“The Young God” by Vanessa Fogg

“The Young God” by Vanessa Fogg

A young god wants to destroy the world.

From the other side of the globe, I feel her rage. Miles under my feet, currents of magma shift and flow. A cloud passes over the sun. Rain falls in a sudden burst—passersby on the street hurry through fat drops, their heads bent. But summer storms are common here. Taxis slow at the curb, life whirls on, and no one notices the change in the beat of the world.

I close my eyes. Eventually, it always comes to this.

* * *

Flocks of birds are tearing at each other as I cross the sky. Starlings chase hawks. A crow screams. Two dozen tornadoes slam though the American heartland and into the South. I pass over the Atlantic, and the electricity in the air keeps building.

I find her on a bare hill, brooding under a tree of stripped branches. It’s not quite dawn here, the horizon dark; yet the sky overhead is on fire.

“I’ll do it,” she says. “You can’t stop me.”

Her voice trembles; her eyes are black holes. Her hair crackles with sparks, and her breath burns air.

“I know,” I say. “I understand.”

Her hand lifts, but before she can complete the motion I invoke the ancient contract. “Three hours,” I remind her. “The grace period due.”

The air around us cools. She glares.

I take a step toward her. “Tell me about it.”

* * *

I do understand. I was young once, too.

It’s easier for other gods. For the ones born Before, who can create entire worlds out of the Void, and then casually implode them in a fit of pique. But she and I were born of this world, raised among mortals, our heartbeats set in rhythm with theirs.

“They deserve it,” she seethes. “Every single one of them. If there are any who don’t. . . it’s a mercy killing.”

Images from her mind catch in mine. Pictures of what humans have done to each other, and what they have yet to do. Bombs and missiles and gunfire, yes, and also beatings delivered with bare hands. A mob tears apart a teenage girl. Laughter as a child weeps. Physical violence and quieter corruption, too: poison in the drinking water, famine caused by neglect. Indifference, cowardice, and greed. An old man dies of hunger and sorrow, alone.

“I know,” I whisper.

There are spots of brightness, too. Sun on the water, and children laughing as they chase each other in and out of the waves. A boy stands on a stage and sings with the voice of an angel. The scent of lilacs in spring, and two people kissing under an arbor. A woman confronts a line of soldiers with flowers in her hands.

The god before me is newly awakened, only just come into power. She’s shaking with the rush of knowledge and feeling, the glimpses into future and present and past.

“Do you see it?” she says. “What’s about to happen?”

I do. A new conflagration, swallowing whole countries. War burning through the land of her birth. Driven, as always, by human hatred, fear, and unreason.

It would be easier to end it all now, she says silently.

It would.

But—”Don’t,” I say aloud. “Not yet.”

I search her mind for those fleeting moments of light. The faces of those she loves. I show them to her: the mortal family she grew up with; her toddling, round-cheeked niece. Her friends. Even I am there in her mind—her most recent friend, wise teacher and mentor. She sees the future in outline, but none of us know all the choices that mortals will make.

Would you really kill us all now? I ask. Won’t you give any of us a chance?

She bows her head, dark hair hiding her eyes.

She and I are not like the gods who can step away—who can drown or burn or shatter their creations and then blithely move on to the next. If she kills this world, she’ll kill both me and herself. She’ll kill the others like us, alongside all that she loves. We’re bound to this world we never made.

Three hours. The sun is frozen beneath the horizon; everything is still. But outside this bubble of timelessness, a cosmic clock ticks down.

There is no rational argument I can give her. Only hope. The touch of a child she loves, the warmth of her niece on her lap. Tiny hands entwined with hers, bright eyes filled with trust. My own friendship. Hope that on some eternal scale, the goodness and beauty will eventually outweigh the dark.

Her face lifts, and I see tears shining on her pale cheeks. “How?” she gasps. “How do you stand it? How do you keep on?”

I take her in my arms. “With help.”

She slumps against me and begins to cry. Her knees give way, and we sit together on the bare hillside.

Slowly, the horizon lightens. Time steps back into place. The young god’s fires were extinguished, but now new fire burns in the sky: streaks of clouds lit by the rising sun.

She’s quiet. I stroke her hair. “Not yet, okay? Not today.”

She nods.

The spot of Earth we sit on rotates into the sunlight, and I think that the sunrise is beautiful, beautiful. A cool breeze blows and a blackbird calls. We have to help each other, I think. There may be a day when she’s the one to talk me down, the one to suspend Time and keep me from breaking our world. She’ll have to remind me then of light and all that I love. It doesn’t always get easier with age. She’s fallen asleep against me now, exhausted. I feel her breathing; I feel the Earth and everything on it, all the people and birds and ants and growing trees, breathing.

Vanessa Fogg dreams of selkies, dragons, and gritty cyberpunk futures from her home in western Michigan. She spent years as a research scientist in molecular cell biology and now works as a freelance medical writer. Her fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, GigaNotoSaurus, Bracken, and more. She is fueled by green tea. For a complete bibliography and more, visit her website at www.vanessafogg.com.