Noah’s Boy – Snippet 32
Jao plucked at his bottom lip with thumb and forefinger. “I am not old enough to have experience of the long sleep ever happening to the Great Sky Dragon, and if it happened before you were born, sire, it would not matter anyway, because who could say what had happened. The Dragon didn’t have a son’s son who could shift, so the power wouldn’t pass. It would be lost as it was to other lines.”
Tom took a deep breath. So, that question was tabled as a qualified “no” as in “no, they had no idea if the power passed on temporary death or not.” He glanced at Joe, who was looking very smug and happy with himself, which, frankly, in Tom’s experience was not really a good thing. “Do you care to explain to me,” Tom said, softly, to no one in particular. “What all this stuff about passing the knowledge or the power is? I’ve experienced,” he said, lifting his hand, as he guessed what Jao had opened his lips to explain. “I’ve experienced it as having file upon file in my head, which will open if I touch them so I can look within. I know there’s some mechanism to integrate it wall, I can feel that, but I don’t know what the mechanism is. They seem to be the memories of the Great Sky Dragon, or perhaps of many Great Sky Dragons.”
“Many,” Jao said. He looked grave. “All of them, since… since the beginning.”
“Since we came to Earth, he means,” Old Joe said. “And it might be all of their minds you have in you, dragon-boy, but you can’t use them all nor know what it all means without –”
“We don’t know how it passes,” Jao cut in, with every appearance of a man intercepting a dangerous pass. “We just know by tradition that when the Great Sky Dragon dies, his oldest male descendant on the unbroken male line, receives all these memories. They help guide him in the difficult times ahead and they –”
“You said if the Great Sky Dragon had experienced even the temporary death before I was born no one would have known because it would only mean it had been lost, like the other lines. What other lines?”
“The lines…” Jao said. “Other shifter lines.”
“There were fifteen when they came to Earth. Fifteen different lines,” Old Joe said. “The cats and the flyers and… many others. But only the son’s son can inherit and not all lines produced that. Only the dragons are left.”
Tom took a deep breath. He looked at Kyrie. “And for all I care it too can go.”
Instantly, shocked, he found himself in between Old Joe and Jao, both of them yelling at him that he didn’t know what he was saying, and that it must not happen. He ignored Jao. He looked at Old Joe “Why? Why should I care about keeping that knowledge.”
“Because that knowledge is the only thing that will allow us to survive, dragon-boy. They’ve found us now, and only that will allow us to stay alive here. We have nowhere else to go.”
Tom blinked at old Joe. “What? Who are they? What is this all about?”
“You don’t know, and you can’t know until the knowledge in you is activated. I don’t know either, only what I heard over many centuries over, gossip-legends.”
“What do you mean until the knowledge is activated?”
“He means,” Jao said. Then appeared to think about it. “He means nonsense. He’s clearly insane. There are legends that –”
Old Joe cackled unpleasantly. “I’m clearly insane? So, when your Great Sky Dragon went missing, they didn’t also get the artifact? You have the artifact?”
“The artifact?” Tom asked, feeling like he had been dumped in the middle of a family argument referring events he’d never even guessed at.
Jao looked like he had a headache. He put two fingers in the middle of his forehead, as though to contain it, or perhaps to prevent a third eye from popping open. Right then, Tom wouldn’t put that past him, either. “He means the Pearl of Heaven.”
“What? You lost that?” Tom asked, remembering the two-hand size pearl, smooth and shining in his hands. “Again?”
And Kyrie stood up. Tom could easily see she meant to take over.
* * *
Kyrie hadn’t meant to speak up, but it seemed to her that Tom, Jao and old Joe were all talking at cross purposes and she wanted to know for sure what was happening.
Part of her rebelled at the mystical implications of knowledge that passed at the death of someone onto someone whose relation with the possessor of knowledge was that possessor’s long-distant siring of a remote ancestor. But how could someone who shifted into a panther whenever she wanted, and sometimes when she didn’t want at all doubt the existence of strange, non-material things?
However, one way or another, the thing she was sure of was that this was too strange, too diffuse, and not at all rational. She stood up. “Now, both of you have said that we came from elsewhere, we shifters. From which I understand you to mean our really distant ancestors, since at least I don’t think I’ve come from anywhere, and I’m fairly sure that none of you has either.” She wasn’t sure, of course, when it came to Old Joe. And she didn’t know if he was sure, either. But she glared at one and then the other of them, doing her best “grown up among children” expression, until Jao sighed.
“This is legend, and we can’t be sure, but our ancestors said, and passed among us, from generation to generation, the idea that our ancestors came from other worlds to this one, the last refuge of our kind who were…” He made a face. “You could call it rebels of some form of empire or kingdom.”
“But almost every culture on Earth has such legends,” Tom said, then closed his lips hard, as though he hadn’t meant to speak at all.
“Yes,” Jao said, and then, as though remembering that Tom was supposed to be in charge. “Yes, sire, but perhaps those legends come from us.”
Old Joe put both hands in the air. He had backed up from Tom, after his outburst where he’d yelled at him that no, no, he couldn’t so blithely put an end to dragonkind of the sort that could inherit the dragon egg. Old Joe wiggled his fingers food-greasy, and spoke in a tone that betrayed that this was something he had learned early in childhood, “Twice many times many thousands years ago,” he wiggled his fingers as though to symbolize all the time that had passed. “Our ancestors came from the stars, running from vile oppression from…” he struggled as if for words. “From the others with no body, and they ran to Earth which was then…” Another hesitation, and Kyrie got the impression that what he was saying had been learned in some other language, probably one so ancient that he could barely remember it himself, one so ancient that she was sure no one else on Earth would know it. She also had a feeling that in that language the words had rhymed. “Which was then verdant and luscious but had yet few animals. And our people, the people-from-other-worlds mingled their … their essence with other people from this world so they would have variable bodies, because they thought that they would be able to…” he paused and looked like he was doing some complex calculation on his head. “They thought they would be able to hide should the others come looking for them, which they thought would happen in no time at all. But the locks on the portals of the world held and for many, many hundreds of thousands.” Again he wiggled his fingers as if to signify that many. “Of father son and father son, the story passed on. To be aware of the others. And in the lines, the knowledge passed father son, father son, but it will not pass through daughter, and when sons not born, the great lines died out.” He shook his head, in an impression of perfect sadness. Then shrugged, shambled back to where he’d been and sat down.
Kyrie wondered if this meeting, with people squatting around was like meetings that Old Joe must have sat around when he was young. But none of this made sense. “But our people… people like us can’t have come to the world before there were humans,” she said, in a tone that betrayed that her last nerve was about to fray. She felt it was. This was important and real, and involved Tom’s mental health, and she did not wish to sit around and listen to Neolithic legends. “Because we can mate with humans. And … we’re humans.”
There was a long silence. Jao opened his mouth, then closed it, and Tom shrugged, as if to indicate none of it mattered, but if it had something to do with how they’d got into the here-now mess, it very well did matter.
“I don’t know,” Bea said at last, after clearing her throat. “But perhaps the reason there are humans is us?”
Everyone stared at her.
She shrugged. “Look, I studied comparative myth in college last year, and there is this Indian sect that believes the idea-form of animals and humans first came to the Earth and that this created humans and… and other animals. Kind of an intelligent design on turbo and without necessarily a God as such.” She lifted her hands. “I’m not saying that’s true. My parents are religious and I think I am too. I haven’t been alive to long enough to know better than my parents. But the thing is, even if life on Earth didn’t evolve — or human life on Earth didn’t involve a creator, doesn’t mean that life or human life didn’t have a creator, wherever it came from. It just means that here it was our people…