Gatc'hh'en's Rite

Literary Science Fiction

By John Talisker

Gatc’hh’en: Pronounced: Gat-chin: kætʃ ːlən

G – Guanine A – Adenine T – Thymine C - Cytosine


There is no beginning, no end. Time goes on, and on, into the past as well as the future. Truth: another concept with no meaning since there is no such thing as truth. There is only the physics of how things work, and how things work is arbitrary. If everything is arbitrary, there is no meaning. If there is no meaning, then we live in Hell.

A complex and often conflicted alien mind searches for truth and meaning in a world where there seems to be none.

Part machine, part living being, Gatc’hh’en is half mad with loneliness and despair. He is no more than a machine, built by his mother, programmed by his father, completely adaptable to any environment he might stumble into short of the heart of a star or the belly of a black hole. He has been carefully and exquisitely designed. Gatc’hh’en can shift into anything he wishes to be including a human being, and then back to his natural form, a radiating sphere as bright as the sun, powered by an anti-matter heart and a quantum computer for a mind.

Nearly 800 years into his Rite of Passage on Earth Gatc’hh’en desperately wants to return home. The only woman he ever loved is dead, but he wants her back. It seems the only way for he will not leave without her. He drags a Primordial Black Hole into Earth orbit and proceeds to tear it apart, turning all Humanity upside down in the process.

It seems like the end of the world but nothing shall stop him.

Cover art by Terry Belleville

"The beauty of great science fiction is the platform it provides for serious consideration of life's big questions by joining science, philosophy, and religion in an exploration of what it means to be human. This novel, one of the great stories I have read over the last few years..." -- Amazon Reviewer

"An excellently written science fiction story. Super read. The tale also ponders deeper questions, such as the use of power for good or bad. Well done! For anyone looking for a SciFi story with a new twist, this is worth buying". -- Amazon Reviewer

"I really recommend this book to you. Once I started it I could not put it down. It is such an original approach to the genre that it is a must read" -- Amazon Reviewer

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In the beginning. What a notion. There is no beginning, no end. Time goes on, and on, into the past as well as the future. Truth: another concept with no meaning since there is no such thing as truth. There is only the physics of how things work, and how things work is arbitrary. If everything is arbitrary, there is no meaning. If there is no meaning, then there is no God, and we live in Hell.

A first conscious thought: He awoke sitting on a rock the size of a small moon looking out at hanging foliage and glooming trunks of trees narrowing upward into a scattered sky. The hollow hills stretched into the distance and beyond that the encompassing grey sea. He was not alone. He was surrounded by sound, and scent, sensation, color, light and dark. The cyclic sound of the sea against the shore: water washing over rock, rock chattering against rock. He searched for the pattern, found it, and then folded it within himself, an endless quilt of geometrical shapes. He could calculate it. He could lift it in his hands and turn it from side to side to study it. He could understand, actually know — completely know, deeply know — day and night, summer and winter, rain and cloudless skies, snow and sand, with all the endless paradigms colored, convoluted, by the stochastically predictable patterns.

In the beginning — that is before he met the people; before he knew the patterns of day and night; before he understood what the revolution of the planet about its sun meant to the people — he had flown over the face of Earth, skimming over blue oceans beneath the stars and a bone-white moon. Following shining rivers as they spilled down from high plateaus and meandered across plains to the sea. Soaring and then rising like Phoenix above dark, snow-capped mountains to greet the sun once again rising. But then turn around and repeat. Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. Rain, Wind, Snow, Black Earth, Gray Sand. Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Tsunamis’ wiping out entire coastlines. Volcanoes belching up the interior of the planet turning the sky dark, the day colder, the nights darker. Turn around and repeat. Tossed seas. Blue. Lonely ice-capped mountains. White.

The interesting thing, the only interesting thing to experience had been a self-sustaining carbon and water-based process enveloped within a myriad of physical forms that he knew was called Life. In the oceans, on the land, in the air, the highest peaks, the deepest crevices, it was everywhere and all built on the same pattern, the same twisted string that encoded not only the form but also the beginning and the end of the organism. He understood how the pattern came together: Simple nucleotides, only four of them, geometrically arranged in a double helix, each strand storing the same information while running counter to one another. The information replicated as the two strands separated and then rejoined, slight errors in the encoding ensuring evolution. Dynamically complex and amazing. Amazing because the process is fantastically improbable. Amazing because it led to countless forms most beautiful.

His people had once had been composed of a nearly identical organic structure, the original building blocks similarly sourced from vast dust clouds of ionized matter, heavy metals, and carbon-based molecules that would ultimately form new stars and new solar systems. The fundamental mechanisms were different, very different, but had the same function in that the resulting lifeforms could each metabolize, and replicate, and, most important, evolve.

He had thought long and hard about it and always came to the same conclusion: Existence is a miracle that suggests a purpose.

“But aren’t you confusing miracle with merely being rare, or suggesting there might be purpose only because you cannot stand the notion of living without it?” he would ask, careful to be as precise and emotionless as possible.

He would reconsider his self-posed question and rephrase, sitting back, cynically and grimly smiling. “What’s it all about if not a miracle?” with the corresponding answer: Everything. Nothing.

He knew how empty the stars were: stone cold most of them; not all, but most. How many planets were there with people on them? He did not know. Not many, he guessed. It was why he had been placed on Earth, he decided, but without knowing if it might be true, since no one had thought it necessary to explain what his Rite of Passage — if that was what it was instead of mere abandonment — was all about. He understood this much: The Rite was reserved only for a select few. Lucky him, then: Lucky, lucky, lucky him.

But what was it all about, though? As far as he knew, his Rite had but a singular purpose, and that was to learn and then presumably humble himself. “You may breathe the burning flames of a star, but in the end you are the same as this cold, liquid water, and carbon-based creation. You may slip through the starry mists like a wisp but, in the end, you are not all that different from the flame of life that is burning on this planet.” The notion that that might be the purpose of his Rite led him to yet another potential answer to the question posed.

Yes, life is sacred; all life, no matter where found and how put together.

Was that it, then? Was that all he had to learn? He would have struck out for home at that point, stupidly and naively, with no way of finding his own way, and would have done so except for one thing: quite by accident he met his first person. What happens when two different beings meet, greet, confront, and collide? Is there a spark? No, there is no spark, how could there be? One is a blaze of light, energetic ions, and electrons that can spread itself out over half the solar system; the other a repeating pattern of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen at a temperature and pressure in which water exists in liquid form. And yet there is commonality, not only in the desire to live, and not just to procreate as some might think. So, no, he soon understood that he was not going home, at least not anytime soon, not until he understood who the people were and what their fragile existence might mean. All this… this Rite, was, after all, only about him, was it not?

Of course, he had known about the people right from the start. They were everywhere. He, at first, had avoided them; they had seemed like an unnecessary complication in an environment already complicated enough. What did they have to offer him, after all? He could see they were social creatures. He could see they were intelligent. He could see they were excellent builders. And yet they were the product of the unique evolution of the right-handed double helix encoded life, and in that way, no more unique, or special, than any complex lifeforms that had evolved to find a niche in the planet’s Eco-system. What had changed his mind was not the tools they built; it was not the combination of their art and their science, nor the fact they could look forward in time as well as back, learn from the past, and dream of the future. No, it was simply because he could talk with them.

The first person he met was a dead person. A woman. Naked. Her garments removed. Sexually violated. Her skull battered to fragments. He slipped down between the trees and hovered beside her and carefully examined her broken body. Recently dead. He slipped back and slowly rotated about the clearing, taking it all in, keeping her central to it. Others of her kind mingled nearby. The male of the species. It was clear they had brought her life to an end. They were in the process of doing the same to another using a similar technique. He observed them carefully. Sex and violence. They dragged another woman forward and another. It would take them a while to process them all: a day, perhaps. They took turns.

A pillar of black smoke had drawn him there; and where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire, and fire is always interesting. It represents change, disassociation, and rapid oxidation; it is an aberration in a world where order predominates, or a catalyst in a world where it does not. He had thought later, too, after reviewing how he had come to this understanding and recognizing the irony of it, that the killing of the women had not been unlike fire.

Of course, he knew all about the people’s wars. He knew how brutal they could be, and almost always were. But it wasn’t the rule, in that their wars did not dominate their culture. It was the balance between war and peace that dominated: good and evil, as he later learned to describe the fine balance that kept the people from destroying themselves. If that were not true, their society would be open-ended and there would be no villages or any people at all. No, they cooperated with one another far more than they fought. It was one of the reasons they were people, and not just another living creature, as remarkable as they, too, could be.

He had been so clever, so rational, and so eager to return home that he had not bothered to check up on the people before then. He thought the definition of life and the recognition that he and his people shared a common bond would be enough to end his isolation.

“Did I pass, did I? Good! Let’s go! I want to go home!”

He had not understood the many opposing and seemingly random contradictions that often tore the people apart and separated him from them. The people on this planet they called Earth had not been designed. They were the product of random mutations filtered by evolution, an imperfect process.

He had watched until the men finished. They raped and murdered all the women. It took hours and not quite a day as he had predicted. They were quite exhausted by the end. They piled the bodies atop the body of the first. There was a rather large accumulation, both young and not so old. He was about ready to turn away when one of the women groaned – and that was the second person he had taken the trouble to reflect upon, also a woman. He slipped down beside her. The gray matter of her brain spilled out. They had killed them all by a single blow to the head with a metal weapon: copper and tin. She would not last long. She groaned again and struggled to extricate herself, and after having managed that, began to crawl toward the safety of the tree line. She could see it just ahead. She reached for it. It was amazing she could see at all.

He could not quite understand why she struggled. She would die no matter what she did. Her wounds were too great. He hovered close.

Hello, hello… Let go, let go…

He could see she understood. It was a complete surprise. He had not expected she would. He had only been echoing aloud his internalized thought and feeling, but when she acknowledged him — a nod, a grimace, and then the denial of her imminent death — he had been taken aback; and then, later, reflecting upon the moment, astonished.

Of course, he knew about pain — he was not always devoid of it himself — but he had never experienced it like she had been experiencing it at that moment. One cannot live pain-free — that is death — but the pain she had felt was uncommon, unnatural, and he would not have it. He picked her up and rose above the trees blazing as bright as the sun with her in his arms. She fainted. He rose higher, stopped her pain, and mended her wounds. He clothed her. He returned her to full life and health.

On seeing him ascend, the men jumped to their feet and grabbed their weapons, but on seeing him descend in shards of stabbing light with her in his arms they fell to their knees. He set her down before them and gave her the power to do what she would. She killed them all. They fell where they kneeled. She cut off their heads, turned them over, and gutted them.

No mystery there, he supposed. He had merely shifted the balance of power. He vowed then not to interfere again in matters of war, not because it was immoral, but because anything he might do would be just as pathetically arbitrary as what they could, and would, do to themselves. What would be the point?

Still, after that, he could not quite let go. He remained for a while and spoke to her, and she answered. After that nothing could ever be the same. She asked if he would burn the bodies of the men and spread their ashes over the hills as if they had never existed, and he did so. She asked if he would bury the women and children that the men had murdered, and he did that as well, finally placing an upright stone as tall as any man to mark the place. She thanked him and asked him to take her home, and he did that too. She asked his name, and he told her. Her name was Judith. She believed him to be an angel, she said, and called him Michael because she could not pronounce his name.

In retrospect, he wondered if he could have found his way home before then. Or, if he had, would he have been welcomed, given that he would not have reached the expected level of understanding demanded of him? He did not know. He would never know. The truth was, it took years to assimilate what had happened, and what it meant. Isn’t that often true: the things we learn the best are often those things that we take the longest to comprehend? That’s what Catherine would have said. He instead did something entirely unexpected, surprising himself in the process. It had been relatively easy. He took water and a handful of clay and transformed it. He utilized the patterns held within the double helix from the woman. He had needed it to heal her wound. He became her twin brother.