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Fiction: Perihelion by Holger Nahm  

Posted by Scott Wilson

My father always told me I had a beautiful soul, but I now know that he was lying. I know because of the noises people make when they see it, their lame compliments and that contrite tone in their voice that says it all: “Such a pathetic soul and blind as well, you poor, poor thing”. Not that they would ever actually speak the words.

Every time I get turned down for yet another job or they again rejects my request for new eyes I get to hear some new, clever justification. But I know it is because of my soul. And I really can’t blame anyone but myself. I don’t need to see my soul to know how hollow I am, how devoid of dreams and motivation. They say most blind people hone their hearing to perfection. Ferti even told me about a blind boy from way-back-when who mastered some form of echolocation; For my part I just stumble through a world of nothing, clumsy and awkward.

On most days I find the knowledge that we are utterly insignificant flickers in a cosmos of light very reassuring.

#

I shouldn’t whinge; given the circumstances I guess I really am lucky. I have a job at the local Records, my lovely girlfriend Nefertiti is still sticking with me and I actually own a small apartment above the line of darkness – not that that has any real meaning for me. Many around here remember my father and take pity on his poor blind son. A Party undersecretary may not be paid well, but it sure is a nice way to make people feel they owe you a favour.

My greatest blessing is Nefertiti, or Ferti as she likes to be called – she hates “Nefi” with a passion and doesn’t care for “Nefertiti”; I guess having the most common name on the entire planet does that to you. But it suits her perfectly, she is beautiful beyond doubt. Her skin is silky and warm, her hands tender and arousing, and her voice has a magic all to its own. The mind matches the body: Her impressive education and her genuine compassion for the downtrodden have been beautiful inspiration; Occasionally, when the realization that I may be one of the downtrodden strikes, it also hurts a bit.

For obvious reasons we don’t talk about our souls, but I once overheard her friends chat about how pleasantly complex and harmonious hers is. In some ways I am happy that I will likely never see for myself.

#

To me it feels like I am stuck in the past, left behind decades before I was even born, trapped forever in the darkness of the Forties. Perhaps I really am the only one on Earth who cannot marvel at the incandescent holographic miracle of the manifest soul, the greatest wonder of human genius and technology.

So I have begun to study. Where others gaze in dumbfound amazement I have to read and listen; And our past holds more surprises than I would have thought possible. Who out there even knows that the very first Manifester experiments happened only seventy years ago? That means that just seven decades ago no one believed in the soul. It seems so unbelievable now; For most of history humanity was aware of the soul and then we just stopped knowing.

The years after the Kline Experiments must have been strange and glorious time, so full of hope and grandeur. Sure, we could no longer deny that all living things have souls, but what were their flickers to our blazing beacons? For a decade humanity could truly believe in its unique magnificence, its rightful supremacy.

But my study of this era has also left a taste of dread in my mind. We now take it for granted that the soul will remain after we die. That unfortunately is by no means the natural state of things. Observing the souls of the dying was of course one of the first things that the Manifester was used for. Most remained after death as they do today, but a few faded, just like the souls of animals and plants do. The ones that dissipated shared one characteristic: while alive they had not seen their own soul. Back then there was some speculation whether salvation depended on seeing the soul or mere knowledge of it, but I have not found the answer in any file. And nowadays there is no one left on the planet who hasn’t seen their soul; No one except for myself; And perhaps a few other unlucky ones.

I guess it wouldn’t really be all too difficult to find research on what happens to the souls of the blind, but I must admit I am too afraid to feel myself down that road.

#

Yesterday Chand, my boss at Records, told me something that has left me in deep ruminations. I had of course heard of the vagrant workers that toil away in the underfactories far below the line of darkness, desperately close to the dirt. I always assumed that after a few years of work they would be granted citizenship. Chand gave me a different story. He says that there is a an unwritten Party guideline to evict them after four years and ten months, just a few fleeting weeks short of automatically being granted citizenship by right of Law. It would mean that those poor souls are working themselves to the bone, often literally, only to be thrown back into the Burning Land.

I need to learn more. Not that I doubt Chand; After the Catastrophes and after all we have learnt, human life certainly has become very disposable. But could the Party, with its strong Gaian roots, its firm commitment to the Earth and the people, really allow such a monstrosity?

#

Then again, the spiritual roots of the Party is another one of those things that no one seems to care about these days. But how can we forget that it was the construction of the first Very Large Manifster Array that also forged the Party.

Yes, it was the founders of the Party that built the Calgary VLMA; For no other reason than to prove that the Earth has a soul. It is not quite as silly as it sounds today. If you just spin the Kline Theorem to its natural end it inevitably leads you to just that conclusion. How shocked they must have been when all they saw was a few lonely, jumbled sparkling clouds; No real soul and not even a flicker of consciousness.

#

It all turned out to be true! The facts were actually right at my fingertips. All I needed to do was check the ID card database. Only a hundred new cards were issued to non-citizens all of last year. A hundred! Tens of thousands stream out of the Burning Land every year, full of dreams and aspirations, ready to work themselves half-to-death, even to die for our well-being. We promise them a path to citizenship. We give them contracts. We feed them hope to fuel their efforts. Then we pull it all right out from underneath them. And when they then blow up a solar collector field we call them monstrous blasphemers and send out the bomber swarms. It makes me want to puke.

I think that Ferti is as incensed I am by all of this, but of course she is much calmer and more measured than I could ever be. She reminded me that modern life is full of contradictions and injustice; that there is no point in blind rage and that only wise and deliberate action has any hope of making the world a better place. While I know that she is right I nonetheless cannot help but feel like a moth, entranced by the comforting warmth of the flame of righteous wrath.

When I next met Chand to talk over my discoveries and to voice Ferti’s admonishments he felt almost eerily calm. Sure he did not need to be convinced, but I can’t shake the feeling that he already has a plan. But if he does, why doesn’t he just tell me? The idea of him hatching some secret, perhaps even illegal, scheme excites me far more than it should. Also, I could not shake off the inkling that he was not at all happy that I had told Ferti; But probably I just got the entirely wrong impression from our conversation.

#

Since we last spoke Ferti undertook some investigations of her own. What she has learned has cast me into terrible doubt. One moment I am filled with fury, the next feeling like an idiot. I should have known that I am not up to messing with politics.

Ferti discovered that the Council of Citizenship Affairs is well aware of the situation and is already conducting an inquest. But the real shock is that according to them the underfactories have been infiltrated by the Bratva. They are said to offer the vagrant workers fake ID cards in exchange for stolen goods from the factories. Those who take the deal are either caught and deported or end up in the clutches of the Bratva and are forced to join a gang or into prostitution. In the last few years the situation has gotten so bad that they had to clamp down pretty hard. Nonetheless, the Council is actively examining if the Law has gone too far.

#

On SUNday Apo, a friend of mine, is going to take me to the new pyramid in the Yoon District. A day of quite meditation will hopefully give me a chance to gather my roiling thoughts and feelings.

#

I know that my helpless frustration at history is good for nothing, but it just seems hard to justify that the UN did not see the signs when they began work on the Sector Siberia. After their food war Russia was so obviously being run by criminals that the easiest way to determine political affiliation was to check the proudly displayed mob tattoos; And ever since the Bratva has been bullet, police and policy proof. From what I heard they have now even spread to Sector Patagonia and Sector Antarctica.

#

The pyramid was wonderful. The crystal must be a perfect cut. The SUN’s rays pierced straight into my sorry soul, flooding me with celestial energy. It was a moment of perfect serenity and clarity. No matter how chocking the Bratva’s hold on the vagrant workers is, they deserve better. And if they are bound to end up as prostitutes or thugs anyway there really is no excuse for not helping them.

The moment is gone now and doubts are again beginning to creep up on me. I really hope that Nefertiti will come to the same conclusion.

#

I was right about Chand! He pulled me aside to talk in private after I offhandedly mentioned my visit to the pyramid. At first he was very cautious. I heard him shift about nervously as he told me that he considers me a “Good man with a noble heart” – Those words left me awash in a sea of blissful self-indulgence. And then without warning the questions started; Never in my life have I been so thoroughly interrogated about anything. I gather that he wanted to be absolutely and completely certain of my dedication to the cause. It almost felt like I had passed a college exam when he finally confided his plan.

It is as crazy as I had feared – and hoped – it would be, a byzantine scheme that will have the Party bureaucracy dancing like our puppet. A puppet that will hand out ID cards to vagrant workers with a smile and handshake. The best part: It would certainly not work without some of my clearances. I had never really thought about how much power my job bestows upon me; And to my shame I tingle with exhilaration.

Chand made me promise that I will not tell Ferti. It’s hardly surprising that he wouldn’t trust her, but naturally I am torn. The entire plot is so extreme that I cannot really imagine getting fully onboard without her council and approval; But I swore.

#

When Chand insisted that I give my word I almost swore by the SUN. Old habits die hard. Usually I consider myself well adapted to the new cosmos we live in, but the rubs of reality easily trip my mind, sending it slipping down the slope of time, straight into childhood. Or maybe it is crawling off to hide itself in a blanket of memory, a time when I did not know that my soul was worthless and that almost every other sector-dwelling blind person had long been blessed with artificial eyes.

It takes me back: I can hear my father’s voice clearly, feel his gentle touch when he in reverent tones revealed to me the history of how humanity had peered through the veil of divinity and beheld GOD. He tells it as a majestic tale full of twists and tribulations; But in the end, somehow, a VLMA was constructed in the Rome IV moon base; And its conical eye set the machine’s unrelenting gaze upon the SUN.

Obviously I cannot truly appreciate the magnificence of that moment. But think about how must have been like for people back in those days. The soul of the SUN, for the first time. That infinite blaze of endless intricate complexity, patterns within patterns, a perfect chaos, always shifting, a new wonder every second, the smallest speck a miracle of incomprehensible beauty; The whole a theophany of such terrible splendour that a billion eyes could not take it all in, for all eternity in impeccable harmony.

Yes, I have learnt my words well. But what else is there for me. So often my hands have groped through the hologram, a child lost in darkness, grasping at the blackness in hope of catching but a glimmer of reassuring light. Nothing is all I ever get.

#

So I am lost in thought. Is the risk worth it? How often can we cheat the system like that? Certainly we won’t be solving the problem. Should I really care about people I have never met? People that may very well be all too eager to join the Bratva?

When I finally fell asleep I became prey, hunted and devoured; persecuted and punished. It is all too obvious that I am very afraid. I know the precipice lurks just of reach, but one wrong step and I will slip and it will consume me.

#

I know all too well how effortlessly chaos and madness can become the obliging companions of those who see a higher calling, who dream of changing the world.

Who could have imagined how close to the abyss seeing the divine would lure us? Then again, the revelations manifested before us were as apocalyptic as we had ever faced; First the soul of the SUN, then the realization that in some unfathomable way it thinks and feels.

Yes, we had found GOD. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind. Most everyone who wasn’t dying forgot about the Catastrophes and either went religious or placed all their faith in the psychists, as they ever so vainly tried to decode the soul of the SUN. Many did both.

It was a fashion of the time to believe that the SUN was speaking to us. People would gaze, enthralled, at the Manifester image for hours and dream up all kinds of messages and commands. The craziest buffoons would stare into the SUN until their eyes burned out.

It was those strange days that gave us all the cathedrals, pyramids, mastabas and ziggurats that can be found clinging to every part of the sector that will hold them. Just makes me wonder how many more home blocks could have been built, how many more lives could have been saved. And then there are the Giza and Cusco launch centres. Most people around here seem to have forgotten about them, but souls, along with their dead bodies, are still being shot into the SUN every month. All for the fool’s hope of some grand unification, some forced apotheosis. Probably their souls linger in space, lost in the infinite light when their bodies are vaporized – then again that may not be the worst of fates.

Probably I am just bitter and petty, how can the few years of life measure up to the infinity of the soul. We can always take care of the dead, does how they lived really matter? If only I had more hopes for my own afterlife.

#

Just more reasons to do the right thing with this life. I have the chance to make things right and no matter how brutally I bend reason to batter my conscience there is no escaping that it is what I must do. The realization burns the thick cotton that had dulled my mind. The pathways of my thoughts are open now. I do not delude myself: I will play only a small role, be a follower not a leader; Nevertheless, for someone like me it is so much more than I could have ever dared to hope. It is a door that I simply must open. The dangers are undeniable, but how can I turn away from those people, away from Chand and away from Nefertiti, even though she may never learn of my deeds.

#

Ferti came to visit me today and everything is spiralling; my confusion and guilt have grown into ever-obliging bedfellows. Of course I should want to tell her; But when I sit there knowing what I will soon do, I feel as if I am growing. I can literally feel my entire body and mind expand as her idle chatter washes over me.

No wonder someone with a soul like mine would be so petty. The only thing that really scares me is that I can feel that the true source of this arrogant delight radiating from within the deepest reaches of my being. I know that when all is said and done I of course can’t be a very decent person, but feeling so good about knowing something Ferti doesn’t is just cheap and ungrateful; All the more reason to let virtuous deeds balance selfish thoughts.

#

After Ferti left I called Chand and told him I was ready to assist. He will explain all remaining details tomorrow.

When he finally arrived and began his exposition I was absolutely rapt. My entire body took in every word. When he had finished all my giddiness had washed out of me and determination had solidified in its place. I must have sat there in silence for far too long, because Chand’s next words “So you have doubts?” were more a statement than a question. I sat there in solid silence, wanting to move, to speak, but somehow unable. “What troubles you?” he asked then and it felt wonderful to tell him “Nothing”, knowing that it was one of the truest things I have ever said.

#

Chand will procure our list of names by Wednesday, then we can go ahead on Friday. By next Monday over three-thousand women and men from the Burning Land will be granted what should have been theirs by Law and propriety. Chand will be their champion and I will be with him.

#

Finally Friday. When Chand arrived we examined our plan one last time, made sure we hadn’t missed any hidden snares or pitfalls and then it began. I felt as if I were a master surgeon. Every flick of my fingers, every voice command, even every loosening of my hands and back was like a carefully choreographed performance. Everything seemed to happen for a purpose, it all was perfect.

#

The names have been inserted, the orders activated, the letters dispatched. All wheels are set in motion. I am sitting in silence, stunned by the magnificence. Slowly shakes are beginning to crawl up my spine as the floodgates of anxiety unleash my pent up tension. But it is done now.

Chand is diligently following every twitch and shudder of the bureaucracy, but so far so good. No one seems to have taken any notice of the fact that for once the vagrant workers have been given what was promised. I feel at ease.

#

I dream in the wonderful warmth of childhood memories. But even in sleep something is nagging. That nagging human itch. In nightmares I lament it: Had humanity only never looked beyond the SUN, it could have been so perfect. Perfect like my first memories, living in a world of hope; Religion had been tamed, the sectors completed and the Catastrophes were over. I was going to lead a good life.

But of course humanity had to look. I would be hopelessly at a loss, should I be asked to explain how we did it; Something about infinitesimal space inflation and other things I don’t know the first thing about. The results however I, like every other human being, understand all too well.

Fifteen years ago the Amun-Aten telescope succeeded in the incredible feat of manifesting the soul of Proxima Centauri. It should have been so very obvious. Of course other stars had souls. But we had been ignorant as always, obsessed with our desire to be exceptional, driven by our delusion that in an infinite cosmos we can have meaning.

Certainly, the limits of our technology allow us to do no more than manifest fading fragments of stars’ souls; But even the tiniest slivers of Rho Cassiopeia's bursting soul leave those who see them petrified with awe beyond sanity. A hundred sextillion souls of incomprehensible magnitude inhabit the universe. What remains for humanity? Anything? Perhaps we should set out to worship our own insignificance.

Maybe, if we were a better species we would look up every night in blissful wonder, enthralled by the enchanted cosmos we have the privilege to be a part of.

Instead we simply gave up. It was not a collapse like some now like to claim. Nothing from the turn of the century would give that impression. No, it was a slow malignant decline that overpowered more and more of our very humanity year after year. We know we are irrelevant and simply cannot cope.

#

No! It can’t be! It just can’t. Chand must have got it wrong. No! No! No! I am fumbling about, my hands flitting here and there, desperately hoping to grope a miracle ladder that will take me away. “They know what happened.” Chand had been breathless and panicked, just as I am now. How very, very wrong I have been. I guess it’s only downhill for me from now on.

Behind the curtain of panic that has wrapped itself around my stomach I still think that we have done good. This will certainly not end well for me; My life as I knew it is most likely over, but at least I did right by many, oh so many people who needed my help. All I can do is hope that they realize what is happening and stay out of Law’s grasp.

#

The commissars came to arrest me only hours after Chand called. Of course they manifested my soul during interrogation. From what of their chatter I overheard I am surprised that they didn’t convict me on the spot. They questioned me for what seemed like hours. The intensity of the situation and the unfamiliar voices left me teetering at the edge of sanity the whole time. Still I managed to claw onto enough of my equilibrium to keep my mouth shut throughout most of the ordeal. I freely admitted my own guilt, they seemed to know all about it anyway; But I made damned sure they did not learn from me that Chand was the mastermind behind the plot. If we are going down, I will not be the one to cushion my fall by landing on the man who had made it all possible.

It was tough to conceal information when all of my lies would have been exposed immediately, but I think I did rather well. In one way the monitoring of my soul has been a blessing: They were obviously suspecting Ferti. When I told them that she knew nothing and had been in no way involved that unimaginable horrific doom was immediately dispelled.

#

It has only been four days and I am already headed for court. Only once did I have a few short minutes to talk to Nefertiti. When I heard her voice I almost felt like the longing would rip right out of my throat. Then and there I knew for a few moments that I had made a tremendous mistake. The words themselves have all become a blur in my memory, only the emotions still burn bright. I so long to touch her again.

#

With a little distance and time to reflect I have fortunately been able to take in the entirety of my actions. And I would do it again. Thousands will not be unjustly banished to the Burning Land or worse, snatched by the Bratva. I made a difference and that is all I could have hoped for.

The trial on the other hand is strangely boring. Even though my future fate is being decided the endless legal litany wore me down. After the sixth day I just stopped caring. I had confessed to everything, but refused to implicate my compatriot so there really wasn’t much to mull over. My duty counsel disappointingly declined to make an issue out of the suffering of the vagrant workers. I know it is silly, but on the first day I dreamed of making the trial about the Party's policies; It just might have turned my capture into a pyrrhic victory of sorts.

Instead my counsel is portraying me as a slightly deranged and pathetic freak, driven into crime and corruption by a manipulative boss and a misplaced desire to vindicate his pitiable soul. While I cannot completely deny the last point, the rest of his strategy is just despicable. The first few days of the trial I had to clench my fists and curl my toes to not leap up and scream in helpless outrage. I loathe that I was barred from choosing my own defender on grounds of being a Party employee.

But all that rage has faded. Now all I feel is the coldness of my seat and the oppressing monotony of the courtroom proceeding. Going back to my holding cell in the evening is almost a breath of fresh air.

#

My entire body is a sloshing cesspool of misery. The trial has ended and I am going to jail. It is a short sentence given the circumstances; A mere three years in lockup. They took pity on the blind man and his wretched soul. Who cares? They caught most of the vagrant workers. They stripped them of their ID cards and instead of even giving them the chance of returning to their work deported them on what must have been trumped up charges of cooperating with the Bratva to get their citizenship.

Only a few hundred or so made off into the sector. But they’re on the run now; hardly the free life they deserved. It should have been obvious that this would happen the moment I heard Chand’s panicked voice on the phone, but I must have blocked the realization from my mind in a vain attempt to keep my sanity.

When I said goodbye to Ferti the icy shards of broken hope cut the last strings of my heart. Now I am sitting in my cell feeling sorry for myself, sorry for the vagrants and sorry for sorrow’s sake. What remains, but emptiness?

#

Days and weeks and months of hopeless confinement. Ferti visits whenever she can, but we are growing distant. She says she is proud of what I have done, but I can feel that she thinks I made a horrible mistake. But that is only the start of it. When we meet I just can’t help myself. One moment I firmly clinging to her and next I sit slumped in morose silence. I feel like some manic-depressive monkey baby meeting its mother for the first time. She still puts up with it, but if I were her I would have long given up on me.

While I am in as depressed a frame of mind and heart as I have ever been I must admit that the guards and my fellow inmates are treating me very well. I was so preoccupied with the capture of the vagrant workers that it never occurred to me that prison can be a very dangerous place for a helpless blind-man.

#

The last few days I have been trying to find out what fate has befallen Chand, but I have been less than successful. Neither the guards, nor any of the inmates I got a hold of, nor Ferti had heard anything beyond vague rumours. The only snippet of information I was able to gather came from one of my cellblock guards. He told me that my co-conspirator had received some sort of unusual treatment. I fear he may have fallen into the atrocious mills of the Anti-Sedition Court. They certainly were threatening me with that ridiculous, yet all too real danger during my initial interrogation.

Wherever he may be now all I can do is hope. It is not the first time since my arrest that I feel almost overwhelmed by the wish to be free; Free not only in body, but free also in spirit of the soul-chilling knowledge that no higher power in the cosmos cares for my prayers.

#

Ferti has a new man. I knew it would happen. It is no surprise. It hurts. In fact I am numb. Empty. My isolation is complete. I am alone.

#

Misery attracts suffering. I was standing outside my cell when suddenly I felt myself rushing toward the ground. As the jolt of impact crashed into my arms I realized pain radiating from my calf. I had been kicked! My world spun. Desperately I tried to scream for help, to struggle. But before I could move or make a sound my head was violently forced into the cement floor. The last thing I remember was a garbled sound and bloody spittle escaping my lips.

#

When I next woke I was on my back on what I could only assume to be a hospital bed. My mind was a dreary haze of pain, despair and misery all dulled by a merciful drug-bliss radiating from the core of my brain.

I later learned that the man who attacked me had recently himself been the victim of vicious beating. Obviously he had been looking for an easy victim to vent his frustration. They don’t come any better than me. Happy to oblige. Asshole.

At least the gaping rage that began devouring me left me in a pit too deep to contemplate my misery. It carried me all through the rest of my sentence. At first it was directed, a burning blade pointed at my loathsome assailant. Then it became legion; An unending eruption of fury against all the world’s injustices. Especially those committed against me.

It would be so easy for me to chide myself for my adolescent anger. To berate my futile desires for revenge; But they gave me warmth in the coldest days of my unjust imprisonment. Paths healthier for mind and spirit were perhaps open to me, but I simply did not have the fortitude or drive to take any other route.

#

After they released me the prison delegated the duty of guiding me to Horem, one of the guards from my block and a kind man. He led me to one of the main elevators that would take us past the only ground I have ever known; past that two-hundred meter high platform and into the world of skyscrapers and underfactories that serve as its pillars. I was heading below the line of darkness to become one of the teeming and huddled masses of the sector.

At least I would not be suffering from the lack of SUNlight that breaks so many who are forced to exist in this dank twilight. However, I soon discovered that the world below is full of unique pitfalls for the blind. Broken stairs, wet floors, unrepaired walkways and an endless array of other traps made my life in the undercity a constant stumbling journey that left me with new bruises every week.

Without Horem’s aid and the kind and enduring help of Pieter I would have almost certainly found myself in an emergency room or the morgue within the first week. Pieter I met on the way into my “apartment” – cubicle or closet would probably do it more justice, but that is fine by me. He is an aging, burly repairman who takes care of the pipes that run to and from the sector above. When Horem asked him to have an eye on me he almost immediately agreed. Ever since he has been the most profound and amazing help I could have ever wished for.

I don’t really know why he is being so kind; He has dropped hints that it has something to do with family, but he seems reluctant to talk about the details and I certainly won’t push him. Whatever the reason, I cannot express how thankful I am too him. After so many disappointments and so much rage he is like a warm hearth.

#

My hate has subsided quickly. Pieter’s compassion and the pressures of adjusting to my new life left little room for mindless fury. I do not really know what has replaced it. My feelings are an impenetrable mystery to me. Mostly I am confused, but occasionally fear, elation, depression, serenity and other jumbled emotions that I can’t place quell up inside, only to fade moments later. Perhaps I am going insane. Then again, after all I’ve been through I just may need a time to adjust.

Of course I can’t find a job. I am living entirely off the sector’s public services. It is a bare minimum and I cannot claim that I do not miss many amenities, but I am doing alright for now. Prison life has prepared me well and an austere existence is as good a way as any to help me fully focus inward, to give me a chance to calm that storm that swept my life away.

#

So much for calming. Ferti visited today. After our last meeting I am almost touched that she made the effort to find me. Back in prison I had said things that I cannot but regret now.

She wouldn’t say it outright, but it was all too obvious that she is very content with her life. While she did her best to show concern for me, her skin almost glowed with elation. It stung like a hot needle and even though I know I should be happy for her, I simply cannot summon the strength. So I sat and listened, alone in darkness; An hour of longing and trying to fight the urge to scream at the injustices of a cold, cruel world.

In the end she offered me help. Had she been able to give me a job I fear that I would have gladly dropped any pretence of pride, but Ferti’s offer of money did not even begin to tempt me to approach that slope. We said our goodbyes knowing that it would probably be years before we met again, if ever.

As painful as the meeting was it gave me a sense of closure. When I told Pieter he immediately brought over a good old fashioned bottle of vodka to commiserate. While I have come to suspect that my jovial companion and saviour drinks far too much synthol I could hardly turn down this offer; Nor did I really want to. It was great. We got pissed to the point of no return. We hollered songs, took babbling turns giving each other rousing speeches for popular revolution, decried all the evils of the world and wept about our cosmic insignificance.

By the end of the evening he had heard my story. He liked my tale and was overjoyed at the idea of sticking it to the Bratva – It must have been the vodka, it takes more than a few leaps to get that out of my sorry misadventure.

He was drunk enough to tell me that his brother had gone blind at age four. His family were destitute underfactory labourers who had almost bankrupted themselves to pay for restorative surgery. The cost for the treatment spiralled out of control when it was discovered that the source of the blindness was a degenerative disorder, likely caused by some form of industrial poisoning. In the end they could do nothing but watch him die as he stared back with sightless eyes full of dull agony.

As he told me his story a profound glowing sympathy and appreciation began to merge with the vodka’s warm nausea.

It was an end and a beginning, even if I did awaken to an apartment smelling of booze and vomit. I guess it is much too late now to wish for a clean life.

#

I find myself searching for some form of salvation. Before my life was literally shoved down a hole I always considered myself surprisingly well adjusted to this new era of star souls and the inescapable revelation of humanity’s irrelevance. That equilibrium has left me. Perhaps it had always been blissful ignorance. I certainly have no ambitions of getting myself lost in some foolish quest to reclaim the illusion of human supremacy, but I cannot but wish to find some deeper spark of fulfilment.

It could of course be that I have stepped into the first stage of apathy; That I will soon discover that there is no escaping the yawning infinity of space; That I am following the ahsen tracks left by the rest of humanity. Perhaps it was just my inability to face the wonder of the star souls that has led me to become a straggler, a tardy traveller down into the pit of cosmic desolation.

Yet I cannot stop myself. Like all humans even a blind man just has to look, even if the burning light of what I learn may char my heart and mind.

#

Pieter and I have grown much closer. He has revealed to me that the Bratva has forced him to tap wires, sabotage the power supply and even to occasionally send illicit goods through a series of secret pipes. “Forced” he said was actually too strong a word, he had never even considered saying “No!”. But I have inspired him! When they next ask he will not acquiesce.

After Pieter left for the day I felt flush with pride and hope. My journey had given me the chance to touch someone’s life. Perhaps only in a small way, but touched for good. My path may have sense after all.

#

Two weeks have passed and the hope Pieter has kindled is blazing fiercely. Delving into the depths of web archives I unearthed an article by Dr. Sima herself. She had watched the souls of everyone in her laboratory during a five year period. Her careful observations led to a startling conclusion: Souls can change! Dr. Sima was able to study the souls of three individuals who were forced to face severe life-crises. The complexity and beauty of two of the souls seemed to diminish as their life was broken. The soul of a young lab-worker who lost many friends and an arm in a hurricane amazingly seemed improved.

I do not need to be told that the very idea contradicts all science and conventional wisdom. Suggesting that the human soul is malleable challenges so many axioms of the psychical sciences, so many years of careful study by the wisest people on Earth, that it cannot be true.

And that is why I have decided to place all my hope in this chance to change my soul. It will be my faith; my extraneous fool’s hope against the infinity of an uncaring cosmos.

#

A thundering crack; the sound of splintering wood. I frantically turn, my hands grasping for the phone button as I realize that my door has been forced open. Adrenaline speeds my arm and I find my finger pushing “call” far quicker than I would imagined possible. But too slow. A rush of air to my face heralds the crushing impact that knocks me sprawling to the ground. Seconds seem to pass in which I hear and feel nothing. Then the pain hits. My face is burning with agony. Blood spills freely from my brow. The horrifying taste of my own life fills my mouth as my eyes blink frantically.

Panic sharpens my senses. I hear heavy footsteps next to me. Voices slowly fade into my ear as the booming drone that I hadn’t even registered subsides. “That’s the blind fucker alright. Get him up!” A heavy hand grabs my hair and rips me to my feet. I smell alcohol and sweat; And my own fear. Aggression presses on my shoulders even as I am forced to stand. “You cripple got yourself all the wrong friends, ey?” Before I can answer or question he blurts on “That fucker Pieter sure likes to talk! Drunk fuck! But talking is one thing, ey? Refusing the Grandfather, that’s just stupid ain’t it?” I reel as a fist digs its way into the pit of my stomach “Answer fuck! Ain’t it?” I wring for air and sense. “Good that he talks. Slobbers all around the zone that he knows a fuckin’ hero of the people. Says he knows one the fuckers who screwed up a solemn, signed and paid for deal three years ago. Says it in more words. But we remember, ey?” The hands leave me and I sway; Blood and panic. “Now we’re going to fuck you up good! It’s a teaching exercise, ey? You learn that we remember and that failures got to be atoned for; And Pieter gets a little lesson on doing the right thing. He’ll just love seeing what his little mutiny did to his crippled fuck of a friend, ey?” With that I feel the rush of air on my arm. I try to block, try to dodge; uncoordinated. Cold iron crushes my elbow. The sickening noise almost makes me vomit as I stumble to the left. Pain is held back by shock. “Ey!” he shouts it as a warcry.

Then everything slows. The pain and fear spill from my body. I steady myself. “Out.” I hear myself declare. It resounds, more a statement than a command. My index finger traces a line to the broken door. Vigorous life quickens my body and mind.

#

The force of the word compels my assailants backward. Both take one step and then another.

#

Then the spell breaks. “What the fuck!” I barely feel the blow to my body. “What the fuck!” Another blow to my already wounded arm. I flinch, yet my left arm remains outstretched. “Stop, fuck!” fear is in his voice now. A blow to my chest. Hard. I feel a rib snap. “You blind fuck! Who do you think you are?” I long to say so much. A torrent of answers rushes toward my mouth. “I am” is all that I say. Every other reply had rescinded itself.

“Shut the fuck up! Shut up!” I hear him scream as he pounds my skull in a slow drumming rhythm. It is wonderfully peaceful. I lay down. And die.

#

My soul is before me. I perceive it for the first time. Spirit flows through my essence like a deep breath. My mind stretches to touch its soul. I flow through it as if it were a hologram, a mere illusion. The last slivers of shuddering life stab me with a final burst of panic.

Then realization dawns. My soul opens, more portal than entity, a flickering afterimage of a Whole. It unravels and reveals. Vastness surrounds me. Infinity and wonder above, beyond, below, within; time flows in circles, slowly swinging back and forth. i am the tiniest iota in an eternal cosmic ocean. Wonderful surrender is all that remains. Everything that is left of me fades as Fulfilment beyond imagining embraces.

United with All. Beginningless, endless, more vast than all universes, within the heart of every particle. Everything.

#

One.

#

Nothing.

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