The planet Hegira is the universe's melting pot. Hundreds of tribes in dozens of cities intermingle in the vast uncharted territory. The only thing holding the people together are the massive Obelisks, the chronicles of the all the truths and falsehoods each tribe has brought to Hegira. Young Bar-Woten is in search of knowledge and he knows the key to the truth about his homeland is contained in the writings of the Obelisks. With his fellow companions, Bar-Woten must travel through Hegira's exotic cities to discover the lies within the words of thousands.
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February 05, 2001
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Excerpt from Hegira by Greg Bear
The short, stocky Ibisian general motioned for his aides to step up to the balcony. "Look closely," he told them as they stood next to the Mediwevan deputato. "Here's true barbarism."
Below the balcony, a parade of penitents filled the rain-slicked streets.
"These are ascetics from Monta Ignazio, General Sulay," the deputato stuttered. His teeth were chattering. He had never been closer to his country's savage, unwelcome guests than he was now.
The methane lanterns in the room hissed.
"They whip themselves," Bar-Woten said. He was a lean, well-muscled man in his middle thirties, with one gray eye and a black patch. His nose hooked sharply.
The penitents had gathered from leagues around for the night march through Mediweva's capital, Madreghb. Men, women, and children dressed in brown sacks, black and white clerical robes, or the red of deacons and priests swung leather cats against their backs, the strands weighted to age and devotion. Beneath cloth tatters their flesh was raw as ground meat.
"This is religious inspiration!" Sulay rasped. "The Heisos Kristos of Mediweva demands that they poison their bodies with infection to see His visions. Absorb this and learn from it. We've met with many peoples and their religions, but none is more amazing than this."
Bar-Woten watched with distaste and finally turned away. His eye caught the deputato's, and he winked at the thin official. "Not to my style," he explained. "I grow faint at the sight of blood." The deputato laughed nervously, then lapsed back to respectful silence.
Sulay stepped back from the balcony, shaking his head and fingering his pistol's holster strap. "I'd like to visit your library now." The deputato nodded and led him away. Bar-Woten stayed behind to watch the penitents flogging themselves. Their moans bothered him like a boil under his armored vest. They were ecstatic. The ecstasy of visions. "Barthel!" he called. His servant appeared, grinning and dressed in splendid red silks.
"I think I could like living here," Barthel said, fanning his arms out. "It's cool and the clothes are beautiful."
"What can you tell me about Kristians?"
"My country had a few, Bey. But I am of the Momad persuasion myself, as you understand, and we avoid intercourse with the unfaithful. Except for yourself, sir, who shine like the light..."
"'Shines,'" Bar-Woten corrected. "Your lessons in Mediwevan are slipping." He had chosen Barthel from a group of captured children fifteen years before in the now desolate land of Khem. The armies of Sulay, Bar-Woten among them, were responsible for that desolation. But Barthel showed no memory of the slaughter. He knew only those things he was required to know, and the rest seemed to sink in his memory like plum stones in a pond. He was a cheerful lad.
"Bey, I could tell you tales my mother told me, but some are very crazy. You might not believe. This Heisos Kristos--or Yesu as we knew him--is mentioned in all the Obelisks I have ever known, and his story is always the same."
"Which is food for the argument that all Obelisks have the same words engraved on them."