To Know and Be Known
by Aimee Ogden
Before the explosion, Rrela is enjoying a productive day on the tower.
All around her, stone grinds against stone, and the caustic clouds rising off the lime mortar
sting her eyes and nose. The winds at this altitude whip from side to side, threatening to pull her
hair free from its gathered knot. Some of the young stonelayers on the level below have their
voices raised in song. Not a hymn; the latest ballad making its way up the tower from the
teahouses and bathing pools in the city below. She closes her eyes to drink it in, and for a moment
it is as if the tower beneath her is rising, rising, bearing her heavenward. Not with the slow grind
of her thirty years' work, but on the swift wings of a storm-cloud. She imagines the reception that
awaits humankind in the unknowable heavens . . . and the dream dissolves, then, for she cannot
picture herself being welcomed into the halls of the gods. Rrela believes the gods want to be
known. Just not by her.
The spell broken, Rrela opens her eyes. Her stylus finishes a stroke already begun, without
a mark awry to show its interruption. More figures join the first on the tablet: calculations for how
much fresh lime must be brought up from the tower's base, the margin for error she can afford to
lose to wind or accident, when the climbers can fit in such a shipment in between the stone and
food that must come up, the waste that must come down. She pauses only once, to draw her
monocular for a peek down the tower. She sizes up the current stoneload being raised by the
climbers strung along down the outside of the tower, and works that estimate into her
The stonelayers have finished their song by the time she has a satisfactory answer. Her
stylus doesn't yet still, checking and rechecking her numbers before she passes them off to her
assistant, Miiryes, for one last pass of validation. There are no second chances at these heights of
human daring and ingenuity.
She tucks the tablet into her pouch and tilts her head back. Strands of glittering gold drape
between the stars, and where these strands cross, the palaces of heaven are suspended like beads
of liquid light. She looks up so rarely these days, her eyes forever pinned to her tablet and her
tower. Perhaps the tower will not make those who will come after her worthy of entry to the
strange domain above. But if humankind is a looking glass, made to reflect the best of the gods
back up to them? Then those who live in that world above must be curious, too.
Vibrations hum through the thin soles of her boots.
The tower groans and Rrela recognizes its pain. She is already moving, between the pairs
of frightened stonelayers, past Miiryes who is trying to rein in the cadre of panicking assistants.
The only question in Rrela's heart is how to alleviate the damage.