by Jonas David
We'd all been sitting around that table for so long we'd forgotten most of our lives before or
where we'd come from. We just had our names, some vague memories of a place before all this,
and an endless white void to stare into.
Or sometimes a black void. We spent a lot of time arguing about which was better.
"Today, we should make something," said Tessa. Her brown, curled hair floated around a face
that had too many angles to be called attractive by most. But looks can grow on you after . . .
well, however long we'd been there. "The . . . air, is ripe for it," she continued. "I can feel it,
"Every day you ask this in some fashion," said Alec, his voice plodding and tedious. "You must
know the answer by now." Alec didn't look like Alec anymore. He'd sort of devolved into a
shapeless floating . . . thing, with no mouth or face or limbs or hair. His voice seemed to appear
in front of him, with no source.
Day - the cycle of dark-colored void and light-colored void. Tessa liked it light, Alec liked it
dark. Every once in a while one would give in to the other and the void would change color.
Neither ever took the time to seek out my opinion on the matter.
Tessa glared at Alec, ages of frustration boiling behind her dark eyes.
"But this is so boring!" Her voice boomed, her words flying out in an explosive wave of sound
that shattered the table into a billion tiny splinters, which then burned to embers and faded to
nothing. A moment later it reformed between us, a cloud of smoke swirling up into the shape of
the table, then hardening.
I scooted my chair forward and reformed my ears, which I'd sealed off in case of a following
outburst. I rebuilt my mug of tea, one of the few things I was allowed to create, and took a sip.
"Existence only leads to suffering," said Alec in his floating monotonous voice. The void was
his place, his legacy. Not that he'd created it -- it had been ages since Alec had lifted a finger to
create even a chair to sit in. He was, though, the one that kept it empty. "Pure peace," he
continued, "can only be reached through the absence of all action. The absence of being."
I once mentioned to him that he was technically creating words and sound waves, and thus
bringing something into existence, when he spoke. That shut him up for a while. Now whenever
he spoke he made his voice as simple and utilitarian as possible.
"Your arguments aren't going to have different effects on me the more you use them, Alec," said
There was silence for a moment. Or an aeon, it was hard to tell anymore. I drank my tea, Tessa
fumed, and Alec did nothing. As usual. Then, Tessa struck out.
I could almost feel what she was trying to do; I sensed an impression -- a vague form trying to
come into existence below us, a wide swath of . . . something. But Alec reached out and stopped
her, suppressing the creation before it could be completed.
Tessa let out a sigh, deflating in her chair. Some unspoken agreement passed between the two,
and the void faded to black. Another "day" was over.
Sometimes -- maybe every thousand days or so -- Tessa would run, flying off into the darkness
at seemingly impossible speed. But Alec always took off a split second later, keeping right
behind her and stopping whatever she tried to do. I'd be left to sit at the table until I got bored
enough to come find them. Alec knew not to worry about me creating anything. And I always
destroyed the table before I left.
I created my candle, the flickering light brightening my section of the table. I enjoyed watching
the wax melt down, dripping in patterns over the dark wood grain. Tessa created an elaborate
floating lantern with flapping golden wings. It hovered above her head, giving off a pale green
light. Alec sat in darkness, a vague, shifting form.
It took us a while, when we first got here, to figure out what we could do.
In the early years (centuries? millennia?) we didn't have a care. We created worlds far and wide:
great, sweeping terrains of jagged crystal mountains and frozen skies, or infinitely fractaling
flowers the size of galaxies. Anything we could imagine was ours.
It soon became apparent that Tessa was the best. Her creations were more detailed and precise,
more vast and organized and coherent. Mine tended to fall apart quickly, and Alec worried so
much about doing it just right that he rarely did anything at all.
Then, as I cleared away one of Tessa's forgotten galaxies for her, I discovered my true passion.
There were so many ways to destroy -- infinite ways, all of them fun in their own right. I could
crush a planet like it was being squeezed in a fist. I could explode it or melt it or shatter it into
dust. I could tweak gently with the rotation and let it fall apart on its own. I could send it
crashing into a sun or a black hole. I could turn it into a hundred trillion doves and watch them
die in the cold vacuum of space before crushing them into a singularity.
Sometimes I liked to see how much I could destroy with the least influence. If you were careful,
a single chemical reaction could unbalance entire ecosystems, or a single quake or eruption
could shatter a continent. Removing a single carbon atom could cause a perfectly balanced
structure to collapse.
It was endless entertainment. I set about destroying Tessa's creations with a relish I'd never felt
For a time, it was perfect. Tessa's creations came faster and larger and more detailed and
brilliant. And I was always right behind her, destroying what she left behind. I used care and
precision and delicacy as much as she did, enjoying my destructions like one would a well-orchestrated symphony. We found an equilibrium, she and I. The pace of her creation and my
destruction were such that I ended up reaching her creations just as she got bored with them.
Soon, I began finding that her imaginings were prepared for me. Thick walls blocked me out, or
bizarre beings attacked me. Intricate traps tested my reflexes, triggered by my very destruction of
them. As I learned her tricks and defeated her minions, she devised more and improved ones.
She got better as I got better -- we sharpened ourselves on each other.
Then Alec caught up to us.
I'm not sure what he'd been doing away from us for all that time -- probably fretting over a
single leaf while trying to make a forest. But he found us and started his meddling.
Alec had no skill or passion for creating or destroying, but he did possess a talent for stopping us
from doing those things.
It started as he watched Tessa building a new world, curious of her methods. She was crafting a
giant disk that rotated precisely on a pinpointed spire. Beings were to live on the center of the
disk, and the farther they wandered out to explore, the more likely the disk would tip and fall.
Unless, of course, they worked together, coordinating their exploration.
Alec didn't like this idea; he said it caused too much needless suffering for the creatures, that she
was playing games with them. They argued. Tessa told him to mind his own business, but he was
incensed. So when Tessa began to mold the beings, Alec stopped her, suppressing her creative
From then on it was all downhill. He didn't like the way I destroyed things, so he forced me to
make it clean and quick. He didn't like the worlds that Tessa created, so he forced her to make
them simple and lifeless. This was his passion: asserting his authority over us, holding us back
unless we did what he approved of.
But Alec was not infinitely strong; he could only hold one of us back at a time. So as he stopped
me from slowly raising the temperature on a planet to boil the life out of the seas, Tessa was free
to produce more worlds full of beings and structures that were imperfect and unbalanced, yet
beautiful for their flaws. As he switched back to stopping her from creating, I was free to push a
populated planet into a black hole.
Finally, Alec made a decision. He held Tessa back completely, letting me run rampant in my
destruction. He knew I couldn't resist. I razed our worlds with abandon, until nothing remained
but void, and us.
And now, this table and chairs.
Time passed. We sat in darkness, then light, then darkness. Few words were spoken. I drank my
hot tea and Tessa fidgeted, manufacturing new clothes and hair so fast that she sometimes
seemed as much of a shapeless blob as Alec. Alec sat watching, prepared to stop anything we
"Let's play a game," Tessa eventually said to me. "I need to do something or I'll go mad."
I grunted ascension and she brought a deck of cards into existence -- another of the brutally-fought-for objects that Alec let her have. She fanned the cards out on the table, face down.
"Pick a card," she said. "Any card you like, don't be shy." She looked at me, but instead of the
usual cryptic grin or wink, she simply leaned with her arms on the table and waited.
The game, I was certain, would be all in her head as she watched how I reacted. Tessa's mind
was a labyrinth of plots within schemes within plans, and without worlds to design, she liked to
spend her time outsmarting me with clever puzzles or riddles.
Subtlety was never my strong suit.
I raised my hand halfheartedly and destroyed the cards one by one. Some curled and blackened,
collapsing into little piles of ash. Some I shredded into little tufts of paper, some I sliced in
halves until they were composed of individual atoms, some I crushed into miniature black holes
and tossed away into the void. I took my time -- days, weeks perhaps -- destroying each card
individually and meticulously. Alec and Tessa watched, silent.
Finally, one card remained.
"Is it the ace of spades?" asked Tessa. Again, her face seemed honest, earnest. I did not detect
the mocking glint in her eye as I usually did moments before she caught me in some puzzle,
proving once again her mental superiority.
I picked up the card. The face was white, with three words written on it. Please destroy him. I
glanced up at her briefly. Her eyes were still serious, almost pleading.
"No," I said after a moment, and the card crumbled like sand, pouring out of my palm to hiss
over the table.
I shot a glance at Alec; he seemed oblivious, though it was hard to tell with him. He couldn't
read minds -- none of us could, even those of our creations -- but what Tessa and I were doing
was not exactly inconspicuous.
I'd tried to destroy Alec twice before, both ages ago. The first time I may have been hesitant. I'd
thought long and hard about it, weighing the consequences of killing one of only two people in
existence for me to talk to, against the lust for my destructive freedom. I'd finally decided I had
to be free, and struck. He'd stopped me, but during the few seconds his guard was down Tessa
managed to create hundreds of thousands of worlds, all strange and intricate and beautiful. I
destroyed them, one by one, as Alec held her down.
The second time I didn't even expect to succeed -- I only hoped to give Tessa another chance to
build more things for me to knock down. But Alec had gotten stronger after so many centuries
holding us back; he was able to stop me from destroying him and Tessa from creating anything
Now, I didn't see the point. There was a possibility, I thought, that maybe he'd grown weaker
over the years; we barely struggled against him anymore. But then, we also might have grown
"Let me try once more, I know I can get it this time," Tessa said.
I nodded and she spread out the cards. Again I made her wait while I lovingly destroyed all but
one. Alec sat silently in his dark corner.
"Is that the ace?" she asked again, leaning forward, her eyes intense and locked onto mine. "I'm
pretty sure it is this time."
I picked up the card. Please, I'll help.
She was serious. Did she really think we could defeat him? Her destructive abilities were no
better than my creations. Her efforts would be like a breath in a hurricane.
I sighed and the card boiled away into a fine mist. "No," I said. "You aren't very good at this."
"One more try." She spread the cards out again. "Not like we have anything else we can do." She
looked right at me as she said it, determination in her voice.
I worked quickly this time, curiosity gripping me. I pulled a card away and ignited the rest in a
flare as bright as burning magnesium, leaving a charred black line across the table.
I looked at the card. This time there were more, smaller words: We can do it together, we have to
try. What else are we doing here?
I held the card loosely in my fingers, staring. Could we actually succeed? And if we could,
would I even want to? I knew that my purpose was to destroy, but in a sense I had already
succeeded at destroying everything in existence. This eternal stalemate could be seen as a victory
But then what was left to do? I'd considered trying to destroy Tessa lifetimes ago. The idea of
ending such a potential for creation -- in essence, destroying an infinity of worlds -- held some
appeal to me. But my passion was in the details, the precise and intimate destruction of
individual creations. And even if I did someday get tired of it and want to destroy Alec and
Tessa both -- and then myself, effectively destroying existence all together -- I would still have
to destroy Alec first. Else he would hold me down for eternity, satisfied in his everlasting
I locked eyes with Tessa and gave a barely perceptible nod. Then I stood and threw the card at
Alec in one motion, attempting to change it into a sword as it flew toward his amorphous body.
The creation of the sword was, of course, just a distraction. He easily stopped me from making it,
and the card flapped harmlessly against him. But while his attention was on the sword, I struck at
his brain, pulling it apart at the atomic level. He blocked me and pushed back. I struck at his
heart, trying to pickle it, his lungs, trying to shatter them into crystal. He blocked me each time.
I could sense Tessa's attacks. They were much more elusive than I'd expected, but Alec still
deflected them with little effort.
"Even our own existences cause nothing but suffering," Alec said flatly.
Tessa still struck at him, her blows sudden -- unpredictable even for me. Then a great barren
landscape stretched out below us; a flat expanse of grey rubble. I almost lost my concentration in
shock. She'd created while trying to destroy Alec at the same time. I'd never tried to use both
sides at once.
"Even we cannot peaceably exist," Alec droned. "What right have we to use this power at all?"
"We were existing just fine till you stopped us!" cried Tessa, attacking him with careless
Alec blocked her from creating anything more, and I sensed how thinly he was stretched. All his
strength was spread between stopping mine and Tessa's destructive powers, and Tessa's creative
My creative power was still unblocked.
I reached out toward the landscape Tessa had built and began to form something of my own.
I pieced together a brain, as intricate and advanced as I could manage -- perhaps the mental
capacity of a child. It floated above the rocky terrain, spinning slowly as I worked.
"What do you think you are doing?" demanded Alec, but he did not move against me yet. I felt
him quivering, wanting to reach out and stop me, but afraid to test his limits.
I covered the brain in flesh and blood, giving it a heart and lungs and creating some air for it to
breathe. Then I began to design the nervous system.
"No, what are you -- stop that!" Alec's voice strained, breaking from its normal even tone.
A final tweak and the nervous system was completely hooked up -- but flawed. Alec could see
that flaw; indeed I made it as obvious as I could. All the nerves in the creature's small body fired
constantly, sending a steady flow of pain signals to the brain. I let it fall to the ground and roll to
a stop against a crumbled rock. It sat there, immobile, tortured by its own existence.
I began to build a second one.
"No!" Alec stopped me, and his hold on my destructive powers weakened. I struck, and he
defended, but in so doing he just slightly released his grip on Tessa's creative power. She made
several hundred of the creatures in a tenth of the time it took me to make that one.
Alec cried out again, a wordless screech at all the torture before him. He let go of me completely
and reached for the creatures, using his creative powers in an attempt to turn off their pain.
"You'll be happier in oblivion, my friend," I said.
In an instant I reduced Alec to a cloud of atoms.
A moment later, much more casually, I also destroyed the creatures and our table and chairs,
then floated down to stand with Tessa on the rocky soil. We stared, breathless, each waiting for
the other to act.
"I told you we could do it," she said.
I could sense her buzzing with barely contained power. She watched me closely, and I gathered
that the only thing keeping her from releasing it was her uncertainty of how I would react.
"Give me a head start?" she asked with a sly grin.
"I'll count to three."
"Thank you," she said. "For . . . you know." She laughed, and I could see the twinkle of infinite
possibilities in her eyes.
"One," I said, and she was gone, a sonic boom echoing through the air above the crumbled
landscape. Countless planets and stars and galaxies appeared in her wake. Pulsars spun away
from her like tops, and nebulae of all colors spread out in waves where she passed.
"Two." A wall as thick as a star slammed into existence in front of me, stretching as far as I
could sense in all directions, blocking me from the worlds she'd created. It was made of a carbon
lattice, arranged at the atomic scale in such a way that made it the hardest substance I'd ever
"Three." Forms appeared above me. Great tentacled monsters, giant fanged birds, starships with
mounted weapons, thousand-ton molten rocks -- all converging on me.
I laughed. She'd been planning this for a while. I raised a hand and vaporized several meteors
before they could crash into me, truly stretching and flexing my destructive powers for the first
time in aeons.
It felt good.
"I'm right behind you, Tessa," I said, and hurled myself at the wall.