Naklah

Naklah

Will Fryderyk abandon his beloved grandson and follow our creators to save the human kind?

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Naklah


My name is Naklah. It’s my name and it’s the name all who are like me—and our house is also Naklah. What is it? It’s everything.

You will not understand unless sink to your level, so I’ll simplify my message and use earthly terminology. I separate from Naklah. I name myself Rad. I am a human just like you, physically identical, but in Naklah that does not matter.

To allow you to understand, I have to begin with ancient times, and you must listen and wait for enlightenment to dawn. Be patient as I am patient, because I am not subject to time. Time does not exist in Naklah, but you are so concerned with it, always in a hurry, you want to know everything at once. Cherish each moment, savour each one—every minute, every hour. Me, Rad—I’ve forgotten about time, but I understand your urge, because once I lived here too, just like you, though, now I live in Naklah. I am older than Baal or any of its ancestors. And before me I have infinity. My lifespan is unlimited—mine and the lives of those who are like me.

***

He warms up the tomato soup and cooks some rice. When he hears “Naklah,” he puts the spoon away, approaches Alexander, and looks at the picture. Naklah. He knows this word—he must have heard it before. His grandson repeats it with satisfaction, smacks the drawing with his hand. On the sheet of paper he can see a web of lines that turn sharply in different directions, some tear through the paper, others are barely visible. Some have jumped off the page and onto the table. At the places where the lines cross, Alexander has drawn things that look like wheels or bolts. The spaces between them are very nearly equal. The boy is three years old, but he’s measured out the exact same length—strange. Maybe the pen is running dry and only draws these little, short lines? Frederick shrugs. Naklah is cool, but he has to feed the kid and then put him to sleep.

He puts the soup on the table and Mana comes into the kitchen, tempted by the smell of it. She stops in the doorway and stares at the spoon that Aleksander’s using.

“You’ve already had your food,” Frederick reminds her.

I ate? Impossible—don’t remember it at all! the dog seems to say. She trots closer, her claws tapping on the linoleum. She sits down next to Alexander, who often drops food. The boy pours a spoonful of soup on the floor.

“For Mana,” he says. Frederick isn’t angry—it doesn’t matter. It’s good that Alexander pays attention to the needs of the others rather than resembling his self-centred father. Son of a bitch, I’m sorry, Frederick thinks. He apologizes to Teresa, who’s always said that they should leave Charles alone, leave Sylvia alone—it’s none of their business how they choose to live. Although his wife died four years ago, he still remembers—word for word—the arguments they had about their daughter. He’d insisted that he needed to do something—talk to her, talk to him, talk to God knows to whoever else. She’s their daughter, and Charles is a sadist. Teresa disagreed, saying that interfering would only make matters worse. That Charles would separate Sylvia from them for good, close her up in their beautiful house with its tower, the way Gothel imprisoned Rapunzel on account of some stupid lettuce. So in the end they did nothing, and then Teresa died suddenly.

For four years, Frederick hasn’t been able to make up his mind whether to do as she’d said or to slap Charles in the face. For now he’s waiting, watching him carefully, because his son-in-law’s behaviour has improved. He travels a bit more now and Alexander lives in peace. Sylvia got her way, not sending the boy to school yet, instead asked Frederick to take care of him. She works at the Institute of the World Economy, where her father worked before he retired. Frederick hopes to live long enough to see her get a professorship. He, himself, never got one—the things he espoused aroused indignation rather than admiration. If he hadn’t insisted on publishing the results of the research he’d run for several years—which serious scientific journals consistently rejected—maybe the establishment would have forgotten about his theory and forgiven him. But he made a deal with a popular science magazine, which had added provocative comments to his work, and Frederick had ended his career with a stupid doctorate. He was lucky not to have lost his job.

He helps Sylvia as much as he can, taking care of Alexander, and from time to time checking her students’ work. Charles, meanwhile, does his CEO job—making visits, issuing orders, and travelling all over Poland. And when he’s not working, he needs to relax, and doesn’t want to listen to his child squeaking and chattering, so Aleksander lives more or less permanently with his grandfather.

Mana moved in before him. Charles bought her as a gift for Sylvia, to whom he had to apologize once more, without thinking it through, then gave the dog away once she proved to be a burden. For Frederick she’s no trouble, and has been rather a good company, especially since Teresa died. If not for Mana, immediately after the funeral he would simply have hung himself. But she barked, jumped up on him, nagged at him to stop. He’d had get down from the stool and gave up the idea of the suicide. And so he lived on, and lived to see Alexander. He wonders what else will happen in his life.

Alexander finishes his meal. Frederick eats the rest of the soup, though he is not actually hungry, and cleans up the kitchen. They both wash their hands and go to bed. Frederick covers the child’s legs with a thin blanket—it’s warm right now, and the windows face south. The green curtains are half closed, and in this light it feels as if they’ve dived under the surface of the lake. He tells a story, holding Alexander’s small hand in his own, stroking the child’s smooth forehead. Draws the eighths between the boy’s eyes, and Alexander breathes more slowly. Mana comes in from the kitchen and carefully crawls onto the blanket, lying down slowly so as not to poke the child.

“Sleep well,” Frederick whispers to her and to the child. Alexander closes and opens his eyes—he is almost asleep. Frederick decides that he will sleep too, then gets up to have a second course. Later they’ll go to the playground to see the other kids. The children will play together, and then they’ll go to the plot to collect raspberries. He’ll make juice, he knows how and he likes doing it—he’s been making jams and compotes ever since he found himself alone, without Theresa. The juice is thick, gelatinous—you have to smack the bottom of the bottle to get it to pour into a glass. Frederick drinks it with water—Alexander eats it with a spoon. Soon it will be time for marinated peppers. He gave them to Alexander last year and the boy got an awful stomachache, but maybe now he’s old enough to eat them. The cucumbers are ready. Cabbage. Beetroot. Some compotes. The entire basement is filled to the ceiling with provisions. Frederick liked looking at them—the shelves bending, loaded with jars—and calculating how long he could survive with what he has here. Sometimes, as a child, he was badly starved, with sores on his back from the hunger, though he does not tell anyone about it—there’s no need. He falls asleep. He has a dream, the dream in which someone repeats only one word, like a kind of spell. “Naklah.”

***

You people know as much about Natufian culture, which left its traces in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates, as you’ve managed to dig out of the land. As much as your scientists have interpreted, deducing from small pieces of information, after examining bellied statues of the Mother Goddess. They gave the findings their own meaning, imposed their own beliefs, and ignored some facts. So you know as much as they made up, to put it simply. That’s your knowledge, based on what they found and put together into what you call history.

We blurred our tracks, but you’ve still guessed that in addition to the people settling on the fertile lands—trying to grow wild plants that now you can modify genetically, breeding wild animals that today are domesticated—there must have been somebody else. Something that prompted them to stop wandering, living by foraging and hunting. You say the reason was climate change, or favourable local conditions, but none of this provides a satisfactory, complete explanation. You still lack some link, you say to yourselves. You look for it, you have hypotheses. And you’re right, you are missing certain information. There was something else—us, the highest caste. Naklah.

To this day, you subconsciously realize that we exist, that there is Naklah. You see Naklah in your dreams, the word Naklah sounds familiar—and Alexander draws Naklah. You know our language, given to you by us, imprinted in your genes. You can’t speak it, but when you hear it, you understand.

The ones whose traces you found on the top of Har HaKarmel knew this language as well. The ones with the vineyard god—god is us. It is we who initiated the neolithic revolution and ordered these people to end their journey through the world—to begin to shape it instead. Because of us, they cultivated the first field. On our advice, they caught and bred animals. They proceeded slowly—they were simple people, your ancestors, living nine thousand years before the era of Christ, according to the local calendar. We needed much time and patience to teach them. We do not lack patience. We are persistent.

The millennia have passed, and they came to understand more and more. They learned to construct buildings and set temples for us. Tall, resembling pyramids—for those who come from the sky. Even then we managed to travel beyond Earth’s orbit and explore the cosmos—at least nearby areas—and come back with metals and stones they did not know. We taught them how to handle those gifts, how to craft unusual objects. We taught them about their value and how to exchange them—they had trouble with the idea of money, but we were patient. We taught them how to accumulate wealth. Wealth that gives power, and which should serve everyone, not just individual interests. It should mean peace—that was our goal. We wanted you to live in peace. We wanted to create a perfect world. For you, since we love you. They accepted these teachings reluctantly. Focusing on overall, social well-being rather than personal gain is difficult for you—so difficult. Have we made a mistake creating you? I do not know.

Going back to the Euphrates, no need to talk any more: humans had learned a lot. To worship Naklah and irrigate the fields. To use metal instead of stone, the power of animals instead of human labor. Levers and wheels. And above all they learned to work together and created Sumer, the first nation in the world. We were proud of them, though aware that this was only a beginning and that we had a long way to go.

Sumer was not uniform—it consisted of many city-states, which gained power only to squander it again a while later. Even then we noticed that power is intoxicating for you—it limits your vision, drives you insane. This was why Enmebaragesi, the ruler of Kish, and Gilgamesh in Uruk, lost their advantage—and not just them, but also subsequent kings, fighting with other kings, smaller or bigger. Time, we thought. They need time to understand that this is not the way, to stop choking on the power, this is so new for them.

Around two thousand and three hundred years before the time of Christ, there appeared one who gave us hope that the warring would finally end. Sargon the Akkadian, called the Great. Sarru-kin, the rightful king. Creator of the first empire in the history of the world, covering the area of Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and further, all the way to the sea. According to legend he floated upon the river, put into a basket by the immaculate mother, who sent him away to do great things. This is not true—he was an ordinary human, like you, and was born just like you. He ruled Akkad, a new town, built according to our plan. It was white and full of towers pointing to the sky, with one central temple—a place where we could land. You have never found this city—it was destroyed.

Sargon understood that bloodshed is not enough to keep an empire. He understood our idea. Together with territorial advantage, he gained the upper hand economically. He had access to wood and metals. To agricultural land. To the wealth of the lands through which he took his empire-building offensive. He did not destroy them, he preferred to co-operate—that’s what we told him: do not destroy. He had us as advisors and benefited from our knowledge. We were pleased with his achievements.

Through his officials he made other cities subordinate, celebrating the power from Akkad, and this power was strong, lasting even after his death. Unfortunately, when he died no one appeared who could make use of our teachings the way that Sargon had. Successive rulers were too stupid, too self-centered—once again in love with their own might, which is the eclipse of the mind. The empire recovered its former splendour for a moment in the time of Naram-Sin, but then, attacked by nomadic tribes and troubled by internal disputes, it disappeared. We disappeared as well. There was no point in staying. They still could not understand.

Today Mad’an, the Marsh Arabs, see themselves as descendants of the ancient Sumerians. They are as frail as their ancestors. They resist to resist. They fight to fight. Behind their uproar there is nothing, no greater purpose. We made the right decision leaving that project behind, despite of one thousand years of work. We had another place to start. It had already begun to sprout shoots, and there we flew.

***

He wakes up and remembers only an odd echo. Alexander is hungry. Frederick warms up the stew and boils a handful of pasta in the shapes of letters. A, Z, B, Y, A, H, and N coalesce on the boiling surface, arranged into a word with no meaning. What was it he had dreamed about? What was it? He can’t remember.

Alexander eats the pasta willingly—even the salad with carrots, which he doesn’t like—dropping nothing on the floor. Mana’s not happy about it. She walks around the kitchen, searching for food in corners, checking if there are any old crumbs. The ringing of the leash distracts her from this activity. She runs to the door, but tries not to let herself go—she knows that if she jumps like she’s possessed, everything will take longer.

They ride downstairs in the elevator, which smells of burnt plastic. The child and the dog watch the floors as they pass, looking through the narrow window. They disembark at the first floor to look down at the playground. Nobody’s there. They walk down to the ground floor and decide that they’ll go straight to the plot instead, but they take the long way and drop by the lake. The lake was created by flooding the hole that remained behind after a small sand mining facility closed up. Initially fairly clean, it quickly became overgrown with weeds and turned into a natural pond, a habitat for frogs and leeches. Sometimes anglers come here, though Frederick doesn’t know why. They built a short bridge, from which Alexander likes to throw pebbles into the water, and that’s where they go now.

Frederick unleashes Mana. The bitch dives into the grass to chase rodents and disappears. She’ll come back reluctantly when Frederick calls her. Alexander goes onto the bridge and stops close to the edge, but not too close because he’s not allowed.

“Give a pebble,” he orders, and Frederick bends down, looks around, and picks up a couple of stones. He gives them to the boy and Alexander checks them out. Then he picks the one he wants and throws it. Another one, throws it. The third one. “Give a pebble!” he repeats. He’s used them all.

He can’t see any more pebbles—he collected the obvious ones the first time. There might be one—not enough. Frederick goes several steps away, picks up three more. He promises himself that the next time he’ll gather stones along the way. He straightens up. At the same time he hears a splash. He looks up. The boy is gone.

“Alexander!” he cries, throwing the stones in the grass and running.

He comes to the end of the bridge and jumps into the water.

“Alexander, Alexander!” he calls, moving water with his hands. He gulps some air, dives. He opens his eyes under water, but he can’t see anything but duckweed dancing in the depths. Frederick surfaces. “Mana, where is he?” he asks the dog, who sensed trouble and came running. Mana doesn’t know. Frederick dives again. Surfaces again, feeling like crying. He can’t find Alexander in this cursed, swampy water. Has the mud covered him? Or has some water demon kidnapped the boy? “Alexander!” he calls again. A flock of angry crows starts to caw, disturbed by his screams. “Alexander!” He dives again, looks around, again sweeps the water with his arms. “I beg you God, help me!” he prays. Mana barks.

At that moment, right next to the dog, something blinks. From the air, from the earth, emerges—something. It is huge and blue, shining, pointy. Made of sharp lines, bonded with something like bolts. Fractal, angular. It reminds him of pictures his students drew during exams, repeatedly revised charts of currency exchange rate fluctuations. Why is he thinking about ridiculous drawings at a time like this? He should dive, get Alexander!

“Naklah,” Frederick says in a whisper. He can’t turn his eyes away, can’t help staring at Naklah. Mana jumps, but bounces off Naklah, looking as if she were knocking at its door. Then the door opens. Someone comes out.

“Good morning,” he says—not in Polish, in some other language, but Frederick understands. Mana sits on her haunches and stares at the newcomer. “Frederick, get out of the pond,” he says. “Alexander, get out of the pond,” he says. And suddenly everything changes. Time goes backwards—smears. Frederick feels as if something has exploded right beside him, like when he was with the guerrillas, during the war, the same deafness. Stop. Alexander is back on the bridge, Frederick is looking for stones in the grass, Mana is looking for mice, and Naklah… isn’t here. It has disappeared.

***

“Naklah, Naklah,” Frederick repeats, pulling Mana by the leash and the child by the hand—neither of them wants to go back home, but they have to. The dog resists, stops with its paws dug into the ground, lies down on the belly, and Aleksander cries. “Naklah!” Frederick says to them. “Naklah!”

At home, he doesn’t even take his shoes off. Lets Mana go, dragging the leash behind her, bribes Alexander with chips. Turns the computer on—why does Windows always take so long to start? Maybe it’s the equipment. It’s old, barely able to run the software that Frederick uses for data modelling.

“Naklah,” he types into the browser.

There’s a Naklah on Facebook. Frederick clicks the link, views a few photographs. A swarthy man, who knows where from—that information isn’t publicly available. There’s also a female Nakla. Frederick checks her out, but it’s nothing, a German woman. Instagram, Pinterest, there are a few Naklahs—a painter, some ordinary guy, a model. No, that’s not it! He turns on Google Maps and enters “Naklah.”

“Unable to display results for the query ‘Naklah,’” he reads aloud. Puts on his glasses, he can barely see the letters.

He searches for “blue ball,” “ball of fire,” “bullet brightness,” and similar phrases, but all that comes up are pages about God, which sound more or less fanatical. Or he could read about omens, which also comes up a lot. He changes queries, browses more pages, until he gets tired. He doesn’t understand why he can’t find anything. But he knows this word. He knows what it is. He understands. He just can’t remember.

***

Then there was Kemet, Black Earth. You know, it’s Egypt, you’ve been to Egypt. With Teresa. You’ve also been to Mexico, again with her. Something pushes you to search among the ruins of old civilizations, whether you’re searching for answers at a site or in the pages of a book. You can feel that there’s something to discover—that is why I am talking to you right now. Do I know Teresa? I know. I saw her, I heard her, I know her thoughts. Naklah sees everything.

As I said, Kemet had just started to grow when we lived in Akad, roughly four thousand years before your era. The Amratian Culture, with no involvement on our part, had begun to develop a society, already known in Sumer. The residents of Kemet not only lived in settlements instead of wandering, but had also begun to construct buildings, develop tools, produce cultural goods. This need to create is hidden somewhere deep within you—you inherited it from us. Do not destroy but create—and most especially, create beauty. Will this need ever prevail so that eventually you will be like us? I do not know. We had been watching the Amratian people carefully, so when we lost Sumer we moved there.

We appeared there during the second transitional period—this is how you describe this era in the history of Egypt. It was an important moment: either the country would fall apart, or it would be unified. We helped it to grow, we helped Amhose, the ruler at the time, who in our opinion was worthy of our support. We are the reason he was able to defeat and expel the Asian tribes, take over the Avaris fortress, and end the time of political turmoil and disintegration—and that brought the country into a single unit. Amhose introduced a strong central authority, whose foundation was a common religion. His authority did not mean a wave of terror, but a culture based around water, which Egypt was eager for—the pharaohs insisted on carrying out irrigation works and supervising them. Because of us, he was a supporter of culture, which is why ancient Egypt was able to furnish almost all the major museums in the world with monuments, which nobody had ever seen before.

Pharaohs died and new ones were born, but each successive one listened to us, to those who come from the sky. There is no point in naming all the kings of Egypt one by one—the point is that during the nineteenth dynasty Egypt became the leading world power. There was no other state with such advanced technology, such resources, such organization. It seemed that everything was on track and soon Egypt would impose its authority on others, and in so doing share its knowledge and enlighten the societies that fell in with it. But that did not happen.

The reason was the gods. Religion often causes conflicts amongst you, or at least it’s a justification that no one dares to question. The priests of the Hidden God gathered around Thebes, creating an independent state. They separated themselves from the main land, wanting to rule on their own. What did they plan to do? I do not know, because the Assyrians invaded Egypt, and Memphis overtook Thebes as well. Psametych tried to unite the state again, but its collapse was already a fact. And again, we had to go away, fly away and wait until we could find a place where we could start from scratch and find a man who would be able to carry out our plan.

We did not have to wait long. Right beside Egypt was Macedonia, a strong state with a well-organized administration and military. This country was inherited by Alexander the Great, and we made use of him. I do need to tell you how far he went in his drive to extend his power over neighboring areas. Charisma, physical strength, tenacity, an analytical mind—he had everything, and it allowed him to push and push, further and further, to expand the empire, often shedding blood. But sometimes blood must be shed in order to introduce peace. So it was in Sumer and so it was in Egypt. This is the price.

Alexander had a chance to fill the gap left after the collapse of Egypt, where he also went by the way. From our point of view, the situation was perfectly arranged. But the power he had made him so blind, so big-headed, that the same happened as with the others. When, in the three hundred and thirty-third year BC the oracle in Egypt told him that he was the son of Zeus, Alexander went completely mad. People laughed at him, and he drank and eventually died. His empire was divided due to wars that followed, and so it disappeared. Naklah were left with nothing. Again.

***

Time passes and Frederick performs his various duties according to the seasons. Not mechanically, but they are by their nature repetitive. Chestnut picking, feeding hummingbirds, spring wading in the mud, dealing with Mana’s cough, treating Alexander’s cold. There are several disputes between Sylvia and Charles, but once again he doesn’t intervene. Let them settle matters. More time passes.

He remembers Naklah and thinks it must have been a daydream. He laughs at himself, but he’s also a little afraid. He has hallucinations that remind him of the war, of being a guerrilla, of all the teenage boys who died around him, of all the children without mothers and the mothers without husbands, villages without people, Jews without life. The incident with Alexander in the water isn’t a memory, though—it’s something created by his mind. He hopes he’s not going crazy. Alexander doesn’t remember any of it, including Naklah, so it must have been a fantasy. He’s often worried about his grandson and his daughter, because of Charles, and this stress must have induced the hallucination. He thinks he should deal with Charles, do something.

One Wednesday he walks Mana at the meadow by the lake. He plans to visit the plot. Alexander’s not staying overnight tonight, so he might pick something, clean up, rake, burn leaves—there’s always something to do. But in the end he gives up the idea. He arranges with a neighbour, with whom he shares the plot, to do it the following Saturday. He goes for a walk instead.

Mana pokes around in the leaves. Frederick drops the leash, walking slowly behind the dog, picks a blade of grass. He stops by the wild pear tree, which is barely standing. There are some blue flowers under it. Between them are thistles, and Mana keeps away from them, jumping over them and running further along. Rustling sounds, and then a hare jumps from behind a bush, putting his ears back and running away. Mana chases him for a while, but she knows that it’s futile—she won’t catch the hare on account of her age, and eventually she stops. Frederick looks at the meadow and thinks “Naklah.” He hasn’t thought of it in a long time. And when he thinks it, Naklah appears.

Frederick crouches, impressed. Naklah emerges from the air, settles on the meadow, its fractal ends shining, looking like a blue sun. At the same time, it doesn’t look like the sun at all. It opens like a chestnut shell. Wide. A light glows from inside. Someone comes out.

“Hello,” he says. “I’m Rad. I come from Naklah”

***

We have been waiting for the next man for a long time, carefully searching for someone strong enough—we did not want the history to repeat again. We were patient. We waited and waited for over a thousand years, apart from a few episodes about which I will not speak. It turned out the same as in Sumer and Egypt—the same force that drove Alexander to his downfall infected our next chosen ones, and we were disappointed. Therefore, much time had to pass before we decided to support the Aztecs. The Tira de Peregrinacion says that the Aztecs came across the talking head of Huitzilopochtli in the jungle, and it promised them that if they would take it with them, it would help them to become the rulers of Mexico. There was no head, believe me. We were the only ones there. Naklah.

Do you think that the Aztecs who were considered savages in the place where they arrived, could have constructed Tenochtitlan without us? Developed it from a fishing village into a powerful city? Form a Triple Alliance, leading to a regional power? You explored their economies and the way they used the ores and gems and shared the goods among members of their society. You believed their economy was extremely advanced. But they did not invent these things themselves. That happened with our help, according to our hints, with our blessing, because we wanted to give them enlightenment, just as wanted to enlighten the previous societies where we intervened. And we wanted them to have a power that would allow them bring peace. Forever. Fix what we did wrong in creating you. We are your creator. We feel as responsible for you as you are responsible for your dog.

They respected us. So much so, that they imposed their belief in those who come from the sky on tribes they subordinated. Your books say that it is difficult to determine what they believed in. Huitzilopochtli, Ometeotl, the sun. Each of these idols is just us. Us, the ones who come from the sky, saying that the Aztecs were a chosen nation.

***

Once he got home from his meeting with Rad, he couldn’t remember which route he’d taken or how long it had taken him. Naklah had confirmed a theory that had cost him years of work, his research career, and contracts as well-paid business consultant—everyone knew he had strange ideas. What remained were the memories of his trips to Egypt and Mexico, he went to both places with Teresa, driven by a premonition. He visited only those two places—for everything else his studies were based on the literature. They accused him of choosing crazy, florid elements from the work of Erich von Daeniken, and then using them to develop a theory combining alternate history and economics.

People fight for resources, he said. They don’t fight because there isn’t enough for everyone, but because some have surpluses and others have deficits. Example? Americans throw away about forty per cent of their food. One hundred and sixty-five billion dollars annually ends up in the trash. The other end of the equation? Africa.

If people dealt wisely with the resources that the planet offers, there would be enough for all. A surplus even! Farmlands would have a chance to take a break. Mines, power plants, and factories could slow down. Overfished seas would have a chance to recover.

Since goods would be shared according to central planning, money would lose its raison d’être. The economy would return to barter trade, but not quite—it would no longer be about the exchange of something for something, but simply the distribution of common goods, to which no one had a sole right and everyone has access. So, no money. The next step would be the elimination of the state—it would share the fate of the money.

The key, however, would be a system of sharing of goods. This would be introduced and, for a period of time, adjusted and fine-tuned using a firm hand. Dictatorship. Dictatorship is efficient. Frederick hadn’t meant the blood and gore of a dictatorial state, but economic violence, central management of production, storage and distribution of goods. It would be painful.

“But once the period during which coercive power was needed has ended, it could be eliminated. The world would learn and become a self-regulating mechanism, inhabited by citizens sharing goods and co-operating to meet everyone’s needs. The problem until now has been that we humans never grew beyond the stage of dictatorship,” he explains to Mana as he puts the key in the lock. Turns it. It isn’t locked. Didn’t he lock the door? Sylvia?

Sylvia. She’s sitting at the table in the kitchen, covering her face with a bag of frozen peas. Frederick looks at her and everything inside him screams. He wants to overturn furniture, smash plates, then chase Charles, grab him and tear his heart from his chest, just as the Aztecs tore out the hearts of their victims. He’d throw it away, though, because it would never be suitable for the atonement of the sun—it’s black and foul.

He goes into the living room and kisses Alexander. His grandson is playing with blocks and toy cars, sitting on the carpet and muttering to himself. Mana accompanies him, pokes her face into the bucket of toys just in case Aleksander is eating something and has a little food to spare. Frederick returns to his daughter—he’s determined that it’s now time to stand up for her.

“I’ll leave Mana here,” he says. He goes out. In the bus, he drums his fingers on the window. He walks quickly to the house, rings the doorbell, and as soon as his son-in-law opens the door, hits Charles in the face with all his might. Blood gushes from Charles’s nose, spraying Frederick’s clothes, and a few warm drops fall on his face. He feels satisfaction. Blood is good.

***

The Aztecs were doing better and better. They gained power over a large area, extending the range of their governance, but I was worried—I and the others like me—about the fact that they needed so much blood. We could not eradicate their stubborn faith in the idea that, as the chosen ones, they must satiate the sun, that the sun must eat from cuauhxicalli—the stone bowl. If it is hungry, it will not rise, and it is never entirely satisfied. The Aztecs killed more and more prisoners to ensure its favours. Four men grabbed the victim, and the priest cut into his or her body and slipped his hand through the ribs to snatch the beating heart. He raised it above his head, sprinkling the blood on his face and on the face of Huitzilopochtli, stone and unshakable.

They did not want to stop, even when we explained them that the sun was a star. They would not understand, were not mature enough to accept the knowledge. So we agreed to the spilling of blood, patiently waiting until they could understand our lessons on this point, the same way they had understood technical issues. We did not expect that there would be more blood.

***

Frederick is interfering. He says that Sylvia should move out, that Alexander complains that Charles shouts, that he has told the boy that he would spank him. He’s abusing her—this isn’t the first time. They live in fear, and while it’s good that his grandson so often stays with him, she should too.

Sylvia doesn’t want to listen, or maybe Frederick doesn’t know how to talk to her, because whatever he says just makes her angry. She says that she’ll talk with Charles and it won’t happen again. She tells him to stop talking about Alexander, but Frederick doesn’t want to stop and it annoys her. His daughter gets up, says that Alexander has his own house, his father and his mother. Frederick objects, she gets irritated. She says that they’re going home—she’s had enough of the lectures.

Alexander is crying—he wants to be with his grandfather.

“Grandpa, Grandpa!” he sobs when Sylvia carries him to the elevator. Why is she so stubborn? Frederick follows her, and behind him trots Mana. He asks Sylvia to reconsider. There’s no need to argue, let Alexander stay.

Sylvia doesn’t answer, just casts him an angry look. Her eyes say it’s Frederick’s fault that the boy is crying—he shouldn’t interfere. She gets into the elevator. Alexander looks at Frederick with tearful eyes. He disappears.

Frederick doesn’t know what to do. Slams the door. Rushes down the stairs. Stops for a moment on the first floor, looks out of the window. He sees his daughter getting into the car. Maybe she’s right wanting to sort things out? He walks slowly downstairs. Mana follows him, he hadn’t noticed that she was there.

“Come on, let’s walk,” he says to the bitch. Mana wags.

They go on the plot. Along the way, Frederick picks a stick and uses it to mow down the weeds growing on the sides of the path.

***

In a similar way, Cortez cut his way through the jungle. With his sword, he slashed out a path to the riches he expected to find. Possessed by a vision of gold, which he and his soldiers will to wear. There weren’t many of them, but they wanted victory so much that they pushed on anyway. Delving deeper and deeper into the jungle, they came to the Aztecs’ fortress.

Montezuma should have asked us for help, but he thought we had lied to him.

“You did not come from heaven, but he did—look at the animals he is leading, look at the blood he sheds. Look at the signs, everything indicates that he is a god, not Naklah!” he said. “Here comes the god, we honour him!” he said. “Bring the prisoners, let them die for the new god”

He murdered hundreds of people to appease Cortez, the embodiment of the Winged Serpent as Montezuma thought. And in this way he gave Cortez a way to exterminate the Aztecs, the barbarians. Montezuma did not understand, did not know where he had made a mistake, why his new god was so enraged with him. He decided that Cortez was angry because of us.

He turned against us. We had a choice: either to withdraw or to destroy them. We chose the former and flew away. Over the years, we’ve waited for someone who would be able to bear the burden of the salvation of mankind, and all the while you have lived here as Aztecs did, killing and fighting over territory, while we looked for a good place. We stayed in several before we found one that was perfect. There we settled. We improved our technology. Enhanced our knowledge so much that it makes no sense to drill down further—we won’t learn anything new. On such foundations we built Naklah—Naklah, the union of our minds.

We waited and we had almost lost the hope. Why didn’t we send someone here who was tailor-made for our purpose? One of us, perhaps? But that would make no sense. We wanted you to change, not to subordinate you to our will by force. We believe that you can be good. This faith had almost died when you showed up.

A community, fully egalitarian, where everyone gets what they need. You say this as a scientist—you say what we say. No money, no state. The transition period, and then peace. Humanity needs a strong man who will carry out the necessary changes and ensure that no one returns to the old-fashioned way of doing things. To fighting over goods, to the madness about money, to dividing the world with borders.

I want to use your knowledge. Help us. Help us. Become our chosen one. You’re not too old—we can give you an eternal life. We’ll give you everything you need to fix this place. You have a plan. We agree with it, humans no longer need war. They need an economic advantage, not a military one, to bring peace. We’ll give it to you. We will create a project that will develop into the world’s largest conglomerate and impose its way of thinking on others. Slowly, it will start to rule over the world—and when it does, it will make it a perfect place. Frederick, please help us.

***

Sylvia comes back to Frederick a month after their big argument. During those weeks they spoke almost not at all. She was still furious about what he’d said about Charles, so she dropped off Alexander and picked him up again, little more. And then suddenly, at eleven o’clock in the evening, she came to him. With the boy, with a bag full of stuff.

She had decided that there was no point to continue with Charles. She had moved out. The house belonged to Charles, which he took to mean that he could therefore make her do anything he wanted. He had been calm and pleasant for about ten days, then he’d returned to his old habits. She hesitated for a moment, once again wanting to save the relationship, the family. But eventually she decided that something had to be done before it was too late, before someone got seriously hurt.

“Can we stay with you for a while?” she asked, and he agreed. He agreed without hesitation. He took Alexander in his arms and carried him to the bedroom. His grandson was sleeping, and he put him cautiously on the bed, like a fragile treasure. He wanted to cry.

“I’m going out for a moment with the dog,” he said. He didn’t want her to see him crying. A father needs to be strong.

He went in the direction of the allotments and meadows—where he had met Rad, where Rad had told him his story. He knew that he would find Rad there, and Rad waited, and as usual stroked Mana. The dog circled, following her tail, then fell asleep at Rad’s feet. As always.

“Are you all right?” asked Rad when he saw Frederick was crying. “She came back?”

“Yes,” said Frederick. “Very good. All good”

“So you can go with me,” said Rad.

He’d suggested it before, but Frederick hadn’t wanted to talk about it. Here he had his his duties—important matters. He couldn’t just walk away, become the chosen one.

“But why do you want to save us? Let them kill each other!” he said to Rad.

“Do not turn your eyes away from the suffering.”

“I don’t care about that.”

“You do.”

“You’re wrong!”

“Come with me,” Rad repeated. “Create a new world. A good world for Alexander—think about that. Don’t you want to give him a new world?”

***

My name is Naklah. I am Naklah, and the others like me have the same name—everyone is Naklah, and our home is Naklah. I drift in the space and observe the Earth.

I used to be—Frederick. Sometimes I remember my old name, and I long for something I’ve lost. Aleksander. Mana. I do not know who they are, but it hurts when I think about it. I forget.

Once I used to live on the Earth, but the plan failed. Economic pressure was not enough, I had to use violence. It was necessary to calibrate the system of distribution for goods and resources, but people kept fighting over them—they burned warehouses, attacked factories. I defended myself. And finally, for a moment, I had the power. I had control and could impose the things I wanted. Then I lost it, lost everything—as soon as I felt indestructible, it became impossible to resist the madness. The flavor of authority overwhelmed me. And violence that I could use whenever I wanted to. And blood.

I flew off to Naklah, they took me with them when the Earth went dark. The darkness destroyed my family, my home. There will be no light for a long, long time. I ran away, and for a long time I had to beg Naklah to take me with them—they said I was as stupid as my predecessors. Self-assured, I argued that I would fix everything.

I’m waiting for a right moment, but it hasn’t come. No hurry—I am eternal. I do not want to live forever. It’s a curse. But it is too late. My name is Naklah.