A Brief Intro:
Here’s another story that will never have a home. This one had its genesis in the very simple, completely juvenile observation that the Greek goddess of ‘social justice’ is a dyke. Never mind that her name is spelled D-I-K-E and is pronounced differently (it rhymes with Nike) – it was close enough to the mark that I had myself a chuckle at the expense of wokeness.
It ought to have ended there, with the ‘heh’ I probably muttered under my breath. But for some reason a mythic origin story for the Social Justice Warrior began to appeal to me. I wondered what would happen if I set aside my antipathies and chased a certain kind of narrative logic to its unbiased conclusion. Xenomatra is the unexpected result. I’m posting it in two parts because a) it’s rather long, and b) formatting this particular story for the blog has been a nightmare. Part 2 is still under the knife.
So here is Part One of Xenomatra — the original SJW.
Once upon a time the earth and the heavens copulated, and their strange effort produced a generation of twelve titans. Two of these titans, Kronos and Rhea, emulated the strange effort of their parents and they spawned the gods who would become Olympians. Foremost among these gods was Zeus, who went straight to a third titan, his aunt Themis, to do some copulating of his own. It was from this straightforward and inevitable union that the Horae sprang, whom we know better as the Hours. Because this all occurred so near the beginning of time, there were only three Hours: Dike, Eunomia, and Eirene.
The mother of the Hours, Themis, was the titan of divine justice, and each of her daughters bore an earthly resemblance to her heavenly aspect. Eirene was the goddess of peace; Eunomia was the goddess of law and order; and Dike was the goddess of social justice.
Zeus, unaware of what he sired, hurried home to make further strange efforts with his sister Hera. As the heavens and the earth made Kronos and Rhea, as Kronos and Rhea made Zeus and Hera, so Zeus and Hera made Ares. Ares preferred his Roman aspect, and as Mars he became the god of war and the guardian of warriors.
As to whether Dike and Mars made stranger efforts still, the ancient poets are silent. But we in the 21st century must hazard the conjecture – or else from whence the Social Justice Warrior?
Mars smashed the podium with his fist and it fell to pieces on the dais. This wasn’t a small feat – the podium at Olympus was an ageless crag of stone and iron, about the size of the World Trade Center buildings. As it fell it shook the mountain and its debris blotted out the sun. And with it fell the last official word that was ever spoken before the full assembly of the gods. Having spoken that word, Mars awaited judgment.
“I’ve never heard you speak before,” said Father Zeus. “Before this afternoon I didn’t know you had meat on your tongue. Now here you rant as if you’re Apollo’s whelp. It’s a shame – we might have bonded. But you’ve shattered our immortal podium, so your first words must also be your last.”
“First or last, we will consider them,” said Mother Hera. “Our warrior son has served us well for many thousands of years. A morning of peace does not make him anathema.”
“But war is different now,” said Uncle Hades. “A thousand dead at Marathon is a million dead at Verdun. Charon used to ferry their broken souls across the river Styx – now he admirals a fleet of carriers. And if the price of glory keeps increasing, humankind will pay the debt by selling off its victories. Soon their whole race will be indentured to my house.”
“My sickly brother exaggerates,” said Great Poseidon. “The sea is broad and the sky is wide. My horses roam across the continents. Humankind, for all its bluster, will never put a dent in this world.”
“But they will flood the one beneath it with their rotten blood.”
“A problem for the ghouls.”
“And when the Styx backs up and surges into your precious Mediterranean? Will you be so cocky when the evil dead are raping all your nymphs?”
“Brothers! Silence!” Zeus flicked a warning bolt from his open palm and some thunder shuffled after it. “My son is not a hostage to this ancient dispute. Eat your prejudice, and judge Mars as Mars.”
Zeus’s fingers were still crackling when Aphrodite strutted up the steps of the dais. She bent at the waist and picked up a smoldering shard of the shattered podium. She lingered in that prone position for just a moment, but it was long enough to raise the hackles on her jealous husband – Hephaestus coughed loudly into his sooty hand then glowered at the handsome god of war.
“Mars as Mars,” the goddess mused, ignoring her spouse’s anger. She twirled the smoldering shard between her milky fingers. “I know Mars as Mars. I know him from alpha to omega. He is agile, bold, cunning, dangerous, enormous,” – here she winked – “feral, gullible, haunted, indelible . . .” Here she paused, the shard pressed against her lips. She clearly swam through memories. After a sigh she resumed – “jagged, keen, loving, murderous, neglectful, oppressive, prodigious . . .”
But Hephaestus could no longer play the cuck. He stood and bellowed, “You foamy slut!” – and the blacksmith threw his fabled hammer at goddess of beauty. She dodged it neatly and stuck out her tongue.
“Your tongue is just as beautiful as the rest of you,” Hephaestus conceded. “Though I wonder what use it has while you’re still on your feet. Go ahead, get on your knees for him. Right now, right here, just suck his dick in front of everyone. Gobble his prodigious dick, you prodigious dick-sucking clam!” He turned to Zeus. “I won’t eat this prejudice. I abjure the vote.”
So saying, Hephaestus retired underground. His token wife was unperturbed. She finished with the alphabet –
“. . . quarrelsome, ravenous, shrouded, terrible, unassailable, victorious, wandering, xenophobic, youthful, zealous . . .”
– and only then did she return to her seat in the pantheon. Next spoke Apollo.
“I stand with Hades,” said the shining god. “So long as the sun requires my chariot, it will not rise over another Armenia, nor another Auschwitz, nor another Nanking. If the children of the gods are to survive the long night of infancy, the glow of Mars must fade.”
The maiden goddesses – Wise Athena, Noble Artemis, Faithful Hestia – with one voice supported Apollo. “Cities, vales, and temples burn,” they said. “There’s too much metal in the world, and the violence of humankind is too potent. We no longer honor the warrior.”
Then Father Zeus raised a brow at Hermes. “I make neither war nor peace with Mars,” said the messenger god. “I cede my vote to his father.”
“And his father supports him,” said Zeus. “His mother supports him as well, if I understand her speech. Poseidon is with us, and Aphrodite. With Hermes that makes five – five Olympic gods who know the worth of war. But five also oppose my son – Hades and Apollo, and all three maidens. So while the blacksmith abjures, the jury is hung.”
All the gods had spoken. Hades said there was no more room in the house of the dead, and Apollo didn’t like to look upon the slaughter. Athena hated building cities twice. But Aphrodite loved the god of war, and Poseidon thought that if the world was big enough for horses then it was big enough for howitzers. Since further talk was useless, the gods adjourned.
Mars put on his shroud and moved to the peak of Mount Parnassus, where long ago Deucalion survived the bitter deluge. From that high and lonely spot he watched as Helios hurled himself into the western sea and Luna threw off her cloak. Night fell over the mountain.
The war-god looked up into the black dome of the sky and saw that it was full of strife. A thousand bright and gory tales were etched in the womb of Nyx. There were the Pleaides – seven sisters who killed themselves in the rain, who in death forever fled the blind Orion. There was Andromeda – a galactic maiden strapped to a mountain and devoured nightly by Poseidon’s roaming monsters. There was Callisto – a nymph who was raped by Zeus and changed by Hera into a bear, then thrust as a bear into the dark night and forbidden to touch the earth. Every nook in the sky told one of these ancient stories – every prick of light was caught up in the endless chain of suffering.
But among the violent hoary stars there was a solitary red wanderer. It was a rusty earth with a wider orbit around the sun. Though he was honored as its eponym, Mars had never ventured there – the god of war was made of sublunary stuff. But now, with half his heart in exile, his planet called to him.
First he slashed open his hand and soiled the blade of his spear. Then he took aim and fired the spear up into the sky. Its bloody point trailed after the planet. He sat down and waited for three days while the spear traversed the interplanetary void –
for only where there’s blood the god of war may enter.
“Mars is red, Venus is green, Vulcan’s kids are yellow – If Mars comes back to Earth again, blow him out bellows!”
Eirene and Eunomia dropped the jump-ropes and fell down giggling. Dike, who hadn’t nearly jumped her share, crossed her arms and pouted in the middle.
“Stop making fun of Mars,” she said.
“Mars is red!” her sisters squealed. They writhed on the ground. “Venus is green!”
“Mars is a noble force of nature,” Dike insisted. “You shouldn’t laugh at him.”
“Vulcan’s kids are yellow!”
“The only reason Olympus banished him is because Hades is a hypocrite and the maidens are wet for Apollo.”
“If Mars comes back to Earth again, blow him out the bellows!”
“That’s it – I’m telling Mom.”
Dike stomped her feet, pivoted, and stalked off across the city. The taunts of her sisters followed her through the streets –
“Dike and Mars, sitting in a tree. C – O – P – U – L – A – T – I – N – G!”
It was easy for her sisters to laugh at the exiled god of war – Eirene was the goddess of peace and Eunomia the goddess of order, and neither would ever miss the discord that followed Mars. But Dike was the goddess of social justice, and justice without war was empty. You had to fight for justice.
She flitted between cabs, through alleys, under bridges and over skyscrapers. She leaped traffic cones and oily puddles and she tip-toed across the clouds. She barely noticed the metal and glass of the city, the rectangular rigidity of its pathways, the bold height of its structures, the complexity of its sewage system, the prosperity of its keepers. She saw only the people who suffered beneath the façade, who slaved and starved in the neon shadows. She saw their oppressors as well – but the oppressors were too bright and too many and the glare stung her eyes. The city was peaceful and well-ordered and unjust.
The commute lasted a minute and she stood before her mother, Titan Themis.
“Mom!” Dike’s quavering voice played the sacred chords of urgency. “Mom! Eirene and Eunomia are making fun of Mars! And they didn’t let me jump as much as them on the rope! And Eirene didn’t let me try her juice this morning even though she didn’t drink it all! And –”
“Dike.” Only when her mother said it did she remember that her name was older than the stars. Themis hung the weight of the whole world on every word she spoke. “My daughter. Come closer. Rest in my arms.”
Grumbling, Dike climbed up the green folds of her mother’s gown and plopped down in the crook of her left arm, the one that carried the tablet. Her mother’s right arm was currently aloft and wielded a torch.
“I liked you better when you carried a sword and scales,” Dike complained.
“Poor Dike,” said Themis. “The world is changing and she is not.”
“But they shouldn’t make fun of Mars.” Her complaints sounded ridiculous in the sphere of her mother’s eternity, but she didn’t care. She had learned, with great difficulty, that the ethereal and timeless qualities of her mother were not always conducive to justice upon the earth. Themis could be impassive, faraway, and downright cruel. True justice was human justice, and human justice was hot and bloody. “It isn’t fair,” she muttered, stupidly and persistently. “Nothing is ever fair.”
“Perhaps your sister’s hour chimes,” the titan said. “This world can do better than Mars, and much worse than Eirene.”
“Eirene is stupid! Peace is stupid! Where there’s peace there’s no justice – and if there’s no justice there’s no point. There has to be something to fight for.” Dike crossed her arms and huffed. “I hate Eirene.”
“The Hours of Zeus!” Themis sighed. Though eternal, she could become exasperated with her daughters. “The lord of the firmament blessed me with three beautiful girls, the harbingers of Peace and Order and Justice – and they all hate each other.”
“No, Eirene and Eunomia love each other,” Dike said. “It’s always two against one. Because nothing is fair.”
Themis called upon the clouds and the waters to sooth her scowling child. A subtle turn of the hand that held the torch, an electric cackle between the prongs of her crown – and a thunderhead rolled over the bay. Waves began to crash against the retaining wall down below the base of the statue. There were javelins of lightning and the attendant drums of windborne battle. Far, far away they heard Ocean sigh as Triton sounded his conch-horn.
Dike climbed up to her mother’s crown and viewed the storm from the summit of liberty. She was not immune to the dignity and immensity of the blasting sea, but the god-fire in her eyes burned only for the city. There was too much cruelty behind those walls, and not enough vengeance. There was too much pity beneath those shadows, and not enough compassion. There were too many bullets and no longer any heroes. But though the sea came roaring landward, the glistering lights never went out. The humanity within still fought for something.
“Without Mars these lights will fade!” Dike shouted into the storm. “Eirene, you stupid bitch!”
Then Zeus and Poseidon, for the first time since the big blow of ’38, reached out and shook hands over the North Atlantic. The storm swelled and the earth shrank. Sky and water merged in the wind and lightning ionized the churning froth. With the foam and the froth the primal brothers fashioned around Dike a protective shell, clear like a bubble and glistening many-colored. The squall-made glass was tougher than adamant.
“This bubble is your safe space,” said father Zeus, a tremor in the wind – “Stay within it and nothing shall harm you, neither wounds nor words nor the black stain of entropy. But the isolation will make you weak. Venture out from it and you will die.”
Dike floated in her bubble, out over the sea and up over the clouds. The night above the storm was calm and bleak and the stars were a tragic tableau. Among them roamed the red warrior.
Her father’s voice tremored again in the wind – “Now go, sweet justice, to Mars.”
And Dike felt the gods accelerate her towards another world.
At first the goddess loathed her pretty shell –
she thought that Zeus protected her from ghosts
that only soft imaginations feared.
For was she not the spawn of storm and sword –
the daughter of divine, redounding scales?
The child of Zeus and Themis ought to be
a wise and daring prophet – not some nymph
all wrapped up like a babe among the reeds.
But when she reached her hand out to the stars
her fingers breached the adamantine foam
and felt the frozen fumes, the cosmic void.
She could, of course, survive a trip across
the vacuum’s vale in nothing but her skin,
but it was cozy in the shell – her bones
preferred the frothy warmth of safety space.
And every time she poked the bubble’s edge,
she jolted back and curled up like a cat.
Through many months she journeyed in the void,
for she could not in safety match the speed
that Mars achieved with blood and spear. The orb
that drifted hotly out among the stars
grew larger very slowly. Gaia rolled
behind her like a marble, Helios
unmoving moved, and Venus disappeared.
She traced the storied stars a thousand times –
too many times – and they began to blur –
the fading memory of an unjust world.
At last she came upon the shores of war.
Her toes alighted on Olympus Mons,
the peak from which the war-god meditates
upon the Furies, Hours, and the Fates.
“Ares! Mars! Wolf-man and war-god! I am Dike, the Hour of Justice, and you will return with me to Earth or I will join you here in exile!”
Dike roared the words as if they trumpeted a battle. But she was much smaller than her declaration and she floated like Tinkerbell in her cozy bubble. Mars, who made the mountain black with his shadow, gave her no reply.
“If you will not speak, at least grant me a sign that you hear!”
The mountain shuddered.
“Then hear me!” she cried. She beat her chest and approached the war-god’s shroud. “I am the daughter of thunder and scales! I am the Hour that brings Justice! My chimes call the righteous to vengeance! I–”
The mountain trembled.
“I walked in the shadow of Theseus who freed Athens from Minos! I walked in the shadow of Moses who freed the Hebrews from Egypt! I walked in the shadow of Frodo who freed Midgard from Sauron! And now I stand in the shadow that was cast over all those shadows, for I come to free Mars from Mars! I bring justice to the war-god, that he may once more wield it as a weapon across the continents of the Earth!”
The mountain quaked. Its cratered peak broke forth in a geyser of red sand and the war-god’s shroud began to spin, fast and then faster. The geyser fed the shroud and the shroud was a red tornado that towered over the mountain and spewed dust up into the void. Then suddenly the tower fled. It fled across the shallow slope of Martian Olympus and kicked up walls of sand on either side. Before it reached the mountain’s foot it was a raging storm.
And with the storm fled the war-god’s shadow.
Dike crossed her arms, pouted her lips, and flopped down on her butt. “Everybody hates me,” she complained. She watched impotently from her bubble as the sandstorm raced off to the horizon. “Eirene, you stupid bitch.”
The red storm of the war-god raged for many days. Mars swarmed across the plains, savage in his ochre shroud, blasting out his violence in a shifting torrent. At first Dike watched the roaming cloud of dust from her perch on the mountain, hoping that its shadow would return to her – but the sands never regained the slope of Olympus Mons. After the Earth had twice traversed the sky she understood that the war-god was intractable. His exile was self-imposed, a flagellation he endured to shame the gods who disavowed him. He would shade the red planet for all eternity and let humankind sink in the pit of apathy. If she wanted another audience with him, she would have to chase the storm. She started by rolling her foam shell down the gradual slope of the mountain and out onto the equatorial plains.
She made for the Tharsis Highland, where three lonely volcanoes stood neatly in a row. First she hid in the caldera of Arsia Mons, where she waited for the storm to blow through the plains between the volcanoes. And when the sands moved under her she leapt from the mountain and into the midst of the torrent of the god. But the wind of Mars was raging strong – it blasted her foam shell high, high above the surface of the planet and into the halo of its atmosphere. She landed with a thud on the Daedalia Planum.
Next she tried the calderas of Pavonis Mons and Ascraeus Mons, and from each she achieved a similar result. From Pavonis she was blown right back to Olympus Mons, and from Ascraeus she rode the wind to the Sinai Planum. Meanwhile the storm roamed undeterred across the planet, with or without a will, gathering sand and speed and redoubling its intensity. The war-god had yet to speak, but the gales of a planetary storm roared a warning.
It wasn’t a warning that Dike heeded – the Hour of Justice could be delayed, but never turned back.
From the plains of Sinai she saw the spiderweb of canyons called the Noctis Labyrinthus. The network of gorges and ravines lay between the Tharsis volcanoes and the Mariner’s Valley. She entered the Labyrinth from the depths of the Valley and waited for the storm to pass over. If the winds blew her out from above, perhaps they’d suck her in from below.
More days passed in the subterranean veins. Dike moved through wide canyons and narrow rifts, through caves and tunnel systems that interlocked the labyrinth with an unseen layer of complexity. Thousands – millions – a billion years old – older perhaps than her favorite haunts back on Earth – all of it formed by some long-dead cousin of Ocean. She wondered if the Mariner’s Valley was the unhealed scar caused by a titan’s collapse.
When the storm of Mars at last passed over her, it came with such immediate force that she recoiled from it. The dust was swirling and the winds howling with enough violence to tear the bones out of the planet. Red rocks and red boulders hurtled through the red sand. But Dike was a goddess herself, and remembering the words of her father – “Now go, sweet justice, to Mars” – she tossed herself into the tempest.
In the eye of the storm was the shadow of the war-god. Dike wasted no more words, for she knew that the shadow wouldn’t hear them. Instead, she stepped out from her safe space and entered the whirling darkness without her shell. The sand cut her skin and the wind froze her bones. A rock smashed her teeth. The thin air dropped away and she plummeted to the ground, where she was dragged along by invisible hooks then kicked back up into the storm. Another rock smashed her knee. Through blood and tears she watched her foam shell fall away into the red abyss.
Then the shadow pulled her near and the war-god entered her. At the intersection of pain and pleasure she knew a moment of eternity, and after eternity she was ejected back out into the interplanetary void.
The goddess tilted, or the universe
went whirring round her faster than the speed
Apollo deemed his photons ought to move –
for past her eyes flew Jupiter and Mars,
a tidal blur of stars, then Earth again,
that cloudy marble on a quiet stroll.
Her toes and fingers, sharp like shuriken,
reached out with centrifugal impotence
towards the home beyond her uterus.
Her weeping made no sound. Her wails were black.
The void was cold – her naked skin was glass
and her unblinking eyes were precious stones,
all glossed and frozen in the vacuum’s vale.
But she did not for comfort’s sake regret
ejecting from her froth-made safety space –
she only wished she never stepped inside,
for in the shell her body crystallized,
and as a crystal she must shatter soon.
She only hoped that Gaia’s warm embrace
would save the child freezing in her womb.
Travail upon the earth was strange enough –
travail beyond the moon was stranger still.
In vertigo her belly stretched and swelled
and in the swirling darkness something moved –
a tumble in the tumblerina’s paunch.
The fetus craved for pickles, bacon, jam,
string cheese and chocolate cake, some cream of corn,
and shot-glass samplers of the condiments –
but in the aether all the stores were closed.
The baby kicked and turned and turned again
for millions of kilometers, until
the entropy of coldness stopped its limbs.
At last – the Earth. At last – the rolling home
of Zephyr and Aurora, wind and dawn.
But Dike knew her skin would never feel
those climes again, for she was frozen through.
Yet deep within her stirred the progeny
Of war and justice – Xenomatra kicked
and shattered Dike’s womb. The goddess retched,
the fetus wailed, and Mother watched her Child
descend into the fiery atmosphere.
And one more time, as Fate unwove her stitch,
the Hour chimed, “Eirene, you stupid bitch.”
Xenomatra ejected from Dike’s womb over the North Atlantic, near the place where Zeus and Poseidon had shaken hands and fashioned Dike’s safety space. She had just a moment to hang above the clouds and look upon the orbiting ghost of the Hour of Justice before she turned and fell. She plummeted like any other fetus would – at ten meters per second per second.
After several minutes of freefall she broke through the cloud cover and trembled over the mythic city of New York. At first the city looked like a chip in a motherboard – then stalagmites of silver and glass and emerald pushed into the third dimension, then between the stalagmites there were rivers of pitch that carried giant beetles through a geometric futurescape. It was both familiar and alien, ancient and emergent. Standing eternal over the superlative city was her grandmother Themis, titan of divine justice, who beckoned her homeward with the green torch held ever aloft.
Themis knew of Dike’s fate – and alone upon the earth she understood the consequences. She reached out to catch her falling granddaughter, though she had known far in advance that reaching was in vain. Xenomatra scorched her fingers as she blasted by, aimed like a missile and burning like a comet. Watching her trail across the sky, the immovable titan let fall a single tear. And it was this tear, when it splashed down into the bay, out of which the seven Drones were born.
Xenomatra, daughter of Justice and War, granddaughter of Thunder and Scales, blistered her new flesh along the thread of fate. She could no more heed her grandmother than a meteor could heed a No Trespassing sign. There was sky-fire and fear-fog rolling through the city and she was drawn like a prophet into the cataclysm.
Black smoke poured from two of the glistering stalagmites, twin towers of metal and glass that were as tall as the podium at Olympus. The smoke smothered the city in a cancerous soot. Horns and sirens caterwauled. The people shambled, shouted, gawked, and vomited. Perhaps somewhere among them Eirene and Eunomia were weeping, for there was neither peace nor law in the fear-fog. There was only fear and sickness and doubt.
The war-god and the Hour of Justice had been away for too long, and in their absence the religion of peace had struck a fantastic blow. As the first tower of the World Trade Center fell, Xenomatra impacted the Navelstone of New York City and plunged deep into the earth, down into Tartarus where a nineteen-headed Terror lurked.
part 2 coming soon . . .