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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

High Beliefs
by Daniel Walton

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The sun beat down through the green canopy of leaves above them. Doctor Samms and Professor Verson stood in the small clearing, only wearing shorts and t-shirts, but still their brows glistened with sweat. They had waited for ten minutes, Samms constantly looking to her watch. The Village Chief was late, although how he was to know the time was beyond either of the anthropologists. Months of study had still given little insight into many of the tribes more routine activities. Just as Samms was about to turn to Verson and suggest that maybe they should return to their cabin, the bushes before them shifted and through them came the tall, almost naked figure of the village elder, his dark legs and arms brightly decorated with the dyes of the forest.

He smiled and then gestured to them a greeting, which they returned. He was alone and unarmed, something unusual for any high ranking member of the tribe. The Chief reached into a small pouch that he carried around his waste and from it produced a small funnel shaped object. In the broken light from above them it shone, and reflected a dark red hue around the clearing, changing the colour of the leaves on the ground. Slowly its colour shifted and now all around them shone blue. The village chief smiled. Doctor Samms believed, heavily, that it was only her building up of a strong relationship with the elders female fraternity that allowed the village leader to trust her and to present them with the object and finally agree with them to take it away for study. They had seen it only once before this moment, in a strange ritual held by the doctor of the tribe, a ritual which had involved a sacrifice of two pigs, a violence that didnít fit, easily, with the rest of their rituals.

The only explanation they had received was that it was done for the givers of the object, the people of the sky as they called them. Professor Verson reached out and took the funnel from the Chief. He stood their watching, as the Professor, pushed the delicate object inside his bag and then signalling a farewell he moved back through the bushes, back towards the village. Verson and Samms waited a moment and then followed the path back around to their cabin.

Later that evening, after their completion of routine studies and analysis they stood together in the cabin. The small funnel shaped object before them glowed in the faint light of the room and with a steady monotony it hummed, blocking out the sound of the jungle around this tiny retreat. Dr. Samms looked upon it again, rolled it around in her hand and turned to Professor Verson. "Its not theirs, thatís for certain, no tribe that primitive made anything like this. Itís weird, threatening. Weíve spent months studying them and Iíve seen no object similar to this within the tribe."

Verson nodded and took it from Samms, letting it roll again in his hands. The colour of it altered again, slightly, the hue of the blue shifting slightly. "And they say it came from one of the people up there, from the sky", Verson whispered overwhelmed by the noise of the object, worried, too, of what it might be. The colour again changed and the noise lessened a little. Now it was a pale green, like crisp summer grass, faded slightly around the rim. It felt like glass, but it was a little too heavy and felt more solid in the hand.

"Doctor, I believe this has been given to this South American tribe as a gift from another world, from a tribe who reside much further away", he looked towards the roof of the hut, "It is the only explanation as to how it could have arrived here. No man has ever made an object this fine, and no man has been this way before."

"And why give it to a Civilisation who canít understand it? Who have no hope of understanding what it is used for?", asked the Doctor.

"Do we have anymore the chance?", returned Professor Verson, "Could we ever be satisfied that we knew what it was? The reason it was given to a tribe that we consider more primitive may have been done for the very fact that we would be mis-guided by our own beliefs, by our own science and of course it is those beliefs that fail to explain this object to us."

Samms looked towards the Professor, bemused by what he was saying. "When you gave your pen to the doctor of the tribe, the witch doctor, when we first arrived here in December, what did he do with it?", asked Verson.

"Nothing. He believed it to be a weapon", Samms replied, a little puzzled at the questioning.

"Precisely, to him it was a weapon. Whoís to say he isnít right. He has a view unblinded by our everyday beliefs. Maybe this is why this was given to the people of the tribe and not left to a scientist in New York City."

"But surely a scientist such as us can learn more from being given the opportunity to study such an object", returned Doctor Samms.

"That is what I am saying", the rain started to come down outside, the humming of the object on the table before them unable, now, to compete with the clatter upon the wooden roof, "By studying it we impose our own belief system, our own scientific terms and hypothesis. This object was not made within these terms, nor by people with these beliefs. They may have no gravity, no physics like our own, no beliefs similar to our god, no sense of gain, worth, whatever. We cannot truly analyse an object by imposing beliefs and ideas upon it. By doing so we make it something else, like the doctor made our pen his weapon.

"I understand. So the doctor analysed the pen using what he understood, as we would do this funnel."

"Yes. Already you are proving the point by referring to it using our terms, by calling it a funnel."

"This is very confusing." The Doctor paused for a moment. "So by giving this object they hoped the tribes people could understand what it was and use it as such. Given to us we would impose too much of our western beliefs and ruin the true nature of the object, and in turn learn nothing."

Professor Verson nodded. His tired, old eyes looking again over the funnel before him. It looked majestic in his hands, a prize created in another galaxy. Doctor Samms smiled and looked again at the object in Versonís hands. "So what do you believe this to be? Before we ask the elders of the village tomorrow morning."

"I really donít want to say. What ever I believe can only be influenced, not only by scientific beliefs but also by my subjective upbringing. You?"

The object felt threatening to Doctor Samms. Ever since sheíd first seen it presented at the sacrifice, nearly seven days ago, she had seen it as an intruder in the peaceful lives of the tribe. She looked at it again. The dull, repetitive hum pierced through her. "The funnel gives the impression of a gun, a cannon and the humming to me is threatening. There are no calming tones there. It certainly represents danger, its colours too are deep and dark. I can only see it as a threatening object, maybe something that could cause harm if used correctly. Thatís is why it was given to these people, to defend themselves. It was given as a gift for that reason. That is what I believe."

"We shall see in the morning", replied the professor.

The rain continued all night. In three days the small party of anthropologists, doctors and chemists would return to New York taking with them eight months of research, but none would be more exciting than the funnel shaped object that had been shown to them only days before they finally left.

"Village Chief", Professor Verson, handed over the object to the leader once again. They were now sat in a small building, built from strong branches and tight animal skins woven together. This was one of the three meeting halls that the team used with the people of the tribe, who had welcomed them so gracefully into their lives. They couldnít speak English or Spanish but they understood through gesture what Verson said to them. The morning was damp but inside the hut the humidity was almost unbearable. Even after spending so much time in the jungle the party had still failed to get used to the extreme weather.

The Village Chief held the object in his hands once more and turned it around, so the wide end, which was about 2 inches across, faced him. As he did the colour changed again and the object glowed red. "Can you demonstrate what it is for us? We donít know what it is?" Verson gave the Chief a puzzled look and he appeared to understand. He smiled a little, maybe at their not knowing, but maybe at their having to ask him. He knew they were here to study them. His people had nothing to learn of the visitors but they could teach these people by doing, only what they did everyday, going about their everyday business in unison with the living forest around them. Such was life now that man looked back at how he once lived to find answers for tomorrow.

The chief looked down on the object, his piercing eyes following the contour of its smooth shape. He shuffled slightly, on this knees, across to the side of the building. He placed the narrow end of the funnel to the wall and moved it across the firm fabric, as he did so a red line appeared on the animal skin wall. He shifted the funnel slightly down the wall and as he did it changed back to green. The colour on the wall altered again. This time it was green. Samms looked at the red and green curve on the wall and then turned to the professor, "And I thought it was a weapon". The professor smiled.

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