They call it the wake.
It’s the moment every colonist, normally in their later teens, wakes in the night and realises they are the middle child of life. They have never seen the concrete jungles of their ancestral homeworld. Never known space beyond the metal walls of the habitat. And for all the future generations to come, they will never sit under a tree on a verdant field and feel solar radiation dulled by atmosphere.
After that point, every waking moment becomes a lesson in futility. There is no corridor you have never not walked down before. You will recognise every face for every day of your life. Every book or movie is available, but no more.
Ideas and imagination are not internal processes, spewing forth new wonders to behold. They are the result of external stimuli and the only thing that will change in your entire lifetime is the constellations outside the bulkheads.
This is the moment you wake up.
I was in some sort of old city. Kind of like, Industrial Revolution kind of old city. It was foggy, grey, and every alley filled with some decrepit junk.
But before all that, I was in a room. Some kind of….cramped attic-bedroom like thing. Children, young children, were occupying every possible surface, slumbering side by side along every floorboard, every shelf and ledge. I remember a saying in a mundane history class as a kid that cramped living spaces were no surprise in that time. I’m not sure if I want to really confirm it, now. But there were small whispers of snores and murmurs as I continued stepping and creeping past their sleeping bodies.
I must have misstepped on a limb, cot, perhaps a piece of one’s clothing. They woke. Slowly, just one or two, but as if in a wave I seemed to have started something in motion. I don’t remember hearing any bell or clock, as if this was about the same time that these children were, as I thought, going to some dehumanizing work of some kind. I recall in my gerontology classes the many definitions that encompass the freedom and tyranny of time. That the invention of the 24-hour day and large clocks in great ancient marketplaces were part of a shift that changed perceptions of time from cyclical to linear. John William Waterhouse was not there to urge the gathering of rosebuds until about a century later.
Something…very strange, yet very similar, in my fucked up memories, happened. There was a perfectly open, albeit small, door that led from the cramped attic/bed/space room to stairs out the building to the city. But not a single soul in that room bothered to use the door.
Smoothly, as if exemplifying the dream that I was standing in, the children burst open the windows of their room. One after the other sliding up and open. Unblinking, automatic paying no attention to anything at all…their faces were so blissful, so autographical in their innocence, as if they were asleep the whole time.
And then they jumped.
I blinked, and found myself standing at the front of their nondescript brick building, standing on uneven cobblestone pavement. One after the other I was met with crashes of bodies and the groans and cracks of twisted faces and bones. Neither a giggle nor squeal nor scream. The sound of impact, and the blurry glimpse in my mind’s eye of dream-children falling, is all I can really recall.
Except for one particular detail.
Near the end, I was surrounded by small bodies. No other pedestrians were present in this isolated dreamscape to watch what was happening with me. But looking up, back to the stories-high row of windows where I once was, a larger blur of people began to fall.
They landed with a crash, at least six of them at once. They seemed to be holding each other together like a ball. Like every other jumper before, they woke, jumped, and returned to a cherub-like appearance of bloody somnolence on the ground.
All except for one. A very young boy, younger than them all. He looked about five or six years old. He brought himself up on his feet, the only one to have survived the horror. It looked like that larger hugging mass of jumpers jumped that way in order to protect him.
And then he ran. Just booked it. Without a word or notice that I was watching, he turned away from the building and sprinted out of sight.
I tried to chase after him, but the details get even worse and eventually I woke up. But I’ve learned in this world to not ignore the hemisphere of dreams.
I wonder if he was real.
What is the point of being alive? I know, I know, it’s an old question and not one that’s easy to answer. But I mean, if you’re reading this, you are alive. And some day you will stop being alive. Both of these facts are incontrovertible.
So what about it, then? Don’t you wonder? Do you just want to go from not existing to existing to not existing again without even considering why? You, right now, as you sit there reading this: why do you exist? What is the purpose of your life? Do you have one? Should you have one? Is it better to have a purpose or not? When you approach death, will you feel that your life had meaning? If so, why? If not, why not? What defines whether a life was good or not?
It may seem abstract now, but that moment just before death will come. It is inevitable. If you don’t ask yourself these questions, how will you face that moment?
Disgruntlomeister’s Blogstasy, Episode 204
I don’t know about everybody else, but I’m afraid of dying. I don’t see any reason to believe there’s an afterlife. I’m an organism like any other: when my brain stops working, my consciousness will cease, and I will be gone. And you know what? I can’t just embrace that. I can’t say I’m OK with it or I’ve accepted it or some nonsense like that. I don’t want to have an ending. It terrifies me. If I had a genie right now, I’d wish for immortality.
Who wouldn’t? “Oh, but you wouldn’t REALLY want to be immortal,” the pseudo-philosophers say. Pretentious drivel! Everybody wants to live forever. Maybe everybody deserves to live forever, too.
But we can’t, so here we are. Live with it.
Or rather, don’t.
So, hearing the call of the morning birds as they greeted the dawn, the Scribe spoke:
“At the end of your journey, when every trial has been completed, when all the gates have opened before you and your soul has been weighed in the Tower of Anubis, your Ka and your Ba shall be reunited; and thus you shall become an Akh, and awaken in the eternal reed fields of Osiris; and there, in holy Aaru, you shall begin a new life amongst the gods and other blessed spirits.”
“And who will I be?” the Dying Man asked.
“You shall be the memory of all that was, and the knowledge of the journey, and the shape of the days to come.”
This ends the tale of the Dying Man and the Scribe. Praised by Osiris, the Foremost of the Westernerns, the King of Eternity, the Lord of Everlastingness, whose Ka is holy, $&$& DG ///ERROR///
The whole assembly stood awhile silent and collected. “Let us return,” said Rasselas, “from this scene of mortality. How gloomy would be these mansions of the dead to him who did not know that he should nver die; that what now acts shall continue its agency, and what now thinks shall think on forever–
[ARCHIVE: 1759CE-F991] [JOHNSON, SAMUEL] [ERROR 556] Homage to you, Osiris, Lord of Eternity, King of the Gods, whose names are manifold/whose forms are holy, you being of hidden form in the temples, whose Ka is holy. All the gods praise you, for you are the %&$%$ (/ Those that lie here stretched before us, the wise and the powerful of ancient times, warn us to remember the shortness of our present state; they were perhaps snatched away while they were busy, like us, in the choice of life.”
It remains strange that the earlier generations seem to perform their toilsome labour only for the sake of the later ones; to construct for them a step from which they can raise higher the edifice that Nature intended; and only the latest of all generations have the luck to inhabit the edifice that a long line of their ancestors (unintentionally) constructed
45 56 4F 4C 55 54 49 4F 4E 20 54 48 52 4F 55 47 48 20 49 54 45 52 51 54 49 4F 4E 0D 0A 49 54 45 52 41 59 1784CE-F112, Immanuel Kant
As puzzling as this may be, it is equally necessary, if one assumes the following: a species of animal possesses Reason, and must develop this capacity to its perfection, being individually mortal, but immortal in the species.
Her eyes were sore and saturated with saline as she continued to stare at the screen wordlessly.
There she was, a version of her from not so long ago, lying on an operating table only halfway conscious. The angle of the camera, the dimming light in the room and the movement of staff around her made it difficult for her to imagine what that memory once was as it was lived. She had old notes explaining her symptoms, warning signs, stressors. But to see it happen all over again, repeatable if she needed to, was an unnerving experience.
Suddenly, an event she had seen unfold many times before began its telltale process: she studied carefully through sore eyes as she watched her back begin to seize, fingers and toes closing in and a mind screaming words beyond comprehension through a jaw that appeared to be on the verge of splitting itself open. Machines were beeping and flashing madly, sets of hands trying anything to stop the shaking, from physical locking to injections of unknown fluids.
“What the FUCK just happened? I thought we had her stable this time!”
“I told you the estimates were off. Run the bloody numbers again, NOW.”
“I thought we were introducing things more slowly…”
“Stop fucking wondering and help me before she kills herself!”
A disgruntled Blood practitioner began lightly hovering his hands over Elana’s head and chest, mumbling words that now fit verbatim to the medical facsimile she held in her hands.
“Uneven papillary dilation, fractures along cervical spine. Her lower extremities haven’t been affected this time, I know it doesn’t look it…”
“Just DO something!”
“There’s….this pressure…it’s–I’m feeling an encephalitis…I’m trying…”
Elana’s prolonged, agonizing yells came to an abrupt end as her body began shaking itself forward and back, repeatedly banging the back of her head against the operating table. Her entire body fell limp through the swift sound of a crack as her jaw and neck fell grotesquely slack, a mix of blood and clear fluid pouring from her nose and ears–as if some intangible force had grasped her head and pulled it backwards, quickly and effortlessly.
Elana yelped and stepped back reflexively from the screen–she had died, again. Internal hemorrhaging was underlined as an understatement in the prognosis. She hugged herself tightly–some recordings had her completely off the table, others not, not before they opted for restraints, but it was as if her brain was its own entity trapped in her skull, choosing to repeatedly bang her head against metal tables or the flawless, almost obscene marble that housed countless Red casualties within its walls.
Was it really that bad? She let her thoughts argue in fleeting panic as a thin, dark red sheet was laid over her televised limp body. “Agents are on standby for her reconstruction. We find her, subdue her at the scene–keep her medically sedate until we figure out our next plan of action.”
“And….page Dr. Halls. Next of kin aren’t supposed to have family as their cases, it’ll be a classic conflict of interest, but…we’ve tried everything we can in our resources. I just…I have no fucking clue how to wake her without her going suicidal nuts on us. He should probably be told about this.”
“But what…what if we–”
“Just notify the handlers before we page him across the Atlantic. He’s still mortal you know, we can’t just close down his operations either.”
“So anesthetic, or not, or we just try—”
“He’s looking after a lot of our numbers out there, maybe he knows how….”
“That’s the fucking PROBLEM!” A frustrated trauma surgeon lost his temper as he threw a pair of stained, used needles against the wall, his peers stepping back in shocked reflex.
Elana swallowed again, watching the otherwise esteemed, respected surgeon lose his mind in the verbal assault–she bit her lip, knowing perfectly well that she, beyond the failure of their work, had to have influenced that outburst. Not because of the effort of their attempts, but because of what she was.
“She’s not even half-conscious before somehow her body kicks into panic. We’re used enough to agents waking up wanting to point a gun or shoot some Anima shit at us, for whatever reason–God knows we’ve faced amnesia, curses and hexes, brainwashing, possessions even. But…she’s like a bomb ready to go off on herself before we’ve even cut the damn wires. Before we’re even halfway close to them. I just don’t get it.”
Elana shook her head and felt her sore eyes yearning to produce more tears. “The moment you stepped into that room angry was the moment it wasn’t going to work,” she thought aloud.
“She’s a…a ‘Bee’, right? Doesn’t their death sort of…’fix’ it all up? Thank God I’m not stationed at one of those wells…”
Elana swallowed and looked down at the papers, feeling shameful anger at her misunderstood benefactors. Their continued bickering pained her deeply.
“Is this what ’empaths’ are fucking like? Jesus…I mean, I always thought that ‘sensitive’ means…well…you know, like not hostile. Like they’re always fucking softies with a skin as thick as wet tissue paper.”
Elana lowered her eyes at that. “No,” she mouthed in irritation.
In her eyes, empaths feel and nothing else, the rest of its meaning is offered by choice. Just because one feels, doesn’t mean one is automatically deigned to become a peacekeeper. Sometimes they grow manic. Sometimes they manipulate.
Elana flipped the pages of her report. Lots of words were manually slashed out in red ink and edited by her brother in a passionate defense of her condition. An action of equal sighs and smiles–seemed like all her life he was always there for her. Always. In that moment, it only added to the heaviness.
“Bee…Anima….biochemical…transient.” Elana read it slowly, skipping past medical jargon she hardly knew and saw the approach he was trying to explain–that even in sleep, her senses are on. Even in sleep, the stress and anger of the doctors–and the flaring that occurred as her unconscious self started fighting back as they tried to wake her–all eventually culminated to a thorough exhaustion of her innate resources and a further sharpening of enmity from those who tried to do their jobs. They were–or she was? Providing a positive feedback loop of stress and fear over more stress and fear; loops that once upon a time, Elana’s mind held separately from her own autonomy, internalizing and projecting with her consent.
No wonder it had taken so long, she thought, not only for her own rehabilitation but for why such a long period of time she was, as the report was written, in a coma that failed to admit its true identity as forced medical sedation. A lot of administrative efforts were taken not just by her brother, but by fellow Empaths, and a lesser extent Chaos practitioners among the Templars, to not only convince Temple Hall that isolation was not the answer, but that any time she required support again, she would be immediately transferred for treatment to her brother’s place of work: a Psychiatric hospital known as the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt among the mundies, but more accurately the Sheppard Asylum to those more informed to secret ongoings.
Elana lowered her head and released one small, soft sob as she returned her arms to her chest.
Across the room, an unglamoured Asmod was cooking in Elana’s cramped kitchen–turning around quickly with a pained expression on his face, he twisted off the elements from Elana’s antiquated stove, untied and hung his apron with a few deft movements of his tails, and rushed over to carefully hug her from behind.
“I really wish you’d stop watching those, lass. Please.”
He squeezed her tightly, blinking steadily as he took in Elana’s melancholic energy and tried to soothe it with a more neutral comfort of contentment, safety, or relief….kissing the top of her head gently.
“…I know, As. I know.”
How could she have known, she thought. It was all nothingness in her mind’s eye anyway.
The cold, suffocating dark goes on forever and we are alone. Live our lives, lacking anything better to do. Devise reason later. Born from oblivion; bear children, hell-bound as ourselves, go into oblivion.
There is nothing else.
Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs.
December, 2014. ((ie. pre-Phoenix Group))
The large lit chandeliers were jarring against her eyes, the noise and chatter of customers around them causing feelings of pressure and smothering against her forehead–but a hand guided one of hers to a pair of weighted chopsticks, beckoning to reach for one of the many small dishes in front of her, inviting and steaming in freshness against the crisply laundered white tablecloth.
“How is it?”
“I mean the food.”
Elana nodded and slowly chewed away at a scattered assortment of dim sum on a small glass plate. Chive dumplings, barbecue pork buns, lotus-leaf wrapped packages of sticky rice. Her brother Wander was much more adventurous and colourful with his food; after another long and bureaucratic process of papers and debate at the Hall, Wander approved a rare sibling outing for them: an unheard-of reservation to Maxim’s Palace City Hall, in an attempt not only to spend time together but for Wander to assess his sister’s progress and coping in crowded areas. So far, it was satisfactory.
Elana reached for a cup of tea with a shaky hand. She was leaning hugely on her brother’s presence for support, blurring and shutting away as much as possible the various waves and moods of the restaurant’s patrons. Wander sat looking completely relaxed and spotless of her struggle, but a small part of her knew it was an act of his own for her sake. In between bites, he scribbled on a small notebook, as promised, covering in as much detail as possible the ongoings of their lunch date.
“Isn’t this nice, though?” Wander proposed some small talk and waved a hand toward the windows, the nearby harbour. “We’re here, not London but here, and where else for dim sum than actually just going to Hong Kong?” Wander chuckled graciously, knowing very well that good Chinese food outside of the westernized realm left under heat lamps was rare where he lived.
“Let’s try something else now…”
“But I’m still working on this–” Elana pursed her lips and tapped teasingly toward her food.
“I mean…you, actually.”
“You’ve done a great job so far. You’ve really improved since I last saw you! Let’s…” Wander waved at one of the many waitresses pushing trolleys of food throughout the room. “…focus in.”
“Are you sure?”
Wander wasn’t wrong; she -had- improved a lot in understanding and controlling her abilities. Had the same lunch date happened months ago, she would have been shaking and sobbing, covering her face with her hands as emotion, raw and unarrested, flowed into the gaps of her shattered mental autonomy.
…and immediately, at the end of Elana’s reluctant nod, Wander felt and heard a buzzing against his chair. It was his pager, doubly purposed as a Focus along with keeping him updated with his patients back in Maryland. He clipped it off from his coat, studying it carefully.
Wander sighed, and showed her the pager. “…414, I have to take this one.” He looked around the room, and began to rise from the table.
Elana’s expression darkened to severe anxiety. “…no, wait! I can’t do this without you–please, please…”
Wander returned a reassuring smile. “I won’t take long, promise. Think of this as a challenge, okay? Except we’re not in the Crucible.” He patted her shoulders and started walking to the entrance, seeking a quieter room to converse. “…this is Dr. Halls..” She heard him mumble as the eager crowd of potential customers walled him in their numbers.
Elana swallowed and breathed hard through her nose. “Okay…focus, follow…” She lost track of the waitress her brother pointed out for her, and seeking just -one- patron to scan among busy, excited tables and business dialogue was daunting. The built environment around them dense and highly mobile–there -was- empty space between tables, necessary room and table reservations keeping the restaurant in something of a system. There! She found an easy target of scanning–a young girl, sitting beside other children at a table with their mothers…lavishly dressed and speaking Cantonese in leisurely tones…what did Wander call them? “Tai-tais”? She nodded to herself, suddenly very aware of the research and work her brother conducted in order to make their afternoon a reality.
The mothers spoke in hushed laughter, completely ignoring their children in favor of their each others’ company. One young boy whined at a nearby trolley, his mother beckoning it over absent-mindedly with a wave of her hand as a trio of soft-looking yellow pastries were dropped in front of him. Elana narrowed her eyes to read the English font slapped against the trolley, small placards to point fingers at if, like her, Cantonese was not a language she knew–“Bo Lo Bao”. Oh! Elana smiled in thought. She liked those, they had a sweetness and ubiquity she knew she could order once she returned to London.
“Oy, jie-jie.” Elana felt a few jabs of a finger against her shoulder.
“Huh?” Elana turned her head back and immediately saw a woman drop a small plastic tray against the table hurriedly. Her brother’s leaving, she thought, must have signified that they were finished eating and should pay immediately. Sitting beside the receipt, a wide parchment stamped in various spots signifying the dishes they ordered, was a fortune cookie without a plastic wrapper.
“Ummm…m-goy sai–” Elana scarcely had a moment to respond a practiced sentence of gratitude before the woman walked away. She turned back to the receipt tray and reached for the cookie. Seemed uncharacteristic, a fortune cookie…was it that obvious they were tourists? And there was only one–causing Elana to experience a momentary shade of embarrassment. They must have seen him, right? she thought. She knew that eating alone was an uncommon sight.
Elana sighed, keeping a mental focus to the children munching away at their dessert, easing into their spotlessness and happy naivety, as she cracked open the cookie in her hands. The paper, to her surprise, wasn’t the typical thin strip of lotto numbers and ambiguity–freshly scrawled in red ink were the words “RUN”, as a hastily-scribbled pentagram on the opposite side began to illuminate once Elana exposed the paper to light.
“No…no please…!” Elana squealed and closed her eyes reflexively with a flash.
Seconds later, Elana lowered her hands from her face. She was expecting pain, an ambush of some sort, needles or bullets or fire or someone with the gall to attack her in such a public place–but instead, she felt a weightlessness released from her mind. The fortune burned with a painless flame, one she realized was a time limit as the incantation continued its effect. It was a glamour, or a shroud–either way, Elana could no longer feel the continuous pressure of the people around her: all moving and eating and talking as if nothing happened, she was rendered invisible. There was probably still a doppelganger of her, stressing and worrying and moping in her place.
Elana slowly rose, carrying the burning paper in her hands, slipping and sliding around tables and staff, afraid that contact would break what she was given. No one seemed to notice her absence, and finally, Elana felt calm. She was closed off to the world, but in turn, she was unable to exercise her own abilities. Honouring the paper’s orders, she followed the direction her brother went, hoping he hadn’t walked too far, hoping she could catch him.
“We, the unwilling, follow the unqualified, to kill the unfortunate, and die for the unthankful.”