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The Gilkesh (the name means “star women”) are a humanoid race believed to be closely linked to modern humans. The exact nature of the relationship, however, remains in dispute. It is unclear whether the Gilkeshna (collective plural) arose from humans, or the humans from Gilkeshna. There is considerable variation among Gilkeshne (discrete plural) in physical characteristics, owing to genetic drift and bioengineering, but overall they tend to exceed baseline humans in physical endurance, strength, mental acuity, agility, and tolerance for adverse conditions. They are nocturnal and have acute night vision. All Gilkeshna are female.
Gilkesh reproduction occurs via parthenogenesis; however, while it is biologically possible for a Gilkesh adult to conceive alone, custom demands that conception occur in the presence of an intimate partner or spouse. The taboo against “lonebirthing” is among the strongest and most universal in Gilkesh culture. This is because the partner’s spiritual influence (or auric field) is deemed essential for the healthy development of the fetus. The partner’s presence allows the mother’s DNA to recombine more creatively than would otherwise be possible; so while the mother’s partner (called the bondmother) does not physically contribute genetic material, she does influence the child’s genetics. It is universally accepted among the Gilkesh that an infant inherits traits from her mother’s partner as well as from her mother. Generally it is assumed that the birthmother (the biological mother) passes on her physical traits, and the bondmother (mother’s partner) passes on personality and spiritual traits.
Many variations on the nuclear family exist. In general, the Gilkesh generally bond in pairs (and not, for example, in threesomes or larger groups), but local and individual practices vary widely. Childrearing follows a crossover pattern: from birth, an infant is nurtured by her birthmother, but gradually – beginning around age three and continuing through adulthood – her bondmother plays a more active role in parenting. The birthmother’s role is as nurturer and protector, the bondmother’s role is as guide and teacher. The proverb, “We grow away from our birthmothers, and toward our bondmothers” encapsulates this idea. The bondmother’s duty is to prepare the girl for adulthood and independence. In a household where both parents have borne children, a child growing up thus has the chance to observe her parents in both roles.
Sex is not a biological prerequisite for procreation, but conception usually occurs during sex. This is considered optimal for the development of the child, since the two mothers’ minds are merged at this moment. Every Gilkeshni (singular) is telepathic to some degree; during sexual arousal, and particularly during orgasm, the usual mental defenses are down and a woman’s mind becomes more transparent to her partner. In the Gilkesh language (as in Hebrew), the verb “to know” is also an idiom for sexual intimacy.
It is important to note that it is the aroused partner whose mind is exposed, and therefore vulnerable. This is why the Gilkesh, although not generally a prudish lot, treat sex with respect. To surrender to pleasure in the arms of another woman is to be leave oneself open. In dysfunctional relationships, one partner may refuse to come, or feign frigidity, in order to gain psychological leverage over the other. Also for this reason, sex with a mentally ill or unstable partner can be risky. And the nature of Gilkesh sex is a natural deterrent to infidelity, since an unfaithful partner may inadvertently reveal memories of an illicit encounter during sex.
Sex is often employed in espionage as well. Sexual telepathy is not the most effective or reliable way of collecting factual data, but it can often provide clues not available through other methods, and is particularly valuable in assessing the subject’s state of mind. For this reason, high-level government and security officials are often required to remain celibate during periods when they may be exposed to sensitive information.
Space and Time.
The universe of the Gilkesh – which they share with other intelligent, spacefaring races like the Humans, the Fao, the Errioi, the Paar, and the Osk – is multidimensional and multireal. Hyperspace travel allows a person to access parallel or alternate universes. A full discussion of hyperspace theory will be set down elsewhere. For our present purposes, the essential points are: (1) travel between universes can be used to circumvent limitations of space and time; (2) once a traveler leaves a particular universe, she can never return to it; (3) she can, however, “return” to an arbitrarily close approximation of the previous universe; (4) causality does not operate between universes; (5) however, it may be assumed that actions a person takes in her own universe will be mirrored by her counterparts in parallel universes, with a greater or lesser degree of certainty depending on the circumstances.
Space and time are not linear in the Gilkesh universe. It is not uncommon for more and less advanced civilizations to interact, so (at any given point in “narrative time”) there is no single standard of historical or technological development. A society may interact (knowingly or not) with its own “ancestors” or “descendents”. Thus, the Humans of today’s Earth might encounter an advanced race that traced its own origins to an Earth very similar – though not identical – to our own.
In fiction, the series Myst (Miller/Wingrove) and His Dark Materials (Pullman) provide detailed multi-universe scenarios similar to what I am trying to do here.
In actuality, inter-universe travel should not be thought of as something entirely foreign to our own experience. When I decide (through an act of free will) to pick up the pen that is lying on the desk before me, I have chosen to inhabit a universe where the pen is in my hand, and I have left behind – forever – a universe where the pen at that moment remained undisturbed on the desk.
If I then release the pen, I know to a fair degree of certainty what will happen: it will fall. I know this because I can mentally travel to a universe where the pen has been dropped, and I know that the laws of gravity will continue to operate in that universe just as they do here and now, while I am holding the pen. This is the simplest form of travel between universes.
If I put the pen to paper, perhaps to compose a letter to a friend, I am traveling to still more new universes. What will be the consequences of this decision? I can travel, mentally, to a world where I have composed the letter and sent it, and I can try to imagine the reader’s reaction to my letter, based on what I know about my world and about the other person. Here I am on less solid ground (so to speak) than in the scenario where I drop the pen. People are much less predictable than the laws of gravity, and when my action involves another sentient being – the friend to whom I am writing the letter – there is no guarantee that my words will be understood as I have intended them. So the hazards of inter-universe travel are something we face every day.
The Gilkesh have been a spacefaring civilization since the beginnings of their known history. Not all Gilkesh worlds are technologically advanced; it is common for early settlers on a world to lose some or all of their technical sophistication in the course of the day-to-day struggle for survival. It is not uncommon for more and less advanced civilizations to interact – just as it is commonplace for the industrialized world and the Third World to interact on today’s Earth.
During the early stages of settlement, worlds derive their energy from whatever sources are available: solar (stellar) power, hydrocarbons, fission, etc. Planets lacking an atmosphere are mined for heavy hydrogen (deuterium) in the crust, which powers fusion reactors. Terraforming (to use the terracentric expression) is accomplished over generations with genetically modified organisms.
Interstellar ships are either deep-space or hyperspace capable. Deep-space ships, normally fusion powered, are limited to travel within the conventional spacetime continuum and cannot travel faster than the speed of light (in practice, they can attain about 25% of c). Hyperspace-capable ships are powered by zero-point energy and can travel between parallel universes, or Ages, circumventing the barrier to faster-than-light travel.
With quantum computing technology, most ships possess artificial intelligence and many become autonomous, interacting with Gilkesh and other “organics” on the basis of mutual interest.
Imaginary time and hyperspace.
Imaginary time is the axis that runs perpendicular to regular time. It is the dimension of free will, choice, and random chance. Even as the expansion of the Universe drives us all forward in regular time, the increasing complexification of the Universe spread a web of parallel universes – or Ages – in imaginary time.
You cannot travel ahead or backward in regular time, and you cannot exceed the speed of light in your own Age. However, there are ways to get around that. By traveling to an adjacent Age – a universe nearly identical to your own – you can reach a point that is far removed in space, or “ahead” or “behind” in regular time.
Although we don’t think about it, we travel between Ages all the time. Every time you make a choice, you are choosing a path – one of Borges’ “forking paths” – along which you must then travel. Knowingly or not, we travel along these paths constantly, entering a new Age (or universe) at every instant and leaving the old one behind forever.
Gilkesh and humans.
Humans have always been known to the Gilkesh (as have several other alien races). The Gilkesh recognize their close kinship with humans (or at least, human females) and it is the subject of much speculation. No one knows whether the Gilkesh evolved from Humans, Humans from Gilkesh, or whether both races emerged from a common source. In addition to the physical similarity, there are common cultural points as well. It is likely that some Gilkeshne may have visited Earth – either “our Earth” or one very much like it – in the past. There is no reason they could not be here now.
The original Gilkesh homeworld is called Shakti. Its fate is a mystery and its former location is unknown. Very little is known of the Gilkesh prior to to the disappearance of Shakti and the subsequent diaspora.
The Gilkesh population falls into two broad groups: those descended from the faction loyal to Amira, and those from the followers of Kathris. Kathris and Amira were the two queens who ruled Shakti prior to the diaspora. They were a couple and ruled jointly. But when Amira’s infidelity was discovered by Kathris, there followed a cataclysmic rift in the population. As may be expected, accounts of these events vary widely with the sympathies of the various historians.
In general, open warfare is quite rare among the Gilkesh, and the Kathrite and Amirite factions maintain good relations, but rivalries do persist. Also, it should be remembered that the Amirite/Kathrite split is often secondary to the dynamics of other political factions that exist within (and sometimes overlap between) the two broad groups. So while Eilinite/Kathrite relations underly all aspects of Gilkesh politics, they are by no means the complete picture.
Here we will deal with two origin myths: the tale of Eve and Lilith, and the tale of Kathris and Amira. The first is purely mythic in nature, the second semi-historical.
The Gilkeshna often call themselves “the daughters of Lilith”. But by this they mean that they see Lilith as their bondmother. In fact, the myth holds that the Gilkesh race were born to Eve – and thus tacitly acknowledges the race’s kinship with Humans. (Adam, however, is absent from the Gilkesh lineage. It is generally assumed that Eve was originally parthenogenic, like the Gilkesh themselves – or for that matter, like Adam and the Virgin Mary in Human mythology – and that she later consorted with Adam after being rejected by Lilith. Thus, the Gilkesh and Human races may be seen as “half-siblings”.) Lilith, too, is believed to have birthed offspring, but these were rejected by Eve. No one knows what happened to them.
Archetypally, Lilith and Eve represent complementary poles of the psyche. They stand for the most basic dichotomies of existence, much as gender attributions inevitably present themselves in human metaphysics (yin/yang, etc). However, Eve and Lilith do not correspond exactly to the sets of common gender-linked associations in Human myth.
In the Gilkesh psyche, Lilith stands for the principle of growth, the life-force, free will, and the night. She is outward-directed movement, creativity, danger. Her elements are energy and space. Eve represents limitation, return, nurturing, and cyclical movement. She is land, renewal, fate or destiny, and the day. Her elements are time and matter or gravity. Eve is also the Angel of Death.
Historical time, for practical purposes, begins with the disappearance of the planet Shakti and the Gilkesh diaspora. The last queens of Shakti, Kathris and Amira, ruled jointly as co-consuls, as was the custom. Their love for one another was strong, but eventually they began to drift apart. Amira, the passionate and impulsive one, had an illicit romance with her exotic alien-affairs adviser Joli. Kathris, steadfast and loyal, refused to believe the rumors until an evil courtier named Sirkam told Kathris that Amira was sleeping with Joli (true) and that Joli was plotting to kill Kathris and take her place on the throne (false). When finally confronted with proof of Amira’s infidelity, Kathris accepted both the truth and the lie, and murdered Joli. In a particularly vindictive touch, Kathris revealed this fact telepathically to Amira during a moment of climax (bân in Gilkesh) during their last intimate moment together. Long afterward, Kathris learned of Sirkam’s treachery and grieved for her impulsive dispatch of Joli, but it was too late.
Eve and Lilith.
The central myth of Gilkesh culture is the myth of Eve and Lilith. Many tales exist in many versions, but the essential elements are these: that Lilith is the spiritual bondmother, and Eve the birthmother (and in this they tacitly acknowledge their kinship with Humans); that Eve represents fate and mortality (remember, in the Bible she was the bringer of death before she was the bringer of life); and that Lilith represents the values of growth, life, and self-actualization. It is Lilith who urges mortal beings on to the difficult but rewarding task of living, and it is she who represents the “ideal” that every Gilkeshni is to strive for.
In the family unit, Eve is seen as the prototype of the birthmother, Lilith of the bondmother. When a child is born, she is first nurtured by her birthmother, and then, by degrees, is given over to her bondmother for rearing and education. In a family with several children, each child may observe her own birthmother in the role of bondmother to the other partner’s children, and vice versa. The birthmother’s role is to love and care for the child; the bondmother’s, to prepare her for life in the adult world.
Patriarchal Human mythology often stresses the positive associations of light, day, and heterosexual masculinity. (J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings – with its sinister, feminine Ring – is an excellent example.) Without drawing a value judgment about this, we will note that Gilkesh culture is significantly different.
As a nocturnal species, the Gilkesh conceive the night as positive and “where the action is”. The night side of a planet faces away from its sun and out into space, and this feels very natural for the Gilkesh. The void of space is understood to be fertile: stars emerge from the seemingly empty cosmos (and their byproducts give rise to life); matter and energy arise spontaneously from fluctuations in the quantum vacuum.
They are not conquerors nor warlike by nature, but they are explorers. The prime imperative of their culture is life, growth, and individuation; more than anything else, they dread the seductive allure of the “return to the womb”. Human women often have complex relationships with their mothers, on the one hand loving and admiring them and on the other hand fearing that they themselves will turn into their mothers. We honor our origins, but life asks us to be ourselves – and the Gilkesh, who have only mothers, understand this better than anyone.