BY DAVID CARROLL
Imperfect Copy a novel
The Tiger who wanted to be Human a comic
Changeling, with Kate Orman
BY KATE ORMAN
Untitled, by Sarah J. Groenewegen
Forgotten Memories, by Evan Paliatseas
The Rushing of Blood, by Evan Paliatseas
Keeper's Demise, by David J Richardson
NON DOCTOR WHO
Alien To Her, by David Carroll
She Twitched, by David Carroll
The Inner Light, by Kate Orman
Waiting in the Light, by Jonathan Barons
Grandfather's Clock, by Steven Caldwell
Messages, by Steven Caldwell
Inge, by Simon Moore
Appeared in Burnt Toast#10, 1992
He sensed the wave of chaos approaching, and turned -- although, in reality, he faced all directions and was in all locations simultaneously -- to face it. A star, then another, and another, popped out of existence. Their light against the black emptiness of space suddenly and all too soon snuffed, attendant planets gone with them as well. Timidly he probed, through the extensions he had gained via the Keepership, towards that wave -- and instantly, instinctively, totally, recoiled from it. For this was no material force, no invading space-fleet, no great Melkur or freak astronomical event. It was nothing.
Or, to be more accurate, it was something that made nothing of all things. It did not break them down to tiny fragments or even isolated atoms, but indeed destroyed matter itself, reduced it to chaotic heat, sound, light, aimless and useless energy. He looked at that so-called energy space before him (and yet not before him) and saw, even in the void of space, activity. Minute specks of debris from a few billion years of action -- be they asteroids or primitive rockets or the great creatures that floated through space as if it were water -- smashed into each other, ricocheting off at unpredictable angles and leaving small flares of heat as motional energy became heat energy. There was a rich story there for those who would read it. But the results of that wave -- it was truly nothing. Order, structure, matter, life; all broken down to nothing. Nothing to be seen, nothing of value, nothing to arise from it ever.
Nothing. How do you fight nothing? And, through the hundred and one planets of the Traken Union and the billions of people upon them, and the intellect and wisdom he could call upon from them, he knew there was no recourse, no magic wand he could wave this time. His predecessor, after his reign of over a millenium, might have fathomed that seemingly magical course, but now it was just Luvic, Keeper of barely a month. He had so much more to learn, to give to his people; and now it seemed that he would never get the chance.
· · · · ·
Consul Katura gazed over the plentiful fields of Traken, and saw her gentle childhood in them. Of course, this was not her home planet, but the serenity and the honest, simple work of the farmers were the same as where she had been born, and indeed with all one hundred and one planets of the Union. Her childhood, by Galactic terms, had lasted forty-three years. It would have, as with all but the very select few, lasted her life, but she had been chosen as a Consul. It had been the time of Selection after a Consul had died. This time, that fateful occurrence of only once or twice a millenium, it was her planet's responsibility to proffer a Consul.
The Keeper had come to the fair planet Katuria, the thirty-first planet of the Union, and he had looked over the serene fields of it just as Katura now did on Traken. He had looked over the planet, searching for the one person the planet had to offer who could make the finest Consul, and possibly even, someday, a Keeper. This time a female was to be chosen, and she had been Selected. Her old name was forgotten, and the Keeper formally named her Katura, after her planet, and she was the only one of that name in the entire Union. She had come to Traken, to stay until she died, where it had all started. It was the ancient seat of power, the place from which all the people of the Union had originated, many millenium ago. And yet, paradoxically, it was excluded from the rotational Selection.
A hundred planets, a billion people on each, a Selection or two every decade as older Consuls died, and she had been Selected. Her childhood ended.
She looked over those fields, and then back to the four people -- two women, two men -- standing behind her. The four new Selected. Never in all of the Union's history had there been so many Selections at once, for even at the beginning there had been but three Consuls, later expanded to five. And now she was the senior Consul. Previously, even though she had been the eldest for quite some time, Seron and then Tremas had been the dominant Consuls. She was now unavoidably the Senior Consul; the pressure weighed her down even more. She wished she was a child again.
· · · ·
He had seen it coming, was prepared for it, yet it still struck him a near-physical blow. A whole planet, a billion people, destroyed -- no, not even destroyed, simply gone, not there any more. Treman, thirty-fourth planet of the Union was gone. Part of Luvic, the Keeper, was gone. The Union was reduced to one hundred planets.
At least Tremas' daughter, who Tremas had somehow managed to bring to Traken as a baby when he became a Consul, was no longer there. Lovely child. If only he could remember her name.
He looked again to where Treman had been. Nothing. Nothing. He went to Traken.
· · ·
Something caught her eye. She turned, and looked across the fields again. In the distance, a dark mass came towards her, silently and yet noisily. A great storm, or an even greater cloud of dust? She shook her head -- this was certainly neither of them, and nothing else she had ever seen. She sensed the confusion of the Consuls behind her, and then heard the howling. From across those perfect fields came a howling, a rushing sound, of - nothing. She saw land, crops, people disappear, disappear beneath the moving mass. She turned and ran.
The Keeper was in the Sanctum when she arrived. The Keeper, not Luvic. How cold he had seemed in the last month, as if he cared no more for the people of the Union as people, but just as numbers or pieces to shuffle round some board. "What is it?" she cried out in despair, as she sensed the building disappearing behind her. Surely the Source was not this unstable -- Luvic was strong, had not been chosen as a Consul for nothing. "What is it?" she cried out again, and that was all she ever said. This was no storm, and there was to be no salvation. She, the four new Consuls, the Sanctum, and three billion people were gone. Nothing. The wave, bubbling slightly as it smothered the planet, flowed onward.
Luvic went to the next planet.
A billion tiny screams, a billion tiny jabs at his body, or what remained of it. A pause, an all too short pause. And then another billion. He grew weaker, felt himself being eaten away as those who formed him were consumed. More tiny screams, and yet he did not feel for them, could not feel for the countless number of faceless people who were no more. He knew none of them, and felt guilty. The wave moved on.
On a hundred planets, people called his Name on this day of judgement, and he could not reply. The all needed him, and he was, whatever the Keepership may have given him, still but one person. How could he go to a mere handful of people while billions died? Not that it would help anyway -- he was the Keeper, the one who waved the magic wand and kept all perfect. As a person, as someone to comfort the hysterical masses, he was useless. He was supposed to stop these annoyances.
He became bitter. While their faith sustained him, none thought of him. He had lost his childhood twelve years ago when he became Consul and had, in one fashion, lost his life when he became Keeper. Even Katura, the only remaining Consul from those twelve years, the only person he had really known for those twelve years (for Seron and Tremas, mock serious, were absorbed by their work, and Kassia was too extreme a personality for the composed Luvic), ignored him. He had become a spider in a web that no fly dared approach.
He found himself upon his home planet of Luvicia, the thirty-sixth member of the Union. He had not been here for twelve years. Even as Keeper, with the ability to travel anywhere within the Union instantaneously, he had not come. Of course, he argued to himself, he had been to busy over the last month to come. Of course.
So he sat on his throne now in the Sanctum of Luvicia, and looked out at his people. They packed into the Sanctum, delirious and pathetic, hoping for a miracle. And they saw there was none to be offered, and saw the despair in the Keeper's eyes, and they too despaired.
Luvic looked out, and saw his father. And did not see him, for the tyranny of the Keepership prevented that. He was just another face, just another panicked person, just another number in the great equation that formed the Traken Union. Except now there was no Union.
And, as if it was foreordained, this was the final planet. The wave rolled on, crashing down onto the planet and washing away great chunks of the Keeper. He was now too weak to even move, maintained only by the dying gasps of a million Luvicians. And the wave came on.
He felt the number of people dwindling; a million, half a million, ten thousand, a hundred, ten, nine, eight... And for a moment they were all equal, the Keeper no longer some supernatural being they did not know. He was not even Luvic, for that too was a pretence. They knew his name, and they remembered, and so did he. And his name was...
The wave moved on.
The sand-castle they called the Traken Empire was gone.
Another sand-castle was not far away.
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