Short Story – Gotterdammerung

Reading up on the upcoming Captain Harlock film, and thinking back over Giant Robo, an OVA I dearly love, drove me to try and write my own homage both to Leiji’s ostracised, misunderstood hero in a future beyond caring and Imagawa’s preoccupation with principles, expectation and duty set against science and scientific ethics. These are huge themes, the very substantial content that makes their respective series – the original Harlock, the excellent My Youth in Arcadia, and the similarly introspective Yamato 2199 on the one hand and the demolition of hubris that is Giant Robo on the other – so enduring.

Trying to write this made it clear I cannot match the narrative highs of either Robo or Yamato 2199. On the other hand, the imaginative impetus these inspirations give did I think create a story that serves as my response to pieces of popular culture that I rate very highly.

Note: The opening speech of this story is in equal parts derived from President John Kennedy’s speech at Rice Stadium in 1962 (used to great effect in Public Service Broadcasting‘s 2015 album The Race for Space), and Professor Vogler’s “Beautiful Night” speech from Giant Robo.

We live in an era of great hope, and great fear, and great uncertainty and great ignorance. The eyes that looked to the stars, and who vowed that they should not be governed by a hostile flag of conquest, are dim or blind. Or they turned away from the future they called for, and what they demanded never came to fruition. I choose to walk the path between the stars not because it is the easy road to riches, but because it is the difficult path to righteousness. A great man long ago, before he died in the pursuit of that difficult path, said he did what he did because it was there to do. And why do I walk a difficult path when my mind, my drive, my determination to live could let me walk head held high along the easy one? Because it is there, and no-one else will walk it.

In my time I have made mistakes. I have stood among those seeking the easy path, and I gave all my knowledge, all my determination and all my hope to that path of conquest. No more. From this day, I will dim the eyes of those who usurped the hope humanity once held. From this day, humanity, which proved itself unable to look beyond the light of the stars, will enjoy forever more the endless, beautiful night it wrought for itself.”

A tanned, scarred hand closed around the end of a walking-stick and behind it a harsh and slim body unfolded. The letter was left, ink drying, on a desk of baize-green leather set into rich dark wood. An affectation, it would never be sent in that form. Its words would be scanned, at some point, when its author was more composed, and transmitted by the newest of technologies to its recipient.

“I hope man is not as afraid of the dark as once he was. For night is falling, and it is to be long and cold.”

The walls of the long, quiet room flickered with black-and-white images of mankind’s atrocities projected on immense screens. To sit at the desk in the centre of the writing-room would put one unable to turn without being reminded of the weakness and violence that necessitated its existence. One by one the screens fell still, and as the last darkened the room’s occupant finally shut the door behind him.

“I do not know if mankind will ever see the dawn of this night. But it is long past time it faced it, and I will be the one to chase the sun away.”

From the writing-room, the corridor down which the old man with his stick pulled himself with an irregular, triple-stressed gait was lined with photographs under which brass plates displayed epitaphs for all but two. One was a picture of a woman faded so pale by the sun her face was a ghostly oval, and the figure to her side nothing but a smudge capped by a vague inference of a hand around her shoulder. The other was the corridor’s occupant, younger, less crippled and haggard, receiving an award from a man featured in one of the other photographs.

The late Dr. Nagano. Another who helped bring the long days of Earth but proved afraid of the dark. His crimes, too great to number.

At the corridor’s end was the bridge of a starship, its crew standing ready to salute.

“All of you that remain are those so convinced in my success, so sure in my aims, they will fight with me against their own people. For that I thank you. You see that what is called life by so many is nothing compared to what we were promised. Now, help me redress this balance, and then you will be free to go. Free to live your own lives.” With a subdued noise that filled the silence that always comes after a speech, the crew sat down. “First, we must do what we set out to. Take us forward. Take us to Earth.”

Slim and angular like its captain, skeletal in places where war and want had left it unrepaired, the unfinished ship left dock for the last time. Enough of it persisted – enough of it had been built in the first place and had since avoided unrepairable damage – to fight. Its base was nestled among a band of mottled-green copper-rich rocks that hung in a loose ring stretching off into the void, marbled in places with greys and blues and smut-stained ice crystals. The detritus of an entire planet and its many moons. The Captain had made this forest of a civilisation’s wreckage his home from the start – seeming as if he had been seeking some peace or atonement among the rocks. The truth was he had been building towards a baser vengeance in his heart, planning nothing more than more destruction on the scale that had seen this planet and its attendants smeared across space.

They had the chance to listen, to look back towards – perverse as it is – the light. To see that what happened was inevitable. But the greed of distant worlds meant they did not. Maybe when their very home faces the same twilight, the same Gotterdammerung they brought upon a distant world, they will understand what I told them.”

It had taken a spectacularly long time to make this moment possible. Years of careful raids, of calculated piracy intercepting passenger ships on which the men in the photographs had travelled and supply convoys bringing scientific material to worlds similar to this destroyed one. A bitter young man trying to turn guilt into vengeance had mellowed – or hardened – into the old spiky cripple who now stalked an unfinished warship.

With the careful assemblies, the hushed ultimatums and quiet assassinations that had brought the twilight of Earth ever closer, its very nature had changed. Earth had changed. Those living there probably felt it slightly improved over how it used to be. An outsider, angry and dejected, saw it as a continued slide away from the legacy it hard earned. Time had passed, and remembrance and care for what had once been, and what had once been promised, had gravitated inexorably towards the elite few who were happiest forgetting, and best-conditioned to forget.

Earth was little more than an arid red and grey mess, the water that had once covered almost its whole surface burned away and replaced with fields that grew in great brown-yellow bands across the planet’s rusty surface. Two suns – the dilapidated star Sol at the heard of this corner system, and a small facsimile of it formed from the implosion of “worthless,” mined-dry outer planets, kept it in constant daylight to ensure that the solar panels that kept its people alive never failed. Night on this Earth was simply sealing the shutters against the endless sunlight and pretending the darkness was real.

To The Captain this was the culmination of humanity’s fear of the dark. As soon as science had permitted, no matter the cost, the night had to be removed. Of course, the cost mattered little to anyone. The Artificial Sun had been built decades ago. Built, in fact, by the scientists whose photographs lined the corridor. It had not been a flawless process. The copper-green wreckage floating in a low-value system was a part of that. The dilution of that system’s sun from a healthy orange burn to a wan milky white was another.

The deaths had been, he supposed, symbolic. They had achieved nothing. The scientists in question had provided him with the information he had needed, but never the contrition – and now they were dead they never could. This was the purpose of this flight. To make humanity as an entity, a species who walked the stars in an era of endless day, worship the darkness. The Sol system burned as a binary beacon in space, a twin star where there should not be one. It was the symbol of human arrogance, and yet as he stared at the lights before him, he felt very tranquil.

A fleet sat before him. It was clearly all that could be spared – the death-rattle of resistance against something as inexorable as nightfall. They held their fire, expecting a speech. Expecting something beyond a tired last stand. He obliged. Standing, coughing gently as he addressed humanity, The Captain – the man who had killed the darkness and brought light to Earth – began to speak. His words echoed the letter dry and sand-gritty on his desk, his body a thin and broken silhouette in the oppressive double-sunlight. The contents of the letter expended, he talked on, finally faced with a willing audience. He talked about the history of the Artificial Sun. He talked about the wrecked world that sat within the boundaries of mankind. He talked about the night, that thing now alien to the heart of humanity.

Much had changed in his mind since he had become what he now stood as. His motivation, his understanding of what needed to be done and why. His body, weakened by a fugitive’s life in space. What had not was his intention. He would bring back the night and with it the stars, so that for the first time in an age, there was something for humanity to look up to.


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