Ex Nihilo, Short Stories, The Augmented World

Ex Nihilo – Endless Wind

The gun is close. I must reach it. The pain in my chest, where my skin was first touched by the ether-woman, is excruciating, nearly to the point of fainting. But I must reach the gun. In my last act, I will rob the galaxy of the knowledge, the dreadful, hunched knowledge waiting in this dark corner of a planet. Maybe it’s the pain or my mind waxing poetical as it nears death but I can almost see that knowledge, dark, blackened coils of no-matter. Unfolding, they gasp towards the sky, stretching like antlers among the many galactic hovels of man. Where they touch, nothing happens at first. But a lingering, a dwindling, a stagnation, has been set in motion. I can see now, with the ever-clouded eyes of the imagination, the hovels of man falling into disrepair, into neglect. Death, for them, becomes a sweet, impossible release. Worse than that, they linger on in apathy, immersed in the rotting fruits that were once civilization. I must reach the gun.

Endless wind. The faint remembrance of things is forever blowing in an endless wind. That is what is written on the side of this impossible structure, stretching into the nearly black sky of this world. Having traveled here from Heart, having worked here for months, I expected to feel something more than mere relief once the words revealed themselves to me. Leaning backwards to unwind the slowly mounting pressure in my back, I survey the dig site. I am alone here now as my wife and fellow excavator, Janith, has retired for the day. There is no real day or night here as we might understand them back on Heart, as the atmosphere is too thin to be reflective. All there is is light and then darkness, a brightening and then a darkening as this blasted, scarred, flat piece of earth circles its faint sun. I wonder, and not for the first time, why we’ve come here. These words, vertical messages left in granite-like slabs, were supposed to be my answer. Sitting back now, I try to take in my discovery. What I once thought was the piece itself  is turning out to be only the key. Below the words I had been studying for months, buried in the dirt, were a thousand more. A million more. They were not only as a sentence to a book, no. Here, my heart raced faster and my relief was finally joined by some form of elation. They were a key.

“Hey! Hey, Paul, did you hear me?” a voice from somewhere calls. Muttering some dismissal or other, I’m sure she was badgering me about eating, I mechanically shovel more food into my mouth, never once taking my eyes off the book lying in front of me. “Paul” she says now, Janith yes my wife if I recall correctly, crouching besides me and grasping my arm “I’m worried about you”. I look up now into the worried face of my wife-colleague. I smile distractedly, my stomach already clawing for the text. I know this smile, a smile I remember using often, only bothers her more. Like a faint memory blowing on a wind yes as all memory does an endless wind. Wait, one more minute. First, let me rid myself of this delay. “Honey” I say and turn to her “it’s going to be OK. The drop-ship will be here in five days. The rotation team will take over and we’ll return to Heart. This is my ticket in, don’t you see? If I can decode even the first paragraph, I’m in!”. This should calm her, I think, and return to the text. The beautiful text. I’m making headway into it. It’s a manual I think but I don’t yet know to what. The temple itself? Perhaps. I can tell she isn’t calm. I can tell she’s still looking at me. I don’t know why it hasn’t worked this time but I don’t care right now. Another sigil has just been made clear. The decoding is careful, tiring work, using the key in various shapes and forms to understand the rest. They had an intriguing language, shifting, organic, infinite. And it’s coming undone, right here, beneath my fingers. I smile as I hear Janith mutter “It’s two days, Paul. Two days before the drop-ship” but not because of what she says. Because the next word is “form”.

Only a few words remain. I’m so close to understanding but still far. That’s the nature of their speech, don’t you see? The whole must be understood so the separate can make sense! A manual, pfft! I can’t believe I thought it was a manual. No, but I can believe. With my tools, my human tools, what else could I understand of it? It’s no manual but I don’t know what it is yet. The drop-ship had to wait. Janith had to wait. She sleeps now, besides me. I think she suspects nothing, does not link the accident on the satellite to my work. The analogy makes me almost laugh. One communication device destroyed for the unfolding of another. The text is spread before me now and I am slowly working my way towards the end. The first lines now swim in front of my eyes, hazy silhouettes that give meaning to what I’m reading now. Slowly, like endless, bountiful coils that reel me in towards perfection, letters start flowing like rain. It’s almost a blur now, my eyes moving so fast I think I might burn off my eyelids. Janith stirs next to me and that bothers me because the dosage should have been enough to knock her out for longer than that. Never mind, it’s too late now. She can’t stop the unfolding of the text now, my mind has reached a critical mass. I fling the first scroll to the ground. I don’t need the key anymore. I am the key. I am the first person to speak this language in countless eons and I relish now in the sound they make as they force their way around my all-too-human throat. This is it. The last line:

I must reach the gun. Slowly, dragging myself across the black dirt that makes up this planet’s earth, a fact I can now clearly explain as the result of terrible war, I inch my way towards. I reach it but my fingers slip on the holster, the blood that sprung from my wife’s throat making them slippery. Through the blur of my tears, I can see the ether-woman standing there, smiling. I now know, having read the text, who she is: she is what this planet was made for. A prison, a box, a holding place, a tomb for that woman that is no woman, for that terrible entity that is all that we fear made shape. I know there is only one way to take revenge on her and it lies with the gun. But why isn’t she stopping me? She’s just standing there, smiling and moving ever so slightly from side to side. Perhaps I’m wrong and, no! She’s playing games with you. Grabbing the gun now, I raise it to my temple. She’s still smiling. But why? I am the only key left, now that the paper has burned, now that the explosives were set and activated. I don’t know. I don’t know and this is my only way out.

In the millisecond between the strike of the hammer on the bullet and the inevitable, terminal conjuncture between it and bone, the woman, still smiling, whispers to me: “Endless wind.  The faint remembrance of things is forever blowing in an endless wind. There will be more, John.

There are always more”.

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