“Apex Five” by Sarah Katz
For millennia, the people of the Plane have worshipped five megaliths as relics of the mysterious Zaam. In recent years, the nation of Tabira has employed remarkably advanced technology to subjugate the entire Plane and eradicate all belief in the Zaam. Now, the three remaining nations must uncover the secret behind Tabira’s sudden forward leap in civilization. At the forefront, a doctor, three intelligence officers and a former freedom fighter embark on their respective journeys to restore a balance of power to the Plane.
“Apex Five” combines the age-old concept of political strife with the promise of enigmatic futurism. Amidst the conquest and assimilation of the Opal nation by Tabira, the nations of Lir and Garo continue their decades-long struggle over a shared desert territory. Meanwhile Tabira, whose leaders have relinquished and now outlaw religion, has unleashed a deadly pathogen on the rainforest nation of Ayam in order to intimidate the natives into giving up their faith and accepting the only true power: technology.
Inspired by real-world religions, including Hinduism and the Abrahamic faiths, “Apex Five” explores the anthropology behind atheism as well as theism. In their endeavor to protect and advance their respective nations, the characters develop unexpected alliances and often find themselves questioning the very doctrines with which they were raised. At the crux, the story analyzes at what point remarkable technological achievement replaces the drive to worship a higher power. Moreover, with such technology at a society’s disposal, what are the limits thereafter?
“Apex Five” takes place in a world called The Plane and centers around ten main characters, each hailing from the different nations of Tabira, Lir, Garo and Ayam, all of whom spent millennia believing in mysterious deities called the Zaam. The visual representation of the Zaam has grown scarce until presently, the only depiction seen in temples is an androgynous mother figure by the name of Echil. Echil is one of the only common terms still shared by the now mutually unintelligible national languages of the Plane. Tabira has reached the age of automobiles and computers, as have Lir and Garo, to a lesser extent. Tabira has a mind for conquest and employs a brutal police/military force called the Kano. Although many Lirians lived among them for centuries, the previous Mak of Tabira carried out a genocidal Cleansing of the Lirian quarter, after which many Lirians fled for their ancestral homeland in the desert bordering Garo. Meanwhile, Ayam remains largely un-industrialized, the locals still living in tree dwellings in their rainforest environment. When the plot begins, Tabira has initiated a mission to compel the Ayam natives to relinquish belief in the Zaam. The Ayam are the second nation Tabira has aimed to conquer, following the Opal who had initially encroached on both Lir and Garo territory before being defeated by the Tabir. Before the Opal were absorbed into Garo, there were five nations altogether – five for each of the five megaliths of the Plane.
The story opens with a trade negotiation between Mak Eta, the Tabir chancellor, and First Lasha Nasin, leader of Lir. Soon, Nasin discovers that Tabira’s Capital building houses a child prisoner with unique thermokinetic abilities. When approached about the child’s presence, Mak Eta ends up admitting that the people fear the boy, Rohem’s, presence and ultimately accepts Nasin’s request to take the child with her back to Lir. However, Eta also uses this as an excuse to send their most capable Kano officer, Samed, to indefinitely patrol Lirian territory and keep and make sure that Nasin doesn’t try and weaponized Rohem’s abilities against either Tabira or the Garo who share a border with Lir. Nothing is known of Rohem’s background, apart from that Samed’s brother, Officer Joleh, had harbored the boy for an indefinite period, until Joleh was arrested for his secret and Rohem went into Capital custody. The name Rohem is Tabir for “tree dweller”, as Rohem has always had a strong inclination to be close to the sun and an affinity for heat, thus spent much of his childhood when outside up in the trees.
Nasin is a Lasha, an individual with a unique genetic mutation granting them enhanced physical strength, healing ability and the capacity to survive with no food for weeks, so long as they have access to water. Additionally, the Lasha switch gender(sex) every seven weeks. Although most of Lir has voluntarily abandoned faith in the face of technology, those who remain religious worship the Zaam through the symbol of water, both out of respect for the Lasha and as tribute to the value of water for a desert-dwelling society. Avithia, Nasin’s ward, is also a Lasha. Rohem joins Avithia as a fellow ward in Lir, along with Oria, daughter of the Lirian priesthood who lost her parents during the Tabir Cleansing and now strives to balance her duty to Lir’s faithful sect and her responsibility as an intelligence officer under Nasin. Oria represents the both the regular (non-gifted) people of Lir.
Eta’s younger sister, Vata, oversees Tabir presence on the Ayam islands. She is a harsh woman living with her son, Ara, and daughter, Inad, Tabir children raised among the Ayam. At the time of the story, one of the children will be selected as life companion by the stoic Ayam Chief Telo. While Ara remains relentlessly faithful to his mother and constantly seeks her approval, Inad clashes with Vata and questions the purpose behind Tabira afflicting the natives with the deadly pathogen simply for the sake of religion.
While religious Lirians worship water, the majority of Garo worship fire. Streamlined by the Evaporation, a squad of freedom fighters who resist what its leaders deem as the Lirian occupation, the Garo nation sees fire as the ultimate gift from the Zaam and the strongest source of opposition to the Lirian invaders. The story follows Garo politicians, Governor Par and Treasurer Belim, as well as Evaporation leader, Kel, who conceals his affinity for men, as his people perceive homosexuality as a deep transgression punishable by death.
About the Author
After growing up in the Silicon Valley of California, being raised in Jewish culture, studying international relations at university to currently working in cyber security, the intersection of technology, culture, faith and politics have remained one of Sarah’s deepest fascinations. Using the buzzword themes of contemporary Western pop culture and politics, such as classism, sexism and social justice, the storytelling behind “Apex” digs into the possibility that binaries such as ‘black and white’, ‘male and female’ or ‘victim and oppressor’ are less clear-cut than many would imagine. Following an occasionally tumultuous experience at the University of California Berkeley involving student controversy toward the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Sarah drew inspiration from real-life political situations to create a story that aims to depict all sides of a conflict. To that effect, she makes strong use of various character narrations as well as a plot scale that ranges from the micro of individual self-exploration to the macro of societal creation.