Once There Were Birds

Once upon a time there was a kingdom. In this land the kings and queens ruled their peoples to work the mines, but the people didn’t mind. The people gave the stones they dug up to their rulers. The rulers handed these to the sky gods. The sky gods returned them food and supplies. Things were good. Then some of the mines started to dry up. Rulers had to do with less. To keep the same yield they needed what others had. So they started to take it by force. At first it started with a skirmish here or there. When everyone didn’t know what was happening they were able to take some mines by surprise. But as more and more mines dried up, everyone started to draw lines in the ground and started to dedicate people not to digging up the ground, but to move those drawn lines by force.

War and chaos consumed the kingdom. Kings and queens declared territories and claimed subjects and birthrights. Factions and clans emerged and the gods sat in the sky and watched. They floated above battlefields fought for what remained in a mine. They didn’t care which side was victorious, only that the contents of the mine be given to them from the winners.

Sometime in the mire of this chaotic time a girl named Contra was born. She started as nearly everyone did: toiling in the mines while control of it flipped from monarch to monarch. On a day like any other, she moved stone from earth to cart, when an object fell from the dirt nearby. She had heard of strange objects before and whispers that such objects could feed a town for many spans. Were she older, she could have prioritized the need of the many over her own curiosity. But she was young, so she hid it. She tucked it into her clothing and sought to explore it later on her own.

When she was alone at night she tapped at its glassy surface. The flat object showed her things for which she had no words. It showed the sky, full not with the sky gods that watched them, but other things. Towers of rooms stretched into the sky, in between them she saw tiny things swooping through the air. She didn’t have words for them, but they were birds. At first she just watched. She cried. She couldn’t explain why the tears came to her, but she knew she was looking at something from which she had been cut off. The visions showed her a sudden loss of a world no one on the planet could even begin to remember. Not only were there birds, there were clouds. There were oceans. She saw colors that didn’t show up in their world anymore.

Contra didn’t know what it meant at first. She just knew that it showed her a version of the world she couldn’t get from reality. She hid it away each day and each night she would let it light up her eyes until it lit up her dreams. She figured out it did more than just display things. She could tap on it to change what it showed. Eventually she worked out enough of its rules to get it to display what she wanted when she wanted it. Most nights she made it display the birds. She studied the birds with a curiosity one can only have for things one has never seen. Where at first all she saw were similarities between these creatures and the sky gods, now all she saw were the differences. A sky god could sit in the same spot in the sky watching, but she learned a bird had to first climb the air before it could look like it were floating. Even then, it would have to land. She tried copying the movements of the birds a few times with no results. This was before she learned more intricacies such as the structure of their wings and their less dense bones. She would never admit to anyone, but she cried when she figured out she would never be able to fly like the birds did.

Years passed as she learned all she could about birds. Then she learned about more than just the birds. She learned about the other missing elements of her world. As more time passed she became more knowledgeable about what had been and she became angry. For with the knowledge of what was, she also learned how it came to be that they no longer were.

The sky gods arrived and called themselves friend. They made contact with the leaders of the world at the time. The numbers of leaders weren’t fewer than those now, but they maintained a more peaceful relation those of her time. The people of this world were technologically advanced, but the sky gods had so much to show them. They would only show them though if they agreed to certain conditions. So the people of the world had to unite. They wanted to advance further and the sky gods were showing them the path. So they coalesced. They appointed a leader so they could grow.

This leader’s name was Garth. He became the face of the world. He stood for all the people of the planet. He negotiated with the sky gods for access to their technology. He had the support of a council, but he had final negotiations with this new race. He was the leader of this new era. He was the bright light leading the world into the future.

He was until he wasn’t. He warned the council about the sky gods secret propositions. The promises to expand his riches while depleting the planet’s. He was replaced. He tried to gather support against the sky gods and council’s collusion, but no one would listen to him after he was discarded. He went underground.

With a new less opposing leader, the sky gods continued their assault assisted by the council that kicked Garth to the side. The sky gods wormed their way through the society unopposed. The laws shifted subtly, but fundamentally. They weakened the people before the people knew they would even need to fight back. They called it the seventeen minute war. But they didn’t call it that for long. The sky gods destroyed the cities. The buildings fell, and then they razed even the rubble. They destroyed the history. First the ways to keep track of it, then the memories which were much easier to eliminate. They destroyed the culture. Anything that reminded anyone of the way things before were stripped away until all that the people were, were what the sky gods allowed them to be.

Contra wiped tears from her red skin the first time she saw this. She wiped tears from her eyes whenever she reread it. She wiped the tears from others when she relayed it to them. She told everyone she could. She travelled from kingdom to kingdom telling of the past. She gained a following. She brought back the names of places as she recognized them from the tablet. She fell in love. She swayed the minds of kings and queens and had the foresight to tell them not to strike. Not yet. For she had found a possible solution to the sky gods. Through more and more research she had finally found where Garth had gone underground.

Contra then discovered she was with child. Some of her followers urged her to stop or slow down for a bit, but she would not be deterred. She knew that she wanted her child to grow up in a world free from the sky tyrants. She didn’t slow down her search and instead searched harder. Until finally, she found Garth’s resting place. It wasn’t much. She was glad she had been alone when she found it. She found his journal. It detailed his last days. She cried. The hero she had imagined was underground forging weapons to hurl into the sky, didn’t have much left to build those weapons with in his underground hiding hole. A bed, some rations, a device like her tablet that wouldn’t turn on and a pod. She read the journal and found out that the pod was a last resort: a way to escape the planet if he could never figure out how to defeat the sky gods. It was his way to get out if he gave up, but he never gave up. Garth was no saviour, but at least he died without giving up.

She was sad he died in vain, but angry he had never lived up to her imagined legacy of him. Contra didn’t know what to do. She had been sowing seeds of discontent among the people with the hopes that she would be able to find the water and fertilizer able to grow them properly, but now it seemed they would have to sprout without the oceans and the clouds and the birds to complete the ecosystem. How would they be able to defeat the sky gods without some hidden advantage?

She spent the rest of her pregnancy in the cave. The rations allowed her and the father to live away from the world. Away from the chaos she had helped breed. She kept sending messages to her followers telling them to hold off for a bit longer. They respected her wishes, but said once she had her child, it would be time.

Contra reread the notes in the journal about the escape pod. She prepared it. She gave birth and named the child Garth. She placed him in the pod. She tucked a blanket around her little red boy. She tucked the tablet down next to him. She pressed a button and it broke through the mountain and out into space.

The pod nourished Garth and told him the tale of his planet and his mother and repeated her words on loop as he travelled through space.

Garth I am sorry. I know this is hard.

I have a request I hope you regard.

Remember your people,  remember me.

Remember this place from which you are free.

Remember the clouds, remember the birds.

Remember this tale, forgetting no words.

Wherever you stop, No matter which star.

Remember your job: our story’s last guard.

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