Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Reaper

One of the biggest disadvantages of interstellar travel is that you lose everything in the process - at least your mind and your body. There are a thousand ways to do it, but every race has come up with the same logic. Encode your being into pulses in the electromagnetic spectrum, and send it across space. At the receiving end, you are made whole again. Sometimes, you can get lost because of a cloud of dust, a shower of haywire particles or any kind of noise that can show up - which is a very rare occurrence, but sometimes, some people just get unlucky. At such times, it was a matter of keeping the decoding on hold till the message cycled over, as it always did. It was possible to be in two places at once. It was possible to be immortal. It was possible to exist in many versions. Technology had taken man a long way, but the progress had left many unanswered mysteries. Why had life spawned on Earth alone, amongst all the planets in the many universes? Why was the speed of light a constant throught every kind of space there was? It was many millennia since the first nano machines had explored into the depths of black holes. The light with the human spirits had followed them. Universes with holes that opened into each other were portals for the travels of many men. No matter how much they searched, they found no life... not even stray strands of bacteria. They were alone in the universe, for some ungodly reason, and soon enough, on the scale of time at which the universe works, factions of man became each other's aliens, many losing the capacity to interbreed, records of the old colonizing efforts being lost, and a vast universe, and the vastness of all the other universes, even the ones forged according to the designs of engineers, were filled to the brim with the same old boring life. And a hundred million years was but a second to the immortals.

Maybe I had an illness, maybe it was a condition, or maybe he could take me home. The botanist. The short, stout man with spectacles and a rambling, confusing mode of speaking that he alone could comprehend. I had never seen him, but could picture him clearly in my mind. I was wandering through the streets of a strange town. It may have been on another planet, or another universe, I was bound by the strange and perverse laws of reality, and had no way of knowing. The entire town seemed to be made out of houses, large and grand mansions with high walls and strong iron gates. They were all different, but had the same angles running to them. There was some strange rock, or plant, of a soft and squishy consistency, that was strewn all over the town. Could have been the dung of the bulls. The worst thing about that town were the bulls. Ever single house had them, chained to the posts of the gate. Each gate had exactly two bulls - one for each post. Large creatures with long painted horns. Brown, White, Grey and a Black one now and then. Some were ruminating on some fodder, drooling yellow and red saliva. The chains looked flimsy, and they could reach till the middle of the street despite them. Every one of them tried to gore me, but they moved slowly, too slowly for me. I was always able to dodge them, but grew wary of doing so. There was no one else on the streets. Maybe they were all dead, or had abandoned the town, or had the habit of sleeping during the daytime. Maybe the only people here chose to live as bulls chained to the posts. I knew of at least one man here, the Botanist with the herb that could save me. Each house had a symbol, a very simple symbol, probably signifying the profession of the owner. I recognized a barber, a swordsmith, a geologist, an alchemist, and a fishmonger or maybe a fisherman. Every house I passed, the same set of events took place, the bulls got excited as I approached, tried to move towards me, realized halfway that they could not make it, and they bobbed their heads as if they would gore me if I were any nearer. I walked at a brisk pace through the center of the road. A different building came into view, a building made of black stone, a large dome of a building, with a gaping entrance. It looked like some place of worship, a temple of some kind. There were heretics living in this place, occultists of some kind. I hurried past that particular place quickly and walked on. I took turns at random, not knowing where to go, looking at the signs on the houses - anything with a leaf, or a tree, or a flower. Even a seed or a nut would have done. I saw nothing of that sort, and kept walking, and I must have ended up walking in a circle because I passed that imposing, featureless black dome again. I kept walking, avoiding it again, choosing to go in a totally different direction, and wondering if there were many such buildings throughout the town. Maybe I was getting tired, and was slowing down, or maybe the bulls got more active with the passing of the day, but a few of those long horns had come uncomfortable close. I had had enough. I just wanted to leave the city, maybe the whole area was some kind of a morbid sanctum. I just wanted out. So I walked in a straight line, and kept going, still looking out for the horns, and only half paying attention to the symbols. Suddenly, the black dome loomed in front of me again. I passed it by, a little bewildered, and a little irritated. The town was curved into itself, that much was clear. I heard the footfalls of another creature behind me and turned around to take a look. It was a dog, or at least, most of it was. It was a dog till it's neck, complete with a wagging tail, but it's head was that of a lizard, or a snake, couldn't which. It did not look malevolent, so I ignored it and continued to walk. The dog overtook me, and went ahead of me. I watched as it approached one of the bulls at a house. The bull tried to attack it, it ran to the other side of the road, where another bull managed to gore it. I had expected that a second before it happened, but what I did not expect was the feeding frenzy that followed. The two bulls tore up the creature between the two of them, and did not even take a step in my direction as I crossed them. The blood was dripping from their mouths. It had not occurred to me that they were carnivorous. I began to run.
Sure enough, when I came across the dome of black stone, I entered it only because there was nowhere else to go. It seemed much larger from the inside. Domes always do, the canopy of every sky is positively tiny when seen from the outside. It was an empty and bare structure save for the fountain in the middle. There was a dark pool of liquid, and the jet spurted out of the earth like the earth itself was ejecting it, more like a geyser than a fountain. I approached it, it was a thick, dark red liquid. The pool was full of many coins, from many ages, races and civilisations. Some of them I recognized, some of them hardly looked like coins, there were a few cubes of glass, a few shards of silver, and even a pearl. I reached into my pockets, and threw in a coin, forgetting that the crude ritual involved making a wish of some kind. The fountain accepted my payment, and a cup rose to the surface from the murky depths. It was a very fragile cup, of some flimsy material, but sufficient to hold the liquid. If I had a choice then, I did not consider it. I drank it. Then I looked around, expecting something to happen. I walked around the fountain a few times. I sat down in the corner, and contemplated horrible thoughts. I considered my options carefully. I resigned to the only reasonable course of action - make a better effort at finding the botanist.
I walked out. There was no doubt about it, the bulls were much more aggressive now, much more quicker. I had to run, but I found that I was full of energy, maybe that was what the drink did to me. An then, to my surprise, I found it, a simple brown leaf in a green circle. This had to be the place. The house smelt like a herbarium. Now to get past the bulls. That was not going to be easy, they were watching my move, prepared to gore me the second I got near enough. They were tied to the posts with very thin chains. I never had the chance to think twice about it, I took a short run up, scaled the gate in a trice, and was over it with only a bruise on my back to show for it - that was where I supposed one of the horns had got me. The door to the house was open, there was even a light on inside. I entered without announcing myself. I saw a table, many bottles with specimens of plants, or herbs or something, a few pots with flowering plants and a couple of chairs. I dared not explore the rest of the house, and waited for the owner to show up. The table was strewn with papers, notes of many kinds, designs and diagrams. I looked through them, I did not understand a single word, or decipher a single diagram, but they looked intricate, carefully crafted, and exhaustively created. With no particular idea of why I was doing it, I pocketed a couple of those handwritten manuals.
The short man in the spectacles and the mane of dark hair appeared. I felt like I had known him all my life. He behaved like it. He took out a small pouch from his pocket, and extracted a handful of seeds from it. He handed them over to me. "This is what you want" he said. "What do I do, eat them?" I asked. "Walk around to the back of the house. Find a patch of bare earth. Plant them there. You can stay here till they grow. I have other things to attend to." And just like that, he left me alone in the room.

==fantasy, NOT sci fi==

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