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Denizens: Epilogue 1

...Rabbi Johannan is a great healer and teacher, and he knows he is in this place for a purpose. What that purpose is, however, not even he is certain. What he is certain of is that the answers he seeks are on the brittle, yellowing sheets he holds in his hands. From the first day, when he entered the village on the plain at the foot of his hill, more than thirty years before, and began his first tentative attempts at communication, he has known that this is where God means him to be...

This Rabbi is Jonathan Edge, a member of the crew of the spaceship Hermes, who travelled further and faster than any other humans.

And now Jonathan is living in Biblical times, and sudden enlightenment makes him aware that he has a mission of paramount importance.

Brian William Neal's great novel is a work of utter seriousness. To read this wonderful narrative from the beginning please click on Denizens in the menu on this page.




The Galilee, Israel
August, 4 BC

The old man struggles up the steep incline, his thin arms draped across the shoulders of the two shepherd boys. His drooping head drops his beard on to his scrawny chest, and his breath comes raggedly from his open mouth. The sun is low in the sky, sinking behind the hill before the trio, and their sandals slip and scrape on the rocky ground as they climb.

At last, they reach the small cave set into the side of the hill, and the old man gingerly disengages himself from his two helpers. Breathing heavily, he leans against the cliff wall and smiles at the boys; they smile back, happy to be of service to the great man. Rabbi Johannan is a much loved and respected holy man, with a power to heal that surely comes straight from God.

The man doubles over as a coughing fit seizes him, and the boys watch anxiously. He is very old, older than anyone in the village, and the two boys fear for him. But the spasm passes quickly, and the Rabbi places a hand on each of their foreheads.

ďIt is nothing,Ē he says in his strangely accented Aramaic, ďonly the dust. Go home now, boys. Once again, you have seen me safely to my door, and once again I am grateful. Godís blessing be upon you both.Ē

Smiling, the boys turn away from the cave and hurry down the dusty, shingle-covered hillside, already eagerly anticipating the supper awaiting them in the house they share with their parents, two younger brothers and three sisters. The old man watches them go, then turns and walks slowly into his hillside home. Although he is of only average height, he still needs to stoop to reach the back of the cave.

Inside, the air is cooler, and although he knows the night will be cold, he is nevertheless thankful for this brief respite from the desertís heat. He moves to the rear of the cave, sinks down onto a pile of blankets and removes a small rock from a niche in the cave wall. From the hole behind it, he extracts a small sack and takes an object from it. Although he has used the object every day of every year that he has been in this place, still he studies it in wonder for a moment. It is a small, metallic cylinder, totally out of place in this environment, an artifact from another technology, another civilization.
Another time.

Carefully, he lays it on the ground beside him. He gathers a few sticks into the circle of stones that comprises his fire, then picks up the object again and touches it to the dry pieces of wood. They immediately burst into flame, and he sits back on his bed. Already, the cave is growing cooler as the day wanes; he wears only a light cotton robe, and he gathers a rough blanket around his thin shoulders.

Reaching into the sack again, he withdraws a few rolls of papyrus and a piece of charcoal and, sitting cross-legged before his fire, begins to re-check the figures on the sheets. His hunched form casts flickering shadows on the rock wall behind him as he works, and his thin face is a picture of concentration. Rabbi Johannan is a great healer and teacher, and he knows he is in this place for a purpose. What that purpose is, however, not even he is certain. What he is certain of is that the answers he seeks are on the brittle, yellowing sheets he holds in his hands. From the first day, when he entered the village on the plain at the foot of his hill, more than thirty years before, and began his first tentative attempts at communication, he has known that this is where God means him to be.

He eats a frugal supper of dates and a small knob of wild honey, gathered for him by the villagers who tend to his basic needs in exchange for his teaching and healing. He thinks again, as he often does, of his life here in this place, and remembers a time in this timeís far future, more than two millennia hence. He remembers people he has known and loved, and thinks of them fondly. He is not as old as he appears, although he is, in terms of years alive, well over sixty. The air of the alien world, suffused as it was with the gas from the marvelous metal of which he alone of the four travelers was told, has given him a longevity he never could have had in his own time. Not as much as was (would be) given to the people of the future earth, but enough to allow him to comfortably live to be at least a hundred years old, perhaps more. He knows he must be careful not to let the villagers suspect his true age, lest they come to regard him as something more than they think he is, hence the small subterfuge with the shepherd boys, allowing them to assist him to his cave.

For a little while, his thoughts drift away from the cave, and he thinks fondly of the alien world, and the friend he found there, so far away in time and space. A short time later, looking towards the mouth of the cave, the old man who had once been Jonathan Edge, genius, physicist, astronaut and Biblical scholar, sees that it has grown dark, and he moves outside, taking his blanket with him against the cold of the desert night. The stars now shine overhead in a brilliant array and, as is the way in the desert, lower their sparkling canopy all the way down to the horizon.

He has chosen this place as his home because it faces a certain part of the sky, where can be found a certain point of light. The alien world is a bright star in the heavens, shining redly. To an untrained eye, it is difficult to tell from Mars, but Jonathan finds it with practiced ease. Now he sits, wrapped in his blanket, leaning against the wall outside the cave as he makes himself comfortable and prepares for his nightly vigil.

Jonathan Edge watches the sky and thinks of how he has spent his life. He has no regrets; he has lived long, longer than he would have had he not been cured of his former paralysis by the alien technology, his severed spinal cord miraculously re-connected. Now, he walks unaided, although he still affects to require help in climbing the slope of his hill to this cave. If he could be transported back to that day, more than thirty years ago, when he walked away from the ship and his friends, he knows he would do it again.

He smiles to himself. No regrets.

He has lived a full and rewarding life, a life he could never have had in his own, later time. He has many friends here in this place and is loved and revered by all. If he sometimes misses a spring shower on the quad at Oxford, or a game of chess with a young Irish priest on a Thursday night, then he knows it is part of what he owes to God for making him whole again on that alien world, so many years ago.

That world is part of the mystery too, he knows. The calculations he holds in his hands have occupied much of his time for all the years that he has been here, almost half of his life. Soon, he thinks; the time is near, and soon he might know Godís plan.

Jonathan looks at the sky and thinks again of his human friend, the young priest from the wilds of County Clare, who will not be born for another two thousand years. Ah, Sean, he thinks, if only you could see this place. He smiles as he remembers his friend and confessor, so far away in time, and the intense theological discussions they used to have. And will have again, Jonathan realizes, in the distant future. Then he will take part again in the Hermes experiment, and will end up here, in this time and place. And the cycle will start again.

Itís all eternal, Sean, he thinks. All of time is occurring at once, in one never-ending instant. Einstein was right. Itís all relative.

Jonathan looks at the sky again, at the one point of light that has never been long out of his thoughts. And what of you, ítau? If Man does not enjoy the exclusivity of Godís blessing, who knows how many others are out there? The alien who became his friend had spoken of fifteen races that had visited his world, and that was only in his small part of the galaxy. What of the rest? For that matter, what of all the other countless billions of galaxies, stretching on and on in an eternal chain, worlds without end, forever and ever?

With an effort, Jonathan brings his enormous intellect back to the present, to the rocks and the cave and the sky. Let God take care of that, he thinks, smiling contentedly. This here, this now, is enough for him.

He concentrates again on the point of light that is the alien world. His calculations are as accurate as they can be without access to a computer. He left most of such things behind him, back on the ship, taking only the fire starter and a few other small items. Still, he has fashioned a crude slide rule, and he is certain his math is sound. It might happen any time now.

He thinks again of the people on that alien world, those who tried to prevent him and his friends from leaving. They were not evil, not even bad. They were simply misled by one who was himself misled, and Jonathan does not feel any bitterness towards them. The death of Bill, so many years ago (ahead?) still touches him deeply. Without the jovial, melancholy engineerís sacrifice, none of them would have left the planet.

Perhaps that was another price to be paid. Yet Bill OíRourke will live again, be born again in another two thousand years, and will live his life and fulfill his destiny. Such is the wheel of life, thought Jonathan. Perhaps, in a way, the Buddhists were the closest to the truth after all.

Jonathan looks at the sky. And what of the people on that world? Are they, like him, gathered on some lonely hillside, the truth revealed to them at last, awaiting the end? Their planet had been doomed long before Jonathan and his friends had arrived; still, they had stayed. Now, is ítau, his alien friend, also watching the stars, seeking out a blue point of light in the sky? And is there some place in between where their gazes meet and mingle across the gulf of millions of miles of space?

Jonathan believes that it is so.

Suddenly, as he watches the sky with eyesight better than he ever possessed even as a young man, one of the points of light begins to wax brighter. At first, it almost escapes his attention, but after a few moments it blazes in the firmament, and quickly eclipses all the other stars near it.

Jonathan gets to his feet and watches solemnly, knowing that the buildup of heat in the tenth planetís core has finally reached the critical point. He watches, reverently, and knows that with the birth of the new, transient star, the alien world, its people and his friend are no more.

Rabbi Johannan faces the eastern sky as the new star waxes brighter and brighter, filling all the sky with its light, turning the desert night into day. As he weeps for his friend, watching the miraculous sight unfolding before him, he experiences his own revelation. His mind is filled with a vision; he sees a river, and a crowd of people, and One....

In that moment he knows, finally, why he is here, and what God wants of him. He has lived long; now, he knows he will live even longer, another thirty or more years. He thrills with the knowledge that he will one day meet the One who will redeem mankind. He even knows the time and manner of his future death, and that understanding fills him with dread. He prays that he will find the courage to carry out his part in Godís plan.

Jonathan looks in awe at the new light in the sky, and speaks words that are audible only to himself.

ďI looked, and beheld a star in the east, which did herald the coming of the Messiah.Ē

Below, in the village on the plain, the people amongst whom Jonathan has spent a great part of his life are coming out of their homes, staring at the brilliant new star in fear and wonder. Jonathan watches them fondly and smiles.

Fear not, he tells them with his mind. Rejoice, for behold: the salvation of the world is at hand.

He stands and watches for a moment longer, fixing the scene in his memory, then turns and re-enters the cave. Quickly gathering up his few belongings and stowing them in the sack, he picks up his long wooden walking staff and leaves the security of his home, knowing he will never see it again. There are people to see, and the word to spread, and Bethlehem is several days to the south.

Eyes shining with missionary zeal, John the Baptist strides down to the plain of the Galilee.



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