The Twilight Sea 

The lampreys are sad. They do not like the twilight sea. It only flows in one direction; its coloration is obscured by clouds of ink; it tastes of cold metals. It tarnishes their silver scales. What is worse, the lampreys never find anything to latch onto and suck. Instead, they feel as if they are being sucked forward, body and soul, into a great distance withour stars or starfish, where they cannot feel their innards, where they cannot feel the waves touch their outer skin. One lamprey who mysteriously escaped the twilight sea to return to our blessed waters said that even now, his hunting is obscured by that dreadful nightmare, and he is often blinded to things he could suck. It is hard to live. Moreover, despite the horror, he sometimes misses the sensation of having his body being vaccuumed by the great and unreachable maelstrom. Once, the souls who drift below asked him to summarize the sounds, tastes and textures of the twilight sea in as few words as possible. And the lamprey sadly whispered. Hunger. Time. 

The Moon and Stars

The moon voyages began some two thousand years ago. The first to land on its soft surface became embroiled in a war of cloud centaurs, vegetable humanoids and canines made of acorns. Another traveled there to discover all the lost things that earth missed, such as bottled brains and parasols. There were reports of travelers who discovered perfect civilizations in its metallic craters or unusual ways to view an eclipse in the extreme cold. Some later found canals and rivers without ships or navigators, but these tales only lasted for four hundred years before being buried in absolute unbelief. Later, the moon had a short-lived career as a stage actor or character in a bloody tragedy and then as a kind of mobile saltwater dairy farm. Some years ago, the moon voyages yielded only great speeches and haunting footprints. It was otherwise desolate, utterly desolate. The moon is still silent. And watching. One can only imagine what secrets burn deep within the stars.

The Tesserae

An ancient planet of white sands, gray mountains and large acacia trees was searching for other beings in the universe. It was a matter of life and death and a matter of time. Resources were running out, and the herds of dromedaries that mined, traveled, ploughed, and provided meat were on the verge of extinction. The humanoids of this planet would not be able to build spacecraft without external help. They lacked the workforce and technology. They had, however, built gigantic radio machines with cathode ray boxes and screens that could read signals from the other side of the galaxy. These could not detect life, but it was hoped that they would perhaps find traces of other cultures sending out signals. During the days when the last handful of dromedaries were sick with plague and dying, a radio operator saw something appear on her screen. At first, it seemed nothing more than a crude and abstract mosaic. Gradually, her eyes saw the shape of a camel. Symbols appeared on the fringes of the picture. The machine showed the camel performing various kinds of work on a planet not unlike her own. Other mosaics were soon discovered. They showed humanoids made of tiny squares of light walking down endless hallways and through trompe l’oeil mazes to elude serpents, beasts or other menacing humanoids. Some of the humanoids characters would travel, and maps would acquire more shape and definition. These scenes were often interrupted, and the mosaic would seem to return in time to what she had seen at the beginning, when the camel was first starting its workday or the flickering tesserae of the humanoids were starting off on their exploratory quests or entries into combat. To summarize, the mosaics were like a more angular, moving version of the pictographs and cave paintings on her own ancient planet. It was hard to say what they meant. Only two theories occured to her. The first was that whoever made these mosaics did so to preserve something of their history and literature, and this was all that remained, since the radios of her planet could not pick up anything else. Her second theory was a bit more complex. She wondered if each mosaic were a smaller world within a larger world. In this theory, the beasts and humanoids made of flickering tesserae were not representations—they were the actual beings of this other planet, trapped in very short cycles of time that always repeated but never resulted in a fulfilled dream or completed quest. She mourned these lost souls of cubist light, and wept for her own.

The Trader

A trader was pressed into the service of the army to survey a tract of wilderness and to deliver supplies to anyone who needed them. As he journeyed along, he passed through a vicious mountain pass and then through a dreadful, stony land that wore out his boots and cut his feet. On the far side of the land of stones, he met pilgrims who were heading in the direction he had come from. He offered them some of his provisions, but they refused. He asked for water and his request was denied. The trader warned them of the land of stones and the vicious mountains, and inquired about the country they had passed through. The pilgrims shrugged, saying that they doubted any such mountain or land of stones could exist, and they had nothing special to report about the lands they had seen. As they headed off towards the land of stones, the trader could not help but notice that they wore the poorest of straw sandals, which would come undone before the end of the day.

The Ascent

A traveler stopped halfway up the mountain to rest in an old wooden shelter. It was starting to rain, but not even the clouds could dampen his joy; his eyes were aflame with the excitement and exertion of the climb and the hope of conquering the peak. Standing close to the threshold and watching the weather through the doorway, he saw a young woman slowly descending the mountain path. She also took refuge from the rain in the old wooden shelter. She rolled cigarettes, shared her brandy with him, and even listened politely as he grew poetic in his praise for nature and its metaphysical treasures. It was especially intriguing to him how there were many paths that led to the peaks of mountains and that when one climbed a mountain, one was really climbing them all. The young woman took another drink of brandy, looked at him thoughtfully, and said, I am not a seasoned climber yet, and probably won’t ever be, but I can tell you with some certainty that only one mountain can be the highest. Only one can be the hardest to climb. No two mountains are identical–neither in height nor in how one climbs them. Moreover, while some peaks may have several accessible faces, I guarantee you that this one peak has only one path to the summit. To try another approach is certain death. I have buried those who tried with my own hands. The traveler watched her back as she descended the path, irritated and afraid, but mostly just irritated that a strange woman had tarnished his glorious day. The rain was turning to snow.

The Boxer

On a spring morning, the boxer awoke with a strange case of clairvoyance, or to be more precise, the ability to read minds. As he smoked a cigarette on his porch, a woman walking down the street smiled and bowed, and he sensed how he became part of a poem she was composing in her head. Later, as he strode to the train station, his black jacket triggered an episode of acute anxiety in a man begging for change to buy coffee. The pigeons looked at him in expectation, and the gentleness of their thoughts almost made him stop and abandon his plans for the day. As he inserted coins into a machine at the train station, his tall figure burned in the dark thoughts of a stranger pretending to gaze at the large signboards mapping the train routes and announcing departure times, while his angular jaw and musculature gave the waitress at the coffee shop across the way a warm, unspeakable feeling. Disturbed by wave after wave of passing thoughts and emotions that did not belong to him but included him, the boxer bounded up an escalator and boarded his train. The sounds, whispers, pulses and screams that flooded him on the train left his head throbbing and his body almost lifeless. To a hundred minds crammed in the train car he became a hundred different ghosts, haunting their interior monologues. He began to lose his bearings and forget where he should go. The boxer got off at a stop in his old neighborhood and began to walk down quiet streets, where there were few passersby, heading for the home of his old friend, a beautiful girl with long, dark, red hair. It was not his original destination, but he wanted to see her and feel her thoughts more than anything. The world seemed heavy. He tried to remember as many faces of those whose minds he had read as possible. Lost in such thoughts, he was crossing a street, when he felt the fear and love of someone dear. As he looked up, he briefly saw the truck, the blanched face of his old friend with her dark, red hair through the windshield, and heard the scream of the brakes. Losing consciousness, he hardly felt the broken glass embedded in his skin or her hands on his chest, and he could not read her thoughts anymore. All he wanted was to remember the faces, little bodies and wings of the pigeons he had disappointed.

The Write-Offs

Some centuries or milennia into the future, there is an inspector who travels from planet to planet on one of the newest models of black ships with a small crew of technicians. Despite her sophisticated spacecraft and a black budget, almost none of which is spent, her task is simple, a job that lies somewhere on the borders of journalism, archaeology and bureaucratic inventory. She visits decayed planets, assesses them, and writes them off. Sometimes she also revisits the write-offs to note any changes, but this is a formality. Nobody is going to visit them, much less develop them. Throughout the years, she has charted numerous galactic boneyards and abandoned planets, areas of the galaxy not worth maintaining, repairing or even visiting. It is not really known how the planets got this way. It was not her species that damaged most of them, but a species very much like hers. One day, she will speak to a code-breaker who serves as her navigator and cartographer. In the old days, he would have been a programmer, one not immune to the lures of building machines and playing video games. It is based on such experiences that he explains his theory of dead worlds. In the beginning, each world flourishes according to its own native rules or coding. The colonists approach it like a game. Once they have mastered the rules, they can win the game for a time, but they find that winning has too many limitations. It is then that they use cheats, mods or hacks to make the inconceivable happen in the world they are playing. Deer walk backwards, clouds grow wheat aimed for the earth, night skies are cobalt blue and day skies are magenta, and so on. The end result is always the same. The world vanishes, replaced by a new entity, a hacked world, a projection of the colonists’ imagination. Not only can they intervene in nature, they can redefine and change nature. Eventually this manipulation will also become a bore–a pointless draining of time, energy and resources. The original world can no longer be retrieved or repaired; it is not merely buried under endless strata of modifications, it is indelibly altered or erased. The world is then abandoned. Other virgin planets are sought. Most of the time, however, the colonists are not that good at their game, much less at cheats, mods or hacks, and disasters ensue. The worlds die. In the cases where the worlds do not die, they are abandoned because they could not fulfill expectations or meet arbitrary projections. The worlds are then written off anyway, as if they were dead.