Burnt Toast #10
Late 1991/early 1992
It always annoyed me how glibly they destroyed a decent chunk of the galaxy/universe in Logopolis. Hence this piece, which had a great picture when published in Burnt Toast — a pure black box. Oh well, I thought it funny. This piece has also seen publication in a few other places since.
He sensed the wave of chaos approaching, and turned — although, of course, he faced all directions and was in all locations simultaneously — to face it. A star, then another, and another, popped out of existence, their light all too soon snuffed, attendant planets gone with them as well. Timidly he probed, through the extensions he had gained via the Keepership, towards that wave — and instantly, instinctively, totally, recoiled from it. For this was no material force, no invading space-fleet, no great Melkur or freak astronomical event. It was nothing.
Or, to be more accurate, it was something that made nothing of all other things. It did not break them down to tiny fragments or even isolated atomic particles, but indeed destroyed matter itself, reduced it to chaotic heat, sound, light, aimless and useless energy. He looked at the so-called empty space before him (and yet not before him) and saw, even in the void of space, activity. Minute specks of debris from a few billion years of activity — be they asteroids or primitive rockets or the great creatures that floated through space as if it were water — smashed into each other, ricocheting off at unpredictable angles and leaving small flares of heat as motional energy became heat energy. There was a rich story there for those who could read it. But the results of that wave — it was truly nothing. Order, structure, matter, life; all broken down to nothing. Nothing to be seen, nothing of value, nothing to arise from it ever.
Nothing. How do you fight nothing? And, through the hundred and one planets of the Traken Union and the billions of people upon them, he knew there was no recourse, no magic wand to be waved this time. His predecessor, after his reign of over a millenium, might have fathomed that seemingly magical course, but now it was just Luvic, Keeper of barely a month. He had so much more to learn, to give to his people; and now it seemed he would never get the chance.
Consul Katura gazed over the plentiful fields of Traken, and saw her gentle childhood in them. Of course, this was not her home planet, but the serenity and the honest, simple work of the farmers were the same as where she had been born, and indeed with all one hundred and one planets of the Union. Her childhood, by galactic terms, had lasted forty-three years. It would have, as with all but the very very select few, lasted her life, but then she had been chosen as a Consul. It had been the time of Selection after a Consul had died. This time, that fateful occurrence of only once or twice a millenium, it had been her planet’s responsibility to proffer a Consul.
The Keeper had come to the fair planet Katuria, the thirty-first planet of the Union, and he had looked over the fields of it just as Katura now did on Traken. He had looked over the planet, searching for the one person the planet had to offer who would make the finest Consul, and possibly even, some day, a Keeper. This time a female was to be chosen, and she had been selected. Her old name was forgotten, and the Keeper formally named her Katura, after her planet, and she was the only one of that name in the entire Union. She had come to Traken, to stay until she died (or perhaps, just perhaps, became Keeper), where it had all started. It was the ancient seat of power, the place from which all people of the Union had originated many millennia ago. And yet, paradoxically, it was excluded from the rotational Selections.
A hundred planets, a billion people on each, a Selection or two every decade as older Consuls died, and she had been the Selected. Her childhood ended.
She looked over those fields, and then back to the four people — two women, two men — standing behind her. The four new Selected. Never in all the Union’s history had there been so many Selections at once, for even at the beginning there had been but three Consuls, later expanded to five. And now she was the senior Consul. Previously, even though she had been the eldest for quite some time, Seron and Treman had been the dominant Consuls. She was now unavoidably senior Consul; the pressure weighed her down all the more. She wished she were a child again.
He had seen it coming, was prepared for it, and yet it still struck a near-physical blow. A whole planet, a billion people, destroyed — no, not even destroyed, simply gone, not there any more. Treman, thirty-fourth planet of the Union, was gone. Part of Luvic, the Keeper, was gone. The Union was reduced to one hundred planets.
At least Tremas’ daughter, who Tremas had somehow conspired to bring to Traken when he became Consul, was no longer there. Lovely child. If only he could remember her name.
He looked at where Treman had been. Nothing. Nothing. He went to Traken.
Something caught her eye. She turned, and looked across the fields again. in the distance, a great mass came towards her, silently yet noisily, some (staticy?) buzzing just noticeable. A great storm, or an even greater cloud of dust? She shook her head automatically — this was certainly neither of them, and nothing else she had ever seen. She sensed the confusion of the Consuls behind her, and then she heard the sound more clearly as she concentrated. From across those perfect fields came a howling, a rushing, a keening, of — well, nothing. She saw that perfect land, perfect crops, and perfect people disappear under the moving mass, and knew somehow none would emerge again. She turned and ran.
The Keeper was in the Sanctum when she arrived. The Keeper, not Luvic. How cold he had seemed over the past month, as if he stopped seeing people as people but just numbers in some great equation, or maybe pieces to move around some board.
"What is it?" she cried out in despair, as she sensed the very building behind her disappearing. Surely the Source was not this unstable — Luvic was strong, had not been chosen as a Consul for nothing. "What is it?" she cried out again, and that was all she ever said. This was no storm, and there would be no salvation. She, the four new Consuls, the Sanctum, and the three billion inhabitants of Traken were gone. The wave, bubbling slightly as it smothered the planet, flowed on.
Luvic went to the next planet.
A billion tiny screams, a billion tiny jabs at his body, or what remained of it. A pause, an all too short pause. And then another billion. He grew weaker, felt himself being eaten away as those who formed him were consumed. More tiny screams, and yet he did not feel for them, could not feel for the countless number of faceless people who were no more. He knew none of them, and felt guilty. The wave moved on.
On a hundred planets, people called his Name on this day of judgement, and he could not reply. They all needed him, and he was, despite all the Keepership gave, but one person. How could he go to a mere handful of people while billions died? Not that it would help anyway — he was the Keeper, the one who waved the magic wand and kept all perfect. As a person, as someone to comfort the hysterical masses, he was next to useless. He was supposed to just *stop* these annoyances.
He became bitter. While their faith sustained him, none thought of him. He had lost his childhood twelve years ago when he had become Consul, and had, in its own fashion, lost his life when he became Keeper. He was even abandoned by Katura, the only remaining Consul (ignore what had happened to Traken! Forget what had happened to Traken!) from those twelve years, the only person he had really known for those twelve years (for Seron and Tremas, mock serious, were absorbed by their work, and Kassia was too extreme for the more composed Luvic). Now he was a spider stuck in his own web.
He found himself on his home planet of Luvicia, the thirty-sixth member of the Union. He had not been here for twelve years, save for his thirty-sixth of one hundred and one formal introductions to the people of the Union. Even as Keeper, with the ability to travel to anywhere within the Union instantaneously, he had not come. Of course, he argued to himself, he had been far too busy over the last month. Of course.
So now he sat on his throne in the Sanctum of Luvicia, and looked out at his people. They packed into the Sanctum, delirious and pathetic, hoping for a miracle. And they saw there was none to be offered, and saw his own despair, and despaired themselves.
Luvic looked out, and saw his father. And did not see him, for the tyranny of the Keepership prevented that — it was not conducive to the stability of the Source. He became just another face in a sea of faces, a number in the great equation of the Traken Union. What remained of it.
And, as if forordained, this was the final planet. The wave rolled on, crashing down onto the planet and washing away great chunks. Luvic was now too weak to move, maintained only by the dying gasps of the final million Luvicians. And the wave came on.
He felt the number of people dwindling; a million, half a million, ten thousand, a hundred, ten, nine, eight… and for a moment they were all equal, the Keeper no longer some supernatural being they did not know. He was not even Luvic, for that too was pretence. They knew his original name, and they remembered him, him the person, and so did he. And his name was…
The wave moved on.
The sandcastle they called the Traken Union was gone.
Another sandcastle was not all that far away.
This page last updated by David J Richardson on Sat, 1 Feb 2003.