The Wreck of the Perihelion Siren
by Christopher Lee Kneram
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
The story of José María Santiago de Villafranca y Macondo, as told to Punch MacElligot
A hundred years ago, there was a monastery just there, across the valley. The monks there protected the secret of the Sun God, and for it they lived simple lives dedicated to silent meditation and to ancient mystical warrior training, so that they could easily — and spectacularly — defeat anyone who came after their treasure.
The Sun God’s treasure, you see, was vast, and never did a week go by without a Spanish fleet or a corsair ship poking around for trouble. The monks fought them off relentlessly, and soon the flaming plains beneath the monastery became a graveyard for their enemies, a place of bleached white bones and endless fire. Thanks to the monks’ vigilance, the secret and the treasure were kept safe for over nine hundred years.
That is, until the arrival of me: José María Santiago de Villafranca y Macondo.
In my youth I was known as something of a problem solver. Anyone from Barcelona to Gibraltar could tell you that when all else had failed, and you needed something accomplished no matter what, then José María Santiago de Villafranca y Macondo was the only man for the job. Those same people could also tell you that if your enemies needed a problem solved and had money to burn, then your worst fears were come to life, for Villafranca left behind trails of tears and blood wherever he went.
Because of my reputation, an alliance of dangerous men sought me out and offered my three times the normal rate if I could get into the Monastery of the Sun and retrieve the treasure, and six times the normal rate if I could bring back the Sun God’s great secret, as well. I was young and foolish, and of course money meant a great deal to me then. How could I not accept?
I prepared very well for the theft. The Arabic Library at Málaga held rare texts about the Sun God and his caretakers, and I read them all. I traveled the world for seven years, learning anything and everything I could that might help to defeat them.
I lived with monks in the Himachal Pradesh. I began to see my soul deep in the Sri Lankan jungle. I was taught remarkable survival skills in the Sahara and beyond by the Tuareg. In eastern Africa I learned how to take down a gazelle while blindfolded. I remained motionless in a temple in Ayutthaya for over a month, oblivious to the outside world, yet for the first time understanding what it is to be man.
I spent a second month on a hilltop in the Huanglong Valley, oblivious to my own human need, yet understanding Mother Earth and her complicated daily life. I sailed cleanly off the edge of my mind, probably because of the trichinosis I’d gotten from eating raw polar bear liver.
At long last, I was ready. I decided to go alone. After all, vast armies had laid siege to the Monastery of the Sun and failed, proving the ineffectiveness of force. The league of dangerous men provided me with a ship in Porto Santo, and I left the sweet soil of my native planet for the last time. During the voyage I meditated and prepared myself mentally for what lay ahead.
As you know, the planet Mercury leaves behind a trail of nutrient-rich heat, and in that trail there are numerous life forms, the most mysterious of which is the vivid white Snake of War. It is said that if one defeats the Snake of War in unarmed combat and subsequently roasts its flesh over an open fire, and then eats it annointed with the tears of a new widow and with a side of mashed parsnips topped with sweet almond butter, then he will gain the ability to understand the speech of animals. I did this, and gained great power.
I arrived on the Sun and made camp in the roiling lava hills just across the plain from the Monastery, and laid out traps to catch a Sun kookaburra, or in a pinch perhaps a Sun chickadee or even a Sun swallow.
To my surprise, the next morning I found a beautiful bright orange Sun squirrel glowing at me, and begging to be let go. The two of us made an agreement: I would release her, and in exchange she would tell me about infiltrating the Monastery of the Sun and defeating its protectors.
The story of the Monastery of the Sun, as told to Villafranca by a Squirrel
When the Sun God first built his Monastery, it was a quiet place, where those who sought true inner peace could while away the hours in silent contemplation. None of the monks knew the art of battle, and the Sun God was respected and worshipped not as a source of power, but as the spring from which all life abounded.
Because the monks were solemn people who thought much and did little, they understood the art of construction very poorly, and found themselves quite unable to build a monument worthy of their god. So they were forced to hire labor from outside the Order, and because of the dangerous conditions here on the Sun’s surface, the Builders’ Union charged outrageous rates.
Being but poor monks, the Sun God’s followers were forced to find non-union workers, who did a shoddy job, but at least worked at cut-rate prices.
Over the years, as the Sun God’s power and wealth grew, and the monks learned the sacred art of intimidation, the Monastery was remade into a grand palace, both fabulous and foreboding. However, the most ancient parts of the structure, not only the central shrine but the outermost wall as well, were considered holy ground, and as such could never be rebuilt.
Here is where you may find your entry point: the sun mortar crumbles along the rear wall, and where you see the eaves of a lone solar tree on the other side, the wall will fail altogether with enough force.
I learned these things while gathering solar nuts from that tree, and listening to the monks pray.
The Prayer of a Monk of the Sun, as overheard by a Squirrel
Dear Mr. God of the Sun,
How are you? I am fine. I am very happy to know that the tree you gave us is doing well. Please don’t let anyone else know your secret: that if the tree is ever knocked down by accident, then whoever knocked it down gets all the unlimited powers of the genies combined, and also a mountain bike. Also, we ask that you please clear up that rash that’s been going around, for it makes your servants most uncomfortable.
Amen, and P.S. thanks for all the free heat and light!
Villafranca, to MacElligot
How to do something by accident, when that is one’s true intention? Alas, I never discovered how, and I never gained the Sun God’s immense power. Still, I was able to infiltrate the palace. What a fight those monks put up! For six days and nights we battled relentlessly. Fists swung, blood flew; tears were shed by me and many others.
One by one the servants of the Sun God fell as I delved deeper and deeper into the Monastery, which was composed of many concentric layers, each nestled within the last. Though I slew many men, I found no gold or silver or other treasures, and soon began to worry that the dangerous men may have been mistaken, and that the riches were bogus: riches of the soul or some such foolishness.
Even after vanquishing the last of my foes, the prize was nowhere to be found. An exhaustive search turned up nothing except ever-deepening layers of meaninglessness. A hundred years I spent pouring over every last inch of the palace, and every day for a hundred years I was disappointed. Eventually I decided to go mad, and wander the burning plains forever in search of an answer.
From the Adventures of Punch MacElligot, of her Majesty the Mother Earth, who Lived and Toiled a Thousand Years Alone on the Sun before Seeking and Finding His Own Way — Last page
A magical, wish-granting tree?
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Lee Kneram