Friday, May 15, 2009

Wordzzle 63 - Covered in flowers

This is my contribution to this week's Wordzzle. Wordzzle is a game in which each week word lists, used to create stories, are given on the blog Views from Raven's Nest. Participating users post their stories on their own blogs.

This is the seventh time I've played the game.

Ten Word Challenge:

Green goddess,
please and thank you,
Operation Marigold,
throw pillows,
up the creek without a paddle,
wedding ring

Flowers were ubiquitous now, ever since Mother Nature, the Green Goddess, had instituted Operation Marigold. And it wasn't just marigolds either. Flowers of all kinds were everywhere. It was almost like the land had gotten a shampoo, washing away the traces of man's destruction.

People had tried to talk to her, to convince to back down, or to just do a little. She listened to them, as in groups or singly, they came before her and presented their cases. It was more often than not the same case, like a filibuster that went on and on. Even as they talked, though, flowers grew up around them, covering their feet, and flowering vines twined around their legs, and flowering trees grew up beside them.

They finally had to retreat, going back to their cities, which became increasingly isolated as the flowers and plants covered the roads and airports. They grew up to the buildings, and up the doors and walls. Some people tried to cut their way out, hacking at the plants with knives and axes and machetes, but they might as well have just thrown pillows at them, for they grew right back. They even tried burning them, but they were too green to burn, and any damage was quickly healed. Some did succeed, though, in catching their own homes or buildings on fire. No one could respond to such fires. No fire truck could make its way through the clogged streets. Sometimes the people were able to extinguish the fires themselves, and sometimes not, and the buildings burned until they could burn no more, and flowering plants grew across their ashes.

The government leaders got together, as best they could, and discussed what to do about the situation, and whether anything could in fact be done about it. The general consensus seemed to be that mankind was up the creek without a paddle, and what little remained of it after the coming mass starvation was going to be in the forest eating roots and berries.

Finally, one of them said, "We've got to convert her to our side. There's no other way. If she doesn't get on our side we'll perish."

"But how do we do that? Person after person has already tried talking to her."

"We're going to have to do this the old fashioned way," the first man said. "The way it was done in Europe in the old days, to cement relations between countries that otherwise might not really like each other. We have to send someone to marry her."

And so they did. A man was chosen who was tall and muscular and handsome, and who could talk in a very convincing way. He was given stretchy colorful spandex clothes to wear, so that he looked something like a comic book superhero. He was trained endlessly in what to say and do, and many, many possible approaches to winning her over were worked out, in case the first few didn't work. Finally, he was given a wedding ring for her, and sent to meet her.

"So, yet another one comes," she said. "I thought you had all given up."

"No," he said. "We have not given up, although things do look pretty hopeless for us right now.

"If the situation is hopeless, why not accept your fate, and return to the forest and to nature?"

"In a way, I am returning to nature, for I have come to you."

"But after you speak and fail, and all the others have failed, you will return to your city and try to keep nature away as much as possible, to try to put off as much as you can the encroaching end."

"Perhaps, but I do not intend to fail."

"Speak, then, with your pleas and proposals, but do not speak too long, lest you be unable to find your way back through the wilderness that is growing up around you."

"First, many people have come before I have to ask you to stop this."

"Yes, it's always please, please, please, and never please and thank you."

The man paused. In all the training, this was something that had never come up. "You want us to say thank you?"

"Why not? I am restoring the earth, wiping away the damage caused by man."

"You're also wiping away man in the process."

"Not everyone will die, but quite a few will. Most of them, in fact. Other species go through such cycles, though, of boom and bust. It's all a part of nature."

"If we say thank you, will you stop and let us live?"

"Thank you would be nice to hear, but it's too late now to stop. It's been too late for a long time. To stop now would allow your species to overrun everything again, and no matter how much you personally would assure me of this or that, you would have no control over it."

"What if we became part of nature again, to such an extent that you would not have to reduce our numbers, at least not quite so drastically."

"Whatever of you is left will become part of nature. There will be no other way to survive."

"Yes, but not as many really have to die to accomplish it. Most of us, maybe almost all of us, can survive."

"How might this be?"

"You could make giant trees, bigger than redwoods, with natural spaces inside that could be used for rooms. You could do similar things with other plants, in places where the ground is too rocky or too soft or too watery to support the giant trees. You could also make new fruits of all kinds that would supply every nutrient that we need, and that grew all year round, and streams that always flowed with clear fresh water so we would always have some to drink and to bathe in. Plants also would supply us with fibers that could easily be extracted and woven into cloth, and plants on which a durable, long-lasting paper grew, and plants that could supply us with pens and writing implements, so that we could retain our history and something of our knowledge. All this and more could be done."

"Yes, it could. But why would I do it? Why would I make a special case out of you, when all the other animals have to make do for themselves?"

"Because we are kin, or will be." The man got to his knees and produced the ring. "I'd like to ask you to marry me."

She looked at the ring, and at him.

"I am sincere," the man said.

"I know you are sincere. Such things cannot be hidden from me. All the empty talk from all the others failed, though, no matter how sincere and desperate the pleadings.

"I am sincere, and I do not talk empty talk. Married to me, you would have a stake in how well your extended family was doing. You would not want them to perish or suffer hardships. It would be only natural for them to hold a special place in your heart, and for you to supply them with everything that they need, and to watch over them so that they came to no harm, and to make sure that they followed the right path, the path of harmony with nature."

She considered. "All this is true, but only if I should marry you. Why would I marry you?"

"To have a companion."

"I have many companions. The animals come to me and eat from my hand."

"It is not the same. They are not on your level. We are not on your level, either, but we are much closer, at least intellectually, than they are."

"Perhaps, but they are closer in spirit. And though they cannot speak as you do, their thoughts are clearly heard."

"They still cannot talk to you on a level that we can, and you still cannot talk to them as you can to us, and to me."

"What if talk is not enough?"

"We may not be in love right now, but that is often the case with arranged marriages. Love can and frequently does come later. We can grow into it. We can have children, too, that combine our best qualities. You have the power to ensure that this is so. Through these children, all of mankind could eventually be enhanced."

"Another master race, then, replacing man?"

"No, it would be a case of man becoming a master race."

"What of a time after you, though, a time when you are gone? There will come such a time. Even if I make you wise and healthy and long-lived, near-immortal even, there will come a time when either I tire of you, or you tire of me and you find yourself with someone else. You will do it knowing all that you would be giving up, because you will be unable to stop yourself. You will not be able to hide it from me either. I will know when it happens, and I will know when you are thinking of it happening."

"In such a case, should it ever occur, or should we find that for whatever reason we can no longer be married, you can always choose another from the ranks of men, using whatever means you think is most appropriate."

And so she accepted the ring, and the marriage, and everything else, and it all came to pass as he described, and mankind lived with nature in a world of peace and plenty, in endless springtime, and their marriage lasted for centuries, uncounted centuries, for no one kept track of such things anymore.

Mini Challenge:

lamb chops,
clever devil

The stingray was a clever devil, and ate the lamb chops and Skittles without chagrin.

Mega challenge:

Green goddess,
please and thank you,
Operation Marigold,
throw pillows,
up the creek without a paddle,
wedding ring

lamb chops,
clever devil

Operation Skittles had failed, as well as Operation Marigold. Some senators had filibustered against the last one. They knew little about it, but no one did, it was too secret. They just didn't want the name of a flower for a military operation. In fact, the name did have something to do with the actual endeavor, though no one would have guessed it. The name for the previous operation didn't, but how could it be a secret, if the secret was revealed in the name? What name would be best, for an operation that invaded Hell?

Some people had suggested that a more forceful name be used for the next attempt, that the low-key and perplexing names given to the previous attempts had worked against them, and been part of the cause of their failures. Others argued that a forceful and dynamic name, and in particular a bloodthirsty one, as some people championed, also worked against them because they sounded like something the Devil might support.

In the end, the next, and everyone hoped the final, operation was named Shampoo. Operation Shampoo had to be a success, they said, mostly because they preferred not to think of what would happen should they fail. Each attempt, each opening of the portal, each invasion into Hell, strengthened the portal. Each time, it became a little bigger and a little stronger. If they failed this time, they were really up the creek without a paddle, because the portal might not close well enough to keep the demons out, perhaps not really close at all. The Devil and all his demons might be able to come and go as they pleased, and it might please them to make a lot of trouble while they were here, and to take a lot of people back with them when they left.

The first operation had failed resoundingly. It wasn't that a bunch of clever devils were being sent to fight them. Many such things existed, for they could be a very devious and calculating lot, but the ones sent to fight them, at least so far, were just brutes. It took a while, too, for it to dawn on the humans that the demons liked pain, even their own, and their screams when they were shot, knifed, blown up, and mangled were at least partly of delight. For brutes though they were, they were fully aware that such activities degraded men, and the demons couldn't get enough of it. The men were overwhelmed by demons hoping to be maimed and killed, and ready to endlessly torture if they weren't. Most of the men never got away, and were still trapped there, undergoing torments that no one wanted to think about.

In the following attempt, Operation Marigold, they didn't even throw pillows at the demons, instead bringing armloads and truckloads of flowers, hoping to destroy them by kindness and generosity. The demons flinched and drew back, but eventually managed to terrify someone enough to break him, and he ran and then others ran, and there was a stampede, with some being crushed underfoot, while the demons laughed and chased them, grabbing any who were too slow.

It was now deemed too dangerous for actual people to attack. The demons would always win somehow, because people were too weak and too easily provoked into doing something wrong. Now, in Operation Shampoo, machines would be sent. Robots, large and small, would be sent everywhere, looking into the most hidden places, and drone airplanes would fly through the skies, looking from above. The men would be found, and when they were, would be rescued with armor-covered robots carrying weapons. It was thought that destruction caused by robots would not really count as destruction by men, even though the robots were the creation of men and were sent there by men and told to hurt and kill by men. Not everyone agreed with this analysis, but there seemed to be no better alternative.

Afterward, after they had all been saved, or as many as possible were saved, then massive armored vehicles would enter, ten of them, robot controlled and spraying poison gas in all directions. The robot vehicles would separate from each other, going as far as they could in all directions. When they had reached as far apart as they could safely go, or, since the ability to maintain communications was uncertain, if a predetermined amount of time had passed, they would all blow up. The hope was that they would all do so at the same time, but, in the end, they would take what they could get. They would never know what happened for sure, because the portal would be closed long before the bombs blew up. It would never be reopened, and anything that survived the bombs and the radiation and the poison gas would be trapped there forever. Anything that survived all that they really didn't want to have to deal with anyway.

If for some reason they were unable to fully close the portal, and some of the explosion or gas made it back through it, they were ready to accept that. Tall embankments of dirt and rock would be put around the portal before anything was sent in, though a clear path had to be left for the robot vehicles. After the ones with the poison gas and bombs went in, the opening for the path would be quickly closed. If part of the blast did come through, it would hit the walls of dirt and rock and be directed mostly skyward. There might still be a bit of a problem with radiation and fallout, but hopefully not too much.

The machine operating the portal would be destroyed, though, if any of the blast came through. Without the machine they would be unable to even try to close the portal, but they were going to bury the portal in concrete anyway. Even if they had managed to close it before the explosion, and nothing came back through it, they could no longer trust that it would remain closed. They knew that in the end concrete would not be enough to keep the demons out, but they hoped that it would seal it long enough that the opening would close on its own.

Things were almost ready now. The generals sat around the table, talking over things, trying to think of anything they might have forgotten, when suddenly a woman appeared, a faint glow about her. The generals stared at her, transfixed. "Who are you?" one of them finally managed to say.

She looked at them, not saying anything. They looked back, though it was hard to really focus on her, and her form, though seemingly solid, seemed to be constantly shifting, like an image seen through ripples of water. One of the generals looked away and began to squirm in his seat.

Finally she spoke. "I am the Green Goddess. One of your names for me is Mother Nature, but I have many other names. You have no idea what you are doing, or what you have done. Do you think that by destroying a small portion of a place you can get rid of all of them? Would blowing up one city here get rid of people in distant cities? It is the same way there. Those that are left, and that would be almost all of them, will want to get you all the more, and the portal, already strong enough that you can barely keep it closed, would absorb the energy of the blast and become an opening wide enough for armies to cross, armies marching side-by side and not in narrow lines like you do now. You do not have the ability to close a portal of that size. It might close naturally over time, gradually shrinking over thousands of years, perhaps tens of thousands of years, provided no attempt is made to keep it open. Such an attempt will be made though, because they would not wish to see it closed. And so it will never be closed, and they will come through, endless numbers of them, and your world will become their world, to do with as they wish. They will not kill all of you, not even most of you, because they want you here to feel the pain they will inflict."

There was a long period of silence. Sometimes one or more of the generals would look at each other, but no one seemed willing to speak. Finally, one of them said, "I don't believe you. What's to stop me from killing you right now?" and drew out a pistol and pointed it at her.

The other generals drew back in their seats from him, and one of them said, "Now, let's not be hasty--"

"Shut up! We don't really know who she is, or if what she is saying is true. Aren't real gods supposed to wear togas, or if she wants to be modern, at least a tight spandex costume like the superheroes in the movies? As far as I can tell, she's not wearing anything. In any case, I've never managed to add killing a god to my list of achievements, and this might just be the time. Now, if she is a god, we'll see how a god dies."

The goddess looked at him. "You cannot harm me, and you might find that your weapon will malfunction if you even make the attempt."

"Yeah, well, we'll see about that, and we'll see what happens when a real bullet goes through you." He began to press the trigger, but then paused, staring at the gun. Orange-red rust crept over it, blossoming out, giving it a soft look. Part of the barrel fell away in pieces on the table. Bullets rolled away, leaving lumps and flakes behind them, until they were too small and lumpy to roll anymore. Suddenly his fingers closed together, a cloud of rust particles coming up and then settling down over them. He stared at his closed hand, wide-eyed, then looked at her, a sickly smile of chagrin on his face.

"What I did, they can do. All of your weapons, including your bombs and poison gas, could be destroyed by them, at least by the stronger ones among them, as I did with the gun. They have not done so, because they don't want it to be that easy. They love the terror and the killing and the destruction. And they want the bombs to go off."

"They want them to go off?" one of the generals croaked.

"Yes, they have been planning on it for centuries, for thousands of years actually. They knew the time was coming when once again men would make such things. And they knew that once again men would fiddle with the portals, thinking themselves in control, when they never are. The beings are very patient and can wait a long time, longer even than the life of civilizations."

"No!" said the general who had tried to shoot her. "You're just trying to rob us of our glory! We almost had them with the flowers! We'll think of something."

"You do not even know what you are fighting. You have no idea what the enemy actually is. You picture them as things from your Christian theology, devils and demons, beings from Hell. In reality, such concepts are fairly recent ones, and these beings date from far older times, long before Christianity. People in older times had far better ideas of what these beings actually are, though the accuracy even then varied with the rise and fall of civilizations.

"The entities you are referring to as devils and demons are actually beings from a parallel universe, one with slightly different physical laws. Their universe is as big as ours, though they only inhabit a small part of it, as you do with your universe. You say that you almost had them with the flowers, but they were scared of them not because they were afraid of peace and love, but because they were afraid that the flowers were carried by emisaries of me."

The generals looked at each other again. "You have had dealings with them in the past?" one of them finally said.

"I have a long, complicated history of interactions with them."

"What are we to do, then? Is there no hope?"

"Here, take this," she said, taking a ring off one of her fingers and holding it out. It had a gold band in the shape of a snake with its tail in its mouth. On the snake's back was what apeared to be a gold stingray with its wings and tail curled up, holding a round glowing gem with strange green and blue patterns, almost like seas and continents.

"You're giving us your wedding ring?" one of them asked.

"It is not a wedding ring. Beings such as I do sometimes wed, but we have our own customs and traditions about such things. One man, alone, must take this in there. He must hold it out in front of him. He will not be harmed while he has it. He must ask to see their leader. The language spoken there will not correspond to any of the languages currently spoken here, but it will not matter. They will know what is in his thoughts. Similarly, they will be able to make themselves clear when they speak, though their language is not his. When the leader comes, the man is to tell him that the descision has been made, that the portal will be closed and that neither side will enter the other side. Tell him also that all the men that have been captured are to be returned with no further harm done to them, and that the remains of any who have been killed are also to be returned, as much of the remains as are left. The man is to stay there until all of this is carried out. You must say this as I have said it to you. Do not leave anything out, and do not change anything or add anything to it."

"No! It's a trick!" shouted the one who had tried to kill her. "She's had dealings with them! She admits it. The man we send will be torn apart and eaten by them. He will be just more lamb chops to them!" The generals turned back to her, questioning looks on their faces.

"He will not be harmed, not as long as he has the ring. They know the ring, and they know who gave it to him. They will not even try to scare him. They will treat him with the utmost respect, being terrified of doing anything wrong. They know that if any of them does something in the faintest way negative toward him, that being will be immediately consumed by the others. They do this because they know that they themselves will consumed by their superiors if they do not. They do not fear anything you can do to them, but they fear what they can do to each other, for they can operate at the level of the soul. The leader himself will treat the man with respect, because he knows and respects the meaning of the ring, and because he knows that he will deal with me if he does not."

"If you're so big and strong, why don't you do to me what you did to my gun? Why don't you just kill me right here, right now?"

"Your gun I destroyed as a demonstration and as an example, and to show that you have no power over me. There was also a chance that you could have hurt someone with it, perhaps even yourself. You could not have hurt me. It is not necessary to do more against you. The example that needed to be made has already been made, and you personally will not be able to alter the course of events. You do not matter."

For a moment the general stared at her, and then his head slumped dejectedly and he looked much older. He turned and shuffled out slowly, still muttering. "You'll see! There's no dealing with such creatures! No 'please and thank you' talks with things like them! You have to destroy them before they destroy you! We're like lamb chops to them! Nothing more than lamb chops, I tell you..."

And so Operation Shampoo was abandoned, and a new operation, called Lamb Chops, was begun. A volunteer was trained carefully for the mission, and finally given the ring and sent in. The beings, ubiquitous at first, ran from him as soon as they saw him, before he could say anything. Not able to meet any close up, he called out after them that he wanted to meet their leader. When the leader came, he was so terrifying in appearance that the man couldn't look at him, and had to talk to him with his face pointed to the side. The leader treated him with courtesy and respect, though, and agreed with everything he said.

All the men that had been captured were returned. Most of them were in pretty bad shape, but no further harm was done to them after the request was made. It did not have to even be relayed. Those involved simply knew, and stopped doing what they had been doing. All the dead were also returned. Sometimes there wasn't much left, sometimes only some teeth and scraps of bone, but there was always something. When everything was done, the man returned through the portal.

At that instant, a woman's hand came out of the air and seemed to grip the fabric of reality tightly, pulling it closed. There was a moment of disorientation, and then things felt normal again. The man looked and saw that the machine that held the portal open was gone, in its place a mound of dust. Then he felt a hand on his wrist, and looked down at it. There was the woman's hand again, fading out in mid forearm, still with no body attached. It felt strange to have such a thing touch you. A woman's voice said, "You will not be harmed as long as you hold the ring, but they do not forget, and even with the portal closed, their powers can have some reach here. Come with me." And the hand pulled him through something, into somewhere else, and he was gone.

Operation Lamb Chops was declared a success, though not to many people, since few knew of its existence. All the soldiers brought back, and all the ones that had been in the previous operations, were told that there had been a chemical accident, and the fantastic things they had seen were just hallucinations from the chemicals, and the injuries that some had received were attributed to them running about madly and getting hit by cars, etc. The dead were treated differently, and were assigned whatever reasons for death that were most convenient and convincing.

All the records, on paper or in computers, of how to build the machine to open the portal mysteriously vanished. The scientists involved couldn't remember what they had done, and came to doubt that they had actually done it. The military, though, being what it is, decided to make another machine and open another portal. Surely there were better universes to visit. So far they only knew of that one, though, the one that had seemed to be Hell. They would probably have to go there first, just briefly of course, to see if the machine actually worked. After that they could try for the other universes.

However, anyone who was assigned to work on building the machine either couldn't make any progress, or mysteriously disappeared. One worker swore he saw a hand reach out of the air and take one. Nobody believed him, but after a while no one wanted to be associated with such a project, and the project was abandoned, at least for now.

Somewhere out there, though, an unimaginable distance, and yet closer than we would like to think, something patiently watched and waited, willing to wait for centuries if necessary, even for centuries of centuries, for the right moment to come to pass. It did not name its projects, not Skittles nor Marigold nor anything else, for everyone knew what everyone else was doing, and there was never any confusion. But also, in that place, in the end there was really only one project, and everything else they did was only a part of it.

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Blogger Raven said...

Wow! You spin an excellent yarn! Two, actually. Thanks for pointing out the link for Kipling.

4:43 PM, May 16, 2009  
Blogger Akelamalu said...

Very clever I enjoyed all your stories. I like how you wove the 'mini' words into such a short but perfectly believable sentence! :)

4:49 AM, May 17, 2009  
Blogger CJ said...

Very imaginative ---and WOW! three responses. I don't think I'll have have time for more than one.

12:24 AM, May 23, 2009  

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