The Healer of Worlds © 2019
By Matthew M. Pyke
“And the New World left the Old World. A forgotten war was forgotten. Its actors placed to the side, making room for newer and more lively pieces.”
The Zand’te driven from Cantarris, the war, so very desperate at startling moments, had become a relic of the past, and those swept along with it, were deposited, rather harshly, in the untamed periphery of our young and moody world. It was at the camp, or “Desolation City” the naïve called it, the heartless, “City of the Vanquished” or the true in spirit “Tents of the Broken” that I first met the Zand’te, a former member of an elite strike squadron sent to smote our world; then a cripple in a wheelchair, broken and humiliated, nearly blind, and pushed around by a teenage human girl, with a heart of gold and a deafness to the callous cries of a society long moved on.
In the summer of 10303, towards the end of a particularly dreary and rainy August, I first came into the miseries of the camp, where the Zand’te was residing. A chilly dampness clung to the countryside as brooding low gray clouds meandered over the rugged valley, bordering the massive Zoldstan-Arastan Wilderness, in the northeastern province of Koulzuul in the Ehdo Republic, stained solely with dark fabric tents, massing haphazardly into a shanty border town.
I inquired with the refugee camp’s senior leader, Rand Hollens, an ex-military commander who was unable to find work in the New World, as to the status of the Zand’te. His daughter, Chara, took me to it. We walked among such squalor, sick and dying, that I cannot write these words without drawing a tear to my eye. Though that time has passed, its memory has been forever imprinted in my thoughts, reaching even into my unconscious dreams; but I digress, a moment. The New World, as it was, was a colloquialism that described the reconstructed society of Cantarris, after the war with the Zand’te, the Kopris/Cantarris War. Not all Cantarris fell into this generalization. Remote parts such as the refugee camp were considered part of the Old World and were largely neglected by the then society.
I found the Zand’te resting in its wheelchair, with eyes closed, facing the mist filled mountains of the Arastan Wilderness. Its case was a special one. Though a former antagonist of our people, the human beings that populate this great world, it had been given clemency by Pollon VII, the father of Duke Vashmore, who was in control of the capital, the one who had sent me to hear what the Zand’te had to say. The alien alone was shown leniency by the kind and just Pollon VII, then, surely missed by many. The rest of its kind, in their fighters, were either shot down or killed in the fields as they fled from the flashing rifles of my people…soldiers intent on exacting revenge for the countless slain by the daring invaders.
It was many moments later that the Zand’te opened its burning orange eyes to look at me. It only said, ‘He must hear.’ I remember I shook my head without speaking, and I know, my eyes followed the alien’s scarred and leathery dark green skin that wrapped a twisted and blistered shell, disfigured from conflict. The thought of its being reptilian, much in the form of us, humanoid, with an intelligence at least as great as our own, repulsed me, I’m ashamed to admit. The Zand’te’s home planet, Kopris Prime, was a barren and dusty world with a large red sun; only a single body of water—the Great Sea as they called it—was found on its surface. From what we learned, the world was ancient; their civilization far older than ours. The Zand’te had no first name; we referred to it only by its species name. I had been informed that the alien was dying. I had sat there staring at it for probably too long, thinking how different it was from us and yet strangely similar, when the tent’s wall shook vigorously from a passing gust, waking me from my musings.
The alien made no further attempt at communication, and I recall well, that Hollens’s daughter, Chara, giving me one pleading look; quietly wheeled away the silent wood carver, who was to lead a revolution on Cantarris that not even Pollon I would have believed possible, had he been alive.
My departure from the camp was delayed by a memorable encounter with a man named Hev (short for Hevron) James, who had been a soldier during the war. I did really feel for him; his fiance had died the year previous. I estimated him to be truthful and honest. We talked about many things, about the old days. He seemed torn with remaining there at the camp, and breaking out into the New World, but as I was to find out, his loyalty to the inmates of that place, which included, surprisingly, the alien it was housing, would prove something of potency.
I bid them farewell in that August and through the chilliness and mud of the vast tract of land known simply as Arastan, I made my way back to the capital, with a mind confused and a heart heavy.
It wasn’t until several months later that the revolution began, not by force or with the shouting of angry mobs, pressing incessantly against the established walls of accepted rule, but by a small convoy that had started a journey to the capital on foot and by horse.
When I had arrived to report the matter to Duke Vashmore, Pollon VII was slipping further away and lied very ill (so was the report) and a growing dissension in the capital, muted as it was, against the duke, the ruler’s son, was reaching the ears of those in elevated states. There were food shortages in many places and the price of many commodities was becoming unacceptably high for the working class on the outskirts. A new type of energy, in the form of a compressed mineral, showed promise that could be used to beam power to remote districts, but this was plagued with a plethora of technical problems (which would eventually prove insurmountable). Sadly, the rate of technological improvement, which had exploded after the war, was then beginning to rapidly cool, and for all its purported benefits the Reformation after the Council of Seven, was beginning to be widely doubted. This, however, in no way described the condition of Desolation City; their plight was far worse, as many that fell outside of the new order.
The Duke was not a forgiving nor understanding man, and I was given an earful of reproach as to my handling of the situation. Though I pleaded many times my case before Vashmore, he would not listen, and the remnant of prudence, that dwindling sooty flame that burned feebly in my soul, prompted my lips from forming any more words that could be misconstrued as rebellious.
I can recall the duke pacing, with arms crossed behind his back, sword dangling from his side, with a hard face fixed at the palace floor as I stood watching. As he passed by, a grumble would escape from his sneer and I imagined contempt dripped from his lips, like a rancid honey well out of season, vile and useless. After a time, slowing and then stopping before me, with head still bent to the ground, in a low voice, imbued with bitterness he remarked, ‘Speak no more of this to me.” And like a shot, he stormed from the palace chamber, I myself borrowing his bent gaze at the red marbled floor.
A band of seven hundred men, women, and children made a perilous trek across a massive wilderness, their leader an alien. Among the company were Chara, Rand Hollens, and Hev James. The camp’s—Desolation City’s—condition had deteriorated, and a disease had broken out, targeting mostly the young. The spring rains were heavier than usual, and flooding had ruined what little crop was struggling to spring up; to catch rays from a timid sun. Diseases long ago cured were seen reemerging from the dampness and cold, like a wraith ravenous for human souls.
The Zand’te, their lead, being ever pushed by its faithful companion, Chara, rumbled over gullies, gravel roads, small branches, tundra, up hills, down hills, through lonely valleys, through the driving rains and biting snows, in short, across a harsh wilderness that stretched from horizon-to-horizon, in a quest to reach the capital.
Along the way, many fell sick and dropped back, to misery. Some were lost and ceremoniously buried on the sides of roads, more like lanes etched into the wilderness by migrating animals. But the group of revolutionaries pressed on.
News soon reached the capital of the advancing rebels (as they were called). Many doubted the group’s resolve. It was generally considered impossible that they should reach the capital, but in a surprise move, perhaps more from pity than perceived force of threat, the band of revolutionaries were allowed to continue passing through the Arastan, in the direction of the capital city.
Each new month brought little news of the group’s movements, and some believed (erroneously) that they had been overcome by the journey, and had set up camp near Mahka, planting themselves into the ground as a new outpost of sickness and want. Eventually, widely regarded by the capital’s populace as traveling gypsies, they were soon forgotten by the public and more pressing issues came to the fore in the collective consciousness of the populace.
Affairs in the capital had stabilized somewhat in the following year; little was heard of the revolutionaries, but they were to emerge in a startling way. Acting from memory in the beginning of this narrative, I can now relate the events as they had unfolded, for they are on public record and the exact dialog, not only heard by my own years, was recorded by several palace administrators, making it immutable.
During the middle of the week, in late winter/ early spring, as the financial district was beginning to wind down its activities, in light rain, three hundred and fifty persons, with a figure in a beat-up wheelchair, were seen coming down the avenue. Some of them were armed. The street, a buzzing circuit of people, going on their various ways soon grounded to a halt.
The revolutionaries continued past them, unaffected by their inquisitive stares. Some whispered it was the members of the camp, others disputed this. In all, a great confusion broke out, and the Kyprene Guard, soldiers loyal to Duke Vashmore and his father that guarded the royal palace, were subsequently alerted, as the palace was close by.
I was assigned to escort them, the Kyprene Guard, to the alleged dissidents. The revolutionaries slowly advanced toward the palace; they remained intent on reaching it. The Kyprene Guard rapidly formed a human wall, preventing any passage farther down the street as the city’s inhabitants silently watched in growing anticipation.
Standing off to the side, I was sure they could not see my face; and from my place, my eyes and ears recorded everything.
The Zand’te approached to within seven or eight feet of the Kyprene Guard in its wheelchair as Chara gripped the wheelchair’s handles tightly, her father at her side, with his hand gently on her shoulder.
Rand Hollens’s scar was clearly in view; it ran partly across his face. My eyes caught sight of a determined Hev James, pushing his way through the crowd, as a Kyprene Guard, with rifle extended, closed the gap between them, and shouted, ‘That’s far enough, Zand’te!”
The guard’s rifle was a few feet from the Zand’te’s scaly face. Many in attendance gasped, a few finance district leaders called for order, but the Kyprene Guard remained as an iron wall to the unwelcome intruders.
Vividly in my mind do I recollect Hev James’s words: ‘Pigs! All of you! Let us pass!’
Then, Rand Hollens saw me from the corner of his eye, and quickly looked over. His stare was plain and simple, and yet, in his look I saw a yearning for something, so indefinite, but there, present, more substantial I think than a ray of sun, but weaker than a passing wind in the lull of a storm, that so moved me to pity, whatever it was, like a hundred years of disappointment condensed into one second, that my tongue defied what my conscience was unable to do, say. “Let them pass.”
The Kyprene Guard turned to me; those in the street turned to me; the revolutionaries, the band of ex-soldiers now largely outsiders, turned to me; my troubled conscience turned to me. In a clearer, more authoritative tone of voice, kind but firm, I repeated, “I said … let them pass.”
For a moment, I wondered if the Kyprene Guard would obey my order, for they indeed hesitated, and this was commented on by most of the crowd, in hushed voices. The lead Kyprene Guard, in charge of the squad sent to stop the band from the camp, Desolation City, very gradually lowered his rifle, and slowly backed away from the Zand’te. Barking an order to his troops, several of them parted, allowing entrance to the rest of the street.
I watched, in almost disbelief, as they passed on toward the palace, not so much from the incredulity that the Zand’te and its desperate followers, who before, had been bitter enemies during an idiotic war, but that the strength to command a frightful clan of black-clad armored police, had issued from me; and they listened.
The Zand’te, to the amazement of the palace’s staff, led its human brothers and sisters through the maze of the palace, under my guidance; all around us were the shaking rifles, pointed directly at us, of the Kyprene Guard ready to fire bolts at us.
Not a word was said our way. I commanded no one. Soon, several Kyprene Guard began to follow us; their fellow soldiers, most of which, reluctantly lowering their rifles as we went by them, on our way to the main palace room, where, under the very likelihood of execution, I was to face Duke Vashmore.
I froze before the chamber’s gilded double doors. A harsh imperative from Hev James, changed my indeterminate mind. ‘Open it.’ Bowing my head for a second, I then opened the doors to the palace room, where, to my terror, I saw a furious Duke Vashmore descending from the throne, irate.
His words, as recorded in the annals of the great city, ‘You dare allow them in—here? I will have your head for this!’
Hev James made a motion to go at him, but Rand Hollens quickly grabbed his arm to check his unwise course.
Vashmore, furious, whirled around at the Kyprene Guard, demanding, ‘Shoot them!’
Though some of the guard fidgeted a little, none obeyed the direct command of the duke.
Vashmore pointed at me, and vented, ‘You.’ Then turned to his guard and hollered, ‘Shoot them. Fire at them.’
The Kyprene Guard lowered their weapons and became very still. Some of the camp came and stood by them. The sight of this drove the duke even madder.
‘How dare you not obey your lord! Get them out. They are outsiders! They are—’
The duke’s speech was cut short by the Zand’te. ‘They are what?’
The duke, silenced, cautiously made his way over to the alien, who was wheelchair bound. ‘You—my father showed you clemency, years before, and now you come and tell us how things ought to be? What do you know of the Cantarris way? You are an alien; nothing more. I don’t know why my father ever let—’
The Zand’te’s words ring true to this day, when it said, in defiant reply, ‘It is you who are the alien.’
The duke’s eyes narrowed. ‘What?’
‘You neglect your own people; soldiers who battled mine in loyal service to this world, who have shown me, not hatred, but kindness, and from this healing, and from this, I have learned what it is to have empathy.’ The Zand’te calmly stared at the incredulous duke, with its fiery eyes.
Vashmore, stunned at this, turned to his attendants for help, but none showed any signs of coming to his aid. After a few more pleading gestures, with tears in his eyes, lowering his head in shame, Duke Vashmore slowly walked out of the throne room.
And so, they were heard—all of them. At first, the camp in the Ehdo Republic, then the new settlement transiently established for the sick and elderly, who could not make it all the way to the capital. Then, several districts, then, all districts, and it was at that time, I believe, that the hardened heart of the Cantarris people that had forgotten their own, in the guise of progress, changed their ways and laws to provide for a more egalitarian society, one today that still strives for that perennial human goal of better equality for all.
As to the Zand’te…it died, nobly, and was buried with all the honors a human soldier could receive. A delegation was sent to Kopris Prime to further the peace effort and to relate to them the bravery and wisdom of one of its own, so well-remembered by many of my people.
Pollon VII, 10405 AXD
Matt Pyke is a software developer living in the United States who writes fiction on the side.
TONY'S COMMENT: If an alien like the Zand'te learned what it is to have empathy, why can't ALL of humanity do the same?