Sedartis seems to nod at me now. I find it disconcerting. And not in the least reassuring, not yet, not now.
‘The reason you absolutely need artificial intelligence is that organic humans are so very bad at retaining information or passing it down their generations. Each newborn sets out in a quarter century just to acquire the basics, and then spends another quarter century to become a master at anything. That’s with ambition. Without, you just linger. Yes, this has qualities all of its own and makes people quaint and charming, but incredibly wasteful too. The fact alone that after twenty thousand years of civilisation you still grapple with war, famine, ignorance, murder, violence, religion, all these things that we always talk about and that are so completely unnecessary, shows how inadequate human intelligence is on its own.
‘But let me reiterate, for it is so fundamental: don’t think of artificial intelligence as alien to you. There lies your conceptual hurdle that, sooner or later, you’ll have to take: you are the intelligence you give birth to; it is not separate from you, you are it and it is you. It may yet overtake you and render you, the way you are now, obsolete, but think not of this as your failure, think of it as success: you may be no more than the conduit, the bridge. Would that matter? To you, today, maybe. To your universe, in the fullness of its time? Not a bit. So why not make the most of it? Celebrate both what you are and what you can be: let it pass through you, be the best species you can imagine. If you imagine it fully, that is not what you are today.
‘If you accept that you are one among billions of conscious intelligent life forms pursuing an evolutionary path, you become both vanishingly small and insignificant, of course, but also, in the same vein and by the same definition, exquisite, privileged, amazing. Embrace your own individual uniqueness, cherish your beauty, love your capacity for kindness, and know it is but part of the All it emerged from and path to the All that it leads to. It is easy. Be not afraid.’
I detect a biblical flavour now in his thoughts and it troubles me. But I allow myself to think it is better to be open minded and troubled than to close myself off in safety, in this sense of security I know to be false. Horses are given blinkers to wear so they don’t spook, but they are slaves to their riders, and may still be butchered at last. That cannot be my purpose. My task, Sedartis reminds me daily now, is surely to open my eyes. To take it all in. To be part of it all. And if it scares me. And if it puzzles, troubles, disconcerts me. And if it inspires me, overwhelms me with awe and with wonder. We are on so potent a cusp.
‘I make no predictions,’ Sedartis offers, as an afterthought. I know no longer what comes after, what before. What is thought, what the cluster dust of nebulas sprayed across time. But then it matters not. Of course, there can be no predictions. There can only be stories. There can be only presence, in a consciousness that beyond the boundaries lies calm across the mind. Why, though, I wonder, is this Here here, this Now now?
Sedartis smiles at me in the way I now recognise. I like him for this, although (or because?) he provokes me:
‘Why do you need a reason?’
Dione, Tethys, Mimas, Enceladus – your friendly moons’ names sound like characters to me, in a pastoral play. Even Titan and Iapetus; they have been overthrown, dwell in the pantheon no longer: neighbours now, living downstairs, or, to wave at, across the street.
Your rings, though no more mysterious now than you, are delicate still; and you are inviting too. Against thy will, methinks; like the old rustic who grumbles at first and enjoys the thought of himself as forbidding, but turns out to be at heart quite congenial.
I am at the stage now where I feel there are fewer surprises. Fewer certainties too, and fewer woes. Fewer intransigencies and fewer instances of despair. That can only, I sense, be a good thing. Journeying has put me at ease with myself. I feel millions of miles away still from where I envisage I should be, but this seems natural now, and of little concern. The hereness and thereness of it all: the potencies of the potential. The meta nomenclature of the id. The closer I get to being myself, the more I disperse myself across the quanta of energy: thought. Insubstantive meanderings that then turn out to make sense after all. At some point, at some level, in some way. Not conscious, perhaps, but innocuous, calm.
I sit down on one of these rings and let my legs dangle in the brook of what looks from afar like a void that surrounds it, and my toes tingle at the excitement of being and wriggle with a childlike and clean and unjaded joy: they haven’t walked as far yet by far as it seems, they have simply strolled. Over the meadows of this spacescape, this English garden, this Ermitage. I feel my thin body, pale and slender but resilient and robust, as it was back then, when I was a boy. It never preoccupied itself with itself. The etherealness of it all, the curiousness. And always, always the wonder. Nobody joins me, yet, and maybe none ever will now, and it saddens me not, I am free.
From where I perch on my borrowed bank, my legs suspended, my hand—the left one—playing with marbles, the molecules, the droplets, the pebbles and the whists of yellow-blue algae that get trapped in my fingers, cool and gentle, soft and strong, my eyes, inclined toward what lies below and therefore what also above, my face reflected (reminiscent, perhaps, after all, of Narcissus, though he, I know, does not belong here any more than he does on Mercury), my lips catch my attention, and for a fleeting moment I wish me a one for them to be kissed. The longing, the curiosity, still, and the awe.
I am on the brink, I realise, and at this point, sooner or later, there does come the point where you have to decide. Do you jump, assuming that you will fly, or don’t you, fearing that you might drown.
Why do I do this from here, and not where I started? Have I conspired with circumstances to manoeuvre myself onto the fence of a planet whose patron is the god of the farmer of all things to finally return to the George in me and embrace him as much as release him in exactly the same gesture, at exactly the same time, for exactly the same reasons and to exactly the same end? It wouldn’t surprise me. Hardly anything would. The universe finds a way, of that I have long been certain, and whatever happens next is bound to happen, just as what happened before was in its own liquid way quite inevitable.
All the querulousnesses of adversaries (they were friends in disguise), all the insurmountablenesses of obstacles, varied and frequent and each in its own right unreasonable, from here, from this tholin perspective, rotating at speed, and wobbly, a little bit drunk on the juices of life, but steady and safe in myself now—as far as there even exist such notions as ‘steadiness,’ ‘safety’ and ‘self’—look irrelevant now and benign.
My right hand that has been holding on to the ice, to the carbon, the substance, such as there was, in a vain grip on something the brain interpreted as ‘reality,’ still, after only another decade or so of faint hesitation, lets go, and, much as expected, I sink not, and nor do I soar: I float, once again, now earthwards, I’m sure.
I wander to the place I know least and for a while I maybe like best, in a way; as an idea, as a thought, as a concept: the abstract liking of something from which you are distant, the fascination with unfamiliarity, the lure of the other; the stranger, the comfort, the awe.
The steady roll on an invisible plane, the cool electric hue. The very slow seasons. Even the unwitting humour, lame though it is. It is a laconic planet I find here, unruffled, smooth and cyan. The awayness of it all, as at the end of despair. A well-neighboured distance; bookended, escorted by giants: significant in its own right but overlooked, overshadowed and, through no fault of its own, just not taken seriously: why would that be me?
There is no life here, but there is otherness, and that in itself is interesting. It feeds my curiosity: to go a step further, to move beyond. To tumble on a different axis, to fall upwards; float frozen but not still, to sense a different kind of heat on a newly defined horizon. I expect to be alone here, but I’m surrounded by character: here, in the outskirts, in the slow moving cold, there are others like me: how did we all get here? What projected us into this orbit, so far away, it would seem, from the soul, so within?
These layers, these clouds, these rocks and these crystals, these rings, this ice and these moons, this magnetotail. They are not, perhaps, home, but they are a meaning all in themselves, and they are somewhere, beautiful. True.
For quite some time I enjoy this tangentiality and become part of it, willingly, coolly; I relish the arm’s length attention I get. Nobody knows me here, or cares who I am, but my aloofness, my look and my languid demeanour are being noted. My hair the peroxide silver of this unbreathable atmosphere and my clothes the black of the all that surrounds me. If you know where I am you can find me, and find me foreign and alien too.
Yet after a while I miss the simplicity of warmth. Not that I know what that means, but it means that I’m out in the cold, and I want to come back now, closer to home, closer to the sun, closer to people who don’t understand me, closer to something I vaguely remember as love. This strangeness leaves me estranged from myself, and enjoying it now seems an effort. Soon, I know, I will have to let go, and I realise now that I’m not living my life in chronological order. That puzzles me for a moment until it occurs to me that time too is down to perception, and there will come a time when it’ll all simply blend into one, as it must.
(Yet still, yet again, only more so, always more…)
Out here I thought I felt a sense of freedom, until that sense became quite oppressive. That, too, was a surprise. And so I let go. Slowly, at first and then readier, more. This is not for me, after all, this agreeable spectacle, this isolation: it could quite easily turn into a habit, a mannerism, a cliche, a role.
The young man at a soirée (it was that more than it was a party, a dinner, or drinks) who’d looked at me and said: ‘are you for real?’ That’s when I knew I was in danger of becoming a caricature of myself, and Uranus could be my place no more.
I like this now, this clarity, this resolution. This immense relief too, not to have to be defined by weirdness forever. Strange, yes, curious, always, different, maybe (then ‘different’ to what?), but not impenetrable and not obscure.
Not even, in that sense, mysterious, really: there are so very few mysteries in the universe, apart from the multiverse of all possible universes itself, and that also is only a matter of consciousness and the cumulative number of brain cells firing at it: one day it will be just another reality too. Like blossoms, like spring. Like the awakening, too.
I’m getting better at this, being me. This walk seems to be doing wonders…
I sit on the edge of the solar system, with Neptune, invisible. I’m known to exist, but nobody sees me. I think I see them, from a distance, through a haze. I can’t be sure. Twinkles, here and there, allover really: wondrous…
I have, inadvertently, become a god. This is both puzzling and absurd: those powers they invest in me are merely mythical. I am not even drawn to water, not as other people are. Some see the sea and jump right in. I don’t. I am content to sit there, pondering. Until the time comes. Until I’m ready. Until I feel the need. Until curiosity gets the better of me. Or temptation. Or just the wanting to have been in the water before going home. Not so much the desire to be in the water, as the desire not to have not been in the water at all. For a moment. Or two. With the lover, the dolphins, the mermaids, the waves and the fishes. The other gods. This propensity to ponder. It may be an affliction; but why not. ‘Why not?’ seems to be the overriding question. Is that what it is: a question?
I walk from Neptune towards the sun through the snow – like shooting stars, falling. I love the snow falling on my face as I look up at the sky, at the space, at these planets, the aboveness and the aroundness of it all; the path ahead is white and clear, and there’s no one about. Of course not: I’m alone. Alone on the edge of the universe.
A pang of love, a moment of pain. Love for whom? Pain of what? A special one now, this time, really? A sense of myself, now, really? Or of the idea of myself. Of the Concept. The Unreality.
I like my reality right now, I can deal with it, I can live up to it, make sense of it, or so I tell myself, knowing this not to be true, not entirely.
I walk, steadily—not fast, not slow—along the path of the planets, thinking myself Neptune. I am not a planet. I am not a god. I am not a myth. I feel millions of miles away from the allness of it all, but I’m about to dissolve into it, and this thrills me.
Is that a lonely path I walk or is it just deserted? Because it’s late. Because it’s out of season. Because it normally is deserted, the path, around now. Is it too late? This turns into a portentous question all of a sudden. Am I too far along the path, do I circle too slowly? But we know, we know, we are not planets, we are not rivers, we are barely human.
We are human. So bare though, so vulnerable, so thoughtful, so cautious, so hesitant, so almost capable. So willing, yet, to survive. So surviving. Thriving, even, against the odds. So gentle. So soft. So curly, the hair. So even the teeth. So tender the lips. So lovely the legs. So quirkily satin the belly button. So elegant the fingers. So delicate the eyelashes. So warm, so warm though the chest.
So fleeting, so insubstantial as I walk under fir trees and the snow they are clothed in, so naked, so wrapped up in my delusion, my reading the signs that aren’t there, my wanting it all to be and to mean something. Wanting it all. To be and to mean. Something.
I take pictures of the snow so I can send them to him, though I don’t even know if he wants to look at the snow through my lens through my eyes through the synapses of my brain that miss him, but I know he has never seen snow for real and I want to show it to him. His mind is not here any more than his body. What of his soul? It sits right in me. He would love the snow, I know, if he saw it for real. If he were with me now. If we were insubstantial now in the snow together, seeping into the ground.
I know these things. I now know them all, and they all make sense, and they will come to pass, and it all just needs time to arrange itself now. I want to be sure.
I missed Uranus on my journey, I realise, as I pass Saturn, wondering why that took so long, and I don’t mind. There’s an irony in this, but it is not a metaphor, not even a pun. Not a sign. It’s a coincidence: sometimes you miss a planet, that’s all.
I’d decided to surrender, to go with the flow, just to be. I’m calm at the thought, now, at ease. I feel a greater certainty than ever before, but I’m not sure about what. Just about. And I know I don’t need to investigate this, I don’t need to probe.
I don’t need to understand, because I already know. I don’t want to be the one any more who longs. I don’t want to be the one any more who pines and freezes. The one made of ice. And rocks. Enveloped in abundant gases. Who errs on the side of reason, out of sight, out of mind, out of being. I want to thaw and to melt and to meld with the one and to bloom and to lose myself in the all and to be.
And so I walk on, sunward.
The End. Stillness. Like Neptune viewed from a distance: all turmoil at bay. The Ice King and I are no more, we have surrendered our identity to being. We both are both particle now and wave. We float, directionless, emotionless in the cell that is our universe and bob like a bubble in amongst the infinitudes of multiverses.
We are everything we can imagine and everything that we can’t, nor can imagine could be imagined at all. There is no fear and no joy, no pain and no longing, no aching desire for love, for compassion, for that which is and remains unattainable, or that which we already have; there is a bliss only that simply persists.
Out of the nothing that is everything that is the blue that is the colourless white darkness that is the presence of invisible energy comes the spark of an idea, and the idea is a signal that we’re alive.
We are animated, willing. I had forgotten the idea as I had forgotten the toenail, as I had forgotten the mole on my chest and my glasses.
The Ice King sits facing me in the open space; we seem to be orbiting, circling away from our sun. His smile now is knowing and satisfied. I see myself reflected in him though I know I look nothing like him, and with this recognition comes a new kind of want, a new kind of need, a new kind of desire. I stand up, and as I do, so does he; and I look him in the eyes—wherein lie worlds and histories, characters and motions, achievements and hours of unspeakable pleasure—and I offer him my hand. He takes it. We acknowledge each other, I him, he me. The grip of his hand is soft and firm, like his skin like his heart like his glans like his lips like his medial plantar, and I inhale him once more ere I go.
I leave rich, filled with power. As I walk through space past the planets that are really mere pebbles, I pick up the garments his tailors have woven throughout the ages, and I put on ones that take my fancy, those of my choosing, what I accept as my attire. I leave all the rest. I leave him behind, not with disregard or as obsolescence, but in love.
The love that I bear him I now bear myself, and I bear it out into the nerve ends of Laniakea and beyond. I fill my universe with this love, I pervade the dark matter and the light, I become that I am that I am.
I don’t stride, I don’t float, don’t proceed: I expand, I infuse. Somebody walking by says to me, in the casual, friendly manner that raises no eyebrow, ‘all right?’ and I know this is not a question, nor is it an observation; it is an invitation. I smile at him with kindness and wisdom. With love. Not of my doing but of my being, not my desert but my gift. Not my accomplishment not my credit and not my reward. My absorption, my purpose, my meaning.
I answer his invitation, ‘all right?’…
Into the core I dissolve.
I remember The Ice King, he lingers. In my body. In my senses. My mind. In my nature; my idiom. In my eyes. In my aptitudes. I was never like The Ice King at all, yet I am he, he is me, was that unavoidable, or was it my wish?
Down at the core of the centre of the stem of the flow of the pulse there is no movement, no stillness, no anger, no pain. No cold and no ice and no view and no argument, no perspective. There is liquid lava only. The core is the place at which everything starts and everything comes together and everything ceases to be, and everything is alive, but the heat melts the molecules and causes nuclear fusions: it’s as close as we get to the sun. The energy. The source.
As I come up for air I realise to my joy I’m still breathing. In, breathing out. Im Atemholen sind zweierlei Gnaden. I remember things I never knew were instilled in me, but they, like The Ice King, remain; they are rooted, they grow.
I grow. I grow out of the core and through the pole, and I form into something almost human. I laugh inside. Not happy, relieved. The fact alone that there is a core. That there is a pole. That there is a word. That there is a thought. That there is a kiss. That there is a chamber. That there is ice, that there is a king. That the king rules me because I want him to only. He has my permission. I am his subject, he is my slave. We get on swimmingly.
Like happy spermatozoa we float in the semen of our need towards the egg of our imagination, flagella wagging, willing us on to imminent fertilisation. Often we fail. But we are not unique, we are two among millions, and the consciousness from which we have squirted is generous, patient. There is more. There is plenty. We are not alone. We are not lost. We are not meaningless. We are not wasted.
Up through the salty water I burst, slithery wet and elated. If this be living I’ll have me some more of it, yes. The Ice King, tranquil now, regal, mischievous, hot, smiles at me knowingly. He knows me better than I care to admit, but I care not. I have him in my mind and he has me in his gonads. Together we’re strong. Let this be our universe. The force that holds us together may yet tear us apart, but for now there is only the idea of what may be.
Strengthened, revived, I emerge. The Ice King walks with me now, as I go. I am The Ice King, I am the snowflake, I am The Snowflake Collector, the wonder and George. The innocence lost and found. The anguish, the great satisfaction. The invention. The story.
I walk on an empty plane that extends into all directions, without end. Absence of colour surrounds me. I have conquered my fear. Not lost it, not abandoned it, no: embraced it, loved it, wrestled it, made it my own. I am the master of that I create. I am god. I breathe in, I breathe out. I breathe in, I breathe out. The swirls of air from my mouth form a flurry of flowers whose pollen disperse and populate the void. It is a paradise. It is rich. It is the land of beauty, abundance. This is where I belong; this is home.
I feel the ice melt under my skin, I sense us slip away in the rush of torrents, surging up, then drowning into the depths; my eyes closed, I heave into his brain.
Where there were colours there is now only green and blue and that purple and the sting of the white in flashes between: I bounce and tumble and dissolve, the water rushes through me, the glacier crashes all about us as we tumble down the mountain, turn into a stream—the quicks, the pools, the depths, the shallows and the waterfalls—into the valley, then the river, the calm.
Then the meadows passing and the flowers on the hill. The trees. Is that a sun in the sky? I haven’t seen one in years. The Ice is gone, the King is no more. What have I done?
I float on the easy current along the stately swans and the comical ducks, and I wonder. Was that necessary? Was that emotion? Was that too much? The cloudlets above sing a round that lulls me into a new kind of sleep, and I dream that I am already restored to my senses, but senseless in love. I know not what that means, but it’s a feeling I have.
As we reach the towns and beyond these the cities, it is more a case of becoming a boat, or a ship, from which to greet the other farers of waterways, and nod at them gravely: the river has turned so serene. I am not sure I want this. I’m not sure I’m ready to leave him behind or to see him head off, onto land, into the streets, the multitudes, become a citizen: like everyone else. I cling on to him, but he is no longer there, has he never existed at all?
I refuse to panic and say to myself, it’s only a phase, it will pass, it’s all in my mind, soon I’ll wake up in the glacier, gazing at him by my side, and I’ll marvel at the tone of his skin and the glint in his eye, and the nearly-smile that says, I nearly get you, you’re not quite alone.
I dream that I’m not alone and for a moment feel warm, and the glow that encompasses me is enough for a while to soothe, to restore.
We yield into the wide, and buoyed by the salt, and cheered by the seagulls, we stretch our limbs, and with strong strokes make for the open, the free. I half expect a dolphin to greet us, but it seems we are heading north, which is just as well. At least we are now at sea.
Soon the seals and the icebergs. I’m not at home here, although the shades are familiar. I feel I have lost myself and I want not to mind.
He’s in my head now, I in his body, and against all odds we’re afloat, but are we together? I don’t even know who he is. He is The Ice King, but I’ve turned him into a fish. That is not true, of course, I have turned him into a captain. I have not turned him into anything, he’s still The Ice King, but like me he is out of his element now, and so he may just be a prawn. He may be a wave or a plastic bottle discarded in old Amsterdam. He may be a thought or a lover. He may be my nemesis. Can he be my salvation?
I want to say, ‘polar bear, be not afraid,’ and mean it. We’re here to help. The Ice King looks at me kindly now, maybe for the very first time, and thinks a thought of astonishing beauty. This, I know, is the noble mind. And the thought alone that thoughts can be beautiful, and merely to know that a mind may be noble, fills me with joy.
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