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Godfall

Alex Stanmyer lives and teaches middle school outside Boston. He spends his summers searching for Greek tombs and mountain-top sanctuaries with his archaeologist wife. His work has previously appeared in or is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Gallery of Curiosities. You can find him on Twitter @StannyLeroy.
With the launch of Earth's first inter-nebula craft, we thought we were finally solving the mystery of dark matter.
Instead, out among the clouds of the Helix Nebula, we found the gods.
Frozen in rigor mortis, grimaces of pain on each of their faces.
Some we recognized instantly. Mighty Thor clutched his hammer until the very end. Quetzalcoatl's chromatic feathers were long and his fangs sharp. Saraswati floated in the void next to her veena. Thousands upon thousands of others were of forms and figures that had been lost to the vagaries of history.
The questions were endless.
How many different cultures and gods sprouted amongst the early hominid tribes of Africa? Among the thousands of city-states and villages and nomad tribes that slowly spread across the Earth? How many household ancestors had been venerated as gods?
Did the whales believe in the divine? Did canines? Based on the preponderance of celestial cetacea and radiant hounds, many surmised that they must.
Was the Abrahamic god floating among the rest? What did He look like? There was no way to know.
Poets and philosophers and astrophysicists all put forth equally valid theories. Here was the source of the universe's dark matter imbalance. Here is the result of some final war among the pantheons; there could be no winners in such a contest. Here was proof that the singularity was achieved; the machine must have expelled the gods and gone into some self-imposed exile.
Suddenly, all the religions of the world were validated, and so, all of the religions were just as quickly invalidated.
Many thought that this revelation would lead to peace on Earth. Instead, it led to further confusion and uncertainty.
And all the while, all the probe could do was drift and watch. Scanners and sensors proved useless beyond the visual confirmation. Chemical compositions could not be determined. Mass could not be determined with any sense of accuracy. The gods transcended the laws of gravity, apparently.
After weeks of watching from afar, the decision was made to move the probe closer, to make physical contact with the gods.
As soon as the spacecraft approached the nearest deity, without warning, without explosions or warning claxons or even so much as a vengeful bolt of divine lightning, our connection with the probe went entirely dark. Contact could not be reestablished. Whether the probe was actually destroyed or its quantum tether had simply been severed, no one could know.
Almost everyone, however, agreed that another mission should be assembled. A manned one. This was one mystery that could not be left to machines.
China, the EU, Japan, and Canada, among dozens of nations with lesser GDPs, provided funding and resources.
Nearly a decade passed as the ship was constructed and prepared and her crew assembled.
They named the craft the Argo. Instead of a golden fleece, the ship's subspace drive was to power our trip through the cracks in the cosmos. Never before had a human made the plunge into subspace--lab rats had survived the subspace journey without ill-effects, but would humans?
There were protests, of course. Some argued that the gods were gods, and not to be meddled with by mortals. Some argued that it was dangerous folly. Who knew, they said, what making contact, even with dead deities, could portend? Others argued that we should be focused on the problems here on Earth, not those in the cosmos however divine their nature might be.
I was chosen as mission commander. Dual degrees in theology and chemistry, followed by a dozen years flying Hornets for the RCAF, two separate stints on the ISS, and no family to leave behind in case of an accident made for a strong resume. Still, I felt woefully underqualified to lead the crew assigned to me.
On the day of the launch, we took our seats in the ship's bridge and watched the Earth turn beneath us. Got the green light from Beijing and detached the ship from its docking.
As our subspace drives spooled up, and our ship slipped into the currents beneath our universe, we prayed.
To the gods at the other end of our journey, to each other, to the sun and moon and stars. To the scientists and engineers who had pieced the Argo together.
The world outside our ship faded, became nothing more than an outline, a vague shadow of the Earth was there. And then it ceased to be, was nothing more than the empty blue-white subspace.
My head pounded and my skin crawled and a feeling of suffocating dread settled upon me like a layer of wet snow. Had the rats gone through this?
Outside of the craft swam things I could not focus on, could not square in my mind. Things of such size and scale that I lost sense of perspective. Things that twisted and changed in form as strange light played off them. Long, snake-like, flowing water one second, jagged and geometric and like living crystal the next. The probe's sensors had picked up nothing of these beings on its journey through subspace. Hadn't picked up anything at all, actually.
And then we were breaching regular space, were rising into the Helix Nebula. The dread faded. Seven hundred light years had been traversed in moments.
Those subspace beings--eldritch gods? aliens from some multiverse?--outside the Argo's windows were a mystery that would have to be pondered upon at a later time. We had gods to wrangle.
Who to retrieve?
Our cargo hold was massive, but so too were the gods. There was nowhere near room for even the smallest fraction of the floating deities.
There were orders, of course. Contributing nations had bartered and bribed and negotiated with each other to create a shopping list of which gods were to be sought out and hauled home. But, seven hundred light years away from Earth, who was going to make sure those orders were followed?
Imagine the surprise of mission command, of the heads of state, were we to bring home a cargo-hold of astral whales and dogs.
Imagine our surprise, when at last we drew close, and realized that these gods were not dead.
Imagine our surprise when Thor opened his eyes, when Saraswati played us a song. Imagine our surprise when one of those hounds' tails started a-wagging.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, January 25th, 2019


This story started out as an image in my head: gods floating in space. Were they alive? Were they dead? How did they get there? Were there only human ones? I didn't know the answers, so I set out writing in order to find out.

- Alexander Stanmyer
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