Tell me about the golden age, someone will ask, curled up under their blankets, staring at a new sky, the stars strangers.
It starts with a dream, and it dies like one, will come the answer, from a woman who has watched a world burn.
Earth Bet stares at its future and were it able, it would smile. It looks like a demented spiderweb, threads stretching in dimensions untold. Sometimes, Bet thinks it is being spoiled for choice. Other times, it thinks that there are far too many threads for it to ever be fair. Perhaps this is a test by some other power, perhaps this is merely the way of the universe. In the end, it matters not. All that matters is the path that looks the most— oh. Oh, that is interesting.
The world decides to move a man from the east to the midwest; a woman from the south to the north east. It drives them with whispers and broken roads and last-minute flight plans, it spurs them on with dreams and frights, until at last they meet in a bar and then in a hotel, and things go from there. Bet pokes and prods and pulls at their minds until they land somewhere between Ohio and Michigan. The couple is tumultuous and they’re not particularly decent people, but that’s entirely irrelevant.
No, what matters are the children that they may or may not have. What matters is that the children blast open the doorways to so many possible futures that it seems almost unbelievable.
It can’t resist. But in order for it to work, Bet needs something impossible.
So Earth Bet lies down and creates a dream. It dreams a dream that is chiefly among humanity’s fantasies. It is a dream that is the most childish and far-fetched of all: it dreams of a good man.
Only months later in a dingy hospital room, this dream will take form and flesh, and it is given a name.
The shape of his future almost gleams in the darkness of the galaxy.
The world holds its breath and turns.
Death will come slowly for Andrew Hawke.
And the doctor pronounces his fate with a face all grim, age having carved itself into a greying mountain. And his wife holds him close but he can feel no warmth. And the light pouring in from the afternoon sun seems paltry and weak, a poor imitation of a brilliant day. Bet delights in contrasting reality with fiction: a proper tale would demand rain, a show of thunder and lighting, outer chaos to reflect inner turmoil. Instead, it gives him an overcast haze, off-white tiles, aquamarine curtains. It gives him flickering LED lights in the ceiling, and a tv in the corner, muttering static and an incorrect weather forecast.
This is where he is told he has five short years, and he hates it. It is no place to be told you are going to die. It is grimy, it is saccharine, it is...fake. A lie, a horrible lie. This cannot be his life, no — his life was supposed to be different. He is supposed to be more than is. He is supposed to live with Cecily until they are old and grey, he is supposed to see his sister defeat her own illness, he is supposed to watch his nieces and nephews grow up. Supposed to, supposed to. A meaningless phrase, when confronted with the truth. There is no supposed to, nor is there should have or could be. There is only Is and Isn’t. And what is...is cancer.
Cancer. A strange word, a small word. Six little letters for such an enormous thing. A malignant growth, life bringing about death. In the throes of shock, it is almost poetic.
Faced with the certainty of death, Andrew Hawke makes a choice.
He chooses to smile, and his smile stretches out, like a ripple in a pond, through time.
The world grins and turns.
In the days that come, Andrew Hawke will find himself saying yes, more. Yes, he would like to meet for drinks and catch up. Yes, he would like to go to the ball game. Yes, he would like to go on a cruise. Yes. What a wonderful word it is, door-opener and relationship-restarter. He meets old friends, attends events, makes plans for outings he would never have considered before. He plots his future with aplomb. It is said that the brightest stars burn out the fastest, but perhaps it is better to say that those who burn out faster burn all the brighter for it. Perhaps the shortest dreams choose to be brilliant, to make up for lost time.
However, he finds that the word No, ever the enemy of engagement, has become far harder to utter and have it stick.
“No, Cecily,” he says, for what must be the thirty-third time. “I don’t want to.”
“Andrew.” His wife is aware of the rare breed of her husband, and she will not let him go without a fight. And when she fights, she fights with dirt under her nails and fires within her eyes— she’s not above bringing brass knuckles to brawl. “Please. At least consider it. For my sake, if not yours.”
“Cecily— I don’t want to spend the last of it tied to a bed, waiting for it to be over.”
“Andrew, please at least hear me out,” she demands, and Bet could almost admire her defiance, if it wasn’t so sad. Cecily Smith, ever the champion for lost causes. (As a child, she would try to save the little ants and pill bugs that crawled into her home, carefully scooping them into her little star-jars and delivering them outside. She never knew that there were spiders waiting in the bushes outside. She never knew that her husband was born only for a singular moment in time.)
“I don’t want to, Cecily. Isn’t that enough for you?”
“I want more time with my husband.” There’s a dangerous, broken edge to her words, sharp syllables buzzing on the skin of her teeth, and for a moment the world considers a different future. Perhaps, perhaps. As always, time is a knotted nightmare that can never quite be untangled, and Bet’s course has already been set.
“I’m right here,” he offers. “We can spend time together right now, Cecily. Right now is… is all we have.” He swallows. “I— I can’t imagine how hard this is for you. And I understand, I more than understand— I’m afraid, too. Afraid of— of dying.” Even now, the words still ring hollow to him. Even as he persists he falters, inevitably crushing him as surely as the sky bore down on Atlas’s shoulders, grinding his impossible optimism and creating coarse edges around his soul. “Nothing is going to change that now.”
“So… you’re giving up, then?” She sits down next to him on the bed. “No raging against the dying of the light? Not even going to try?” A shuddering breath. “Not even for me?”
Her voice, loud enough to move mountains, is so small it wraps itself around his heart and squeezes. He closes the distance, and they embrace. And even after years, Andrew still marvels with how perfectly his body slots into place against hers— like pieces of a puzzle, or perhaps magnets, inexorably drawn to each other.
(Bet watches, enraptured. It has seen love before, but never quite like this, and it knows it never quite will again. This is how a dream loves — it loves with all it has.)
“I want to live.” He swallows, struggling for words. “I want to live, Cecily. With you, as fully as I can. The treatment…I won’t spend my last years in pain just to hold on a little while longer, confined to a couch or a bed. I won’t. I’d rather be here a little shorter but enjoy my time then be forced to go on, tired and bitter. Don’t do that to me.”
“I don’t want to lose you.” And then the waterworks really come, and the two of them might as well be the only things that exist, in this small bedroom, midnight keeping out all other things. “I feel like I already have. You’re slipping through my fingers and no matter how much I try to hold on I just lose more of you.”
“I’m right here,” he whispers. “I’m not gone yet. We’ve— we’ve had so much taken from us already. Don’t let this thing take any more.”
They talk long into the night.
The world sighs and turns.
Andrew Hawke will die in a few months or so, and as such, he is going on a cruise. Grace is joining him, and her name has never been more fitting or more ironic. She’s dying, too, and she’s taken to it like a fish to water — and to drink. Andrew Hawke hasn’t smelled a single breath of hers that didn’t taste like spirits. She’s drowning herself in every sense of the word. Drowning in her misery until she comes out the other side smiling, drowning her mind until she can’t feel the fear or despair anymore.
We can make it a sibling thing, she’d offered with a bottle already in hand, downing her medicine as if it cured anything at all, two dead Hawkes walking.
The world shifts and it considers the many ways in which Grace could meet her end, and none of them are quite as interesting (quite as satisfactory) then having her outlive her brother. So it continues to shift people and places, nudge buildings here and there, whisper into not-quite listening ears, to ensure that she never finds pills nor rope.
Grace Lands is going to live, and that will— oh.
Oh, that is fascinating.
(Brockton, a little nothing city on the edge of the coast without a scrap of history or pride; its future has swollen and grown into a woven monster, threads skittering into the dark.)
“You know,” Grace says one night, curled up on her bed, still unused to sleeping above an ocean, “I thought about having kids.”
“Yeah?” Andrew asks.
“Yeah.” She sighs. “Michael wasn’t big on the idea either. We thought about adopting, but we just...never got around to it. I definitely didn’t want to have my own. No more kids deserve to get tangled up with the Hawke family drama.”
“...you’re still angry?” he asks. She turns, fury in her eyes. So, yes then. He couldn’t blame her. Their parents… Well.
There was a reason he hadn’t called them yet.
(Perhaps the parents could have been handled differently, but then Andrew would not have been so gentle, and his sister would not have been so honest, and so it is fine. But it is a reminder that when you push people too much they tend to get a bit...shattered. Driving the parents so far and so long had worn out the humans, like butter scraped over too much bread. They were thin and wiry and mean, minds gone quiet from phantom screams.)
“Of course I’m still angry,” she mutters. “I’m just too tired to get into it right now. I don’t need it. Or them. And besides— maybe dying will get them to call us. What do you think?” She gives a weak chuckle, bitterness dripping off her tongue like wine running down the side of her glass. It’s a jagged, coarse thing, her laughter. Andrew wonders when that happened. She used to sound so bright. What has the world done to his sister? (So much, and not nearly enough.) “I think we’ll get it just before we croak. Maybe they’ll show up on our deathbeds, just to be extra. That’s so them.”
“You’re awful adjusted to the idea of dying,” Andrew notes. “Every other joke is about it.”
“Does it make you uncomfortable, Andy?”
“Don’t call me Andy.”
“Sure thing, Andy.”
“Grace, I’m trying to have a conversation with you.”
“You certainly are.”
“Do you not want to talk about it? About— dying? Aren’t you scared?” He finds himself crying again, throat squeezing and dry. “I’m so scared, Grace. I came with you to get away from it but it just followed me here.”
“Oh, Andrew.” She sighs, drifting off to sleep. “You haven’t learned? Dying is the one thing you get to look forward to. Might as well learn to like it.”
He falls asleep himself not long after.
The world laughs and turns.
At last (at last) the day has arrived.
At first, it is a day the same as any other on the open ocean, clear blue above and opaque navy below, and the wind is fair. At first, those who have gathered on the deck that early believe the brilliant glow on the distant horizon is the golden sun, making its slow, inexorable march across the sky. And then, slowly, they realize. Watches are checked, the ocean and the sky are stared at. And then all at once, they arrive at the conclusion, as the true star rises in the west, turning the ocean crimson.
That isn’t the sun.
And then there is panic, and they scramble to find staff, who scramble to find managers, who scramble to find a captain; an old man, a beard like snow and a mind like mountain springs, it is easy for Bet to whisper in his ear and urge him towards that golden glow.
What happens next echoes throughout history like a gunshot and screams forwards like a bullet, the timeline exploding into uncountable permutations the moment Scion (it can hear his name, echoed from the future, and the sound of it sends all of the threads humming with potential) touches Andrew Hawke’s hand. For a moment all Bet can see are the brilliant shards dancing around it like a hall of mirrors transformed into a ballroom, and it rocks with delight.
Andrew Hawke is silent for the rest of the trip, man confronted with myth, dream confronted with designer, and when at last his silence falls, he becomes a prophet.
The world shouts and turns.
And so it is said that death had released Andrew Hawke. And his doctor stutters this out with a face that is broken gravel, and his entire body seems flush with an inner warmth, and the rain lightly sliding off the window could have been fire and he wouldn’t have noticed. He is going to live, and he knows why, he knows who has given him this miracle. The doctors press for details, they press for information— word has spread, and he had talked to reporters after, a decision he regrets more and more.
"I need to go," he tells them, earnestly pleading. The staff immediately jump in with reasons why he needs to stay, and he has to resist the urge to throw up when they say tests, and his fear is not just his own.
"There's so much we could learn," the doctor says eagerly, and there's a lurking darkness inside the aging man’s voice; it sends an unnamable emotion creeping into Hawke’s consciousness, an instinct without a label that shouts into his mind: Get out now. (Bet sees syringes, Bet sees scalpels, and so Bet urges him out of that hospital as fast as it can; it needs him in the field.)
He goes home to Cecily and there are once more tears and embraces, but this is a happy occurrence, for they now see nothing but the life they should have had. Bet laughs, and then prods at Hawke once more, creeping into his marital bed, whispering a sweet nothing into his ear: You were supposed to die, and he saved you. What are you going to do with that?
Andrew Hawke is a dream: He is a good man, and so he arrives at his answer.
I have to save everyone else. And in his tossing and turning that night, in his dreaming, he arrives at a word that blasts through Bet’s consciousness like an air raid siren:
The world shivers and turns.
This is Vikare, the first of them all: He is righteous. He is gentleness and light, he is a graceful avenger. Dressed in beautiful bronze, helm adorned with wings and clothed in white, he takes to an uncrowded sky with a confidence that belies his fears. He is the man who swoops down on invisible wings to rescue children from trees, men from monsters, women from men. And they all look at him with some strange mix of awe and disbelief, but he finds that he doesn’t mind their apprehension or their distrust: all that matters is that he is helping. And if that means he does not fly quite as high as he could, then that is all right.
And every night, he goes home to Cecily Smith, and he tells her I would stop, if you asked me. And Cecily Smith, armorer of humanity’s newest demigod, laughs and says no, you wouldn’t. And I won’t, because I know you, and it would hurt you too much to not help. I married you for your heart, Andrew. I won’t ask you to tear it out for me. Besides, you love it.
And so it is, and it is true: he loves it. He loves it, because he is a dream, he is a good man, and his heart sings for every imperfect stranger he rescues from any ill-fate. In the years that pass, they do not all at once trust him, they do not all at once love him — but slowly, slowly. And he has already heard the whispers of a plan, of more men and women like him, and he cannot wait to meet them, to fly with them, to fight with them. For a moment, as he drifts home and looks to the horizon, he can see a new age for humanity, and it gleams a brilliant gold.
And so it is until one day, one date: July 1st, 1989. There is a riot over a game happening: someone has taken a dive, someone has cheated, there are a thousand accusations and none of them are true. There is blood and chaos, people throwing themselves at each other with wild abandon, and Bet laughs to itself as it reminds them that all they ever need is an excuse.
And then a dream comes along.
And he tries to make them stop, floating down like an angel from on high, and he begs them to lay down their fists and still their anger: he preaches peace, and kindness. In return he is called freak, he is called arrogant, he is called false. And so in a desperate act, he sinks down to earth. And for just a moment, he has them all listening.
Here I am, he says, smiling. I know this get-up makes me look a bit silly, but underneath it all— despite it all, I’m still one of you. Yes, I can fly. Yes, I can do things long-since thought impossible. But so can all of you, I’m sure. We are, all of us, impossibilities: against the odds we’ve made it to today. And I know that you’re angry, and I know that you want someone to blame, but please, don’t do this. Nothing good will come of this. We can be better. We can choose to be more than animals, striking at each other out of fear and hate. We can—
Death comes quickly for Andrew Hawke.
No one knows exactly who hit him, and no one ever will. The name of Vikare’s killer is annulled from history by violence and forgetfulness. But the sound of metal crashing into an unprotected skull, that is unforgettable; the noise of it screams through time, the dull thunk and crack of a bat fracturing bone locking the future on a collision course.
Andrew Hawke was a dream: he was a good man. And so he dies cursing nothing.
Tell me about the golden age.
It was a dream. We all woke up.