May your path know little sadness, and much joy, may your wanderings be as interesting as your destinations, may you know good people as well as you can, may you be good people to know as well as you can. May your days be many and long even if they are few and short, may your regrets fall away like so many bad dreams to be replaced by serenities and epiphanies. May your love know no bounds and your anger know no target. May you live in interesting times and may you die at peace with all.
In the waning years of the galactic Empire of Man, in a remote archival station on a distant mining planet, a young bureaucrat, twelfth level, rediscovered a word. A single word of power and importance such that it had been removed with great passion by fire and death from human memory over the course of several millennia.
When the great and bloated departments of the Government of Man decayed from within and broke into more primitive forms of tribalistic territorialism, when the Empire ever more irreversibly cascaded from de facto to de jure then through nomine tenus, finally coming to rest in memoriam, the young bureaucrat, twelfth level, learned the word. Spreading it to others he knew and trusted, he soon encountered resistance to its very existence. This did not deter him, as the resistance was sparse and unorganized, as those offering it were much more thoroughly occupied trying to not lose their heads in the midst of the empire’s collapse.
As such, the ranks of the adherents to the word of power quickly swelled, as they latched onto what appeared to be a growing movement of strength in the face of looming chaos and hardship. Many of these new recruits had little understanding of the true meaning of the word, having never encountered it or its fruits in their short lifetimes. Thus lacking a reference to guide them, they often engaged in actions in direct opposition to the true meaning of the word. Yet, even these well-intentioned fumblings added to the power of the word, as their actions served to draw more attention to the word and thus bolstered their numbers against the now strengthening resistance to its return to the course of human events. This resistance was most readily embraced by those who had most directly benefited from the old order, as well as those factions rising up to take its place.
Violence inevitably broke out between these two sides, and the young discoverer perished while championing the word to his followers. The passion with which these same disciples struck back shocked any who observed it. Simple brutality and skirmishes escalated almost instantly into pitched warfare, as both sides elected martyrs and heroes from amongst their own ranks and those of their opponents. Soon, those factions previously not aligned with either side found themselves swept along into the heightening conflict, as the forces of the word and the forces who wished the word had remained forgotten turned world after world into a battlefield on which they tried their best to obliterate their enemies.
As their vague causes turned into far more single-minded crusades, logic and wisdom fled before the unforgiving warzone, seamlessly replaced by fanatical devotion and sacrifice. Those that dared question the intent of their leaders suffered for their lack of faith in manners designed to dissuade others from following suite. Even the higher orders of those who followed the word with blind loyalty dared not speculate on the actual meaning of the word itself, as to do so would be to challenge the now certain interpretation of the word as a weapon uniting them against their foes. So it was that the intent of the word was lost in the swelling wave of its standard bearers.
Eventually, many centuries of bloodshed and destruction later, with their grand civilization, that had taken millenia to build up, in ruins about them, finally those few who remained who were capable of research began investigating this cursed word, disregarding the still not inconsiderable danger this presented to their persons. Against the condemnation of the established priesthood of the word, these rogue scholars presented their findings to the galaxy. The uproar of anger against those who had so fervently co-opted the word for the exact opposite of its defined purpose made short work of the remaining forces of the word. The equally exhausted opposition forces stood little chance of resisting the populist groundswell of the common people, who had tired of both factions long ago as their loved ones died for causes that ultimately meant nothing and served no purpose other than to kill the opposing side.
While this final tumultuous upheaval against the dying movements which had drug mankind back down into destitution ran its course, smaller regional governments began to form, applying the word in its true form to their governance, finding success as they did so. Peace returned as the word of power finally took hold. Mankind recovered gradually, rebuilding what the oppressive empire had so methodically erected before, this time in more gentle and natural forms. And so it was that a word so long obliterated from human memory realized its power to alleviate misery and ignorance wherever it was spoken with understanding and without fear of the consequences.
Once again mankind embraced the word ‘freedom’.
There is an underlying need in the human psychosis to feel needed or important. Unlike the animals we cohabitate this planet with, we as conscious beings need a motivation to exist beyond those provided by base instinct.
Let me take a moment as an aside to address the inevitable criticism of my classifying animals as non-conscious beings. Find me an animal that actually commits suicide, outside of staged Disney nature films, and I will believe that it is possible for animals to be as self aware as humans.
In fact, this driving need to be self important, or at least necessary, is the underlying reason why most suicide exists, or rather when this is lacking in the humans that then subsequently engage in the act. Despair sets in when true perspective as to our respective place and function in the universe is realized. The easiest way to crush a child’s hopes and dreams is to make that child aware of how little in the end those dreams matter and how little hope they have of ever achieving them.
This is the crux upon which all religions exist. These spiritual mythos were specifically invented to give a grander unified dream, and thus motivating force to mankind in this otherwise harsh and meaningless reality. If my actions and life’s work in the end mean nothing in the grand scope of emotionless galactic balls of gas and fire, which even in their fantastical scope are finite and without grander meaning, then why should I embark on any of them? What point does the common man have of conducting his life beyond the satiating of his own baser desires and instincts if his entire being is for not when he dies?
This leads to a quest for immortality, an extension by action or genetic legacy which will impart some manner of grander meaning upon the mediocre occurrence that he is. Even this is attacked by the knowledge that in the future this world, the solar system, and even the universe itself will eventually cease to exist, giving a finality of futility to everything that ever was and ever will be. This particular dose of practicality is a hard one to accept even for the most pragmatic, much less the rest of humanity. Thus it is, when such contemplations overwhelm many, they adopt a nihilistic rather than humanistic viewpoint and rightly deduce that if nothing ever matters then their own selfish death will be one more thing that does not really matter at all.
Personally, I would rather embark on a quixotic quest for actual immortality, or the closest I can achieve, in my own person than abandon this innately interesting life. While I may not succeed in staving off death indefinitely, I will nonetheless attempt just that until I am dragged kicking and screaming into oblivion, or whatever the unknown that is death actually holds.
When the world first asked, “Why?”, it was barely in its inception, newly wrought from the flames of creation. Yet even then men stood up and inquired amongst them, “For what purpose are we here? If all eventually fades, why do we be?” It was from this first thought that myriad lines of questioning arose to confound each other and divide mankind into many divergent camps, all despite the driving central question being the same throughout. It was not enough for any that they had found an answer they believed in, they felt it necessary to prove the others wrong, or at least vulnerable to steel.
Into this maelstrom of bickering ideologies, a few attempted to extricate themselves of the issue entirely by asking “How did we come into being? The why will be answered by the how, surely.” These dedicated themselves to observation and reasoning, and yet even these, once they had reached conclusions in their varied methodologies, decided that the others were wholly inept and had to be ridiculed or even persecuted for this. The argument was born, which in turn spawned more than enough stupidity to reverse all of the previously achieved observations and reasoning.
From this stupidity, many emerged wondering, “When and Where are we then? Surely these must be relevant to the other questions!” Which of course, they were not. The less said of these people the better.
Finally, from the chaos of human reasoning arose those who finally realized the central question of their existence. These chose finally to question, “What are we? What makes us able to ask these other confrontational and unsolvable questions? What are we that we can make war on each other over concepts and theories?” These did much thinking and pondering on this subject. There was, of course, only one probable conclusion that they could come to, and this in itself answered the other questions entirely, if not entirely satisfactorily for the others. The answer, you see, was “We are an anomaly.”
With that, the others set upon the ‘What’s and committed many a justifiable anomaly.
I was sipping on some tea when I woke up to realize that I was not in the time I imagined I was. That is to say, I realized there was the distinct possibility that I had already woken up at least once already that day, or would in the very near future, at the very least. It was with this rather disturbing, if familiar, realization that I woke up and began searching for the beginning of this most troubling day.
It all started with some chai. Now chai is a particular invention that comes in as many variations as you can tolerate imagining, and appeals to almost as many people for exactly those reasons. I like it because it is, or so I have been told by those who have bothered to notice.
This particular chai was angry. What it was upset about I still have yet to fully understand, but it was indeed perturbed, and was doing its best to make my stomach of the same mind. Needless to say, an angry stomach can ruin the best of days, and I was in no mood to experience such, so I blinked and decided not to drink the chai in the first place. Then I blinked because I had not yet drunk the chai, and was understandably confused as to why, seeing as my stomach had just protested my having done so.
It was at this point that the chai unmade itself and I lost track of what I had done at any exact point of time. So I woke up. Except, I had not yet gone to sleep, or rather had, but was still sleeping, all at the same time.
Incidentally, at some point, I managed to write a working program. Normally this would be of no relevant interest in an increasingly bizarre and interesting day, except that this program survived the experience and is currently working quite well. Nothing else did.
Anyway, it was around the time I woke up for the infinite plus first time when I decided that this was no way to spend my day, and so I woke up again and set about finding a way to reestablish some semblance of order to the events I was experiencing. I settled on a plan of action and woke up again to discover that I had not yet set about creating my plan yet. I am not certain, but I believe I uttered some rather nasty things about time’s mother at this point. When no response presented itself, I assumed that time or its mother had to have heard me and contented myself with this knowledge as I woke up again.
I finally realized my problems maintaining any temporal frame of reference first began with my upset stomach and my wish that I had not imbibed my morning chai. And so I woke up again and set about making my chai.
After the infinite minus first attempt, I was finally able to drink my beverage, and suddenly, it was night, the day had passed, I had a working program, and my stomach was angry at me. I ignored it.
Nancy would normally never have said anything, never have interfered. Not today. When Mary emerged from the back room, her right eye freshly blackened for what had to be the hundredth time, Nancy could have remained silent. She always had before, but not today. In front of dozens of others who had also never spoken up, Nancy strode over to Mary’s husband, ‘Butch’ Braggan, and shoved a calloused finger under the abusive man’s nose. Nancy snarled in a far more aggressive tone than she had ever been heard to use before, “You ever lay a hand on her again, Butch, and I’ll cut it off and beat you to death with it!”
Everyone was startled. None of the witnesses had ever dared cross Butch. He was feared not only in this colony, but across the whole of Titan. Truth be told, Butch was held in uneasy regard by the other colonies of the Saturn system as well, such was the spread of his fearsome reputation. There was no meaner man this side of the solar system, and his customers and neighbors alike tread lightly in his presence. They stared at Nancy with equal parts respect and wonder.
Mary was startled, as no one had stood up for her in a very long time. She had never stood up for herself, cowed as she was by her aggressive husband. She had married him out of fear for what he would do if she refused. She had stayed married to him out of fear that what he did do was nothing compared to what he would do if she tried to leave. She stared at Nancy with nervous apprehension, both for what would inevitably happen to Nancy and for what she feared would happen to her as her cruel husband would assuredly take some of his revenge on her.
Butch Braggan was startled. No one talked to him that way! He would have to beat this fool to death for this! She had not touched him physically, but the blow to his honor could not be tolerated. Men feared him for good reason, after all. He stared at Nancy with a mixture of shock and vile hatred.
Before Butch could respond, with word or fist, Nancy turned and strode out of the store. She had said what she had meant to say, and to stay any longer would offer Butch a chance to start the fight there, and that would spoil Nancy’s plan. Nancy did in fact have a plan. As Nancy walked swiftly, but with a dignity and fury that belayed the assumption that she was fleeing, she could hear Butch come charging out of the store, swearing and cursing and calling her a coward. Butch did not pursue her, stopping just beyond the awning of his store as he hurled threats and invectives at the back of his retreating adversary.
Nancy, though she was sorely tempted to, did not stop, did not turn, and did not respond. Normally, she would endeavor to defend her own honor, and stand up for herself publicly. Not today. She knew that Butch would not be capable of letting this go, so Nancy did not need to confront him now. She needed Butch to come after her for her plan to work. Soon, the sound of the furious bully faded to a low dull echo as Nancy made her way to the edge of the colony.
When she reached the airlock on the eastern wall, Nancy greeted the clerk there, “Evenin’ George.”
George, whom Nancy had known for years, regarded her as if he were looking at a horse who had grown a human for a head, saying slowly, “You feeling alright today, Nancy?”
Nancy replied as she set her claim ticket down on the counter, “Never better. I need my suit.”
George raised an eyebrow quizzically as he retrieved the space pilot’s pressure suit and handed it to her, saying, “I just got a call from Mabel, from over at the store. She says you called out Butch. Is that true?”
Nancy carefully checked over her suit. She trusted George implicitly. George had never let her down as long as Nancy had known him, but she always checked her suit thoroughly. Only a fool would not personally guarantee the safety of a pressure suit before donning it. As she did, she offered a paltry reply to her friend, “Yep.”
George let out a low whistle. The classic low whistle that indicated awe and disbelief at another’s foolhardy bravado. George followed up this obligatory whistle with an obvious statement, “You’re a dead woman if you stay here.”
Nancy finished examining her suit and nodded in satisfaction. The nod served equally well as agreement with her friend’s assessment. She verbalized her consensus, “Yep. Need my suit.”
As Nancy put on her pressure suit, George struggled briefly to contain his desire to continue his commentary, and lost, “Normally I’d give you grief for turning tail and running, but damn, Nancy! You crossed Butch!”
“You know what happened to the last person who stood up to him!”
George ignored Nancy’s acknowledgment and proceeded to remind his friend, “Last time someone got between Butch and poor Mary, was that miner, what was his name?”
“That’s right. Abdul, fresh in from Io, as I recall. Abdul saw Butch slap Mary, and up and slugged him! Next day, no one could find the poor bastard. Never have found the body.”
George seemed oblivious that Nancy had been present for the events he had just recounted, or chose to act so. Grimacing and shaking his head he held out a hand to Nancy, “Here’s hoping you fare better, old friend.”
Nancy finished zipping up the last seam of her suit, and took the proffered hand, saying as they shook, “Goodbye, George. When Butch comes through, don’t try to stop him.”
George visibly blanched, replying shakily, “He’s coming through here?”
Nancy nodded as she settled her helmet over her head, “Should be here any minute now. Don’t interfere. Let him through.”
George shook his head, stating, “I’m no hero! But he’s gonna kill you!”
Nancy paused before setting the helmet down into its seal to grin and say, “Nope.”
Nancy reached her ship, parked several leagues outside of the colony proper, near the mining facility where she had made her last delivery of equipment. The facility, comprised of two shaft entrances, multiple equipment sheds, and several mechanical structures, was closed down and secured for the biweekly dark period. Whenever Titan went behind Saturn and the light of the sun failed to reach the surface, the resulting deep chill made working on the exposed surface difficult, and no one cared to work in the shafts themselves without support personnel on the surface above to aide them in case of emergency.
Titan was already starting to enter twilight as Nancy opened the outer airlock hatch to her ship, the diffused light of the atmosphere dulling as it slowly shifted to gray. Twilight on Titan lasted for hours as the moon slowly swung around its massive parent. Nancy could not see the mighty ringed planet above, not really. Sure, there was sometimes a brighter spot in the sky, but it was barely distinguishable from large bright clouds.
Once through the airlock, Nancy quickly started up the pre-launch sequence. She did not take off her suit. Usually, this was the first task after entering the ship, so as to avoid possible damage to it, and because it was entirely unnecessary and cumbersome to wear the pressure suit inside the ship. Not today. Today she left it on, helmet and all. She did, however, swap out the air tank on her back, even though the tank she was replacing was still more than half full.
This done, and her ship humming steadily as it worked through the routine system checks to make sure it was ready to leave the moon’s surface, Nancy returned to the airlock. Cycling it back to the higher pressure of Titan’s atmosphere, Nancy pressed up against the outer hatch and slid down until she was well below the plastic window. Now in position, she waited.
Minutes passed inexorably. Nancy was a patient woman, as any space pilot had to be, and was not bothered by the tedium. She waited calmly, her focused attention on the light coming through the window. The twilight gray orange glow of Titan was steady. Then it dimmed suddenly and the handle to the hatch clicked.
Nancy braced herself against the side of the airlock and kicked the hatch hard with both feet. It slammed with great force into something on the other side and a shout of pain was heard. Nancy kicked again, but this time the hatch met no resistance, and slammed open into the side of the ship. There was a man in a pressure suit sprawled out on the ground some seven feet from the hatch. The low gravity of Titan had lent great distance to the man’s backward flight.
Nancy got up and quickly walked over to Butch, for that was the man on the ground, as he tried to recover his wits. Nancy reached down past Butch’s helmet and grabbed the air hose at the back. Placing a foot on his shoulder, she yanked hard, and the hose resisted. Butch, still dazed but instinctively aware he was in danger, clawed awkwardly at Nancy’s booted foot. Nancy ignored this and yanked harder at the hose, straining with the force. A terrifying hiss erupted as the helmet end of the hose dislodged, breaking its seal. The air in Butch’s suit was not escaping, the one way valve in his helmet ensured that, but the air from the tank on his back was now rapidly venting into the atmosphere.
Butch grabbed desperately at the hose, but Nancy prevented him as she stepped off of Butch’s shoulder and marched toward the mining facility, dragging Butch along by the hose as she went. In this manner, Nancy kept the hose dislodged and Butch off his feet, as her opponent never gained the leverage necessary to scramble up. Bypassing the buildings of the facility, Nancy marched steadily out into the open plains of Titan. She kept going, ignoring the struggles and tirade of her foe.
Nancy stopped only when she could no longer hear the hiss of escaping air from the hose. Venting as it had been, the tank had quickly run out, while the air in Butch’s suit must also be close to exhaustion. Planting her feet and leaning forward as she stopped, Nancy heaved and threw Butch forward and beyond her. Butch sailed and tumbled like a tumbleweed in the low gravity. Nancy did not waste time watching him land and hurried back toward her ship as fast as she could. Back at the ship, she spotted a crowbar lying near the airlock. Concluding that Butch had brought this to force his way into the ship in case Nancy had locked the hatch, as one normally would have done, Nancy took the time to retrieve it.
Once inside and with the airlock starting to cycle, Nancy did lock the hatch. The air pressure outside would have sufficed to keep the hatch in place, now that she had Butch’s crowbar safely inside with her, but she was not planning on staying in the atmosphere. The whine of the fans and pumps was winding down when a shadow fell across the window once more. The hapless figure outside pounded on the airlock hatch with all his might, alternating between begging for mercy and threatening the most vile and horrific acts if he were not let in.
Nancy calmly turned her back to the exterior hatch and entered her ship. Making her way to the pilot’s chair, she sat down. After checking the report of the pre-launch sequence to assure herself that all was in order, Nancy pushed the booster ignition button. A dull rumble vibrated the craft as the lifting thruster lit off. Slowly at first, then with unfaltering acceleration, Nancy’s ship rose through Titan’s atmosphere.
As the haze dropped away below and the beauty and majesty of the glorious rings of Saturn took form in front of her, Nancy gave the briefest of thought to what she had just done. Normally, Nancy was not a violent woman. Normally, she believed all issues could be resolved through peaceful means, given enough time. Normally, she would have endeavored to find a way, any way, to deal with Butch differently. Not today. Today Nancy was headed home to Earth, and was never returning again.
John J. Johnson was asleep. He floated peacefully in his sleep-harness as his ship hummed around him methodically, hurtling through the near void of space ever so sedately. He had just spent the better part of an earth day attempting to repair a puncture on the exterior bulkhead. While it was not at all critical to his voyage that the repair be effected before he arrived at his destination, he nonetheless had decided the day before that he should endeavor to finish the repair before his arrival at Europa. This determination was a combination of both an attempt to prove to himself his own capabilities in the matter as well as a venture to stave off the otherwise overwhelming boredom that these trips always inevitably entailed. Sure, there were a myriad of mental activities that he could have just as easily enjoyed, but there are only so many movies in a row that one can watch without getting a distinct urge to get up and do something, which on a spacecraft, is a potentially dangerous affliction. Many a tale has been passed around many a tavern across the Sol system of ‘spacers who get bored get dead’.
So it was that when the inch and a half asteroid skipped across the exterior of his craft at a couple of thousands of miles an hour, the wound it inflicted became an omnipresent temptation to get out and do something productive. Giving into his cabin fever had been the easiest part of the enterprise, as suiting up was an ever laborious task that no space-farer gets all the way through without some exhaustion and much frustration. After that, he had to patiently wait for the large empty cargo bay to cycle out the air ever so slowly. His mind had gone over the procedure he had been about to undertake over and over at least a dozen times as the lethargic whine of the aged air pump had grown gradually fainter.
After it had disappeared entirely and the indicator light had finally shown the all clear, John J. Johnson had scrambled out far too eagerly into the vast emptiness of space, showing an almost immature recklessness that was more characteristic of men far less experienced in space than him. It had taken almost fifteen hours of struggling and consternation to get the patch plate bolted into place properly. By the end of the ordeal, John J. Johnson had been cured entirely of his cabin fever, his energy, and his alertness. In such a state he had made his way, only half conscious, back into the cargo bay, waiting interminably for the air to return and pressurize to the proper level. Afterward, the removal of the suit had felt a million times more arduous than normal, and the long crawl to his bunkroom had felt like a marathon. Finally, he had struggled into the sleep-harness and had gratefully passed out.
In doing so, he had entirely missed, in his bleary fatigue, the urgently blinking text on his control console. The hum of his ship was uninterrupted by the standard array of loud warning klaxons that routinely would have gone off, had he not long ago disabled them out of irritation at their agitating volume. Nor was he jolted awake by the auto piloting system making an emergency course adjustment, having never trusted the damn computer to steer the ship, and thus having disengaged it. So it was that John J. Johnson was sound asleep when another asteroid struck his vessel at a couple of thousands of miles an hour. However, as this particular asteroid was over a mile wide and his ship was far less than a mile wide, the asteroid more accurately continued to fly through space virtually unaffected as a smallish collapsible particle impacted its forward facing surface.