The Light is Alive

55 Cancri e

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“You can’t be serious.” Marshall Arnold was the Surface Team Lead for the Tyche expedition and his Science Officer Bertha Rose had just told him something impossible.

“I would have missed it if I hadn’t compared my readings to Marco’s stellar observations.”

“But what made you take readings of dying Tiagos?”

“Blame Gracie. She has this weird intuition and made a connection between the Tiago religion and death rituals with their screwy biology.”

“So wait a minute, Bertha. Gracie…”

“Call her over and ask her, Marshall.”

Arnold’s team had been on the surface for three months living among a local tribe of Tiago, which is what the indigenous humanoids called themselves (or as close as Cultural Anthropologist and Linguist Gracie Norton could pronounce the word). She and the Medical Chief Javier Underwood had been studying the Tiago life cycle from their particular perspectives and made a startling suggestion to Bertha.

Arnold and Rose were standing in the center of the village, the public gathering place often used for community members to come together and work out any conflicts, misunderstandings, or just to “chew the fat,” as Javier liked to say.

Marshall took his communicator off of his belt and switched to the Surface Team’s general channel. “Gracie, Javier, this is Marshall. Can you meet Bertha and me in the town square right away?”

“Acknowledged, Boss.” Gracie called Marshall that just because she knew he hated it.

“On my way, Marshall.” Javier’s baritone voice lent drama even to common statements.

Fifteen minutes later, they were all sitting on low benches arranged in a circle. Several curious Tiagos were gathered behind them to watch and listen. A few of them had picked up some English (still the lingua franca of space exploration) but even if they didn’t understand, they enjoyed witnessing a good debate.

“Okay, so how did you all work this out?” Marshall wasn’t in the mood for another mystery, especially a metaphysical one, but he couldn’t ignore his staff either even if this revelation promised to trigger a migraine.

“As you know, I’ve been studying the Tiago religion.”

“They’re sun worshipers, right Gracie?” He watched the unruly ginger curls of the Scot-Irish anthropologist twist randomly in the warm breeze.

“Well, sort of. It’s closer to ancestor worship, but that doesn’t really cover it either.”

“Ancestor? But they have sun icons everywhere, over their doorposts, inside their family shrines, a sun image for every departed family member going back generations.”

“More than that, Marshall. The entire town makes a pilgrimage to the communal temple once a year. It’s in the hills about fifteen clicks north. Bantu, the local scribe, tells me that the number of icons stored there goes back at least fifty generations and that’s just at ground level. The regional scribes told him that buried beneath are artifacts that go back thousands of years, maybe as far back as Tiago recorded history.”

“What does that have to do with the death ceremony?” Marshall could already feel the area around his neck and skull tightening.

“When an aged Tiago is close to death, the scribe, the town elders, and the healer gather with the family. The healer rubs the juice of a special root on the passing one as they call the person, and then watches. Apparently there’s a chemical reaction that can be used to measure the amount of time the person has until they pass.”

“You have anything on this, Javier?”

“Mak, the healer woman let me examine the root in question but she wouldn’t let me take a sample. As far as I can tell, it’s got some unusual properties that react to bio-energy sources. It’s possible that as a Tiago’s body approaches death, the root sap interacts with bodily secretions. I’ve watched it happen and the healer predicts the time of death down to within a few seconds.”

“Every time?”

“I’ve only seen it a couple of times, Marshall but Gracie doesn’t believe they’d have any reason to lie. Bantu and Mak told her this is a common ritual practiced not just here but in all of the Tiago communities they trade with.”

“So how did you get pulled in on this, Bertha?” Marshall’s headache was dull but spreading. He just hoped he wouldn’t get dizzy or nauseous.

“Javier’s medical instruments registered some sort of energy discharge at the point of death. Pretty unusual but his equipment wasn’t designed to identify these sorts of readings. Gracie had a hunch mine was.”

“And…?”

“K’tru passed away last night. Mak notified Javier and Gracie who got me invited to the ceremony. At the moment of death, I measured an energy output of 170,000 ergs per second for every cubic centimeter of volume, which in K’tru’s case was about 75,000 cc. The discharge was total for his entire volume, but it gets worse.”

“How bad, Bertha?”

“After the energy discharge occurred, I could track it.”

“You mean the Tiago’s life energy or whatever you want to call it left his body and you know where it went? You’re not taking about Heaven, are you?” Marshall was a life-long atheist and although he had been rigorously trained to respect the beliefs of other cultures (a necessity for a first contact expert), he didn’t have to share them.

“Well, it did go up, Marshall.”

“How far up?”

“As far as my handheld instrument could read. It passed out of range at around five kilometers from the surface, but then Marco picked up the ball.”

“Oh, of course he did.” Marshall rested his head in his hands. Marco Abbott was the Chief Science Officer as well as the Exec aboard the orbiting Cancri mothership.

“As it turns out, he was running a standard scan of the atmosphere just above us when he picked up…”

“Let me guess, an energy surge equaling the one you measured.”

“Exactly, and with long-range sensors, he was able to determine its velocity and direction. The energy surge took just over eight minutes to transit from the upper atmosphere to the Sun.”

“So Heaven is the Sun for the Tiago?”

“I think so, Marshall. Wait a sec.” Gracie saw Bantu in the audience and waved him over. According to custom, you couldn’t join a debate in progress unless you were invited. He grinned and happily took a seat beside her.

“You’ve heard what we’ve been talking about, Bantu. What can you tell us?”

Bantu had a gift for languages and dialects and was close to approaching fluency in English. “Yes, Gracie Norton.” The Tiago each had a single and unique name and names were never used again. They couldn’t comprehend the distinction between first and last names and referred to the expedition members using both. “Tiago from the Sun, return to the Sun. Ancestors live in Sun, in…atmosphere of Sun.” He had to think a moment to get the right word.

“But you are born just as our people are born. You didn’t come from the Sun, Bantu.” Marshall was being deliberately literal, just to see how the young scribe would respond.

“Yes, born out of body, Marshall Arnold, but spirit is light and Sun is light. Body release light when die and go to the light in the Sun.”

“In this case, I think Bantu is describing a form of energy contained in the Tiago bodies. I’ve performed some preliminary scans and the energy readings seem to grow and become more sophisticated as they age.”

“You’re sure, Bertha?”

“I’d need to do more research to be sure, Marshall. Right now though, I’d have to say that when any Tiago dies on this planet, their energy discharge…”

“Spirits, Bertha Rose,” Bantu corrected.

“…their spirits are freed from their bodies and they travel to the Sun existing there perpetually or for as long as their Sun continues to exist.”

“But Bertha, how many Tiago are we talking about over their entire history?”

“I don’t know, but I’ve got Marco doing a continual planetary scan for the same energy readings and he’s recording regular pulses going from different parts of this world to the Sun.”

An aura was starting to affect Marshall’s vision. He’d have to return to the shelter and lie down soon. “Gracie, you’ve said the Tiago have a history of what, 50,000 years?”

“That’s a conservative estimate yes, Marshall.”

“But Bertha, that would mean…”

“Marshall, their Sun’s photosphere, chromosphere, and even the corona may be inhabited by billions, perhaps tens of billions of…of spirits, distinct, physical, measurable beings of energy.”

“Tiago spirits shine on us. Give life to us. The light is alive.” Bantu stood up, raised his arms palms upward toward the Sun which was just overhead. The others of the town who had gathered around the circle imitated the scribe as they closed their eyes and with faces turned skyward, sang prayers of thanks toward the billions of Tiago forebears who had made the transition from corporeal to spiritual and now shined their faces back down on their world.

I plan to write a story along the lines of the Sun being alive or containing living beings, and this is only a preliminary version. I wanted to get something down though just to see how it would work out.

For the human names, I used a random name generator. I do this for a lot of stories, but I typically “mix and match” names for greater variety. For this one, I just took the names as they were listed. The Tiago names I had to fudge.

For my fake science explaining how energy from individual Tiagos is measured and emitted, I used a Discover Magazine blog article called Are Humans Brighter than the Sun? written by Phil Plait and published 30 December 2009.

Star Trek: The Next Generation did any number of stories about living energy beings including some that existed in or around a star. There was even a tale called Transfigurations where a humanoid evolved into a brilliant energy lifeform. I figure in the realm of science fiction, I could probably get away with a story such as the one above.

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6 thoughts on “The Light is Alive

    • Orson Scott Card the author of “Ender’s Game” once lamented of how science fiction tends to steer away from religious or spiritual issues as if they are mutually exclusive. I think that’s a big mistake since there’s a whole world of issues that could be incorporated into the realm of scifi and fantasy including folklore, mythology, as well as ancient and modern religions. It’s an adventure many writers avoid so as not to be accused of being controversial. And yet historically, scifi is supposed to be all about controversy, at least when addressing society and culture.

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      • And there’s a huge amount of possible futurist religions as well. Although maybe not science fiction, Game of Thrones mixes religion and manifested higher powers in a particularly elegant way, I think, but most fantasy I’ve known the beliefs are usually the same as the world’s manifested reality. Like in Lord of the Rings. Everyone beliefs everything exactly the way it is. Then again, Lord of the Rings is meant to be fictional mythology…

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      • Just about every ancient culture developed their own way of conceptualizing the universe and its creation. Most of them are gone now, but several remain along with their variants. Is it possible for human society in the 21st century to develop a new religion, I don’t mean one that just a few tens or hundreds believe in, but that would go worldwide? Islam was created from Judaism incorporating aspects of Christianity (which was born out of Judaism) in the 9th century and now about a quarter of the world is Muslim. Mormonism was created out of mainstream Christianity in the 1820s and currently has a worldwide population of about 15 million. It would be interesting to consider what sort of religion we could invent today that would catch on like wildfire, especially when the western nations are becoming increasingly anti-religious.

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      • Well, there is actually emerging a New Age occidental religion based on oriental Hindu – Buddhist roots, still quite different. For now it doesn’t really have the unity in beliefs that usually defines a religion, but that might change. Still, I think all religions are related in one way or another. I just made a flashfic about Pandora’s Box, and the story has some interesting parallels with the Adam and Eve story. I read somewhere that a lot of religions share the same ones, including Cherokee religion, which is (and especially was) quite far away. Interesting stuff.

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