"The planet of my ancestors..." The name of his home planet triggered
cascade of memories, images mostly, falling in Kai's mind like postcards
from someone's vacation. Yet, why would anyone need to go there? He asked,
"Maybe on Brunnis we can find a way for you to live on...out of cryostasis."
There was no need for that. He asked again, "Why?"
"I thought you might want that."
If the Brunnen-G had not unlocked the secrets of life, then their rude
Brunnis ancestors certainly had not. Either way, it was not necessary for
her to go on his behalf. "I was not aware that the Brunnen-G had unlocked
the secrets of life...and I do not want."
Zev announced her intentions with such fire and energy that it was hard
resist agreeing with her. The look on her face was not one Kai could argue
with, even if he could have had the motivation to do so. Still, their
actions were unnecessary, as they did not need to hunt for Brunnis -- unless
the position of the planet in the Dark Zone had changed.
"What do you mean, hunting?
Stanley stepped up and grumbled, "The useless piece of robot junk in
doesn't even know the right coordinates."
"I do..." Kai drew his thumb in the air across his cheek, knowing exactly
the length and dimension of the tattoo on his face. "This mark symbolizes
the journey of my people into the Light Universe. I learned the exact
location of Brunnis in school."
"You mean we're really going?" Stanley looked surprised at the turn
events, and the ease at which Kai offered the coordinates to Brunnis.
The location of a planet he never thought he would ever visit, in a
he never thought he would see -- little did they imagine the price Kai had
paid to know that information.
"Wake up, my little bumblebee."
Kai rolled over and tucked his head under his pillow, his dark hair
and spilling over the edge of his bed.
"It's your big day!"
"Mom...." Kai grumbled as he curled his gawky body into a ball under
"It's Naaaming Day...Naaaaming Day...Naaaming Day for Kai, Caaaaaterpillar
Kai..." his mother sang sweetly. Kai wondered idly just how mothers learned
those cheery little tunes that were 100% guaranteed to embarrass their
adolescent offspring. His mother opened the curtains, letting in the
artificial sunlight from the outer crèche ceiling. "My little caterpillar is
going to be Named today...and it's time to get up!"
"Kai!" Barked the deep baritone that was his father's voice, "Get
out of bed, right now!"
Instinctively, Kai sat up in bed to look at his father. He did
that tone of voice very often, but when it echoed through the house, he knew
his father would not tolerate any nonsense. "Yes, sir," Kai mumbled,
turning to put his feet on the floor and reaching for his bathrobe.
Kai's mother glided past his father and out of the room, giving one
Looks to her husband. "Renii..." she trailed off as she stepped into the
hall. His father gave Kai a last stern glare before he joined his wife in
the hall, and Kai could hear their voices outside his door.
"Eura...he isn't a baby any more."
"He is still my little boy. Our little boy. Our little surprise."
"He is going to be Named today -- he is halfway to being a man, " Renii
"He's only fifteen. He's barely a Newborn."
"He has passed the exam ahead of the other newborns. Most are
until they are twenty-five. It's his privilege to be Named at such a young
age," explained Kai's father.
"Can't he wait a year? Or ten?"
Kai's father chuckled. "Sometimes, Eura, I think Kai's the oldest
"Really, Renii," chided his mother, "What would the elders say if they
Kai's parents continued their argument -- quickly turning into teasing
down the hall. Kai quickly dressed himself, hearing his stomach growling.
He wouldn't have anything to eat this morning, he recalled ruefully. He
wouldn't be able to eat until the ceremony was over -- not even a drink of
He knew in theory what the day entailed, but not the specifics of the
ceremony. In a gathering of the males of the clan, the fifteen-year old
male newborn (along with any other newborns of his year and clan) would
profess or "Name" the exact location of Brunnis, the sacred planet of their
Brunnen-G ancestors. If they were correct in all points, they would receive
the Mark of the Crossing on their cheek, initiating them halfway into
manhood. It sounded simple enough.
However, when he looked at his unblemished cheek in the mirror while
brushed his teeth, the entire ceremony seemed...barbaric. When the ceremony
was spoken of in his home, his mother would often excuse herself, going into
the kitchen to weep. His father's jaw would clench, and silence would fall
in the household. It was a times like these that Kai came to understand
that his father disapproved of the custom -- and Brunnen-G *never* dared
disapprove of customs publicly. Disapproval suggested that things needed to
be changed, and change was always to be avoided.
Kai's birth itself was an embarrassment to his family, as it meant --
change. Kai looked at his cheek again, and shrugged at himself in the
mirror. He began to lather up his cheeks with shaving crème when he heard a
soft noise of someone in his room.
"Kai..." It was his father in the doorway to the bathroom.
They exchanged a long look in the mirror. Kai was already almost
father's height, and he had his father's coloring, eyes, nose, and brow.
Often times he noted that when he looked into his father's hazel-green eyes
he might as well have been looking into his own. His mother always said
that his father had "eyes that could keep secrets," and Kai had inherited
those same easily veiled eyes. His mouth, on the other hand, was purely
from his mother -- a generous, open mouth that was meant to be laughing,
talking, and smiling. It was too bad that the Brunnen-G were not a people
accustomed to laughter -- the cultural and psychological devastation of the
Insect Wars had almost removed their race's ability to smile.
"Son...only shave the left side."
His father veiled his eyes for a moment, and when he looked up again,
saw a painful memory being put aside. "Because the elders will remove the
hair on your right side themselves. The hair must be removed completely for
the ceremony, and shaving is not... sufficient."
"Yes, father." His father watched as Kai carefully shaved one
side plus his
chin, rinsed, and toweled off. Then he fixed his hair in the complicated
uplift required of all males. When he was finished, he turned and faced his
father, looking him in the eye. Renii examined his son's face closely,
tucking a stray hair behind Kai's ear.
"You'll do." A fleeting smile crossed his father's face, but Kai
the memory still haunting his eyes. Renii caught Kai's appraisal, and
sighed, shaking his head, looking up finally into Kai's eyes.
"Are you afraid?"
"No, father," Kai said quickly. Indeed, he felt calm, peaceful...and
than a little hungry. But not afraid. "Were you afraid at your Naming?"
Renii gave an unhappy chuckle, "I was a little anxious." He stopped
suddenly, his face growing a look of suspicion, "Are you sure you are not
"No, father." Kai was starting to become worried at his father's
his father suddenly smiled one of those brief, incandescent smiles that
rarely graced the elder's face.
"You are an amazing young man," Renii said, and then he kissed Kai on
forehead, the parental kiss of blessing.
Now Kai knew for certain that his father was terrified.
The Naming ceremony was to take place in a private courtyard of their
crèche. Tables and chairs had been moved to one side, and the artificial
sunlight at the top of the manmade cave had been dimmed to twilight. To
honor the occasion, torches were lit -- an unnecessary touch, more for
ambiance than need. The ceremony had evolved over five-thousand years --
from an absolute requirement of all the children born to those fleeing
Brunnis' failing sun -- to an initiation, full of lost rites and secret
meanings. Or lost meanings and secret rites, depending on your point of
view, thought Kai.
He and another young man of his clan were led into the courtyard.
seen the young man here and there in school, but they were no more than
classroom acquaintances. Kai was not even sure of the boy's name. Both of
the initiates were dressed in white from head to toe, fresh clothes made
especially for them by their mothers. Women were not permitted to be on the
ceremony floor, but Kai could hear the rustlings from the latticed windows
in the upper balconies of the courtyard. He looked up, trying to peer
through the lattice, but all he could see was shadows.
Kai felt his father touch his arm and he looked over, seeing his father
shake his head. Kai had been told not to look around, to keep his head
straight and his face solemn for the occasion, but it was difficult. This
ceremony was something *new* -- a change in his life -- and for Kai, living
in a society that denied change -- it was something to be appreciated.
It was obvious, though, that the boy who was to be initiated with Kai
not feel the same. The young man was white as a sheet and trembling, and
the nape of his neck under his brown hair was dripping with sweat.
The initiates were soon encircled by the members of their clan.
At one end
of the circle was the Elder chosen for the occasion. Outside the circle
were the men whose job it was to administer the Mark of the Crossing. Kai
had been told that the duration of the entire ceremony depended on the
swiftness of the initiates, and it occurred to him that the boy next to him
looked like he wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. Kai, on the
other hand, was enjoying every minute of it. Everything except for the fact
that his stomach was growling.
The Elder spoke, "Declare your lineage!"
The young man next to Kai spoke first. "I am Lett, son of Gruto,
Geroff clan of the Brunnen-G, a descendant of the Brunnen who crossed over
from the Dark Zone and defeated the Insects."
It was Kai's turn. "I am Kai, son of Renii, of the Geroff clan
Brunnen-G, a descendant of the Brunnen who crossed over from the Dark Zone
and defeated the Insects." The words tripped easily off his tongue, having
practiced the phrasing for several months before this day.
The Elder spoke again to the men assembled, "Do you recognize these
as of your blood?"
The group spoke as one, "We do."
The Elder then turned back to Kai and Lett -- for that was the young
name -- and asked them, "You are recognized as newborns of the Geroff clan.
Prove the worth of your recognition by stating the coordinates of Brunnis
based on these origin points." The elder passed one tightly tied scroll to
each of the newborns.
Kai knew he could not just relay the coordinates based on the spatial
relationship between Brunnen-G and Brunnis -- he would be tested on
determining the coordinates based on an unknown entry point. It was a
spatial, mathematical, and logistical test of mental ability, one that every
Brunnen-G male had to pass. The test was not in the math, but in the
ability to use math under extreme duress, and to be able to compute in his
mind without the help of even a writing instrument to keep track of the
Kai opened the scroll, and read carefully the origin point inside.
And...his mind went blank. He could feel his heart start to pound and a
cold sweat break out on his back. He looked at his father, but all he saw
on his parent's face was a stone cold mask. The entire room went silent
except for Lett's labored breathing and the pounding of Kai's heart.
He looked at the origin point again. Think! He told himself, Think!
done this before! Thousands of times! Ignore them all! This isn't any
different...just a bit of math that is complicated by people watching you.
He could feel his heart start to settle down and the numbers slowly came
into focus as he looked at his feet and started to go through the steps to
solve the problem.
What seemed to Kai like moments later must have been a half-hour when
finally looked up with the answer. He nodded at the Elder, and he was
presented with a pen while the Elder opened a large book and turned it to a
blank page. Quickly Kai wrote the equation down -- the navigation from the
origin point through the present location of Brunnen-G, then referenced
through the X and Y axis of Brunnis when reached through a fractal core. As
he finished the Elder looked at him, nodded at his written answer, and
whispered, his eyes twinkling, "Sign your name at the bottom, Kai."
As Kai signed, he could hear a sob of relief from his father.
Lett was not having the same luck. He, too, was looking at his
mouth moving as he mumbled and whispered numbers and formulas. Kai peeked
at him as he returned to his place in the middle of the circle. Finally,
Lett gasped, his eyes lighting up as the answer was achieved. He hurried
over to the book and grabbed the pen for himself, scratching the answers
quickly onto the page. When he finished Lett stepped back, his nerveless
fingers dropping the pen as his eyes searched the Elder's face. The Elder
looked at Lett carefully, and then slowly ran his eyes down Lett's
Lett ran his hand over his face, brushing away the sweat, and wiped
on the front of his white suit. He was shaking visibly, his lips quivering
with tension, his eyes dilated with fear. The elder looked up from his
close perusal of the calculations and made a tight smile. "Sign your name,
Lett," he whispered. Lett jumped, picked up the pen, and signed his name
with quick, hurried strokes.
The rest of the clan took a deep breath as one. Lett turned and smiled
victory as the clan began to applaud for the two of them. Kai could hear
applause and soft happy murmurs from behind the lattice upstairs, and he
felt himself engulfed in his father's arms in a hug. His father's face was
deeply pleased, and yet Kai could see that painful memory was still behind
his eyes. The ceremony was not over -- yet.
Breaking from his father's embrace, Kai turned and suddenly was engulfed
a huge hug from Lett. The boy pressed his sweaty cheek to Kai's and said,
"Congratulations" as he gave him yet another tight squeeze. Kai pulled
back, trying to smile but a little revolted at all the sweat. Lett looked
him in the eyes, smiled with joy, and then hugged Kai a third time in his
happiness. Hesitantly, Kai wrapped his arms around Lett to return the hug.
He intended it to be brief, but when he felt the trembling body in his arms,
his heart went out to Lett, and he hugged him tighter, giving him an extra
squeeze before he allowed Lett's body to go. Kai looked into Lett's eyes,
seeing barely held back tears of joy.
Still holding onto Lett's arms, Kai murmured, "You did it!"
Lett grabbed fistfuls of Kai's jacket, barely holding onto his emotions,
breathing heavily. "We did it -- we did, Kai. We did!"
As he heard the applause still ringing around him, Kai pulled Lett closer,
whispering into his ear, "Hold on, Lett. Hold on. You know it's not over
yet, don't you?" Lett pulled back, his smile fading as he nodded at Kai.
Still in each other's arms, they turned and looked at the men who would make
the Mark of the Crossing on their faces.
Both of the men stood up, along with their three assistants, and slowly
room went quiet. The Elder spoke solemnly, "The Newborns have passed the
Naming. Next they will honor their ancestors with the mark of the Moko,
showing all who see them that they know the journey of our people into the
Kai and Lett were separated each to one of the groups of men.
The Elder and
the rest of the clan stepped back, forming a semi-circle around the two
boys, and all of the clan knelt on the ground, hands clasped together. Kai
and Lett were led over to oddly shaped benches, one for each of them, where
Kai saw a strange arrangement of pillows and wood in the shape of a backward
Z. He was told softly to kneel on a white pillow on the bottom ledge of the
bench, and then he was gently pushed to lay his head on a white pillow on
the top ledge. He felt his hands led to wooden handholds in the bench, and
he noticed that the handholds had some strangely rough grooves in them.
His right cheek was exposed and ready for the tattoo. A voice
his ear, "Listen, and listen carefully. We will make the mark so that it
will be perfect on your face. You, in turn, must keep still, no matter how
much it hurts. If you cry out, we will stop, but you will be required to
complete the ceremony again in a year, or maybe ten, depending on what the
elder decides. Do you understand me?"
Kai nodded. "Will it hurt?"
"Yes. I will be honest -- you will never know such pain as this.
pain will end -- you must remember that. The pain will end. We will hold
you down so that you cannot move, but it is up to you whether you cry out.
All you must do is survive the pain. Do you understand me?"
Kai nodded again. He didn't care about the pain -- it was the
thing that had ever happened to him. "Let it begin."
Suddenly, six strong arms grabbed his body, using straps to tie his
the handrests, his head and neck to the bench, and more straps around his
torso and legs. Kai was tied to the bench so that he could not move if he
wanted to, and his head especially was completely immobilized. His mouth
was opened and slowly stuffed with a soft material on the right side, making
the skin there firm. Kai could feel the material being placed between his
cheeks and gum, and he was told to bite down on a harder backing material.
There was a pause in the action, but Kai could not see much in his limited
position. Then, there was a strange smell, and Kai could feel a warm sticky
paste being applied to his cheek. A papery thing was put on top of the
paste, and after a few seconds, was pulled off, taking with it the hair.
Kai was startled by the stinging feeling, and tensed up, but it was not
exactly painful. Several times the paste was applied and the hair was
removed, until Kai heard murmurs indicating approval. This was easy, Kai
thought. What was next?
A cold solution that smelled acrid was then applied to his cheek, cleaning
off the paste and (from what it smelled like) sterilizing the skin. There
was another pause in the action, and then soft hands caressed his cheek as
he felt a line being drawn on his skin, a pause, and then the larger circle
of the Crossing at the corner of his mouth. Then another collective pause
as Kai heard the clink of metal tools and the adjustment of other apparatus.
The same voice spoke in his ear. "Are you ready? Blink your
Kai blinked twice. He heard a chant begin, and as he strained to make out
the words, he heard the sharp noise of metal against metal in a
ta-ta-ta-ta-ta staccato, and the pain began.
The pain rose slowly from his skin to his brain, seeping into his mind
sharp irritation, and then going deeper and deeper from his brain down his
spine until it reached his toes. As he forced himself not to move against
the pain, he clenched the handholds tightly, and a tiny part of his
consciousness realized that those strange grooves in the handholds were
where his predecessor had dug his nails in the wood as a result of the
He could feel the blood from his cheek start to seep down his face,
hot rivulet slid between his jaw and his neck. Another one went upwards to
pool under his eye and drip over the bridge of his nose. He could feel more
and more blood slide down his cheek towards his neck, making his skin
sticky. The pain was screaming now, but Kai suppressed a moan of misery.
His heart was pounding, his nails were digging into the wood, and he
why he had not been permitted to eat or drink -- he would certainly have
vomited as a result of that unavoidable, inescapable torture that was
drilling into his head.
He peeked as far as he could to the right, seeing the rise and fall
tool tapping into his skin. It looked like a comb made of needles, a
monstrous thing biting into his skin. Every now and then the artist would
pause and rub red pigment into Kai's cheek, pigment that burned the torn
skin as it was forced underneath the surface through the tapping.
Kai could feel his eyes watering, tears mingling with the blood pooling
under his eyes. His nose wept as well, as did his mouth, salivating as a
result of the pain. His tongue convulsed, trying to swallow, but there was
a block of material in his mouth that prevented him from that basic
function. When the artist paused to reach for more dye, the sweetness of
the moment was a great delight. Each pause, which no doubt lasted a second
or two at the most, was a moment of deliverance. Each time the artist
resumed his task, Kai was sent to a fresh hell.
As the line grew closer to Kai's mouth, the tapping increased its intensity
in order to get through the softer and softer skin. The pain started to
exclude thought. The lights in the room began to dazzle him with their
luminescence, and his presence of mind began to fade slowly. There was a
pause in the tapping that Kai drank in like cool water on a hot day,
dreading the resumption of the pain -- but the agony now continued even
though the tapping did not.
The Moko artist began again on the tiny circle closest to Kai's mouth,
the pain increased in such intensity that Kai had to stifle his first cry.
The wider needle comb was replaced with a single needle, and with that
replacement came more suffering, especially since the wicked thing was so
close to his sensitive mouth.
Again and again, the ta-ta-ta-ta sounded in Kai's ear, and with each
came tremors of agony. Kai began to shudder and tremble, his heartbeat
racing, feeling the hot blood and cold sweat soak into his shirt and drip
down his chest. Wood fragments were imbedded underneath his nails now, and
he could feel his fingertips smeared with blood. The bench creaked as his
entire body tried to stiffen with spasms, with only Kai's determined grasp
on consciousness keeping it still as a stone.
Then -- silence.
It was done.
Gentle hands cleaned his cheek and face of blood, and a soft crème
patted onto the wound to keep it from bleeding further, and to keep the dye
from spreading. Kai felt his hands freed, and then the rest of his body,
and he was helped to sit up and then slowly stand. The packing was removed
from his mouth, and a soft cloth wiped his eyes, nose, and hands clean. He
could feel his grasp on consciousness getting stronger, and the pain
diminishing, but he was still trembling like a leaf. Behind him, he heard
the end of Lett's ceremony as well.
As he was cleaned, he caught a glimpse of Lett, and imagined that he
looked much the same. Pale as a statue, eyes red as coals, and every ounce
of youthful energy or nervousness was drained out of him. His right cheek
was swollen and red, and the skin under and around his right eye was turning
purple. His jaw and lips ached and throbbed, and the rest of his body felt
stiff and sore from the extreme muscle tension. His fingers, too, ached.
He was terribly, terribly thirsty all of a sudden, and a chill swept through
his body. Kai trembled anew as the wave of ice swept from head to toe.
The Elder stepped up, and Kai and Lett were gently herded by the assistants
to the center of the circle, their backs to the clan. He looked at the boys
carefully, and then said to them, "You are as brothers now." Kai turned his
head to look at Lett, drinking in how the other looked and trembled the same
as he did. Kai did not know if going through the ceremony with another boy
made it better or worse -- it was good not to be alone in his misery, but
his heart also wept at Lett's pain. Lett, too, looked at Kai, his eyes
moving from Kai's cheek to his eyes and back again, seemingly measuring the
damage. Despite the care, their tender boyish faces would never again be
"Promise me," Lett whispered, "that you will never let me forget this
as long as I live."
"I swear," whispered Kai back through swollen, parched lips.
Then, he and Lett were turned around and presented to their clan. He
hear a collective gasp from the floor and the hidden watchers upstairs.
"These Newborns have honored their ancestors with the Naming and have
endured the Moko, so that they understand the pain of the crossing. Are
they acceptable to the clan?" asked the Elder.
"We accept them, and are honored by their sacrifice," said the clan as one.
"Then welcome them to the clan, for they have earned the right," finished
With a joyous roar, the clan descended on Kai and Lett, holding them,
hugging them, and kissing them. Kai reached to grasp his father's hand so
that he could stay standing, but it was difficult as his legs felt like
jelly. His right cheek was tenderly avoided by all, but the pain in his
body returned as he felt arms around him squeeze hugs, his back pounded and
his hands shaken by others of his clan. The room started to flex from side
to side, and blackness edged into his vision.
He turned in time to see Lett's head fall back as his new brother collapsed
limply. Lett's immediate family picked him up and gently carried him out of
the room. The room twisted again and Kai saw the Elder speaking to the Moko
artists, who in turn were packing up their tools, removing the blood-soaked
pillows from Kai and Lett's benches. As he saw his own blood, the room
began spinning in earnest, and Kai's heartbeat began to hammer in his ears.
He felt his father's strong arms around him.
"Father...don't let me...." Kai managed to whisper, the room quickly
He felt his father's arms hold him tightly. "I have you, my beloved son."
Then everything went black.
In the moth, Kai remembered the ceremony, the agony, and later, the pride in
his accomplishment as he surveyed the empty cities below him. At least the
mark on his cheek meant something more than just a rite of manhood -- it had
actually been a useful part of his existence. Not that he had any sort of
future...but he could not deny that he existed, and that he was here on
So soon after regaining his memories, his recollections were partial
often fragmented. However, every now and then significant events in his
life rose to the surface of his mind, collected and whole, emotions
attached. Emotions. He could remember what they were like, but to feel
them now...there was nothing.
"It must have been beautiful...once," Zev murmured in admiration.
feel her eyes on him, and he knew that she was talking as much about him as
his planet. He made a mental note to talk to her about the impossibility of
their situation, if he had the time -- and the protoblood. Besides, *she*
was the one alive, *she* was the one who was beautiful. If he were alive,
he would feel regret right now. His eyes turned back to the scenery below.
Regret, yes, and wonder at the ancient planet below him.
"As a child I studied my ancestral planet...I never thought I'd see
my own eyes." Regret. And wonder. There was no point in musing over emotions
that he would never feel again.
"Looks like we missed the party," quipped Stan.
Memories fluttered through Kai's mind, of parties, celebrations, feasts,
and...torments. Kai mused that he'd had enough of parties to last him a
4/30/00 12:07 PM
If you liked this, PLEASE send me a word or two. Don't read it and then
forget it -- fanfic is a labor of love, and I aim to please you. Yes, you!
Send comments, fan mail, and constructive criticism to: