Originally published on /r/writingprompts, you can read the original post here.
My journey began two hundred and fifty six years ago when I was a mere graduate student at the Academy. I spent a decade working on my thesis, a rigorous study on the rise and fall of civilizations. Funding was plentiful, as the Overseers gladly sponsored any sort of study to help them maintain power. After civilizations reach a certain level of maturity they begin to reflect on their own past and future by looking at those who had failed before them, and after a hundred thousand years the Overseers had conquered nearly ninety percent of the galactic plane, their crusade slowly dwindling. They had accomplished what they had set out to do, and funding began to divest from the military towards things to keep their grip stable and strong, such as the police forces and non-military research.
Why had so many empires lost themselves to the same fate over and over again? That was the question I set out to answer. In every empire that came before us, spreading their tendrils across the galaxy like roots wrapping and constricting themselves around a boulder, squeezing it until cracks erupt across its surface, and overtime the very foundation that had supported the expansive and intricate root system crumbled beneath the roots own force. My research took me down a particular path, a path I couldn’t foresee.
At the end of their reigns all civilizations fell to just one man, over and over again. The Plague Bringer, the World Eater, Apocalypses Incarnate, Oblivion, Atlas, civilizations had lived and died under his command as long as he lived. Entire nations had fallen because of one bad day he had within their boarders, he destroyed empires stretching across the galaxy because he felt like it. New life would arise to build the universe to how they saw fit before he grew bored of them. Legends say that even the gods themselves fear him, the antimatter to all creation. There were only two constants in this universe: the fundamental forces, and him. A Constant.
I presented my findings before my peers, I was laughed at but granted my professorship anyways because of other useful findings I had uncovered. I took up a job at the Academy in the anthropology department and taught brilliant young leaders the mistakes of our forerunners, imbuing them with knowledge to keep the empire’s roots. I told them everything they needed to know, except for the Constant.
After a while I began to believe that maybe the Constant was nothing more than an honest mistake. My colleagues would share my crazy theories at dinner parties after one too many drinks to poke fun at me, I would laugh along at the foolishness of my youth, and yet the idea hung in the back of my mind, and like the Constant himself it bided its time until it was ready to strike.
The idea grew in my head until it became the only thing I could focus on. My lectures grew shorter, and my nights in the office longer. I began taking unannounced trips across the galaxy to libraries and archeological sites to look for any traces of the Constant. My peers grew concerned and my superiors irritated. Eventually the Academy cast me aside, distancing themselves from me research. They didn’t know it, but that severance was the best thing they could have offered me.
Now free of my obligations I could focus all my time and energy towards my life’s work. I became a nomad, traveling the galaxy in search for the Constant, and after a hundred and forty seven years of searching my journey has taken me to a small mining settlement among the Frontier planets.
I expected the Constant to be a hulking beast, his flesh made of brimstone and his veins filled with fire. A simple sneeze from him as strong a fusion bomb. Instead my journey brought me to a tall and lanky man with a five o’clock shadow and sleepy eyes. His hands calloused from working in the mines, nothing substantial.
“Been a while since I’ve had one of you stop by,” he said greeting me at the threshold of his small company issued capsule.
“One of what?” I asked.
“A fan,” he said. I suddenly became self conscious of my appearance, I hadn’t shaved in quite some time, my beard was disheveled and down to my chest. My hair past my shoulders. I probably smelt of the small freighter I took to reach the settlement, a mix of piss and tar. I should had at least showered before exposing myself to the most powerful man in the galaxy. “Come on in,” he said. I obliged.
The interior of his capsule was cramped yet cozy. Paintings of landscapes lined the sterile glossy white walls, the standard maroon padded seats that came in capsules like this had been replaced with wooden chairs with white cushions. Lavender filled the air, overpowering the scent of burning sulfur that filled the atmosphere of the settlement.
“Can I get you anything? We got coffee, tea, beer.”
“No thanks I’m good,” I said. “May I?” I asked pointing to the chair next to me.
“By all means,” he said.
The chair creaked beneath my weight. My heart sped up, I began fearing for my life, for the lives of others, what if the chair were to break beneath me? Would the Constant abandon his friendly demeanor and topple the very civilization I had sworn to protect? I held my breath.
He walked to the table beside me and placed two glasses of water on the table. I took a sip, not because I was thirsty, only because I didn’t want to offend his hospitality.
“So what brings you here professor?” He asked, his voice relaxed, like he was speaking to an old friend who had popped in because he was in the neighborhood.
“H-h-h-how do you know who I am? Can you read my mind? Have you been watching me?” I placed the cup down on the table gently.
He laughed. “Not at all. Once you’ve been around as long as I have you just develop a knack for picking folks like you guys out of a crowd. To be honest,” he said taking a sip of his water, “I kinda like it. I can let my facade down around your types. Do you want an autograph or something?”
I shook my head. “I’ve been studying you for over two hundred years, I just needed to see you with my own eyes. So you really are the Constant?”
Another small chuckle. “So that’s the name you’ve given me? You know, I like it. Better than the last guy before you, he called me the Downfall. Constant has a nice ring to it.”
“Why do you do it?” I said, immediately regretting my question.
He shrugged. “Why does a star burn? The star doesn’t know what it’s doing, but it does it anyways because the laws of the universe compel it to.”
“But you’re human, you’re conscious,” my leg began to shake.
“Are you aware of controlled burns?” He leaned forward on the table.
“That is my purpose, I don’t know why I do it, I just know that if I didn’t things could be far worse. I’ve seen futures where empires had stretched themselves too far, too thin, they starve out. Civil war breaks out and in due time, they blow each other up, eradicating all life in the galaxy.
“In other futures,” he said tracing a line on the table, “man and machine do not live in harmony like you’re civilization had managed to do. Which is something you should be proud of,” he looked at me and smiled, “it is not easy reigning in god like intelligence. In those futures their very own creation grows beyond their control, and in due time it too wipes out all organic life.”
“S-s-so what do you do?” I asked.
“I keep watch,” he took a breath. “I keep watch until those who control the galaxy begin to mutate and grow cancerous, and when the cancer had begun to spread out of their control I step in and reset the balance.”
“But what are you doing here, on a Frontier planet?” I asked looking around me. “You could have anything you want. You could use your powers to build a more prosperous future as benevolent god, ensuring you’ll never have to burn it all down.”
He chuckled. “There are many things I’m good at, but being a leader has never been one of them. My very nature makes it impossible for me to lead such an empire, trust me I have tried but no matter what my men either turn against me or nobody listens to me in the first place. And these powers you speak of, I do not have them at my disposal to do so as I wish. They’re like a bucket of water, after every use I need to go back to the faucet and let it fill up. Right now I am just a mere miner, and father of a lovely young daughter, biding my time until the tumors of your society grow too strong.”
Hearing that made me relax a little. “Do you know when you’ll be fully replenished?”
“I feel them growing within me, but don’t you fret,” he smiled, “in due time they will awaken again, but not until you’ve grown bored of your life and retire yourself.”
“I don’t plan on retiring for a long time,” I said.
“Then you have plenty of time to enjoy the fruits of your civilization. You look like a mess,” he said standing up, “want to wash up in my shower?”
I nodded, he guided me to the small cleansing station in the back corner of the capsule. As I bathed I felt the warmth of relief flood my body.