Starting Point: Tantalus


I’d spent my whole life dreaming of Hades, and now I was so close I felt like I could reach out beyond the glass and almost touch it.

So close, and yet so far.

The dream faded as my pod rolled, paused motionless for a second, and then began falling back towards the surface of Tartarus. The distant orb of Hades slipped from my grasp, and my stomach turned as it sensed the change in direction. My heart sank as the pod accelerated downwards. The siren lights of the Western Metropolis were pulling me home, and there was nothing I could do to resist their call.

What had gone wrong? How had the Cerberus found me? Had Samuel betrayed me? I couldn’t believe that to be true. Not after everything.

I felt like the Greek King Tantalus – the vines withering as I reached out to take their fruit, and the waters around my feet receding as I bent to take a sip – and I wondered what I had done to deserve this cruel punishment.

How would you continue this story? Why is the protagonist forbidden to leave the planet Tartarus, and why is he so desperate to do so?

Is this the start of a story or just its unfortunate end?

Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

  • Leonardo Faria

    All of it smacks to me of virtual reality. Myths and fanciful planetary mapping could be the symbology of a multilevel cybernetic world, to be climbed through successive states of awareness (maybe even chemically assisted by high tech drugs). If you want to outmatch the AI that rules the world first you have to learn to think like it… thus you plunge in its world and try to internalize its mind patterns. And remember to make out if Samuel is an ally or a sidekick of the villain… malicious AIs know how to deceive you and take advantage of your weak spots… His name is Samuel but perhaps he’s just a very clever firewall.

    • Interesting! Like a Tron with better graphics. Or Inception with an actual point 🙂

      • inception wasn’t that bad….. BWAHAHAHAHA!!
        Dammit! I nearly said that with a straight face!

    • Christmas Snow

      “Matrix” comes to my mind.

  • Kirov

    Definitely interesting, I’m adding it to my queue. I’ll have to do some research on Tantalus first, but I’m getting the impression of a penal colony and a failed escape.

  • Christmas Snow

    I thought of a different explanation, not very much spoken in scifi: What if a virtual reality interface is mind-altering, making some individuals prone to certain psychological conditions rendering them unable to tell the difference between simulation and reality?

    Something akin to Schizophrenia, narcolepsy or the effect of certain drugs.
    I remember I watched the film “A beautiful mind”, a true story of John Nash, a noble laureate in economics. John meets a friend while at the university, and his story looks normal. At some time he gets in a gun fight and manages to escape, he is later appointed by the FBI to crack codes, and the story is presented in a way the audience thinks it is all happening for real. Only after an hour-long watch I finally realized that much of the characters did not even exist, and the whole plot is a schizophrenic day-dreaming.

    Our hero (in the Tantalus story) may have been suffering from a similar mental illness, got into trouble, and is working hard to untangle his real-life troubles from his imagined ones. (two parallel stories? Think of puzzle pieces from two different pictures shuffled together and someone has to put the pieces where they belong.)

    • Leonardo Faria

      Renown British neuroscientist Susan Greenfield has written a nonfiction book, “Tomorrow’s People”, that is the best speculation on future I’ve ever read. She makes the case that while reality resists our manipulation, virtual reality, being immensely adaptable to our wishes and needs, alters all the basic patterns of interaction with the outer world of the homo sapiens, developed in millions of years. This will bring about alienation with other people and the decline of the individuality (defined largely by the efforts to overcome the obstacles we come across while we try to fullfil our material and spiritual needs). In other words, our descendants will be idiot savants, inept at any other human activity than I/O transactions with a virtual interface. Sanity is a concept of the present, likely to become out fashioned.