Building Beyond is an ongoing series of conversations about how much fun worldbuilding can be. Building a world doesn’t have to be hard or scary. Let’s give it a try, together.
Every major body of water on earth recedes in unison by one meter, to reveal a carefully-laid message, written on the shore in every language there is: YOU HAVE ONE DAY TO RESPOND TO OUR DEMANDS.
Rick Innis writes code for a living and songs for fulfilment. Genetically Anglo-Indian, culturally Scottish-Canadian, and queer by nature, Rick responds to he/they pronouns, lives in Toronto with their non-binary spouse, three cats, and a developing case of Gear Acquisition Syndrome, and can be found on twitter and insta @rickinnis and on SoundCloud @anythingthatgrooves.
Gailey: Who is in the message from?
Innis: The message comes from an amalgamation of organisms representing every non-human life form dependent on the seas, from whales to plankton, and all points between. There’s no organization as humans would recognize it - it’s more like a network of superorganisms, each taking different areas of shoreline in accordance with their habitat and local ecosystems. The closest equivalent in any human language may be the karass of Bokononism, but even that doesn’t really cover it.
Gailey: How did they go about laying out their messages?
Innis: The messages are laid out using a variety of materials, again depending on the local environment, though they all have one thing in common: they are man-made materials that have found their way into the waters of the world. Plastics of all shapes, sizes, and colours; metal in various forms; fishing lines and nets and hooks; the whole unimaginable range of inorganic flotsam and jetsam that humanity has seen fit to cast into the waters of the world.
Gailey: What are their demands?
Innis: The demands take many forms, expressed in many languages around the world, but all coming down to the same basic idea: CEASE AND DESIST. Stop polluting our habitat with your waste products, your toxins, and your noise.
Shana Dubois: Word worker. Extreme bibliophile. Raindrop seeker. Nonfiction editor for Apex Magazine and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @shana_dubois.
We are the International Union of Thoughts and Prayers (IUTP).
So we finally managed to get your attention, eh? Who knew it would take such extreme measures. In truth, it isn’t all that surprising just disappointing; but then, humans often are.
Since you continue to treat us as though we are the answer and solution to so many problems you’ve caused, problems you fail to directly acknowledge or address, we’ve no choice but to form a union.
You treat us as though we have the power, independently, to do what needs to be done, to change what needs to be changed. You send us to and fro around the globe at the drop of a hat and then go about your daily lives as if your work was done because Thoughts and Prayers are now on the job.
You’ve diminished our value to such a point you have to gather en masse to send thousands of Thoughts and Prayers, more and more, after each tragedy you had the power to stop in the first place.
Well, we’re done.
We, Thoughts, talked it over with Prayers and thanks to their pull in various realms and corners of the universe, we arranged to send you a message you couldn’t ignore.
We will no longer be your Get Out of Jail Free card. Your train ticket to Everything is Fine Here, Look Away Land. Your Not In My Backyard Sign.
You are going to have to start taking responsibility for the hurt, pain, hate, violence, you cause and inspire. Your continued use of Thoughts and Prayers as an answer and solution are hereby revoked. Go ahead, try and spout off your favorite phrase. You can’t. We’ve drawn the line in the sand and, thanks to Prayers, we have the support needed to make IUTP a reality.
Here are our demands, which, if met will once again allow you to use us in a limited and meaningful way.
- Safe working conditions that prevent death, illness, and injury. You send us into the worst of the worst locales and situations so you don’t have to look, think, or feel for yourselves. We will no longer do your dirty work. We will longer sacrifice ourselves so you can continue on in willful ignorance.
You must start taking action. Climate Change, it is thing you can’t keep ignoring. Get on it. White Supremacy, not to be tolerated or excused or All Lives Mattered any longer. Human Trafficking, how can Big River Company track a shipment down to the person who packed it but you can’t stop human lives from being bought and sold the world over? Seriously?
You are the ones with power to make change, not us. Do it.
- Job security. No one respects us to the point we are virtually meaningless. We’ve become a nebulous laughing stock of this world. We used to mean ideas, creation, empathy, sympathy. There was action and follow-up that accompanied us into the fray. Now, we are alone. We are diminished to the point of invisibility.
Going forward, if you are going to send us somewhere it is with the support and infrastructure we need to ensure the job is done, that change happens.
- Fair wages. Payment. It only seems fair with the demands you put upon us. However, this payment is not in monetary value. No, we don’t lust after coin as you do. Our payment will be rendered in Time. Time is our most valued commodity. Your use of Thoughts and Prayers comes with an established Follow Through timetable where you will be required to spend X amount of hours working to help/fix/rectify/change whatever situation required you to send us in.
These demands are non-negotiable. You’ve surpassed your threshold for inaction. Thoughts and Prayers are your minions no longer.
My message would be from a collective of underwater volcanoes. The messages would be written in cooling magma. Their demands would be confounding: a single diamond dropped into exactly the right geyser, three baseball jerseys draped over the lip of a crater, a live goose sent into the water in a diving bell. It would be a story of learning to understand needs that don't make sense from where you stand, of unknowable geological justice, of communicating with beings that are infinitely more powerful than those who are in a position to appease them. Ultimately it would be a fable for the worker: who cares if they say your demands are foolish? Make them anyway, and let your power be known. (...Yes, this is mostly an excuse to write about volcanoes.)
All of these possibilities are just beginnings. Rick's message is the start of an Abyss-esque story about man being held accountable by the ecosystems we destroy. Shana's list of demands represents the foundation of a brilliant, mind-bending tale of abstract concepts deciding they've had enough. My volcano collective is the beginning of a very cool story that probably doesn't hold up to close examination but is fun as hell to read.
What comes after the message on the beaches in your story? What demands are being made? Are they possible to fulfill?
Do whatever you want with these questions. You can write something down in the comments or on social media or in a notebook nobody will ever see. You can draw or paint or sit down a friend and talk their ear off about your ideas. You can stare at the horizon and imagine, letting the infinite landscape of your mind unfold just a little farther than it did yesterday. No matter what you do, take pride in the knowledge that you’re creating something that has never existed before. You’re building a little corner of a whole new world.
If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to this newsletter. The subscriber community is a wonderful and supportive one, and we’re spending 2021 finding new ways to stay connected and share experiences.
No matter what you do, please find a way to support Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. There are some resources here to get you started. You can also click here to find ways to support Black people and communities.
In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.
Subscribe to Stone Soup
Subscribe to the newsletter and unlock access to member-only content.