Brandon W. Laird
All worlds end. This is no surprise. Yet it is ever a wellspring of fear and worry, no matter when a body may live — no matter what they may endure; for all know, deep down, that their world will, in due course, reach a most final conclusion. Upon this ledge, the soul is tested.
A most common error is to imagine the effect total: to mistake the ending of one world as an ending of all worlds. Such becomes the business of the temple and the store: to cast dissolution as total, rather than something to be taken personally. The temple and the store cast it this way for compelling reason, of course: the fate of all beings is, in a way, a corporate endeavor.
Yet, in another way, it is not. It is our contention, then, that to find something compelling does not, by any means, make it worthy. While it's incontrovertible that there is much to fear in the course of the greater life outside, we contend there are many more much worthier elements to affect about the world inside of ourselves— and, if done well by a significant number, then that which causes the despair for the total collapse of all worlds might effectively meet its solution. I find it superfluous to here note: very few are compelled by our vision.
In fact, as more time passes, I feel this a great failing of our order, that we have not been able to impress truth upon more minds. Then again, perhaps it is not. Perhaps it is the natural order of things. Perhaps the very evolution of speech and mind that make our reflections possible inexorably prevent all but a few, such as ourselves, from liberation. To us, this is not so surprising a paradox, either: that freedom can be its own prison. But, we are still left to wonder about the condition of our sentience and the corporeal world it perceives.
We have found it necessary to remove ourselves from the world, in order to find these truths of which I now speak. As my own end nears, this is an ever-more troubling reality. It troubles, namely because we have focused on the development of our meditations at the expense of their propagation. We are an order of isolate beings who have eschewed our baser impulses. A natural result is that we do not indulge our passions of sex. Thus, we have no children. As I grow older, it is clear that most beings find immersion in the world, and all its myriad confusions, desirable because of a mate. Thus, in a more radical way than the cerebral or even the spiritual, we are severed from the larger world. Also and quite naturally, it occurs to me lately that my beloved beinghood, the Order of the Whills, is, in a word, doomed.
A word on the Whills, before I continue. For eons now, our order has found refuge on a desert planet with twin suns. We have learned how to trap the natural moisture of the ground for our water, how to harvest lichen and spores from canyon rock for our food. When the first monks arrived from different worlds and found the planet void of developed intelligent life, they named it Tüskenda, inspired by the horns of one of the larger, docile beasts of the planet.
Some made homes in the planet's wide open crevasses, others in tight and forbidding caves high on cliff walls, still others in burrows dug into the soft floor of a gulch. Spread apart but aware of one another, we live according to the precepts of our order; we live lives of solitary meditation on the image we call jedikun: an eight-spoked mandala whose hub points to where the mind is to lead the spirit.
The Journal of the Whills began with the thoughts of Judlin Bendu, the founder of the order, and we all write to increase its wisdom and further our journey. The reflections you now read echo the very first thoughts he set down, long ago:
In every story, there are many endings, and just as many beginnings; in every seam, as many stitches; in every season, countless fits of winds and bends of shadow.
So it is with time, when the mind that knows begins to travel into the unknown, begins to contemplate the jedikun. The mind cannot know until it has gone and, until then, imagines knowledge in vain. For rain doesn't know the ground until it has fallen. Though rain water has taken many forms —the flowing sea, the damming ice, the churning cloud — it does not know final stillness until its fall is done. So it is with the mind contemplating jedikun.
One cannot boast, in a single wisdom or the shared wisdom of kindred, that it has arrived substantially further than the meekest or the least ambitious —unless it has set before it a sign to follow in kindness, temperance, solitude, dedication. So it is with those who set in their mind the jedikun.
At its center, it finishes: To design, submit.
At its first, it says: In submission, defer.
At its second, it says: In deference, respect.
At its third, it says: In respect, be kind.
At its fourth, it says: In kindness, be alike.
At its fifth, it says: In likeness, thrive.
At its sixth, it says: In livelihood, delight.
At is seventh, it says: In delight, inspire.
And at its conclusion, it begins: In inspiration, design.
So it is with the jedikun.
I suppose it fitting that I should now tell you about myself. I was born Tatt Ah'md from Nabooine. My family was among the original aristocracy that founded human government on the planet, shortly after the Rakatan development of hyperspace travel. I spent my childhood witnessing the shrewd maneuvers and cunning coalitions that defined a life in the ruling class. As I reached adulthood, I decided that evil would inevitably spawn from such station as I was to inherit, no matter how beneficent and high-minded its pretense to govern magnanimously.
To the chagrin of my clan, I took a family ship and headed into the unknown, on a search for a greater purpose to the galactic order. I decided to depart from the charts as much as my fuel could take me. At the very moment that my cells required me to turn around, I crossed the orbit of Tüskenda. The planet called to me through what I would soon come to know as the Force of Spirit — a power even stronger than the pull of a world's gravity. As I later found out, it wasn't the planet that called to me, but the Order of the Whills, in its radiant inception. More specifically, I heard the voice of the one who would become my master, Raas Dhan, telling me that it was my destiny to join the quest for understanding.
I obeyed and landed my starship. I stepped out, sealed the hull, began walking, and did not turn back. So it is with those who answer the call of the Whills. After nearly two decades of teaching me, Raas Dhan became one with the Force of the Spirit. It was then that I was given a new name, stripping away the last vestige of my former life. I have since been known as Raas Second, Dhan Second.
To return to the Order and its current state: we have reached a crisis. The Order will not survive by drawing acolytes like myself every few decades, as they happen to pass by and respond to a call for devotion. This much has now become horribly plain. Judlin died so long ago, few survive that can actually remember him. We have been meditating and receiving visions and writing madly into The Journal, but it is not enough. We have now reached a crisis, and find ourselves sharply, somewhat bitterly, divided over what to do.
There are those who wish to revive the more recently abandoned spacecraft and go in search for mates of holy inclination. Once found, they would come back to Tüskenda and propagate the Order. Curiously enough, those who propose this are the ones who wander the open spaces of the planet, often finding communion with the packs of horned, hairy beasts which impressed the first pilgrims here.
Plainly put, their plan is doomed. I regard it thus because, with only a handful of females, unless the search for mates becomes a ritual of the young adults of the Order (itself, a move which would further and irrevocably violate the central tenant of isolate contemplation), the Order would quickly fall victim to the disastrous effects of inbreeding.
This is but one objection to a plan which is repugnant with our devotion. I cannot see how beings who follow this course can remain observers of the Order. They argue that they can, but I cannot perceive it. I forsee disaster in their path — a legacy of deep confusion, wandering, and violence.
There is another group, led by a monk named B'homorr. He and the ones who trust in his idea live in the caves and holes of canyons, nearer to each others than the rest of us. We regard his idea a result of this close living, which strays from the founding concepts of Judlin as does the mating idea of the hermits — but in a different way. B'homorr suggests designing and commissioning an enormous monastery to be built in the desert. He contends that the monastery would be a place for our order to survive: monks would live there until they die, after which their brains would be removed and interred within a robot that could be moved and manipulated by input from the disembodied organ. In this way, our renegade brother contends, the order would achieve immortality. For one, I have an overwhelming premonition that any marriage of flesh and machine is fundamentally flawed. For another, building an enormous tomb for ourselves flies in the face of the Order's rules of austerity and detachment.
B'homorr is a fool, and the few who rally round his idea are fools. I can foresee nothing in their future but a hollow grave, destined to be usurped and filled with corruption, while the robots of the lifeless monks wander the halls like lost shadows. We who dissent from B'homorr's cabal think that , by living closely connected lives, they have strayed from the path of solitude demanded by the Whills and are headed toward a most unenlightened demise.
Then there are the rest of the Whills, which comprise the majority of the Order. We regard ourselves as the faithful, and rue that it has come to such self regard; yet, we also reckon that this crisis is a natural proving ground for the order, a tipping point which we'll meet with either extinction or conservation.
In our corporate contemplation, it is clear that the main problem that we face is that of creation. It occurs to us with obscene clarity now that our visions, meditations, and enlightenments are all for naught without a way to reproduce them. Our mystic understanding has turned sterile. Moreover, we see more clearly than ever that we meditate and concentrate to transcend the strife and pain caused, it would seem, by the tumult that surrounds the recreation of life. Verily, it would seem as if we are in fundamental opposition to our future.
It is thus we look to circumvent the myriad illusions and violent complications of creation. We ever call upon the meditations of the jedikun to guide us: "In inspiration, design." As it ends with a beginning, so we face our end by designing a beginning. We believe we've discovered this truth about the jedikun with our minds, and that the Force of Spirit is now with us, guiding our hands and hearts. May it be so, we chant.
May it be so.
In company, we distinguish ourselves from the dawning errancy of our fellow Whills by addressing one another as Bendu, in acknowledgment of our founding master. There are those among us who have begun dying the jedikun onto their skin and sewing it upon their robe, in recognition of the proper focus of a Whill. I do not take issue with this practice, but do not chose to do this myself.
The ones who focus on the jedikun symbol, it should be noted, have their own design. They think the monks should scatter and adopt unwanted babies or babies parents are willing to part with, providing those babies posses a Force of Spirit. The babies would then be brought back to Tüskenda and raised by the Whills, one infant for each Whill to maintain as much solitude as possible in the preservation of the order. This process would be repeated as necessary, at the passing of any Whill. I see much merit to this idea, as it bestows an active benevolence upon the galaxy and compensates, in advance, for how it compromises our ethos.
I myself believe that only in solitude can the Order of the Whills be truly maintained, as rightly conceived. Thus, I have designed a lone course for myself. I also, like my fellow Bendu, see it necessary to use the jedikun as my singular map to the conservation of our beinghood.
"To design, submit." So it is that I know that my design demands my submission. I submit myself wholly to my plan: I offer my body, my mind, my soul to this endeavor. In this submission, I must defer. I have discovered the object of my deference. In the canyon bed around which I live, I've found a most curious strain of semintelligent, subterranean creature. They creep out from ravines at night. They gambol in the cover of dark, scavenging on spindly limbs, peering into holes with shimmering bulbs for eyes — gathering in whatever aspect of light is necessary for sight, shutting out the rest to avoid blindness. They communicate with an incessant, insect-like chatter. In some inexplicable way, I sense with the Force of Spirit that they are instrumental to the furthering of the Whill Order.
Their nature is that of the scavenger, and I must admit that it has required much effort and taken much time to move to the next spindle and respect their place in the natural order, so far does scavenging seem from any honor. But I can honestly say that I do respect the furtive beasts.
According the jedikun, my respect must lead to kindness, and I have struggled to find ways of doing this. I have gone without water, so I could leave some for them (I watched from a distance as they tussled over who would drink from the gourd first). My journey from respect to kindness has even taken me back to my ship for the first time since I abandoned it. I was amazed that I recalled the combination to open the door, not so astonished that it opened. The craftspeople of Nabooine are known for the quality of their work — durability being but one gauge of masterful work. I took out all the clothing I had on board and left it for them, hoping they would find something useful about it.
At first, they were wary of the cloth and poked at it with their feet. Before picking it up, they honed their irradescent eyes on me. My heart leapt to my throat. In my arrogance, I'd imagined myself the invisible observer of their animal world. All the time, they'd simply avoided looking at me, until my gift became a nebula, and they looked to me for explication. I realized then that I'd been behaving like I'd been trained in my youth to treat things I considered lower than myself. It was then when I realized how respect leads to kindness, and how large a step it truly is.
I clambered down the craggy face of rock toward them, and they scattered like seed flower in a gale. I waited patiently for a long time, but they finally, one by one, returned. I handed them the cloth. With great trepidation and awkwardness, one of them stepped forward and took it from me, casting it on the ground. For as many pieces of clothing that fell, there were that many creatures draping and wrapping themselves in it, all the while staring at me. I first thought that they were scared, locking me in their gaze lest I should move. I realized after a moment that they were not frightened, but studious. With great intensity, they were looking at the drape of my robe and trying to lay the clothing — pants, jerkin, cloak, whatever — over their wiry bodies in kind. As they went though this comic exercise, I was not prepared to understand the full import of the jedikun in the way I then realized it. Then again, in the wisdom of Judlin himself, a raindrop can never really know the stillness of the ground unless it has never known the stillness of the ground. So it was that, in imitation of the mantle I had pulled over my head, the first creature succeeded in draping one shirt over its head, around its neck, and across its shoulders. It looked up at me with a glimmer of understanding, and flashed a quick grin. "In kindness, be alike." I was awestruck.
They disappeared that night with all the clothing, and I dismissed myself from my nightly watch for a time. When I returned to the gully where I'd been used to seeing them, they did not appear the entire night. Perplexed and a bit worried, I drifted off before sunrise, only to be shaken awake a few hours later in the building warmth of the morning sun. I blinked my eyes open, and couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was one of the creatures, draped from top to bottom in some of the clothes I'd given them a fortnight earlier, out in the bright light of day. From the deep shadows of the makeshift hood, I could see the eyes glittering even more intensely, as if shining — an effect I imagined a result of the demands daylight put on their eyes to reflect, rather than absorb, light. My first reaction was surprise, so used to being absolutely alone in the desert was I. My quick jerk backward startled the poor creature and he darted away, squeaking in panic, to disappear in the shadows of a fissure. It was several days before I saw them again, and when I did, I worked to keep my gestures open, slow, and inviting. They crept up to me as if they were sneaking and reached out as if I might bite. Their fingers were long knobby lengths of gray scales that glistened in the sun. Fighting back the natural revulsion that welled inside me, I held my hand out, palm open. They each took turns warily touching my flesh. After a few touches, I realized that I had begun something — for the first time in my life — that was beyond me completely. I felt a sudden tide of warmth wash down me, from my forehead to my thighs.
"In likeness, thrive," I recalled, and knew that my fate was now intimately tied to these beings. I also knew then that the Order's estimation that Tüskenda was void of progressed minds was premature. Something was meant to happen on this planet, something of intelligence that was part of the planet itself and all of its life, something of profoundly intimate intent. I suspected for the first time that the Force of Spirit was somehow behind it all, the sort of scheme wherein "the least of which" might turn out to be "the most of all."
I cast about in the fog of newfound communion, wandering how it was exactly that I would thrive with my new friends. They seemed to be expecting something of me, and I couldn't tell what it was. Out of sheer desperation, I decided that I would show them the ship that I'd used to escape my former life. It was, for one inexplicable reason or another, the thing to do. They exulted as we set out across the wastes, as if they knew where we were going and what would happen there, though that part of the plan eluded me still.
We arrived at the ship as the suns set. We'd walked for the better part of the day, having rested through the mid-day scorch. I was tired unto collapse as I approached the ship, and was a little undone to see the creatures stop in their tracks, transfixed as if the ship were some menacing creature. I opened the door and began crawling inside clumsily when I saw they still weren't drawing nigh. I turned around and shouted for them to follow.
I meant to say, "This way," but my mouth was dry and my lips were cracked. It must have sounded even more like jumble to their ears than did my regular speech. The smallest among them cocked his head to the side contemplatively, then with shrill mockery, pointed as I had just done and bleated: "Jah wah! Jah wah!" His comrades found this unnaturally amusing, and began dancing about with clothes of my former life dangling off them, joining the chant in unison: "Jah wah! Jah wah! Jah wah!"
I found myself laughing out loud, the first laugh I'd had in years. It felt so good as the spasm seemed to well up from my toes and burst out in winds of release through my desiccated mouth. It ached in my exhaustion, to guffaw. Despite the cramps that suddenly pinched my side, I felt a veil lift, something seismic shift within me. "In livelihood, delight." With hot tears filling my dry eyes, I knew I was truly following the jedikun.
Over the next couple of days, I did what seemed natural at this point: strove to explain the different parts of the ship to them, showing them how simple things worked, and uselessly spewing words in description. They watched with a nimble, implacable curiosity at how every lever swung, every button depressed. They were not quick to try things in the least, but cautious to a near fault — only attempting something after they'd seen me do it at least twice, and after I'd enlightened them about it in a language they didn't understand. I began checking what ship systems remained operational with the remaining energy. Amazingly, the fuel had been preserved, the batteries drained minimally. Upon booting the navicomputer, I was immediately taken aback: Tüskenda was now on the star charts as Tatooine. With a brief inquiry into holonet archives, my heart sank to find the planet had been named after me, capping a fruitless search for my whereabouts — which had as its only clue a last registered transponder signal from a location near the planet. The newly-dubbed Tatooine was now a confluence coordinate on hyperspace lane routes.
I winced at what first seemed a tragic, if not ironic, turn — that my flight away from a doomed galaxy to a sanctuary planet had brought upon a desolate world of contemplation the attention of that galaxy, with doom on its heels. I took a deep breath and looked at the little Jahwahs (as I'd taken to calling them) scurrying about the cabin, enthralled with the glowing lights and metered readouts. I smiled at them, and wondered what should happen next.
"In delight, inspire." Suddenly, I knew.
For the next week, I moved like a man with a mission. I removed the ship's task robot — the veritable brain of the ship, a machine that negotiates memory and navigates the vessel through the bent time and space that is the hyperspace void — and disassembled it slowly, piece by piece in front of them. As I did this, I drew upon all that I'd thought forgotten from my long and weary education to become a pilot. I showed them everything twice, as I now knew I had to, and described its function and place in excruciating detail. After the first few days away from the lichens and mosses that usually sustained me in the caverns, I felt myself growing feint. The Jahwahs didn't seemed to need food, only the small reserves of water we'd brought in jerikens with us. A day's hike away from food, I felt my mission was urgent and my time short, such that I couldn't abandon my work.
Now the TR was in pieces before me, two weeks after I'd first taken it apart. The Jahwahs awaited my instructions, sitting patiently on the floor of the ship. A terrible sandstorm began whipping up outside. I sealed the main hatch and turned on the backup power to provide sufficient light for the coming trial. Its success at first seemed simply the survival or the Whills. As I would soon discover, it meant much more. With waning strength I used what little bit of memory in the keypad to store, and later relay, the coordinates for the ship's coming flight. Once the TR had been reassembled and installed, the ship would go back to Nabooine. I also included instructions in the course setting to be found once the ship had landed on auto-pilot: "Here find the final request of Tatt A'hmd: detach TR and install its memory substrate into a mobile astronautic. The robot is to be maintained well in the service of the Nabooine aristocracy, solely for the purposes of interstellar travel." I then showed the Jahwahs the sequences to set the auto pilot for timed ignition and the codes to close the ship's doors behind them.
I did it twice. I clearly spoke the instructions. I was now certain that somehow, some way, they understood it all perfectly. They understood me.
I'm now writing this, reclined in a cot I've set up nearby. In a moment, once I'm done, I'll begin the deep breathing that will guide my spirit into the places it needs to go. I've been practicing deep mediations in earnest over the past week, in a desperate search for how I could turn inspiration to a final design. In trances accelerated by my starvation — coupled with the close quarters scrutiny of delicate technology with nine fidgety, malodorous Jahwahs — I saw circuits and wire, conduits and resistors. I saw them in a way that was more than simple persistence of vision in the umbra of a dying mind. I saw them deeply, so deeply that I felt them. I would review and feel each and every component of the TR on the floor, wondering where such visceral apprehension was intended to take me.
It was then, in deepest wondering, that I had a vision of the jedikun. I saw it hovering, spinning in mid-air in front of me. Then gnarled hands reached out, grabbed two spindles, and ripped them from the hub. Tears and blood flowed from the openings, as they worked to clot and close. Somehow, the healing of the raped jedikun pained me more than its violation, for I was made to witness its terrible transformation of the holy icon into an absolute instrument of evil. I heard a serpentine voice hiss a new mantra of terrible auspice:
At the center: To power, submit.
At the first spindle: In submission, learn.
At the second: In learning, acquire.
At the third: In acquisition, grow.
At the fourth: In growth, strengthen.
At the fifth: In strength, master.
At the sixth: In mastery, claim power.
Thus the jedikun was undone by deception and betrayal. I heard the screams of worlds dying, the crunch of bones under boots. I felt the tears of parents watching their children die, and the heartbreak of lovers torn apart, then simply torn. I saw that the quandary of our Order was the victory of a final foe, seen in the rape of the jedikun: profound evil would wind its way into the fabric of creation, poison it at the headwater, undo all the good in the galaxy in a radical move to carve a certain future for itself at the expense of all else. I knew that I must preserve myself and the vision of my fellow Bendu at all costs, and I must do it in a way that willed my own being to a most unexpected place, rather than perverting the will, fate, and direction of other's lives for the good of myself.
Here, I saw what separates the wise from the foolish is not the same thing that distinguishes the good from the evil. A wise being understands that life is wrought in power, and much is either made or destroyed from what one decieds to do with the power they have; in contrast, a fool spends his life mystified by forces outside himself, interminably flummoxed by what he considers a fate as beyond his ken as is the turning of a sea tide. Good and evil can come from both the wise and the foolish, for good seeks to use power to help those other than themselves, and evil seeks its own sake at every turn and at all costs.
I foresaw, with this understanding, a great confluence of the wise throughout the galaxy, and a dedication of the wise to both good and evil. My heart swelled as it felt the triumph of good, then sank to see a devoted, hard kernel of evil sweep it all away — almost. There I saw a glimmer remain, a spark of constant, flickering hope surrounded by the dark. I fixed on this spot and went to it. When I arrived, it filled my world with its light and warmth. I looked about and saw that it was part of the TR's energy cells. "In inspiration, design." It was there where I knew the jedikun was forever taking me. Here is my task: to transmute myself, in an inexplicable move of the Force of Spirit, into the circuitry and the wires of this machine.
I have no idea how exactly this will end. I feel certain that, under the guise of a mechanical mind, I will witness both the violation of the jedikun and its restoration. Again, I know not how. The Force of Spirit is with me, to be sure.
When I begin breathing in just a moment, I'll not wake. I will sink into an ocean and join it forever. Such is the way of the jedikun. Such is the will of the Force of Spirit.
I hope this writing finds a home in the heart and mind of another, for such becomes the Order of the Whills.
Goodbye, I say to my life as Raas Second, Dhan Second. I embrace a strange new life in wire and metal, as a being of letter and number: R2D2.
As it is with me, may the Force of Spirit be ever with you.