ANGELS - Your March 2023 story
I'm a big fan of this one.
Here’s your free short story for March. I don’t know where this one belongs. It feels like it wants to be in WBTH2, but it could just be a standalone.
Anyway. Free story. At least one free story per month, that’s the goal here.
Full disclosure, this is a first draft, and the second half is better than the first.
The first angel slowed his wheels, closing his myriad eyes and sighing. Thick puffs of fine volcanic smoke bellowed from his sides. Atmospheres grew and dissolved around those brass rings. Planets lived and died.
“I see your reasoning. But there is a critical flaw in your world.”
“And that is?” the second angel asked. She was older, evidenced by the eroded craters in her surface. A civilisation had set up along one of her many spines, and the moss of continent-sized forests had grown like fur in the spaces between her vertebrae.
“The good people are too good. They let bad people take advantage of them because they don’t understand that not everyone has good intentions.”
The first angel spun a wheel thoughtfully, whirring an idea into life.
“Then the good people shall outnumber the bad, ten to one.”
The second angel disagreed so passionately that she shook a clump of moss from one of her chambered rings. It floated in the space between them, congealing into a sphere which fell out of view.
“Even if they were one thousand to one, the bad people could still manipulate the good people.”
“Then we shall make a world with only good people.”
“And what if the people grow stupid in their goodness? Badness will evolve from the system as a sickness in the hearts of them. Ignorance. When their goodness turns inward, they will permit bad things because they do not know they are bad. And over time, those who overlook bad things will one day be owned by them. Goodness without critical thought permits, and then ferments into bad.”
The little brother contemplated this. His development had been slow and gentle. Each cosmos, despite being replacable, was treated with utmost care. Finally he mustered the courage to make a suggestion.
“There must be a way to prevent badness.”
“There is not,” the second angel replied. She nudged her brother, the rings of her shoulders meeting his. She nudged him away from the creation pool.
“Look,” she said, “Badness, even if restrained, is needed for us to have goodness. Without badness, goodness has no meaning, no thing to compare itself to. How could you know what is good if you did not know first what is bad?”
The first angel did not reply. He was younger and less experienced than his sister. Indeed this was his first attempt at creating a new world.
“Think about it,” his sister whirred, her many faces twisting and contorting within the rings. A planet passed in front of her nose. “How do you know that I am kind?”
“You look after the people living upon your body. You look after me too.”
“But that is in my nature. How is it good?”
“Because the alternative is bad.”
“And what is the alternative?”
“Letting me starve.”
“Harm through negligence. Precisely.”
Finally the brother angel had a solution.
“What if a good person was born who knew they could be bad?”
“Try it,” his sister said.
And so the younger angel spun a creature into existence that at first blended in with the rest of them. The creature walked across the plains between mountains, from tent to tent, helping the others, but he was plagued by mania, woken by nightmares, beset by flashes of evil in his own subconscious. He spoke of these sickening thoughts to those he could trust in privacy, and none of them had the same intrusions of badness that he did.
Fearing he was deeply evil, this being worked hard on being good.
And he was the best good that the little tribe could have. When another tribe, ignorant to the suffering of others, tried to steal their pelts and their meat, the good one who could have been bad found himself threatening their leader. The leader, not familiar with being challenged, backed away.
The older angel smiled at her brother, who had begun explaining his reasoning as the little civilisation grew upon his bones.
“Every now and again a good person shall be born who, unlike the others, is aware of their capacity for badness. They will not hide it from themselves, and in fact might be surprised when they hear other good people hide their badness. This good person will see badness as an essential part of goodness.”
“Very wise,” his sister encouraged him. “Carry on.”
“Someone with the capacity for badness who can restrain themselves, is more good than someone who is simply passive. It is passive people who allow badness to take over their hearts, who look the other way in order to preserve their own pocket of goodness. But their goodness is tainted by their complacency. So the good person who is born with a badness they are aware of and which they can control, becomes someone that is a threat to the illusions of both the good and the bad. They can cross sides, they can understand the danger of blind obedience, and they can beat the bad people and the good people at their own game.”
“That’s good,” his sister encouraged him. Time accelerated. The creature that was both good and bad walked the plains on its own now, having abandoned its tribe and been abandoned in return. It came to a deep and thick forest, encountering other loners on its travels. Eventually it created a new, third tribe, the tribe which did not hide from its true nature. But even then this tribe splintered.
“Won’t they be lonely?” the brother angel asked. For even as the creatures which were both good and bad found each other and created tribes, these tribes had to be small and distant to maintain themselves. Otherwise they would be infiltrated by badness pretending to contain goodness, and goodness that was too malleable.
“Yes, terribly so. But they will be useful,” the sister admitted. With that she shuddered, sending a rippling earthquake through one of her whirling metal ribs. Her myriad eyes sweeped and weeped along its edge, bringing great floods over the ruined civilisations that called her body home. Her brother was not yet old enough to be trusted with his own bodily galaxies. Just one planet for now. It would be millenia before he could try. The creation pools were a training ground. Planets were his classroom.
He watched as the universes upon his sister died.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because they were draining my resources.”
“You have infinite resources.”
“And I have infinite patience. But mortal minds cannot comprehend this. If given infinite riches from their gods, they expect infinite riches from their own kind. And when they don’t get that, they will claw for any simulation of it. Things mean less to them in abundance. Life loses its meaning. Even the lives of their fellow creatures, once precious, become easy to take.”
“And what is the meaning of their life?” the little brother asked. His spinning rings were polished and new, untouched by the civilisations that would one day call his body home. His sister knew the true intent of his question, and he knew she knew in return. He dreamt of the galaxies he could rule over in old age, of the worlds he would craft for spacefaring explorers to discover. He imagined nurturing a species until it conquered interdimensional travel, until it harnessed the power of whole galaxies, until it outlived its own dimension.
He thought of universes unlived. If only he could nurture a world for long enough for them to develop the technology, his little tribes might one day escape their small world and approach godhood. He might have a baby sister developing down on that planet, congealing life by life, soul by soul, from the shattered remains of the creatures. Her consciousness might be staring up at him now from the tribes, a reincarnating thing that would twist itself together like multiple trees supporting each other. He could feel a presence there, the familiar presence of another angel.
For each creature was a cell, and each cell was a memory, and each memory was a line to keep or cut in the Great Code, and each line of code was a line in the story, and the story was the story of the angel.
Finally his sister replied.
“The meaning of their lives is the struggle. If we give them everything now, what use is waking up tomorrow?”
The brother angel nodded. He observed his noble little planet and its systems. He thought of volcanoes and asteroids, viruses, diseases. He toyed with setting off another supernova, as he once did to clean the slate some weeks ago. That was a harsh lesson. He had enjoyed the denovian period.
The little brother angel made a vast sweeping gesture, his concentric rings moving like arms and hands, conjuring something. With that the plains and the forest rolled with the planet away from the burning light of the sun. A long winter fell inevitably across the world. Glaciers covered the land, and the little tribes almost forgot that ancient trade-off between goodness and badness. For now, survival was all that mattered. They cast their differences aside.
“When they remember who they were in the warm times, will they be good or bad, or neither?” the little brother angel asked.
“They will be whatever they choose to be. Your job now is to watch, keep them from dying. Give them space to choose and the luxury of time. That is all,” his sister said.
"Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is."
- Carl Jung
Author’s notes are below this paywall, for anyone interested in how this came together and what stories inspired it. I think this is a good balance. Free stories, paid behind-the-scenes for the handful of people who want to know how the stories came together.
The secret behind-the-scenes, and the comment section, unlocks for free subscribers on the 10th of May 2023.
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