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Light of the Iroquois
Author's note: I had a lot of fun writing this for my Sci Fi/Fantasy class in school. I never knew it could be so gratifying, experiencing another life through a character. If you enjoy reading it half as much as I did dreaming it up, something is right in the world. Also, if you notice significant symbolism, I put it there on purpose, so try and find it.
“Professor!” Kim Young ran to Dr. Benjamin Carp in great excitement. He finished criticizing another student and turned to face her. “Professor, I think I found something!” She knew that all of his students thought that they had “found something.” But she was dusty and dirty, and her hair was the epitome of chaos, with honey blonde wisps waving crazily about her face. From his expression, she knew that he expected a grand presentation of a few dusty arrowheads, but she believed this would surpass all expectation.
“Yes, yes. What did you find?” He crossed his arms in a longsuffering air.
“Well,” she stumbled, “Um, I think I’ve found, well I don’t know if it actually is, that is to say—”
“Speak!” He demanded clarity.
“I think I’ve found a tunnel.” His eyes bored into hers as he awaited an explanation in the awkward silence.
“I almost fell into it,” she peeped. Another awkward silence. She gestured to the longhouses behind her. “Can I show you?” She questioned slowly. He continued to stare at her. “Right,” she articulated in an overly chipper voice. She turned her heel to lead the way.
“This is it!” He looked down and stared at the gaping hole, only slightly over a yard in diameter. Kim knelt down along the edge. She lowered her flashlight into the mouth. “See? And there are even drawings on the inside, much like those in the Adirondack caves.” He stooped beside her, scratching his salt and pepper beard. “You’re right. This is incredible.” He was flabbergasted.
He looked over to his pupil. She was shining the light farther and farther in. “What is that?” she supposed quietly. “A tiny fleck of—”
“Young!” He bellowed. He grabbed for her slipping heels and was rewarded with a solid landing on the unfamiliar terrain. He felt his ribs and limbs. Nothing broken. Kim mumbled as she rolled in the earth. “Young.” He crawled over to his fledgling of an apprentice. “Are you all right?” His ears were met with the sound of quick, struggling breaths. He gently lifted her arms from the ground. They were stained…not with blood, but …what was that? An unidentifiable substance was emitting a luminescent glow from her limp appendages. Her back was only more so.
“Kim. Kim!” She sat up stiffly, her breathing slowly returning to normal.
“Dr. Carp,” She gasped. “I just had the air knocked out of me. Are you okay?” But before he could answer, she was staring at her arms and feeling through her hair. “What is it?”
Carp surveyed the surrounding walls. “Whatever it was, it just was like those.” He gestured towards the glass tanks along one side. They, too, were glowing. “Well, I’m alright. If you don’t mind, I’d like to continue exploring. It seems a waste to leave, now that we’re already here.”
Kimberly Young stood to her feet. “I admit, I’m very curious myself.”
“Dr. Carp?” asked Kim. He turned his head from the sides of the channeling passageway.
“Have you noticed—”
“—the sparks?” he interrupted.
“I was going to say footprints, but yes, I have observed the glittering residue.”
“Very good, Young. Perhaps there is hope for you after all. And what have you decided about these footprints?" he said in mocking amusement. "Please, do hypothesize!” He stopped by a stretch of filth well-populated with unmistakable impressions. Crossing his arms, he awaited the answer, very entertained by her insecurity.
She knelt by the dust, bewildered. “Well, these prints seem almost…new. Which doesn’t make any sense. That is, the Iroquois were—” Her voice was interrupted by the gleeful squeals of galloping children, echoing down the deep conduit.
With one glance at each other, professor and student bolted towards the sound.
“Greetings.” A tall, handsome woman broke through the curious, murmuring crowd. Her glorious obsidian hair was accompanied by a strange tunic—a pale, stiff material, perhaps made of root fibers. Kim noted that her skin had not become excessively pale from living in the darkness, and wondered. She had much to learn.
Dr. Carp had his hands on his knees, gasping from his running. Young was also breathless, but more so from the newly discovered people before her. She took two awkward steps towards the woman and extended an excitedly trembling hand. “I’m Kim—Kim Young. I’m going to Cornell for graduate school in archaeology, I have studied many of your peoples and it’s an honor to meet—”
The professor waved her next words off as he stumbled towards the woman. “And I am Benjamin Carp.”
The leader gave a small, happy smile, looking slightly overwhelmed by their enthusiasm. “I am Halona. We,” she gestured behind her, “are the Orenda.”
The two explorers looked star struck as she continued. “We have been waiting for you for many, many years. You are welcome to come to the village. But first you must eat and bathe. Then Manipi will show you the research facilities. Come. There is much work to be done
“And to your right is our final and most important research lab.” Manipi turned and opened a stone door—the only door they had encountered in this labyrinth. “We try to keep this room as isolated as possible, should we find ourselves in any sort of predicament.”
“Predicament?” asked Young.
“This way,” Manipi directed impatiently.
As soon as they were inside, he shut the door with astonishing speed. As they beheld their surroundings, they realized one thing: This civilization was advanced—very advanced. The containment boxes and instruments were innumerable—and in many cases, unrecognizeable. But before they could take a single step, their escort turned sharply to stand in front of them. “There is something I must tell you before you waste more of my time. As much as I respect her, I am not superstitious like Halona. I do not believe we were to be waiting for anyone, and I do not believe that you can help us. I will show you what she wishes you to see, and then you must go.”
“You must understand,” said Carp, “that we are not here to intrude. I want to learn as much as I can about your people. My assistant,” he gestured, “would also ask the same opportunity.”
“As long as you leave soon, I do not care what your purposes are,” he said coarsely. “Now, to the lab analysis table.” He reached into its drawers below and pulled out a hard, clear, bell jar. “This,” he said as he set the object before them, “is my vacuum and compressor. I engineered them to be one and the same.”
Kim stared attentively at the vessel. He met her eyes. “The fireflies were getting, are getting out of control. I had to manufacture a machine that could simulate the phenomenon.”
“What phenomenon? We have never had any problem with the insects on the surface,” Dr. Carp questioned.
Manipi heaved a deep sigh. Carefully entrapping the bugs from a nearby life tank, he placed them under the jar, and pressed a few buttons. “Pressure increasing,” he stated from the sidelines. Kim was enchanted by the dancing lights—for a time. But as the machine became louder, matters grew uglier. The creatures quickly brightened, and before the spectators knew it, the entire jar was coated from the inside in glowing, sticky material, dripping down the sides.
Carp crossed his arms. “I fail to see your point. Pressure increases, bugs explode. Perfectly predictable.”
Not moving his gaze, the scientist simply uttered, “Watch.” As Carp turned, he observed that the container appeared to be softening. Melting. The visitors turned confused eyes towards Manipi. “We were all astonished when we witnessed that phase of the experiment,” he began. “We repeated and re-repeated the test, to make sure it wasn’t a single occurrence. We postulated and theorized. And in the end, we were terrified.”
“But why?” said Kim. “I still don’t understand what all of this means.”
“For whatever reason, fireflies have been prone more than ever to ascending towards the sky. They mutated to adapt to the increasing pressures, causing their heights to rise. We have determined, from the test you just saw, that after their bodies rupture, the chemical inside them reacts with the atmosphere. We can only guess the extent of this, but we do know that temperatures world-wide have skyrocketed.”
“The ozone layer,” speculated the professor.
“Global warming,” thought Young. “No wonder it is happening more quickly than the experts have been predicting! It has multiple causes.”
“Sometimes,” said Manipi, “a person will have two illnesses. A doctor will recognize the one and treat it, yet the patient will die.” Sighing, he took the pair of tongs, pushing the softening glass to the side, revealing the oozing, yellow glop.
Carp reached a hand to inspect the mess. Before the supervisor could yell, “Don’t touch that!,” he had pressed his forefinger into the glow. As he pulled it away, the others stared at the mess. The imprint had turned an incredible azure hue and was spreading outwardly.
Manipi was aghast, and then appeared thoughtful. Young was relieved by the slightly eased tension. “Perhaps it was the Old Spice,” she awkwardly joked. If scents could kill… Dr. Carp looked less than amused. “Sorry,” she whispered quickly.
Manipi turned and eyed her curiously. “Old Spice. What is Old Spice?”
“Well, um…” Kim searched for something neutral to say in the presence of her professor. “It’s a cologne that…oh, how should I describe it? It’s—”
“It’s the scent I’m wearing,” finished the annoyed Carp.
The scientist's face demonstrated hints of a grimace. “And there are chemicals, yes?” he asked.
“Well, yes, I suppose many, but—”
“I and my assistants have never elicited such a reaction! Although it may seem to you a remote possibility. Many essences cause human beings to react to them. Why not these creatures? Really, the potential of this idea is, and I, but—I cannot believe it! We must begin studies immediately.” With that, he barreled out the door, leaving teacher and student to their own devices. Kim walked over to shut it, remembering Manipi’s fastidious actions in the preceding moments. “He’s really serious about this,” she sheepishly verbalized. “I didn’t mean to—”
A suddenly anxious Dr. Carp abruptly held up a halting hand. “At this juncture, Kim, we really shouldn’t be having this conversation. I’ve completely lost all track of time, and I must return to the university.” He hurriedly gathered up his personal items. “I must also report our discoveries to the department, classes must be temporarily discontinued—the last thing I need is twenty extra bumbling students in here with us, and—I suppose you can stay, you seem to be doing well enough—Oh, and I have to…” His words followed him as he flew out the door.
Young held in her excitement. His words hinted at a compliment—a rare occurrence. And besides, she could actually live among the people she’d dreamed about—a slightly modernized variation of them, of course—but Iroquois nonetheless. She would make arrangements with Halona and study the culture, ask questions—the possibilities were endless.
Kim turned to look at the experiment’s disarray. “I gotta get someone to clean this up.”
“Sit down, Kim,” said the Halona, gesturing at the colorful, woven furniture. As the youthful explorer looked about the small, isolated chamber, she was amazed. It was very neat, clean, and exotic—a foreign, homely sort of feel. Intertwined root mats were all about the room. Adorning pieces of metal were embedded into the walls. Where they could have possible gotten their hands on them, Kim hadn’t the foggiest. In the short few days she'd been with them, she always found herself exhilarated by their ingenuity.
“Here,” instructed the chieftain, handing her a steaming dish. “Salmon.”
“Salmon? Wherever did you get salmon?” Kim questioned, puzzled.
The hostess appeared equally confused. “Have you not seen the Great Falls?”
Kim nearly spat out her food, as she coughed. “I have seen it many times. So have a great many of my people—and yet, we have never seen you.”
Realization dawned. “Ahhh, yes.” The beautiful woman smiled warmly. “Our brothers and sisters of the Seneca tribe were the guardians of the western door. Mohawk, the eastern door. We," she said proudly, "are the guardians of the hidden door. Had you not come the way you did, our people would have rejected you for the prophesies."
"Our mothers and fathers of years ago believed that while we sought answers in hiding below, those above would come and liberate us—that is, the ones who came from the longhouses."
Kim's stomach became slightly unsettled. "Well, um, we aren't from the longhouse, per se, we just dug a hole in one."
"But you came through the longhouse, did you not?"
"Well, yes, but won't the people—"
Halona laid a mildly aged hand on Kim's youthful one and gave her a reassuring smile. "All is as it should be."
Young's tone was doubtful, and she gave a fake hint of a smile. "Alright."
Dr. Carp peeped his head through the entryway. "I don't mean to interrupt, Kim, but it's time to go."
Manipi joined the doctor. "He's right. And you were right, Halona. There is much work to do—for us all." He gestured towards the both of them. "Come." The tall woman dutifully strode out of the room. Kim strode out indignantly straight towards her unwanted authority in the dirt-coated tunnel.
"What do you mean, 'It's time to go.'? You've been gone for nearly two weeks! And now you just show up and we have to leave? What about teaching me? This was the opportunity of a lifetime!"
His posture, she noted, was defeated. "You're being reassigned," he articulated slowly. After a piercing stare, he added, "They don't believe us."
Young looked at him, cocking her head to the side. "Earlier in the week, I thought I wanted contact with my 'friends' on the surface." He actually appeared engaged in what she was saying! "I texted my best friend, Bethany, telling her about our discovery." Kim blinked. "She thought I was crazy. She was like, 'Maybe you should go to India. Find some rare beetle nest that leads you to Gandhi. Maybe he really didn't die!'" She stared into space, and her voice scowled through her faint laughter.
"Then what did you do?" Carp asked softly.
Kim boldly encountered his gaze. "I threw the phone in a nearby puddle of water! And it's a real shame, too," she added, "because I could have thrown it into Niagara Falls." She fixed her hands on her hips. "I am not leaving this world just because no one can seem to reconcile its existence. If you wish to remain, I promise I won't get in your way. But I," she enunciated, "am staying."
The professor slowly cracked a smile. "Good student. Dedication. That's important. Now, my dear, if you think you are ready, it is time to commence Plan Blue."
"Plan Blue?" she inquired blankly.
Manipi was running towards them hurriedly. "Are you coming, professor?"
"Yes!" He called. "And we've got one more joining us!" The two joined to meet the expert midway.
"That's all well and good, sir, but we have to hurry. We ran many simulations and this solution shows great potential for eliminating the threat. My team is ready to begin posthaste.
"Manipi," asked Kim, "How exactly does this work?" Yet another lab demonstration…
"Mist Sprinkler." He reached out a hand for the requested equipment. "Thank you. And…there." He made the last adjustment to the enormous device. "Alright Kim, I can only explain as I go." The student stared attentively. "The idea is pretty simple, really. All we have to do is spray all these fireflies with my hybrid mist—I combined your professor's product with an aggressive catalyst to accelerate this magnificent process."
Dr. Carp tapped a finger on the side of the glass tank. "There must be thousands of them. Millions!" A bath of chemicals descended in a great deluge before his closely watching eyes. He pulled back with a yell. “Little more than a mist,” he muttered to himself. Kim turned mirthfully to enjoy the small moment. A corner of Manipi’s mouth turned up.
“Shall I continue?” asked the researcher.
“Please,” laughed Kim.
“Anyway,” he began, “all I have to do now is release these treated insects. Nature should do the rest. They will ascend towards the sky, pressure will cause the change and if all proceeds normally, I anticipate quite the spectacle.”
Kim clapped her hands and the professor exclaimed, “What are we lounging around here for?”
Manipi turned to face the older man. “You are quite right. Assistants!” he called. Three men came and joined them. “If you don’t mind, I would appreciate your help in lifting this.” He gestured towards the massive chest. The men murmured their submissive responses and heaved it up on their shoulders. “To the Falls!” ordered Manipi.
Apparently Halona had determined it necessary to evacuate the people, because they all stood in masses behind the roaring falls. Fathers ordered their children away from the edge. Wailing babies clung to their mothers’ tunics and pulled at their hair. The elderly shakily held onto their sprightly family members. Many of them were crying. Never had they anticipated that they would be breathing in these moments.
“Move!” bellowed Manipi as the people scattered. Young sympathized from the rear. His load was very heavy. They parked the great glass box on the edge of the falls. As Kim peered through the mist on the end, she observed that the sun was setting. After being underground for so long, she hadn’t realized how little light she’d really had. She soaked in the warm blush on Mother Nature’s face and thought it lovelier than a thousand ebony horses. Hopefully earth would see many more beautiful endings in the future.
“Release them!” Manipi yelled excitedly. The men threw the lid open. The winged fleet rocketed out in a flash. More joined them as they grew exponentially, filling the sky in a glowing golden brilliance. A hush came over the people. Even those who couldn’t see the sky saw that the falls had become a lush yellow-lime curtain, gushing with all of their excitement.
Kim was disturbed from her trance when she noticed that Manipi was not smiling anymore. He was looking at the sky as if it were a monster with no hope of taming. She gasped as comprehension came to her. Some in the crowd appeared slightly peeved as she pushed her way through to the scientist, but in her concern, she paid them no thought. “Manipi! Manipi!” She tugged on his sleeve and he turned to meet her worried eyes with equally perturbed ones.
“Why hasn’t it happened yet?! There hasn’t been any pressure reaction yet, and they are glowing as yellow as ever.”
He wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “I don’t know. But if this fails, the earth will heat up like never before, and we will either burn to death or be vaporized.”
She wrapped her arm around his waist. “Thanks for the reassurance.”
Before he could apologize, Halona advanced urgently. “Manipi! The people have begun whispering rumors of our destruction. If this won’t work, we need to consider our proceeding actions.” Even behind the typically frigid cascade, the crowd had begun to sweat from the incandescent army of fireflies. She was duty bound to make a judgment call.
“We can evacuate back to the tunnels,” suggested Kim.
“No!” shouted the nervous man. Young stepped aside awkwardly.
“No?!” challenged Halona, indignant. The mother bear continued protectively, “What about the people, brother? Is this going to be another one of your experiments that—”
“No, no.” Manipi squeezed the bridge of his nose. “That’s not what I meant! It’s just that—”
“It’s just what, Manipi? If you—“
“Just give it five minutes!” he bellowed. Young thought he looked very small compared to this powerful woman. “Five minutes,” he entreated, more meekly this time.
She set her jaw. “Five minutes,” she spat, “and do not make me regret this.” Angrily, gracefully, she strode to inform the leaders under her of their duties should a catastrophe occur.
Manipi reached over to Kim and took her hand. This was his life’s work—all wrapped around this beleaguering pest. Today they were dueling, each to the demise of the other. “This will work. It has to.” Young closed her eyes and prayed, mist pelting her face.
“Hey!” Was that voice the professor’s? “They’re starting to—” An enormous vermin-rupturing boom interrupted him, resounding even above the roar of the falls. The neon glow became blue as a divine hue of azure swept across the fathomless sky. A painting of rivers, seas, oceans and more oceans, rippling in surges of life and freedom unrestrained. It worked! An immense silence remained for five seconds—until an excited young man leaped into the air and shrieked, “Yahoo!” with all of his being. Deep, feelings of old reached into the heart of every native. Dancing and yelling and singing erupted.
And amidst all the pandemonium, someone grabbed Kim from behind and swung her around. “Professor!” she exclaimed.
He set her down gently. “There’s something I want you to see.”
Trailing behind him, she wondered where this new, unfettered man was leading her. He brought her to the far end of the extensive ledge they were all standing on. The breathtaking view was offset by the particles of insects in the atmosphere, descending like the buoyant ashes of a fire. She understood. This distasteful sight was the source of beauty.