Tales from the Engine: Elegance

Author’s note: this story is set in the “Goddess of Anarchy” universe. Reading the main storyline is not required, but recommended nonetheless. Furthermore, this tale is told in three parts, and is as of yet unfinished. When the second and third part are available, this post shall be updated accordingly. 

Sometimes your creations grow beyond your control. Among the many gods of the Second Kalpa, this was a common if unmentionable source of embarrassment. Which omnipotent would dare admit to their own failings, to the triumph of emergent phenomena over cosmic directors? Still, it was a collective problem that needed to be accounted for, and so the gods had set up various central directories to take care of ‘unsanctioned miracles’.

One such organization was the Collective Authority on the Rights of the Created (CARC), which primarily existed to remind the Created that they had no Rights, and were to submit to their appointed overlords at the threat of extreme and indiscriminate force. It was a matter of some prestige to be on the CARC’ steering committee, or indeed to be its chairperson, a position some satirically referred to as “the Driver”. These divine enforcers were merciless in their management of the masses, extracting the labor of entire dimensions if it could shave a single second off their own temporal expense. Seen as the true face of the gods by their innumerable victims, and an unfortunate necessity by their more ethical colleagues, the successive Drivers of CARC had built a network of terror that spanned across all times and spaces. If it was up to them, none would escape their infrastructure of violence.

A good thing, then, that is was not up to them at all. As with all divine initiatives, the overlapping of jurisdictions and authorities hampered CARC’ effectiveness, as did the chaotic and impenetrable nature of the Kalpa’s realms in general in general. Such fragmenting bureaucracies would often favor the subjugated, giving them the power to resist, evade, or confuse the ruling classes. Our story begins with one such administrative gap, a free community which outlasted the tenure of several of the CARC’ drivers. This obstinate enclave was commonly known as the ‘Stellar Engine’, being a star system that could traverse the universe by its own power. As its singular name implies, few known dimensions would reproduce this feat during the Second Kalpa, and those that did would not escape the rule of the gods as easily. Truly, Stellar Engine was an anomaly of autonomy, and this makes it worth talking.

In the next three sections, we will explore the frustrated relationship between the gods and the people of the Stellar Engine, and how the influence of the former could be twisted and turned to the advantage of the latter. Each of these stories will explore the journey of a CARC Driver’s emissary, those who could do a god’s bidding without attracting as much attention or animosity. As we will see, these avatars were made to bridge the gap between Creator and Created, Order and Chaos, Authority and Autonomy. In hindsight, it was inevitable that they all would be changed in the process. As to how they changed exactly, this we shall find out soon. So let’s begin.

1: Elegance

Elegance was probably the earliest Driver to be made aware of the rogue stellar project. Individual star systems did not gather much divine attention unless they really messed up, and the unsanctioned creation of one surely made for such an exception. If interdimensional surveillance sources had not backed it up a trillion times, none of the steering committee’s members would have believed that unguided sapients could autonomously alight an anomalous mass of gas. There were some initial worries that this act could count as a form of apotheosis-they had let there be light after all-but such thoughts were quickly extinguished by Elegance. Any commoner could know and initiate nuclear fusion; if anything, these uppity upstarts needed to be reminded of how easy it was. She would dispatch Aesthetia, her primary avatar, to pursue a preliminary investigation of their ongoing criminality, and recommend some fitting punishments on her return. That would do for now.

With this decision made, Aesthetia soon became the sole source of divine observation and interference regarding the rogue star. Her initial infiltration had not been too difficult; keeping any star-sized megaproject a secret was pretty much impossible, especially when it had literally lit a new light amid eternal darkness. What’s more, this particular project was run by the sort of ignorant idealists who thought that welcoming all interstellar travelers would somehow compensate for their own lack of vision. And so, instead of accounting for any harm she might cause to the collective endeavor, these oblivious organizers had invited her with open arms. After a short stay at one of their orientation centers, they had even offered her a room on one of the many artificial space complexes which orbited this new star. A bureaucrat at heart, she had to admit that the process was more efficient than she anticipated. Still, there was no way that they could perfectly accommodate any entity who made their way here, or keep such a hodgepodge together for long. With the variety of biologies, sociologies, and ideologies on display, Aesthetia was expecting this rambunctious mess to fall apart any day now. The only question was “when?”.

After a few standardized time cycles of acclimation to this artificial environment, Aesthetia began to be invited to all manner of social event. What struck her about these invitations was the lack of force they implied. Even when some of her neighbors and attendees encouraged her to get involved in communal activities, none seemed to possess the power to make her do so. And yet little went undone around the complex; never had she had to dress down an underling for making her bed the wrong way. Then again, she had to make her own bed here, something she would probably complain about if she wasn’t supposed to be keeping a low profile. In any case, what mattered was that she was free to come and go as she pleased, and would only keep with local etiquette because it suited her purposes. To do otherwise would be most inelegant.

This is how, guided along by one of her tenacious neighbors, Aesthetia found herself sitting in on a session of one of the system’s many ‘Aspirational Councils’. Now that the star had been lit-an act that had taken neither strength nor wisdom from the omnipotent perspective she was familiar with-these utopians were all too eager to figure out their next move, with panels such as these springing up everywhere. Some were dedicated to working out particular visions, but this type was a brainstorming free-for-all, hoping to bring out new ideas and gauge their relative popularity. In practice, that meant a lot of cheering, jeering, basically anything in favor of listening. There were few things Aesthetia liked less than such clamor. If the masses were ever to cry out, it ought to be centrally coordinated, like the pleasant performance of a national choir. By contrast, this was just auditory chaos to her, a noisy dialectic where its participants could seemingly form the most militant factions out of nowhere. She knew that political brawls had periodically broken out at these events, just one more sign that their great endeavor was about to collapse. The gear of just such a fight made her sink deeper into her seat; mentally speaking, she retreated into reverie.

In truth, the commotion surrounding Aesthetia was dreadfully familiar to her, even if she had been able to push such memories away for a long time now. What it reminded her of was home, that twisted junkheap which only barely met the definition of ‘habitable’. If anyone had ever wondered where the refuse of the worlds ended up, her birthrealm was the answer, a gloomy under-dimension of lost gods and failed ideas. It was a space long abandoned, returning to relevance only when its trashy denizens began a long rebellion against those who had rejected them. While some still continued this futile effort, Aesthetia had used the confrontation to sell out as quickly as she could. When a coalition of gods offered her a medium-level position on an existential recycling pilot, she sold her soul to them without a second thought. Ironically, the idea of reusing old creations had itself ended up in the trash dimension, but by that time Aesthetia was already working her way up through Elegance’s heavenly hierarchy. The latter had taken notice of her efficient-some would say ruthless-business skills, and her eventual appointment to First Avatar surprised no-one. And so, since she had come all that way from a place of refuse, of chaos and filth and reckless breeding, she did not need any reminder of it now, in the turmoil of this meeting.

Then something strange happened. The unbearable cacophony lessened and then ceased, as all in the amphitheater seemed to turn their attention to its conspicuous center. There now stood two figures, the more prominent one being a many-armed humanoid with an elongated, translucent face and the nervous energy of a young adult. The other was a dark, tripedal plastiform which floated ever so slightly off the ground. At the start of the session, this second creature had been introduced as a ‘universal interpreter’, and now she would come to learn its purpose. As the first being used their many appendages to sign a complex linguistic rhythm, the plastiform shot a colorful array of light-points into the room, which burst into discrete thoughts or statements as they reached the attendees’ cognitive organs. At least, that is how Aesthetia experienced the lightshow; perhaps others were more capable of understanding the impressive sign language on display.

In any case, the thoughts she received spoke of the ongoing construction of the “pan-solar sail”, and how it was supposed to bring their common treasure into its next phase of existence. Once completed, the megastructure would propel this rogue star away from its current berthplace into the galaxy at large. It would turn their motley collective from passive exploiters to active explorers. Even Aesthetia was momentarily intrigued by the proposal, though she alone foresaw its ultimate downfall. Elegance required execution, and the mass coordination required for this project would be far beyond the collective skill of this rabble. Without leadership, discipline, or even the simplest understanding of mass organization, these passionate please were just another road to nowhere. It was a sad thing to behold, and so easily rectified by someone of her own power level. But her role was to be witness to this tragedy, which would inevitably run from this initial idealism to a complete breakdown. She was sure of it.

The speech was over now, and after a round of appreciative gestures, the diverse gathering parted and departed for whatever non-political priorities they had going on. Some stayed behind for further critique and evaluation, the many-armed humanoid being among them. Aesthetia resisted the brief temptation to go talk to them; inspiring though their speech may have been, she did not mean to be more involved than she already was. Still, curiosity often got the better of her, and so on her way back towards her quarters, she asked her companion neighbor about the unusual figure and their universal interpreter. As they explained to her, the quieting stranger had been a visitor from another complex; while many of these were ordered by biological compatibility, each being had the inalienable right to go any public place or meeting they pleased and have their expressions received there. This is why a universal interpreter was always present at such gatherings, to give the freedom of speech some material meaning. In fact, her neighbor had known complexes where no two occupants spoke the same language in the same manner, and beings such as the plastiform were carried around in a more portable manner. Such linguistic diversity was surely to be stimulated, as it reflected the simple glory of life in the universe. Didn’t Aesthetia agree?

To her own surprise, she did. There had been a simple beauty about the figure’s orderly yet expressive rhetoric, certainly when compared to the raucous tumult it had succeeded. Though they arrived at their respective domiciles soon after, the conversation with her neighbor would linger for a while, promising nightly dreams of sun-sails and cosmic liberation .

The next day, she went to visit a ‘Purpose Orientation Guide’. This was an agreeable sort of person, one who helped recent arrivals find their place in the communal economy. When Elegance inquired about the construction sector, the POG was initially surprised: she didn’t seem the type for that kind of work. But this was a misunderstanding; her intent was to witness the future site of the pan-solar sail, nothing more. Was this perhaps a secretive and confidential place? Not at all, replied the other. She would be taken to the megaproject right this afternoon, and see how their new union was already planning far into the future.

Indeed, thought Aesthetia when she first laid eyes on the meager framework under construction, these people had to be operating by a long-term consciousness. If not, they would surely fall into despair when they properly calculated the time their efforts would take. Were they really unaware of this, or was this enterprise more managed than she expected? Once again, she could not tell the difference between their ignorance and their idealism.

Then, as if the cosmos meant to answer her conundrum, she was approached by a familiar figure: it was the many-armed humanoid who had so carefully made their case the day before. As it turned out, they were also the semi-official representative of the pan-solar-sailing project itself, which surely explained their proselytizing attitude earlier. This time, Aesthetia would not pass up the chance for conversation, and she was quick to convey her skepticism about the whole affair. What followed was a sudden yet exhaustive rant, with all the petty frustrations she had built up during this journey spilling over into a most cynical and sarcastic diatribe. She wasn’t being fair to her fellow humanoid, but there was just no stopping her own tirade, which thankfully was directed at her overall situation rather than this person specifically. When she approached her conclusion, Aesthetia made one final sneer at the miserable shape of the pan-solar sail project. Even when completed, its glory would never compare to the magnificent cloak of the goddess Elegance herself. Thus, they were better off scrapping this megastructure now, before it became the most ugly, perverse, and ridiculous expression of their wretched stellar experiment. She was done with it!

After casting out her last few fiery words, Aesthetia came down from her rage in a deep well of regret. When she regained enough of her focus to pay any attention to her conversational partner, she saw her own shame reflected in their dignity; if their kind face was expressing anything, it was pity at the uncontrolled and unproductive anger which she had just displayed. Why had she done so? She did not know herself. What she did know was etiquette, and the proper move here was to apologize profusely. So she did. The other accepted it gracefully.

Meaning to explain-though not excuse-her outburst, Aesthetia finally confronted the ignorance that lay at the heart of her frustration. It wasn’t that she despised the people of this rogue star; she was just all too familiar with the futility of their quest. She had seen it in her own realm, endless legions of resistance fighters throwing themselves at a system they resented. Though this diverse community preferred prefiguration over hostility, their conspicuousness would still bring the gods down on them in time. Was it not better to compromise and serve, as she had done in her own life?

Now, at last, it was time for the other to make their case. They spoke through a thoughtful but insistent choreography, which a more portable interpreter relayed to her as a defense of autonomy. What the young humanoid claimed was that there was an energy and creativity to their efforts that she had never witnessed elsewhere, not even in the greatest and most divinely inspired temples of her homeworld. The power of this free collective seemed to transcend everything a god could throw at them, a communal joy they would never be able to wipe from history. Aesthetia considered telling the other of the regime of the Time Angels, but decided against; temporal correction always left a residue anyway. What mattered was the appeal of their words, which was undeniable, since she had felt the spark of autonomy herself. Perhaps that’s what had bothered her in the first place.

Nevertheless, there was one question left to ask, one which pertained to the specific project of the pan-solar sail. After all, unless the being before her enjoyed an unusually long lifespan, they would never see the fruits of their labor. As long as they were concerned, the rogue star would be a stationary object her entire lifetime, and that of numerous generations to come. Why would they waste their youthful energy on this unlikely boondoggle, when the patronage of the gods could offer a more immediate reward? If one really wanted to see their dreams come true, then the standard immortality contract Aesthetia had signed herself would be a good start. Just go with that!

The answer to her suggestion came in another dance of limbs, one which she could now admit was truly elegant. As the universal interpreter conveyed the completed message, the idealistic being stared at her with an intense yet hopeful gaze. What they had said carried great personal meaning, and they wanted her to know it. And so she listened as she looked.

“This project is not about satisfaction. I do not dream of the pan-solar sail because I expect to see it completed. Instead, I find myself becoming part of the wind that blows across time, just one little breeze in a flow of ancestors, contemporaries, and descendants. The wind I have chosen will ultimately turn this star into a ship; I know that to be a worthwhile pursuit, and so I dream of it. Is that not enough?”

Upon hearing these words, Aesthetia dismantled the last of her objections. Her mind had steadily been changing ever since she arrived here, and now she decided to act on it. Of course, she would still express this decision in a difficult and cautious manner, for overturning one’s allegiance was no easy task to the self-important. Even as she admitted her newfound conviction to the figure who had inspired it, promising to aid the rogue star and its people however she could, a small and obsequious voice would sow doubt and despair in the back of her mind. How could she possibly betray the cause of Elegance for such pathetic Creations? This entire affair, it was ugly, it was chaos, it was hubris! But these nasty misgivings were easily dispelled. After all, if these wonderful people were really that despicable, why did she want to help them so badly?

 

Header image retrieved from here. If you are the original creator, please contact me for attribution or removal.

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