After all the Clerics had left the room, I stood and quietly followed where they had gone. They had passed through a door on the side, to the right of the entranceway. I wanted to see where they were, maybe to talk to them. I paused at the door, wondering if I would get into trouble being someplace I wasn’t supposed to be. The Cleric guys didn’t even notice me as they passed, so I figured maybe they didn’t care me being there.
So I slowly opened the door and went through. I was in a dimly lit hallway. I walked a few steps under an arch. Beyond the arch there was another door that was open. I could see it opened into a small room.
When I got through that door, one of the Clerics in black robes was standing there facing me. “I see you attended one of our services, brother,” he said kindly. “Perhaps you wish to learn more about our Order?”
“I guess so,” I said a little nervously. I didn’t want to seem too eager. I still felt like an outsider, a stranger to all this and was fearful of being discovered. I liked what the guy behind the high desk in the big room had said, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to get too friendly. Like I say, I wanted to be careful not to give myself away. I didn’t want this guy to get suspicious, but still I wanted to find out all I could about these Dome people and what was going on. So I said, easy-like, “I’d like to find out about it, if you don’t mind.”
The guy in the robe said, “If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you the leader of our Order. He can explain much to you and help you decide how much you wish to know.”
So I followed him through another door in that room. What struck me about this Cleric place was, the walls and ceilings and doors and all were made of wood, all carved in different designs, not metal like everything else in the Dome. I wondered where they got all that nice wood from.
So we went through another short hallway that opened into a pretty big room. That room was all wood, too, and filled with books on shelves all around. I’d never seen so many books. There weren’t hardly any books in the village. I looked around and wondered what all these ones were about and who wrote them.
Standing behind a table on the far side was the guy who gave the speech in front of all the Clerics and me.. He was looking down at the table at some papers when we came in, then he looked up at us. He had those piercing eyes again, like he was looking into me. That made me kinda nervous, but I tried not to show it.
The guy who led me into the room kind of bowed, turned and walked past me back through the doorway behind.
The guy standing behind the table there looked deeply into my eyes again. Our eyes kinda locked together. “You are an outsider,” he said in a nice voice, not suspicious like I thought it might be. Even so, when he said that it sent chills up and down my spine. I guess he saw my uneasy face, so he said, “Do not fear, we are all outsiders. We all live here where were we do not belong, all of us.” His eyes looked upward to the carved ceiling. “Our true home is there, beyond,” he said softly with a far away look in his eyes. I gazed up, too, but all I saw was the wood ceiling.
“Where, Master?” I asked.
“Far, far away, my child. Distant as the stars, yet close as your heart. One day we will return to our rightful homes and we will at last know peace and know ourselves.”
The guy then looked back down to the cluttered table where a lot of tattered books and papers were scattered around. He moved his hand over the table. “These are ancient manuscripts and they tell of many things.” He looked at me again. “But they do not tell of our beginnings, of our heritage. This lies among those above, and therefore cannot be written in books. Only the ones who brought us here have this knowledge, and until their return we are left with only our yearnings and our pain.”
I didn’t know what to say to this, so I just stood there. I moved my eyes away from his eyes to the books on the shelves. “All these books and they don’t tell you anything?” I said. Then I gathered a little courage and asked, “What I’d like to know is, what’s all this place about? The Dome, I mean. See…” Then I stopped. That was the wrong thing to say, I thought suddenly. If I didn’t watch out I’d give myself away, if I hadn’t already. Then I thought, it’s likely he knows who I am by calling me an outsider and all, but I had so many questions. I didn’t know how to ask them and keep myself secret at the same time.
The guy looked kindly at me and said, “Do not worry, my friend. I have no interest as to your place in this world. We are all brothers here. Even the Paratakes and the Drones. They only do not realize this as yet, but one day we all will be together as one, and our differences will no longer matter. So you see, you can be sincere in your search for the truth with me. You can be honest about yourself and your questionings. We, all of us, are searching for truth, and we welcome all who are of like mind.”
Whatever nice words he said I still wasn’t sure I could trust this guy, even though he seemed legit and probably meant what he said. Lots of guys in the village say crazy stuff and believe what they say. Then I thought about what he said back in the big room and it did touch something in me, but still I didn’t want to trust him too much. There was something about him, though, that made me have some confidence in him. Maybe he did know something, maybe this guy was Zara, and he had all the answers and I was safe with him.
Then suddenly I felt again my tears in that other room, and all I remembered, and all that this guy brought back to my mind with his speech. If this guy could make me feel like that, like I hadn’t felt for so many years gone by, how I had covered all that up to be hard and strong to survive in the village, and then suddenly it all coming out of me from this guy’s words…
“Come here, and let us sit and talk,” he said just then interrupting my thoughts, and I was glad for that. So I walked over and we sat on little chairs looking at each other. I felt all of a sudden weak and my throat was dry and I felt I could easy loose myself if I wasn’t careful. That guy had that kind of power somehow.
The guy just looked at me with a kind little smile on his face, like he knew what I was feeling, the way you look at a little child. “You’ve nothing to be afraid of,” he said. “We’re just sitting here quietly having a little conversation, nothing to worry about, no harm will come of it. We’re just having a little friendly chat, you and I. You see, we have a lot in common, more than you may realize just now. We are both outsiders as I say, you and me. We understand each other.”
I wanted to believe him just then, but I also knew a con when I heard it. I was really hoping down deep this guy was real and I could trust him, but trust can get you in a lot of trouble.
“We’re looking for the same things,” he continued, “for honesty and the truth. I can tell you the truth, and you can tell me the truth. You must trust me in this. My name is Zara.”
This didn’t surprise me much; I figured this guy was Zara, anyway. Then this Zara guy leaned closer to me in his chair. “I’ll tell you my truth now,” he said, quiet like. “I know all about you, I know who you are.”
This shook me up some, I admit. I think I blushed, even. This was uncomfortable. My biggest fear was that I’d be found out and arrested or whatever they do to strangers. I remembered stories in the village about guys who got into the Dome and were never heard from again. Now I was thinking maybe these stories were true, and I was going to be another one of them.
Zara leaned back in his little chair. “The truth is, you are an orphan in this big wide world with no home and no family, just you all by yourself, and you feel lonely and afraid, and you’re searching for what you fear most, for the truth is always fearful when first discovered.
“I’ll tell you a secret,” he continued on. “We are all orphans. We are all cast into this world unknowing, alone and afraid. We all fear that we are lost and will never find our homes, where we truly belong. But I have discovered another secret, my friend. There is a home for us, we need not be orphans. Our family is just there, over the horizon if we only realize this.” Zara’s eyes brightened when he said these words. He raised his arm and pointed outward, his eyes gazing into some far off distance. Zara seemed to be hypnotized by this thought of his. Then he slowly dropped his arm and fell silent.
These were comforting words, alright, but where was this home of ours supposed to be, and how would we get there? I sat quiet for a minuet watching Zara, then I said, “So, were is all this place you talk about?”
Zara looked at me and in a soft voice he said, “We must have faith, my friend. You see, this Dome, as we call it, was created for us by the ones from beyond, those who live far away, in the stars.”
This was new to me and sort of unbelievable. How could anybody live way up in the stars? I thought about it, but I couldn’t make it out. I mean, the stars were just lights in the night sky somehow. But then I thought I didn’t even know what the stars were, so I guessed people could live on them if they could. It was a strange idea, alright, but I came here to learn stuff, so maybe it was true.
Then Zara started talking again. “I’ll tell you a little history. In ancient days we were many and we filled our world, but we were unhappy with our lives, for we knew not ourselves nor our origins. Not knowing, we were lost, adrift in ignorance and confusion.
“Thus, we were in conflict with ourselves and with each other. Ultimately, this conflict lead to a great catastrophe, and we all but destroyed ourselves and our world. The ones from beyond saw this, as we were originally their children also, and they came down to us in sympathy to build these Domes we now inhabit, for us the survivors of the great destruction, to live here protected until a greater world could be created for us.
“When their work is complete they will return and bring us to our new homes and live with them above, among the stars. There we will live free and know our true selves and understand our true place. We will be healed and will no longer feel as orphans.” Zara looked at me expectantly. “Is this not a beautiful destiny for us?”
I looked away for a while. It was hard to take this all in, what Zara was saying. It was a little confusing, and I needed time to work it out, so I asked a question I had thought about before. “But, what are the stars, Zara? And how can people live on them?”
Zara sighed, but it was a happy sigh and he smiled. “The stars are the homes of the Origins,” he said. “They shine so brightly because of the purity of their inhabitants, our fathers. They are beacons to us and to each other, all alive in righteousness and in virtue.” Zara’s eyes seemed at that moment to glow even more brightly, like the stars themselves.
He leaned close again. “Our sun is an example of what we have to look forward to, my friend. It is but a pale imitation of those heavenly orbs. It exists as a reminder of our future homes. It disappears to create our night so that we can gaze upon the perfection of those far away dwellings we eternally yearn for, and are promised to us. One day we will return to them, brought home at last by the eternal love of the ones beyond.”
With that, Zara smiled kindly and stood. He beckoned me to enter a door at the opposite side of the room. “Enter there, my friend,” he said, “and you will learn to become a brother Cleric, to hold in your heart that that will relieve you from your confusion, and you shall learn of the inner secrets of our Order, and here you will remain in brotherhood with us until that fateful day.”
I sat there facing Zara standing above me, thinking about this, what Zara said, and about the stars and the Dome, and Dirth and Henry, and the village. Was all this the answer to the questions that were spinning in my mind? Dirth had said there was more to the Dome than I thought, and he was right. Maybe Zara did have the answers, but maybe there was more answers for me to learn than even Zara and the Clerics knew. Dirth seemed to think so, and I didn’t want to be bogged down to one idea before I could scope out the rest of the Dome. I wanted to learn everything I could and there seemed lots more to investigate. And where was Henry? I couldn’t just leave that snarly old coot to wander around by himself, I figured he’d soon get himself in trouble, if he wasn’t already captured and spilling his guts out. But then I thought, no, Henry wouldn’t talk. I could trust him for that.
So I stood up, and said to Zara, “I’ll have to think about all this, sir. I don’t think I’m ready to join your Order right yet. There’s more I need to learn first. I hope you understand as you say you do. You’re a great man and I appreciate what you’ve told me and all, but I just don’t feel ready to become one of you.”
Zara frowned some. “I can’t force you to overcome your delusions, my friend,” he said. , Then he looked at me more closely, like he was trying to figure me out more. “I at first thought you were another anomaly in the program, as I and my brothers are, but now I see something unexpected in you.” After he said this, Zara seemed to draw back some from me, and his eyes had a different look to them than before.
He took a few steps to the other corner of the table and looked down at his papers. “I think its best you depart now and seek your own knowledge, wherever that may lead you.” He looked up at me again. “Maybe in time you will return. Perhaps the program has something new in store for us and for you.” For the first time I saw some uncertainty in his eyes. “Or perhaps you are something beyond my present knowledge.”
Zara then had a troubled expression on his face; he even seemed a little frightened. “Yes, you must leave,” he said more sternly. “I shall consult the one who keeps the records. You may be an unexpected blessing, or perhaps a potential threat. There are whispered legends of an enemy of the blessed ones who attempted in far ages past to overthrow their bliss, ones who came from beyond the stars to destroy all that they had made good and pure.”
With saying that, Zara stared at me so hard I felt a sudden chill and a need to leave as quickly as I could. I had that old feeling of danger, the feeling I knew so well from village life. So I tore my eyes from Zara’s, turned and walked out the door I had entered, through the little hall, through the little room and through the other hall to the wide doors of the Cleric building and onto the busy floor of the Dome.
There was the usual crowd of Paratekes milling around me. I mixed fast with the crowd to get lost in them. I figured disappearing would be safety for me until I could figure these new ideas out for myself. I looked nervously back through the bustling Paratakes to the big wooden doors of the Clerics, but they were now closed and no ones in black robes were to be seen. As I walked quickly away, my mind felt more confused, lost and alone than it had ever felt before.