Short Story: “Power”

There may be a solution to your problem, but is it worth the cost?

by P. Orin Zack

The man who refused to identify himself contemplated the Solon’s whispered answer for a long moment, staring blindly into the pitch darkness of the room that the Arbiter behind him had led him into nearly an hour earlier. “Then there’s no way this can be traced back to me? Or to the people I work for?”

He knew there was no point in pressing for an answer, so he sat quietly, mindful of the painful throb in his legs, which, though comfortable on long runs, were useless for what he guessed was some kind of yoga posture. Despite the power he wielded beyond these unseen walls, in here his role was supplicant, and there was little he could do or say to bring an answer any sooner than however long the Solon might take to respond. The soothing aroma drifting past his nose felt intoxicating, yet he knew he must not lose focus, or miss a critical insight. More was resting on the outcome of this tryst than he was willing to admit, even to himself.

“None.” The Solon’s voice was flat, unemotional, but it was no longer at a whisper. “As I have explained, the reality we inhabit is plastic, in that it can be molded by the proper means. If its Creator wished to nudge it in the way you have described, a potential of events would be raised which could be satisfied by some of those inhabiting the frame taking certain actions.”

A wordless excitement flooded through the man’s imagination, scattering fragmentary images of a future he’d lusted for across his darkened inner sight. “By fixing the election?” he blurted, regretting the lapse before the words had passed his lips.

The Solon’s breathing, which had been slow and regular, caught momentarily. “Perhaps.” There was a lengthy pause, and then the breathing resumed with an audible inhalation. “Or by other means. The actions themselves are irrelevant, the course of events, unpredictable. Those playing a role would have no inkling that the choices offered them had been sculpted by such a nudge. All that matters is that the potential of events be satisfied in some way. How that happens is beyond even the Creator’s control. You cannot meddle in events in as specific a manner as might suit you or your masters.”

“But what about miracles? Surely the Bible is evidence of direct intervention, that God can do whatever he wants.”

“Delusions. Stories invented to control the masses, just as those that your associates have created to steep the world in fear. They had their reasons, as you have yours. There is no way to know, short of leaving this frame, whether a potential of events existed either then or now.”

The supplicant bit his lip, frustrated by his inability to get what he wanted, the way he wanted it, when he wanted it. And then he had an idea. “You say that the Creator could induce this potential of events, or whatever it is. Does that mean someone or something else could do that as well?” His voice was sharp, and just loud enough to cause the barest touch of an echo.

A hand draped over his shoulder in the darkness. The Arbiter who had brought him into the chamber leaned close to his ear. The warmth of his breath was stifling. “You would do well to refrain from mention of such things. Worlds are more fragile than you might imagine, and losing them lightly condemns untold billions to oblivion.”

The man was thankful for the darkness this once, for it concealed the lustful grin that might otherwise have lit his face. He had found a weakness he could exploit, a topic sensitive enough to give him some measure of control in the situation. He could blackmail God.

“It has happened before,” the Solon said, the bare shakings of memory evident in his fractured cadence. “Legends are all that remain.”

“Legends,” muttered the man, imagining himself cast as powerful people he’d learned about in film, or in the awkward retellings of his closest advisors. The Arbiter’s hand slid greasily away, trailed finally by a long fingernail, his warm breath first brushing the man’s neck and then retreating.

“You are certain that this is what you want? That you are willing to bear the burden of responsibility for whatever might come of your meddling?”

The room was strangely silent. He could no longer hear the deep sighing of the Solon’s breath, no longer feel the gentle rumble that had at first reminded him of the comfortable sonic feel of a filmic battle station. After what he guessed to be a minute or two, he hesitantly reached out towards where the Solon had sat or stood, and touched nothing. He turned towards where the Arbiter had spoken to him, and stroked the scented air. He was alone.

Unfolding his cramped legs, he pressed his palms to the cold floor and rose smoothly to his feet. “I guess the interview’s over, then,” he told himself.

The story he’d been told was true, then. If your prayers had been refused by the almighty, there was still a way to grant them yourself. You could go over his head and take into your own hands the reins controlling the destiny of the world. The Solon’s warning would be no more a barrier to his will than might a stubborn mount, and he’d learned how to deal with those at his daddy’s ranch years before.

He’d always had an uncommonly good sense of direction, which had served him well during tricky periods in the public eye, as choices he made for reasons he couldn’t explain had consistently turned out to have been prescient, but his sense of where the door had been was more elusive than he liked. Perhaps it had something to do with whatever poison had scented the air. He’d have someone get a sample and pass it along to the CIA for analysis.

Once his fingertips touched wall, he followed it around to a door, and left the room. What he wasn’t certain of was whether it was the same door through which he had entered. But then, none of that mattered. He had his answer. All that remained was to find a way to create that — what did the Solon call it – a potential of events, whatever that meant. But there were people for that.

Candles lit the outer chamber. A sculpted pillar stood before each of the statues lining the wall, and the flickering light of their greenish flames cast restless shadows on the stone faces surrounding him. Glancing at one, and then another, he felt the familiar tug of greatness that had infused the turnings in his life, turnings that that had led towards his current exalted station. His pace quickened as he reached the outer door. Firmly grabbing its carved handle, he swung it open, and stepped out into the night.

The car in which he had come was still idling at the curb. It was the private vehicle of a former advisor, a man whose influence was so great that it had been necessary to distance him to defuse the constant attention that had surrounded him in recent years.

He opened the door, and slid onto the seat. Turning towards the driver, he said, “Carl, there’s something I want you to do.”

Copyright 2008 by P. Orin Zack

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