Earth with Heaven
The storm was roaring,
The temple of Nippur,
the storm was roaring,
Heaven with earth
earth with heaven was talking.
— The Barton Cylinder. Surface A. Column 1. Lines 7-14.
The king stood at the rim of his tower and looked up, back the way he had come.
The night sky glowed yellow-black. The dust of the tower’s descent had dissipated, but clouds reflected the lights of the city below, obscuring the stars.
Only a few bight points twinkled around the face of a single celestial body. An earth-world. Giant, pitted, impossibly close, it gleamed like old teeth.
Ki An-da, King of the Tower, Emperor of All Worlds, the Pinnacle of Achievement, turned his face away from that hoary light. Twelve twelves of Beads clattered in their gold-wire cages, and swinging on their strings from neck to navel.
The high astrologer flinched back, lest he touch a Bead and die.
“Where are we?” Ki An-da’s voice rumbled like the motors at the base of his tower. Dead now, their Beads passed to their apprentices, now training for war.
The astrologer licked his lips. “Well…”
“Surely you know.”
Ki An-da’s hand went to the Bead at the center of his second necklace. The Bead-that-Called-Rainbow-Stars rattled in its cage, no longer warm as it had been, pinched between the king’s fingers for nearly a year. Most inscrutable of the Beads.
Ki An-da had expected Rainbow-Stars to guide his tower to a new world, a world he could remake for the pleasure of the gods. Instead, the gods had brought him and his settlers to an already inhabited world. A world whose men had displeased the gods, and required to be remade again.
But more importantly, a world whose sky had already been charted.
“The stars are very faint, sire,” said the astrologer. “The lights from the city interfere with our observations.”
Ki An-da’s hand strayed out to his fifth necklace, and a Bead-that-calls-Force. Flanked as it was by two Beads-that-Restrict, it would project a flat sheet of force, a cleaver that would slice this fool in two if he did not please his king.
“Even I can see that giant world in the sky,” Ki An-da said. “Do I need astrologers at all?”
The astrologer bowed very low, hands swept back and fingers splayed to show he held no Beads. Sweat beaded on the man’s bald pate.
“Yes. Sire. The world. It circles this one. It is certainly distinctive, is it not…?”
Ki An-da brought his fingers around the Bead-that-Calls-Force and the astrologer barked: “the Moon, sire.”
“The Moon.” Ki An-da had never heard the word before.
“We can’t be sure, sire. The legends are fragmentary. The prophesies,” he swallowed, “vague.”
The king did not ask questions. His advisor answered anyway.
“Yes, sire. The Gods’ reward, sire. The wages of man’s toil. After we have made enough worlds bloom for them, the Gods will return us to the garden from which — ”
“Silence.” If the astrologer continued, Ki An-da might begin to tremble. He looked back up at the Moon, and felt an emotion he had not known for decades.
The king stared up at that cratered face for long minutes, mastering himself. Finally, he spoke.
“After five thousand years, our work is done. The Gods have brought us home.”
“I think so, sire.”
Ki An-da brought himself back to business. “If you’re wrong, I’ll kill you myself.”
“Thank you, sire. To be certain one way or the other, we must see the other stars. The lights from the city…” The man, looked out over the rim of the tower, past his monarch. “…those strange lights.”
Ki An-da grunted. Strange lights indeed. They did not flicker like flames, stars, or the Beads-that-Call-Light. They shone like bronze or silver in sunlight, unwavering. Nor did the natives seem to posses weapons, or defenses, or any Beads-that-Spoke in anyway way Ki An-da’s alchemists had been able to recognize. They only flew around the tower in funny little air-boats or simply gathered around the foot of the tower and shouted in an incomprehensible language.
Weaklings, then. Or else fools who refrained from striking first. Let them be strengthened, then, let them be taught.
“Very well.” Ki An-da turned on the pinnacle of his tower. He faced the city, and his hands went to the Beads that hung down his chest. “Summon your men to the observation stations. I will put out these lights.”
Daniel M. Bensen