published in Mysterion
Shoshanna sprang to her feet. “Dammit, Caansu, you have to fight her. It’s the way your world—the way you—are. You can’t let a religion kill you like this!”
“An alien religion, you mean?”
“Our Lord did.”
“Your Lord was Human; it’s not the same thing.”
“It is the same thing. Exactly the same. She faced death, and I face death, both of us for what we believe. I for a far smaller goal, but Her example serves me now, and I will submit to Her will.”
Shoshanna made a face. “I’d rather die than serve that god.”
“Truly?” asked Caansu.
“You think us fools, Shoshanna.” Caansu flipped a bone into the fire, her voice as casual as if they were discussing cooking.
“I do not! I respect your people!”
Caansu nodded. “Enough to let us die as we have for millions of years.”
“Is that the line the missionaries fed you? We can’t interfere in your natural life cycle, or pull apart your culture to suit ourselves! We just don’t know enough, and these preachers certainly don’t! Dammit, think, Caansu. Don’t rely on your book or what some priest-shaman told you, just because they’re Human—”
“Enough.” Caansu rose.
The word was softly spoken, but the absolute power that rippled from Caansu’s chording of it was sufficient to freeze Shoshanna where she sat.
“Think? Do you know so little of me that you think I have not thought? Am I truly that primitive to you, Terran?” She turned away, bitterness echoing in the air. “Do you think that I have no fire in my throat, that it was cut out at birth? Do you think I can look at Aiierra without love and rage? That I have not imagined the taste of her throat between my teeth?”
She turned back and Shoshanna’s breath caught as those crosshair pupils fixed themselves on her. “Do you think that I have chosen this Way because I am afraid to fight?”
Shoshanna’s head was shaking no without her having consciously willed it. And she had thought that Caansu couldn’t get angry.
Caansu sat then, and her eyes dimmed. “But I am afraid.” Her chord trembled like a dying flute. “If not for you and Aiierra, I would be dead now. I prayed to my Father, that She would deliver me. I prayed that if She would not, She would give me courage to meet Her, unafraid. I was horribly afraid. I am still afraid. Of being wrong. Afraid of ending my line for nothing. Suppose I die and all my thought, all my faith, is worth nothing, because I didn’t know enough? Suppose there really is no God?”
“Then . . .” Shoshanna made herself say the words. “Then wouldn’t you be free?”
“Free as you are?” Caansu stood, her arms spread, voice rising. “What freedom is that? Freedom to see no difference between death and life? You Humans, you refuse to ‘interfere’ in our world, our unhappy world where every Mother bearing children does so at the cost of taking a brother’s life. I tell you now, the ghosts of a thousand million of my ancestors groan beneath the stars and beg for your interference!”
Caansu knelt, extended a claw and pointed at Shoshanna. “Had we come to your world as you came to ours, and found you dying in childbirth as you told us used to happen, in a village that lived by steel plows in mud brick houses while we descended like gods in ships powered by tamed suns, what would you have wanted of us? To let you die? Should we be free to do that? Free?” she echoed. “I hardly know what that word means.” She stopped, and gazed out at the sea.
“But yes, I am afraid to die. I am afraid to let Aiierra kill me, as I must. And I am angry with my Father, that She has sent me here, and trapped me, and wrecked the ship that was to take me back to my brothers. I am angry with Her for forcing this choice upon me.”
Shoshanna was speechless. Caansu angry had been enough of a shock, but Caansu angry with her God was unimaginable.
“Why do you make my choices harder and tempt me with the thing I cannot do?”
“I’m trying to help you, Caansu.” The words came out shakily, gaining force. “I’m trying to help you see that it is for nothing.”
“I have already chosen, Shoshanna. My faith is my life. It has been my life. If I cannot be true to it . . .” She seemed to fumble for words. “I cannot truly be myself. Whether in error or no, I will not accept your world, where everything ends in the Not At All, and there are no beliefs.”