Prepare to achieve transcendence, fellow seekers of enlightenment, because it’s time for another round of…
…in which I use the character creation rules in the Marvel Super Heroes RPG’s Ultimate Powers Book to roll up a random batch of powers and abilities, then sit back and watch as some incredibly talented folks work their creative magic upon the quantified chaos.
This week’s slice of the cosmic unconsciousness comes courtesy of “Gentleman” Jack Feerick.
Every vibration awakens all other vibrations of its particular frequency. And all frequencies are harmonics of a single tone — an eternal drone underpinning and sustaining all creation. Before all things were, it was. The ground note in the endless song of the Universe. It is the source, the sound, the secret of existence. It is the Om.
Jawali Ramavishnu is a cultural anthropologist conducting post-doctoral research among the Tibetan diaspora on the Indian frontier. Oppression, assimilation, and mortality conspire to erase the strange, rich folkways of these once-isolated people. Indigenous Tibetan culture is an endangered species; within two or three generations, it may cease to exist as a unique entity. Jawali Ramavishnu is racing against time to preserve what he can.
Jawali’s area of specialization is folk religion, and he works among the monks and lamas living in exile, trying to document the esoteric practices of shamanic Tibetan Buddhism. Many of these rites have been shrouded in secrecy over the centuries; but these holy men, fearing that their culture might otherwise disappear forever, have taken the Indian scientist into their confidence. For his part, Jawali — although agnostic by temperament—finds himself strangely drawn to the ancient rituals, and to the wise, kindly old men who have become his teachers. In particular, he is much taken with one elderly lama, named Kelsang, who tells him tales of a fantastical place called the Singing Cliffs.
Traditional Tibetan devotions, the old monk explains, have a curious mechanistic aspect. The mere repetition through chanting of a holy word is enough to birth holiness into the physical world. Even inanimate objects can be vehicles for propagating the dharma. Prayer flags inscribed with mantras of compassion spread beneficence into all pervading space with every flutter of the breeze; a clockwork striker taps a tiny bronze gong etched with the character for wisdom, and wisdom is thereby propagated. In ages past, Kelsang says, exalted sages — part mystic, part tinkerer — devised great engines of salvation, massive automated installations that would bring consciousness to the whole world.
The Singing Cliffs — a project, Kelsang says, that was begun in the 15th Century but never completed — was to have been the mightiest of these; a labyrinth carved into the living rock of a hillside, redirecting the flow of a mountain stream into a mazelike aqueduct where its current would turn a full ten thousand prayer wheels of ever-increasing size, flooding the mountains with the energy of the mantras within even as the rotations of the wheels themselves would set up vibrations evoking the base note of the eternal Om and its overtones, a fully-automatic prayer mill that would sound forth the universal drone in all its harmonic complexity. But there were those who feared the unleashing of such power, Kelsang says, and construction was abandoned. Now, he says, even the location of the Singing Cliffs is lost to memory.
Jawali is intrigued by these stories. They are the stuff of fairy tales, of course—parables, perhaps, with the Singing Cliffs as a Babel-like metaphor of human folly. Or so he believes. Until the day that old Kelsang dies, and Jawali discovers, folded in among his meager possessions, ancient scraps of silk that bear hand-painted diagrams—the very blueprints of the Singing Cliffs, and a map showing its location.
And deep within Jawali Ramavishnu, a vibration is awakened.
And as its amplitude increases, so does his obsession. Though he is an academic and nothing of an adventurer, Jawali undertakes a dangerous and illegal border crossing, trekking deep into the interior of occupied Tibet. It is a journey of weeks, alone and on foot, dodging Chinese patrols as he hikes through the treacherous mountain backcountry. At last — lost, starving, and near death — he stumbles upon the derelict remnants of the legendary Singing Cliffs.
Taking shelter within the ruins, Jawali sets about repairing and completing the structure with a monomaniacal zeal. With his own hands, he hews the last trenches for the aqueduct and puts each of the ten thousand prayer wheels into working order. He labors relentlessly, pushing himself to the brink of collapse. After some weeks, he realizes that he no longer requires food, drink, or sleep, and he labors all the harder, sustained only by the vibration — of which he is always aware, now, faintly perceptible, just on the edge of hearing: the Om.
After a solid year of labor, Jawali has completed the restoration of the Singing Cliffs — but the great engine of the dharma sits silent, for the mountain stream that was to have turned its ten thousand prayer wheels has changed course in the intervening centuries; it lies at bay behind a dam built by the Chinese occupiers to feed an agricultural irrigation project on the steppe.
Which is how the cautious academic Jawali Ramavishnu, gripped by the perfect logic of obsession, comes to steal a backhoe and a large amount of high explosives from a construction crew laying rail tracks through the mountains.
From there, it’s a race against time, with Jawali trying to outrun both police pursuit and the ticking countdown clock of the charges he’s placed. The dam blows while he’s still excavating the trench; he makes it back to the Singing Cliffs just ahead of the rushing water, only to find the army closing in. The guns are in place, the artillery rolling in for a prolonged siege—and then the water flows into the aqueduct, and the first of the wheels begins to turn.
The sound is a soft whine to begin with, high and curiously sweet, growing richer and deeper as the lower harmonics phase in and swell, a glorious, orchestral wall of sound, the frequencies pure and true, the harmonies thrilling even as the amplitude increases, invoking ever-deeper vibrations until the mountains for a hundred miles around shudder with a subsonic hum that could rattle the teeth from your jaw, the vibrations awakening all other vibrations of their universal frequency until there is nothing left of man or matter or mountain. Until there is only the vibration.
And then, just as it seems the whole world might be shaken to pieces, the sound fades away, as if something — or someone — has absorbed it, or withdrawn it. Of Jawali Ramavishnu, or the army brigade, or indeed the Singing Cliffs complex itself, there is no sign.
But since that day, whenever the universal harmony is threatened, he has been there to set it right; a faceless figure in crimson and saffron, sustained and healed by the sound that he serves. He is always ready to unleash his steel-shattering sonic powers against those who would knock the music of the spheres out of tune. He is the embodiment and the protector of the great ground note whose harmonics sing Creation into being. He is the Om.
(Wise words and attuned art by Jack Feerick. UPJ logo provided by Dave Lartigue.)
Are you an artist, writer, or terrifying combination of the two who’d like to try your hand at the Ultimate Powers Jam? Then drop me a line at bitter(dot)andrew(at)gmail(dot)com and I’ll commence the dice to rolling!