Aphelion Issue 279, Volume 26
December 2022/January 2023
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Are We There Yet?

by Richard Tornello

We are called wizards, witches, warlocks, magicians, priests, gods, scientists -- and frauds. Our titles equate to the level of development of the society in which we exist. We are trained in languages, current, ancient, and forgotten. We study the sciences and arts. We are caretakers and we are shape shifters molded to fit the given environment. We are dedicated to progress. Well, most of us anyway.

The caveat we accept upon taking The Path, not known by the populations we serve, is that we must have a following, a group that is dedicated to us. Without support we disappear and perish. Ignore us and we go away. Abandon us and we die. We need followers as much, no, more than they need us. They can continue on as they are until their sun collapses, supernovas or burns out.

In a modern world, the scientist/polymath, is the highest and most coveted status. As such he or she is supported by the society as a whole. Unfortunately some worlds sow the seeds of their own destruction through ignorance and pride. Most worlds are generally better for it; understanding the power and progress inherent in the technology.

In the Lesser Worlds, we are witches, magicians, wizards, and at the base of the pyramid, we are gods and devils, omnipotent, all knowing and feared. In reality we just are, and that's all. However societies must begin somewhere. Organization is the key. Fear is the carrot and stick that works most every where getting the cart of civilization to move.


I'm the youngest of Them all. There were so many they ran out of names for me. I was called "Him". I am "Him" to most everyone. And that, folks, is how I introduce myself: "I am Him." Names are nothing but mental place holders. No big deal, you could call me Tim for all I care.

They all picked on me. "Your powers are weak, your physics are flawed, you don't know anything. Go away. You're such a loser. We have better things to do then let you hang out with us. We have real work. Go find some bugs to impress."

Being the youngest I got the dregs. Everyone else has the good planets. There was nothing left for me by the time I reached the age where I was supposed to, "go out unto the universes and make one world my own". Yeah, right. Critical to my existence and survival or any of our kind's existence and concomitant power is the fact that if we don't succeed in gathering a flock (I liked that term, "flock". No one else was using it. The "flock" idea and its defined implications came to me through an incident), We die! There are no second chances; no reappearing later. This is not a dress rehearsal existing in a god-eat-god universe. I needed to convince a group of people -- a few people -- two would do as a start! -- of my scientific/magical/wizardry skills. Hire Me! I will create for food.

What I was to discover over time was simple. I had to present a convincing reason for anyone to buy into my story and existence. Just being doesn't sell.

In the beginning...

Out of "kindness, I was given a shot. The world I was handed operated at a cultural level that was, to put it nicely, retarded. Even here the "best spots" were taken. Golden Calves, Bulls, Giants, Swans, and all manner of mental constructs "roamed" this planet of semi-civilized warlike apes.

To Expand:

One's career is one's pride. I don't care if one is a scientist, witch, or a god; one has to have a job in order to feel worthwhile. Without work -- and an appreciative audience -- our kind perishes, disappears, ceases to have ever been. What's worse, we're not even missed. There were so many others roaming the planets vying for supremacy, a totem, an award or a niche at a minimum.

I needed to eat, to work, make a living, and no one wanted duck decoys. I carved these for relaxation and possible profit. I couldn't even give them away. A duck god did not present a very strong picture either. I was a lousy carpenter too. That was something else I needed to work on later.

I hunted around, seeking, but no takers. All I could do was to keep knocking on door after door, or, in this case, scratching at tent flap after tent flap. What a way to gather a "flock". I displayed my skills all over this miserable little planet. I kept getting any one or more of the following rejections, "We've seen that. Nah, our guy does it better. We've taken up with someone else. No, not interested, maybe next solstice." Staff into snake and back again, big whoop. If it was possible to slam a tent flap, some of the people I tried to win over would have slammed their tents in my face. Sometimes I had to duck the occasionally thrown rotten fruit -- or worse. This went on for more mortal lifetimes than I cared to count.

The rejection really got to me. After a while, dispirited and wondering what was to become of me -- all that time without followers had drained me almost dry -- I spied this loner in a desert wasteland (don't ask which desert wasteland it was -- they all look alike). He was a miserable specimen, tending a bunch of ratty sheep. Smelled like them too. It appeared that personal hygiene was not a big priority out there.

Thinking that I hadn't tried any techie stuff in a while, I figured why not have some fun?. Not nice, but what the hell, things were so bad it .... I dug my particle beamer out of a pocket dimension, torched a bush (too bad -- it was the only thing around that looked like it was thriving), and spoke to him in a booming, amplified voice. Old school, not likely to impress anybody with two camels to rub together.

He fell down trembling like fire of any kind was a miracle.

Whoooo, I am good, I thought. Or maybe sheep-boy is Not Too Bright... Not Too Bright seemed like as appropriate a nickname as any for the guy, so I mentally labeled him NTB for short.

Finally, a potential follower! "What is your name?" I asked him, cranking the subsonics until the ground vibrates.

He told me, slobbering out a string of syllables that sounded like he was working up enough spit to put out the fire. Too glottal for me, linguist or not, so I called him Mike. It was easier on my ears.

I discovered he was in this wasteland, tending his sheep (this is where the flock idea begins to cross my mind) and hiding out from one of the biggies back in The City. Nice place. Expensive. Open all hours and you could get anything you wanted -- for a price. I knew the Big Guy he was talking about -- one of my Kind, from a few classes before my time. What a bully, and as usual picking on this regular sort of guy. He always was a bit of a scheiss kopf.

"Listen Mike," I said, "I know the guy who's busting your chops"

Mike looked confused. "Chops? What are chops?"

"Giving you a hard time, making your life miserable, that sort of thing"

"Yes, oh Great One!"

'Oh Great One'? I thought, Where has this guy been hiding all these centuries? With my luck, he's brain-addled from too much sun, and won't be any use in recruiting more followers. 'Oh Great One'... Still, he was the best thing I'd found since They dropped me on this planet. I was feeling better than I had in decades, soaking up his unsophisticated -- extremely unsophisticated -- awe.

After a decent amount of conversation -- and I had to keep telling him to get his face out of the dirt -- I presented this proposition, "Listen, tell you what. You have any friends? How about family? You want to get out of this dump? Exit this place? You want to move to a better zip code?"

All he picked up on is, "Code? What code? A secret ...."

"No! I mean -- do you want a better place to live?" I really had to match my vocabulary to local conditions if I wanted to get anywhere.

"Yes, Oh Great One!"

'Great One', I thought. I could get used to this.

To Mike, I said, "I have an idea. This is going to take some time. First, personal hygiene. You smell like your sheep. You have to clean up your act if you want to make something of yourself. Get your friends and family together. Please, for god's sake clean up. Get fresh clothes and meet me at that mountain."

I pointed to a large mountain close enough so as to keep him from being noticed by those idiots back in The City.

"I'll be back. I want to meet you on the top. There's a nice plateau. Just wait for me there. It gets foggy and damp, so bring warm clothes and firewood"

"Yes, Oh Great One. But why --?"

"Do it," I boomed, loud enough that the burning bush collapsed into a pile of smoldering embers. I don't know who bleated louder, Mike or his sheep.


I went back to The City to deal with the Big Guy, my older -- cousin. He had a group working under him. They formed a 'Magic Collective'. They denied the concept of peoples or nations to expand their strength -- accepting (or drafting) adherents regardless of race or former religion, and downplaying the importance of any relationship except membership in their group. While internally organized, it was an elite-based hodge-podge. What a bunch of wankers. Maybe they were afraid of what an organized people could accomplish? He and his buddies thought they owned the whole place (apparently They never mentioned to Him that I was being assigned to the same planet). What a limited perspective. This organizational stuff had me thinking... but first, I had a task to accomplish.

After attempting to convince Him to back off Mike and his friends, pleading his case to no effect, I went toe to toe with him and all of his. Me against them. He was good, but he hadn't gone to the upgrade classes in technology, arts and humanities. I had tech and techniques He'd never even heard of, so despite the odds, I figured I could put him away. It would be temporary at best, and it would take some work: see your snake and raise you a swarm, on and on. I was pissed and getting hungry -- the charge I'd received from Mike's boneheaded adulation was running dry. I wanted to get this over.

I played to his ego. Hubris usually gets His type -- but not this time. So I hit him with a quantum singularity that squirted him through to another universe and pureed his followers as they fell past its event horizon. Nasty. Didn't know I had it in me -- hunger and fatigue apparently brought out my mean side.

On my way to The Mountain:

I wondered if the Big Guy sent Mike out here so he and his ilk wouldn't wreck anything too decent. And me? Why me? Why here? Ho hum, make do with what's at hand. Work with the clay you've been given, as they said in ceramics class. One thing I learned out of all of this, be nice only once. If they don't listen to reason, fuck them. Let them have it. This is my new rule for dealing with like beings. However, regarding The Monkey Boys, you have to give a little. At this point in their evolution they head up the NTB department.


Back to Mike:

Mike was on the mountain top, as ordered. He was waiting for me, looking good, clean, tall and impressive. I appeared in a cloud and lots of smoke. If I was going to work at bringing these people up, I might as well have some fun too. I could see he wasn't sure of the situation. Imagine what his friends and family thought. I spent some time with him, hours, days, weeks. I don't keep track of that stuff. It is not of my concern. I filled him in on the situation. "Here's the deal. I need you and you really need me to survive in this place." I gave him a demonstration of some of my "real powers". Remembering too that I was dealing with primitive types here and quantum physics was beyond their ken, I tried to explain the universe in the simplest terms. I gave him a foundation, a beginning, from which to build. I prayed that it sank in with a broader weltanschuung and got those wheels in his head turning pointed toward those larger and greater things. Working through that was another long complicated effort. We must have been up there for better than a month.

It was physics and philosophy for sheep herders, intro class. (I do not want to explain all this again, please! Once was enough.) Maybe just pushing one leader out and taking His place, while simply substituting new names I liked for the old ones would be a whole lot easier. I would be able to relax and exist in a style to which I would have liked to become accustomed. I would think about that depending upon this adventure. It sure would make my business easier and more secure.

"Now back to realpolitik," I told myself and Mike. "I can supply you with protection. No one will bother you too much when I'm around. You, your family and friends and any that want to join our club, have to act like I'm It, the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega..."

Mike's eyes have that frightened-rodent look again, so I finish with, "To believe in Me would be better, but acting the part will do. Most people being sheep..."

He gave me a funny look and smiled as if he understood. If I hadn't seen exactly the same look on the face of a wolf cub, I would have felt confident that I was getting through to him.

"To reiterate, Mike, they must act like I am the Big Guy, your chief, wizard, boss..."

"Club?" Mike gargled. "Chief-Wizard-Boss?"

"Let's try this again."

"Club is what you would sort of call tribe except you gotta pay to get in. Give a little skin. You know what I mean?"

No answer. Only later I find out he took this literally.

"The Chief, the Wizard, Boss bit -- okay, you choose My name. Make it simple and easy to remember. You have free will. Pick a title which reflects, let's say, great reverence to Me. How's that?"

"'God'? Will that be okay?"

I was floored.

"WHAT? You want me to be your god?" (He was nuts! I had been hoping for something else, not sure what, but anything other than that. That's the bottom of the heap -- lots of obligations, not much reward.)

"If not 'God', then what should we call You?"

I sensed that Mike was taking a stronger stance here. This was good.

"'God' is a bit strong...but...if you think it will work....I am....Just--" Mike interrupted before I could get the 'Him' or the rest of the idea out.

"A God with a hidden name," Mike murmured.

It's never good when a follower gets too quiet like that.

"A just God, greater than any other!"

"Mike, you're quick!" I was beginning to like this guy more and more -- although the implications of that 'just' label could be tricky. "Okay, I am..."

"I Am," Mike says it over and over again, jumping up and down. "Yes, we'll call you I Am. No one will ever know your name. By that very reason alone You, I Am, will be protected and so will we through your miracles. All they will be able to say is "He Is."

"Right! I like it" This was better than anything I could have dreamed up.

Back to reality.

"Mike, let's move on. We need an org chart, rules, procedures, CMMI..."

"Please explain," Mike said. "'Org chart', 'CMMI'?"

"Laws," I said. "You understand 'laws'?"

"Yes, oh I Am, sure."

"Okay, this stuff has got to be written in stone, so no screwing around with what I say."

"Oh great one, I am not a stone carver."

"'Written in stone' is just an expression," I said, but Mike gives me the wolf-cub look again, so I said, "I'll do it myself."

I got him to describe their writing system in detail. Then I pulled a laser out of the air and burned the guidelines into a slab of rock. Then I did it again. And again. It took me a while and a ton of rocks to get the grammar correct along with the feeling I wanted to convey. Here were the basics from Positive Social Movement 101 in this his own language. I cut it into two easy-to-carry pieces -- easy for somebody used to hard labor, anyway.

"Mike, I forgot to mention it, when I was gone for that little while I scouted out some great real estate, nice river, good hunting, game, ducks. By the way, I carve duck decoys for relaxation. Want one?"

"Gladly," he said. "We'll dump the golden calf. It's too heavy anyway. We'll melt it down and distribute the gold among the tribe. We'll share the wealth to show we have some backing. This will be a positive incentive for people to join up. Money talks."

Mike had come a long way from kissing the ground because a shrub caught fire in front of him...

"But...not to be too rude," he said, "you mentioned -- something about land?"

"Right, the land: good views, and cheap, just for the taking. Did I mention cheap? You have warriors, yes? They might be needed to convince non-believers... Be prepared. Remember, political power grows from the point of a spear." Oh, I liked those lines, too. I should have added those to the stone tablets. Maybe in the Creator's Cut special edition.

"Yes," Mike said, "Many and brave. It's in their heritage."

"Many and brave what?"

"Warriors. You asked."

"Right, just checking," I said. It never hurt to be sure with Mike -- he could misinterpret the simplest things. "I will lend a hand in the armament arena if needed. You just follow my directions to the letter -- Got It?" This last part I said with Major Amplification to make sure Mike understood that it was an Important Point.

"You think there's a market for the duck decoys?" I asked. "I'd like to unload them. They are too nice for kindling and they don't go with nomadic tent interiors."

"Yes to both and all You say. You are The Great One. I think we can find a few buyers." Then the confused-puppy look returned. "I'm confused by one of Your Sacred Words, I Am -- armament?"

"Weapons, magic, spells, fire... You know."

"Yes, very well as a matter of fact. We have bows, arrows, spears, slings..."

"A good start," I said. Then I said, calmly and gently:

"Go down the mountain get a consensus so we can move as a cohesive unit with a purpose. It will make you stronger. Trust Me. I'll give you the directions. In fact I will lead you out of this wilderness."


"Consensus. Agreement. Make them agree, however you want to do it. Just Do It!" Another good line. I wished I'd left more room on Mike's stone tablets -- or had wasted less material getting the wording right.


All in all, things were looking better. Even though the former Big Guy had found his way back from the other universe, and gathered a new Collective, I was prepared. I had a following, a flock. Survival was going to be a challenge, even so. It was likely that He had detoured Home and updated his tech, so this time, I might be the one using outdated weapons. If I made it, maybe I would get a promotion in the future. I could only hope and pray.

My thoughts were interrupted by Mike in a frenzy. "What if we're attacked?"

"You read my mind! But I will take care of it, not to worry. Trust Me. I'll supply the material and technology."

"The what?"

"Miracles, magic, armaments."

"Yes, magic, armaments, miracles, that I understand."

I felt I had to go over the importance of our organizational principles once more.

"Remember the rocks We wrote on? Those are my 10 Steps For Success. No one else has them. You listen and follow what I say, period. No ifs, ands, or buts. These rules will keep you safe from those other idiots for an eternity." Hyperbole could be effective and this was one time it was needed.

"An eternity?"

"Yes Mike, an eternity. Now let's get moving before we're boxed in and no amount of 'Magic' will save our butts."


"Let's go, everyone, camels, sheep, tents up, move out!"


This was going to work I could feel it. If we got the business plan vertically and horizontally organized with a purpose that can be understood, the others in The City will be toast in the long run. They are so disorganized compared to my people.

"They thought my MBA minor was a waste of time," I muttered. "Well, I don't think so. 'Just study science,' They said. 'That's all You'll need.....if You can master it.'

"We'll see Who masters Whom."


"Hey Mike, you think that burning bush thing will work with all the folk down there?"

"No," he said. "That was great, but with a crowd that size, it would have to be more like a burning forest..."

"A little difficult in a scrub desert," I said. "Okay... let's try some lightning, thunder and some crustal movement and a few minor river flow changes."

A little fiddling with charged-particle projectors and gravity wave manipulators, and things outside our perimeter got really interesting.

"How's that?"

"You have their complete attention," Mike said, his eyes very wide. It had been a while since I put on a real show. "Now what?"

"Let's take a look at the real estate."


For what seems like years:

"Oh Great One, we've been at this for a long time. And, ah ...we seem to be...lost?"

"You believe that I Am lost? I Am supposed to ask directions? How would that look? Anyway, I have this map and....

Oh damn, it's for the wrong planet.


"Listen between you and me, no mention of this. Just tell them the whole wandering-in-the-desert thing was a test. A really long test. The place I told you about is just over those mountains. I'll give you a hand if the squatters won't move."


"All of you, Trust Me. This is going to be a long term relationship for all of us. If we stick together, no problems. Just follow my Ten Steps. It's carved in stone, get it? Now let's go."


And my family thought I would amount to Nothing.

"You're doing this alone? No help?"

"You're going to fall on Your face."

"Everyone was right. You are an idiot!"

Ha, fooled them!

Almost everything worked out fine. There's only one thing left to do.

"So, you wanna buy-a-duck decoy? It's a fire sale and we're moving to a new and better location"


© 2008 Richard Tornello

Bio: Richard Tornello is a business owner/consultant/technical recruiter with 28+ years experience, married and kept by one very neurotic cat Stella. He has a degree from Rutgers University in Asian Studies. Richard's poetry and fiction has appeared a number of times in Aphelion (with one or more poems almost every month!); his most recent short story was Final Notice, December 2008/January 2009.

E-mail: Richard Tornello

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