The sound was alien to her. Alien, but natural. It was the sound of fear. The sound of dying. Not that she knew that it was, in fact, dying — but she knew it didn’t sound good. It stared at her as it lay there spasming. Its black eyes filled with the abyss.
She was shaking too, trapped in its stare. A car sped past, its lights fading into the night. A decision was needed. A diagnosis. A verdict. She considered driving home; thought of her bed. But — that wasn’t right. Was it? She knew what was expected. She knew she had to take responsibility. She had to end its suffering. That was the civilised thing to do. The humane thing. If the roles were reversed, and the deer was standing over her, she’d want the same. Right? She’d never killed anything before. Not really — she’d set mouse traps and swatted insects, but that was different. Wasn’t it? This was basically her size. It felt more. Probably. That meant something. It had to. She looked around for a rock. But even if she found one big enough she’d hardly be able to lift it. She had some tools in the car…
She stood over the animal, wrench in hand. She wondered if she’d eaten deer before. If she’d eaten it she should be able to kill it, right? She’d certainly eaten other things — other animals — and if she was content to eat meat, but not to kill for it, that was hypocrisy. Wasn’t it? She raised the tool over her head. Such a beautiful animal. One deft blow should do it.
* * *
One deft blow hadn’t done it. She noticed her blood flecked sleeve as she turned the key to her apartment. Her cat was waiting, circling under her legs before running to its empty bowl. The smell made her gag slightly as she opened the tin, the cat diving in head first before she could finish forking the food out. The eyes came back to her. She had done what needed doing. Though traumatic, she was sure that if she hadn’t gone through with it, it would have haunted her the rest of her life. This she could move past. It was almost a formative experience. She’d taken control of the situation. For herself, and for the deer.
She threw some chicken fingers in the oven and fell back on the couch, her cat curling up in her lap, vibrating beneath her hand. A documentary was starting on the TV. It was about the horrors of trophy hunting. She wondered how anybody could see it as sport. A poacher posed next to a dead zebra. Its eyes stared back at her. Her cat stopped purring. She looked down at her bloodied shirt. She was suddenly hit with the profound sense that it all meant something — everything in that instant. She teetered on the edge of the epiphany, allowing herself to fall towards it; ready to submit to a higher knowledge; to embrace a new understanding — and then the oven alarm went off.
It wasn’t that he missed home. Life on Mars wasn’t much different. In fact, that was the problem. He’d left with the promise of more. As he caught his reflection in the table he was wiping, it struck him that he was doing the exact same job he’d done back on Earth, and he wondered why he’d come at all.
In part, the colonisation had seemed exciting to him. A call to adventure in a land of opportunity. A chance to be a part of something bigger than himself. A chance to grow. Though if he was being honest with himself (which he wasn’t inclined to be), it wasn’t the adventure that called to him, more the perception of said adventure. If anyone asked what he was up to, he could tell them he’d moved to Mars. It would define him. Though if he was really being honest with himself, he was running away. From nothing in particular. Just a general pressure. He thought Mars would give him a chance to breathe. A chance to be himself, free from the chains of expectation.
He told people that Earth had become boring. Though in reality he had become boring; stagnant; existing on a plateau while others around him climbed to higher ground, before adulthood flooded the planes. Mars offered him a ladder. A stairway to contentment. Of course, he hadn’t realised all of this at the time, but now, with a few million miles for perspective, he saw it more clearly.
The journey itself took just over a month. He got a job cleaning the cabins of elite colonisers as a way to cheapen his fare. As he scrubbed and mopped he dreamt how once they touched down, class distinctions would be abstracted — everyone would be equal: a pioneer, toiling to establish their place in the new world, deserving of the same respect as anyone else. He knew it was naive, but it wasn’t until he stepped off the transport that he saw to what extent. The aristocracy were met by their chauffeured buggies and driven off to their luxury accommodation and administerial jobs, leaving the rest of the Earthers at the port, waiting for the subrail to take them to the city-domes. As he sat there, he noted the faces of his competitors, for that’s what they were now — rivals in the quest for a better life; these exiles, economic refugees, lost souls, all here for the same reason: the Martian Dream.
They weren’t true pioneers, terraforming the rock or founding settlements — that had been established generations before their arrival — they were just bodies to fill the shiny, corporate fiefdoms which propped up the automated mining industry. But it was still an adventure to him. He looked out across the red rock to the distant outline of New Colgate and wondered what he’d find there.
Once he’d reached his temporary lodgings, a shared dorm on the outskirts of the city, he collapsed on his bunk, sleeping for the best part of a day. Then he set about starting his new life. He felt abnormally driven, fuelled by a mix of nerves and necessity. He needed to find a room and a job to pay his way. He had an advantage over other new arrivals as he’d been raised with the customs common on Mars and spoke prime-tongue. He quickly found a bedsit in the heart of the city and a job at a nearby diner. He was relieved to know he could support himself, but it was just a temporary commitment; something to keep him going until he’d truly settled.
He felt good; high on self-reliance. He’d proven to himself he could best a challenge if he set his mind to it. Over the next few months he shaped a simple, pleasant existence. It was his and his alone.
Initially he was too caught up in the thrill of starting a new life to process his surroundings, but gradually he took it all in. There was a lot to like about life on Mars. New Colgate was different from the cities back home — functional; calm; a stark contrast to the chaotic clutter of Earth. It was meticulously planned; engineered to make life easier, and orderly in a way that made him feel secure. Not to mention there was more space, clean, filtered air, and a lot more greenery (go figure). The people were pleasant too. Everyone polite and friendly, always smiling, free from Earth’s malaise. He even earned a little more doing the same job he’d done on Earth. But what he valued most was the anonymity. He could be a new person here. Or not. He could be anyone he wanted. Or no one. There was no one from school he could bump into, no awkward chit-chat, no telling people what he was “up to.” In a sense his wishes were fulfilled, he was free here.
And so he’d achieved his goal of self sufficiency. He was an island. He’d carved out a living for himself with his own two hands. But.. Was that it? As he settled further into his new life the fervent urgency dissipated and he fell into a safe routine. A routine he knew too well. It was as though he’d scaled the garden wall, only to drop down the other side and find himself in another, very similar garden. Sure, some of the flowers were different, but it had the same neat lawn, the same washing-line running through it, the same exact layout. Maybe the grass was always greener… Or the dirt redder, or whatever. It didn’t help that Social had advanced to the point where you were constantly updated on your friends’ lives, even if you lived on another planet. He couldn’t escape their successes. He could still see everyone excelling while he stood still (albeit in a different place). It was hard to embrace his newfound anonymity when he was perpetually reminded of who he was — and who he wasn’t. He considered turning off his comms chip, but he wasn’t ready to leave Earth behind for good. Then who would he be?
As the sheen began to wear off the Martian Dream, he started to see New Colgate in a different light — less magic hour, more office fluorescence. The city’s functionality hindered its potential for fun; its pristine design was sterile and lacked personality; and he’d begun to sense there was nothing behind the people’s smiles — no deeper connection. He soon realised that even his precious anonymity was a double-edged sword, the other side of the blade severing his ties to the world, leaving him isolated. While he had made friendly acquaintances, he had no real supports; no connections to help him move up in the world; no bridges. He was an island; an outsider; he felt he would always be an Earther on Mars.
He recognised the anxieties from back home — baggage he’d unwittingly packed; the general pressure descended anew. But he couldn’t blame his surroundings for his failings again. He had to consider that maybe problem wasn’t with his location in the galaxy, but with himself. He couldn’t run from it anymore.
The nerves were waiting for him on the transport, right where he’d left them. The same sense of plunging into the unknown, only the excitement he’d felt on emigrating had been replaced with a sense of dread; his head filled with what people would think of his retreat; his defeat. He wondered if he was making a mistake by returning — he’d never have another chance to start again. The doubts circled him like wolves — maybe if he’d tried harder, maybe if he’d stayed longer, maybe if he’d wanted it more. Maybe things were worse than he remembered back on Earth; maybe the grass being greener was just something he’d heard so much he’d begun to believe it — maybe it was just an excuse people used so they could neglect their lawns. But there was no turning back now.
On the long journey home, he contemplated all that he was leaving; a world possibilities; the hypotheticals haunting him. He was aware that it was a futile exercise, but it passed the time.
And then he was “home”; back where he’d started; the grand narrative complete. He wandered the city streets for a while. Everything was the same, but different — unchanged in all the ways that made Earth, Earth — the thick smell of gasoline; the constant hum of the reactors; the weary people. But there were countless discrepancies too, things that challenged his memory, as if it were a puzzle and the pieces had been rearranged while he wasn’t looking — a new apartment block here, an old restaurant gone, a lone tree still standing — something for him to hold on to.
He observed that while the evolution of humanity’s creation was constant, so was the essence of Earth; eternal; rooted in millennia of hardship. He felt his bonds to the place grow stronger. But he was still lost. He knew he had to begin again, only he couldn’t find the starting line.
He assessed his position in the galaxy once more, now that he’d been to Mars and back. The cliché of realising that what he’d been searching for was right in front of him all along didn’t quite apply; he hadn’t found himself — though maybe he had, and was just a little disappointed with what he’d found: the same person he’d been before, incapable of change. Though maybe he had changed. He didn’t know. He felt the same. Though Earth had changed. Maybe. Or maybe it was him. He couldn’t tell. Maybe he’d changed so gradually that he hadn’t noticed… He must be different. Somehow. Mustn’t he? Maybe we don’t change. Maybe we do. Maybe everything can be learned and forgotten again.
Amid his confusion one thing was clear. To continue his search for solace, he would have to journey within; deep inside himself. And not in the figurative sense. To get to the root of the matter, he’d have to clone himself, shrink himself, then literally travel up his own nose, into his own brain, and remove whatever was making him feel this way. Because this is a science fiction story.
“In the future there is one history. To focus on the vast expanse of what may unravel ahead of us, we had to simplify what came before. An immense canvas of block colours laid on in the broadest strokes. There was no good; no evil. Just before and after. Before was conflict and struggle. After came innovation and growth.” — Notes On The Future Vol. II
The future had grown out of the hardships of its past. People no longer starved or suffered needlessly. Wars were no longer waged for power or resources or any other reason. Everyone had a place. Everyone knew their place. There was a plan.
The Plan allowed for no deviation — any slight alterations to its trajectory might have ramifications beyond the scope of the Planners. But there was no need for deviation. Everyone had a place. Everyone knew their place. They were each a piece of a puzzle; all necessary in completing the picture. Some were notable features — a ray of sun or a leafy branch — while others filled a nondescript square of ground, or the white of a cloud. Though some pieces seemed more integral to the picture, the truth was, every one was needed — for without even a single piece, the puzzle could not be complete. There were people who catered and people who created; people who delegated and people who did, everyone judged on their merits for the role that suited them best; their plan laid out within the Plan. But everyone was equal. Everyone went back to the same planned housing units and ate the same planned meals. Everyone acknowledged that in the grand scheme, no one was more or less important than anyone else.
It was also acknowledged that not everyone was happy. But what was happiness compared to the Plan? — the knowledge that you were a part of something bigger; that through your actions, however seemingly big or small, your legacy was guaranteed. Happiness was eclipsed by certainty, and even death couldn’t contest that. And when certainty wasn’t enough, there were suppressants; medication to help people adhere to their plan; the dosage dependant on the disassociation. Everything considered, even the unhappiest of people were still satisfied; content; contained.
Of course, there were those who believed themselves outside the Plan — even railed against it — but they too, were pieces of the puzzle — the majority of insurgents instigated by the Planners themselves, like a controlled burn; a small minority of revolutionaries to give a sense of threat, one which the Planners could regulate, manipulate and extinguish if necessary. The Outsiders were in fact as essential to the Plan as everyone else. They tempered it; strengthened the resolve of the people within it; unified them against the menace of chance. Though the majority of the populace didn’t know the particulars of the Plan, they found comfort knowing there was a plan. They knew the rough outline — that it was ultimately for their contingency; that, for humanity to survive indefinitely, they had to colonise the stars, and to do so, they had to be as one. That wasn’t to say individuality was discouraged — the Plan strived to realise the unique strengths of all people — but emphasis was always on the whole. They were each individual parts of something bigger. Together they looked to the horizon.
As the people were definite of where they were headed, they were definite of whence they’d come. As per the Plan, history had been simplified. There was no need to get caught up in the particulars of the past, nothing more they could glean from the imperfect passages of the people before. They knew there had been a world of chaos and strife, and now there wasn’t. As infants, the people learned how the Plan came to be; how the great Thinking Machine had shown humanity the way. They learned that the first Planner, through the machine’s data, had seen the Plan laid out before them, and thus given birth to a new era. Initially there had been a period of unrest, but soon the world accepted its destiny — borders were lifted and nations dissolved, leaving in their place one race, one goal and one plan. The newly established Planners were tasked with interpreting the machine’s data — analysts-cum-technicians-cum-prophets, perpetually pouring over the readings while maintaining the machine’s monolithic body.
Over the millennia, the Planners held fast the course, steering humanity through countless calamities. All the while, the people remained faithful they would reach their destination. However, the destination had not been specified in the Plan. When was the diaspora dispersed enough? When was humanity’s contingency guaranteed? Or could it ever be truly guaranteed? How long could the species last before its inevitable decline? How long was long enough? The universe surely had a plan of its own — eventually set to fold in on itself — or could the Plan project past even that?
Opinions on these variables varied, and as time went on, the cracks in the Plan began to show. By this point humanity had established itself as a prominent force in the universe, inhabiting more systems than could be controlled by one ideology. Many, believing the Plan was complete, found other callings, allowing chaos to inhabit their lives once more. But there were those who were sworn to follow it to the end. Whatever that may be.
And so the Plan winds through the cosmos still, occasionally shedding parts of itself — birthing new plans — as it propels itself towards its unknowable inevitability.
“Nothing is over.” — Notes From The Past Vol. XXIII
It’s a portrait of a woman. She has a handsome face and dark features. Below her waist is hidden but she seems to be sitting; her right hand crossed over her left wrist, gripping it slightly. She has brown, shoulder-length hair covered by a very thin veil, peeking just over her crown. She’s dressed in a dark green, silk robe which leaves the top of her bosom exposed. The background is an impression of a rural landscape. In the distance are some shapes resembling trees, surrounding what appears to be a lake. Behind the woman, to her left, is a winding path. Over her right shoulder is the outline of a far-off bridge.
The picture isn’t immediately striking, but there’s something about it… Something you can’t quite put your finger on. It might be the way she’s staring at you; the way her eyes seem to follow you around the room… Then it hits you — it’s her smile. It’s a subtle smile. A faint contentment registered on the upturned corners of her mouth. A gentle satisfaction. It’s the kind of smile that might form when one’s thinking of a loved one. Or when they’re stirring their tea, remembering the time the vending machine gave them two Snickers when they’d only paid for one. Or it could be a secretive smile; an I-have-a-secret-but-I’m-not-telling-you-teeheehee smile; a playful smile. Or maybe it’s the smile one makes when a photographer tells them to smile before they take a picture. An obligatory smile. An I’m-just-smiling-because-someone-told-me-to-smile smile.
It’s an enigmatic smile to be sure. The kind of smile that one could spend a lifetime contemplating; the kind of smile one imagines scholars have debated for years. It’s a glass half empty smile; a glass half full smile. A Rorschach test smile, its perceived meaning reflecting the impliers intentions back upon them. A mirror smile. It’s the kind of smile that movies are made about. Movies which star Julia Roberts and Julia Stiles. Not to mention Maggie Gylenhall and Kirsten Dunst. Movies which you haven’t personally seen, but upon further research are about feminism in the 1950’s. Movies which critics are calling “a formulaic Roberts vehicle that isn’t without its charm” and “the female variant of Dead Poets Society.” Movies which will remain in the cultural consciousness for many years to come.
As you stare at the picture you begin to feel uneasy. The smile combined with her piercing gaze leaves you feeling naked — like she can see straight through to the true you; like she’s plumbing the depths of your soul.. And she’s slightly amused by what she’s found there… It could be the memory of the time you you farted in front of the whole class; or when you passed out at that party and wet yourself. Or she could be diving deeper still, down to the bedrock of your being. It’s like she knows all of your secrets: the things you do when no one else is around; the things you think about late at night; how many seasons of Suits you’ve watched. It’s like she’s Judge Judy (there’s definitely a resemblance) and she’s scrolling through your internet search history, smiling all the while, savouring the power she holds over you. You look away, but still feel her eyes burning your body. You leave the gallery in a sweat, but they persist, tracking you all the way back to your home; into your bedroom; into your dreams. Whenever you close your eyes you see them. Unblinking. Your sanity begins to fray. Then it hits you, just as her smile did weeks before — the only way to be free of this ocular imprisonment is to bare all for her.
You return to the gallery, determined to confront her once more, then, looking her dead in the eye, you strip butt-naked and begin to shout, “IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT??? TAKE A GOOD LOO—” You stop mid-sentence, having noticed something new. It’s her smile — it’s different somehow. You’re not sure how you got it so wrong.. It’s not a judgemental, malicious smile; it’s a benevolent, compassionate smile… As though she’s expressing sympathy for the time you farted in front of the whole class; or when you passed out at that party and wet yourself. Or maybe she feels sorry for you right at that very instant. Standing naked in a crowded gallery. You drop to you knees sobbing, giving yourself up to her completely. She is now your god.
Another notable feature of the picture is its antiquity. The tangible sense of history in every brush stroke. The colours faded by time. What became of the woman in the picture? Who was she? She reminds you of your friend Gabby, from school. Gabby was the Charlotte of your group, and from this revelation you form a kind of composite personality for the woman: a mixture of your friend Gabby (ie. Charlotte) and Judge Judy; a chirpy, no-nonsense, regal kind of character. Who works as a judge. In olden times. You imagine what it would be like to hang out with her, your daydream taking the form of an episode of Sex & The City, only set back then. Like, it’s still about a group of empowered women, but instead of cocktails, they drink the equivalent of whatever cocktails were back then — who knows — maybe they had cocktails back then, there’s no possible way of knowing that — I mean, you’re not even sure when “back then” was. Though you imagine it had a lot of castles and banquets and horse pulled carts. Not dissimilar to Disneyland Paris. Anyway, at some point your daydream takes a turn for the dramatic when you’re falsely accused of killing the king. After that it turns into more of a Judge Judy/Suits style crossover? You think it might make a great pitch for Sex And The City 3: Back In Time. Or it could be called Sex And The City 3: The Return Of Carrie But Also The Thing That Happened With The —
Oh, that’s a thousand words? Sweet — that should paint a pretty good picture, so… I’m out. Peace.
“It is funny.”
“Here man, it is.”
“I think if you told that joke at a stand-up show you’d get hella laughs.”
“And I think I wouldn’t.”
“Right well, there’s only one way to decide this…”
Rory walks over to the UNIVAC, inputting the numerous variables. The hulking computer comes whirring to life, its tiny lights blinking on and off as if adorning a Christmas tree. Seconds later the whirring is replaced by a mechanical grinding as a piece of paper emerges from the UNIVAC’s printing port. Rory tears it off the reel.
“Let’s see now.”
Ziggy sidles up alongside him and they begin to read the UNIVAC’s projection…
UNIVAC SIMULATION 42,572 — THE JOKE
The crowd erupts in a frenzy as Ziggy takes to the stage, looking like a young Chris Rock by way of Wexford. They’re going nuts and bananas, like some sort of incredibly decadent banana and nut flavoured milkshake. He was here — returned from his worldwide tour of every single country on earth (for that was the extent of his appeal) — he was finally home.
He casually walks to centre stage, the audience swelling before him in anticipation, then stops at the microphone, adjusting it to his height. The noise of the crowd dies to a hush, everyone waiting for what comes next.
The crowd erupts again, unable to contain themselves. He just stands there smiling, waiting for them to settle down.
“It’s good to be back.”
Again the crowd goes wild – some people in the front starting to speak in tongues. He raises his hands and silence gradually returns.
“Now I’ve been all over the world and I can tell you that — some things? Some things never change. Take aeroplane peanuts for example.”
There’s a low murmur of laughter from the crowd as they imagine aeroplane peanuts.
“I mean, what’s the deal with them? I’m sitting at 36,000 feet, flying through the air, and the best thing they have for me is peanuts? I mean, come on!”
The crowd is in hysterics.
“Another thing that never changes is clubbing. I had a show in Dublin the other night.”
A handful of hollers emanate from the crowd.
“Yeah, shout-out to Dublin. Anyway, after the show I decided to go to a club — just a standard run-of-the-mill Dublin club. So I walk up to the door man, pretty much ready to stroll on in — and he stops me, ‘Not tonight.’ I’m like, ‘Not tonight? Then when? Can I come back in the morning?’”
The crowd laughs at the funny joke.
“He doesn’t see the funny side though, he just says, ‘You’re not getting in tonight, tomorrow, or any other day.’ So obviously I’m confused, but I can hazard a guess as to why he won’t let me in, so I take a shot in the dark, I say to him, ‘It’s because I’m black isn’t it?’ He just kind of chuckles and looks at me for a second, then he says, ‘No, it’s because you’re from Wexford.’”
The crowd is dead silent — so silent you could hear a Wexford penny drop. They stare around at each other, shell-shocked, processing the joke that they’ve just heard. Was it funny? Should they laugh anyway? The vast silence seems to stretch out for an eternity. Then, out of the nothingness, a lone clap.
The crowd strains their necks looking to the source of the sound: a woman has taken to her feet, clapping — slowly at first, but steadily, tears streaming down her face. Every time her hands connect it shakes the audience to their core, hammering at their hearts, ringing out like a church bell of truth. Suddenly a man behind her stands up and joins the rhythmic chorus. Then another, and another, until the whole audience are on their feet applauding what was now, undoubtedly, the greatest joke of all time.
Rory, having finished reading the UNIVAC’s detailed report, looks over at Ziggy:
In the future there is One religion. It incorporates all existing religions and all religions to come. In it you’re free to choose who you worship, how you worship and where you worship. You’re free to choose whether you worship at all. You can choose the doctrines you like, free to mix and match, or you can choose none of them. You can even make your own doctrines. Your god can be a man/woman/beast/alien. They can be many or just one. You’re free to believe there isn’t god. It’s up to you. As long as you open your heart and accept the One religion you can believe whatever you like.
The One religion is, for all intents and purposes, infinite in its scope1, stretching endlessly out across the universe, ever expanding as its missionaries pinball from one galaxy to the next, propelled by a seemingly singular purpose2 .
When they first make contact with a civilisation they explain — through the most suitable medium; eg. burning bush, second coming, televangelism — that everything the civilisation already believes is true, but it’s just a fraction of the truth. Depending on their surroundings, they use different metaphors to explain how an existing religion fits into the One religion — it could be an iceberg with its tip just above water or a tree with its roots deep below ground; it could be the minute threads of a rich tapestry. Usually it’s none of these things as they’re completely alien to the prospective flock, but you get the idea. The gist of it is that the civilisation’s beliefs are just a small part of the whole — the whole being the One religion — so that their beliefs, while “true”, are just a fraction of the whole truth. The whole truth is infinite and unfathomable. The most common metaphor the missionaries use to illustrate this is the vastness of space, which is, quite literally, universal.
The missionaries then expand the mythos of the One religion3, outlining a vague plot set on a stage of cosmic proportions involving some ambiguous events which span a boundless passage of time. It’s a saga which generally inspires feelings of awe and a sense of “Oneness”4. As expected, interpretations of the religious materials differ greatly. Some see them as life affirming, others as prophecies of doom. Either way, most are content to infer sense where there may be none and seem to have little issue folding some new beliefs in to their old ones.
By assimilating a civilisation’s religion(s) into the One religion, it often allows the missionaries to indoctrinate whole planets, systems and galaxies with minimal opposition. A civilisation’s acceptance of the One religion generally depends on the disparity between the missionaries’ technology and their own. The optimal Indoctrination Grade of a civilisation’s technology is somewhere between Digital and Intergalactic.
If a civilisation is large enough and has a sufficiently advanced network in place, the missionaries can utilise it to reach the entire population of a given system in mere days. If there is no such network in place, it becomes a painstaking task of locating each civilisation individually and indoctrinating them one at a time. Depending on the size and population of a system, this can take literal ages. On the other hand, if a civilisation is too advanced, they may contest the veracity of the One religion, believing themselves to be exceptional enough to choose their own faith and questioning the “divinity” of the missionaries’ technology.
The missionaries have tools at their disposal to accelerate the indoctrination process. They can initiate miracles or load up some wrath. They typically try to avoid eroding civilisations during the process, but have no qualms if necessary — it’s of no great matter to them, who one way or another, will make the people see the light (or lack-thereof, depending on the civilisation’s pre-existing beliefs). Once a civilisation accepts the One religion as their one religion, the missionaries adorn all places of worship/non-worship (ie. temples, government buildings, 7/11s) with the sacred symbol — a large “O” — leaving them, other than that, untouched. It’s generally believed that the circle/O symbolises the all-encompassing nature of the One religion. It’s also the first letter in the word “One”..
Because the One religion grants such a wide variety of choice, countless sects have formed within it. There are whole systems who believe Jesus was the prophet and others who think Jesus was cool but categorically not the prophet. Some worship their sun and others believe in something completely alien4 . There are ancient rituals and contemporary ones. There are small groups who believe their barman is the son of god and individuals who believe it’s their dog (/alien equivalent of a dog). There are no two individuals who hold the exact same beliefs or practice them in the exact same way. Even within sects, no matter how dogmatic5 the traditions, there exist minute differences, often too small to observe, but there nonetheless. Some sects share ideals and beliefs, others don’t. Ironically, those that do are often more opposed to one another than those that don’t. Go figure.
The One religion does not create a utopia, and like all religions, there exists infighting. Take for example, if someone believes in an early morning call to prayer and their neighbour believes in lie-ins — well, you can see the issues that may arise. Now picture that on an intergalactic scale. The One religion never takes sides, seemingly unconcerned with petty squabbling — and really, on an intergalactic scale, that’s just what it is.
The One Religion has holy days every day of every year, most days having more than one. You’re free to celebrate these how you see fit, though it’s up to you to book the time off work.
There’s just one tenet/commandment/rule in the One religion — thou shalt never doubt the One religion. Every so often someone/ones, take it upon themselves to question the nature of the One religion, emboldened by hubris and absenteeism. Entire populations have vanished overnight after positing their incredulity, their fate unexplained, though widely known: somewhere in the mythos there’s a brief mention of hell.
Hell is currently a system formerly known as HL47246 situated in the Triangulum galaxy. It’s a barren system devoid of comforts where heretics are free to live as they please. Some heretics see hell as a chance to develop a civilized society free from hegemony, though lack of resources means it usually devolves into a standard order post-apocalyptic-lord-of-the-flies-meets-mad-max type scenario. When not struggling for survival, or engaging in Thunderdome-style bloodsports, most heretics spend their time further scrutinising the One religion, as it’s the only place in the One Religion’s domain where they’re free to do so. Because no one knows its origins or goals, many theories have been formed — the top five are currently:
- The missionaries have no ulterior motives.
- The missionaries are unifying the universe to strengthen it against a coming threat.
- The missionaries are laying the groundwork for their own universe-scale invasion.
- The One religion is a front for an intergalactic, deep-state, child-sex ring.
- Lizard people.
When heretics get tired of the wholly inconclusive conjecture and bland cuisine they generally wish to leave Hell7, which they’re free to do, once they finally accept the One religion as their saviour8. Once returned to their respective civilizations, ex-heretic’s lives largely fall into two camps: camp A — born again converts who are fervent on rejuvenating their interpretation of the faith wherever they go, and camp B — people who never mention the One religion again. Some return hardened by their experience while others come back broken. Everyone returns a little more cultured, having met a sizable swath of the universe in hell.
There is no mention of heaven in the mythos, though again, this leads to far more conjecture than if there were.
The One Religion is all things to all people, its endless utilities assumed by its practicer. It can blossom purpose and order where there was none; it can incite war where once there was peace; it can create comfort in the void of the universe and it can instill fear in the hearts of its believers. It can do all of these things at once. It can be utilised for good and for evil, though which is which is eternally unclear and never decided by divinity. In some parts of the universe it’s the loudest voice; in others it’s the background chatter in the dialogue of society.Being all things to all people, the One religion has a perceived longevity, though, like all things, it will inevitably fall, it’s Oneness crumbling into a manyness; or it will be assimilated as it assimilated so many others; or it will be wiped out along with everything else, leaving only the mysteries of time and space, unsolved. Though all of this too, is just conjecture.
1 No one really knows where its influence begins or ends, so..
2 And most likely, a fission based fuel source.
3 The distribution method for such sacred data varies — it can be anything from stone tablets, to printed pamphlets, to mass-telepathy.
4 Alien to you.
6 Once HL4724 reaches maximum capacity a new hell will be assigned.
7 Some people choose to stay in hell, having found their calling in life.
8 Accepting the One religion is the only proven way out of hell, though there have been countless failed attempts.
Good writing is all in the detail, specifically the quantity of said detail. Let’s take this simple sentence as an example:
He sat on the chair.
What can we say about it? That it’s grammatically correct? Sure. That it gives us the relevant information? Fine. It’s a perfectly okay sentence — but that’s the problem, it’s just okay. You should look at every sentence as having the potential to realise a story beyond just the perfunctory points. So let’s look at the sentence again:
He sat on the chair.
Who sat on the chair?
The man sat on the chair?
The man? What kind of man is he? What do we know about him?
The average height man sat on the chair.
Okay, so we’ve established the man is of average height, what else can we say about him?
The mysterious, average height man sat on the chair.
Now the character is beginning to take form in the readers’ minds, but we need a little more. How else can we add to his character, aside from just listing traits? Maybe we can describe the way he moves…
The mysterious, average height man sat mysteriously on the chair.
So now we’ve given the readers a clear mental image of the character, what else can we do to set the scene? What about the props?
The mysterious, average height man sat mysteriously on the red chair.
With a single word we’ve switched the feed in the readers’ minds from black and white to technicolor. But there’s still more we can do to set the scene and really add to the story.
The mysterious, average height man sat mysteriously on the fabulous, red chair.
Now we’ve created intrigue. What’s so fabulous about this red chair? Is its fabulousness somehow related to its redness? Why is the man sitting on it? Making the readers ask these questions is an important part of creating any story and will be explored further in chapter 2: “Asking Questions and Then Answering Them In A Satisfactory Fashion”. For now, lets sum up by comparing our initial offering with our final output:
He sat on the chair.
The mysterious, average height man sat mysteriously on the fabulous, red chair.
Rory’s “Hair of the Dog” Hangover Cure
We’ve all been there: hungover to the point where we literally think we might be about to die and everything we remember from the night before is just a blur of anxiety and we just called our friend to see if we did anything bad at the party and they said no but we think they might be lying and we have an executive business brunch/segway tour/thought-leader conference to be at later and we cannot miss it but we think we might have to because we literally can’t move, right? Well this simple recipe should leave even the most dehydrated degenerates feeling radically rejuvenated and ready to rock.
You will need:
1 x Glass of water.
1 x Flux capacitor.
1 x Delorean.
1 x Unspecified amount of weapons grade plutonium.
1 x Enthusiastic local teen.
1 x Group of Libyan terrorists.
1 x Prom night.
1 x High-school drama.
1 x Lightning storm.
1 x Clock tower.
1 x Huey Lewis classic.
1 x Accomplished copyright lawyer.
- Assemble a time-machine using the Delorean, flux capacitor and unspecified amount of weapons grade plutonium.
- Drive the Delorean/time-machine to the mall parking lot to meet the enthusiastic local teen.
- Get shot by Libyan terrorists.
- Wait for the local teen to use the Delorean to travel back in time to the day before to meet your past self and warn you to drink a glass of water before going to bed. Also to wear body armour the following day.
- As your past self, help the local teen navigate the past and get back to the future by executing an elaborate plan involving prom night, some high school drama, a clock tower, a lightning storm and the Delorean. At this stage in the process you will need to ensure that the teen doesn’t create a paradox in the space time-continuum by making his own mother fall in love with him, though don’t worry if he invents a little rock’n’roll on the side.
- If you’ve followed the instructions correctly you should now find your present self hangover free thanks to the glass of water you drank the night before, and bullet free thanks to the body armour.
- Ignore the fact that you’ve changed basically everything else about the present.
- Disappear on another time adventure.
- Arrive back in time to set up a sequel.
- Cue Back In Time by Huey Lewis and The News.
And it’s as simple as that – you’re now ready to face the world, fresh as the day you exited your mother’s womb.
N.B. Some people may claim it’s a lot easier to just drink some electrolytes, take an aspirin and stay in bed, but some people don’t even know how hungover you are.