issue 7

Don’t Make Me Come Down There, by Rajiv Moté

For the god Brahma the Creator, the act of Creation was never a one-and-done affair. He understood that when releasing an unpredictable element like humanity in a newly designed world, it would take some cycles to work out the kinks. That was why Brahma believed in an iterative process: four Yugas to chart the inception, progress, decline, and collapse of the world under humanity, an honest post-mortem, followed by a new version of Creation, with an updated design informed by hard data.

The problem was Vishnu. As Brahma understood the methodology, Vishnu ought to have been the Observer, recording data about the breakdowns of climate, human ambition, and the observation of dharma. But Vishnu had styled himself the Nurturer. He went down and applied hotfixes to the system, mid-Yuga. Nine times Brahma the Creator and Shiva the Destroyer had heard Vishnu say that if he had to incarnate on Earth one more time, he’d bring his sword that blazed like a comet, and do Shiva’s job for him. Shiva was never perturbed. Vishnu’s heart was never in his threats, and he always seemed eager to assume another avatar on Earth.


1. Matsya (Satya Yuga)

When a flaw in Brahma’s ecological design brought a deluge that covered the world, Brahma amended his schematic and asked Shiva to clear away the doomed planet. But down on Earth, King Manu managed to wrangle all the terrestrial animals onto a boat, despite having little talent with either animals or boats. The king was trying, and that tugged at Vishnu’s heart. He came to Earth as the great fish Matsya.

“Pulling the boat to land wasn’t really interference,” Vishnu said. “You patched the climate, and life came out a little more resilient.”

“It would’ve been so much cleaner to just restart with the right atmosphere,” Brahma said.

“Let it ride,” Shiva said. “We’re aiming for a perfected universe, not a perfect design.”

“One follows the other,” Brahma grumbled.


2. Kurma (Satya Yuga)

The deluge left ancient treasures deep in the primordial ocean, and as their ambitions grew, the people of the world hatched a plan to recover them. Harnessing a mountain as a shaft and a great serpent as a rope, they tried to churn the waters to raise the treasures. Vishnu watched with mounting frustration as their shaft sunk on every attempt.

“Let them figure it out,” Brahma said, catching the look in Vishnu’s eyes.

“If there hadn’t been a flood, they wouldn’t need to do this. We caused the problem. We can help fix it.” Vishnu simply wasn’t the kind of god who could watch someone struggle.

“I knew we should have started over,” Brahma said. That was the point of the Wheel of Ages: a universe started in its Satya Yuga perfection, and eventually degraded into a Kali Yuga, when the oceans rose, tyrants expanded their influence, and humans lost sight of their duty defined by their dharma. By the process they’d all agreed on, Shiva would then scrap the universe, and Brahma would update his design and launch an improved one. Vishnu was tainting the data with his avatars.

But Vishnu was a hands-on god and had already manifested as the great turtle Kurma. He supported the mountain-shaft on his back. The people of the world got to churning the ocean, and ancient, sunken treasures rose in the froth.


3. Varaha (Satya Yuga)

“They’ve managed to sink the world again,” Vishnu said.

Shiva opened one eye from his meditations. “They’ve done my job for me.”

Brahma fetched his sketchbook, ready at last to Create. He had so many new ideas, including a much more manageable water-to-earth ratio. And drainage channels.

“Wait,” Vishnu said, manifesting as the great boar Varaha, with tusks mighty enough to lift the land from the water. “I can fix this.”

“The point is not to have to,” Brahma said. “We restart, and the Golden Age will last longer. With enough cycles, I could design a Satya Yuga with no decay. Our work would be done.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Varaha descended to Earth and set about goring the ones responsible for sinking it. Vishnu was a Nurturer, but occasionally did need to vent his frustrations.

Shiva leaned over to Brahma. “Sunk costs,” he whispered, loud enough for Vishnu to hear.


4. Narasimha (Treta Yuga)

“Hear me out,” Vishnu said. “As Varaha, I killed a fellow responsible for sinking the world. But he had a brother who, for a mortal, knows how to play the long game. And he played us. Brahma, remember that king, who was practicing all those penances and austerities?”

“The one I ignored until you nagged me into granting him a boon?”

“Yes! The one you granted a boon! Not immortality, but you made it so he could be killed by neither man nor beast, during neither day nor night, neither inside nor outside, and by no weapon.”

“Because you insisted.”

“Well, he’s gone tyrant.”

Brahma took a deep breath. “Boons. Taint. The Data.”

“Sword time,” Shiva said, opening his eyes.

“‘By no weapon,’” Vishnu quoted. “But I have an idea.”

Shiva closed his eyes again, returning to meditation.

Vishnu manifested as the half-man, half-lion Narasimha. “Technically, we created this problem.” At twilight, when it was neither day nor night, he dragged the tyrant to the palace threshold, where he used his claws to disembowel him. “And now it’s solved. Besides, he has a virtuous son who doesn’t need a father like that.”

Brahma frowned. “We should start doing post-mortems on each of your avatars,” he said. “Because I have so many notes.”

“Next time,” Narasimha said, licking the blood from his claws.


5. Vamana (Treta Yuga)

“Now what; flood or tyrant?” Brahma asked.

Vishnu sat hunched, the weight of human folly on his shoulders, watching the world. “Not a tyrant, exactly…Do you remember the virtuous son of that tyrant I killed last time I was on Earth?”

Brahma rubbed his temples.

“Well, he had a grandson who has done well for himself. In fact, he now controls heaven, Earth, and the netherworld.”

Shiva’s eyes remained closed, but he was listening. Brahma said nothing but jotted down notes. Each of Vishnu’s visits had downstream consequences to the system. It was impossible to separate the problems of his design from the problems Vishnu created. Idly, he wondered if they should test two universes in parallel. A thousand universes. Surely Vishnu wouldn’t meddle in all of them. He had so many experiments amassed, so many solutions to test, and the itch was strong to Create something streamlined and elegant.

“Power always goes wrong, even for the most virtuous,” Vishnu said. He manifested as Vamana the Dwarf. “But I have an idea.”

Having convinced this grandson, the lord of the three worlds, to grant the dwarf as much land as he could cross with three strides, Vamana grew, and took two strides that covered heaven and Earth. His third step fell directly atop the former lord’s head, pushing him down, down, and constricting his rule to the netherworld.

“Power mucks up the process too,” Brahma growled.

“Even for the most virtuous,” Shiva repeated. But he was nothing if not patient.


6. Parashurama (Treta Yuga)

“I lost my temper,” Vishnu said. Despite releasing the form of the caste-crossing warrior-saint Parashurama, he remained covered in blood. He let his axe fall to the ground.

“You should have taken your sword instead,” Shiva said.

“All they did was steal the cow,” Brahma said, horrified. “The cow you helped raise from the ocean, by the way. And they killed one Brahmin. This is how you fix things?”

“We spent so much time establishing a social order—your beautiful designs! —only to have it so flagrantly disregarded…”

“You killed every warrior caste member twenty-one times over.”

“They reincarnate.”

“They’re supposed to reincarnate across Ages—”

“You wanted iterations. These were mini-iterations! I’m sure their souls have learned from this.”

Shiva silently mouthed “SWORD.”


7. Rama (Dvapara Yuga)

“Well,” Brahma said dryly, “that was epic.”

“I’m not going to argue about this,” Vishnu said. “They needed a reminder. An example of law and morality. A life story to pass on to their children, down the generations. Maybe you could write Rama into your design. He was quite good, if I say so myself. A living example of dharma.”

“What good is my design if you spend all your time maintaining a universe held together by prayers and interference? We need to follow the process!”

“But this universe still works! It hasn’t fallen into total darkness. There’s still hope!” There was genuine emotion in Vishnu’s voice, which gave Brahma pause. “Give them a chance.”

Brahma didn’t know if Shiva was meditating, or asleep.


8. Krishna (Dvapara Yuga)

“Laughter! Love! Wonder!” Vishnu said. “And some amendments—or expansions—to dharma. The world is more complex. They needed some more paths.”

Brahma said nothing. He had taken to his own meditations. He couldn’t maintain the illusion that this was still a controlled experiment. The last thing he wrote in his notebook was, “Is compassion the enemy of perfection?”


9. Buddha (Dvapara Yuga)

“Peaceful enlightenment,” Vishnu declared. “They need some perspective. To rise above the troubles of the world.”

Brahma and Shiva, deep in their meditations, had nothing to say. Brahma was listening, though, and meditated on the concept of enlightenment. It was better than gnashing his teeth over a world that had gone beyond the point of being solved. Patched, mended, and awkwardly propped up, but not solved with a beautiful design. Wasn’t that the whole point? Brahma meditated on the question.


10. Kalki—PENDING (Kali Yuga)

It was truly the Kali Yuga now, a Dark Age. The patched and jury-rigged climate controls were breaking down, humans produced tyrants like weeds, and dharma…The humans debated what it even meant, if they thought of their duty at all. Vishnu threatened to return to Earth with his sword and end this iteration, but he kept putting it off, looking for ideas to make things better.

Brahma believed he would find one. There would be a tweak, a miracle, a rough nudge to keep the world turning. Instead of getting frustrated, Brahma followed Shiva’s example, and meditated.

Brahma ascended to a higher plane of consciousness. Even for gods, there is always something higher. In his mind’s eye, he saw the three of them looking down on the world, not at four Ages but at a long, single Age that rose into light and fell into darkness again and again, without end.

On this plane, he saw higher versions of themselves looking down on them, evaluating not the world, but the methodology by which Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva worked. Their failure to iterate. To control the process. To make continuous improvement. At any moment, these higher gods could wipe them away and begin again with a new, improved methodology.

Perhaps they already had, countless times before.

Could it be that their next Vishnu would be more process-minded, less prone to uncontrolled acts of compassion and spontaneous pedagogy? Once, Brahma might have relished the thought. Now, the idea seemed…It seemed boring. Iteratively designing a perfect world was intellectually interesting, and it should have felt like a worthy goal. Until now, Brahma had always believed that his own dharma was to arrive at the perfect design, spin out the perfect world, and then…what? Brahma remembered something he said, Ages ago. “Our work would be done.”

And he remembered what Vishnu had replied. “Where’s the fun in that?”

“The view is nice from here, no?” Shiva was here too. Brahma suspected he’d been on this higher plane for a long time.

“I think I’ve mistaken my dharma,” Brahma said. “I think you were right. It was never about the perfect design. But how else can we achieve a perfect universe?”

Shiva smiled. He seemed more expressive on this higher plane. “Our counterparts here have tried other paths. I think we must consider that the world down below is already the best possible world. Or at least, the idea of starting over and expecting better is an illusion.”

Brahma watched the world, tiny from here, and the Vishnu who watched over it. He was passionate, engaged, and vibrant. He had the look of bliss, someone who was fully aligned with his dharma. Despite his frustrations and his occasional loss of temper, he was having fun. The world was messy, unpredictable, and full of problems to be solved. From this perspective, above the orthodoxy of the process that had tunneled his vision, Brahma finally saw the world—this world—for what it was. It was an opportunity for creativity and joy, for as long as he cared to be part of it.


Rajiv Moté is a writer and software engineering director living in Chicago with his wife, daughter, and a tiny dog. His stories are in Cast of Wonders, Diabolical Plots, Escape Pod, and other publications listed at https://rajivmote.wordpress.com/published/ and he sheds excess words on Twitter @RajivMote.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Make Me Come Down There, by Rajiv Moté”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s