In Babylon 5, years ago, there was an episode in which one of the mysterious and all-powerful Vorlons is forced by circumstances to shed his strange and vaguely menacing ‘encounter suit’ and reveal himself. The creature that emerges is seen by the humans as the classic angel figure. But representatives of every other race see… something different, something that in THEIR culture translates into what we think of as angels.
All except one. Londo, the one who has damned himself by allying with the Shadows, stands alone and abandoned and tragic and stricken.
“What did you see?” somebody asks.
“Nothing,” Londo says, and his expression says it all – he’s looked into the abyss and it’s dark, very dark. “I saw NOTHING.”
The monster that my young protagonist in the Worldweavers series has to face down in the first book is a Nothing – a faceless monster of a shadow that feeds on the very things that are supposed to vanquish it, by the simple expedient of enveloping them in itself until they themselves cease to exist… and then there’s… nothing.
We realize it early – that this kind oblivion means that we are suddenly alone, cut apart from everything we’ve ever known and loved, a soul adrift and out of time and space. We are torn out of our culture, of our history, of our background, even of our future, because without a past there is nothing to build a future ON.
We are taught that there are rewards for certain good actions. There is a second kind of ‘reward’, the kind that follows thoughts and acts of great evil. There’s nothing but a formless blackness – you cannot see – you cannot hear – you cannot feel – you cannot even cry out. You are suspended in oblivion.
That ‘nothing’ – it’s a powerful thing. As incentive, as punishment, as warning.
We, the human race, are born having to dream. We need it. We need to look up into the sky and see the stars, and believe in them, or in a God who dwells beyond them – something – something – SOMETHING…
The concept of a nothing diminishes us, makes us feel insignificant, valueless, punished, somehow fired from the ranks of the human race itself – for if we were human, truly human, we would deserve more than that ‘nothing’. It is alienating, separating, frightening, even terrifying; it seems totally juvenile and silly to admit that you are afraid of ‘nothing’, but we are, we all are, all the monsters are born there and from there they come out to haunt us.
It’s a promise of mortality. And it scares the living daylights out of us. We are all afraid of being empty… and sometimes the true punishment of that ‘nothing’ is that something we have done or thought has twisted our insides so badly that we are afraid of looking into that darkness and finding… a mirror.