I came into the desert to be alone.
Three weeks have blown by since my arrival on this world, Cenobar Trinordis. Three weeks of confusion and business with no real accomplishment. As a professor of offworld—or, to be more politically correct, non-homeworld—religions, I had planned to study local mysticism on Trinordis, but instead I found my efforts continually frustrated by the general politics of of the place, the constant headlong motion of everyday life.
Even now, I can scarcely explain what I mean. It’s not as though the Trinordians are an industrious people. Even the most developed colonies, well on their way to being full-fledged cities, are strangely lacking in anything homeworlders would call infrastructure. The appearance is that of abject poverty, and yet the feeling I get from the people themselves suggests wealth and happiness. The people are always busy—there seems no other word for it—but they seem to never worry about actually doing or accomplishing anything. It’s as though this constant motion fulfills its own purpose in their eyes, and they are content to engage in it wholeheartedly.
This business with no purpose enveloped me, seduced me, and for a while I became entranced by it. But two weeks passed and I realized that I had thus far been distracted from my work, which seemed ever less important with each exaggerated, slow rotation of the planet. I shook my head as a man who is trying to shake off sleep, and set to work with renewed vigour. A week later, I realized that my notes, my work, was meaningless and lacking in substance. It seemed to me that I had merely jotted down what I remembered from my previous studies, but my actual observations of the people were superficial and scarce.
Then I felt an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia, as though all these people were focusing their secret energies on me, thwarting me with some voodoo curse. As though a great crowd of strange women were pressing in on me, angrily, shouting in a dialect I had never heard and could not understand.
So I went into the desert. To be alone.
But I am not alone. One of them came with me. One of the energetic, charming, healthy, beautiful, and nearly-starving natives of this peculiar planet. His name is Qualamo.
He sits across from me now, as I write this, and he seems content to merely exist. Why he came I have no idea, unless it was in response to some telepathic sense that his presence was precisely what I did not desire. There seems an overwhelming force of rebellion against the natural miseries of life here. Qualamo is happy, or seems to be, yet I have not fed him, nor have I even acknowledged his existence. I am getting used to the way no one takes offense at my selfish, brutal, foreign behaviour.
This place is full of paradoxes, of things hidden within their opposites.
I remember reading about Cenobar Trinordis in the Encyclopedia Galactica: a planet with virtually no class systems; home of the mysterious Tuluksis tribes who could spend a month beneath the sand in a state of hibernation; and also, of a particular story that caught my attention, of a man who wandered into a city from one of the numerous deserts or jungles (I can’t remember which), sat down against the outer wall of a house, and died calmly and peacefully of thirst and hunger, despite many attempts of the locals to provide him with food and water.
I remember reading that. I also remember thinking about the stories I had heard, of what it was like to die of thirst. There are few deaths more horrible. There are many stages, and each stage is like a new kind of torture. I cannot remember all the details, but I do remember excruciating agony at some of the stages and terrible madness, hallucination, and delerium at others. The question that echoed through my mind was, What kind of strength could allow a man to be calm as his body and mind were both consumed by dehydration? surely such a strength would have to transcend the body entirely.
This was one of the questions I came here to find an answer to, one of the puzzles I came here to solve. I have long suspected that the reason behind the contentment and unselfishness of the people, the reason behind the superhuman hibernations, the reason behind the peaceful death by dehydration, are all one and the same reason. I suspect an underlying mysticism, more advanced or more powerful than anything any world has yet developed.
But it is hidden; hidden beneath this seemingly superficial veneer of people running about in no hurry, doing things with no purpose, talking without bothering to make a point. It is hidden, but I will find it.