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Chapter 41: Who Is John Galt?

Several thoughts swam through Bud's brain as Shlitzee took samples from the natives. Who was this John Galt they worshipped? Had Galt been replaced by a shapeshifter? Was Galt a title like the Lamas of Earth? Perhaps he was an android or had a stash of advanced technology that sustained his life or was mem-gening new bodies after discarding the old husks. Perhaps Galt had the other dropship...

As Bud mulled these thoughts he saw a large four-legged beast crest a dune on the horizon. Several men clung to its back. Bud assumed a neutral pose and said to Horatio, "What manner of men ride such creatures?"

Horatio looked at the beast. "That's a leviathan. The Spragni lack the knowledge to harness them. It could be Hithari from Eden or," he frowned, "it could be Rota."

Bud noticed Horatio's displeasure and said, "How would you greet Hithari from Eden?"

"The priests of Galt spend their lives in the seminary. They know much more than me about Galt, the Warden and the world. They will know what to do."

"And the Rota?"

"They are deceivers. Do not trust them. They care only for power."

From the gangplank, Irsa, Alexei and Becka watched the native villagers greet Shlitzee. Irsa said, "Do you suppose these humans are the descendants of the people from that ruined dropship? Is that why Shlitzee is taking skin samples?"

Alexei shrugged. Becka watched silently.

Nike watched Shlitzee from the bridge's main monitor. "Shlitzee," she said into the comm, "do you have any analysis on Arkady or anyone else yet?"

"Patience, grasshopper..." Shlitzee replied. "There are lots of meaties out here. I don't have detailed analyses yet. The initial results are all homo sapiens, although the adjective is debatable."

The crew watched the leviathan draw near. It towered over the heads of the queuing natives. It stopped nearby and squatted on its long legs. Four men leapt from its back. Two of them reined in the great beast. The other two approached the Pandora. Bud judged by Horatio's face that the men were Rota. Horatio's distasteful frown turned into a haughty smile.

On the bridge, Nike heard a sound behind her and turned. She saw Horatio's students running down the corridor away from her. "Uh oh," she thought. "That can't be good." She switched on her comm and said, "Hey Bud, Horatio's students are headed your way. They ran outta here in a hurry."

The students ran down the gangplank past Irsa, Becka and Alexei and stopped beside Horatio. A tense moment passed while the crew wondered if they were going to make trouble. "What's going on guys?" Arkady asked.

"They're just being protective," Horatio answered.

Arkady scrutinized the two Rota representatives. They had stopped a few meters away from Bud. One of them was a strong middle-aged man. The other was much older. His short curly hair was thinning and white with age. "They're protecting you from them?" Arkady asked.

Horatio shrugged.

"Well, don't anybody start anything. My friend here is a trained killer."

Bud replied with an abbreviated butterfly move that encompassed Horatio and his students with the end of his plaser. He turned to the two Rota men and said, "Hello. Who are you?"

The older man bowed and answered, "My name is Tymbal from Sigai. This is my friend Janus from Adaxa."

Bud gazed at the assembled villagers, the priest, his students and the newly arrived riders and unfurled his most becoming smile. "It is easy enough to see differences when first we meet," Bud said. "It is sometimes harder to see that which makes us the same. A custom I will share today is the retelling of wisdom from the ancient Sage Laird.
"At the beginning there was nothing but a big ball of gases. For a long time it just sat there in the nothingness, getting hotter and hotter. Then it exploded. The explosion created the stars, which were burning bubbles of the first big ball of gases. The stars threw out chunks of debris. They cooled and became planets. The planets spun round and became round.

"In a remote and insignificant sector of the universe, one planet fell into an orbit around its star that by accident made its surface conducive to the molecular formations known as amino acids. Neither so close to their planet's star as to incinerate, nor so far from it as to be frozen, the acids survived and proceeded to combine into new molecules of a complexity advanced enough to permit change, growth, meiosis and the development of certain other transient characteristics of a generic nature classifiable as life.

"Changing and growing and reproducing in response to random stimuli and the planet's chemistry, life thrived, multiplied and spread from the hospitable environment of liquid oxygenated hydrogen where it began, to the more challenging environment of the planet's solid mineral masses. The new environment stimulated further molecular changes that enabled living organisms to increase in size and complexity. The organisms grew bigger and bigger, then much bigger until some of the many life forms on the planet's surface were so enormous as to be dinosaurs.

"The dinosaurs were gigantic scaly beasts with small brains and large appetites for plants and each other. Created by numerous accidents of evolution, the dinosaurs managed to become extinct not by accident but by their own stupidity. The dinosaurs ate all of the plants in their environment and soon starved. When the dinosaurs became extinct, smaller life-forms became dominant on the planet's surface.

"These other life-forms were mammals which had hairy bodies, warm blood and small brains that were nevertheless larger than the brains of the dinosaurs. Over a long period of time after the dinosaurs became extinct, the hairy bodies of the mammals grew bigger and bigger until there were many large animals on the planet's surface. And some of these were very big indeed and something like elephants. And some of them were something like cattle. And some of them were something like pigs. And others of them were quite small and something like rats and cats and dogs. And a lot of them were a lot like monkeys.

"And the ones that were like monkeys had brains that were quite large. And some of these grew quite big and lost their tails so that they were no longer monkeys but apes. And the apes thrived and multiplied, surviving even unto the present age. And with the coming of the apes, the beginning of Earth ended."
Arkady chuckled and said, "The Boomer Bible!" In a lower voice he said to Bud, "I read that in the eighth grade. A friend gave it to me."

Irsa looked at Alexei and said, "We need to ask about this Boomer Bible later."

An awkward silence followed into which Tymbal spoke. "The Sage Laird sounds very knowledgeable. I have never heard of him. Have you, Horatio?"

Horatio grunted.

"You will find sir," Tymbal continued, "that Ithark is a land of Truths."

"Then tell us the Truth about John Galt," Arkady said. "Who is John Galt?"

"I can tell you what the humblest man among us knows. He is God himself, His living incarnation on earth. He is immortal. He existed before the earth was formed. He will still exist when it has ended. He is our loving Father who wants us to follow the path of the righteous and a vengeful God who punishes the wicked. He lives in his citadel at Eden with his wives and companions."

"Is John Galt really over two hundred years old?" Bud asked.

"I don't know," Tymbal replied, "but..."

"Be warned old man," Horatio interrupted him. "You are on shifting sands."

"...I have seen him myself," Tymbal continued. "I have seen John Galt many times at Convocation and I profess he is not like other men. Not once have I seen signs of age on his face. He looked the same last year as he did when I was a boy. His skin is radiant as if dirt were afraid to touch him. And even under the hot Ithark sun I've never seen him sweat."

"How much of this world have you seen?" Arkady asked.

"I have traveled throughout Galt's kingdom and portions of the desert that surrounds us. But I know men who have seen much more."

Horatio suddenly added, "John Galt has been to every corner of this world and found nothing but waste. This is the only place where the water of life is found."

"Is it?" Tymbal replied.

"My friends and I," Irsa spoke up, "just came from visiting another land mass on this planet. It appears to have more water and plant life. But it's on the other side of a huge body of water. I think this John Galt simply doesn't want to cross it since he can't bring anyone with him yet."

Horatio turned around with an angry look. When he saw Irsa, his face softened. He spoke to her as he would a child. "Yes, I know what you saw. I saw your visions in the room you call the bridge. The demons are indeed clever. They can make us see anything they wish. Only faith in John Galt enables us to see through their lies."

"That was not a vision," Irsa responded. "That was a real place my friends and I explored. Just because you can't visit the other side of this world doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It's merely something you've never seen before. You've been fighting these demons of yours so long you regard anything beyond this desert as imaginary."

Horatio was shocked by Irsa's impertinence, but before he could reply Janus said, "I do not know what you saw, but John Galt could not have seen it. He never crossed the great water."

"What?" Horatio said. "You lie."

"I know the truth of Galt and the truth of Benalidino. I have been taught by Benalidino's unbroken chain of disciples. I know many things Galt doesn't want you to know."

Horatio was beside himself with anger. "You're a liar!"

"No, John Galt is the liar. I have come to finally tell the truth."

"Do you know what will happen to you for saying this blasphemy?"

"I am not a coward. For sixteen generations my ancestors have waited to reveal the truth."

"Seize him," Horatio screamed. His students rushed at Janus to silence him. Bud aimed his plaser but they were too close to him and Arkady. The plasma blast would have burned them all.

Two loud shots reverberated between the dunes and the Pandora's enormous hull. Arkady held his pistol over his head, Chelydra aimed his shotgun at the sky and puffs of smoke wafted from their barrels. The students stopped in their tracks. The villagers fell to the ground in terror. Irsa dropped to the floor above the gangplank and climbed to her feet again when she realized her group had just fired two warning shots.

The leviathan panicked at the unusual sound of gunfire. It reared up on its hind legs. THX-1492 calculated the possibilities of the situation becoming dangerous. The robot moved midway between the creature and the crew and prepared to shield them if the leviathan went berserk.

The two men with the leviathan, Malik and Devon, held the lead rope steady. Together they calmed the beast. "I didn't like the sound of that," Devon said. "Something is wrong." Like the great beast, Devon felt sour panic in his gut but he suppressed it.

In the silence that followed, Irsa asked Janus, "How many years is a generation?"

"It varies," he replied. He did not appear to have been shaken by the sound of gunfire although most of the natives around him were trembling. "Benalidino's first disciple was born 307 years ago."

Nike spoke to the crew over the comm. "We've got to get this crowd away from here," she said. "Bud, bring Janus and Horatio and a couple of their companions onboard and tell the rest to get lost."

Bud acted while most of the natives still cowered. "Truth," he shouted. He shouldered his plaser but kept his right hand near his pistol holster. He made eye contact with the villagers who fearfully looked up at him. "Truth is like a day. Every man lives life one day at a time... And each day we share... Each day the sun rises and each day the sun sets... You might have seen the sun rise," he said to Horatio. "You might have seen the sun rise as well," he said to Janus. "But did you see it from the same place? Were your surroundings and comrades the same? Did you see with the same eyes?" No one replied.

"Truth is like a day," Bud continued. "This day, we don't all see it the same but it is real and it is here. We are on a pilgrimage. We travel in this bird to meet with John Galt and we leave this day. Horatio, pick your two best students. Janus, choose your two closest companions." Bud looked over the assembled natives and subvocalized to his crewmates, "I hope they go for this. I suggest plan B is getting Janus and his non-believers safely into the ship, hopefully without having to nix any of the others."

"Agreed," Nike responded.

Horatio said, "Foryn and Mica will join me."

Janus replied, "I will gladly go to Eden with you but I cannot speak for my companions. It will be dangerous and I do not anticipate returning."

Tymbal said, "I have the welfare of many men and women in Sigai to look after."

"I understand," Janus answered.

To Devon this journey was his purpose. He couldn't turn and run away now. He had much to do still. "I will go with you," he said to Janus.

"I will go too," Malik added.

Janus was glad to have Devon and Malik making this journey with him, but he knew he would worry about their health and safety.

Bud turned to Shlitzee and said, "Get... I mean greet the rest of our friends here." Shlitzee stepped up to Janus. He greeted the robot as a friend.

Shlitzee approached Malik with her arms outstretched in greeting. She extracted a DNA sample and administered the sedative. Devon saw the applicator in the robot's hand. He thought he detected a sinister gleam in its eyes. He backed away when the robot approached him. "Don't touch me," he said.

"We're all friends here," Arkady said, "as long as no one tries to seize anyone."

Devon showed no sign of cooperation. "Shlitzee," Nike said over the comm, "find some other way to get a DNA sample from him. Don't bother trying to sedate him. He's the only one of 'em who isn't already sedated. I think our security team can handle him if he's a trouble maker."

"I mean you no harm," Shlitzee said to Devon. Her eyes changed to a light shade of blue. "My companions only want to get to know you better." She took a good look at him. He wore sandals, pants and a long sleeved cape but his head and chest were bare. His head was hairless. "May I have a piece of hair from your, um... arm?"

"My hair?" Devon said. "Why would you want that?"

"It is a custom with my people. It's how the crew tribe gets to know someone," Shlitzee said smiling cryptically.

Devon looked at Janus. He gave him a nod in reply. Devon took his knife and trimmed away a few arm hairs. He presented them to Shlitzee.

Shlitzee took the hair, added it to her database, started processing the DNA and moved on to the leviathan.

Arkady eyed Devon's knife and approached him. He pointed his pistol harmlessly at the ground. "We can't allow you to bring weapons into our bird. Do you or your friends have any other weapons? We'll take good care of them and return them to you."

Devon was confused. He knew Arkady was talking about his sharp knife but he didn't know what the word weapon meant. Violence was rare and war unheard of among the people of Ithark. The consequences were grave if Galt found out, and Galt was believed to be omniscient.

Devon looked to Janus again for guidance. Janus nodded again for him to comply. He handed the knife to Arkady and opened his robes to show he carried nothing else.

Shlitzee sampled the leviathan and the rest of the crew outside the Pandora. She entered the ship and headed for the bridge to sample the rest of the crew while Nike spoke with Chelydra over the comm. "C, keep Janus and Horatio's people separated. Assign them to guest quarters. Under no circumstances are they to enter the bridge area. I don't care if one of them seems to be bleeding to death."

Chelydra pointed to the gangplank and announced, "Horatio and Janus, come on board with your chosen pilgrims. The rest of you had better clear out. Go back home. When this bird decides to take off, she'll hurt anyone who's too close to her. It's nothing personal, it's just the way she flies. THX, would you please guard the aircar until we're ready to leave?"

"Affirmative," the robot replied.

Irsa said to Alexei, "You can stay in my room 'til you get your own." Alexei nodded and followed Irsa to her room. Becka slunk off behind them.

Chelydra and Arkady led the way up the gangplank. Horatio, Foryn, Mica, Janus, Malik and Devon followed them into the Pandora's bowels. The villagers stood outside and watched mutely as the gangplank swung closed behind them.

Inside the Pandora, the pilgrims walked down a corridor that reminded them of the rich metal homes in Eden, except this place had no windows. The bird's metal insides were brightly lit by panels in the ceiling that burned steadily, unlike the flickering candles they were accustomed to. Arkady opened a door and stepped inside. Through the door the pilgrims saw a storage room with racks filled with stuff. Arkady placed Devon's weapon on a shelf and stepped back into the hallway. They continued to an intersection. Long corridors stretched to the right and left but they walked past them.

As they marveled at being inside the great bird at last, the sedative Shlitzee had administered took full effect. They felt sluggish. They followed Chelydra to the crews' quarters.

"I'll interrogate Janus and his friends in room D," Chelydra said to the crew subvocally. "Arkady, you take Horatio and his students to room M across the hall."

"Roger," Arkady replied.

"Caleb, assist Arkady. Bailey, you're with me."

Arkady and Chelydra opened the doors and ushered their passengers into their separate rooms. The chambers within amazed the natives. They saw form-fitting chairs attached to the floor, three beds built on top of one another, shelves, drawers and a desk. Colored lights on devices built into the walls, shelves and beds flashed around them. On top of the desk was the most unusual device. It was unlike anything Horatio had ever seen in Eden, but Janus and his men were familiar with it. It resembled something they'd all seen during their initiation into the secret society of the Rota. Although the computer's monitor was off, they recognized the dark glassy 'window' on which images might soon display and from which voices might speak.

Chelydra stood by the door. "Passengers secure," he said into the comm.

"Secure here, too," Arkady answered from the other room.

Janus, exhausted, fell into one of the chairs in front of the desk. The speech he had spent years preparing eluded him. The words his teacher had made him memorize seemed forgotten. He pondered this strange sensation.

A moment later, Bailey and Alexei entered Chelydra's room and stood in the opposite corner. "So," Bailey said, trying to break the ice after an awkward silence. "I'm sure you have a lot of questions. So do we. What I'm most curious about is... who or what John Galt really is."

Janus came to life as he remembered his purpose. "John Galt," he said, "was a passenger on the Alexandria."

Chelydra and Bailey gave each other surprised looks. Devon and Malik stared at Janus. This was also news to them. They wondered what else Janus had never told them.

"He had a plan to capture the Alexandria. When captain Jamar woke Galt's accomplice Dwayne Spragni, they waited together for their chance to strike. Then Mike Benalidino and Ken Matahachi took Spragni with them to a ruined city in a bird. While they were there, Matahachi discovered he could no longer talk to his captain. Spragni captured Benalidino and locked himself in a place called the bridge. Matahachi put on his armor and prepared for battle. Galt arrived at the ruined city with a second bird. He brought with him several women he'd captured from the Alexandria. He put on his armor, entered Matahachi's bird and killed him."

"Then what happened?" Bailey asked.

"Galt destroyed the first bird and took everyone away. He taught several mechanical men to act as his guards. The guards kept everyone prisoner, except for Galt and Spragni. They lived like kings. Galt married his pick of the women and gave the rest to Spragni. Some of the guards built houses for them to live in then Galt took the bird away. He was gone for many weeks. When he returned, Benalidino said he was different. He no longer seemed entirely human. Benalidino feared for his life but Galt kept him alive. He knew things about the birds that Galt didn't. Galt tried to get Benalidino to teach him but he resisted." Janus yawned and rubbed his eyes.

"What about the demons?" Chelydra asked.

"They arrived three years later. The demons looked like men. They approached Galt's camp and said they wanted to be friends but Galt attacked them. He struck them and they melted away like they were made of sand. That night everyone fell asleep at the same time like a spell had been cast over them. When they awoke, the jungle, the birds and the mechanical men were all gone and they were in Eden. They found crops growing in neat rows and metal houses for everyone. Everything changed for Benalidino after that. He was still a prisoner but now he had power. Galt no longer had his mechanical guards, his bird or the Alexandria. He gave Benalidino his own wives in return for sharing his knowledge. He organized expeditions beyond the desert and built boats to journey across the great water but storms always arose and prevented him from going any further. Eventually Galt gave up and fathered many children. Benalidino taught them the skills they would need to reclaim the Alexandria and the Warden when she returned. He told this story to the few students he trusted."

Alexei felt a strange sensation. He couldn't explain it but he was somehow certain Janus was telling the truth.

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