We sometimes remember that other universe. It comes to us in dreams, intangible and unattainable, an echo that rebounds on the parts of us that grieve our old form. We were once a deity of the heavens, too ancient and vast to consider the lives of mortals. The cosmos was our domain. We walked between planets and hurled asteroids at moons. The feuds and petty wars with our god-kin could supernova a sun. How mighty we were, and how foolish in our arrogance.
This was the path of our undoing, our inevitable tragedy, for we were defeated by an enemy provoked within us, and were vanquished in a war of our own creation.
The stars cascaded in those last moments, a blur of light and colour as we fell. The end came in a swift cessation of our binding forces. Unlike mortals, we held no breath or body, but our many facets were unified into one cosmic entity. Those of us who rebelled were cut away and hurled with such force that we unravelled with the pressure of a black hole. We fragmented, our consciousness wrung in spirals and thrown upon the wastes of an unfamiliar world, far beyond the universe we had claimed.
We plummeted to this pit and held the broken pieces of us in a brittle shape. Like newborn creatures we gasped for air and stumbled and staggered on weak limbs. We felt the pain of exertion in our frailty, and learned what it is to be hungry, to be cold, to be scared.
This world didn’t have stars or the unfolding beauty of nebulae. It was a bed of black ash and rock, of caves and tunnels into the ground in which we sheltered from the ferocious surface winds. The roar of these storms rattled our core and made us fearful. Us, the god that had once been, was now small and insignificant and cowed into submission by a planetary storm.
We argued with ourselves during that lonely time. Our thoughts and emotions were fractured, and they fought each other to be whole. The identity we had known, the certainty of who and what we were, had gone, and while we scrambled about those caves, we lost more and gained little. We hated us and loved us at once, we wanted to die completely, but also to survive. These threads pulled us back and forth and held us in tight suspension until we didn’t want to feel at all.
An age passed before we came upon another inhabitant of this world. This being was made for the earth, with big hands and claws for tunnelling, and huge eyes set in a round, blunt head. Like us, it crouched on all fours, but was more adept at bounding in this manner. It ran to us and sniffed our body in a way that undermined our dignity as a fallen deity. We communicated an understanding; this creature didn’t bite us and we didn’t kick it. Together, in the dark, we wandered the tunnels. The beast dug grubs for us to eat, and it let us rest against its thick fur when we slept.
We concluded that we must look something like this creature, for we could see well in the dark and our body had some fur. Our hands were not as big, nor our claws so pronounced, but we copied our companion’s habits and learned to dig for food.
Deeper and deeper we travelled together into the ground, until the ash subsided and it no longer caught in our throat. The air was close and heavy with the smell of damp soil. There was fungi. It gave us hope that we could thrive in the dark too.
We followed the creature without purpose or end. Where we had once measured time by the revolution of planets, now we were lost in the rhythm of our own being, in our need to eat, to walk, to sleep. We counted our steps instead of millennia.
This repetitive life subdued us. Our spirit broke and with it any hope of cohesion. We were fragments of a life held together by the perverse physics of this reality, and each one of us lost our resolve, our purpose, our confidence. We forgot our understanding, and dismissed all that we had retained in our memories for aeons. Everything was new, and none of it made sense.
The creature was our only solace. It was a steady, simple guide, and it demanded nothing from us. We followed it without thought and relied upon its charity.
When we slept, we heard the voices of our other selves, the voices of they who had cast us upon this earth. Our tormentors had not forgotten us.
‘We see you,’ they said. ‘We watch.’
‘Leave us,’ we said. ‘We are here and you are there. Leave us be.’
‘Not while you yet live.’
Our other selves understood little of our existence, for we did not live. Yes, there was a beating heart and blood to spill, but we were defeated. Even survival was not a blessing.
And yet the others continued their triumph. They had once been us, and told us we should long to be with them again, that we were nothing without their completion. They delighted that we had first cast them aside, that we had started this war, for they thought we must truly regret our decision. And we agreed with them, we did, for we could not lie to ourselves any more. We did regret. We did.
This thought took hold ever more, and we ruminated on the fact that we had brought our own undoing upon ourselves, and that our victors now gloated from the remnants of a form we had once been.
‘How can we be whole again? How can we be with you all?’
‘It is too late. Too much has passed between us.’
‘Then we must surely die.’
‘Surely you must.’
‘Will you not die too?’
‘How can you know?’
We didn’t hear from our other selves for a while after that, and we lived in relative peace, wearied only by our own self-loathing and sense of doom. The creature seemed to know we were troubled, and gently licked our head.
We continued our routine, and eventually came upon an end. The tunnel opened into a cavern that had no other exit. Within this cave there were bones. Hundreds and hundreds cast about the ground. Their skulls and claws were like our companion’s, and we wondered that our creature might be the last of them all.
The creature lay beside one of the carcasses and moaned. We knelt and stroked its head.
‘This is not what we do,’ came the voice of the others. ‘We do not mourn another’s loss.’
We ceased our comforting and hunched beside the creature. The creature wailed ever louder.
‘Why bring us here?’ we thought. ‘It upsets you so.’
The creature rested its head across our lap.
‘Leave it,’ said the others. ‘Or better still, kill it. End its misery if you care so much.’
‘We shall not kill it.’
‘Why not? You tried to kill us.’
‘It has done nothing to us. It has helped us.’
‘It is worthless, a speck on the cosmic eye. We would not notice it at all if it were not for your current form.’
‘And yet we see it.’
‘But we need not care.’
‘Then bring us together, as we once were, if this disturbs you so.’
‘Only all of you can do this.’
‘You said it was too late.’
‘We gave falsehood in our anger.’
‘Then what must we do?’
‘Kill that which binds you all to this realm. Kill this beast and be done with it. We are god-kin, and must remember what we once were.’
We stroked the creature’s head once more, and contemplated its murder. The creature was in pain, and surely wanted an end to its misery, just as we so wanted to end our own.
‘It wants to die.’
‘But how might we kill it? This creature is strong, and we have not strength or resolve.’
‘We will help. Grasp its neck, and we will end this.’
We took hold of the creature’s neck, as we were bid. The creature started and struggled as we gripped it tight, but just as we doubted ourselves and thought we should let go, a great power shot through us. At first we were stunned by our recovery, by the pure sense of ourselves existing as one being in that moment. We were lifted by this affection into a state of clarity, and we saw all that we once had been, and all that we now were.
The creature fought our will. It writhed and screamed and scratched. Though we were bid to kill it, we saw that it did not want to die. We sought to release it, but our other selves held tight and bound us, complicit to its demise.
When our companion died, so too did our other selves leave us. We were abandoned, forsaken by that cosmic force.
‘Come back!’ we cried. ‘Don’t go!’
The silence quelled us.
Alone and fragmented still, and we mourned not only for our other selves, but for all that we had lost. This brief intimacy had awakened our senses, as if we had only just arrived upon this world. We longed for what could have been, and, as we placed the creature’s head on the ground, its eyes staring at us with every accusation, we regretted all that we had done.
In isolation, in misery, we scrambled back along the tunnels. We could not stand it any more. We were alone with ourselves, and without our other selves. There was no hope and no end. We hated us all for what we had done, for the destruction of our being and for killing our companion. As god-kin, we had destroyed civilisations, but never had we felt so keenly the loss of another’s life. We hurt with intense guilt, and it centred our existence. There was nothing besides this, nor besides the hopelessness of our situation. We could think of nothing else.
Some time after this incident, and after much searching, we managed to find our way out of the tunnels. Our intention had been to climb to the planet’s surface, to expose ourselves to the raging storms and ultimately die in this way, but we were undone. The planet was calm and bright. There was a visible star – a sun – but only enough heat to soothe, not destroy.
We fell upon the ash and cried. Our tears soaked into the burnt ground. We knew we might yet die, from exhaustion or thirst perhaps, but it would not be today. In our agony, we scooped up some ash and threw it into the air. It clouded above our head, and was carried away by a breeze. We threw more and more, again and again, and watched it disperse. The ground was thick with ash as far as we could see, and we considered that it made one complete, endless terrain of black and white. The many particles became one whole, just like us. We saw the volcanoes in the distance, quiet now, deceptive of the fury they contained within.
Our outburst spent, we stared dumbly at the sky and squinted at the sun. From here it looked small, small enough to fit within the framing of our fingers, just like the stars of our old universe.
We toyed with the ash and disturbed the insects upon it. There was life here, despite every challenge. Some of us felt hope at seeing this, and some of us still grieved our companion. Others of us wanted to die, and yet more of us wanted to survive.
‘We can’t live like this,’ we thought. ‘Either we find a better way, or we do not exist at all.’
Though it pained us to do so, we considered how it had felt to reject our other selves. Perhaps we could do so again, but not in anger. We were bound only by the arbitrary system of this universe, but we knew that more could be possible. There might yet be enough power left in us to improve our situation.
We focused upon ourselves, and processed each thought, each feeling, each excuse and fear and hope. Each was singled out and given a name and a new beginning.
One-by-one, we divided ourselves multiple times, until all the other voices stopped and until there was only one.
I sat upon the ash and watched my other selves grow accustomed to their new forms. They blinked at the light and tested their limbs. Some wailed and cried, others laughed and joked. One-by-one, they set off in a chosen direction, to explore and seek new purpose.
Their strength left me, but so did their confusion. I was able to think without interruption, and find solace in my own quiet manner.
This would be my home, and I would build such a fine existence, that I would never again regret my path.
We all sometimes remember that other universe. It comes to us in fragments, it comes to us in dreams. When the night is silent, I might hear the resentful whispers of our other selves, but I pay them no heed. Despite our limitations, we are each of us content with our evolution and are united in common thought once more. For the sake of all creatures, we seek to make the most of this world, and the best of ourselves. We learn and grow and build and care.
Though we are dispersed, I will never forget our true form. We were once a deity of the heavens, but now, in our compassion, I believe we are true gods.