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The Substance of Things Hoped For

The Substance of Things Hoped For


C. Alan Loewen


(inspired by the art of T. Jordan "Greywolf" Peacock)

Under the Dome, blossoms of every imaginable shape and hue, many two feet across in size, nodded on lush green stems. They stood overshadowed by a veritable menagerie of willows, oaks and ash. Wildly colored birds fluttered from branch to branch filling the Dome with songs of varied timbre and style. In the underbrush, small animals scurried or dug or gamboled. Far above, barely visible through the bright glare of light that bathed all life below, the arched ceiling of the Dome protected it all.

The Master walked among his creation and found it good. Though he walked with sure step and his gaze was bright and steady, the skin of his face and hands were heavily lined and cracked with age. As he walked his hands casually brushed the undergrowth, caressing a flower or fleetingly trace the bark of a tree that was as wrinkled as his own skin. Smiling, he watched his birds fly from bower to bower and the animals he meticulously designed scurry out of his path.

He knew he was being watched by larger creations, but he was content to let them be about their own affairs and did not call them. Somewhere, he knew a sloth was mumbling to itself upside down amongst the branches and he was sure a small bear was shyly watching him from behind one of the larger oaks. There were these and others … many others that he kept under the Dome safe and protected and for his own enjoyment.

Quietly, he followed the sound of running water and stopped at the edge of a small glade to observe unseen. By the water's edge the Master's apex of creative glory sat reading on a rock surrounded by the books casually stacked around her.

She sat primly on a large, granite rock, concentrating on the large, leather-bound book in her lap. Her body was that of a young woman, but her feet terminated in cloven hooves of iridescent mother-of-pearl. Her head was that of a delicate filly, and, from her forehead, between the cascading locks of white hair, rose a spiral horn almost two feet long. Her long flowing tresses framed an intelligent face with dark eyes. In keeping with classic tradition, her tail was leonine and long terminating in a large tuft of silken white.

As the Master slowly approached her she looked up and held out to him the book she was reading. It was a leather-bound work on ancient mythologies.

"It says here that the unicorn is a symbol of divine purity," she said, child-like wonder evident in her voice. She spoke with a slight lisp, but the defect was softened by her gentle and musical voice. "But the unicorn pictured here is one with four legs. I only have two."

The Master gently took the book and closed it. He gently sat on the rock next to her as his old joints protested. "You are," he said, "what I have made you."

"And," she asked, the sadness evident in her voice, "what am I that you have made?"

With a smile the old man took her velvet hand in his and stroked the silken hide there with genuine affection. "Somebody who makes me very proud.

"Come," he said before she had another chance to ask one of her endless questions. "It is time. There is something that I want to show you today."

Slowly, with her assistance as he was feeling the strain of the morning walk, he regained his feet and led her by a short path toward the Dome's closest edge. "You have asked me many questions about your home here and the Dome which protects you." She looked at him in silent anticipation.

"You have even dared to ask questions about me," he said with a smile. "One of the hazards, I suppose, of free will and an inquisitive mind." As she opened her mouth to speak, he raised his hand to silence her, knowing she was going to unnecessarily apologize.

He led her to a door in the side of the Dome which, opening at their presence, led into a small dark alcove. The only light in the room was that streaming through the opened door behind them. In the opposite wall stood a closed iris valve taller than the unicorn.

"I must warn you," the Master said, "What you are going to see is not pleasant." At a word of command, the valve opened allowing a lurid yellow light into the room. The unicorn cried out in horror as she slowly grasped what lay beyond the thick clear ceramic window.

The scene was a diseased and blasted landscape of broken towers and rubble-choked streets under a lurid, urine-yellow sky. Darker clouds scudded overhead. Aside from the few ragged human forms stumbling through the rubble there were no other sign of life.

The Master sadly watched his unicorn as she reacted to the scene outside. He had not given her the ability to shed tears, but he knew that if she had, she would be weeping. After a few moments of silence, she whispered, "This is not in my picture books, Father. What is this you show me?"

Quietly, he took her hand and led her outside into the bright clean light and air of the Dome, back to the glade where he had first found her sitting on a rock lost in her studies. He motioned for her to sit and they sat in silence for many minutes listening to the sounds of the running water.

"What you see in your picture books was my world as it was many decades ago," he finally said, his voice shaking from fatigue and a great sadness. "The full tale of how it came to be what you saw outside the window is one of an arrogant searching for knowledge and the tragedy of accomplishment for its own sake without regard to the ethics or moral consequences of our actions.

"In the fading years of the 21st century, my people made incredible leaps of knowledge in the fields of genetics, medicine, nuclear power and many other technologies. I was one of the leaders at that time and became wealthy beyond reason. In our minds, we were gods!

"However, in our mad dash to create and accomplish more and more we failed to ask the important questions of why and what. The end result is that we continued to soil our bed until one day we awoke to discover that we were drowning in our own waste.

"And tragically, in spite of our technological power, we were helpless to stop the chain reaction we had started. Because of our arrogance, the world has now become a sterile cesspool of garbage barely able to sustain any life at all. The entire human population has shrunk from eight billion to less than a few million."

The unicorn held tightly to his hand, listening, but staring at nothing as the Master spoke. "But," she said after a lengthy silence, "you created all that is here in the Dome?"

"Yes," the Master said, nodding his affirmation.

"Then you have the power now to restore everything as it should be?" she asked hopefully.

The Master sadly shook his head and patting her hand. "No, I'm afraid not. The Earth is very large and very ill and even I have my limits.”

The next day, the Master failed to find the unicorn sitting on her rock. Eventually he found her in the viewing room, sitting on the floor and surrounded by her books, reading by the garish glow of the sickly sunlight that streamed in through the iris window.

"Look, Father," she said excitedly. "Listen."

She opened up an old book and read quickly, her words echoing in the room. "For verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." She held the open book out to him with an obvious air of expectation.

"See?" she said. "There is a way to undo what has been done."

The Master took the old book and reread the passage. Sadly, he shook his head and returned the book to her.

"The illness that affects the world cannot be undone by words that were written thousands of years ago."

"But …" she began, but the Master held up his hand for silence.

"I'm sorry. You have made me proud that you have spent so much time and energy looking for a solution, but if I or my brothers cannot find it, the solution probably does not exist. Simple belief cannot heal the world." The Master sighed with fatigue and sadness and walked stiffly back out into the safety of the Dome.

The unicorn remained, clutching the ancient book to her breast as she stared out at the blighted landscape.

"But I believe," she whispered to herself. "I believe."

The alarms awoke the old man where he had sat dozing by the unicorn's rock. With a fearful cry he struggled to his feet and, as fast as his old body would allow, went quickly to the source of the breach in the Dome's security. All around him, the alarmed cries of his wards matched the piercing wails of the sirens.

The door to the viewing room was closed, but instantly opened at his approach. As it opened, a thick swirl of acrid yellowish air poured into the Dome. The Master entered the empty room and closed the door behind him. The unicorn was nowhere to be seen, but the secret door that led to the outside stood wide open.

Coughing and gagging, the Master went to close the door, but jerked back in surprise at what he saw. Slowly, grasping the wall for support, he fell to his knees in overpowering emotions of wonder and fear. As the tears began to fall down the old lined cheeks he traced with his eyes the footprints of his unicorn in the poisoned dust of the outside world.

Leading off into the wreckage of what was once the Earth, the footprint of each cloven hoof was plainly marked by a lush verdant growth of healthy green grass and brilliant, tiny flowers.

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