Jack of Many Trades


Originally posted: 2015-02-01

"One elephant (Gaja), one chariot (Ratha), three horses (Ashwa) and five foot soldiers (Padhata) form a Patti..."

In the earliest times, battles were fought with huge armies, all of whom broke down into smaller units. The foundational unit, the patti, is traditionally comprised of five padhata, or foot soldiers, three ashwa, or horses, one ratha, a chariot, and one gaja, an elephant. This is the basis of Chaturanga and all the strategy games that have come down since. Some special forces units still follow the basic strategy, though actual elephants are considered rather old-fashioned for modern military service.

A ratha is one who can be ridden by the spirits. Ashwa are swift, talented, usually magically blooded. A gaja is solid, a physical fighter, usually magically insulated or a blank. Padhata aren't necessarily magical but they may well have some magical skill as well; they're the ones who do make sure things get done.

Of course, in life people don't always come with tags labeling them. Ratha are the easiest to spot, and other people tend to orbit around them. A ratha and a gaja who make a strong pair may function on their own, and often a small group of ashwa and padhata will come together without any reason to think there's something larger behind it. The numbers may not always match exactly. The roles can even shift from life to life. And yet they circle over and over, unknowing the whole time.

Each of their souls has a resonance, and they don't have to resonate with the same others each time either. There's usually a patti you fit best with, but you may, like an electron wandering from atom to atom, move through life from group to group. Sometimes a patti forms where the roles are filled but the personalities of the people involved are incompatible, and these tend to blow up spectacularly in the end.

Why the patti? The idea of a group of fated connections between people is well-known in media; Stephen King's ka-tet comes easily to mind. More often you see the single string of fate connecting a couple - soulmate, lifebond, and so on.

The patti structure describes how I've seen this resolve in my own life. There are certainly people I seem drawn to for no real reason, with whom I feel kinship without the explanation of time or blood. There are roles I fall into almost without realizing I'm doing it, depending on the kind of person I'm around.

But at the same time, nothing is guaranteed. No bond, no group, no relationship is bulletproof, automatic and easy. Sometimes they explode, sometimes they just end quietly. It's tempting to say the connection was never there in the first place, but that explanation doesn't match my experience.

It's not about any specific fate, most of the time. Some people just have certain qualities or personalities or talents - some people are ratha, some are gaja, and so on. I've met a lot of people with whom I seemed to plug into those connections, enough that I had to learn to unplug when we're of incompatible voltage.

What I've learned is that there's never just one chance. I wanted to convey that, as it's not very common in fiction - yes, there's the rush of excitement that comes from connection, but it also doesn't have to mean the end of everything if things fall apart.

Empty Sky is about picking up the pieces. Over and over again, everything falls apart, for individuals all the way up to the world as a whole. Over and over again, everything changes, everything falls apart, the world ends and life goes on.

That's important. That matters.