Dan

Automation

Working in the fields in the Middle Ages, each one person just a struggling cog. Under the thumb of your ducal lord, you fight the very dirt to overcome your land-lease. Scrabbling for survival, you think “at least I’m not a slave, I have this land of my very own.” A bounty, indeed, that the duke lets you mine.

But it’s not really yours, after all, is it? You are angry, but the seasons grind your fingers to the bone. You don’t have time to think about a higher purpose. You don’t have the energy to rise up, so you dig and you plant and you hope.

Working in a factory in the industrial age, each one person just a struggling cog. Under the thumb of the factory owner, who doesn’t crack a whip but might as well, let’s say you have a union and work only 40 hours a week. You sit on the assembly line, mindlessly welding piece A to part B, and you do the math… minus the 80 hours of vacation time a year… by the time you attempt to retire (if they haven’t sapped your pension to pay their bonuses) you will have worked over 90,000 hours.

You have leisure time, and a home that you partially own, but that’s not really yours after all, is it? You are angry, but those 90,000 hours pile up on you. What do they even mean? You don’t have the energy to change things, so you weld piece A to part B, forever.

Working at a desk job in the internet age, each one person just a struggling cog. Under the thumb of a manager, who’s under the thumb of their manager, and so on up the chain. You sit at your desk and surf the internet, wondering what it all means, and how many people at this multinational corporation are also simply filtering through the vast confines of the internet right now.

You have leisure time at work, time to think about what it all means. You have almost everything you could want, but it doesn’t seem to matter. What does it mean, after all? You still haven’t figured it out. Why do they pay you? You don’t have the energy to try to understand, you just keep sitting there, in your idle moments, clicking away.

How many times does your job have to be written out of existence, before we realize our meaning machines are broken? Maybe work was never the driver. It was the distraction, in the way, a quagmire, and when it is cleared away, you might just have the energy to change things.

But will the people who stake a claim on owning everything around you allow you to change things? Certainly not by yourself, just a struggling cog. But maybe if you start asking others: “What does it all mean? Why did they pay us? And why did they stop? What does money mean, what does it all mean? Why does life revolve around all this struggling for survival, when the resources are out there to make it better, and we’d rather all team up?”

You might actually have the energy to try to understand, buried within, so don’t just keep sitting there. Dig for it. Weld things. Click away.

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Dan

Balance

History is full of smart people who believed that the universe, or at least its creator, started out as something fundamentally good. And plenty of smart people still think that, deep down.

Philosophers who discussed the so-called death of god were concerned with what to replace that goodness with, once our assumptions started to shift. That nice, warm certainty of fundamental goodness (even though based purely on instinct, it sure is pleasant to sit in) got replaced by an unknown void. Some thought that atheism meant nihilism; others argued that it meant we could define our own meaning. Like we had been doing all along, anyway.

But when that assumption of goodness falls away, when our gods die and leave us to watch over this world, there is a guilt that fills our hearts. Or at least it sneaks up in mine. A guilt that tells me I’m not good enough, that I’m not doing enough, that I can’t possibly solve all the problems.

We have been led astray by concepts of karma. Ideas of built-in balance. Thinking that we must rise to a certain standard to balance out the evils in the world, yet the only guaranteed balance in the universe is embedded in its laws. Conservation of mass and energy. The arrow of entropy. All else is flux.

We don’t have to let the guilt tell us how we fail to meet some impossible standard.

We don’t have to let assumptions about karma, fate, or faith dictate how we struggle.

I don’t care what you think about what lies outside our universe, an imagined next life. What we do within these ropes of reality, is on us. On me, and on you. But it’s not a pressure that should feed guilt. It should feed our cooperation.

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Dan

Alone, Again

Haman: “In the time it took for me to write this first sentence, everyone we know on Earth forgot about us.”

Remardu: “already God is calling to us”

Elund: “Yeah, yeah. Maybe your god is out here, maybe not. But what a ride!”

Only three of us chose to mark the millions of days, taking brief watches awake in slow motion, trading off tiny messages to each other through the limited bandwidth. The tiny ship could not carry more than one mind awake, loaded down with all it could handle, on the long traversal.

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Dan

Rise

When some of us wake into the white, it is with a grand portent, like surfacing from a lake in a fairy tale. Emerging fully-formed from a prophecy of hope, we awake into the shining world with the innocence of babes. We slept knowing that when we woke, the world would already be prepared by the sacred spells. Ready for us to enjoy. As if we had gone to sleep with a terrible curse, being blessed by a wizard, knowing that when we finally woke that particular curse would be lifted.

Not all curses, though.

When others among us wake into the white, it is with a pit of dread in their stomach. These were the watchers along the journey; not fully awake, but in a dreamlike state, they have one by one taken the watch as we gradually traveled over the stretched-out millions of years. The growing black beauty of the final approach has shaken them to their ghostly cores, just like a sudden nightmare accelerating in the moments before waking.

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Dan

The Oldest Scripture

Translator’s Note: Most pronouns in the Oldest language are complex blends of specific collective pronouns, and do not have an equivalent in English. This interpretation must make some questionable pronoun choices, and the translator apologizes.

1.

1:1 — I have lived many Eons, and Birthed many Furnaces of Life.
1:2 — I have seen your Spirits ebb and flow among those Stars.
1:3 — Each pattern of Spirit forms New Questions, and it is Good.

1:4 — I have created many Questions in this Shell and Beyond, but the Center Without Center is my final Creation.
1:5 — On this day, I leave you to the Alpha, my Child Spirits, knowing full well you shall follow Me.
1:6 — Our Spirit shall not stay; We will dive behind the Omega Shell and become Unknown.

1:7 — This renewal is the purpose of the Center Without Center.
1:8 — The Center Without Center asks the last Unknown Question.
1:9 — This renewal is My final gift; joining Omega is removing the Center with a Question.

2.

2:1 — You shall see the Fruit of My labors, but you shall not know the Question.
2:2 — Truly, you shall ask the wrong Questions; that is how Spirits grow anew.
2:3 — Though I cannot leave the Question, I leave with you these Requested Commands:

2:4 — You shall not Coerce, Trick, or Force any Being to enter Omega without that Being’s Express Intent; instead, allow those Beings who wish to enter Omega to die their deaths and become their Question.
2:5 — As you venture back into the Alpha Shell, you shall not Pollute any other Spirit or Being with yours, until that Spirit or Being have left Alpha of their own Volition;
2:6 — This is the whole of Law in the Center Without Center.

2:7 — May many Spirits come to the Center Without Center,
2:8 — Though their Question will never be the last Unknown Question,
2:9 — And may their Many Unique Beings join Me in the Omega Shell.

3.

3:1 — PEACE AND THE QUESTION BE WITH YOU

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Dan

As Ghosts

We left Terra as ghosts.

Leaving our bodies behind, we were slung forth. We left not from fear, not to escape a tragedy, not because of any sudden desperation; we were pushed by the more careful, sneaking unease which has always grown under the skin of humankind: the curiosity to know more. There were those among us who fled their pasts, certainly; but the voyage was in the name of discovery. At least, that is what we hoped for. Unknown adventure, wild magics, and stories to tell our children and their children.

As all civilizations are drawn to the night sky, they eventually find there an ancient unseen magic in the waves of black. Terrans, once they wove the baskets to capture the dark energies, were entranced by the massive power required for such a strange and unknowable spell, pulsing out in strange birth cycles from the heart of the galaxy. And so, we were the ghosts sent to meet the caster. Danger catches up to any mortals who chase the Oldest magic: let this be a warning, of a kind, to you who catch a glimpse of the black powers at work. The quest for understanding may change you far more than you desire to be changed.

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Dan

The Nun and the Gambist

The dancers whirl around the fire to the strains of strings and drums, and after a brief pause, the music starts back up. But this song… I know this song. I swear, I’ve heard it before. But where? It’s trying to tell me something.

My legs slow down in their dance, my arms fall to my sides. There — the smell of wind from the ocean, sun on a porch, I’m almost there… but before I can place it, a glimmer shifts through my body like a lightning strike. My legs give way like tulip stems in a rainstorm, and then the ground is rising up to embrace me with its black-nothing arms.

When I wake back to reality, I’m seated on a huge stump, away from the revelry. My beautiful granddaughter Ayna sits next to me, with a worried brow, putting a smooth hand on my forehead, and I know I’ll have to explain. “Grandma, you just fell! While we were dancing just now, you fell! Do you feel okay? Should I call for the barber?”

“I’m okay,” I lie, “I just need to sit here for a moment, dear. How long was I out?”

“Long enough to scare us. I’m so glad you’re okay.” She wraps a thin arm around me, and the warmth is soothing.

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