Authors: Norma Fox Mazer
Tags: #General, #Fiction
was young, eager, and not yet beautiful; at that stage of life where nothing had happened and everything seemed possible (but when was it going to
was not exactly over the hill, but, to be kind about it, mature, also creative, and excessively bored; at that stage of life where everything had happened and nothing new seemed possible.
Kara. Zaltar. An unlikely friendship, but there it was, they were devoted to one another.
, meant "Creative One." At the age of fifteen (the arrogant age, here in Argo City as on Planet Earth), he had renamed himself, both to celebrate and to announce his gifts. Take notice, people of Argo, there is a Great Talent among you! Maybe the naming had been a little obvious, but at the time, all those years ago, it had been an amusing, satisfying, and shrewd move. Now? Ah, yes . . .
. . . He was everywhere acclaimed as Divinely Talented—and, so what? The goodies of life constantly falling into his hands—plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk,
like a never-ending rain, or (definitely a superior, if also arcane, metaphor), like ripe apples from a golden tree that never ceases bearing fruit—this flow of goodies had dulled his senses, made him restless and dissatisfied.
Thus, Zaltar. Now Kara.
Her name, although it was a name lovingly given her by Alura and Zor-El (never mind what their names meant, they were just parents), was a
name. Half the girls in her class were also Karas. Sometimes, on fretful days, she daydreamed about joining her cousin who had gone to Earth and changed h/s name to the exotic-sounding Clark Kent. Clark Kent! What sweet syllables! Oh, well, if she had to be plain old Kara in Argo City, in her dreams she was definitely someone else—someone, in fact, who also lived on Earth and had a sumptuous, esoteric name.
But for now, she was still Kara, she was still stuck on Argo, and thank goodness for Zaltar, who was so much more
than anybody else, including her parents. Her father had said something about Zaltar's age the other day, but it was just because he was older that Kara liked him. Boys her age were so
. That's what she told her father. And he had laughed. Ugh! Much as she loved him, at that moment, she had wanted to do something terrible, like shouting or, perish the thought, striking him. Not that she would. She thought about it, though, and felt
for an entire whole
"What's that going to be?" she asked Zaltar. He was an Artist of First Rank, and everybody, but everybody, in Argo City had huge respect for him. Besides, not only was he an Artist of First Rank, he had practically created Argo City single-handedly, after the first settlers of Argo City were forced off Krypton. Kara had learned about it ages ago, when she was an infant and her mother told her all the important stories.
"Have you ever seen anything so magnificent?" Zaltar asked her. Using his matterwand, he was working today on a mammoth crystalline sculpture: a stalwart central mass, out of which smaller masses twisted and turned upward.
"Wonderful," Kara said sincerely. She leaned closer to Zaltar. How fabulous to be talented and special. She was so ordinary. Just another teenage girl from Argo City, every day wearing the same old clothes, doing the same old good-for-you exercises, going to the same old School of Conceptual Progressive Demands. Nothing exciting ever happened to her. But then, nothing exciting ever happened to anyone on Argo City. All of life's problems had been solved in the domed city, as the Guardians reminded the populace every year in their Annual (
Kara narrowed her eyes at the convoluted sculpture. Yes, it was wonderful, but if only artists would create things you could
. Of course, she would never say such a thing and reveal her ignorance. Everyone, but everyone, except absolute idiots, knew that the harder it was to recognize or understand what an artist did, the more important and significant it was bound to be.
"It's avant-garde?" she said, having heard Zaltar speak of other works in that way.
"Mmm . . . you might say so. It's a tree." He stood back, squinting thoughtfully at his work. A few finishing touches, and again, his genius would be confirmed. He yawned.
"A what?" Kara said. "A tree? What's that?"
"Ah . . ." Zaltar raised a finger in a simple, yet profound gesture. (That finger bit had always impressed his students in the years when he had felt an obligation to teach and thus pass on the Torch of Art.) "It's something they grow on Earth—"
"Earth . . ." Kara said dreamily. "Clark Kent . . ." Her voice caressed the words.
"Earth . . ." Zaltar echoed, his voice no less dreamy than hers. "A very special place, Kara. Soon . . . very soon . . . I may be on my way there."
"To Earth?" Kara fought not to get upset. "You're not going away, are you, Zaltar?" If he left, what would she ever do? No, he wouldn't . . . he just couldn't. Anyway, how could he do such a thing? Why was she even getting upset? Supposing, just supposing, his Genius Mind had worked out the problems of transportation, still, it was common knowledge that no one could survive the pressure of the Binary Chute.
As if he read her mind (she wouldn't be surprised; geniuses were capable of
), Zaltar pointed to a rather odd-looking little spaceship lying on a pad nearby. Definitely homemade. "That," Zaltar said, "will take me safely through the Binary Chute, my dear little girl.
, and I'm gone."
Kara laughed uncertainly. "Is it a joke, Zaltar?" He shook his head and looked extremely serious. "But, Zaltar, even if you could—I mean, I'm sure you
," she added hastily (geniuses were terrifically sensitive), "you wouldn't leave Argo City!" Her hand arced outward toward the city, unconsciously repeating the simple, graceful, and powerful lines of the arches with which the huge, domed city was honeycombed. "Nobody ever wants to leave Argo City. We have everything here, everything." (The Guardians always said so, and her mother said so, and her father, and, well,
said it. Argo City was paradise.) "No, Zaltar." Kara laughed merrily. "I just can't believe you'd leave us." She looked up at the ratty little spaceship (what if it
make the trip?) . . . and then, stepping close, looked over the Edge, down . . . down . . . down . . . into the dark, endless depths of the Binary Chute. She shuddered, and in the next moment regretted passionately that the spaceship had room only for one.
"Kara, listen," Zaltar said. "My Art is suffering. Life is too easy here. My spirit has been dulled, my soul is bored. Can Art exist without struggle and privation? Earth calls to me . . . or, er, I was thinking, maybe Saturn? Saaa-tuuurn," he repeated.
"Is that farther away than Earth?" Kara asked naively.
Zaltar ruffled her hair fondly, his hand lingering for a moment on the silky blonde strands. Such a dear child. And, he reminded himself, such a gap in their ages. He cleared his throat. "Didn't you study geometrodynamics in school? What's happening in these modern schools? Are they neglecting the basics?"
"I know all the equations," Kara said. But since she was only fifteen and still believed fervently in Truth Above All, she felt compelled to add, "The thing is, I know I should be able to, but I just can't do those rotten equations in my head."
"AII great artists have trouble with mathematics, Kara, so . . . perhaps your destiny lies in Art." He put his arm around her. "Now, just use your imagination. Remember, Earth and Saturn are both in Outer Space, but we—
are in Inner Space." He paused to see if she was listening. She nodded respectfully, and he went on. "Here, watch this . . ."
He took a shining spherical object out of his pocket and held it in his palm for her to see. "One of the two great Power Sources of the city." He glanced at her a trifle slyly, to see if she was impressed.
"Zaltar! That looks like—that
an Omegahedron! Did the Guardians let you have it?" She reached out to take it from him.
"Careful there!" He stepped back. "Now listen, Kara. This is just between us. The Guardians, ah—er, the fact is, I borrowed it, Kara"
She looked at him in sorrow and amazement. "You mean, you
it. Zaltar, do you know what they'll do to you? They'll, they'll—" She shook her head, unable to even imagine what the punishment could be for such a heinous action.
"My dear," Zaltar said loftily, his eyes rolling up into his head, "artists do not steal. They do, however,
often," he added. "And in this spirit," he went on, "I, ah, borrowed the Omegahedron. Just for the afternoon." He blew a speck of dust off the shining sphere. "For a tiny, tiny, tiny bit more inspiration." He touched the matterwand to the Omegahedron. At once the wand was charged with an eerily beautiful light that flickered and sang in tones that were simultaneously audible and inaudible.
Kara was entranced and forgot her misgivings as Zaltar touched the charged wand to the sculpture, bringing it to gentle, swaying life. The limbs of the—what was it?, oh, yes, a tree—the limbs of the tree bent and swayed, and pale beams of silvery light dazzled her eyes.
"Oh, Zaltar—" She could hardly speak. The power of the Omegahedron awed and frightened her. "It's beautiful . . . beautiful . . ."
Moved by her emotion, Zaltar handed Kara the Omegahedron. She gazed at it, fascinated, longing to do something with it as wonderful and extraordinary as Zaltar's tree sculpture.
"Yes . . . sometimes I have this
, right here," Zaltar said, clutching his heart (a little overdone, he judged, but for a girl Kara's age . . .)
". . .such
, little one . . . and when it comes over me, yes, I think that I shall never see . . . the branches of a living tree." A sad smile flickered across his face. He held up his hand as Kara started to speak. "I know what you're about to say, Kara. The Omegahedron can create life. So they teach you. But, my poor child, the Omegahedron, with all its awesome Powers, creates not life, but merely the illusion of life. A shadow of the real thing . . ." His eyes gazed into the distance. "The best we poor people of Argo can hope for on this lonely rock."
"I'm not lonely," Kara protested. But, for a moment, she wondered if that were the absolute Truth. She shook off the unaccustomed wave of sadness. Her mother was calling her. "I'm here, Mother! Over here."
"May you never know loneliness, sweet Kara" As if blessing her, Zaltar threaded a tiny glowing berry from his tree sculpture into a bracelet and looped it around her wrist. "There, Kara, keep it, it's made of the same material as our beloved Argo City. May it help you and protect you."
"Oh, thank you, Zaltar!" She kissed him on his forehead. Funny old Zaltar. Why on Argo City would she ever need help and protection? Artists were so moody and said such odd things, which was, come to think of it, probably why they were artists. You wouldn't want to be a regular person and be moody and say odd things.
"Kara!" Her mother came into view through the lacy architecture of the city. Kara waved back. Everyone said she resembled her mother a lot. Maybe what they really meant was that she didn't resemble her father at all. Which was just as well. He was cute (one of her friends had said so), but her mother was
. So gorgeous, Kara knew she could never be that spectacular. Her mother had wavy brown hair, whereas hers was sort of washed-out blonde. Her mother was graceful (she wasn't) and had these very special eyes, set wide apart and slanting at the corners.
eyes were round and sort of popping.
"Darling," her mother said, hurrying up to her, "you shouldn't be so near the Edge without a grown-up!"
"Oh, Muth-er." Why did she have to act like Kara was still five years old? And in front of Zaltar. Furious, Kara hid the Omegahedron behind her back. Why should she show it to
"Dear Alura! And do I not qualify as a grownup?" Deep in his heart, Zaltar was always slightly uneasy around Alura and Zor-El, Kara's parents; unfortunately, this often had the effect of making him sound more like a Pompous Fool than a Thoughtful Genius.
"Kara has to obey the rules like everyone else," her mother said. Alura adored Kara so much that it frightened her. She was ready to give Kara everything, and because of this she was often even stricter than other parents.
"Mmm . . . yes . . . of course." Zaltar lifted the matterwand, showing off for Alura. Zaltar definitely did not want Alura to know he had the Omegahedron. She could be a bit moralistic and would be sure to tell Zor-El. He distracted Alura with the matterwand and, reaching around Kara, deftly palmed the Omegahedron. In almost the same gesture, he passed her the wand.