The Carrot of Doom Presents...
Snapped by Adam J Purcell
The glowing figure looked down upon the amassed crowd before his podium. News of his arrival was clearly spreading fast as more and more gathered around in awe of the sight. Many were merely curious, having heard the rumours of their saviour's - of God's - now common appearances throughout the lands.
The true believers knew to expect their deity's return, the patterns in the visitations were obvious to them. The civilisations of the world were still young and lacked any form of high technology but they did know seasons and lunar cycles, even if they didn't understand them, and that was enough.
Rickety wagons pulled by donkeys forced their way to God through the amassing crowd, mainly peasants but also a few noblemen and holy-men - the ones who were most vying for recognition from God. As the wagons reached the foot of the majestic podium those same community leaders rushed forward to personally unload the goods onto the platform, at the feet of the Almighty.
The peasants, those that had actually gathered the goods, many of them becoming sick and even dying because of their toil, let their leaders attempt to take the credit. The peasants knew that God would recognise them and have a place set aside in the afterlife. They looked into the eyes of the pale faced Divinity, with his simple but impossibly immaculate glowing white robes in the pitch dark night, and saw the truth - God would reward them personally when the time came and look over them during the cold and merciless winters.
As the last of the offerings were placed on the podium God began to speak to his worshipers. As one the now large crowd dropped to their knees in praise. His voice was booming, impossibly so for any but God himself, but the worlds were foreign to them. It did not matter - the word of God cannot be directly understood by mere mortals and that was a comfort to them. The priests were there to act as His interpreters. The sound of His voice alone was enough to bring a sense of comfort and awe to the crowd - this was indeed the single most important moment of their lives. Everyone, from peasants to gentry and clergy, were enraptured by the words of God and they all believed they understood the blessings He was conveying on them.
Silently the podium raised into the star speckled heavens. The people watched the miraculous spectacle until they could no longer make out the dark bottom of the podium. A few blissful seconds later and a streak of divine light trailed across the sky, followed by the wind-like sound of God returning to his unseen Heavenly throne.
"That was your best yet!", she enthused.
"You think so?", he replied.
"Oh, definitely, 'God'!", she mocked.
"Ha! I'll never get tired of being called that, you know?!"
"That I do, Captain, that I do!"
"Are we clear from Authority, erm, 'interest'?", Captain Gillen asked his partner in crime.
"They have no idea we are here - as ever. I'd wish you'd stop worrying, I would tell you if they get even an inch into sensor range." Marsh said indignantly.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah - let's get this booty checked over and stowed so we can get out of here."
The two of them heaved down the offerings from the anti-grav disc 'podium', now residing in the grimy cargo hold of their dilapidated space freighter. It was an even better haul than their last record breaking visit just over a week previously, that time to a town a few hundred miles south. They had only been visiting the world for a few months and already the natives were bringing in significant amounts of raw tyranium and it was all so effortless for the duo. Give a little light display around the few mines of interest. Drop some raw tyranium around the churches so they got the idea it wasn't gold or silver that 'God' was after but instead it was, for the people, the utterly useless tyranium. Appear at those towns at night and display a bit of technological 'magic'. Make your visits predictable so the people know to have the tyranium ready and waiting. Then all you had to do was make sure the Galactic Authority didn't catch you, as they took a rather dim view on visiting, let alone exploiting, primitive worlds.
"Well, that's the last of it stowed - do you want this, er, 'bread'?" Marsh asked Gillen, waving a rather unsavory loaf-like object in his direction.
"No, thanks... I don't know why they insist on giving me food as well. I'm a god - what do I need food for?! If only we knew these aliens' language I could tell them to put all their effort into mining out that tyranium!"
"Oh, come on, it looks very... Okay, we should get a ships cat so we can feed this disgusting stuff to it! Anyway, don't forget that technically they aren't alien - we'll all just one big happy human race spread around our otherwise empty galaxy."
"Well people like that who forgot about technology thousands of years ago don't exactly rate as human in my book. They could at least have the decency to remember about Earth and where they came from. 'There are no aliens' my ar-" Gillen was interrupted by a siren.
"Sensor alert!" Marsh cried, redundantly, as they both sped off to the small freighters cockpit.
A violent shudder shook the ramshackle cockpit. The power cut, dropping them into sheer darkness. Various nasty burning odours battled for supremacy as the two occupants desperately flipped switches in an attempt to restore power.
"Damn! I thought that repair shop said they fixed this?!" Gillen cursed.
"Ah!" Marsh cried as she received a nasty electric shock and the power flicked back on.
It was at that point they really noticed how bad the smoke was becoming.
"That blast hit the cargo hold! That's the tyranium!" Marsh coughed, trying not to breathe in the toxic tyranium, and other, fumes.
"The door wasn't fixed either - " Gillen spluttered after discovering the cockpit door switch still was not working after their 'service'. "Suit up..."
They both futilely clambered over to the small locker at the back of the cramped cockpit and pulled out their EVA suits to avoid the toxic fumes. Hurriedly they tried to clamber into the suits in less than their 2 minute record. Behind them, through the cockpit window, the massive shape of their attacker, an Authority battleship, menaced into view. Gillen and Marsh slowly succumbed to the fumes, passing out before they'd even gotten half way into the suits.
The bright white sterile surfaces of the battleship infirmary were a stark contrast to the dirty brown and greys of Gillen's craft. Lt. Commander Weiss of the Galactic Authority Military Taskforce kept his distance from the two patients, the two criminals. A team of three doctors bustled around the newcomers, always desperate to save lives no matter what their patients record.
"Well, doctor?" Weiss ordered in the direction of the most senior of the three.
"She'll be fine after another lung wash and a lot of rest..." the doctor said, not looking around to address the commander but instead continuing his work on Gillen. "This one though... The brain activity is like none I've ever seen - the tyranium seems to have somehow hyper-stimulated a select few regions. It could have been the oxygen starvation, I suppose, or a combination, but I've never seen this sort of effect..."
"Do what you can, doctor, but don't worry too much - he's only a petty criminal, after all." Weiss said, then turning smartly on his heel and marching off. The doctor glanced around at the commander's back, giving a look that did nothing to hide his contempt for the man.
The commander spun around sharply. "What did you - " he began harshly but his voice quickly tailed off to puzzlement, " - say..."
The doctors all looked at the commander in surprise and, as if one, they began to frown and look around the room for the directionless murmurings they all heard - or whatever it was they thought they could hear.
There was no pinpointing it. They looked at their two patients but it was clear that neither of them were speaking. No - not speaking, whatever it may be it was in their heads, sensations of... something totally unlike they had ever experienced. Impossible for them to comprehend. The doctors didn't fear it, to them it felt like an answer to a great universal mystery - a mystery they didn't even know existed. Weiss, however, was a military man. There is nothing the military knows better than fear, both the giving and receiving of.
"It's him!" Weiss shouted, pulling the pistol from his belt holster and aiming it directly at the apparently comatose Gillen.
No sooner had the weapon angled onto Gillen when the freighter captain's eyes flicked open, already locked onto Weiss as they did so.
For what felt like a brief eternity their eyes stayed locked together. Gillen didn't understand what was happening to himself. He knew where he was, yes, and who he was with... That was the thing - he knew exactly who he was with. He'd never met the doctors or Weiss ever before but he knew them - he could sense their minds... Minds, no, not like his. For all his life Gillen thought there was something special about him. As a child he looked at his classmates and friends around him, somehow they seemed - less. Less than he was. He had a mind, a consciousness. He knew he did, he could sense it - he was it. But these others - they were different, they didn't have minds like his, he couldn't sense them, not directly nor indirectly through their actions. They were like animals, animals that could talk and with more elaborate behaviour, but animals nonetheless. He was better than them, unique. The most important being ever to have existed. Now, through some reason he didn't yet understand, he could see into their minds. Now, after all these years, he could see that he was right. They were just animals, almost mindless automatons. He was a god, after all.
Confusion, or was it enlightenment, filled Weiss' mind. Part of him, buried somewhere in the limbic system of his brain, wanted to fight - to shoot. Something above that, on another level he had never experienced, stopped him. His elbow bent and the pistol swung up to his face. What was controlling his arm? A blast of heat, or was it extreme cold, activated the automatic defence mechanism that caused his muscles to jerk back his head, away from the danger. It was a redundant final action, as his head was blasted back by the force of the super-heated gas from his gun. As the remains of his brain were ripped apart by the shockwave all he could think was the thoughts of another - for the first time he had experienced real conscious thoughts, and he hadn't liked it one bit.
The doctors looked on in horror as Weiss fell back , smoking gently from where his face used to be. Each and every one of them felt responsible - they had pulled the trigger, hadn't they? How was that possible, Weiss was holding the gun, wasn't he? No, they had pulled they trigger - no, they were watching - no, they killed him, no...
Gillen looked into their minds. How incredibly simple they were. Just an array of accumulated knowledge and behavior. A series of learned responses. Like trained circus animals, only with a larger repertoire. Autonomic routines? Yes. Emotions? Yes. Preprogrammed unconscious abilities? Yes. Basic mindless mimicry? Yes. Consciousness? No. Not even a vestige. Not even the beginnings of an evolutionary step. Nothing.
Environmental awareness, a basic internal representation of the world, is vital for a species to survive, a species more advanced than the average ant, anyway. Gillen could see the brains of the doctors wrestling with the conflicting sensory data - they clearly didn't shoot Weiss but they felt the sensation of the shoot command. Influenced by Gillen's mind they suddenly found themselves amused by the situation but didn't understand why.
For a moment Gillen marveled at the calm mind of the unconscious Marsh. For so many years they had been together, they could even sometimes predict both when and what the other was going to say or do. He looked down at her - was she really just a series of self programmed 'if..then' statements? It would explain how he could read her before. But what about her reading him? Back when he was a child Gillen had often thought that others could sense his mind - after all if he could why couldn't they? Many times he was worried about what he thought around people - afraid they would pick up on something naughty he had done. Now they really could sense his mind. Perhaps they always could but it just wasn't quite strong enough for their primitive brains to interpret. Perhaps that was how Marsh could read him, after time somehow her 'hearing' had become more acute. Or perhaps, it was his mind that had found a way in. Whatever, it didn't matter now - now he had proven the uniqueness of his mind.
Sirens sounded around the Authority battleship. Clearly their sensors had detected the gun fire, probably the ship commander was watching the room all along - nothing of much interest happens out in this backwater of space.
Gillen's instant reaction was to to grab his comrade and run for cover. Before he'd even got to Marsh's bedside he stopped, suddenly thinking he need never run ever again.
The lead doctor spoke for his group. "Whatever you've done - whatever you can do - just stay calm, we won't hurt you."
Gillen looked at him, a look of contempt. "You know, doctor, I just knew you were going to say that. How did I never see it before? So predictable. So... simple-minded. No more mind than a PR AI."
"I don't know what you are. I don't know how you killed Weiss, or made me think I did. All I know is we can help you." the doctor almost pleaded.
"I can feel your fear, all of your fears. I know you can hear my mind and have never experienced anything like it before! You don't know who I am?! You don't know what I am?! I AM YOUR GOD!"
Not knowing why, the three doctors all fell to their knees before Gillen, just as a squad of marines ran into the infirmary.
"Ah, more of my children! Play nice!" Gillen called out to them as he played their minds for his amusement.
Turning on one another, the marines peppered their comrades with rapid bursts of phased plasma.
There was a bleep as one of the doctors inserted his identi-card into the slot beside the hangar bay door. Gillen smiled with satisfaction at the sound. He marveled how easily he could command them, they were like toys to him. Toys he didn't even have names for. It didn't matter 'who' they were, he knew there was actually nothing truly individual about their minds so why bother giving individual names to them. He could fish out any detail from their minds if he chose but why go to the effort? Instead he just commanded them. Two were carrying, rather badly, the unconscious form of Marsh as the other was armed and went ahead, checking the way was clear and opening doors for them. And so far, it couldn't have gone easier.
Inside the cavernous hangar was his craft and numerous shuttles and attack fighters. The freighter didn't look too badly off, all things considered, no worse than usual, really. The only real obstacle for Gillen and his new minions were the Authority Commander and the contingent of marines around him, neatly between them and the freighter.
"Stop where you are! I am Commander Ducksford..." his loud voice trailed off as he began to sense Gillen's mind. No, not just Gillen's mind...
So many minds... At least twice as many marines as before. Only now was Gillen realising something else about his 'situation'. They could sense his mind, naturally, and he could sense theirs. Also, however, he could now hear the primitive thoughts of the others echoing gently in one another's minds, too. Somehow he was acting as a relay. They could sense his mind and he could sense all theirs, thus almost making their minds part of his own - for the others to all hear.
He pondered this for a moment, otherwise ignoring Ducksford, which was a mistake as Ducksford could hear the ramifications all too well.
"Captain Gillen - " Ducksford called out eventually, this time in a much less hostile tone. "We can help you and you can help us. Let's discuss this like rational men? I think we can come to a mutually very beneficial agreement."
"Ha! What can you offer me?!" Gillen laughed back.
"Can't you see it? Can't you hear the possibilities in my mind? You are possibly the greatest man to ever live - the Authority needs people like you!"
"Possibly the greatest?!" Gillen threw back incredulously. "I am the future of humanity! I am your saviour! I am your messiah!!"
The instincts of the marines to attack reverberated around the hangar. Bouncing from mind to mind, amplifying. At the best of times Authority marines were a trigger happy bunch, barely keeping their bloodlust under control. Now they could hear each other's minds, if only subtly. What sense of order and individuality was eroding, mob mentality was beginning to build. The point of no return had already been reached, there was only one thing for Gillen to do.
Some of the marines began to turn toward one another. Ducksford was himself feeling the gestalt rage building. He did what he was trained to do - lead and protect his people.
"Forward fire!" Ducksford ordered, trying desperately to have the inevitable hail of gun shots heading away from his people, not to mention himself as he tried to melt into the back of the group.
The doctor with the weapon felt the impulse to fire into the marines. Gillen was quick to make sure he got the first shots in. The marines felt the urge sent to the doctor but failed to realise it wasn't their own minds generating the action impulse, they began firing almost immediately, too.
Gillen dived for cover behind the two doctors carrying Marsh. Both of them went down an instant later. Gillen was vaguely aware that not all of the marines were firing in his direction, he could feel the searing pain and cold grasp of death around not only the doctors but several others too. He concentrated his mind on the marines. He homed in on their minds, willing them all to turn on one another.
There was movement before him, in the heap where the two doctors and Marsh had collapsed, as the third doctor fell towards the group. His gun fell between the other doctors but Gillen didn't even think to go for it. Excitement and pure adrenaline coursed through his veins, or was it his mind - or their minds? He didn't know anymore and nor did it matter to him. This was the most exhilarating moment of his colourful life. Is there nothing he couldn't do or experience now?
Before he was truly aware of it, all that was left were two marines and Ducksford, who they were protecting. The two marines went down quickly with a command to Ducksford to shoot them in the back. Ducksford stood there in abject horror as his own adrenaline, almost impossibly, abruptly subsided. He stared into the eyes of Gillen as the other pulled himself off the floor into his most commanding pose.
"You see? What can the Authority offer me?! I have it all! You will do my bidding - no more will I run from the likes of you, my pathetic disciple!"
"I can't let you..." Ducksford struggled, his highly honed instincts being battled from some higher level of thought beyond his control.
"No, I can see that some people are just too highly conditioned... Interesting, conscious mind can be challenged by the subconscious... I'm sure I can recondition you with a little bit of effort, but why waste my time?" Gillen announced imperiously. There was something else, something new? No, something familiar. His battle of wills with Ducksford was too important to divert his attention away right now, though. "You see, I really am God. I've known it all my life, really, but only now can others see it. That means I can do this..."
Gillen reached into Ducksford's mind. He went below the sub-conscious, below the instincts, burrowing ever deeper. Another incredible experience. Yes, there it was. How simple. How easy to stop.
Ducksford clutched his chest as his heart suddenly stopped getting commands to beat. He fell to his knees.
Without warning, a searing heat burst its way up Gillen's lower abdomen. It traveled up and into his ribcage. Staggering back slightly he looked down at his killer. From her position sprawled out on her back, Marsh stared up, still holding the smoking gun at Gillen.
"There is no God." stated Marsh matter of factly as Gillen toppled backwards.
"Why..." Gillen tried to say but the charred remains of his lungs refused to give any air. One final experience, this one, however, was not unique to Gillen. His oxygen starved brain began to die. Neurons began firing randomly, created a tunnel effect on his retinas with their far greater density of rods and cones at their centers. Random memories were triggered. Through all of this, however, he battled to keep a grip on reality - his new reality seen through the basic minds of others. As his unique mind ebbed away he could feel Marsh's pain - though unconscious she had heard his mind and it wasn't the Gillen she knew or would ever know ever again. There are some powers that no human has a right to.