New Project: “Eik Reviews Every Game He Owns” (EREGHO)

According to Steam, as of February 20, 2020, I own over 470 games. According to SteamDB, 265 of them I’ve played less than an hour. 161 of those, I’ve never played at all. If we are charitable and assume I bought every game on sale (I didn’t), I’ve spent over $2000 on games in 15 years.

Some of these games are “bundle trash” – games that came bundled with other games I wanted. Some of them are games I bought super cheap to play later “when I had time” (because in my mind, I’m still 22 with all the free time in the world. Unfortunately for me, I’m 37 with a mortgage and a real job).

Regardless, in the fifteen years I’ve been on Steam, I’ve accumulated a horrendous backlog of leisure. This is gross, this is stupid, and I need to do something about it. Normally, my solution would be to ignore it – buy another game, or pick back up a game I’ve already sunk dozens of hours into (or some, like Rimworld, over 500 hours so far with no signs of stopping). But that doesn’t solve the problem, and also means I continue to ignore my latest new year’s resolution, that being to write more often.

So, here we are. I have 470 games to review, in random order. I’ll try to write one review a week. Some might be long-form; some reviews might be a bare paragraph, if the game is terrible or short enough. I’m not going to be objective; I have many, many biases in my gaming tastes, and I’m too stubborn to change my habits. I’m not going to put the game on a pedestal and caress it this way and that to 100% completion. Besides, there are thousands of sites that do that already. I’m going to approach these games like I would normally, except now I’m forcing myself to put my thoughts on paper. Well, digital paper. You get the idea.

Short Story: Water and Salt

High Admiral Qoggoth Klkagin of the Million Suns glared at the bridge’s viewscreen. He had sent the Most Glorious Emperor’s message to these “Earthlings” over three cycles ago and had yet to receive a response. He was instructed to wait seven more, according to official protocol. Qoggoth hated waiting. He was of an older, more conservative school of thought in the Empire; that homeworlds of vanquished foes should be glassed, then methodically disassembled to create more fleets for the Empire’s endless wars of conquest and honor. This is how it has been done for thousands of years. Qoggoth’s ancestors had personally destroyed hundreds of such worlds over the ages. But this new Emperor, Glory To His Name And Family Forevermore, had other ideas. He deemed endless warfare unnecessary; instead, he decreed that worlds should be allowed to surrender first, with a token offering of water and salt presented to the local fleet’s commander. Which would be strange enough, except he also insisted that worlds be given ten cycles to deliberate. It would seem that as the Emperor’s Family Forevermore gets farther from the Great Patriarch himself, they tend to get…. softer.

Qoggoth shook the thought out of his head. It would not do to think of treasonous thoughts while orbiting an enemy world. That is a bad path to travel. Instead, he busied himself with the minutae of running a ten thousand ship fleet. He swiped through the mining reports on the local homeworld’s only moon on his data pad, noting the amount of iron and titanium in its composition. He would need those metals for construction materials when he finally was allowed to land on this wretched world and…

Qoggoth was interrupted by the faint glowing signal pinging on his data pad. He grunted at it, then stood, stretching his frame upwards. The new Emperor Forevermore’s “Diplomatic Protocol” demands that all foes be received with at least a modicum of honor. That meant standing. Qoggoth inwardly grunted again, not believing that vanquished foes should receive any honor. They lost. They must pay the price. That is all they are good for. The fact that these Earthlings, these tiny “Humans”, fought to the last man and woman on each of their fledgling colonies mattered not.

But, alas, Qoggoth is not Emperor. He sighed, flicking the pinging symbol on his datapad to the screen and stood up straight, lest one of the Emperor’s Eyes report he did not follow this “Protocol”. Rebellious thoughts are not allowed in the Empire.

The screen switched from a view of orbit, smoke trails and fire on the surface visible even from space, to that of a small Human. Judging from what Qoggoth saw on the screen, he would barely reach Qoggoth’s hip. Data maps on the screen showed the computer’s estimations of biological state; he was tired, hungry, and his stress hormones were at maximum. This is what the Humans could offer the Empire? This is their leader? A wretch that wouldn’t last a day in the Emperor Forevermore’s mines? Qoggoth sighed internally, wishing he could squeeze this man’s head between his hands and be done with it all.

“Yes, I said, Omega Alpha Protocol Seven is authorized,” the human whispered offscreen, translated instantly by the ship’s computer. He appeared caught off-guard by the response to his ping. He looked to the screen and smiled, blinking unevenly. The dark bags under his eyes were evidently a sign of extreme exhaustion, per the ship screen’s monitoring systems. His uniform looked cobbled together, and dirty. He had patches of unkempt hair on his head, both above and below his face. He appeared to be inhaling smoke from a white cylinder in his mouth. The building he was in appeared to be in a darkened bunker. Red alert warnings were flashing in the background, casting red light everywhere. The attendant he was speaking to scampered off into the darkness behind him, apparently in a rush.

Qoggoth was not impressed. Nevertheless, he began his speech, per the Diplomatic Protocol. He trusted the ship would translate his words into whatever mewling gibberish this human understood. “I am High Admiral Qoggoth Klkagin of the Chosen Honor Fleet. I am an Emissary,” Qoggoth said, stumbling over the unfamiliar word, “of the Million Suns. I bring a single message from our Emperor Forevermore: He has decreed that you may become a protectorate of our Empire, a servant of the Million Suns, and allowed to keep your homeworld, this… ‘Earth’,” He growled this odd, alien sounding name at the image on his screen, ” in exchange for the wholesale deconstruction of the remainder of your solar system, and all of your previously held colony worlds. You will not be allowed any future colonies. You will not be given permission to leave your system. But you shall live, and your sun shall not be snuffed out. All that we ask is a token offering, that of salt, and of water, to our Emperor Evermore. If you do not agree to these terms, your planet will be annihilated from orbit, and the materials of your planet’s core will be used to build more fleets for the Empire. As His Emissary, I am ready to receive your offer of submission and surrender.” Qoggoth ended his speech, still standing, and looking at the image of this disheveled primitive on his screen.

The human blinked again, flicking his eyes left, offscreen, as if reading something that distracted him. What could be more important than deciding whether your world lives or dies? “Ah, yes, hello there. Um, one moment,” said the human, turning to type something on a terminal, then hitting the last key with a flourish. A flash of white and blue light flashed just out the range of the viewport. He turned back to the screen, smiling again. These humans smiled too often for Qoggoth’s taste. He didn’t like it. Defeated species should be groveling, not smiling. The human began speaking.

“I am General Gabriel Klingsmith, most recently the last ranking commander of Earth’s remaining defense forces, which you seem to have defeated rather handily, so I’m running a bit threadbare. My reports indicate your forces have completely leveled most of our capital cities, so we had to figure out who was in charge once you stopped bombing us. You missed most of Switzerland, though, so… here I am, 38th in line of succession,” the man said, smiling tiredly.

Qoggoth stared at the little man as he oddly explained his governmental cohesion problems. This is not something that should concern Qoggoth, and really, what sort of Emperor shows his weaknesses as a sign of greeting? No wonder their colonies were so small, they obviously couldn’t hold even a basic government together. It also explains why fleet losses were a pittance.

“This is none of my concern,” Qoggoth replied, trying to control his temper. “Are you, or are you not, the current leader of your species?”

“Well, I suppose…. yes, I suppose I am, aren’t I? King of Earth!” Gabriel laughed, apparently amused by his new title. “There isn’t much of the Earth left, thanks to you guys, but I guess I’ll represent us, sure.”

“Do you understand the terms of your surrender?” Qoggoth asked, looking unwaveringly at this tired, small, annoying human.

“Oh yes, I understand them just fine,” replied Gabriel.

“And do you accept them as your fate?”

“Oh, no, I don’t think we will.”

Activity on Qoggoth’s bridge stopped momentarily, as everyone looked at the screen, not sure of what they heard.

Qoggoth furrowed his brow ridge. “I do not think you understand the terms then, human. Refusal to offer us the tokens of salt and water mean that your planet will be annihilated from orbit, and the materials of your planet’s core will-“

“-be used to build more fleets for the Empire. Yeah, I heard you the first time,” Gabriel said, interrupting him. He focused on the cylinder in his mouth and inhaled deep, letting smoke trickle out of his small, bare nose.

Qoggoth could not believe what he had heard. He glowered at the little man, working to remember the next steps in the Diplomatic Protocol. “You do not accept the terms?”

“I have a question for you, Admiral. Why salt and water?” Gabriel asked.

Qoggoth paused. “Because it is the Emperor Forevermore’s Decree.”

“Yeah, but… why?”

Qoggoth considered this. “It is simply material that every form of life in the galaxy needs to survive on a basic level. In his Infinite Wisdom, the Emperor Forevermore realizes this, and thus makes it a symbol of submission, that the Empire is necessary for continued survival.” Qoggoth hoped the Emperor’s Eyes were watching, as he thought that was a good and proper answer.

“I see,” Gabriel said, looking over to his left again, and nodding just before another burst of blue and white light flashed off to the side. He laughed to himself, shaking his head. “Do you know any chemistry, Admiral?”

“The arts and sciences are for the other castes, human, not for warriors,” Qoggoth sneered, gripping the edge of his console to contain his rage. Had the Emperor’s Patriarch still been alive…

“Yeah, I got a B- in it at Academy, myself,” replied Gabriel. Another functionary ran into view, clutching something, and hurried offscreen to the left. Gabriel reached over and hit a key on his console, and another blue and white light flashed. “We have some fine chemists, though, here at CERN. Those eggheads have been doing remarkable research the last few decades. And funny enough, they have been focused on salt.” The red lights in the background of Gabriel’s bunker were gone, Qoggoth noticed. So was the smoke.

“As you said, salt is necessary for life. So is water. So when the geniuses here started playing around with exotic particles, they chose those two as a good starting point. Might as well start at the bottom of the periodic table and work your way up, right?” Said Gabriel, taking a long pull from the whitened cylinder. He blew smoke into the air. More humans scurried behind him, towards the left. Flashes of the strange light were happening more often.

“Human, your time draws short. This is your final decision. Submit, or die. Salt, or death,” Qoggoth said, through clenched teeth. He glanced down at his terminal and began punching in fire authorization codes.

Qoggoth didn’t notice that Gabriel’s uniform looked less dirty than before.

“So anyways,” Gabriel continued, “eventually our scientists started hitting little salt crystals with supercharged isotopes of uranium at high speeds. Lots of energy, right?. So much energy, it turns out, that, we accidentally created a tiny hole in the universe. Not really a black hole, you see, but something like a wormhole. A path elsewhere. I wasn’t very good at math in the Academy either, so sorry if I missed a few details.”

Qoggoth caught several brighter flashes of light in his peripheral vision. He looked up, and noticed Gabriel was standing now, in a well-lit room. The smoke was gone. The alarms were gone. Gabriel’s white mouth cylinder was nowhere to be seen. A small crew of other humans were manning consoles that Qoggoth had sworn were destroyed just moments before. Gabriel’s uniform shifted visibly, stuttering between various fabric and clothing styles. What was this trickery? Were the humans mocking him?

“Unfortunately, your Empire of a Million Suns showed up at the edge of our claimed space a few months later, and, well, you know the rest, as you caused most of it firsthand. Death, destruction, hollowed out planets, colonists turned into nutrient paste. We’ve been trying to fight you for years, but you’re just too big, too powerful. We honestly didn’t stand a chance. And here you are, demanding salt and water, of all things, at our last planet, the cradle of our species, on the eve of our assured destruction.” Gabriel chuckled at himself as he began pacing around the cleaned up bunker. Terminals that were once smoking debris seemed to rebuild themselves, reconfiguring their shape and size as the human general walked by.

“Human Gabriel, I am required, per our Diplomatic Protocol, to give you one final chance to accept surrender. Salt and water, or the termination of your species. Choose.”

Gabriel continued on, apparently ignoring him. “Once you reached the Kuiper Belt, one of our scientists discovered we could actually send objects through this hole in space. When you reached Neptune, he figured out how to determine where we were sending objects, although it wasn’t so much where, as when. We had discovered a way to travel back in time! Unfortunately, only a one way ticket, and we had no control over when exactly that object arrived. But we’ve been getting… confirmation that objects sent back were affecting future events.” The scene shifted again as Qoggoth watched, almost imperceptibly at first. Suddenly, Gabriel was no longer in a bunker at all, but in an office, then in an room surrounded by glass. The scene changed more drastically as the glass walls showed a stark-white facility, with hangars going as far as the ship’s screen could see. The hangars were filled to the brim with ships that shifted shapes and armaments. Occasionally, the colors on the walls would flicker, from white, to red, to green, to camoflage, but eventually settled on a light grey. Lettering on displays shifted fonts, languages, symbols at a frightful pace.

“By the time you turned Mars into slag,” Gabriel continued, in a slightly different accent, more clipped this time as the ship computer struggled to keep up with inflection and accent change, “our team had figured out a way to send people back too. And that changed everything, if you’ll pardon the pun. With people, even though we couldn’t control when they were going, we knew that if they survived, they would change our timeline’s history. Inventions and discoveries happened earlier, sometimes by thousands of years. Whole societies and empires changed. And as you may have noticed, we got a little stronger and resilient to your supposed Empire of the Million Suns.”

On screen, Gabriel smiled warmly as his disheveled beard disappeared. His uniform was now a bright blue, emblazoned with medals of valor. Qoggoth punched in the firing authorization codes on his terminal and barked at his communications officer to send the fleet his orders.

“Gwagketh, you have my authorization codes. Send them to the fleet. Fire at will,” growled Qoggoth.

“I’m sorry sir? Why would we attack Earth?”

“Because it is an ORDER!” Bellowed Qoggoth as he whirled around, ready to strike the officer for his insolence, but instead fell over in shock as his communications officer was not Gwagketh, but a human named Jameson. “What is this? What have you done? Where is my crew?” Qoggoth cried. He looked around and saw his bridge filled with aliens. Morgons, The Balth, Sing-tongs, and half a dozen other species, members of races Qoggoth had spent his career exterminating. He looked up at the screen, horrified, at Gabriel, still smiling warmly at him. “It turns out, if you send enough people back in time, you can start to affect the timeline of not just Earth, but the galaxy too.”

Qoggoth began to stand, his angular uniform flickering before his eyes, as it slowly stuttered into the same bright blue uniform that his commanding officer, President-General Gabriel Klingsmith, wore, albeit with less medals.

“And that is why, Admiral Qoggoth, we offer water and salt to all new species we encounter, as an offering of peace and prosperity.”

“I understand, sir, thank you for the history lesson. My species has always wondered that, since you arrived on our world decades ago. I will begin the fleet preparations to explore the sectors the council has deemed necessary as soon as possible.”

“Thank you, Admiral Qoggoth.”, said Gabriel, adjusting his uniform.

“Thank you, sir. Please tell your wife my family-pod sends its greetings.”

“Of course, General. May peace reign forever.” Klingsmith’s image smiled again, as his image disappeared on screen.

“May peace reign forever,” said Qoggoth, getting back to the business of running his exploration fleet on his terminal.

Poop in a bag: 1 year later

This week is the one year mark of my getting sick. Technically speaking, June 14th is the last day I “felt well”.

Thursday, June 14th was a company outing to a Tigers game; lots of beer, lots of food, revelry. Another beautiful day with great people. The day after, I didn’t feel so hot, so I took a half day at work, but chalked it up to hedonistic exuberance at the ball game. Saturday I was functional, but didn’t feel 100%; in fact I remember feeling “weird”, but unable to place why.

A small side note: As far as bodily functions go, I’m normally pretty “regular” – food in, food out. Sunday morning, however, after a terrible night’s sleep, I realized I hadn’t dropped any kids off at the pool since Thursday. Well, I thought, that must be why I felt bad – constipation! I went to Walgreen’s and dutifully picked up some sort of laxative.

As a test run, I took half the recommended dosage.

Well, it worked. And worked. And worked. And worked. My body exhumed waste products it must have been saving since my 8th birthday. I felt like absolute garbage, and spent the day shuttling between the bathroom and the sofa, dozing in and out of sleep. This continued the entire day.

Monday, I still felt like garbage, so took a work from home day, with the resolution that I’ll go see my doc Tuesday. Sometime around Monday afternoon, I managed to feel even worse; my body decided to add “occasional vomiting” to the mix of endless bathroom visits. On top of that, I started sweating. a LOT. The kind of sweating that soaks through your shirt and makes you dizzy.

My doctor’s office was closed by that point, so I drove myself to urgent care, waiting patiently in the waiting room while I soaked the surrounding carpet. They send me back, took my vitals, and promptly informed me they’re calling me an ambulance; apparently, I was tachycardic. The ambulance arrives, get me situated in the back (my first ambulance ride, for what it’s worth)… and my vitals looked normal. They take me to the ER anyway, because better safe than sorry.

The ER was less than useful, essentially chalking my symptoms up to dehydration. My blood tests looked weird, they said. But shouldn’t be anything to be worried about, they said. They sent me home.

The next day, I went to my doc; keep in mind, he was only my “doc” in the sense that he was listed as my primary care physician. I was not the kind of guy to regularly go to the doctor for any reason, and really only had him listed because of a previous job’s requirement for yearly insurance physicals.

He basically waved it all away as “the flu”, and sent me home.

Unfortunately, after this, my memory starts to become hazy of the exact day to day. There is a good reason why, which I’ll detail later, but here’s a taste; I got much, much sicker. Body-racking shivering episodes that lasted a half hour, followed by 3+ hours of flop-sweat. Vomiting. Trouble going to the bathroom. I couldn’t eat anything. I started hallucinating every time I closed my eyes – intense, vivid visions of dogfighting in space, of my body becoming sections of a logistics tractor trailer company (my brain kept trying to “will” my body to work by “driving” these trailers into the “correct” spots – this sounds crazy, which it definitely is, but at the time it had some sort of consistent internal logic I found comforting). I couldn’t sleep, but spent all day in bed. I had no interest in anything; everything made me nauseous, and the constant low-grade emergencies I was cycling through (hallucinations, vomiting, flop sweating, shivering) meant resting was fitful at best.

I kept going to the ER after hours, and kept going to the doctor when I could; each time, they would take some blood tests, puzzle over the results after a few days, then send me home. The doctor’s office would send me home as a flu case, the ER would send me home as a case of either dehydration, or OVER hydration. At one point, the ER agreed to hold me overnight for observation. I saw a pair of single doctors at the beginning, who asked me to recount my symptoms up to that point. They promised they’d get to the bottom of it. I never saw them again. I was in a hospital room for nearly 24 hours, and had to harangue a charge nurse to discharge me, as aside from the orderlies taking my blood every 4 hours, no one else came to see me; doctors were AWOL, and nurses had no information. I was finally discharged with no findings and a recommendation to take St. John’s Wart.

I kept getting sicker. My attempts to work were failures; I could barely keep my head up, and my coworkers later remarked that I was acting extremely strange. I would show up to work, dizzily attempt to focus on a screen for an hour or two, and go home. I kept calling off work, because I couldn’t do much except sweat/shiver in bed. Occasional trips to the grocery store (even in my fever state, I knew I had to stay hydrated and keep getting nutrients, so I bought a lot of fruit smoothies, crackers, etc. to try to eat) were equally exhausting and terrifying. At one point, I began shivering in my car in the parking lot; in the summer sun, with the windows rolled up and the heat on max, I shivered in the driver’s seat for at least 30 minutes.

During one of my revolving door visits to my doctor, because I wasn’t getting any better, I told him about my hallucinations. He sent me home with Ativan, which I later learned was more of a “please go away” medicine; it’s an extremely mind-dulling anti-anxiety drug that nusing homes use for troublesome patients. He still maintained it was the flu and told me to drink a lot of Gatorade.

After the subsequent ER visits and proclamations of being simulatneously dehydrated AND over-hydrated, I began monitoring my liquids intake to the ounce; my fever-addled brain was trying so, so hard to follow the doctors directions. I remember measuring Gatorade exactly, and trying to drink only exactly that amount per day, no matter how thirsty I was. It wasn’t making me any better.

Showers were Herculean efforts. Getting dressed felt pointless. My hobbies were actively uninteresting. My days were spent vomiting and staring at the ceiling in my bed, trying to will my body back to functioning. Tiny, inconsequential things became all-encompassing. A finished sandwich. A “normal” bowel function. A 20 minute nap.

A breaking point; I remember waking my wife up, terrified that I was dying, sobbing hysterically. This was essentially a panic attack, something I’ve never experienced before. I was hysterical. My wife, equally terrified of my mental state, tried to calm me down with food, which I a) desperately needed, as eating anything over the previous two weeks took hours for me to get down, and would rarely stay down anyway, and b) it was the only thing she could think of that would potentially calm me down (I recall blubbering about not eating for weeks). She dutifully cooked what I wanted, which I think was some sort of scrambled eggs, cheese, and black bean omelette. It took me an hour to eat a plate full. I took one of the Ativans, which at least made me stop rocking back and forth in my chair.

Looking back, that episode was absolutely terrifying. Out of my head, unable to sleep or eat, with my doctor still claiming it’s the flu, and the ER unable (or unwilling) to figure out the underlying cause of my symptoms, I’m basically begging my wife to help me, somehow, because after a week or two in this state, I’m starting to lose it. I felt powerless and no one seemed able to help me.

I was dying, and no one seemed to care.

Somehow my wife convinced me to seek a second opinion. The next morning, I mustered the strength to drive to Ann Arbor from Monroe. Normally a 45 minute drive, it took over an hour, due to me driving very slowly, and very carefully (my mental state at this time, it was very hard to concentrate on anything, much less drive in a straight line. No, I shouldn’t have been driving, but I felt like I had no choice).

I drove to the U of M hospital. Did I go to the ER? No, I tried to be a “good” patient (this was my internal reasoning) by trying to get an appointment at a specialist. I didn’t realize, of course, at the time, that most specialists at the hospital don’t take walk in appointments, and the lead times were measured in months.

I went to several internal medicine departments in the sprawling, huge hospital. I was swaying back and forth, sweating, barely able to talk. Each time they told me ufnrotunately I’d have to wait weeks to see someone.

I remember the last one; I came out of the lobby, and slumped against a bench. My mother in law, a former nurse, was texting me, asking if I was okay. I was not okay, and I felt defeated again, rebuked by another arm of the medical community.

I stumbled down to the University of Michigan ER. I tried detailing the last few weeks. The first doctor that came in looked like he was more preoccupied with the med student on his arm than dealing with me; I remember him talking to me and asking if maybe all of my symptoms were just in my head. I told him I didn’t think so.

Another doctor came in and noticed my stomach was pretty swollen (I’m a big guy, but even this looked odd, considering I hadn’t eaten a full meal in 2 weeks). He ordered a CT scan.

A CT scan, I’ve learned, is one of the basic diagnostic tools hospitals use to pinpoint gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, urinary problems, and the like. This was my first one in the whole 3 week ordeal.

An hour or so passes, and the doctor comes back, along with the head of surgery. I have a perforated colon, my gut is full of bacteria, and I need to have emergency surgery. On top of that, I have extreme sepsis (also known as Septic Shock). My organs were shutting down. I’m not leaving the ER.

The first ER doctor came in and immediately apologized. His groupie was not on his arm this time.

Wheeled into surgery soon after. My very first surgery! Terrified, feeling like shit, but glad something is being done. I gave the surgeons a thumbs up.

Wheeled out of surgery. My memory is patchy. I was pumped full of all the antibiotics known to mankind, because of the sepsis (septic shock, even with the best medical care in the world, which is what I was getting, has a 70% mortality rate). The first surgery was merely to clean out my body cavities of the septic sludge that had been leaking from my colon; my operating wound was basically vacuum-sealed with shrink wrap, left open, because the next day they went back in to actually remove 25% of my colon (the sigmoid colon, which is arguably the “least important” part of the colon; it’s the part that holds poo prior to you relieving yourself).

Happy 4th of July, 2018.

At some point during/after these two surgeries, I had a few “close calls”. My temperature hit 107 (which is where important enzymes start breaking down, leading to death). I was given an ice bath. I started losing oxygen a few times. In the surgical ICU, I had an entire team of people dedicated to simply keeping me alive. I had 4-5 IV carts stacked full of chemicals and medicine to flush through me, 20 bags of god knows what keeping me alive.

Being close to death, unfortunately, was not a big revelatory experience. I didn’t see any bright lights, I didn’t have a chat with any deities, I did not have an out of body experience. I do remember not being able to talk, due to my nose and mouth being full of intubation/breathing assistance tubes. I remember writing furiously the entire time I was awake, with a clipboard I kept nearby at all times; talking to nurses, talking to doctors, talking to my wife, and friends. I remember asking repeatedly for a pepsi. I remember being scared, and frustrated. My handwriting is not the greatest at the best of times; writing while weak, sick, and between surgeries was not my best penmanship (apparently a few times I had tried to write something to tell a nurse, but it was essentially an illegible sine wave, but i was very adamant about whatever it was)

I also remember being awake when they pulled the intubation tube out of my lungs. One, two… THREE (followed by what felt like an ocean of liquid leaving my mouth, and then passing out again).

I spent my 36th birthday in the surgical ICU, with entire teams of people keeping me alive. I remember my friends bringing dollar store decorations to distribute on the wall in front of me, including a big paper “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” banner; allegedly, when they asked me where it should be put, I responded “around my neck”. Classy, me.

The days after the second surgery are also patchy, but I do remember the hallucinations vividly. At various points, I thought I was on a ship that was slowly sinking without power, while some sort of demon kept trying to steal my bodily fluids; I thought I was on a moon base that was slowly decaying, being moved from section to section (the “rich” section to the “okay” section to the “poor” section), while also realizing the “moon base” was actually a fake resort (again… hallucination logic). Then there was the last vision; a bleak all-white “room”, where street gangs fought over my bodily fluids, often directly in front of me, while “angels” fought them off and/or held them at bay.

Yes, this all sounds insane, but believe me when I tell you, my brain thought it was real. Even when I tried telling myself none of it was real, to my brain, it was as real as the actual surgical ICU room I was in. Recalling the memories is as easy as recalling any other memory during this time; crystal clear. I even remember calling nurses into the room asking if the room was sinking, or if the hospital was falling apart. I also apologized for asking the stupid question, but my brain honestly could not tell the difference.

The hallucinations cleared out, and I stayed in the SICU for a few more days. Every day, my entire surgery team came in at 5am to check on me. And when I mean the entire team, I mean a dozen plus surgeons cheerily flipping the light on and poking and prodding at me; checking my wounds, checking my mood, etc. Eventually, the director of the SICU came by and told me personally that I had “beaten” sepsis; I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was an enormous milestone (to be considered “beating” sepsis, your white blood cell count in your blood has to be below a certain amount. Normal people have 2-3k white blood cells per sample. My blood was topping out above 25,000, and I think the threshold for septic shock was somewhere around 15,000). It meant I was getting better.

But then I found out I couldn’t walk.

A thing that they neglect to tell you during emergency surgery and ICU stays is that after a few days of being bedridden, your body’s muscels atrophy shockingly quickly. My legs, which were swollen to the size of tree trunks, were immobile. Sensations were weak, and moving them was basically impossible. But that was to be solved later, they said. Don’t worry.

Another thing that they tended to gloss over; boy, do you get stuck full of tubes. I had tubes up my nose. Catheters. Stents. Drainage tubes stuck all over my body, draining extra sepsis… gunk out of my body. I had two separate PICC lines. A PICC line is like a super-IV – a large plastic tube guided down your veins to distribute medicine or what have you directly to your heart. I had one in my neck, and one onf my arm, on top of 4 or 5 more IV lines on the rest of my arms.

I was Frankenstein’s monster. But I was alive! And getting better, apparently.

I was eventually transferred from SICU to “regular” ICU, which had a different host of nurses, and thankfully I was no longer considered in a dangerous state of living.

Then: the road to recovery. Every day, I was hyper-focused on ways to “progress”, even things I had no control over (infection count in my blood). I wanted to get better to get these tubes and medicines out of my body. I wanted to start moving around. I desperately wanted to get home. I was sleeping terribly (but still sleeping; it was a matter of comfort now, rather than delirium), and I had not a lot to do. Visitors helped; my wife hanging by me helped; the nurses and doctors actually caring helped.

Every couple of days, the surgeons would look at my various tubes and evaluate whether or not I needed them. Here, I must remark; as cheery and as amazing as the surgeons are, they really have terrible concepts of what constitutes “uncomfortable” or “painful”; once, at their normal 5am house call, they looked at my stent (which was routed up through my cash and prizes to my kidney, mind you) and asked “hey Mr Eikenberry, would you like this out?” “uh, yeah, i suppose….” without warning, they just pulled the entire length of the stent out. Ever had a plastic tube yanked out of your dangly bits? I would not recommend.

The stent was first of many; then some of my IV lines were taken out. Then, some of the septic drains (which were attached to what looked like plastic, fluid filled hand grenades) were removed; again, imagine a length of plastic tubing being pulled gingerly out of a part of your body you didn’t even know could hold a plastic tube, much less one of significant length.

The tube I was most concerned about, however, was the NT tube; that’s the thing that went up my nose, down my throat, and down to my stomach. The tube’s job was to suck up all the unused stomach acid in my stomach so it didn’t eat a hole in my insides (mind you, I haven’t eaten since I went to the hospital). The tube smelled and tasted of plastic, and was taped to my nostril; sleeping with it was a chore. At one point, I had finally dozed off only to wake up with a nurse fiddling with the tube; it had apparently slid out. She murmured “I’m so sorry….” before shoving it back into my stomach.

I hated that tube. I wanted it gone. I wanted to do anything to get it out of me, because I knew the removal of it meant I was one step closer to going home, AND to actually taste something other than hospital grade plastic 24 hours a day.

I still really wanted a diet cola.

There was a trial period to determine if turning “off” the tube’s suction would be okay, and then the big day of actually removing it came (another unpleasant experience, but welcome nevertheless); I remember bawling extremely hard when it came out, and the other nurses running into the room to see what the problem was; I had a very hard time telling them that these were tears of joy.

Later that week I had the first taste of food in what felt like years; a piece of lemonhead candy. I savored those things like they were the only food left on earth. The surgeons were quick to warn me that if the food I was attempting to eat came back up or otherwise caused problems, I’d have to deal with the NT tube again.

I never want to deal with an NT tube again.

My very first actual meal was a turkey burger; I ate it so slowly because I was terrified it wouldn’t “settle” in my stomach / intestines.

I also had a diet coke. Finally. Sweet, delicious diet coke.

Learning to walk was a very humbling experience. Going from being 35 and “healthy” (aside from being a fat guy that doesn’t understand the concept of moderation, I’m fairly healthy) to 36 and unable to walk, you come to terms with the fragility of the human condition rather quickly. The first few attempts to walk were more theoretical than practical; sitting up from the bed, or swinging my legs to the ground, were epic endeavors. Standing was another milestone. And then the walking itself; the first time I walked since the surgery, I was able to make it about 5 feet before collapsing back into my bed. Then ten feet. Then 25. Every attempt I tried to double my length.

Meanwhile, while I was recovering, my neighbor in another room was doing the same thing, except 5x as fast; he was a skinny guy, a twig really, but he had his walker, and a battery of oxygen tanks behind him, and two nurses trying to keep up with his pace. Every hour, he’d loop the ICU wing, over and over and over again. I asked one of the nurses what his story was; turns out, he was waiting for a lung transplant, and that was his exercise to stay in a good enough state to receive it (he later received his lungs!).

Well, dammit, if a guy with shit lungs could do that, so could I. He was my motivation.

More days passed, more tubes came out. Septic hand grenades, catheters, everything but the last PICC line, the one inserted into my arm. That one came home with me.

And the hole in my side.

See, when they remove a chunk of your colon in an emergency situation, the operation tends to leave your insides a bit raw and unable to function. So, thanks to the miracle of modern medicine (and plumbing), they disconnect your small intestine from your backside and instead route it outside your skin, which then heals around the intestine and locks it in place.

Do you want to know how weird it is to see your small intestine every day? it’s VERY WEIRD.

When this happens, they send an ostomy nurse to your room to train you (or your caretaker) in the new reality of having a chunk of your digestive track undulating outside of you. It was a very thorough training; unfortunately I was scarcely in the proper state of even dealing with the fact that I almost died and that a chunk of my intestine was gone and that this would be the new normal, so my wife had to pinch hit for me for the beginning. The gist is that there is a medical appliance that suctions to your skin, and then you slap a bag over it to catch any output.

I poop in a bag, so that’s a thing.

At this point, it almost feels normal, but it is mightily inconvenient. It is constantly embarrassing, and can be messy. In addition, the “appliance” part has to be changed out every few days, which is the whole process given to us by the ostomy nurse.

I suppose it’s better than dying, but it serves as a constant reminder of what I’ve gone through.

Once the ostomy training wrapped up, and the walking physical therapy wrapped up, and the banks of IV bags went from 5 banks to 3 banks to 1 bank to 1 bag to nothing, it was finally time to come home.

My wife became my full time caretaker while she dealt with the gaping surgical wound in my torso (sternum to belly button, and a bit more besides, sent home still essentially held together with staples and packed with gauze) and the ostomy bag situation. She also had to administer antibiotics 3 times a day, like clockwork, every 8 hours. Some were pills, others were IV infusions (which required more training by in-home nurses). Eventually, that tapered off.

I returned to work a little after Labor Day.

The full fall-out of my emergency escapade:
perforated colon due to aggravated diverticulitis
Severe septic shock due to the hole in my colon
infected abscesses on my major organs, including liver, kidneys, and lungs
4 blood clots around my liver (3 of them have dissolved, one remains, but should be routed around eventually)
PTSD and severe medical procedure anxiety
25% less colon, and an ostomy bag.
60+ pounds lost (since regained, because I’m terrible)

Here’s the kicker; all of this could have been prevented. Diverticulitis, if caught early, is a fairly common problem; it basically means your colon has bulged in certain spots, and those spots can be infected. If you watch what you eat, and take antibiotics if it becomes inflamed, you can live a normal life. The cure is simply a few pills and small meals.

Because the other hospital and doctor didn’t catch it, the infection got worse and worse until it finally burst. The sepsis wouldn’t have been nearly as bad, had the issue been caught earlier, with a simple CT scan. With a CT scan, a blown out intestine is easy to spot; indeed, the U of M ER found it right away. The attending surgeon personally apologized “on behalf of the medical community” to my wife on this missed, obvious thing, which is something coming from a surgeon from a different hospital.

Flu, my ass. Dehydration, my ass. St. John’s Wart, my ass.

Yes, I’m still very angry about it.

In august, I have my reconnection surgery scheduled. Barring a catastrophe, I should be back to “normal” after another 5-6 weeks of recovery.

Were it not for my friends, family, and most importantly my wife, I probably wouldn’t be here, in as good a shape as I am, all things considered. I’m lucky to be alive. And I’m glad to be here!

But it’s been a hell of a year.

Thanks for reading.

Short Story: Coward

Grand Administrator Gwal’keb, Seventeenth Appointed Undaunted of the Realm Of The Omnipotent Emperor Kalthosh IV, was having a bad day.

This was his third galactic cycle aboard this cramped space station. Three cycles, five demicycles, and twenty-three centicycles, to be exact. Not that he was counting.

He was assigned to this backwater hub, at the edge of the furthest galactic arm from his home world, because his Emperor has deemed it so. In His infinite wisdom, it was decreed that Gwal’keb meet and observe with the latest of the galactic space faring races, these “Humans”. It was rumored that the Emperor was particularly fond of these small, mostly hairless bipeds. He found them “quite adorable”, and found their tenacity thus far in the space void interesting. Hence, it befell Gwal’keb to be transported via Diplomatic Hypertube (which, even at faster-than-light speeds, took several galactic cycles; he hated the Hypertube system and wished for a better way) to make contact and, crucially, impart on these tiny Humans who is the real power in the galaxy. It wasn’t them.

By the time Gwal’keb had arrived at their main diplomatic station, the Humans had been contacted by at least half a dozen other races, most of them closer to them in galactic geography. Among them, the Slasstern, those nefarious spymasters. Slightly larger than a human (that he could tell anyway), their bodies had been genetically altered some millenia ago to make them nearly impossible to see. It wasn’t that they were invisible, exactly; rather, one’s eyes could not figure out where to focus, or even to determine if there were anything to focus ON. If you strained some effort, their bodies had the appearance of constantly fluttering, transparent fabric, and the exosuit sound modifications to their voice made it impossible to figure out where in the room they were speaking from. It was very disconcerting.

Gwal’keb rounded a corner, his mind preoccupied with making the required ducking motions to not slam his head against the upper bulwarks of the corridors. Tiny Humans, tiny stations, after all. He was not paying attention, therefore, when he bowled over Sssnalnth, the Slasstern ambassador. He stopped only when he heard the dissonant “augh” and the clattering of his exosuit against the ground. From what he could tell, he accidentally shoved the ambassador halfway across the hallway.

“Ssssuns nnnnn sssstaaaars, Gwal’keb,” hissed Sssnalnth, from some indeterminate point in the room. “Hhhaaave you nnnnooo controllll overrr yourssseeeeelllf?” His voice rasped in Common Galactic, sounding as ethereal and strained as the hum of an air purifier on the fritz.

“Ambassador Ssnalnth,” boomed Gwal’keb, looking down at the floor and focusing his three eyes to try to figure out where he had fallen. “My apologies. I did not see you there.”

“Yoouuu nnnneevvverrr doooo,” hissed the Slasstern. Gwal’keb did not appreciate the ominous meaning in that message. He had the impression that the Ambassador had stood up by now, but he wasn’t sure. “I only wwwiiiisshhhh the huuuummmmaannnnns were as imperccceeeeptive assss your sssspeeeecies.”

“What do you mean?” Asked Gwal’keb, shifting his weight from his left legs to his right; part impatience, and part discomfort, as the higher-G the Humans preferred were a strain on his larger body.

“Nnnnoooothhhinnnng,” replied Sssnalnth. “I merely hhhhope that my transsssfer would go through fassssster. Humanssss make me…. uncomforrrrrtable.” Ssnalnth’s transparent body, such that it was, practically shimmered in the harsh tube lighting. Gwal’keb knew enough about the Slassternthat it was a byproduct of an extreme emotional response, but wasn’t sure of which emotion.

Gwal’keb was taken aback. “Something makes the Slasstern uncomfortable? Why, Sssnalnth, you disappoint me. Yes, their bodies are disgusting, inefficient, and weak. They are nothing to be concerned about. Certainly nothing to worry the Slasstern Council. The Emperor scarcely considers them more than a curiosity.”

“Ssssoooo you ssssaaaayyy, Grand Administrator. Excussse me. The Humannnnssss are in the canteen, if you were looking for themmmm.” The Ambasador deftly sidestepped Gwal’keb’s massive girth and shifted away. Gwal’keb could swear he could hear faint echos of a Slasstern snicker, but shook it away. He continued down the corridor, ducking every several meters or so.

He did hunger. A protein bar should suffice. Gwal’keb opened the doors to the canteen.

“Oh you son of a bitch! You always have a full house!” The harsh exclamation slapped Gwal’keb in the face. Human speech was harsh, guttural. It was unpleasant to listen to, unfiltered by a universal translation device. He clicked his on as he lumbered past their table. He shuddered as he heard the horrible laughing noises richocheting across the metal table. “Not always, but when I do, you should know better than to try to go all in, Jansen,” said the other Human as he raked in several hundred tiny, multi-colored chits from the middle of the table. “Your deal.”

“Fucking Kai, I swear to God, your lucky streak will run out someday, and when it does, you’re gonna be doing latrine duty for a solid month.”

“Talk is cheap, Jansen. Now deal. I’m hungry, and these wings have been staring me in the face for 5 minutes.” The Human Kai turned to a plate of…. something. Misshapen lumps of protein it looked like, dripping a suspiciously red liquid. Not blood, he didn’t think. The human dowsed more sauce onto the wing from a bottle in the center of the table. He opened his tiny mouth, full of teeth, and chewed around the bone of whatever animal it was, slurping and licking the protein like a savage. “Oh God, these are so good. Just like my girlfriend used to make before I deployed.”

“Yeah? How’s the heat?” asked Jansen, shuffling the game icons in his hand. Gwal’keb remembered they were called “cards”.

“Oh not bad. Spicy, but there’s still flavor. Pretty sure I can taste the garlic. Nothing too out of control, even for you. You want some?” Kai offered a half-eaten morsel to Jansen. Beads of sweat were forming on Kai’s forehead, and he began making impolite sniffling noises as he waved the wing in front of his friend.

“Nah, no thanks. I know better than to accept anything you’ll put in your stomach, you fucking pepperhead. I’ll get heartburn and that’ll make my 12-hour coming up even worse than usual, trying not to shit in my suit.” Jansen began distributing the cards around the table, first to Kai, then to the two other humans that were with them, similarly engorging themselves of plates of these ‘wings’. “Besides, I don’t want to get sauce all over the cards.”

“Gotta get better at being spicy,” replied one of the previously silent humans in between disgusting chews and slurps. The red sauce was pooling on his chin and facial hair. Gwal’keb shuddered and pushed a button on the Autofood dispenser. A perfect beige rectangle materialized in the slot. Gwal’keb reached in and grabbed it, and turned to leave.

“I’m plenty good at being spicy. at least that’s what your Mom said last n- Hey, ‘keb! Come here for a second.” Jansen interrupted his conversation and turned to look up at Gwal’keb as he thundered past. “Ever had Earth wings?”

Gwal’keb bristled at the incorrect form of his given name. If only this were not a designated diplomatic station… “I do not partake in your disgusting food habits, Human. We of the Empire prefer pure, unadulterated food. It makes us better warriors.” He held up his protein bar.

“Yeah, so you say. But you should really try this. The hot sauce, in particular, might be right up your alley.” Jansen looked around the table, grinning. Gwal’keb thought he saw one of his eyes twitch close as he did so. All of the Humans were looking at him now, but they had not stopped eating. One of them reached for a brown bottle and drank from it. Another terribly impure foodstuff, that “beer”.

“I will not.” Gwal’keb turned to the exit. To his left, the large, blue sphere of the Human homeworld filled the window. He imagined an entire world of Humans, billions of them, slurping and chewing protein chunks, covered in sauce….Gwal’keb was losing his appetite.

“What’s the matter, ‘keb… are you a coward?” Kai called after him.

Gwal’keb has been called many things. Defender of Halb Prime. The Terror of the Gonkwinnian Magnate Sphere. He was even granted the title of Bone-Sunderer, after he single handedly wiped out a platoon of heavily armed Kaloshi Dragoons with just his psionic saber on Yalsingonia VII. He has led conquests of planets, sentenced entire empires to extinction in the courts, and in his seven hundred and forty three cycles of existence, has amassed a reputation as one of the strongest of the Empire.

No fool would be ignorant enough to call Gwal’keb a coward. And yet here were these four, tiny backwater aliens, slurping their lunch and wasting time with frivolities, staring at him with half-drunken smiles. They have issued a challenge to the Bone-Sunderer, but he was sworn by death-oath to not break the diplomatic primacy of the station.

Rather than reaching down and cracking each of the humans in half like one of their pencils, he turned and looked down. He pointed at the red and yellow bottle in the middle of the table. “That…. is the ‘hot sauce’ of which you speak?”

“Ah, this? Yep!” Replied Kai. “Gonna put it on your beige brick there? it might actually give it some flavor, for once.” He sniffled again, loudly this time, tears in his eyes. Gwal’keb had thought that was a sign of weakness, the Human expression of terror, or of grief. He looked around and saw that everyone, save for Jensen, was similarly expressing. He was not sure why they were doing that. Was it a sign of terrorized respect of his titles? Was he being mocked? Humans were confusing.

“Give me the bottle, Human,” thundered Gwal’keb, holding out one of his large paws. Jansen reached over and grabbed it, and placed the bottle in the center of his hand. The Human’s hand was dwarfed by the size of Gwal’keb’s.

Gwal’keb inspected the tiny bottle. A Human in a very large hat, wearing a yellow suit and red tie. Large red lettering of what, he assumed, was a Human language emblazoned on top of the bottle. Inside, the red liquid swirled and bobbed.

Gwal’keb put two of his fingers on the lid and twisted it open. A pungent aroma hit his nostrils. He bristled. “This reeks of impurities, Human. How do you even digest this? No matter,” he growled, as he dumped the entire bottle onto his tongue and swallowed. He tossed the bottle to the floor; it clattered across the polished metal like a discarded toy. Human food might be full of impurities, but they required remarkably similar nutrition as the rest of the galaxy. If a Human could eat it, so could he.

The Humans watched, expressionless but for the occasional sniffle. Jensen casually drank his beer.

Gwal’keb stared back. What were they doing? Waiting? Was he supposed to say something? Ah, he remembered that in human society, it is considered polite to remark on how delicious their food is, even if it was impure, adulterated swill.

“Mmm, yes, it certainly is tast….. ta….. aghkhhhttt”, spat Gwal’keb. His tongue began feeling as if it were beginning to burn. He coughed and sputtered as his insides began doing the same. Flames licked his stomach as it churned. It felt as if he was being incinerated from the inside out. The mucus membranes of his eyes began to swell shut, and his nose began reacting to the putrid pungency. He fell to one knee, hacking and coughing, as the Humans watched, smiles festooned across their idiotic faces.

“Well, usually folks aren’t dumb enough to drink the whole damn bottle,” remarked Jensen as Gwal’keb coughed, spat, and gargled curse words. “That Slasstern guy only had a drop or two, and he lit up like a Christmas tree. He was pretty pissed that we could see him clear as day. Damn wet blanket.”

“This…. this is poison!” Hacked Gwal’keb, clutching his throat and head as the room spun. His insides felt like it was being incinerated by plasma cutters.

“No, this is hot sauce. Us humans have been using it for thousands of years. What can we say, we like spicy food. Well, some of us anyway.” Kai looked at Jensen, who extended his middle finger at Kai in response.

“This will not stand! You will be punished for this attempt at murder!” Growled Gwal’keb, stumbling to his feet. He towered over the Human table, still coughing and drooling from his eyes and nose.

Jensen rolled his eyes. “Yeah, sure buddy. Go ahead and tell your Emperor that Gwal’keb, Grand Administrator and 700-some year old, bone-smashing warrior, was felled by a food that us Humans eat for breakfast. I’m sure that’ll go over well.”

Kai laughed. “I guess the nickname we gave you guys when we first ran into you at Tau Ceti was pretty accurate. How ya feeling, Teddy Bear?”

Gwal’keb could only cough in response as he stumbled out of the canteen, waving his arms about desperately seeking relief. He wasn’t paying attention when he slammed his large head on top of the bulwark just outside the canteen, making a loud clang noise. He could hear the humans bursting into their laughter before the door shut.

Not a good day at all.

In The Beginning…: Prologue

“Mʏ Sᴏɴ.”
The being startled into existence, looking around, not seeing much. The echoes of the two words bounced around in his head, like thunderclaps.
“What? Who is that?” asked the being, squinting eyes that were moments old into the pure, endless black.
“I ᴀᴍ ʏᴏᴜʀ Fᴀᴛʜᴇʀ. I ᴀᴍ Oᴍ.”
“Nᴏ, Oᴍ.”
“Right, got it,” replied the being. “Now that we have you sorted, who am I?”
“Yᴏᴜ ᴀʀᴇ Nᴀʀʀ.”
“Narr? That’s a …well, that’s a name I suppose. Narr, son of Om. Hi Om, I’m Narr,” said Narr, cheerfully testing the names in his brand new mouth.
“Nᴀʀʀ, 14ᴛʜ ᴀɴᴅ ʟᴀsᴛ ᴘʀᴏɢᴇɴʏ ᴏғ Oᴍ, ᴡʜᴏ ɪs ᴛʜᴇ ᴏᴍɴɪᴘᴏᴛᴇɴᴛ ᴀɴᴅ ᴏᴍɴɪᴇsᴄɪᴇɴᴛ Gᴏᴅ ᴏғ Aʟʟ Tʜɪɴɢs, ᴛʜᴇ Bᴇɢɪɴɴɪɴɢ, ᴛʜᴇ Eɴᴅ, Cʀᴇᴀᴛᴏʀ ᴏғ Eᴠᴇʀʏᴛʜɪɴɢ, Jᴜᴅɢᴇ ᴏғ Aʟʟ, ᴛʜᴇ Uɴʟɪᴍɪᴛ-“
“That’s a lot of titles, Pops,” interrupted Narr.
“Yes, you mentioned that. So, where are you? Why can’t I see you with my.…these must be eyes?” Narr tried squinting harder.
“I ᴀᴍ ɴᴏᴛ ʏᴏᴜʀs ᴛᴏ sᴇᴇ. I ᴀᴍ ᴀʟʟ ᴛʜɪɴɢs, ᴀɴᴅ ʏᴇᴛ ᴀʟsᴏ ɴᴏᴛʜɪɴɢ.”
“While deep, that doesn’t help much,” said Narr.
“I ʜᴀᴠᴇ ᴄʀᴇᴀᴛᴇᴅ ʏᴏᴜ ғᴏʀ ᴀ ᴛᴀsᴋ,” boomed the voice of Om.
“Oh yeah? What sort?” asked Narr. He was aware of more of his body now. Are these.…hands?
“I mean, I am kind of hungry, I think,” said Narr, his brand new hands discovering the contours of his existence as he rubbed what he assumed was his stomach.
“Nᴏ. I ʀᴇǫᴜɪʀᴇ sᴜsᴛᴇɴᴀɴᴄᴇ. I ᴍᴜsᴛ sᴜᴘ ғʀᴏᴍ ᴛʜᴇ ғʀᴇᴇ sᴏᴜʟs ᴏғ ᴛʀᴜᴇ ʙᴇʟɪᴇᴠᴇʀs,” explained the voice, which seemed to come from all directions at once, echoing forever.
“Sounds tasty,” said Narr, his hands finding what he decided must be his face.
“Iᴛ ɪs ɴᴇᴄᴇssᴀʀʏ. Tʜᴇ ғʀᴇᴇ sᴏᴜʟs ᴏғ ᴍᴏʀᴛᴀʟs ᴘᴏᴡᴇʀs ᴀʟʟ ᴛʜɪɴɢs. Eᴠᴇɴ ɢᴏᴅs.”
“So why not just make a bunch yourself?” asked Narr. He just discovered his fingers, and was preoccupied snapping them together. They didn’t make much noise compared to his Father’s endless voice.
“Oɴᴇ ᴄᴀɴɴᴏᴛ ғᴇᴇᴅ ᴏɴ ᴛʜᴇ Sᴇʟғ. Iᴛ ᴄᴀɴɴᴏᴛ ʙᴇ sᴜsᴛᴀɪɴᴇᴅ. Mᴏʀᴛᴀʟ sᴏᴜʟs ᴄʀᴇᴀᴛᴇᴅ ғʀᴏᴍ Mʏ Wɪʟʟ ᴄᴀɴɴᴏᴛ ɴᴏᴜʀɪsʜ ᴛʜᴇ Sᴇʟғ. Sᴜsᴛᴇɴᴀɴᴄᴇ ᴍᴜsᴛ ᴄᴏᴍᴇ ғʀᴏᴍ ᴏᴜᴛsɪᴅᴇ ᴛʜᴇ Sᴇʟғ. Yᴏᴜ ᴍᴜsᴛ ᴛᴏɪʟ ᴛᴏ ᴍᴀɪɴᴛᴀɪɴ Mᴇ.”
“Sounds like a lot of work. What if I don’t want to?”
“Tʜᴇɴ ᴡᴇ Aʟʟ ᴘᴇʀɪsʜ ғᴏʀᴇᴠᴇʀᴍᴏʀᴇ,” replied Om, the last syllable dragging off into the silence for what seemed like eons. Was it eons? That felt like a long time to Narr. He decided it was exactly one eon.
“No pressure then. So how do I get all these mortal souls that you apparently require?”
“Wʜᴇɴ I ʙʀᴇᴀᴛʜᴇᴅ ʟɪғᴇ ɪɴᴛᴏ ʏᴏᴜ, I ᴀʟsᴏ ɢɪғᴛᴇᴅ ʏᴏᴜ ᴛʜᴇ Aᴄᴛ ᴏғ Cʀᴇᴀᴛɪᴏɴ. Yᴏᴜ ᴍᴀʏ Cʀᴇᴀᴛᴇ ᴡʜᴀᴛᴇᴠᴇʀ ᴀɴᴅ ᴡʜᴏᴍᴇᴠᴇʀ ʏᴏᴜ ᴡɪsʜ ᴛᴏ ɴᴜʀsᴇ ᴍᴏʀᴛᴀʟ sᴏᴜʟs ᴛᴏ ғʀᴜɪᴛɪᴏɴ. Bᴜᴛ ʙᴇ ᴡᴀʀɴᴇᴅ, ᴛʜᴇ ᴘᴏᴡᴇʀ ᴏғ Dᴇsᴛʀᴜᴄᴛɪᴏɴ ʟɪᴇs ɴᴏᴛ ᴡɪᴛʜɪɴ ʏᴏᴜ. Mɪsᴛᴀᴋᴇs ᴄᴀɴɴᴏᴛ ʙᴇ ᴜɴᴅᴏɴᴇ. Yᴏᴜ ᴀɴᴅ ʏᴏᴜʀ Cʀᴇᴀᴛɪᴏɴs ʜᴀᴠᴇ ᴘᴏᴡᴇʀ ᴛᴏ ʙʀɪɴɢ ғᴏʀᴛʜ ᴇxɪsᴛᴇɴᴄᴇ, ʙᴜᴛ ᴏɴʟʏ ᴛʜᴇ sᴏᴜʟs ᴏғ ᴛʜᴇ ғʀᴇᴇ ᴄᴀɴ Dᴇsᴛʀᴏʏ. Hᴇᴇᴅ ᴛʜɪs ᴡᴀʀɴɪɴɢ.”
“Heeded, I think?”, said Narr.
“Tʜᴇɴ ɢᴏ. Bʀᴇᴀᴛʜᴇ ʏᴏᴜʀ ᴘᴏᴡᴇʀ ɪɴᴛᴏ ᴛʜɪs ᴘʟᴀᴄᴇ. Cʀᴀғᴛ ᴀ ᴡᴏʀʟᴅ ᴛʜᴀᴛ ᴡɪʟʟ ʙᴇ ᴛʜᴇ ʜᴏᴍᴇ ᴏғ ᴍᴀɴʏ ᴍᴏʀᴛᴀʟs, ᴀɴᴅ ʙʀɪɴɢ ᴍᴇ ᴛʜᴇɪʀ sᴏᴜʟs ᴏɴᴄᴇ ᴛʜᴇʏ ʙᴇʟɪᴇᴠᴇ ᴏғ ᴛʜᴇɪʀ ᴏᴡɴ ғʀᴇᴇ ᴡɪʟʟ. Nᴏᴜʀɪsʜ ᴍᴇ. I ʜᴜɴɢᴇʀ.” At this, the voice of Om seemed to fade, receding into the infinite void that Narr was now acutely aware he was floating in.
Narr drifted, alone in his thoughts for an indescribable stretch of time. With no external stimulus, the very fabric of time began to fray. Narr was reminded of a balled-up sweater neglected at the bottom of a closet.
Whatever sweaters and closets were.
Narr hesitated, listening to the nothingness of the void, wondering if it listened back.
He thought, idly snapping his fingers together, that this was going to take a while.
Narr stretched with what he decided was his back, and clapped his hands forward and together loudly, before pulling them away instinctively away from a new sensation.
“Ow!” He yelped, before noticing that the nothing by his hands was now something; an enormous inferno of gas, radiating pure energy into the void as it burned.
“Oh!” Narr exclaimed.

“My Sun!”