Power and Glory

 

“We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains”

-Ursula K. Le Guin

 

 

Prologue – Song of Solomon

 

The return journey should reasonably have taken a day and a half, but with blind optimism, they had been hoping to arrive in the city by nightfall. It was a decision made silently. The vanguard rode on, and the rearguard followed. The soldiers were more or less all of the same rank; hence the absence of a dissenting voice could not have been attributed to deference. It was a decision made silently, and unanimously.

At dusk, they should have realized that their expectations were unrealistic. They should have set up camp somewhere along the King’s Road and waited through the night. Unfortunately, with the city walls distantly in view and with the promise of a soft bed and a warm meal just within their reach, they spurred the horses on. In their eagerness to arrive, they took a detour from the King’s Road, down a road less travelled and into the Weeping Willows.

It was a moonless night. They rode through the forest in an uneasy silence. A silence accentuated by their dying enthusiasm. The forest of the Weeping Willows tends to have that effect on men.  It is an ancient forest. Some say it predates Avalon. Some say it was the site of an ancient and terrible battle. Regardless, all the fact and fiction one hears about the Weeping Willows can never be enough preparation for actually riding through it. The men were perturbed, some of them visibly so. It wasn’t enough that they numbered thirteen, a figure that never boded well. They were now travelling through cursed ground as well.

The soldiers were tired; their groins and shoulders ached. There were no landmarks in the forest, and the sky was so dark that the stars couldn’t be seen. They had no way to tell if they were going round in circles or not. Eventually, one of them suggested that they set up camp in the forest. The more superstitious of them wanted to protest, but they lacked the energy to do so. Evil spirits aside, it was the most rational course of action. Even the horses were tired and seemed reluctant to ride any further.

They made a fire and set up a few tents and waited for sleep. Two of the soldiers had been designated for watch duty. One of them was Mordred, who rarely spoke. The other was Benjamin, a casual gossip.

As the horses and the rest of the men struggled to fall asleep, Mordred and Benjamin sat around the dying embers of the fire. Mordred was wide awake and was anxiously fidgeting with the handle of his sword. Benjamin, meanwhile, was struggling not to doze off.

“God damn it,” Benjamin said, as he caught himself dozing for the third time.

Mordred kept his gaze lowered.

“I would play my flute to keep me active, but flutes tend to be hypnotic and I’d rather not have some uninvited guests,” Benjamin said. “Not here, not now.”

Mordred remained silent.

“Tell you what, how about I tell us a story.”

“Do as you please,” Mordred said grimly.

“You’re a cheerful one, aren’t ya? How about I tell us a story that is just as cheerful as you?”

It wasn’t until Benjamin started that Mordred found out he was being sarcastic.

 

“A long, long time ago, before the rise of Olaf the Ogre and every other nighttime menace your grandma ever told you about, there was a beautiful and powerful enchantress known as Solomon. Solomon had a face so fair that all who saw it were unable to resist her charm, and fell under her spell. Kings and Princes from all over Avalon travelled great distances to pay fealty to her. They did this to win her favor, for the wrath of Solomon was a terrible thing.

“In time, behind the scenes and in the shadows, six of the seven kingdoms fell under her control. King Eustace of Camelot was yet to pay fealty to her and she waited patiently for his arrival. She waited and waited and still, Eustace did not come. Very well, Solomon decided, if Eustace would not come to her, she would go to him and would have him groveling at her feet before she forgave him for his impudence.

“Solomon’s trip to Camelot did not go as planned. Upon arrival at the court, she discovered that King Eustace was blind and could not be victim to her charms. Eustace, in anger, had her cast out of the castle like a common wench. And that was a mistake, Solomon swore, he would live to regret.

“Solomon had never been so insulted in her life. This was the first time that anyone had ever dared refuse her. This was the first time that anyone had rejected her. Anger and pain welled up inside her like a dark fog as her blood itself seemed to be replaced by a black and acidic fluid. Her fury would be unleashed not just upon Camelot but upon all of Avalon.

“Blinded by her anger, Solomon sought to invoke the power of the most ancient spell in the world. It was a spell written by Aldaron himself at the dawn of creation and was only to be sung by his twin sister, Andromeda, at the twilight of all things. It was a spell no human should have had the power to channel, but Solomon was vain and a burning desire for vengeance clouded her judgment further.

“With the canticle in mind, Solomon stood atop the highest mountain in Avalon and began to sing. The Song of Solomon was a harrowing tune and the wind carried her voice over great distances. All who heard it, living and non-living alike, began to age prematurely. With her voice, Solomon sought to bring about the end of the world eons before it was prophesized.

“All over Camelot, stone castles started to crumble, flowers began to wilt, trees twisted and contorted and fishes bobbed on the surface of water and washed ashore. All the gallant knights and magicians of Camelot were helpless as Solomon sang her song. All they could do was kneel and pray that the afterlife would be merciful to them. Solomon’s pain was full and her vengeance would be complete.

“When all seemed like it was lost, when even the most optimistic of townsfolk had lost their will, the fell voice in the air, the voice which spoke of death and decay and dangerous things, suddenly quieted. For a moment, people were confused, for they had been entirely been resigned to their fate. Then, they came to their senses and began to rejoice. Some brave knight had slain the witch. Some precocious magician’s assistant had outsmarted her, just like all the stories told. They ate and drank and celebrated as good trumped evil once again.

“Unbeknownst to them, the sole architect of Solomon’s demise was none other than Solomon herself. In her pride and arrogance, she sought to sing a canticle reserved for a god and manipulate a power she did not fully understand. Alone and at the top of a mountain, Solomon was overwhelmed by a power she was not strong enough to channel and fell downwards into the caverns below.

“Even though she failed, Solomon had come closer than anyone would ever have expected. She did not quite achieve her objective, but for several moments, her fury caused all of Avalon to quake. Even today, her memory still haunts us. Even today, the land still bears scars from her brutal attack.”

 

….

 

Mordred didn’t know how long he had been asleep, but when he came to, something was very, very wrong. The campfire had died out and the forest was shrouded in darkness. Where was Benjamin? Where were the men? Where were the horses?

Mounting dread drew Mordred totally out of the embrace of sleep. He stood at the center of the desolate camp, alert, alone and with his sword drawn. What was going on? He thought about shouting out, but decided against it. Had they abandoned him?

Suddenly, a crack came out of the forest. Soldier instincts honed over the years immediately suggested to Mordred that someone (or something) was lurking inside the woods and had stepped on a twig.

“Who goes there?” Mordred said, hoping that he sounded brave enough, hoping that his voice did not betray the terror he felt within. “Reveal yourself!”

A footstep, and then another, and then…

A tall woman walked out of the woods. Her blood red lips against her snow white face formed an interesting color palette. Her irises were deep pools of obsidian. She was dressed in a robe so dark that it was impossible to discern where they ended and where the umbra began. Her dark hair, with a slight sheen, flowed all the way down to her waist.

“Who are you?” Mordred demanded.

“Not even a greeting first?” she said with a voice as smooth as silk. “Young men these days.”

“Take another step and I’ll cut you down where you stand witch!”

“Well that’s a bit dramatic, don’t you think?” she replied, in a tone that suggested she was close to laughing. She smirked and started to saunter towards Mordred.

Mordred charged at her with his sword high above his head. Just as he got close enough to strike, the Witch’s eyes flared like a flame and a sudden pain coursed through Mordred’s palm, causing him to drop his sword. The sword fell to the ground with a soft thud. It had a golden glow about it, as if it had just been drawn out of the fires of a forge.

The witch let out a soft chuckle and then said to no one in particular, “I think I like the fighters most. How I love it when they try.”

Very well, Mordred thought. If his sword would not be of any use, then he would rely on his fists. He would strangle the wench before she uttered one more foul breath. Mordred took one step and then another. Slow, menacing, determined. The witch watched him with a curious expression. As if she couldn’t quite believe her eyes. Just as he got close enough to pounce, he fell to the ground heavily, like an anvil dropped from a great height.

The impact of the fall caused Mordred to let out a soft moan. His armor suddenly felt like it had increased in weight, tenfold. He struggled to move, struggled to get up, but that’s all it was, a struggle. All his joints were uncooperative and felt like they had been welded together. He lay on the ground, sprawled like a tin can soldier toppled over. So this was the power of witchcraft.

“Are you the one they call Solomon?” Mordred heard himself utter, his voice little more than a whisper as he struggled to breathe due to his current circumstances.

“Solomon?” the witch laughed. “Why would you think that? I haven’t heard that name in years. Fortunately for you I am not. Oh no. I could never measure up to her majesty.”

“Then it is as I feared, Mordred said. You are Morgan Le Fay.”

And with that Morgan let out a delightful girlish laugh. “Indeed I am.”

“Well, what are you waiting for? Finish the job.”

“Finish what job? Are you trying to imply that I killed your troupe? That’s a very serious accusation my dear.” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm. “I’m just an aging woman, living alone in the woods, craving some company. Is that so hard to believe?” She laughed.

Mordred said nothing. He would not give her the satisfaction of playing her game. He would die with dignity.

“You’re one lucky soldier my dear,” Morgan continued. “It just so happens that today is my birthday and on my birthday my benevolence reaches its absolute maximum. Isn’t that lovely?”

Mordred remained silent.

“Torture doesn’t seem appropriate for a birthday night spent at a campfire. Hmm…what could we possibly…Oh! I know! How about a story? Yes, yes! A story by a campfire! How splendid!” Morgan clapped her hands several times with glee.

Mordred continued to remain impassive, and when Morgan finally noticed his disposition, the excitement vanished from her face. She crouched, stared Mordred intently in the eyes and said, “You, my dear, have been bestowed with the wonderful privilege of being my audience. Not an audience to any regular story, mind you, but to the story of my life. Aren’t you excited?”

Mordred stared back at her, unimpressed, and remained silent. Little acts of defiance.

With a sigh of exasperation, Morgan rose to her feet and moved to sit at the camp. “You’re free to move by the way.”

Having heard that, Mordred felt the invisible bonds that held him down loosen. He immediately clambered to his knees and started to reach for the hilt of his sword. “Aren’t you worried I will attempt to kill you again?” he asked, as he thought better of his course of action.

“I would be disappointed if you tried, and more so if you did not,” Morgan replied with a shrug.

Contemplating his situation, Mordred arrived at the conclusion that he had no other choice but to humor her. He sheathed his sword and then moved to sit opposite the witch. If the opportunity arose, he would not fail to take it. They now occupied the same spot he had shared with Benjamin earlier. They stared at each other for an intense moment, and then, Morgan started to speak.

“This is a story few have heard, soldier. Listen and listen well.” And with that the campfire blazed back into life without any visible source of ignition. Mordred stared at the fire, mesmerized. He began to see visions and shapes, dancing inside the flickering flame. The witch spoke with a hypnotic voice, almost like a lullaby.

If Mordred had not been so enthralled, perhaps he may have noticed, even in the darkness, the faces of his comrades and brethren, contorted in pain as their bodies hang limply and lifelessly from the top of the trees, like mannequins, like scarecrows, like strange fruit. If Mordred had not been so engrossed, perhaps he may have detected the smell of blood and sweat as they dripped slowly down the ridges in the tree bark, as tiny rivulets, mixing, converging and diverging.

 

 

Part One – Seven Sweet Summers

 

I was born just a week before my cousin, Arthur. My mother, Princess Umbien, died in childbirth. My father died long before I was born. I never knew his name and nobody ever mentioned him. Every time I tried to start a dialogue about him, I was met with nothing but silence and scathing looks. Almost as though all talk about him was prohibited. This happened enough times that I gave up completely on ever learning anything about him.

As if he blamed me for the loss of his twin, Uther never held me in his arms. Thus, the only caressing touch I knew as a babe, was that of my milkmaid, Alayne, who looked after Arthur as well.

Because our births were so close, Arthur and I shared more than a teat. We shared a childhood as well. When we were young, we would cause all sorts of commotion as we run through the castle, playing various games. We would play tag or use sticks to have mock swordfights or dress up like princesses and have tea parties. Though I had no parents, I was happy, as happy as the orphaned niece of King Uther of Camelot could be. Even though my uncle did his best to ignore my existence, Arthur and Alayne acted like family, and they were enough.

Happiness rarely lasts however. The dreamlike obliviousness of childhood may maintain the illusion of a perfect life for a while, but in time the fantasy fades, like wisps of fog in the light of dawn. As with most happy childhoods, mine came to an abrupt end. Though the wheel of time was relatively slow in its motion, my thirteenth birthday eventually arrived and things started to change for worse.

One morning, sometime after we both turned thirteen, Arthur and I had our game of tag rudely interrupted by Sylvanus, the court physician. We were marshaled into the throne room to meet Uther, who did not look happy. Uther very rarely had a facial expression which could pass for “happiness” or “contentment” but today, there was something especially grim about the King’s visage.

“For too long I have been patient with you,” Uther said, addressing Arthur. “And out of respect for the memory of my beloved sister, I have tolerated your antics with that one.” His gnarly finger turned to point towards me.

“All that ends today,” Uther said. “No offspring of mine should ever have been playing silly games like a little girl in the first place. Lucky for me, it’s not too late to make a man of you yet. Starting tomorrow you begin your training as a Knight.”

Arthur just stood there impassively with his head bowed. He never dared speak out to challenge his father. One might have thought he was not listening, but I knew better. I knew he was ashamed.

“And you,” Uther said, his cruel gaze coming to rest on me for the first time. “You will begin your training in the nunnery. Your crooked father may have planted the seed of evil within you, but with the help of the gods, we will beat it out of you.”

Uther’s words rung in my ears with a dull tone of finality. Understanding was not apparent hence I tried to think deeply about the meaning of the aging king’s words. Young as I was, I knew they couldn’t possibly bode well.

I was then approached by a woman I did not know. Her face was a mask of premature age and ill-humor. She gripped me firmly by the shoulders and forced me down a dark corridor. I managed to steal one last glance at Arthur, who was being led down an opposing corridor by Sylvanus. It would be years before I ever saw Arthur again. He was sent away from the castle to become a ward of Lord Percival in the East. His teenage years would be spent learning the games of war, and I would be taught to bow and smile.

 

 

Part 2 – The Crone in the Cave

 

Around the time of my sixteenth birthday, my tutelage in the nunnery had been going as well as anyone may have expected. The other sisters hated me, and I hated them even more. I memorized their doctrines alright, but only so I could make crude perversions and parodies of them. I caused trouble every chance I was given and I had a tongue feared by many of the noblemen. You may have been able to punish me for my insults, but you could never quite forget the sting of them, or the truth. The only one I never dared try was Uther.

It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized my antics during this period were just an attempt to get some attention from my Uncle. Uther never took the bait however. He didn’t care enough. I should have expected as much from a man who didn’t even bother to give me his last name. I knew he was waiting patiently for my eighteenth birthday so he could marry me off to some piss poor excuse of a lordling and be rid of me.

Ever since Arthur left and Alayne died, I was totally alone and felt neglected. When I wasn’t out in public causing commotion, I often took long strolls around the castle grounds and in the surrounding forest, thinking about my pathetic life.

One day, during a particularly pensive walk, I wandered deep into the forest. Unknowingly, I wandered deeper than I ought to and before I knew it, I was lost. Trying to find my way back to the castle brought me to the mouth of a cave. It must have been located in the other side of the same mountain in which certain sections of the castle had been chiseled out. My anxiety attenuated as I realized I wasn’t as lost as I initially thought. The cave had an air of mystery about it and I was contemplating exploring it further. Before I could decide however, I heard a voice say, “Sweet girl, come a little closer.”

I almost turned to ran right there, but something about the voice held me in place. Tentatively, I moved closer to the cave, and then I saw her.

An old woman stood at the mouth of the cave. She was hunched and dressed in rags so worn that their blue color was barely visible. She beckoned at me and in a voice as old as time said, “Come closer sweet girl.”

Sympathetic, I walked towards the old woman. I walked with poise right up until I saw her legs. She was shackled by the ankles to chains which led deeper into the cave. Something within me screamed danger. Who ties up harmless old ladies? Nobody. Unless they aren’t harmless. Who is she? Where do the chains lead to? Is that cave an entrance to a dungeon? The same dungeons in the castle? Those thoughts validated my initial instinct to run. Regardless, I continued my approach. This time my gait was lacking in confidence. I knew interacting with her could get me in trouble, but trouble was my middle name.

“Sweet, sweet girl,” the old woman said. Droplets of saliva appeared at the corners of her mouth as her toothless gums struggled to form the words. “Could you do an old lady a favor? Could you please find a Bloodsprout tree and bring me a fistful of leaves. My joints are aching a bit too hard and I sure could use some.”

In my most humble and graceful voice, I replied, “Sure I will, my lady.” Being up-close with the crone, fear and discomfort finally trumped my stubborn curiosity. I had had enough and I feigned obedience while plotting my escape.

Halfway back to the castle however, I stopped at the first Bloodsprout tree I saw, plucked a handful of its blackened leaves and headed back towards the cave and the smelly old woman. I don’t know why exactly I changed my mind. Perhaps my curiosity was getting the better of me again.  When I arrived, the old lady seemed pleasantly surprised to see me. Seeing her toothless grin made me feel a little warm inside.

I watched inquisitively as she slowly grinded the leaves with a stone, using her saliva as lubricant (which disgusted me a little) and then applied the resulting paste to her ankles and joints. “Aah,” she moaned softly. “That feels good.” In spite of the oddness of the whole situation, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

“What’s your name child?”

“Morgan,” I said shyly.

“Well, Morgan, would you like to come in?”

And thus, my long and fruitful relationship with Solomon began. Over the years, Solomon taught me a great many things. She was my knowledgeable teacher, and I was her eager student. I learned how to make poisons which had no antidotes, I learned to make objects float with my mind, I learned to bind dark creatures to my will, I learned to see visions of faraway places and far off times, and most importantly, I learned how to make men fall in love with me. Those trips to Solomon’s cave had become my only joy in life and I snuck away to see her as often as possible.

For all the things Solomon taught me, for all the dark secrets we shared. We never once discussed her history. She never told me who she was but I was smart enough to conjecture that for myself. I knew her dark past and what she had done, and I knew she knew I knew. I may not have had the innate talent or raw power of Solomon the Great, but I had determination, and that was enough for her.

Whenever I had the opportunity, I surreptitiously used my new-found abilities to cause mischief in the castle. I never got caught, but one time, I came dangerously close to suspicion:

Uther obtained a nasty cut while hunting in the woods one day. Before Sylvanus arrived to treat him, I took matters into my own hands. When Sylvanus finally arrived, he was astounded that someone other than him had the skill to treat a wound of that severity in so short a time. His surprise quickly metamorphosized into suspicion after hearing that I was the one who had come up with the remedy. When queried by him, I lied and told him I discovered the remedy from a scroll I found in the archives one day. I don’t know if he believed me. His only responses were long scrutinizing looks.

Before, I had never so openly revealed that I possessed even an iota of any arcane knowledge. It was a risk I took to win Uther’s favor and my cold uncle couldn’t care less.

 

 

 

Part Three – The Binding of Uther

 

With our eighteenth birthday around the corner, Uther decreed that Arthur return to Camelot. When I heard he had arrived, I excitedly ran through the castle grounds barefoot and headed downhill towards the surrounding town. I was hoping to cut him off before he arrived at the castle.

The townsfolk had gathered by the roadside to cheer for the Crown Prince as he trotted towards the Stone Castle with his procession. Since Arthur was loved by the people, the crowd cheered like a roaring thunder. Still, in a desperate bid to get his attention, I yelled and waved more frantically than anybody else.

On the verge of giving up, he finally noticed me. For a moment, which felt like an eternity, our eyes met and we held each other’s gaze. My eyes were filled with enthusiasm and delight but Arthur’s were nothing but expressionless blue discs. The moment passed and without a word, he turned away to continued his slow trot to the castle gate.

I stood there for a moment dumbfounded, maybe even hurt. Did he not recognize me? And then I understood. This wasn’t the Arthur I knew as a little girl. This was a different creature. This was Arthur, bronze skinned. This was Arthur, golden haired. This was the champion of the people, and some strange pride had held him back from acknowledging me.

 

….

 

Later that day, King Uther organized a royal banquet to commemorate his heirs return to Camelot. It was one of the lavish events I was unusually allowed to attend. I had been expecting to sit at the far end of the table, among the lowlords and the nobodies, quietly eating a measly meal while being bored to death by smalltalk and wishing I was elsewhere. However, to my utter surprise, I found myself seated next to Arthur; an arrangement which certainly escalated things.

After Uther performed a toast, the room broke into noisy chatter as the distinguished guests delved into their meals and their pointless conversations. Mummers and Jesters proceeded with the entertainment for the night and Arthur and I were left in an uneasy silence. I sat facing away from him and did my best to appear preoccupied with the countless plates of food I didn’t even have names (or an appetite) for.

Tiny beads of sweat formed on my brow as my anxiety levels shot up due to the social pressures of an environment I wasn’t comfortable in. Sand did not seem to be falling down the hourglass anymore. The shadow of the Moondial seemed to be arrested in its course. How much longer could the dreadful evening go on? My head begun to throb with a light headache.

Eventually, with a voice which cut through the din like a crack through a frozen lake, with a voice which was deep as a valley and majestic as a mountain, Arthur spoke. “Morg,” he said softly.

Slowly, with faux irritation, I turned to face him.

“I’m sorry about how I conducted myself earlier.”

I said nothing but the knot in my stomach unclenched as relief washed over me like a cool breeze.

“I was just…seeing you made me…things haven’t been so good with me Morg,” he ended with a sigh.

Hearing his words, the ice which had steadily been building up in my heart melted like frost in the heat of the day. I turned towards him even more and ended up listening to him talk for the next hour. He talked about his tough childhood and the unrealistic expectations Uther placed on him. He talked about how he was judged based on his ability to throw a spear or tame a horse and nothing else. He talked about the difficult trials of knighthood and how they destroyed him mentally. The more I listened, the more sympathetic I became.

At the end of Arthur’s story I felt sorry. Sorry that I couldn’t be there for him. Sorry that he had to go through all that hardship alone. Sorry that I acted so selfishly. I wished desperately that I could find a way to make up for my absence in his life.

Eventually, Arthur asked, “So what’s been going on with you Morg?”

Solomon immediately came to mind, but I hesitated in mentioning her. Doing so was extremely risky. To say she wasn’t an ally of the people would be a gross understatement. But this was Arthur. My childhood friend was still somewhere within the hulking mass of a man that sat before me. Who could I trust, if not him?

“Okay Arthur,” I said. “There’s something I found. Or rather, someone. I’ll show you tomorrow, but first, you have to promise not to tell a single soul.”

In a tone like quicksilver, Arthur said, “I promise.”

And I believed him.

 

….

 

Solomon’s execution was scheduled for noon. Word spread quickly about her capture and many of the townsfolk swarmed the Town Square to witness the event for themselves. It had been quite a while since they had last seen a witch burned at the stake.

Uther and Arthur were on horseback, at the center of the Town Square, next to the stake. I was standing behind them, flanked by Sylvanus and Ser Wulfric, who gripped my arm so tightly that it hurt.

My arm was hurting. My eyes were hurting. My head was hurting. My heart was hurting. Everywhere was hurting. I had cried so much that I thought I must have run out of tears, but seeing Solomon’s frail figure bound so tightly to the stake, caused the tears to come out in fresh torrents.

Someone in the crowd started a chant, and the rest followed. “DEATH TO THE WITCH! DEATH TO THE WITCH!” As this went on, I sank to my knees, defeated.

“Enough!” Uther bellowed, and at once the crowd quieted down. For a moment, an uneasy silence set about the whole town. With his daunting presence, Uther held the silence for what seemed too long a time. Eventually, addressing Solomon, the King spoke.

“My son may have spent the days of his youth drinking and whoring and god knows what else, but never would I have dreamed in a thousand years that he would deliver you to me. He may turn out not to be a complete disappointment. He may prove himself worthy of my throne after all.”

Arthur said nothing and kept his head bowed, visibly embarrassed.

“Solomon,” Uther continued. “You stand accused of theft, fraud, attempted murder, murder, regicide, genocide, conspiracy, witchcraft and high treason. What say you in your defense?”

For a while, Solomon said nothing. Her eyes remained closed and her head bowed, as though she was unconscious. Just when no one thought she would speak, words came. They came through a toothless mouth and a cancerous throat, but they were unmistakable.

“Is this intended to be a trial, boy?” Solomon said calmly. If she was any kind of frightened, her croaky voice did not betray it. “Even with my failing eyes, I can see you already have me bound to a stake. I see your lapdogs arranging firewood around me. I can smell the Kerosene from here. What are you so afraid of? You are just as boneless as your blind ancestor. Or maybe worse”

Having said that, Solomon closed her eyes and bowed her head once more. Uther’s face turned a bright red. It was a hue his soldiers knew well, it was a hue they knew intimately. This was the exact shade of red his face turned when he was about to launch into one of his legendary tantrums. Even the horses neighed anxiously.

Remarkably, and to the shock of many, Uther maintained his composure. “Bring me the torch,” Uther said. “I will light the fire myself. I have no idea why my father’s father kept you locked away in our dungeons. A painful end to your baneful existence has been long overdue.”

With the torch in his hand, Uther asked Solomon, “Any last words?”

Solomon said nothing, and without hesitation, Uther ignited the pyre.

The people looked on, anxiously, nervously, curiously, tensely as the fire roared and blazed to life. The Town Square remained eerily quiet; some suggested that perhaps the witch had died quietly, suffocated by the smoke before the flames got close enough to lick her skin.

Sickened by the smell of burning flesh, the crowd began to thin. Many were disappointed. They had been expecting frantic cries and screams to feed their apathetic hearts. Instead, the fire gave off nothing but light and a disappointing heat. The show would not come on today, it seemed.

I remained on the ground, crying violently and shivering. On my thirteenth birthday, I thought my life had hit rock bottom, but this was a new depth and all around me, the walls were closing in.

Suddenly, a voice came.

“Did you even for a moment stop to think this whole thing over?”

This voice was different. It was not croaky, but smooth like a pebble. This was the voice of a queen. This was the voice of a goddess. This was the voice of a woman who had looked deep into the eyes of Aldaron himself and had known his secrets and was not impressed. This was not the voice of Solomon the Crone. This was the voice of Solomon the Great.

“Did you stop for a moment to consider that you might be making a mistake?” Solomon demanded. “Did bother to think deeply about why I have been kept alive for all this time? Oh you stupid, stupid little boy. You thought executing me would improve public opinion of you, but instead, this farce will prove to be your undoing. Today, you will come to a visceral understanding of the fact that in life, some lessons come at too high a cost.”

The fire blazed on. A few gasps emerged from the crowd. The horses surely would have fled, had they not been held steady by their riders. Arthur looked ghastly and Uther’s face was blank; the expressionless mask of an individual in a state of pure shock.

Solomon continued. “I may die here today boy, but at what cost? Eustace was shrewd enough to keep me bound by magical bonds. He knew that for me, being powerless was as good as being dead or worse. You, boy, have exhibited a remarkable error in judgment. In the few moments I am free of these bonds, I will show you the true meaning of despair!

“I curse you Uther. I curse your bloodline. None who bear your name will know the meaning of peace. Not until the ocean dries up and the World Tree loses its last leaf and the earth becomes a barren wasteland and Alister bathes all of Aldaron’s creations in dragonfire. I curse your pitiful existence. A life for a life boy!”

Solomon then began to laugh.  It was a terrible sound. A cacophony which was equal parts bliss and equal parts madness. The fire blazed on and the smell of Brimstone and burning flesh dominated the atmosphere. Almost as suddenly as it began, it was over. The laughter stopped, the fire burned less furiously and the crowd murmured anxiously.

Uther remained near the burning stake for a long time. His face still expressionless. Eventually, Sylvanus rode over to him and said, “Baseless threats my King. Empty words by a finished sorceress. Best not to dwell on them too much. Lets head back to the castle, the sun is setting.”

Uther rode back to the castle quietly and Arthur followed like a lost puppy. I was not sure Sylvanus believed his own words, but if his goal was to cheer Uther up, his success was impossible to evaluate.

Someway somehow, I managed to carry myself back to my chambers. My heart was heavy with loss and even more so with guilt. It was my fault Solomon was captured. If only I hadn’t been betrayed by that golden-haired rat. If only I had kept the secret of her existence to myself.

Each time I closed my eyes, my mind went back to the memory of Ser Denver and Ser Boris dragging Solomon out of her cave. I was powerless to help her. I sobbed heavily as I watched them carry her away. It’s not your fault love, Solomon said to me. It’s not your fault.

How could I believe that? How was it not my fault? Solomon must have uttered those words to make me feel better, but all they did was worsen the wound of her passing. Losing Solomon hurt badly. More than a serrated splinter beneath my fingernail. More than a rusting nail in the sole of my foot. There was a heavy blackness in my chest and the pain I felt was indescribable. I would need many months to get over her passing, but that was time I did not have.

Exactly a week after Solomon was burned at stake, King Uther slipped inside his bath, broke his neck and died.

And Arthur was crowned King.

 

 

Part four – The Sinister Sorcerer

 

Two fortnights had passed since Solomon’s death, and still peace did not find me. I was a grieving, disconsolate mess. Not that anyone was trying to console me. The number of people who genuinely cared about me had always been a small circle, and over the years the circle had gotten smaller and smaller until it could no longer be identified as such. The circle was now just a single point and it was me against the world.

Between Uther’s funeral and Arthur’s coronation, the higher ups were busy with official business and had not been given enough time to address the question of if I had been punished enough for fraternizing with the most notorious sorceress in Avalon’s history. At the very least I was still allowed to stay in the castle. I wanted to believe that the Pendragon family’s continued hospitality was because I had been forgiven, but the part of me which wasn’t a naïve little girl thought that their toleration of me was because my punishment was being postponed to a later time.

I couldn’t care less however. The sorrow I felt following Solomon’s passing had slowly drained me of my will to live. I felt like a phantom. Like a spectre only pretending to be human. Sunrise and sunset no longer had any meaning and food had lost its taste. I wore my grief on me like a veil. My eyes hollowed out and my ribs became visible. My youthful beauty began to fade more and more as I took up the appearance of the bride of death.

It wasn’t just deterioration of the body, but deterioration of the mind as well. Consciousness was no longer a stream, but random splashes of awareness. Moments of clarity were rare, but when they came, I was hyperaware of what was happening to me, of what I was becoming. I knew my negligence was a form of self-destruction, of self-sabotage, but I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t want to stop, because to stop was to face reality and the last thing I wanted was to come to terms with a world without Solomon. So I carried on, living the days out like a ghost, searching for meaning in the world, but secretly hoping I would not find it.

 

….

 

One day, not long after Solomon’s execution, I woke up in a dark chamber. I should probably have panicked, but the creature I had become did not know fear. Also, there was something familiar about the darkness, almost comforting.

I sat upright, with my fingers running along the walls of the chamber. There wasn’t much to see in the darkness, but my eyes could just make out the unmistakable shape of stalactites hanging from the ceiling. I was in some kind of cavern.

I closed my eyes and tried to recall exactly how I arrived there. At once, memories appeared in my mind’s eye. Memories in the first person perspective. Memories of a grief stricken young woman, walking mindlessly away from a castle, into a nearby forest, down a familiar path and into…

Solomon’s Dungeon? The place looked different but there was no reason why it shouldn’t have. In addition to the fact that I had never been there at night, it must have been ransacked by Uther’s knights soon after Solomon’s arrest. Now, all that remained was an empty cavern. A space populated by a ghost, a spectre and memories held too tightly to.

Tears formed in my eyes and I wondered how long I could hold them there before they started to fall. I had never tried to hold back before, but on this particular occasion, given my location, I felt ashamed. Ashamed I had let Solomon down. Ashamed that I was nothing but a weeping mess.

I was just about to launch into one of my downward thought spirals about the whole Solomon situation when I heard a cry. It was high pitched and loud. I was drawn out of my reverie and immediately sat bolt upright, attentive, waiting.

The world was silent.

I started to doubt if I had even heard anything at all. Maybe I was losing it. Then, another cry came, breaking the fragile quietness. Fear crept into my heart like a maggot into rotten fruit. I felt my muscles build up with tension. I felt numbness creep into my fingers and toes. This was the onset of paralysis and I willed myself to fight it.

I walked slowly out of the cave. Standing at the entrance, I looked out into the dark forest and strained my ears. The forest was deathly quiet. No chirping crickets, no hooting owls, no howling wolves, no blinking fireflies, nothing.

And then, it came. The same cry. With the quality of the sound unaltered by the large chambers of the cave, I knew immediately what it was. It was a moan. Though the two were often difficult to distinguish, I believed it was a moan of pain and not of pleasure.

My first instinct was to run away, to run back to the castle and to safety, but I just stood there, transfixed, mesmerized. Something was drawing me towards the source of the cries. Something which was equal parts curiosity and equal parts stupidity. Standing there, my instincts to run were overridden by thought, and I remembered I didn’t exactly have a will to live. The cries seemed to be coming from deeper in the forest, so deeper in the forest I went.

As I approached the source of the sound, the darkness in the forest was attenuated by what I could make out to be a campfire. Someone had set up a camp at a clearing, and this seemed to be the source of the moans. I gave myself one last chance to run away, but that was a futility. I was resolute. Slowly, I crept around the clearing till I found a tree large enough to hide my body while I watched what was happening. What I saw took me quite a while to understand, but when I did, my blood turned ice cold with fear and then red hot with anger.

At the clearing, I saw a man sitting on a stool in front of a fire. Though the lightening wasn’t the best, his features were unmistakable. That scowl, that pointed chin, those crooked eyebrows, they belonged to none other than Sylvanus, the court physician. At the same clearing, there were two cages. Cages filled with people. The people in one cage seemed to be sleeping, unconscious or dead. Those in the other cage were alert; crying, pleading, or moaning. What was going on? I didn’t have to wonder for long.

Sylvanus had two Knights helping him. I didn’t recognize them. They were dressed in all black, rather than the traditional blue and crimson of King’s men. One of the Knights opened the cage and forced one of the prisoners out. I couldn’t quite make out what the man was saying, but I could tell he was begging. The Knight struck him on the head and he turned docile. Sylvanus then held the man by the hand and started chanting. In what was obviously some dark ritual, the man started to shake and convulse violently, followed by screams. Screams filled with pain and fear and agony. The same screams I had no doubt heard at Solomon’s cave. And almost as soon as it began, it was over. The man fell to the ground, unconscious. The other Knight then carried his body to the other cage and threw him in with the rest of the comatose prisoners.

A less informed person may have been terrified and confused by what they saw. I was frightened, but not exactly puzzled. Given my familiarity with the dark arts, it did not take me long to connect the dots. So this was the secret of Sylvanus’ power. He prided himself in being a noble magician and had worked his way up to become the court physician of Camelot, but all he did was abuse dark magic. Sylvanus’ secret lay bare before me and it was a stinking, ugly mess.

He was a conduit: A person who takes illness and disease from one, holds them within himself for a while and then transfers to another. Conduism was forbidden, even among clandestine groups, for it was an unethical and evil practice.

I stayed for a while and watched as Sylvanus and his men repeated the process over and over. After a day of pretending to be a healer, he had no doubt come to offload all the ailments he bore within himself on innocents he had captured. How many times had he done this? How many had he tortured this way? How many had he killed? Solomon, with her failing ears, would never have heard the screams. Perhaps it was good fortune that led me to her cave on that particular night. I alone knew Sylvanus’ secret and I alone knew how to take him down.

I couldn’t ask anyone to help me in this. No one would believe me. This is something I had to do alone. That night in the forest, fueled by rage and disgust and other repressed emotions, I made a resolution. I resolved to take Sylvanus down no matter what it took. Sylvanus had played a part in destroying my childhood, Sylvanus had played a part in getting Solomon killed. Sylvanus definitely had Arthur under his control, and by extension, Camelot. The Dark Magician had to go down. I could feel the life creeping back into me as I found what I had been searching so hard for: Purpose.

 

 

Part Five – The Sword in The Lake

 

That night, I ran away from the castle, but before I did, I stole something of considerable importance. I had only seen it once, back when I was a child, but I had read about it a lot in Solomon’s books. They called it The Dark Crystal and Uther never let it out of his sight when he was alive. It was a magic crystal, surrendered by the dark elves to Camelot in a treaty after the last Great War. Unlike Solomon, I had no innate magical powers of my own, and if I was to survive, I would need the power of an object like that.

Stealthily, I snuck into what used to be Uther’s chambers, where Arthur slept heavily. His snores echoed and reverberated around the large chamber, and the bottles of wine I saw at the feet of the bed suggested that Arthur had, as usual, gone to bed drunk. I was less worried about the man in the room I had snuck into and more worried about the guards who patrolled the corridors outside. Before I lost confidence and developed cold feet, I moved across the chamber and headed over to the pedestal where the crystal was mounted.

I held my breath and gently removed the crystal from its place in the glass chamber. Relieved that no alarms had been triggered, I exhaled.

The crystal was ruby red and had a peculiar shape, like the beak of some magical bird or the claw of some monstrous creature. As I held it in my hands, I felt its power coursing through my veins. I closed my eyes and saw that I was a step closer to my goal. After the moment had passed, I did not linger. Almost as quickly as I came, I was gone.

 

….

 

I knew the soldiers of Camelot would be hot on my heels as soon as the realized that the crystal as well as I, were both gone. Arthur could probably have gone a lifetime before noticing that the crystal was gone, but the noblemen who wanted to see me punished publicly would soon notice my absence from court. Hence, I went were the brave Knights of Camelot would never dare to venture. I made my home in the Weeping Willows.

Unlike the simpletons of Camelot, I had nothing to fear from the Weeping Willows. I had long ago come to terms with the reality that I was a child of darkness. Nothing that dwelled in that Forest would dare harm me, and anything which was foolish enough to try would come to find that I was adequately capable of fending for myself.

The Dark Crystal increased my powers a hundred fold, but it would not be enough to take down a sorcerer of Sylvanus’ caliber. I would need something else. A powerful object which could only be retrieved on a full moon. There was still a score of days remaining until the month ended, so I stayed in my abode in the woods and plotted and schemed.

 

….

 

Eventually, the days passed and the full moon rose high into the night’s sky. Dressed all in white, I made my way, with determination, towards the silver lake.

The object I was seeking was being protected by an ancient spirit. A spirit who had existed since the early days of the world. A spirit known as The Tear of the Goddess for she was born from a lake which was formed when the Goddess, Andromeda, wept a tear of joy upon seeing the beauty of the world her brother, Aldaron, had created. She was not an easy spirit to please, and I did not expect her to oblige willingly to my request.

When I arrived, she seemed to have been waiting for me. Nynevienne, the Lady of the Lake, stood atop the still waters, and watched me approach with an icy cold stare.

“Why have you come here, ward of Solomon?” Nynevienne asked with a voice like glass.

Confident, I replied, “You know why I am here, Ancient One.”

“The null-blade was not intended for you,” Nynevienne said. There was no change in the tone of her voice, but all around me, the air turned a biting cold, as if it were a response to some imperceptible emotion.

“Aye, Great Spirit, it may not have been intended for me, but since I have Pendragon blood running through my veins, it is my right to challenge for it.”

“Very well,” Nynevienne said. Slowly, she descended into the lake, leaving no ripples. Moments after she had totally disappeared, a hand emerged, rising slowly from the lake, clutching firmly to the object I was seeking. Excalibur, the null-blade, the anti-magic weapon, shone and glinted in the moonlight.

Slowly, I waded into the still waters and made my way towards the object of my desire. As I swam, each breath became harder to draw, each stroke became harder to make. The Lady of the Lake was fighting me, hard. Eventually, I reached the center of the lake, where Excalibur was being held aloft by a spectral hand. The moment I reached out to touch the sword, the whole world turned upside down.

In what seemed to be a maelstrom, I was lurched violently into the lake. Water collapsed rapidly into my ears, my nostrils, my mouth and my lungs. I was drowning. Nynevienne was insulted, Nynevienne was angry, and this was how she manifested her wrath. I tried to swim against the current, but that was just an act of futility. Each movement I performed seemed to drain me of rapidly depleting energy. Each movement I performed seemed to take me only deeper into the lake.

For a brief moment, I was still, like a mannequin suspended in water illuminated by moonlight. Was this the end of the line? Would my life end in this cold, damp place? Was this my fate? In that moment, I thought about my mother and my nameless, faceless father. I thought about Uther and Arthur. I thought about Solomon and Sylvanus. Slowly, I felt resolution build up inside me. I may not have been able to defeat Nynevienne in a battle of strength, but I sure could beat her in a battle of wills. Steadily, clutching hard to Excalibur, I swam towards the surface and out of the lake. I was victorious, I had won, and my prize, the null-blade, was firmly in my hand.

 

 

Interlude – The Dwarf and The Dark Eyed Woman

 

Once upon a time, Durinn was the most revered and respected dwarf in all of Svartalfheim. He was the most hardworking and talented craftsman. Many came from all over the land to see his marvelous creations with their own eyes and to pay homage to him. He was honored and he was pleased.

One day, a human woman approached Durinn. She wore a veil which covered everything but her eyes. Eyes which were deep pools of obsidian. She came to Durinn for she had heard that none in all the world was as skilled a craftsman as he, and she had a job for him.

When Durinn heard her request, he gave a great guffaw. It was virtually impossible. She might as well have been asking for the sun and stars. Disappointed, the woman turned away. As she was leaving, she promised to find one who would be capable of fulfilling her request.

Durinn halted her departure, not because he was afraid there was some craftsman greater than himself; he knew not even the gods had greater skill than him. He halted her departure, because he saw that the brightness had been drained from her eyes and was ashamed that he was the cause. He decided then and there that he would do anything to see the warmth return to her eyes, even if he had to waste precious time and materials in attempting to make what she wanted.

For seven days and nights, Durinn worked the fires of his forge. His dwarven brethren watched in wonder as his workshop became as fiery as the throat of the dragon. They watched in amazement as Durinn struck his anvil with such force that even the mountains seemed to quake. What could he be up to, they wondered? When they finally saw what Durinn had made, they were astonished, ashamed and shocked.

When the dark eyed woman first approached Durinn, she came with two items and demanded that he unify them as one. Durinn judged that the task was impossible, since the items were as incompatible as fire and water. They were magic and anti-magic. But Durinn was never one to back down from a challenge, also he had his own selfish motivations. So he worked, day and night, that the dark eyed woman’s mad dream become a reality. Against all odds and to everyone’s surprise, he succeeded.

From the Dark Crystal and the Null Blade, Durinn forged a new item. He melted the steel of Excalibur and re-set it to make a beautiful diadem, a diadem which he decorated with the Dark Crystal. Thus magic and anti-magic were united as one. It was not as simple a feat as it seemed. Even the strongest of giants would not have had the raw strength to hold the two objects together. Even the oldest of elves would not have had the magical aptitude to prevent the two objects from annihilating one another. The knowledge of how this feat was achieved was a secret Durinn took to his grave. And it was a grave he entered sooner than expected.

The Dwarves, ashamed by the abomination the master craftsman had made, cast him out of their kingdom. No amount of skill justified the creation of such atrocities. Dishonored, he left the warmth of their golden halls to live isolated in the cold, dark mountains. As Durinn starved through the winter, he remembered the glimmer returning to the woman’s dark eyes, and it kept him full. As Durinn shivered from the biting cold, he remembered the kiss the dark eyed woman gave him on the cheek, and it kept him warm.

But not for very long.

 

 

Part Six – Strange Encounters in the Woods

 

A few years passed and I spent the time consolidating my power. I increased my mastery of spells and charms, made allegiances with dark spirits, beasts and marginalized fractions, and obtained the most powerful weapon that had ever existed. An item which was magical offense and defense combined as one. Sylvanus’ days were numbered and my vengeance would soon be complete.

My reputation spread rapidly across all of Avalon and soon some brave and foolish souls began to seek me out. They wanted to use my power to resolve their petty conflicts. Some, I turned them away, but not before giving them a good scare. Others, I granted their nonsense requests. It was always good practice, turning unfaithful spouses into filthy pigs.

One day, when I felt confident enough in my prowess, I put on a veil that covered everything but my eyes, mounted my dark mare, and made my way slowly towards Camelot. I began my journey at dusk, and by midnight, I had arrived, unnoticed, in the woods behind the castle.

I walked down a familiar path, towards a clearing I had first discovered as an eighteen year old girl. I knew my target would be at the same place. He may have guessed, long ago, that I had discovered his secret, but he was overconfident like that.

I arrived at the clearing to see familiar sights. Sylvanus, on his stool, in the middle of his dark ritual while his faceless soldiers helped him. This time I did not hide behind trees and among bushes. This time I walked out into the open, where the campfire would reveal me. As I made my entrance, I exuded an aura that made all the slaves and their captors fall into a heavy sleep. All but Sylvanus.

It took Sylvanus quite a while to notice my presence. The ritual was a tiring ordeal and it took such a toll on his body that it must have dulled his senses. Eventually he saw me; tall, beautiful, fierce and powerful. I was no longer the girl he had bullied in the castle so many years ago. I was now a powerful enchantress.

“Ah, this is a pleasant surprise,” Sylvanus said. His voice was deep but the words were strained. “When you disappeared with the dark crystal all those years ago, I was disappointed that perhaps you had pawned it for a few petty coins. I never imagined that you knew its true value. I never imagined that you would keep it for yourself. Who would have thought that all the gossip that reached my ears about a dark eyed witch was really news of a brat like you? Ha, no matter. I have had my sights on the Dark Crystal for a long time. Have you come to deliver it to me?”

His arrogance infuriated me but I willed myself to remain calm. “Sylvanus,” I said. “I know what you truly are. You pride yourself on being a great magician with a healing touch, but all you do is practice dark magic. Even Solomon, who you despised so mu-”

“Don’t compare me to that wench!” Sylvanus screamed.

I smirked, satisfied that I was getting under his skin, and said, “You are nothing like her. She was a goddess and you are nothing but an insignificant gnat.”

“Oh, if I’m a gnat, you are but a writhing maggot.”

“Me? A maggot? Ha! Your overconfidence will be the death of you, old man.”

“This isn’t overconfidence,” Sylvanus said, with a voice returning to its natural cadence. “Do not confuse the parlor tricks you perform with that crystal for real magic. Let me show you true power.”

Sylvanus moved to attack and it was an attack I had anticipated. He stretched out his hands and started to radiate dark energy towards me. It was energy that contained all the illnesses and ailments he had held within himself. He would surely have killed me then and there, but, unfortunately for him, he did not count on my secret weapon.

Excalibur would simply have blocked the attack, but my diadem, along with the Dark Crystal, amplified and redirected the dark energies back to their source. I watched as Sylvanus was overcome with energy he couldn’t control.

He lay on the ground, suffering from a hundred different diseases all at once. Being a conduit is always inherently dangerous. One has to make sure they never cross the threshold of what they can handle. Sylvanus may have been proud, but for years he had been careful. He had been careful but his vigilance lapsed at just the wrong moment.  The second he turned his short, stubby fingers towards me, it was over for him. Now he was overwhelmed by disease, and he did not have the strength to hold it at bay. He would die there in the clearing with no one to help him. I suppose it was a fitting death for a man who had risen up the social ranks by taking sickness and disease from the rich and giving them to the poor. He was trapped, suffering the fate he was so eager to subject to those he deemed lesser than himself.

 

 

Part Seven – Solomon’s Legacy

 

That night, following our battle, I briskly rode back to my abode in the woods. I was victorious, but my mind was heavy with thought. Over the years I had sacrificed so much to gain enough power to defeat Sylvanus and now I had finally achieved that feat. I felt fulfilled, sure, but could this really be my lives work? Could I honestly call myself a student of the great Solomon if my Magnum Opus was something as trifling as defeating a third rate magician?

That night, filled with a strange angst, I went to bed. Unbeknownst to me, forces had been set into motion. Forces which would decide the trajectory of my life for the foreseeable future.

I awoke to grim news from my spies. Long after I absconded the scene, my ravens stayed to watch the forest. Apparently Sylvanus had survived much, much longer than I predicted. He stayed alive long enough to be discovered by the King’s Knights. With his dying breath, and with no one to counter his words, he spewed lies to the King about how he confronted a dark sorceress in the forest and sought to release the people she had enslaved. He told the King that I, Morgan Le Fay, was the evil he had fallen to. Arthur took in every word like sponge, never bothering to question the man who had manipulated his household for decades.

After Sylvanus drew his last breath, Arthur swore that he would see me defeated in his lifetime.

The news I received put me in a dark mood. I had just relieved Camelot of a pest who had secretly been leeching off of them, and this was how they would repay me? This was how they would remember me? I was insulted, but more than that, I was angered. If Arthur wanted a war, then a war he would have. He and his kinsmen were not exactly innocent either. They had been responsible for Solomon’s death, but more than that, they were responsible for making my life miserable.

The sun had set on Solomon’s era, true. But now the moon was rising on a new era. The Era of Morgan Le Fay. Camelot thought they had destroyed their worst enemy when they killed Solomon, but unbeknownst to them, they had catalyzed the creation of the one who would carry on her Legacy. I may not be as powerful as the great Solomon, but my reputation would be just as fierce, or maybe even more so.

 

 

Epilogue – The Queen’s Gambit

 

When Morgan was done with her story, the embers in the campfire had long since burned out, but the fire blazed on. Morgan stared at Mordred, expectantly. Mordred was still staring at the fire, with his signature brooding expression.

“Well, aren’t you going to say anything?” Morgan asked.

“I’m still thinking about your story,” Mordred replied.

“What’s there to think about? Did I recount some of the parts in the elvish tongue?” Morgan asked wryly.

Mordred sighed, “It’s just, what you’ve told me is so different from what I know of you. If it turns out to be true…”

Morgan let out a high pitched laugh. “Why would I lie to you? Who are you?” The last words in each statement were emphasized out of spite.

Mordred, insulted, took his eyes away from the fire for the first time in hours and stared at Morgan for a hot moment. She didn’t notice however. Her attention was elsewhere.

“Would you look at that,” Morgan said. “The sun is almost above the horizon. You best be on your way back to Camelot.”

“What happened to my men?” Mordred demanded, his voice full of steel.

“Oh don’t be so thick, boy. They abandoned you!”

“What happened to them?”

“Oh look at you, so high and noble. Still thinking about those who left you to die. Who cares what happened to them? The Forest of the Weeping Willows is a dangerous place. Travelling through it as a group of twelve doesn’t guarantee your safety any more than travelling as a group of thirteen.”

Mordred bowed his head and looked sad for a moment and then, “Very well witch, what happens now?”

Anger flashed over Morgan’s face the moment she heard the word ‘witch’ but she maintained composure. “I’m going to let you go, as a sign of my goodwill. No creature will hurt you as you make your way out of this forest. This, I promise you.”

Through wounded pride and gritted teeth, Mordred said, “I thank you for your magnanimity.” As he walked out of the camp, it never once occurred to him to look up.

Morgan watched him as he left. She had her doubts about that one but she was still, paradoxically, sure that she had made the right decision. The emotional ones are always easier to manipulate, she thought. They are always burning with a fire that can achieve great things when fanned in the right direction. Sure, he might not entirely believe her now, but as he walked back to Camelot, the dark seeds she had planted in his heart would grow and flower and bear favorable fruit. Old age was catching up, her powers were fading and she needed to make a move for Camelot while Arthur was still King. A more competent King would be infinitely harder to deal with.

Mordred would be her agent. Mordred would be her slave. Mordred would tear a rift through the proud cabal known as The Knights of The Round Table. Mordred would stab Arthur in the back when the time came and then he would open up the gates of Camelot to Morgan Le Fay and her entourage. This, she was sure of. Morgan would then take her rightful place on the Siege Perilous and Camelot would be hers to rule.

First Camelot, then Avalon.

Sitting alone at the clearing in the forest, Morgan felt her spirits lift, like birds riding a homeward breeze. In spite of herself, she couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

 

 

The End

 

 

Author’s note: Though Power and Glory may feature characters and locations from Arthurian Legends and the Poetic Edda, it is more or less an original story. If you managed to make it this far in reading it, I appreciate (all five of) you. These stories wouldn’t exist if not for you. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On The Fringes of Our Awareness

 

 

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

-Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelly

 

 Prologue

 

The scene was desolate. Sand stretched in all directions towards the horizon. A horizon characterized by the faint peaks of a distant mountain range and a brilliant blue sky. It was high noon.

The scene was desolate, but not featureless. The black tar of a road divided the desert into two halves. An imperfect division, as the curves and undulations of the road created uneven areas here and there. The desert itself was specked and freckled with cacti, rattlesnakes, skulls and many other unknowable things. A diner sat at a point beside the road.

From the outside, the diner appeared abandoned. A sudden rush of wind created a faint whistling noise as the air collided with the machinery of a broken down scooter. Newspapers were sent rustling across the parking lot. Great white clouds, drifting over the scene, cast menacing shadows. Shadows which provided fleeting respite from the blazing heat of the sun.

Within the diner however, all was chaos. Three individuals occupied the diner. A woman dressed like a waitress huddled in a corner with her hand over her mouth. Struggling not to scream, struggling not to cry out loud. She was the personification of distress.

Lying next to her, spread eagled and barely conscious, was her partner. Unlike her, he kept a straight face. A countenance maintained by false bravado. Deep down, he was probably more distressed than her, as he stared down the barrel of a gun.

The gun was being held by Tommy Lee. A man who, up until that day, had never held a gun in his life.

Fuck, Tommy Lee thought. Why did he have to be a hero? Why didn’t he just give me the fucking money! Fuck! I’ve never killed anyone before. I have to finish the job. I…I can’t.

 As Tommy Lee struggled to resolve his internal conflict, he was dimly aware that a metaphorical clock was counting down. Counting down until the moment that the all-but-inept cops finally turned the corner and headed straight towards the diner. He saw the woman use the phone. He knew they were coming.

Tommy Lee struggled to come to terms with the reality that he would have to commit murder for the first time, and not just once but twice. There could be no witnesses. Of course He didn’t have to kill them, but Tommy Lee had never been a big fan of loose ends.

Fuck this, Tommy Lee thought. As a stranger to the art of thinking under pressure, his mental faculties were dedicated more to cursing his bad luck than to resolving his quagmire.

“Please….you don’t have to do this.”

“Shut the fuck up!”

The woman had spoken up for the first time, and despite his harsh response, the sheer terror in her voice had influenced him. Her doe-like eyes, welling up with tears had touched him. More to his relief than to hers, he realized he was going to let them go.

He had secretly been hoping that something or someone would choose for him. He had secretly been hoping that his hostage would turn aggressive or sympathetic, justifying Tommy Lee’s use of his gun or otherwise, but no. The man had just been lying there silently, obstinately, keeping the two of them in a deadlock.

Regardless of the man’s stubbornness, a decision had been made. Judgment had been passed. Tommy Lee would lower his gun slowly and then turn and run as fast as possible. He sighed internally, feeling that this was the beginning of the end of his troubles.

Well, Tommy Lee did not move. He did not lower his gun. It remained perfectly aimed at the forehead of his hostage. Aimed with a mathematical precision you wouldn’t expect from a first time shooter.

This wasn’t his indecision acting up. Oh no. Tommy Lee had most certainly decided to let them go. This was…something else.

As a large cloud cloaked the sun, the brightness of the scene lessened and the wind blew harder and colder. Bit by bit, Tommy Lee could feel himself losing his free will. Losing to something. Something dark and arcane and evil.

Through his struggle, Tommy Lee became aware of the presence of a fourth person. A man, standing outside the diner, peering at them through the window; all in black, with dark eyes. Had he always been there? Somehow, Tommy Lee felt that the answer to that question did not matter. Somehow, Tommy Lee felt the dark man was perceptible only to him.

Tommy Lee began to shiver, but his gun was kept leveled. His aim remained perfect. What’s happening to me?

The man in black smiled. Tommy Lee tightened his grip. The man in black smiled wider. Tommy Lee cocked the gun.

The smile was now a grin. Tommy Lee felt himself losing even more control. The grin started to widen slowly. A grin formed not as a subconscious reflex to humor but by cold calculating control of the facial muscles, much like the grins of corpses undergoing rigor mortis.

With every fibre of his being, Tommy Lee struggled for control. He struggled so viciously that he must have ruptured a blood vessel or torn a muscle. Regardless, the dark man’s grin grew wider and Tommy Lee’s aim remained true. The grin grew wider and wider and wider….until….

BAM!

A gunshot went off. A woman screamed. All into nothingness.

 

End

 

 

 

“This was your heart
This swarm of flies,
This was once your mouth
This bowl of lies”

-Leonard Cohen, Nevermind

 

 

Act I

 

They called him the crawling chaos. This was because he first appeared in their nightmares as a large mass of tentacles, crawling slowly over reality, leaving nothing in his wake. Nothing but pain and suffering and terror.

They called him the crawling chaos, but he had other names too. They gave him names signifying death and decay and they paid homage to him by painting hieroglyphics and images of carrion feeders in their pyramids and temples. In most of these images, he was never seated among the pantheon of gods. He was always outside the picture, watching and waiting.

As the royals prowled their palaces, he was always there with them. Not as a man, for back then he was not strong enough to assume a corporeal form. No, he was there as an idea. Echoing about the halls and chambers, leading its inhabitants deeper into suspicion, into paranoia, into betrayal, into usurpation, into murder.

As the royals were led to commit heinous acts in their game of wars and thrones, they did so in his name. He left his mark, and his power grew.

 

 

Act II

 

He was there, during the Macedonian Wars. Behind the scenes, he had positioned the chess pieces perfectly, setting them up for all out war, for all out carnage.

After Caesar’s soldiers had done their bidding, after they had lain waste to countless small villages during their arduous march to the Hellespont, he was there.

He inhabited the bodies of scarecrows and watched from the fields as vultures and ravens fed on the bodies of the fallen, of the slain, of the innocent.

He watched with an all seeing eye and was pleased as he took sustenance from the monstrous acts that had transpired earlier.

 

 

Act III

 

During the first and second world wars, he experienced a tremendous spike in power. Suddenly, bullets and bombs were not enough for the Hitlers and Stalins of the world. Oh no. From their offices and chambers in high castles and bunkers, they gave orders that the battlefields be bathed in his breath.  From a vantage point he watched, pleased, as men, women and children died grotesque deaths from chemical weapons and poisonous gases. He watched, as they died slow painful deaths, melting from within.

Of those who survived these attacks, he lived on in their minds and memories. Many years after the wars, he lived on in their nightmares. He plagued them at night, only so they would be pushed to do wicked things during the day.

And in a perpetuation of the cycle, those damaged men were taken to psychiatric institutions for the criminally insane. Only to be used as subjects, only to be used as lab rats. Only to be used by scientists who became morally bankrupt as they performed procedures which had the barest minimum to do with science.

He was there, in the cells and the labs, and he was pleased.

 

 

Interlude

 

Something stirs in the vast emptiness of space. Something stirs in a space outside space. Something wakes from an eternal slumber. Something of infinite scale. Something dark, tentacled and slimy. Something hungry.

 

 

Act IV

 

Sometime during the early two thousands, he experienced something similar to an identity crisis. I suppose it’s a crisis that all immortal beings must eventually face.

It was a crisis born out of loneliness. Not the same caliber of loneliness that humans experience. This was something else, lacking in depth.

Once upon a time, when the universe was still young and the lightest of elements had just been formed, he and his brethren came into being. They were beings formed in the first breath of creation. They were conceived and gestated in the cores of stars, eventually falling towards the earth as comets. Yes, the primordial Pandora’s Box was a small mass consisting of ice, dust, gas and stranger things.

Some of his brethren failed to make the trip, and died then. Some had orbits and trajectories which were off the required axis by a few degrees, sending them hurtling into the vast emptiness of space. Some made their ways to alien worlds, acting as the harbingers of a Reign of Terror. But many more made it to earth.

He, too, would have died: Existing merely as an amorphous blob floating on the surface of a rudimentary planet, he, too, would have faded into obsolescence. But, lucky for him, his descent into oblivion was prevented by a pivotal moment in the history of mankind.

With the emergence of the upright man, with the evolution from Homo habilis to Homo sapiens, there was a transformation in the mind of man. A growth which led to the onset of self awareness. The self-conscious man had arrived, and at once, the brain of man became the most powerful tool in the universe.

His next course of action was not just the most logical choice, it was the only choice. Even though he found it deprecating, he abandoned his “body” to seek refuge in the mind of man. Some of his siblings did this as well, but many more were too arrogant to make this transition. They died unremarkable deaths and no one remembered their names.

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

For eons he existed in the mind of man as an idea, as a concept. A concept which motivated people to take certain actions, a concept which shadowed some of their decisions. For every act they committed under his influence, he grew stronger. He grew in power, slowly, steadily until one day he was strong enough to assume corporeal form, to walk the Earth with a body of his own.

When this happened, he was free to move without limitation, and he shared his dark gifts generously. He was no longer locked to a particular era or location. Now, he existed everywhere, omni-time. As a direct consequence of his activism, malevolent acts performed in his name increased tremendously. For centuries, his servants had yearned for his presence, and now he had finally arrived.

Of the humans who were religiously inclined, they took this as a sign of the end times, as the first breeze of the coming storm. It never occurred to them however that the apocalypse was not what they had been led to believe it was. It never occurred to them that the apocalypse itself was just a period of steady decline leading up to a main event that would never come to pass. A period of decline in morals, a period of decline in values, a period marked by rising violence, marked by rising dread. Rising slowly, but without limit. Never reaching a climax, never reaching a crescendo.

His Reign of Terror had arrived and it was glorious. This was a goal he had been working towards for millions of years. This was the purpose for which he was born. This was the purpose for which he had deliberately weakened himself and bided his time. This was the purpose for which he risked death. And now that it had been accomplished, now that his initial burst of euphoria had lessened in intensity, he felt….nothing.

Where was the satisfaction that was prophesized?

This was his crisis: The extreme discomfort of emptiness in the absence of fulfillment. Those who did not know him well may have been inclined to call him sad, but others were not so naïve. Others knew he did not feel those base emotions, he only simulated them. Regardless, the emptiness he felt was more real than anything he had ever experienced. He was disturbed, disturbed more than he cared to admit to himself.

 

 

Act V

 

He sat on a rock on the moon, looking down at the earth. A magnificent blue orb suspended in darkness. He thought about his siblings and his children. Could they, by chance, explain these feelings to him? Where were they now? Where did they go? For millennia, he had not seen any of his kin. Deep down, he knew they were dead. The humans had forgotten them, hence they ceased to exist. He was utterly and absolutely alone.

In time, would they forget him too? Would he also cease to exist? Perhaps this would have satisfied him; the sweet nothingness of death. However, with absolute certainty, he knew that he would live forever.

His siblings had died because the humans no longer had any use for them. As the humans progressed further into enlightenment, they shed their superstitious beliefs and killed his kinsmen in the process. Cut off from the source of their power, his brothers and sisters ceased to exist. Helpless to their destiny, erased, as though they had never been.

He on the other hand, was special. He would live forever because he was an integral part of human nature. They could never do away with him, no matter how hard they tried. No matter how much they conspired with evolution, probability and the advancing arrow of time. He would always be there, as a voice in their heads. Guiding some of their actions, making his influence known.

Beings of darkness and light alike may have been made non-existent by the mind of modern man, but he knew this could never be his fate. By the very act of thinking, they were creating accommodation for him. In so far as a thought could be framed by a negative emotion, he would show his crooked smile.

Suddenly, all feelings of depression and despair were dispelled. There was no need for all that worry. Not at all. Not when he would live forever. His own existence was predicated on the existence of humans and insofar as they existed, so would he. They were his mortal instruments, and as they spread out in their starships to colonize all of space, they also, unknowingly, set out to preach his gospel. This realization pleased him and was enough to dispel his feeling of existential angst.

Maybe one day he would cease to exist, maybe he too would fade into oblivion. But, as humans spread out from galaxy to galaxy, the probability of a cosmic extinction level event eradicating their entire species declined rapidly.

The universe had aged to accommodate three constants. The first was the accelerated expansion of space. The second was the forward march of time, and the third, he arrogantly thought, was his Reign of Terror.

Sitting on his rock, his brooding countenance transformed into a grin, into his signature rictus. That night, all who bathed in the light of the moon were driven into lunacy. They did terrible things and they left no witnesses.

Eventually, he left the moon and returned to earth. Mounted on a motorbike, he sped along abandoned highways in the dead of the night. He was high with ecstasy, and, unable to contain himself, he laughed. His laughter was a sound that put thunderclouds to shame. His laughter was a terrible thing to behold.

 

 

Epilogue

 

Something wakes from a slumber. Something of infinite age, of infinite dimensions. A great beast in a space outside space and a time outside time. Instinctively, it becomes aware of its tremendous hunger. Instinctively, it reaches out with its tentacles. Slowly, it begins to wrap around the closest thing it can find. It opens its humungous maw in anticipation of the meal.

The meal itself appears measly. No larger than a bubble. A bubble growing slowly, growing negligibly. A bubble containing multitudes within multitudes. Regardless of the paltry meal, the great beast does not wane in eagerness. It has awoken from its billion year slumber to realize, pleased, that it still has an appetite for starstuff.

 

 

End

The Crocodile’s Dilemma

“You said if you could have your way

You’d make it nighttime all today

So it’d suit the mood of your soul”

 

-Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, Black Beauty

 

GROWING PAINS (PART 1)

 

Caden was halfway through his book when she arrived. It was a fictitious tale about a man who could see the future. It wasn’t normally the kind of thing Caden would read, but with the foreknowledge that his goddaughter would be visiting, he did not want to commit himself to a more demanding subject, or activity.

The book was a depressing affair and Caden was glad that Emuin’s arrival had freed him of the obligation to see it through to its end. It had been years since he last saw his goddaughter, and despite the fact that Caden was not one for social engagements, he had rather been looking forward to her visit. The passion and zeal of her youth was quite welcome, especially in his old age.

He opened the door to his chambers after the second knock, and there she stood at the doorway. Tall and fierce, with a shock of red hair flowing past her shoulders. Her smile never failed to soften his heart.

“Godfather, it’s been ages,” Emuin said.

“It’s been far too long,” Caden replied as he embraced her.

Once inside, he served her a cup of the beverage he had prepared earlier that morning. The name of the beverage had long since faded from Caden’s mind, but the recipe was not something he had allowed himself to forget.

“How are things at the top?” Caden asked.

“You know,” Emuin replied after taking a sip. “They are…..vibrant as ever.”

Caden chuckled. “Why the hesitation?”

“Well, I don’t want to come across as being negative by saying things are hedonistic.”

Caden laughed. “My child, you do remind me of myself sometimes.”

“It’s just so frustrating,” Emuin said. “The only form of advancement our society makes is infrastructural. Other than the increasing height of the tower, everything else is retrogressing; our culture, our ideologies and our way of life. Has it always been this way, godfather?”

“Not always,” Caden replied. “Once upon a time, when the tower was not so tall, we lived in solidarity. Back then, the sound of the ocean waves crashing against the base of the tower served as morbid reminders of the fate we so narrowly escaped and motivated us to work harder and build higher. Now, as the tower grows, and as those memories of the harsh surface fade away, so does our humility. But do not fret, majority of the members of every civilization always behave like sheep, lacking original individual thought. It has always been up to superior minds like yours and mine to provide illumination and leadership.”

Emuin had a solemn look on her face as she took in her godfather’s words.

Even though he was one of the most revered members of society, Caden had not been to the upper levels of the tower in a while; hence his interaction with his goddaughter was a way of learning about current affairs.

Nothing much seemed to have changed. The only notable piece of information Emuin told him, was that construction of the tower would become fully autonomous in a few cycles. Despite the fact that he had made his peace with it years ago, Caden was still struck with melancholy at the fact that he would soon become obsolete.

Caden was the last member of the Architects, a group of individuals who not only provided technical know-how in the construction of the tower, but were responsible for ushering mankind into the new age as a sky-faring species, up and up and up.

The Architects were a proud coven of scientists, philosophers and leaders, and were the strongest influence over the people’s way of life. Eventually, as the tower grew in height, and the various levels of the tower grew in strength and self-sufficiency, the mythos of the Architects weakened, and they faded away. Caden was the last surviving member, and as the days passed, he felt more and more like a relic. Like an anachronism.

Caden was so deep in thought that he didn’t even hear Emuin call him the first time, or the second.

“Godfather!” She bellowed a third time.

“Mmm,” Caden snapped out of his musing.

“I was asking about that painting on the wall.”

Caden followed her line of sight until he saw what she was talking about. “Ah yes, it’s a painting of an old friend.”

Emuin, detecting the change in his tone, sensed that she had stumbled onto a sensitive subject. She chose her next words carefully. “What happened to him?”

Caden sighed and was silent for a long time. “I suppose, it is a tale that needs to be told, before I pass on. I have carried the weight of his memory for far too long a time, and I suppose it is a burden I can finally allow myself to share.”

And with that, he began his tale…

 

 

…………

 

 

THE BALAD OF CADEN AND YORICK

 

Some say the Tower was built to pierce the eye of God

 

 

They were just boys when they first met. Back then, the tower was only about half its current height. Communication between levels was slow, and news took as long as a week to travel between levels more than three floors apart. Also, Stairs were still a thing.

Caden was excited to finally begin his tutelage as an Architect. Ever since he found out he had been chosen, he could barely contain his excitement and often fantasized about all sorts of esoteric knowledge he would be privy to. Would he finally know the age of the tower? Would he hear stories about the surface world before it was submerged by water? Would he finally see drawings of the prehistoric creatures known as horses?

He walked into Master Hector’s office with a huge grin on his face. When he entered, his teacher was nowhere to be found. All he saw were some books at the desk with a note saying, ‘Reading assignment, to be completed in 6 hours.’

Caden’s smile slowly turned into a frown. He sighed, sat down and started to read. The task soon proved more difficult than he had initially estimated. The material was dense and boring. He had been expecting stimulating tales about the surface world and the early days of the tower, but instead, the subject matter was abstruse and filled with technicalities such as the number of bricks in the left wall of level three hundred and twenty nine of the tower, or the names of the architects who invented the three-way pulley.

Exasperated, Caden sighed.

“You’ve noticed it too haven’t you?”

Startled, Caden looked behind him and saw he wasn’t alone. Sitting at the back of the room, with dark clothes and his own pile of books was another boy; dark haired, thin and smallish. How long had he been there?

“Who are you?” Caden asked.

“I’m Yorick,” the boy said. A student just like you. “You’ve noticed it too haven’t you?”

“What?” Caden said, with a hostile tone.

“There’s something weird about the books, isn’t there. Something…lacking.”

Despite his frustration about being taken by surprise, Caden admitted to himself that he felt it too. It was as if all knowledge of the outside surface world was deliberately being suppressed.

“It’s not just these books, its all of them,” Yorick said.

Indeed, Caden had noticed the anomaly, but his pride had been insulted by the fact that someone else had pointed it out to him. Hence, he kept silent. Caden continued to read in silence, while the strange boy sat behind him and watched.

 

…….

 

Over the next couple of months, and outside the shadow of their first encounter, the acquaintance between Caden and Yorick blossomed into a friendship. A friendship held together by bonds which were strengthened by the shared trials of their tutelage. Both of them had been very excited to have been selected as Architects and both of them had inevitably been deeply disappointed. Of course, expectation rarely lived up to reality, but in this case, the disparity between the expectation and the reality was so huge that their disappointment was accompanied by anger. Anger about their situation and their naiveté.

The brotherhood of the Architects was just a group of washed up drunkards who prided themselves on history and legacy. No wonder they were dying out.

Over the years, they both made peace with their predicament, although they did so for different reasons. Caden was placated by the fact that, as an Architect, he still got access to the best resources in the tower. The best food, the best living chambers and the best women. Yorick was placated by the fact that as an Architect, he was an individual of influence. He could find ways to make the coven great again, especially from the inside. He could find ways to take it back to its former glory.

Caden and Yorick were good friends. Some would say best friends. But the dynamic of their friendship was unique. Unique in the sense that it was marked by horrible unilateral co-dependency. It was as if Yorick needed Caden to survive. As a child, Yorick had struggled to relate with other children his age, and now that he had finally formed a meaningful relationship, he clung to it as tightly as a nail to a magnet.

Caden was aware of Yorick’s co-dependence and tolerated it for several reasons. For one, Yorick was his psychological punching bag. Whenever Caden was in a bad mood, he always verbally abused Yorick. He knew Yorick was too weak to retaliate.

Regardless of all this, they still shared a lot of good times together and had genuine moments of true friendship. They helped each other through several trails during their school days. Yorick was smart and compassionate, Caden was cunning and audacious. Together, they were quite the duo.

After their graduation, they were posted to work on different levels of the tower. Slowly but surely, they began to grow apart. Initially, Caden worried that their separation would deteriorate Yorick’s mental health, but over time, his concern faded. They heard of each other less and less, as the complications and realities of adult life widened the chasm between them.

 

……

 

Caden had not seen or heard from Yorick for twenty years after their graduation. Sometimes, he wondered if his estranged friend was okay and decided that, regarding Yorick, no news was good news. Well, news about Yorick eventually found its way to Caden and the contents suggested that things were far from alright with his friend. Very far from alright.

At first, Caden tried to push all thought about Yorick out of his mind. However, in his quiet moments, right before sleeping or when having a meal, Yorick was there in his thoughts.

Eventually, Caden gave up and decided he had an obligation to find his friend. He hadn’t been to the lower levels of the Tower in a while and was not looking forward to the descent.

 

……

 

Yorick was not a difficult man to find. Once Caden had descended to the lower levels of the tower, marketplaces were awash with gossip about the senile Architect. Caden followed those stories and soon enough, he found his friend.

When Caden opened the door to Yorick’s chambers, a crack of light fell across his friends face and woke him up. Yorick was a mess. He looked like he hadn’t taken a bath in days and his room was crowded with mountains of tomes and scrolls.

“Caden? Is it really you?” Yorick said, after looking up at his friend.

“My friend, what has happened to you?” Caden replied.

Yorick immediately turned hostile. “Why have you come here Caden?”

“To help you. Why else?”

“I don’t need any help,” Yorick said. With that Yorick entered a great fit of coughing. Coughing so vehement that it seemed to shake up his entire body.

Caden immediately moved to pour him a cup of water. As Yorick drank, Caden said, “It seems you do need me, my friend. You always have.”

Childhood memories of how his ‘friend’ treated him began to resurface and a look of disgust formed on Yorick’s face. True to Yorick’s memory of him, Caden did not react to the look. Yorick was sure that Caden did not have the emotional intelligence to notice such subtleties within others. Or even worse, he noticed, but just didn’t care.

“What’s been going on with you?” Caden asked as Yorick stabilized.

Yorick hesitated. Had his childhood friend grown into a man he could trust? Highly unlikely, but if not him, who else? Who else was capable enough? Who else cared enough? Yorick’s health continued to deteriorate day after day and someone needed to finish the work he had started, in case he failed to finish it himself.

“Listen Caden,” Yorick started. “Remember all those hours we spent in Master Hector’s office? Remember all those books we were forced to read? Remember how we noticed there was something weird about them?”

“Of course I do,” Caden said.

“It wasn’t just a childish conspiracy, Caden,” Yorick said. “The Architects of old really did all they could to bury all knowledge of the outside world.”

Caden had come to the same conclusion years ago, but unlike Yorick, he had decided that it was for the best.

“Where are you going with this?” Caden asked.

“I wanted to know what they tried so hard to keep secret. So I went downwards, deep down to the uninhabited levels.”

“My gods, Yorick. And did you reach it?” Caden asked.

“The surface? Of course not. Not even close. But I got low enough to make very disturbing discoveries.”

“What did you find?”

“The lower levels are all abandoned. No life whatsoever. No caretakers either. The walls, they shake and crack and crumble. They are weakened and it seems, the higher the tower goes, the weaker they get.”

There was a long pause.

“Yorick, are you saying what I think you are saying,” Caden said. “This is blasphemy.”

“It’s the truth,” Yorick countered. We are building upwards and towards our deaths.

“Enough!” Caden shouted. “Enough of this madness. You really have gone senile. I came to see you out of concern, but I will not tolerate your sacrilege. I see you are better than I imagined. Physically, at least. Please do not make any further trouble. You tarnish the Architect legacy.”

Yorick was silent, then he said, “You really haven’t changed at all. You arrogant twat.”

“And you’re still a pathetic little worm,” Caden countered.

“Get out. Now!”

“Gladly.”

And with that, Caden took his leave.

 

…..

 

Caden did not immediately return to the upper levels. He lingered for a day, and thought about his friend’s words. Maybe, there was truth to it, but was there any room for such truth in today’s society? The tower needed to go higher. The stability of their entire society was predicated on that fact. Yorick, however, was suggesting that they needed to halt construction of the tower, or else it would fall. That was complete and utter nonsense.

Caden was worried. Yes, Yorick was senile, but he was still extremely intelligent. He was still, and Caden hated to admit it, competent. There was no telling what a man with his capacity and knowledge could do. There was no telling what a man with his determination would do. Caden resolved that he needed to see his old friend once again, to settle things once and for all. There had to be a way.

 

…….

 

GROWING PAINS (PART 2)

 

“What happened after that, Godfather?” Emuin asked.

“I went to see him but I was too late,” Caden said.

“What do you mean, godfather?”

“He jumped. Ended his own life.”

Emuin gasped. “That’s awful. Why would he do that?”

“He was more unstable than I thought,” Caden replied. “Perhaps, I should have been more gentle, more understanding, more patient.”

“Its okay,” Emuin said as she tried to comfort her perturbed godfather. “You couldn’t have known. You cant blame yourself.”

Caden sighed and was silent for a long time. His countenance was gloomy. Eventually, he snapped out of his mood.

“Would you look at the time. You must be heading back my dear, or your mother will be very cross with me,” Caden said.

“Indeed I must,” Emuin said with a smile. “Take care of yourself, godfather.”

He hugged her one more time, and she left.

 

……

 

Several hours after her departure, Caden found himself reading the book about the prescient man again. It wasn’t that he found it interesting all of a sudden. He just needed a distraction. Telling Emuin the tale about Yorick had brought back several bad memories and he wasn’t sure he wanted to be alone with his thoughts.

In time, he found the courage to put the book away and take himself to bed. As he put on his night gown, he kept thinking about the version of events he had relayed to Emuin. She was too young to understand. Too….innocent. He couldn’t possible bring himself to harden her heart by telling her the truth. The truth about how he pushed Yorick out of the tower.

It was a moment which still gave Caden nightmares. The look of betrayal, shock and understanding on Yorick’s face as Caden sent him hurtling towards his death.

Caden had no regrets. He had to do it. Yorick was too radical, too dangerous. Caden could not allow him to spread his heresy. He had to cauterize the wound. He had to stop the idea before it could spread, and the only way he could stop it was to kill Yorick. Yorick was not a man who could be reasoned with hence violence was the only answer. Caden had never committed any murder before then, but he found it surprisingly easy, considering the fact that he was destroying something which threatened his entire way of life, which threatened the growth of the tower, which threatened the soul of his society. He tossed Caden out of the tower as easily as the Architects of old tossed out acrophobes. There was no room for people like that in the new world.

Caden lay on his bed, turned off his night light and closed his eyes.

Society had come a long way since the tower was first built. In the early days, the tower was just a desperate failsafe to escape the rising sea levels. One way or another, the ancient Architects found a way to make it work. They found ways to remain self sufficient, to provide adequate resources and to control population levels. With each new level of the tower that was added, the people were filled with more and more hope. Upward growth soon became more than infrastructural expansion. In many ways, it was spiritual expansion as well. It was as if the wellbeing of the society was predicated on the upward growth of the tower.

Yorick had suggested that construction of the tower needed to halt because it was in danger of collapse. At the time, Caden was convinced that it was pure nonsense. The Elder Architects would never be so careless as to make the foundations of the tower weak enough to be threatened by aging, to be threatened by decay. The tower was indestructible, everyone knew this, from the most illiterate market woman to the most elite virtuoso.

To halt construction of the tower would be as destructive as robbing each member of civilization of their soul. They would lose hope, they would stagnate and they would die in a prison of steel and stone and bone. The mere thought of it was madness. To stop construction of the tower would be as difficult a task as halting the march of time.

Caden rolled over to the other side of his bed and this time made earnest effort to take his mind off of Yorick and fall asleep.

Sometimes, in the dead of night, he thought he heard strange noises. Creaking and cracking from beneath, echoing upwards towards him. Sometimes he thought he heard Yorick, screaming up at him from the depths. Caden dismissed those noises and attributed them to hyperactivity of his aging mind.

The tower would continue to rise, beyond the firmament, beyond the heavens, up and up and up. It was the most powerful structure in the universe. It was the only structure in the universe. That thought alone gave him peace and calmed his troubled mind.

 

The End

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Prince of Golgotha

“What’s a god to a non-believer?”

 

 

It is often said that boredom is good for creativity; almost a precondition for it. It is said that the tastelessness of a situation or routine which does not excite us will often drive us to think up far more exciting enterprises. This is true for the most part, but what is often excluded, is that the fruits of our creativity may not always be wholesome.

Severe boredom was the catalyst for the first step in the chain reaction leading up to my current predicament. I remember so clearly the day when everything changed. In its progression from sunrise to sunset, I suppose it was a regular day. But in the grand scheme of things, the events which transpired that day served as the fulcrum about which I was catapulted away from regularity of everyday life and downwards into Limbo.

If the days of our lives in Golgotha were like grains of sand in an hourglass, every grain leading up to this day was identical. What made this day distinct was that every grain following it was non-uniform; peculiar, unique, indescribable.

That day, like every other day before, I visited my friend, Xenophilus. When I arrived in his domain, he was in his garden, as I expected him to be.  He was kneeling in the mud, perspiring heavily and beaming at his blooming sunflowers. As I cast a shadow over him, he looked up at me and smiled.

I do not think I can remember a time when Xenophilus’ face was not lined with age, when his mouth did not twitch at the corners of his smile, when his eyes did not twinkle like starlight, when his hair was not streaked with grey.

We began our conversation as we were accustomed to doing.

“You’re getting fat, Constantine,” Xenophilus said.

“You’re getting fatter,” I replied.

This simple exchange was just the build up to something which would become much more intense as it went on. To beings like Xenophilus and me, conversation is the only true escape from ennui. All other possibilities have been exhausted, all other activities are unsatisfactory. True release is obtained only in the heat of an intellectual exchange so rigorous that it borders on violence.

 

 

 

When the activity takes place between two beings of superior intelligence, the act of conversation takes on a new meaning. It ceases to be just a means of communication. It transcends that, to become something much more. Xenophilus and I were always challenging each other, were always pushing each other to the limit. Two entities locked in an eternal battle, like the immovable object and the unstoppable force. As often as our debates were ugly, the products of our debates were beautiful. I often left Xeno’s domain feeling invigorated and energized.

In conversation with Xenophilus that day, something happened. A suggestion was passed from him to me. A suggestion to partake in an activity that changed my life forever. Looking back at it now, I suppose this was the beginning of the end. You would think that with my great intelligence, it should have been apparent to me then. The sad reality is that some things can only be appreciated in retrospect.

I can still hear the words Xenophilus said to me that day as loudly as a crashing waterfall. The words echo about my being, causing my bones to ache, causing my muscles to tremor. I curse Xenophilus and his great intelligence. I curse Xenophilus and his beautiful mind. I curse Xenophilus and his smooth silky voice. I curse the day he said to me, “Constantine, I have something to show you.”

 

………………………………………………………………………

 

I sat in my chair, staring at my arm for minutes. A crimson tear leaked out of a small incision in my arm and fell towards the ground like a corrupted raindrop. My demeanor was calm, but my mind was a raging sea.

What was this feeling? What was this sensation?

At first glance, the sensation was unpleasant. Any lesser mind would definitely dismiss it as so, but to a being such as myself, I could never be satisfied with such a basic description. In my opinion, displeasure and pleasure are simply polar extremities of the same condition. The sensation I felt then spanned all the lighter shades in the spectrum of displeasure. This simply meant that given the right perspective, the sensation could be perceived as euphoric.

I took my eyes of my bleeding arm to look at Xeno, “What is this?”

Xeno looked back at me, bloodied knife in hand, eyes twinkling, “This, my friend, is pain.”

I was like a scientist, looking out of a telescope for the first time and discovering a whole new universe above him. I was like an amphibian, stepping out of the water for the first time and onto the land. This was a new frontier, and I could have been driven mad by the excitement.

 

……………………………………………………………………………

 

“Cut me again,” I instructed Xeno.

He chuckled. “My dear Constantine, be patient. We have much talking to do.”

I willed myself to take my attention away from my bleeding arm, and the sweet, sweet pain.

“How did you discover this?” I asked Xeno

“Yesterday, while doing my gardening, I accidentally cut myself with one of my implements,” Xeno replied. “It has been eons since I have made such a mistake. The feeling was oddly familiar, and trying to remember it was like trying to hold on to a dream in the moments after waking.”

“A fortunate accident then,” I said with a laugh. “What I feel now is transcendental. Well, what are we waiting for? Cut me again.”

Xeno did not move. I looked at his face to see he had a smug expression on. This was the face he always wore when he was about to counter one of my points in an argument with a better one. I began to feel irritated.

“My dear Constantine, I could cut you again. I could cut you all day, and it would feel good. But what you feel now pales in comparison to the type of pain you could feel.”

“What are you talking about Xeno? There is another level to all this?”

“When I first felt this sensation, I knew it was familiar. So I read Zoroaster’s old journals to find out more about it.”

“And?”

“Well, you know how dense that old fool was. It took me a while but I eventually got to the bottom of it.

“This feeling is known as pain,” Xenophilus continued, “It is one of the primary emotions experienced by the Humans.”

“The Humans,” I said. “You mean they feel this too?”

“Yes they do! All day, every day, but their minds are so primitive that they can never appreciate it.” He paused, so that I could process the information.

“Constantine…”

I looked up.

“What I am about to propose now might sound insane,” Xenophilus said. “But I trust that you have the presence of mind to appreciate it. If Zoroaster were here, he would call it an abomination.”

“Go on,” I said.

 

…………………………………………………………………………….

 

 

“I will show you terror in a handful of dust”

 

 

 

The two doctors arrived in the army base on a Sunday. The night before, the transport helicopter had been blown out of the sky by the rebels. This meant the only form of transportation they had available to them was a jeep.  Going by road meant they would have to path through the jungle and into enemy territory. This prospect excited neither of them. They would have preferred to wait for a backup helicopter, but this was a luxury they just couldn’t afford. Their mission was time sensitive.  Reluctantly, they boarded the jeep.

As they moved through the jungle, the junior of the two doctors began to experience an intense type of anxiety. The masochistic part of his personality would not allow him to admit his fear, and he was thankful that he could blame his heavy perspiration on the heat of the sun.

The elder of the two doctors was very passive. It was impossible to tell from his demeanor the nature of his thoughts. He was quiet, pensive. Every now and then, he checked the package he was carrying to make sure there were no malfunctions.

They arrived in the village by nightfall, safely. The villagers wanted them to get to work right away, but they had to set up their laboratory first. The chief was frustrated, but he managed to hold his peace. The government had promised his people relief almost three months ago. Many had died since then, many were still dying. And now that their “saviors” had arrived, his people would still have to wait. More would still have to die.

That night, the chief went to his hut with a heavy heart. He gripped his bedridden daughter by the hand and whispered, “Only a few more moments my sweet. Hold on.”

A day passed, and then another, and still, there was no relief. The villagers were growing increasingly restless. Increasingly impatient. The Chief did his best to placate them, but soon, even he lost his patience. His “saviors” were proving to merely be false gods and his pain and disappointment were turning into rage.

The two doctors were a mess. After setting up their lab, they noticed that the coolants which were carrying the vaccine had malfunctioned. They had travelled all this way for nothing. They contacted the army base about their problem but the general was not sympathetic. The general, in fact, was relieved that the presence of the doctors had created a cushion between him and the unceasing cries of the villagers.

More days passed, and yet the new vaccines did not arrive. As the villagers died by the number, the doctors shut themselves up in the lab in a superior display of apathy. Locked up inside, the doctors were being destroyed by guilt. Their government had decided to use biological weapons in a fight against the rebel forces. Unfortunately for them, the village had been caught in the blast radius and now many of its people were suffering from a highly contagious weaponized virus.

In an act of acknowledgement, and maybe apology, about the state of the village, the doctors had been sent with a vaccine. They had been sent with a vaccine, but arrived with nothing.

One day, while the doctors were wondering how much longer they would have to wait, the door of their lab was broken open. Frightened, the doctors thought the rebels had managed to invade the village. Instead, standing in the doorway with a cutlass in his hand was no one other than the Chief. He charged at them, swinging like a madman. They tried their best to avoid his blows.

He wanted to kill them. He would have killed them, but fortunately for the doctors, some of the villagers charged after the chief and held him back. They did not care much for the doctors; they simply didn’t want to see their chief soil himself with the sin of murder.

The chief broke down in tears, moaning. It was a hurtful, guttural sound. The doctors did not understand the language the chief spoke, but the full depth of his pain was communicated to them. Their shame knew no bounds.

The villagers gave up on the doctors and their government. They resigned themselves fully to their fate. The survivors gathered themselves at the town center and started to pray. The new gods had failed them, and with shame, they went back to their old gods. That day, they sang haunting melodies into the night. They lamented the dead, and their destiny.

The doctors felt relief. The encounter they dreaded so much with the chief had come to pass and they came out unscathed.

Or so they thought. This was just the beginning of their suffering.

The Chief had barged in unannounced, and in doing so, he had compromised the laboratory environment. The doctors were now infected. Their bodies would be subjected to the worst kind of pain. The same condition which had resulted in the death of the chief’s daughter.

It was gruesome. Their cells were being destroyed by a self-replicating microscopic particle. Their torture started with a severe cough, as their respiratory systems were compromised. Next, their cardiovascular systems failed too, leading to intense pains in the chest. Eventually, the virus arrived at their brain, eating away at their neurons and causing them to lose certain functionality; like the ability to talk, or move, or see. Eventually they died, choking on their own mucous.

It was a sad story. One lacking in protagonists but brimming with antagonists, and in the aftermath, no one was shown mercy.

 

………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

“I am standing here in your poem–unsatisfied”

 

 

The first trip was very surreal experience. Throughout the whole episode, there was a duplicity in my psyche. There was the part of me which was “me” and there was this other distinctly human part. It was as If I was a spectator in my own body, watching helplessly as my less developed human self blundered and failed.

Perhaps that was the most uncomfortable aspect of the whole situation; that my supernatural consciousness could not integrate seamlessly with the human mind. It was like trying to inhabit a worm, or even worse, a rock. I was helpless to the impulses and base desires of the human brain, acting on instinct like a common animal.

Regardless of this discomfort, my expectations had been met immeasurably. When Xenophilus first mentioned his plan to me, I must say, I was quite skeptical. After the first episode however, I realized he did not exaggerate about the euphoria I would feel. It was pain and suffering beyond my wildest dreams, and it was oh so very liberating.

In Golgotha, there was no pain. There was no suffering. There was no lack. There were no needs. Everything was so perfect. Everything was so boring. We went about our days challenging each other in conversation, searching for a scrap of stimulation, searching from the tinniest escape from ennui. What Xenophilus introduced me to, was not so much about the pain and suffering as it was about the vulnerability, about the mortality. Being afraid of death for the first time in my life opened up new regions of my consciousness I never knew could exist.

In the years to come, there were many more expeditions. Always the two of us, living, suffering, loving, losing and dying. We were generals, inspiring and leading our men into a battle in which we were outnumbered ten to one. We were children, trapped in an orphanage home with a Matron who was deranged and abusive. We were soldiers, returning after a war to a country which barely recognized us; we would never know the meaning of home again.

At first the trips excited me, but eventually, as my experiences as a human increased in number, so did my disillusionment. I loved feeling pain, but something else about the human condition bothered me. An imperfection which they acknowledged and indulged, an imperfection I could never fully grasp, an imperfection which I could never characterize. In time, the trips began to tire me, immensely.

Xenophilus, on the other hand, was unstinting. He loved being mortal, he loved being vulnerable, he loved being human. He looked forward to the trips with an eagerness that startled me, with an eagerness so vast that it could easily be called a devotion. I always went with him, because no matter how annoying the experience, to live and to die was far better than the great emptiness of mere existence in Golgotha.

I do not know exactly when I reached my threshold. I had been considering for a while the option of taking a break from the trips. The biggest obstacle was Xenophilus. I could foresee no outcome in which he agreed to my proposition. He was too far gone.

I was sitting in my domain, brooding about my situation, when things took a turn for the worse. This time, it was Xenophilus who cast a shadow on me.

I looked up at him, and before I got the chance to speak Xenophilus said, “My dear Constantine, we need to talk.”

An unpleasant taste was forming in my mouth.

“I’ll make this as straightforward as possible,” Xenophilus said. “After our next trip to the human world, I will not be returning to Golgotha.”

I had anticipated that this would happen, I had feared that this would happen, I had denied that this would happen, and now that it had, I felt powerless. “Xenophilus, what are you doing?”

“My friend, I have lived for far too long in this cesspool they call a paradise. The thought of spending even another eon in this place drives me mad. I do not desire to carry on like this. Living as a human has opened my mind to new possibilities, to new frontiers, to new emotions and experiences. A single lifetime as a human has brought me more fulfillment than an eternity in Golgotha. After drinking from the river of human life, even immortality has lost its appeal. Surely you must have experienced this too. Surely you must understand me.”

“Xenophilus, think about what you are saying. You are addicted to the pain. It’s gotten into your head. Don’t forget what you are!”

“Constantine, I assure you, I am quite sane. It really isn’t about the pain. It ceased to be about the pain after the second or third trip.”

“Then why?” I bellowed.

“It appears I may have set my expectations too high again,” Xenophilus said with a sigh. “I was hoping that even in your youth, you would understand me. Maybe someday you will. You always look down on humans, Constantine, but they are more free than you will ever be.”

I buried my head in my palms and tried to hold back the rage, “They are worms Xeno, maggots, writhing about in their filth and muck.”

A moment passed, and then another.

“Come with me,” Xenophilus said.

I looked him in the eye. “You really have gone mad, haven’t you?”

Xenophilus sighed. “I was afraid of this. Goodbye my friend. You always managed to add a little bit of colour to my black and white days in Golgotha, and for that, I will always love you. Unfortunately, my days in Golgotha have come to an end and I simply have to move on to better things, with or without you.”

A part of me wanted to consider the offer, but the arrogance in his tone infuriated me, and in my rage, I kept silent. I heard his footsteps fading as he walked away from me. I wanted to run after him, grab him and shake him back into his senses, but pride held me back. Pride held me back, and I hated myself for it.

After the first day, I told myself that he would return. He too would grow tired of the endless life-death cycle. He too would come to see the humans for what they really were. I would wait for him and his halfhearted apology. I would accept it with a smirk and we would go back to our discussions about Zoroaster’s thirteen doctrines of self-actualization. I would even help him water his daisies and dandelions.

But he did not come. Not after the first day, or the tenth, or the thousandth.

At first there was boredom, but now, Xeno’s absence introduced a new crisis:

Loneliness

I soon learned that much like pain, loneliness was multifaceted. There was always a new level to it; there was always a new depth to which one could sink.  Xeno’s absence had torn a hole through my being.  I was a lighthouse with no ships to guide to the port. I was a work of art with no observer to inspire. I was a utensil with no utility. I had lost a part of my soul. A part, I feared, that would never return.

First there was ennui, and this was a nuanced kind of suffering, but there had always been someone to share it with. I always had a companion to keep me sane. Now, there was no tether. I was a ship without an anchor and my destiny was in the hands of a vacillating and treacherous wind.

The loneliness eventually metastasized into pain. There was nothing pleasant about this kind of pain. Not even vaguely. Its sole purpose was to accentuate and amplify my loneliness.

I was suffering.

There was a tightness in my chest. A tightness which made it difficult to draw breath. I lay on the ground, writhing, agonizing, regretting. It was pathetic.

Suddenly, I broke into laughter. Laughter which was inspired more by insanity than by humor. Wheezing on the floor, I began to grasp the full reality of my situation. Xenophilus had asked me to become human with him and left me when I declined. His absence caused me to suffer, everyday. An agony which was bound so tightly to the soul.

The irony of my situation struck a discordant chord throughout my entire being. Xenophilus had killed me. This perpetual suffering was deicide, and against all odds, I had become, human.

 

 

The End

 

 

“I sought to hear the voice of God and climbed the topmost steeple, but God declared: “Go down again – I dwell among the people.”

― John Henry Newman

 

 

 

Electro-Pop

NOX

 

The last of my co-workers leaves for the day. The humming sound of omnipresent machinery lessens in intensity as the semi-autonomous station switches to low maintenance mode. Outside lights come on in response to the waning sunlight.

I sit comfortably in my cubicle, reclining in my seat with hands behind my head and my feet on my desk. Next to my feet is an empty can of soda. Subconsciously, my tongue licks lingering pieces of candy from the crevices of my dentition as I contemplate my plan.

It is a plan five years in the making; ever since I turned eighteen and became eligible for employment at the ‘almighty’ Allen Corporation.  Well they call it employment but what it really is, is slavery.

I can never complain though. Who would I even complain too? Politically, socially and economically, the Allen Corporation is a complete monopoly. They watch everyone and they track everything. The only sanctuary is my mind. But soon, even that might be compromised. AI programs which can read body language, micro-expressions and detect pheromones will not know our exact thoughts, but they will be able to approximate them.

Everyone knows what the Allen Corporation is doing. Everyone knows their every move is being tracked.  But do they care?  Why would they? It is mutualism in its purest form. People surrender their privacy to the Allen Corporation and the Allen Corporation gives them heaven. Literally.

 

 

HEMERA

 

She lay awake moments before her alarm went off. She had barely gotten any sleep at all. How could she? After all she was brimming with anxiety about the day’s coming events. As she thought about the upcoming meeting with her employer, heaviness set into her chest. She felt nauseous. Paradoxically, It was a day she looked forward to yet one she had been dreading. With a sigh, she got out of bed and started to prepare.

 

 

NOX

 

At the turn of the twenty second century, the earth had become vastly overpopulated. Our population growth rate had vastly surpassed the growth rate of our space exploratory industry. Space colonization was to be our escape from the hell hole we had created on earth through our indiscriminate use of finite natural resources, but unfortunately, the technology had not caught up to our expectations.

Every attempted space launch was watched by the public. We would watch hopefully as shaky vessels blasted off from the ground, vessels which contained not only fuel and supplies but also the hopes of the greater human population. More often than not, these spaceflight exploded into oblivion before they could escape the earth’s atmosphere. Such occurrences seemed almost like divine proclamations that we were condemned to stay on earth with the mess we had created. Several people certainly believed that the explosions were caused by divine intervention. Their hopes had been crushed, and wallowing in despair they prayed for a savior.

Well, a savior eventually showed up, but not in the form most were expecting.  Like a butterfly out of a chrysalis, the Allen Corporation rose to prominence backed by the most innovative invention of the century, perhaps of all time.

The invention had been named a ‘hibernation pod’. It was a name which left little to the imagination and didn’t do justice to the incredible piece of machinery. Once inside a hibernation pod, one was certainly not conscious, but they sure as hell didn’t hibernate.

The pod is capable of interfacing with every single part of the human brain, from the Prefrontal cortex to the hypothalamus. One would not be conscious, but a conscious experience could be simulated. Experience of what? That was up to the imagination.

The scientists who developed the tool were only concerned with its usage as a pragmatic way of dealing with the gross overpopulation. Put people in the pods like matches in a box and let them dream their lives away. Helena Iverson, Chief Executive Officer of the Allen Corporation, had better ideas.

With the Hibernation Pods as her weapon, she took on the governments of the world, one by one. Who were they to stand against her? This was god herself, opening up the pearly gates. One by one, they succumbed to her power. None of the villains in all of human history could give Helena Iverson a run for her money. It was a monopoly, it was world domination.

Country by country, eligible people filed into what were officially named ‘Allen Corp Sleeping Centres’ but called ‘farmhouses’ by everyone. They would be put into hibernation pods and their wildest dreams would be realized before their eyes.

Not everyone had the same ideas about paradise. Information collected by the Allen Corp on an individual’s digital footprint would be used to generate a world for them. Most people were typical; Penthouses, parties, drugs, sex and alcohol. Some were atypical; one man lived out a fantasy were he found a cure for cancer deep in the heart of the Amazon forest. Another lived in a world where everyone looked just like him. Regardless of these differences, people were finally the protagonists of their own lives.

Helena Iverson had achieved world domination. Or so she thought.

 

Not everyone is eligible for the hibernation pods. Some have to stay behind in the real world to take care of the semi-autonomous farmhouses. Among the ineligible crop are the aged, who will never taste the rivers of paradise, and also the young, who have not lived long enough to generate a digital footprint large enough for the hibernation pods to create an authentic experience for them.

It is approximately one month until my twenty fifth birthday. Until the faceless executives of the Allen Corp decide I am finally worthy to enter heaven. Long before I was employed as an Allen Corp employee at the age of eighteen, I started planning to destabilize the entire structure. And I will do so in the most insidious of ways.

 

 

HEMERA

 

Helena Iverson had been described in several ways throughout the years by the press: Billionaire, Philanthropist, Opportunist, and Visionary. From full length exclusives to tabloid exposés. However, no amount of reading could ever prepare you for meeting her in person.

As she took the elevator ride upwards, she wondered what it would be like to finally meet the woman she had been working for after all these years. They had corresponded before, in the past. But that was behind a safety blanket of computer screens.

The knot in her stomach tightened. She began to bite her nails subconsciously. When she realized what she was doing, she found it weird. She hadn’t bitten her nails since middle school. I should probably relax, she thought. Looking out of the glass elevator, she was now so high up that she could see the entire campus of the Allen Corporation Headquarters.

The Campus was no less than 50 acres in size, with twelve main buildings including a sports complex featuring a swimming pool or two. Looking down on all this, she felt now that she was climbing up the tower from which the Queen looked down on all her subjects; watching, judging, deciding.

 

 

NOX

 

I crack my knuckles as my computer screen blazes to life. I begin my performance. It is a piano sonata. My instrument, the keyboard. The sounds, lines of code. My audience, nonexistent. In the darkness, I perform. Fueled by the caffeine in my soda and the sugar in my candy. Driven by my own vision of the future.

The mode of life of the twenty second century human is as follows: You are born, you spend your entire childhood trying not to be driven mad by the lack of privacy and continuous exposure to other humans. At the age of eighteen, you enter employment as a slave of the Allen Corporation, working twelve hour shifts sustained by meager rations in the form of canned food and other atrocities. If you manage to make it to the age of twenty five without blowing your brains out, you spend the rest of your life in pseudo-sleep, living out your fantasies.

Most people are happy to live this way, usually because they know no other way to live. They run away from their problems, they look away from the mess they created. They sell their souls to the Allen Corporation. An entire generation of humans, who lack a conscience. Quite frankly, it’s incredible.

As an Allen Corp employee, rather than act as Helena Iverson’s minion, I have been learning as much as I can about the Hibernation Pod and its architecture. Getting behind all the firewalls like a Trojan horse, rewriting the code from the inside. The simplest solution would be to shut down the Hibernation Pods, but to do so will be utterly myopic. Like the seven headed Hydra, the Allen Corporation will just rise again, stronger than before. I have a far better solution. One that makes me cackle with laughter whenever I think about it.

 

 

HEMERA

 

The office was very cold. The marble floor consisted of alternating tiles of black and white, like a chessboard. The room was moderately decorated, no doubt to avoid distractions. Only one picture hung on the wall; an abstract expressionist painting on a framed canvas. At the edge of the large room was a large executive desk. Black, like the tiles on the floor, and glossy. Behind the desk was a large window, taking up the space of the entire wall.

As she walked towards the desk, her footsteps bounced and ricocheted about the empty room. The path seemed to distort in dimensions as she got closer. She felt dizzy. The chair, which had been facing away from the door and towards the window when she entered, swung towards her for the first time. Sitting in it, was Helena Iverson.

“Miss Mandela,” Helena Iverson said.

“Miss Iverson,” Hailey replied.

“I’m sorry you’ve had to come all this way, but I simply cannot grant your request. The board thinks it’s too dangerous.”

Hailey, sensing this would happen, felt tears welling up in her eyes. “But you promised. You promised!” Her voice was but a whisper when she spoke. “Please, it’s been too long.”

Helena Iverson sighed, “Very well.”

The board had not advised against anything. She wanted to see just how desperate the woman was. Well, she was desperate enough.

 

 

NOX

 

I have now successfully infiltrated the system. I own the hibernation pods. Within minutes, 78% of the human population has its conscious experience dictated by me, and they aren’t even aware.

I can crash the system. I can wake each and every single one of them. I can drag them back into this hellhole. But why would I? What I have in mind is far more appropriate.

I open up the profile of my first victim. Laika Watney, stepson of the Allen Corp Board Chairman. Pre-hibernation, he had expressed interest in Botany, Herbalism and Astronomy. I take a look at his simulation and scoff.

Through the window of my computer screen, Laika Watney walks around the grounds of his extra-planetary farm. The only crop being farmed is Galega officinalis, the biological source of the panacea, metformin. In his dream the metformin is being farmed in space and taken back to the earth in spaceships where it is used to combat aging and prolong the human lifespan. It is so noble, yet so selfish. If Laika Watney and others like him are running away from the reality they have created on earth, so they may pretend to be heroes, I, with my godlike powers, will send the mess to him.

In a few lines of code, the simulation is altered. The crops begin to die one by one. Supply of metformin begins to dwindle as the plants are attacked by a microscopic enemy; a microbe that makes the plants wilt and waste away. Demand for the drug, however, goes up and up and up. Laika Watney is almost driven to insanity as pressure is put on him and his team of scientist to develop a cure. They search and search and search. None exists.

Lester Gregorovic has just returned from the amazon forest with the cure for cancer. Upon his arrival, there is global fanfare. All the accolades, all the praise, all the attention. In six months, clinical trials demonstrate that the drug has a 100% efficacy. He is poised to become the world’s first trillionaire. On the eve of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he discovers a malignant tumor at the back of his ear. He decides to ignore it for the time being. As he delivers his speech, the cells in the tumor continue to grow, and spread, and grow, and spread.

Jason Todd is the most popular man on the planet. He is rich, handsome, and everybody’s dream. As a matter of fact, everybody looks just like him. The same golden blonde hair, the same cocky grin, the same confident walk. It’s a typical day for Jason Todd. He wakes up in a bed filled with his clones, has breakfast with himself, goes to work for himself by working with himself on himself, and comes home to himself. The next morning he wakes up, looks into the mirror, and screams. Well, he tries to scream. His face is totally blank. Devoid of all features. No eyes, no nose, no mouth. Just a blank template.

Night after night, I alter the code of the Hibernation Pods. Night after night, I take people out of their greatest fantasies and put them in their worst nightmares. If Helena Iverson is playing god, someone has to be the devil.

My fingers move over the keyboard at lightning speed as my sonata reaches a crescendo. I simply cannot help myself and break into a laugh. I would kill to see the look on Helena Iverson’s face, If only she knew what was happening in her company. The sad part is, she will never find out. The farmhouses are scheduled to become fully autonomous in a few years. The vital sign scanners intended to alert personnel when the subjects in the Hibernation Pods become agitated, were the first thing I hacked.

No one can see me laughing. Certainly not the security cameras, as they output a looped recording of an empty office on the monitors in the control room.

 

 

HEMERA

 

The two women walked in silence. They were now underground the Allen Corp campus, walking down a dimly lit tunnel. At the end of the tunnel was a large titanium door, several inches in thickness.

“Retinal Scan has confirmed Identity,” an electronic voice said. “Welcome to sleeping center 001, Helena H. Iverson.”

The large doors slid open, revealing a large chamber. Inside the chamber were rows and rows of Hibernation Pods.

“This way,” Helena said, the silence finally broken. “It sure looks simple, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, Miss Iverson,” Hailey said.

“Well it isn’t. Looking after Hibernation Pods is no small feat. There’s so much to consider. Ideal temperature, nutrition, excretory products. Automation surely is helping with that. With an AI, we can estimate the exact amount of resources that each unique individual needs and adjust the input accordingly. But the one thing we absolutely cannot risk is power failure. If the Hibernation Pods malfunction for too long and an individual’s brain is denied of oxygen for a prolonged period, the tissue may be damaged beyond repair, meaning death.”

“Does that happen often?” Hailey asked.

“Are you worried about your daughter? Don’t be. Aurora is special to me. I would never let anything happen to her. She’s perfectly safe down here.”

“Special? In what way?”

“Her dreams. They…humble me. They remind me to be constantly vigilant.”

“What does she dream of?”

“My downfall,” Helena said, with a smile.

Hailey at once felt extremely uncomfortable. Helena, however, did not elaborate.

“Here she is,” Helena said.

Hailey looked at her daughter’s face for the first time in five years. She was developing into a very beautiful woman, even in a Hibernation Pod.

“Oh my darling,” Hailey said.

Helena Iverson smiled. Aurora was her darling too. Every night, through her computer screen, she watched Aurora Mandela’s dreams. Every night, Helena Iverson looked on as Hailey Mandela’s daughter collapsed her New World Order. Every day she went out into the world with the knowledge that she was still only human, with the knowledge that she was still susceptible to an attack from the most unlikely of people. The collapse of Helena Iverson’s empire from the inside was a sight which humbled her immensely.

Helena’s relationship with Aurora was important. It was mutualism at its best.

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

The DreadNova

“These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder
Which, as they kiss, consume”
William Shakespeare

 

 “To offer it to you would be cruel
When all I want to do is use, use you”

Diplomat’s Son, Vampire Weekend

 

 

1

I am unable to pinpoint the exact moment I awaken. It seems, for a long time, I am trapped in a mental soup of half conscious, half asleep. Eventually, sensation begins to return to me. The first thing I am able to perceive is an overwhelming dryness of the throat. To ease my pain I attempt to swallow, but my muscles do not perform the motions. It seems they are still in the process of re-familiarizing themselves with nervous input.

I try to inhale deeply, and panic, as I realize my lungs do not oblige. I am overcome with the sensation of drowning as my conscious mind battles my subconscious for control of my breathing.

The entire experience puts me in a frenzy. Other body parts begin to respond as they receive a large supply of blood due to my elevated heart rate. In time, my mind begins to respond as well. Facts return to me, like objects surrendered by the sea, washing onto shore.

I remember my name, my identity, my mission and my location. Normalcy returns, and so does my exasperation and disappointment in myself.

I check the date to discover that I have awoken on schedule. This means two things. One, the mission is proceeding exactly as planned and, two; I will be arriving at my destination soon.

My whole body is stiff and I yearn to exercise, however, my present circumstances do not allow that. The interior of my ship is as packed and crammed as I remember. No room to move about.

My employers did not bother themselves with going beyond the bare minimum for this mission. This surprises me greatly. Despite my unfavorable standing with them, one would assume that they would deem the mission important enough to ensure the physical and mental comfort of their envoy. Unfortunately for me, this is not the case. The most they did was to give me this shaky vessel. Capable of superluminal travel, but heavily outdated.

Among the several knobs, buttons and screens that litter the dashboard, I am able to discern that the ship is still functioning at 70% capacity. I look out of the windscreen, into the vast expanse of space. No celestial bodies lie in immediate sight, not even a stray asteroid. The closest star seems to be a dozen light-years away. This must be the right place. I exhale, this time with ease and wonder how much longer I will have to wait, as my stomach starts to rumble.

I receive my answer sooner than I anticipate. It begins with a low growl which climaxes into a deep rumble. The entire vessel begins to vibrate with an intensity I feel in my bones. My heart rate is elevated once more and my breathing quickens. This time my body seems ready to react. The infallible persuasiveness of adrenaline it seems. The tremors continue for a few hundred seconds and then come to an abrupt stop.

I hold my breath and my heart pounds so loudly I can feel it in my brain. A drumming threatening to split my skull apart. Suddenly, every light on the dashboard of my ship lights up red and on each screen an image is rendered: A horned skull, crossed by a pulse rifle and a laser blade. The Jolly Roger.

It is a symbol capable of striking fear in the hearts of the bravest of men. Left at its mercy, I am struck with terror. Utter terror.

I look through the windshield once more and see the ship in all its glory. The DreadNova. It must have been stealthed upon my arrival.

It is a mammoth structure, dwarfing my own vessel by a scale hundred thousand to one. A vessel so massive it has a significant gravitational signature. Fashioned after an earthling 17th century battleship, with solar sails arranged to mirror wind sails. High above the tallest mast, a holographic version of the Jolly Roger dances and sways to a virtual cosmic wind.

It is quite difficult to encapsulate the feeling one gets upon beholding the DreadNova. It is a magnificent piece of machinery, larger than some habitable planets. A marvel of modern engineering, a work of art. I feel like an insignificant speck of dust in its presence. My mind, perhaps disturbed by the difference in scale between myself and the ship, begins to simulate various emotions, as if in a bid to validate its own existence.  As a result, I cannot distinctly outline a single emotion in my own consciousness. Instead, my mind is a tapestry of fear, anger, sorrow, helplessness, regret, wonder, and astonishment.

This vessel is undoubtedly one of the wonders of the galaxy. It seems more grand than the ships which ferry worthy souls into the afterlife. It seems more grand than the largest ship of the richest emperor. It seems like a vessel crafted by the gods themselves.

Without any input from me, my ship begins to move toward the DreadNova. This is all according to plan, but the knowledge does not prevent my innards from squealing. A hatch in the hull of the DreadNova opens up, and my ship flies, surely and unmistakably, towards it.

Once inside the hatch, the airlock shuts with a loud thud and all is silent. All is darkness. It is an experience similar to being swallowed by a behemoth. I could have been moving, I could have been still, there is no way of knowing for sure. Not in this limbo of sensory deprivation.

I close my eyes and begin to contemplate the series of events that brought me to this location. It is a chain reaction, starting, as most things start, with a cell.

 

 

 

 

2

Thousands of years ago, in an obscure planet on the fringes of the galaxy, due to a point mutation in their DNA, certain members of an insectoid species began to develop an advanced intelligence. This trait reflected itself in the offspring of those creatures, leading to the development of a whole new species.

Thus there were two distinct species sharing a common ancestor. The super-intelligent insectoids known as the Taken and the less intelligent physically endowed insectoids, known as the Fallen.

These differences in nature led each party to hold the other in contempt. The Taken hated the Fallen for their simple minded and barbaric culture. The Fallen hated the taken because they were lost, because they were cursed.

This disdain eventually led to conflict. A conflict which was held in a stalemate by the threat of mutually assured destruction. The Taken had the advantage of technology; the Fallen had the advantage of numbers. Hence, though relations were strained, things were relatively peaceful, on average. The Fallen had claimed the home planet as their territory and the Taken had claimed its moon as theirs. Things would have been much simpler if each party simply pretended the other did not exist, but it is virtually impossible to ignore something you consider as a perverse aberration of oneself. Hence, over the years, there were various tussles here and there, but nothing which was serious enough to escalate into all out war.

It did not remain this way forever.

One day, a large deposit of Unobtanium was discovered on Fallen territory. The Fallen, who had no true conception of its significance, used the shiny rock to fashion idols they would worship. This did not sit rightly with the Taken, who wanted to trade the Unobtanium on black markets. It is, after all, the most valuable substance in the galaxy.

Thus, tensions between the two species heightened and it appeared all out war was unavoidable. The chances of survival for either party were slim, but the risk was well worth the reward, they judged.

Before the war officially began, a third party joined the conflict. A World Reaver, an interdimensional being that feeds on sources of high energy. Sources like Unobtanium. Approaching the simple minded Fallen, it promised them that it would destroy the Taken, in exchange for the Unobtanium. The Fallen, in awe of its godlike power, obliged.

No one knows the exact details of what happened after that, but the battle between the World Reaver and the Taken was of such epic proportions that the planet and its moon were destroyed. Left in the emptiness of space were the ruins of two ancient civilizations, the corpse of an interdimensional parasite and tons upon tons of Unobtanium.

The Unobtanium did not lie in wait for long. Eventually, a ferocious terrorist who brokered in top secret information and participated in corporate espionage came to learn of this treasure lying in the emptiness of space and waiting to be claimed. Without hesitation, he sent his crew for their greatest bounty ever.

The Unobtanium was moped up and stored in his ship. It is a vessel that strikes dread in the hearts of all who see it. A vessel marked by a horned skull crossed by a rifle and a blade.

 

 

3

The sensory deprivation eventually comes to an end. Another airlock opens up revealing a large docking bay. As my ship parks automatically, I look around and see that the bay is empty. Mine is the only ship in sight. Few maintenance machinery litter the floor here and there. Few enough to betray the fact that this docking bay is seldom used.

I unbuckle myself from my seat and open up the hatch. As I descend, I note the presence of three figures at the door, seemingly waiting for me.

Two of them are in full uniform with helmets covering their heads. Distinctly humanoid, yet too heavily clothed to determine their exact species. The third, and apparent superior of the three, wears no uniform and is human for sure. He is rather short. Just above five feet tall by my estimation and extravagantly dressed. The kind of extravagant which is as the result of money one did not work long to obtain. He isn’t young, yet he isn’t old either.

“I hope you enjoyed your flight,” he says, with a raspy voice.

Having been in a drug induced coma for most of the trip, I reply, “Yes.”

“I apologize that your docking had to be such a…traumatic experience. Fortunately, we realized that your ship was too fragile for the tractor beam and decided to take over its AI instead”. He smiles, revealing several gold teeth. It is smile which is lacking in mirth yet brimming with malice. “Let us not linger, the captain is waiting for you.”

As he leads me towards the elevator, I notice an excess of gold rings adorning his fingers.

 

 

4

I do not meet with the captain immediately I arrive. Instead, I am granted a few hours of respite. The man I met on my arrival, I learn, is the first officer of the ship. Goldfinger, they call him. I barely have to wonder why.

I am led to a room in the living quarters by armed guards. From the interior of the ship, one would never have guessed that it was a pirate vessel. Everything looks so luxurious, like the vacation places of our corporate overlords.

Upon entering my room, I am taken aback by its size. It is a space ten people will comfortably fit into. On the space station I was born in, we are made to believe that space pirates are an unsavory, barbaric lot. But from my own experience, these people live like kings.

I am quite pleased with my living quarters. Partly futuristic, partly vintage. Everything is a deathly white; sheets, furniture, carpet, walls. I lie on my bed and automatically, the lights dim. Sleep takes me.

 

……..

 

I do not understand my dream. It seems to be a montage of various past memories, coming together to make no sense. Or rather, coming together to deliver a message I am unwilling to accept. Scenes of my mother’s sullen face, the day my brother runs away. The fight with my husband when I tell him I am unwilling to have children, the blandness of the food when I receive the call to come get his body from the morgue.

Eventually, the montage stops. A high frequency beep penetrates by dreams, and brings me back to the waking world.

 

…….

 

I exit my room to see a woman waiting for me. Tall, dressed in black robes and black boots, with a katana at her back and an atmosphere of lethality about her.

“The captain will see you now”, she says, with a thick and exotic accent I cannot quite place.

I know this woman. I recognize her from the data files. Blue Harmony, she is called. The personal bodyguard of the captain. A wanted criminal with ‘kill on sight’ status in several sectors of the galaxy. Her reputation as a skilled assassin precedes her.

We walk in silence towards the captains chambers. On the way, several crew members stop their tasks to acknowledge Blue Harmony. She only nods in response. As we approach our destination, my anxiety returns. A knot is forming in my stomach. Beads of sweat start to appear on my forehead. I clench my fists to prevent them from trembling.

My escort is either oblivious to all these physiological changes or is aware but refuses to address them. I suspect it is the latter and I am grateful.

We come to a halt at a grand door at the end of a long corridor. A door chiseled from what appears to be wood, and painted gold.

“I am not allowed beyond this point”, she says. “The captain awaits you inside. I will wait for you here.”

“Thank you”, I say, with sincere gratitude.

The doors automatically swing open, and I hesitate, exhale and walk in.

 

 

5

If you have heard stories about Captain Horatio Odinson, you know he is a man few people dare to defy. He makes names for himself as easily as others make friends. Names which speak volumes about his character and his deeds. Where I come from, he is known as the Scourge of the Cosmic Seas. Some of the tales told about him are too fictional to be true, but one cannot help but wonder.

As I enter his chambers, stories told to me years ago invade my consciousness like water seeping through the cracks in a safe.  In this moment, the ghost stories of my childhood are as factual as the blackness of space. Was I about to meet the man who had sailed to the edge of the universe and back?

As I enter his chambers, my heart beats faster and faster, climaxing into that skull splitting throb.

The first thing I notice is the smell. It is the sweet fragrance of planet grown flowers. Bringing to my mind experiences I have never had, of an idyllic life in a quiet place. The chamber itself is large, and fitting the theme of the ship, furnished like a room in a 17th century mansion.

My attention is drawn to a candlelit table, full of plates upon plates of exotic dishes. Foods so rare, I do not even have names for. The table is set for two; it appears I am to have dinner with the Captain. A slow, melodic piano tune plays in the background to complete the scene.

“Have a seat my lady, I will be with you soon,” a voice says. The speaker is out of sight. It is a commanding voice, deep, majestic and soothing. I take my seat, and my anxiety begins to fade.

Eventually, from the shadows, he emerges. Captain Horatio Odinson stands before me, in all his glory. A man so elusive he has evaded capture for over three decades, despite being the top priority of the Interplanetary Union and all her allies. A kingpin among kingpins.

He is dressed simply, yet regally, with neatly combed grey hair flowing all the way to his shoulders. The only jewelry he wears is a large ruby ring on the little finger of his left hand.  A deep scar cuts across the bridge of his nose, and his face is lined with age. When he smiles, it is genuine and comforting. My soul is at ease, but my brain knows better.

He sits, just a few feet away from me. For a moment, I am beleaguered with the idea that a whole lot of people will be pleased if I dash across the room and stab him in the chest with my fork. The opportunity certainly exists. What good would that be though? The situation with him is so volatile that his sudden death will be a major inconvenience for many people, even for the Interplanetary Union. Certain things needed to be addressed and discussed, like the tons of Unobtanium he is hoarding or why he destroyed the mines in an asteroid belt in Sector 98 or why he spared a race of flesh eating alien plants.

Bon appétit,” the captain says, as he slices up a sausage with his knife.

We sit in awkward silence, broken intermittently by the clanking of cutlery. Sounds which bounce of the high ceiling of the captain’s grand chamber. Eventually, the silence is broken by speech.

“I hope you will forgive my inability to see you immediately on your arrival,” the captain says. “There was….business to attend to.”

“What kind of business?” I ask, with a voice which is little more than a whisper.

After a sip of wine, the captain replies, “One of my prisoners needed to walk the plank.”

“Walk the plank?” I inquire. This time my voice is bolder, resembling its natural cadence.

“It’s an old term, a very old term. What we colloquially refer to as floating.”

I gag as I realize the captain is talking so casually about throwing someone in deep space, without a space suit, alive. At once, I am reminded about his barbaric nature and will myself not to give into his sociopathic wiles.

“Obviously there are more humane ways of dealing with stowaways,” I say feebly.

“None which convey a sense of strength and intolerance like floating does,” the captain replies.

The conversation begins to take a toll on me, mentally and physiologically. In a bid to end the evening as quick as possible, I bring up my mission. “The Interplanetary Union will expect your surrender as soon as possible-”

“We will discuss that later,” he interrupts. “It’s not a conversation I’d like to have over dinner, my lady. Let’s talk about something that befits the mood more.”

I want to proceed with the negotiations, but the captain is just so subconsciously overbearing. My mouth remains shut.

“How about I tell you the story of my life?” the captain asks.

A part of me desires so desperately to know the tale of Horatio Odinson. Most of his past is an absolute mystery and the parts which are publicly known are adulterated with apocrypha.  Another part of me fears the tale is full of bloodshed and carnage and does not wish to hear it.

The captain does not wait for me to resolve my internal conflict. He begins.

“I was born on a small moon in a sector of the galaxy far, far away. My parents were cricket farmers, and being the first of six children, I was fated to take over the family business. It is something I would have been happy with If I had a simple mind like my father, but alas, my heart was always elsewhere,” he pauses, with a wistful expression on his face.

“I was enamored by the outside world, and for as long as I could remember I looked to the blue skies. Eventually, inundated by the burden of my family, I ran away on a cargo ship. Through a stroke of bad luck, that particular ship was not merely a vessel for cricket cargo, but was a vessel for human cargo as well. When I was discovered by the captain he tossed me into a cell, and just like that, I became a slave.

“I was sold to a nobleman who lived on a planet far away from my own. He treated me as his own in that he fed, clothed and trained me. Trained me to be a gentleman and a soldier. But that was the limit of his parenting. I was never shown any love or affection. Instead, I was hated and despised by my master’s mistress, and her son, who could never live up to his father’s expectations.

“My father’s son hated me because I was everything he hoped to be; strong, brave and talented. I hated him because he was loved, and I was not.

“That life did not go on forever. One night, my master was poisoned by his mistress. Lucky for me, I fled before her son found me and the same fate befell me. Living in hiding, I learned that I was the primary suspect for the murder of my adopted father. Desperately seeking a way off that planet, I begged for passage on a ship I should have known better to be on. The Leviathan, it was called. The captain of that ship told me that I would have to work to pay of my debt to him, since I carried no coin. In my naïveté, in my foolishness, in my desperation I accepted his offer.  Another seven years of slavery for me.

“For seven years I cooked and cleaned and labored as my master stole and killed and plundered. He was a pirate himself, and from him, I learned the trade. I proved that I was trustworthy and capable and soon rose to become his right hand man. Eventually, as old age caught up with him, I began to handle major operations on his behalf.”

Horatio smiles, takes another sip of his wine, and continues, “The day I slit that bastard’s throat was the best day of my life. I can still taste the iron in his blood.”

I choke.

“When that old fool’s strength had faded sufficiently, I led my crewmates on a mutiny and took his ship for my own. Where he was lacking, I was complete. And with that, the Scourge of the Cosmic Seas was born.”

Horatio laughs.

By the time he finishes his tale, the candles have almost burned out.

“That’s a very fascinating story captain,” I manage to say.

“Aye, indeed it is, my lady,” he replies. “It’s a story very few people have heard. You should consider yourself lucky. You best be on your way now. Tomorrow, we begin the negotiations for my surrender.”

I rise, bow and walk out.

 

 

6

I am disoriented for moments after I awake. In time, I sense something is wrong. Very wrong. I look around my room and see that the walls are bathed in a reddish hue. Emergency lights. What’s going on?

I open my door slightly and peer into the corridor. The two guards stationed outside my room are absent. The place is deathly quiet. I close the door.

Putting the facts together, my suspicion is that the captain intends to betray me, and by extension, The Interplanetary Union. There is a protocol for this exact situation, one I have gone over a large number of times due to the high probability of its occurrence.

Remembering my training, I kneel on the floor and tap the nape of my neck. By doing so, I activate the nanochip implanted into my skin. A high tech device whose activation informs my employers that the mission is compromised.

Within moments, I receive a response, heard in the mind like my own thoughts:

Understood. The DreadNova will be dealt with, find a way off the ship. You have twenty four hours.

It appears, until the mission officially ends, I am on my own. The task ahead of me is a daunting one, considering the fact that my information about the schematics of the ship is incomplete and highly unreliable. I was trained for situations like this, but who actually thought that I’d ever require the knowledge? This was supposed to be a diplomatic mission.

As the likelihood of my survival becomes an unknown variable, I strengthen my resolve. I will make it off this ship. I will survive. I exhale, clear my mind, rise and begin walk out.

When I open the door, standing right outside, six feet tall and menacing, is Blue Harmony.

“Come with me,” she says, with a voice lacking warmth. By a quick calculation, I estimate that my chances of beating her in a duel are less than zero. Obediently, I follow.

“What is going on?” I ask.

She does not respond.

Eventually, she brings me to the entrance of the mess hall. It is a large room, with four long tables arranged in a column. Perpendicular to all of them is a high table.

As we enter the room, it is deathly silent. Our footsteps bounce and ricochet about the hall for all to hear. No one says a word, yet the atmosphere is extremely hostile. Everywhere I look, I am gazed upon by piercing eyes. Eyes filled with contempt so thick I can virtually feel their eyeballs scanning my body. I keep my eyes trained on my feet to avoid the scrutinizing looks. As fear takes over, my thoughts can be summarized by a big question mark. It is a scene not unlike that of a lamb walking down a narrow forest path flanked by hungry wolves. The wolves watch the lamb from the shadows, killing its spirit with their intent before they rip its body to shreds with their fangs.

The high table comes into full view, and if I was confused before, there are no words to describe what I feel upon seeing the scene at the table.

Standing on the table, over a body, is Goldfinger, with his signature sardonic smile and gold rings. The body upon which Goldfinger rests his foot is none other than that of Captain Horatio Odinson.

He lies on the table in full regalia. Eyes open, bloodshot and unseeing. His two hands are placed across his chest with his hat immediately below them. The Captain lies on the table, lifeless.

My heart beats with such ferocity that my cardiac muscles threaten to rapture. What feels like a large lump of ice travels down my esophagus and into my stomach. My throat is dry. I fall to my knees as my trembling legs can no longer support the weight of my body.

Goldfinger smiles. “Well, lads,” he pauses to look around. “The captain is dead!”

The room roars into cheer. A deafening roar threatening to rapture my eardrums. I am a lone island surrounded by a raging tempest.

“Now, we all loved the captain,” Goldfinger says. “Didn’t we lads?”

“Yeah,” they all roar.

“But the captain was becoming a too soft,” Goldfinger continues. “A bit too senile in the end if you ask me.”

They laugh. My nausea intensifies.

“He wanted to surrender our Ship and all its treasures, including the Unobtanium to our number one enemy, The Interplanetary Union. They promised him a fancy little prison on a fancy little planet and called it witness protection. Can you imagine that? Captain Horatio Odinson, the scourge of the Cosmic Seas, landlocked? If you ask me, killing him was an act of mercy.”

They laugh. I close my eyes. This can’t be happening.

“Now now, the captain was good to us. Well, to some of us.”

Laughter

“But now his time has come, and we will give him back to the cosmos as things were always fated to be. As his body floats through space, and he is claimed by the darkness and all her children, we will drink and feast over his memory and carry on his legacy.”

“Hear, Hear,” the pirates below.

“Well,” Goldfinger says as he stoops to pick up the captain’s hat. “He certainly won’t be needing this anymore!”

More laughter

“Now, before the party starts,” Goldfinger says, with a tone lacking all the mirth it was filled with moments before, “One last loose end needs to be tied up.”

And suddenly I feel all two hundred pairs of eyes come to rest on my figure as the spotlight falls on me.

“The Interplanetary Union needs to be sent a message. You don’t fuck with the DreadNova!”

They roar into laughter and bang their tables with their cups. In the chaos, I am shackled and escorted outside the hall by Blue Harmony. I am resigned fully to my inevitable execution.

As I walk down the corridor with my executioner, my mind is far, far away. Caught in a region overlapped by memory, speculation and possibility. Every single decision I have ever made in my life has brought me to this point. And oh, what a pathetic life it has been.

Eventually, we come to a halt.

“Kneel,” Blue Harmony says.

I obey.

She unsheathes her katana and raises it high above her head. The sword shines and glints in the light. A blade so sharp it could cut through my soul. My executioner screams as she swings downward.

Several moments pass by before I realize I am still alive. I open my eyes and see, lying beside me are the pieces of my shattered shackles.

“What-”

Blue Harmony raises her hand to cut me off before I can even complete my thought.

“I knew the captain, far better than anyone ever has. In his own way, he was a very kind man. His death does not please me. Goldfinger is my enemy, and as he is your enemy, you are my friend. Killing you serves me no purpose.”

Too stunned to speak, I continue to kneel in silence.

“Get up,” Blue Harmony says. “Here, take my keycard. It will give you access to the docking area and to one of the smaller ships. You can escape. You can live.”

As I begin to process and grasp the full significance of the turn of events, my heart melts and I am filled with pure gratitude. My will to live, and my senses, return to me like a boomerang. Remembering the ultimatum given to me by my employers, I say to her, “Come with me. This ship is not safe. I don’t know exactly what, but in less than twenty four hours, something bad will happen.”

Blue Harmony does not move. “I cannot join you for two reasons,” she says. “I have a duty to avenge my master and also, I have to save my twin.”

“Your twin?”

“He is in the mess hall now, and just like the others, brainwashed by Goldfinger’s propaganda. The halls of this ship must run red with Goldfinger’s blood. Only then will we be free. Only then will I be free.”

Touched by her resolve, I understand that there is no way I can change her mind. I thank her once again, and begin to run for my life.

 

 

7

Once inside a small vessel and outside the DreadNova, I contact my employers, seeking help, seeking direction.

The only thing they say is “Stay Put.”

I close my eyes and exhale. I may be out of the ship, but I am not out of danger. The DreadNova still lies in my view and within moments, a number of ships can fly out of its docks in pursuit of me. I begin to think about Blue Harmony. An assassin who showed me more kindness in moments than I had shown to other people in my entire life. She saved me.

Less than an hour now until the time limit for my escape elapses. I am already far enough for the ship to be in any danger.

I wonder what the Interplanetary Union has in mind. I have long since deduced that the chip in the nape of my neck functions as some kind of a tracking device as well and the position of the DreadNova is now accurately known to her enemies. This is an opportunity too juicy for my employers to pass up. What happens next? An ambush? A nuclear bomb? A photon torpedo? Can the DreadNova be destroyed that easily?

I continue to drift farther and farther away from the DreadNova.

Suddenly, the emergency lights in my ship blaze into life. A buzzer goes off. On the dashboard, the following message:

Warning.

Spontaneous Cosmic Event Detected Nearby.

 High Energy Radiation Emanating From Event.

Danger.

I look back, towards the DreadNova, and what I see fills me with horror.

The scene is grotesque and my mind struggles to accept the reality before me. Twisted and warped by the fabric of space itself, the DreadNova begins to implode. It is decomposition at the subatomic level. Atoms are ripped from their molecules and electrons are ripped from their atoms. I cannot hear their screams, but I can feel them in my heart as the DreadNova and its crew is spaghettified by a black hole.

I know of this weapon’s existence, but I didn’t think that the Interplanetary Union would be inhumane enough to go so far as to use it. The “T.A.R.G.” they call it. A long range weapon which concentrates gravitational energy so violently at a point that a small spontaneous black hole can be created. Black holes are so massive that even the tiniest of them has a gravitational pull so devastating that nothing can escape its pull. Nothing ever escapes a black hole, nothing ever survives. Not matter, not light, not information. Nothing.  The horrors of every chemical and biological weapon ever invented are no match for the grotesque experience of being destroyed by this weapon, of being spaghettified by a black hole.

In a brilliant flash of light, two hundred people are deleted from existence itself. Two hundred people, die a most gruesome death. With no one to blame but myself, I lose control and begin to vomit violently.

In the middle of my violent sobbing and uncontrollable shaking, in the middle of my self-hatred and negative self-talk, in the middle of my nervous breakdown, I hear a voice in my head:

Good work Kane. Your Presence on the ship was invaluable in allowing us to track it. As Captain Odinson and his crew were all category X criminals, The Interplanetary Union judged that the situation had escalated beyond a diplomatic resolution and that the only solution was to destroy the ship using the Tunneling Anti-Matter Ray Gun. Hurry home now, your rewards await you. You are a hero!”

Silence

So this was all a high strategy, high stakes chess game to the Interplanetary Union and I was just another pawn in their eyes. I feel so helpless, so useless, so pathetic. If only they let me do my job, If only they let me negotiate. The Captain was willing to surrender, nobody had to die. If we cannot reason things out and always have to resort to violence, how different are we from our enemies?

This is the fault of the Interplanetary Union. An Organization which preaches utopian propaganda in public, while protecting the interests of her capitalist allies in secret.

No, sensing my defense mechanism kicking in, I will myself to avoid projecting my frustration onto my employers. This is my fault. My incompetence led to the slaughter of those people.

As I drift away from the scene of the massacre, I am utterly disgusted with myself. Moving about in my own skin makes me sick. Everything and everyone who comes close to me meets a violent and wretched end.  My mother, my brother, my husband, the captain and Blue Harmony. I clench my fists as I force back the tears. I try not to think about her, but all I see is her face. Her pale, beautiful face.

In the end it took two black holes to destroy the DreadNova. The first was a rapture in the fabric of space-time. The second one was me.

 

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prussian Capricorn

“To find out what is truly individual in ourselves, profound reflection is needed; and suddenly we realize how uncommonly difficult the discovery of individuality is.”
C.G. Jung

 

……………………………………

 

Jake Pink, stardate 135.2341, Entry 1:

Indeed, it has been a very rough landing. Fortunately, no one is dead. And the Hull Integrity systems are all green, meaning no one is dying…yet. The comm. system however, is severely damaged. All our SOS signals are traveling at subluminal speeds. It will take years before they reach any allied forces.

My life as a soldier has been marked primarily with fear. First there was the fear of being drafted to the vanguard. This was before I realized that the attack from the enemy was so devastating that even the rearguard was not safe. Then, there was the fear of being slain in battle. This was before our ship was knocked off course in the heat of battle, by an asteroid, and away from our unit. I realized then that there were far worse things than death in battle. Finally, there came the fear of dying slowly in space. This was before we crash landed on the third moon of the seventh planet of a star system no one had bothered to name. A moon full of creatures and hostiles which can’t be described in any other way than as abominations of evolution.

After the crash, we had all been relieved, temporarily. In time, the existential question, of if this fate was better than any of the previous three, had begun to plague us.

I always assumed that soldiers felt no fear. That the camaraderie, the bravery and the selflessness all acted synergistically to dispel fear. But this is not the case. Fear is omnipresent, even among those who pretend otherwise. In the first human world war, as soldiers marched through trenches and sang at the top of their voices, there was always the fear, deep within, that the homes they had left to protect, would be visited by death, would be visited by dark angels in the form of hydrogen bombs, in their absence.

Four centuries later, not much has changed. Light-years away from my home, I wonder if the place has been overrun by the enemy. If their pestilence has destroyed my family, the cornfields, and the man I love.

Sometimes I read stories of the first world war, stories about soldiers who accidentally wander into minefields. Sometimes I am beleaguered with the idea, that there is nothing accidental about it. Sometimes I wonder what the twenty fourth century equivalent of walking into a minefield is.

 

 

Jake Pink, stardate 137.2341, Entry 2:

We are all finding ways of coping with our predicament. Very different ways. The captain has retreated into silence. Words between her and us are always at a bare minimum. I think she blames herself for everything that has happened, but she never apologizes. Perhaps due to some masochistic notion that to apologize is an admission of weakness. Hence, she keeps silent and spends her time alone.

Glory, the systems engineer, has much to do. She is always tinkering with some part of the ship, trying to get things working. It seems she barely has time to contemplate our predicament. Of the five other crew members, Glory appears to be coping the best.

The first officer and botanist, Hawa, has given up altogether on sobriety and its complications. Her alcoholism and recreational drug use is unlike anything I have ever seen. I wonder what happens once her stash runs out. I wonder how large of a stash it is. I wonder what other self destructive tendencies she is likely to indulge in.

Hernandez, the astrobiologist, has perhaps the most regular response to our situation. He cries, almost all the time. He is the only one who seems actively to be panicking.

As for me, my form of escapism usually manifests itself in an obsessive compulsive addiction to high strategy video games. However, this is not the case now. I am quite preoccupied with something else: My great great great grandfather’s journal. Howard Leonard Pink had been a scientist for the American army during world war 2. His team was responsible for developing “unconventional” weapons and strategies for the war effort. Some of the experiments he performed have me absolutely astonished. Being halfway through, I cannot, for the life of me, put down the book until I have read it all.

It seems that no crew member is in the right state of mind. Since the mental assessment and evaluation programs are being ignored, someone has to take on the role of a therapist. That person can’t be me. Though I may be aware of the emotional nuances of my crewmates, I have absolutely no desire to address them.

 

 

Jake Pink, stardate 142.2341, Entry 3:

The preliminary scouting reports are in. The drones have brought back useful information. This moon, for the most part has tolerable atmospheric levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide. The natural atmosphere is not going to kill us; nonetheless, there is still danger. Danger manifested in the form of numerous fauna, flora and microbes.

All the samples collected seem to contain a particularly potent neurotoxin. A chemical capable of altering the human mind in strange ways, seemingly omnipresent in every single species. Initial tests have shown that the neurotoxin is capable of inducing schizophrenia, multiple personality disorders, mania and even death. The atmosphere isn’t going to kill us alright, but virtually every other thing might.

This is useful information, considering the fact that we will have to go out soon. Hernandez is absolutely terrified at this prospect and has made it a point to make himself scarce in order not to be chosen. This strategy is never going to work, considering the fact that as an astrobiologist, he is the only one qualified enough for such a mission. We will have to go out of the ship, in order to collect samples from various plants and prepare fuel. This excites no one.

 

 

Excerpt from the journal of Dr.Howard Leonard Pink, February 4, 1943.

Desperation is at an all time high, considering the fact that we seem to be losing the war, and losing quickly. The higher ups have certainly put the pressure on, and many of our most controversial projects are now being given the green light. This means that I will inevitably have the funding to work on the project that has intrigued me since my days as a young undergraduate at Harvard College.

Though the prospects are bleak, I cannot help myself from feeling excited. The only uncertainty I have about the future, manifests itself in the words of my old biology professor, “In the pursuit of scientific achievement, a conscience is as essential as a lab coat.” 

These words have echoed in my consciousness, ever since I heard them. These words have made me contemplate if indeed my research is ethical. Most of the scientific community will undoubtedly frown upon my work, but I cannot be timid. Especially not now. The enemy cannot be allowed to have the upper hand, the war must be won.

If I must lose my conscience, my spirit and my morality that the ideals of my motherland may survive, then so be it. Like the moon, the Prussian Capricorn will eclipse the land of our enemies and cast their future in darkness. So help me God.

 

 

Jake Pink, stardate 145.2341, Entry 3:

I don’t know exactly why I did it, but I doubt it was out of compassion. Perhaps I was just fed up of hearing Hernandez whimpering like a beaten dog. I offered to take his place on the field during the mission. I would be his hands, and he would be my eyes and ears.

I don’t know exactly why I did it, but I really shouldn’t have. As far as the captain and crew knew, the mission was a success. We are already in the process of extracting the organic compounds from the plant samples I brought back for our fuel.

What they do not know is that during the mission, my leg was entangled in a vine, and in trying to free myself, a small tear was created in the suit. What they do not know is that my body has been compromised by a neurotoxin and I might be dead in a few hours. They do not know, and they might never find out. I want to tell Glory about it, but I have no guarantee that she won’t tell the captain. I do not know how the captain will respond to such information. Marooning me on this moon is certainly not outside the scope of her imagination.

I have incinerated the hazmat suit, destroying the evidence. For now, I will keep silent, as the neurotoxin alters my brain chemistry. For now, I will keep silent and hope that I do not die. For now, I will keep silent and read about my great great great grandfather’s exploits.

 

 

Excerpt from the journal of Dr.Howard Leonard Pink, May 18, 1943

I suppose one could say that my project was a success. The outcome was exactly what I expected, but, was it worth the cost?

My lab partner, Dr.Walter Grey, has said that it is for the greater good. But these words just sound hollow to me. A bland justification of unspeakable horrors.

In my eagerness to save the world, I may have transformed into the very beasts I want to destroy. No matter how hard I try, I can see no significant difference between myself and the enemy.

These soldiers, would undoubtedly give their very lives, in order to win the war. But what I subjected them to, is a fate worse than death.

The five of them are locked up beneath the lab and are kept heavily sedated. The dose of the sedative is five times stronger than what would be given to a regular adult male, yet I wonder if it will be enough. We absolutely cannot risk them gaining consciousness before they are delivered to the frontlines, for the sake of everyone in the lab.  

 

 

 

Excerpt from the journal of Dr.Howard Leonard Pink, May 23, 1943

I have become possessed by the notion, that my creations should never see the light of day. No enemy, no matter how hated, should be left at the hands of my creations. Perhaps, I should destroy them before the General has the opportunity to use them.

I have not been able to sleep in weeks. I lie awake at night in fear of the abominations I have created. Every time I close my eyes, all I can see, is the image of my lab assistant, Florence, being ripped to shreds by the creatures.

This must be the same caliber of regret experienced by Alfred Nobel on invention of dynamite, only, this time, amplified by a thousand fold.

Yes, these abominations must be destroyed. Not for my peace of mind, but in respect to the soldiers who sacrificed their bodies that they may came to life.

I will slip a poison inside the sedative. If that fails to work, I pray for the life of me and my children, that their skin is not too hard for bullets. So help me God.   

 

 

Jake Pink, stardate 147.2341, Entry 4:

 It has been 48 hours since exposure. I am not dead yet, but I may be soon. My body, in an attempt to expel the neurotoxin, has subjected me to several bouts of nausea and diarrhea. The crew are starting to notice that I am growing thin. And I know Hernandez is suspicious.

I am changing in other ways too. Lately, I have been experiencing lapses in consciousness. It is as if I become an observer in someone else’s life. It is as if I am here, yet I am not. Like I am alternating between two time frames. Past and present, coalescing into one.

Sometimes I don’t know who I am. Am I a soldier trapped on a hostile moon? Am I a scientist, performing experiments for the war effort?

I know the toxin has potent effects on the brain, but I never expected the effects to be this surreal. Sometimes it seems like I am regressing, to a state ten years younger than I am now. Other times, It seems that my consciousness, is being invaded by a mind which is not mine. By an intelligence which is not mine. By concerns which are not mine. By fears which are not mine.

How much longer will I continue to remain Jake Pink? Moments of clarity are so rare, and I hold tightly onto them, for fear that I am lost in a space which is not.

 

 

Howard Leonard Pink, stardate 148.2341, Entry 5:

I have managed to kill 4 of the beasts. The fifth one realized what was happening and fled out of the ship and into the forest before I had my chance. I am preparing now to chase it. As my pulse rifle charges, I think it is prudent to document the exterminations.

I caught two of them unawares. Shots to the head while they slumbered in a drunken stupor. I knocked the third unconscious with the butt of my rifle, and administered a potent poison intravenously. The fourth tried to hide, but his audible whimpers gave away his position. One shot to the head and two to the chest did the job. It is interesting to note his last words: “It’s doing this to you, this place. It’s corrupted your mind.”

I do not know what those words mean. They can be mere nonsense, or they can be useful. But nevertheless, they did not save his life.

My will to complete my mission is even stronger now. Not even a single one of these abominations must not be allowed to escape. I must destroy my creations.

My pulse rifle is ready, my conscience is clearing. The Prussian Capricorn must never see the light of day.

 

 

Emergency Transmission #78, Dr.Glory Stewart.

The story of our experiences here on this moon may never reach anyone. They may linger on in the fabric of space time as electromagnetic waves, never reaching an antenna. Never reaching any recipients. But I record now in the hopes that this message reaches someone. This is because I have nothing but hope to hold on to.

I am not recording in the hope of being rescued. I am only recording in order for people to know our names, and to remember us. All six of us, especially Jake Pink.

Though it may seem like there is no logical explanation to Jake’s actions, the Jake I know would never betray his own comrades like this. He was a kind and compassionate man and I loved him deeply.

Even now, I feel nothing but love for Jake. All my anger is instead directed to the governments that ordered us to fight and to die for their interests.

I may be dead before sunrise. It is only a matter of time until he catches me.

To any who receive this message, this moon must be avoided at all costs. Everything about this place breeds death.

To any who receive this message, know that we were committed to the cause and remained loyal to the very last second.

To any who receive this message, remember our names and our legacy.

End of transmission.

 

 

 

Howard Leonard Pink, stardate 149.2341, Entry 6:

My work is complete. All five of the creatures are now dead. Before I shot the last creature, something odd happened. As I looked into her face, it was as if I lost consciousness for an instant. It was as of my consciousness had been overtaken by another. Just for a short while, I questioned my identity.

Though all five of the creatures are now dead, my conscience is still not clear. It seems it will take more than destroying my work to atone for my sins.

Perhaps one more life needs to be taken. It seems only fair, considering the fact that I destroyed so many lives in order to make this project a reality. Perhaps this is the price I must pay for being overly ambitious. For neglecting to be as moral as I was scientific. For neglecting to be as ethical as I was driven. Why should I continue to live, as others died?

What do I have to live for? I have failed my unit, I have failed my country and I have failed my friends.

I may go down in history as an evil man, but, let it not be said that I did not try my utmost to atone for my sins.

This will be my final entry in this journal. My pulse rifle still has one charge.