1. I Kept Meeting Myself in Dreams
Back when Commercial Craft Corp ran flights from Jupiter to the holiday centres off Ganymede and Rigel, I flew obnoxious tourists for their summer vacations. It was unchallenging and predictable, but it afforded me a comfortable life. Then, after the lunar real estate boom and economic crash, the work dried up. Being unemployed brought huge pressures on my marriage. Things cracked up. I came home one day and Susie told me she was leaving. She had been having an affair. Then she told me she was pregnant. Within a month, she left me for a research chemist half my age. She had been sleeping with him for years. I never knew. I had always been a pretty rational guy. But I went crazy. I felt humiliated and checkmated. I wanted blood. So I found him late one night coming out of a bar and I gave him a lesson in humility. I figured he wouldn’t know who’d hit him. But he knew it was me. And this guy, my wife’s future spouse, the wellendowed research chemist Gordon Theodore Andrew Brock the Second, had connections. Now this I didn’t know. He fixed me up good. After that incident, I didn’t see the kids for years. I lost whatever scraps of jobs I had. So I had to find work. But I couldn’t. So I went down into the darkside. I went Skid Row. And there I was, living with two friends, both drug addicts, in Kessel and sleeping through the day. I got addicted to the Skag. Then, disaster. My buddy from the troopers overdosed on the old Skagmeister right next to me. He died in my arms at five in the morning on a warm June day three years after the Great Economic Relaxation. I had to get out. I couldn’t live there. If the cops did a blood scan and found me high, I would lose my licence forever. So I cold turkeyed in gutters and sleep halls. Hell. Money ran out. I lived by theft and graft. I got better. Healthier. I was always robust. Then I got a job. A year afterward, I got back to being a paid astronaut. I started flying small stops between New London and Addis Ababa XII. I was lucky. I mean, I knew things weren’t right. I didn’t tell the control psychs about the voices I’d seen up on those Rigel flights years before. You can lose your license if you get the space crazies. And I was still addicted. I’d been using the narcs to take the edge off the visions. Now I had no narcs in my system and I was getting the visions again. That was hard. I had always been a rational type. Cold hard logic and all that Boolean stuff. But then came the visions and the voices. Back again. Maybe it was the cold turkey. Skag lingering in the brain cells. It does that. And the longing to get high. Passing asteroid fields that would spell out the future and longing to get high. Ghostly figures in the cockpit telling me about the end of everything, and my longing to get high.
I spent a stint on a space station off Neptune. I was running supply shifts and one night I had the big vision. A vision of the Deep Blue. Let me unpack this: I had a vision of a guy who looked just like me. I kept seeing him. At lunch. In my bunk. In my room. In the control console room. In the cockpit. I said to myself: who am I? I mean, I keep meeting myself. I keep meeting myself and I dunno who I am. There I am—holding a Deep Blue Something in my hands. A deep glowy glowlight. There I am—a Man. Medium Height. Medium Build. Holding a Glowing Blue Cubelike Something. He smiled at me. Do not be afraid, he said. I am with you always. Go down into the Deep Blue. The bog dark. The big freeze. I said, you gotta be shitting me. Don’t be afraid? This is the worst, most terrifying thing ever. I said, I know you don’t work on this supply vessel. I know you don’t have a permit to be on the late night pilots’ cockpit. You are not real. You aren’t real because you need to have paperwork to be here. I know that. I am in charge here, I said. Now get yourself the hell off my cockpit. And my ghostly ghost, he who looked like me, said that something terrible was going to happen. From that day I lived with a sense of depression, misery, and the voices of doom. I kept them all a secret. Then the doom really came. My ghostly visitor had been right all along. Apocalypse now. Wow. Death, I thought.
2. The Dying Star
The star Lucem Ex Tenebris exploded two hundred and fifty million million light years away. It blew away many thousand star and planetary systems in the wake of its explosion. It sent meteor showers racing in every direction but ours. Then one headed our way. It was big. Really big.
They saw Meteor Tolstoy coming. Bits of a planet. Only one bit of whatever planet Tolstoy was once a part of was coming our way. The others were flying off on differing vectors. Tolstoy’s approach was kept hush hush. But an object that big can’t be kept secret for long. Soon everybody knew. They sent out attack ships to blow it up. That didn’t work. It was too big. Twice the size of Earth. They sent out other killer ships with new high-grade ordnance and blew away parts of it outside Mars. Other bits, however, kept coming towards our soonto- be-shipwrecked planet. They blew more of those away. Wave after wave. Some even crashed their nuclear craft against it, kamikaze-style. What was left of Tolstoy was only one twentieth the size of Earth when it hit us. It hit west of Indonesia between the islands of Tarawa, Funafuti, and Port Vila, the aftermath tsunami immediately swallowing Australia. Then it drowned Indonesia. It swallowed the Americas. Much of the sea had been rising for decades. It began to devour Asia. It washed over south from St. Petersburg to Yaroslavl, its waters sweeping from Nizhny Novgorod to Kazan, from Chelyabinsk to Omsk, and from Krasnoyarsk to the Sea of Okhotsk. Everything was submerged. As the waters rose, the sun became obsolete. Earth had been punched out of its orbital pathway by Tolstoy. No more photosynthesis. No more air. Plants, animals and insects were facing instant extinction as everything began to get goddamn cold.
Those in the know knew the end was nigh. I knew it because of my visions. The Most Powerful on Earth, those hidden, who control all things unimportant, tried to direct operations from spaceships orbiting the Earth. No one listened. This was because of the plight of the people. Everyone was trying and failing to survive. So the Most Powerful left, abandoning the Earth, despite great misgivings and terrible guilt.
When the Most Powerful were gone, the Richest Families were left. But they all died. The Richest Families died not because they were corrupt and inept and lazy and dependent on the Most Powerful. It was because no one could fight the waves and the consequent freeze. Morality didn’t seem a factor in this.
The poets and novelists and the artists found this really ironic. And, always looking for a good drama-filled subject for their art, they worked hard. It kept them in the money and in the news. They wrote and painted and created furiously before they all drowned or died or froze or caught some dreadful infection.
After the Richest Families and the artists were gone, the Think Tanks were left, safe in their subterranean caverns. The Think Tanks sought, and failed, to find an answer to the question of the rising waters and increasing freeze. They transmitted analysis, projections, and measurements worldwide to whatever systems were still operational. Then the most brilliant of them were killed in a freak accident when the power supplying them was cut during a firefight between two military freighters. The firefight had nothing directly to do with the rising waters.
After the Think Tanks were gone, Big Finance started buying up all the available spaceships to take themselves and their top people and their monies off the planet. When Big Finance was gone, having stripped the planet of all assets, there were the Corporations, whose assets were either gone or had drowned in the great cities or were freezing in virtual bank vaults on several planets.
Fast Reaction Teams went out to fix things. Most of them never came back. They were never found and there was a day of mourning for them. Days, by the way, lasted only four hours by then. We were swinging out of orbit of Sol.
Religious leaders proclaimed the Apocalypse. Then they died. The widespread panic got more widespread. There were riots and revolutions and the Governments and the people fought and everyone lost. People saw Government and the Police and the Media and the Family crumbling under the unfolding world catastrophe, so they turned to God and to Knowledge. They thought and prayed and tried solutions. It didn’t help. Everyone drowned anyway. Huge ships were crushed beneath waves ten miles high.
I watched the waves. Sometimes we were pulling drowned people up by ropes. The waves were so high you drowned before you reached the craft trying to save you. The waves reached over the highest super-buildings. Horrible sights of unspeakable tragedy greeted survivors everywhere. People had to do desperate, selfish, nasty, survival-of-the-fittest, ruthless things to not die. I worked on. People I met as I flew them to relative safety assumed the cold hollow look of the hopeless and the suffering. Animals and birds and insects and reptiles, creatures who could not breathe in water, if not drowned, then starved to death. The technology that ran things crackled and sputtered out. After that, things got worse.
3. The Stars Like Ice, The Stars Like Tears…
The temperature dropped. The Earth had swung out of orbit. The ice came. The Earth, stretching itself out on the invisible ties of gravity, swung out closer to Mars and further from the Sun than it ever had. And, as the North and South poles stretched down like two great hands grasping the planet, drawing the water into themselves in greedy freezing handfuls of ice, everything stopped dead. The sea creatures and animals and insects froze and the people froze and the buildings like refrigerators went hard and cold and the ice came down and the Earth changed from blue to white. And in the frozen water, everything went still and hard, and those who were left built crafts and went south to the equator, for there was a little land left, and they killed each other for soil mainly, for that was what they had always done, and there was so little land left and few people.
In the midst of this, I was hurting badly. I worked on and tried to contact Susie. I was hysterical and sleepless and depressed. I searched refugee camps, floating shelters, previous addresses, everything that wasn’t submerged, which was precious little. My sorrow was like those great black waves that had drowned the planet. I felt our separation and divorce had been a terrible mistake, a primitive act based on unresolved issues rather than the deeper love we might have had for each other, a love damaged by life’s hardships and failures. I was lonely, filled with regret, but more than anything, filled with denial and a tendency to isealise people, especially Susie. By now, only a few of the great mountains were left. The Alps, the Rockies, the Urals, the Himalayas. People had started living on huge floating ships, all fused together. And I could not find Susie.
Despairing, I went back on the Skag and slept for a month in a remote nuclear ship I found outside Norway. When I woke up, I went back to my search. No answer. My family was now twice lost to me. Then my employers found out about my drug problem. They fired me from my flying job for absenteeism. It was hilariously ironic and futile. I didn’t care. I knew that the worst had happened. My Susie was gone. I thought of the effects of discovering her body, beautiful and dead. My heart was dead inside. I decided to abandon the search.
So I got out of there. I took myself down to the bottom of the ocean to explore the underworld. I think I was trying to find somewhere to die. The ship I was in wasn’t fit for purpose. But there were endless wrecks, abandoned vessels adrift and unclaimed, great hulking crewless spaceships that lay like dead whales all along the coasts of Napa, London, Murmansk, Southern California. I found a craft listing on its side. Like so many of these vessels, it was a floating coffin. When I came on board, everyone was dead. I dumped the bodies, took it out of sight to a lonely Norwegian fjord, stocked it with food and supplies, and rebooted the droids on board. After a week’s work and tooling around, I started the engines. I called it Lucifer. I was working against time. There was the freeze and the limited supply of energy cells and the food situation. The engines would burn hydrogen from the water and suddenly, for a bit, bring me anywhere I wanted. Then they would die again. I sat for a long time drinking tea and thinking and reading through the engine specs. It took another week before I finally got them running properly. I looked around. Darkness and death was everywhere. The only thing I had left was my visions. There was nowhere to go but down. I wept and decided I would fix the other computers as I dived. I sealed the craft as the winds and the squall picked up again. Inside myself I felt the chill. It was getting colder.
4. The Deep
You have to go down, down into the deep blue, the voice had told me. So down I went. Down the downward spiral. Down past the few threadbare washed-up islands left, with their crumbling half-built cities and few millions, into the desert of the dark. It was a beautiful restful feeling of falling, falling away from humanity’s agony, falling away from all the mistakes I had made, the guilt I felt at not being able to save my ex-wife and the kids, two of them mine, the sorrow at a drowned and frozen world above, when down here the ice had not come and would not ever come. Down I went, into the world beneath the world. Down past the dead ships and broken submarines and drowned cities that went on for miles and miles into another world. This dark world was filled with fishes and creatures and mountains and chasms so deep they disappeared into the very core of all that was. In many ways, it was impossible to tell whether I was going up or down, so absolute was the blackness. The only measurement was the gradual increase of pressure, and a clock on the wall of the cockpit that told me, by the ever-increasing numbers, that I was travelling further down than I had ever thought I could. The air scrubbers kept me alive and the packs of protein, carbs and vitamin shakes would last me for months. Since I didn’t expect to last as long as months in this absolute blackness, I didn’t give long-term survival much thought. I was still trying to cope with all that had happened to the planet.
For as the ship swam in this great plexi-steel part-translucent glass bio-craft that sustained my life, I decided there were a number of things I did not know. I did not know how long I would live. I did not know if anyone else, save the fish and other sea creatures I was seeing now and again, was alive. I did not know what I was going to do in the next few minutes to stay sane. So I made a list of things. I divided up my day between activities. Four to five hours work: cleaning and maintaining the engines and various systems on the ship. Workout: one hour of stretching, exercises and yoga meditation. Three hours reading and writing and note-taking. One hour washing and cleaning both the ship and myself, and ensuring a basic level of hygiene was maintained so as to avoid infection and contamination of food supplies. Of course this is a very general list. Inevitably things get flexible. One nods off asleep during reading or meditating. Or one reads through a whole book in a ‘day’. Or one discovers a huge problem with a system that eats into your whole schedule.
Generally speaking, I divided up the time into a twenty-four hour cycle, and to maintain some kind of circadian rhythm, I switched off the lights for eight of those twenty-four hours. The reactors on the ship kept me warm. I listened to recordings and tapes in order to have some type of voice, a human voice, some voice other than my own, saying something. I listened to most of the world’s literature, tried to catch a few of my favourite shows, and most of all, tried to keep busy. I didn’t know what else to do. When I thought of my purpose, my goal, as we went down to the bottom of the ocean, Lucifer and I, I realised I didn’t have one. I didn’t even know what I was looking for—just this endless journey into a nothing before and behind me, and a constant worry, despite all my best efforts and organisational skills, that death would come at any second, that this was insane and without purpose, and that perhaps this wasn’t really happening, seeing as I had no way of verifying, outside my own senses, that any of it was real.
It is a far better thing I do, I said. It’s a far, far better thing. It’s better to relax and read novels and not take life too much to heart. Better that than considering the Apocalypse. I feared a return of my depression. That would not be good. Getting terminally depressed down here. It could be terminal. No, I thought. It’s a far better thing I do by occasionally repairing things, than constantly worrying over a sudden demise I cannot in the end prevent if structural integrity fails. It was black outside, a kind of infinite black, with only the nudgings and sounds of the deep sea creatures talking to each other and moving past, some bumping against the craft or even against the plexi-glass. But this brought no comfort. It was as though the world was uninhabited. This was ridiculous. We are never alone. And yet we are alone. We have purpose. And yet we have no purpose. We love. And yet we do not really understand the mysteries of love or who or what we love. In the midst of this, I tried to keep calm and carry on. I stuck to my schedule and left unanswerable questions unanswerable. That’s my job. Keep calm. Carry on.
5. Lucifer Finds the Blue
I realised, possibly too late, that there would never be an end to my ignorance and living in fear. Despite all my efforts, I had been afraid for much of my time underwater. It was probably post-traumatic stress. Depression. Psychosis. Severe anxiety. The usual fare of those who had seen too much. I had seen ships explode, seen everything end, witnessed hundreds die before my eyes, so many dead animals and birds. I was disappointed in myself. I have never experienced the kind of intense selfish fear for my own life as I did during the two hundred and twenty days I was down in the dark wet freezing underworld, days that were imaginary because I had invented time down there. I had invented time and filled it with busyness and distractions. The Earth was by then wildly out of orbit of the sun, and thus without day or night of any realistic or measurable kind. And the best and worst of this dark night was that I was literally swimming in ignorance. I was at the edge of all knowledge. But we humans came into being two thousand millennia ago, and began to record things only six millennia ago. So ninety seven percent of history is lost anyway. And then I saw it.
I almost missed it. Then a sensor went off. I saw the blue. The sensor gave me an image of the spectrum. And there it was. A blue light in the midst of an absolute black. I followed the light. I was that moth. I turned the ship round and headed toward the blue blue blue. After an imaginary day and an equally imaginary night and then another nine hours of an equally imaginary day, I had found something, or rather Lucifer had. The light began to cover the ship. As it did, I saw that beneath the light there was a substance, a deep blue something, like a soup that enveloped and then dissolved the hull of the ship, burning away the metal with such ease I backed away from it horrified, screaming, shocked that I was not experiencing an instant death from the weight and subzero temperatures of the waters all around. But I wasn’t. Perhaps the blue was denser and stronger than the water. Perhaps it could withstand the pressure. I knew no science for what was happening, so I will describe what I remember:
In the beginning there was the light. Then the light grew denser. The deep blue something melted the hull. It ate into everything. As it came to get me, I tried to escape. But there is no escape from the light. There never is. It got me. I was swallowed whole, immersed in this blue substance that seemed fluidic, but as if it was seething with life itself. As it subsumed me, my body began to dissolve. My skin fell away and I stood staring at my muscles and blood vessels, until they too were erased. My organs, my skin, my nails, my blood, my bones, everything I could say constituted who I thought I was, was gone, and the shock and the horror I experienced was embodied in my screams, screams that were snuffed out because I was simply not there. All my life I thought I was my body, but somehow I wasn’t. I was something else as well as the body. I had been downloaded into a pure energy being, or at least something that was no longer human, if one can say a human is its human body. So the blue light killed me. This was how I died and yet did not die. All of the times I had brilliantly evaded death were reduced to this one moment of great irony. I no longer saw or heard or touched or felt. Information permeated me. The waves and shimmerings of the tiny energetic fibers that held all that is, or was, resonated in my being, attuning me to reality, the sounds and signals that emanate beneath and between the mundanities that make up so much of my life. I had dissolved out of time and emerged into space time. All of the thousand torments that had impressed themselves upon me seemed trivial. I swam in the ocean of forgetting. All the awful trivialities that had ruined my peace were lost. Like the Earth as I knew it, they had left. Being no longer limited by time or space, I was infinitely unbored. And so i came to the end. I am here. At the bottom of the ocean. There is life here. And yet i am here and not here. I am here with you as you see this. Hello. Don’t be. No fear. Don’t be anything. There is nothing here. No envy, malice, hate. This is an end to all things. In this there is freedom. In death there is life. A beginning and an end.