The Last Festival

desert crossing

Found at a travel blog

“…I’m trying to erase you from my mind …you’re my religion and my belief…”

This wasn’t Yunin Obia’s first pilgrimage to the Holy City for the Festival of Qet but it would be her last. Every devotee of the God Slaz was required to travel to the great city of Shilarbor once every year for the Qet when Barkon’s orbit brought the planet closest to its sun. Motorized ground or air transport was allowed but it was considered a greater act of piety to make the journey on foot.

Yunin was healthy and relatively young and so encased in her skinsuit with the required possessions for the festival strapped across her back, she trudged across the soft sand from dusk until several hours after dawn each day stopping when it became too hot to go on. Then she slept in her insulated body tent until the desert permitted her once again move forward.

Occasionally, she would see another pilgrim in the distance. Sometimes they travelled in groups of three or four, but again, the greatly pious made the trip on foot and alone. Yunin had chosen an approach that was distant from aircraft flight paths and vehicle roads to accentuate her solitude. It also made it possible to hear the God Slaz’s voice a little sooner. She wanted to see if He knew what she was planning.

“My child.”

“I hear you, my Master.”

“You approach with great purpose.”

“All who love you approach Shilarbor with great purpose. My duty to observe Qet is no more lofty than another’s.”

“In you the purpose is different from any other the others. Tell me about it that I may receive your prayers before you enter the Holy City and kneel within my Temple.”

“Does not the great Slaz already know the purpose of each of His servants, my Master?”

“You call me ‘Master’ yet you are not submissive to me in your heart, my child.”

He could sense her as He did all of the others, but she had an advantage in her mission. There were millions of pilgrims converging upon Shilarbor all at the same time and many millions more had already arrived. The God could divine all of those individual voices but He couldn’t always tell which voice came from which worshipper. Slaz would not be able to identify Yunin as the rebel, and informing His Priests who were also His guards and executioners that there was one outlaw among tens of millions would do them and the God very little good.

Of course if He should locate her before her task was complete, He would find many creative ways to make her beg for death.

The sun was rising in the East behind her when she crested the last dune and beheld the Holy City in all of its magnificence. As the multitude of travelers converged at their destination, they ceased to be solitary walkers or small clustered groups and became crowds and then mobs choking each of the city’s gates. This served Yunin as well since custom required they all wear identical ceremonial robes, recite the same prayers of devotion in unison, and otherwise be indistinguishable from one another.

She doffed her skinsuit at a prearranged place outside the city. Pilgrims could rent containers for the equipment they needed to make the desert crossing so they could find their property again after the end of the festival. Yunin was unconcerned about any return walk. She was only concerned with concealing one precious item in her prayer bundle. It would be just large enough.

“I can hear you, child. You are among my children.”

“Yes, but you can’t tell who or where I am.”

“In the Holy City.”

“Yes Master, but we are all in the Holy City, all making the appointed rounds to the fourteen sacred shrines and finally to the Temple itself.”

“How can you do this to them and to me?”

“How can I not, Oh Great God? You teach your men to rape girls and boys as young as four, to treat women and lower castes like property, to wage wars of terror with the people of other nations who do not worship you. You are a God of horror and infamy and I will end your devotees and you.”

“They are not all guilty of what you imagine, child.”

“Everyone here is devoted to you, Slaz. Every man has raped how many children? Every woman lives like a slave in torment and misery and worse, they think they deserve it because you and your Priests have brainwashed them.”

“It’s not just that, is it, child?”

“No. All of your devoted ones are here except for the very sick, the very old, and the very young. All of your children are here including every single one who makes bombs, plants them in cars and school buses, conceals them in their clothing to blow up eateries and libraries. I can stop world terrorism in a single act.”

“It’s not too late, child. You can perform an act of contrition. I will still take you back. Set aside your sinful plot.”

She was just entering the Holy Temple through the wide gates in line with the others. The God was in a chamber above but what she planned wouldn’t kill Him directly because you can’t kill coalescent energy. However, you can kill what provides it with power and cohesion.

“The punishment you will receive in the Afterworld will be great, greater than any torment I have assigned to other sinners because your sin is the greatest of all.”

“There is no Afterworld, at least not the one you profess, and ending evil is not a sin, it’s an act of sanctity.”

“You are near. I can sense that. In the Temple no doubt. I am getting closer to your thoughts. Repent before the Priests find you. There is little time left.”

Yunin had reached the center of the Temple. It was dark with illumination coming only from the entrance behind her and the exit ahead. She was among the thousands who now knelt and then bent forward over their prayer bundles. The bundles of all the others contained sacred objects belonging to their families and their community worship houses, icons that brought pilgrim and penitent spiritually closer to The God and brought honor to the Holy Festival of Qet. Her’s held something else entirely.

Four hundred years ago, the first colony ship from Earth arrived on the planet Barkon and eventually, representatives from every people and society on the Mother world made a home here. The first explorers of the desert region discovered the ruins of Shilarbor and an energy source within them functioning at a very low power level. It wasn’t long afterward when they found out that the energy source was not only alive but sentient.

It was called Slaz (that was as close a pronunciation of its name the human tongue and mind could manage) and a now extinct tribal society worshiped it as their God. Without worshipers it was slowly perishing but once it had been recovered by the expedition, it began to feed again, converting scientists and adventurers into Priests and evangelists. Now nearly four centuries later, almost one quarter of the world’s population were of Slaz.

Yunin had been too. Some part of her still was she supposed. But she was also different. Maybe it was a brain defect which caused her to be able to doubt, even after being exposed to the telepathic indoctrination of her local Priests (the first three men to rape her vaginally an anally when she was only four and then later to call it “religious education”)

Yunin Obia was also a nuclear physicist with a Most Secret security clearance. Even with that, the fission device in her prayer bundle had been extremely difficult to smuggle out of the research facility she worked for. But that struggle was over.

“It’s armed, Slaz.”

“I know, but you will never escape the blast. Here, my Priests have arrived to apprehend you.”

The crowds around her were parting but slowly because there were so many pilgrims and they were so deeply in prayer. The Priests of Slaz were only armed with ceremonial swords for the festival. If they had partical weapons or even projectile guns, she’d already be dead, though she wasn’t anticipating surviving very much longer. She only had to live until she detonated the device.

“Good-bye, Slaz. A God cannot live without worshipers.”

The closest Priest was only a meter away, his sword poised to strike. “You, stop. Let me see your hands and then…”

Geostationary Weather Satellite Three recorded the nuclear explosion, one just large enough to consume the Holy City of Shilarbor. Yunin Obia had attended her last Festival of Qet. So had almost all of the worshipers of Slaz. A God cannot live without worshipers.

I wrote this for the Lyrical Fiction Friday challenge hosted by Simply Marquessa. The idea is to take a lyric from a specific song and use it as the inspiration for authoring a poem, short story, or other creative work. The lyric for 25 January is “…I’m trying to erase you from my mind …you’re my religion and my belief…” (the link to that page won’t be active until sometime on the morning of Thursday the 25th).

I had a tough time with this one. At first, I was going to write about a woman abused and brainwashed by her lover/husband to the degree that she worshipped him virtually as a “god.” It would have been the story of her growing as a person and seeking her liberation.

But I wanted to write something more supernatural and there have been any number of fantasy tales about the passing of the gods due to a lack of worshipers and a decline of their religions.

I decided to go more in that direction, but made my story science fiction instead of fantasy and casting an alien energy being in the role of a “god” rather than a spiritual entity.

Telepathy and mind control would be an excellent way for a sadistic “god” to control a population of millions but what if one of your devoted ones has a brain defect, not one that affects intelligence but one that minimizes psychic control? Further, what if she has access to the materials necessary to build a nuclear bomb and the skills to do so?

I’m not being anti-religion here. I’m a person of faith. On the other hand, Slaz is not God but an evil-minded energy being that feeds off of suffering as well as devotion. The only way to end “the god” would be to end its enslaved people, or almost all of them. Would those few who did not attend be enough to keep it alive?

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11 thoughts on “The Last Festival

  1. Well, now, it seems to me that a few more questions might be asked. First, could the dispersant energy of the blast possibly affect the coalescent energy of the Slaz? Maybe it wasn’t so invulnerable after all. Second, if it had been able to telepathically influence only a quarter of the planetary population, what of the others? Were they immune? Were they simply beyond its range of influence? How many constituted this remaining three-quarters of the planetary population? What archeological evidence might explain the decline and extinction of the original tribe of Slaz worshippers? Were they wiped out by others on the planet who were repulsed by the behavior of Slaz devotees, or did they decline to extinction by attrition of their own numbers? Was it possible to become bored or otherwise disenchanted with Slaz? Put another way, was it possible to become immunized against its influence? Did it have any vulnerabilities except starvation from lack of devotees? Did it have any means of self-defense against direct confrontation? Apparently it couldn’t induce any sort of paralyzing or overwhelming hypnotic state in Yunin, but could it do so to others? Was there a range of differing susceptibility in humans, so that only some could be inducted as priests and evangelists while others could only be influenced to rote actions? Perhaps some could not be influenced at all? Perhaps Yunin was not unique?

    Having now posed questions intended to clarify the conditions under which the above story developed and operated, let me now step outside its universe altogether, to pose a different sort of question about the parallels that might be drawn from this little parable, to events or ideologies within our own little universe. Have we, here, a thought experiment about a fitting response to the mores and doctrines of Islam or some modern radicalized militant version of it? It does envision turning the tactics of terrorism against the source of it. It doesn’t, of itself, invoke the question of holy war waged against an oppressive system from the outside. But if the solution to such a misanthropic religion as depicted in this story is to wipe out its devotees wholesale, the “innocent” along with the guilty (presuming that such innocents exist and that their society’s “cup” of iniquity is not yet “full”), what negative “blowback” impact would that have on those who perpetrate the slaughter? In some measure, it points to similar questions associated with another story you wrote recently, about a preventive justification for using a nuclear weapon to destroy enemy facilities that would have allowed an oppressive and violent regime to complete its efforts to develop such weapons and use them for much worse and more wide-spread destruction. What inimical conditions or imminent threats are required to exist in order to justify indiscriminant massive death and destruction as a means to eradicate or neutralize the source or cause or propagation of them?

    I appreciate that you write epilogs about your storied responses to these various “challenges”, indicating your developmental thought process and motivation; but in this case I wonder about a deeper well of motivation from which larger issues may be addressed.

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    • Certainly I was writing a metaphor for religious and other groups that exercise undue influence over their followers to the detrement of said-followers as you have suggested.

      As far as the mechanics of Slaz, he could take a great deal of control of those he directly contacted but also imbue them (his Priests) with a similar telepathic ability, but less potent. Slaz certainly wasn’t all powerful, but given nearly 400 years, he managed through his Priests and evangelites to capture about one-quarter of the world’s population. Of course, not everyone was suseptible but initially Yunin was. However, an unusual quirk in her brain made it possible for her to shake off her yoke and see the horror that Slaz really was.

      The nuclear explosion may have “blown away” Slaz, but Yunin couldn’t take the chance that he’d be able to eventually reform, so she had to take out the majority of his “energy supply” with him, namely most of his worshipers.

      As far as the tribal civilization that had gone extinct thus reducing his worshipers to zero and condemning him to a slow “death,” yes it’s possible that “the god’s” appitite for sadism and carnage got out of hand and the indigionous population wiped themselves out, and I admit to not giving a lot of thought to them. I just needed a justification for the colonists to move in on a planet not already possessing a competative species and yet have Slaz need devotion and the suffering of worshipers.

      If I had wanted to write a longer story, I could have fleshed out the details a bit more, but often I don’t have the time to do certain topics justice. One of my faults is that I want to push through a story quickly and then move on to the next one.

      It has been suggested in other works (the “Conan the Barbarian” Marvel comic book from the early 1970s and the Star Trek episode “Who Mourns for Adonis”) that “gods” cease to exist when their worshipers either leave them or die off. I just dusted off the idea and applied it to my tale.

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      • Of course I recognised the sources of the notion you employed about gods needing worshipers, and the entity in your story was thus designed, but when Jelli decided to embrace the notion so enthusiastically I thought it worthwhile to point out that not all gods fit that profile.

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      • Understood, although it’s difficult to know exactly what a person means when the only cues we have are plain text. Sometimes nuances are lost.

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    • Thanks, Jelli. I just started reading Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel “A Handmaid’s Tale” (which I’ll subsequently review) and may have more to say later on, although my world view is very different from her’s.

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    • The would-be god Slaz, the pretender of this story, apparently could not live for too long without worshippers. That statement of principle might even be applicable to other gods, those of human invention. But it would be a mistake to generalize that statement as a fundamental axiom, because the One-and-only genuine G-d Who created the cosmos, be it a universe or a multiverse, existed before He called any of it into existence and He will continue to exist after everything ceases to exist. That is the fundamental axiom which describes the Jewish G-d HaShem, as expressed in the ancient Hebrew hymn “Adon ‘Olam” where it includes the phrase: “v’Hu hayah, v’Hu hoveh, v’Hu yihiyeh…”. Thus, by definition, He does not require worshippers to define His existence, nor to energize Him nor to sustain Him in any way or in any degree. It is those who pursue His enlightenment who benefit from *His* energy, rather than the other way ’round. Even those who do not, nonetheless still benefit from the energy that He continues to invest in His creation to maintain its existence — though the principle we observe and call “entropy” shows us that He is allowing it to run down rather than to have it be infinitely self-sustaining. Such is the Eternal One that Jews may be said to have “discovered” and described to those who might read their writings. But the nature of what they described is of a being Who invents Himself (“I AM that I AM”, or, “I will be that which I will to be”), rather than of one who can *be* invented. A little philosophical pondering can reveal that *only* such a G-d could be capable of creating a cosmos — but that discussion can become far too elaborate to embark upon it in a space like these comments. [:)]

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