THE MAGI WORE FLIPFLOPS
Previously: Manifest Infestation
Themesong: Baba Yetu by Christopher Tin
As the Pillars of Time rose up around Toph and I, I noticed they looked… older, more worn, half ruins covered in moss and ivy. “That’s unusual.” I said, then gasped as, instead of my warehouse appearing, the Guardian of Forever appeared and Trelane stepped through.
“Bet you’re feeling all Godlike now.”
“Get lost, Gothos. I’m not in your league and I know it… and if you’re no god, I am certainly not going to make that claim.”
“Tichy tichy tichy. Anyway, you seem to think you know so much about what’s best for everyone… want to help settle a bet?”
“What bet?” I asked, deeply suspicious.
“It’s a bet between me and your patron. I think you’ll fail, he thinks you’ll succeed.”
“What bet, Trelane?” I half growled.
“We call it the Civilization Challenge!”
I paused. “As in Civilization… the Game?”
“None other! No plot to tie you down. No outside morality. Not even any preconceived notions to overcome! You get a tribe of primitive screwheads to shape in your own image. Go forth into this brave new world and uplift your people to greatness! Oh, and you get the usual 100 Choice Points.”
“You mean 1,000 Choice Points… and how do I build a civilization in 10 years? Do these people have lifespans of a couple seconds?”
“Oh… this jump won’t last 10 years, precious. You’re going to be here for the long haul… the full cycle… You’re the Manifestation, after all… Wan’s run was 10,000 years. You get to rein for 12,000!… and change.”
“What?! I won’t live that long! I’m still mortal!”
“Precious Precious Precious… you were a Tolkien Elf. They’re immortal… or at least unaging. But no. You’ll be your same human self in this jump… unless you really want to spend points to make the people you lead another race. You’ll be human… but you’ll reincarnate… just like Wan. Better hope your people can cope without your leadership while you’re down for the count. Oh, and if you get killed in battle or by gross incompetence… that still counts as a gamebreaker.”
“Fan, fucking, tastic.”
“Have fuuuun!” and he vanished.
“Who was that rude man?” Toph asked.
“Spirit of Mischief… in training.”
“What happens next?”
“Next, we step through that portal and hope everything and everyone is waiting for us on the other side.” And we did.
I found myself, alone, seated lotus position on a stone slab. Before me were three cenotaphs “The Adviser”, “The God-King”, “The Outsider”. There weren’t any prices listed, so I assumed they were free. I focused on each in turn and found I understood their nature instinctively. The Outsider was the drop-in option, the ‘just a man with ideas’ option. The Advisor was the Player, the ‘disembodied hand from on high’ option. And The God King was the ‘hands on, balls to the wall, commander in chief, boots on the ground’ option. It wasn’t really a choice. God-King it was.
Next was Methodology. Would I rule through Culture, Economics, Warfare, Theology, or Science? Economics has never been my strong suit, and it’s just not… me… I don’t care for the calculus of Capitalism that values people only as producers or consumers. Theology could work, as long as it was focused on principles, not dogma… but I was leery. Science was excellent, but everyone does Science. Culture? Culture takes care of itself. China was a cultural powerhouse because its culture was unconquerable… but the US is a cultural powerhouse because its culture absorbs everything else. Ultimately, all of this boils down to warfare. Culture wars, Economic wars… they’re all just wars in the end. I select Warfare for  (900/1000). Warfare is discipline, planning, forethought. A true Warrior Culture is not hyper aggressive… they’re hyper prepared.
I scroll through the perk options for Outsider and Adviser first, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything I wanted. Oral Tradition allows generational memory… not particularly useful since I plan on introducing writing first thing. Time-traveler’s temper keeps me from getting frustrated or losing my place when distracted. One More Turn allows time limit extensions, which is cute, but overpriced. But ‘No Gods or Kings’ is  (600/1000) and allows the user to describe or declare something that is true… and people will set aside their biases, preconceptions, and superstitions… A way to remove someone’s blinders… I must have this. Nothing in Advisor so much as raises my heartbeat. Dullness incarnate.
God-King comes free with Accepting the Divine, a gift that lets you handwave explanations with “I’ll Explain Later” and people will accept that, proved you actually do make a habit of explaining later. Let there Be Light is cheap as sin at  (550/1000) with the discount, and grants the power of increase… fuel burns longer, food is more filling, water is purified, potions are strengthened, and overall purity increases.
I consider Primitive Screwheads, but all that does is reduce attacks from outside forces by 50%. My people will be warriors… they will be able to defend themselves. Realm of Myth grants mythic grandeur… bearing, health, and beauty to all I lead, be it my civilization, an organization, or just my companions and I. It also makes legendary feats possible for me, such as wrestling the wind or sparring for twenty days and nights without food or rest, tickling a river or seducing stone. Over time, I should be able to imbue this trait into my chosen ones, though usually only in my presence. Those affected gradually become grander, larger-than-life, and serve as an inspiration for all kinds of tall tales and myths. I’m not certain how useful this will be, but it is… epic… and the price is right at  (250/1000).
Under Warefare, I find Martial Culture for  (200/1000), which makes discipline radiate from every defensive wall and the hearts of all who belong to my Civilization. Those who follow me or who are loyal to my cause gain a soldier’s bearing and commitment to their cause that fits seamlessly with their lives… they become more professional and dedicated than before, but no less themselves… and as an added benefit, physical training for myself and those who follow me becomes twice as effective, ensuring that everyone is acting at peak performance.
I consider Authority equals Asskicking, which would make it so that any organization to which I belong will follow the rule that the higher one’s effective rank, the more effective that person will be at performing the duties of that rank… but I put it on the back burner. Still much to buy and that seems more like… filler.
But the Warfare Capstone, Art of War, is a must buy if ever I’ve seen one. “Yours is a culture that has mastered warfare, encapsulating its platonic concepts into an almost always applicable omnibus. In war or combat, you and the forces you lead are never surprised. Further, you may convey a complicated tactical or strategic directive in the span of a few words, usually as some effortlessly quotable phrase.”… which is awesome enough on its own, but the rest of it makes it so much better. “Men and Women under your aegis are objective about their own strengths and weaknesses, with an intuitive understanding of how their comrades compare. The best person for the job will confidently volunteer themself and their unit will recognize his capability. Those with lesser capability will have their feelings of envy and inadequacy transformed into a desire for self-improvement, and those with greater capacity will have those feelings of superiority and pride transformed into a desire to instruct. I cannot spend the  (-100/1000) fast enough.
The Wonders section, which has replaced gear, is fabulous too, offering gifts that function both as buildings and as general boons. God-King grants “The Hanging Gardens” which as an object keeps known food-stores fresh and triples the effective amount of food once it is prepared for consumption. As a structure, it improves the efficiency of harvests and crops by 25%. Which is hard to beat. Warfare grants “The Brandenburg Gate” which in object form increases willpower and dedication of all work in a room. Not bad, but as a structure, it imbues my people with enhanced professionalism, meaning they take pride in their work, whatever it might be, and go the extra mile without fail… with a commensurate boost in mental endurance.
Neither the Pyramids of the Great Wall of China impress me, which means it’s time to find a drawback to balance out my overspending. I find what I’m looking for at once. Full Table. Apparently the world starts with 4 civilizations (mine own included)… but for [+400] (300/1400) I can raise that to 8… or 12 if I want a truly massive planet. I leave it at the 8, then stare at my 300 point windfall. Then, with a shudder, I sign up for “Backed by Nuclear Weapons” which gives me another [+300] (600/1700). I gulp. Putting city-busters and doomsday weapons on the table could be bad, but if my plans go as they should, it should not matter. In fact, keeping the Sword of Damocles on the table, I put greater survival pressure on my people.
I buy the Science Methodology  (200/1400), which gives me the University of Toronto (wow… Canada must really be paying Jumpchain big monies for this advertizing to beat out Oxford, the oldest University on Earth.) which allows me to teach 10,000 people at once if I can have a room made big enough to hold them all… or which can be transformed into a fully functional university campus, complete with teachers and facilities and where, if a student puts in a moderate effort they will absorb enough material to warrant an A-minus grade.
Science also gives me access to the ‘Tech Tree’ Capstone, a magnificent piece of lunacy which transforms me and my people into brilliant innovators who can easily see the steps they need to progress science and design. That’s right, an instinctive understanding of each step needed along the path to any research goal. for  it’s a steal.
I search for an import option, but there isn’t one. Of course there isn’t… they would be gods or commanding their own cultures. I check and recheck… apparently 8 Companions can be manifest in the world at any time. I laugh, wonderful. We’re a pantheon. I ponder the positions.
At the head of the Pantheon is me, of course. With my tree/computer and my armor and my sword. At my right hand is Zane, of course, the God of Justice & Loyalty. I should give him the Space Sword. My consorts, Ryoga the Boar God and Yoiko the Bear Goddess, dividing Passion and Obsession between them. Bao the Scholar God and Uriel the Builder God. Kendra the Goddess of Hunters and Toph the Goddess of Defenders. Ziggy, Ferret of Chaos; Rayray, Goddess of Wind; Petra, Goddess of Earth; Joy, the Goddess of Wisdom & War… Ahab, the God of Medicine and Punishment; Francine, Goddess of the Mind; and AJ, God of the Body… and Dyna… God of the Unknown. We’d serve as a Pantheon.
I consider and discount everything on the grid two or three times… nothing calls to me more than a little, and I briefly consider lowering the challenge rating… but then something occurs to me. I’ll be here for 12,000 years according to Trelane… my companions will either be stuck out of time… where I will have forgotten them by the time the jump is over… or aware of the passage of time… where we will no doubt drive each other insane over the long haul… No… something must be done, and i know just what to do.
With my last  I snag the Statue of Liberty Wonder. As a structure, it improves immigration… which is fine… but not what I want it for. When placed on a shelf in a home or office, the Statue creates a sense of belonging amongst all the inhabitants easing tensions as everyone sees what makes them similar instead of different. With no small trepidation, I confirm that I am ready.
As it turns out… I am not. One by one, my friends remerge, looking around the mesa upon which we stand, looking down upon the world through the clouds. They shake off the masks they have worn for the past life or two (Ziggy seems fine as a fire-ferret, and climbs on my head with a chitter.) The warehouse doors gape open behind us. And then the game begins.
I both am and am not incarnate. I am the Manifestation, and there is the Manifest. There is a Manifest in every age, a person who has all my bending and magic, my psi and conduit powers… but is not me and lacks my martial expertise, my experience, my… meness. They also lack my augmentations. I live in the eternal, granting my power to them only when they enter the Manifest State. They dwell in the world, living in the years, but the speed at which those years pass is breakneck, at least from my lofty position. Time keeps on slipping into the future, and I find I have to concentrate to remain in the moment, to focus my attention down to the small scale, the personality of the Manifestat at any time. And in those times, their persona is strong, dominant, as (though they are all me) they have been shaped by their lives.
We call ourselves the Magi… the Wise, and in every generation the Manifest comes, the great General of Balance. I speak from on high and impart the ways of things to my people, dispatching the great champions, the Archons, down from the heavens to do my bidding and to serve the people. Our city grows, expands, crushing the local barbarians before inviting them to join us… their scattered villages becoming outposts of the Magi People.
We do not hate that which is different, we welcome that which is different, encourage it to grow strong even as we teach it the ways of discipline. Each of our cities is unique. We do not impart Culture, do not speak of worship, only what is real and observable… and what is duty and discipline. Ours is a society where problems are solved and blame is accepted, not leveled.
Manifests rise and fall, and I am within them when they call upon me, but I am not any individual Manifest… I am the spirit from on high… but I cannot move from my throne upon the mesa… cannot rise from my contemplations. My friends keep me company as they cycle through the world, regaling me with their adventures, their triumphs, their failures. While they are here, time passes for them as it does for me.
A year passes in just about 7 hours by Victoria Standard Time. A little over three years a day. By the end of the first century, I long for a fast forward button. But none is forthcoming. I now understand why Gods are alternatively either waaaay too invested or seemingly remote. The prayers get… irritating after a while.
A thousand years pass before we even meet another of the non-barbarian cultures of this world. They are religious fanatics, and they call themselves the Reapers and name Sarin as their leader. I shudder at the memory. We have reached the age of roads and bronze. Yet they are technologically advanced, wielding weapons of steel and riding giant land-crabs into battle. Still, they are rigid of thought, and though they press our borders, we smash them back time and again. We are not rigid and we learn from them far more than they learn from us.
By the time we destroy them, we have industrialized and we have met the others, the Lotus Eaters under Zaheer, who are full of rage and unbridled aggression; the Purebloods under Lord V, full of xenophobia and tradition; the cunning Morgants under Sauron; the seemingly pacific Rihannsu under Spock; the jingoistic meme-obsessed Patriots and their leader GW… and of course, the Indians and their absolutely psychotic leader Ghandi.
The others all have their skills, their methods, their inscrutable ways. They are balanced against my own, and in theory they could rival me… but I have too many advantages and my people trundle towards victory. I relax… and they form a union to fight me. The United Federation of Peace.They call themselves, even as some of their leaders slather like rabid dogs. We have tried assassinating them… someone always takes their place. By the time we get to Lord V V… I just give up on that plan and push my people ever onward.
We reach the space age before the dawn of the third millennium… and achieve Orbital superiority while the others are still trying to grasp the basics of rocket flight. It is all over but the shouting. And yet I stay my hand. I will not go for the military victory of KE strikes. I will not invade other cities. Instead, we claim more and more land, our population swelling as defectors from all sides race to join us… many of them spies… but our culture is compartmentalized, disciplined. We know computer password security and we always dispose of hardcopy.
By the mid 2000s, we have orbital habitats that ring the planet, our people are… productive… and I am utterly bored with it all. Being a god isn’t fun when every mistake costs actual lives, when the production lines you need to bootstrap from transistors to microchips require the discovery of something to use as rubber, and where people keep expecting you to solve all of their problems.
For something to do, I encourage the Magi to colonize the moon, then mars… then Titan and Venus, Europa and Ganymede. The world may not look like earth, but it’s still in the Sol System and the nearest star is still Proxima Centauri. I strive for a Science Victory, and in the 2720th year of my reign, the New World Voyager, a sub-light colony ship, departs for Alpha Centauri on its 40 year mission. But nothing happens.
“Trelane!” I bellow, “What’s the deal? Do I have to wait for it to arrive?” The idea of waiting for the nearly 12 days grates on my nerves already.
“Oh, no… precious. I told you. You’re here for the long haul. All 12,000 years. No time out for good behaviour.”
I snarled. “That’s not how things are supposed to go!”
“Tough.” And his presence vanished.
What does one do when there are no more wars to fight? By 3300, there weren’t. The last holdouts of Spock’s forces had finally joined the Magi… and there wasn’t any real chance that the Magi would split into rival factions… we didn’t have a centralised state like that. We were a culture, not a nation, we were a people ruled by the best and brightest… with those skilled in one area pursuing their tasks without any central authority. Roads got built because they needed building, food got produced because it needed to be eaten, there wasn’t any corruption… because there weren’t any laws. Everything worked on a social contract.
I realized I didn’t understand my people at all. I watched them, gave them guidance… but they were beyond me. Their art failed to amuse me, their music failed to do more than distract me… and finally, I let them go. They didn’t really need me. The Manifestation’s came and went, spiritual leaders to an ever expanding interstellar power, and “the One who is called” when shit goes down. My companions had stopped descending to the mortal realm centuries ago… they no longer seemed interested in the people… well, except for the food. The food was excellent. Being the Manifestation pretty much meant I could get anything delivered to my palace… and I did. Once every year, the Manifestation would call for a special meal and some city would be tasked to prepare it in their local style.
Breakfast took a week. Lunch… a fortnight… Dinner an entire month… local time. I took a nap once that lasted a century. Okay, it was more a self induced coma, just to see if anything would change. It did… but not in a good way. Apparently my other self had decided to go into self imposed seclusion and so the entire culture had become ascetic, contemplative… and frightfully dull. I wanted to scream.
Things got progressively more and more boring as time passed. It was like watching an ant farm. More than once, I seriously considered wrecking disasters down upon them, as if I was playing SimCity. But finally, after 8 years of sitting in the same damned position, I had an epiphany. The Magi Culture was boring because I was bored. So I Manifested fully and declared that one day a week would henceforth be spent on frivolity…. And the week was changed from the 12 day cycle everyone knew and loved… to the 9 day cycle which made far less sense.
I changed the national anthem to a Magi Translation of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going to Take It” and changed the symbol of our state from the Star of David to a tic-tac-toe board with 8 boxes full and the last space giving a win to whichever player went next… and lacking any indicator of which player that was. Every 10 years from then on I did something else that was just a little strange… like formally discouraging pasta more than 6 inches long, or declaring ketchup to be a vegetable, or mandating that flipflops were acceptable footwear.
I put forth memorandums on picnics, wrote books on the subject of practical jokes, and encouraged whistling for no practical reason… in public. I issued statements from the pulpit on why ferrets should be in every home, why cookies were the natural end to every meal, and why lemons should be called yellows. I was no longer taking my role as spiritual leader or god-king seriously, and things were getting progressively stranger for the Magi. Impractical Camo uniforms replaced the occupational color coding, hats of ludicrous design became commonplace, and pizza was as close to criminalized as a lawless society could do… which led to secret basement pizza joints.
Finally, the ten years or 12,300 years ended and Trelane reappeared, looking grumpy.
“Lost didn’t you?” I asked, smug.
“The bet was that I’d get so bored I’d destroy what I’d worked so hard to build, wasn’t it? That I couldn’t be happy without a problem to solve or a war to fight?”
“You didn’t expect me to prank a trillion people, did you?”
“Oh, you’re no fun any more. Why are you sitting on sand with your idiot friends washing water back and forth and imitating the sea?”
“It’s tradition. Have some Pizza… it’s extra heretical.”
Next: Final Zolution