It may seem sad that our highest motives; compassion, kindness and mercy; are eroded by the passing millennia until no traces of them remain. This said, when these virtues have been deployed without a side glance to the ledger of history, these motives have been at their purest. Nonetheless with the piling on of the years, the brute aggregate mass of moments, they sink deep into the archaeological strata of the past.

With a similar movement of forgetfulness, all our evils pass away; first into clich√©, then into obscurity. If terror, violence and malice seem to linger more painfully than their opposites, perhaps this may indicate our race’s imbalance of forgiveness or an inequality in the valence of our forgetting, but there is this: perspective, in its deepest macrocosmic form, forgives all.

Pharaohs, Caesars, Hitlers are all accepted into the bosom of those expanses of time that might pass for timeless. The universal history of infamy, is less universal than it may seem, in these local centres of emergency that are every moment of life on Earth. Siddhartha disappears from view as readily as Genghis Khan. The lullaby of deep time, dissolves ego, character and karma, which correctly understood represents the fire of action, good or ill.

Perhaps this is what has made a utopia of those dusty parking lots out there near Andromeda, where the last women and men wander aimlessly, slowly losing that self-consciousness that drove them to such moments of genius, love and destruction. Perhaps on some instinctive level they can hear the lullaby, the slow unknotting of the vendettas and treaties that have forced us to hide behind these masks of comedy and tragedy. The understanding that extinction and genocide are not opposing faces of the same beast. The understanding that all of those dual oppositions were some collective protracted nightmare, and like all nightmares, their resolution was to be found in the proper application of time.

If we still have a purpose out here in the infold, it is that of acceptance. From this advantageous perspective of all things that ever occurred, with the book open at the last page, we can finally accept time’s forgiveness for a hubris so overwhelming that it blocked out the horizon. Like one lost in the filthy alleyways of the Pacific sprawl at night time, harried by hard drugs, hot gossip and bad conscience, if we were afflicted by anything other than our imagination, we were merely afflicted by an existential claustrophobia.

In The Morning

One never becomes bored on the empty parking lots near Andromeda. There is nothing much to do: one can check out a recently derelict 3D cinema, fill up on manna from the exploitation module, go looking for bits of plastic on the Plain of White Goods, stare into space, sleep, or go and throw stones at someone. All of these are pretty banal in terms of kicks but once one has recalibrated one’s expectations to the local scale it’s really not so bad.

If there are a total lack of facilities for adult education, there are also a complete lack of occupational or career structures that might prompt such a necessity, and as for the less vocationally inclined: why learn flower arranging or a foreign language when one can invent one’s own personal language or vandalise geodesic domes?

On the other end of the human experience, one often finds oneself bored to tears in the bars and bordellos of the Pacific sprawl. With such a wide variety of places to eat, drink, gamble, fuck, lie, cheat, laugh, fight, invest and so forth, one too often finds oneself wanting none of it. So much choice, so much novelty, is only really desirable in retrospect.

What the exiles were doing on all of those hot nights in dark places that never saw the light of day, what they were actually filling up there, was a stock of memories that they could disgust themselves with for years, nay millenia, to come. It is almost as if they were personally absent from their revelries, which at the best of times are somewhat self-organising; it is almost as if the dance of Bacchus was a species of Brownian motion.

Consciousness can be a terrifying thing. One awakens from the velvet dreams of a million years to find oneself alone, floating in free fall, probed and investigated by machines, with no recourse to any higher authority. This interval of time, dissected from one’s life, becomes impossible to gauge: is it an hour, a day, a week, a century? Consciousness without a yardstick for comparison escalates into panic very quickly.

These jump-cut heavens and hells, divorced from time and causality, stack up like card towers awaiting a dismal gravity, a fraction of error, or a wilful act of destruction to throw them back into disorder. From out here in the infold we can admire their sculptural qualities, their tragicomic colouration, but we are lost with our own desert; an unyielding recursion of ourselves, generation after generation, as far as the eye can see. There will never be any new thing under the suns for it is all spread out before us; the shabby remains of the night before. We cannot help but wonder what it would have felt like to be there. Anywhere.

The Nudibranch Sermon

The dangers of anthropomorphosising nudibranchia, by Christina Scholz.
The dangers of anthropomorphosising nudibranchia, by Christina Scholz.

From the advantageous viewpoint of this aerie outside of history it is reassuring to point out that human potential was never realised. The potential of the race, and that is one possible reading for the ideal of the human spirit, was enormous. It is commonly observed that this spirit was betrayed by short-term expediency and self-interest, but it is as likely that these were as much a manifestation of bad luck as malice.

Several million years after the human colony near Andromeda, an insignificant mutation in the native giant nudibranchia, possibly caused by contamination from the jettisoned drive of the Exploratorizortron XIV vessel, led to the rise of a sentient, starfaring race who populated a significant number of worlds in their local spiral, established trade routes, a system of toll booths and wormholes, nine dimensional mathematical puzzles, a commuter culture of topical folk song, intricate devotional antimacassars, and so forth. They too became extinct too early. In their case due to bad mental hygiene and faddish extreme sports.

Their kindnesses, implacable angers, moments of apparent epiphany, joy, familial closeness, mid-afternoon snacking; all of these count for nothing in the larger scheme. This race of hard-bitten, humorous, romantic heroes and villains, who would never say die, who never let a seemingly impossible situation bow their spirit; like us, they were eventually defeated by the sheer inexorability of the macrocosm.

Perhaps we should not call it defeat. This would be to consider the universe as a foe or a competitor. When we anthropomorphosise things that are beyond our own scale, we attempt to puff ourselves up like an exotic spiny fish, which is also now extinct, to show the universe who is boss, who is the daddy. If there are many things that we do not understand about the vastness of creation, we can be certain about this: the universe has no interest in employee relations.

The big perspectives put us all on our collective back foot. Frozen wastelands and crystal forests on worlds scattered far and wide are littered with columns, stelae and stepped ziggurats inscribed with indecipherable glyphs. We might consider these with the wonder with which we might consider a wasp nest or an art deco gas station, and the hubris is understandable in that moment of subjectivity where everything seems possible.

In the final analysis we might reasonably hope for something like this: a cake of manna or a couple of satay skewers, a cup of water or a cold Singaporean lager, some company which does not run away or throw stones at us at our first approach. A few words in common. It cannot last for long.

The Colonial Folly

The colonial project of seeding the stars would have been flawed if it wasn’t just that its basic premise was laughable. The notion that life, and its attendant froth of consciousness which baffles most useful action into a feedback maze of self-congratulation, is the highest flowering of the universe and indeed the idea that the eschatological goal that was built into the primal moment, is exactly the sort of arriviste conceit that one might expect from a set of aggressive mammals who have solved a few basic engineering problems.

What exactly were they thinking? Were they hoping to bring their prodigal insight to the Throne of Creation, to the absent parent who set them upon this course? There, they might receive commendation for pulling themselves up by their bootstraps out of the cycle of hunting, gathering, rutting and fighting. There, they might take their place shoulder to shoulder amongst the toughest, wiliest hombres that the far flung galaxies have to offer. There, they might be accepted back into the soft bosom of the universe. And there, the eye that is their pineal perception of All Things might gaze into the I of the Greatest Story Ever Told and through some kind of grand transcendence bring about a paradigm shift of immense potency that shall change the game forever, preferably with an accompanying banquet of vaguely symbolic heart-racing signifiers.

If they thought that; they accepted their own self-deceit hook, line and sinker. In reality the  colonial project resembled nothing so much as a corporate restructure in the global body politic. Those gullible engineers, whose brilliant inventions, the Exploratorizortron class generation vessels, were built with such care and foresight, failed to admit to themselves that their charges were never intended to arrive at any new Edens. If they had been in the slightest bit honest with themselves they would have put their effort into more humane projects such as gas chambers or income-sensitive terminal diseases, and drowned out the screaming of their conscience with pills and expensive living.

That a tiny proportion of their charges was mercifully beached upon a distant shore near Andromeda, was never a part of the scam. Those wretches who subsist there, slowly losing that very accident that the race decided to call consciousness, are perhaps The Blessed. That struggle with imaginary monsters shall soon be over for them as they drift slowly away from themselves and the language by which they came to invent the spectre of the self.

Here in the observation project, we live with the guilty conscience of the race, for we are the descendents of those engineers who set them on their course. We watch and record the playing out of that folly that disguised itself as the pioneering spirit. There is not so much to regret. If our grandparents were guilty of any heinous crime, they shall be not be judged. Because the vast indifference that accepts our every move does not feel parental pride just as it does not feel responsibility. Perhaps this is the only transcendent wisdom we may earn.

The Hand of Providence

The colony on the unnamed world near Andromeda live at a lofty remove from most of the rest of the planet that they inhabit. The plateau which God has chosen for them is the flattened peak of a mountain three miles high. The area of the plateau is roughly that of Australia and its inhabitants probably should have discovered its limits but they kind of assumed that someone else would do it.

If they had made that treacherous descent, from the southern through to the northeastern slopes, they would have found themselves in a deep feverish rainforest which extends for most of a continent. This rainforest is filled with a gaudy array of exotic plant life, toxic nudibranchia the size of tigers, cone-like semi-intelligent fungi and all manner of other marvels. It is quite likely if they had taken the time to make that epic descent, that they would not have liked it down there very much and wished that they’d stayed at home.

From the north-west around to the south they would have been faced by an apparently limitless ocean, turquoise and tempestuous, stocked with shoals of multi-headed lampreys, island-sized jelly creatures, flying crustaceans and the like. None of that would have been much to their taste at all, and they have been most fortunate that while great swarms of these graceful prodigies commonly glide vast distances when the season is upon them, they rarely ascend much higher than six thousand feet before smashing themselves against the rocky flanks of the mountain. The colonists have occasionally noticed a scent of something like lobster on the wind and usually put it down to nostalgia for a chain of French eateries that they regularly patronised back in better times.

On the whole the observation is of the opinion that the colonists were very fortunate that the Exploratorizatron XIV made planetfall where it did, as the conditions for establishing 3D cinemas and their attendant parking lots cannot be found anywhere else on this world. It is generally left to non-specialists and specialists of the third classification to make pronouncements about the mercy of God and the indications of the movements of his unseen hand, which is notoriously mysterious, in such apparent providence. However it should be noted that they have rarely been contradicted.

Small Objects of Desire

A staggering 84% of the white goods in the plain of the same name still retain their polythene wrap. This cocoon is often buffered, and sags from internal ruptures where a dishwasher or a refrigerator impacted with the ground. This baggy incoherence is part of what makes the domestic appliances such inappropriate weapons on the few occasions that they have been used as projectiles.

Removing polythene wrap from a compressed lump of metal a metre or so on a side using only one’s fingernails, is not an easy operation. On the few occasions that combatants have attempted to do so their frustrations against the inanimate objects has been greater than any imagined antagonism towards their fellow colonist, and the equilibrium of general lack of effort usually restores a grudging bonhomie.

In addition to the plastic wrapped white goods that litter the plain, there are many thousands of quickstart user manuals and sales brochures. In the first few decades of the colony these were prized as headgear or for the production of paper gliders. Vanity and dreams of flight, even of such paltry quality, soon subsided and the paperwork was left to biodegrade in peace.

Small plastic accessories of various shapes and sizes took longer to resolve themselves into the landscape. Small ball-like plastic cups that were intended for the distribution of liquid detergent were popular at one time. These could be used to collect water or manna in inconveniently small quantities, but were more often used for a short-lived sport, in which a colonist would collect a number of these objects and fling them at another’s head, one after another, until they were instructed to desist. At this point they would break off and go and do something else instead.

Rarer and more desirable are the small dice-like cubes that are sometimes found on the Plain of White Goods. These are cream in colour and are labelled with numbers and symbols on each of the six sides. They were originally intended as a control system for a specific model of spin dryer, but have been briefly used for divination, gambling, stochastic projection and a dozen other functions, all unsuccessfully. Mostly colonists carry them because they’re quite nice to find in one’s pocket once in a while, like one might rediscover a suggestive pebble or an interesting-shaped piece of linoleum. It all helps to pass the time.

The Eternal Dilettante

The cryogenically frozen remainder of the human race floating ever further apart on several hundred lost vessels, are seen by some non-specialists to act as a counter-balance to the tower blocks of liquid memory. Both acting as a record and a racial memory in potentia, expanding away from the initial flowering of consciousness. Whether this represents a diaspora, a metaphor for creation, a symbol of the inevitability of entropy, senility, destiny or the mercy of God, is largely an indicator of the eccentricity of the non-specialist in a given generation.

While the subject specialists quietly and cautiously file tentative reports weighed down by the unseeing eyes of their forebears, the non-specialists tend towards all manner of dilettantism and magical thinking. Numerology, haiku, dietary fads, pharmacological experimentation and haruspicy, have all featured amongst the more common techniques of this school. A generation without a practicing haruspex is blessed with the convenience of never blundering into collections of discarded entrails.

It is a commonplace that any equation that takes infinity as one of its terms tends to degrade into nonsense almost immediately. It is as if the gravity of this imaginary symbol causes the collapse of any hypothesis. A trained mind might see this as a challenge or a caution dependent upon whether they tend to agree or disagree with any given hypothesis. A polymath will take it as an invitation to devote their lives to a cross-disciplinary survey of the idea of the infinite. The non-specialist will throw themselves gleefully into the glitch, bothering others with their most freakish findings, until some new obsession takes their fancy.

If there is something of the holy fool that remains in this sterile island on the edge of the absolute, it is to be found in the generations of non-specialists. All too often they absent themselves from the project to wallow in celebration or dejection on the Pacific sprawl or out in the dusty parking lots near Andromeda, and the observation is often the poorer for their absence, but the contention of this observer is that if something remains of humanity, it is not those frozen wretches drifting the cosmos or the accumulated reports from countless voices, it is the sentimental nonsense of those who have no idea what they are talking about.

Wayfarers in Liquid Memory

Here in the infold, the tower blocks of liquid memory number in the tens of thousands, expanding over the back end of Klein bottle that is our little islet, dwarfing the stasis machinery which maintains the tranquillity of this non-space on the lip of the abyss. Encoded therein are all of the reports of the twelve observers, generation after generation. When the surface becomes overcrowded, the plane will sprout another convolution to accommodate our incessant industry.

The blocks reveal nothing on their surface, the memories bubbling away secretly to themselves, accumulating without judgement. Sometimes a clone might go out there amongst them to get away from the mob. There may only be twelve of us at any one time, but if even three of us are together this represents a quarter of our total population. The notion that three is a crowd is literally true.

Once one gets far enough into their forest, the paths between the blocks are a curiously regular labyrinth of crossroads. Looking up the view is divided into crosses and the sky beyond bows in a nauseous manner that is simultaneously both concave and convex. One can continue to walk in a straight line in any direction but once orientation is lost it becomes impossible to know whether one is moving deeper into the cluster or withdrawing from it. While they are finite in number, from the perspective of one lost within them, it is as if their parallel lines might meet at some unfeasibly distant point.

Hypnotised by this grid, more than one wayfarer has imagined themselves staggering drunkenly somewhere in the expanse of narrow streets between Tokyo Bay and Redondo Beach, returning again and again to the same broadway, finding the same kebabish, the same massage parlour, the same piano bar; in ever decreasing circles until the whole of the Pacific sprawl resolves itself into a single cupboard with a single barstool in front of a single bar, “hit me again, kemosabe, and have one yourself!”

Likewise more than one lost observer has been found by the recovery drones, curled into a tight ball; the endless repetition of derelict geodesic cinemas punctuating empty parking lots, waiting patiently behind their eyes. As regular as geometry, when they are returned to the fold, they ask the same familiar question, “are we there yet?”

Withered Lotus

As we ease out the calibration on the events that we might reasonably call All Human Life, we begin to see not only our own but also the whole race’s mark upon the cosmos as looking increasingly insignificant, less than vapour-thin. Our observation was always an essentially self-regarding project in that our ten decades of Dewey Decimal categories for the most part concerned things which were to do with our larger selves.

Beyond personal psychology, and the sociological and anthropological mirror that we held up to an us & them which lose all definition as we pan further back; the very skein of our environment, from the droplets that are our oceans, and the abundant fauna & flora that we plunder at will, to the satellite which regulates our tides and the power source at the centre of our atom of life; all that we might consider as our universe comes to look more like the life support conditions of our space suit, which is all that prevents us from dispersing back into the nothingness that is the general condition.

The back of the postage stamp, upon which are written our finest insights and achievements, has merely touched the dust upon the surface of the macrocosm. The notion that we can have any perspective upon the big picture is so self-aggrandising as to be comical. Neither cosmology nor religion have made any great attainments in mastering ourselves let alone anything else. To be frank, we’ve never stepped far enough out of our paddling pool to be on even nodding terms with The Other but have remained confused by one of our own limbs here, our depth perception there, our desire for pizza for breakfast, and the knock-on implications of all of these failings.

Having said that, there is this: in their slow drift away from language, from awareness and from consciousness, the colonists of that unnamed world out there near Andromeda have accidentally blundered upon the cleverest insight that the race has ever made. It is this: where consciousness briefly flickers to life anywhere in the vastness of creation, the best thing it can possibly do is to ease itself back to sleep. The insomnia that has afflicted the race has driven us to terrible atrocities in our flawed assumption that one side of the eyelid is the nightmare rather than the other.

Out here in the observation project, smug in our infold outside of space and time, the dawning realisation is that all we can know is to know that we know nothing. Perhaps it is for this reason that so many of our order have abandoned their subject areas and their research to drift amongst the eateries and fleshpots of the Pacific sprawl or the dusty vistas that are the parking lots of that unnamed world, in the hope of losing that self-consciousness that has accidentally been afflicted upon us.

The unopened lotus flower withers before it has blossomed. Blessed be.

Sempiternal Afternoons

The Exploratorizortron class of generation vessels were the last sub-light speed colony ships to leave the Earth. In spite of being slow, solid and reliable, only one ever reached its destination. Twelve fell into suns of various magnitudes after immensely long migrations, five were ruptured by patches of dark matter, another one was adopted by a spaceborn mega-brain who used it as a scratcher for its frontal lobes.

Many hundreds more of these vessels met a less dramatic fate, continuing to plod along, eating up the parsecs in a lumbering, dependable manner. In an impressive quantity of these, the passengers remain in a state of suspended animation to be awoken again and again, once each in a million years, with the same question on their lips, “are we there yet?”

And so many aeons after the end of life on Earth, and indeed long after the idle vacation that was the sojourn of humanity on the unnamed world near Andromeda, the last viable human DNA continues to circulate, like sushi on a conveyor belt, dreaming endlessly of the acrid scent of cheap aftershave, satay octopus, cheroots and piss-stained alleyways.

As to our friends out in the dusty parking lots and their trusty technology, the exploitation module with its plentiful supply of manna; this machine continued to function long after the colonists had lost all interest in reproduction. This is considered by some to be one in the eye for the notion of the sexual imperative, a horrible confusion of evolutionary biology and Freudianism, which turned out to have more to do with the legacy of the nineteenth century than any eternal scientific truth.

Indeed in the face of eternity, the notion of scientific truth comes to seem far more contingent. A gaudy show of fashionable straitjackets with laughable leather elbow patches, epaulets, fake zips and fancywork. The whole era of the obsessional search for unified theories looks worse than teenaged in its wrongheadedness.

If there is one thing that is more compelling than biology, than supply and demand, than the survival of the fittest; if there is one thing that might become our crowning achievement as a race, it is our capacity for boredom. Our empty afternoons are a glimpse of perhaps our most dignified sempiternal condition.