Thursday, July 23, 2009

Genkoku of the Thousand Arms

A figure leans against a tall starship, both it and he wearing a suit of silvery metal. In his left hand he held a small weapon, crafted of the same material; on his back rested five others, each unique and covered in fine-written inscriptions. Every part of the figure's stance bespoke relaxation and contentment; and all around him, so far as one could see, stretched a desolate plain covered in twitching, crawling arms.

Occasionally they crawled too close to him. Then the figure shot them, and they twitched and died. This did not seem to disturb his relaxation.

At length, a larger figure appeared. From a distance it might, if one squinted, appear to be a face; but each component, from ears to eyes to mouth, was carried by a separate arm, twitching slightly as they moved on a carpet of lesser limbs.

The figure stood fully upright. "I've been waiting for you."

When the face came close enough - though outside the radius of burnt, twitching arms that surrounded the starship - it spoke. "what are you?," it hissed, its voice thin and inhuman.

"I'm glad you asked," the figure said smoothly. "Formally, they call me Siddharta, and I think it's best we stick with that. I'm an explorer, and I've come to talk to you."

The face hissed.

"So - what do they call you?" Siddharta asked.

The face spoke: "i am everything," it said. "i am the planet, i am genkoku. i am the arms/limbs/bodies [the words lying one atop another], i am this face, i am the mind, i am all. i am the universe/eternity/the void."

"That's a little hard to pronounce," Siddharta observed. "Your neighbors call you the Thousand Arms, and while I think that's a bit of an underestimate, it'll do for now. So - "

Hearing a scrape on the ground behind him, Siddharta whirled; a conglomerate of arms stood there, crawling swiftly toward him. Siddharta's thumb flipped a switch on the side of his weapon; when it fired, it emitted a fan of fire, sweeping over the arms and consuming them. When it vanished, only dust remained.

Siddharta turned back to the head. "Actually, one quick request," he said. "Could you stop attacking me while we talk? It's getting a bit bothersome."

"i promise," the Thousand Arms replied. " i do not attack you. i have never attacked you."

Siddharta looked around. "...What about that, just now?" he asked. "Those arms behind me?"

"i see nothing," the Thousand Arms observed.

"Or the ring of twitching, fried limbs all around the ship?" Siddharta queried, seeming surprised.

"they are dead," the Thousand Arms said. "they attack nothing."

"I think we're having difficulty communicating," Siddharta decided. "So I'll clear things up for both of us. You might want to move a bit back."

The Thousand Arms stood motionless.

Siddharta gave a rippling shrug. "Whatever," he said. "Ship - do you hear me?"

"Acknowledge," the ship replied, its voice deep and melodious. "What is your desire?"

"Perimeter burn," Siddharta ordered. "Twenty by five, and make it snappy."

Instantly, a beam of coherent light issued from the top of the ship. It struck all about the ship, melting the rock to glowing red slag; wherever it passed, the sudden heat shattered stone and sent it flying upwards and away, annihilating arms wherever they touched. Some shattered on impact, sending thousands of superheated stone needles into the Thousand Arms; others skipped across the ground, cutting a swathe through the assembled ranks. Where the stone had been was now a deep cut in the earth, forming a circle around the ship twenty meters in radius and five meters deep. It glowed cherry-red, cooling only slowly in the thin atmosphere of Genkoku.

"Ship, burn anything that passes that ring," Siddharta said. "Now, where's the face gone?"

It appeared that the face of the Thousand Arms had suffered a glancing blow from a piece of debris, destroying both eyes, one ear, and most of the mouth.

"Oops," Siddharta said, and leaned back against his ship.

Some time later, another face appeared from the distance, walking into speaking range. It spoke: "why are you here?"

"In exploring this system," Siddharta began, "I came to understand that your neighbors have a bit of a problem with you. You sent 'necro-capsules' to their world, unleashing a plague of hideous monsters to devour their world and leave it as lifeless as your own; they would prefer not to be devoured, nor to have their world destroyed. When I showed up, some of your monsters tried to kill me; I naturally defended myself, and as a result, attained something of a reputation as a savior; quite undeserved, I assure you, but nonetheless. It seemed rather unfair to condemn you without having spoken to you; so I came here, to hear the other side of the story."

"if you do not like what you hear, you will burn me," the Thousand Arms hissed.

"No," Siddharta said solemnly. "Whatever happens, I will not burn you. I promise you that."

"i sent myself to their world to feed," the Thousand Arms said. "i have to. i have to feed. i will starve, here. i cannot die."

"Quite understandable," Siddharta said. "You went to their world to survive... understandable."

"you will help me?" the Thousand Arms asked.

"Yes," Siddharta said. "But not to continue as you have been."

"I have three plans in mind," Siddharta said, "The first is the simplest. I leave you be, and I leave your neighbors be, and I leave here. They will come here - they think I'm some sort of angel, delivering them a mandate from Heaven, did you know that? Though I suppose it didn't help that I told them I was from the heavens."

"Already, there are a number of parties, organizing to fight against you. For the most part, they're winning - though I believe you did manage to kill some of them, turn them to your own side. Most impressive. But I digress - they will defeat the obstacles you set in their way. They will unite; they will take apart your 'necro-pods', discover the principles by which they travel through the void, and construct ships of their own. They will come here, to Genkoku, and they will destroy you utterly."

"There will be blood, for you and for them. So I do not recommend this option."

The Thousand Arms lay silent, listening.

"The second plan is of isolation. I am skilled with devices. If you agree, I can build a shield in the void, isolating Genkoku among the stars, destroying anything that seeks to enter - or to leave. (I would of course warn your neighbors, to prevent unecessary unpleasantness.) Such a thing could not last forever - devices fail, and either you or your neighbors would find some way of passing or defeating them, in sufficient time. But it would not be less than a hundred years, I think, or probably even two-hundred; and that long a time of peace, I think, is worth something."

"we will starve," the Thousand Arms hissed. "we will die."

"You will learn," Siddharta said. "You will learn some way to feed yourself, for desperation will compel it. Other species have learned to farm, to harness the power of the sun. You can do the same. Certainly, some part of your mass may die - but you are one, are you not? You will live."

"would you cut off your own arms, so willingly?" the Thousand Arms asked.

"If it was the only way to save my life?" Siddharta asked. "Yes. In an instant."

"But the third plan is the most generous. I would speak to your neighbors, and convey a small, willing few here - to help you. They would build farms, teach you how to do the same - allow you to live without ravaging other worlds. Allow you to live in peace. This would take trust - but it would allow you to live, together with your neighbors. And I do want that - for you are strange, and unique, and sentient, and I do not think you deserve to die."

"and if i eat them and eat their world, after you leave?" the Thousand Arms asked.

"Then the sentries I would put in place around this world would burn you, and burn the world, and turn its surface to ash, to punish you for your sins," Siddharta said, his voice as granite.

"would you put the same guards about the others' world?" the Thousand Arms asked.

"I have somewhat more trust in them then I do in you," Siddharta said. "They have earned it. You have not -"

A crackle came from the air. A pile of tangled arms fell from the sky directly before Siddharta, wreathed in fire, wings burning to ash. The ship's laser consumed it; when it faded, only ash remained, scattering into the distance.

"And that is not helping!" Siddharta said, momentarily losing his composure. "What are you thinking? You promised not to attack me!"

"what am I thinking?" the Thousand Arms hissed. "i think this: i have never attacked you. i will never attack you, until you are dead and eaten and part of everything, when my gargantua has finished itself. then i will eat the others, and all of creation, until iself is allself forever."

" - Gargantua?" Siddharta said - then, suddenly, he peered into the distance. He stared for a moment; then drew back. "You idiot," he said, his voice full of anger. "You'll throw the best you have, your greatest weapon, against me - while I try to help you? This - multi-storey colllossus of yours, this super-construct - this is the only thing you have that has a chance of stopping your neighbors, should I decide not to help you. And you will - "

Siddharta stopped himself. He put a hand on each of his guns, considering; then he let his arms rest at his sides. "No," he said. "They're magnificent weapons for their purpose, but they won't serve here. I'll be back," he said sharply, addressing this last to the Thousand Arms. "For one last talk."

Then wings unfurled from Siddharta's suit arms - holographic and glorious, shining in silver and veined in gold, three times his own height. With one great flap, he was propelled into the air; with another, he landed atop his ship, and vanished inside. With a belch of thundrous flame, the ship cast itself into the air; then, turning, moved towards the distant monstrosity.

Time passed.

The silver-shining ship, now covered with chunks of gore and streaked with alien blood, returned to hover above the circle it had carved into the earth. It did not land, nor did Siddharta emerge; instead, he spoke to the still waiting face of the Thousand Arms, his voice magnified fivefold by the ship's speakers.

"I think I understand you, now," Siddharta said. "You don't understand the consequences of your actions - or death - or the idea of 'other people'. Or any of them, maybe. You're strange and alien and fascinating, and I wish I could help you - because unless I've completely misjudged you, unless you're a liar with skill beyond compare: you're not evil. You're not immoral. You're just - amoral. Judged and judging by different standards. And that's not something worth condemning."

"But I think, maybe, you're something that just can't coexist - that can't live with any other being. And that's a tragedy."

"I'll leave you now. I'll go back to your neighbors, tell them what I learned here, maybe help them a little more, on their world. And then I'll leave - and I'll hope that they win, when they arrive here, when they fight you."

"But I'll be sad that it had to happen at all."

With those words, and with a terrible blaze of light and fire and sound, Siddharta's ship rose, accelerating towards the heavens. It dwindled into the distance; and then, eventually, vanished entirely.

On the ground below, the Thousand Arms was building another Gargantua.


Had a lot of powerful inspirations for this one, so - credit where credit is due. (Couldn't find a good image for that last, sorry.) I really liked this post - writing it, at least. More than most. Hopefully I'm not the only one.

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