"What if Cthulu hired a good press agent?"
Dean Nahin was happy for the return of the Old Ones, he pondered, as he sat at the desk bearing his quantum computer. The status bar at the bottom of the holographic monitor marqueed the message: "You've been working too long on your computer again, haven't you?" Life seemed so much easier since They had come back. The tree branches outside his window glowed pastel yellow, and creaked and whispered in the windless night air.
Oh, there was a short period of upheaval; those holding the reins of power were unwilling to release their grasp without coercion. Many died in those weeks of unrest. Entire cities were emptied of their inhabitants in the ensuing panic, largely due to misinformation disseminated by the popular media at the time. Apocalyptic forecasts were given by prominent religious leaders. Armies were mobilized. All this began in response to a solitary figure's address given at the United Nations, announcing the end of Man's privileged domination of the planet, on account of the egregious abuse of the earth and massive incompetence on the part of humanity in dealing with their own problems.
Nyarlathotep, the emissary of the Old Ones, had simply winked into substantiality behind the dais, and announced the succession of man by those who had once ruled before. He reassured the attentive delegations that there was no cause for alarm; the Old Ones had softened their view of man, and had, in fact, found great mirth in observing the quixotic hubris of humanity. We had endeared ourselves to Them, he stated, and would be permitted a safe coexistence with the Old Ones, guaranteed forever by an agreement etched upon the earth itself.
CNN had interrupted its coverage of the seventh anniversary of the O.J. Simpson Trial to carry the broadcast of the dark speaker's words, and by the end of the address, had a clever little banner logo, "The Coming of the Old Ones," displayed on the bottom of the television picture screen. The pundits paraded their feeble insights, many quoted the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and others to bolster their opinions, the consensus of which was that the true intentions of the Old Ones were the usurpation and extermination of mankind.
Public response, in the wake of the address and subsequent analysis by the press, was both immediate and emotional. Floods of email slowed bandwidth on entire trunks of the internet to a scant crawl. Recriminations and accusations poured out in the eyes and ears of anyone unfortunate enough to pay attention. Official coverups with respect to inscriptions from recovered UFO crashes, gun-control legislation, the President's lack of moral fiber, all were cited as the cause of man's present misfortune. Prominent representatives sprouted up on news programs decrying underfed defense budgets. Religious leaders cajolled their flocks to take up arms and pray in anticipation of the impending day of judgement.
Then came that day. There was a massive panic, as people everywhere packed up their recently-purchased petrol generators and freeze-dried food packages and fled for refuge in the countryside. Looting ensued in the cities. Federal Emergency Management officials declared entire states disaster areas. In the rest of the world, it was much the same. Everywhere entire populations moved out of their homes and into whatever rude shelter they could muster elsewhere. Armed paramilitary organizations set up roadblocks and pulled people out of their vehicles, seemingly at random, in order to beat or rape them. Several television news organizations remained on the air, breathlessly reporting the uprooting of millions.
Dean had remained in his family home in the country. There had been no unusual occurances; it seemed just as any other day, placid and idyllic in the quiet Ohio farmlands. He reclined on his foxed-edged futon, monitoring the television broadcasts of the chaos elsewhere. Then appeared
the first of the curious commercials.
"If it were possible, I would travel through time, go back to the past and apologize," came the announcer's voice, soft and cool over displayed landscaped images of forests, mountains, and grasslands. "We Old Ones would like to take this moment to express to you our deep commitment to a saner, and more productive future. Together with the human race, we shall overcome our troubled histories, to take our place as a shining light on a hill in the cosmos." A montage of still photos of faces of people from all ethnic and economic groups flickered on the screen; a moment of black, then the letters: "www.cthulhu.org;" below it words formed: "Together, it's a new world."
And in the morning and the evening it was the first day. Nothing happened: no lumbering monstrosities, no evil minions, no nothing, just the strange television commercials, which appeared more often. The dark man, who was introduced as Nyarlathotep, turned up opposite Tom Brokaw on the Evening News to express his concern for man's state of affairs, and to urge
all displaced persons to return to their residences. He stated, "The Old Ones have rethought their policy toward mankind, that we have endeared ourselves with our futile, misanthropic adventures, and that the Old Ones had gained compassion by observing man's antics. In the eons immediately after their forced departure from earth, the Old Ones had harbored envy for the inheritance of man, much like sibling jealousy, and in the intervening millenia, had since outgrown their petulance. In addition, They, the Old Ones, should not be held to account for the actions of certain misguided individuals who have perpetrated rash deeds in Their name." He then finished by adding that our combined effort, with the cooperation of the human race, would make this planet as a beacon in the heavens in the midst of nighted voids.
Not many returned home. Those with sufficient stocks remained encamped, vigilantly guarding their stores against their neighbors. From exile, certain leaders spoke of the mongrelization of the human race by the invaders. Many expressed their misgivings with respect to the Old Ones' apparently altruistic agenda, concerned that, instead, we should all end up as dinner on someone's plate. The armed forces all stood at alert, as evidenced by the many kerb-crawling military vehicles that patrolled the streets, ocassionally stopping to intervene at a looting. Members of the government and selected companions remained entombed in a bunker in Virginia.
As the weeks wore on, still nothing happened. More and more people returned to their vacated houses. Stores reopened, utilities resumed, local government officials resumed their bureaucratic offices, presses ran. There was noticed a sudden proliferation of billboard ads cropping up along interstates everywhere: "Cthulhu and You, A Better Tomorrow," "Azathoth and America," in red, white, and blue; and the best one: "Earth: We Wouldn't Change A Thing!" TV and radio talk shows were filled with debate on the subject, and sandwiched between sessions, ads offered backgrounds and brief synopses of the lives of the Old Ones.
"Cthulhu rested enrapt in dreams in his house in Rl'yeh," blabbered one. "In His ocean temple, he was attended by Dagon and the race called the Deep Ones, gilled fish-men who centuries ago, built great underwater cities."
Then a change occurred. No one seems to know exactly what transpired, or more likely, no one will admit that knowledge. All the refugees returned home. The assembled military and emergency personel were sent back to their waiting families. No more griping was heard. Congress resumed session. Religious leaders mutely acquiesced. Things went back to normal; well, sort of . . .
Odd alien creatures started turning up in public places. Greenish fish-men walked through the check-out aisles of the grocer's, webbed hands full of sliced and shrink-wrapped fish. Quivering huge protoplasmic masses lumbered benignly in the park. Rubbery-winged gaunts wheeled in the blue skies overhead. Plantlife proliferated wildly, and took on strange colorings and attributes. Weird hieroglyphic signs began appearing next to the existing, English-language signs.
The text, it was later learned by watching a recently produced documentary, was Rl'yehan. "We were moving towards a bilingual society," the voice-over preached, "rediscovering the rich legacy of the past. The great seal of agreement between the Old Ones and mankind has been carved in Rl'yehan, English, Spanish, French, Russian, and Chinese on this mountainside in Peru to symbolize the Old Ones' everlasting commitment to humanity."
It was a Professor Armitage, I believe, who developed the Lexicon of Rl'yehan, at first transliterating each of the the symbols etched on the Plain of Nazca, then drawing upon the growing body of Rl'yehan-language public signs, carefully noting the context of each glyph.
It was Kwese M'tomo who found the book left abandoned in the market arcade. Its cover bore three of the strange Rl'yehan characters. It was delivered to the trust of the University of Kenya, where the title was deciphered ominously as "To Serve Man." Investigations of the subsequent
pages revealed a sobering truth.
It was a comic book.
The history of mankind was the subject. From the moment of inception by the Elder Gods, the human race was meant to play the harlequin in an eternal enantiodrioma. Dean Nahin, and the rest of humanity, was relieved that the Old Ones finally understood the joke.
Created: August 17, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004