Fate did not choose well when it chose me to be the discoverer of the Rapanah, living on a planet that orbits a star in Orion. For the sake of our own race, they should have been found by an accomplished linguist and scientist, and I’m neither. Nonetheless, I lived with them and learned what I could with my limited resources. In the beginning, naturally enough, I understood almost nothing of what I was seeing among the Rapanah. It was my early impression that they must be a very young race, for there were very few of them, and they lived very simply (though in a kind of perfect comfort that seemed almost elegant). As I painfully learned the rudiments of their language, I began to see how very wrong I was.
The Rapanah had been old at a time when our primate ancestors were still living in trees. I only gradually began to recognize that what I was seeing was a civilization. It was a structure so refined and delicate that my eyes, conditioned to seeing giant buildings and machines as signs of civilization, failed even to perceive it at first. Their technology was so subtle and transparent that it made ours look like the thrashing about of rhinoceroses.
We earthlings are carbon-based creatures, which means we ultimately have an affinity with coal and diamonds. The Rapanah were unable to make it clear to me exactly how they’re constituted, but they’re not carbon-based. Even so, they too have an affinity with crystalline substances that appear to human eyes to be as inert as coal and diamonds. One of these, they claimed in a half-joking way, was actually a distant cousin. They showed me an example that I can only inadequately describe as breathtakingly beautiful—a crystal that looked as if it had broken off a rainbow, pulsating with evanescent colors. They called it a Tava Stone, tava being a word that in English would have to be rendered by one standing midway between advisor and comforter.
Rather than explain the use of the crystal in their own culture, they wanted to see if I might respond to it as a “cousin” without any instruction. They told me to keep it with me for the rest of the day and to put it in or under my bed that night. I did so and the next morning reported having very moving and delicious dreams, motivated by a voice whose words I couldn’t quite make out but that left me in a state of wide, oceanic bliss in which I felt quite securely one with the universe.
Since I’d demonstrated an affinity for the stone, they explained that every child of the Rapanah received one and experienced its power at initiation into adulthood. The Tava stone was regarded as a sort of “friend in need,” a comfort to be resorted to in times of deep loss and stress. It was understood that to use it routinely would be to cheapen and actually lessen its effect. Nonetheless, there were a few in every generation who experienced a special affinity for the stone and withdrew into a contemplative life centered on its influence. But I shouldn’t make too much of the Tava stone. It was only one of ten thousand wonders I encountered among the Rapanah.
As I continued to grow more comfortable with their language, I gradually became aware that I was being guarded from a secret. At first my teachers assured me I was imagining things, but as time went on the signals became more and more unmistakable to me. I begged, demanded, cajoled, threatened, and finally wore them down to a point where they had to speak the truth that they had tried so hard to keep from me. As I already knew, they were not a populous species. There were only a few thousand of them on the whole planet. This, I now learned, hadn’t always been the case. On the contrary, at one time just a few centuries ago, there had been hundreds of millions of them. Since then they had become a dying race. The few thousand that I saw there now would be only a few hundred in the next generation and only a few dozen in the generation after than. Extinction was not more than fifty years away for the Rapanah.
Nothing was “wrong” with them that they could find. They weren’t diseased. They certainly weren’t ill or in pain. For some reason beyond discovery, their birth rate had simply dropped dangerously close to zero. As a race, they were finished. This was the way they looked at it. Their time had been a glorious one—but it was up. They had no regrets—but I did. For I understood very clearly that they possessed a secret of desperate importance to the people of earth. The Rapanah knew how to build a civilization that doesn’t live by devouring the world—and they’d used this knowledge and proved this knowledge through literally a million generations.
I began immediate preparations to return to earth for help—help possibly for them but certainly help for us. You already know what a journey like this entails—fifteen years of frozen sleep. I’m no one special. On my arrival, no cheering crowds turned out to greet me. No panels were convened to debrief me. On the contrary, I had to fight for attention, with letters, articles, lectures, books. Even tottering on the edge of extinction, the people of our culture seemed hard to interest in the possibility of learning something vitally important to the human future. It took almost three years to organize a new expedition, properly staffed. Physically barred from undergoing another freezing as soon as this, I wouldn’t be able to go. I had to reconcile myself to the probability that I’d never learn the results of the effort. The new expedition would spend fifteen years getting there, fifteen years working there, and fifteen years getting back—forty-five years in all, obviously.
You can well imagine my surprise, therefore, when I heard that the expedition had returned after just thirty years. This time there was a debriefing, and I was there, demanding to know if my worst fears had been fulfilled—that the Rapanah had failed to survive long enough to be contacted by the expedition. I was reassured that this wasn’t the case.
“There were still about eight hundred Rapanah alive and well when we arrived,” the commander informed me.
“Then why didn’t you stay?” I demanded. “To get there and back in thirty years, you must have left as soon as you arrived!”
“Calm yourself,” the commander said. “We got what we went for.”
“What the devil are you talking about?”
He lifted a crate onto the conference table. “There are fifty more of these,” he said, opening it up.
A radiance of rainbows flooded the room, and everyone surged forward to grab a crystal for himself.
About “The Crystals Of Rapanah”
There is a sense in which I am the “discoverer” of Leaver culture, the first to recognize that Leaver peoples are something more than merely “primitive,” that they possess a secret that kept them alive through three million years and that will keep US alive — if only we’ll listen to it.
New Age hucksters have a different interest in Leaver peoples. They want to plunder them for their Tava stones — their sweat lodges, their medicine wheels, their shamanic rituals, and so on. Once they have these, they throw away the rest — they’ve got what they came for. There are plenty of people who want the Tava stones, as these hucksters know, people who care nothing about the Rapanah or their wisdom. They’re hungry for novelties and especially for “comforting” novelties, novelties that make them feel more “spiritual” and less empty. May they live long and prosper.
The ultimate point of this parable, I suppose, is that not all explorers are looking for the same thing.