The God builds worlds for fun. His scribe, sick of the divine dollhouse, plots revenge.
A breath of hot wind through the open tent flaps scoured the scattered pages of his discarded script with blown sand. He was used to the rhythmic snoring of The God sprawled on a pile of goat skins in the shade at the back, but this new sound made him stop. Laying down the quill he stretched his fingers, tempting his ancient bones back into the shape of a hand.
“It is a good beginning, scribe, but you’ve a way to go before we’re done.” The God was standing behind him, peering over his shoulder.
“Don’t do that!” Amaneus’ knees jerked against the edge of his table. Scrabbling for the ink bottle, he kept it upright but took a moment to blot a few stray splashes and calm his breathing. This was no time to show fear, however fast divinity moved. “I will need more, if You please.”
Obviously reluctant, The God picked up the jewelled knife from the bookshelf and paused, considering the network of small blood vessels feeding the main vein in his wrist. Amaneus settled into his seat, his wiry frame thrumming with anger and contempt. This creature thought nothing of having trapped His Scribe in an old man’s agony for eternity but flinched to suffer a nick in His own, perfect Flesh. Finally, He placed the blade against His Wrist and pressed down. The light faded.
With a dismissive sniff, Amaneus fed the bloodstained scrap of cloth he clutched into the flame of his lamp. It flared for just long enough for The God to recover His Composure. Had He been brave enough to cut a larger hole, the ink pots would have been refilled within seconds but at this rate it would take days. Time was nothing to The God. He would not notice had the single piece of paper He had so far deemed acceptable been ruined by His sudden waking. Despite the number of times they had done this, He had no comprehension of the difficulties of converting his grandiose ideas into coherent instructions for new worlds, and He seemed not to care anyway.
He would have turned away after one bottle but Amaneus pointed to the pile of crumpled sheets awaiting revision, weighted to the desk with a silvered chunk of fulgurite.
“You are a hard taskmaster, My God. I will need more than that.”
Bored by waiting, The God had spent several days before his last sleep carving shapes out of sand with lightning bolts and had given this one, very like a human skull, to Amaneus to use as a paperweight. Its empty eye sockets had witnessed his nightmares as he slept at his desk, unable to escape the fact that what he had written killed men. When The God turned away to resume milking His vein, the old scholar’s stern expression gave way to the glee of a mischievous boy: what he would write next could save some …
Amaneus came to. The God gestured at five full bottles with a flourish and a splurge of blood. Another sudden gust caught the droplets and carried them out of the tent. They looked at each other. Amaneus was horrified and even The God seemed disconcerted. His Blood was the literal stuff of creation. They knew from experience to be careful with it.
Amaneus shook his head. “Yes, that is most certainly enough.”
The God kissed His fingers and blew into the wind. “My Blessings upon the land.”
Wherever that blood landed would become central to the fate of the coming civilisation, for good or for ill. Likely ill. Made in Their God’s Image, men could not resist power but, unlike Amaneus, they never appreciated what a mixed quantity the God’s Blessings could be. The leftover boy in him crossed his fingers while the old man hoped the coming race learned that lesson quicker than he had.
“Perhaps we should reconsider the stone tablets?” Grinning at His Scribe’s pinched expression, The God picked up the first page of this new Word and held it up to the sunlight. “Paper is barely less temporary than man. And this world has potential, I feel it.”
“I craft words, not rock.” Amaneus sharpened his quill. He had long envied masons, those simple artisans satisfied by carving images of a better afterlife untroubled by the true nature of divinity or the need to ensure that their labours were scripturally sound, work which Amaneus himself hated. Angels were such troublesome creatures.
“Had we not decided that the point of this particular exercise will be to test humanity’s independence? You cannot study man’s interpretation of your wishes if the original version is scrawled on the side of a mountain for all to see.”
The God’s laugh thundered through the vault under the sky. The ground shuddered.
“Amaneus, my friend, it is a joy to be here, as ever. I will miss you when you send me away once more.”
Braced over his work to protect it from the inevitable roof fall, Amaneus didn't bother to argue that The God did exactly as He pleased and would not be sent anywhere. The scribe knew he had only been brought into being - and kept there, unnaturally as far as he was concerned - to witness and applaud the heights of divine imagination. Conjured from mud, blood and a fragment of godly toenail, Amaneus had been the first and, so far, most enduring creative experiment; having watched evolution spawn infinite failures, he knew all too well that even a comma in the wrong place had consequences. They’d rewritten The Word enough times for him to have anticipated that joking with The God shifted continents. Creation was trial enough even when the world stayed still.
The God had stifled His Giggle with one slender hand, but not quickly enough to stop the earth rippling.
When everything settled, Amaneus was no longer in a tent on the surface of a desert. He was in a cavern underneath it. The golden silk had become a mineral gilt coating on rock walls, glittering in the thin light of the oil lamp. The trail of blood drops that had splashed unnoticed against the material had transformed into shimmering veins of ruby. With the easy fascination of a three year old, The God ran his finger up and down the tracery, pushing them deeper into the rock.
“This planet is so fragile.” He mused. “Poor workmanship on my part, no doubt, but these little idiosyncracies make it so much more interesting, don’t you think? Watching eternity is tedious enough. Without the odd change of scenery and someone to talk to face to face, it would be unbearable. Amaneus, I can’t tell you how glad I am that you’re here. In other places, the burden of creation is mine alone.”
Another seizure shook the cavern. The God bent to lay one hand flat on the sand at His Feet and the tremors stopped. Tiptoeing across the cave floor, He clambered a few steps upwards to blow gently through the slit that had once vented smoke from the tent. Rock careened like motes of dust through new subterranean passageways. Amaneus glimpsed a sliver of sunlight a hundred feet above.
“While you’re going to need a lot more candles, you won’t have the trouble of mending the rips in your walls. And as a caveman rather than a nomad, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to work on your masonry skills.” The God paused, letting the silence swell with portent.
His Scribe cringed. Portent was never a good sign. Something else had occurred to The God.
“I don’t think we’ll have an afterlife this time. You’re right, of course. Angels are such troublesome creatures, no sense of humour.”
Amaneus glared. He had hoped that repeating the conversation about being free to think without scrutiny was unnecessary. It seemed not.
The God shrugged, unapologetic. “The chatter of sainted humanity quickly becomes tedious, especially if I can’t talk back. And you remember the last time we tried reincarnation - all those detached souls with nowhere to go.”
As Amaneus shuddered in agreement, his flickering shadow set sparks jumping in the new gold of the cave wall, catching The God’s attention.
“Hah! I’ve got it. Let’s do that.” He nodded at the rock. “Use what’s there for a different purpose. Not reincarnation, but ... recycling! Siphon the energy back into the next generation and see if they do better. And we won’t bother waiting for them to hatch from single cells this time. I’ll give them a head start so we get to the exciting part a bit sooner.” He picked up a file and rasped at a thumbnail, letting the dust drop into one of the ink pots. Sparks flew, promising life.
Amaneus considered for a moment. The God’s fondness for humanity, despite its many failures – not the least of which was their utter and repeated failure to get to grips with the concept of recycling until it was too late - suggested a personal familiarity with the condition. On the few occasions where the creative process had diverged from what had now become its familiar route, The God had been disappointed. Because genius reptiles and self-aware insects didn’t seem to need to believe in something greater, He’d taken to weighting the evolutionary scales to encourage humans into existence. Amaneus always picked up the little accidental differences that occurred along the way – pregnancy had been both more ticklish and more painful than anticipated the only time he’d tried it – and he was still hopeful that the digestive tract might yet turn out to be an unnecessary inconvenience that could be done away with. Maybe this time …
Meanwhile, it wasn’t actually a bad idea, giving people the chance to accrue virtue through their bloodline. In fact, he thought it would fit in well with his own plans. He nodded.
“No argument?” The God was pleased. “What are you waiting for then? Go on man, write.”
Amaneus picked up the quill once more, fixing on the pain in his cramped fingers to the exclusion of all other agony. In the old world, there had been fifteen villages strung out along the road from Arakin to Mahyen but nobody would remember them now. Nobody except himself.
“I will remember them, Amaneus,” The God said gently. His occasional compassion was the only thing that redeemed Him in the scribe’s eyes, even though it was only an echo of what it had been when they had first started out.
The God plucked a couple of fibres from his nondescript tunic and soaked the twisted threads of his tunic in a gob of spittle. Tiny diamond splinters splattered the rock. “They sang well.”
Amaneus nodded. He would remember them more for their early cultivation of wheat, the best whiskey he’d ever tasted and their resistance of the temptation to massacre each other on the slightest whim, but it was nevertheless true that in the absence of war they had taken the time to sing well enough to please their creator.
“Even I can have too much of a good thing, however.” Using the nearly burned out wick to light the new one he had made, The God set it in the oil and tapped the shoulder of the terra-cotta lamp to refill the chamber. It burned bright as a new star in the dimness.
Amaneus shivered. Vain, whimsical and self-absorbed, He might be, but The God had limitless power to create and destroy. It had been a pleasure to witness in those long ago days when The God had been content to let man evolve but now his lack of care in manipulating humanity for His own ends made it a joyless terror. Amaneus longed to be free of it.
The God turned back to His skins – tigers, not goats, would be the common game in this world, it seemed - and wrapped himself up, ready to sleep again. “There must be less music and more action this time round. See to it.”
When the scribe looked up again the wick had burned nearly to nothing but, although the dank, underground air hung about his shoulders, there was yet warmth in his blood. Rummaging in the basket at his feet for a candle, he lit it just as the lamp sputtered out. He smiled, a little crazed, remembering how the realization that The God’s Light could fail had inspired him to plan his escape. Now, at last, his masterpiece was done.
One by one, he held the pages up to the dim glow, looking for imperfections and taking immense pleasure in the strength and agility of his re-vitalised hands. The God was still dreaming of other worlds, his attention turned to torturing other creatures in other dimensions. Fear welled in the scribe’s throat as he fought his overwhelming desire to simply lie down at The God’s Feet and sleep.
Once, three or four creations back, he had given in, thinking that they would both simply fade into the primordial darkness. But, of course, The God had woken just in time to relight his lamp and pull His Scribe back from the brink of oblivion.
Amaneus had been as furious as The God. In the world that followed, the scribe had not been content to take his normal role as a shadowy, grandfatherly presence, cloistered in a holy building, chronicling the failure of civilization. Instead, he deliberately became a monster. An immortal ruler with a hatred of The God who denied him rest, he had driven the terrified citizens of that world into a religious fervour. The God had enjoyed it immensely and let it go on for generations longer than was kind to His Creations. Buoyant on a tide of global prayer, He had intervened to end it seconds before Amaneus triggered a weapon that would have rendered the planet sterile.
The next rewrite had been a revelation to them both. They had talked, honestly, of the thrill of absolute power, of where that power might come from, and of the dangers of under-estimating the creativity of the human race itself. But when all was said Amaneus remained cowed by his shame, while The God had embraced the possibilities of despotism: the harder people’s lives, the stronger their faith. Things had been brutal since.
The scribe set his spine and pushed his chair back, deliberately scraping it against the rock and tangling one leg in the strands of vegetation growing from the contaminated pot of blood. He would have to do some hard bargaining to get the deal he wanted and life here had already begun. It was time to get on with it.
The God yawned, waking slowly. The cavern thrummed with His Power, reborn and vital.
“Your Word is rewritten.” Amaneus stretched, relishing his renewed youth. His young fingers flapped a sheaf of pages The God’s eyelids until they flickered open. With that bright, ageless gaze upon him, the scribe smiled. “My God, welcome to a new world.”