"I am become death: The destroyer of worlds"
-- J Robert Oppenheimer
THE GREAT BEAST
CHAPTER 01: Babalon
In the days before second impact, it seemed as though humanity knew no limits. With economies booming and technologies that were barely believable just a few years before becoming entirely commonplace, mankind seemed unstoppable and progress seemed eternal, the grinding of the gears of a new information industry. While in another time, an economic bubble might have burst and set the world's expectations back to reality, instead there was a catastrophe. There was no warning. The days of expecting y2k had gone, and the survivalists laughed out of town. Those expecting an apocalypse on midnight of January first would be disappointed to know they had a few months more to wait. Those expecting to be saved by some entity of dubious corporeality would be doubly disappointed.
Water, once so precious at the dawning of man as to merit worship, was now man's enemy. The meteor excuse was obviously false -- so obviously false that for once, the conspiracy theorists' rantings that the governments were lampshading to hide the truth was heard with more agreement than mockery. They couldn't be more wrong. Even the governments had no idea what had happened.
Nine months later, to the day, there was a birth. There were many births, actually, but not as many as usual for a given day. The birth rate had suffered strangely from the catastrophe -- even those who survived were less likely to be fertile, and not for lack of trying. Given the unknown nature of the disaster, who knew what might be the cause? Perhaps there were environmental factors involved. Perhaps the governments were trying to sap and impurify the precious fluids of their citizens. Perhaps that thing in antarctica was some kind of new nuke. Terrorist attacks were out of the question: no single group had that kind of firepower, not even a single government, and besides -- who would attack antarctica?
The child was sent away to live with relatives. He grew up knowing little about his father except that he was living with his father's sister-in-law and her husband, and that his father was doing something very important to national security. There were rumours about his father's early years, of course, but nothing very logical. Something about his interest in explosives and his strange choice of reading material. There were rumours about his mastery of odd languages, and the strange sounds he mumbled under his breath as a child. A prodigy, at the time, but certainly an odd one. Young Shinji paid little attention, turning to his studies to escape the coldness of his household. It wasn't as though his new gaurdians were unkind, but they were reserved. He was not proper family. He was not their son, and would not be treated as such. In these strained times, he was simply a long-term guest, a child in a museum.
He spent as much time away from home as possible.
The local library was rather well known, in the area. A great selection, for a public library, made even greater by the fact that it took over lots of the books from surrounding libraries about to be demolished or undergoing long-term repairs, which in the strain of what some people were calling post-apocalyptic times, were long-delayed and long-extended for other projects that were considered to be of greater importance.
The library had a barcode system for checkout, which though not precisely state of the art, was somewhat expensive for a public institution with relatively little funding. The barcode stickers doubled as RFID tags, and the checkout process in of itself disabled the RFID signal to alert for stolen books.
Shinji had begun spending his time reading as an escape, but now he enjoyed it in of itself. It didn't really matter where he was. He could check out books and read them at home. As long as he had a book, he was never alone. A book is a friend that never changes.
Meanwhile, the whispers began again. 'Look at him,' they would say. 'Just like his father. Soon he'll get into something awful in those books.'
He devoured much of the stacks, starting with the children's books and progressing to the adult books, reading things that he really couldn't understand much of the time because he knew that he could always remember the information and recall it back once he could put it in context. He read much of the fiction, especially the science fiction, though he stayed away from the fantasy. The time had passed for escapism. He went into some of the nonfiction, making a bit of a spectacle. A young boy, perhaps seven or eight and barely able to peer over the checkout desk, checking out a pile of thick books on odd subjects. They would ask him if he really understood all that, and he'd always respond the same. "If I don't, I will someday. I'll read it so that when I can understand, I'll know it already"
One day, checking out a bunch of arbitrarily chosen books, he managed to pick up one without a barcode. "This one," the librarian said. "We don't really have the equipment to add another tag into the system right now. Take this home. When you bring it back, remind me and I'll check if we can add it in." The book was old, not just pre-impact but fifty or sixty years older. He had picked it out because it reminded him of how small and young he was, that he could read things that were eight times as old as he was. The book was labeled in roman characters, and despite the cursory level of english he had managed to figure out on his own, the title didn't make any sense. "Liber A.L." it said.
The book sat on his shelf, all but forgotten, for some time. Much of the time he conciously ignored it, thinking that he could return it at any time while all these other books have due dates. His english had advanced a bit due to reading some english primers and textbooks and a few short novels that were donated by some pre-impact cultural outreach program. His reading became automatic, for both roman characters and kana, and in his reading he managed to pick up quite a few new kanji from context despite not knowing how to pronounce many due to his skipping around in terms of subject matter. Everything seemed to him to be language, sequences of symbols giving meaning. Was there anything that wasn't language? What could exist that was not a string of symbols communicating intent from one thing to another? Even physics in his mind took the form of objects talking to one another through the language of motion.
One rainy day, he was stuck inside. Thunder growled and rumbled, and lightning flashed. It was a summer storm, like all storms since impact. The lightning had looked purple when it began, a sunshower at sunset. Now it was a moonshower, lightning stealing the brightness of the moon for moments, thunder roaring like a caged beast. He was out of books. He needed some support, and some distraction. Seeing the lone book on the shelf, old and musty, he saw it with new eyes. It was an artifact from an age long-gone-by. It was not only much older than he, but much older than his adopted parents. It was older than the wrinkly woman who checked out his books for him. He attacked it with tentative enthusiasm, hoping it would take the edge off of his irrational fear.
It began somewhat quaintly, and the text was obviously far older than the edition. It had the oblique denseness that obscured many english texts from the century prior to impact. It was full of archaic politeness and sounded a bit like something H. P. Lovecraft would write -- a bit of cosmic horror wrapped in the form of stuffy academic work. But soon, it was roaring and thundering along with the storm outside. It was not the neitzschean tone of self-determination and inner strength that drew him -- he barely could pronounce the name, himself, despite the fact that in the years after impact that kind of philosophy had been expounded to the point of being as dry and worn and humourless as a bad cliche. It was not really even the meaning that kept him going, as being only ten years old and a non-native speaker to boot, he had very little idea of what any of it was supposed to mean literally, let alone figuratively. It was not the tabu thrill of the sacreligious tone that drove him to a fervor and made his heart pound -- he had no religious upbringing, and the only experience he had with the concept of christianity was that it was always made fun of in science fiction novels. It was simply the way that the words sounded, and his voice raised from the subvocal level to an eerie whispering as he finished the final chapter, the stormfronts clearing slowly to allow the sun to counter the rumbling challenge of dying thunder in the distance.
The works of Aliester Crowley -- famous occultist, playboy, mountain climber, heretic, and public madman -- were considered to be mind-warping even to the most developed and advanced adult. Legendary genius Jack Parsons, who started the Jet Propulsion Lab and brought humanity into the age of space travel, was tempted into the fray and pushed much of his money into Crowley's cult, meanwhile chanting passages from the Liber A.L. while doing his experimental work on new rocket fuels. The mind behind the manhattan project was said to have taken part in some of the eldritch ceremonies. It was claimed that Crowley's mixture of science and magic was a threat to the integrity of both. It was never even considered that his works might be read by a little boy.
For the second time, it happened.