By Gregory JM Kasunich
Once, in time, (but what does that really even mean anymore? Time, an antiquated and vestigial measurement, like calling the length of digitally captured images “footage”, or referring to a point of latitude and longitude as “here”. Now, only evocative of an understandable notion, but useless in defining practice or purpose…)
Once, in time, the virginal Earth was simultaneously a place of immeasurable beauty and relentless savagery.
The sphere of our world, that is the world of mankind, burped and farted and spat and oozed into existence all manner of flora and fauna and ravine and sound and mountain and eddy and swamp and sinkhole and on and on and on.
And among the rage and rattle of this barbaric symphony emerged Man, who made it its work to destroy all things natural and beautiful, including itself, and immediately set off burning and building and warring and procreating and littering and launching and digging and dumping and on and on and on. Before long the Earth had had enough of all this bullshit and, like a sub-dermal splinter, began to slowly push the diseased shard of humanity out from under its withering flesh.
And this is where we begin, at a time (apologies again for the use of the word) when Man had well worn out its welcome like a drunk and unruly guest, vomit covered and unapologetic, two hours past midnight, insisting on one more round of slurry, off-pitch, karaoke.
Now, it should be said that during its time on the planet, man had done some saving for retirement so to speak, knowing that one rainy day the piper would come a-knocking, calling in the tab and demanding interest for the reckless and ruinous behavior of the past centuries.
Small developments, breakthroughs, and discoveries gave the fledgling species a leg up on the old piper when the bill came due, and humanity once again got the drop on destiny.
Through language and math and ground glass and electricity man devised ways to look beyond its own front porch into the vastness of space. First rockets and satellites and those poor Russian dogs and American monkeys. Then came moon golf and Martian frisbee. Then the resorts of IO, swarmed with wealthily debutants beaming bikini pics back to those still tethered to the increasingly inhospitable home world.
But it wasn’t enough.
With each New World came new rules and new rulers, which inevitably, led to new revolts and new revolutions. One by one, each eden was reduced to rubble.
No one likes to talk about the lightless, empty, cement capillaries of the Martian Mega-Highways, cracked and caked with rusty red dust. No one hears the once roaring crepuscular din of insects anymore, now only half remembered in the silent twilight of Alpha Centauri. And so man, once again, began to get after the problem with science and cunning, unsatisfied with the dour simulacrum it had devised for itself here and there.
You see, life-spans at this point, were, intimidating, biblical in way, stretching out for a few hundred years thanks to advancements in antibiotics, probiotics, herbal supplements, elective surgeries, nutrition, and weaponry. Man is nothing if not preservationist, which, of course, was part of the problem. These long lives did provide the crucial benefit of perspective. Looking back, these patterns emerged and became obvious follies that needed to be remedied. But like the first law of thermodynamics which states that the total energy of an isolated system is constant and cannot be created or destroyed, so is that of mans hubris and ego. So, instead of humbling itself before the
limits of the physics and making good with the wounded universe, man instead set its sights on conquering one more frontier: Light.
The idea of mounting rungs of photons and climbing out beyond the oppression of time had been around since, well, a long, long while. The notion was ancient at this point, and had been explored by poets and pundits ad nauseam, but science was only ever so good, or so funded, as to make any real progress on that front. But, with all inhabitable land made uninhabitable, and its back against the proverbial ropes, Mankind, concussed and contused by a prize-fighter named Physics, sharpened its teeth and dug deep for one, final, nail- biting round with nature.
These things always have a funny way of working out. It was not on some new world, or colonized rock that the breakthrough happened. It was back home, if one could even call it that anymore, on Earth, many years after most had left, in the once-lush, now-parched and pock marked desert of Arecibo, part of the area once known as Puerto Rico (renamed Akróasi sometime in the late 50th century, most likely to be renamed again) that a shrill, antisocial and idiosyncratic man called Vihaan Zhao along with his small but dedicated team of physicists, had The Revelation.
The mechanics are too arcane and inscrutable for even those with an advanced proclivity for science to understand. If you want to know more about how the dang thing works check out “Elementary Quantum Electromagnetic Refracted Field Manipulation for Mass Transportation”. A dense tome of facts, figures, charts and graphs resting half-thumbed and mostly unread on the bookshelves of college students and semi-intellectuals alike. Sufficed to say, an apocryphal understanding of the science is enough to impress at any cocktail party. Digression aside, and lead sufficiently buried, the point here is that Light Travel had been, not so much invented, but happened upon and exploited for vast financial gain. Zhao and the 12 men and women of his team became the among the wealthiest individuals in history.
Once The Revelation was made, it all happened so quickly, or instantaneously, depending on your point-of-view. A few dogs and monkeys later and Man was off to the races, strapping on his spurs and slipping his boots into the stirrups of space-time. At first there was enough time to go around. Look, there were still millennia on either end of the spectrum to be explored, conquered and claimed. Sure, maybe your Alpha has got a steak in about a few hundred years here or their, but your Delta might find a nice place to set up shop four- thousand years before then. It is, in more ways than one, all very relative.
But as things go they go, and as history unspools, it does so upon itself, repeating back like a stack of funhouse mirrors, sliding over each other, distorting its surroundings into grotesque reflections of what once was and what is soon to be. Man found that things were beginning to get a bit crowded and so, when once it was soil and rock, it became time and space, into which the invisible lines of state, and country and territory and providence and principality and so on and so forth were etched.
What came next you surely already know. War.
Oh, how we like to fight. Given even the most expansive battleground and the longest, unending horizons, and days without beginning or end, we still fasten bayonet to muzzle and fling ourselves into the fray for god or gold or principle or pastime. This civil war, spanning across every era and all places was like almost every war that preceded it (and in fact became part of every war before and after itself) except for one horrible and perpetual difference brought on buy its essential nature, that is, this was a war without beginning or end, for ever and ever, amen. It was a war where each battle won left an army of ghosts to rise again from just moment before defeat and claim victory, only to be swarmed by those they had just conquered moments before. Soldiers did not only fight their mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, but also themselves, spawned from any moment in time to return and reap revenge. And the sad truth, the fact that most of us don’t know ourselves at all, only made treaty negations that muchmore difficult. No time was free from the ravages, no place was untouched by anguish. It was always suffering. It was always triumph. It was always victory. It was always defeat. It was always then. It was always now.
News spread after Zhao and the 12 men and women of his team became among the wealthiest individuals in history to commit group suicide. They wanted out, and through their own immolation perhaps they thought they could send a message across the light to all those embattled souls, that they were wrong, or at least sorry, for their Promethean pride. They spat in the eye of the universe and suffered its wrath. They quickly, or instantaneously, depending on your point of view, discovered that the universe can be one fickle bitch. The rest of humanity had come to the same conclusion and they wanted out as well. One by one the outposts were dismantled. The lines that were drawn in blood, erased. The ships and boats and vessels smashed. The weapons rendered harmless. And since time carried the weight of humanity a voluntary purging took place. Every version of every man across every time and every place followed the example of Zhao and systematically offed themselves.
When the once great flame of humanity had dwindled to a small, flickering, ember the last remaining philosophers and clerics gathered in discourse and discussion to determine the fate of the species. They piled the sins and virtues of their kind upon the proverbial Roberval balance, and although the sins tipped the scales against the continuation of man, they decided that we deserved at least one more go of it. Humbled and humiliated, perhaps some good could come from one last spark flung out into the dark.
The decision had been made to elect two hormonal teenagers, one boy and one girl to return to that once savage and beautiful place. Earth, in the intervening centuries, devoid of humans to muck it up, has undergone a little bit of a rejuvenation, an environmental facelift, and was again the lush garden of life it was before the first ape straightened it spine to strike a flint or fling a spear. The last vessel was readied. The couple was stripped and cleaned and forced to consume a hefty dose of memory cleansing drugs before they were permitted to board the small craft. The course was set and the shot was fired, aimed right for the heart of their former and future home. The final men and woman of the past drew their final breaths as they stood watching the basket float away, through the reeds of the milky way, back to the fertile sphere from once they came, hoping, praying, wishing, they never ever have to see them again.