Chapter 25: The Sun Order of Ra
Researching online, Garcia discovered that the Sun Order was linked to an endless number of sects — like the sun’s infinite reflections in the ripples of a lake. His Saburian watchers were not alone in monitoring his activity. Ads rushed onto his screen for everything from solar chargers to anti-aging creams and tropical travel.
His Soria Clinics manager insisted that he take a vacation to see his family, offering a travel visa and a seat on a private plane to Pandolf. On his return trip on a commercial flight, he could stop in Paris to visit his mother.
At the clinic, the Singapore patient had just departed. The Saburian manager approached him. “So tickled to see you use your Paid Time Off, Dr. Garcia, click the ‘refresh’ button, take a vacay.”
Garcia smiled. “Just don’t want to get too excited. You never know when something can happen…”
The other man’s smile faded into a doubtful look.
Garcia’s phone beeped a new notification about his Sun Order research. It had found a tabloid article from 1998, about three decades ago, about a young teacher who had been murdered at a boarding school in New England.
A linked news item from the time described that StarHall, the school, had severed connections with a slew of affiliated organizations — if they “excluded some students and alumni, including single-sex clubs and religious societies.”
The article quoted a school board member, Aurora Mather, whom he remembered as Dean Baluyn’s mother. Baluyn had been a student at the time.
“We are an inclusive institution,” she said, “shedding the racist culture of our European founders including my ancestors. Also, we abhor the materialism of the international rich elite. My Lakota husband and I do not want our son to be indoctrinated into any caste system.”
Garcia next paid for the scanning and emailing of the mission statement of one of these “religious societies,” The Sun Order of Ra, which arrived the next day, an email attachment.
Dated January 1, 1999, it read: “As of today, we no longer have an official relationship with StarHall and the list of our members is therefore private. We also have no direct affiliation to any other chapters of the Sun Order, although we may share common roots and belief systems. Our members are human beings of good character, students and alumni of StarHall.
The Sun Order’s roots likely lie in Egyptian antiquity, especially the traditions surrounding the Sun god Ra. We declare we are not a religion — despite StarHall’s opinion — or are we affiliated with any faith, country or political system. The sun shines equally on all, good and evil, and brings light to the whole planet in its time.
We have no god or gods, even though our oral history is rich in the imagery of the sun and the spider. The spider is not an idol but merely a symbol. Just as the number zero represents nothingness, the spider symbolizes the web that our mind is unable to fully comprehend, a net that we are born into and entangled in until we are consumed.
We believe in cycles of creation and destruction: of human lives and civilizations, the ages of the earth, the passage of time in the rotation of our planet on its axis as it circles the sun and in circles into other dimensions beyond time.
Therefore, we believe there will be an apocalypse for this world as we know it, followed by its rebirth. As the sailboat does not fear the wind, we do not fear change. Out of the end of our civilization, we believe a new and better one will emerge.
You may join our order by invitation only. By request from a current active member, you can become a friend. Our members typically are born into our society from families that date back generations.
While some may find our legacy rules problematic — a closed loop that excludes original thinking and fresh blood — we choose to focus on our respective source families and communities rather than to welcome the drowning waves of an infinite ocean of multiplying humanity.
Our system of membership features interlocking circles. We have rules for graduation into inner groups and into zones even more privileged in our order. Our members may establish relationships with other houses of the Sun Order outside the StarHall chapter— other houses that may have different systems of operation than ours.
All houses of the Sun Order are created equal and independent , financially and ideologically. We do not proselytize other chapters to believe as we do .
Our Mission is the advancement — moral, artistic, scientific, physical and mental — of life in all its diversity, not limited to our human species that rules this planet. We believe in a better world, even if it must be birthed painfully through the destruction of our current one.
Our philanthropy focuses on works that bring light into darkness, through improvements in this world or hastening its death into a new one. Advancement into more privileged circles of our order is often a result of this type of good deed.
This document expires when the new millenium 2000 arrives next year.“
“Huh,” muttered Garcia. He was alone in the lab, staying late as usual after everyone left, enjoying the peace and quiet which helped him to focus better on his work. However, his phone interrupted his musings, beeping a reminder to get ready for his trip.
He hurried to his apartment. Having lived out of his suitcase since his arrival and careful not to acquire many personal items in Saburia, he packed quickly. Still, he wanted to buy some gifts for George, AnnaMaria and his mom, which required a trip to the local marketplace.
After dark, Saburia’s central bazaar was a colorful and lighted spectacle. Alleys around it created acoustics so that walking just a few feet changed the sounds one heard. Its live music was as unknown as it was wondrous.
Now, he stopped to listen to the song of a group of men flashing smiles with missing teeth. They plucked and bowed across strings in harmony with others beating tambourines and drums, joined by a woodwind’s haunting call and the rhythm of a brilliant horn whose name he did not know. When the group stopped playing, he dropped money into their pail.
Walking on, speakers blared pop music in Arabic, a language that he didn’t understand but a song he could dance to.
The aroma of cooking meats, grains and vegetables that were steamed, fried, and grilled, with a palette of spices wafted in the late night breeze from outdoor stoves. Both familiar — like the ginger, garlic, onion, sweet anise, warm cumin and brilliant yellow turmeric — and foreign, the smells awoke some ancestral memory of fellowship and home.
His ketchup-loving son might have to bring his own bottle, because the role of tomatoes in this cuisine appeared modest at best. Cinnamon wafted off a sugared coffee pipe. Garcia took pictures with his phone.
People hummed through the narrow stone paved streets, past large and tiny shops, open stalls where shopkeepers proudly displayed their wares and even pavement displays in complex arrays that would be put away only to be laid out the next day. Clothing hung, myriad colors, cottons, silks and synthetics, layers of fabric fluttering in breezes from outdoor fans.
Garcia meandered, overwhelmed by the infinite variety of sensations and his array of possible choices. Then the boy whom he recognized from his kidnapping appeared in front of him, thrust a note into his hand and slipped away into the crowd.
He left that confusing night bazaar having bought nothing. A ‘stranger in a strange land,’ he found the marketplace disordered and strange, resembling unraveled strands of DNA that appeared to be random patterns of four different molecules. But they could then coil and fold, and do it again and again, layers of order upon order to fit into the tiny nucleus of a cell, and then do it yet another time, to fold into chromosomes for reproduction.
Actually, the Saburian market was also layers of order upon order, like the DNA nucleotide strings he had programmed into the Drukker. As musical notes became a symphony, discrete sounds knit into languages or a hundred-plus foods became one dish, this densely packed shopping plaza only appeared random to a stranger.
The StarHall Sun Order mission statement did talk about “interlocking circles” and “even more privileged zones.” Was it also a link in a chain that coiled and then became a bead in another string, a process that could repeat itself to some unknown limit?
The next morning, he followed the note’s instructions and walked to the shop with the coffee and Turkish candy sign. Two guards in royal uniform stood outside and opened the doors. Inside, an older Saburian man in white robes sat in a wheelchair. He was alone and rolled toward him. From the scrape of the metal to the sound of his voice, Garcia recognized his kidnapper.
“Hello, Dr. Garcia, I am Prince Bassam, older half-brother to the late king, Mohammed, and uncle to our new king, Syed Malik.”
The shopkeeper appeared. To Garcia, he served Turkish coffee and for Bassam, a traditional Saburian mug topped with steaming froth and flecks of fragrant cinnamon seasoning. Then he bowed deferentially and left them alone.
“I apologize,” Bassam began, “for how we met before. Without knowing more, I couldn’t disclose my identity. But now, I hear you have been doing online searches about the Sun Order. I want to enlighten you, no pun intended, about us. So what have you learned so far?”
Garcia described the mission statement.
“Oh, yes.” Bassam’s wrinkled face broke into a smile. “That document is no longer supposed to exist.
“Dr. Garcia, you must be looking forward to seeing your family. King Mohammed, my late brother, had been working on getting you that visa for some time. He would have been so happy for you. His loss is…” Bassam shook his head sadly.
“My family is complicated. My father had several wives. I was ten when Mohammed was born to my father’s new wife. Given my disability which limited outside activity, I spent a lot of time at home with my little brother when he was growing up. His loss is hard to bear. I always thought I’d go first.
“But anyway Dr. Garcia, the Sun Order had nothing to do with Mohammed’s death. We can’t meddle in a country’s politics, not even for me to save my brother’s life.
“I was my father’s oldest son. But I could never be a king.” Bassam patted the side of his wheelchair. “My disability disqualified me.
“My father also did not take the Sun Order seriously. But at StarHall, I discovered that the Sun order didn’t discriminate against the disabled. We just have different powers.
“I led the Saburian branch of the StarHall Sun Order chapter. Then StarHall severed its official relationship with us. Connections with exclusive societies were creating public-relations problems for the school.
“You were persistent to find that document from so many years ago. We believed we had scrubbed out our past. We wish to preserve our history only orally. But older records are harder to destroy than the current ones on the Internet. Now we’ll have to destroy the original of the document you located.”
Garcia said, “Your school was having other negative publicity at the time with a teacher’s murder.”
“You’re wondering if there was a connection?”
“The thought is inescapable.”
Bassam was silent.
Garcia continued, “I’m looking forward to seeing my family, especially my son, and I’m grateful to the royal family for helping me with my visa. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Bassam said. “Queen Noru and the baby prince will travel with you to Pandolf.
“Her departure will help our new king to focus on the usual royal business: fighting foreigners, rebels, poachers and ironing out our internal troubles.
“So let’s talk again about my brother’s Purple project.”
There was now a glint in Bassam’s dark eyes. “The baby, Ahmat, is only half-Saburian. If that fact became public, he would no longer be a royal or even a Saburian citizen.
“You see, unlike your New World, our land belongs to our indigenous people. Foreigners, mixed-blood and non-Muslims are not permitted citizenship.”
“You had the baby tested?” Garcia asked.
“After what you told us about the twin embryos, it was easy to determine the baby’s parentage.”
Bassam now looked at him keenly. “My brother worried about our country — he thought we were weak from inbreeding — submitting to colonial domination and now the Chinese. Yes, Genghis Khan is Ahmat’s other biological parent.
“I still don’t understand how Ahmat is not Queen Noru’s biological child?” Bassam said. “It was still her egg. Is Ahmat not a normal human baby?”
“He is,” Garcia said. “Prince Ahmat may not be naturally conceived but he is still a perfectly normal human child — just created in a lab.
“Prince, as I said before, all of Queen Noru’s DNA was extracted from her egg and then replaced with the 23 reconstructed Genghis Khan chromosomes. But to be technical, there are separate organelles called mitochondria in a woman’s egg. That primitive DNA — perhaps more important than we give it credit for — is the only vestige of Queen Noru in Prince Ahmat Ali.”
“Confusing,” Bassam said, “how Ahmat has two fathers: my brother and Genghis Khan and now, it appears he also has a ‘vestige’ mother.
“But Dr. Garcia,” said Bassam now forcefully, “he also has a grandfather, you.”
“What do you mean?”
“You, Dr. Garcia, created him,” Bassam said. “Morally. Ethically. Scientifically. Also, didn’t you say that your son’s DNA was used to reconstruct the Genghis Khan DNA. In a way, Ahmat is a bit of your son’s son?”
“I don’t think that traditional family architecture describes this,” said Garcia.
“What’s ‘traditional family architecture.’” Bassam asked. “Families with multiple spouses and partners, with numerous children among them are already confusing. In Saburia, we have polygamy. But in the West, steps- and halves- can be results of serial divorces and multiple partners.
“In European history, weren’t the queens Elizabeth and Mary half-siblings who tried to kill each other? Didn’t one succeed? I always found European royal families confusing. So Ahmat Ali is just a novel technological twist on ‘family architecture.’
“In our family, we also have first-cousin marriages. Queen Salma was not only my half-brother Mohammed’s wife but also our first cousin on our father’s side. Mohammed’s other queens are distant relatives from weaker families.
“So Mohammed’s new baby with Noru, Ahmat, appeared to be a threat to our family, the most powerful one in our country. They believed Mohammed would disinherit our crown prince, for his new child. Why? Because he loved Noru.
“My father disinherited me because I was born disabled. It set a precedent, it was his right and I’m not bitter. So yes, I believe Queen Salma, her brother, Prince Abdul, and their mother, my aunt, had incentives to plot against Mohammed and give the crown to my nephew.
“Anyway,” Bassam went on. “For my brother, I believe the Purple project was not just about creating a healthy son for himself and Noru. The twin Khan embryo was going to be his tribute to the Sun Order.”
Garcia now started.
“We believe,” Bassam continued, “that our world will collapse in an apocalypse. By the time Ahmat becomes an adult, humanity may need new leaders. I believe Mohammed created the Khan embryo as such a leader for the new future. He always admired Genghis Khan, the great conqueror of history.
“Also, Dr. Garcia, Mohammed was a much better person than my aunt and cousins will ever be — or understand. I don’t believe Mohammed ever planned to change the line of inheritance from his oldest son. In my brother’s memory, I’ll honor his wish for the Khan embryo. Ahmat is now under the Sun order’s protection to fulfill whatever destiny the child has in the future.”
In a commanding voice, he added, “Dr. Garcia, as the scientist who designed Ahmat, you gave him no true mother, two dead fathers and no country. For that reason, and because some of your son’s DNA is part of this child, I’m also holding you responsible for Ahmat’s welfare. That is why I’m telling you all this. My health is not good, you see, and the child may need you.”
“I’ll help as best as I can,” Garcia said carefully. “Still, Genghis Khan was a bloodthirsty warrior. Why would I believe that if our planet is destroyed and the Sun Order survived, led by a descendant of killers, that this new world would be better than today’s?
“You see, with all respect, Prince Bassam, the Sun Order may not be a religion, but it’s still a system that puts faith in the future being better than the present. How do you know that the new will be an improvement over the old? All we really have is the present.”
He paused. “But then I’m not a man of faith. And I don’t predict the future.”
Bassam was now frowning.
Garcia continued, “Still, when I see your face, I remember the ancient Sphinx and his riddles. But your request is reasonable. I should take some responsibility for this child I took part in creating.”
The royal had heard the response he wanted. Stoniness melted into a sweet smile.
“Thank you,” said Bassam, “It’s people like you that light hope for a man of faith like me.
“I too don’t pretend to know the future,” Bassam continued. “Still one must prepare. The plan is that Ahmat will go to StarHall when he is eight years old and be groomed to lead in times to come. It’s a tradition in many parts of the world, including Saburia, that children leave home after they turn eight to train for critical roles. The young boy who now works for me is from a village headman’s family far away. With all the opportunities I give him, he’ll go far.
“Dr. Garcia, the only one I have told about Ahmat’s true parentage is Prince Abdul. He is my cousin and also Queen Salma’s brother. I told him after my brother’s death to protect the baby and Noru. If there was a coup d’etat, if Abdul, Salma and my aunt caused my brother’s accident to ensure my nephew would become king, they’ll kill again.
“But now I’ve told my family that the baby is half-foreign. One has to be a full-blooded indigenous Saburian and also from the royal family to ascend to our throne. Now they no longer need to fear Ahmat as a possible future usurper.
“As for our new king, he’ll marry soon too, and they’ll need your technology to help him to have healthy children.
“Since I wasn’t going to be king,” Bassam said, “I didn’t have to marry someone noble. I didn’t even marry for love, but if you met my wife and family — you wouldn’t know, and our children are healthy because my wife and I are not related.
“Growing up, I always wanted to ski endless expanses of snow — alone under blue skies.” The prince swept his hand before him, then dropped it back down abruptly. “Impossible. Then it turned out, none of our children like the cold.
“In another time, Queen Salma and I loved each other. One wife became enough for me after I couldn’t marry her. But Salma’s no longer the happy girl I knew.
“And you? You must have married for love. That’s what you do in the West.”
“Yes,” Garcia said. “Pia died young, so she’ll always be frozen into that time of my life — forever my love. We have our son, George. Thank you for helping me to see him again.”
Garcia then asked, “I heard you were exiled.”
Bassam shook his head. “I keep a low profile, true, and people make up rumors about me.”
“I’m sorry about your brother.”
“I wish I could have protected my brother,” Bassam said sadly. “My brother just made some bad decisions because he loved Noru. But you cannot tell someone not to love, just as you can’t tell a flower in the spring not to bloom because someday its petals will wilt, dry out and fall off.
“After her official mourning period is over, Queen Noru will return. She’s young and classically beautiful — her one child will not be an impediment — for her to marry again.”
“It sounds like you may have someone in mind,” Garcia observed.
“Prince Abdul has observed how beautiful Queen Noru is. I know what to expect next.”
Bassam looked down to sip his water. “Prince Abdul will not want Ahmat’s true heritage to become public knowledge after he marries Noru. Think about the scandal. Ahmat can remain a Saburian citizen, even a prince, and the truth will only come out if he tries to become king.”
Garcia shook his head. “So Queen Noru doesn’t know that her son is not her biological child nor that she’ll be married off to Prince Abdul, going from being Queen Salma’s sister queen to sister-in-law. That is really keeping it all in the family.”
“Dr. Garcia, let’s not talk more about this. It’s not in our tradition for a man or woman to think about remarriage until the mourning period is over.”
“You don’t think that the king’s death was an accident?” Garcia asked.
Bassam looked down, his face now the picture of grief, and said nothing.
Garcia continued. “I won’t join any social media groups to exchange messages with you.”
“We can set you up with a secure communication device?”
“No thank you,” Garcia said, “I’m a loner. I fit into the world right here in Saburia, with no country anymore and no wife. I’m happy in my lab, pursuing science without being pinned down like Gulliver with a thousand bureaucratic Lilliputians.”
“Please consider it,” Bassam insisted. “There are a lot of perks to being a friend of our chapter of the Sun order: connections, protection, money and power — the ultimate corrupter.
“Dr. Garcia, there is an old African proverb: ‘If you want to go quickly, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.'”
“I’ll think about it,” Garcia said. “I do sometimes miss my colleagues at Pandolf, the NIH and despite the circumstances, I really enjoyed my talks with your scientist during my detention.”
“He has traveled to India,” said Bassam, “or I’d get you two together again. Dr. Garcia, if you need help in Pandolf, my contact there is Dean Baluyn, the CEO. On the maternal line, his heritage is Puritan New England. His mother, Aurora Mather, is the daughter of Wayne Winston Mather, after whom the Pandolf Emergency Room is named.
“His father was indigenous American Indian. His parents met at StarHall. The New World has more interesting family trees than any you’ll find here in Saburia.”
“I’m aware of his heritage,” said Garcia. “Prince Bassam, you know that I didn’t leave Pandolf under the best circumstances.”
“Maybe,” Bassam said, “but didn’t you ever wonder why Pandolf let you off so lightly for your unauthorized research? My brother may have contacted Baluyn — his old classmate — to intervene.
“When Baluyn’s parents married, it was quite the scandal in the StarHall community,” said Bassam. “To refer to their children, my father, the king tossed out an offensive Saburian word that I can’t translate well into English, but it’s like ‘mongrel.’”
Bassam’s voice was heavy. “Then my father said to me, ‘But as with dogs, mongrels are healthier than purebreds. Look how healthy your children are.
“Dr. Garcia, Genghis Khan was a Mongol. Is there a connection between ‘Mongol’ and ‘mongrel?’ I no longer speak English often.”
“I’m a scientist not a linguist,” Garcia said.
“English is not your mother tongue either anyway,” Bassam said. He pushed his mug and plate to the side and slowly rolled away from the table. “Until next time, Dr. Garcia. Have a good trip.”
“Thank you,” Garcia said. “Please make recommendations for Saburian sweets? You could solve my gift-buying problem for my family.”
Bassam’s expression went from flat to flattered.
A flurry of Saburian transpired between him and the shopkeeper who had now reappeared in a flash. For Garcia, several boxes were wrapped in purple cloth with gold ribbons. Before they left, Prince Bassam had also bought plenty of sweets and snacks for himself and his entourage. The delighted shopkeeper took them to the door. Garcia did not need to understand Saburian to see pride and gratitude in all the men’s smiles.
Walking back to the hospital complex, Garcia concluded that the Saburian royal family did not need his help in fixing their genes. He had looked back into their historical record and found that inbreeding had only become the fashion recently. They married amongst themselves to consolidate their privilege, power, land and money.
Simply, like Prince Bassam, they could just stop marrying each other. The new king could marry someone not a relative and their healthy children could ski white snow under blue skies. What had Prince Bassam told him about Dean Baluyn, a family tree of Lakota Indian and Puritan New England? No inbreeding there: Dean Baluyn was just another healthy American.
Garcia thought back on being fired from Pandolf, his marathon work on the Purple project for Noru’s twins, the dangers of his detentions and the joy of success when at least one of the two embryos survived, now an apparently healthy child. What if the twin that survived was the biological child of King Mohammed and Queen Noru, and Bassam was lying to protect Ahmat from his family? Either way, he thought, as George might say, he was one-and-done with embryo design. The dead king’s project had given him his life’s dream, the opportunity to become a cancer researcher.
Only two records of the Purple project would survive, data files that were safely with Sheraton in the Ozarks and the other in his memory. Without either, the biological specimens in Chicago were useless.He would leave the disc to Sheraton, Campbell and its unknown future — to be judged by the only god he knew, time.
Back at the lab, Garcia gave parting instructions to Liang before leaving on his trip. Then he called the palace. The Spanish interpreter was astonished to hear Garcia ask for Prince Bassam.
“Dr. Garcia, he is a private citizen. We have no way to contact him.”
Later in the afternoon, as he checked Liang’s vaccine calculations one last time, the Saburian boy he now knew well turned up in the lab, asking for him.
“Dr. Garcia, you tried to reach my teacher,” the child said in English.
“Yes.” Garcia scribbled a short note: “Need to set a time to meet in Turkish delight cafe after I return from my trip. IMPORTANT: In the future, I work ONLY on cancer trials.”
He gave the note to the child. “Please give this to your teacher.”
The boy carefully tucked it into his shirt pocket. “The teacher says I can now practice my English or Spanish with you. What kind of work do you do?” He curiously gazed around the laboratory.
“Would you like a tour?” Garcia asked in Spanish.
After the boy’s shyness dissolved, It turned out that his English, Spanish and Chinese were reasonably good, along with his questions. Liang gave him the latest Mooncake mug as a souvenir of his visit.