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Echoes of an Alien Sky
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"But the Terrans imagined wrathful, vindictive supernatural beings who did concern themselves," Casselo said. "Who judged, punished, and rewarded what humans did. From some of the things that Terrans said, you'd think that worrying about the antics of humans was their prime preoccupation. Why the difference, do you think?"

Yorim turned back and swung from side to side, checking for stray items left lying around. "Who knows? They were an older race, I guess. Maybe they just had longer to get paranoid and work on it."

"Different origins? Genetics?" Kyal hazarded.

"We don't think so," Casselo said. His face turned to gaze skyward inside his helmet. He half-raised an arm. "Look at those stars up there," he invited. "People come to Earth and see clear skies for the first time, and they talk about how fantastic it is. But down there, it's nothing like this, is it?" That was one of the first things Kyal had noticed on setting foot outside at Luna. The stars were unwavering and brilliant, crowded everywhere in uncountable numbers greater than anything seen on even the clearest of night on Earth. Casselo went on, "The planets are insignificant pinpoints. Most people couldn't find them. And yet, from what we've put together of old Terran legends from the beginnings of their history, they saw the planets as objects of awe and terror. Practically universally. It was the same across peoples and races everywhere. Early Terrans thought they were the supernatural beings that decided the fate of individuals and nations. They built temples to them, and had whole priesthoods that dedicated their lives to watching them and plotting their movements. Why should those tiny, remote specks have become objects of such obsessions?"

Kyal looked back over the moonscape and up at the starfield again. He had never thought about it that way before.

"Well, I guess they must have lived in one of the unstable periods," Yorim said. He meant of the Solar System, which Venusians accepted occurring irregularly but the Terrans hadn't appreciated. "Disruptions happen. We've only just found out Froile wasn't there when the Terrans were around."

"You're on the right track, Yorim," Casselo said.

Kyal thought back to the evening that he and Lorili had spent talking to the archeologists and geologists at Moscow. They had spoken then about enormous cataclysms in Earth's past, unleashing death, destruction, and violence on a scale beyond anything Venusians had ever experienced. The most recent had occurred during Earth's early historic period, they had said, and the survivors had left records in their myths and legends of the things they had seen. The strange thing was that the symbolism was obvious to Venusians, even from the fragments they had found aeons afterward. But Terrans, who lived in the aftermath, with not only the records in abundance but the physical evidence all around them, couldn't see it. Lorili had commented that their ability to see only what they wanted to see went all the way back to their beginnings, and wondered if it was a genetic trait.

"You're saying the planets came closer to Earth and to each other at one time," Kyal said. "Close enough to interact. The Terrans could seem them clearly."

Casselo's beard bobbed up and down behind his helmet visor. "Yes."

"Some people that Lorili and I met at Moscow talked about that. They said Venus could have been one of them--when it was a white-hot protoplanet."

Casselo straightened up from resting. Kyal climbed into the buggy's open cab and slid onto the bench seat spanning it. Yorim got in from the other side, as on the outward trip taking the driver's position, which was in the center. "The early Terrans lived under a different sky. They saw the planets as apparitions in the heavens, bringing death and terror and devastation," Casselo said as he followed Yorim. "With arc discharges going on between them, and all kinds of plasma effects. Volcanoes, earthquakes, storms of meteorites coming down. The whole climate in chaos. But being at a pre-technical stage, they were unable to understand what they were witnessing. They interpreted it as wars between celestial gods. The devastations on Earth itself became retribution on the inhabitants for transgressions of their laws." The buggy moved away, throwing up a small shower of dust which fell back promptly with no lingering cloud. Casselo went on, "The terrors handed down from those times were ritualized into religions fixated on obeying and appeasing wrathful deities. Later, when the planets receded and sorted themselves out into remote, nonthreatening orbits, the memories of what had started it all were repressed."

Yorim was looking more thoughtful now as he navigated them back across the gray wilderness of dust and rubble. "So what are you saying? That the same thing happened that you get with individuals sometimes after something traumatic? A kind of collective amnesia. The literal meanings were forgotten."

"Something like that," Casselo agreed. "Although I'm not so sure there's any collective mechanism that could produce actual amnesia. More an unconscious cultural consensus would be my guess. You know the kind of thing. If you all don't talk and don't think about something that's too painful, it ceases to exist."

"Somebody who was on the Melther Jorg with us was into all this," Kyal said. "Emur Frazin. He's done a lot of work on Terran mythology."

"I know," Casselo said. "He was the one I got all this from."

Kyal smiled faintly and nodded. "And so the ancient accounts were dismissed as myth and fable. Which would make sense of why they would be obvious to us. We'd never been through it."

"Exactly," Casselo said. .

"What about Froile?" Yorim queried.

"Yes, our own miniature version, maybe," Casselo agreed. "But from what I've been able to make out, it would have been a pretty tame affair compared to what happened on Earth. Sherven has a theory that it might help explain this big difference in time scales--why the Terrans appear to have fabricated huge epochs that never existed."

"How?" Kyal asked, turning his head to look across. "What's the connection?"

"The evidence for massive catastrophes in their past was there all around them. But seeing it would be to accept what had happened, which would mean acknowledging that it could happen again. That was something that the shocked Terran unconsciousness was unable to face. So they persuaded themselves that slow, gradual change, working over immense spans of time, could account for everything that they saw in the world. They created an illusion of a safe, secure place in the universe, where everything was stable and predictable, always had been, and always would be. All that was violent and threatening was banished to remoteness, either light-years away from them in space, or billions of years back in time."

They arrived at the main base area, and Yorim parked by the other vehicles in front of the huts. The entry lock to the hut they used as the mess room could only take two suited figures at a time. Casselo and Yorim went ahead. While Kyal was waiting for the pumps to complete the cycle, he turned and stared out again across the stillness, replaying in his mind the scenes of conflict that had taken place here on this very landscape long ago.

Finally, maybe, he was beginning to understand the strange inner conflicts that had made the Terrans what they were. As often happens with an individual who is in denial, the trauma and terrors they had experienced found release in other ways. The brutality and carnage of Terran wars re-enacted mass-extinctions they had suffered, and represented symbolic human sacrifice to their bloodthirsty gods. Their obsessive pursuit of ever-more-powerful weapons echoed the violence on a cosmic scale that they had seen in their sky. And what else were their entire political and economic systems but expressions of the craving for the dominance that would bring security? All were manifestations of a bewildered psyche struggling to face a future that it feared and distrusted. For the first time, Kyal found himself moved by something akin to compassion for them.

He thought back to the side of the Terrans that Lorili had seen, and he looked up again at the stars. The Terrans had talked about going to there. Some Venusians were of the opinion that they could have done it. Yes, it was true: Much that was disturbed and had gone wrong was eradicated from the universe when the last Terran eyes gazed sightlessly up at the skies they would never conquer.

But something extraordinary that had come into being, and tried for a while against hopeless odds to grow and become what it could and flourish, was lost too.

 
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