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The Tree That Feeds Us All

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The building wasn't very prepossessing on its face, Stinger thought as they approached. Of course, any planet with a sizable Jark Matter presence had a great many buildings that could be described that way. This one looked drab, rundown, and not particularly well-lit.

Stinger glanced up, noticing part of a faded sign left on a wall. It looked like a six-pointed star and shapes that might have been letters in an alphabet Stinger didn't know.

But the kyutama they were searching for, a form of healing kyutama that could apparently wash away poisons, seemed to be here. And no matter what the building looked like, they were going to enter it, because Hammie and Spada had been poisoned and all his expertise on the topic had been useless. The poison was nothing like his own and none of them had been able to synthesize a cure.

Without looking, Stinger knew that Naga was just behind him, checking their perimeter for Jark Matter activity. But nothing seemed to be moving.

Maybe…just maybe, they would walk into the building, find the kyutama, and leave.

Naga cautiously pushed open the door, which took them into a disreputable entryway. Stinger slid in behind him and they opened the next door.

Which led them into a brightly lit room that smelled like Spada had been cooking for at least an hour. A man and woman were clearing pots off a table.

Stinger and Naga froze in astonishment and the man looked up, smiling broadly. "I'm terribly sorry, you missed dinner, but I'm sure my lovely wife can find you some leftovers to take home."

The woman, a kerchief tied over her hair, looked at them. "Of course. Is it just the two of you or—"

"Wait," Stinger said, holding up a hand. "We didn't come for food." They tensed visibly at that. "We're not here to harm you, I promise. Er…is this a restaurant?"

The woman chuckled. "No, we don't charge for the food. We serve those who have had everything taken from them. By…them." She looked for a moment as if she was going to spit.

"This is a synagogue," the man said. "A place of worship for Jews."

Naga nodded. "An Earth religion."

"Out here?" Stinger said.

"Jews get around," the man said. "A small group set up here 100 years ago to provide food and company for Jews traveling the universe. When the planet was invaded, we adapted. And so, we feed anyone in need and we stay hidden. It's far from the first time in Jewish history."

"Oh," Stinger said, not sure how else to respond.

"I'm Rabbi Greg Abramson." He looked at them. "Er, Rabbi is a title, not a name. And this is my wife Elisha."

"Ah, it's a pleasure to meet you, Rabbi, ma'am," Stinger said, bowing slightly. "I am Stinger and this is my colleague Naga."

"Welcome to our synagogue," Elisha said.

"I don't understand. Didn't Jark Matter ban your religious practices?" Naga asked, tilting his head in the expression of confusion he had been practicing.

They looked at each other. "Of course," Rabbi Abramson said. "What does that have to do with anything?"

Stinger blinked.

With a grin, the man shook his head. "Oh, I suppose you don't know anything about the history of Jews. It's nonstop people banning our religious practices. If we let that stop us, we'd never get anything done, and let me tell you, that would be a shonda fur di goyim."

Just then an interior door burst open and several young children barreled through, intent on some game that had them running in circles around the room.

"Shonda?" Naga asked, too focused to even register the children.

"Never mind. Let's get back to why you're here."

"We…thought the building was abandoned," Stinger said.

"Nope," the rabbi said with a grin. "But it's the best way to keep the Malistrate from noticing us."

"It does appear to be effective," Naga said.

"Sure is," Elisha said, taking off her apron. "And we've been feeding people for months with them being none the wiser."

"But if you're not here for a meal," the rabbi said, "why are you here?"

"Errr…" Stinger was out of practice at lying.

"We are looking for a kyutama that will let us save our comrades, who have been poisoned."

Although, he thought with a sigh, it didn't really matter if Stinger came up with a lie if Naga was going to blurt out the truth. Hadn't he been a thief, for springs' sake?

"Kyutama?" the woman said.

"Eema, they're the Kyurangers," a little girl in a dark green dress said, marching up to them and eyeing them critically.

Stinger resisted the urge to tug on his jacket as if under military inspection. "Yes, we are," he said.

"They're going to save us," a slightly older boy said, looking at them in awe.

"Yes, we are going to stop Jark Matter," Naga said. "But we need the kyutama."

They looked at each other. "I don't—" the rabbi started to say when the door behind him popped open again.

"Rabbi!" a younger man called, sticking his head through the doorway. "It's time for—oh, sorry."

"It's okay, Moshe," the rabbi said. "We're on our way." He turned to Stinger and Naga. "Would you care to join us for the service? It won't be very long and then we can discuss this kyutama."

Stinger wanted to say no, but he could feel Naga vibrating with excitement at a new experience. "Of course," he said and they followed the others into a smaller room. It didn’t look much like the religious buildings he had seen before. There were perhaps 20 people standing around the room, which had some chairs, a closed cabinet, a pile of books on the chairs, and a flickering lantern.

A young woman was holding out two…hats? Looking around, Stinger realized all the men had them, so he put one on his head and so did Naga.

The people in the room looked curious, but smiled as everyone sat down and opened up the books.

"Here," the girl said, "you can share mine." She held up the book, opened to a page covered in indecipherable characters.

"Thank you," Stinger said quietly.

The rabbi walked up to the front and held his own book. Then he started to sing in a language Stinger had never heard. The other people, including the children, clearly knew what was going on, as sometimes they responded and sometimes they sang along. Everyone stood and Stinger and Naga followed.

The time passed as Stinger observed the others. Some looked bored, others relaxed, some happy, parents soothed children, and a baby whimpered in its father's arms. Eventually, a woman brought an ornate cup from somewhere and they sang over it and the leader sipped out of it, while everyone else drank a very sweet wine from tiny cups.

"Do you want to wash?" the little girl asked Stinger.

"Wash what?"

"We wash between Kiddush and motzi," she said, looking mildly shocked at his ignorance of something that was clearly ordinary to her.

"I will wash," Stinger said, Naga murmuring acquiescence and following behind.

Before they made it to the front of the room, Naga stiffened, looking down at the sensor he'd half-pulled from his pocket.

Stinger began to speak, but the group at the front of the room shifted enough to reveal the shining kyutama that was pouring water endlessly out of a pitcher into a basin.

"The kyutama," Naga breathed.

"The kyutama," Stinger agreed.

Elisha turned. "Oh, that's what you're looking for?"

They nodded.

"I suppose it makes sense that it's the Jewish zodiac sign of D'li," she said with a nod. "Greg, dear, that's the kyutama."

The rabbi looked up. "How interesting. The mantra of D’li could be 'I serve the water,' a focus on how we serve a greater purpose beyond ourselves, and how we can empty ourselves out in order to serve that purpose all the better."

Stinger could barely register the words. "You're using a legendary power source as a hand washing station," he said faintly.

"Why not?" he said with a shrug. "It works."

Naga was actually struck silent.

"Well, we're essentially done, so you can take it with you."

"You would simply give us your ritual object?" Naga said.

"Of course," Elisha said, turning. "You said you need it to save lives, didn't you?"


"Then that's it," she said with a shrug.

The little girl tugged his sleeve. "Saving a life is the most important rule," she whispered. "You can even break Shabbat for that." From the awed tone, that was clearly a big deal.

"The kyutama contains tremendous power," Stinger said.

"And?" The rabbi raised an eyebrow. "What does that have to do with the price of tea on Alpha Prime?"

"But—" Naga began.

"We don't know how to use this power and you do. Use it to save your friends." All around him, the other people were nodding.

"It might help us save everyone," Stinger said.

"Even better. And when you're done, maybe you'll bring it back."

"We will do our best," Naga said.

The man held out a hand and the kyutama shrank and landed on his palm. With a smile he held it out to Stinger. "Use it in good health."

"But before you go," Elisha said, "can I interest you in some chicken soup and tzimmes? I really do have leftovers."