After   completing   a   preliminary   telemetry   check,   Joden   was   given   a   moment to   forget   his   gauges   and   controls,   and   to   view   the   spectacle   that   is   the   privilege of   so   few   to   behold.   With   the   Centaurus   1   now   pitched   to   an   attitude   of   60 degrees,   he   could   see   through   the   cabin   window-array   the   brilliant   form   of   the Earth in the midst of fathomless, star-decked space. Although   Joden   had   experienced   this   uniquely   objective   view   of   his   world before,   somehow   this   occasion   was   different.   Perhaps   it   was   because   this   time he    was    alone—like    a    sage    alone    on    a    high    mountain—without    the    earthly influence   of   any   other   human   being.   He   was   seeing   his   world   no   longer   as   the world,   but   a   small   part   of   the   world,   which   was   nothing   less   than   a   spatial ocean   of   a   billion   planets   and   suns.   The   Earth,   a   moment   ago   the   seeming entirety   of   Creation’s   significance,   was   now   a   distant   object   in   the   window,   a something   apart   from   him;   and   the   universe,   once   a   faded   backdrop   hanging behind    his    life’s    arena    on    the    occasion    of    a    clear    night,    was    now    the foreground all-pervading reality.
He   placed   the   transmitter   back   on   its   mount   on   the   control   panel,   flicking   a switch   to   see   that   it   was   in   working   order.   An   LED   window   displayed   the message: RECEIVING STATION BEYOND RANGE LIMIT. “Beyond    range    limit!?”    He    tampered    with    the    COM    link    some    more, somewhat    frantically,    and    to    no    avail.    The    same    disconcerting    message displayed. “Beyond   range   limit?   How   long   was   I   out   for?”   There   was   no   way   of   telling. He looked at his watch to find it flashing zeroes. “Where   am   I?”   Breathing   rapidly   now,   Joden   peered   out   of   a   cabin   window. A   brief   study   of   the   sky   and   a   cold   energy   flushed   through   his   body:   he   could not identify a single star constellation.
He   ate   the   vibrant   fruits   until   he   was   no   longer   hungry,   then   he   rose   from   his seat    to    step    down    a    nearby    series    of    naturally-set    stones    leading    into    the water.   His   feet   came   to   rest   on   a   stone   a   few   inches   below   the   surface,   and   he crouched   down   to   penetrate   the   mirror-like   aspect   of   the   stream   with   his   eyes, wondering   if   any   fish   might   come   to   play   with   him   this   day.   As   he   was   peering dreamily   into   the   water,   the   reflection   of   the   morning   sun   therein   became obscured, and in its place appeared the shimmering image of a man. “Hhh!”   Joden   drew   in   his   breath   and   looked   up   in   fright   at   the   reflection’s source.   But   the   figure   calmly   standing   on   the   other   side   of   the   stream   was smiling   benevolently,   his   eyes   emanating   a   warmth   and   a   glow   that   competed with   the   radiance   of   the   sun   that   shone   behind.   An   arm   was   held   out,   palm toward Joden, in a gesture of friendly greeting.
“Why must I go?” Ajna   could   feel   the   pain   in   the   heart   of   the   young   man   from   Earth.   “I   am sorry,” he said. Joden was looking intensely at him, waiting for an explanation. “You   have   a   lot   of   life   yet   to   live,   Joden.   Alansia   is   a   world   for   those   whose lives   are   over—who   have   resolved   all   endeavour.   There   are   no   dramas   to   be enacted   here.   There   are   no   problems   to   solve,   no   goals   to   attain;   nothing   to fight   for,   nothing   to   fight   against.   What   would   you   do   here?   Alansians   require nothing   more   than   what   this   world   has   provided.”   Ajna   gestured   toward   the fruit-laden   trees   nearby:   “See,   we   have   not   even   to   work   the   land   or   go   to   the market.” Joden   recalled   images   of   his   problem-abounding   planet.   Already   it   seemed remote    and    alien    in    contrast    to    this    one.    “But    I    don’t    want    dramas    and problems,     and     fighting,     and     working     the     land,”     he     said,     knowing subconsciously that it was useless challenging Ajna. “There   is   more   to   the   matter   than   you   perceive,”   said   the   Alansian,   steadily. “Your   being   here   will   disturb   the   equilibrium;   upset   the   balance.   You   have debts   of   action   still   to   pay;   troubles   must   yet   come   to   you,   are   owed   to   you. They    must    not    pursue    you    here,    here    where    trouble    is    owed    to    no    soul. Already   your   people   are   plotting   the   means   to   follow   the   path   of   your   ship; already   your   being   here   has   placed   the   perfect   peace   and   pristine   beauty   of our world in jeopardy.” Joden   was   amazed.   Ajna’s   words   had   revealed   a   perception   that   penetrated deep and far.
“I   must   go   now;   and   you   must   begin   the   refuelling   of   your   ship.   We   will   meet again later.” Joden   was   disappointed   that   Ajna   did   not   continue.   He   waited   for   him   to   rise and take his leave. Curiously    though,    Ajna    did    not    move    from    his    seat;    he    only    shifted    his posture    very    slightly    and    remained    where    he    was,    his    form    becoming motionless,   even   rigid,   like   a   statue.   Joden   observed   that   his   eyes,   only   half open,   were   vacant   and   still   and   not   focused   upon   anything.   The   Alansian   gave the    impression    of    not    being    present.    It    did    not    even    seem    that    he    was breathing. “Ajna?” He did not respond. Joden   stayed   with   him,   staring;   wondering   what   had   happened,   wondering what   to   do,   and   wondering   what   the   man   might   do.   Ajna   had   said   he   was going. Why was he still there? Gradually   Joden   resigned   himself   to   the   fact   that   the   Alansian   was   not   going to   leave   his   seat.   It   was   yet   another   strange   occurrence   for   the   one   from   Earth to   try   and   come   to   terms   with.   Ajna   had   said   he   would   meet   him   later.   He   had to   get   back   to   the   ship   and   begin   the   process   of   recharging   the   fuel-cells.   He would return to the bridge thereafter.
Ajna   had   not   finished:   “The   reason   why   we   have   no   problems   in   this   world   is because   no   one   here   creates   them.   Why   do   you   think   we   do   not   want   your people   to   follow   you   to   Alansia?   Because   we   are   selfish?”   Ajna   shook   his   head. “Because   we   know   that   within   a   moment   of   the   arrival   of   a   single   colony   from your   Earth,   this   world   and   all   that   it   upholds   would   be   desecrated,   its   perfect peace   shattered.   Alansia’s   lands   claimed   and   divided;   its   abundance   robbed, mined   and   ravaged;   bought   and   sold   in   the   marketplace;   rivers   dammed;   trees felled;    animals    penned    and    slaughtered;    fishes    caught    in    nets    and    gutted. Every   last   bane   and   blight   that   now   afflicts   your   Earth   would   be   transported here.   No!   Alansia   is   to   be   reserved   for   those   who   are   worthy   of   the   privilege   of its   Eden;   who   have   overcome   Visias;   who   have   reunited   their   souls   with   the Tasharan;   who   have   no   desire   but   for   the   preservation   of   this   harmony   and peace.”
Hmm,   yes,   but   you   are   asking,   what   do   I   care   about   in   the   world?   You   are wanting   to   know   if   I   concern   myself   with   the   events   that   may   unfold   in   the Leiha, in the play. Listen. “From   Void   it   comes,   this   world,   and   into   Void   it   returns—profiting   nothing, establishing   nothing,   changing   nothing.   Having   before   it   that   Void,   having after    it    that    Void;    the    same    as    it    was.”    The    sage    let    out    another    peel    of laughter.    “The   universe   a   grand   display   of   meaninglessness!   Yet   how   significant   it   all appears.    An    extravagant    facade    of    pretend    purport;    a    gaudy    parade    of glittering     spheres     whirling     aimlessly     in     the     vacuum     of     the     empyrean, spawning   bewildered   puppet   creatures   from   planet   dust   and   vapour.   Bearing meadows    of    pasture,    forests    of    trees;    gardens    of    flowers,    blue    lakes    and streams;   wastelands   and   ice-lands,   lands   furrowed   with   ploughs;   hamlets   and castles,   cities   and   towns.   All   this   from   the   Great   Nothing   comes,   and   into Nothing returns, having achieved— nothing.
“Sir, what exactly is  magic—not pretend magic, but real magic?” “Alright,   listen;   it   can   do   no   harm   to   tell   you   this   much:   first   to   know   magic one   must   know   that   the   world   is   but   the   Tasharan’s   magic,   and   that   nothing   is at    all    how    it    appears    as    being—that    everything    is    one    thing,    and    nothing different to any other thing.” The   sage   plucked   a   blade   of   grass   by   its   root   from   the   ground   where   he   was seated.    “You    see,”    he    continued,    “the    magician—like    the    Great    Magi - cian —must   know   that   a   blade   of   grass   is   no   different   than   the   earth   from which it was sprung.” Upon   saying   this,   a   small   clod   of   rich   deep-brown   soil   replaced   the   suddenly vanished blade of grass between his thumb and fingers. Joden gasped. “And the magician must know that earth is no different than water.” Again   an   instant   metamorphosis:   the   soil   suddenly   a   pool   of   water   held   in the sage’s cupped palm. “Water, in its essence, as fire.” A   dancing   flame   issued   from   his   upturned   hand,   its   radiant   heat   every   bit authentic to Joden’s senses. “And fire, as air.” The flame disappeared as mysteriously as it had appeared. “Now, where went that little blade of grass?” Joden   watched   in   awe   as   the   sage   made   the   original   strand   of   grass   manifest again   between   his   thumb   and   fingers,   and   tenderly   place   it   back   to   the   spot from which he had pulled it. “The   display   of   these   powers,”   he   went   on,   in   a   more   serious   tone,   “has   no real   value   other   than   to   confirm   the   illusory   nature   of   matter.   No   more   shall   I tell—ask of me not.”
Sari   pointed   her   finger   to   the   hills   in   the   distance   beyond   the   meadow.   “See,” she said, in her soft voice, “there is Joden’s spaceship.” Sure   enough,   down   the   way   nestled   amongst   the   hills,   standing   tall,   was   the Centaurus    1,    quietly    awaiting    the    return    of    its    pilot.    Joden    recalled    his doubting that he would ever find it again. Sari knew. As   he   gazed   intently   at   the   abstract   image   of   his   spaceship   in   the   midst   of Alansia’s   heavenly   garden,   he   sensed   a   certain   vibration   from   Sari,   one   that   he easily recognized: the time for parting had come. A   powerful   wave   of   sorrow   broke   high   upon   the   shores   of   his   soul,   engulfing him.   He   turned   toward   her,   wondering   what   scene   the   Great   Dramatist   had prepared   as   the   way   that   they   would   part.   He   suddenly   imagined   Sari   dis - appearing   before   him   into   thin   air   without   a   word.   This   he   could   not   bear;   he embraced her quickly. “Ajna   is   waiting   for   you,”   she   whispered.   “Soon   brave   Joden   must   fly   again amongst the stars.”
As   the   two   craft   steadily   closed   the   gap   that   separated   them,   a   vigilant   crew at   Mission   Control   looked   on   with   grave   concern.   There   was   no   misreading what   their   long-range   monitors   were   telling   them:   at   the   fringe   of   the   solar system were two of their spacecraft on a pinpoint-accuracy collision course.
The    Centaurus’s    trajectory    had    assumed    the    extreme.    When    it    finally exceeded   90   degrees,   Leidman   called   out   in   sudden   realization:   “He’s   flipping the bird— he’s turning it around! Indeed,    Joden    had    considered    it    his    only    chance.    The    two    bodies    were moving   so   fast   that   attacking   from   any   point   head   on,   or   directly   from   the   side against   the   AR47’s   flight   path,   would   be   like   trying   to   hit   a   bullet   from   a   gun. The   only   way   to   conquer   the   elusive   swiftness   of   the   target   was   to   travel   in   the same direction at the same speed. The   Centaurus’s   turnaround   manoeuvre   was   complete.   Joden   was   closing   in; coming up from behind and a way to the port side. His   tactics   augmented   the   confusion   of   the   ground   crew   audience.   “He   must be pretty keen on getting a good photograph,” said Ashley, dryly. “Yeah,”   said   Leidman.   “You   know   what?   I   gave   up   the   Centaurus   as   lost   a month   ago,   and   I’m   ready   to   give   it   up   again   now.   Three   degrees   starboard and that 47’s going to blow it out of the sky.” The   same   thought   was   in   Joden’s   mind.   But   shifting   his   pitch   angle   three degrees starboard was exactly what he was going to do. The   AR47   was   in   range   and   visible   now   through   the   cabin   window-array.   It was   a   peculiar   looking   craft,   a   copper   coloured   rocket-dwarf   with   a   flat   nose and   gadgets   protruding   from   it   that   didn’t   seem   at   all   aerodynamic.   Joden possessed   substantial   knowledge   of   the   AR   series’   avionics,   and   had   seen   this one   on   the   ground   in   storage.   But   he   hadn’t   known   then   that   the   eye   of   the future   was   beholding   him   chasing   its   tail   through   space   with   the   unauthorized intention to destroy it. “Tasharan   be   with   me,”   he   said   through   clenched   teeth,   his   right   hand   firmly, and   as   steadily   as   his   over-stimulated   adrenalin   would   allow,   clasping   the attitude-control stick. He lined up. . .
Excerpts from Alansia
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