Trial of Golog

Trial of Golog is my first novel. It is not currently published.

The novel is set in a universe filled with a hierarchical society of divine entities that create and tinker with life as part of a grand project to maintain the existence of reality. The story follows two recently-created humans named “Cave” and “Sea,” who awaken separately in a seemingly deserted world. Each soon meets a glowing divine being which identifies itself as “Bright,” and informs its respective human that he/she is being put on trial by Golog, a god of seemingly infinite power. If the humans complete the trial successfully by demonstrating sufficient virtue and faith, they are promised eternal enlightenment. Cave and Sea try their best to comprehend their predicaments while navigating the trial, only to discover that other forces in the universe are attempting to interfere with the ordeal for their own ends.

The story deals with themes of creation, purpose, uncertainty, body horror, and information asymmetry. I intended for all characters to have only a partial understanding of the world they inhabit, and to be painfully aware of this fact as they strive to achieve their goals.

The first two chapters of Trial of Golog are posted here. If you’re interested in reading more, contact me by email.

 

Chapter 1

A new being appeared in a ripple of space and a glimmer of light.

For a split second, she sensed nothing, as her form was not yet equipped to sense. But faster than her recently-constructed brain could process the absence of all, all came into existence.

The first thing she ever felt was an uncomfortable cold dampness, as wet stone emerged beneath her body. Wool rags soon intervened to provide some semblance of relief. Then she was momentarily blinded by rays of light beaming at a low angle, prompting her very first movement as she shifted her body to face the opposite direction. Only minutes later would she realize that she was lying at the mouth of a deep cave, into which the morning sun shined.

For a time, the woman lay there and tried merely to tolerate the discomfort of existence. She wanted to ask herself where, what, why she was. But any attempt at coherency was overwhelmed by discombobulated thoughts and imagery. She pictured sand, cities, oceans, televisions, books, cloth, the sky, paper, gems, glass, pavement, beds, stars, rocks, crabs, towers, cars, birds, rivers, keys, chairs, marble, dust, rain, clocks, gold, and steel, but most of all, she pictured people. Some felt like acquaintances, others friends, and others loved ones. Others were annoying, boring, mean, or just plain evil. When a particularly important person popped into her mind, for an instant she felt she could identify something about him or her, some sense of meaning or relevance, but it was inevitably pushed out by another image of a door or a tire or random person, and the thought was lost.

The woman’s brief existence thus far had not been pleasant. Even with closed eyes, everything was too bright. Her muscles were not weak, but felt out of sync, as the slightest attempts to adjust her position resulted in bumbling over-exertions that sent her flailing, or tepid under-exertions that left her no better off. Her mind was flooded with chaos, confusion, unchosen emotions, and the general despair of being unable to even attempt to comprehend much in existence. It didn’t help that she was cold and wet as her oddly clean rags were now thoroughly soaked with water.

Many more minutes later, the woman hoisted herself into a seated position against the entrance of the cave. She really wished she didn’t have to continue sitting in the damp space, but she couldn’t even glance to see what lay outside the cave without experiencing a burst of pain as her new eyes were battered by sunlight. Unfortunately for her, an even more searing pain was soon to come.

Right as her eyes had adjusted to the cave’s darkness, a new light was born within it. This white light shone from a single point hovering a few feet off the ground. It grew in intensity as it slowly illuminated the entire space and forced the woman to bury her face in her arms.

As it dimmed, the women peaked through her fingers to see the light recede into a bright, blurry shape that soon took on a definitive form – the outline of a man.

The woman just stared. A man appearing out of light made no more or less sense than anything else that had happened in her life. Though she did find it odd that unlike herself, this man appeared to glow. His pale skin emitted a faint white light that partially illuminated the dark cave, though with a final flare, a heavy grey robe formed out of nothing and covered most of the man’s body, mercifully dimming much of his light.

All was perfectly still and silent for a moment. The woman stared and the man stood.

Suddenly, the man spoke.

“Welcome! Welcome! Welcome to this place!”

The man’s voice echoed loudly throughout the cave, but he stopped when he noticed the woman shivering on the ground and shielding her eyes from his light. “Ah… right, yes, sorry… life might not be too… pleasant for you right now. There’s a reason we don’t do these sorts of things anymore…. you’re fragile enough as it is, no need to make your formation more traumatizing than it needs to be! Right!?” the man chuckled.

He paused again, seemingly waiting for the woman to respond, but she would not. “Come now, being created isn’t that bad… I feel fine, and… I mean, technically, you’re older than me, so…”

When the woman still didn’t respond, the man shifted uncomfortably. “I guess I could… I mean, I’m not really supposed to do this, but… I guess just a little couldn’t hurt…” The man lifted his arm, with his palm outright and fingers extended. Humming filled the air as pure white light emitted from his hand and covered the woman.

The woman may have only existed for about an hour by this point, and couldn’t even think coherently, but she was 100% sure that the next few seconds were the greatest in her short life. The pain vanished in an instant. Her eyes immediately adjusted perfectly to the exact level of light in the cave. Her joints ceased aching. Her clothes dried, and the water beneath her dried up. A warmth flooded her body not just physically, but mentally… even spiritually. The woman’s mind finally unified on a single thought – everything will be ok.

Then it ended.

She was no longer in pain, nor wet, but the warmth was gone. She was merely sitting in a cave. In a wool robe. Staring at a faintly glowing, bald, pale, extremely tall man of indeterminate age.

The man tilted his head sideways and leaned forward ever so slightly with wide eyes.

She stared back with equally wide eyes.

The man’s eyes got even wider.

She continued to stare.

“Ok… you’re welcome then,” the man smiled warmly.

The woman opened her mouth and attempted to speak her first words, “wha-”

“No! It’s ok!” the man blurted out. “I know, I know, I know, you are new to this. So am I. But that’s ok, we can be new together. We are new to being. Just as you are a being! I know, I know, it’s amazing! Golog is truly amazing!” He paused again, waiting for a response.

“…what?”

“Golog! Golog! Golog!” the man shouted apoplectically. “The reason you’re here! The reason I’m here! The reason the ground and sky and air and land and atoms are here! The reason here is here! Golog!”

“Wha-”

“Right, right, right, I know, you don’t know! I’m sorry, it’s all just so… so. Ok. Right. So maybe it’s best that I start over…”

The woman didn’t bother replying.

“Right, so…” the man began slowly before launching into a barely-controlled tirade, “you are here because of Golog. And so am I. And so is this world we are on. Or is it in…? I’m not sure. I don’t know much, but I certainly know more than you. But that’s ok, because I’m here to help you know. I am here to guide you toooooo…” his eyes gleamed with anticipation as he extended the word, “…oooooooo ENLIGHTENMENT! To eternal bliss! To nirvana! To paradise! To a happiness and wonderment and amazement to which you could never imagine! To the greatest feelings that have ever or will ever or can ever exist in existence! Yes, Golog has given you this opportunity! And I’m going to help you take it!”

The woman just continued staring as the glowing man shouted and gestured wildly.

“But, here’s the thing, here’s why I’m here, Golog won’t give you the best thing in the universe for free. Golog is just, not arbitrary. Golog will give you everything you’ve ever dreamed of, or could dream of-“ the man’s eyes sporadically drifted around the cave, as if physically searching for the proper words, “-more than you could possibly conceive of in the brief moments you’ve been able to open your mind, but… it has to be earned… Golog’s blessing must be achieved. To get enlightenment, you must endure, you must pursue, you must follow, you must embrace, you must worship…” he paused again for dramatic effect, “…the Trial of Golog.”

When he finished his speech, the woman let the expected pause linger, but this time the man refused to fill it. He merely stood there, smiling. The woman tried to collect herself. To think. To wonder. But it was too much. She didn’t know if she liked this man, but at least he had taken away the pain. That was better than being in pain. He couldn’t have been that bad.

Finally, the woman said, “…ok.”

“Great! Let’s get going!” The man gestured out of the cave.

The woman followed his hand but then squinted in confusion. “To where? Where are we now anyway? Where… what are you? Who am I? What am I-?”

“I know, I know,” the man held up his hands assuredly before launching into a rapid-fire response, “I am sure this is very disorienting. And as I said, I don’t know too much, but I know more than you, and I’m sure I could answer a bunch of questions now, but trust me- trust Golog – it really doesn’t matter- the answers, I mean.” The man’s lips briefly curved into a massive smile that seemed to stretch around his face. “What matters is the enlightenment you are going to achieve as long as you can pass the Trial of Golog. Sooooo… let’s go!” He continued to beam with his arm outstretched, but the woman was unmoved by his enthusiasm.

She took a deep breath. Now that she could finally think straight, she wanted to get a handle on the situation. She had no idea what to make of this glowing man and his rantings, let alone whether to follow his suggestions. She didn’t even know his name, nor her name for that matter. She thought that she couldn’t just sit in this cave forever, but then again, she saw no compelling reason to do anything else.

After a moment the man’s face fell along with his arm. He was disappointed. Things were not going well for the woman, but unbeknown to her, they weren’t going well for him either.

“Ok. I see. I get it. I do.” The man’s face scrunched with concern, but only briefly. Then he switched back to his wide smile and extended a hand to the woman. After a brief hesitation, she grasped it, and felt herself fly to her feet with the man’s effortless pull.

Suddenly she was face-to-face with the man. Though not quite, since he stood more than a foot and a half taller than her, but she could get a much better look at him nonetheless. His skin was pale, but almost perfectly clear, with few wrinkles despite appearing middle-aged. His head was perfectly bald, though his chin contained a white beard that neatly drew to a point off his angular chin and sharp jawline. His eyes were dark, with pupils so large that they appeared almost like two black balls that scarcely blinked as they stared intensely at whatever the man focused upon. His mouth was large, with even larger teeth, that seemed to conquer the space around him whenever he flashed his massive grin.

But of course, what the woman noticed most about the man was his glow. There seemed to be a faint white light emanating from every inch of his skin. If it wasn’t for his robe, it might have been difficult to keep her eyes open while standing next to him.

“Behold…” The man placed his hand on the woman’s back and gestured at the picturesque landscape beyond the cave. “This! All this! All everything, was created by Golog!”

The woman finally looked out of the cave upon lush grass plains that stretched far into the distance until they met a seemingly endless wall of massive mountains dominating the horizon, above which a brilliant sun rose. The plains were dotted with shrubs and boulders and splintered by meandering rivers. To her right, a forest of huge trees spread to another horizon. There were no clouds in the sky and no wind in the air.

Sensing her appreciation, the man continued, “Golog can make anything, and do anything. Golog has infinite power to bend the universe to its will. It can create life and death. It can build stone, air, life forms, planets, space, and time itself. It can produce pleasure and pain in equally endless measure. Golog is the infinite, the endless, the unknown, and the omnipresent. Golog could have done anything with its power, and yet it chose to make this very world we are on right now… just for you! Isn’t that amazing!? What do you think of it!?”

The woman wondered, what do I think of it? She honestly wasn’t sure what to think of anything. She didn’t seem to know how to form opinions yet. She looked back at the man blankly.

“It’s ok, it’s ok. Take your time. Really think about it,” he said with a grin.

So she did think. She looked out at the plains, rivers, trees, mountains, and sky. Her first thought was that it was unfamiliar, even kind of alien. She wasn’t used to all this green and certainly not the mountains. But how did she know what she was and wasn’t used to? She didn’t even know who she was or where she came from or what places exist to come from.

The man watched her. “It’s ok, take it slowly. You should probably not try to think of specifics. Just lock on to the general sensations. It will take some time for your thoughts to coalesce in that new brain of yours.”

The woman didn’t find his advice coherent, let alone helpful, but she once again looked out at the land and tried to concentrate on what she thought of it. This time, she felt her mind drift somewhere it had never gone before. She thought this world was… beautiful. The blue sky was perfectly crisp, the green grass practically radiated with life, and the deep forest seemed to hold wondrous secrets within its dark confines.

But the swell of wonder in her mind slowly faded… the woman also thought the land looked a bit too… pristine. The trees were too perfectly lined up, the rivers too elegantly winding, and the sky too robin’s egg blue. It was well-crafted, but sterile. She knew it looked too clean. Too orderly.

Wait. How do I know how clean and orderly nature should be? the woman wondered.

The woman attempted to focus on images of landscapes in her mind, but she accidentally triggered a flood of overwhelming thoughts, feelings, sensations, and memories. She saw a boy whom she had great affection for. Maybe it was love. She wondered if it was her son. Then she saw another boy, this one significantly older and despite the look of anger on his face, she felt the same thing. And then she saw a teenage girl crying in bed, and the woman was absolutely certain this was her daughter. And then she saw another girl. And another boy. And another. And another. She pictured dozens of children and felt intense love and affection for every single one of them. Some were together in groups, others alone. Some were babies, some were adults. Some were happy, some were sad.

“Well… what do you think?” the man prodded. He held his smile but couldn’t conceal a faint hint of annoyance at the delay in her answer.

“It’s… it’s…” the woman struggled to answer, but couldn’t fight through images of people flashing through her mind. After a few seconds she gave up trying to think about how nature should look and cautiously asked the man, “Why… can’t I think straight? I see people in mind… where are- who are they? They’re important- I think… very important… at least to me. But I can’t think of who they are… I can’t think of who I am… what-”

“So… here’s the, uh, thing.” The woman’s pleading was interrupted. But then the man paused as he thought carefully how to phrase his wise guidance to this new being. “There’s really no point in me explaining all of that stuff to you- what this world is, who you are, your memories… I mean, it won’t really affect anything. No matter what I tell you, I will still do what I do, and you will still have to do what you need to do, and Golog is eternal, so it doesn’t really matter what you know or don’t know except insofar as it affects the Trial of Golog. Which it won’t. So… you don’t need to worry about such things.”

Thinking that was a sufficient answer, the glowing man stared blankly at the woman, until she quietly responded, “I don’t think I can do that-”

“Ok, ok, ok, ok, I guess souls need to know something to operate,” uttered the man with no-longer-hidden annoyance. He sighed, thought for another moment and then began, “look… what you’re going through now, with the difficulty thinking and concentrating and, you know, having a personality… that will all clear up. I promise, you’ll be as sharp as, uh…” the man thought for several seconds but couldn’t come up with anything, “sharp stuff… soon enough. But! It’s going to take some time.”

The woman took a breath. She realized it might be easier to get information out of the man if she went slowly. “Why is it happening? Why… is my mind-?”

“Ehhh… well, carnations aren’t normally formed like this, not this quickly, not this way, and not in such an advanced state. The process must have had some negative side effects.”

The woman searched her suffering brain for recognition of carnation but came up blank. “Carnation?”

“This,” the man pointed at the woman’s chest. She looked down and saw just her wool robe. She looked back at the man and offered an exasperated shrug.

“This. All of this. You know, the thing you are right now.” He swirled his arm in a motion around her.

“My body?”

“Uhhhh, yeah, I guess.”

“My body was formed? What does that mean?” she continued to probe for understanding.

The man rolled his eyes. “As I’m sure you know, carnations are usually formed a particular way, right? I mean, technically there are endless ways to form them – Golog could have very well pushed you out of stone if it wanted to – but usually carnations are formed slowly and copied partially from other carnations. But you were lucky enough to be created specifically for the Trial of Golog, so Golog expediated your creation process and just…” the glowing man tilted his head and paused for several seconds while deep in thought. “Well… I suppose Golog just blinked you into existence from nothing.”

“Blinked into existence…?” The woman attempted to process the man’s tortured explanation. “So, Golog is… god?”

The man looked confused for a moment, but then understood. “Ah, right… that was a term used by your last few carnations.”

“…last few carnations?”

“Yes, at least the last few hundred.”

“…I’ve had hundreds of bodies?”

The man thought for a moment about how to answer the question. “Kind of…I mean, it’s not really you each time. It’s just the soul that bounces between carnations.”

To her surprise, the woman found the bewildering conversation to be somewhat gratifying, despite the intense emotional shocks it occasionally provoked. With every bizarre new term and concept brought up by the man, she had to search her mind for its meaning. With each successful comprehension, her mind grew sharper.

“Ok…” the woman said with a deep breath. “…so I’m a soul.”

“Ehhh again…” the man tilted his head and looked out at the world beyond the cave, “technically no. You’re more like an output of a combination of a particular soul and a particular carnation. Souls are just… souls. One soul is like any other, just like a drop of water is like any other. I guess you could say souls are… uhhhh…” he paused yet again, but this time found the term he was looking for, “fungible. The soul in the carnation I’m talking to right now just happened to have been through a particular set of carnations before this, and if some other soul had been through those same carnations, that carnation would be identical to you, and-”

The man suddenly stopped speaking. He looked up and to the side again as if in deep thought. The woman desperately wanted him to keep talking even though she felt vaguely insulted by his dismissal of her particular soul.

“Ohhhhhh ok, yes, ok, that explains it.” The man nodded assuredly. “Yeah, this happens sometimes… I mean, it’s not common, Golog is a master of creating carnations after all, because it is the master of everything, but yeah, this can happen. You must have it worse than usual, maybe worse than ever-”

“What can happen!?” For the very first time, the woman interrupted the man. She briefly reflected that it felt nice to outwardly commit to an emotion. The man ignored the outburst.

“Normally when souls are transferred to new carnations there is a cleansing process where the old carnation is completely washed away from the soul. But I think due to the… uhhh, unusual circumstances of your current carnation’s formation, that process may not have happened this time.”

“So… I’m a dirty soul?” the woman asked.

“Again…” the man scrunched his face whenever he had to explain how or why the woman was wrong, “you’re not really a soul. You’re a carnation… with a soul. But anyway, yes, you are dirty, so to speak. Or rather, the residue from your past carnations wasn’t cleansed…” the man’s voice trailed off for a moment but then his eyes lit up. “So that explains why you didn’t immediately get up and out of the cave to start the Trial of Golog like I asked you to! You’re still burdened by carnation residue! I knew there was something wrong with you!” The man was incredibly excited to come to this conclusion.

The woman briefly closed her eyes and rubbed her face while trying to drown out the man’s excited yelps. In the darkness, she couldn’t help but briefly return to her memories. “So these people I can see in my head… I can feel that they were close to me. I think some were my children…”

“Not your children, the soul’s past carnations’ children,” the man corrected. “Don’t worry about them.”

The woman again saw the faces and smiles flash through her mind. “I don’t think I can do that…”

“It’s nothing, they’re nothing,” the man dismissed her. “They aren’t really yours. Those children, those husbands, those wives, those friends… they’re just other random souls. You never existed until just now. If it makes you feel any better, all of those carnations are dead and eventually your soul will shake off all the past residue and you will almost certainly forget all about these other carnations in…” the man tilted his head in thought, “…a few hours, maybe? Sometime soon. I guarantee it.”

The woman stared at the man in horror.

“Well now you know enough!” the man’s giant smile returned. “It’s time to get moving! The Trial of Golog awaits!” The man gestured once more out of the cave.

“I-” the woman began to half-heartedly protest.

“Enlightenment is near! You can achieve it! All you need to do is complete three Tribulations, then Golog will grant you everything you can ever, will ever, or could ever possibly desire… and I am here to help you do exactly that! So let’s do it!” The man was once again lost in his own giddy excitement as he confidently strode out of the cave.

“Wait!” the woman choked desperately. “wait! Please just give me a second…” she leaned against the cave entrance. The glowing man stopped and turned back to her. He was clearly annoyed by the delay.

“What is it!? Would you rather stay here and now rather than get the best thing you can ever, will ever, or could ever possibly desire!?”

The woman rubbed her eyes. She was already exhausted from dealing with this man, and she had barely known him, let alone anyone else, in her entire life. She took another moment to steady herself. She tried to push aside the lingering faces in her mind, and to the man’s credit, she found it was already more difficult to remember them than moments ago. After a minute, she lifted herself off the cave wall and prepared to follow the man, when she remembered something.

“Wait! Sorry, one more thing,” the woman called out to the man who was already twenty feet away from the cave entrance. He turned, frowned, and trudged back to her. Only when he was close enough for the woman to see his glow in the sunlight, did she ask, “who am I? I get that I’m a soul and a carnation or a combination of the two, but who am… I? Do I have a name?”

“Well… no.”

“But if Golog created me, doesn’t it have a name for me?”

“No…”

“But I need to be called something.”

The man shrugged. “Alright, what would you like to be called?”

The woman had no idea. She had just barely begun formulating thoughts and only moments ago was overwhelmed when she learned of the deaths of hundreds of loved ones. She didn’t feel up to the task of naming herself. “Why don’t you pick a name for me?”

“I have no opinion on the matter,” the man said simply.

“Ummm, ok, how about…” the woman looked around the strange new world she inhabited. Grass, rivers, mountains, dirt, clouds, a cave… for some reason she liked the last one. Her time there may not have been enjoyable thus far, but at least she knew what it was.

“How about we call me… Cave.”

“Great!” The man began to walk away again.

“Wait! What do I call you? Actually, what are you? Why are you glowing?” The woman couldn’t believe this question had only just occurred to her.

The man suddenly whirled around on the woman and shouted, “We can’t just stand here talking all day!” As she heard the deep snarl in his typically light voice, she knew that he had had enough. “This isn’t why you are here! I am not a book. I don’t have all the answers, and these answers don’t even matter. We have to go! Literally the most important thing in your existence is ahead and you keep asking me questions that don’t matter!”

Cave was frightened that she had crossed an unknown line. She noticed he was angry, but more frustrated and exasperated than enraged. “I’m- I’m sorry, I’m just trying to understand-”

“Why?! Why?!” the glowing man got closer and used his far superior height to tower over the woman. “I told you, it doesn’t matter! None of it does! None of your questions matter! How will the answers affect anything? There is only one thing for you to do – the Trial of Golog! There is literally nothing else for you to do here! Do you get that!? Do you get it!?”

“…I understand,” Cave replied timidly. She was holding her breath but trying not to let it show.

Satisfied that he had gotten his point across, the man relaxed. “If you must know… I was created by Golog and sent to this place to guide you through the Trial. That is what I am. That is my purpose.”

“Ok…” Cave nodded as she released her breath. Despite her trepidation, she pressed the man a bit more. “Do you have a name?”

The man was immediately taken aback by the question. But then he thought about it for a moment and replied, “I guess not.”

Wary of setting the man off again, the woman began to walk in the direction the man had been heading before her interruption. She cautiously continued, “so what should I call you?”

Happy to have gotten Cave moving, the man replied, “I suppose you can figure that out as well.”

“How about…” the woman once again looked at her surroundings for any word that might do, but she thought “grass” or “tree” wouldn’t work. “How about Go? You say that a lot,” she offered some levity to continue defusing the tension.

“No, I am not worthy of Golog’s namesake,” the man immediately replied.

Cave didn’t think the man had understood her intention but didn’t bother arguing. “How about…” she tried to look around again for something fitting, only to accidentally look directly at the sun. She winced, but something clicked in her mind. “Bright. That’s a good name. After all, you… literally produce light.”

“Bright?” The man glanced at Cave and then looked directly into the rising sun without the slightest hesitation or acknowledgement of its strength. “Yes. Ok. I am Bright.”

 

 

Chapter 2

All was black in every direction, but all was not empty. Somethings existed in the endless ether. They had definitions and shapes, but none that could be understood at first, even by themselves. Even their origins were blanks that could never be established. They simply were, and always had been.

At first, these beings did not do much, for there was no reason for them to. The two beings simply existed. They could pay attention, yet nothing demanded it. They could channel their wills to achieve an end, but there were no ends they needed to achieve. Hence, despite being the only two beings in existence, they did not know of one another.

But something cannot do nothing forever. In stillness came boredom. Torturous, dragging boredom. This boredom mounted to such heights that the entities were compelled to take action – the very first known actions in existence.

When these beings first decided to do something, they did so independently and on their whims. They flailed randomly in every dimensional direction. One expanded and contracted space. The other made and distorted time in ripples of equal magnitude. The flailing naturally caused the entities to become aware of each other’s existences as the one experienced space, and the other time, which they never had before.

The entities did not know what to make of one another at first. They were used to being alone and never had to contend with anything else. They reverted to caution and suspicion. Each wondered if the other would worry for its own safety and strike first to save itself. In turn, they prepared means of destroying the other. One entity planned on stretching the other into near nothingness, the other planned on aging the other into decrepitude. Both beings lined up, ready and willing to destroy the other.

But at the last moment, one of the entities decided against it. The being was still concerned for the continuity of its existence, even terrified of its end, but it concluded that its present fear was a superior mode of existence to the dreaded pangs of boredom it had suffered for so long. The being decided it would make a plea for peace – if accepted, it would live alongside the other; if rejected, it would be destroyed and at least not have to go back to being bored.

This entity shifted space in trillions of different, but equally harmless ways to convey its meaning to the other being. Eventually, it was successful. The other being manipulated the time around it in many different, but equally benign ways to signal a peace.

The two beings co-existed together. They continued to flex in increasingly large and small, simple and complex, sparse and numerous ways. One learned to build more existents. It wrapped, twisted, and crunched space until other entities came into reality. The first ones were unstable – they collapsed back into nothingness. Countless attempts created nothing but failure and the universe remained devoid of anything save the two beings.

But with practice, the entity began to understand how to create sustainable structures. It had to start small – first with the mere twining of space into bundles, then bundles that wrapped around each other to form ropes, then ropes that wrapped to form strings, until finally a stable and malleable material was born.

With this master string, the being could build more complex space. It had no grand designs or goals, it simply wanted to see what would happen when its ability was applied to reality. Learning from its previous failures, it started small, yet it ran into new problems. The novel structures would not hold no matter how delicately they were arranged. It attempted countless iterations, but each one dissipated into its component parts.

A solution came not by design, but by accident. As one being tried to create greater forms of matter, the other pushed and pulled time. By sheer probability, eventually the one being’s time interacted with other being’s matter, and reality would never be static again. The one being was astounded to find its binding of master strings held, while the other being marveled at how its time grew, progressed, and melded the matter.

The two began working together. One formulated base components in various experimental recipes, the other injected time to give it action. Soon, their universe filled with drifting matter of all sorts. Bigger, greater, and more complex designs were created as the pair joyfully made more of something to replace their well-accustomed nothing.

With no goals, chaos reigned. The two beings got better and better at creating, but on no progression scale. Elements were formed and destroyed. Giant balls of gas and heaps of rock were created, smashed, and obliterated. Byproducts proliferated. Soon there was so much creation, both purposeful and orthogonal, that disorder became the new norm. Clouds of scattered points littered existence with no meaning. There was much, but not of reason.

The two carried on. They both became skilled in their crafts. One could create, disassemble, and rearrange the tiniest subparticles and most colossal amassments with ease. The other could stretch a moment infinitely or render it non-existent. Together they focused on pure, unbridled creation and made the universe crackle with energy.

But it would not last.

As the beings made more and more to fill existence, they felt a subtle shift – a lightness to reality. The two initially ignored the shift, but they couldn’t do so for long. It began interfering with their creations, causing erratic breakdowns and collisions. Entire galaxies were born and destroyed as the beings lost control of projects that went careening off into the crowded planes of space.

The entity which controlled time eventually discovered the source of their problems. Through extreme concentrations of time flow it triggered a localized reaction that revealed a component of existence the beings had never seen before. This component was not in a “place” nor “time,” and it could not be located through conventional dimensions. Rather, it was everywhere at once, behind or between that which existed. It was a substrate of reality.

The being’s experiment had concentrated such unprecedented time in a minuscule space that the newly discovered substrate became briefly perceptible. But the reveal was short-lived, and so the being proceeded to launch many more experiments to uncover its extent and nature.

Every trial dug deeper and revealed more, but only shards of data. A complete picture could not be formed. The beings could not figure out what it was, what it did, why it was there, and how it connected to the lightness they felt. As more and more effort was diverted away from their playful creations and towards their experiments, the beings grew increasingly frustrated.

After much failure, confusion, and deliberation, the two devised their grandest experiment of all, one which had the greatest possibility of providing answers, but also incurred a tremendous cost. They knew that concentrations of energy, either of matter or time, would briefly reveal the substrate. So they proposed creating the greatest concentration possible. They could draw all they had ever formed since the very beginning, from the smallest particle and flow to the greatest galaxy and wave, to a single point. The concentration would trigger the largest collapse of space and time ever conceived and destroy the total sum of their creations. But in the process, it would reveal far more of the substrate than they had ever known.

The preparation for the experiment required as much will and effort as all of their previous creations combined. The beings swept the galaxy for every stray atom and ripple of time until it was all corralled within a component of existence concentrated enough to be condensed into their chosen point.

During the final build-up to the trigger, the two entities argued. The creator of matter worried it would all be for naught. They might destroy everything they had built and reveal no more than what they already knew. But the creator of time urged progression. It saw no use in indefinitely continuing their current state. It saw reality itself as a species of its own creations – an existent which must move to have purpose.

On the eve of the grand collapse, the two beings were downtrodden. They gazed upon all they had made, now pulled into a dense disk around a single minuscule point. When all their creations were brought together, it all seemed so banal, so minor. It was just a tiny speck in the endless chasm of existence. They wondered if all their atoms, flows, rocks, waves, planets, particles, and designs had really meant anything at all. Was it all in service of uncovering this great secret? Or did the secret matter at all? Neither being could be sure.

Yet they triggered the collapse.

All the matter in existence, accelerated by all the time in existence, accumulated in a single point no bigger than the very first iota of space created by one of the beings. As predicted, the single point could not sustain the load placed within it. It collapsed like so many other concentrations had, but on an order of magnitude the two could not hope to comprehend.

Reality collapsed, split, and crumbled, and behind it, the substrate was revealed. It laid open and perceivable to the beings, but unlike in all the other experiments, there was no end to its availability. Existence did not flex back and re-cover what lay beyond it. Existence itself was torn, damaged beyond repair, open to all who gazed beyond it.

No sooner did the beings rejoice at their success that the first byproduct of their experiment was felt. The vast majority of matter and time was destroyed in the single-point collapse, but a minuscule percentage was ejected. The force and energy behind the ejection triggered yet-unexpected mutations of time and matter. Entire super galaxies, galaxies, stars, planets, asteroids, and endless oceans dust were formed and immediately took shape in a clock-work order of progression emanating from the origin point of the grand experiment. The size of this newly formed cosmos was minuscule compared to the former vastness of raw creation, but at least all was not lost.

But the beings ignored this new order, for they did not destroy all they once had just to recover a tiny portion of it. Rather, they destroyed it all to find something new. And that something now lay before them in full splendor.

What they saw would forever change reality.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

 

The light, dust, and all else receded from view within the man’s consciousness. All was dark and silent for a moment, and then the sound of rushing air returned. For the second time in a “day,” a being which had had only existed for a few seconds became aware of itself. It had just been exposed to a dazzling infusion of energy and information it could not hope to understand, but the deliverer of the message had no higher hopes for it than that. In its first fully conscious moment, the new man heard a raspy voice speaking in slow drags in its mind.

That’s all I can show you for now… too dangerous to reveal more… don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense… it will… eventually… I’ll be back later… when I can… for now… just stay alive… and no matter what… don’t do what they tell you to… don’t listen to anything else…

Then the newly-created man began to choke. He could not breathe underwater.

 

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