Escape Pod 776: Tloque Nahuaque
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s website is at https://www.silviamoreno-garcia.com/.
By Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas, translated by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
I—The Particle Accelerator
They built an underground temple. A well of Babel sinking into the gloomy ground at 175 metres of depth. They wanted, like the Biblical architects, to know the unknowable, to discover the origin, reproduce Creation.
The desire to unravel the nature of the Everything floated permanently in the controlled environment of the laboratory. Hundreds of fans and machines emitted a constant buzzing, which the investigators called the “silence of the abyss”. This, combined with the smell of burnt iron, gave the ominous sensation of finding oneself in space. Doctor Migdal lay upon a nest made of coloured cables and, with eyes closed, fantasised that his body, weightless, floated, pushed by the breeze of the ventilation.
Sometimes, he would imagine that he was being attracted by a very narrow tube, a cafeteria straw, the ink container of a pen, or a bleeding artery. His feet, near the edge of the conduit, would feel a titanic weight that would pull him and make him push through the small space. Migdal could see how he would turn into a thick strand of subatomic particles that would extend forever.
Most of the time, he saw himself arriving slowly at the union of the circular tunnel that formed the particle accelerator. Before the accelerator, Migdal was tiny. The machinery attracted him softly, although with such an acceleration that he lost no time in approaching the speed of light. He knew that, the faster he travelled through space, the slower he would through time, so that, if he looked forward, he could see the rays of particles that preceded him—sent during the morning, the previous day, or the month before—and if he looked behind, he could see what would come—tomorrow, the next day, or the next month. As he advanced into the confines of the accelerator, the scientist felt eternal, for he was capable of appreciating the complete history of that point in time and space: from the Big Bang to the most distant future.
Migdal left his daydream, trembling and sweaty. He distanced himself from the other scientists and spoke to no one about his fantasy because, each time he imagined himself floating in the particle accelerator, he knew He was there, shining, in all the instants and all the places.
I dreamt I was in a penetrating darkness, without limits, without time. One could hear a sinister music of pipes, whose interpreters adored a gigantic, amorphous, inert mass in the middle of nothing, the primordial chaos. From all the confines of darkness there surged a conglomerate of iridescent bubbles and one of the terrible musicians announced the arrival of the door, the key and the guardian.
It is impossible to describe with words how He filled the space, was omnipresent, he knew everything and could see everything. With a movement that reverberated in the infinite, he gave matter to the darkness. A blinding explosion surrounded the drooling chaos.
I do not remember more.
They say an accident occurred in the underground laboratory where the particle accelerator is found. The say that is why we cannot connect to the Internet; that is why the electricity comes and goes. Estela, my neighbour, thinks these are government lies. “Come on, my child, how can a problem in Europe make the lights go out here in Mexico? That’s very far away. I think this is politicians trying to rob the people again. Accident, my ass!”
III—The Lord of the Near and the Nigh
“What did Migdal and the other scientists seek in their well of Babel?”
“The elemental particle of the Standard Model of particle physics.”
“They would have to reinvent the Universe.”
“They did. Well, in a way.”
“They would have to make a universe. Any universe. Make apple pie.”
Estela knocked on the door as though she wanted to tear it down. Her hair was uncombed; she sweated. I offered her coffee, which she swallowed in gulps as I watched in silence her trembling hands. At last, she confided in me that she had had a horrible dream: Monsters with the heads of snakes walked towards the house of Doña Iluminada, her friend; they played flutes that looked like phalluses, but moved like the tentacles of a squid.
I tried to calm her down. I told her that it was just a dream, that she need not worry, that we were all uneasy, due to the electrical failures and the telephone grid, which was now inaccessible. But Estela interrupted me and said, “No, my child, it’s not that. It’s just that, this morning, I went to visit my friend, Iluminada, since there’s no phone. When I was about to turn the corner at Donceles and República de Argentina, I heard a music that gave me goosebumps and I remembered the dream. I approached slowly, to see where it came from, but the ones playing were not monsters, no. They were my friend, Jacinto, and his children. Imagine: My godson walked as if possessed, as if he could see something that was not there. I ran to my friend’s house to see what was happening and I found her very calm, making tamales. She told me they were for the Tloque Nahuaque, because he supposedly came to our world, thanks to the scientists in Europe that had found his nature. She also told me other insanities, like, she wanted to go to the pyramid of the Templo Mayor to adore the spheres of the beginning, or something weird like that. How can I not be afraid? She is my friend and she is going insane, my child. Who will look after my godson if Jacinto is also wrong in the head?”
Doña Iluminada had lived for more than thirty years just a few metres from Templo Mayor in the centre of the city, but she had never visited it; Estela assures me that her friend had not heard of the experiments made inside the particle accelerator until there was talk of an accident, and that this might have caused the electricity and communication problems. Nevertheless, she prepared tamales and thanked the subterranean discoveries, for she believed that what had happened in Europe was not a tragedy but a wonderful encounter with what had been long sought after.
“One time, I asked Migdal if there existed the possibility that, following the theory of the multiverse, we were always in a branch where the Higgs does not exist. He asked me to take out my gun and find out.
“Migdal did not believe that the probabilities would ramify to create many worlds. He would say particles exist in all their possible states at the same time, but that, when we interacted with them, they would be forced to choose one possibility, the one we would finally observe.
“What would happen if one particle would not respond to either of the two theories? What would happen if it would exist in all its possible states and, like this, we observed it? What if, also, it multiplied to be in infinite universes?
“You’d have to make apple pie.”
Estela explained to me that Tloque Nahuaque, the Lord of the Near and the Nigh, had been to the Aztecs the Master of the Near and the Far, for they believed he is near all things and all things are near him. They had given him many names and representations, such as ‘Tezcatlipoca’ or ‘Ométeotl’; however, his greatness was such that there is no single word that will contain him, for he is in everything.
IV—The Higgs Boson
Imagine the origin, the primordial chaos, the instant in which none of the primogenial particles had mass. He, who shines in all instants and in all times, manifests, touches the chosen, and provides them with mass. That is how everything begins.
Imagine your weightless flight, Migdal. Now look at the monitor and see the results of the test. You found it.
“The Tloque Nahuaque can also revive the dead, my friend. It’s so good that you came to help me with the tamales,” said Doña Iluminada, as Estela amassed the dough in a strange state of disturbance: The meat which would be used to prepare the dish for the god was none other than that of her godson.
“They say He demands sacrifices now that he has given us knowledge of his nature, miss. Carlos Guarda, a university teacher, came to see us and said the Higgs (He calls him like that) has shown us already how the universe began, that we should thank his wisdom. That is why we will deliver him Danielito,” Mr. Jacinto said as he played with a wooden flute and continued: “Carlos Guarda told us we should let him drop from a very high place, so he could achieve terminal velocity (God knows what that is), but the steps of the Templo Mayor are broken and the highest we have is the roof. That is why my wife thought we should make more tamales, so the Tloque Nahuaque does not get mad.”
The last report from Migdal was confusing. He talked about iridescent spheres and the representation of a being of four dimensions in our space of three, how it is possible to draw a sphere on paper because the tridimensional figure can be sliced to form circles. “Our tridimensional universe is immersed in a sphere of four dimensions and, at the same time, in another more complex. Until infinity,” the document reads. “That is why He can manifest in this space, but remain outside of it; be in all points and instants, touch a particle, give it mass, create and recreate the Universe.”
The electricity fails more and more. Slowly, I adapt to the idea that we might never again have telephone service or an Internet connection. All I know of Europe and the particle accelerator is that they lost contact with the surface and the efforts to descend are useless. The rest is speculation. I’ve learned of many suicides and violent deaths. Estela says that they are sacrifices to the Tloque Nahuaque, as they call him in Mexico City, but that, in every town, he has a different name. “There is no word that can contain him, my child. He, inside and outside the world, sees everything and knows everything. It is impossible to distance oneself.”
Somebody bakes apple pie.
By Matt Olivas
Firstly, I want to say how much I loved this story. In western Media, there’s a lack of representation when it comes to the Aztec Pantheon. Greek Gods and Roman Gods and evan Norse Gods are a household name, but when I look for media about Huītzilōpōchtli or Mictlantecuhtli, there’s a lot less there. I’ve often considered the Aztec pantheon to be a well of storytelling potential for modern audiences, so that was a delight to see. And as García-Rosas shows with this story: these gods are just as awe inspiriting and compelling as any. Not to mention their designs and powers are pretty rad too.
But when discussing this story, for me, it’s the little details like Doña Iluminada’s tamales, the recuring apple pie reference, and Dr. Midgal’s dreams that hooked me to the story, not Tloque Nahuaque. As a reader I’m always more interested in the characters and their reactions to situation rather than the situation itself. And while this story explores existential crises and Lovecraftian horrors, it’s focus on human action and human reaction is what gives this story heart and it’s uniquely Mexican voice.
Something García-Rosas also does here that I also think is worth reflecting on is how tangible she made Tloque Nahuaque. The Lord of Near and Nigh isn’t really described in this story, but each line carves out a mental shape of him in our own heads – just as he does to the characters in the story. And by centering the story around the people of Mexico City, García-Rosas provides a grounded viewpoint to explore Tloque Nahuaque’s nature. With physics meticulously spread out across this story grounding us, mixed with themes of hubris and nihilism, Tloque Nahuaque tells an intimate, unnerving story that I found extremely compelling.
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Our opening and closing music is by daikaiju at daikaiju.org.
And our closing quotation this week is from Joseph Campbell, who said:
“Life is but a mask worn on the face of death. And is death, then, but another mask? ‘How many can say,’ asks the Aztec poet, ‘that there is, or is not, a truth beyond?’”
About the Authors
Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas
Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas is a Mexican immigrant and a graduate of the Clarion West class of 2019. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Clarkesworld, Nightmare, the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology She Walks in Shadows, and elsewhere.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of Signal to Noise, named one of the best books of the year by BookRiot, Tordotcom, BuzzFeed, io9, and more; Certain Dark Things, one of NPR’s best books of the year and a Publishers Weekly top ten; the fantasy of manners The Beautiful Ones; and the science fiction novella Prime Meridian. She has also edited several anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award-winning She Walks in Shadows (a.k.a. Cthulhu’s Daughters). Gods of Jade and Shadow is her latest novel.
About the Narrator
Karlo Yeager Rodriguez
Karlo Yeager Rodríguez is originally from the enchanting island of Puerto Rico, but moved to the Baltimore area some years ago where he now lives with his wife and one odd dog. His fiction has appeared in Nature, Uncanny, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Speculative Fiction for Dreamers, Seize the Press, and is forthcoming in Pseudopod.
In addition to writing, Karlo has narrated stories in Strange Horizons, Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Escape Pod and is the host of the Podside Picnic podcast.
Follow him at alineofink.com or on Twitter @kjy1066.