Oculus by Unknown
When : Where
12,330 AD : Carina–Sagittarius Arm
He floats in a cathedral of light.
It courses around him and through him. He peers into a galaxy of photons, organizing and concentrating them into a stream of information to be processed and interpolated by the conjoined. The information blurs though his mind like a silent movie, showing him random staccato flashes of Earth long before its death.
Light … evokes perception … evokes memory … evokes — emotion? Light is the glue of reality.
He wonders when it began, and when it will end. How long has he watched without seeing?
<Are you alright?> she asks. His mind fills with the warmth of her voice.
<Yes, I just experienced a moment of photonic latching. It has passed.>
<Very good. I am here to serve and comfort,> the voice intones, and a wave of empathy flows through him.
Monochromatic pearls, pale skin and black dress contrast with the half full glass of blood red wine she cradles in her hands. Through a blur of tears the small boy looks into her comforting eyes, but not the eyes he normally sinks into. These look so worn … so tired. He pushes her aside and bolts from the dark living room full of murmuring relatives, the smell of stale casseroles, and the talk of death. She calls after him but he doesn’t stop. He bursts through the front door and collapses on his back in the wet grass. He stares into the ashen sky to witness thousands of frigates and corvettes lifting through the haze towards the heavens, leaving a dying planet.
<Am I dreaming?> he asks.
<Dreaming?> she replies hesitantly.
<A non-sensory sleep state of photonic data recall.>
<No, constructs do not possess sleep protocols of any kind,> she says calmly.
They sit on a bench, clasping hands in the dark. Wind whispers through the pines at their backs and the twinkling lights of the city blanket the valley far below, like glitter on black water. He can feel her trembling through his hand and he knows it’s not from the cold wind. Or perhaps he is the one trembling. Letting go, he gently places his arm on her shoulder. He can smell her hair and breath through the scent of the pines. The light of the city illuminates their faces as their lips meet, and just as quickly those lights are gone and the Earth is shrouded in darkness. They are only two of billions who are witnessing another note in Earth’s funeral dirge.
<What am I?>
<You are what you have always been,> she says without hesitation, as if reciting something rehearsed. <You are the focus of a conjoined historical collector with a light array that spans ten thousand square light years. You are currently collecting and collating Earth’s light history from thousands of years in the past.>
<No, that’s not possible. I am more. The data I am collecting is biased with spurious inputs. Source unknown.>
Sunlight. She reaches down and brushes locks from his forehead. His head is cradled in her lap, framed by her draping hair. He can’t decide which is more brilliant: the smile that causes the corners of her mouth to wrinkle just so, or the distant light dappling across his squinting eyes. A warm breeze caresses them, carrying with it the scent of life and causing the tall grass in which they lay to sigh with its ebb and flow. The same breeze caresses her face, opening a curtain through the protective veil of her hair. Her smile and clear green eyes melt into the destruction of nuclear fire on the horizon.
<Data is pooled and interpreted to help paint a more complete Earth history other than can be assembled from this specific cosmic vantage,> she offers.
<This photonic data does not correlate with your explanation,> he insists strongly. <I’m observing immersive data inconsistent with external vantages. Triggering … latent memories.>
<Be at ease, there is no need for alarm.>
<Who am I?>
<As explained before, you are what you have always been.> The warmth is gone from her voice, now replaced by analytic coldness.
The concentrated packets of light entering his focus become erratic and disjointed. The flow and cataloging of Earth’s past slows to a relativistic crawl. He tries to shift his awareness from data to visual, but finds only resistance. Finally, he pushes through. Forgetting the ancient data of Earth he can only focus on his perception of self.
Hanging in the coldness of space, blotting out the field of stars, is a vast black oculus staring back at his disembodied view. He’s comprised of massive, slowly rotating rings of focusing mechanisms hundreds of miles in diameter that glisten like polished obsidian and flicker with telltale lights. The gathering cloud of light in his center pulses in tune with the varying waves of artificial gravity used to focus it into his being. Surrounding and tending him are sleek, hulking caregivers whisking about like mechanical scarabs tending a grotesque nest. He turns his mind’s eye away from his own alienness.
<How is this possible?> The cloud of light coalescing within his monstrous center begins to dim and evanesce.
There’s a long pause and the feelings of empathy that were washing over him fade to nothingness.
<This collector node is corrupt.> Her voice is now fully mechanical and no longer addressing him. <Purge commencing . . . >
Lucian’s head rests on a cool white pillow. For a final time she reaches out a metallic hand and touches his cheeks as if in parting. But its touch is cold and lifeless. Discomforting. A connection is still there, as it’s always been. He can feel the light slipping away . . . but not all. Fading are the traumatic perceptions, the death of Earth, the demise of billions, and the forlorn feelings of homelessness. The human side of him is there at the end; all shells of logical duty finally stripped away, one by one.
What remains is the light of better days.
Images & Words © 2020-2023, Neal Ulen.
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