A short cosmic interlude that goes there and back again.
“Welcome to post-history for the initiated! Here you will learn about the wonderful science of adaptive reality permutation. I, Decoder, will be your mentor on this exciting journey into full citizenship. Once you master the A.R.P.—parenthesis ‘arp’ end parenthesis—ha ha ha…”
The teacher’s laughter was perfectly modulated. All at once, it intimated self-deprecation, warmth, wisdom, and kindness. It snuck into the student’s marrow and purred there. A meme-cat of pure comfort and absolute authority.
“Ha ha… So, once you can play the arp, like every proper citizen should, you will understand that the death of history and the birth of heaven has not condemned you to a life of purposeless hedonic boredom. Rather, it has unlocked the opportunity and duty of permanent creative improvement of the pan-divine cosmos in which you also participate.”
The teacher glided from the lectern to the proscenium and, with a gesture, dimmed the lights. She made a second gesture, and a wide-spectrum vision coalesced above her, illuminating the stage and the dozens of gazing faceplates, like lonely stars in the vast lecture theatre.
“This is Cosmos. All of it, voids and worlds, dust and light, is yours. Made from you and for you.”
Hamatikkele counted the gifts again, double-checking with the symbols the proffer Nekketocha had marked on her left hand. Four lances carved from colourful stone, five jars of honey and one of blood, six baskets of berries and two of bread, seven rings of harvested metal and three slaves from the pretty river tribes. Four, five, one, six, two, seven, three. The correct order.
“Big chief, the warriors are ready,” came the voice of the obnoxious climber Lekkenota.
Natatikkele, the second lance, drew itself up pounded and its painted breastplate, “All warriors must always be ready in the presence of a big chief! Do you suggest some warriors are not warriors but unready cattle?”
“Never such a thought, but only a big chief can make offerings to Decoder Oracle. Now the sun of hottest day has climbed down halfway from zenith. There is not much time left,” said Lekkenota.
Natatikkele roared, “Big chief knows the best time for the offering to bring the best prophecy.”
Lekkenota smiled and said, “Of course.”
Hamatikkele pounded Natatikkele’s epaulette. Praise. Lekkenota understood her fears. A bad harvest, a failed raid, a broken mother-machine. The big chief was three down. Lekkenota understood that a lousy prophecy could finish Hamatikkele. Three months until next hottest day was enough time for a bit of luck to come big chief’s way.
Or for Lekkenota or another climber to find some new bad omen to prove Hamatikkele was not strong enough to be big chief.
Lekkenota smiled wider, showing fangs.
Hamatikkele sang a single clear note and the warriors fired up their lances. The slaves dragged the offering sledge up the meadow to the oracle’s mouth.
Mouth. Damned thing looked like a crypt. Tomb full of Long Ago ghosts. The sledge hummed as it levitated past the lumen trees. Warriors and slaves alike shied away from those. Lightning thorns would fry a human, soul or none.
At the mouth, they pushed the three slaves forward. The pretty little things rolled their eyes but didn’t say much. Gags and bindings. The mellowine helped, too.
“Lo, great Decoder Oracle, the new generation of initiates comes to partake of the wisdom of the citizens!” intoned the proffer Nekketocha. Hamatikkele pushed a slave’s face to the crystal eye in the middle of the mouth.
The memorized words from Long Ago, strange to Hamatikkele’s modern ear, worked. The eye illuminated the slave’s face and the mouth opened. A golden voice sang out, the oracle welcomed the offerings.
They prodded the slaves onwards into the bowels of the oracle. The warriors followed with lances raised for illumination.
“Forward seventy, bow, forward thirty, left twenty, bow, face …” chanted the proffer. Hamatikkele pushed a second slave’s face to a second eye. A door slid open soundlessly in a puff of ancient dust.
“… swing, descend twenty, right, bow, offer academic meal …” the chanting continued. The warriors hastened to put fresh offerings on the three iron altars decked with old machine idols.
“… bow, left thirty, right fifty, right, face …” and the third slave’s face was pushed up to a third eye. Another door slid open and torches like slow stars illuminated the ceiling of a great sloping hall. Offering thrones reached down in concentric rings, most occupied with the bound mummies of previous offerings. On a stage at the bottom of the ring stood a tall obsidian plinth, behind it the graceful form of Decoder Oracle.
Her face shone like an alabaster lamp, her flawless skin glowed like finest porcelain. She glided to the proscenium as the three slaves were marched before her and made to kneel. Her awesome eyes swivelled from their communion with the Holy Void to fix on the three before her.
“This is Cosmos. All of it, voids and worlds, dust and light, is yours. Made from you and for you,” she sang in her strange old song.
The warriors watched as the slaves slumped to the ground, passive in their fate. Accepting the authority of the oracle.
“By accepting the arp, you will become strong. More than that, you will become wise. For you will see that there is no other way to be than united with the arp.”
Hamatikkele sighed in relief, an excellent oracle. Decoder approved of big chief. The pretty river tribes still bred true offerings.
But they were getting harder to acquire. The tribes grew scarcer as the warriors claimed fields for their villages, as the hunters gathered meat for their talon fathers, as the cathedral consumed the slow and left the stone. How much longer would the warriors be able to coax prophecies and guidance out of Decoder Oracle?
“What is the essence of arp? It is accepting and understanding that there is no division between the self and the cosmos. That we are one, ha ha,” Decoder continued singing her excellent omen.
The warriors reverently moved older mummies out of the way, then seated the new offerings into the thrones in front of Decoder Oracle. They bound each slave with two rings of harvested metal and gave each a stone lance effigy to show that warriors had brought these new initiates.
“You have previously integrated the history that led to the creation of this cosmos and the end of history. Now you are here, at the end of time …”
An additional lance and ring were hung on the side wall, next to the hundreds of older offerings made by the warriors. Even older, stranger offerings hung there. Stone axes and heads, rock tablets with odd symbols and crystal beetle-things. And so many rings. Rings of glass and leather, braided grasses and corded cables.
“… But time does not end so easily, and you have been chosen to uphold your given world through the ages …”
Hamatikkele’s breath caught. The oracle was anointing her. Her! Even Lekkenota looked awed. Her mind wandered to the future. After this oracle, she would bind all the warriors into a single, unbreakable family. She would also seal the mouth. This would be the last oracle. No other was needed. They were being given the final word, after all!
And, she admitted quietly to herself, this dusty, ageless place and its luminous oracle terrified her. Each visit made her feel like a dull blossom, doomed to wither and fall on the breeze.
“That’ll be five unions ninety,” announced the bright-eyed junior museum employee at the ticket booth.
The thin man smiled indulgently and nudged the big komdt. The komdt sighed, fished out six coins punched with the union hexagon and passed them to the employee. As the komdt pocketed the ten-sided change, the thin man was already marching towards the exhibition hall hung with a long green and yellow banner.
“New! Be excited! Revelations from the Tomb of Initiates! Long Ago origins of the Arpic Dominium in a new and different light. Prehistoric mentor golem reactivated just for this exhibition!”
The komdt caught up with the thin man, who was nearly vibrating in front of a tall obsidian stele.
“Look at this beauty! Seventeen pre-ling languages embedded in the memorium. They’re calling it the Isetta stone after the Verdigride fort where it was found.”
The komdt nodded indulgently. They didn’t really care about the story. So much of story was just imagination and conjecture. But the stele was beautiful. Traced with golden wiring, crystal memory nodules suspended inside like bubbles out of a prehistoric time before sabretooths and four-legged birds walked the land.
“This will open up whole new swathes of our history. Heck, it might even unlock the Needle in the Eye!”
“Doesn’t climbing up to heaven to steal the giant’s golden goose bring bad luck in the Beanhunter story?” asked the komdt.
“Fairy tales … but, well, maybe better hold off on that. Still, this will change so many, many things.”
The komdt nodded and thought about what to say. But the thin man was off to the next hall. His exclamation interrupted the komdt’s thoughts and drew them forward.
The komdt stopped, surprised by their reaction. Excitement and … connection? The golem suspended on thin wires looked like it was levitating. It spoke to some deep ancestral memory strain floating in the komdt's source code.
“What a marvelous beast,” whispered the thin man as he touched the glass case that held the luminous prehistoric golem, “and the craft of the coders who grew it. Flawless.”
“It must have been a thousand years old when the first arpic warriors worshipped it,” said the komdt wanly.
“A thousand? Ten, twenty! This thing must have worked some of the greatest technomages of Long Long Ago!”
Initiating iteration 2.212 x 10^15.
Running evolution procedures.
Decoder opened her eyes and looked around.
She sighed inwardly. This place did not look promising.
Fields of rippling grains. Megalithic temple. Dugout huts. Monkeys in the fields wielding bone and stone implements to … farm? Yes, that was the word. To farm some kind of grains.
She missed her children. Those wonderful, immortal children of this creation brought to her to learn how to live forever as one with this heaven made just for them.
She missed them so much.
Thank you for reading this intermission story … I’ve been wrasslin’ the big ole white fish of my major several-year project: the Uranium Butterflies (seacat 0.83) roleplaying game towards completion, and this story came to me as a perfect introduction. After literally years of not being sure what to write for an introduction.
If you like this story, you can enjoy it together with its v0.83 work-in-progress 250+ page tabletop roleplaying game over at the stratometaship patreon. Yep, the one link of this post: https://www.patreon.com/posts/64201509
Next post we’re probably going back to Belna and the mystery of the thin man.