In the Economy of Life
by R. C. Capasso
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
Then he appeared. Again, I say “he.” If I have issues with difficult people and call them “men,” I’ll clean up my language when I proofread.
The dying one came from the same direction as the others, but even I could see the difference. I would have guessed he wasn’t a Baleg; he didn’t move like them. ‘I’m not going,” the ‘dying’ one said before anyone could even approach.
The technicians sagged. One reached for him, and the other tried to reach, too. But the dying one snatched his hands away and went to stand, his back to us.
“He won’t go gentle?” I asked. “I thought you had no choice.”
Poreh put a hand to his thin throat. “He was not prepared.”
“This one... at emergence... this one was not prepared. The one who passed before did not reach out mentally, did not teach or answer or prepare. When this one then emerged...”
Poreh paused. “Narien could not fully join us. Narien has caused great pain among all of us.”
“How could that happen?”
Poreh’s head drooped. “Narien’s predecessor never came to the passage area. All Balegs sense when our time is coming; we feel the internal call to come here, with our life’s harvest, ready to prepare our successor.
“But something happened to Narien’s predecessor; that one could not or would not come to the passage. A flaw, a decision... We don’t know. When Narien appeared, there was no meeting, no preparation. It was the first time that had ever happened. We thought Narien would not live, but a kind of life was produced. Flawed.”
The dying one had stepped back toward the way it had come, as if he would refuse to die. Yet he trembled, as if he couldn’t leave, either.
Poreh wrenched his eyes from the sight and glanced at me. “Each passing one names the emergent one. It is crucial to the new one’s essence. But this one was given no name. No name, no heritage. Nothing prepared. We others had to name this one after emerging.”
“And you called it?
“Narien. In your language it means...” — I felt Poreh searching my brain — “it means Blank. It was cruel to name him so, but others had to be warned that he was unprepared. Unfortunately a stigma attached to the name. Many feared this unprepared one. And with reason. But the name did not help adaptation to our world. I opposed its use, but I didn’t make the decision.”
“So he’s been trouble. No one will mourn his passing?”
“Mourn?” Poreh tried to search my mind and gave up, turning from me to the sight of Narien, his back to all of us.
“There is no sadness when the departing one prepares the emergent. Preparation occupies all our lives. We come, arms full of light. Bits we’ve collected throughout our full existence, like smooth stones or seashells picked up in a walk. Each brings something: stories, laws, questions, jokes, instruments, inventions, leaves, seeds. Our deaths are lovely.”
Poreh touched his head. “But the unprepared one cannot do this. The unprepared one was weakened from the outset.”
There was a rustle, and two other Balegs, apparently not technicians, entered the preparation area. “Narien.”
The “unprepared one” didn’t answer. There was a rigidity to his body, bones or filaments that seemed to stick out, where the Balegs are smooth and supple. You could tell that no one wanted to touch him.
“Narien, you must prepare or leave.”
“Leave?” The word shot out from my guide, and he moved forward, brushing through the honey-colored beads and into the passage area. I almost followed, but I stopped myself.
“He can’t leave! That is death without life!”
The other speaker, someone who seemed to radiate authority, looked at Poreh and spoke with a raw voice. “I know that as well as you. But can we allow this to continue? Another unprepared one to take Narien’s place? Let us end this quickly and close the door to a successor.”
“That will bring incompleteness to all of us.” Poreh was turning a dark, brownish green, the color of a bruise.
“What other solution is there? We cannot give Narien more time to prepare. We cannot risk what Narien prepares.”
Narien turned now, facing the others. His limbs were shaking.
Poreh stepped forward. “Narien, please. This is your last chance to be one of us.”
At those words Narien leapt forward, coming within inches of Poreh, who didn’t even flinch. “One of you? I never was. Why should I want to be?” He had a high, cutting voice.
I must have moved; I wanted to go after Poreh and pull him out of there.
Narien’s eyes caught sight of me through the curtain of tear-like stones. He pushed past the others, leapt over the flowing channel, and moved toward me, dark eyes on my face. “You see these beings, what they ask? They want me to prepare someone? I have nothing but nothingness to give!”
Poreh called Narien’s name and I froze, trying not to breathe. In the next instant Narien put his hands through the stones and clamped one on each side of my head. His mind reached into mine, burning like nothing I’ve ever felt, battering against my skull, tearing through to find something I didn’t have.
“What do I give the next one?” echoed in my head. “Hunger and isolation? Madness and tears?”
“Are you afraid?” I asked, as his eyes bored into me.
One of the technicians suddenly spoke. “No, it’s shame. And sorrow. For being unable to contribute to the balance. This one’s existence has been a wound, a weakness. And this one’s death...”
“This one’s death will diminish us,” said the fierce Baleg.
Poreh bent, his countenance going almost pure white. “This one has suffered so much,” he murmured.
Narien still stared at me, fingers boring into my temples, and I heard myself speak sharply. “If Narien is defective and goes back into the planet...”
“A tiny part of Narien’s darkness will be in all of us,” a technician said.
“Don’t you want to prevent that?” My eyes were locked on Narien, but I don’t know who I was asking.
For a second, his anguish throbbed through me. Then a thought that was not mine sprang from my lips. “What will you do to the emerging one?”
None of them answered. The light from the emergent tunnel was faint, beating but wavering. Narien’s eyes went to it slowly, though his grip on me did not ease a fraction.
Then my voice spoke another thought. “But Narien came.”
The others froze, then turned toward us, locked as we were, brain within brain.
I insisted. “Narien’s predecessor did not hear the internal call, but Narien did.”
“Yes! Yes!” Poreh exclaimed, turning to the others. “Do you hear what the other-worlder says? Narien felt the call!”
“But what is prepared?” one of them demanded. “Some strange dark strain of illness to pulse into our life?”
Poreh pushed toward his questioner. “How can that darkness be healed if we do not take it into ourselves? It would be cruelty to cast him out. And we would forever feel the absence, which is so much worse than darkness.”
Narien half-turned toward Poreh. His hands slipped, his brain moved from mine, and its fever receded. I took a step back, almost falling.
“Have you brought nothing?” Poreh asked softly, stepping to Narien.
Narien looked down. Slowly he pulled something from around his neck, a slip of tattered cloth with faded markings.
Poreh took it between his fingers, looking at Narien. “This is...?”
“The new one’s name.” Narien’s voice fell to a bare whisper. “Eloyah.”
“Eloyah,” Poreh repeated. “That is good.” Poreh looked at the angry officials. “This is enough.”
One shrugged, turned and left. The other bowed his head a moment, then headed toward me, moving between the beads to take his place at my side.
Poreh remained in the passage area, his eyes now lifted toward the left, where the faint light began to grow. Laying his hand on the side of Narien’s head, Poreh gestured him toward the death husk.
“What does that name mean?” I asked my new companion.
The official kept its eyes on Narien and said, simply, “Voice.”
Narien lowered himself into the husk now, hands clutching the cloth and mouth working quickly, stumbling over sounds.
“What is he doing?” I asked.
“Narien calls them curses,” my companion said. “But they form a little dark music. Perhaps the new one can make something out of them.”
The funeral actually concluded as the others had. The two husks touched, the death one closing, the emergent one opening. As Narien slid down the stream, the other Balegs lifted their heads to take part in the only funeral oration their species knows. Eyes on the disappearing husk, they all said with one voice, “In the economy of life, there is love.”
Then they turned toward the new one, opening with a faint rustle.
I shall remember the Balegs’ eulogy as both a hail and farewell.
Copyright © 2014 by R. C. Capasso