Jonathan Gabriel is a runner up in this term’s Creative Competition on the theme ‘Boundary’ for his short story, ‘Teralonian Holography’.
Nitarka knew the stories well. She, like all children in the kingdom of Teralonia, had grown up with them. Far away, higher than the mountains, the edge of the sky was hardening and becoming a world in and of itself. A world where size and length seemed to hold no meaning, and where inhabitants and entire cities could be subjected to the most bizarre contortions yet remain unharmed. Often, Nitarka stopped to look at the mural on the palace wall which depicted the Sky Kingdom, with its twisted streets and bulging houses – all obeying a strange symmetry of their own. It was a fantastical land, impossible for the Teralonians to comprehend. Yet they did not doubt it existed, because the elders had once found scrolls which spoke of such a future land. Scraps of scrolls also talked of a corresponding world with its own peculiar properties. This world, the elders decided, was the Teralonia of the future, the Teralonia that was coming to be as the Sky Kingdom on the boundary hardened into reality.
No Teralonian had ever seen this celestial kingdom: it was far too distant to be visible. But Nitarka longed to meet the inhabitants of the new world at night’s edge. She devoted herself to her studies, yet nothing she learned truly satisfied her curiosity. She climbed the tallest mountains in a quest to reach the mysterious other realm, but they were never quite high enough to take her to the glittering edge of the sky.
And so Nitarka concocted a plan. With ruthless efficiency, she ascended the rungs of power until finally she was an advisor to the King himself. One day, when the King was celebrating the latest in a series of conquests, she seized her opportunity and drew him aside. ‘Look how your kingdom has grown!’ she whispered to him. ‘It is time for you to create a monument which will proclaim your greatness. Give me workers and building materials, and I will build for you the tallest tower the world has ever seen.’ The King, pleased with the idea, acquiesced. Construction on the Great Tower began on the highest mountain of Teralonia.
Progress on the Tower was prodigiously fast. This thrilled Nitarka – with each added floor, she was one step closer to reaching the Sky Kingdom. But, to her consternation, the taller the Tower grew, the slower its construction became. Strange distortions kept deforming the Tower, making it unstable. It was as if space itself was playing tricks on her, affecting the shape of her building the more she progressed.
Meanwhile, all was not well down below. Some people saw the Tower as a symbol of their kingdom’s power, but others thought it was an affront to the natural order. ‘Teralonian objects are not meant for the Sky Kingdom’, they said. ‘No matter how forcefully an object is thrust upward, it must always return to earth.’ Indeed, the Teralonians held that even light disappearing into the night sky returned as bright flashes during storms. The strange distortions which were deforming the Tower began affecting all of Teralonia. When an earthquake struck, many took it as a sign that the Great Tower was destabilizing their world. The King declared the Tower to be an abomination. He ordered his architects to design new geometrical structures which would present him as an enlightened ruler anticipating Teralonia’s coming identity as the dual world of the Sky Kingdom.
The Great Tower, already weakened, was not made to withstand earthquakes. It became clear that it would soon collapse, and Nitarka realized she had to leave. On the night of her departure, her guards found her gazing towards the stars. Her dream was over; she would never reach the Sky Kingdom and meet its strange inhabitants. Nitarka took a torch from a guard and set fire to the Great Tower. The fire shot upwards through the massive structure, beaming rays of light into the heavens. The light cheered Nitarka. One day, she hoped, it would return to her, bringing with it some trace of the Sky Kingdom she had so longed to reach.