The Jewels of Aptor

Afterwards, she was taken down to the sea.

She didn’t feel too well, so she sat on a rock down where the sand was wet and scrunched her bare toes in and out of the cool surface.

She turned away, looked toward the water, and hunched her shoulders a little. “I think it was awful,” she said. “I think it was pretty terrible. Why did you show it to me? He was just a little boy. What reason could they have possibly had for doing that to him?”

“It was just a film,” he said. “We showed it to you so you would learn.”

“But it was a film of something that really happened.”

“It happened several years ago, several hundred miles away.”

“But it did happen; you used a tight beam to spy on them, and when the image came in on the vision screen, you made a film of it, and--But why did you show it to me?”

“What have we been teaching you?”

But she couldn’t think, and only had the picture in her mind, vivid movements, scarlets, and bright agony. “He was just a child,” she said. “He couldn’t have been more than eleven or twelve.”

“You are just a child,” he said. “You are not sixteen yet.”

“What was I supposed to learn?”

“Look around you,” he said. “You should see something.”

But the picture in her mind was still too vivid, too bright.

“You should be able to learn it right here on this beach, in the trees back there, in the rocks, in the bleached shells around your feet. You do see it; you just don’t recognize it.” Suddenly he changed his tone. “Actually you’re a very fine student. You learn quickly. Do you remember anything about telepathy? You studied it months ago.”

“‘By a method similar to radio broadcast and reception, ‘“ she recited, “‘the synapse patterns of conscious thoughts are read from one cranial cortex and duplicated in another, resulting in similar sensual impressions experienced--’” Suddenly she broke off. “But I can’t do it, so it doesn’t help me any!”

“What about history, then?” he said. “You did extremely well during the examination. What good does knowing about all the happenings in the world before and after the Great Fire do you?”

“Well, it’s...” she started. “It’s just interesting.”

“The film you saw,” he said, “was, in a way, history. That is, it happened in the past.”

“But it was so--” Again she stopped. “--horrible!”

“Does history fascinate you because it’s just interesting?” he asked. “Or does it do something else? Don’t you ever want to know what the reason is behind some of the things these people do in the pages of the books?”

“Yes, I want to know the reasons,” she said. “Like I want to know the reason they nailed that man to the oaken cross. I want to know why they did that to him.”

“A good question,” he mused. “Which reminds me, at about the same time as they were nailing him to that cross, it was decided in China that the forces of the universe were to be represented by a circle, half black, half white. But to remind themselves that there was no pure force, no purely unique reason, they put a spot of white paint in the black half and a spot of black paint in the white. Isn’t that interesting?”

She looked at him and wondered how he had gotten from one to the other. But he was going on.

“And do you remember the goldsmith, the lover, how he recorded in his autobiography that at age four, he and his father saw the Fabulous Salamander on their hearth by the fire; and his father suddenly smacked the boy ten feet across the room into a rack of kettles, saying something to the effect that little Cellini was too young to remember the incident unless some pain accompanied it.”

“I remember that story,” she said. “And I remember that Cellini said that he wasn’t sure if the smack was the reason he remembered the Salamander, or the Salamander the reason he remembered the smack.”

“Yes, yes!” he cried. “That’s it. The reason, the reasons ... Don’t you see the pattern?”

“Only I don’t know what a Salamander is,” she told him.

“Well, it’s like the blue lizards that sing outside your window sometimes,” he explained. “Only it isn’t blue, and it doesn’t sing.”

“Then why should anyone want to remember it?” she grinned. It was an attempt to annoy him, but he was not looking at her, and was talking of something else.

“And the painter,” he was saying, “he was a friend of Cellini, you remember, in Florence. He was painting a picture of “La Gioconda.” As a matter of fact, he had to take time from the already crumbling picture of “The Last Supper” of the man who was nailed to the cross of oak to paint her. And he put a smile on her face of which men asked for centuries, ‘What is the reason she smiles so strangely?’ Yes, the reason, don’t you see? Just look around.”

“What about the Great Fire?” she asked. “When they dropped flames from the skies and the harbors boiled, that was reasonless. That was like what they did to that boy.”

“Oh no,” he said to her. “Not reasonless. True, when the Great Fire came, people all over the earth screamed, ‘Why? Why? How can man do this to man? What is the reason?’ But just look around you, right here. On this beach.”

“I guess I can’t see it yet,” she said. “I can just see what they did to him, and it was awful.”

“Well,” said the man in the dark robe, “perhaps when you stop seeing what they did so vividly, you will start seeing why they did it. I think it’s time for us to go back now.”

As she slid off the rock and started walking beside him, barefooted in the sand, she asked, “That boy--I wasn’t sure, he was all tied up, but he had four arms, didn’t he?”

“He did.”

“You know, I can’t just go around saying it was awful. I think I’m going to write a poem. Or make something. Or both. I’ve got to get it out of my head.”

“That wouldn’t be a bad idea,” he mumbled as they approached the trees in front of the river. “Not at all.”

And several days later, and several hundred miles away...

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Story tagged with:
Science Fiction / Novel-Classic /