Landsailor, sail on time
Rain or shine, I know you can.”
— Vienna Teng, “Landsailor”
Teodora Chorbadzhieva opened her medicine cabinet with pride.
It was the American kind, a metal box mounted on the wall with shelves inside and a mirrored door. Teddy had built it herself after taking a welding class and renting out the space to practice, because she saw these things in movies all the time and they looked useful.
Teddy’s version certainly was. She didn’t even need to look where her fingers were going. Habit guided them to the box of antihistamines that her calendar, marked with the blooming cycles for cottonwoods, maples, and the three most common types of grass, had warned her she would need.
She opened the box and popped a pill out of its blister with one hand, while the other grasped the sink-side cup and filled it with water. All of this happened automatically, the work of hands trained over many mornings to do their own business while Teddy’s mind was left free to think.
What she was thinking about this morning was the next item on her schedule: Receive the Mantle of Divine Warrior.
The event had appeared on Teddy’s calendar three weeks ago, replacing Breakfast (yogurt). The Divine Warrior event would not allow itself to be removed or deleted. It had appeared in every alternate calendar app Teddy had tried to use, even in the physical day book she had bought as an experiment.
This clear evidence of magic had surprised Teddy, even shocked her, but she had reshuffled her schedule to do some thinking about it and concluded that neither she nor the world had gone insane. She had simply made a discovery: magic existed, at least as far as calendars went. To believe otherwise would be silly.
It wasn’t much preparation, but Teddy could think of nothing else she could do to ready herself for the Divine Mantle. All she had were her allergy pills and her open mind.
A small bell rang behind her. Since Teddy owned no bells that she was aware of, she took this as a sign of the god’s arrival.
Teddy swallowed her pills and closed the medicine cabinet. In its mirror, she saw the branches.
They spread from a spot on the floor, where a thick, green stalk split into two slender halves. These halves split again, and their halves again and so on, trunk becoming branches, branches becoming twigs, and twigs spiraling off into splinters too small even to see. Looking into those whorled depths, Teddy was sure that the branches went on forever, down below the level of atoms or quarks, driven by rules finer than the fabric of the universe. And in the same way, the tree shape in her bathroom must be only one minor outgrowth among infinitely many, joining together in a structure larger than galaxies.
She turned and faced the god. “Okay,” she said. “Go ahead.”
The branches rattled and a voice took shape in the air.
“Thus it is scheduled,” the tree intoned, “that Reden the Ever-Ramifying would at this time anoint a new hero: The Warrior of Conscientiousness.”
“Are you sure I’m not insane?” asked Teddy, thinking that she really hadn’t prepared very well for this.
“I anticipated you might ask that,” said Reden the Ever-Ramifying, “and I have prepared a simple demonstration of my reality.”
Teddy’s door buzzer went off.
“You should get that,” said the god.
Teddy did, thinking about what she ought to do before her next divine apparition. Set up cameras, obviously! And invite somebody over to corroborate the evidence. Maybe take a spa day first. This was all much more stressful than she’d thought it would be.
“Courier,” said the voice on the intercom, and that was certainly what the boy appeared to be when Teddy looked at him through the spy hole in her front door. He was holding a flat, yellow package and an electronic pad. No weapons, as far as she could see. Teddy grabbed the fireplace poker she kept by the coat-hanger and unlocked the door.
The courier did not transform into a monster or pull out a gun. He just held out his tablet and asked her to sign for the pa-what the hell was that thing?
Teddy looked around and saw the foyer of her apartment rustled with endless green boughs. Reden had followed her.
“He can see me too,” said Reden smugly.
The courier twitched. “Where’d that voice come from? What is that thing?”
“Don’t drop that package,” commanded the god. “It’s fragile.”
“I think it’s some kind of god,” Teddy explained, taking the package from the courier’s limp fingers. Something dense slid inside the cardboard.
“Um. Uh.” The courier backed toward the door, hands groping at the frame. “I should…I…chao! He turned and ran.
“Don’t worry about him talking,” said Reden. “Nobody will believe him. Not yet.”
“I could have hallucinated him too,” Teddy pointed out. “I could be hallucinating all of this.”
“I might as well say I’m hallucinating you,” said the tree. “Or we’re both figments of the courier’s imagination. Anyone could be hallucinating the universe at any time. A god in your apartment doesn’t alter that possibility. Now open that package.”
Teddy did. Inside lay a clay tablet. It was the size of an e-reader, but rather thicker, its surface incised with lines and stamped with tiny triangular markings.
“Cuneiform?” she asked aloud.
“As it was scheduled!” boomed the god. “At this time, to Teodora Krasimirova Chorbadzhieva the All-Conscientious, shall come the Tablet of Gilgamesh!”
“What?” Teddy was losing her patience. “What are you? What’s this Akkadian tablet?”
“Sumerian. And I just told you it’s the Tablet of Gilgamesh. So was it scheduled!”
Teddy waved the Tablet at Reden. “Scheduling something is useless unless you give me the information to prepare for it. What do you want from me? How am I supposed to deal with this?”
The Tablet moved under her fingers. The clay softened. The surface smoothed as if pressed flat by an invisible rolling-pin. New letters stamped themselves into existence.
Step One: say “please.” (<1 sec)
“Please?” said Teddy.
“I do appreciate politeness,” said Reden.
More letters, all in perfectly legible Bulgarian Cyrillic.
Step Two: repeat your question. (<1 sec)
“What do you,” Teddy lowered the Tablet, “want? From me?”
“I’m so glad you asked,” said Reden. “I am Reden the Ever-Ramifying and you are scheduled to become my Warrior on Earth and bring about an era of order and rules and conscientiousness.” The branches rustled self-importantly. “The first step is your receipt of the Tablet of Gilgamesh, which will guide you on your way. Just ask it, ‘How do I take over the world?'”
“Uh,” said Teddy. “I don’t want to…Wait. I have questions.”
“Of course,” said Reden. “I did schedule some extra time for questions.”
“You’re the what? The god of conscientiousness? What does that mean?”
The branches turned dark green. “There are no words in any human language to describe my domain. I value organization, efficiency, and predictability.” Darker yet. “As do you, Teodora.”
Teddy waggled her head. It was true. “So you chose me because I’m the world’s most conscientious person?”
“No, but, you are the most contentious person who would be the easiest to convince to take on my mission,” said Reden. “I chose you based on many metrics, including how long it would take me to devise those metrics and determine their values.”
“Oh,” said Teddy. “Neat.”
The branches glowed chartreuse. “A pun. I like puns.” They shook themselves. “But we risk falling behind schedule. I shall contact you again at the time I predict you will need me, Warrior, in 22 days. In the mean time, ask the tablet whatever you need to know.”
“In order to conquer the world?”
“In three weeks?”
“Three weeks and a day and of course not,” said Reden. “That’s only Step One, which is killing the Warrior of Freedom. Just ask the Tablet.”
“I really do have to go,” said Reden. “Ask the Tablet, ‘how do I kill the Warrior of Freedom?’ or just ‘How do I conquer the world?’ One is a prerequisite to the other.”
“Wait,” said Teddy.
“I know you can do it!”
She blinked and the tree was gone.
The Tablet in her hand was not.
Teddy stared at it for a long time. It was orange-brown and just as heavy as a slab of clay should be. It even had dusty cracks spreading from its edges as it dried.
What should she be doing? Teddy checked her phone, and found that her calendar was now blank. No, yesterday’s schedule was fine, but every event from now on had been swept away. The only thing after Divine Mantle was Ask the Tablet, scheduled for right now.
She had put a lot of work into her calendar. There were recurring events in there that interacted with each other and generated new variations depending on season, bus schedules, and Teddy’s predicted mood. The calendar was like part of her brain, the best part, and the god had wiped it all away.
Teddy should have been angry, but all she could do was look at her blank future and set herself to filling it back up. Ask the Tablet, her calendar instructed.
“How do I take over the world?” she asked and the Tablet’s surface smoothed. Three sentences stamped themselves into the clay:
Step One: kill the Warrior of Freedom. (22 days +/- 12 hours)
Step two: form alliances with Habit, Introversion, and Agreeableness and/or Neuroticism. (7 weeks +/- 3 days)
Step three: Defeat Enemies (8.5 years +/- 5 weeks)
Teddy refreshed her calendar, and the new events appeared there. Each was split into sub-events, and those into sub-sub events and so-on. Every ramifying. The very next event was Ask the Tablet about Step One.
“And how do I kill the Warrior of Freedom?”
New words appeared, but Teddy was beginning to think, and didn’t bother reading it.
“How do I use the Tablet of Gilgamesh?”
Step One: ask the Tablet a question beginning with “How.” (2 secs +/- 1)
Step Two: follow step-by-step instructions. (1 sec – infinity)
Step Three: Enjoy success. (1 sec – infinity)
Teddy checked her calendar again. Now the Take Over the World events were gone, except for Ask the Tablet.
“So, for example, how do I find the earring I lost yesterday?”
Step One: turn ninety degrees clockwise. (<1 sec)
Step Two: bend down. (<1 sec)
Step Three: pick up your winter boots. (1 sec)
The earring was right behind them.
“Okay,” said Teddy, straightening. “How do I achieve financial security?”
The Tablet blanked and printed itself with a list of low-risk investments. (20 years +/- 2)
“How do I achieve financial security today?”
The tablet gave her instructions on how to rob a bank. (10.5 hours +/- 9)
“Okay,” said Teddy. “Now again, how do I kill the Warrior of Freedom?”
Step One: arm yourself. (20 days +/- 1)
Step Two: find the Warrior. (1 day)
Step three: use appropriate tactics (see Step One). (5 minutes +/- 1 hour)
“Uh huh,” said Teddy, “and why do I have to kill this stranger?”
The Tablet did nothing.
Teddy didn’t bother to ask it how to decide whether she ought to kill someone named the Warrior of Freedom. Presumably, that person was the chosen one of some other god. The god of Freedom? And agreeableness, neuroticism, and so on…?
“Tablet,” she said, “how do I know whether Reden and the other gods have my best interests in mind or the best interests of humans in general?”
The tablet showed her a new list.
Step one: find someone who will reliably answer “no,” to questions.” (<1 sec +/- 1 day)
“I see.” Teddy looked at the Tablet. “Thank you.”
Now what? “How do I protect humanity?” she might ask or “How do I overthrow the gods?” She could simply ask the Tablet “How do I know what I should do?” But she had a feeling she knew what the first step would be to all three plans.
“How do I make the Warrior of Freedom my ally?” asked Teddy, and refreshed her calendar. She couldn’t help but smile at what she saw there.