For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 6, Part 147
On the Nightmare Side
April 15, 1452
Of all the places to experience heightened senses, Frodo would not have chosen this plain beyond the hills. The skies shrieked with incoming missiles, exploding in bursts of sound that pounded not just the ears, but the body, the stuttering heart, the brain. For as far as Frodo could see, men crawled like maggots through the blood-stinking mud, under a sulfurous smoke, jamming oddly shaped staffs against their shoulders where they lay, then blasting a loud and fiery staccato from the other end. And wherever they pointed the staffs, other men died--blown back with screams and firework-bursts of red, as brilliant as shock against the gray background. Still more men burrowed into a network of trenches that cracked the face of the land from horizon to horizon. Yet wherever one looked one saw the bodies of men who had not made it to any shelter.
Frodo saw, stabbing up from the ground, what once had been trees, all of the leaves and half of the bark blasted away, splintered stumps of boughs sticking out, charred and lifeless. Ruins of villages and farms tottered here and there, a few stones upon stones, some charcoaled beams askew, not one whole building in the lot. A frightened, starving dog ran this way and that, yipping in panic, until an explosion ended his terror. Nothing else remained of what had once been a Shirelike countryside, save for the machinery and byproducts of war.
Gandalf led the way, undaunted, through a maze of coils of what looked like baling-wire broken out in thorns more vicious than any kaktush; here and there the rags of men hung from the barbs, dead, twitching now and then as stray projectiles impacted them to no purpose. Gandalf paused once, to let pass grim men shooting streams of pure fire into trenches where other men hid. More screams split the air, of the most hideous kind that Frodo had ever heard or imagined, and with them rose a stench of burning hair and meat.
Frodo hid his face in Gandalf's robes and cried out, "No more! No more! Take me away from this place!"
"But you need to see," Gandalf insisted. "Angband, Mordor, Isengard..." he recited as he paced, "...Carthage, the Coliseum, Constantinople..." a particularly loud blast blotted out part of what he said, but then Frodo heard, "...Wounded Knee, Tomochic, Bacum..." as the wizard stepped over a dead man's legs, "...The Somme, Auschwitz, Hiroshima, the Killing Fields of Khmer...it goes on and on, wherever people listen to the lies of Morgoth or his slaves. The lie that you can create a perfect world, if only you acquire enough power to pursue your plans without interference. That all that stands in your way is the obstinance of other people daring to exercise their independent wills. You cannot reach Sauron's city of the future, Frodo, without passing through territory like this."
"But what if you can create a perfect world? What if all of this could be worth it--disappear into a millenium of harmony? Why should we dwell upon what goes into the compost heap to make the harvest grow--that's just morbid."
"Morbid? To know the cost of all things? Do you think people like Lebadoc Brandybuck should avoid knowing how much your father sweats and aches to grow the food they eat? Do you think it doesn't matter what one does to a chicken to produce the maximum number of eggs, so long as the one who eats the eggs does not know? Yet you speak closer to the truth than you realize--the truth within the heart of the paradox. For Morgoth's schemes do serve Illuvatar in his despite. We can and should try to improve the world--through love, through cooperation with others, rather than by bending them to our will. Even so, it does not lie in our scope--not for the highest of the Valar--to create perfection, certainly not at the price of the least child of Illuvatar. Yet in our flawed existence, marred by Morgoth, look at what we have--and what we could never have without the existence of pain!"
The wizard pointed to a man who lay on his stomach under a roll of the kaktush-wire, in order to reach and bind another man's wounds. "Compassion." He walked on, to where a soldier gave a sip of water from his canteen to a dying soldier in a different uniform. "Mercy." He led down into a trench where someone read a letter from home, smiling wistfully. "Gratitude." Another lay asleep nearby, slumped against the dirt wall. "Relief." Above them grim men stood guard, peering out over the rim. "Determination." Elsewhere soldiers, looking exhausted to the brink of collapse, repaired a part of the trench network marred by an explosion. "Patience and endurance." As they watched, a man skittered in under fire, a wounded comrade thrown over his shoulder. "Loyalty." A medic ran over, desperately trying to staunch the blood. "Effort." When he finally succeeded, and then cleaned and bound the wound, the young healer sank back on his heels and grinned wearily. "Achievement." The wounded man smiled up at him, giving a weak thumbs up. "Defiant joy." Nearby another man stared intently at a picture of a woman and her children, then donned his dishlike helmet, picked up his gun, and joined others lining up. "Passion for the defense of the innocent." The group of men charged out together to engage the enemy. "And courage not least, throughout it all runs courage in many forms."
Gandalf turned to the hobbit. "Not one of these things could exist without suffering, Frodo. Mortals pass through a painful existence so that they can carry with them, into Illuvatar's perfect world to come, that which will make it complete. Sauron would bypass that altogether in his inferior paradise. And yet in attempting to do so, all he does is cause still more pain, endless and pointless, for he cannot achieve his desire, and it would not be worth having if he could. He generates the very suffering that he once despised, as though it were one of his many accidental pollutions, mere byproducts that he struggles to ignore--and then, when he can ignore it no longer, he talks himself into acquiring a taste for hurt, so that he can call it beauty of itself, admitting to no mistakes. But he never actually makes use of pain for good--that good which is the noble soul's response, and has nothing to do with material results."
"Mm hm. That's nice." With the reassurance that benign things did indeed still exist all around himself, appearances to the contrary, Frodo felt the magic of the poppy overtake him anew, soothing him to sleepiness beyond even the bother of breathing, his heart calming down slower, slowwwerrr...
"No!" the wizard cried, grabbing Frodo by the arm and hurling him out of the trench. Frodo landed belly-first upon a rock, knocking the wind out of him. "Wake up!" He gasped in air, opening his eyes to Bergil's scared face, the man's fist jammed into his solar-plexus. But then he blinked and found himself back in The Somme.
Gandalf had leaped out after him. "If you fall asleep here, you will sleep for all time!" Growling, the old one gripped him by the shoulders and threw him again, this time so near to an explosion that Frodo felt his hair singe, and the blast threw him about this way and that. "Feel that? Fear! It tells you something is wrong--every unpleasant sensation does the same thing."
Something whizzed through the air straight through a billow in Frodo's over-loose shirt, leaving a hole in two places. "Fear tells you to guard against danger. Pain warns you of the body's damage, and that nausea that you felt before warned you that you'd been poisoned." Frodo staggered back, tripped on a dead man's arm, and fell rump-first into the mud."Shame warns you of damage to the soul." Frodo tottered back to his feet, reached down to the hole and then stared as his fingers came back bloody. "Grief teaches you the value of what you have lost, sorrow tells you that something must change, outrage inspires you to change it--if you give up these things, Frodo, you will die!"
"Save me, Gandalf!" Missiles shrilled all around him, as he reeled about in search of shelter, suddenly aware of how his feet did not respond correctly, his reflexes too hampered for the need--acutely now did he feel the danger in his intoxication. "Save me or else let me die swiftly! But no more of this terror! Please!"
"Die? And go to Mandos empty-handed?" The wizard laughed grimly. "You have too much to learn yet to take such an easy way out."
A bomb came shrieking out of the sky straight at Frodo's face. He screamed and threw up his arms. A great flash hurled him back, but he caught himself against something, throwing back his hands behind him, and so he kept his feet. Sighing with relief, braced thus against something solid, he closed his eyes and let his head nod once more, as he felt the fear melt away. Something didn't feel quite right, though--too warm. He smelled smoke and heard a crackling sound. He turned around slowly, to discover a blazing tree-stump behind him. He raised his arms before him--his charred arms, both hands burned off! As he stared in horror at the smoking stumps, the wizard came up and clasped his shoulder. "Now you receive some glimpse of the price of numbness. Do you still want this dream, or would you rather wake up?"
"Take me anywhere else in the dream! Anywhere but here!"
"Really? Anywhere--but only within the dream? Would you rather go back to Sauron's template--as it would really turn out, if followed?"
"Yes! Yes! Take me now!"
They returned to the city, but this time it looked dingy, soiled by years of old smoke. The effortless, restless people looked fat--not in a hearty Shire way, but as prisoners who never had the liberty to move much, sagging with a weight of sadness, exhausted without exertion, sated without satisfaction. The smell of the greasy food that they grabbed in haste, while carried rushing from place to place at the will of others, stank to Frodo's hobbit sensibilities, but the slaves hardly seemed to notice what they ate at all. In fact the entire city stank, particularly the objects that carried the motionless people zipping about at unnerving speeds.
Gandalf shook his head. "Poor souls. Sauron's heir, bereft of magic, has taught them the way of the machine--yet in service of the same tired old goals: utter will, utter control, no exertion. And so they keep building more and more devices to do everything for them--yet in keeping up the pace that their contrivances demand of them, they have less and less time to just think, relax, imagine. And from such cramped imagination, they can only create still more machines. They never pause long enough to realize that this doesn't work."
"What horrible inventions!"
"Oh, not entirely. Some inventions are good. The motorized wheelchair, for instance. The Valar felt particularly pleased at how that one turned out. And the printing press--that, you see, is a device for making large numbers of books, quickly and cheaply, so that everyone may develop his own personal library. Not that many find the time to read, unfortunately--not in this world. But people under the spell of machines cannot seem to distinguish between creating something that truly serves good, and something that simply serves self--and cheats, at that."
"Where are all the gardens?" Frodo gasped. "I distinctly remember gardens in Sauron's vision."
"Ah. Those. They proved inconvenient. Not cost effective. At least how this people have come to reckon cost, disregarding the benefits that greenlife could have provided in lowering medical expenses through filtering the air and soil, lowering fuel costs by regulating the temperature of nearby buildings, and what have you--not to mention soothing the soul. Yet the people of the machine not only reduce everything to mathematics, but they also leave important sums out of the equations." Gandalf shrugged. "Besides, you'd have admitted in your right mind that they were rather ugly gardens to begin with. Having not so much as a twig out of place destroys the collaboration between gardener and living plant--the surprising artistry of nature."
"These fat people--have they no recreation whatsoever? No relief?"
"Oh, they have lots and lots of recreation, and work harder and harder to afford more, and miss out on more and more sleep to grasp at it. Most of it of a passive nature, watching or listening to entertainments that imitate the life denied to them. Or buying objects that they hardly have the time to enjoy, fashioned to create illusions and imitations of all that they have lost."
Frodo saw others now, on the outskirts of the vision--shabby men and women, with vacant eyes and sagging mouths, skin leathered in exposure, huddled amid the blowing trash in the shadows of the great glass towers. "Who are they?"
"Yet another accidental byproduct--the refuse of the dream. Drunkards and poppy-fiends, some of them, but many also whose minds simply shattered when they couldn't fit snugly into the machine, their souls torn up between the gears. And some fell out of the dream sane enough at first--an expensive illness here, a financial mistake there--yet madness followed after. The fat ones do not like to think of how close they stand to becoming such as these, but they all quiver on the edge. The machine loses no time in discarding defective parts to make room for new." The wizard turned to his companion. "Care to join them?"
Without waiting for an answer, Gandalf's firm grip on the hobbit's arm compelled Frodo closer, so that the odors reached him and grew in intensity--bodies unbathed for who knew how long, stale wine, fouled rags, forgotten garbage, and all of it underneath a pall of the exhausts and oils of industry gone amok. Suddenly Frodo's dizziness felt anything but pleasant. "Take me away from here, Gandalf--the smell sickens me."
"Good, good! Nausea warns you of poison. If you hadn't finally managed to clear out your system in your real body, even as we speak, you would have died indeed."
"What are you babbling about? Just get me away--I cannot stand this!"
The wizard bent down and peered at him keenly. "Within the dream? Or would you rather wake up?"
"Uh..." He tried to wipe a sudden perspiration from his brow, only to rediscover what the fire had left of him. "Within the dream. Please."
The wizard scowled. "You would remain here? Even helpless, without hands? You could have chosen wholeness, you know."
"Gandalf...please try to understand...I have hurt so much since I left Bag End, so very very much...you have no idea..."
"If you think I have no idea, then you have forgotten everything you ever learned about my history," Gandalf replied, but then he spoke a word, and now Frodo felt a stifling heat, the sweat pouring off of his body and dripping onto a hard, hot floor. He almost choked, for the air seemed overbreathed, nearly as foul with human smell as a Mordor-style henhouse with the stench of chickens. He opened his eyes to a dim-lit, windowless building filled with rows upon rows of tables, each table piled with machine parts and crowded by scrawny, sunken-eyed children of an Eastern race, who endlessly assembled the parts, their backs so curved to their work that they might well have lost the ability to straighten.
"Here is where the disciples of Sauron's disciple compost human lives. The shining city is but the pinnacle of a pyramid, you see, supported on this broader base. These young ones work some fourteen to sixteen hours a day, usually, except for once a week, when they work around the clock with no sleep whatsoever, on the last day before their deadline."
One of the young girls stood up to carry a tray of finished work. Though she did not look of marriageable age, Frodo saw how her belly swelled with child, upon matchstick legs that scarce seemed able to hold her. Gandalf said, "They move swiftly to make the next generation of laborers, before they themselves are worked to death in their twenties. They have no other consolation. Of course, once the children of these children arrive, the parents will submit to anything to make sure their sons and daughters eat. For many die outside these buildings, clamoring to get in."
"This isn't Sauron's dream--it can't be!"
"Oh, but it is--did he ever tell you that he meant his template for all mankind? Not him! He has never cared what byproducts he created along the way, so long as he wrought his will on at least one corner of the world."
"But why don't these people go to where all the food is? I mean, life looked hard in the other place, too, but people obviously had more than enough to live on."
"Many try, and get shot for their efforts. The Machine cannot run smoothly unless these young ones stay right where they are, while their taskmasters squeeze all other resources from their lands." The wizard barked a brief, sharp laugh, but more in contempt than humor. "If everyone lived according to the template, it would take six worlds worth of all that Aule and Yavanna have given between them to make it possible. No--you cannot follow the plan without deliberately leaving many to do without."
"So that the others need not work at all?"
"Not in the least! The fat people's hours of work increase all the time. They work confined to their desks in little cells, shuffling the endless paperwork necessary to keep the system running. Oh yes--it takes a good deal of paperwork to organize the enslavement of children like these, yet those consigned to handle it labor with minds so numb that most of them cannot grasp the implications of the documents that pass before them."
"Please--take me away. Someplace else. I do not want to see anymore."
"You will not be the last to say such a thing," said the wizard, but he waved his staff and the whirling commenced again.
Frodo next opened his eyes on The Somme, under a screaming hail of missiles. He squealed and threw himself into the nearest crater, cowering.
"Excellent!" Gandalf exclaimed, rubbing his hands together. "Fear again! Gets the blood circulating. And quite appropriate, considering your danger."
"Not here! Not here!" Frodo shrilled.
"I'm terribly sorry, my good fellow, but I shall have to leave you for now, to pursue a rather important mission. A young officer has just fallen unconscious to trench fever and I need to shape his delirium."
"I'm afraid so, Frodo--it would mean the world to you, if you knew but one tenth of what I know."
"GANDALF!" But now Frodo found the wizard nowhere in sight.