Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




The Tragic Fate of the City of O-Rashad

Along the sky, five towers bright
unseen except as lines of light
“O-Rashad,” her words declare,
“Immortal city, ever fair.”

—Charles Whidden, “The Towers of O-Rashad,” Poems

Hark, ye traveller who wanders from the west, to the tragic tale of O-Rashad:

Once, the city of O-Rashad stood beautiful above the steppelands, her towers clad in careful alloys, her neon banners streaming plasticine in the steppe-winds, her elevators reaching up into the darkness of the sky. O-Rashad, the city of banners! O-Rashad, whose delicate elevators knew no equal! Mighty were her walls and mightier still her citizens. On the streets of O-Rashad were the people of a hundred nations, in her markets the goods of ten thousand worlds. Even travelers from the furthest nebulae, even aliens in their encounter suits, came to bow before the greatness of the Princess of Cities.

Once, the city of O-Rashad stood beautiful. But now, her banners are bleached to thin white strands, her towers crushed, her elevators collapsed to lines of graphite. No one dwells there any more, no travelers attempt it, least of all not from ten thousand other worlds. She is empty, save for ghosts and curses.

What was the sin of O-Rashad, that brought their city low? Hear this now, ye traveller who wanders from the west: It was no more than the sin of pride itself!

For is it not written? “Hear oh cities; hear oh nations! Hear now the word of the LORD: military spending shall be no greater than four percent of gross domestic product, lest you look towards your neighbors to profit from their subjugation. Hear now this as well: military spending shall be no less than two percent of gross domestic product, lest the peoples of other nations look to your wealth in envy and in greed. So sayeth the LORD.”

Oh ye traveller that wanders from the west, hearken to my words. It was not in excess military spending that O-Rashad brought the anger of the Lord. No Rome, she, no America, to be undone by her own armies! No, rather, as she grew, as her towers raised and her elevators hummed up and down and up and down, with each cargo of spices and tinctures and hospital equipment, she grew richer, and with each cargo her pride grew, until her people looked at themselves, at the greatness of their city, and spoke their pride aloud.

“Who would attack us?” the people of O-Rashad proclaimed rhetorically. “O-Rashad, the greatest city in all the steppelands, our neon banners streaming plasticine in the wind! O-Rashad, who is friend to all and enemy to none! It is through our elevators that the goods of the thousand worlds flow, bringing peace to every continent. It is through our wealth that our neighbors are in turn made wealthy. Who would attack us? Who would even dare?”

So even as O-Rashad grew in plentitude, she spent less on her military, then less, then less again, until the great walls of the city ran with rats and spiders and her armies were no more than a dozen volunteers, old men who bought their own rifles and trained on their own time.

O-Rashad yet thrived, growing richer and enriching her neighbors still in turn. But the shortfalls of her military spending drew the anger of the LORD. He sent signs in the stars, but no one saw them save for the astrographers. He sent signs in the waters, but no one studied them save for the hydromoners. He sent prophets—Jared and Japseth and Tsai’yueh—prophets who called the city to the word of the LORD, but the city’s reporters declined to even interview them. “What does our audience care about the details of budgeting?” said the reporters. “Anyway, the markets are up again today!”

Finally, His messages unheeded, the LORD called forth from the Heavens a great army of angels in the form of shooting stars. The meteors of the LORD fell upon the elevators of O-Rashad, snapping them as easily as spiderwebs, sending their stations plummeting each into the atmosphere, where they blazed great trails of fire seven times around the earth. The meteorites of the LORD fell upon the towers of O-Rashad, cracking their careful alloys like eggshells, poisoning the earth beneath them. The people of O-Rashad called out unto the LORD, promising to accept His prophets and heed His teachings, but their voices fell in vain. In the end, nothing was left but shadows and poison.

Truly great is the wrath of the LORD, which spares not the young nor the old! Truly terrible is the LORD’s justice, which brings low the mighty and exalts the enfeebled! How fragile was the mortal greatness of O-Rashad, brought low by His righteousness punishment, compared to the eternal glory of the LORD. Who among us can know the workings of the LORD, who among us can stand against His holy will?

Hark, ye traveller who wanders from the west! Hear the tragic fate of O-Rashad. Do not wander along that ancient road, to those ancient ruins. Do not yourself tempt the wrath of the LORD. Return instead to your homeland, whichever of ten thousand lands you came. Bring to them this tale of O-Rashad. Tell your nation: worship the LORD and obey His dictates for all the rest of your days, or you shall surely meet with the same and terrible fate of the city of O-Rashad.

P H Lee

P H Lee. A close-up photograph of three white plum blossoms on a branch, with an out-of-focus brown-and-green background.

P H Lee lives on top of an old walnut tree, past a thicket of roses, down a dead end street at the edge of town. Their work has appeared in many venues including Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Uncanny Magazine. From time to time, they microwave and eat a frozen burrito at two in the morning, for no reason other than that they want to.