Xenocide Part 54
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Fools, thought Qing-jao. If the gods wanted you cured, they wouldn't have sent the plague in the first place.
At once she realized that she she was the fool. Of course the gods could send both the disease and the cure. If a disease came, and the cure followed, then the gods had sent them. How could she have called such a thing foolish? It was as if she had insulted the gods themselves. was the fool. Of course the gods could send both the disease and the cure. If a disease came, and the cure followed, then the gods had sent them. How could she have called such a thing foolish? It was as if she had insulted the gods themselves.
She flinched inwardly, waiting for the onslaught of the gods' rage. She had gone so many hours without purification that she knew it would be a heavy burden when it came. Would she have to trace a whole room again?
But she felt nothing. No desire to trace woodgrain lines. No need to wash.
She looked at her hands. There was dirt on them, and yet she didn't care. She could wash them or not, as she desired.
For a moment she felt immense relief. Could it be that Father and Wangmu and the Jane-thing were right all along? Had a genetic change, caused by this plague, freed her at last from a hideous crime committed by Congress centuries ago?
Almost as if the news reader had heard Qing-jao's thoughts, she began reading a report about a document that was turning up on computers all over the world. The document said that this plague was a gift from the gods, freeing the people of Path from a genetic alteration performed on them by Congress. Until now, genetic enhancements were almost always linked to an OCD-like condition whose victims were commonly referred to as godspoken. But as the plague ran its course, people would find that the genetic enhancements were now spread to all the people of Path, while the godspoken, who had previously borne the most terrible of burdens, had now been released by the gods from the necessity of constant purification.
"This document says that the whole world is now purified. The gods have accepted us." The news reader's voice trembled as she spoke. "It is not known where this document came from. Computer analysis has linked it with no known author's style. The fact that it turned up simultaneously on millions of computers suggests that it came from a source with unspeakable powers." She hesitated, and now her trembling was plainly visible. "If this unworthy reader of news may ask a question, hoping that the wise will hear it and answer her with wisdom, could it not be possible that the gods themselves have sent us this message, so that we will understand their great gift to the people of Path?"
Qing-jao listened for a while longer, as fury grew within her. It was Jane, obviously, who had written and spread this document. How dare she pretend to know what the gods were doing! She had gone too far. This document must be refuted. Jane must stand revealed, and also the whole conspiracy of the people of Lusitania.
The servants were looking at her. She met their gaze, looking for a moment at each of them around the circle.
"What do you want to ask me?" she said.
"O Mistress," said Mu-pao, "forgive our curiosity, but this news report has declared something that we can only believe if you tell us that it is true."
"What do I I know?" answered Qing-jao. "I am only the foolish daughter of a great man." know?" answered Qing-jao. "I am only the foolish daughter of a great man."
"But you are one of the godspoken, Mistress," said Mu-pao.
You are very daring, thought Qing-jao, to speak of such things unbidden.
"In all this night, since you came among us with food and drink, and as you led so many of us out among the people, tending the sick, you have never once excused yourself for purification. We have never seen you go so long."
"Did it not occur to you," said Qing-jao, "that perhaps we were so well fulfilling the will of the gods that I had no need of purification during that time?"
Mu-pao looked abashed. "No, we did not think of that."
"Rest now," said Qing-jao. "None of us is strong yet. I must go and speak to my father."
She left them to gossip and speculate among themselves. Father was in his room, seated before the computer. Jane's face was in the display. Father turned to her as soon as she entered the room. His face was radiant. Triumphant.
"Did you see the message that Jane and I prepared?" he said.
"You!" cried Qing-jao. "My father, a teller of lies?"
To say such a thing to her father was unthinkable. But still she felt no need to purify herself. It frightened her, that she could speak with such disrespect and yet the gods did not rebuke her.
"Lies?" said Father. "Why do you think that they are lies, my daughter? How do you know that the gods did not cause this virus to come to us? How do you know that it is not their will to give these genetic enhancements to all of Path?"
His words maddened her; or perhaps she felt a new freedom; or perhaps she was testing the gods by speaking; very disrespectfully that they would have have to rebuke her. "Do you think I am a fool?" shouted Qing-jao. "Do you think that I don't know this is to rebuke her. "Do you think I am a fool?" shouted Qing-jao. "Do you think that I don't know this is your your strategy to keep the world of Path from erupting in revolution and slaughter? Do you think I don't know that all you care about is keeping people from dying?" strategy to keep the world of Path from erupting in revolution and slaughter? Do you think I don't know that all you care about is keeping people from dying?"
"And is there something wrong with that?" asked Father.
"It's a lie!" she answered.
"Or it's the disguise the gods have prepared to conceal their actions," said Father. "You had no trouble accepting Congress's stories as true. Why can't you accept mine?"
"Because I know about the virus, Father. I saw you take it from that stranger's hand. I saw Wang-mu step into his vehicle. I saw it disappear. I know that none of these things are of the gods. She She did them-- that devil that lives in the computers!" did them-- that devil that lives in the computers!"
"How do you know," said Father, "that she is not one of the gods?"
This was unbearable. "She was made made," cried Qing-jao. "That's how I know! She's only a computer program, made by human beings, living in machines that human beings made. The gods are not made by any hand. The gods have always lived and will always live."
For the first time, Jane spoke. "Then you you are a god, Qing-jao, and so am I, and so is every other person-- human or raman-- in the universe. No god made your soul, your inmost are a god, Qing-jao, and so am I, and so is every other person-- human or raman-- in the universe. No god made your soul, your inmost aiua aiua. You are as old as any god, and as young, and you will live as long."
Qing-jao screamed. She had never made such a sound before, that she remembered. It tore at her throat.
"My daughter," said Father, coming toward her, his arms outstretched to embrace her.
She could not bear his embrace. She could not endure it because it would mean his complete victory. It would mean that she had been defeated by the enemies of the gods; it would mean that Jane had overmastered her. It would mean that Wang-mu had been a truer daughter to Han Fei-tzu than Qing-jao had been. It would mean that all Qing-jao's worship for all these years had meant nothing. It would mean that it was evil of her to set in motion the destruction of Jane. It would mean that Jane was noble and good for having helped transform the people of Path. It would mean that Mother was not waiting for her when at last she came to the Infinite West.
Why don't you speak to me, O Gods! she cried out silently. Why don't you assure me that I have not served you in vain all these years? Why have you deserted me now, and given the triumph to your enemies?
And then the answer came to her, as simply and clearly as if her mother had whispered the words in her ear: This is a test, Qing-jao. The gods are watching what you do.
A test. Of course. The gods were testing all their servants on Path, to see which ones were deceived and which endured in perfect obedience.
If I am being tested, then there must be some correct thing for me to do.
I must do what I have always done, only this time I must not wait for the gods to instruct me. They have wearied of telling me every day and every hour when I needed to be purified. It is time for me to understand my own impurity without their instructions. I must purify myself, with utter perfection; then I will have passed the test, and the gods will receive me once again.
She dropped to her knees. She found a woodgrain line, and began to trace it.
There was no answering gift of release, no sense of rightness; but that did not trouble her, because she understood that this was part of the test. If the gods answered her immediately, the way they used to, then how would it be a test of her dedication? Where before she had undergone her purification under their constant guidance, now she must purify herself alone. And how would she know if she had done it properly? The gods would come to her again.
The gods would speak to her again. Or perhaps they would carry her away, take her to the palace of the Royal Mother, where the noble Han Jiang-qing awaited her. There she would also meet Li Qing-jao, her ancestor-of-the-heart. There her ancestors would all greet her, and they would say, The gods determined to try all the godspoken of Path. Few indeed have passed this test; but you, Qing-jao, you have brought great honor to us all. Because your faithfulness never wavered. You performed your purifications as no other son or daughter has ever performed them. The ancestors of other men and women are all envious of us. For your sake the gods now favor us above them all.
"What are you doing?" asked Father. "Why are you tracing the woodgrain lines?"
She did not answer. She refused to be distracted.
"The need for that has been taken away. I know it has-- I I feel no need for purification." feel no need for purification."
Ah, Father! If only you could understand! But even though you will fail this test, I will pass it-- and thus I will bring honor even to you, who have forsaken all honorable things.
"Qing-jao," he said. "I know what you're doing. Like those parents who force their mediocre children to wash and wash. You're calling the gods."
Give it that name if you wish, Father. Your words are nothing to me now. I will not listen to you again until we both are dead, and you say to me, My daughter, you were better and wiser than I; all my honor here in the house of the Royal Mother comes from your purity and selfless devotion to the service of the gods. You are truly a noble daughter. I have no joy except because of you.
The world of Path accomplished its transformation peacefully. Here and there, a murder occurred; here and there, one of the godspoken who had been tyrannical was mobbed and cast out of his house. But by and large, the story given by the document was believed, and the former godspoken were treated with great honor because of their righteous sacrifice during the years when they were burdened with the rites of purification.
Still, the old order quickly passed away. The schools were opened equally to all children. Teachers soon reported that students were achieving remarkable things; the stupidest child now was surpassing all averages from former times. And despite Congress's outraged denials of any genetic alteration, scientists on Path at last turned their attention to the genes of their own people. Studying the records of what their genetic molecules had been, and how they were now, the women and men of Path confirmed all that the document had said.
What happened then, as the Hundred Worlds and all the colonies learned of Congress's crimes against Path-- Qing-jao never knew of it. That was all a matter for a world that she had left behind. For she spent all her days now in the service of the gods, cleansing herself, purifying herself.
The story spread that Han Fei-tzu's mad daughter, alone of all the godspoken, persisted in her rituals. At first she was ridiculed for it-- for many of the godspoken had, out of curiosity, attempted to perform their purifications again, and had discovered the rituals to be empty and meaningless now. But she heard little of the ridicule, and cared nothing for it. Her mind was devoted solely to the service of the gods-- what did it matter if the people who had failed the test despised her for continuing to attempt to succeed?
As the years passed, many began to remember the old days as a graceful time, when the gods spoke to men and women, and many were bowed down in their service. Some of these began to think of Qing-jao, not as a madwoman, but as the only faithful woman left among those who had heard the voice of the gods. The word began to spread among the pious: "In the house of Han Fei-tzu there dwells the last of the godspoken."
They began to come then, at first a few, then more and more of them. Visitors, who wanted to speak with the only woman who still labored in her purification. At first she would speak to some of them; when she had finished tracing a board, she would go out into the garden and speak to them. But their words confused her. They spoke of her labor as being the purification of the whole planet. They said that she was calling the gods for the sake of all the people of Path. The more they talked, the harder it was for her to concentrate on what they said. She was soon eager to return to the house, to begin tracing another line. Didn't these people understand that they were wrong to praise her now? "I have accomplished nothing," she would tell them. "The gods are still silent. I have work to do." And then she would return to her tracing.
Her father died as a very old man, with much honor for his many deeds, though no one ever knew his role in the coming of the Plague of the Gods, as it was now called. Only Qing-jao understood. And as she burned a fortune in real money-- no false funeral money would do for her father-- she whispered to him so that no one else could hear, "Now you know, Father. Now you understand your errors, and how you angered the gods. But don't be afraid. I will continue the purification until all your mistakes are rectified. Then the gods will receive you with honor."
She herself became old, and the Journey to the House of Han Qing-jao was now the most famous pilgrimage of Path. Indeed, there were many who heard of her on other worlds, and came to Path just to see her. For it was well-known on many worlds that true holiness could be found in only one place, and in only one person, the old woman whose back was now permanently bent, whose eyes could now see nothing but the lines in the floors of her father's house.
Holy disciples, men and women, now tended the house where servants once had cared for her. They polished the floors. They prepared her simple food, and laid it where she could find it at the doors of the rooms; she would eat and drink only when a room was finished. When a man or woman somewhere in the world achieved some great honor, they would come to the House of Han Qing-jao, kneel down, and trace a woodgrain line; thus all honors were treated as if they were mere decorations on the honor of the Holy Han Qing-jao.
At last, only a few weeks after she completed her hundredth year, Han Qing-jao was found curled up on the floor of her father's room. Some said that it was the exact spot where her father always sat when he performed his labors; it was hard to be sure, since all the furniture of the house had been removed long before. The holy woman was not dead when they found her. She lay still for several days, murmuring, muttering, inching her hands across her own body as if she were tracing lines in her flesh. Her disciples took turns, ten at a time, listening to her, trying to understand her muttering, setting down the words as best they understood them. They were written in the book called The God Whispers of Han Qing-jao The God Whispers of Han Qing-jao.
Most important of all her words were these, at the very end. "Mother," she whispered. "Father. Did I do it right?" And then, said her disciples, she smiled and died.
She had not been dead for a month before the decision was made in every temple and shrine in every city and town and village of Path. At last there was a person of such surpassing holiness that Path could choose her as the protector and guardian of the world. No other world had such a god, and they admitted it freely.
Path is blessed above all other worlds, they said. For the God of Path is Gloriously Bright.
Xenocide Part 54
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Xenocide Part 54 summary
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