"Yes, please, Grandma!" his sister Halina chorused.
Andra paused in dishing up their strudel. She knew what story they would ask for, and that her son would not approve of her telling them of times past. But then, he hadn't asked her if she approved of Natalya before he married her, either. Of course, times were different now, supposedly, but she'd lived through enough to be crotchety in her old age and hold on to the values of her youth.
"I suppose you want to hear about what it was like in the old days?" she said, and was not disappointed in the enthusiastic agreement of her grandchildren. She poured them both tall glasses of creamy milk. It wasn't cold at all, of course, and that and the lack of pasteurization, and the desire to see her children grow up strong and healthy, mitigated any guilt she might have felt over giving them so much when she really had so little, when it wouldn't keep anyway, and anyway there was no doctor anymore to tell her she needed calcium to keep her bones from getting brittle. At the last moment she remembered to say a blessing and thanks over the milk.
"Tell us the one about the Ogginy," Yevgeny said.
Andra's brow furrowed briefly before she realized what the boy meant. "You mean the Theogony," she corrected. "The birth of the Gods. All right.
"When I was a little girl, there were many, many people on the Earth. More people than in Aachen, or Gdansk, or the whole of the Kingdom of Newhanz. In fact, as many people lived here then as live in the whole world now." This meant little to them, of course, since Yevgeny had only been to Aachen once as a baby, and Halina not at all, but their eyes widened appreciately anyway.
"We learned about how there used to be kingdoms, hundreds of years before even my time, but that gradually people had grown discontented with the kings and taken power upon themselves." Holding up a finger to forestall Yevgeny's puzzled question, she said, "There were no gods in those days, of course. Many people thought there was one great god, and no other, but he hadn't intervened in anyone's memory, so fewer and fewer people took him into account in their everyday lives."
"What god was it?" Yevgeny wanted to know.
"I don't think it's one of the ones we have now," Andra said slowly. "Perhaps long ago, when there had been kingdoms before, there had been gods then, but for some reason they had gone away, or...something. Not died, of course," for that would have been heresy, to talk of a god's death, "but perhaps ascended to some higher plane. Perhaps this one god was one of the last to ascend, which was why he was remembered, and worshiped, so much longer after he was gone.
"In this time, many men, called scientists, tried to understand how the universe worked, and came to think that they understood much of its workings. Though even some of them at the time admitted that each new discovery only brought clear to them how much was left to know. But they weren't daunted by this, and continued trying to learn more. One of the things they learned was the study of demons.
"They didn't call them demons at that point, though. They called them 'diseases', or 'germs', or 'bacteria', or 'viruses', or 'microbes'. And perhaps, to them, that is all they were. Perhaps the demons had grown dormant after the gods disappeared, and disintegrated into these tiny forms the scientists discovered, causing illness in the human body. The scientists spent much time studying these creatures, and they had learned how to counteract the effects of many of them. But others of them spent time trying to create new kinds of demon, that they could use on their enemies. For, though they had no kingdoms, they were still divided, and they had no gods to hold them back.
"One of these demons--that was given the name Xanthelosmoidea, a name from an ancient language the scientists used--was the first to reawaken.
"It was some time before this became clear. It was just a virulent plague that had gotten loose and was killing many people. And not just people, but other creatures as well, which was the first clue that this was something new to the scientists. Furthermore, the demon Xanthelosmoidea was able to mingle its essence with other demonic creations, and awaken them as well.
"The scientists tried to use one of their common techniques, 'vaccination', which involved finding one who had bested the demon in their bodies and was thus resistant to its further effects, and giving their blood to others. So the essence of Xanthelosmoidea and other demons was spread throughout the human population, and through those animals that humans considered useful at the time, who were the source of their food--cows, chickens, and the like. Other creatures were able to marshal their natural defenses, surviving through sheer numbers or adaptability, but these were mostly those who humans had been trying, and failing, to eradicate himself for years.
"The first god awakened in a city called Cleveland, across the ocean." She stopped for a moment. She remembered the first incredulous announcements she heard on the shortwave radio, about a being calling itself Cleve, that had apparently arisen from some kind of religious temple, where a number of plague survivors had gathered together. "The vaccination had apparently started to awaken gods to fight the demons. Many arose from the flesh of humans, but others from our food creatures, and others from the numerous pests. Soon the tide was turned against the demons--but you'll read all this in school, and I don't know that story as well. The Oath was sworn, the gods to protect us if we served them." She'd never been sure how balanced the Oath was, but she remembered the terror of the Plague Years(or Demon Years, as they were called now), and how the humans that had survived the plague and not undergone apotheosis had been so pathetically grateful to their protectors.
The gods were already discouraging talk of earlier times, and speculation about how, and why, they might have disappeared millennia earlier. But Andra knew that the knowledge would never be wholly lost, and someday perhaps humans would be free again.
[Corprew Reed gave me the words:
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The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey / firstname.lastname@example.org