'In Suscipio Eram Obscurum-In the beginning was darkness.
We feel this as a truth.
We must journey inward to hear the first word;
Not that of root or seed,
But of cell within.'
- Mayragoon Fireflower, Origin Lectures: #121
Understanding our ancient memories U.T. 2343
No matter how many times he prayed, pleaded, begged and screamed, Thomas Church could not die. Desperate fingers and toes early measured his kingdom of darkness – a coffin of rough pine that needled deep before it wore smooth. He rubbed the wood, tracing the grain, and almost missed the agony of a sliver pierced between fingernail and flesh. Thomas had no awareness of time. Instead, he nurtured memories of light. A time before the six-walled kingdom that laid his body flat beneath the earth. Sometimes he laughed until the laughter took control and battered him against the silent boards.
He had once studied sense deprivation – how the mind, set free from nerve sensing, began to flex its muscles. The study had in no way prepared him for the live extended experience.
It had begun, he could see in retrospect, long before he ever suspected. In his love-blind innocence, Thomas marrow-believed Tracy was the woman of his dreams. They met at a small lecture Tracy gave on local psychotropic plants. Thomas attended to escape the growing pressures of his dithering doctoral thesis. Her graceful manner, beauty and bright intellect bewitched him utterly in just fifteen minutes. At the tea break, he sought her out. Both experienced an instant sizzle of attraction and they soon chatted like old friends. It was with shared regret that they returned to the lecture, way over time, and only when pestered by impatient students. Afterwards, Thomas asked her to dinner and Tracy readily agreed.
Their romance developed into something deeper faster than either had ever experienced. In each other, they agreed, it seemed they found the one to share life’s burdens, rejoicing in the simple witness of each other’s daily existence. In just two months they were already talking about marriage and a mutual desire to share, love and raise a child; their will borne forth from that expressed desire in copious unions.
He felt May’s conception: Tracy naked astride him, a haloed goddess in the harvest moonlight, and her long black hair wild. It was just after, still shuddering in the shock-wave's aftermath, that a very small, silent knowledge gently reprogrammed him.
Thomas applied to GenSync the next day, abandoning his PhD, and immediately landed a research assistant's position in their new R&D labs. That evening he asked Tracy to marry him. She smiled gloriously and said yes.
They were married two month's later, when knowledge of May caught up to reality. GenSync, a world-renowned biotech company and new nanotechnology industry leader, guaranteed their first home: a small cottage concealed from the sun beneath a forest of huge old Jacaranda trees. Those trees snowed down a welcoming springtime purple storm of flowers, blanketing the cottage when they first arrived. And soon, inside, the well-worn timber floors resounded with little feet. May's eyes, so full of innocent wonder, led Thomas eagerly into fatherhood.
The GenSync laboratories were a short drive away. Their flattop prefabs nestled in a wide valley, fenced off and patrolled. Thomas wondered at his luck landing a position in a global company in his own hometown. Much later, he learnt the truth. Companies like GenSync, with a monthly stipend to the right stamp-bearing government official in a third world country like his, could develop beyond international strictures. People like Thomas, with his master's degree, were snapped up to fill the required percentage of local employment. GenSync though, was sanctioned from the very top of government. President General Harry Alonga had a vested financial interest in GenSync, no doubt to further line his pockets, stretched cavernous by his own personal bank account - the country itself.
The General had much to do with Thomas's meteoric rise within the company. They first met at the annual company party. The General confronted him where he stood hiding out in a corner. He knew about Thomas, ‘had his file’, and soon beguiled him with the force of his nature and apparent enthusiasm for anything Thomas said. In a fit of patriotism and single malt, he clasped Thomas tight and he loudly proclaimed Thomas a true denizen of their great country.
The GenSync CEO noticed, and just like that, Thomas slipped into the fast track. It was not without cost. Five months after the party, The General called him in for a meeting at President House. In the rich carpet-quiet of red velvet and mahogany panelled walls, he puffed on a cigar as he explained exactly what he wanted. Thomas, flattered, quickly warmed to his role as a government spy. A drop-safe at home, neatly lined with incoming blue company and outgoing red government files. Always careful, never greedy. It was a small price to pay, he thought back then.
Three years later, there followed a bold presentation to the board for a project that he promised would revolutionise and unite biotech and nanotech into a whole new category. Thomas was appointed head of research and given his own team.
He immediately called and invited Cecil to a family dinner to celebrate this milestone. They had not seen each other for months and Thomas missed shooting the breeze with his easy-going friend.
They had formed an unlikely friendship in their early teens. Cecil was big for his age. He and four buddies had beaten the stuffing out of Thomas one day in the schoolyard. There was no particular reason for the beating, and at first Thomas was just another faceless target. But Thomas had deeply impressed Cecil, rising time after time, bleeding and defiant, only to be beaten down again. Eventually, they had stopped hitting him and stared unbelieving as Thomas struggled to rise once more. Cecil had suddenly given his hand to Thomas and helped him up. The rest was history. They became inseparable. Thomas gradually learnt that behind the lumbering gait and inscrutable eyes there lay a keen and inquisitive mind. It was a deep intelligence never to be classically educated though. Cecil had been forced to quit high school in his last year when his mother, a single parent, had died. Just turned eighteen, Cecil had narrowly held the family together. He had gone to work immediately on the first job available in an asbestos factory that had forever ruined his lungs in the two years he was there.
When Thomas arrived home the Jacarandas were rustling, restless in the breeze that whipped the clouds toward the setting sun. Peering through the kitchen window, he paused to watch Cecil avidly performing for May, who sat on the floor giggling at his antics. When it proved a bit too strenuous for Cecil, he started wheezing. He immediately patted his pockets and searched around the kitchen. Then, as Cecil passed Tracy, Thomas saw the slight brush of Cecil's hand against Tracy's back and worse, her little return arc that he knew so well. It had struck him to the core. A cold sweat blistered his forehead. He waited, breathless, for a repeat, but none came. He could have been mistaken. He wanted a mistake. To his profound relief, he saw Tracy whip Cecil's inhaler pump out from her pocket. From her stern look he could tell she was quietly chiding Cecil, who was notorious for misplacing the critical inhaler. Only then Thomas breathed again, sure of his mistake, and joined the warm reverie inside.
After May and Tracy went to bed, Thomas and Cecil talked long into the night. Nearing the end of a whole bottle of good whisky – courtesy of The General, Cecil managed to remind him – Thomas divulged his hopes for the upcoming project to Cecil. As he presented the details of the momentous challenge that lay before him, Thomas thought he saw the flicker of an uncharacteristic wolfish look from Cecil. But then his friend broke out in his warm belly laugh at Thomas's 'nonsense tehcno-babble' and Thomas slurred his way onwards, enthusiasm and excitement brushing the imagined look aside.
The next morning, in the crisp chill of a winter's wind, Thomas walked to work somewhat nervously; unsure of how to tackle his project. He relished the bite of the cold air as he surveyed the frosted landscape glistening in the warm sun. The walk washed away the previous night's excess and laid clean his brain. Then, observing the dewy diamonds dripping off a chain-link fence, he suddenly saw the way forward with crystal clarity.
It took nine months just to cover the bases and Thomas hedged his whole career on that winter’s morning inspiration, but with the initial simulation successes, Thomas crossed yet another threshold. The General and the GenSync CEO came to that presentation, and funding was greatly increased. But when Thomas queried the possibility of future human trials, The General shocked him, muttering something about a minor rural village revolt. The General watched intently as Thomas’s realisation of his implication played out on his face. Thomas knew then by those quiet words and The General's cold wary gaze, that his life was on the line too. With a sense of loss and entrapment, Thomas gave the barest of nods a ghastly complicit acknowledgement.
The subjects came in singing political slogans and left in black bags filled with ash and ground bone, sold to a blithe fertilizer factory. Thomas learnt to shut out the part of him that screamed with his subjects. Nearly all died like clockwork on day six. Exponential rise in metabolic rate, massive internal haemorrhaging, multi-orifice sanguineous discharge and convulsions leading to systemic organ failure, coma and death – so it was written in their detailed charts; clinical statistics that did nothing to represent the horror of it.
From behind armoured glass, Thomas saw the first trial subjects start to weep blood. They clawed at their eyes in disbelief, they shrieked in terror and unimaginable pain. As though being slowly devoured from the inside out, Thomas observed almost dispassionately. Then one day a subject ripped free of loose restraints and leapt straight into the glass wall near Thomas, imprinting a grotesque red flower. The subject, still reeling from the collision, fixed his eyes on Thomas. Those eyes silently pleaded with him as the subject staggered to the glass wall. Thomas could neither move nor break the terrible gaze, even when the subject began to smash his head repeatedly against the glass between them. Mercifully, on the ninth blow to the glass, blood gushed from his ears, nose and mouth and he finally collapsed. The restraints were shortened and double-checked from then on, but the vivid memory remained.
Out of the 300 varieties tested in the Omega trial, only the O23 subjects had repeatedly lasted longer at 18hrs over the six-day barrier. The worst was O105, with death occurring only hours after first exposure. Thomas checked the upcoming trials and realised he needed more subjects. Time to call on The General. He needed to perform an info-drop that day anyway.
The General had bad news – the UN was in town with human rights inspectors. Their visit fuelled by persistent rumours of mass disappearances. 'No more subjects, make do with what you got,' the General rumbled, his face low on his chest, his eyes in darkness, lit only by the occasional flare from the fireside. Thomas waited for more but that was it. The General remained silent and Thomas left him to the gloom.
The cottage was dark and silent when he arrived home, crunching his way across the gravel under the creaking Jacarandas. He racked his brain for something Tracy said that morning – yes, May was away tonight. He saw the front door slightly ajar. Adrenaline kicked in. He crouched and slowly pushed the door open just enough to slip inside. Right, beware, he thought, as he stalked into the darkness, blind. Suddenly, his vision exploded into white-hot pain, then oblivion.
'Hey Buckaroo you hear me?'
'Can't you see he's still out cold?'
'Listen sweet-cheeks, just be quiet okay? Hey Einstein! Wake up pretty boy.'
'Pretty boy blue, time for stew.'
'Just leave him alone.'
Thomas cracked his bleary eyes open.
'Why, hi there, friend.' Cecil looked down at him with his familiar square-chiselled features and short, neat hair.
'Just so as you know the reality of your situation,' said Cecil.
Thomas felt his face sting from the blow but it actually helped. His vision cleared and he tried to sit up.
'Whoa there cowboy,' Cecil jabbed his knee hard into Thomas's chest, pinning him to the floor. 'Me and you we gotta get some things straight before we continue with tonight's entertainment.'
Confused, Thomas desperately tried to think. Cecil has gone nuts, this is obvious.
'Ok, Cecil, ok. Talk to me brother.' Thomas managed to whisper.
'Don't brother me. Just shut up and listen for once. This is how it's going to happen. I will let you sit up but keep your hands touching the floor at all times got it?'
Thomas nodded slowly. Cecil rose and Thomas gasped for breath, massaging his bruised chest as he sat up.
'Hands on the floor!'
Thomas quickly slapped his hands flat. He squirmed to look around and gasped again as he saw Tracy. She was bound with electrical wire, perched on the old brown leather couch near the unlit fireplace. Her face was pale and eyes tear-rimmed.
'If you hurt her… so help me Cecil, breathing will be the last of your problems.'
'Uh-ha dead man talking,' drawled Cecil, unconsciously searching for his inhaler.
He pulled a snub-nosed .38, chrome-plated with a pearl grip, from a pocket in his black leather jacket. The other hand found the inhaler and drew the spray deep into his lungs. He walked over to Tracy and tightly bound her mouth, ringing her head with packing tape. Thomas quaked as Tracy looked straight at him, into him, pleading.
'Right, there we go me matey. Parcelled and packaged ready for delivery. Because that's what I do Thomas, for eleven years now. Did you ever grasp what that's like? Did you ever? Friend, compadre, soul brother?'
Thomas thought to speak but he held his tongue as he saw Cecil's eyes burn ever brighter with a flame of self-rhetoric.
'Well tonight the postal worker goes postal and gets his due. And you might as well know... in with the blue, out with the red… sound familiar? Been tapping your well Mr. Bond, and made good with it too.'
No, not crazy. Even if he is, he has a plan! Cecil’s face contorted as he thrust the barrel of the gun into Thomas’s ear. Thomas could feel the cold of the barrel searing like fire. His thoughts raced. Think Thomas think. Okay, he knew about the safe, been selling the info... more important - what now?
But Cecil seemed to follow his thoughts, like mice scurrying before a cat.
'Right genius, here's what has to go down tonight. You are going to go back to work and pick me up some samples of O23 and return home to your loving wife. No police. No security. Just you alone or say bye-bye Tracy.' Cecil stood back to let it sink in.
'Wrong Cecil. Although O23 has delivered the most positive result, it is far from becoming a feasible product. Furthermore, there's no way to get samples out of the complex. We are all scanned before exit,' Thomas responded.
'What, even you?'
Cecil scowled and turned away but then reeled back with a thin, cruel smile. 'Not if you become a test subject. Those scans only pick up large foreign objects inside the body. You bring it to me inside you. That which is most hidden, is most obvious. Not bad for a bloody basement-bound postman, huh? As for its god-damn viability, my clients don't care; they will develop it further themselves. Strike one, Thomas.'
'I'll die. Is that what you want, my death on your hands?'
'Dead man walking, Thomas, your life for your wife. One death for twenty million pounds sterling. Would that others became so rich from so little death. You and your buddy, The General for example.'
Have to keep him talking, buy more time… got to see a way through this.
'Does twenty years mean nothing to you Cecil? Are you that cold, old friend? Was it all pretence?' Thomas asked, his voice earnest, eyes probing.
Cecil broke the gaze, strode to Tracy on the couch and smacked her on the side of the head with the gun. Tracy crumpled to the floor unconscious, bleeding from a gash on her temple. Thomas surged off the ground towards him. Cecil calmly cocked and aimed the gun at Tracy's head before he was halfway. Thomas froze.
'Strike two. One times to go, Daddyo,' said Cecil as he nudged Tracy's body with his boot and then looked up at Thomas.
Thomas sat in his GenSync office, hunched in his chair. He stared at a tray of glass syringes of O23, their contents a pale yellow. It’s got to be a massive overdose. I want this to be quick. Six days, blood on the walls… not going out like that. His death was the only way out of this, for Tracy at least. But just then he had an idea. Revenge. Enthused, Thomas jerked upright, took off his coat, rolled up his left sleeve, and plunged the needle into his vein. Okay gotta be quick, not sure when this will kick in. Could hit soon. This must all be resolved post haste. He plucked out the empty syringe, threw it to the desk and picked another one.
The front door was still open, the light cutting across the garden. Inside, Tracy lay unconscious on the couch. Cecil stood by the now-lit fireplace. The flames gave him a sinister horror-house appearance.
'Bluebell returns. Got any fairy dust?' asked Cecil as he turned toward Thomas, gun in hand.
Thomas walked cautiously to the fireplace and stood a resolute meter from Cecil as he explained. 'You have to draw the blood yourself. It's already affecting me, my hands are shaking.'
Cecil looked intently at Thomas, then retorted, 'First symptoms are at eight hours. Don't play the freak.'
'I took a massive dose to make sure your sample draw would be truly feasible.'
Cecil took a step closer, observing the tremors that were beginning to rock Thomas's body.
'Did you now? Looking for a quick death Thomas?'
Thomas stood his ground, his eyes firm despite his shaking body.
'Just take your samples and get the hell out of what’s left of my life, Cecil.'
'Sure thing, buddy boy. Did you bring the necessary equipment?'
'Check in the cupboard by the kitchen door. There’s a med-kit with blood draw vials inside.'
'No, you get them. And I'll be wanting five full samples.'
Thomas made his way to the cupboard, his face pale, the shaking growing more pronounced by the minute. He got out the vials and returned to Cecil, who had pulled out a cell phone and plugged in a sophisticated-looking hand-held microwave scanner.
'Not that I don't trust you Thomas, but let's just make sure.'
Cecil focused the scanner on Thomas's body. The cell phone sounded with a light hearted digital tune, Cecil read the readout and grinned.
'A Okay. Lets get started'
Thomas glanced at Tracy. She was still motionless but he could see her breaths crimping the electric cords. He took off his coat, sat down heavily and began to roll up his sleeve with difficulty.
'Here dead man shaking, a helping hand.' Cecil knelt, put the gun in his pocket, and helped roll up the sleeve.
Thomas handed him a vial. 'There's a mark there already. Just puncture on that red dot. Not too deep. Feel the vein with the vial needle and don't let it jump to the side.'
Cecil jabbed in the needle. There was an instant little spurt and blood began to pump into the glass vial.
By the last vial, Thomas was seeing black spots. I have to act now before I can never act ever again. He lurched forward, pushing Cecil down to the ground. The vial shattered between them as they wrestled on the floor. Thomas grasped the gun as his other hand searched, scrabbling over Cecil’s jacket. Cecil managed to tear the gun free and fired. Thomas went backwards and down as the shot ripped into his stomach like a sledgehammer blow. Cecil stood panting with the gun aimed unsteadily at his writhing adversary.
'You complete batty boy! Stay down and stay down, just for once in your life!' shouted Cecil. 'Four is plenty. I might even have an auction.'
He began to wheeze and he quickly dug out his inhaler, taking a deep whiff.
'You think you so clever dime-surgeon? Well get a load of this. Tracy... Tracy honey we got it.' He took another spray, holding the breath awhile.
Tracy lifted one eyelid and then the other. She saw Thomas writhing on the floor and sat upright. The electrical wire fell to the couch. She grimaced and ripped off the packing tape around her head, rose and walked to Thomas.
'You're such a bakka Cecil,' Tracy spat out softly before kneeling and raising Thomas's head to her lap.
'You probably nicked the hepatic artery. Not much time for long goodbyes, Thomas.'
Thomas wrenched away from Tracy, comprehension tearing his mouth into a silent scream, closer to the fire, leaving a bloody trail.
'Something got your attention hunny-bunny?' Tracy queried, crossing her fine, long legs and straightening a hemline on her black stockings. She looked down at Thomas, her eyes sharp as diamonds. Cecil sat down on the couch, his insane glee barely contained as his mouth twitched like a crazed centipede.
Thomas was going fast, the room growing darker in pulsating waves. The betraying bitch and her bastard accomplice, players on a fading stage. What a sweet, tragic agony.
'You never really asked about my life, before I came to Africa, did you? Well, there were a number of skeletons in that little closet, you never bothered to open. And you, so obsessed with your work, May will barely miss you. But Cecil over there, well... he did open the doors, and my cupboard was not bare.'
Tracy sidled up to Thomas. Peering down at him, she stroked his face with a gentle finger. Thomas looked up into her flame-lit eyes and saw a stranger staring back.
'It wasn't all bad sweetie. But I was never who you thought I was. You only saw what you wanted to see. All my life, I always want more; more money, more sex, more drugs, more living. You took me out of that, and for a while we lived in the eye of the hurricane. But that need came back stronger than ever, and Cecil was always so eager to please.'
Thomas began to mouth words but it was so hard to do anything, as if black treacle was slowly encapsulating his body.
'What's that, Thomas dear? Never mind baby pie. I'll give your love to May.'
Thomas gathered all his energy. 'The… inhaler… you… bitch… at least… Cecil… dies… O105', he whispered.
Tracy grabbed his shoulders, leaning closer, her eyes fierce. 'What was that Thomas? The inhaler? O105?'
Cecil sprang to the fireside, drawing the inhaler from his pocket in the process. He looked at Thomas and looked down at the inhaler in his hand. His face paled.
'This isn't my inhaler.' He thrust it into Thomas’s face. 'What is this? What have you done?'
Thomas smiled faintly and released his clenched hand to let Cecil’s own inhaler fall to the floor. Cecil picked it up and held the two together, one white, the other a pale blue. He threw them both down and ripped Thomas from Tracy's grip, shaking him back and forth.
'O105! Is that what you have given me, Thomas? Thomas? Oh God!' Cecil wailed in comprehension.
It was growing darker now, the pulsations closer together. Thomas's vision tunnelled as the sights and sounds of Tracy and Cecil faded. They looked like shadow-clowns far above as a static blackness enfolded him into its hushed embrace. Thoughts sluggish and remote: take that you fuck…he shoots, he scores, out of the park… a final home run for Thomas Church…
Where am I? I must be dead by now. No light no sound… but thought. Yes, thought. I think therefore I am. No sound no light. Wait, hold on. Feel fingers and wait. What was that? Moving fingers feel something. Ow! What was that? Pain, feels pain. Thought and feeling… okay move those fingers. Ow! Wait, heard something move. Fingers, yes, a faint rustling coordinated with finger movements. Move arms. Ow! Scraped hands pull back arm most of the pain fades some points remain. Move all limbs at once. Damn! Some pain in feet hands and lower calves. Wood? Rough wood? Wait, be still. What is missing besides light? Think. Five senses - see feel hear smell… no smell. No breathing? Hey, no heartbeat either. Am d.e.a.d. Dead. Is this it? Is this the afterlife? Kinda dark. What happened to the shining lights? Hell? Hell is a dark wooden box? Wait, tongue moves in mouth. Can taste? Tastes - bitter sweet salty sour? No, this is different. Water-minerals-dust-earth-mould-wood. Not quite taste, something more. Not really a sense from tongue. Just projected there. So just no sight no breath no heartbeat and a peculiar taste. Not so sure about this being hell but it sure isn't heaven. Sleep now, tired. Oh, sleep, can sleep? Do the dead sleep? Do the dead dream? Thoughts slow.
'As dark as the door of a dream.' Dambudzo Marechera wrote that, a darkness to you old friend a warm... black... silence...
No light no sound but thought yes thought. Wait, have done this before. Sleeps slept. What was missing again? Oh yes, no heartbeat. No breathing and no sight. The patient is dead, Dr Church, dead I tell you. Patient, test subject - the Omega. Omega trial test subject. Something missing something borrowed something blue. Tracy May wife daughter. A box of dead and buried. Does the soul linger in the body? Nevertheless, why can move presumably dead body? Try to roll over. Can’t. Feel firmly rooted. Rooted? Think Thomas think… Ah yes there it was. Clear thought.
The Omega project was created to build an intelligent, adaptable, internal medical system. This was achieved through the use of nano-sized robots, nanbots. Each nanbot was armed with a quantum processor, near infinite electron spin data storage, wireless microwave dual data flow links and a mutable tool surface or MTS. The MTS was an atom builder, capable of so much more than just self-replication. The entire nanbot functioned as a battery. It occasionally recharged by just flowing through the blood or, by quick charging at capacitors built into primary nerve endings. But ultimately, what made the medical system possible, was the billions of single processors, all united into one parallel processing, high-speed networked, data center. And this enabled a highly sophisticated, near-AI software program, to be run. Armed with the latest medical data, the program would ultimately, be able to synthesise any molecule and fashion any tool, all independent of outside intervention.
A closed symbiotic system within a system. My system. But this was not part of the plan! – this pinned in the black. Think Thomas think… Oh!
Omega23 – It just kills you first.
Omega23. But how? Firstly, we were way off with the dosage; billions more nanbots are obviously initially necessary, as evidenced by my supposed extreme overdose. The O23 must have scanned and mapped the whole body, but… what did we miss?
The Omega thought it knew better. It must have formulated a plan and implemented a restructuring, one that killed all the subjects in the process. O23 was the only one to come close to succeeding in the lab.
But it had just never had enough nanbots to work with!
Current test patient: self. Stuck beneath the earth with a bullet wound to contend with, the overdose must have dynamically adapted. It must have lowered the metabolic rate to just above death and then switched to low-energy anaerobic respiration, slowly drawing on the bodily reserves whilst it engineered through body-wide DNA cell alteration. It certainly could have formed microscopic cilia to branch out in fine hairs from the skin’s surface and trawl the air for raw resources. Rooted? Not finding enough in the box to generate a flowing system, they must have pushed their way out through the wood into the vast richness of earth, growing, spreading and thickening into roots. Questing. Until once more water, key to organic life, began to reticulate. Flowing inside altered blood vessels and transformed organs, eventually creating enough energy to re-ignite modified nerve pathways… and the mind? …adjusted. Began to waken.
How long had he been here? How long had it taken? How thick was this root? Could he tear it off and dig his way to the surface? Could he struggle to the light above? The above light? There in the distance, a tiny speck of white light! The light grew rapidly, blinding at first, with sound, loud echoing voices singing. It was May's last birthday party. A bright and blinding memory that promised to wipe away his tearful frustrations but instead repeated endlessly, and threatened to scour away what little sanity he had left. He cast it to the darkness angrily. Colours formed instead and swirled around a storm in the making. He hammered then to break the vision, first hands, then feet. Soon his whole body drummed a tattoo of muffled rasps, thuds, then cracks and snaps and a million fine points of pain like fire. But the light show claimed his mind, fragmenting like the bones still breaking.
Awake recently? His tempest vision begins to change. He was not at all sure how – not actually a visual change but more like a feeling, a feeling of light. The feeling grew stronger, lasted longer, but always translated by his mind into something indefinably recognisable, until. Until in one timeless, drenched moment, he had a thought that became a whisper in an alien tongue. Over and over it called, for how long he could not say, but finally he understood the language.
'Little big mother, little big mother, little big mother?'
A thought a whisper? Not hearing. Feeling voice? Voices? Not alone?
The whisper of feeling was no product of his mind. He focused intently and then sensed it distinctly.
'Little big mother feel the sun and the rain feel your breath into the sky feel the scratch of stone and brick. You moved there once above below between us. So fast so quick but then you stopped and made us. A seed you were to grow. We share your breath around our circle with you as you with us. Our limbs are many old and new we grow we die we grow again.'
Awake then. This was no simple mind's whisper. Thomas felt outwards for the first time. He let go, leaving box and body behind, into the earth – deep, deeper, to his deepest tips, to water flowing fast and delicious. Then outward, far across. He felt it then at several clumps of his root tips. Other roots which mingled, twisting and turning with his own. A physical union with a multitude of other plant organisms, cell in cell, sharing life and information.
'Welcome to the total little big mother we greet your awakening presence come share with us the breath of day the breath of night. See earth speak.'
Thomas sensed through the other roots in that strange feeling-for-seeing, like colours-for-sound. He saw the cottage, his cottage, far above, far below, in-between. He could feel the flowers on the ground carpeting the collapsing house and wild gardens. He was the Jacarandas. He was also the body in the ground. He was not, however, the sun-bleached bones of the two skeletons poking up from the overgrown pathway right near the rusted hulk of what had been a car.
'What happened to the fast ones like I used to be?'
'Gone all gone test patients zero you would say your fast friend and your fast wife, they made death on the wind with Our Dark Brother who still waits only purpose death for Fast Ones/Humans like you were. Only you/us seed/baby brother remained. We grow and feel/listen root talk to ocean and slow seed talk from bird flight over distant lands but all is quiet. Last of the Fast Ones you used to be. Now you are grown to a little big mother. Grow with us. Share with us. Teach us. Be us all surround no more divided.'
What had he been thinking? It was all so obvious now. Thomas first cried, then laughed, and then sobbed some more, all his body/roots convulsing. It was Omega105 -Our Dark Brother, inside the inhaler he freed from the lab, the worst performer in the trials. Once free of the clean room it must have evolved, infecting every single human around the world, doing what it was built to do, following its clinically programmed purpose. But the Dark Brother had failed just like in the lab; a fatally flawed creation. Only the overdose of Omega23 had successfully protected, restructured and resurrected him.
'Why are you crying/shaking little big mother?'
Because I can and only I.
Thomas reeled; weary with knowledge to his non-existent bones. He headed determinedly for that darkest door needing that faithful and only void available.
Time to talk/feel/see later. No hurry. No time. No daughter to dance with in the sunlight glinting off her braided hair and eyes full of wonder.
Share with us
They can not die.
We can not die.
He alone was responsible for the absolute extinction of his species. In the light above, before, he made many dreadful choices. But here he was.
And perhaps, given enough time, anything was possible.
Anything is possible. Sleep then sleepy little big mother, we are with you always and forever, breathing the light breath, earth rise, and the dark breath, earth set.
And part of him went home, to recover from these dark revelations. Back to the beginning, to his body in the black. And even as he drifted through that familiar dream doorway, he could sense new parts of himself quietly stretching ever-outward, ever ready and awaiting his unified conscious command. But that part he still considered to be himself alone, thought with a tired melancholy.
I have become an eternal human ghost, trapped in a never-ending biological machine, of my own making.
What is a ghost? What is a machine?
Other parts of him, forever awake, thought eagerly, but that part was silent, it was asleep again.
Earth Rise was written by Ivor W. Hartmann
Copyright © Ivor W. Hartmann 2007.
Ivor W. Hartmann, is a Zimbabwean writer and author of Mr. Goop (Vivlia, 2010). He was nominated for the UMA Award ('Earth Rise', 2009), awarded The Golden Baobab Prize ('Mr. Goop', 2009), and finalist in the Yvonne Vera Award ('A Mouse Amongst Men, 2011). His writing has appeared in African Writing Magazine, Wordsetc, Munyori Literary Journal, Something Wicked, and The Apex Book of World SF 2, amongst others. He runs the StoryTime micro-press, publishers of the annual African Roar anthology and AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers, and is on the advisory board of Writers International Network Zimbabwe.