Zorgeous was sand bathing behind the obelisk. He had been there for two hours. Chuck Marley couldn’t tell whether he was moaning in satisfaction or exhaustion. Overwhelming fatigue enveloped him. It wasn’t like a hangover. But he wished he could just curl up. He did this, lying behind the obelisk waiting for Zorgeous.
The clictus juice was powerful stuff. It had sent him into space, into another, higher, dimension. How high it was he could not fathom. He wanted more of this juice. He wanted to trip again through space and time and ask the Greater Guide some deeper questions. He focused his memory, but it was like grasping at cobwebs. Where he was supposed to direct his new found energy? And how long would it remain? Perhaps, this was why he was always a little depressed: he overanalysed, and before he could stop it, his mind always arrived at a negative, doubting conclusion.
Zorgeous lay completely submerged, only his antlers poked above the surface. A round aperture in the topsoil served as an air hole. Trickles of sand slid down the hole and were periodically discharged. All those days in the desert were a waste. He should have listened to Chuck Marley and flown in the hovercab.
But Zorgeous’s endurance had impressed the Old One, who assured him that he had already passed one of the tests.
“One of the tests of what?” Zorgeous had stared blankly back at him then at Marley and Gaston Dimble, struggling with two conflicting personalities.
While in the sandpit, he mused on these two sides of himself. As a Zorgon in the wider galaxy, he was isolated and distinct. On Crete he trudged from the Centre for Uninhibited Indolents to the Quasar Bar, oblivious to the sidelong glances and disapproving stares of others. He sat at the bar but did not drink. Rather, he enjoyed soaking in the atmosphere, watching various species come and go, and conversing with the Garibaldi the bartender. He would observe a party of Sirians having their first round, sprightly and jovial…then two hours later teary and irritable. Eventually, Garibaldi tossed them out, along with Zorgeous because it was closing time.
Back on Zorge, part of his personality had re-emerged. A dormant, fighting streak that he had forgotten had existed. He could forever lie in the sand bath or he could rise, rise to the occasion, jab destiny in the stomach.
A river of sand slithered down his air hole, forcing him to choke and cough his way to the surface. Chuck Marley was stamping on the ground, jealous and impatient: jealous at Zorgeous’s appreciation of the sand bath. Impatient to get things moving so that he may return to the human settlement and have a water bath.
“Gorgeous Zorgeous, your world awaits you!”
Finely grained sand whispered around Zorgeous’s chest as he rose. He was as red as Betelgeuse, but the blue glimmer in his eyes spoke of a burgeoning zeal. As is customary with Zorgons, he didn’t appear overenthusiastic. With a determined effort at looking vague and preoccupied, he said: “I will be there soon, to face whatever it is I have to face, whatever I have to meet. But excuse me while I get out of the bath. A Zorgon’s drying ritual may be unsettling to offworlders.”
Everyone stared at Zorgeous when he returned to the village centre. Zorgons jostled each other to rub skin with him and receive his blessing. He had no idea why they were doing this and it didn’t matter. Once again, he was wanted. He stood proud in the centre of the crowd, puffing his chest and smoothing his hair.
They chanted as one. “The exile has come, the exile has come!”
A female Zorgon approached, her hair bristling, eyelids half-closed. She cooed in his ear: “Your antlers pulsate with energy.”
Three others surrounded him. “Look at his hair, see how it shines.”
Another shuffled towards him. “Let me pass, I have an old boil that needs healing.”
The low commanding tones of the Old One cleared a path through the crowd. “Make room, give the exile space.” He surveyed Zorgeous from antlers to toe.
“What do they see in him?” said a male Zorgon.
“He’s rather short,” one said (but he was more than six-feet tall). Zorgeous was at least 5′ 8″.
“Silence at the back! What you see is no Zorgon to be trifled with. He is not for any worldly gain, nor sensual desire. Belittle him at your peril, for he is your salvation.”
Zorgeous felt smothered by the mantle of expectation. But he was beginning to remember what it was like to be a Zorgon.
The Old One stepped in front. “This Zorgon, he no is longer the exile. He is more than that, much more.” And in his best Galactic Standard he pronounced, “He is: The Exile.”
At this announcement chroniclers and grammarians as far away as Andromeda dropped their pens in dismay, unplugged their computers and banged their heads on their desks, despairing at this redundant use of capitalisation. But history does not look forward to those who write it, unless it has already been written, which is a contradiction and violates the fabric of space-time and makes scientists chew pencils and get lead poisoning. The Old One, much to the chagrin of typesetters across the galaxy, chose to raise Zorgeous’s title from ‘the exile’ to: “The Exile.”
* * *
The dim sun Pavlov combined with the reddish atmosphere, manufacturing a curious sunrise. First the night sky washed pale red, followed by an indigo twilight. A purple aura then marked the spot where the sun was to mount the horizon.
Southeast, three small wisps of cloud floated near Mount Homunculus. These measly attempts at clouds were hoping to persuade some more dignified cumulus strata in the south to join them in cloud formation. But the venerable cumuli shook their puffy crowns in disdain and crawled over the horizon in search of a dry ocean to rain sand upon.
The village of Ungarloot was awake, but no one was intently watching the sunrise. Chuck Marley glanced at it and immediately longed for Crete 581d with its normal green dawns. About him, Ungarlootons were packing flacsacs and filling rubbery bags with clictus juice. Half the clan were eagerly preparing for a journey to Goramus: to warn the city of the Hierophant’s deceit.
The Old One was intent on seizing this obscure moment. He urged the village to journey with him to Mount Homunculus where they would pay homage to its glorious peak, then veer right to Goramus where they would be welcomed with raised antlers.
Mount Homunculus was actually only a small mound, no higher than a three-storey building. But strange eddies veered about its peak, swirling sand clouds enveloped it, giving the impression of a heaving, shifting mass of dirt that stretched into the sky.
The Old One was pleased when more than half the village promised to join the pilgrimage, and did not scold those who chose to remain. Some stayed because they were too old to travel, too tired to make a decision, or hadn’t woken up.
“Zorgons.” The Old One addressed the busy gathering.
They dropped their flacsacs and stopped to listen.
One Zorgon poked his head out of a tent, blearily blinked his eyes and withdrew again.
“Upon us is the time. For those who stay, may Ungarloot beneath you flourish. Before you all stands the one we have for so long waited.”
Zorgeous proudly stood before the assemblage, his skin clean and hair silky. The sand bath had done wonders for him (unlike Chuck Marley, whose skin was stained deep ochre).
The sleepy Zorgon poked his head out of the tent yet again, looking more awake. He said: “This is our home.”
Others muttered agreement. A few stopped packing their flacsacs.
The Old One was undeterred, “He you see before you, who has from the wastes returned, has antler-sense. The Very Old Testaphant states: ‘He will take us as his people and bring us out from the haven of Ungarloot.’” He didn’t quote the next passage, which went, “But many would not heed The Exile.” Despite a few scattering back to their huts, the Old One was confident that the twenty or so remaining would be sufficient for the journey.
The sleepy Zorgon had now removed half his body from the tent. He said gruffly: “Has this one, so-called ‘The Exile’, passed all the tests?”
The Old One hesitated.
“There you have it, he hasn’t.” He withdrew again. So did ten other Zorgons who put down their flacsacs.