Monday, March 09, 2009

Shadow of Intent

An old woman sits at a sputtering fire, her disciples at her feet. Her face is shrouded in darkness.

"What is life?" she asks.

"What are we doing here?'

"The philosophers debate. Some say that we were put here by some demiurge, a δημιουργός, shaped to perform Its divine will. Others argue that there is no such thing; that we are made and molded only by natural, impartial forces, alone in a universe utterly uncaring about our existence."

"This does not matter."

"What matters is life as we live it. So I ask again: What is life?"

"Some would simplistically say, 'Life is as we make it.' We may choose to be farmers, or merchants, or acolytes to a strange old woman who rambles on endlessly about subjects that will put food in no-one's belly. Save for that last, each has its own route to personal prosperity, or at least subsistence; that latter being all that is really needed. This is wrong."

"Others will say, 'Life is beyond our control.' They will point to the many queer and extraordinary things that have happened to men, some even of their own experience. Paupers have stumbled upon hidden fortunes, and become kings; lightning has struck from a blue sky; crucial battle plans have been found carelessly in the middle of the road, and changed the fate of nations. Even in everyday life, any number of extraordinary things shape our existence: we may come down with illness, meet a friend (or an enemy) by chance, fall in love. This may be the action of a supernatural force (deities or devils), the workings of fate, or pure and undiluted luck; but either way, in this philosophy, our life is utterly beyond our own control. This is wrong."

"A demonstration. Disciple to my left, raise your arms, and then lower them. You see? You plan, and your plans are made reality."

"Now, disciple on my right. Raise your arms, and then lower them. You see? You planned, but your plans were not made reality; I seized your arms and immobilized them. This was something beyond your control."

"What is life?"

"We plan, we act. The results are sometimes, even often, not as we intend them. But they are still different from what would have happened if we had chosen differently. You may walk into the street, attempting to cross it, and be struck and killed. This is not your intent! But were you to go back, and choose to cross at another intersection, you would suffer no such gruesome death. Your actions determine what you see. They may not do so directly, or in a form that you recognize; they are twisted, diffracted through a maze as complex as the environment around you. But the results are still yours to own."

"So, I will finally give you my answer:"


The Imperial warship Shadow of Doubt cruised through the waters off Trivandrum, green-and-black flag flying high. A small floatilla cruised behind it: a crescent of lesser warships, surrounding an even larger assembly of troop ships. Their guns were loaded; their sails were trimmed for battle. In short: they anticipated trouble.

But none appeared.

The hours wore on; the waves moved endlessly onwards. The commanders of the fleet grew restless; they sent semaphore-signals back and forth, then messengers in row-boats, then at last came to the decision to meet aboard the Imperial flagship, the Shadow of Doubt. Their heavily-laden boats cast dark shadows into the water as they converged.

Far beneath the water, giant creatures stirred; much like turtles, but the size of a frigate, and with queer, metal-and-glass bubbles mounted at the neck of their shells. Men inside the bubbles looked up, pointed; the turtles rose.

The Shadow of Doubt was struck from underneath; began, slowly, to sink; then snapped in half and sank rather more rapidly. The entirety of the Imperial command died in moments; without them, the rest of the fleet panicked, began to fire wildly, and fled in every direction. The carnage was abominable. The world changed.


"Life is the shadow of intent."

No comments: