The birth was savage, brutal in its intensity. The womb of that savage rebirth shivered, the scars of predatory savages shivering beside the battered filth of the crystalisk proper. The being within struggled, fought, struggling for life and the actualisation of its potential.
At first the womb held. It shivered, the mothering protector for so long it knew no other means of existence. The reality of this act was as intimate and frightening to it as the very implosion of the world. It existed solely as the womb, and it would risk becoming a prison if it must, the exhibition of potentialities own filicide. Yet that transformation was never to take place.
The first cracks shuddered across the crystalisk with sudden violent intensity. With each strike of life within the prison bars shuddered, the former womb crumbling as its newborn prisoner fought for its very existence. Existentialism drove every savage strike until the walls of that motherly prison began to tumble to the swamp below.
Mera watched the struggle in the vegetation before her. The crystalisk shuddered, shifted, moving in savage puppetting motions as the life within took its first breath beyond the womb-prison of its birth. Compound eyes stared down as the being within became the virgin witness to the outer world.
The young nun kept quiet as the creature emerged. Glossy carapace the colour of unspoilt oceans felt the first kiss of night air. There came the sudden flutter of wings, the curl of a vast tail. Then the being stood in shocked realisation, compound eyes scanning its surroundings with childlike amusement.
Those eyes turned to regard Mera. For the briefest instant the young nun felt the beings thoughts, unspoiled freedoms washing its awareness with wrapt joy. The nun smiled, feeling expression grow beyond her own controlling awareness, an organic thing of its own volition.
The dragonfly sat for a long moment as if regarding her with newborn interest. Compound eyes gazed into her own as fluttering wings shook off the last dregs of its birth freedom yet weighing it down. The being tilted its head, rising on its virgin flight, disappearing beyond the weak light of Mera’s lamp pack.
“They don't live long, you know.”
Maia started at the voice. She turned, the sudden motion causing the little boat to rock in the water. She grabbed the edge of the boat in surprise, her eyes returning to the other occupant of the boat.
“Distracted, are we?” Jonah breathed, half lidded eyes blankly staring at nothing. A rumbling escaped his throat, low and deep. The sound of his meditations shivered the small boat they sat in, sending miniature ripples through the surrounding swamp.
Maia scowled, the weak light of the paper lamp beside her accentuating it to a deep snarl.
“Do you always have to ruin everything brother Jonah?” she hissed, still keeping her voice low. Secrecy was the key to their purpose, a fact neither could avoid. Maia snarled inwardly, wondering at the odd logic that must have pushed the deacon to place them together.
Jonah smiled, a small impish thing within the long fall of his features.
“For all that work, the dragonfly will spend three weks of life in flight” the monk breathed between his quiet rumbling. “Three weeks. That is all. They die then, unable to retain their life, even here on this green new world. Their spawn are born without parents, forced to live in the haunted dark of the swamp yet again, as their elders did before them.” Jonah took a series of deep breaths, seeking to flood his blood with the rich kiss of oxygenated air. “A never ending cycle. How I pity them, little sister.”
Maia bit back a retort. She hated the dismissal implied by the moniker he used. Despite his middle years, Jonah still bore the faded yellow robes of a novice as she did. His persistence that he stood above her in any way gave credence to the deacon’s dismissal for the man.
The young nun eyed the monk. He breathed deploy, his eye lids slowly parting as his breathing increased in speed. Maia sighed, seeing the pinprick pupil in Jonah’s eyes, the red flare of his cheeks and neck that refused to shift with the exercises. The monk simply went through the motions, fear and ill-faith drawing him away from meaningful reflection.
From true enlightenment.
Maia turned from the old monk, young eyes roving the thick mangrove swamp. Here and there she could see the faint outline of other small vessels, their meagre light barely reaching her even when they sat a dozen yards away. On several of the closest she could see other holy men, small duos and trios of monks and nuns crouched and waiting on their little wooden boats. Maia sighed. Tension seethed in the air, heavy with latent intent.
“Does it upset you that they die, little sister?” Jonah asked, snide curiosity in his whispered question. Maia rolled her eyes, her own frustration beginning to mount as she turned to the crouching monk.
“All things die, Brother Jonah” she stated flatly, hoping the finality in her voice would end his antagonism. Instead he simply smiled below his half lidded eyes.
“It is the way of things, little sister” he hissed. “So it goes with Man. We emerge from the womb of Old Earth, ugly ape things with meagre stone clubs. We hide away, some of us at least, keeping our thoughts like the mire. Only a handful achieve a single heart beats flight.” His eyes roved the mangrove swamp, sweeping the massive trees that climbed like pillars from the water, the meagre vessels that nestled and hid beneath them. “And so we return, falling, back into the mire…”
Maia watched him trail off, saw the despondency lost deep in those unfocused pale blue eyes. The young nun saw him then, her eyes painting the image of the very fly spawn he spoke of. Jonah was himself crawling in the mire, his fear of the coming conflict driving his mind into the same state he spoke of.
Maia returned her eyes to the water, her gaze alighting on a small vessel only a dozen yards from their own. In the meagre light she could see them there, their faces twisted into masks of determination, of hard flinty intentions. They were committed, she knew, their hands clasping the same mix of antique training weaponry currently lying within their own boat.
“You are wrong, brother.” she whispered as she stared at her fellow monks across the waterway. “Your thoughts are solely clouded by fear. You don't believe that.”
She heard a sudden snort behind her. Jonah shuffled where he sat, his motion knocking the flamer pistol at his feet.
“This is stupid, girl” Jonah hissed, still managing to keep his voice down despite his obvious anger. “The entire abbey has been emptied out across the waters, every hermit and nun and cloistered holy man across the equator is holed up in little boats and bridge-burners waiting for those dissidents and mad men to pass.” Jonah spat those words, animated by his anger. The entire motion failed to dispel the image that overlaid him in Maia’s mind; the fetid bottom feeder fly larva sitting in her boat. “And for what? To stop governments cracking down? I left Earth to get away from all this skitrah! Now look where we are.”
Jonah seemed to dissolve at that, his despondency returning. Maia turned at the light creak of wood, seeing the older monk curl in on himself. Within the blanket of impending violence lieing heavy across the mangrove swamps his motion seemed primitive, childish in the face of what was being performed here. Maia frowned, breathing her frustration from her body as she had been taught.
“The government has been growing more tyrannical for years” Maia said flatly, repeating the words the deacon had confided to her when she had last been in his presence. The young nun sighed, thinking of the heavily lined face, the kindly eyes worn down by the ferocious immensity of the moment. “The deacon did not mobilise the entire sect without reason. People are dying Jonah, good people, innocent people.” She turned fully, her eyes locked on the sad despondent orbs of the monk's face. “And then the monks, Jonah. The city monks are fleeing, escaping the violence and the beatings the government orders for them. You have spoken to the refugees yourself. Surely you know the reasons we are here.”
Jonah grumbled under his breath. His earlier hissing tirade had dissipated fully now. The older monk held himself, staring into the waters before him, one hand massaging his temple in distracted circles. Maia grunted, seeing the mental trap the monk had set himself. Whatever lay in the older novice’s past was buried deep, a matter that weighed him down in the very mire he spoke of. Whilst he decried the cycle he spoke of he unwittingly refused it.
He remained in the mire, lost in the muck at the bottom of creation. Unlike her dragonfly, Maia knew he would never break free of the yoke of his birth. What could one so weighed down know of the heights that could be experienced if he was to risk the crystalisk.
A low note reached her ears then, a trembling base at the lowest level of hearing. Maia turned, knowing the sound intimately, aware that it could not be truly heard unless the listener knew what to look for. The sound issued from a host of a hundred mouths, swallowing the base layer of auditory sense with the intent of a thousand ready rebels.
Maia joined the sound, adding her low Om to the call.
The monks were on the move.
She reached down the little boat with care, trying to avoid the pistols and blades within the little boat's deck. She reached out a hand, callused fingertips extinguishing the small light of the paper lamp. Greater darkness swallowed her boat, repeating again and again until only a hint of starlight through over hanging trees could distinguish anything around her, save for a solitary light in the distance.
Maia watched, crouching at the fore of the boat. The light grew steadily closer, bringing with it the sounds of savage laughter. A man’s voice came with it, loaded, threatening, his words lost in the heavy weight of his city born accent. Another answered him, a woman, heavy with command but just as threatening.
Maia slowly backed her way down the boat.
The prison ship was here. It was time.
Something cold touched her hand. She started, turning to see Jonah’s face. The man's features were twisted in reluctance, his jaw set in frustration. Silently he held his hand up, the grip of the flamer pistol pointed towards her.
She took the proffered weapon, smiling slightly. He did not return the gesture even slightly, the meagre light of star and prison ship doing nothing to reveal his pleasure. Maia turned back to the approaching boat as he moved away to grasp the rudder lever to get them moving.
Maia lowered herself down as the boat began to move forwards. She shivered, feeling the immensity of what was approaching. The repercussions staggered her.
She tried to silence the butterflies of her stomach, remembering the elderly deacon, his lined face, his finality. She pulled strength from that image. The young nun closed her eyes, breathing deep, reciting a mantra with silent lips.
It was time to break from the crystalisk. To break free of the womb-turned-prison which held them.
It was time to be free.