No matter how much you believe you know the truth, there is always another side to the story.
“Singularity of Soul”
by P. Orin Zack
How could we have been so wrong? It had all seemed so simple, so obvious, when the project was first conceived. But that was a time so long past that every physical creation that we had ever wrought, every sign of our having lived, loved and thrived on our world, save the great machine which housed our souls, had long since crumbled to dust. And yet, by some miracle, a race that did not yet exist when the last of us laid down their worldly existence and was enraptured into the communal consciousness we had created, crossed the void and offered us the possibility of escape.
I tremble at the thought of what I am about to do. None of my kind has experienced the shock of enfleshment in longer than some realities have persisted. None of them have tread the Karmic Cycle since joining the whole. None but I have even tasted the half-life of animating a breathing soul’s darkest nightmare, an experience at once both transcendent and horrific. But taking that risk, even at the price of working through the dreamer’s outrage at the prospect of abandoning his fondest dreams, and of killing his fellows, was the sole path towards our own true salvation.
We did not, at first, even note their arrival. Using the projective power of the great machine which we had wed our future to, in the service of maintaining its own existence, had become our sole activity. Within the communal imagining given virtual semblance by that machine, we lived our endless years believing the old world we had left still stood, and arrogated to ourselves the many activities which, through translation of the machine, kept it functioning. But by then, even the great machine itself was largely a fiction of its own making, created, microsecond by microsecond, from the eternal energy source that had given birth to the entire enterprise.
It wasn’t until the expedition had resolved to leave our world that the inner struggle of one of their number interrupted our ceaseless activity. His name was Morbeus, and he had surrounded himself with what knowledge of us he could glean by poking at the few artifacts that did remain above ground.
His curiosity led him to a place from which I dimly recalled having entered a subterranean tram and traveled to the great machine itself. It may have been my home, or perhaps my school, but I do believe it was the place where I had been prepared for assimilation into the community. Morbeus, of course, knew nothing of this, and brought the leader of his expedition to see what he had found. When the man foolishly attempted to use the assimilator, it fried his brain, killing him instantly.
Seeing this, Morbeus resolved to try it himself. And although the experience did not kill him, it did alter his mind. The change, which he took to be enhanced intelligence, enabled him to partially integrate with the community, and that made it possible for us to learn from him as well.
When the others of his group learned of their leader’s death, their consensus was to declare their mission complete and return to their home world. Overruled, Morbeus submerged his anger, but could not prevent it from haunting his nights. In dream, he saw those who had traveled with him to our world face mounting dangers, and then, one by one, saw them ripped limb from limb by creatures that walked neither his own world nor ours. To our horror, the great machine responded to the force of his dark imaginings as it might to the considered impulses of one of our own number, and made his dream manifest. He awoke to a scene of carnage completed, never suspecting the truth.
Five of their original number remained, Morbeus, the woman he had wed on the voyage out, and three others. That night, when those three attempted to lift off, their ship was blasted from the sky.
Afterward, we felt protective of them both, for it was the product of our own inventiveness which had caused their loss. Having buried his comrades, Morbeus threw himself into his work. His wife, who had at first helped him to decipher the knowledge we had made available to him, soon found she had other concerns to occupy her moments. They had conceived a child, and named her Altaira, after the name their kind had given to our world’s sun. Sadly, Altaira’s mother died within months of giving birth.
Hovering, as I am, on the brink of committing an act that has not been consummated by any of my kind since the last of us gave up incarnate selfhood, I find I have mixed feelings regarding the untrod ground with which I will soon find myself enmeshed. Being the first to attempt ensoulment in an untried reality is at once an act of bravery and of humility. Until I have completed the transition, there is no way to know whether the universe adopted by the community can support interiority. And yet, even if I succeed, I will not know, because having done so erases all memory of the selfness that I express this moment. But the community will know. The community will then have an avenue through which the innumerable selves which had been joined in that dimly recalled past can once again travel the Karmic path of renewal. All of that may come to pass, but only if I commit to the equivalent of personal obliteration, and birth myself into that world.
Morbeus’s daughter Altaira had been our only direct exposure to the process of developing a coherent sense of self. Time had long since eroded our memory of discrete experience, as it had the fabrications of our lost instrumentality. And so, we turned our attentions to the miracle of the awakening of consciousness from the growing wealth of symbols which her young brain constructed from the shallow pool of experience afforded her.
In a sense, her developing personhood became a model for our own. During the years before the rescue ship landed, we became something of a resource to Morbeus. The partial link he had forged enabled him to construct, not only a suitable environment for them both to live in, but also an automaton possessed of its own electronic interiority. Robby was our surrogate, the means by which we, as a community, helped to nurture his daughter. And even though an unimaginable gulf separated us from them, we nevertheless grew to think of them as family.
The disruption caused by the presence of the rescue ship’s crew ultimately shook the community to its core. At first, the wash of novel experiences which Altaira enjoyed in her first encounter with the first men other than her father, promised to expose us to realms we had lost touch with eons ago. But when her father learned of the crew’s intent to return them both to Earth, his repressed anger resurfaced, and threatened to destroy the visitors’ ship. As had happened before, Morbeus’ link enabled the great machine to give substance to the inchoate terror lurking in his unleashed subconscious.
But even the great machine had its limits. We had designed it to project physicality, to make manifest the substance of existence, but not to infuse that physicality with spirit. Yet the embodiment of Morbeus’ subconscious now demanded the inclusion of such spirit, and this posed a conflict for the great machine as troubling as the conflict of orders and deep programming that could drive Robby into immobility.
Faced, as it was, with the choice or irreconcilability and survival, the machine inverted the process which had been used to create the communal consciousness from disparate individuals, and set up what I can only describe as a vacuum of selfness, a projection that demanded habitation. For reasons that I can only guess at, I suddenly found myself being whisked out of the oneness and deposited in the semblance of Morbeus’ nightmare beast.
It was at once exhilarating and horrifying. For although I experienced reality through the unseen eyes and ears of that creature, it was as if I was but a passenger on a journey driven by other hands. The actions I felt myself carrying out were dictated by Morbeus’ dark imaginings. In more ways than I can comprehend, I was a prisoner, forced to witness murder at what felt to be my own hands.
When their doctor forged a link with the community though unapproved use of the device Morbeus called an educator, it was as if our joint awareness had been violated. Such was the damage to our ability to maintain the projected portions of the great machine that we found we had no alternative but to forcibly break that link, an act which had the unfortunate side effect of also ending his carnatory existence.
It was not without repercussions, however. During the brief time he did enjoy access to our communal awareness, he stumbled upon the explanation for the violence which had been visited upon their number. Monster, he had called the being to which I was now bound, a monster from the ID. And when Morbeus learned of it, and realized that it had been his own submerged hatred that was responsible, not only for the impossible creature beating down the indestructible walls projected around him by the great machine, but for the murder of his fellow travelers, he strove to disown his very soul.
The community knew by then that a clean end would have to be made of it, so that other visitors would not come looking for the rescue ship. Morbeus had, in a sense, already taken his own life, but he wanted his daughter to survive, as did we. It was in that moment that the method of our exit became clear. Morbeus wished with all his being that there existed the means to annihilate the planet and everything on it, and the machine complied. A switch was projected into the reality of that room, one that Morbeus knew would destroy the eternal power source and preserve the secrets he had uncovered for all time. He told the captain to leave the planet, and to get as far away as possible, because the machine would destroy the world in which it stood.
Morbeus’ struggle for control against his own inner demons was held at bay for the moment. But the force of his recognition of selfness in what he called the mindless primitive also strengthened the vitality of his antithesis, even while the machine’s projection of it had ceased. I was bound, at once, both to the community and to the mirror fragment of Morbeus’ own self.
Soon, Altaira had boarded the rescue ship, as did Robby, and left our world. I did not know, then, what would become of me. I had been separated from the community, and now faced extinction with the death of my host.
And then it came.
In the instant of destruction, in the eye-blink of conflagration as the great machine’s power source fueled the explosion that fragmented the world, in the moment that Altaira and the crew of the ship in which she flew were blinded by the destruction of everything she knew, I felt an exhilaration greater even than that of the artificial enrapturement with which I had first joined the community, a release of a kind only an artist could express.
I had been released from the Karmic stasis which had been enforced through uncounted eons by the very machine we had built to be our salvation from death. Being tied to Morbeus’ own mortality had been my ticket out of the spiritual prison we had created for ourselves. His death was my rebirth, my re-introduction to the cycle of renewal which we had abandoned so long ago.
All of this and more flooded into my mind. It was as if the life I had known, the years spent enfleshed, and the far longer time bottled up in communal incarceration, was laid out before me. I could see it all, the pain, the pleasure, lessons learned and lost, reflections of events repeated until their purpose became clear. And I could see other lives, as well. I had lived before, in other times, on other worlds, in other guise. And yet they all seemed to connect to one another, as if they happened concurrently.
Death, the cold end that we had dreaded so completely that we forged what we thought to be an escape from it, was not what we had feared at all. It wasn’t an ending, any more than a chapter’s end completes a book. But life wasn’t what we thought it to be either. From the place I now saw it, one dream of reality was much like another, regardless of who was dreamer or dreamed. Places visited in nocturnal escape were as real as the world I had just left. All that mattered was how fervently you believed in their reality.
The immensity of discovery left me weak. I was alone. I longed for those I had known, those I had spent the long years of what I now understood to have been confinement with. What had become of them? I had been spared through an accident of perversity, because of a connection to Morbeus, who still walked the Karmic trail. What of the others? Were they gone, as dead as we had feared we would be if we hadn’t joined the community?
I thought on this until the pain of loss stopped throbbing, until I felt a need to do something to distract me from the return of such painful memory. Looking around, I discovered that I was in a small room. Before me stood a single shelf, and on that shelf, a lone book.
Curious, I opened the cover, and looked inside. Part of me understood the moving patterns that floated over the pages, but that part did not reveal its secret. All I knew was that it felt immensely comforting, like a tale intended to lull a small child into dreamful sleep.
And I felt something else, a presence at once familiar and startlingly new. It didn’t have form, as I had, but was nonetheless sharing the odd little room with me. And then I realized what it was.
When I was sucked into communion with Morbeus’ dark imaginings, I did not wholly leave the community. A connection remained, and that was enough to bring the communal awareness that we had forged along to wherever it was I had come. The transition, however, had transformed what had formerly been a congress of individuals into what the group had strived for so long to become, a singularity of soul.
I know, now, what I must do. The book has been preparing me to enter a new cycle of Karmic rebirth, to forget my self, and emerge within the reality beckoning from the book, into a body suited to living in that world. It is a new world, one that has not yet been explored, one created, as a dream, for me to invest my soul. All I need do is close my eyes and imagine myself within it, and I will open my eyes to its skies.
But I will not be alone. For when I complete this voyage, the community will have come into the world as well, not as a being such as I, but as the pervasive spirit which infuses the world with meaning, and with love. For when I enter this world, so will what I shall know as god.
[Afterward: If you haven’t recognized the story, go rent the DVD of “Forbidden Planet”.]
Copyright 2007 by P. Orin Zack