A World Without Light

There is no such thing as goodness. There is no one you can truly trust. Life is about manipulation. These three sentences were taught to children from an early age, who soon learned that they lived in a world where everyone had to fend for themselves. A horrible world where horrible things happened, because someone allowed it. A world without a future, except for darkness. Ruled by a faceless leader, never seen, but always heard, this world was a grim, depressing place where everyone distrusted everyone else. Believing that people were inherently evil, this ruler enforced his law with an iron fist. Those who trusted others were regarded as fools. But those who got caught commiting evil acts were made an example of.

The culture in this world was based around the concepts of discipline and retribution. People were thought not to let their reasoning be impaired by petty things, and to treat others the way they had treated them. There was no religion, and most art was centered on the futility of life and on the horrors of the human soul.

The people were cold, cynical and manipulative, always looking for second intentions in every word, every deed. Always looking at hints of betrayal and manipulation while looking for ways to steer others to their own ends. In such a world, it was impossible for families to exist. The very concept was alien to them. Everyone was artificially bred and taught to be self sufficient and self reliant at all times. Nobody ever expected a helping hand, and everyone was suspicious when one was offered.

The ruler of this world seemed to have an ultimate goal. Perfection. He was harsh when necessary, but no one would call his decisions unfair. However, his view of the world cast a dark, heavy cloud of depression upon his people, who always felt they were imperfect, flawed, unworthy. Despite the incredible level of technological evolution, this world was isolated, surrounded by layer upon layer of impenetrable defenses. Colossal cities were spread across three huge continents and some islands, but for some reason, a large archipelago near the tropics had been deemed off limits by the ruler a long time ago.

There were essentially two groups of people in this world. Those of the first always sought to reach perfection, attempting to live up to the ruler’s impossible ideal. They thought themselves unworthy, and humbly attempted to purge the evil and flaws they saw in themselves. They had a sense of duty, and sought to prove that there was something more important than material possessions, and although they were not as paranoid as the rest, they were often afflicted by the same compulsion to look over their shoulders. The second group, however, was made up by master manipulators, always hungering for power, prestige, wealth and influence, always scheming and plotting. They were jealous, arrogant, self-centered and their greed knew no bounds.

In this state of affairs, there was little progress. Some felt that this was the apex of their civilization, while others thought that any improvement would simply take thousands of years. And so things continued, for a long time. No one truly remembered when it had all begun. The faceless ruler seemed to have been presiding over the world since the dawn of time.

However, there were rumors, strange tales whispered in the night. Tales of a different world, a different life, where things were not so grim. Tales of a culture where people were together, united, able to trust each other. Some even spoke of a place where people were not artificially bred.

But why? If these things are taught to children, someone cares enough for them to teach them. Is there no maternal love for instance? Why is this mindset prevalent?

That’s an interesting setting, Manus (and one that resembles parts of real history more than we care to admit.) I’m reminded of a Justice League story where they were transported to the homeworld of the evil counterparts, The Crime Syndicate, and found out that not only their enemies ruled that World, but the very philosophy of the common people was one of extreme selfishness. They could beat their enemies, but how to save a world like that? Do they even want to be saved?

And of course, there’s Darkseid’s Apokolips, where the people are brutally trained from childhood to be cruel and obedient.

A story that explores how such a world may change could be interesting- but also harder to write than usual.

This leader had apparently been ruling since the beginning of time, since there was no one who could find a single trace of a time before his coming. Some wondered if the very world they inhabited was his creation. He was present in every historical record, in every major event that had shaped this civilization. He had decided where and how the cities should be erected, how the laws that conditioned people would be, and he had set the standard for everything. As far as the people could remember, they had always been artificially bred, raised by robots and educated by computers until they reached an age where they were deemed fit to fend for themselves. From that moment, they had the freedom to do anything within the ruler’s law. Most of the population was highly educated, but they only seemed interested in learning of ways to increase their power, wealth and influence. Literature was something only a few cared about, and most people were fascinated with intrigue.

The law was enforced by the dreaded Black Guard, a faceless force that had unquestionable authority and acted directly under the ruler’s orders. They were among the few in the planet who were allowed access to weapons, but the fear and respect their very presence commanded made them hardly necessary. Those who had done nothing wrong had nothing to fear, but since the ruler appeared to be omniscient, he knew of every single misdeed, and wrongdoers were dealt with accordingly.

Thus, the people lived in a state of relative freedom, but their belief in the evils of the world kept them conditioned to expect only evil of others. The perfection seekers often argued that the mysterious ruler was testing them, perhaps seeking one among his people who was truly worthy, one who was capable of following his rigid code of conduct, one who could go against what he had been taught and prove that there was more to the world than just evil and deceit. Unfortunately, these perfectionists were often scattered and unaware of each other’s existence, forming only small groups at the very most, since they could not convince others of their views and the ruler seemed to discourage people from getting close to each other. They often debated about that, wondering if he truly meant to keep people apart, or if it was merely another test. They secretly held the hope that their leader might actually be trying to teach everyone a lesson, to prepare his people for something, or to improve them.

Most of the leader’s laws were fair and logical, and even those who tried to find ways around them admitted it. However, there were a few laws that seemed bizarre. Of all things forbidden, two stood above all the others: something called a close relationship, and another called intercourse. Nobody knew what those words actually meant. The very concepts seemed alien to the people, and even though they had extensive scientific knowledge, including biology, they were unable to understand the meaning of those two prohibitions.

In a dark rainy night, the Black Guard was called into action once again. Although they usually carried out their assignments discreetly, that particular arrest involved a lot of screaming and some violence.

In one of the massive apartment complexes, somewhere in one of the cities, a man was trying to sleep while the raid was going on right next door. He was tired, and like most of the perfection seekers, he felt a great weight upon his heart. Despite his high level of intelligence, he still could not fathom the faceless ruler’s true goals, and therefore, he could not find a purpose to his own existence. His nights were restless, and his days spent in anguish. His job as a librarian meant he had little to do all day, since most people had little interest in culture and literature, and that left him with too much time on his hands. The job itself was a futile attempt at keeping himself occupied, since despite the practically inexisting demand for librarians, all libraries were run by the ruler’s administrative system, and he had personally intervened to give them a higher than average salary, perhaps as an incentive for people to expand their already vast knowledge. The only purpose libraries served most of the time, however, was as clandestine meeting spots for the perfection seekers. A few had somehow stumbled across each other while looking for tomes on the lost art of philosophy, and despite the universal upbringing discouraging human interaction, they had formed small groups, scattered across the world.

In the ruler’s abode, forbidden to all but the highest ranking officers of the Black Guard, an ominous figure completely covered in black was sitting on an elevated throne. The room was completely made of metal, cold and unwelcoming, and devoid of decoration. Suddenly, the colossal double doors of the chamber opened, and two officers stepped in and bowed before the ominous throne.

“As you requested, the criminal we have apprehended has been brought to your presence.” one of them said, without daring to look at the hooded figure for too long.

“Very well, Commander.” the figure said with a deep, dark voice that sent a chill through their spines. “And one more thing. It is time to inform the population that I will not tolerate any more pseudo-religious nonsense. Next time I catch someone trying to conduct sacrifices, I may just hurl an asteroid at this forsaken planet. Any religion that goes against basic decency and morality should be made an example of. Now bring in that worthless cur.”

Despite the world’s state of affairs, or perhaps because of it, a few of the more cunning manipulators sometimes tried to appeal to the masses and feed them some form of false mysticism, usually setting up a cult and attempting to control others through their false teachings. These cults were usually quickly exposed as fakes, as attempts at brainwashing others and manipulating them into giving up their possessions, but some of them were of a more insidious kind, appealing to the emptiness in the people’s hearts by carrying out bizarre rituals. Sometimes, things went too far, and the ruler’s intervention was swift and merciless. He regarded such cults as yet another abomination, another sign of how flawed the people were.

While perfection seekers usually took it upon themselves to denounce false religions, some of them were sometimes lured into the fold, bringing endless shame to their kind.

The guards dragged in a man wearing a bizarre tunic, with a few small blood stains on the chest and sleeves.

“Do you know why you are here?” the ruler asked, sending the man into a state of sheer terror. The guards scoffed at the man, although the voice always scared them almost as much.

“You are here because you are a criminal.” the ruler said, chilling the man to the bone. “You are nothing more than scum, trying to manipulate others by appealing to their emptiness. And not content with taking their possesssions, you took their souls and tried to set them on a most barbaric path. Others before you tried the same. What made you think you could escape my wrath?”

The man’s knees turned to jelly, and the two officers stepped closer to the throne.

“We’re ready to transmit, sir.” one of them said.

“Good. I want them to see that there are consequences to their actions. Since taking care of these criminals quickly and quietly does not seem to be doing the trick, I will make sure they watch it.”

At the same moment, the signal of every television network on the planet was overridden, and every screen instead displayed the somber room. People stopped whatever they were doing, startled at the sudden appearance of their reclusive leader. They had the feeling he wasn’t pleased, and they were right. Upsetting the ruler to the extent of making him intervene personally was something that terrified them, the equivalent of divine wrath.

The people shivered as the tall, ominous figure got up from the throne and seemed to stare straight at them.

“Once again, you have greatly disappointed me. Time and again, you insist on sinking to the level of beasts. Time and again, you prove that I am wrong to allow you to go on with your petty lives. This whole world is one colossal disappointment. When you are not indulging in your greed and depravity, you are looking for ways of manipulating others. You disgust me, as a people, as a civilization, and as a species. This vile creature attempted to set you on the path of pseudo-religious slaughter, and that I will not allow. False religions have no place in this world, and they will be dealt with without exception. Anything that goes against basic decency will not be tolerated. Therefore, I want you to know that there are consequences to your actions. As a people, you are a failure. You disgust me. I gave you everything you could possibly need, but you lack the decency to coexist in mutual respect. So here is a warning. As of right now, the penalty for attempting human sacrifices will be the complete and utter destruction of the city where such an act takes place. In fact, I should probably pull a comet into a collision course and wipe this pathetic planet from the face of the galaxy altogether. This is your last chance to prove that my efforts were not wasted. You have had the comforts of civilization for thousands of years, and yet you kept degenerating from the very first day. I should probably demolish your cities and let you fend for yourselves. But for now, watch the consequences for starting false religions.”

The hooded figure raised a hand, and billions of eyes watched as the man was lifted from the ground and started floating in the air, held in a vicious grip by an unseen force. Then, all of a sudden, he started screaming in agony, and the two guards backed away even further. Flames started gushing out from every orifice in his body, and then breaking out through his skin as well, until he was completely consumed from the inside out and reduced to falling ashes.

“This is the price for selling your soul by indulging in such disgusting practices. Do not defy me again.”

Hey, I almost screamed “Force Grip”. > >

The image faded shortly afterwards, leaving the whole world stunned. After a few minutes, life returned to its usual pace, but no one would forget what they had just witnessed for a long time. The manipulators understood the ruler’s message clearly, and grudgingly refrained from attempting any further religious shams, fearing his retribution. As for the perfection seekers, they rejoiced, but were still feeling disoriented.

That night, in one of the libraries, a small group of would-be philosophers gathered. They had spent their entire lives looking for a semblance of meaning, and some of them thought that by understanding their ruler’s motivation, they would be able to glimpse the unfathomable purpose of their existence.

The library looked modern, well furnished and quite comfortable, something that often confused cynics, since most people had never set foot inside one. With a little help from the librarian, several chairs had been set around a large round table someone had managed to find somewhere. Around twenty people were now sitting there, discussing the events of the day and the theories they were attempting to form, while the librarian watched, apparently lost in his own thoughts.

“After all this time, I believe I finally see a pattern in all of this.” one of them said.

“Care to enlighten us? Our Lord’s actions are strange, and this society completely dysfunctional.” another one replied.

“Let us take a look at the bigger picture. What do we have here? We have an apparently omniscient ruler who enforces his set of laws. However, none of those laws force us to do anything. His laws basically tell us what we are not meant to do. That leaves us free to do what we are allowed to, in any way we see fit.”

“Although that may be true, it seems to contradict our education. By making us think that we are alone in this world, discouraging us from forming attachments and teaching us that trust is foolish and that life is all about manipulation, he seems to be baiting us into breaking those laws.” a third man said.

“Ah yes…” the first man continued “But if you look at it carefully, ultimately it is still our choice. And as we all know, it is quite easy to give in, to take the easy path to quick satisfaction. It takes courage and determination to go against this tendency.”

“What are you suggesting?” a woman asked. “That we are being tested? That he is seeing who will have the courage to go against the flow?”

“It makes sense…” the first man said “In a twisted sort of way. This world is extremely advanced, yet most people lack basic values. Instead of being satisfied with what they have, they seem to dedicate their lives to getting more. And what for? It’s an empty road. And what are they going to do with power, influence, wealth and prestige when they’re dead?”