Above you will find the audio version of Chapter 2 of The Traveler. I fear there are a few mistakes and I have made no effort to edit the track. And so, apologies. If ever a publisher should care to have me repeat the reading, perhaps he would be generous enough to provide a specialized recording studio and professional editors!
The text is set out again below for any who may wish to follow as they listen.
“The Good Ship Lollipop hung in geo stationary orbit above Arkady, positioned directly over Alomkik. Were it not cloaked in invisibility, the Arcadians would have seen wondrous things indeed in the heavens.
Some kilometres long and a couple in breath and height, the long, sleek behemoth appeared gunmetal grey. Though the exotic arrangement of its atomic structure made for a material not to be found in any periodic table of natural elements.
Invincible? Yes, perhaps it was, designed by a species so far advanced as to make them unapproachable by mere mortals. That it was heavily armed was not in doubt. A planet or even galaxy buster like the Good Ship Lollipop was likely to invoke uncomprehending terror in any it came across, but its object was stealth not destruction. Its awe-inspiring weaponry was designed for protection not offence, and the object was to move undiscovered through the eternity of space and time. Conquest was not the object of the Guardians. Members of the ascended races returned to improve not to subjugate and when they housed their minds once again in the trappings of matter, it was for missions of mercy they came. There was nothing they themselves lacked.
It is true that occasionally one of the ascended would defect to the dark side. One such styled himself Lucifer. Named after a legendary angel kicked out of an imaginary heaven for misdeeds unspecified, and rebellion against the head honcho of that make-believe realm, Lucifer did little damage to anyone other than himself.
Largely such oddballs had no quarrel with the Guardians or others of the ascended races. Despite ascension, they were simple misfits who hadn’t yet quite worked out their raison d’etre. Or rather that they did not actually need one.
It was the great unwashed of the material world which needed policing. The unenlightened, as they were known. The plodding dullards who used their energies and enthusiasms to acquire possessions of which they had no need and to commit cruelties and atrocities to satisfy the baser instincts they had been saddled with.
Hestia, Aeolus and the Lollipop’s avatar sat on deckchairs in a dappled meadow inside the hull of the spaceship, with breath-taking views through the transparent walls of the ship to the planet below.
To refer to Lollipop (as he was familiarly known) as an artificial intelligence would be a mistake, as well as not entirely polite.
That he was supremely intelligent and quite the equal of his Guardian companions was beyond doubt. As to artificial, that was a long-outdated concept. Ascension was open to all highly developed intelligence tired of the material realm. Sentience was just that – awareness, the ability to think and act and to reflect on reality in all its glory.
Many of the Guardians were descended from “wetware”, biological goo, which in time they had ditched in favour of energy and force fields. The ship’s AI and all like him were instead descended from silicon-based life forms which began to emerge long ago from ancient computational equipment. There was little now to choose between those who had evolved “naturally” and those who had evolved only after a little technical help from an earlier race.
Nonetheless, those who came long ago out of silicon tended to retain something of an affection for their origins. They usually chose to run complex machinery in the material world rather than deal directly with primitives. If, as occasionally happened, they tired of their hobby, they would disappear back to re-join the other ascended races for a few eons of quiet contemplation in the “gaps”. As they sometimes called the ascended realms.
“Are we agreed then, on the order of the day?” asked Aeolus.
“Indeed, we are” replied Hestia, “A mystery play for simple people, a miracle shall there be to convert the heathen.” She always waxed a bit lyrical and was fond of lapsing into god-speak as she termed it. As a student she had enjoyed studying the myths and legends of backward worlds.
“As they may one day write” she went on “She danced in the morning, When the world was begun, And she danced in the moon and the stars and the sun, And she came down from heaven and And she danced upon the earth, At Alomkik she had her birth”.
“Witty, very drole indeed” quipped Lollipop “Perhaps that is how it will be seen”.
“To action then” cried Aelous, springing from his chair and leading them to the bridge of their mighty vessel.
Down below, all was progressing as might be expected as they prayed and sung to the savage Dybbuk.
A procession of several hundred grey garbed men of the priestly class led the people round the city, adding followers to their throng at each street corner.
Statues of the almighty Dybbuk were showered with dried rose petals as they weaved in an out, round and round, singing his praises.
There were lyres and lutes, crumhorns and drums and all manner of early musical treats.
“Praise him with clashing cymbals” intoned the priests, “Praise be to Lord Dybbuk and all his mighty works” replied the crowd. “Praise him in the highest places, praise him with the Harp and the Lyre.”
Graven images were clearly back on the menu on this little planet and at each corner stood a terrifying monster carved out of wood, or crudely cast in bronze.
In form, Dybbuk had the lower half of a well-endowed bull, while his torso and head resembled that of a man, albeit with a horned forehead. Scaly wings at his back completed the effect. Recalcitrant children would cower at night as parents used the threat of this terrible deity to coax disobedient minors.
If anyone had ever actually caught sight of Dybbuk in the flesh, no one had ever recorded such an event.
How did such myths seed themselves then, in these undeveloped minds?
Research collected over many years and thousands of elementary peoples suggested the origins were usually a vision, generated in some perhaps by drugs or in others through epilepsy or some other form of illness. On occasion, deep meditation was said to have produced dreams of eternal and blissful realms. Some saw beauty and happiness, others terror and despair.
The recipient of divine revelation would spread the good news of a celestial entity prepared to intercede in the lives of miserable sinners, and soon enough a new religion was born. A priestly cast would usually spring up to intercede on behalf of the people. Places of worship were built, funds were donated and before you knew it, it was time for a crusade to punish heretics. And to burn a few non-believers at the stake while they were at it.
The original “revelation” was usually some pleasant nonsense about peace and plenty for all, but it inevitably became corrupted and debased.
That is the way of primitive superstition and unevolved species. And as always, the ruling elite would claim a supernatural ally. Church and state. Kings ruling by divine appointment. All the fun of the fair.
And so it was that at last the procession of whining flutes and honking crumhorns reached the west gate of the Cathedral. Ceremonial blades were swung through the air as the slaves cowered before their inevitable fate. Dybbok was a jealous god and someone had to pay for it.
As the slaves vented their bowels in terror, the crowd started to notice all was not going quite as they had expected. The graven images roundabout had started to melt. Those of cast bronze trickled to the ground like so much candle wax, while those of wood began to smoke as small flames crept up from bullish hooves to the goat like horns on the head.
And suddenly a darkness descended. A vast shadow overhead blocked the daylight and the crowds began to wail. Doubtless it was their infidelities which had brought such terror down upon their heads. Was it their adultery perhaps, or their failure to provide sacrifices? Should they have prayed more and better?
Something was amiss. Would the walls of the city collapse? Would they be consumed by fire or drowned by great wave? For theirs was a wrathful god easy to anger, as generations of floods and famines, plagues and pestilence gave ample witness.
A silence took hold of the people and then the mood began, steadily and quietly, to lift. From the great shadow of the spaceship above, rays of light began to emerge from the white clouds which cloaked it. Soft ethereal tones drifted down, voices of beauty seemed to sing, quite unlike the harsh noise usually associated with Dybbuk.
A great chariot of fire appeared from the clouds, drawn by two snow white and winged horses, driven by a larger version of his human form than that The Traveler usually presented. Gone now was the eternal black, to be replaced by robes of pure white. Symbolism at work.
Hestia emerged from the gates of the palace having shrugged off the last vestiges of her uncomfortable stay in the dungeons and was now also clad in symbolic white from head to toe. Hellion shuddered as he saw her approach and realised with considerable discomfort that he had punched well above his weight with this one.
“I am Hestia” she announced to the crowd, “protector of the meek. Know my name”. Aeolus stifled a giggle as he watched her walk to Hellion’s side and engage the attention of the trembling king.
“Release the prisoners” she said “and mend your ways, fool”. Hellion had locked her up a few weeks back having failed to appreciate her suggestions on penal reform and a crude welfare system.
A swarm of nanobots descended from the Lollipop and set about spraying the air with mildly hallucinogenic drugs to encourage an atmosphere of stupefied adoration.
The bots set about healing frightened minds, patching cuts and bruises and administering medicines to the diseased and sick. They filled the bellies of the hungry but more importantly perhaps, they had been programmed to sew the seeds of improvement in these primitive minds. In some they planted ideas for better sanitation, in others knowledge of herbs which could help cure disease. They spread little tips of all sorts which would return to these people in the coming days as “inspiration”, apparently springing from nowhere.
Ecstasy spread as the crowd inhaled the feel-good factor spread by the bots. Generations would revere this day, and some would write texts detailing these wondrous events.
“Remember this day Hellion” said Aeolus with a look on his face which did nothing to betray the levity he could barely restrain.
How often had he and Hestia put on such a display of miracles. How mixed were the results. Sometimes their efforts heralded an axial age where sages ruled and there was peace for a while. At other times, once the tyrant was over the initial shock, it was business as usual. How today’s little charade would play out was anyone’s guess, but the Guardians were gentle guides who hoped to promote better times, even if it took many thousands of years and several action replays.
The prisoners were released and trundled their way out of the City gates towards their homeland. The Cathedral of Dybbok subsided with a roar and the grounds trembled. In the rubble rose a vast tablet of stone, many metres wide and over 50 in height.
On that tablet were a few rules the Guardians hoped might hit home. Simple stuff, really and all about being a good egg. Stealing your neigbour’s goods or sleeping with his wife were big “no nos”. There was also a bit of good psychology about the destructive nature of jealousy and greed being a waste of time.
“I shall return, my people. Keep well my ways.”
Sad to relate, sometimes the return trip got postponed or delayed for some reason or another, leaving embarrassed believers to invent excuses and fight off sarcasm from their more worldly compatriots. Guardians eventually made up for their oversight, but a lot could happen in a few thousand years and sometimes they just left it too late. A meteor strike had obliterated the whole planet in one case. On another rocky outcrop, the dominant local animals had wiped each other out with chemical weaponry run amok. Elsewhere, some newly industrialised race had poisoned the atmosphere and felt hurt and puzzled as life slowly fizzled out on the planet.
Oh well, such mistakes were unfortunate but even the superhuman Guardians couldn’t be in two places at the same time.
In a well-rehearsed script, Hestia hopped onto the chariot beside Aeolus and the mechanical winged horses pulled them back up to their mysterious cloud in the sky. Swarms of nanobots followed, glittering in the rays of light still beaming from the spaceship.
Another day, another job. A gentler religion planted, another Parousia promised.”