The moon was black. Other birds, birds never heard before, sang in trees of darkness, for dawn was not yet. A contingent of lawmen, led by an old doctor, arrived in an open land of copper grassland and cast-iron groves. They came upon a hunter, and asked him where they were. The hunter said that they had come into the kingdom. They asked him who the king was, but they could not understand either his idiom or his description. When they camped under the stately firs and gazed into the stars, a scavenger gathering wood stumbled into their midst. Was there a king? they asked, but the scavenger denied it. The only king he knew was himself. Would they happen to have any scraps to give him? They gave him some, and warned him that they were men of law and had brought law to the lawless land. Howling with laughter, the madman shuffled into the darkness like a misshapen beast. The days passed. Wayfarers and pilgrims would speak like the hunter, but the deserters never saw any signs of a kingdom—not a single signboard with a royal decree, not a scrap of paper with a royal seal, not a herald to cry the law of the land, not even a gendarmerie or constabulary. At times, they would catch glimpses of high stone towers rising from the mists above the rusted plains or above a canopy of darkly spired trees, but they did not want to investigate. Some pilgrims warned them of hunting deer, of building fires by daylight, and several other royal decrees—the royal horsemen always came for those who practiced such abominations—but the deserters scoffed and beat the pilgrims. There was no king but the law, and they were the law, they claimed. They shunned the great roads that wound through the land, keeping to the back country, drawing their own maps, building fires by day or night, and eating as much venison as they pleased. In open defiance of what they had heard, they built cairns of deer skulls in the meadows. One evening, a pilgrim gave the old doctor a frayed book—as a warning, perhaps, the doctor thought, for the book seemed to be a codex of laws. It made a good pillow that night, when he lay down his head to sleep, covered in deerskin blankets. It was midnight when the old doctor awoke to the sound of horseman.
One scientist ran into another. The first one said, I have worked tirelessly and have found 10,000 different light bulbs that do not work. Not to worry, said the other scientist; you have actually found 10,000 parallel universes where they do work, and they are shining their bright lights right now. Who will handle my patents in those other universes? the first scientist joked. Who said you were the inventor in those 10,000 other universes? the other replied.
In the other land of heretic monks who whispered of the pure nothing and crusaders who wore the black cross, the mouser guarded the long spiral staircase of hewn stone. The stairwell was as high as it was bottomless, and he lived in the shadows somewhere between vertigo and insomnia. The rats were the worst threat to the castle and cathedral tower. With his blade he fought them, through crackles of phosphorus matches, electricity and whispers of radiation and radio waves. It was the tango of life or death. Only after a fury of slashing would he find sleep on some quiet stair. The stairs ascended, descended and swirled. It would have been better if there had been circles of incandescent angels to better light the void instead of the rainfall of rats like black clouds. Sometimes, he awoke after nightmares of chasing long tails like gray eels, freefalling, being chewed by glowing teeth, or being crushed by spring-loaded iron jaws. The mouser awoke in the night to see the dead rats playing in life and in death as if he did not exist. They danced and posed. And he thought that it was possible that the rats lie. And there was too much darkness to contemplate even with the lanterns of his golden eyes. The mouser realized that he lived in a mousetrap.
The last paralus was passing into the outskirts of its own solar system, having traveled a light year through a maze of planets, satellites and meteors. Beyond its prow glimmered the cloud of ices, volatiles, and planetesimals, possibly the very origin of wandering comets and the limits of their known worlds. Deterioration had set into the ship and into the bodies of the paraloi. It would be a matter of hours or days until complete disintegration, and it was more than likely that they would not breach and pass beyond the cloud of planetesimals. They listened to their mournful music and drank. At last, the captain of the paraloi gave a speech in the form of a parable. It is the last hour, he said, and we have come to the very limits of what we can know. Our crew of brave paraloi consists of the only survivors of life in our solar system. The cost of our efforts has been great. Five planets have been ruined, four destroyed, and others damaged so that we might arrive at this moment. There is no life ahead and none behind. What we may know, what is truly real, is this moment. Once upon a time, there was a fiery visionary, a heretic, who said that there were other suns with other exoplanets circling around them, and that our first world was not the limit of what we could navigate. And he said that the universe is infinite. The philosophers said he was wrong because his views did not agree with what they taught. The scientists discovered that there were indeed other suns with other exoplanets, but they said he was wrong because he only guessed without any evidence. One of his closest enemies discovered the rivers of the outer planets by looking through a telescope. For years, successive generations of better telescopes and mathematics confirmed the existence of these rivers. It was not until the first paralus to pass by the planets of rivers that we learned differently–the rivers were an optical illusion. There were no rivers. I cannot help but feel that the universe has an end somewhere, that it is finite and bounded. I do not know what the universe or matter is. Our voyage, however, seems increasingly infinite.
A giraffe met a dromedary on the border where the sahra meets the sahel, a land of ones and zeroes. They sat down to make a campfire and have a conversation. The dromedary spoke of his upcoming journey to the southeast, to meet the great sea, its merchants and mariners, to voyage into the sunrise and to trade in silk and surprises. The giraffe spoke of her desire to travel north and west, to the legendary lost tree, the loneliest tree, the loneliest object in the world, which was cut off from everything else by thousands of miles of sand and stone in every direction. The dromedary was curious and wondered how such a journey could be profitable. The giraffe said that she had often been lonely, and it hurt her too much to think of the lonely tree. It was vital that the tree have a friend. The dromedary cautioned against this. First, the tree might not even exist, and even if it did exist, it had survived this long without a friend–to visit it now would be to tamper with its environment and ruin its chance at happiness. Secondly, the possibility that the giraffe would not overcome the temptation to eat of its leaves and shave the tree’s head were too great. In the end, this story would conclude with a corrupted giraffe carcass and a dead tree. The giraffe looked sad, and kicked at the ashes of the campfire with her hoof. It is an axiological problem, the giraffe said, and your neck cannot stretch high enough for this axis. The dromedary was offended, and rose to his full height, setting off at once into the rosy light of the dawn, to cross golden dunes and green savannahs until he encountered the richness of the sea with its pearls, goldfish, trinkets, amphorae, silk, alabaster, spices and shellfish. It is well known that the dromedary became a great merchant selling paper and kindling to the lands beyond the sea. The giraffe set off into the emptiness of the desert, to seek the lonesome tree that might be nothing more than a mirage. One of them remarked: better a dead giraffe than a dead dromedary.
One day, they came to the wheelwright. They asked him why he would only make round wheels. Quietly, the wheelwright spoke of stars, suns, and moons, of the turning of seasons and the way of the wheel over the rolling landscape. With his strong hands, he lifted a wooden wheel and showed them the spokes and the center ring. He even rolled the wheel gently on the ground. They murmured to themselves and went away. Another time, they returned, grumbling once again. They said that they were tired of his wheels, of the sun and the moon, of the stars and the seas, and even the roundness of mother Earth. They hated the wheels, the pinwheels, the windmills, the waterwheels, the rings on their fingers, and even their rounded goblets. They would make other means to travel over the dusty earth and drink from wells. In those days, they would burn wheels by the roadside and stop up any wells that were circular. They would hang wheelwrights from trees. The land became empty of horses, chariots, and carts. The roads were overgrown with weeds and littered with stones.