Sacred Host

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Qoheleth
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Re: Sacred Host

Post by Qoheleth » Sat Oct 27, 2012 7:35 pm

Chapter 28 - Five Decades of Community Service

As Toloth re-entered the dining room, carrying Teresa's multi-colored rosary in her right hand, he had the sensation of walking into an Andalite encampment. He wasn't quite ready to agree with Malcar Seven-Four-Five that Christianity was a living and malignant thing, but he was coming to feel that Christians, at any rate, were a hostile force. Teresa, her family, Gef, Thomas à Kempis, maybe even Jesus himself: all were arrayed against him, all desirous (whether they knew it or not) to make him into something that he had no wish to be.

Perhaps this feeling was heightened by what Teresa knew about the object he was carrying. Christians seemed to speak of the rosary in improbably violent metaphors: "the scourge of Satan", they called it, and "the weapon against the evils of the world". A week before, Toloth would have thought that ludicrous – how could one fight the evils of the world with colored beads? – but it didn't seem silly at all to Teresa. She was utterly certain that Jesus heard her when she prayed – that she could present her wishes to the Maker and Governor of the universe, and, if they proved to be good and fitting, he would adjust the very fabric of reality to accommodate them. And she knew, also, that, in order for her wishes to be acceptable, she had to be acceptable herself; therefore, it was natural that the most powerful prayers should occur while her mind was fixed on edifying things. Hence the three series of "mysteries" taken from the life and actions of Jesus, which, by definition, were as edifying as anything could ever be. It was all horribly rational and compelling, when seen – as Toloth was now seeing it – from the inside.

"So what's the intention, Mom?" he said with an effort.

Mrs. Sickles sighed. "Your Aunt Missy called this afternoon, just before Nana arrived," she said. "Jasmine was arrested this morning for shoplifting."

Mr. Sickles's head jerked up. "What?" he said. "You didn't tell me anything about this."

"Not before dinner, no," said his wife, with a faintly ironic smile. "I put a lot of work into this meal; the last thing I wanted was for it to get cold while you analyzed the possibilities of the case."

"What were the circumstances?" said Mr. Sickles. "Could felonious intent be demonstrated? Stores are pretty busy this time of year; it's easy to pick something up and then forget to put it back down."

"Yes," Mrs. Sickles agreed, "but it's not so easy to pick it up, tear off the tag so the sensors can't detect it, and then stuff it in your purse and leave the store."

"Is that what Jasmine did?" said Mr. Sickles, aghast. "In the middle of the Christmas rush, she thought she could get away with a stunt like that? I know she has her clueless moments, but I would have expected her to have a little more common sense than that, at least."

Mrs. Sickles shrugged. "Well, when you raise a girl to think that the world already belongs to her, things like this happen, I suppose," she said. "I don't like to speak ill of your sister, but you have to admit that she did rather spare the rod where Jasmine was concerned."

"I suppose so," Mr. Sickles conceded. "Still, it's a shame that it had to happen now, of all times of the year."

"I agree," said Mrs. Sickles. "And that's why I told Missy that we'd say a Rosary for her and her family tonight after dinner. Now, let's all sit down and get to it, shall we?"
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
And so the session began. Mr. Sickles led it, as he had led the ritual of thanks at the beginning of the meal; the three women present (or, rather, two women and one human-Controller) confined themselves to joining in the latter portions of the prayers he recited.

Toloth, of course, had picked the basic plan of the thing from Teresa's brain before coming downstairs. After beginning with a statement of basic Christian beliefs (a more precise version, in statement form, of what Teresa had asked of Gef before she had baptized him), three prayers were recited: an act of praise and petition to Jesus's divine father; a slightly less grand such act, repeated three times, to his human mother (who seemed to have some particular importance in the Christian scheme of things); and a brief statement to the effect that God was glorious and worthy of all possible honor. After this, the leader announced an event in the life of Jesus, and all the participants were supposed to reflect on the significance of this event for as long as it took the leader to say the three prayers again, repeating the prayer to Jesus's mother ten times instead of three. This was then repeated for four more such events, which, along with the first, were supposed to express either the joy, the sorrow, or the glory of Jesus's life and deeds. (Toloth gathered that, since it was the third day of the week, the Sickles family would be focusing on that series of events that expressed the sorrow.) Then a few unofficial concluding prayers were recited, and that was that. It was, Toloth had had to admit to himself, a pleasingly precise and orderly structure; what he hadn't quite understood, through the carefully filtered memories that were all he was allowing himself, was the emotional effect it seemed to have on the participants.

But now, as his human fingers traveled along the chain of smooth, round beads, and the familiar phrases (familiar to Teresa, anyway) fell off his borrowed lips with barely conscious effort, he began to see. It was a liberating thing, in its way, this Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary: by providing the hands and the tongue with more or less automatic exercises, it freed the mind to act in its own sphere, without hindrance from the body. For creatures as sensual as humans, some such trick was probably necessary, if they were to pay any attention at all to the unseen and unimaginable powers behind the universe. This Saint Dominic had been a shrewd man; it was a shame he hadn't been born a Yeerk.

"Give us this day our daily bread," he murmured, in precise imitation of Teresa's unconscious inflections, "and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but…"

<…deliver us from evil.>

Toloth was momentarily startled to hear Teresa's mental "voice" gain such sudden intensity. He had been aware that she was following along with the Rosary from inside her psychic oubliette, but he hadn't been paying her much attention. Now, hearing her "speak" the last four words of the Pater Noster with such passion, he was almost amused. Beg your God all you want, Teresa, he thought. Your deliverance will not be coming anytime soon.

But then he realized that that wasn't what Teresa was asking for. The undertones of her thought were perfectly plain, and they took the "us" quite literally. "Deliver us from evil" – that is, the two persons occupying my body. Deliver me, certainly, from the evil that has robbed me of my freedom, my privacy, and my happiness – but also, and more importantly, deliver my Controller from the evil that has ruled his heart from the day of his spawning. Let him not die in the thrall of that evil; let him not choose to follow it rather than You; let it not lead him forever away from the endless peace and joy for which You made him. Deliver us, O Lord.

The impact that this made on Toloth can hardly be overstated. He had already seen several dramatic examples of the effect of Christian love, but that was nothing compared to the glimpse he now got of the thing itself. Teresa loved him. She hated the Empire, but she loved him. Indeed, she hated the Empire all the more because she loved him – because to love someone means to desire his good, and the Empire could only remove goodness from Toloth, never give it to him. Toloth was meant to be something of which the Empire had no conception – something of which Toloth himself, as a subject of the Empire, had no conception. And Teresa, with every fiber of her being, wanted him to be that. That was what she meant by love.

But did Toloth want that sort of love? And, in particular, did he want it from a human? That, he now realized, was the question – the unavoidable question that anyone who infested Teresa Sickles had to face. Malcar Seven-Four-Five had said no; Oliss Three-Eight-Three, it seemed, had said yes; and he himself – well, he simply and terrifyingly wasn't sure. In one sense, it seemed logically impossible not to want it; how could he reject someone's desire to see him prosper? By definition, if Teresa's love remained true to itself, it could do him nothing but good. But, then, if to love was to do good, then to accept Teresa's love was to acknowledge her as his benefactor – and benefactors were owed repayment. All civilized beings understood that, even the Taxxons. If someone saved your life, you owed him that life; if someone did you a favor, you owed him a favor in return (Toloth thought of Lissim); if someone loved you… well, presumably you owed her love. And how, Toloth asked himself, could he owe Teresa love and still live as he had always done?

While he pondered this, the Sickleses – Teresa included – continued with their meditations. They contemplated Jesus's fear and distress as his death had approached, the whipping he had received at the hands of another Empire's soldiers, the mockery that those soldiers had made of his claim to universal kingship, and the final indignity that had forced him to carry the instrument of his own execution to its place of erection. And, as they contemplated these things, Teresa wove them all effortlessly into her plea for Toloth's soul. You went through so much to redeem us, ran the tenor of her thoughts. Don't let it all go for nothing in his case.

Then, when her father announced "the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, the Crucifixion", Toloth felt Teresa's mind give a sort of guilty start, as she realized that the Rosary was nearly finished, and that she had barely spared a thought for her cousin's predicament. As she hastened to reorient her intentions, her memory rebuked her with other occasions of this sort; it was, it seemed, a characteristic failing of Teresa's, this neglect of what was expected of her when private considerations intervened. She remembered, in particular, a time when, as a fourth-grader, she had deliberately missed the school bus so she could bring a gift to the man who had saved Chris – then only a puppy – from being hit by a car.

Toloth was unsure whether he appreciated being thus compared to the savior of that hideous brute he had met outside. He let the matter slide, however, and the rest of the rosary proceeded without incident; beads clicked, prayers were uttered, and Yeerk soldier and human child each pursued his own thoughts, until the session concluded with a plea that all those present might imitate the events that they had just contemplated, and thereby attain the promise that was implicit in those events. Then, with a symbolic gesture that traced the shape of Jesus's death on their own bodies, the four free agents at the table rose, put away their tools of prayer, and resumed the more mundane tasks of life.

"You've cleared a path to your bed, right, Teresa?" said Mrs. Sickles. "Nana isn't going to trip and kill herself if she has to get up in the night?"

"I think it's okay," said Toloth.

Mrs. Sickles raised an eyebrow. "You think so?"

"Um… maybe I should go up and check."

"You do that," said Mrs. Sickles. "And, Clarence, I told Missy you'd call her after we prayed, so you should probably do that before they go to bed. Mama and I can keep ourselves entertained for an hour or so while the two of you look for loopholes in the petty-theft laws."

And so, within minutes, every member of the Sickles household was busy with the same sort of things that any unbelieving family of similar size and conditions might have been busy with. There was nothing, externally, to hint that, just minutes before, they had been soliciting the attention of a limitless, self-existent Being of unimaginable power and glory.

But the mind of Toloth Two-Nine-Four, as he returned to Teresa's bedroom, was filled with strange thoughts indeed.
Last edited by Qoheleth on Sat Sep 07, 2013 7:01 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Sacred Host

Post by Qoheleth » Sat Mar 09, 2013 7:58 am

Chapter 29 - More Abundant Comeliness

Teresa's bedroom did not, in fact, require much straightening in order to be a presentable sleeping area for her grandmother. This was largely due to Malcar's influence; left to her own devices, Teresa would have let all manner of clutter accumulate on her floor, but Yeerks, for all their weaknesses, are not a people that readily embrace disorder. (This, it may be mentioned in passing, was one of the Sharing's great strengths among parents of teenagers; the Sickleses were not the only couple to notice their child becoming quietly but noticeably tidier after achieving Inner membership.)

Consequently, after replacing a few books on their shelves and tossing various articles of clothing into the laundry basket next to her bed, Toloth was free to change into a nightgown, leave the room, and settle himself in the Sickles family's den. This, as he had seen while helping Teresa's father set it up for the night, was a cozy and comforting room, filled with books (as many rooms and minds in the Sickles household seemed to be) and miscellaneous curios, with a time-worn teal sofa against the north wall that concealed a folding bed beneath its cushions. All the same, he was reluctant to take up residence there; once he did, he knew, he would be spending the rest of the night alone with his thoughts and The Imitation of Christ.

To delay this outcome, he lingered as long as possible over Teresa's undressing. This, however, came with its own form of peril – as a more experienced human-Controller might have known, but Toloth, having only infested a Gedd and a Hork-Bajir, was still an innocent where clothing was concerned. He had noticed, of course, that humans invariably decorated their bodies with elaborate coverings of woven fibers, but this had left no particular impression on his mind except that human ideas of decoration left a great deal to be desired. Nor had Teresa's thoughts on the custom heightened his respect for it; when she thought of clothing at all, it was as an expression of modesty and femininity, both of which concerns Toloth found insipid. Why should humans, who already had a wide and unmistakable array of sexual indicators, feel the need to emphasize their differentiation with clothing? And as for discouraging the mating impulse, it seemed to Toloth that, if a male human were in the mood to mate, a few millimeters of fabric would make little difference to a female's eligibility.

What he hadn't expected to discover, as he slowly and painstakingly removed Teresa's socks, skirt, cardigan, and camisole, was that the human custom of vesture, whatever one thought of its formal purposes, gave a definite and remarkable mystique to the human body itself. With each garment that fell away, Toloth had the queer sensation that he was digging to the heart of a secret, as though the body beneath all this fabric was of so delicate a dignity that it couldn't be lightly exposed to the harsh, indifferent light of day. It reminded him of something Prince Seerow was said to have told his wife: <The Emperor doesn't conceal himself because he fears attack. He conceals himself because that's the only way that a mere individual can maintain the reverence due an Emperor.>

It was absurd, of course. On Esiln Kalkat, he had seen this very body with no coverings at all, and nothing about it had suggested a member of nature's royalty. If it felt different from inside, that was merely an indication of how dramatically cultural conditioning could shape a creature's emotions. For that was all it was – a mere host emotion, of no more importance than the Hork-Bajir battle-urge. It had caught him off guard, that was all. It was nothing worth getting excited about.

And yet… he couldn't help thinking of the Baibul passage he had read, that night in the Bug fighter. Something about the first humans, after they had transgressed, knowing themselves to be "revealed", and making coverings for themselves out of leaves. He had vaguely thought of camouflage at the time (not bothering, in his haste to get to the parts about Jesus, to read the long, rambling, typically Skrit-Na footnote to the verse), but now he realized what it had really meant. Clearly, the human who had told that story had also felt this obscure, reverential shame in human nakedness, and had traced it back to the moment when, in his cosmology, the human body had ceased to be the deathless thing it had been made to be. Only a myth, doubtless – but, still, it was rather unnerving how one kept finding sound observations mixed with even the most fantastic notions of the Jesus-worshippers.

And there was another thing to consider. Why was it only the humans that had this custom? Why did the Skrit Na, for instance, not wear clothes? If it came to practical considerations, their bodies were just as poorly equipped for cold weather or harsh treatment, yet they had never developed a rule of continual covering. Why should the human body be singled out for such reverence?

Without thinking, Toloth went over to Teresa's closet, and gazed at his host body in the full-length mirror on the closet door. Yes, it was just as he remembered it from Esiln Kalkat: small, rounded, pink, plain, strictly utilitarian. The Arn, with their biological dilettantism, would have found it prosaic in the extreme – yet this was the form that six billion sellithik rigorously hid from each other, lest it grow too mundane a sight.

Perhaps the secret lay in the generative organs. Those seemed to be particularly carefully concealed – and Toloth remembered what Teresa had said, three days before, about the human fixation on sexual intercourse. He lowered the small, pale-pink garment that still lay about Teresa's loins, and examined critically the thing it had covered.

As he did so, he felt Teresa's mind flinch beneath his own, but this he ignored. Teresa was irrelevant now; what mattered was unearthing the secret of this human peculiarity. Teresa herself, it was plain, didn't know what the secret was; perhaps no human now alive did. But the essence of the thing still had to be discoverable, if one only probed deeply enough into the body that was its focal point.

He continued to gaze at the organ he had uncovered. Like the rest of Teresa's body, it was, in appearance, nothing special: a mere opening for the young to pass through, just like that of his old Gedd body except for the lack of a protective sphincter. But that was to be expected; Teresa was, after all, a female, and it was the essence of the female role to take into oneself what the male provided. Externals counted for little or nothing in such a case: what mattered, inevitably, lay within.

He extended two fingers on Teresa's right hand, and drew the hand towards her thigh…

<Don't!>

Teresa's desperate, reflexive cry thrust itself like a dagger into the midst of Toloth's reverie, and a sudden flood of her memories burst unbidden upon his consciousness. They were memories of Malcar Seven-Four-Five, on occasions when she deemed her host's spirit to be insufficiently abject, forcing Teresa's body to perform actions that, by Teresa's belief, were not merely evil, but so vile and degrading as to be practically unmentionable.

It was as though a spell had been broken. Toloth jerked Teresa's hand away like one who touches acid, and looked around the room in a sort of daze. What had he been thinking of all this time? What did it matter to him why humans wore clothes? And how in the galaxy had he expected to find the answer through an untoward inspection of Teresa's reproductive organs?

With a sudden wave of nausea, he realized what he had been about to do. There was a certain class of Yeerk unmentionables – flakthee was the most polite name – who took macabre delight in misdirecting the functions of their host bodies. They would cause the wrinkles of their Gedd skin to grow in grotesque knots and loops, and cut off their Taxxon legs for the mere pleasure of wiggling the tender stumps that grew in their place. (Distortion of Hork-Bajir bodies was less common, mostly because such Yeerks rarely got promoted to Hork-Bajir level.) Toloth had always held them in utter contempt, considering them little better than witless animals; now he realized that, had it not been for Teresa's intervention, he would at that moment have been taking the first step toward becoming one of them.

He shuddered, pulled up Teresa's underwear, and reached hastily into the closet for her nightgown. As he threw it over her body, he told himself firmly that it was all right, that this incident couldn't be considered characteristic of him; it was merely an abnormal reaction to his undeniably abnormal circumstances, and therefore perfectly normal.

A small part of him, though, suggested that this begged the question. Was it not possible – though he had never considered it before – that the flakthee themselves had begun in much the same way: that they had not emerged from their parents' corpses already corrupted, but had merely developed abnormal habits in response to their own abnormal experiences? Was there, perhaps, a dark schoolmaster in the mind of every sellith, who was merely waiting for the right opportunity to teach even the proudest Yeerk the vilest of practices?

With an effort, he thrust the thought from his mind. Flakthee were one thing, and he was another; he would not indulge in wild fantasies about a court of absolute law before which he and they were one. To be sure, the incident proved something, but it wasn't that all sentient beings were equally subject to corruption; it was merely that he needed to get a grip on himself before the strain of living as Teresa drove him to a nervous breakdown.

The problem, he reflected, was that he had allowed his premonition at the door too much significance. He had spent the past few hours, against all common sense, attempting to avoid contact with his host's mind as much as possible – carefully filtering her thoughts, leaving large sections of her memories unprobed, even reacting with horror to the notion that she desired his good – all out of a mere superstitious fear that, if he let Teresa's mind influence his, he would be somehow "transformed". But it was beginning to look as though that very tactic of evasion, by leaving him vulnerable to surprise emotional cross-currents such as the one he had just experienced, was what was likely to transform him – and quite deleteriously, at that. It was high time, he decided, that he started treating Teresa Sickles as a host like any other; as soon as he was settled into the den for the night, he would make a thorough and detailed inspection of her entire mind, as he would already have done for any other creature of which he was the temporary master.

And having thus resolved, he felt his confidence and self-respect begin to revive for the first time in more days than he cared to contemplate. With a deep, satisfied breath, he tossed back Teresa's head, squared her shoulders, and headed with a brisk, Yeerkly stride toward the nocturnal resting-place that her father had prepared for him.
Last edited by Qoheleth on Sat Sep 07, 2013 7:03 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Sacred Host

Post by Dest » Fri Mar 22, 2013 7:25 pm

Do you have a Fanfiction.net account with these stories?

If not, you should really make one and attract a wider audience.
Time is not wasted if you enjoyed what you were doing.

Qoheleth
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Re: Sacred Host

Post by Qoheleth » Wed Jun 05, 2013 7:58 am

Chapter 30 - Though I Be Nothing

"All set, honey?" said Mrs. Sickles. "Do you want the light left on so you can read for a little bit?"

Toloth shook Teresa's head. "No, thanks, Mom," he said. "Like I said, I'm pretty tired – and there's the fête tomorrow, too."

Mrs. Sickles nodded. "All right, then," she said. "Sleep tight, angel."

"You too, Mom."

Mrs. Sickles switched off the lamp and slipped out of the room, plunging it into darkness as she shut the door behind her. Toloth rolled over, buried Teresa's face in the pillow, and listened for a moment to the sounds of a human house at night – the sloshing of water in the pipes, the occasional car driving past outside, the voice of Teresa's father as he continued his phone conversation with his sister – Chris's barking, Mrs. Chiodini's shuffling footsteps, and the gentle pulsing of his own host's heart.

A renewed sense of the strangeness of his situation came over him. Here he was, a soldier of the Yeerk Imperial Army, the apple of the Sub-Visser's eye who administered Earth's Sulp Niar pool, committing half a dozen capital crimes at once so he could peek into the mind of an utterly unimportant human girl. Objectively considered, he was probably in greater danger than any Yeerk of his spawn had ever been – and yet, somehow, he felt safer and more at peace than he ever had in his life.

Partly, he reflected, this was no doubt because of the emotional influence of Teresa's mind. She was exactly where she belonged, and knew it, and that sense of belonging was so strong that anyone who touched her mind couldn't help but be affected by it. But there was more to it than that. He wasn't merely feeling Teresa's sense of belonging; he was feeling as though he belonged, and, for the life of him, he didn't know why.

Or, rather, he did. He belonged in Teresa's house because Teresa welcomed him there – cautiously but definitely welcomed him, as she had never welcomed Malcar. And she welcomed him – him, a Yeerk, the sworn enemy of her race – because, in some strange way, she had assurance that his heart was true. The phrase was ludicrous, but Toloth could find no better description of the state of Teresa's consciousness. She still didn't know his purpose in infesting her, but she had intuited, somehow or other, that she needn't regret being used in the way that he wanted to use her. (And this, of course, fed into the overwhelming sense of relief and ease that had been illuminating her mind all afternoon. To know that her body's every movement wasn't motivated by hatred of all that she held dear was, to Teresa, a rare and precious thing.)

So he was welcomed. He had come as an invader, and Teresa, by her faith, had made him something like a guest. And this was a new experience to him, for, in the Yeerk Empire, nobody was a guest. Hospitality, the taking of another person into one's own life, was not among the Yeerk virtues.

It was, perhaps, significant that, faced with this particular contrast between life in the Empire and life with Teresa Sickles, Toloth did not firmly remind himself that humans were lesser and Yeerks greater. He merely did what he had resolved to do some minutes before: he put his host's consciousness to sleep with a swift depression of the appropriate neurons, and then commanded her memories to appear before him, that he might find out who this person was that called herself Teresa Sickles.
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The substance of what he found has, of course, been preserved in the Vita that he submitted to the Congregation of Saints shortly after Teresa's cause was opened. But that text – written by a Yeerk ex-soldier of no great literary gifts, to satisfy a group of Vatican bureaucrats – gives little sense of what it was like for Toloth to truly meet the girl who had so beguiled and bewildered him for so many feeding cycles.

He saw her earliest, jumbled memories of childhood, when the cars on the street outside were still exotic jungle beasts, and the shadows in her bedroom concealed soul-stealing monstrosities. He saw her later childhood, with all its usual milestones: first day at school, first Communion – and, somewhat later, first genuine religious experience. He saw the pall cast on her pre-teen years by the conflicts that tore apart her father's law firm, forcing her family to economize drastically while he reestablished himself on his own, and the consequent emotional insecurity that had rendered her uncharacteristically vulnerable to the Sharing's blandishments. And, of course, he saw all the wretchedness and sorrow that had made up her teenage years as an involuntary host.

What most surprised him, however, was not what he saw, but what he didn't see. There was one element that he had casually assumed would be in Teresa's mind – had assumed so casually, in fact, that he hadn't even been aware of making the assumption – and his inability to find it unnerved him perhaps more deeply than anything else had hitherto done.

It was, in a word, exceptionalism. Here was a creature who had changed Gef Makkil's whole outlook on life with a word, who had roused the Sulp Niar pool's izcot population to the point where official measures had to be taken, and who had driven at least two host-bearing Yeerks – himself and Malcar Seven-Four-Five – to extremes of behavior utterly incompatible with true Yeerkish dignity. Surely, such a creature concealed some mysterious greatness beneath her unassuming bipedal form.

But no. The mind of Teresa Sickles, when observed directly, proved to be stunningly ordinary. She was perceptive, but not overly cunning; though intelligent and well-read for her age, she was hardly a great scholar; and, far from possessing the emotional coolness and self-sufficiency that, to a Yeerk, was the true measure of a great soul, she was as filled with violently conflicting passions and dependences as any other teen-aged human female. In fact, the only thing that obviously distinguished her from any of a dozen of her peers was the intensity of her devotion to Jesus.

But how could mere devotion to an imaginary deity have such effects? Even if a human called Jesus really had lived some two millennia before, he could only be a human like any other – a mere phenomenon of nature, transfigured and distorted by the sentient mind's perverse need to put a face on the unknowable. The Kandrona, the Hork-Bajir's Deep, and a thousand other natural phenomena had received the same treatment – and then their hierophants, having scratched that psychic itch, had gone on and done what they had been going to do anyway. Religion, in the long run, was just one more appetite, to be satisfied and then forgotten about until the next time it struck; to make it the guiding principle of one's life was idiotic and craven.

And yet… whatever faults she might have, Teresa was clearly neither a craven nor an idiot – and neither, by Hork-Bajir standards, was Gef. If their religion was an appetite, it was an appetite that was disciplined and restrained by its own object – as though Kandrona particles themselves could keep one from absorbing too many of them. Which was absurd, unless… well, unless the object was real, and living, and personal, and actively concerned for the welfare of those who hungered after it.

Toloth sighed, and ran a weary hand over Teresa's brow. Nonsense, all of it. The strangeness of his surroundings was getting to him again; it was making the universe seem more mysterious and incalculable than it really was. The truth of the matter, no doubt, was that Christianity was precisely the minor human superstition that common sense would have it, and that any power that Teresa seemed to draw from it was, in fact, merely a reflection of the greatness of other Christians. For, after all, there had to be some primal greatness in Christianity at its origins; so long as the lesser Christians continued to derive strength from that greatness, the superstition could remain powerful indefinitely.

Can it, now? said a mocking voice inside his head. Does anything remain powerful indefinitely? Do not all powers, and especially the power to move hearts, fade and dwindle as the centuries pass? Even the Empire, ancient though it is, is truly a succession of Empires; go back five generations, and see how much kinship you have with the Yeerks of that time. Yet this human girl calls herself sister to creatures four times as ancient.

And this was true. When Simon Cephas and Paul of Tarsus had been working to "build the Kingdom" on Earth, it had been Generation 657 on the Yeerk homeworld, and Saxol Five-Three-Five had been setting the Empire aflame – literally, in some places – with accusations that the Council had desecrated the great athletic tournament known as Bastinekk. Now it was Generation 686, and the very idea of Bastinekk was a joke among Saxol's own descendants – and Teresa Sickles was still busy building.

But, then, might Christianity not also be a series of Christianities? Perhaps the myth of the executed God was the only real continuity, and, beneath that surface, the specific teachings were continually being altered to fit the needs of the moment, just as the form of the Council had been retained while a hundred different theories of government had come and gone.

It was an attractive idea, but, when Toloth looked for evidence of it in Teresa's knowledge, he found himself coming up worse than empty. There were, indeed, groups of Christians who believed in thus altering the content of their religion while retaining its forms – but it was precisely these Christian groups that were unable to preserve this world-altering devotion in their members. Indeed, it seemed that Teresa's own sect had, a few decades before, formally committed itself to updating certain of its rituals and practices, and, insofar as this had been interpreted as a license to alter the sect's historic teaching, it had dramatically weakened the fundamental commitment to Jesus; if it hadn't been for the zeal of their current high priest, who seemed to interpret the update precisely as an opportunity to communicate ancient ideas to modern humans, it was likely enough that Teresa's missionary impulse would have died of malnutrition long before her capture. (Toloth, whose life would have been much simpler had this in fact happened, took a moment at this point to curse the name of John Paul II.) It seemed, in general, that Christianity, so far from being a shrewdly adaptive survivor among religions, could only summon the will to survive by refusing to adapt – by being faithful, in the face of all logic, to the obscure enthusiasm of a few long-dead Jews. And, when it was thus faithful, it not only survived, but prevailed.

"Ridiculous," Toloth muttered aloud. "There must be a trick somewhere."

"How's that, Teresa?" came Mr. Sickles's voice from the other side of the door.

Toloth jumped; he hadn't realized that anyone was near enough to hear him. "Um, nothing, Dad," he said, struggling to make Teresa's functionally-asleep tongue form clear syllables. "Just talking to myself."

"Well, try telling yourself that it's time to be asleep," said Mr. Sickles. "I was just telling your aunt how exhausted you were; are you going to make me into a liar by staying up till midnight holding a one-girl symposium?"

"Uh… no," said Toloth, now completely wrong-footed. "No, I… I'm… no, I'm not."

Mr. Sickles chuckled. "Well, all right, then," he said, and walked away from the door again. Toloth could hear him talking on the telephone as he left: "No, I'm still here, Missy. Just had to get in my daily dose of offspring-needling. –No, I don't think it does, actually. From what I've seen, I'd say Teresa's growing up as well-adjusted as anyone could ask for. And frankly, I'm not sure that you have a whole lot of room to talk, under the circumstances…"

His voice faded into the distance, and Toloth let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. Yes, clearly it was time to be asleep – or a-dulot, anyway. It had been an exceptionally long day, and a bit of unthinking semi-awareness was just what he needed to refresh his mind. Doubtless, in the clear light of morning, all these absurd fancies would be dispelled, and he would be able to get on properly with the business of unraveling Teresa's secret.

The mocking internal voice laughed outright at that. Her secret? it said. Come now, Toloth Two-Nine-Four. The girl is your host; she can have no secrets from you. If you don't understand her yet, it is because you do not wish to.

But Toloth ignored this. With a single contortion of his lower body, he detached himself from all but the most automatic areas of host control, and surrendered himself to dulot. As he did so, he got one last glimpse of Teresa's consciousness, and noted with amusement that she was dreaming of being in a steam-filled laboratory, confronted with three bottles of colored seltzer that would turn her into a Taxxon if she drank from them in the wrong order.

These poor humans, he thought. When they fall unconscious, not only do they not escape their thoughts, but they become the hopeless thralls of their most absurd and confused imaginings. How fortunate I am to be a Yeerk.

And, as he thought this, the torpor of dulot caught up with him, and he slid into that state where there are no dreams.

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Re: Sacred Host

Post by Qoheleth » Fri Nov 01, 2013 1:09 pm

Chapter 31 - The Light of Morning

The reason that there are no dreams in dulot, of course, is because Yeerk physiology, being substantially simpler than the human, requires a less intensive restorative process. It is not necessary for a Yeerk to ever become unconscious of his (or his host's) surroundings, only that they should in no way engage his mind. Dulot is thus a state, not of oblivion and dreams, but of total – even heightened – awareness, combined with utter and complete indifference; the senses continue to notice, and memory continues to record, but the emotions are as incapable of response as a fly in amber is of motion. (It is, perhaps, the experience of this state, and its natural association in the Yeerk mind with health and refreshment, that so disposes Yeerks toward callousness and cruelty, just as the austere strength of Andalite bodies disposes that race toward pride.)

Thus, as for eight hours the stars of California's winter sky passed over the roof of the Sickles house, Toloth lay below that roof like a stone god on a mountaintop, observing all and caring for nothing. To be sure, he was lying in a dark room with his host's eyes closed, and therefore observed less than he might have; still, humans have four senses besides sight, and the brain of a dulotel Yeerk can do a great deal with them. By the time that Toloth woke (so to call it) the following morning, all the sounds, feelings, and even smells of the past night had found a place in the archives of his mind; moreover, those of Teresa's memories that had borne on one or the other of these sensations – which was to say, in the long run, nearly all of Teresa's memories – had been sorted through and organized much more effectively than his untrained conscious mind could ever have done. The net effect was to give Toloth vastly more confidence in his ability to impersonate Teresa; it was as though a rank amateur of an actress had managed to learn all of Bette Davis's tricks overnight. (It will be seen how useful a quality dulot was to the Yeerk race, quite apart from its restorative powers.)

Toloth had expected it, of course; he had experienced it before with his first dulot in Gef, and before that with his original Gedd host. Nonetheless, when he arose from his stupor and perceived his newfound mastery of human-Control, he felt a sense of elation that went beyond anything he had been prepared for. Perhaps it was the different circumstances – being in the host's more or less natural surroundings; perhaps it was the feeling that the hardest part was over, and that the rest of his imposture would be comparatively easy. Or perhaps, as he later said to Thraqa, it was simply the natural result of having, in some degree, understood the mind of Teresa Sickles. In any case, it was a welcome feeling.

He gave Teresa's consciousness a rousing nudge, and felt her mind stir beneath his palps in response. A series of almost automatic thoughts, evidently a morning routine, went through it: an anguished flinch at the prospect of another day's bondage; a pang of self-pity because her God hadn't seen fit to let her die during the night; then, as her will reasserted itself, a stern rebuke to this latter feeling, and a resolve to bear whatever sufferings the day might bring in the same spirit in which Jesus had borne his protracted suffocation. (And, on this particular morning, there also, after a second or two, came the memory of what had happened the previous day, and the thought of spending two whole days out of Malcar's reach. The resulting surge of happiness gave her mind a kind of beauty that loyal Imperial subjects rarely got to see in their hosts.)

But Toloth ignored all this. What mattered to him was that, as Teresa's mind awoke, so did her body; its heartbeat quickened, its breathing deepened, and the strength that it had laid aside for the night swiftly returned to its every member. To a Yeerk, it is always heartening to feel a host body regain its full usefulness – and all the more so if one has just learned how to really use it.

He opened Teresa's eyes, blinking a little at the sunlight, and scraped a few bits of lachrymal debris from her tear ducts. He stretched her arms, let out a little half-yawn, half-groan, and rose from the bed; he slid her feet into cranberry-colored slippers, wrapped her body in a matching bathrobe, and headed for the bathroom to take care of certain pressing needs involving her bladder. All this he did almost automatically, as being the natural and obviously correct things for Teresa to do – and all of it he did with a fierce delight, simply because it was so automatic and natural.

I have achieved it, he thought with wonder. I am a human-Controller. The Sub-Visser did not choose me to be one, but I am one, nonetheless.

He smiled internally, beginning to feel quite pleased with himself. Who said, after all, that he was weak-willed or impotent? (In fact, of course, nobody had said anything like this during the past few weeks, but it still gave him pleasure to mentally rebut the accusation.) He had taken one of the Empire's prized luxury items from under its rightful owner's palps, and he had made it his own. Who before him had ever done anything of the sort? (Besides Ishlok of the Hills, that was.)

He was positively beaming with self-satisfaction by the time he reached the bathroom door. Look to yourself, Malcar Seven-Four-Five, he thought as he turned the brass knob and pushed the door open. Your last claim to superiority is taken away. Before, you could say, "After all, I am still a human-Controller; the Empire has placed me at the forefront of the invasion, and has given me privileges denied to Toloth Two-Nine-Three." But now Toloth Two-Nine-Three has seized those privileges, not through Imperial favor but through his own strength and cunning. Have you ever done the like? It is to…

A sudden, sharp cry interrupted his reverie, and he glanced up to see Mrs. Sickles, seated on the toilet with her undergarments around her ankles, and staring up at him with something like shock. "Really, Teresa!" she exclaimed. "Do we not believe in knocking in this household anymore? Or at least checking to see whether the light is on before we come barging in?"

"Oops," said Toloth, feeling Teresa's cheeks grow warm with a sudden influx of blood. "Sorry, Mom."

He shut the door again hastily; then he leaned back against the wall, folded Teresa's arms, and stared fixedly at the ceiling, trying his best to ignore the irrepressible giggling coming from Teresa's higher-thought centers.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It seemed to him a remarkably long time before he heard the sound of the toilet being flushed, and even longer before Mrs. Sickles finally emerged. That, to be sure, was natural enough, since she was notoriously fastidious in hygienic matters – as Toloth, of course, had no trouble recalling from Teresa's memories. (Somehow, this instance of his newfound mastery over her mental resources was less satisfying to him than the others had been.) Still, it was irksome.

And it was even more irksome when Mrs. Sickles, upon emerging from the bathroom, bestowed a kind, maternal smile on him. "I'm sorry if I was harsh with you just now, darling," she said. "But really, I thought I'd raised you better than that."

Toloth shook his host's head. "No, it's okay, Mom," he said. "It was my fault, I should have looked. Just had my head in the clouds, I guess."

"Mm," said Mrs. Sickles. "Well, there's nothing new about that, of course." She sighed, and shook her head. "Honestly, I don't know how you're going to manage when you have children of your own."

That's not going to be an issue, my dear human, Toloth thought. By the time your daughter is ready to mate, neither she nor any other member of her race will be in a position to take active roles in the rearing of their young.

Outwardly, however, no trace of this thought crossed his borrowed face as he shrugged and said, "Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

"Yes, I suppose so," said Mrs. Sickles. "Heaven knows, I was far from ready at your age, too. Anyway –" she gestured "– there's the bathroom you wanted so badly."

Toloth felt Teresa's cheeks beginning to redden again, and cursed the relative pallor of her skin that made this so conspicuous. "Um, yeah," he said. "Thanks, Mom."

Hastily, he slipped past his host's broadly smiling mother into the bathroom, and shut the door behind him. Then, as he seated himself on the white-porcelain latrine and began to discharge the night's accumulation of waste water, a passage he had read the evening before drifted into his mind: If it seemeth to thee that thou knowest many things, and understandest them well, know also that there are many more things which thou knowest not. Be not high-minded, but rather confess thy ignorance.

He scowled, but acknowledged the appositeness of the reflection. It hadn't really been a question of ignorance, of course; he had known perfectly well that humans in general, and Teresa's mother in particular, didn't appreciate being walked in on while they were eliminating. But that it was "high-mindedness" – pride in his knowledge, in other words – that had brought about his little humiliation, he could scarcely deny.

The thought rather disturbed him. He had never thought of the Imitation as being addressed to him; his only concern had been whether it could be taken as being addressed to the izcots. Yet here was a rather unsubtle indication that its counsel was much more broadly applicable – and, it might be, well worth acting on.

But he couldn't afford to worry about that now. In a few short hours, he would be thrust into the thick of the Sharing's biggest promotional event of the season; what he had to focus on was how to handle a community center's worth of veteran human-Controllers, many of whom knew Malcar Seven-Four-Five personally, without giving any of them any reason to think that some other Yeerk was looking out from behind Teresa's eyes. And he hardly thought that a long-dead human monk could give him much advice in that regard.

With that thought, he tore off a length of Charmin Basic and wiped away the residual water from Teresa's pubic area (gingerly – the memory was still tender of the last time he had handled this region of her). Then he rose, flushed, and, after a cursory cleaning of Teresa's hands, headed to the dining room to fortify the two of them for the coming ordeal.

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Re: Sacred Host

Post by Qoheleth » Wed Jan 08, 2014 11:51 am

Chapter 32 - Garments for the Servants of Baal

<Wow, I look like a dork,> said Teresa, as Toloth examined their reflection in the closet mirror. <Toloth, how can you stand to be part of an invasion that has such awful taste? Even the British at least wore nice red coats.>

Toloth ignored her. Truth to tell, he thought that he looked rather smart in the costume that Iniss Two-Two-Six had had designed for the Sharing fête. The colors were pleasingly vivid, and the pointed hat and knee socks added an air of distinction reminiscent of a San-Mo-Skee aristocrat. If his host thought that it made her look like an overweight poster girl for Keebler cookies, there was no need for him to share her parochialism.

He did, however, need to act as though he did, and so it was rather surreptitiously that he made his way back down the hallway to the den. Since all three of the adult humans were gathered in the living room, discussing the situation with the girl Jasmine, it was fairly easy to slip past them unnoticed; the frustrating part came once he was in the den, and realized that, to be faithful to Teresa’s character, he would have to spend most of the next hour hiding there. (Or, rather, not hiding – Teresa wouldn’t have considered it hiding – but steadfastly resisting any urge to go somewhere more public.)

To a more intellectually voracious creature, spending an hour in the Sickles family den, with its aforementioned five or six shelves full of books, would have hardly seemed an oppressive fate. To Toloth, however, who prided himself on his Yeerkish practicality, books had no such intrinsic allure; they were tools, pure and simple. You consulted them when you needed to know where the matter-translation unit went on a Bug fighter’s engine, or what the correct form of address was for a Desbadeen Lord Navigator (or what aspects of a human religion could be converted into Imperial propaganda), but to seek personal recreation in them was a sign of rather pathetic desperation.

It seemed, however, that he was now thus desperate. With a sigh, he ran Teresa’s eyes over the shelves, searching for something that wasn’t hopelessly human in its appeal; finding nothing, he lowered his gaze to the bedside table, thinking that he might at least play a few rounds of zashpik on the notepaper that lay there.

On top of the notepaper was one book he’d forgotten about.

Oh, no, he thought. Certainly not. The last thing I want to spend an hour doing.

Then why did you bring it down last night?
he asked himself.

For verisimilitude, he answered. Her father had seen her reading it; it made sense that she would wish to continue.

Then why not add to that verisimilitude by continuing? Better, certainly, than leaving
zashpik diagrams lying around for the humans to find. And who knows? Perhaps you will find the information that you were looking for, after all.

Rubbish. I shall do nothing of the sort.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
But alas! it is often to no purpose and in vain. For this outward consolation is no small hindrance to the inner comfort that cometh from God. Therefore we must watch and pray that…

There was a knock on the door, and Toloth jumped and hastily tossed the Imitation aside. “Yes?” he said.

“Time to get going, Teresa,” said Mrs. Sickles, opening the door. “It’s almost ten, and you said that you needed to be there no later than ten-thirty, so you could help Kati and the others do the last bits of setting up.”

“Oh, right,” said Toloth. “Thanks, Mom.”

“So, Catherine,” came Mrs. Chiodini’s voice, “are we permitted to ask what the program is for this event, or is that as carefully guarded a secret as so many things about this organization of Teresa’s seem to be? ‘Inner Sharing’, honestly – it sounds like one of those things they used to make us do in the ’70s, as a non-authoritarian substitute for the Rosary or…”

At this point, the old woman’s face came into view, and she got her first glimpse of her granddaughter in full Iniss-commissioned regalia. Her voice trailed off, and she stared speechless for a moment before murmuring, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”

Toloth put on a diffident smile, and flushed some blood into Teresa’s cheeks. “Yeah, I know,” he said.

Mrs. Chiodini licked her lips. “Perhaps I don’t want to know what delightful things Mr. Chapman has planned for us, after all,” she said. “If I get gunned down by drug dealers on the drive over, it won’t do me any good at the Pearly Gates for my last thoughts to have been of dancing pixies singing about inner sharing.”

“Oh, Mama, it’s nothing like that,” said Mrs. Sickles. “It’s just an ordinary community gathering, with games and food and maybe the inevitable speeches about how the Sharing’s changed people’s lives. And Teresa already feels self-conscious enough about the costume they assigned her, so you don’t need to make it any worse for her.”

“Who’s making it worse?” said Mrs. Chiodini. “She should be grateful to know that someone else appreciates the outrage that’s been perpetrated on her. There’s nothing worse than being alone in a world gone mad. I ought to know; I was raising children in the 1960s.”

“I daresay,” said Mrs. Sickles briskly. “But it’s time to get moving, so if everybody will just get their coats on, we can continue this discussion in the car. Clarence, would you mind going out and getting it started?”

“Aye, Cap’n,” said Mr. Sickles.

“Just tell me they didn’t make you pay for it, darling,” Mrs. Chiodini whispered as Toloth slipped past her by the coat rack.

“Well, not really,” said Toloth. “But of course I pay Sharing dues, so I guess I carried part of the cost indirectly.”

Mrs. Chiodini rolled her eyes. “What you think is worth ten dollars a month about this group, I can’t imagine,” she said.

Toloth opened Teresa’s mouth, preparing to drop some good word about the Sharing into the old woman’s ear. It would be the easiest thing in the world; Teresa did genuinely admire the things the Sharing did for the poor and friendless of her community (if not its reasons for doing them), and this was a perfect opportunity for her to say so. Moreover, Toloth knew how much affection for her granddaughter lay beneath Mrs. Chiodini’s acerbic crust; if anything could soften her on this subject, it would be a glimpse of how much the Sharing mattered to Teresa. There was no question but that he could, here and now, do the invasion a definite and positive service – a small one, perhaps, but his duty was no less clear for all that.

So he opened her mouth – and then he closed it again, and donned her coat in silence. In a minute or so, he and the two human women were heading out the door, and the moment had passed irretrievably.

And throughout the drive to the Community Center, as he sat in the back seat of the Ford and watched the southern-California scenery flit past, he wondered and wondered what was wrong with him.

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Re: Sacred Host

Post by Qoheleth » Sun May 04, 2014 7:50 pm

Chapter 33 - Strange Rites

One must confess that Mrs. Sickles, in her anxiety to shield her daughter from her mother's acid tongue, had described a Sharing fête in terms that, while broadly accurate, were rather more innocuous than the institution merited. Indeed, the institution of the fête was perhaps the most curious aspect of the whole Sharing phenomenon; long after the war's end, ex-hosts and ex-Controllers alike were wont to recall it with genuine puzzlement, as though even they couldn't guess what the Visserarchy had hoped to gain from it.

Yet its origins were straightforward enough. The first Sharing fête had been held on New Year's Day of 1994, shortly after the Yeerk invasion of Earth had begun in earnest. At that time, the Sharing, being still under the leadership of Edriss Five-Six-Two, still bore the character of a self-help group with cultic aspirations; social commentators, particularly in the national media, were wont to refer to it, with varying degrees of irony, as "Altmanism". The fête was an innovation entirely in accord with this spirit; those who participated in it were met with attendants in brightly colored cloaks, songs composed for the occasion, "testimonies" straight out of Baptist worship services, and even a concluding ceremony in which all were invited to stand and face east – "the direction of hope" – while the attendants marked their right hands with cassia. It was, quite bluntly, Edriss's first attempt to create an Altmanist liturgy.

Had the future Visser One been in charge of the Sharing much longer, it is likely enough that it would have developed into a sort of poor man's Freemasonry, and Teresa Sickles would never have dreamed of joining. But certain aspects of Lawrence Alter's pre-infestation life were already beginning to come to light, and Edriss judged it judicious, a few months after the New Year's fête, to change personas and focus on her political ambitions within the Visserarchy. Accordingly, the Sharing was informed of its founder's untimely demise, and was placed under the oversight of one Flammet Nought-Five-Two, newly the Controller of Altman's assistant, Sarah Valerio.

This caused a distinct change in the Sharing's strategy, for Flammet, being relatively new to Earth and far less ambitious than Edriss (she never achieved more than a modest Sub-Visserial rank, for all her contributions to the war), was disinclined to pursue an invasion plan that seemed to her to stem less from sober military calculation than from her predecessor's desire to play the demagogue. She did not find that her own host (who, significantly, more nearly approximated the middle-class American mainstream than anyone Edriss had ever infested) greatly desired to hand over her personhood to the first persuasive speaker who came along – but neither did she find that that host desired personal liberty above all things, as the Andalites, for instance, professed to do. So far as her Controller could discover, the principal desire in Sarah Valerio's mind was for what she called "a better world for her children" – and Flammet, reflecting on this desire, gradually devised a means by which she could turn it to the Empire's use.

Thus did the Sharing metamorphose, during the years 1994 and 1995, into a secular non-profit with a professed zeal for social justice. It shed the cultic trappings of the Altman years, and began to ally itself with real church and synagogue groups; it dedicated itself to keeping youth off the streets, and reaching out a hand to the poor and marginalized; it was praised in the National Review as a force for traditional values, and in the Atlantic Monthly as a model of community activism. In short, it became all things to all men, that it might doom some – and, so doing, it flourished beyond the Visserarchy's wildest expectations. By the end of 1995, the Sharing was a nationwide concern, with chapters (and Yeerk pools) in 21 states; the merely local phenomenon of two years before, in which Lore David Altman had perorated to down-and-out Californians about their untapped potentialities, had been swept away and forgotten.

Yet it had left one curious legacy – for Flammet, while ruthlessly expunging everything else about the Sharing that smelled of Jonestown, had retained, and even expanded, the role of the fêtes. Perhaps this was done as a sop to Edriss, who still considered the Sharing her brainchild, or perhaps she had hoped to capitalize on the human fondness for annual traditions; perhaps both motivations played a part. In any case, the fêtes remained; a typical chapter had three each year, at Christmas, the Fourth of July, and the beginning of spring. (The latter was never referred to as an Easter fête, since it had been found difficult to interest Jews in such an event – and a Passover fête, of course, was out of the question. A vaguely solemn acknowledgment that the U.S.'s hemisphere was tilting towards the Sun again seemed much the safest course.)

To be sure, the more obviously ceremonial trappings had been abandoned. There was no longer any cassia or orientation, and the cloaks had been replaced by an open-ended requirement that the Inner members all appear in some form of distinctive costume, the nature of which was left to the discretion of the local chapter head. But plucking a chicken doesn't make it a man, and the fêtes, denuded of their neo-Masonic finery and never imbued with any coherent secular purpose, ended up being little more, in essence, than free lunches out for the families of Sharing members. (The catering was typically the one great strong point of a Sharing fête, as of most other Sharing events. Yeerks, with their tradition of Esiln Kalkat gustatory revels, fully understood the human emphasis on good food at celebrations.)

Had this been straightforwardly acknowledged, it is possible that the fêtes might have come to be regarded fondly, and even become useful host-recruitment tools. An organization, after all, in which all the members dress up in matching costumes three times a year and then go out to lunch would seem charming and whimsical to many – and humans, even more than most sentients, are readily won over by charm and whimsy. This, however, would have required a leadership that understood the value of charm and whimsy, which the Yeerk Empire rather dramatically failed to have at this time. The Sharing chapter heads were far more practical souls, and they saw in the fêtes an opportunity, not for host recruitment, but for their own advancement. If, they reasoned, they could impose a sufficiently novel and complex form on the loose framework of songs and testimonies, and then realize this form smoothly and efficiently, it would argue both vision and command ability in them; the Council's agents on Earth would take notice, and they would be that much closer to the Visserarchical positions they all so desperately coveted.

There was, in truth, a measure of reality in this reasoning. (Toloth Two-Nine-Four's superior, for instance, had become Sub-Visser One Hundred and Sixty-Three largely on the basis of a particularly well-executed Fourth of July fête – hence his already-noted estimate of himself as a distinguished aesthetician.) But this was small consolation to the rank-and-file Sharing members who, three times a year, found themselves caught in the midst of small-town attempts to outdo the Olympic torch-lighting ceremonies. Because, of course, there was a ratchet effect involved: each fête, in order to catch the Council's eye, had to be more elaborate and distinctive than any previous fête, and so, by 1999, no self-respecting chapter head would settle for anything less than a full-blown extravaganza using all the available community resources, and resembling, as often as not, the delirium of an oatmeal addict given a seasonal theme. Just so, on the Yeerk homeworld, had the understated and elegant phosphor-shows of Generation 78 become the all-out retinal assaults of Generation 79.

Most ordinary Controllers accepted this with resignation, and sometimes even a touch of malicious pleasure in the cravenness of the heads' self-promotion – for there is always something satisfying, for the citizen of a despotic oligarchy, in watching one of his minor overlords make a public spectacle of himself. To the graver-minded among them, though – such persons as, for instance, Malcar Seven-Four-Five – the tradition was simply an outrage; not only did it squander resources that might have been used to bring more humans to the pier, but it made the Sharing itself, that noble instrument of racial conquest, into a ludicrous burlesque. (The uninfested family members of Sharing hosts, meanwhile, mostly just enjoyed the food and shrugged off the accouterments. Humans, as has often been noted, have remarkable powers of adaptation.)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Such, then, was the Sharing fête: a defanged liturgical parody converted into a razzle-dazzle campaign advertisement for aspiring sub-vissers. A more implausible occasion of grace would, perhaps, be difficult to imagine – and yet, on December 22, 1999, Toloth Two-Nine-Four of the Sulp Niar pool experienced his first moment of true compunction while assisting at the Christmas fête of the Oceanside, California, chapter. Let them hear and be heartened, whom the spiritual poverty of their culture tempts to despair.

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Re: Sacred Host

Post by Arthur » Wed Jun 11, 2014 11:01 am

Wow. Great job giving more character to The Sharing, and also improving it's backstory. Really loving this story, please post more soon.
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Re: Sacred Host

Post by Arthur » Sun Jan 11, 2015 9:35 pm

Bump? Q? I iz needs more...
Thanks for being awesome!
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Re: Sacred Host

Post by Qoheleth » Tue Feb 24, 2015 3:02 pm

Chapter 34: An Unforeseen Encounter

When Teresa's family entered the Enenbach Bros. Roller-Plaza, as the local roller-skating rink was known, they saw at once what had taken so much of her after-school time during the last week. (Ostensibly, that is. In fact, the workers involved had mostly been Hork-Bajir-Controllers – which, while it had given Malcar and the other Sharing members an ideal cover for their pool visits, had also led to several tense moments for the Visserarchy over the course of the week.) The hardwood floor of the rink had been covered with AstroTurf; the usual lighting had been replaced by a much more elaborate system, which at the moment was bathing everything in a neutral yellow glow; an elevated podium, large enough for four or five people to stand on it at a comfortable distance from each other, had been erected in the center of the rink; various seasonal symbols, forged from what a non-metallurgist might easily have taken to be silver and gold, were suspended from the ceiling at irregular intervals; and, most conspicuous of all, two rows of LED screens lined the walls on either side of the visitors. The total effect did indeed give the impression of having been orchestrated by someone of substance and audacity; whether that someone could also have been said to have good taste was, perhaps, more debatable. Mrs. Chiodini, for one, thought not; she remarked, not without some justice, that it made her feel as though she were on "Let's Make a Deal" or some such program.

No sooner had she said this than up strode Monty Hall himself – otherwise Iniss Two-Two-Six of the Sulp Niar pool, or (as non-Controllers knew him) Vice-Principal Hedrick Chapman of Campo Parvo Public School. With a smile as broad as the Hork-Bajir Equatorial Chasm (and as artificial as the former fauna thereof), he grasped and shook the hands of each of Teresa's ancestors in turn, remarking as he did so that it did his heart good to see such a lovely family all together at Christmastime, and that it was to nurture just such fundamental human bonds that the Sharing ultimately existed, and that he hoped they were all having the happiest holiday season imaginable.

"The same to you, Mr. Chapman," said Mr. Sickles, before his mother-in-law could recover from being thus accosted by a grown man in a tasseled hat and bright green knickerbockers. "How are Cindy and Melissa doing?"

"Fine, fine," said Iniss, as one who, a century before, might have said that his host's wife and daughter were just bully. "And I don't have to ask about your own daughter, of course, since I saw her with my own eyes being such a vigorous help to us yesterday. That didn't take too much out of you, I hope, Teresa?" he said, turning to what he thought was his loyal subordinate. "You're all rested up now and ready for the big event itself?"

"Sure," said Toloth coolly. (He figured that polite coolness was the best approach, since the Sickleses knew that Teresa shared their lack of enthusiasm for the assistant principal, and Iniss knew that Malcar despised the whole institution of the fêtes. Moreover, it meant that he didn't have to say very much, which, in a multi-level deception such as this one, was always desirable.)

"Excellent," said Iniss. "Then after you've had a few minutes to help your family find their spots, we'll be expecting you in the back room. Kati, in particular, ought to be glad to have your help." He said this last bit in a particularly meaningful tone; Toloth was mystified, but nodded politely, and Iniss appeared satisfied. After exchanging a few more ingratiating words with the Sickleses, he headed back into the back room where the final preparations for the fête were being made.

Mrs. Chiodini gazed after him for a long moment, her face all the more richly expressive for being kept carefully neutral. "So," she said. "That was your principal, was it, Teresa?"

"Assistant principal," Toloth corrected her.

"Though he might as well be the real principal," Mr. Sickles added. "He does just about all the actual work; the woman who has the title isn't much more than an affirmative-action figurehead. Which is a shame, since she's by far the more human of the two of them." (Toloth bit down on Teresa's lip to keep from laughing aloud.)

"Ah," said Mrs. Chiodini, nodding sagely. "Yes, that's always the way of it, isn't it?"

"Well, not always, I hope," said a new voice from behind them. It was a deep, resonant voice, yet somehow easy and unassuming – the sort of voice that might have earned its possessor a place on the evening news, had it not so clearly belonged to someone who had no intention of reading from TelePrompTers all his life.

Teresa gave a mental start as she recognized it, and Toloth, though disconcerted in quite a different way than she was, did his best to interpret her feelings physically as he turned, widened her eyes, and exclaimed, "Bishop Perlmutter!"

"Well, now," said the tall, stately Bishop of San Diego, "here's a face I remember anointing. Scholastica, wasn't it?"

Teresa's memory obligingly provided Toloth with the necessary data to understand that remark: that young humans preparing for the rite of confirmation traditionally adopted a secondary name derived from some great Christian hero; that Teresa had rather childishly selected hers on the basis of being delighted that the founder of Western monasticism had had a twin sister; and that she had subsequently cornered the Bishop at the post-ceremonial luncheon and bombarded him with questions for nearly half an hour, thereby lodging herself more firmly in his memory than the average pre-teen catechumen was wont to do. Had he chosen, he might have made something out of all this. Instead, he said only, "Your Excellency, what… what are you doing here?"

The Bishop shrugged. "I thought I'd better get out of my rector's hair for a little while," he said. "He gets rather tense this time of year, getting the cathedral ready for all the major feasts coming up – and it's especially bad for him this year, with our brave new calendar putting Epiphany the day after New Year's. And I know how proud this city is of having given birth to the Sharing, so I decided to swing up and pay my respects during their annual non-denominational Saturnalia."

"Oh," said Toloth. "Well, that's nice." But his true feelings were quite otherwise. Fate, it seemed to him, was going out of its way to ensure that he would not be able to forget Christianity for a moment during his time as a human-Controller; at any rate, he couldn't think of any other reason for it to make the highest local Christian authority cross his path in this improbable setting. (Which just went to show, he reflected later, how much less imaginative he was than fate – or its Master.)

"I hope so," said the Bishop. "Seeing as how it's part of my job description to be nice – or given to hospitality, anyway. I suppose that doesn't translate to nice in every case, but it certainly seems to apply here."

"Just so long as you're not too nice to do the rest of it," Mrs. Chiodini said darkly.

The Bishop's eyes flickered toward her, and Toloth had the impression of a runan player judging his toss. "Yes, that is the danger, isn't it?" he said. "Being so gentle that you forget to be just, so sober that you lose sight of holiness, and so given to hospitality that you relax your embrace of the faithful word that's according to doctrine. Or vice versa, for that matter."

"I haven't seen much danger of vice versa, lately," said Mrs. Chiodini. But there was an unwonted mildness in her tone, as though she didn't want to be too tart or imperious toward this particular man – not simply because of his office, Toloth thought, but because he had subtly claimed the privileges of that office in a way she understood. As the human Kempis might have said (though Toloth cursed himself for thinking of it), he had reminded her that Christ was amongst them, in his own person as well as otherwise, and that it was therefore well to yield up her own opinion for the sake of peace.

"No, I suppose not," said the Bishop. "Certainly, we could tell more stories about the other – if charity permitted, that is." With which words, and a gesture of rueful irony, he dismissed the whole subject as merely one more manifestation of human fallenness, not worthy to preoccupy the saints of San Diego. "But never mind. What about this noble festivity we've come to? Aren't there supposed to be a few more succulent odors in the air than this?"

Toloth sniffed, and realized the justice of this remark. Usually, by this stage in the setup of a Sharing fête, the food was quite distinctly olfactible, even if it hadn't yet been brought out; now, though, there was nothing that a human nose could tell from the way the Roller-Plaza always smelled. Perhaps that was connected with Elskir Five-Nought-Seven's need for assistance.

"Dunno," she said. "I should probably get back there, though, so… Mom, Dad, Nana? Where do you guys want to sit?"

"Wherever His Excellency likes, of course," said Mrs. Sickles immediately. "If he'll join us, that is."

"Delighted to," said the Bishop. "Let's see, we probably don't want to be too close to that platform there; the last time I was at one of these, I could barely hear for half an hour after the testimonials were over. How about over there somewhere?" He gestured to the southwestern end of the rink.

"Fine," said Toloth. "Mom, do you want help setting up your chairs? I could…"

"Oh, no, darling, you go ahead," said Mrs. Sickles. "I'm sure your father can manage on his own. He's a sturdy, virile specimen, aren't you, Clarence?" And she smiled saucily at her husband, who reddened slightly and muttered something about "not in front of His Excellency, Trina".

"Oh, now, don't let this collar fool you, my boy," said the Bishop. "After thirty-five years in the marriage-and-confession business, I've heard much worse than wives calling their husbands manly in Latin. In fact, I'm a bit perturbed that she implied you were the only one; I'll admit I have a few more gray hairs than I used to, but I can still carry two chairs, thank you very much."

"Okay, great," said Toloth, aware that Teresa should have been giggling just then, but unwilling to put the effort into it. "I guess I'll see you later, then."

"Break a leg, sweetheart," said Mrs. Sickles, and blew her a kiss.

And Toloth turned and headed for the back of the rink, wondering what other little surprises the day had in store for him.
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Author's note: Before you ask, no, there is not, and never has been, a Bishop Perlmutter of San Diego in our world (any more than, in our world, California ever had a female governor). At the time this story is set, the real-life see was held by one Robert Brom; at the moment, it's held by no-one, Cirilo Flores having recently become only its second bishop to successfully die in harness.

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