P is for Puffheads
“Unreachable, they shall one day be reached. Nameless, they shall one day be named”
The Book of Pi, Scroll 53, verse 6
The Great Temple of Pi sat atop the Rock of Jarthok, the towering mesa which dominated the city of Jarthok, capital of Primordia. For three and a half millenia it had stood, the focus of Puffhead culture and society, place of worship and centre of learning. It was reached by an ancient stairway carved into the rock faces of the mesa, winding around the cliffs for 3,214 steps. It was a very laborious journey to get up the stairway or back down it. Of course, there was also an elevator.
The priest Huppletab was in the elevator now with his young charge, the acolyte Pi-Trobi as they descended to Jarthok, both of them gazing out through the glass at the sight of the sprawling city as it rose to meet them. Huppletab was nervous. He was on an errand which could either be one of the most momentous moments in all of Puffhead history, or the worst moment of his life. Young Pi-Trobi, the cause of it all, seemed oblivious to this, pressing his face to the glass and making little pink puffs from his head-vent in pleasure at the beautiful sight of golden Pi-Phara sinking towards the horizon before him.
Please, Pi-Trobi, try to act more grown up.
But Phati, I am not grown up yet.
I know, but we are going to see the Archprophet. Do you know who he is?
He's very important, right?
He is the most important person in the world. It is he through whom Pi speaks to his people. Well, that's normally how it works anyway.
What does Pi say through him, Phati?
Well, lots of things. It was through Archprophet Pagglerod that he revealed the Prophecy of the Holy Planets of Pi.
Oh – the thing about all the planets beginning with P being special?
This portentous revelation had been given to Archprophet Pagglerod only sixteen years before. The Puffheads, it seemed, had been chosen by Pi as guardians of certain holy planets. All those that circled stars whose names began with the letter P. This would have been straightforward enough, except for one thing. The Puffheads had no names for the stars. None at all. It was forbidden to name the stars.
The other problem of course was that the Puffheads had had no means of reaching the stars. But the techno-priests had been working on it, and only three years ago had they cracked the secret of the hyperlanes which would open up the galaxy to them.
Now, a spaceport had been constructed and ships lay ready to begin the great quest to explore the galaxy and find the Holy Planets of Pi. But to do that, they kind of needed to know the names of the stars.
The DPS Sacred Scrutiny, the prototype Puffhead survey ship, docked at the spaceport of Primordia
“Unreachable, they shall one day be reached. Nameless, they shall one day be named”
The prohibition to name the stars was based on this very prophecy. When it was first given over two thousand years before, reaching the stars seemed impossible. It would have been a lot easier to give them names. But now finally they could be reached – it was naming them that was the only obstacle.
Until today, perhaps, thought Huppletab, nervously.
You see Pi-Trobi, the Archprophet is probably expecting that Pi will tell him the names of the stars.
Not, like, an eight year old.
Well, he's the Archprophet. That's what Archprophets do. They hear from Pi.
Oh. Well maybe he'll get some names. I only got a few.
What!? Only some? I thought you said you knew the names of the stars?
Yes. Some of them. Not all of them. That would be crazy, Phati!
Err... how many, exactly?
Pi-Trobi began muttering incomprehensible words and counting on his fingers.
Pi-Trobi, please don't do that.
Say the names. Not yet. I don't think it's wise.
Pi-Trobi started again, his lips moving but no sound coming out. There was a pause.
Eight!? Is that all?
Yes. I think so. Should I check again?
No. No, don't worry. Well, perhaps that changes things. A bit. Perhaps.
They reached the ground and stepped out of the elevator, quickly catching a transit pod to take them to the Archprophet's official residence. The guard at the entrance looked carefully at Huppletab's priestly medallion, then down at Pi-Trobi.
He's with me. An acolyte.
To see the Archprophet?
It is on a sacred errand. Extremely sacred. Historic, even.
The guard let out a blue puff of astonishment, before waving the pair through. Well, he thought to himself, these were after all historic days they were living through.
Your Holiness, I am Huppletab, priest of the great Pi, Creator of All, Sustainer of Life, Provider of Puff.
So it would seem. And your... companion?
This is Pi-Trobi, an acolyte from the Temple.
And you are here on... a “sacred errand”, I am informed?
Yes, Your Holiness. It concerns the Nameless Ones.
The Archprophet sat up and let out a pale turquoise puff. Curiosity.
Pi-Trobi tells me that he has been given the names of eight of them.
A grey puff of incredulity, tinged with the red of annoyance.
He is not one to invent things, Your Holiness. I am inclined to believe his story.
But this claim – it is unprecedented!
Your Holiness, his name is Pi-Trobi.
In ancient Puffhead “one who hears Pi”.
It is a common enough name given by parents to their sons. Perhaps, in fact, it has given him ideas.
Your Holiness, I mean, my parents didn't choose my name.
Then who did, child?
Well, it's kind of – written on the back of my head. Sort of.
What? Turn around and let me see.
Pi-Trobi turned around. The markings were clear enough. Each one not unusual in itself, but their arrangement was almost incredible. The Archprophet gave off a cloud of blue astonishment.
Well. This is indeed unprecedented! Eight stars, did you say?
I think it's eight, sir, Your Holiness.
Very well. Dusk is in half an hour. You will dine here in the refectory, and then you will report to the rooftop observatory, and you will show me the stars for which you say you have been given names.
Thus it was that Huppletab and Pi-Trobi found themselves later that evening with the Archprophet as he manipulated the huge telescope, the means by which the Nameless Ones could be studied, and perhaps persuaded to reveal their secrets.
Now Pi-Trobi, you must tell me very clearly which stars you can name. Where is the first one?
That one there. The bright one in that zigzag line.
The Archprophet gasped.
Pi-Trobi, what do you know of that star?
It's name, sir. Your Holiness.
No Your Holiness.
The Archprophet exchanged a look with Huppletab.
Pi-Trobi, it is the closest star to Pi-Phara. It is circled by not one but TWO habitable planets! It's name, Pi-Trobi? What is it's name?
That one is Kiram, Your Holiness.
The Archprophet let out a yellow puff of disappointment.
So those are not Holy Planets of Pi as we had hoped they might be. Pi-Trobi, how many of the names that you were given begin with P?
There was a tense silence as Pi-Trobi thought for a moment.
Er... none, Your Holiness.
The air was filled with yellow as Huppletab and the Archprophet puffed out in unison.
Ah well, never mind, my child. Please continue.
And so the naming continued. Niamba, another nearby star, circled by a planet that, though almost habitable, was deemed too cold to live on. Wiertham, Nembus, Mecura, Horschim, Cardorth – all systems that would be easily accessible by the hyperlanes in only two jumps. The fact that Pi-Trobi, who knew almost nothing of astronomy, had picked these out among the hundreds visible, was enough to convince the Archprophet.
That makes seven, my child. Is there one more? But wait...
The Archprophet suddenly fell silent, closed all of his eyes, then gave a great shudder, and a great purple puff. Huppletab had never seen a puff quite like it before. After a moment, the Archprophet opened his eyes once more and briefly surveyed the heavens, Then he turned to Pi-Trobi.
Yes, my child. The eighth star? Show me where it is.
That one there, Your Holiness.
Ah yes. I knew it.
It's name -
Er – yes, Your Holiness. Durbatur.
The Archprophet turned to Huppletab once more.
It is a sign from Pi. The lad is indeed “one who hears Pi”. For that one, I too was just given.
The first sacred hyperlane chart to be compiled showing the Eight Named Systems
From that day on, Pi-Trobi's life was never the same. He continued to live at the Great Temple on top of the Rock of Jarthok, but most days the Archprophet himself spent time with him during his daily visit to the Temple, instructing him in astronomy and in the study of the sacred Book of Pi.
Meanwhile, Archprophet Pagglerod addressed his people. The time had come he announced, when Pi had finally begun to reveal the names of the stars. The ancient prophecy was being fulfilled. The Nameless Ones were being named. The Unreachable Ones would surely soon be reached.
And one day soon perhaps, the first of the Holy Planets of Pi would be found.