Pioneers

Yesterday, Faisal and I went up

To that structure on the ridge.

The one that’s been watching us all

Since we got here.

The only evidence that life had existed on this alien planet

Before we came to colonize.

 

So Faisal and I, in spacesuits,

We climbed the ridge and rolled away the rubble.

Went inside.

It was pitch-black, and from all around there came

A buzzing, as flies around a ripening corpse.

 

We followed a tunnel gently angling upward,

And we could feel it in our knees.

Faisal was in front.

I am, as you know, very sensitive to his opinion of me, so

In the parched webbed stone corridor

Whose walls nearly came to meet me at my shoulders,

I kept my quickening heartbeat to myself.

Eventually he started:

“Look! There’s light!”

 

He was right.

Ahead,

Flickering light,

Sliding like a writhing bare back along the dimpled stone walls.

I felt, in spite of my prudish conscience,

Aroused.

 

Turned out it was a chamber.

A circular chamber,

A thankfully lit chamber, perverted gyrating yellow torches

At equal distances around the walls.

Still dim,

But bright enough to see

The big black hole in the center of the floor.

 

We waited at the entrance, both of us.

I think Faisal expected me

To investigate. I suppose he was scared too.

Me, I was now too distracted by the performance of the light.

Rippling, rolling, hot flames,

Belly-dancers,

Bare pale stomach-flesh

Of a woman.

 

So, Faisal went to examine the hole.

“It’s just black,” he reported back.

“Mm,” I called in response.

 

But it was definitely intentionally there.

The hole, I mean.

Looking back now, of course.

A perfect circle, driving down,

Down.

Faisal was fascinated. Soon I was too, when

 

Finally I joined him at the hole.

Of course, we dropped something in,

As you do when you come across a hole.

But the moment the loosed rock passed the horizon,

It was as though it had never been dropped.

It disappeared in a bee-line downward toward nothing,

No end.

Wordlessly, the rock parroted

What Faisal had already contributed:

“It’s just black.”

No bottom.

 

Next, what to do?

Of course, Faisal was the decisive one:

“Hello?”

It echoed off the diving stone.

HELLO, it answered.

 

What?

A voice.

Like a horn from a harbor, freighted with mass and gravity.

World-sized. Welcoming.

YOU’VE FOUND ME, FINALLY

The taunting fires continued to wriggle around us

As we stared.

 

“Who’s there?” Asked brave Faisal.

 

IT IS I, FROM YOUR BOOK

 

“Our book? Which book?”

 

YOUR GOD. THE ONE YOU WORSHIP

YOU HAVE SEARCHED FOR EONS

AND YOU’VE FINALLY FOUND ME

 

The voice hammered up the tunnel in a planet-tone purr,

Leaving not so much an echo as a lengthy, lasting decay.

Whatever spoke these words

Was very confident in them. Comfortable in their claims.

 

My knees rattled. Faisal panted.

I thought back to the story

Of Muhammad in the cave.

Had his (peace and blessings be upon him) knees rattled

When he’d first heard the bleaching, blinding, obliterating

Word of God?

Had he panted?

 

I wrestled words up a dry throat,

Flames still pawing at me, and demanded:

“If you’re God, then prove it.”

 

The buzz of the flesh-eating flies grew

Furious behind us.

 

When next spoke this Allah in the hole,

It went exactly as such:

 

WHY DO YOU THINK I BROUGHT YOU TO THIS WORLD?

DO YOU BELIEVE, IN YOUR HUMAN ARROGANCE,

THAT YOU ALONE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR FORTUNE

IN FINDING IT?

I BROUGHT YOU WANDERERS HERE WITH PURPOSE,

FARID AND FAISAL (it knew our names), AND YOUR COMPANY,

SO THAT YOU MIGHT KNOW ME MORE PERFECTLY

AND WORSHIP ME MORE PERFECTLY.

HERE ON THIS DESERT WORLD IT IS YOU AND I,

MY PIONEERS,

AND I DESIRE AN OFFERING

 

I remember it word for word, apparently. It was convincing,

So convincing,

And, I have to admit, inviting. I could have gotten lost

In the lovely flames and comforting voice.

Don’t look at me like that. Don’t sit with arms crossed and think

You would have been smarter.

You didn’t see those flames.

 

No, I’ll say it again without shame: I might have fallen for it.

Faisal too,

Until we heard the noise.

A shifting of heft, a watery slithering,

A dragging.

Like a heavy creature moving its heavy tail

Along the stone of a floor,

At the bottom of a hole.

 

A question then occurred to me:

When had our God ever asked for offerings?

 

It served to break the spell.

I recognized the flames once again

As flames.

The voice in the hole had a body.

Perhaps a stomach.

And this world was so seemingly empty.

Perhaps its stomach was empty as well.

 

We slid away. The moment we could, we ran.

 

There are many things, in retrospect,

Wrong with this creature’s claims.

Of course it isn’t God.

To know someone’s name is really not so impressive.

Names aren’t as private as we think they are.

More likely it’s some lonely beast.

Granted, we didn’t stay

Long enough to hear what it wanted from us,

But I have some doubt

We would have come out well from it.

 

You asked, Laila, so I told you.

That’s what’s up there.

Some lurking, crust-dwelling giant with a tail,

Peeking up through its peep-hole.

And maybe it’s angry

That we got away.

Probably.

 

I expect we’ll be coming in contact again.

We live at the foot of its home, after all.

Maybe it’s listening now.

I’m not worried for myself, though—

Or you, or Faisal, or anybody alive, really.

We arrived here with our beliefs.

We benefit,

Alhamdulillah,

From perspective.

 

But we’ve only just arrived on this strange world.

We will be here, God willing, for a long time.

And I do worry, I have to confess, for the children

Who will be born here, under that creature’s home,

And will grow up accustomed to hearing its voice.

 

 

 

Photo Credit: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/whats-ancient-roman-temple-doing-armenia-1-180967756/

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