Her Golden Aura
The Goddess forbade communicating with the dead. The souls of her people were drawn to her holy gate for an eternity of bliss. To call them back meant to deprive them of her glory and pollute the spirits of the living. The zealots warned that Kuipes should not even handle the bodies of the deceased, “lest their spirits cling to the attendant hands.” When the Empire was alive, that task was left to other humans.
Dr. Tulu was now well on the way to a godless abyss. He had been asked by his captain to autopsy a corpse found on the bridge of a frozen ship that had been drifting for centuries. He could not refuse without explanation.
Like a nightmare parable, the spirit of the dead man had woken. It left its decomposing husk and attached itself to him. Now it haunted him.
(I’m not a spirit.)
So it claimed.
(I’m not a dead Kuipe. I was Anul’s companion. We met in the deep. He…acquired me. He lived his span, then died. I had nowhere to go until you touched him. You are as devotedly deluded as he, I see.)
Perfect. The dead Anul consorted with demons and damned himself in the deep, then died and let the demon find a new Kuipe to corrupt.
(Determined to be miserable, aren’t you?)
Misery already defined Tulu’s life. His people, long rulers of this ungrateful spattering of planets, had been overthrown two centuries ago, outlawed and hunted to near extinction. Survivors hid themselves among other humans to wait for signs from their now silent Goddess.
(Too busy for her children? Tsk.)
Tulu winced and leaned forward in the uncomfortable chair, wishing he had never broken the taboo that invited this fiend.
(Cast more insult and I won’t save you.)
“It’s a test, Dr. Tulu.” The interrogator looked bored. He had been through this already with most of the crew. Docking with a Kuipe Deep-Systems ship in tow was a guarantee for military investigation, but there was a huge reward for them still on the books.
“What kind of test?”
“Tell me what this is.” The interrogator slid a photograph across the bare metal table.
“What do you see in the picture?” The interrogator’s name badge said “Hook,” ironically enough. “Don’t leave anything out.”
(This is a trap.)
Tulu already knew it was a trap. Hook was hunting live Kuipes that might have infiltrated the crew. What he could not understand was the usefulness of a picture.
(Damn. Because you can’t see her.)
“What is this a picture of, Dr. Tulu?” Hook growled.
(You cannot see her. He can.)
“Her?” Tulu could not track who said what for a moment. The slip was fortunate. The interrogator looked a little less tense.
(Good catch. But winning this will take more than luck.)
Damn, demon! Tulu thought. Why is “her” something good to say?
Tulu’s mental argument must have made him look flustered. Hook frowned as he leaned back in his chair. He was still suspicious. “Describe what you see.”
(Her. Capital H. Your goddess. We have a problem.)
It seemed cruel that the demon would not assist him.
(That’s the problem. I don’t have eyes. I have to use yours. And yours only prove what you are.)
Tulu did not know what to do.
(Stall. Talk about anything but the picture.)
“What the hell is this stupid picture supposed to prove?” Tulu found himself nervously twisting the plain gold ring he wore as his only religious token. They were common enough. Non-Kuipes did not understand the significance of the metal.
“Describe what you see,” Hook said.
“I need to understand what kind of test this is.” Tulu was amazed to find himself pulling off the ring. His nerves never got that bad.
“Why?” Hook let the accusation hang unspoken.
“Because! Because I’m a scientist. I’m a doctor. Tests have to make sense to me. And I’ve never seen this t-type of test before.” Horror shot through him as the ring flicked out of his fingers and rolled across the table. “I--sorry--I spent a lot of time studying these sorts of things. In psychology. In school.”
Hook was unfazed. He caught the ring before it rolled off the table, pinched it between his thumb and finger and stared at its surface. “What do you see in the picture?”
“Uh, could I…?” Tulu put his hand out. “Sorry. Nerves, I guess.”
Hook handed the ring back without hesitation.
(The picture is of a woman in a stone courtyard, looking at the camera.)
Tulu was astounded. The demon must have travelled from one man to the other through the ring. Strange that it would come back.
(I like you.)
“Anyway. It’s a picture of a woman in a courtyard looking into the camera.” He could plainly see it was not; that there was no woman there.
(Say exactly what I tell you, no matter what.)
“Go on,” Hook said.
(There are climbing vines behind her. She has strange eyes.)
“There’s vines, and…” He tried to disguise a deep breath. “Strange eyes on her.”
(She looks very composed. She is calm.)
Calm—a word that carried religious weight. It was close to one of Her titles. “She’s composed…caalmm.”
(She’s surrounded by a glowing aura.)
“Ack!” The demon was describing the Goddess. Describing her plainly, like an object!
(Maintain yourself! Say there’s a light flare.)
“Sorry! Little hair or something.”
(There’s an effect to the picture.)
“Th-there’s a lighting effect.”
Hook’s voice was cold. “Do you see any colour?”
Something snapped inside Tulu, something basic. He wondered if this was how Kuipes died at the hands of captors. How could he possibly survive?
(Call it mustard.)
Mustard was a food product from Earth. He almost wept with relief, since Her Holy Golden Self wore no condiments. “Mustard.”
“Wouldn’t you say? Look, how much longer is this test supposed to go on? Do you want the fine details of the species of vine, or the style of…her dress?”
(Hush. Only lucky if he does not. Say no more.)
Hook smiled thinly. “A guard will escort you back to your ship.”
Tulu remained silent until he was back in his cabin. Inside his head, his dance with sin tore at his soul.
(Far too melodramatic.)
He had nothing more on hand than his fist to pound the wall. “That was a test of religion!” he whispered harshly.
(Almost correct: your “goddess” gave you a biological imperative. You cannot perceive her.)
He flung himself onto his narrow bench. “It’s forbidden.”
(Forbidden to try. Impossible to do. You are modified humans, built to worship, hard-wired not to see her, not to believe her image can be perceived, portrayed, even described.)
“There really was a woman in that picture?”
He stared at the opposing mirror. He saw himself clearly enough, dishevelled and exhausted. “It was a courtyard…vines…”
(Background details. One assumes Kuipes get caught up listing everything but the woman. Effective test: simple, portable and a dead give-away.)
Tulu was fighting a growing nausea that began during the interrogation. “I could…almost see…something…towards the end.”
(Interesting. Perhaps it is less a test, and more a conversion technique.)
It was then Tulu lost the contents of his stomach. This was the moment, he would remember later, when his soul was finally and truly wrenched from Her Golden Aura.
(Oh, please. So melodramatic.)