Ballot Designed in Reality by Michael G. Wagner


The High Priestess brought her followers,

                              The Chosen Ones, and reached to push
                           the Golden Chimes as prelude to entrance
                                     into the state of eternal bliss
                              (for just She and her Flock, of course),
                                when the Cosmos was torn asunder

                                throughout its entirety, a great light
                                         shown but for a second,
                                     and then came the Darkness

                           as can only be present in the Nothingness.
                                  A tired God said: "Maybe next time
                              - - next time they will truly understand
                                     and get it right!" and there was
                                         the great light once again
                                     - - and the cycle started anew!

                                                                                         Gaylon Ross
                                                                                                (a  virtual friend)

     [fractal-art] F.O.T.D. Story Part 1

           From: Jim Muth <>


Copyright 1998 by James A. Muth
4600 words
by J. A. Muth
  In a universe much like ours, but where curious things happen a little more often, an ice-shrouded planet circled a dying sun.  On the planet's frigid, gently rolling surface, nothing existed but endless ice -- nothing to distinguish one place from another -- nothing on the entire world but a single gazebo.  That lone gazebo had endured there in silence through countless nights and days, existing unseen in its meaningless solitude through a hundred-million years.
   Long ago, when the sun had burned strong and the sky had shone blue, a pale-skinned race with eyes of sapphire
and hair of turquoise had formed the gazebo.  In the quiet evenings, a woman and her daughter had found respite
there, whispering in the daughter's youth of things to come, and in the woman's old age of things past.  And when the woman had transformed, the daughter had continued with her daughter, then she with her daughter -- daughter
after daughter finding peace in the shelter of the gazebo, justifying its existence through ten-thousand generations.
      But as the ages had passed and the sun failed, the world had grown harsh, until at last, the gentle blue eyed ones had fled to a better world, taking all they possessed with them.  They had left only the one gazebo, so right in its
place that they had not the heart to disturb it  And so, the gazebo remained where it had always stood, seen
by no one, giving shelter to no one, existing a hundred-million years for no purpose other than its own existence.
Yet the gazebo ever endured on its slope of ice; and as it did, another of ten-billion identical nights came to an end.
      The approach of day appeared as a glow above the eastern ridge -- a ruby glow so pale as to be barely perceptible.  The glow persisted several minutes -- wavering, uncertain -- like an omen of doom.  Then, without further warning, a tiny disk emerged from behind the ridge and revealed itself as the vestige of the once strong sun.

      Radiating its residual heat into space, the dying sun rose into the sky and hung there just a little more shriveled than when it had dropped into the western sea the evening before.  It was a weak sun, a puny sun, blood red and spotted with black, a forlorn sun whose dreary radiance bathed the gazebo in the bitterness of a new day -- a sun that cast the shadow of the gazebo before it, down the frozen slope to the cold, cold sea, where the ruins of the once lush atmosphere lay condensed into a lake of argon. No ripple disturbed the liquid surface, where even by day the stars were reflected, for when the planet had lost its air, it had lost the winds that had aroused its seas.  Only the slightest haze of violet along the horizon betrayed the remnant of the blanket which once had tinted the sky blue
and blessed the world with life.

   The sun climbed and mid-morning came.  High above the ridge, the shrunken sun burned small and red, giving pale illumination to the solitude below.  On the ice, the little pressure ridges sparkled, while the shadow of the gazebo
drew toward its source.  Several hours passed; the moment of midday arrived.  The sun poured straight down.  The shadow became a circle centered beneath the canopy.  In the frigid warmth, the world hung motionless.  Far out over the lake, a single wisp of vapor swirled, but nothing was there with eyes to see.  The sun moved on.  Afternoon came; the shadow grew in the opposite direction.  The scene of morning repeated in reverse, until the sun met its reflection at the rim of the argon sea.  When the tiny disk vanished, night became complete almost at once; no afterglow eased its entry. So had each of ten-billion days come and gone.  The star-filled night once again enclosed the gazebo in ultimate solitude, with only the shifting of the constellations to mark the passage of time.  And the gazebo yet endured as it always had.

  But sometime in the darkness the world changed.  A point of light that was not a star trailed a hairline of vapor
across thesky.  Had an ear been there to hear, it would have heard a far away soughing, high and thin, a hollow
tunnel sound filtering down through the cold air, the only sound since the last blue skinned woman had looked in
regret upon the gazebo and hurried her daughters into the final rocket.  The moving light flared, changed course
and passed beyond the horizon.  The sound faded, the vapor trail twisted and fell apart, the world once again lay
in peace. Ultimate peace prevailed all that night, but at sunrise, an alien vehicle rose over the eastern ridge.
      The monster waited there poised for destruction, sending and receiving electronic messages, master of the world because nothing contested it.  It waited until the pathetic sun shone high overhead, then came to life.  A motor
began humming.  The vehicle lurched down the slope, spiked treads gouging obscene pits into the perfection of the
ice.  It whined to within a hundred yards of the gazebo and stopped.  The motor cut off, a hatch slid open, and two
men from Earthclimbed out.

     Advancing cautiously in their bloated metallic suits, the men approached the gazebo, their glass enclosed head
sturning from side to side as though searching for the builders.  As they moved, the fossil atmosphere swept around them without resistance.  The two men reached the gazebo and began circling it in opposite directions.  When they met at the far side, the man in the copper tinted suit broke the silence. "What do you make of it, Captain?" he asked over his in-suit radio.  The commander, in his sky blue suit, received the message and replied.  "It's exactly what it looks like, Consuela -- a pile of ice that's shaped something like a gazebo." "You mean exactly like a gazebo.  How do you suppose it got here?" "I don't know, Consuela."  Lieutenant Consuela stepped up to the structure, reached out his gloved hand and stroked the edge of the railing.  "I think it's made of water ice.  It seems to have been carved by hand." "That's impossible.  Ice can't function as a building material.  And besides, this planet has never had life." "Impossible or not, here it is.  All we have to do now is figure out who built it." "You mean figure out how it formed here.  That's a question I wish we didn't have to answer.  That thing shouldn't be here at all, it's too orderly to exist in all this chaos.  It's . . . it's impossible."

"But there it is.  So what should we do about it?" There was a long silence before the commander spoke.  "Get
rid of it -- that's what we'll do.  I'll blast it to vapor so we won't have to make a report.  Then we won't have so many questions to answer about it." "But why destroy it? it's nice.  I'm not worried about it." "I'm commander here, I'll
decide what's to be done with it.

. . . Meanwhile, what has the astro-analysis crew been able to determine about this place?"
The lieutenant struck several buttons on his sleeve computer.  "The planet is completely frozen -- has been for
millions of years.  The sun is a typical brown dwarf -- dying fast-- too small to keep its nuclear furnace burning.
It'll go out completely in a few million more years." Increasing the density of his visor, the commander raised
his head to examine the puny sun.  "If that sun up there is cooling so fast, then sometime not too long ago it must
have been stronger.  It must have been warmer here and the atmosphere must have been thicker.  Isn't that right?"
   The lieutenant stepped back to get a better overall view of the scene.  "As close as we can estimate, fifty-million
years ago the sun was warm enough for all the argon in those lakes, and even the huge amount of nitrogen in the
polar caps to be a gas.  Back then, the atmosphere was maybe half as dense as Earth's, and the temperature
could easily have been near the melting point of water ice -- the rocks of this planet are made of almost pure water
ice by the way." "How warm was it?" "I don't think it was ever warm enough to melt the ice, but it was certainly
warm enough for free oxygen and water vapor to exist.  It's possible that under those conditions there was some
form of life on this world.  I think that explains who . . ."Suddenly interrupting, the commander turned his helmeted
head toward the lieutenant.  "Consuela, I don't want to hear any more of that crazy talk of yours about bug-eyed
aliens!  I've been listening to it during the whole trip.  We both studied the same lessons at the same school -- we
both know that alien life is impossible."

 "That's what the books say, but how do you explain this gazebo?" "I told you it's not a gazebo." "Then why does it
look so much like a gazebo?" "I need more time to think." "You'd better think hard, Captain." The irritated sound of the commander's voice crackled in the lieutenant's helmet speaker.  "Be at ease lieutenant, I don't likeyour disrespectful attitude.  We have a lot of work to do -- this is quite a mystery we've found."  "But what do you really think of it, Captain?" The commander began pacing, his boots crunching into the ice.  "First we must eliminate the impossible . . ." "And what's the impossible?" "That some intelligence put it here.  Our ship is the only one ever
built with the ability to reach this planet, so we can eliminate the possibility that people from Earth are responsible.
The only other possibility is that it was formed by natural forces.  "Then you believe that this . . . this structure just
appeared by magic, with nobody to put it here?" "I didn't say it appeared by magic, lieutenant, I said natural forces
formed it." "And are you certain of that?" "Obviously.  When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains must
be the solution." The lieutenant chuckled.  "You sound like you've been reading those old Sherlock Holmes files. . . . And are you absolutely certain that humanity is the only intelligent life in the universe?" "Of course.  Scientists
figured out way back in the nineteenth century that the chance of intelligent life is so remote that the possibility of
it happening twice is zero." The lieutenant spoke deliberately.  "There's one thing that bothers me with that."
      "And what's that?" "If the chance of intelligent life happening twice is zero, then how could it have happened
even once?" "That's no mystery; it just happened -- even though the odds against it must have been greater than
one in a googol.  First the conditions were just right, then some chemicals mixed together in exactly the right way.  Lightning struck the chemicals and they came to life.  There were random mutations.  The bad mutations
died out; the good ones survived.  It's called natural selection.  And we're standing here right now -- that proves it happened." "Then you must think that Mankind, with his body and mind, and all the animals and plants and every
other living thing on Earth, and even you and me with our unique identities, just happened by accident.  "Of course.
And I don't just think it, I know it.  I can prove it scientifically.  What do you believe, Consuela -- that some god
pointed down from heaven and created us?" "No, I'm not thinking about a god -- but to me it's always seemed
impossible for intelligent men to have appeared from nothing, by chance." "We didn't come from nothing, Consuela;
we came from chemicals." "Things like that just don't happen -- even science can't do it."

      "If science had four billion years, it could do it." The lieutenant walked up to the gazebo.  "Look at these steps -- perfectly square and level.  Did they just make themselves that way?""Some kind of liquid could have deposited a sediment." The lieutenant brushed his gloved hand across the top of the railing.  "Look at this railing -- look at how smooth the top side is.  And look at the intricate design on the underside.  It's a fractal pattern.  See how beautiful it is.  And all eleven sections are exactly the same.  Do you think all these identical designs just happened by accident?" "We see regular patterns like that all the time in crystals."  The lieutenant pointed to the seven-faceted stars that adorned the tops of the eleven pillars supporting the canopy."Look at these heptagrams -- perfectly symmetrical,  every one identical -- almost like the old religious symbols of Earth.  Do you think the wind carved them that way by accident?" "Lieutenant Consuela, let me ask you a question.  Do you think intelligent beings carved them?  You must, because you seem to be denying that they were formed by natural forces.  Maybe you suppose the bug-eyed aliens are still hiding somewhere -- maybe out on that lake in a little boat."

   "No, . . . we know that no aliens are on the planet.  Except for this gazebo there's no signs of life ever having been here.  I don't know what to think.  I just don't want to decide that something's impossible without being certain of it."
      "We are certain, Consuela.  Now listen to the facts -- notjust wild guesses.  Those deposits that look like steps, that eroded thing that looks like a railing, those things that look like pillars, those things that look like heptagrams, and that natural arch that looks like a roof with shingles of ice -- all of those things -- they're just the result of some freak coincidence." "Don't call it a coincidence, what you're describing is a miracle.  I didn't think you believed in miracles." "I don't, Consuela.  But just think of the things chance can do if you give it enough time.  All the symmetry of that gazebo is nothing compared to the complexity of the human body.  And the body was generated from the elements of the Earth by no more than chance. . . ." "That's what you say . . ."
      "That's what I know.  Four-billion years of random trial and error did it all, without outside help.  If something
as complex as a human body could happen by chance, why not something much simpler -- like a pile of ice that
looks like a gazebo?  Now stand clear so I can blast the thing."

      "If it's only a pile of ice, why do you want to blast it?" "Because it's interfering with our work," the commander
replied sharply, drawing his blaster.  When the lieutenant saw the commander's intent, he leaped up and stood defiantly on the edge of the platform.  "No! you can't do it -- I won't let you.  I don't care how it got here.  I won't
let you hurt it."

   "What's your problem now, Consuela?" "I don't know.  I feel sorry for it.  Maybe it's the way it's been here so long.  I don't want you to destroy it.  I want it to be here forever."The commander held out his arms.  "What's to
be concerned with about a pile of ice that just happens to look like an old gazebo?" "I can't say for sure -- all I
know is that I like it.  It's waited such a long time for us to come to it." "It's not alive, Consuela."
      "I didn't say it was alive -- it's just the way it's been
here so long."

          [fractal-art] F.O.T.D. Story Part 2

           From: Jim Muth <>


  "It might have been formed just yesterday." "Come on Captain, you know it wasn't formed yesterday.  Look
at the ground.  That ice hasn't been disturbed in thousands of years.  This gazebo has been here through man's entire history.  We didn't know it, but it's always been here." "So what if it has?" "Just think about it.  When the apes were learning to walk upright it was here.  When men lived in caves it was here.  When the first civilization
was developing it was here.  When men were learning science it was here.  You can go to your computer and
pull out any event in human history, and when that event took place this gazebo was sitting out here, all alone."
    "Even if you're right, what are you getting so excited about?  What's your problem?" Lieutenant Consuela
trailed his gloved fingers up an ancient pillar.  "Can't you feel it vibrating -- almost like it has a soul?""A soul?  You've cracked.  You just said you didn't think it was alive, and now you're saying it has a soul.  The stress must have gotten to you.  I never did think you had what it takes to make it as a Space Service geologist."
"I'm making it good enough to be a lieutenant." "No, you're not.  You don't think like a spaceman.  You
should've stayed on Earth and explored the Grand Canyon or an art museum or something.  You don't belong out here where brains and guts count.  When we get back to base I'm going to recommend you for a desk job.  You're not man enough for space travel." "You can say whatever you want about me -- I don't care.  But I know that this gazebo is here, and I'll always know it.  For the rest of my life I'll know it's out here, all alone where nothing ever
changes.  And you'll know it too.  It'll be a symbol that maybe a few of those crazy things I believe about the world
are right, and maybe a few of those rational things you believe are wrong.  And whenever somebody like me contradicts one of your scientific truths, you'll remember this gazebo, and you won't be so certain that what you believe is right."

     "Oh boy, you're really off your bytes.  I was afraid this would happen.  All the way from Earth I've been watching it coming.  Come on, let's get back to the ship, I've got to get you to sick-bay." "You're the one who's off," the lieutenant said, wrapping his arms around an ice pillar and squeezing with all his strength. "Let it go, Consuela.  If you tear your suit you'll be dead before I can get you back to the crawler." "She's waited here a million years for me.""Come to your senses, man!" the commander pleaded.  "It's not a living thing, it's a hunk of ice that looks
like a gazebo. It's probably been here only a few years, and it'll probably be gone in a few more." "But it's
unhappy . . ." "It can't be unhappy, it's a pile of ice." "It's crying . . ." "It's not doing anything, it's only a pile of ice." "I won't leave it." The commander set his blaster to maximum.  "You have no choice.  I've decided to blast
it right now.  Stand back." "No!  Don't hurt it. . . . You can't!" "Pull yourself together, Consuela.  When it's gone you'll feel different about it."  "I won't let you!" "You can't stop me.  Now get out of the way." "You know I'm
right, that's why you want to do it!" The commander began shouting at him.  "It's not a matter of right or wrong,
it's a matter of your sanity!  It's for your own good!  You'll never be a worthwhile space man as long as you know
this thing's here, and you're too good a rock man to lose.  Now get out of there and let me shoot."  He released
the safety of his blaster and aimed at the canopy, his hand shaking with excitement. But Lieutenant Consuela continued holding the pillar.

    "Come out of there -- this is a direct order.  If you comeout now, I'll put you on sick leave.  When we get back to Earth I'll report it as a case of space shock.  You'll be able to stayin the service with full benefits." "NO!  I won't
let you destroy this gazebo.  It's beautiful and it belongs here." "Lieutenant!  This is your final chance.  If I have
to return to the ship for the security men, I swear I'll have you court-martialled.  I'll charge you with every violation I can think of.  I'll fix it so you never work for any space company for the rest of your life.""I don't care what you do, I won't let you hurt this beautiful gazebo.  I want to be able to remember it the way it is now.  I love it; I want to know it's here waiting for me."

   Recognizing the futility of further argument, the commanderlowered his blaster and walked up to the lieutenant.  "You know you can't save it.  I'll have the security men here in a couple hours, and when they drag you away I'll destroy it anyway." "Then you'll always have it on your conscience."  The lieutenant squeezed the pillar fiercely.
  "For the last time, are you coming?" "No, I'm not.  If you're going to destroy it, I want to die with it."The commander sighed.  "If that's your attitude, I'll have to get the security men." The lieutenant did not respond.
  The commander put away his blaster, turned from the gazebo and walked slowly to the ice crawler.  A few minutes
later, the crawler drove away, treads digging into the ice, up the glassy smoothness of the eastern slope.  The
whine of the nuclear engine carried faint in the ancient air, and died out even before the crawler vanished over the ridge.  When the crawler was gone, the ancient gazebo once again stood in utter silence, but no longer in utter loneliness.  Alone with the gazebo, the lieutenant released the pillar and began thinking.  He thought of every possibility, of everything he might say or do to save the gazebo, but he was only a lieutenant.  The problem was without a solution.  Time passed.

   The afternoon waned. The sun sank low.  Eventually, the crimson rays slanting under the canopy struck the legs
of his vacuum suit.  As he watched the sunlight sparkling on the coppery skin, Lieutenant Consuela at last
conceived a plan.  It was a harsh plan, one he could never undo, but it was the only way.  Satisfied the plan would work, he moved to the center of the platform to prepare himself.  Several minutes later, standing under the canopy, Lieutenant Consuela found the courage to save the gazebo.  Shortly before sunset the crawler reappeared at the crest of the ridge.  When the driver saw the scene before him, he braked his vehicle so suddenly it slammed sideways before stopping. Inside, four stunned men stared through the viewer.  For a while no one spoke, then
the driver asked the commander for permission to continue. "Yes, go ahead," the commander replied in frustrated anger.  The ice crawler lurched forward and ground its way slowly down to the gazebo.  It circled once and came to
a halt.  The commander, his scientific advisor and two security men climbed out.

 "My God!" the commander muttered.  "What did that fool Consuela do to himself?" "The poor, stupid bastard freeze-dried himself," the advisor told him.  "He opened his suit intentionally.  See the way he placed his helmet
at his feet.  In this near vacuum he must've dried out and frozen solid in less than a minute.  He didn't suffer much."
 "Is he . . . ?"  The commander's words choked in his throat. The advisor pulled a small sensor from his utility pack and directed it at the frozen figure standing in its underwear, with its space suit heaped around its feet.  He rechecked the readings, and took a second set before he replied.  "This is impossible." "Is he dead?" the commander repeated. "No, he's still alive.  His life field is still there, but he's unconscious."  He took yet another measurement.  "But it would've been better if he had died.  "Why?" the commander asked. "Because he won't
stay unconscious.  When the sun burns out in a few million years, his temperature will drop so low that his
frozen body will become a superconductor.  When that happens, his brain will again support the field patterns of consciousness, and he'll realize what he did to himself.  In fact, in his own mind he's already awake.""But what
will he be able to do about it?" "Nothing.  He'll only be able to think; he won't be able to move -- not even his
eyes.  He'll be frozen absolutely solid.  He'll spend eternity in helpless awareness." "So what can we do for him?"
      "Not much, commander.  His tissue has been damaged beyond repair.  If we thawed him, his body would start decaying.  We'd be responsible for his death.  If we even tried to get him through the crawler hatch, he'd break
into pieces."  The commander sighed and shook his head.  A few moments later, the four men stepped onto the platform and examined the frozen figure.  They gazed into the glassy blue eyes, and ruffled the hair that held the crystals of his last breath, they touched the hands that were clasped in an attitude of prayer.  A security man reached toward the face that was fixed into an eternal smile.

    "Don't," the commander whispered. "I wonder why he did it," the security man murmured. "I don't know, but he knew what he was doing," the advisor told him.  Notice where he was staring when he froze -- toward that faint star out there.  That's Earth's sun.  It was the last thing he saw." "It's a damn shame," the other security man mumbled.
"Maybe not," the commander replied.  "I was going to destroy this thing, but for some reason he thought it should stay here.  And now it will, and he'll be with it forever.  I wonder what he'll think when he realizes what he did."
   "He'll probably curse himself for being so stupid," the security man replied. "And he'll have a long time to curse,"the science advisor said.  A moment later he shook away his disbelief and unpacked his video camera.
When the tragedy had been properly documented, the four men milled about in confusion, as though unable to accept their inability to restore their lost comrade.  Finally, as the sun dropped into the lone wisp of haze hanging above the sea, the commander announced, "it's time to go." At their leader's words, the crew positioned themselves
before their comrade's frozen form and gave him the salute reserved for those space heroes fallen in the line of duty.  When the sun vanished, the commander ordered everyone into the ice crawler.  But before he climbed in, he looked one last time toward the gazebo and the man standing stiff in the starry night.  "That pile of ice certainly does look like a gazebo.  How could it possibly have come to be there?" "Forget that thing, it's impossible," the advisor replied from inside.

      "So let's forget it then," the commander sighed.  "I'll dump the videos of the damn thing into space and report that Consuela died doing his job.  Back on Earth he'll be honored as a hero.  His family will be eligible for the
hero's pension."  Climbing into the hatch, he engaged the airtight seals behind him.  "This planet is worthless -- nothing but ice -- let's go home."   A moment later, the ice crawler came to life and gouged its way over the top
of the ridge.  Sometime the following afternoon a distant rocket lifted the planet's final visitors from the surface.
    And when the rocket was gone, eternal solitude once again prevailed. On an icy beach of a frozen planet circling
a dead sun, an ancient gazebo stands beside a lake of frozen argon.  Preserved by cold, it has remained secure in
the starless nothingness of a dead universe a trillion times a trillion years, guarded all the while by its mute watchman -- a keeper ever faithful, ever alert -- a keeper with nothing to watch.
      A keeper forever aware that his duty can have no end.
                                THE END

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