the chthonic pull
violet bertelsen

For how I obtained this tale for the site, see my introduction to Violet's other story, On the Shoreline of Darkness.

Here we have an aspect of Uranus you won't find in Uranian Gleams.  For one thing, The Chthonic Pull is an interplanetary epic, whereas Gibson's Uranian tales are planet-bound like almost all the tales of Barsoom.  Perhaps, though, the Gibson and Bertelsen visions of the Seventh Planet do overlap in possessing beauty, albeit of different kinds...

When the Uranians found the Earth-ship, wings akimbo, cracked hull half buried in the torn grassland, they were most surprised to see that the life support systems remained intact with twenty human bodies still in their suspended animation cocoons. Looking more closely, Zizigway was horrified to see that nineteen of of the bodies were decomposed; the glass had shattered, breaking the hermetic seal, inviting death into the chambers.  The smell of decay was incredible, and mighty swarms of the great zaza flies were buzzing, biting, and shocking rudely with their electrical proboscides.  Nineteen of the Earthlings were dead, but one chamber had managed to somehow withstand the crash landing.  Carefully, Shereh unfolded the body suit, and then began the reanimation process.  The human eyes opened.  They were set in an attractive face with brown blond hair and a brown beard. He began to twitch while the animation fluid drained, his eyes opened as he fell out of the cocoon, collapsing on to the floor of the craft.

Shereh put in her trans-lingual communication device: “We mean you no harm, Earthling; please, let yourself trust us.  Enter this body suit, there, we shall take you to the castle.  The Duke will have some questions for you.”

The Earthling nodded and passively stepped into the body suit, his eyes cloudy. Zizigway stepped towards the strange man, and putting in her trans-lingual communication device asked him; “Earthling, what is your name?”

“My name,” said the Earthling absently, “my name is...Raul Marquez…” he mumbled, “my apologies…it is disorienting waking from five years sleep…”  He trailed off, as if forgetting what he was saying.

Zizigway looked at Shereh with a nod, and they helped Raul out of the fetid ship, and each taking one of his arms over their shoulder, led him to a small outcropping of pale blue glowing stones, leaving the rotting Earthlings in their broken coffins with their stench of putrescence and the attendant swarm of zaza flies.

Raul sat on the glowing blue rock hugging his knees, and then, in a great heave, vomited up a foul yellow fluid. “Dead,” he moaned, “everyone but me is dead, aren’t they?”

Shereh regarded Raul without affect; “Yes, yes they are, Raul Marquez.”

“What happened?” muttered Raul blearily.

“We were hoping you could answer that, Earthling,” said Zizigway coldly.

*          *          *

The Duke was furious.  He had to sit in the suspensor chair so as to not ground out the electricity of his fury.  His voltage had reached a dangerous level.

Earthlings meddling again! he thought to himself.  Can they not see how rapacious they are?  How crass and base?  There was no charter for that crashed ship! The New Merchant Fleet has been shifty now for the better part of a decade, raiding undefended towns and cities, thieving our sacred blue stone and our great spilanthes; they are utterly insufferable!

The Duke sat there in his suspensor chair fuming, crackling with electricity, when Zizigway and Shereh brought in Raul, supporting him as he stumbled across the threshold of the hexagonal room in the pale blue light emanated by the stones of the palace.  They came to stand below the Duke who was suspended two meters over them.

“Salutations my duke,” spoke Shereh, “we bring you the sole survivor from the crash. He is sick, too sick to talk meaningfully.  It appears he is…mourning the loss of his fellow pirates.  What shall we do with him?”

The Duke considered the point for a moment.  This was a possibly beneficial situation; it all depended on this man’s character.  He is worth more to me alive than dead, he thought, at least for now.

“The man is sick; we shall heal him.  I understand that he will inevitably die in forty-eight hours from exposure to our atmosphere unless he is subjected to genetic manipulation.  While he is a pirate and may be put to death yet, I shall make him a Uranian subject, for now.  Bring him to Dr. Glatcha; she will take over after this point.” The Duke turned away, still in thrall to his rage.

Shereh and Zizigway bowed and left the room, supporting Raul on their shoulders, helping him to walk feebly down the stairs to the Doctor’s office.

*          *          *

How do I get out of this? thought Raul as he was laid on the operating table by the blue-skinned Uranian doctor, who was undressing him.

You don’t, replied Dr. Glatcha.

“You can hear my thoughts?” asked Raul, his heart beating.

“My poor Earthling!” replied the doctor, adjusting her spectacles, “you will have to learn quickly.  We are like you in many ways; it appears that the sun’s rays favor the evolution of bipedal, five-fingered humanoids, but we do not share a common ancestor and we are profoundly different.  Part of this difference comes from the chthonic pull of Uranus, the odd, inexpressible mixture of atmosphere, climate and soil.  Drastic physiological changes have been noted in Uranian emigrants to Ganymede and Mars, but that is a discussion for another time…if there is another time.  One of the ways Uranians are different to Earthlings is that we can communicate emotive thoughts through touch.  There are other ways we differ, which you will doubtlessly learn in good time,” added Dr. Glatcha, drawing up a viscous black substance in a large syringe.

“Ah,” replied Raul.

“Now; I will inject you with the genetic catalyst which will reorganize your chromosomes, allowing you to live on Uranus.  You will still look distinct from us, but, I should note, you will also never be able to return to Earth without further genetic manipulation, which is a process we do not currently possess.”

“Ah,” sighed Raul, with a note of resigned sadness.

“If I may, before I give you the shot, let me give you a piece of advice; be honest.  No matter how ugly, no matter how obscene, no matter how wrong the truth may seem to you.  We value the truth here in a way that Earthlings almost invariably fail to grasp.  One wrong move and you are dead, so, please: be truthful. Now, Earthling, in a moment you shall be Uranian!” Dr. Glatcha grabbed Raul’s head and in one swift movement drove the needle into his jugular vein and depressed the syringe’s plunger. 

Immediately a horrific vibration reached Raul’s heart.  “Oh no!” he cried, as everything went black.

Several days passed before he woke again, his skin a pale aquamarine, not much different  from any other Uranian.  Nervously he reached into his pants to make sure he still was intact; he understood that only Uranians in a position of authority were male, the rest were female-eunuchs, only becoming male after a painful and lengthy epigenetic reshaping that occurred with accrual of political power.  Thankfully, he was still as before, still Earthling enough in that respect and not, thankfully, changed to a female-eunuch like the Duke’s subordinates.

*          *          *

The Duke paced around, his electricity now safely discharged, walking before Zizigway and Shereh as they watched the him nervously.

“This is a terrible, terrible occurrence,” boomed the Duke.

“Why, my lord?” asked Zizigway flatly.

“Many years ago Earthlings conquered Venus. Now there are reports Mercury has fallen, betrayed by their former allies of Earth and Mars.  Jupiter has, of late, joined this shifty coalition. Fortunately, Saturn is still allied with us. The Earthlings are crafty.  They are like swine, smart and rapacious.  Their evolutionary history is very distinct from ours.  They have sexual dimorphism that is fixed from the moment of birth.  Every Earthling male is a male and most wish, from the depths of their testicles, to give orders and be followed.  Woman have no hope of becoming reproductive males, no matter how much power they assume.

“More sinisterly, Earthlings have proven adept at managing slave planets from afar.  While they couldn’t survive here without genetic alteration, Jovians certainly can. The stakes here cannot be overstated: after the battle of Venusi-a and the conclusive defeat of Venus at the hands of the Earth-Mars-Mercury alliance, the Earthlings tampered with the genetics of the Venusians, creating a plantation planet of cyborg slaves.  This is to say, we cannot let ourselves be conquered.”

Zizigway frowne.  “That is horrific, my lord.”

“The problem we face is that we have but a limited understanding of Earthlings, informed by third-hand reports and outright legends!  Only a handful have visited, or visited and stayed for any length of time given the mutual hostility that the planets’ chthonic pulls exert on each other’s inhabitants.  In order to survive the Earthlings’ stratagems, we need to learn their weaknesses and their strengths.  We must know them well enough to anticipate their actions, and thus destroy them.  You, Shereh, I assign you to be the Earthling’s handmaiden.  You will report to me everything.”

Shereh crackled with electricity:  “Why do you always assign me the worst cases, my lord?” she said, a whine creeping into her voice; “you want me, your highness, to be the earthling’s servant?  I understand that I was brought here from a far precinct to freshen the breeding stock, but this is almost too much, my Duke.  Earthlings sicken me, with their electricity-free touch and devious manner. You expect me to wait on this man?”

“No, Shereh, this is much worse than you are thinking…I order you to be his friend.  We have few people who can be spared to act in this capacity, and you are one of the more adventuress souls in this precinct.  My apologies, but I trust you will make your peace with my command.”

*          *          *

Shereh and Raul walked outside on the plains where the great spilanthes flowers, Uranian lobelia and dagger grass dance in the cold wind.  Raul veered towards the path by the odd pink phosphorescent stream that flowed by, and Shereh let him lead the way.  They walked in silence, Raul looking up in the dark sky filled with many moons slowly turning in the pale Uranian day.  Dully, he regarded the great city of blue glowing stone, the domiciles cut like honeycomb into the mountain, the cliffs veering upwards into the vast Uranian sky.  Be honest, he thought to himself.

“I was…foolish to come here,” offered Raul nervously; “it was our mission to pirate the great spilanthes.  There are many addicts on Earth, many rich addicts.  It’s a euphoric stimulant that allows for lovers to connect psychically.  Orgasms are incomparably better under its influence, or so I am told. Many trendy aristocrats are always putting some up their nose.  Once an Earthling is addicted, sudden withdrawal can lead to spasmodic torturing pains, frequently ending in death. So in the service of many rich addicts, I was the pilot on a mission to snatch the spilanthes from Uranus.  Something must have gone wrong with the automatic reanimation apparatus; I was never woken to land the craft, and now I am the only survivor of that ship.”

“A pilot?  That is high rank, no?” asked Shereh.

“Captain is higher, but yes, I was about third in command.  I have been on a lot of…voyages.  Mostly to Jupiter on trade.  Earlier in my career I was involved in many raids on Venus and fought in the battle of Venusi-a --”

“Ah yes,” interrupted Shereh bitterly, “where you finally forced the Venusian people into becoming your cyborg slaves.”

“Yes, to my shame that is what happened, but…I didn’t know the full plan at the time. I was only nineteen, which is fairly young in Earth years.  After the fighting I never manned another warcraft or slave ship again.  Originally, I only become a pilot because they promised to teach me the arts of space navigation.  It has higher pay than working in the mines and I wished to have more time free.”

“Free to do what, Earthling?” asked Shereh without affect.

“This may sound strange, but I-I, I like poetry and I wanted to have more time to read and write poetry,” stammered Raul blushing.


And with that, Raul began to chant his poetry, his voice lilting and growing like a flower from his heart.  Shereh didn’t understand a word, but was impressed; she felt the subtle electricity of his words move through their body.  Perhaps Earthlings were more than swine.  Without thought, Shereh reached out and touched Raul’s face and looked at him with her black Uranian eyes. You speak the truth Earthling?

I speak the truth Shereh, you can feel it in me.

Yes…you speak the truth.

They walked upon a crag in silence and watched as the pale day turned into night filled with many moons, reflecting the pale light of the Sun.  Slowly the two turned around and returned to the castle, the highest point on the crag-topped, honeycombed mountain city, their path illuminated by the softly glowing stones.

*          *          *

Raul woke from a dream; the faces of the dead; the Venusian slaves he had trafficked in; the spilanthes flower which had paid him so well; the wretched addicts twitching for another hit of “the Uranian Electricity”.  He was in a cold sweat and drank from the glass of water by his bed.  Involuntary memories flooded his still sleepy mind: the solitary moon of Earth and the glorious yellow sun, not the pale spectral light that reached Uranus.  How alien, utterly alien was life here.  Could he survive in this planet of blue glowing stones and eunuch-women, rigid honesty and coldness of affect? He pondered shattering the glass of his cup against the stone floor to craft a fragment to gouge deeply into his carotid artery.  For a moment he considered it, and saw in a flash his lifeblood spilling from his neck, his hands involuntarily reaching up to staunch the flow in vain. His soul loosed but not yet at peace, standing by his ruined body so far away from home, no hope to ever return to earth.  And in the dark of his room, Raul feared that his very soul was altered with his genetics, that neither he nor his soul would ever be able to find Earth again in the vastness of space, and he was doomed to reincarnate on this strange, blue planet. Raul put the empty glass back on the nightstand, and with great difficulty struggled back to sleep.

Zap! Shereh was toughing his arm and giving him an electrical jolt.  Time to rise, Earthling,  she thought at him.

“Oh yes, just a moment,” Raul stood up.

Today we go to the great chasm of electricity, thought Shereh, her hand on his arm.

Oh yes?

It is famous here on Uranus as a natural wonder; I thought you might wish to see it, explained Shereh.


They took the magnetic train which travelled well over 200 kilometers per hour. Raul watched, mouth parted in wonder, as the great steppes whirred by, and then other Uranian cities passed the window, many even more splendid than the precinct of the Duke, with their geometrically carved honeycomb mountains peaked in sharp craggy cliffs.  Hours later they arrived at their stop, and got out to walk the final few kilometers.  Raul took in the scenery: endless plains, small streams, the same blue luminous rocks, and great flocks of flying creatures that appeared to him halfway between bird and insect.

Slowly, with the wordless circumspection proper to holy places, they approached the great chasm, which revealed pink and violet striated stone disappearing down, down into the darkness, and between the faces of the sheer cliffs were great balls of static electricity, like visible ectoplasm, flashing as they discharged into the walls, glowing and smelling of ozone.

“This place is sacred,” said Raul breathlessly, feeling the numinous quality of the air.

Shereh smiled, “Yes, it is a sacred place to us; it is considered to be the birthplace of the Uranian mysteries.”

“On earth we have places were the land meets the waters.  The waters on Earth stretch further than the eye can see.  There, where the land meets the water, are places of mysteries.  Earth mysteries,” said Raul slowly.

“Ah, of course, the Earth mysteries; do you miss them Raul?”

“Yes, greatly.”

“You showed me some of your mysteries with the poem, yes?” asked Shereh, eyebrow raised just like an Earthling.  It was odd that on all the different planets, even with such different lineages, the humanoid populations still made such similar facial expressions.

“Yes, it is a love mystery, a love mystery I wrote long ago to the great oceans of Earth,” Raul said with a little smile.

They both stood then in a deep silence watching the shimmering depths of the chasm and the loud cracks of lightning that struck at random in the depths.  As day turned to night they boarded the train and returned to the Duke’s precinct.

*          *          *

The Duke sat on his suspensor chair, facing Zizigway and Shereh.  Zizigway cleared her throat.  “If I may begin, my lord?”

“Yes of course,” said the Duke without affect.

“The Jovians, with Earthling support, are poised to launch an offensive against Uranus.  Our intelligence indicates that they know that they couldn’t win without a prolonged fight. Rather they wish to bleed us for many years and then trick us into turning on other Uranians.  A divide and conquer strategy, which clearly indicates Earthling influence at a high level.  After we exhaust ourselves in war, they would come as a ‘peacekeeping force,’ a threadbare pretext for their imperial ambitions.”

The Duke took that in.  “Are you expecting direct Earthling involvement?” he asked after a long moment of thought.

Zizigway nodded, “Yes, as a covering force.  Our intelligence indicates that we are looking at a joint attack in the next two months.”

The Duke shook his head slowly, angered.  “Well, we have Raul the Earthling, do we not?”

Shereh spoke up, “We do indeed.  I have…grown fond of him.  We have…become friends.” She paused, “He appears open to helping us.  He has certain unconscious resentments about being forced into a warrior role that doesn’t fit his poetic-spiritualist spectrum temperament, but this is counterbalanced by his Earthling honor-sense which almost completely forbids changes of planetary allegiance.  It is slow going for him, of course, acclimating to the ways of such a different planet.  It is noteworthy that I took him to the Chasm last week and that he, without prompting, apprehended the spiritual significance of the site.”

The Duke frowned, “A well-developed poetic-spiritualist, then.  Hmmm.  Impressive.  Let us do this; bring the earthling to Dr. Glatcha, tell the doctor to do a memory transfer to seek out human warship vulnerabilities.  Keep our scanning limited to technics.  Let’s not erase his entire personality and waste our limited mainframe space out of needless spite.  We can get his experiences immediately to our military technicians and exploit every technological vulnerability they may find.”

Shereh and Zizigway bowed, leaving in haste to enact the Duke’s orders.

*          *          *

Raul found himself back on the medical table of Dr. Glatcha, who smiled kindly at him;

“I see you’re still alive,” she said.

“Yes, thankfully,” replied Raul.

“Very good.  Today we must cut your hair and have you put on these electrodes,” explained the doctor, her back turned to Raul.  She shaved Raul’s hair and placed the electrodes on his smooth scalp.  She injected him with a special chemical that immediately put him in a highly hypnotically suggestive state.

“Now, good; go over, very carefully your memories of the ships that you piloted.  Yes, exactly, only the ships that you piloted, and let us see the insides, the technical capacity, the operating systems, yes,” said the doctor as she carefully transferred his memories to a computer mainframe, watching them rapidly fire over the screen, the screen split between his experiences and the copious notes taken of his words and thoughts.  The computer was calculating, comparing the two, to see how closely they lined up. “Very, very good; alright, now awaken.”

Raul’s eyes opened.  What did you do? he asked Dr. Glatcha.

We took your memories.

I can’t remember great portions from the last twelve years of my life! bellowed Raul’s angry mind.

Shhh, please be calm; we don’t want anyone to get electrocuted, cooed Dr. Glatcha with gracious emotion, calming Raul in spite of himself.

Those memories…they were me; who am I without my memories? murmured Raul.

That is an Earthling illusion; you are not your memories, thought Dr. Glatcha gently, they are but electricity that flows through meat structures in your brain. You are much more than that…perhaps in time you will understand. Suffice to say for now that your verbal records and mental records appear to check out well, thought Dr. Glatcha looking cursorily over the screen, the error between them can be easily accounted for by statistical decay.  That speaks well to your character; perhaps there is a place here for you after all.

*          *          *

Shereh and Raul walked by the castle, through the shinga-berry orchards and through the cultivated fields of corn-grass towards a hill by whose bottom there was a small stream of water.  Shereh looked at Raul inquisitively.  “How do you feel here?” she asked.

He breathed in.  “It feels good; the spilanthes and Uranian lobelia and dagger grass are great and verdant and the water is beautiful and pink.  This place feels like falling in love.”

Shereh smiled and unable to resist, she touched Raul.  You are very attractive, very male; that is rare here and…I favor you; if you like, we can make love.

I know not the rituals of love of your planet, thought Raul.

The ritual is honesty.

No further words were spoken but the electricity flowed between them, arcing in their hearts and grounding out in the other as their bodies became one. Afterwards, as they lay in each other’s arms, Shereh giggled, and told Raul, in Uranus, the pink water means love.

Ah, thought Raul nestling his head in Shereh’s short brown hair.

*          *          *

The Duke was very sick and had grown increasingly wan of late.  He gathered his court.  “This will come to no surprise to you, but my death approaches.  We all know that after the epigenetic reshaping occurs, the genetic material begins an accelerating decay. That is our inheritance, and it has been seven years since I assumed the role of Duke. Now I must choose a successor so that she has time to undergo the necessary changes.  Zizigway, if you shall accept, you would honor me and my precinct to become the next Duke.”

“I accept my lord,” said Zizigway, a faint smile on her lips.

“Very good.  Dr. Glatcha, please prepare the incubator.  In two months’ time when Zizigway emerges fully changed, he shall enact the fertility rite and then lead this precinct of Uranus.”

The court nodded their assent to the decision, and Zizigway, head held high, the cascading genetic changes already ignited, descended with Dr. Glatcha to prepare for his full ascendance to power.

*          *          *

Two weeks later the Jovian ships broke through the Uranian atmosphere.  Zizigway’s intelligence was correct, and the Earthling cover was easily deactivated by the application of Raul’s stolen memories, which had been shared and analyzed by the ranking Uranian generals.  Uranian gunners shot down the invading spaceships and the Jovians encountered far more resistance than they anticipated.  Soon they were repulsed, and not long afterwards routed, the Jovian space fleet being utterly decimated in the fray.  There was rejoicing in the streets as news came of a favorable peace settlement, with many Uranian troops hastily stationed on Ganymede, the great planet now at the mercy of Uranian dispensation. Earth’s position now seemed much more tenuous than a week prior, although no one on Uranus quite knew the details, let alone the full implications.

In the streets of the Duke’s precinct, the odd atonal Uranian music pulsed and Raul found himself dancing in the crowd, his genetic alterations allowing an understanding of the music more in body than mind.  He danced and felt the collective current of the joyous electricity move through him ecstatically.

Later that night, he returned to his chamber, and wondered:  Who have I become?  Am I human, or Uranian? No good answer presented itself to his divided loyalties, and he dreamt of the pale light of Uranian stone revealing broken glass and the blood pouring freely from wounds about his neck, but then too he standing besides this ugly scene with the Uranian moons orbiting his heart. When Raul awoke he saw Shereh sitting in the corner.  “Greetings, Raul,” she said through the trans-lingual communication device.

“Good morning,” he said sitting up.

“The Duke wishes to thank you, formally.  You are well regarded here for the contributions you made to the war effort.  The Duke and his replacement, Zizigway, want to keep you around the palace as an ambassador of sorts.  You continue to help us understand the inner workings of Earthlings,” said Shereh quietly.

“Honestly, Shereh, this is all…hard for me.   It betrays my sense of honor honor to work towards the defeat of my birth-planet. As much as Uranus is strengthened by this course of events, so equally is Earth weakened...  I don’t know if I am Earthling or Uranian or where my loyalties lie…it is complicated and fraught,” explained Raul sadly.

“Well, for whatever it’s worth we don’t view you as a traitor, but rather as someone who approaches us in honesty and awareness, and for that we owe you our gratitude.  Perhaps you can think of yourself as both Uranian and Earthling.  That would, I imagine, be the most honest to your experiences,” said Shereh; “perhaps with time Earth and Uranus could have a harmonious relationship, and you could help with its creation.”

Raul’s eye’s glimmered, “That is something to consider,” and for a long time they sat there; Raul silently weighed his heart before deciding, “I am…I am honored to serve the Court in any way I can.”

Shereh touched his face, and smiled faintly at him.  If you shall say ‘yes,’ with honesty, we can, soon, begin inducting you into the mysteries of the twenty-seven moons and their governing goddesses.  The court agrees that this would be an appropriate course given your behavior at the Chasm and the great boon you have given us.  The choice is yours.

Raul thought of the beautiful moons of Uranus and felt a flutter in his heart; Yes, he thought, his face falling into a smile, yes, nothing would delight me more.

Shall we take a walk outside?  The process will take several months, but we can begin tonight, said Shereh.

Let us, thought Raul. Slowly they got up and walked outside among the blue luminescent stones, the pale light of the sun dipping below the horizon as night began to fall.