Sample Chapters from House of Solomon

HOS Front CoverThe Citadel

 

 

The vultures watched the Apes of Eden plod

across the salty waste, in quest of God.

One thing we’ve never lacked is fortitude.

Another thousand years the Tribe pursued

its Quest, across that desolate expanse

where buzzards wheel, and vague mirages dance.

An enemy we’re almost sure to find

no matter where we go, is humankind.

Some manlike species were in evidence

in all conceivable environments;

and arid haunts of desert ghost and ghoul

were no exception to the general rule.

In chapters past, I’ve had harsh things to say

of human tribes we’ve met along our way;

but are they all so vicious?             That depends.

Some were, in their misguided ways, our friends.

 

 

One day, as through the desert we advanced,

our Chief’s patrol of scouting tribesmen chanced

to spot a lonesome citadel atop

a lofty butte.  Our leader signaled Stop.

He scanned the somber view, his aspect grim;

the castle’s looks did not appeal to him.

 

“That fort was built by human types, all right,”

he quickly ascertained.  “Here comes a fight.

I guess we ‘ll have to take a look around

inside, to see if Logos can be found.

Though nothing’s really likely to be learned,

we can’t risk leaving any stones unturned.

They won’t be overjoyed to see how far

our searching goes.  Those humans never are.

I’ll have to send some spies in first, I fear…

I heard a sneeze.  Is that a volunteer?”

 

A road that spiraled up the mountain led

to scowling walls and turrets overhead.

The battlements were uniformly gray

and sinister, despite the glare of day.

It was a gloomy and forbidding place,

the lair of some voracious, grisly race,

as humans tend to be.

Our leader sent

two volunteers as spies, while runners went

to warn the Tribe to be prepared for war,

in case this town–like most we’d searched before-­

was hostile to our Purpose, and preferred

to try to thwart our questing for the Word.

 

While wondering which spies he should appoint

to go (at mortal risk) to case the joint,

he noticed that the Sage and Scribe were there;

and these, he thought, were apes the Tribe could spare.

 

“Just take a look around,” he told the two.

“Stay out of useless fights, and out of view.

Don’t mess things up, as spies have done before.

His clues we need, not just another war.

If God, or traces of Him, aren’t in sight,

then this might be a war we needn’t fight.

Don’t worry; if you’re slow in getting back

we’ll know you guys got killed, and we’ll attack.”

 

The Chief’s patrol returned to camp to wait.

The volunteers trudged off to meet their fate.

 

“In golden ages past,” complained the Scribe,

“a poet had prestige, around this Tribe.

He didn’t have to double as a spy.”

He glumly kicked a stone, and watched it fly,

and added, “I’d be smarter just to quit.

I get no recognition for my wit.”

 

“You think you’re persecuted!” scoffed the Sage.

“The job I’ve got’s a grind, in any age!

Our Leader never wants me to advise,

but still insists I keep on being wise.

To be a Sage you’ve got to use your brain,

and heavy thinking gets to be a pain!

If you don’t think a Sage’s job is rough,

just take my place.  You ‘ll soon have had enough!”

 

The poet said, “One thing I know for sure:

the job of Chief’s a real sinecure!

The only thing he does, resembling work,

is making certain no one else can shirk;

yet every time you listen to him, he’s

bemoaning his responsibilities!”

 

The spies proceeded, tossing to and fro

their tales of self-evaluated woe,

until they reached the bottom of the butte

and paused a moment for a quick dispute:

The poet thought they ought to take the road.

His archive sack, he said, was quite a load,*

 

_____________

*The sack went with him everywhere he went,

to guard our books from theft or accident.

_____________

 

and might impede their mission’s progress, if

they lugged such heavy reading up a cliff.

The thinker held another viewpoint quite:

they’d been instructed to avoid a fight;

and since the roadway wasn’t very wide,

it might be hard to find a place to hide

if, in their stealthy, secretive ascent,

they met a downward-headed resident.

 

They made a circuit of the butte, and found

the cliff rose sheerly upward all around,

and bulged unclimbably at greater height.

The Sage agreed perhaps the Scribe was right:

the only way they’d ever get that high

was either take the corkscrew road, or fly.

 

While they were hiking back to reach the road,

a Flying Disc came swooping past.  It slowed,

returned, and hovered near the mountainside.

It looked to be some thirty-five feet wide,

of flat and circular design.  The spies

set down their clubs so they could shade their eyes.

They stood with heads a-tilt and mouths agape,

examining this strange, metallic shape.

It hovered for a minute, lightly parked

on air, then soared aloft.

The Sage remarked,

“If we get caught, y’know, our mission’s botched;

and something makes me think we’re being watched.”

 

The pathway up the butte was channeled through

the solid rock, like threading on a screw.

Along the outer edge, a waist-high wall

protected careless hikers from a fall

which would have ended in the fatal shock

of stopping at the bottom, on the rock.

The road went spiraling around the hill

a half a dozen times or so, until

it led them to a gateway at the top-­

and there the secret agents had to stop.

The steel portcullis stood some ten yards tall

and somewhat wider, in a concrete wall

which loomed above them, rising toward the blue

until its top was nearly out of view.

The gate was studded, like a porcupine’s

integument, with wicked metal spines.

 

But neither of the apes was greatly cowed.

The Scribe set down his sack, and called aloud,

“Wake up in there, and open up the doors!

You’re being honored by some visitors!”

 

The Sage came forward, and began to drub

the huge, resounding portal with his club.

 

The agents hadn’t very long to wait.

A shutter opened, up above the gate,

and there a darkly-hooded head looked out

to see what all the racket was about.

 

“Let’s have a little service!” yelled the Scribe.

“We’re here to spy this joint–from Eden’s Tribe!

In towns where folks oppose us from the start,

our custom is to tear the place apart!”

 

The hooded head withdrew without a word,

but shortly after that, the tribesmen heard

an awe-inspiring and portentous sound

of grinding rumbles from the rocky ground

–a noise that jolted them from toes to brains-­

and then the clanking of enormous chains.

 

While asking what such auguries would bring

they noticed that the gate was opening.

A center line appeared,  and then the gate

divided and began to separate,

until the spies could see the light of day

between the massive slabs of steely gray.

They stood and watched the slowly-growing cleft

as gates slid ponderously right and left.

 

The rumbling stopped.  The gate was standing wide.

Our tribesmen nonchalantly strolled inside

to be confronted by a human host

who bore a marked resemblance to a ghost-­

in shape and posture seeming to conform

approximately to the human norm.

He wore a hooded robe of charcoal black

that hid his frame completely like a sack,

and had a redolence of mold and must.

The only features they could see were just

his yellow eyeballs I staring like an owl

from inky murk beneath the bulky cowl.

He stood upon a platform, flat and round,

which hovered oddly just above the ground

but seemed to be as steady as a rock.

 

This apparition carne as quite a shock;

but Eden’s tribesmen never heard of dread .

The Scribe thrust out his jaw, and firmly said,

“Our mob left Eden, centuries ago,

to rove this crumby planet to and fro

in search of Logos, God or Deity,

or any traces of Him we could see.

We’ll all be here to search tomorrow, and

there’s one thing you guys better understand:

We don’t like getting laughed at.  Furthermore,

the way we search a place is door to door

and inch by inch. When we get done, we’ll go;

but one reply we don’t accept is No.

We’ll finish what we come for, right or wrong;

so don’t act hostile, and we’ll get along.”

 

“Perhaps,” the human said, “we could direct

your search–though not in ways you might expect.

We, too, have searched, though on another path,

and seen what you have not–the aftermath.”

 

The oddest thing about the human’s voice

was that his hearers seemed to have their choice

of where it carne from.  They could hear the sound

from five or six directions, all around.

 

The Scribe rejoined, “No phony leads of yours;

our Tribe don’t need advice from amateurs !

No walls or weapons ever long deterred

our gang from searching places for the Word;

and no one’s ever fooled us.  Some have tried

to cloud our minds, and consequently died!”

 

The human chuckled hollowly.  “I sense

a somewhat overweening confidence

in beasts who might be wiser to respect

superiority of intellect.

You ‘ll quickly lose a lot of your aplomb

when you’re confronted with a cobalt bomb

…However, 1et’s assume you spoke in jest.

Your Tribe, you say, is on a holy quest.

How nice for you. We humans sympathize

with noble goals like yours.  We realize

that just such random ‘questing’ led to our

incalculable technologic power;

so pithecans and humans, it would seem,

have shared a sort of common racial dream.

If you can curb this choler you display,

we might agree to guide you on your way.

We know the path, you see, which must be trod

by those who’d seek a realistic ‘god’.”

 

The Scribe did not reply, but looked perplexed.

The Sage took up the conversation next.

“Well, stranger,” said the thinker, “if it’s true,

I’d call that real neighborly of you.”

 

“Then welcome,” said their host.  “I said before

you’re ill-advised to take us on in war

–our strength is not to be disparaged–yet

you needn’t take that as a counterthreat.

Long, long ago, we humans had our fill

of warfare, so we bear you no ill will.

Your nosiness derives from motives pure,

and so– (He turned) –you’ll get the Guided Tour.

Just follow me.  I’ll show you what we’ve done

to end the quest your race has just begun.

 

“Although we’ve left your species far behind,

your manifest activity of mind

entitles you, at least in some degree,

to share our common Primate Destiny.

The fact that we’ve been able to advance

while you could not, was partly due to chance.

We found the way, while you did not.  Bad luck

was all that dug the rut in which you’re stuck.

This needn’t be, and with the impetus

of Education you’ll receive from us

(if you accept it) you’ll attain the place

that Intellect confers upon a race.”

 

The charcoal-colored buildings, left and right,

rose windowless and blind to lofty height.

The human led the way along the street.

He didn’t touch the pavement with his feet,

but floated grandly on his metal raft

like milkweed seeds that ride a gentle draft.

 

The apes, behind him, quietly conversed

to make their plans if worst should come to worst.

The Sage observed,  “This could, y’know, be a

locale for catching claustrophobia.

They sure have got a somber-colored town.

I feel conspicuous, just being brown,”

 

“We can’t bug out; there’s spying to be done,”

the Scribe replied.  “Besides, it’s two to one-­

this jerk’s no match for us.  There’s still no threat.

We’ve seen no other human beings yet.

Let’s get this place all spied, and save the fuss.

Our Leader’ll be real proud of us.”

 

Their guide approached a building.  As he neared,

a doorway preternaturally appeared.

The mechanism wasn’t clear: the wall

dissolved from view and wasn’t there at all

within an archway, maybe five feet broad

and seven tall.

The apes weren’t overawed.

Completely confident that they would win

if strife arose, they calmly sauntered in.

 

 

 

Perfected Man

 

 

“The Primate quest for Truth,” their guide began

“took vastly different forms, for Ape and Man.

Your own approach–a random search around

the Earth–is scientifically unsound.

The limitations of the eye and ear

we humans have discovered interfere

with one’s perceptions of the universe;

so hardly any method could be worse

than trusting senses clearly to perceive

the subject.  Such directness is naive.

There are phenomena the eye and ear

when unassisted, cannot see or hear

and which–although they readily affect

our instruments–our senses can’t detect.

It will, for instance, likely be a shock

to learn that what you think is solid rock

consists of little more than empty space

through which neutrino particles will trace

as straight a course as through the empty air.

If data aren’t interpreted with care,

you’re sure to draw erroneous conclusions

based on simple optical illusions.

Bear in mind, the meaning and the end

of Science is completely to transcend

the limitations which your own physique

imposes on the data that you seek.

The Scientific Way to search for gods

is just like classifying arthropods

or mice, or elephants, or apes, or snarks,

or leptons, J-psis, tachyons and quarks.

Hypotheses are easiest to test

which can be mathematically expressed.

One finds the patterns in the data known

to see what Basic Principle is shown,

and then extrapolates it to explain

whatever gaps in knowledge may remain.

Though observation is the place to start,

until Evaluation plays its part

no data which are merely sensory

can build a model of Reality–

a model only, true, to that extent

that it predicts controlled Experiment.

Unless you show that all predictions jibe

with what unbiased instruments describe,

your theory’s open to a valid doubt.

All failures must be firmly weeded out.

You apes have let your sheer tenacity

engender cortical opacity.

A Scientist is ready to revise

the instant new discrepancies arise.

Our first progenitors were much like you,

not just in shape and size, but point of view.

We too, in ancient times, went far astray,

before we found the Scientific Way.

 

“But more of that anon.  Permit me first

to show that our approach is reimbursed

with tangible, applicable effect,

which proves our methodology correct.”

 

The apes were led through hollow-echoed walls,

where eerie light exuded from the walls,

until the human took them through a door.

They found a vault, with implements of war

displayed in cases, or arrayed on racks,

and labeled “spear” and “mace” and “battleaxe.”

He led them past displays of bows and slings

and arrows hafts and arbalests and things.

They saw an iron suit, with lance and shield,

and other gear that human warriors wield;

and then the relics of more recent wars,

with telescopic sights, and rifled bores.

 

“In very ancient times,” their guide resumed,

“it seemed our race would be forever doomed

to unremitting and unequal strife

with specially-adapted forms of life

–who nearly wiped us out, to tell the truth-­

the cave bear, mastodon, and sabertooth.

So naturally, in rowdy days of yore,

our prime concern was instruments of war.”

 

“The same with Eden’s Tribe,” the Scribe replied.

“In olden times, a lot of critters tried

us apes for dinner; but they quickly learned

the compliment was apt to be returned.

We started making weapons out of stone,

with hefty helves of wood or bison bone.

We made us hatchets, spears, and all the rest.

Of course the good old bludgeon’s still the best.

A spear’s okay; but when the war gets hot,

it’s hard to see if someone’s speared or not.

But with a club, no matter how you’re rushed,

there’s no mistaking when a skull’s been crushed!

A head that’s busted has a different feel

than one that isn’t.  That’s a club’s appeal.”

 

“A most inventive race,” the human laughed,

“to think of mounting spearheads on a shaft!

But there was so much more you might have done,

and even more of your encounters won,

if you’d renounced your atavistic quirk

of liking closeness to your heavy work.

We humans had a healthier respect

for crafty subtleties of intellect,

and worked some rather urgent problems out

by methods you’d consider roundabout,

but which, in actuality, were far

more efficacious than brute muscles are.

You apes on brawn and ignorance relied,

and stopped advancing, wholly satisfied.

We might have made the same mistake, and spent

all time in static nondevelopment;

but our successes, unlike yours, have led

to more inventions, so we forged ahead.

 

“It wasn’t any easy thing to do.

We started out with even less than you.

A man, deprived of artifacts, would stand

but meager chance of living off the land.

Incapable of camouflage or flight

and all but helpless in an open fight,

the only thing that got us off the hook

was subtlety, so that’s the course we took.

Besetting enemies with traps we laid

–the logfall, covered pit, and ambuscade–

we compensated with the use of these

for Natural Man’s innate deficiencies.

Our racial limitations were, for us,

a constant source of mental stimulus.

For us, a problem’s there so it can be

resolved by Human Ingenuity.

Our Adaptation is, and shall remain,

the awesome power of the human brain.”

 

As apes and guide continued to advance,

the thinker gave the Scribe a sidelong glance

and raised one eyebrow, to convey his doubt

of what their host was blathering about.

The Scribe made no remark their host could hear,

but waved a finger vaguely at his ear

and crossed his eyeballs, with a grin inane,

implying that he thought their host insane.

 

At last the little group arrived at where

an armor-clad conveyance, huge and square,

was squatting on its iron-cleated treads.

Its phallic cannon loomed above their heads.

 

“We had some crude and inefficient ways

of fighting wars, in prehistoric days,”

the guide continued, “sending in a flood

of human ·fighters–muscle, bone and blood-­

to grapple physically with enemies.

In more sophisticated eras, these

contrivances were standardized in war,

to cut the casualties we so deplore.

Its guns could pulverize the stoutest walls.

The caterpillar treads on which it crawls

are armed at intervals with metal lugs

it used for squashing hostile troops like bugs.

Machines replaced the human fighting force.

 

“The change was rather gradual, of course;·

and this invention was a passing stage:

It held a crew.  But in a later age

we gave machines more flexibility

by using microwave telemetry.

The ‘drivers,’ in a distant, bombproof hole,

could operate it by remote control.

The space once used for men to ride inside

was now with better weaponry supplied

and larger stocks of cannon shells and fuel

to give it more endurance in a duel.

When such machines in battle were deployed

they couldn’t be too readily destroyed;

and if they were, their crews of living men

took charge of fresh machines, to slay again.

 

“Still later, we devised the robot brain,

which never slept till every foe was slain,

and which reacted with the speed of light

when enemy equipment came in sight.

Whenever we were menaced by a foe

we turned the robots on, and let them go.

The only drawback was, when they were used,

their high-strung circuits sometimes got confused,

mistaking for a fort some harmless town,

and blasting thousands of civilians down.

But carping moralists were satisfied

if most disasters struck the other side;

for with a war to win, no time was spent

on mawkish and enfeebling sentiment. ”

 

“That thing won’t work on us,” the poet said.

“We’d toss a couple boulders in the tread

and stop it in its tracks; then tie that gun

in knots, to keep from losing anyone

while we were ripping it apart, to choose

the chunks of metal someone wants to use.

It might be real useful, even so

against some less resourceful breed of foe.”

 

“It’s problematical,” the human said,

“how close you’d get before you’re full of lead.

The smaller guns with which this tank abounds

have firing speeds of many hundred rounds

a minute.  It’s equipped with infrared

perceptors, so approaching foes are dead

as soon as they’re within its line of sight.

They’re not concealed by fog, nor dark of night.

 

“And here’s another thing we used to use

in warfare.  Pull the lever, and it spews

a deadly stream of flaming kerosine,

destructive both to soldier and machine.

It doesn’t matter now.  This thing’s retired.

The violence our progenitors admired

arose from Instinct.  Now that human brains

have been perfected, no such urge remains.

There’s more to see, however.  Shall we go?”

 

The human led the tribesmen down the row

until they found another strange machine

the likes of which few apes had ever seen.

It had a hollow nozzle from its tank,

from which a wisp of gasses hissed and stank.

The poet wiggled levers, while the Sage

took special interest in the pressure gauge.

 

“It’s used,” the guide explained, “in types of war

we hardly can imagine, any more. It took a rather hardy foe to last

a battle out, when he’d been mustard-gassed.

Less deadly fumes were used by our police

to help suppress revolts, in times of peace;

so concepts first evolved for use in war

made governments more stable than before.

This proves we humans weren’t preoccupied

with warfare.  New techniques that war supplied

were later used in less destructive ways.

Each scrap of data, ultimately, pays.

Without a military missile race

we’d slower been, in reaching Outer Space.

You’ll find this out yourselves when you begin

the studies we intend to start you in.

 

“Now let me show you how we’d fight a war

if Man were ever threatened any more.

You ‘ll find it interesting, I believe.”

 

The human pointed, with his dangling sleeve,

where, just ahead, a doorway stood ajar

and said, “That’s where the master consoles are.

Let’s have a look–but let me caution you:

Don’t handle things.  Disaster may ensue.”