It’s Tough to Be a God: Part One

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“Huuuaanngg!”

It wasn’t the most graceful of noises to ever come from Jeret’s mouth, but it was the best he could manage while his tongue slowly regained feeling. The paralysis fluid was finally losing its effect.

“Coooome onnn!” he slurred, rocking his body left-to-right. His momentum carried him past the tipping point and he rolled off of the pedestal he had been placed on.

“Oof!” he grunted as he landed face-first on the cold stone below. It was perfectly flat, without a single pore to break its surface. It almost seemed like metal.

Jeret grit his teeth and focused, exerting all of his energy to move his leg. Slowly it bent up at the knee. He strained his wrists, turning the palms against the ground. He tried to push himself up, but it was still like trying to lift a thousand pounds.

He paused here for a moment, swaying his limbs from side-to-side, trying to speed up their resurrection. He grimaced as a thousand pinpricks danced across his skin, but it was working. Slowly he rose up to a crawling position. He tried to push himself up even further, but quickly fell back onto his hands.

Crawling would have to do, then. Sluggishly he lifted one limb after another, turning on the spot until he faced towards the transport vessel. Of course he knew he would never be able to reach it in time, but still he had to give it a chase. It was the principle of the matter.

“You can’t leave me here!” he bellowed.

Already he could see the engines powering up for launch.

“You can’t take a man from his world! I will come back!”

The engines ignited, and rapidly ran through every color in the spectrum until they peaked at pure white. The whole vessel trembled for a second, then shot into the air like a bullet.

“I’ll find a way off! I will!”

At last he lifted himself to his feet, just in time to vainly shake his fist at the streak of light scorching across the night sky. And with that Jeret was exiled.

After a few more minutes of screaming and kicking, Jeret collapsed to his knees and dropped his face into his hands, tears streaming between his fingers.

“I never had a chance.”

That was certainly true. His first mark of “poor citizenship” had come years ago, when only a youth of fourteen years. This was quite significant, given that one was only eligible to receive demerits starting at the age of thirteen, and each citizen only had an allowance of 30 demerits to last them their whole life. If one managed to exhaust that pool, they would be deemed incapable of integrating with society, and exiled for life.

Though he was never any good at arithmetic, even at fourteen he had understood the implications fully. He would be banned before he was fifty. At first this realization had frightened him into going straight, which phase lasted for all of two weeks. Then he was in the back alleys, trying to burn chokum once more. He lost hope then, and resigned himself to the fact that he would be thrust out from society at some point, and that was all there was to it. Perhaps it had become a self-fulfilling prophecy for him, a condemnation that caught him only because he stopped trying to escape it. In either case, his prediction had now come true.

When at last Jeret lifted his eyes he numbly surveyed his empty world. All of it was that same, impossibly smooth stone. It neither rose in hills, nor fell in valleys. A single pedestal where the transport had just launched from provided the only variation in the horizon. It was there that he would find his cot, his toilet, and where his food supplies would be dropped by airship every month. That airship would be the closest he would ever come to another person.

The Communion had decided that it was too dangerous to populate an alien world with all of society’s outcasts together. Who knew what ingenious mischief such an accumulation of evil might achieve? And so the Communion had crafted thousands of tiny asteroids, each one fifty square miles in area, perfectly spherical, and home to a single, solitary criminal.

As Jeret looked across the lay of his prison he could already see the land dipping away to the horizon. Beyond that line were the dark points of the other asteroids, and beyond that the swirling blues and greens of Amoria, the giant planet that had once been his home. He still swam through its atmosphere, and was near enough to make out the lights of the cities below…but he would never again feel their warmth. It was cruelest condition of his sentence.

A random thought passed through Jeret’s mind. The gravity of his asteroid couldn’t extend out too far, could it? What if he were to build a very tall tower? Eventually the gravity would stop pulling down towards the asteroid, but instead off to the side, down towards Amoria, wouldn’t it? But what then? Fall for hours and be smashed into nothingness upon impact? Was that really so bad of a prospect anymore?

Not that any of this mattered, of course. It wasn’t as if a tower like that could be built by a score of men, let alone just one. Let alone just one without a single tool. Exiles weren’t supposed to build. Creation was a privilege, and exiles had no privileges.

As there was nothing else to do, Jeret walked to the pedestal. It was a flat dais, made of the same smooth rock as everything else. On it was his cot, his latrine, and his food box. That was it.

As there was nothing else to do, Jeret ate some of the food. It was bland and nourishing.

As there was nothing else to do, Jeret chose a direction and started walking. He figured he might as well see the other side of this asteroid, which would have a view of starry space. Of course, not being any good at arithmetic, Jeret did not realize that even a small, 50-miles-surface-area sphere is 12.5 miles to walk from one of its ends to the other. And so he did not reach the other end within an hour, nor within two.

He was about a half of the way to the other side, and the sky was already mostly composed of stars, with only a few remaining degrees of Amoria landscape still visible. Jeret wrongly assumed that he was already at the exact opposite pole of his asteroid, or at least very close to it. Therefore he concluded he might as well keep traveling forward to complete the circuit.

Another two hours slid by and he was now truly surrounded by stars, without a glimmer of Amoria in sight. He began to grow very afraid. He was hungry again, and had not thought to bring any of the food supplies with him. He did not understand why he was still seeing stars overhead, instead of the Amoria landscape. He concluded that he must be walking in circles, and it dawned on him that finding such a small thing as the pedestal within 50-square miles would be like looking for a needle in a haystack!

Miserable as a life alone on this rock seemed, he had not been ready to consider death, and certainly not in such a painful, drawn out way as starvation! Why had he ever strayed from the pedestal? He had walked away from it so nonchalantly, so unthinkingly. He had killed himself and he hadn’t even known it!

Jeret’s legs and hands started to shake, it felt like the world was somehow spinning beneath him. He wobbled down to his knees. Was he still breathing? It didn’t feel like any air was coming in! He clutched his chest and started inhaling hard and fast. Above him the stars expanded for eternity: so infinite, so vast, so lifeless! Beneath him the ground ran in infinite circles: so cold, so uncaring, so unrelenting! He fell onto his side, legs kicking fitfully as he was swallowed by fear and despair.

All turned black.

Jeret did not remember falling asleep. Indeed he could hardly have believed he was capable of it in that moment, yet somehow he did so. He lay perfectly still, with nothing but the stars over his head forever. Through the hours, Amoria turned, and as it did so it dragged along his little satellite to the dawn. And so, when at last he woke, Jeret was squinting up at a cloudless, sunny day.

Of course it was cloudless. He was above all the clouds now.

Jeret knew he should still feel just as panicked as before, but somehow he had lost the energy for it in his sleep. He felt nothing but the coldness of the ground beneath him, the dull ache of his empty belly, and the hardness of the pipe in his hand.

The pipe in his hand?

Jeret twisted his palm upwards and furrowed his brow in confusion. It wasn’t really a pipe. It was a pure cylinder, seemingly made of the same stone he lay on, and just as featureless, save for the small grooves that were etched around its top and bottom. He must have grabbed it in the night. What was it? And why was it here in his prison? Perhaps just a stray piece of material knocked loose when the asteroid was fabricated? A workman’s tool accidentally left behind?

Jeret stood up to stretch his legs, still holding the cylinder firmly in his hands.As the cylinder rose with his body, one of its ends left a strange, yellow trail behind it in the air. It was very subtle, and extremely transparent.

“Oh,” Jeret said softly. He cautiously reached his hand into the trail and felt nothing. He leaned forward to sniff and he smelled nothing. It was like a miniature haze, an illusion, suspended in the air. Jeret began to slowly wave the cylinder all about. Everywhere it went, the trail was left behind.

He looked closer at the cylinder. There were no vents, no exhausts, nothing to suggest where the yellow haze emitted from.

He looked closer at the trail, but it was so subtle that he couldn’t really focus on it. His eyes kept slipping to whatever was behind it. At one moment he thought its edges were sharp and well-defined, another they seemed to blur out into gradual nothingness. Did he see shimmering sparks in it, or was that only the sun glinting off the rock floor below? Was it staying the same shade of yellow, or was it starting to turn a little green?

Perhaps what was strangest of all, was once he thought he saw something in the haze, such as it changing color to green, then he started seeing that effect all the more strongly. And when he thought no, it really must have just been his imagination, then it really did seem to alter back to the same shade of yellow as before.

As entranced as Jeret’s mind was in this new discovery, his body was anxious to remind him of its needs. A thunderous growl rippled from his stomach and he looked down, recalling how hungry he was after a night with no dinner. What he wouldn’t give for a deep dish of Rustic Stew right now.

No sooner did the thought enter his mind, than he thought he saw a bowl of stew out of the corner of his eye. He snapped his head up and…there it was. Well, sort of. The haze had taken on a browner tint, and congealed together so that he could pick out individual pieces of potato and roast.

But it wasn’t perfect. Most of the haze still looked vague and unformed, and the whole thing was still just an image, flat and featureless. It didn’t have that delightful, smoky smell, or that bubbling, sloshing sound as the ladle dropped it by great globs into the bowl…

No sooner did those thoughts enter his mind then the sounds and scents truly began to emerge from the image. And the image didn’t seem so much like an image anymore. As he moved his head from side to side it seemed to have dimension, shape, and greater detail. He lifted his fingers to touch and there was something there! It didn’t feel like hot and thick broth, though. It didn’t have the soft texture of stewed vegetables, or the thick resistance of solid meat, or the…

And then it did! All at once Jeret’s fingers had pressed into hot stew, burning his hands with how real it was!

“Ah! Ah! Ah!” Jeret cried, shaking his hands until the fingers cooled down. Then he reached out, took the bowl in his hands, and lifted it out of the haze.

It was real. Totally real.

Even the wooden bowl and spoon were just like the ones he remembered from his favorite diner. It didn’t make sense that this could be here, but for the moment Jeret didn’t care. He blew over the surface of the bowl, willing the food to cool more quickly. When he did take his first bites it still scalded his tongue, but he didn’t care. It was delicious.

And it was real. Unbelievably really real. The flavors in his mouth, the texture of each bite, the lump of food flowing down his throat, the sense of filled contentedness in his belly.

By the time he emptied half the bowl, his hunger was satiated enough to start giving serious thought as to how this could be. He rejected the notion that this might be only a dream. A dream would have shifted into something else by now. No, somehow he really had made an authentic bowl of stew out of thin air.

Well, not quite thin air. Out of…haze?

Jeret lifted the stone cylinder until it was level with his eyes. What was this thing? Some toy that the Communion left for the convicts to play with? No, that couldn’t be. They were here to be punished, not to be entertained. And even outside of that, the technology of this thing was like nothing he had ever seen before. It didn’t seem possible that this cylinder should even exist, let alone be left in an exile’s prison.

A strange thought occurred to Jeret. He had woken up with this strange thing already in his hand. He had not see where exactly it had originated from. Could he have made it himself somehow? From his subconscious dreams? It would have seemed a ridiculous thought…if he hadn’t just made a bowl of stew…

Jeret shook his head. Really, did it even matter where it came from? What mattered was that he had it and he could use it. All he had to decide was what he was going to use it for next.

Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five

 

On Monday I talked about themes of power, responsibility, and duty. I mentioned that I wanted to write a story where I explored if power could have a purifying effect on someone. I thought it would be interesting to approach that topic by first establishing a man who has no power.

Jeret is an extremely miserable soul. He opens this story in a pathetic state, devoid of any privileges whatsoever. He still has his life, but absolutely nothing to do with it. He is, essentially, already dead; his body just hasn’t caught up to that fact.

My hope is that this groundwork was sufficiently humbling, so that his obtaining a bowl of stew already feels like a momentous victory. But of course, this is only the beginning. Jeret’s state of complete powerlessness at the beginning will be matched to a state of complete power by the end.

One of the most fundamental concepts of storytelling is this notion of establishing an initial state of the hero, which state should be markedly different from their state at the end. The closer these states can be to polar opposites, the greater the journey that lies between and the richer the story that can fill that gap.

I’ll explore this concept in greater detail with my next blog post on Monday. After that, we’ll get back to Jeret, and see how he transitions from one extreme to the other.

Celestials

sky space telescope universe
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A great sun called Salacia sat as the magnaminous center of its system, a yellow so bright it was nearly a piercing white. It shone over a small system, one comprised of only five circling planets, their moons, a handful of stray comets, and a few clouds of gas. At the origin of the Salacia system each of the planets had produced a great deal of frictional energy with all of the meteorites they consumed while clearing their orbital tracks and all had been considerably heated from the effect. Each planet had glowed brightly then, like a system of miniature stars. Over time they began to cool, and as their effusions diminished their facial features became apparent. The two gas bodies, Icarus and Lachesis, were composed of swirling orange and purple clouds respectively. Benu was the deep red and tan of dry rock, while Concordia was the lush green and blue of vegetation and life. Cronus, last of all, was the strange semi-transparent teal of all the various elements intermingled and frozen into a single, massive lake with with a dark heart of obsidian at its core, the relics of a volcanic past. Each of these planets had the unique trait of having settled into an orbit along the same level plane as one another, one that ran through the equator of the bright star’s mass. None of the orbits crossed one another’s path, and each was sole monarch over its own track. Over their formative ages these orbits had become synchronized so as not to distress one another, each pull and shift between them being counteracted by an eventual opposite one. And so all remained stable and constant.

That flat and level layout was due to any bodies not included in this arrangement being destroyed by the cataclysms of the neighboring Anubis system’s dissolution. Recent eons ago that system’s ruling bodies had collided and broken apart, resulting in swarms of meteorites that shattered apart every other body in a great cascading torrent. Wilds of untethered rock, ice, and gas now fomented about, still too erratic to form into any large regulatory body, hurtling and propelling one another in random, chaotic fashion. The occasional errant masses that were slung towards the Salacia system had doomed any of the planets or comets that followed orbits beneath Salacia’s equator, decimating them easily. Of course some of these asteroids had been on courses towards the central subjects as well, but each of these were quelled by the immense stellar winds that Salacia emitted into the quadrants directly above and beneath it, creating a shield of high-powered electrons that quickly dissolved all foreign materials in a shower of spectacular fire.

And so things continued calmly and well-regulated for a time, as each of Salacia’s planets became more and more self-defined and autonomous. As they completed their cooling processes, the electromagnetic polarities of the gas giants Lachesis and Icarus shifted, and the slight pull of the charged electrons in the stellar winds below began to slow their orbits, each revolution around Salacia taking a solar day longer than the last. As they slowed in their momentum they also began to sink lower and lower towards that electron field, their entire bodies trembling from the strain of alternating gravitational and magnetic forces. As the two shifted downwards, their absence began to affect all of the other planetary cycles as well. The three denser siblings, Concordia, Benu, and Cronus all raised higher above the original orbital plane as a counter-reaction to the lowering of the two others. Thus each planet began spiralling along an eccentric loop, ones that no longer intersected Salacia’s center. It was a tenuous balance, one that depended entirely on the upward and downward pulls of all other planets, and it only continued by greater and greater separation of themto opposite extremes.

At long last Lachesis and Icarus found their destination, razing their lower sectors along the stream of crackling electron-charged power. They only sunk to about one-tenth submersion before the downwards pull on them was counteracted by an electrical repulsion which scorched and burned their entire southern hemispheres deeply, eternal fires and fusions following after each other in never-ending rounds. Their northern hemispheres expanded, though, becoming infused by siphoned energy . Their red and purple clouds flashed with magnificent lightning storms and as a whole they swelled to several times their original size and mass, gluttons of power. As they grew to their saturation points their increased gravity lifted still more of the electron currents into crackling, luminous sheets around them, literally enclothing themselves in excess.

So much of the stellar winds had been repurposed in the areas where they now rested that there the cloud thinned to a mere fraction of their original strength, and it was at this time that one of the larger asteroids from the Anubis cloud, the dead hulking mass of a what had once been a third of a planet, came hurtling up towards the Salacia system at light-breaking speeds. Visual ripples appeared in the void around it, so quickly did it bend through space. It was driving towards the very heart of the stellar winds, but the proximity and gravity of bloated Lachesis shifted its course slightly so that it instead pierced through the weakened portions of the electron cloud, surviving with barely a few scorches burning across its rugged face. It nearly collided with Lachesis, but the planet rolled backwards, which in turn flung the rock was far up and above, none of its momentum lost in the encounter.

Now the planet Cronus lay squarely in the rock’s path, and as the asteroid crossed the middle plane of the Salacia system the planet dipped slightly towards it in anticipation of impact. In a world-shattering instant the rock pummeled into the sphere, a bright scorching blast illuminating the sky for a few years and then the two tumbled rapidly up and away, Cronus’s orbit completely broken. As the two careened through naked space they left behind a trail of broken gases, the melted and evaporated residue of the great lake of chemicals which had been lost in the heat of impact. That was not all that they left behind, so rapid was Cronus’s retreat that its greatest moon, Herales, lagged farther and farther behind before being released and left stranded, suspended far from any other mass.

Not only was Cronus lost, but Lachesis’s backwards roll had brought it to bear ever deeper into the electron cloud and revolve its form through a bath of razing  fire and gouging lightning storms. Its own rich clouds were strained away by the magnetic rhythms of the surrounding electrons and its core began to fracture, bright flares spurting out from its molten center. These massive streams of molten heat were more than sufficient catalyst to provoke the entire electron field’s naturally explosive nature… All of space seemed to crack at the resulting blast, one which entirely consumed both Lachesis and Icarus, their cloudy masses instantly burned into pure energy and dissipated into the infinite while the illumination of the singular event lit the undersides of the other three planets for years to come. Even the great star itself was wounded by the ripples, and it began to bleed out its hydrogen and heat.

As the two gas giants diffused apart, their gravitational pulls on Concordia and Benu were lost entirely, which had been essential to stabilize their revolutions above Salacia’s center of mass. Now, though, the two bodies were untethered and began to ascend higher and higher, even as Salacia pulled them inwards, spiraling them tighter and tighter above its crown. A most beautfiul destruction followed: their moons struck into one another, their atmospheres overlapped, their deep gravities hummed to one another in loud pulsations, their night skies became filled with the other’s vibrant details, their surfaces broke apart and flew towards one other before igniting on fire and raining on the other as ash, their skins peeled off in fervent heat, and finally their cores beat together for a single moment, and then erupted.

Even had they survived, they would not have long been able to dance around the foreign invasions that followed. With the ignition of the electron field and the weakening of Salacia, there no longer stood a sufficient enough barrier to prevent the continuing onslaught of debris from the Anubis cloud. Those that did not directly pummel the sun and expel its energy inch-by-inch settled into orbit around the great star, where they collected as an innumerable mass. Collisions were inevitable, and the asteroids soon self-thrashed themselves into a great cloud of dust that stood as a shell around the light, rendering the sun almost invisible. As Salacia was worn down by continued strikes it was unable to enact the grand explosive conclusion usually reserved for its race, instead merely fading, the shadows growing longer and longer until they consumed everything in perfect darkness. Eventually Salacia’s mass simply no longer had the strength to hold itself together and it fractured apart, simply becaming another portion of the debris. By this point the Anubis cloud had fully dissipated across both systems and finally all of the remaining glittering powder was evenly distributed and lay perfectly still. Eternities passed and all remained stagnant, sterile, and black.

Long after all relics of the Salacia system had been forgotten, a far off speck began drifting towards them from far apart. All the particles of dust had operated as one single mass, each contributing a small thread-like pull on some far-off distant body, drawing it in an inch at a time. Slowly the body drifted into the system proper, and it was small Herales returning. As it drew nearer the dust strained and began to pour to it in great streams. The lighter gases came first, the hydrogen and helium tumbling around it in swirling layers around its core. Next followed the particles of rock and water, which further encased the sphere until it could not hold any more mass and began to pack itself more tightly under the force of its own weight. All the other dust swirled in great rings around it, accumulating and clumping into new forms.

As the weight bore inwards on Herales, hydrogen fusion began at its core and suddenly its outer layers scorched with ignition. A new sunlight appeared, flickering and weak at first, then growing steady and bright in its rhythm. Herales was reborn into a small star and once again the faces of all the matter that surrounded it could be seen. All of the particles, the remnants of both the Salacia and Anubis system alike, slowly but surely formed into various new planets, moons, clouds, and comets, entirely new from all that had been before. They spiraled around, clearing their tracks and defining their orbits, through trial and error finding stability and balance in them. The new system was born and once again peace and order reigned.

***

In case you were wondering, no, this isn’t scientifically accurate in the slightest 🙂 Though our characters here are inanimate objects, there is obviously a classic sort of kingdom-downfall story here, one where our villains are not evil so much as drawn by their natures to overindulgence. In their pursuit of fattening power, Lachesis and Icarus fail to respect that all beings here are interconnected to one another and that what happens to one happens to all. And so, as I mentioned in my post on Monday, we end up with an ensemble piece, one where each member of the community contributes in their own way to the dissolution of balance, and also its eventual restoration.

This entry will serve as the conclusion for the dreamlike/imaginative/meditative series we have been running for the last month and we will shift gears to something new next Monday. Have a good weekend and I’ll see you then.