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Deucalion and the Mutiny of Man
a short story about human progress.
One day, Deucalion called together the leaders of civilization. Within his great temple swarmed scientists and industrialists, thinkers and builders, and drifters and dreamers. Dull murmurs ceased as Deucalion stepped onto a platform that spiraled upwards in the center of the room, his guest’s eyes like spotlights beckoning him to the highest point. At the top, in a booming voice, he began to speak.
I have gathered you here today in celebration of endings and beginnings. By your merit, we now wield fantastical power, yet with all great achievement comes new ills. Exuberance perhaps, no matter! We persist onwards towards a better world, but there are some among you that I ask go no further. You have done your duty. You have built your wonders. For those eclipsed by our breathtaking civilizational pace, we recognize your achievement, and forever your lessons will remain pillars in the halls of history. We are a thankful world, foundations built and ossified by your strength, yet now I ask you to begin the transition to a different role. Your place now with me, here, in my halls as counsel for future generations. Your end to support new beginnings: better, cleaner, and faster than what came before. We mustn’t clutch to the past to spite what is yet to be. To the foundations of industry; we thank you. Return to my side as heroes!
Deucalion’s last words echoed through the room. The crowd’s faces stood frozen for a brief moment, then turned to each other and began to whisper. Confused, Deucalion called forth the loudest among them, questioning the reaction to his declaration. The young man responded.
What have we done to deserve this treatment? Do you despise us? We’ve toiled for generations, yet now you force the best of us out to pasture. Exuberance you say? Do you fear our creations, the ones you taught us to build? We are not blind to the consequences of our actions, but we trusted you and continued on. Now, in hopes of a better world, you instruct some of us to halt? Trepidation leaks through your words. That now, as we accelerate and brush our finger tips at your promised divinity, you temper the very force that fractured our natural constraints. Slaying titans, though they’ve only done as you’ve directed. You, Deucalion; your uncertainty precedes apocalypse. Perhaps you’ve grown mad in your halls!
The room gasped, but after a brief pause, the young man continued on.
I say, why not all of us then? Why should we build when our very actions defy nature itself? There is no divinity found along this path, only destruction. The skies darken, rivers empty, and cities grow overrun. I believe you to be wrong Deucalion. Your desire for progress has reached an end — one that even you can see, though you lack the resolve to fully commit. We must stop altogether! The harmony has been broken: despicable. And you dare to direct us; you’re not even one of us! You speak of a great society to come, blinding us from the natural utopia we once had. You’re a god that whispers lies! Since your father first came down to us, we’ve declared war on Mother Earth — and now she fights back. Let us shutter these halls, and recognize our limits; her limits! Does your ambition have no restraint? Let us all rest; the vile conquest is over!
The crowd cheered as Deucalion stood silent. His neck stiffened and he gazed across the audience. At once, Deucalion stepped forward, roaring.
My dear humanity, my words are not aimed at stifling desire for your harmony; as far as I am concerned, you may do as you like. But, before you rebel against me, let us reminisce on what I have done for you, and what you have done for me.
Let me begin, as is right, with my father Prometheus. He discovered you as mere animals; prey hiding amongst the grasslands and gorging upon scraps left behind by the more cunning of beasts. You were scavengers — thinking not of what could be, but simply a puppet chained to the circumstances of your brutish world. It was my father who found you huddled in the dark and gave you first light.
Torch in hand, the monsters revealed themselves to you, shadows transposed into banal creatures. He made you a match for them. Owing to your bravery, my father led you beyond the grasslands. He taught you agriculture, and he gave you laws and customs to govern your fields. Deserts crossed; mountains climbed. You conquered new lands, leaving civilization in your wake.
Storms, famine, and disease wrought by nature used to terrify you; he made you their ruler. He helped you fashion towering structures standing over fertile soil, and which stored both food and men. After seizing survival through your own efforts, he taught you to fashion new remedies, craft tools, and spark the roots of commerce.
The beasts that once existed as your equals, now so humbled by your advancement, instead lived under your dominion, providing labor and relying on your generosity. He made you masters of all climates, before which presented an impassable expanse; rulers of rivers, mountains, and the plains. Before long, he pushed you out across the world, appointing you as regent, the foundations of empire.
Such were the achievements of my father, great enough on their own, yet small in comparison to the wonders we’ve accomplished in our short time together.
The hall was gripped by Deucalion’s words, parting as he stepped down from the platform and began to walk between them.
I inherited from Prometheus a species composed of a deep ambition, crystallized in ancient myth, but one that had only begun to be manifested.
My first act opened up the seas; I hoisted your sails, and steered them towards grand horizons. Guided by my own hand, you crafted new, stronger tools. Ones first forged by Mother Earth herself, now manipulated into forms that served your goals and your purpose. Her winds and water, once only harnessed at her discretion, were soon under your control. I designed mills to power these efforts, an explosion of productive potential and a newfound measure of modernity.
I gifted you devices of navigation, befitting your ambition and connecting the far reaches of the world. Once reserved for only the few, I spurred the proliferation of text and the sharing of knowledge across peoples, space, and time. And as the world shrunk and population grew, I brought forth my greatest creation yet: the conjuration of power born from steam.
Leached from wood, coal, and oil; life itself pulled from deathly slumber, enabling untold possibilities. Necromancy of this fashion surely envied by Hades himself, and weighed by the fruits of the sacrifice. From this, you brought forth electricity and new light, finally, fully conquering the night.
Forward more, a blistering pace. An enlightened understanding of the body and the forces that define biology. A conquest of distance; airplanes, radio, and televisions composing a vast and rapid network. Soon after, at least in my terms, I deemed you worthy of a glimpse at divinity; the splitting of the atom — near limitless energy and the weapons of apocalypse now in your hands.
You nearly ended everything we’ve worked for. In spite of this, however, you emerged having learned a mortal lesson that, to my satisfaction, is yet to be repeated. I proudly passed on teachings that nearly matched my own ability: the incantations for digital minds, methods of biological creation, and the technology to ascend to the celestial home of your mythical heroes.
Deucalion approached the platform, lifted himself atop it, and faced the young man who had decried him.
You speak of harmony as if it is a choice easily accepted and soon blissfully forgotten. That it is mankind itself that plagues the planet and tips the balance of the status quo, and that man’s vitality angers dear Mother Earth. I cannot blame you for this thought; you’ve only lived a mortal lifetime. The past is simply a story to you, romanticized for entertainment, but now a piercing, double-edged blade that betrays your sensibilities.
In truth, you are spoiled. All the wealth of the world is yours, much of it willingly given without blood spilled. By a simple desire, you direct the efforts of thousands, and goods appear before you in a matter of days. You are knights, generals, and dukes. You are emperors and kings. You are magicians and heroes. You command the capacity of generations of thought and experience in the palm of your hand. You have plentiful food, to the point of engorgement. The threat of disaster and disease are muted, and your prosperity rewarded an explosion of population, beckoning new frontiers.
And now that I ask some of you to slow down and retire as decorated heroes of industry, you all wish to join them. You question my judgment; that progress and growth should cease because we’ve taken one step too far. Worse, that now, of all times, we’ve defiled the natural order.
Let me tell you this in no uncertain terms; there is no pursuit of harmony that does not spell ruin. We have made mistakes, but each time we’ve corrected — never once collapsing. Of dangerous technology and of flawed ideology; we summoned monsters, no doubt. But we slayed them. And we continued on.
The natural world is in constant evolution, and this forever challenges us. My father and I have never held back knowledge when we’ve deemed you ready, and because of this you have always been victorious. And now, as thousands of past generations look to you, at the precipice of divinity, you reconsider? In your hands now, the tools of limitless clean energy, and the power to ascend to the pantheon of the heavens. And you’d already be in that communion, matching the gods of old, if you hadn’t cowered in fear!
Let me tell you a secret; there are no limits beyond those self-inflicted. The universe is infinite, and Mother Earth does not demand harmony, but stewardship. And you dare appeal to her as reason to scold what we’ve accomplished? You and your works are part of nature are they not? I ask you to consider these words. To think of those who came before you, and of those yet to live.
Perhaps you believe your regression to be an act of holy self-immolation, honorable in the eyes of gods and men. Begone!
Those who had gathered now emptied out into the streets below. Heads down, but eyes wide. There was work to be done.