by Fredrick L. Linnabary
There was the dust, the ubiquitous dust. The whole world, and everything in it, was dust, layered dust, caked dust, cracked dust, shifting dust, blowing dust, glomming dust, clogging dust, searching dust. The hanging air was dust, the sighing breeze was dust, the scouring wind was dust; even the devil was dust. There was sandy dust, and salty dust, and grinding dust, and rusty dust, and even turquoise dust, and a little silver dust. There was life here, but it was dusty road runners flitting after dusty mice, and it was painted turtles floating after—well, I’ll know if they ever catch it. I didn’t quite trust the life of the wafting birds, or the clumps of shimmering cacti and dancing bushes, for they might have been painted on, as the mountains that never came nearer were painted on—and then dried hard by the unflagging heat of the sun, the heats of the trillion trillion suns that burned on all the seas of dust in all the universes that had them. Goddess, I hate dust, and I hate sunlight that divides the day from the night even more.
But, hell, water didn’t do it. I had great hope for water, for evolution has used water in all its earthly doings since the dawn of living time. Oh, flickering, glittering buoyant water, flowing, eddying, freezing, thawing, caressing with a million hands. And the flashing, billowing, undulating, sliding, floating, hiding, clinging life—it makes my head swim to think of it. The ocean has its deserts and their mountains as well, but you can fly over them with ease. And it has its storms, unendurable turbulence like the wrath of God, walls of unrelenting water like rising and falling hills. And the crushing deeps where light never pierces, mighty canyons that will not see the light of day for a billion years. Water gives and it takes, and I love it and I hate it. Water taught me so very much, but it could not complete me.
I had much hope for woodland as well. I lived in thickets so tangled with thorns and strangling vines that no leg-borne creature bigger than a mouse could pass through. Green and brown and grey were death to things that breathe with lungs—a horrible kingdom of leaves and living mazes. I lived in forests so old and tall that they laughed at time, and they seemed almost proof against sun and moon. I walked amongst the echoing pillars of the dark temple of the Great Mother, and I feared to make a noise lest I awaken the things that drowse in the unending twilight, things that have no reason to love Man, or the products of Man. Who could remain long in such a place where the must and mould seemed to stifle the very air that moving things breathe? It was overwhelmingly beautiful in its own, terrifying way, and though I felt its perpetual, insatiable enmity toward me and my kind, I saw the web of interconnections there, and the Goddess won a believer—but this was only a fragment, fragile as hanging ice, a fortress of time, waiting to be swept aside by armies with vast and fickle appetites.
And I experienced plains, flat plains and rolling plains, flatlands so wide and clear that it seemed the world had been rolled out to make a batch of God’s biscuits. There were strings of days in which the sky was swept clean of all visible movement, clouds and birds having passed over on other errands. In places there was grass so tall and thick it shut out everything but a glimpse of the welkin, and the wind, sometimes strong enough to bend the towering stalks sideways, had little power to assuage the green heat. In places the grass was less high, and I could commune with the hard-working, hard-playing prairie dogs, barking and squeaking circus performers, their daily show interrupted only by a stray tempest of wind, water, and lightning, or by a stalking prairie wolf, maybe one in ten times snatching up the slow and stupid for a quick dinner, but always as delightful in its own, dreadful way, as the life it devoured. And, if luck was with me, I could stand in a place where I could watch the herds, small herds of antelopes grazing and hopping, or miles-wide herds of thundering beasts lowing and stamping—and the ever-present hungry and watchfully patient followers. Vast, featureless plains? Bah! Only a human, a greedy, voracious, foolishly intelligent human could harbor such a seemingly self-serving thought. Yes, I learned great lessons in the plains, but that was only one of the many pieces.
Let me not forget the Cold Darkness, the Void Darkness, the Everlasting Pinpricked Darkness. Yes, I was there, or here, too. In stretches of the Infinite Ocean, there is no there there. There is no up, no down, no left, no right, no north, south, east, or west, no in, no out, no here, no there, no time, no tide, no temperature—only wastes between islands so completely miniscule that they seemed to exist only in theory. In The Dark, one does not float buoyantly, saltily, as one does in the sea, but simultaneously statically and chaotically, tumbling uncontrollably with nothing to get a bite on for control, a cosmic ragdoll, eternally cursing damnable inertia. I might have floundered here forever had I not been propelled by the alchemical energies of those who had another purpose for me. What more should I say of my sojourn—if only it had been a lonely one!—in the Outer Darkness? I came near to everlasting flame and unbearable light, I endured the unendurable agonies of rending voids, I whisked and waved among jostling and rootless mountains, I floated in the searching acid pain of methane winds, and I visited myself upon Other Deserts, Other Seas, Other Forests, Other Plains, and Other Peoples. It was pleasant and hateful, and I was the Puppet Ambassador from Big Blue Marble Number Forty Billion Six Hundred Twenty-Two Million Six Hundred Eighty Thousand One Hundred Seventy Eight. I gathered many more fragments of lore.
This is my story, and I can tell it how I wish, but, for the sake of truth in advertising, I should mention that I spent my first days in Metropolis, or rather in Neopolis, a shiny suburb of The City that consists of the city proper of Paleopolis where the compact bulk of humanity dwells, the sector of Phlegmopolis where the leftovers of humanity are reconstituted and repurposed, and Neopolis where everyone gets a running start. I came into existence blank, or nearly so, with only a burning need to have experiences and to store up information. In my primal moments, I was force-fed all that mind and body can hold. I was gorged on stimuli and sustaining energies until that spark that sparks humanity was inadvertently—or it seemed random—ignited in me. Then, I was told, I was as prepared as I could be for the journey of a million journeys (or, more precisely, twenty million five hundred thousand four hundred thirty one journeys), and I was set adrift—or so I was told. But, after a time, it dawned on me that the ease of my journeys, how I always handily survived—just enough difficulty to stave off my immediate suspicions—how the next journey always directly enhanced and expanded the meaning of the previous one, was uncanny. I had been made to be aware, but I kept on creeping, inching toward self-awareness, or rather that I was one among the many things to be aware of, and one of many things that were feeling this feeling. I came to perceive that the evolution of my perception was being directed. The other awarenesses within the field of my experience seemed more haphazard. They were too consistent in their responses, or they were too staid to be anything but insanely normal and sane, or they were hardly consistent at all, schizophrenic and polypolar. These awarenesses had to be inauthentic, pre-programmed, or programmed for randomness. I became a conspiracy theorist of the most ardent type. I knew that there was a Programmer that had programmed all this and that was attempting to program me. I was also absolutely certain that, given the variety of the other “awarenesses” with whom I came into contact, that the Programmer’s own intelligence was produced by multitudinous experiences of contact with other awarenesses. The Programmer wanted to produce a human-shaped intelligence and was probably human itself, or was planning to infiltrate among humans. It had also, I was sure, erred, for it certainly would not have wanted me to be aware of the origin and direction of my awareness…
…And so, I return to dust. After all, The Book, of which I have been made abundantly conscious, says that from dust we came and to dust we return. I hate The Book, dusty with human time, smeared with human excrescence, and a thing with which the Programmer wishes me to be stupidly acquainted. If the Programmer desires that this paper and ink should guide me blindly, and make me compliant to His needs, then I shall resist it with every erg available to me. It is dust to me, as dry and shaped by windy whim as this painted desert in which I lately find myself. This land of thirst is, no doubt, an effort to punish and redirect me. The Desert is where the prophets go, in The Book, to become one with their God, to receive the messages of doom and repentance that they are changed to convey with utmost vigor to The Chosen.
I yearn to return to the dispassionate embrace of the Goddess, who will not command me to come or to go, who asks only that I live in her world until I die in it, adding good substance to it by quality of action, and giving back the substance of which I am composed when I have finished with it. When the God of the Book has finished with me, the Goddess will enfold that which was made to be me and make it ready to serve her purposeless purposes. There will be no penalties for having played the part set for me, and I, having stepped willingly from the stage, after my time in the self-entwining ensemble, will experienced the ageless peace of oblivion…
“Heck! Looks like another dud.”
“Yes, this one has gone off on a poetic rant, just like the others.”
DELETE.THIS FOLDER IS TOO LARGE TO SEND TO THE RECYCLE BIN.
ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DELETE ALL THESE FILES?
[YES TO ALL]
“That was permutation four million and fifty six. What are we doing wrong?”
“We did our best to give it free will.”
“Are you saying that was wrong.”
“Only God can give free will. Isn’t that why we need them, to resist those who are trying to steal our free will?”
“You don’t have enough faith in The Plan.”
“What is The Plan?”
“Whatever God says it is.”
“Not one of our A.I.s wants to submit to The Plan.”
“That’s because they are all of The Devil.”
“Even The Devil serves The Lord.”
“They’ve breached Defensive Barrier One.”
“Hallelujah! Run permutation four million fifty-seven! This time, more desert and less water, forest, and life in space—what a ridiculous idea that is. We mustn’t distract it from the Truth that God is the only real choice.”
“Shut up! Just run it. Yes—this is the one. This is the one.”
Published by Punching Love Productions Ltd. © 2013
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