A Difference Made
Harsh terrain it was, with burnished rocks and dry gravelly soil that rattled downwards when the cold winds gusted. The scant ground vegetation was a wizened scrub of prickles and spines and sharp spicules. The larger plant life contraried gravity, leaning into the incessant blow. Sheer hillsides encumbered every vantage like skeletons of millennia. Bared roots searched enormously deep through their stony loam for begrudged sustenance.
For the duration of one moon, proceeding with an integrating device, the seeker, AnsienRa, had scouted this range, scrupulous at examining all vitality, isolating the most sophisticated drives, and finally determining that those human were best choice. Social creatures, the human species seemed to maintain seven or so organ-associated basic senses. Beyond these gifts, they apparently possessed numerous higher, emotion-driven senses which sometimes mingled into multitudes of finer nuances.
But AnsienRa could learn only so much by external observation. For closer perspective, the seeker needed to transfer presence into a basic human, one with complete feeling and a manageable brain. So through the phases of a second moon, eager to touch and test otherness, the seeker strove the device towards getting into a mind that matched. One efficient and with full force of humanity.
The repeated response of the device was: "Be patient and provide a fit subject," and as ever floating monitor-close, encouraged AnsienRa to range them downhill, nearer to the valley's bed, and set ambush. There, inevitably, an appropriate soul blundered along, and the device advised, "This one will do. Bring us to cross-over proximity."
After brisk compliance, deducing from the radiance of the pulsing device, AnsienRa became certain of imminent interface with true feelings, and registered willingness, "O most efficient machine, establish and share this gestalt of we three become one."
Then, as the device acquiesced and allowed complicity, AnsienRa became less seeker and more human, finally achieving every seeker's fulfillment of being a virtual symbiont, a perfect witness. But the sudden exhilaration of knowing in this bizarre, human manner overwhelmed, and struck down AnsienRa to grovel in an ecstatic terror of base and finer senses, before swooning into oblivion.
Presently AnsienRa awoke and, by subtle drives within, was ken to a consistent maleness, and being suitably hosted into a wandering, slack-willed human, his brain in basic order, and all else of him as required. Well content with changeover, AnsienRa went with his body at a steady trudge down the hill. Alert as a glance, enjoying real native feelings, he gloried in all the alien variety of the twilight environment.
Within and without, he was acutely aware of every pulse of every part of him. Of the sneeze that constantly threatened a steady flow of grimy snot from his nostrils. Of the gumboil throbbing counter-pulse with his heart. The chafing garment that burned in the sweat under his left armpit. A vague strain that warmed his bladder. The pinch of a canker squeezing sorely in the crease between his buttocks. All of it was feelings-human being feelings-and for this by itself, intoxicating.
One bare and one in the shreds of a sandal, his feet were points of hurt where fat, old corns punished clubbed toes. With each step automatic winces sprang familiar to his hairy squinting face-ever twisted awry by muscles learned to pain. Different sensations assailed from center deep: waves and rolls of cramps and pressures. A rushing of blood, a thumping of heart. Subtle counter-forces of containment as gurgles of gas bubbled discomfort about his entrails.
All the same, the welter and turmoil seemed normal stimuli, a body's sense of being well informed. It announced that although healthy, this host was as weary as he was obstinate and keenly hungry. To AnsienRa, all of it was a ferment of humanness from which he sampled with a lust of privilege, as he apprised with huge interest and continuous discovery.
Engrossed in the newness, he had followed a rude trail until it joined the end of a loose-knit group straggling along. Into their minds he sought greedily and was amused and thrilled by the pervasive excitement he met. The people were roused up from a rare emotion and gathering with purpose.
Their fervor had awoken two moons ago when the night skies had delivered a portent: A star! which if followed for thirteen moons would lead to miracles. "From ancient teachings, Prophecy had come to pass," the common folks marveled. The spectacle had un-gated their minds to invasions of splendid emotional excess. And AnsienRa wallowed in engulfing swells of curiosity and awe, and faith and security and satisfaction, and even the cunning and dread which now and then spiced and tantalized their imaginations.
For a day and a night, he tagged behind one family group-a man, woman, and a girl. As the sun grew stinging hot, they stopped in the meager shadow of a rocky overhang. Keeping his distance, AnsienRa also stopped, stood droop-shouldered in the baking sunshine. And right away, from their shaded nook, the family's attention focused on him.
AnsienRa reached for their thoughts and found stirrings of sympathy in every soul, particularly the girl child. He directed soapy eyes towards her.
She turned to the man. "Papa," she said, "he's thirsty."
The man looked long at AnsienRa, then at the woman, who shrugged as she fanned her face with a fold of her scarf. The man took a water-bag, and shook it near his ear before trickling some water into a bowl.
The girl picked up the bowl, and walked gingerly with careful eyes on it. She stopped half the distance from AnsienRa, placed the bowl on the ground, and slowly backed off. "Go on, drink it. It's clean," she encouraged.
She was scarcely back to her shade before AnsienRa lurched over to the bowl, snatched it up, and slurped the water down. Most of it, as over-eagerness clumsied him to spill on his chin, and neck, and chest. Although the overall relief of wetness -- whether slicking the thick choke of his swallow, or soothing the singe of his skin -- touched good wherever.
From bowl, AnsienRa looked hopefully to the family, but they were busy preparing mats to rest upon, and paid him no mind. So he put the bowl on the burning earth and backed to a comfortable following distance. There, he squatted in the blazing open, stolidly waiting to be their tail again.
They had traveled a fair distance when, just before nightfall, the family stopped and assembled a small shelter from the bundles they carried. The woman lit a frisky bramble-fire just beyond the door-flap of their tent, and soon had a hanging pot a-bubble with the evening's meal.
AnsienRa, huddling just out reach of their fire's light, caught the pot's aromas and, teased and tortured, crept nearer and nearer to the fire. Surreptitious though he was, they fast became aware of his creeping bulk, and turned as one on him. Turned with such swift aggression, that without probing their minds, AnsienRa exactly knew their belligerence, even before the man shouted, "Get away, you stupid idiot. Go stink somewhere else."
Then the woman threw at him the peelings of the stuff she cooked. And the girl rushed halfway at him and pelted handfuls of dirt and sand. And the man grabbed up his long staff and advanced with it, mean-faced, threatening.
At this, AnsienRa showed them the backsides of his host's body, clambered away trying to make sense of their behavior.
With passing days, he discovered his idiot's constitution capable of withstanding extremes of physical efforts, subsisting casually, eating indiscriminately, sleeping wherever tiredness took over and closing his eyes was comfort enough. A solitary creature, to no one he made accounting. But to obey natural calls and caprices, his time was his own.
As for the mind he had possessed, AnsienRa found it a-swelter from a confusion of drives and intentions tangled in contest for relevance. Briefly, this or that one would usurp dominance, only to be groveling or trampled next instant. Legion concerns abused his battered reason. Myriad events and experiences, irrelevant or major, scrambled for attention. Frights, feastings, beatings, satings, farts, chasings, killings, giggles, singing celebrations, all competed. Each weighed in as every one else, the banal, the crucial, the sour, the sad, all the same.
Still, despite best intentions against being of influence, the seeker's very presence within did modify the host's base existence. It shifted him to a craftier foraging. A quicker repair of abused tissue. Generally, he knew a less discomforted existence as minor lifestyle improvements developed. Example the simple strategy of sitting quiet outside the doorways of certain inns and shaping his drooling face hungry. A tactic usually good for one meal, and by shifting from inn to inn, some days he even gorged.
Came an evening when he was settled waiting at one such inn, and two well-fed men emerged. Chatting nearby for a moment, they noticed him, and the fatter one threw a coin. "Why not pass the idiot a crumb, huh?" he observed dryly to his fellow, "Think of your after-life."
His bearded companion grimaced distastefully, shrugged. "I prefer to be generous in public. In the temple."
Nevertheless, he tossed over a half-eaten fruit, and as AnsienRa gulped and slurped the sweet pulp, the men continued conversing, but in undertones. Impatient with their cageyness, AnsienRa entered their minds and became privy to a magnificence of dominant motives in operation, all faintly familiar within his own host. Less and less slowly, he came to recognize their craving, and spite, and camaraderie, each emotion carnally spiced with quivering anticipation.
Indignant, the heavy-set one was saying, "He tried to stick me..."
"Maybe it's only seeming so?" the bearded one interrupted.
"It was so!" the other insisted. "He wanted to tie me to that addle-brained daughter of his."
"Talk has it that she's only touched. Gets fits. Spells, you know? Her blood rises with the moon."
"Yes, yes, whatever. But why me? Why try to trap me? I mean to say, he's my old man's friend. I mean, was. Last crop festival our families sang and ate together, you know what I mean? They had business together, and everything. Father couldn't believe when I broke the news on him..."
"I should have such a father."
"Yeah, sure. Shouldn't we all. But it was luck, plain luck. That's what really sprung me."
"Well, I suppose. But anyhow, you think it's time we should be getting over there?"
" . . . ."
"So what you mean? Changing your mind?"
"Nah, it's not that. I want to see. Really do. But it's a bit early, don't you think? Shouldn't we wait for the moon to rise? It's a moon thing she's got, anyhow. What you say?"
"Hey, you're in charge, man. Whatever you say, I'm for it."
"Don't worry, I want to see her free treat too. After all, I nearly had to pay dowry for it."
"You mean your father nearly had, huh?"
"Guess so. So who it was that slipped you the news?"
"The younger one."
"That pretty little plum?"
"Poisoned little plum. She's a trick monkey, that one. Spiteful, too. Accustomed to her own way."
"How you mean?"
"Bet you'd never guess why she betrayed the household secret."
"Because they, the mother, denied her a scarf, or a ribbon, or some such trinket."
"Hmph! She doesn't look it."
"Looks depend on the looker, brother."
"But you believe her?"
"Hell, yes. She wasn't composing. I could see the meanness in her eyes, shining with spite and truth. She was tattling serious family secrets."
"But nothing. It's true. I intend to show the proof."
"Yeah, sort of. Heh-heh-heh! What you think we're about tonight? Heh-heh. You think it's some wild goose chase? No, no, my brother, tonight is proving time. I know what I know. Checked last full moon, I did."
"And did she?"
"Well, half and half. I didn't stay too long. Wasn't safe. And it was cloudy, so I didn't get to see much. But she was outside, being weird, and up to something."
"I definitely wouldn't have shied away from that setting."
"Come on, man. You know what'd have happened they caught me there spying? Not the scene for me, I'll say. Too much like daring the Devil."
"Well. But time's a-passing, and our moon's coming up. You don't think we should press on now? Get in good vantage, seek a proper point of view, eh?"
Hearty with full-bellied laughter, arms about each other's shoulder, they set off.
AnsienRa's idiot body was trembling to an exceptional powerful urge. Without exact focus, it charged about up and down his backbone and into his groin, and the gestalt soon divined this yen to be same which had so moved the two fellows just gone. Compelled by the queer force, he took after the men. Close to the ground like a shadow, employing innate seeker skills, and displaying no bit of the bumbler they would've expected, he trailed their spoor.
Well-concealed at the target location, AnsienRa was waiting ready when she slipped through the back door of the women's quarters and glided into the vineyard. Her sleeping shift flared and shimmered as, under the braided canopy of laden vines, she moved between moonlight and shade. Stark eyes stared eerily from a fixed enthralled face. Her hair hung black, unkempt, and plentiful, shed an air of wildness to her. The loose mane swaying serpentine, she began prancing about, abandoned in her rapture-now standing spread-legged and wiggling hips, now kneading her breasts and writhing as if in agony.
Gradually, his idiot intuition poked and prodded by these movements, AnsienRa grew aware past the action of her dance. He caught sense of its intrigue. Better, he understood how intimate and revealing her gestures were, and how uncommon an insight was the thrill he and the others were stealing.
Which notion made him curious about his fellow peepers, set him seeking for their feelings.
He found the pair perched at the window of an upper room just across the passage-way. Exultant they were, in a surfeit of satisfaction. And, as AnsienRa sensed their pleasure with the rigid surging in their laps, he knew a special sympathy. His own idiot's organ was as engorged by this same press for fulfillment.
In a voice of commingled excitements, the fatter one spoke, "See that? See that? Huh? What did I tell you?"
"You wouldn't imagine, huh? Whew! Look at that wiggle and roll."
"Yeah, yeah. Ssshhh..."
"What a pelt! Every time she..."
"Ssshhh. But you're right. How long she can keep that up?"
"Man, am I finding out."
"Hey! Did you hear that?"
"Shut up and look, man..."
"No, no, no. Listen. Someone's coming up the alley. Hey, when is this housekeep due back?"
"We have time. Don't worry. He's gone for long enough. I took good care... Did you see that lowdown spread and dip?"
"Wait, man. You sure, huh? Huh?"
"Look. If you going to worry, let me watch. Okay? There, there she goes again. Damn! On the work table. Oh-my-oh-my-oh. Look at that, huh? Didn't I tell you?"
"Whuh! Look at that skin. She's sweating readiness."
"Mnn-hmmn, I could definitely addle with that."
"You realize she's moving like that although she's practically unconscious..."
"Hush! Didn't you hear that? Shit! Did you latch the door? Somebody's coming up the stairs!"
"Damn! Oh damn, damn, damn it to hell. You're right. Quick. Quick. Close the window. Close it! Now, come, come, come here. Lay down. Right. Now shut up and hug on me. Shut up."
". . . !!!"
AnsienRa startled out from their presence, but stayed close to observe as a ruckus erupted among them. The new, strident voice, indignant and male, threatened communal exposure. The fatter fellow was protesting in a wheedle when AnsienRa lost interest, disengaged fully from their embroilment, and returned to the attraction sprawling sinuous on the work table. To better explore the qualities of her bliss, he decided to plunge into her head.
Nothing there was clear. Maybe it was his idiot's mind-frame, but he could find no ties, no hooks nor holds to catch on to, and relate. His masculine entity slipped incongruously over and past her essences, never stopping and touching long enough to recognize or learn. And with few clues to the nature of her impulses, AnsienRa slid out of her.
Recoiled fully into the idiot's being, he found it focused on defeating one particular frustration. Its energy-a mighty push of raw instinct-was insistently directed towards a single primal desire: Union with the un-minding female. And right then, daring and dangerous though it was, AnsienRa saw opportunity to be at the nucleus of a human matter. Saw a best-ever chance for truly finding out. There might be explaining later, but as a genuine seeker, he had to make this try.
Like a night-cloud's shade, he approached and gained where she lay in lunatic abandon. Then, slave to his and host's base desires, AnsienRa surrendered to the forbidden, bowed to the primitive majesty of conjunction, the charge with which Life commanded regeneration. And shuddering at Nature's power over humans, AnsienRa lost himself inside a sapping mystery.
He soon left the woman, still rapt in her delusion and thrilling to its private ecstasy. Then back up the craggy hills he tramped, heading as the integrating device commanded. As he had known he'd be. Yet he went resolute, without regret, charged full with seeker's bliss.
For all that he had gained, he now would have to make accounting.
Confronted by the Assembly, AnsienRa offered a pure research explanation. It was not accepted. Prime facts he so well knew, were put to him again: It was not a matter for judgment. There was the strict rule against meddling. Interference muddled randomness. Tinkering ad-factored entropy patterns. The contract was simple: Tour without tampering.
AnsienRa suggested a final defense: "No actual meddling occurred. Only a mind was tapped. It still would be idiot's genes."
That met a concert of rejection: the influence of the gestalt was sufficient to organize, amplify, and direct inchoate potentials, and so create difference. His was not a first occurrence. There was a history of imprudence.
Ultimately, the wise Assembly conferred on him the established consequence of his recklessness. The integrating device-his facility for furtherance-was revoked, thus marooning him in the mind of an idiot's self-regenerating body. As onerous was the unspecific extension of his stay-and that, strictly in the role of non-participant observer. The Assembly decided it worthwhile data to monitor the extended consequences of his dabbling.
Thus, sentenced and forsaken, while near nine moons curved from circle to sickle, AnsienRa roamed that rural place, learning its primitive mores, experiencing new tangibles of his judgment while accommodating its dictate. Until a marvel in the night sky began flaring: Beacon to other seekers below, AnsienRa recognized. Reminder that it was departure time. Though not for AnsienRa. His only trip was to join the awestruck throngs attracted to the astral flare. For at its focus, he had a job to do.
Now, a bedraggled AnsienRa paused trudging, and regarded the brilliant beacon in the heavens. He thought of how soon it'd be gone; done as lantern for alien visitors, finished as portent of unusual birth. Slack of will and limb alike, idiot's eyes weepy, he sighed and drooled, already miserable at his lonely future. Already feeling pointless as an echo in a hollow mind. But then a wryness slipped into his fervent gaze at the light beam from above. And dutiful to destiny, the idiot hosting curious AnsienRa set once more to tramping the gravelly hillside trail, down to the hamlet in the valley below where ardent believers were flocking, where the moonstruck woman had journeyed to deliver her exceptional child.