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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Judy

“So, just to be clear, if I die I don’t have to pay for the personal training, right?”

I paused for a moment.  “No, Judy.  If you die you don’t have to pay.”

“Hmmm…” said Judy, as she thoughtfully tapped her bony, wrinkled fingers against the desk. “I’m just asking because when my cat Mr. Blue died they still made me pay for his veterinary insurance.  And when my husband died I had to pay for all sorts of things that he couldn’t use anymore…you know, on account of his being dead and all.  Isn’t that the silliest thing you’ve ever heard?”

“Oh no, that’s awful.  And I’m sorry to hear about your husband… and your cat,” I said.  I glanced quickly over to where my boss sat at his desk.  He was staring disdainfully in my direction.  I was taking too long to make the sale.

“You’ll never guess how much grief Mr. Blue used to give me.”  She tucked her messy, thin grey hair behind one ear.  “He used to sit on my foot whenever I’d try to leave the house.  I blame him for the fact that I could never exercise until now.  Just try going for a jog with a cat attached to your foot!”

“Yes, that sounds difficult,” I laughed.  My boss made a circular motion with his finger to let me know I should wrap things up.

I cleared my throat.  “So, I’d love to keep training with you, Judy.  How about we start with two sessions a week?”

Judy looked thoughtful for a moment and then smiled.  “Well, why the hell not?  Can you start training me tomorrow?”

___

Judy arrived the next day at the gym for her first training session wearing over-sized cargo shorts pulled up to her chest and a tucked in shirt t-shirt.  On the t-shirt was a pony’s face made of colorful sparkling beads.

“Hi Judy,” I said, trying not to stare at her outfit.  “Are you ready to get started?”

“Well, I guess I’m not getting any younger, am I?  Did you know I’m seventy-five years old?”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.  Don’t pretend to be shocked.  I look old as hell.”

I laughed and led Judy over to the free weight area of the gym where several very large and sweaty men were lifting weights and grunting loudly.

“Sir?” Judy said to one of the large men who was staring at himself in the mirror as he did bicep curls.  “Excuse me, Sir?”

The man paused his routine for a moment to give Judy and me an annoyed glance.

“Hello, kind sir, I was wondering if you would lift my weights for me.  I don’t really feel like doing it today.”

Judy and I laughed.  The man shook his head and went back to staring into the mirror at his bulging biceps.

I managed to get Judy to begrudgingly do a few exercises with the three-pound dumbbells.  However, she insisted on grunting and groaning louder than all the men in the weight area.  “I can’t lift it unless I make these sounds,” she explained.

“So, we have about ten minutes left today,” I said.  “Is there anything else in particular that you want to work on?”

She tapped her chin thoughtfully for a few moments.  “The other day I saw you holding pads for this guy while he did kicking and punching.  I want to do that.”

I tried to hide my surprise.  “Sure!  You want to do kickboxing?”

“Yes.  If that’s what it’s called.”

I held the boxing mitts for Judy while she wailed on them with all her might.  She punched the mitts so wildly that she nearly fell over several times.  I had to keep reminding her to keep her knees bent so that she wouldn’t lose her balance.  All the people in the gym stopped what they were doing and stared at Judy and me.  She didn’t seem to notice.  She couldn’t seem to stop smiling.

“I’m having so much fun!” she shrieked with delight as she punched and kicked.

I eventually had to tell her that we needed to stop because our time was up and I had another client waiting.  She fell over dramatically onto the floor and laid there panting with her tongue hanging out.

“Are you alright there, Judy?”  I asked.

“Yes, yes,” she panted.  “I feel just super!”

After a moment I helped her up and we walked slowly together to the door.  Her pony shirt had come untucked and her grey stringy hair was a mess.

“I’ll see ya next time!”  said Judy with a big grin.  Her pink lipstick had smeared across her cheek.

“I’ll see you next time,” I smiled back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Artifact (0/n)

HIDDEN IN THE HILLS somewhere deep in Colorado a fractal-like antennae sparked to life. Its metallic arms twisted and contorted in shrinking self-similar shapes only a few feet above the obscured entrance to a long-forgotten missile silo. A low mechanical hum rose from a maze of unseen tunnels and shafts and the air grew crisp and tight. It was a cool cloudless night.

Purplish-blue light fell from the fractal and lit up the tree-covered scene with a glow. Tiny sparks shot back from each tree as their leaves and branches vibrated in the gentle wind. The reflected light danced all around. It looked a little like Christmas in a 1950’s town. It was fifteen minutes to midnight.

The hum wobbled as if synchronized with the flickering lights. Then, without pause, the sounds quickly ratchetted to a high-pitched squeal. Static electricity rippled through the air and the antennae discharged in a flash with an ear-shattering snap.

Sleeping birds shot up, tree branches cracked. Dust lifted off the dry ground and briefly traced two paths, one due East and one due West. Something left. Two rays of light.

A single silhouette appeared from nowhere and looked to the sky. It was woman, slender and tall. She scanned her surroundings then brought an instrument to her eyes and rescanned the scene. Shaking her head, she withdrew the object from her face then disappeared back into the hillside.

Moments later, about 300 miles west of Shelter Cove, California, a pool of fog started to form just above the Pacific Ocean. At the very same moment, over a thousand miles away, a smallish meteor appeared out of nowhere and streaked across the sky. It crashed into the ground near Chillicothe, Ohio.

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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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