Chapter 50:     The Three Elders

Transcribed from dictation, ADAM speaking--

I was soon so involved exploring Aket that I forgot about being alone.  
And of course, I wasn't really alone at all, I was surrounded by my own 
people; although I didn't know any of them, I'd often felt much more 
lonely in Seattle as a big hairy Bigfoot than I did here as a stranger.

And I was blissfully anonymous there, which I could never have been in 
Seattle; nobody seemed to know who I was, so I went around easily.  No 
paparazzi, it was great!  I'd figured everyone had already heard the news 
about me, "the Evil Skesk Kid," so I didn't really want to get into 
conversations--they'd probably notice my funny accent and ask, "Hey guy, 
where you from?" So I just bobbed heads politely to anyone I passed and 
they did the same.  

It was the town itself that fascinated me most at that moment: 
everything was made of stone, the granite chamber we were within and 
everything inside it seemed to have been sculptured right in place: 
the buildings, the shelves, maybe even the bowl of the lake itself.  

Except for the green of plants and the off-white prism-crystals mounted 
here and there, there was no other color than granite-grey.  No paint, 
no wood, it was all as simple as it could be, although how a 
technology-free people like the Nokhontli could have carved this 
place out of stone many thousands of years ago I hadn't a clue. Except 
that it was all scaled to people my size, rather than tiny Nokhsos: 
doors and ceilings were high; stairway steps made to fit big feet. 

It was obvious that everything was very old, from some prehistoric 
era and that Aket was technically a site of ancient ruins.  Sure, 
it was inhabited, but perhaps not by the builders.  Some buildings 
had collapsed or were in the process, deep grooves were worn into the 
"streets", but there was no sign of any kind of repair work having 
ever been attempted by the Nokhontli living there now.   

Although I know about many ancient cities from books, the only ones 
I'm personally familiar with are those we saw together in Mexico; 
Palenque, Teotihuacan, Monte Alban. This place kind of reminded me 
of them in layout, but not in detail.  For example, there were 
absolutely no friezes or inscriptions to be seen anywhere.  

I went to it pretty enthusiastically, jogging and jumping into any 
passageway or building that caught my eye, junior archaeologist at 
work and play.  There were stairways everywhere; I took them up and 
down, climbed up on buildings to investigate the construction, which 
was unique in many ways.  

Those stone buildings were seemingly carved out of the raw granite 
mass, none of them built up of rocks laid in place, like everywhere 
else in the world.  Perfectly cut stone cubes, hollow buildings with 
no seams, as if they'd been sliced into existence by Jedis with 
light-sabers...okay, as you can tell, I was prodigiously fantasizing 
about all this.

There were also gardens everywhere so I nibbled greens as I wandered.  
Fresh clean water ran along small canals, so I could drink.  I even 
found a toilet, a ver-r-r-ry deep hole bored straight down into the 
stone floor.  No stink, a gentle breeze suggested some kind of air-
ventilation system for the cavern.  Everything for survival was here, 
all ecologically engineered, all zero-tech.  All designed and built 
thousands of years ago, but by whom? 

Eventually it had to get dark.  Daytime illumination in Aket is just 
sunlight, refracted around by those lenses and mirrors, but once the 
sun sets, that light's gone.  I wondered if I was going to be stuck 
where I was because of darkness, but discovered that the local 
phosphorescent moss grew all over the place, taking over as a backup 
lighting system.  The blue glow was a lot like moonlight; pale, but 
visible as reference points.

There were lots of people moving around in the dark, just silhouettes 
between blue glows.  But as I tried to find my way back to the town 
square another kind of light began flickering on the walls and cliffs 
around me, sparkling off mirror stones.  Firelight.  

Which got brighter the closer I came to the square, where I could then 
easily see well enough to find my way.  Especially since there was a 
flow of other people also going there and we all ended up at the Town 
Square. Which was by then quite a scene.

I'll bet the entire population of Aket was gathered at Town Square, more squatches than I could count, rough guess, 400. Looked like a rock festival, lots of tiny fires floating in the air above a big churning audience filling the whole square. The floating fire gimmick I'd seen before, at my purification, so I knew it was a Sha-haka trick. And there were lots of them there, wizards performing for their classes, or audience. People were gathered in clusters around whoever had a good show or a good story, and there were lots of different clusters. I guess you could call it a street fair. It was the opposite of the Kha-rat: no shy°ma or sex, no rituals, no cosmic message, this was culture and entertainment. I had a good time just wandering around and seeing what was going on in the various clusters. Of course there was Atli being read, mostly at lower levels so that anyone could listen in. There were jugglers, acrobats, wrestling matches, open debates about local issues, circus routines, even stand-up comics (although I never understood any of the punch-lines). But no music. It struck me just how SILENT this whole scene was. Voices were soft, no shouts, laughter was kept down to a stifled snicker. I had to wonder how they would react to my my°sik, then decided to keep it to myself. No use pissing off everybody my first night in town. Eventually the excitement died away, the magicians had used up all their tricks, the entertainers were also lying down to sleep. So did I, right there on Town Square, along with everybody else. There were some piles of fir boughs one could take to make a better bed than sleeping on cold stone. We weren't under an open sky, so it couldn't rain. It became nice and quiet, except for the constant whisper of the waterfalls.
Daylight gradually lit up Aket again, Town square was hardly so full of people early in the morning. Maybe they had jobs to go to, I didn't know. I noticed that the light was not as bright as the day before. Naturally, the sunlight that shines down is subject to whatever weather was going on above, it had been a clear and bright day when I came to Aket, but now it was probably raining upstairs. I could tell that it would get pretty gloomy there in the middle of winter with short days and grey skies. I wondered if the crystals ever got covered up by snow. I took a walk, went down three levels to the lake and had a swim just to clean up. Drank some water, ate some greens, used one of the toilets and was ready to go back and wait for the Elders to show up. It was still early but I didn't want to miss it and have to wait all over again the next day. I had a Gla'absa to meet the Three Elders of Aket, but the Squatchland version of an "appointment" is different than in Seattle because there's no precise concept of know, like in "at what time are we to meet?" The basic stuff. So I went back to the Square and waited with the hundred other squatches standing or squatting around the square. The crowd was still thickest next to the mirrored block, many folk were fascinated by their own reflections. Also many artfully positioned for seeing themselves, or posing to look cool, making faces, staring into their own eyes. The wobbly distortion of the mirror was also a source of amusement, like in a fun house, so there was quiet laughter, but also some dismay about how lumpy and wiggly they looked. Seemed to be the local tourist attraction. I'd assumed that the only tourist was me, but several of those I talked with were also in Aket for the first time. And just like me they were all waiting to meet with the Three Elders about some advice or instruction. Official business--whatever business squatches do. The evening before I had wandered around as an anonymous observer, keeping to myself, not talking with anyone. But this day I found myself in the same boat with a crowd of others and it was easy to join into conversations. I was also relieved to note that pretty much nobody had ever heard of me, the half-Nokhso-freak. Waiting for the Elders to show up was actually a social event in itself, even kind of fun. I ended up talking with a lot of people, mixing easy, almost everyone equally shy and open. Food even showed up, handfuls of nice crisp nettles--could have used some garlic dip, but it generated a party-guest feeling anyway. The Three Elders finally arrived. Or rather, they'd actually been there all the time, mingling with the crowd. Almost secretly, unannounced and unceremoniously, basically incognito. I only discovered that when I heard someone in the crowd calling, "Kha, Gno Dadamet!", (Hi, young Dadamet!) I turned to see a big white-haired Nokhon coming toward me. Then I recognized his wrinkled and smiling face: it was old Da-nama-hat, the Elder who had been at my purification ceremony. If you recall, Da-nama-hat was the nice grandfatherly old guy who had been especially friendly to me and I remembered that he had invited me to visit him if I ever I came to Aket. Well, here we were. We greeted each other with bobbing heads and shoulder-claps. Old Da-nama-hat smiled like he really was my grandfather. And then he did something so un-squatch, so COOL: he offered me his right hand to shake, gringo style, saying, "I believe this is how you greet friends back where you come from." I was immediately even more impressed with him, aware that this old man knew more than the average Bigfoot. I found that I really wanted to be friends with him, Da-nama-hat was a genuine Wise Man who even seemed to understand other cultures than the Nokhon. I realized that I could learn a lot from him. I was doing just that, asking about the sunlight refraction system in the cavern ceiling above us when I noticed his red shoulder bag. Dagrolyt had explained to me that the Three Elders wear no sign of rank or status except that their shoulder bags are red. I'd assumed that the old guy was "an elder", not one of "THE THREE Elders". Caught me by surprise, wasn't sure if I was supposed to genuflect or bow or what, but Da-nama-hat told me not to bother with all that and continued telling me about those crystal lenses above us. I learned that he was the Historian of Aket and was absolutely delighted that I showed an interest in engineering and archaeology. And I--well, we were hitting it off. He paused to indicate another older squatch who was moving through the crowd, called out to him: "Kha, Da-tobor-hat, come here! I want to introduce you to my young friend!" A tall and unusually thin Nokhon turned toward us, he was quite grey- haired and wrinkled and had a red bag too. Another of The Three. He was hardly as jovial as my old friend, but did come over to us, although without any hint of a smile. Or any other expression, he looked bored, neutral, neither friendly or unfriendly. Reminded me of a mathematician or insurance accountant. Logical. Think of Mr. Spok without the Vulcan ears, but lots of Wookie hair. Da-nama-hat introduced me to the Elder Da-tobor-hat, who looked me over once like an erroneous mathematical equation and said, "Ah yes, the boy who was raised by Nokhsoli. Let us hope he can adapt." Then he went on his way, uninterested in small talk. Important man, busy. "So where's the third Elder?" I asked Da-nama-hat, to avoid commenting on the manners of the second. " don't want to meet Ma-ralla-hata just now," he nodded over to one side of the square and I realized that he was right. As you can tell by the name, the third Elder was a woman. The oldest and largest Sha-haka-ma I'd ever seen, hair so long and shot with grey and white that it looked like a frizzy shroud hanging in tatters. She was definitely impressive, but even all the way across the square I could sense her authoritative arrogance. She was talking at people, not with them and they were cringing. There were also two young Nokhons flanking her, male and female, both rather pretty, whom she sent running to and fro on various errands, such as bringing her snacks while she dispensed bad vibes with a nasty smirk on her wrinkled ugly face. Hmm. Guess I'm making it sound like my first impression of Elder Ma-ralla-hata wasn't especially positive. "It looks like everyone is afraid of her," I observed. "They are, she is acting Alutna-Jii." Oops, I thought, Queen of the cops. Better watch out. Da-nama-hat and I talked a bit more, then he went on to mingle and meet others in the crowd, seemingly with just as much enthusiasm as he had shown me. We had arranged that I should visit him privately sometime soon to discuss my questions about the histories and mysteries of Aket. A group of young squatches came and talked to me because they had seen that one of The Three Elders had been especially friendly to me and they wondered why. I told them it was only because I'd been asking questions about the lighting system of Aket. They responded in a funny way to that, saying how smart I was to cater to the old guy's favorite subject to make a good impression. I told them in return that I really was interested into the How and Who of Aket's existence and they looked at me as if I was crazy. Who cares? was their reply. I began to get an inkling of the intrigues going here in the big city. Talking with others only confirmed it. It was nearing mid-day, the crowd was getting restless. Me too, I wanted to get this over with and be free to explore Aket some more. I was keeping any conversations short, getting ready for The Three Elders to go on stage and do their thing. I'd been skillfully avoiding coming across the path of the Third Elder, not interested in any more intrigue just yet, when a pretty young female Nokhon came to me through the crowd and said: "Elder Ma-ralla-hata commands that you attend her." I'm translating "Yoto °'°," (must do) as "commands" because it was accompanied by a hand signal that symbolizes a punch in the face, pretty aggressive. No Nokhon had ever spoken to me that way before. It was clear that the poor girl was only the messenger, because she looked pretty embarrassed to be conveying it. I went to the old lady, who watched and waited, not taking a single step towards me. Everyone catered to her whims, obviously. The crowd swirled to let me pass, turned to watch. Forget about avoiding intrigues, I could tell, going right into one. When I got there, her young male slave put himself in my way so I couldn't come too close. Not that I wanted to: she was SCARY--even bigger than old Dannat, over nine feet tall and solidly built--I'll guess at 800 pounds. Face like an angry prune, huge hanging boobs, she was pretty much the perfect horror-movie Female Bigfoot to frighten Nokhso theater audiences everywhere. I was prudently about to greet her politely, but she beat me to it: "You are the savage Dadamet, who has lived with the evil Nokhsos, and here you are running wild in Our Sacred City of Aket." She was so arrogant and nasty that it was clear I had to be careful with this lady. No making waves. "Ra, Ma'a," I said, which translates as "yes ma'am" and to me seemed over-humble and respectful, considering that she had just insulted me. But it was evidently not good enough for the Elder Ma-ralla-hata, Chief of Police and local diva. "You will address me with proper respect, you little shit!" Now she did take a step toward me, as if she might slap me. And she was bigger than me. "Sorry...uh...Ma'a, but I'm new here, so don't yet know of any special protocol for addressing...someone of your rank." I even bowed gallantly. "Then you are very ignorant, you must have a very poor mentor!" And in a threatening tone, "WHO is your mentor? I shall speak to him." She was playing dominatrix. I considered playing her game just to smooth the way, but it would be close to lying and I can't do that in Nokhontli any more than in English. So I had to brave it out: "I mean no disrespect, Ma'am, although it seems that you DO. I can hear that you know exactly who my mentor is, but wish to force me into snitching on him, as a form of subjugation." "Oh, a savage like YOU can HEAR what I KNOW?" Very sarcastic now. "Yes Ma'am, just as I can also hear that you KNOW I was bred to be an Orator, to whom the tone of a voice can reveal more than words." "Are you saying my words are...FALSE?" Now getting hysterical, or pretending to. "No, but your words are...strategic. They elicit an emotional response that you can study, to ascertain information useful in your capacity as Chief of Alutna." I may have caught a tiniest flicker of respect in her eye, but then she was ready to be nasty again. "You little ..." But she was suddenly distracted before she could really let me have it, turning her head to look up and away, as if she had just heard a signal. I, who had just been bragging about my fantastic hearing, heard nothing. Elder Ma-ralla-hata turned to locate the other two Elders of The Three in the crowd, who had also reacted to the same signal. They all nodded to each other and began to head towards the mirrored block in the center of Town Square. Looked like Showtime. Before leaving she gave me a quick look, having clearly lost all interest in our conversation, ending it with a hurried: "YOU just be certain to OBEY the laws of Aket, or my Alutna shall expel you immediately." "Ra, Ma'a," bobbing head respectfully at the departing Elder. I was pretty sure that I really did have to let her win. As the Three Elders of Aket arrived atop the chromed dais the crowd around me reacted, everyone turned to face them and sat down on the stone plaza. That was something I'd never seen before: squatches don't sit, at least not in groups, they squat. To sit, like all you little Nokhsos do, is considered a physical collapse. Normally it would indicate shame, symbolically admitting defeat, surrender, although in this case it signified a social pledge of obedience. (An amusing note: squatches are often confused by human behavior, such as when they see one of them SITTING inside a 3-ton automobile roaring past like a chariot of the gods. They wonder: "Who is that little Nokhso surrendering to? Certainly not me!") Up on that dais the Three Elders took position, each facing their third of Town Square and began to speak. Dagrolyt had told me what to expect, but I was surprised anyway how they spoke in absolutely perfect unison, as if they were now ONE PERSON instead of three. They had a program of advice and decisions to dispense to individuals in the crowd, rulings to decree, news to tell. I was impressed at how quick and efficient they were, evidently remembering everyone's name and case, judgments snappy and brief--and logical--all this coming out of three mouths simultaneously. They must have been unanimous on all decisions, because they never stopped to discuss any points. According to Dagrolyt The Three received wisdom telepathically, saying that they could become a "conglomerate intelligence" with three times the mental power of One Elder and he seemed to believe it. So did everyone else in the crowd, except for me. Maybe it was real, or just a great stage act. Although how they could rehearse it confounded me. It went quick, but took a couple of hours anyway, handling lots of small details, local news and what seemed to be news from other parts of the Nokhon world, mentioning "Shamballah" several times. I began to wonder if they would get to me at all that day. But then it was suddenly my turn. "Young Dadamet," they called out. "Huh?" I'd almost missed it. "Oh, here! Here I am!" "Come up here, we wish to study you." I was surprised. No one else had been called up to join them atop the dais, I'd assumed it was off limits. But I did as I was told and went up those chrome stairs, finding myself standing on that giant mirror above a crowd of sasquatches. "Young Dadamet, you have lived among the Nokhsoli for most of your life and now you are reunited with your own race. Tell us about that." They spoke sympathetically, which I would have expected from Da-nama- hat, but not the other two. It was weird to be facing those Three Elders, each of whom I'd met earlier, but it was none of them who spoke to me. That hearing thing again: I could HEAR that they actually had become one entirely different personality now. And when I looked down at their reflections in the mirror-floor I could SEE a blue-white aura surrounding them as a group. So I told them about my life in Monroe with all of you. Briefly, because they had more questions for me: Which way of life did I prefer? Would I be most loyal to (A) the Nokhontli, or (B) the "civilized" Nokhso world? Crucial questions, but I answered as honestly as I could. Basically said I'd be loyal to whoever was doing the right thing, be they Nokhon or Nokhso. Finally the three of them nodded in unison and said, "We'll see how it goes," then sent me back down to join the crowd again. I thought my audience was over and wondered just what had happened, having no idea what I was to supposed to do next: leave Aket? go home to Monroe? So I was standing in the crowd of sitting squatches, kind of flustered and confused, until I noticed folk urgently signaling me to sit down like everyone else. I sat quickly, embarrassed at committing yet another social blunder. But as soon as my butt was on the floor and I looked up at The Three they nodded together and announced: "Young Dadamet is hereby accepted as student of the Sha-haka discipline and may attend instruction here at Aket."
When the session was over the three Elders came back down to the level of Town Square, each at his or her own pace, no longer synchronized. Elder Da-nama-hat came to me to offer congratulations for being accepted into the Nokhon academic life. I had assumed it was he who put in a good word for me to the others, especially Ma-ralla-hata, but he said: "Oh no, none of us have any control over what decisions The Three make, they have a mind of their own." Before I could get an in-depth explanation of that, Dagrolyt came to us through the dispersing crowd of people to congratulate me as well. Da-nama-hat said he had an urgent commitment and moved on. " what?" I had to ask Dagrolyt. "Now you must stay in Aket for a while to begin your studies. Some of the best mentors in the various disciplines of Sha-haka are here." "Aren't you my mentor?" "Outside Aket, but not here. You have to catch up on the basics which other Nokhsos have learned since childhood." "I thought you had already taught me the basics." "Of everyday life, sure, but I wasn't allowed to teach you any MAGIC until you had been officially accepted as an Initiate. Besides, you'll have to specialize--probably at Oration--which I'm not qualified to teach you." "So what will you do?" "I've got to go back to my rounds. Teaching Atli, doing good deeds, remember?" "You're going to leave me here all alone?" He looked at me funny. We were surrounded my hundreds of people on Town Square. I realized I was being a big baby again. I got hold of myself, shrugged like a macho man would, "Never mind. It's a Nokhso thing." Dagrolyt laughed, slapped my shoulder, "Hey, I'll miss your funny Nokhso ways. But don't fret, we'll be working together again after you finish here."
But for the moment he was still my mentor, so he took me to the biggest building on the next level down, explaining that this was where I was to report to the "wizard-studies committee" to determine what subjects I should take. The room we went to was empty, no one there, come back later. So he took me to another room, inside of which there was activity for a change, considering that most buildings in Aket seemed abandoned. A group of about ten students were braiding long stems of grass into bands, shoulder pouches, water bags, tools of the Sha-haka trade. They were making artifacts, a forbidden activity to the average Joe Bigfoot outside of Aket. The instructor was a mature Sha-haka named Dahassat, who seemed like a nice guy. Dagrolyt introduced us as his mutual friends. He had already told Dahassat about me, who was interested and intrigued by my history-- which was better than him being negative about my wicked background, of course. We arranged than I would begin my studies with him the next day. Then it was time to see Dagrolyt off. He had finished his business in Aket, waited to see me through acceptance and guide me to my next mentor. and was now on his way home. I accompanied him down to the level of the lake, to where the zillion stairs were carved into the far side of Aket's cavern wall. It was a long way up to the exit. "Man, all those stairs," I commented. "Yeah, too many. That's why I'm not taking them." He looked around to check if the coast was clear, same old rascal he'd always been. "There's another way out of Aket." He nodded towards the far end of the lake. Excess water ran over a brink and down into the ground. An outlet. "Underground river," Dagrolyt said, "it's not an approved exit because it's very dangerous if you don't know the way. I wouldn't recommend it..." he gave me the hint-hint look, "...but if you should ever have to quickly escape Aket..." "Why should I?" My brow probably furrowed. "Not everyone here is tolerant of your background. So watch it." "Got it." Already knew that. He was ready to go but I wasn't really ready to let him. "Oh, tell Magga where I am if you see her." "Sure. I'll even y°ramma her a couple of times for you." "Gee thanks, what a pal." A little more Nokhso humor he could never understand. Although maybe he did, "I'll also tell her you miss her." "Thanks. Listen Dag, you've really been a good friend to me. I just want to say...I love you, man." He looked amused, "Let me guess: that's another Nokhso thing?" "Ra, I guess." "Ta'ash," he said and sprang out into the lake. I watched him swim to the far side, climb over the dam's edge, wave once and drop out of sight. On my way back up to the town I had to wonder, just how dangerous IS that other exit?

Chapter 51

Adam out of Eden