Why did Shetheyn need to warn him about the new globe? There were always some arriving, some departing, some being destroyed, some destroying themselves in various manners. And Gekei himself was too high in the Hierarchy to be bothered with a globe until the Lowers had surveyed it.
But although it had been a long time, he had once been a Lower himself. He, along with many others...he remembered their names and faces vividly, unblurred by time's passage. Some were more advanced than he; some less so. From his memory, he allowed that it was not unknown for a Higher to join the initial survey, but it was unusual. When he was a Lower he had wondered himself why it sometimes happened--now he wondered whether Shetheyn itself arranged it, through the means he had just witnessed.
Gekei sent out a summons to his immediate Lower. As a courtesy--he remembered Highers who had not bothered--he dimmed himself down and took on a more material form.
Jerhonda, the Lower he had summoned, appeared and made his obeisance. "A new globe has appeared, one blue, indigo, and red," Gekei said without preamble. "I will join the surveyors."
Jerhonda made no expression of surprise. "It will be arranged," he said. A Lower never questioned the actions of a Higher; as one grew to understand a Higher's motives, one ascended in the Hierarchy to one's level of understanding.
Gekei, from his aeons of survey work, was intimately familiar with the Criteria by which globes were judged. He had more understanding of them now than the mere rote knowledge he had had then, but the meanings of some still eluded him. He dwelt upon it very little, but once in a while his brain worried at one of them until it yielded its secret, and he rose again in the Hierarchy.
The leader of the survey was named Xaaming. In honour of Gekei's presence, none of the survey's members were of the very Lowest, but were all skilled and on the verge of rising in the Hierarchy themselves. "It is an honour to work with you, Higher," Xaaming said.
Gekei's assumed form resembled that of the Lowers he accompanied--basic bipedal--but he retained several marks of his status so that none would forget the respect due him.
The first few of the Criteria were easily checked, and the team were soon satisfied that the globe would not disappear or destroy itself before they could examine it more closely.
"Has it clinging-gases?" Gekei asked.
"Yes, Higher," Xaaming said. He listed off the gases surrounding the globe, and Gekei nodded at each of them. Most of them he could have deduced from the colouring of the globe, but others took subtler means to detect.
"Any large self-motile forms?"
"None yet found, Higher. The surface is not yet completely mapped, however."
"It appears that we should soon descend to the surface then," Gekei noted, and Xaaming made a gesture of assent.
Gekei could have been there in an instant, but he held himself back to the speed of his companions. To avoid putting the time to waste, he turned his mind to the latest problem that he had begun to contemplate.
It had occurred to him that Shetheyn may have achieved the peak of the Hierarchy by the same means that Gekei himself had achieved his own level there. Had the Great Tree always been the Highest? It had within Gekei's memory, and that of anyone he had queried on the subject. But one still rose within the Hierarchy. Was there a cap before one reached Shetheyn's level? Was Shetheyn himself rising continually?
That Gekei should be considering this at the time of the summons to the new globe set his mind on a new track, for he knew from previous experience that such conjunctions were not coincidental, although they were occasionally misleading. So he tossed in another question: What is the nature of the globes?
Could they be another stage in the Hierarchy?
Gekei felt a familiar exhilaration, and knew he was on the right track. But how to test the hypothesis? He turned to the Criteria he had not yet comprehended, and saw how aspects of them pertained.
When they reached the surface, Gekei knew what he was looking for.
He sent the rest of the expedition off on normal Survey tasks, and then stood with his eyes closed on their landing point. Yes, there was a resonance. Eyes, still closed, but all other senses extended, he made his way across the landscape until he reached a particular land structure where lines of force converged. There he opened his eyes again.
Hello, Gekei, the surface of the structure displayed in wavelengths only he of the entire expedition would see.
Gekei smiled. His suspicions were confirmed, even as to the identity of the being he now faced. Hello, Aviandai, he wrote in front him with a gesture.
I am glad to see you here, Aviandai replied. I have not seen others of our group yet, but I knew you would advance before them.
So this is the stage we go to, Gekei wrote. The globes are in the Hierarchy.
No. We come from the Hierarchy, but we elect to leave it. Globes journey forth. Trees stay and nurture.
Gekei felt himself pulsing with excitement. Other trees? So Shetheyn was not the Highest.
There is more, Aviandai wrote. There are Enemies as well.
Enemies. Gekei knew the word only as an abstraction, an antonym that he had never seen a use of. That was why there were Criteria, to check the power of the globes. So far no globe--come to this tree, at least--had failed the Criteria, but if there were Enemy globes then he could see their necessity very clearly.
You have given me much to think on, Gekei wrote at last.
That is the reason I returned, Aviandai replied. Once you have realized all the implications of the knowledge I share here, you will journey forth as I do. But soon I must go. Your expedition is finished.
Gekei nodded, and the script vanished, as did the land structure which had displayed it. He could sense Xaaming nearing his position.
"All the Criteria are satisfied," Xaaming said. Gekei could see the peculiar radiance that showed that Xaaming had had an epiphany of his own. One day he would lead an expedition like this one, perhaps. Or a globe would fail the Criteria, and long-unused training would take effect.
But soon Gekei could take the battle to them.
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The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey / email@example.com