In a distant corner of the universe, an astronomer lost all of his funding within days of building a gigantic observatory with a massive telescope on one of the highest mountains of his planet. Through the telescope he observed and counted twenty six stars, a handful for each of the quadrants–east, west, south and north. This was no more than what could be seen with the naked eye. It was dark out there and disappointing. There were not even enough stars to make imaginary pictures, as one could with cloud formations. Somehow, he had expected more stars.
It was not a good analogy, but it was the first thing that came to the mind of the worn out teacher leaning over an astronomical globe and atlas with the young girl. There were blackholes and galaxies. There were new stars and there was emptiness. It was like filling, overflowing and draining countless bathtubs of bubbles and sparkling water. The bell rang and the young girl gathered her textbooks and notebooks into her bag, and stepped out into the afternoon. She surveyed the old street with its abandoned buildings, closed shops, automotive garages, empty lots of weeds and rusted cans, and small humming factories. Coffee cream splashes of a dying sun fell on cracks, dust, stains, warped wood, corrugated steel, tarnish, rust and ash. The world really was dirty, she thought. And yet, who could be taking all those baths up there in the night sky where the stars were so clean, shiny and fresh?
I was writing the last pages of my text on eclipses of the moon and sun when the event happened. I was still wearing my bronze armour for I had to write in a hurry between battles, and wanted to finish my treatise before beginning my tragedy on the life of the destroyer who traveled on a winged horse armed with a crystal eye and the horror that turns men to stone. And then there was thunder, a rainfall of stars, and smoke all over the surface of the earth. Logic fails to explain or express the journey, for either I was carried off by a comet or another strange cosmic phenomenon, or spirits transported me from the earth into the vicinity of unfamiliar stars and planets. The third possibility is that I have gone mad. It is unlikely I could have survived the first type of event without burning up or suffocating. Travelers have often reported the burning up of falling stars and the way the air grows thinner the higher you climb into the mountains. It would seem that there is no air in the ether and traveling through the atmosphere is a violent and hazardous event. The second possibility is no less impossible or disconcerting, for it is said that even if spirits or immortals exist, they are too far away in space to notice our earth or care about our life, and being transported by them to this area of space by their powers makes no sense, for I have not encountered anyone or anything other than a great void of orbiting stars, streaming luminous clouds and the shadows of planets. The one planet in my vicinity, which I orbit each day, at about the same distance of the moon to our ancient earth, glows with swirls of amber, molten gold, topaz and black steel. It is like looking into the forge of a blacksmith or into one of those strange marbles of glassblowers, or a rare gem. It is a cat’s eye without a body. Its warmth wafts over to me. I do not seem to have difficulty breathing, but I know there can be no air, for nothing lives or grows in this empty sea. This morning star, like an ember in the dark sky, like a mysterious cat’s eye, seems to be made of gases and elixirs. I believe these elixirs drift outward, the way heat drifts from a hearth, the way an aura of light spreads from one little lantern into the night. It seems possible that these elixirs have made me immortal. I do not breathe, I do not eat, I do not weep or feel pain anywhere in my body, and I do not die. The only thing I feel is an infinite sadness. My mind works without ceasing as I ponder the revolutions of stars and planets. Some five hundred years must have passed since my arrival. I can guess this by the patterns of changes in the stars, the seasons of my planet, and the number of calculations I have made from where I float like a drowned sailor in the universe. I now know the circumference and age of my planet, I have numbered the planets in this ring of stars and guessed the durations and lengths of their orbits, I have predicted countless phenomena with increasing accuracy. I am a living almanac who cannot impart a single iota of what I have observed and tested. On the earth I once heard legends of subterranean hells full of darkness and flames that maidens would fall into and heroes would visit at great risk. I did not think about such things much. I was too occupied with the codex and the spear. Whether or not a hell exists under the earth, it certainly exists here. It is a beautiful hell. My soul burns with the beauty and sadness of the starry chaos. The third possible explanation for my night voyage remains. I may be locked into a an infinite madness, a madness so great that my body may have died but my mind cannot sense it and sleep, a madness that only increases my pointless calculus of astronomical phenomena while decreasing my memory of life. Perhaps all three explanations are interwoven, swirling together in this maelstrom of suspended and turning lights and shadows. I pray that this is true, for if there is a hell, then it seems more possible that there is a heaven that will someday draw me from the dance of flames, from death without death, from infinite madness. I have come to experience infinity, but I have yet to find eternity. I would like to find a friend in this great emptiness.
The astronomer was led away in chains, into captivity and exile, when the holy city fell, its great towers and walls broken down. Although he mourned his dead comrades and the ruins of his city, the astronomer could not help but look forward to seeing the wonders of the enemy city, as it was renowned for its observatories. For years, he lived in the prison of the city of exile. Those that escaped its walls whispered of the great secrets the former royal astronomer would undoubtedly uncover in the libraries, observatories, and planetariums of the city of exile. In his old age, when the astronomer heard that the holy city had been resurrected and rebuilt, and that captives were allowed to return, he made haste to depart for his home. When he reached the frontier of his native land, he wept, for his fellow citizens had come to greet him and embrace him. They embraced him with their questions, and he made the long awaited announcement. I was informed of the death of the sun, he said in the ancient sign language, and of the death of its warm machinery. In its place they have raised a surrogate made from an alloy that will be hard to breathe. They told me they would sever my hands, and I would not be able to scream. All of my words fell from my mouth, hammered out with their strange scissoring. Some of my words looked like glass marbles. They gathered these marbles upon long, dark tables. They weighed these marbles on scales and clicked their abacuses. Then the marbles were sorted into burial mounds. They also informed me of the death of my tongue.