making such a fine distinction does not shield me from the intrusive idea that I lived with my mother as my lover at Demon Lodge. So, just who was Reginal?

Reginal was the first to tell me that my life, as I had known it, was over. It was inevitable that Reginal would be the first to inform me about Muchlo's imminent arrival at Demon Lodge since I had carefully arranged for Reginal to always be at my side when I would awake.

As far as I know your father never knew Reginal, but it is possible that Reginal adopted another identity after I left Hemmal. Your father and I both departed from Hemmal when we were about the same age. As young males living among the true Buld and the pek, your father and I had some similar, if unusual, interactions with the pek.

Steph was the most important pek in your father's life. You have known Steph your entire lives, but your father has always been reluctant to share with you the details of his time with Steph before Boswei met your mother. That I understand. Boswei knows that your mother has never been comfortable with Steph so he does not push his luck. Besides, Boswei outgrew his infatuation with Steph and he is happy to try to forget some parts of his childhood.

I also am not proud of my relationship with Reginal and I'm actually lucky that I was forced to depart from Hemmal without a companion. Since Steph now exists as an isolated pek, you have been taught to think of "her" as a woman and you probably think of her as a human. However, I want you to understand your grandmother and what motivated her, so I need to be sure that you understand the Buld and the pek of Hemmal. Boswei promised me that he would allow you to learn these facts when you are old enough and for that I am grateful, even if we do not agree on the meaning of "old enough".

Where should I begin? I'm saddened by my need to explain so much about my early life on Hemmal to my grandchildren. I regret not having been able to spend my old age with you. Had your grandmother been less driven to meet her Creator then we would have had the opportunity, over the course of many happy long years, to slowly let the story of our lives spread from our minds to yours. Of course, had your grandmother been less driven to understand her world and make extraordinary discoveries then she and I would never have met.

You know Hemmal as the world where your father was born; otherwise it must seem like an insignificant planet in a far galaxy. Now that I reflect on the matter, I must admit that my own concept of Hemmal as a world, as an entire planet, had little influence on my early life. Of course, I knew that I lived on a planet, one among hundreds that are homes for people, but I only knew a small part of my home world. Up until the day when I met Muchlo and the woman who was destined to be your grandmother I only concerned myself with Pelis Kel, the local mountainous region of Hemmal where members of the Buld Clan are allowed to live. For most of my life on Hemmal I resided in the small village of my childhood, but for three years I wandered across Pelis Kel and lived briefly at half a dozen small and remote Buld settlements, none of them very different from Demon Lodge.

I grew up thinking of myself as Buld, but I knew that I was unusual: I was what is known among the Buld as a false Buld, a particular type of rare mutant. It is because I was born a male that I was with Reginal when I awoke on the day of Muchlo's arrival at Demon Lodge. Most Buld, the "true" Buld, are all hermaphrodites: not male or female, but rather an artificial mixture of the two sexes. What was particularly confusing for me while growing up was that the Buld on Hemmal have no conceptual understanding of male and female. It was only after my departure from Hemmal that I was able to sort out such fundamental aspects of being human.

So, why was Reginal in my bed? Reginal is neither male, female nor hermaphroditic. I say "is" because when I lived with Reginal, all those many years ago, thon was already ancient and I have no doubt that she is still there on Hemmal, possibly still at Demon Lodge. "Thon"..."she"...which is it? On Hemmal the term "thon" is a genderless pronoun used to refer to both individual Buld and pek. The words "she", "her", "he" and "his" are rarely heard on Hemmal. They do appear in some of the ancient Earth-derived epics, but among the Buld their meaning has been lost.

A warning: your parents have taught you to treat Steph like a person and nothing that I tell you about the pek should lead you to question your parents' decision to make Steph and integral part of your family. The pek have long experience with the fine art of pretending to be human.

In my memories, Reginal is a woman, but that is due to re-crafting of the original my later years my memories of events on Hemmal naturally began to conform to my experiences on Earth, experiences that finally revealed to me what a woman is. During the happy period when we lived together I called Reginal by pet names: Regina or Genie or Jen and I think of her as a "she". Don't be fooled by my subjective view. I wanted her to play the role "woman" in my life, but I could only guess what that should mean.

My wants and desires were of no real importance....Reginal is not a woman. The pek are a type of artificial lifeform with their origins lost in a time hundreds of millions of years in our past. On Hemmal the pek take on human form so that they can function efficiently within human culture. The pek live among the Buld and successfully pass themselves off as servants who perform tasks for the Buld, although the relationship between pek and Buld is more complex than just a servant and master relationship.

Reginal is a pek and during the time that we lived together I was rather ashamed of our relationship, for reasons different from the ones that I later acquired on Earth. When I was on Hemmal I thought of Reginal as a bothet, and to live day after day with a bothet was not something that could be easily understood by the Buld. My friends at Demon Lodge often teased me an called me "Regie's Apprentice" if I spent so much time with her in an effort to become a bothet myself.

As a false Buld I was allowed my foibles and I was never treated with malice; when I was mocked for living with Reginal it was done with humor and as part of an attempt by the Buld to understand my strange ways. The pek do not allow the people of Hemmal to be cruel and petty. Still, my way of life was unusual and could not fail to provoke reaction from the Buld. Typically those reactions took the form of amusement or pity, reactions that were fairly easy for me to live with. I did not understand the true Buld and I did not expect them to understand me. I had been raised by the pek and they had worked hard to shape me into a child who was self-confident and unconcerned about the opinions of others. I was happy living at Demon Lodge with Reginal. My innocent happiness of youth ended that day when Muchlo arrived. Looking back, my time on Hemmal seems like a dream of youth, a time of joyous recreation before I was forced to grow up.

My goal in telling you about my time on Hemmal is to allow you to gain some insight into the motives of your grandmother. I believe that she was always much more serious and worldly than I. From a very early age she wanted to learn the truth about the Creators. While she seemed to innately believe in the gods, I was not even interested in such matters. I lived for my music, which is not hard to understand for a boy living among the Buld on a world like Hemmal. Music is important to the Buld and it was an important part of Buld culture that I could explore from my personal perspective as a false Buld.

Reginal's formal function at Demon Lodge was to facilitate the midnight temple ceremonies. I stopped attending temple ceremonies at an early age when I realized that they were not designed for me, a false Buld. I never saw Reginal performing her rituals in temple. In fact, while living at Demon Lodge, I carefully arranged my schedule so that I could avoid being in temple during performance of the quadalia.

I did not learn the meaning of the word "jealous" until I was on Earth. Among the Prelands a central tenant of their existence is to love every aspect of life. Yes, some of the Buld openly mocked the Prelands and their religious doctrines, but even the Buld scholars accept the tenet that life well lived has no room for hate or negativity. For me, growing up on Hemmal, in the absence of personal antagonisms, the good things in life sadly came hand-in-hand with the fact that love on Hemmal is non-personal. The concept of an exclusive personal relationship like marriage is unknown on Hemmal. So, while I was not really jealous, I actively avoided thinking about Reginal's role in temple ceremonies and her role among the guests at Demon Lodge as a bothet. I had Reginal to myself every day for almost half the day and I was well satisfied with that arrangement.

Reginal was constantly adjusting her physical form. Like all pek she was careful to not allow humans to be distracted by the fact that she could morph her body. When we were alone together she would allow herself to grow in height by half a foot or more, but when among the Buld she was careful to maintain the average height of the Buld population. The other changes that she made for me involved shaping her face and body into a more human form. While performing her temple duties among the Buld, Reginal had just a hint of the human about her, but in private with me she knew what I liked and she adopted a more curvacious figure and she adorned herself with modifications to her hair and her skin, particularly her lips. She knew me well and invented endless sly tricks designed to please me.

Still, Reginal never missed an opportunity to comment on my errors and she relentlessly sought to adjust my misguided behavior. At the same time, and this is no paradox, she facilitated my rebellious divergence from proper Buld behavior. She herself violated Buld conventions by joining my megepi. I could never make music in the normal communal fashion of the Buld, but pek helped me build musical instruments and even took the stage with me during our heretical performances. The pek kept me happy while making sure that they would be rid of me.

On the day of Muchlo's arrival I awoke, as usual, in the middle of the afternoon. My daily schedule had grown to fit temporally with the demands of Reginal's temple duties. When she was performing her duties in temple or elsewhere I was busy with my music. A bothet is busy at night, but during daylight hours we were usually together. It was growing late in the afternoon and knowing that I should be getting up, Reginal had allowed the south wall of our cabin to become transparent. It was the light of that sunny spring day streaming into our room that woke me up. As a "false" I needed more sleep than the typical Buld and Reginal was normally very good about letting me get my sleep, but that was a special day and it was time for me to be up. Prompting me to get something to eat was a convenient way for Reginal to move me to the temple in time for me to take part in the fateful events that awaited me that day.

Left to myself I might have slept for an hour or two more. Some days I would not eat before performing my music in the evening. Reginal knew my ways and that I usually ate before going to bed and I did not mind waiting to eat again until late in the evening, just before her duties began in the temple.

As a child I had spent years hording food so that I could avoid going to temple, but since arriving at Demon Lodge the pek had not allowed me to take food out of the temple. They insisted that since I had willingly left the sanctuary of my childhood village it was time that I grow up and stop acting like a child. For most Buld on Hemmal, the true meaning of "child" was not known; to be called "child" was like being called a primitive evolutionary throwback. Some of my Buld friends would watch me with wide eyed wonder when I ate, astonished by my primitive behavior. I had gotten into the habit of eating twice a day and doing so at times when the temple was usually not in use by the true Buld. Unlike the true Buld I could eat a large amount of food at one time and I had actually accumulated some body fat that winter. I'd often catch my Buld friends looking at me in awe....I had grown to be tall and almost twice as massive as the typical Buld who all had bodies in the form of skinny girls.

That was a near-end-of-winter, spring-like day and the snow of the previous day's storm was melting off the roof of my cabin. Silvery icicles glistened in the sun and in Reginal's alien eyes. The pek of Pelis Kel were designed to be visually distinctive so that nobody could ever confuse a Buld and a pek. Like other pek, Reginal's eyes had an artificial metal-like reflectance. When I turned away from the outside view (the spectacular valley below Kel Stoen) and looked at Reginal I noticed she was watching me intently.

The expression on Reginal's face provoked in me a nervous flood of guilty thoughts. Why had Reginal found it necessary to awaken me? I harbored a fear that Reginal resented the fact that I had ordered her to always be present when I awoke. Why fear?

First of all, true Buld never give orders to pek. It might seem strange that the Buld view the pek as servants and yet don't give them orders. Orders are not needed because the pek almost always anticipate human desires and fulfill them before a Buld gets around to asking for something. A Buld will always ask, not order.

I had come to fear that Reginal viewed me as hopelessly immature. Children are almost unknown among the Buld on Hemmal and when a child does appear it is expected to quickly grow up and merge into adult society. When true Buld go through the Change and they are as close to being children as most true Buld can get, they sometimes learn that they can give orders to pek. True Buld soon grow out of that childish phase. When I was young and still attended temple ceremonies I took literally the chant:

The Creators know what y'all need
ask for it and you shall receive.

As a boy I was silly enough to confuse the pek with the Creators. I was allowed to be silly: the pek who raised me always gave me special treatment because I was a mutant, a male. The pek would quickly do almost any crazy thing I asked of them, often while lecturing me about how silly I was.

Secondly, my doubts about Reginal swirled around the fact that the pek never sleep. I could not avoid wondering: what would Reginal have been doing if she was not there by my side, waiting through my long hours of sleep, waiting for me to wake up? But such worries and fears never really had a chance to grow beyond the scale of a minor discomfort: when I lived on Hemmal I never seriously questioned the pek and their ways. The pek were a convenience that I took advantage of. There is no need for deep analysis of my relationship with Reginal: she knew me well and she provided for me.

Some nights I would wake up from a dream with a wild musical idea and Reginal might lay there talking to me for hours. Sometimes I would jump out of bed and rush to make a modification to an instrument or play with a tune that had entered my dream. Almost any time of day either Reginal, D'hab or Ario was available to help me reprogram an instrument's nanites or provide a harmony. I took such ever-present assistance of the pek for granted and never questioned the miraculous power of nanites. Of course, it was the presence of nanites in my own brain that assured my unquestioning innocence.

Until long after my departure from Hemmal I never knew the truth about the pek: they are the face that the Creators choose to show to humans. When I was growing up on Hemmal the pek were just a fact of life, like the mountains. The pek were an available convenience and I derived many pleasures from the ways I found to use them. Still, even while they accommodated my needs, the pek all took seriously their responsibility to let me know that they disapproved of my many bad habits. I had always been encouraged to merge into conventional Buld society on Hemmal, to grow up and abandon my rebellious tendencies, to put aside my childish behaviors and act like a true Buld. That just never worked out. In retrospect, it is clear that the pek knew me well and they anticipated that because of their badgering, I would rebel.

On that day Reginal had larger concerns than my childish habits. Before I could ask why she was glaring at me, Reginal said, "A transmida is ah gunna visit the Lodge."

It wasn't until years later when I was living in North America that I finally heard a Southern accent. To my ear, there are odd similarities between the way Reginal would speak to me and the way some people of Earth speak. The temple pek all share a noticeable accent and they made use of a distinctive formal temple dialect of English. Of course, I never heard the term "English" until I was living on Oib and in training for my mission to Earth. With only one live language in daily use on Hemmal there was never any need to mention other languages and no label was ever attached to the type of language that we used to talk to each other. For some special rituals a few phrased from the ancient Buld language were recited, but that was a dead language and only used for ceremonial purposes.

Later, while in training at Lendhalen, I also learned that since it was important for bothets to adopt a human appearance they needed a non-visual way to distinguish themselves from the Buld and so bothets always exaggerated the distinctive features of the temple dialect. I'd often told Reginal that I enjoyed her accent and so she maximally exaggerated it when we were alone. With long experience, I could effortlessly understand Reginal's thick bothet drawl and I knew perfectly well what she meant when she said "transmida" (transmitter), but I had never expected a transmitter to come to Demon Lodge. Still half asleep I stupidly asked, "A transmida?"

I truly enjoyed Reginal's lilting and lazy way of speaking and I often adopted some of her speech when we were alone together. Like all Buld, I could imitate a temple accent. Normally, among the true Buld, such imitation was only done as a kind of joke, as away to tell a fellow Buld that you were going to do what they had asked you to do even though you did not really agree with them. As a Buld, to speak like a pek was to openly adopt the role of servant. For me, as a false Buld, I had gotten into the habit of mocking the pek when they would lecture me about my childish behavior. When Reginal was obliged to tell me something I did not want to hear I would use the temple drawl and then Reginal would taunt me by using the pet name "Parie". I did not want to hear that a transmitter would be visiting the Lodge.

Reginal said, "Parie gunna need behave." She playfully pushed my hand away from where it rested on the smooth arc of her hip.

When I wanted to taunt her I'd combine "Jen" with "bothet". I snuggled close to her, put my arm around her and pulled her close, "There's nothing wrong with my behavior, Jenet."

Reginal rolled away, off the bed, and sprang to her feet. She threw a pillow at me. My cat Bakeko jumped off of the foot of the bed and climbed up on a shelf, yellow eyes looking down at us. Bakeko growled quietly. Reginal nagged, "Really, Parie, behave just for one day! Now, get up. You need to eat and get ready for tonight's performance. I'll tell D'hab and Ario that we will perform Georgiana's Lament tonight."

I playfully threw the pillow back at Regina. "You will not!" Georgiana's Lament was a traditional Preland epic story about the heroic Fitzroy. It was not until I was on Earth that I became aware of the Earthly inspiration for that story in Earth's 18th century history. On Hemmal at that time, songs from Georgiana's Lament were probably the most frequently performed traditional Preland music, having been accepted by the Prelands as part of their traditional canon, but the song was still of recent enough origin to invite nearly constant reinterpretation by Buld musicians. As a recognized element of the traditional Preland corpus it was not music that my megepi had ever performed. I immediately and reflexively resisted Reginal's suggestion that we perform traditional music just to conform to the expectations of a transmitter.

Demon Lodge was a place for what the Buld euphemistically called "experimental music". In effect, this meant music performed by Buld, for Buld, in contrast to "traditional music" that was intended for use by the Prelands. Most of the inhabitants of Hemmal are Prelands, a distinct cultural group that lives apart from the Buld. The Buld came to Hemmal to study the Prelands and over time the two groups established a kind of symbiotic relationship.

Prelands are not human in the conventional sense. Adult Prelands seldom use spoken language, but their culture is given structure by an oral tradition of heroic epics, lengthy poems that must be sung in the traditional style of the Prelands. Long ago, the Buld learned that they could provide the service of singing the traditional Preland songs and by doing so gain some access to Preland culture thus facilitating their study of the Prelands.

Another tradition on worlds such as Hemmal is that the pek who live among the Buld usually adopt the physical features of Prelands. The qualifier "usually" is needed for two reasons, both because bothets like Reginal are an exception and because pek can take on any physical form. For example, Bakeko was a pek that used the physical form of a cat.

If Hana allowed it, then Steph could morph her body form.

When I was growing up I never much concerned myself with the Prelands. The Prelands strive to love every aspect of life including their physical environment. Prelands love the land where they live and the terrain of Hemmal is lovingly written into their heroic epics. Of course, it was not until I was on Earth that I realized the care with which the landscape of Hemmal has been modified to reflect actual locations on Earth. For example, I have seen the valley on Earth that was the original model for the valley below Kel Stoen where Demon Lodge was built.

When the pek first arrived on Hemmal it was an icy world with sea life in the liquid water of the deep oceans. During the past seven million years the pek have greatly increased the amount of carbon dioxide, water and methane in the atmosphere. Hemmal is now significantly warmer than it was before humans arrived. Hemmal still has large polar ice caps but it also has large liquid equatorial oceans and the Pelis Kel melt out in the summer: only the tallest peaks at the equator are glaciated.

I never realized the truth while I lived on Hemmal: the pek have fantastic technologies at their command. They can engineer physical processes on a planetary scale and guide the release of tectonic forces and shape an evolving landscape by guiding the action of wind, ice and rain. Prelands are allowed to believe that it is they who shape the land as a stage for their convenience. Prelands actively participate in the terraforming of their worlds so that they can live out their lives according to the patterns of their mythical epics. From the perspective of the Prelands, everything on Hemmal has been created for their benefit.

In the same way, the pek allowed me to imagine that I had constructed musical instruments. The truth was that I provided my ideas and then the pek used their nanite technology to satisfy my needs. The true mystery that I never bothered to ponder was why nobody else on Hemmal used the pek in that way. I was so comfortable believing that I would never understand the Buld that I no longer asked such questions.

Although I was happy on Hemmal I never felt like it was a world crafted for me. How could I when the pek constantly tried to make me behave like a true Buld? I could not understand the Buld and I preferred being me rather than trying to shape myself into something else. Reginal was an expert at giving in to enough of my demands so that she could at other times deflect my juvenile willfulness and simply ignore my defiance. She took my hand and pulled me out of bed. "Think of your friend Sophis. Think what will happen to thon if your music were shown to the Prelands."

Sophis was the keeper of Demon Lodge. I appreciated that fact that Sophis had labored long and hard to create the nontraditional and relaxed conditions at Demon Lodge that I enjoyed. Demon Lodge was a refuge for artists who felt compelled to ignore the Preland traditions. However, during my travels across Pelis Kel I'd been routinely sheltered by people like Sophis and I really did not understand the extent to which my music could offend the Prelands. The Buld all certainly understood that and so they carefully arranged for experimental music like mine to be hidden away in remote places like Demon Lodge. The transmitters who roamed Pelis Kel in search of new music to transmit to the Prelands were never invited to Demon Lodge.

I put my arms around Reginal and pulled her close, but clothing was rapidly forming on our bodies and she was morphing her body down to the size and form that she used in public, clear signs that we were on our way outside. I would have been happy to pull Reginal back into bed, but I knew that if I was going to eat before my performance that evening I had to go to the temple soon. Still, I was mightily provoked to rebelliousness by Reginal's suggestion that I play a style of music I found distasteful. I moved close to Reginal, bent low and whispered in her ear, "Maybe Sophis would enjoy a great notoriety from having my music be transmitted." I was seriously offering that suggestion since I knew there was competition for radical artists among the lodges that specialized in experimental music.

The pek have great physical strength, a fact that every Buld knows as certainly as the difference between up and down. From my current perspective of having known true women, it is disturbing for me to think back to how Reginal, then using the bodily form of a young woman, so short that the top of her head was below my chin, could literally push me around. Of course, she never had to push hard; I had long been conditioned to go limp and accept guidance when a pek was taking action and getting done what needed to be done. At that moment I knew it was late and I should get to the temple for food before the Lodge guests would start arriving for the evening ceremonies. I could tell that Reginal was in a serious mood so I put away my thoughts of resisting and meekly let Reginal guide me towards the door of the cabin.

Reginal took my hand and her slim finders interdigitated with mine. We stepped outside into the bright sunshine. Reginal tried to correct my thinking, "Sophis is already upset that your music has attracted so much attention. Thon does not want the Lodge to change; thon does not want your music to become any more widely discussed than it already has."

In fact, our cabin was near the end of a row of recently constructed cabins that stretched along the canyon rim north of the Demon Lodge temple complex. Guests who were housed way out there along the rim complained about the long walks to those outlying cabins when the winter storms were howling. I was aware of the fact that the number of residents at Demon Lodge had grown larger than what Sophis felt was an ideal upper limit, but my guess was that if she wanted to attract the truly creative artists then she could benefit from having a transmitter visit. The Buld endlessly discussed those musical performances that were selected for transmission and there was no greater influence on Buld music than the musical selections made by the transmitters.

Given the naturally cold climate of Hemmal, Prelands and Buld alike must be protected from the cold. I never thought much about clothing until after my departure from Hemmal and I was on my way to Earth. On Hemmal the Prelands and Buld are provided with clothing by an automated process. When the inhabitants of Hemmal become cold, clothing nanites accumulate on their bodies and form the required insulation to maintain comfort and normal body temperature. Prelands have lost most of the normal human capacity to sense warm and cold: in the absence of clothing nanites Prelands are at serious risk for skin and organ damage in either a cold or hot environment.

The Buld have not been pushed that far from their natural biological origin, but on Hemmal, as for the Prelands, the Buld are kept clothed by nanites and they seldom give any thought to clothing. For the Buld there is one exception to the automated process by which clothing is generated: the temple ceremonies that are needed to facilitate the continued evolution of the Buld Clan as a biological lifeform.

I wonder: can my grandchildren really understand the distinction between "biological lifeform" and "artificial lifeform"? The shared dream of your parents was to create for you a world free of pek influence. I trust that Hana and Boswei will have explained artificial life to you, but can anyone growing up among only biologicals -and a few pek who are pretending to be human- really understand another type of lifeform?

When I grew up on Hemmal I knew little about biology. Buld and Prelands live immersed in a network of medical nanites. Illness is unknown and injury is only a transient annoyance. The people of Hemmal are allowed to believe that the pek are humanoid and as part of that carefully crafted deception the clothing nanites build up layers of clothing on Buld and pek alike when they step outside into the cold. That day a mitten-like cocoon formed around our hands so Reginal's fingers never lost contact with mine while we walked up the path towards the temple complex. Reginal was not biological, but her hand felt warm against mine and Hemmal's sun felt warm on my head...I was glad that the long winter was ending.

Demon Lodge took its name from the sulfurous hot springs on the side of Kel Stoen. Geothermally heated water was piped from the springs to the Lodge and used in the temple baths. Demon Lodge was rather famous for the strong odor of its bath water. Additional hot water was used to melt some of the heavy mountain snows away from the cabins and the walking paths thus preventing the Lodge from being deeply buried by snow during the long winter. The Buld had no means of measuring altitude, but Demon Lodge was renowned as one of the highest altitude lodges of Pelis Kel. The winters were long and snowy.

The outbuildings of Demon Lodge, particularly the cabins where most guests slept, were almost like living creatures. Through the seasons the cabins morphed and altered themselves so as to blend into the forest environment. During winters the cabins were half buried under snow but their south sides were kept clear of snow so that the residents could enjoy a view into the valley below the lodge. In the summer the cabins were covered by flowering vines and they were integral parts of the forest. Of course, I never saw a real forest until I was on Earth. Among the synthetic forests of Hemmal the guest cabins did not seem out of place or intrusive. In the Preland tradition, the Buld of Pelis Kel loved their homes and their land.

That day the wind was almost still and the supple booties covering our feet made no sound on the soft sponge-like surface of the path. We walked through the quiet forest towards the temple. Our voices were instantly swallowed by the trees and the ocean of snow around us. Startled and puzzled by the idea that a transmitter would visit Demon Lodge, I asked, "Why would Prelands concern themselves with my music?"

Reginal patiently explained the facts, facts that had been explained to me many times previously, "Because the Buld are invaders of Hemmal. What you think of as your music has been taken from the Prelands."

"My music does the Prelands no harm."

"The Prelands view their lives, their entire existence, as having been crafted by the Creators. Preland music celebrates their belief that they live in harmony with the Creators. When someone like you warps one of the Preland epics in a new direction, when you sing about a life path that is incomprehensible to the Prelands, then you have taken a holy song and perverted it, pushed it into blasphemous discord with what the Prelands take to be the wishes of the gods."

"If I offend them, then the Prelands should just ignore my music, not send a transmitter here to record it."

We paused briefly where the path branched off to the Tornting Overlook, a jut on the cliff rim known by the name of the Lodge keeper who had preceded Sophis. For a moment I looked out at the beautiful valley and fantasized about ordering Reginal to run off with me. If a transmitter was on the way and would cause trouble, then why not simply run away? The transmitter would soon be gone and then we could return after a few days of hiding and all would be as before. I glanced at her and I began to speak, but she spoke first, "Parie, I've seen this happen a dozen times before and I've told you several times how this will turn out. Either you conform to the Preland-Buld dynamic or you go your own way. As a false Buld you must either fit yourself into Buld culture or seek out the unique path that the Creators planned for you."

It was true that I had been warned, but I had known no days of frightful decision in my life and so I was surprised to find that one had finally arrived. I complained, "You have never described that unique path."

"How can I describe that?" Reginal asked. "My entire existence is here among the Pelis Kel; I know the ways of the Buld Clan. If you can't fit yourself into Clan culture then how can I help you? If you are to find a unique path as a false Buld, if you are destined to leave Hemmal, then you are on your own."

We continued walking towards the temple. I squeezed Reginal's hand, "I've been very happy here with you and our megepi." At that moment I wanted nothing more than to have my life continue as it was. In the distance I could now hear laughter, singing and shouts from some of the Lodge guests. So deeply was music woven into Buld culture that a significant fraction of the Buld never spoke in a conversational manner, but rather sang everything that they had to say.

Reginal said, "You've never had to struggle for anything. If you really want to stay here then you need to take positive action. I'll tell D'hab and Ario to prepare for Georgiana's Lament. You must give a traditional performance tonight."

That was my last day with Reginal. Sometimes I still hear her voice...when I do, it is always her speaking with an exaggerated bothet accent. I suspect that it was Reginal who gestated me and birthed me and taught me to talk with an English accent that would pass for a native of North America. See told me that she did not know my path in life, but she had prepared me for it.

Did Reginal hope that I would stay with her, perhaps forever? I think not, but it is fundamental to her existence that she try to make lonely boys like me feel welcomed and happy on Hemmal. In that way Reginal was no different than Hana who will do anything to provide a safe and normal home for her children. Reginal tried to shield me from outside forces that were pulling me away from Hemmal and Hana will instinctively do the same: Hana will view my tales of distant worlds as unwelcome distraction from the normalcy that she has tried to root your lives in. I know my stories of the pek might drive a wedge between you and Hana, so my advice is that you respect her wishes: listen to your mother and never mock Steph as a pek. However, looking back on my own life I know that the safety of home is an illusion. Hana should not force you to live as she thinks is best for you, she should raise you to recognize and seize the life that you recognize as your life. Reginal never did that for me, could not do that for me, so it fell to outside forces to rudely strip me away from Reginal and the safety of Hemmal. For that I am thankful even if I have many fond memories of Hemmal. Remember, you would not exist had I not left Reginal and Hemmal behind.
Exode is copyright John Schmidt, but the text of the story is  licensed for sharing under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) license.

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