It was the 28th century. People around the world screamed, some in joy and some in anger, as the news spread that the ‘Global Transhuman Initiative’ had been approved. Protesters poured into the streets chanting for the sanctity of the human body, cutting themselves, letting their pure blood soak the streets. Riots broke out and fires were ignited, but it made no difference. Humanity had voted. It had decided it was ready to take the next step: Technology-guided evolution. Directed by humans for humans to give each individual a say of what he wanted to become. Athletes would get better or artificial muscles, thinkers would get never-tiring brains, and for the truly adventurous their minds would be transferred into artificial, near-indestructible bodies.
The centers for transhumanization were inaugurated in all the major cities and thousands of people lined up for the procedure, and every day the government-provided specialists would be working, transforming humanity, until everyone had felt the future in their veins.
Amongst these men and women was Paul Meridian, standing patiently in line, waiting for his turn.
“What are you getting?” The young woman in front of him turned to ask.
“Oh well… I’ve been hearing that the only option for us old folk are the synthetics. If I had a choice I think I would have gotten the organic, but the synthetic will do.”
“I didn’t know that, well I’m getting the organic. It’d be just too weird to be running around in a metal body.”
“Yeah, I bet it’s worse than walking around with a cane and a limp.” Paul laughed at his own joke and the girl smiled at him.
“I’m up next. Wish me luck!”
“You’ll be just fine.”
Paul watched her walk into the white shed and disappear behind white plastic curtains. Behind him a thousand people stood in silence, waiting for their turn with the doctors, waiting to be poked and connected to the machine, waiting to have their bodies made perfect. Some looked happy, some looked tired, some looked sad. Paul felt tired. He had been there for hours, and for each minute that passed his feet throbbed a hundred times. He saw himself walking out the white plastic curtains with his black metal body, or would he choose silver? No muscles would exist to ache, no bones would be left to break, only he would remain: A new Paul filled with the power of the future. He could see himself sprinting full speed past the people waiting behind him, screaming in joy at the freedom he would have regained.
What would he do? If he didn’t have to eat and he didn’t have to breathe? If he never felt ill and never felt tired? If he didn’t have to sleep? If he didn’t have to die?
First he would go back to his home town and visit his old house, maybe he’d buy it back and start a new simple life there in the country. A life in which he could relax and watch the sun set and rise in the horizon. He could watch the sun rise each morning for billions of years until it burned out. He could walk through the wheat fields and the orange orchards, walk on the soft grounds around town and watch the sun go down. He could watch the sun set every evening for billions of years, sitting on his chair, and there he would await his death. He would watch the sun grow in the sky until the world went up in flames.
No. Simple lives are for old people and he would soon be anything but old.
He would forget about the world, he would go live on Mars and start truly a new life. A life in the red world. Building tunnels and cities, climbing the forgotten mountains and walking through the sandstorms. He would meet another love beneath the small white sun and they would run off together into the black night. Underneath the darkness of the distant sky he would wait each night for her, and each night they would hold each other in their arms, and each night they would plan a new day; And when the time came for the sun to expand and destroy the life of its planets he would leave it behind. He would venture to another star and together with his love he would populate its worlds.
“You’re next!” The girl walked out from behind the curtains, smiling.
“You’re done? You look the same.” He said.
“Yeah I know. They said the changes are gonna start happening during the next two or three weeks. Good luck, old guy!”
Paul stared at his thin wrinkled hands. Odd colored spots covered them and thick snake-like veins ran below them with old blood. Those scarred useless hands, the ones that helped him through his life. They did their best. They worked until they broke and then they healed themselves to work again. The hands that carried his sons into the world, the hands that carried his sons into their graves, the hands that carried his cane and pushed him up.
Paul listened to the dull sound of his cane as he stepped forward. The cane that helped his legs and failing knees. The cane with the head of the Buddha. The one that took him where he wanted to go in his last helpless years, the one that was taking him to his rebirth.
“Come on buddy you’re holding up the line. Are you going in or not?”
“Yes, yes. Sorry. Yes.” Paul apologized.
He walked up the three remaining steps trying to keep his mind silent. He walked through the white plastic curtains trying to stay calm –breathe in, breathe out– for what a shame it would be if, in a moment of panic, his heart stopped and his body dropped lifeless two steps away from the people who would grant him immortality.
“Are you ready, sir?” A man in a white coat asked.
“Umm… Yes. I was wondering if I could still choose to be upgraded organically. You know with the…”
“No, sir. In your condition the only option is synthetic.”
“Oh okay. Umm… What colors are there?”
“We ran out of sable a while ago. There’s silver and bronze.”
Paul paused a moment to think. He thought back to the movies he watched as a child. Silver robots and blue ones and grey robots and black. They all looked the same.
“Bronze. I think I’ll take the bronze one.”
“Bronze it is. Tom, load a bronze model on the tray. Alright, this is what’s gonna happen. You are going to lay down here, and were going to put this helmet on you.” The man pointed to a white helmet with four wires coming out from the back. “It’s going to transfer your consciousness into the synthetic, it only takes about thirty seconds. A simple, painless procedure. You will feel a little strange as the transfer happens. You might experience duality. Some people do, some people don’t. This means that you may at some point see double, feel four hands or legs, things like that. If you do, stay calm, nothing’s wrong. Like I said, it only takes about thirty seconds. Any questions?”
“I’m not going to die… am I?”
“Of course not. You’re here to receive a new life. You’ll walk out of here feeling better than you ever did, trust me. If you’re ready, let’s get you on this bed.”
“I guess I’m ready. Help me up, please.”
The man in the white coat took Paul from under his armpits and for a second he felt himself float through the white chamber. He let go of his cane. His most used possession of the last eight years. He had bought it in a street market. They said it was six hundred years old. It reached the ground and a simple knock echoed around him.
“There you go. Don’t worry about that.” The man took the helmet with the four cables and placed it on Paul’s head.
Another man came in through the back with a gurney carrying the heavy body of a bronze synthetic. Its surface reflected the ceiling lights and, as it was placed next to Paul, he watched his droopy face reflected on the side of the impeccable surface of the synthetic’s head. He could feel the pulsing of his heart in his eyes, in his head and in his chest. That would be the last time he did. From that moment on he would never feel a chest pain or a shortness of breath again. He would be free.
“Ok sir, please, look straight up at the ceiling. This’ll be over before you know it.”
Paul stared up at the ceiling, following the sole instruction as best as he could, and waited for the moment of transfer.
“Aaaand, here we go.”
A click of a button. A moment of quiet. Nothing appeared to change. The ceiling stayed white and the silence remained intact.
“Did it start?” Paul asked, but he wasn’t expecting to hear what he did. The sound of an old man’s voice talking in unison with the powerful voice of a synthetic. He turned to see the bronze body on his left, but he did not expect to see himself, an old man, superimposed on the image of his metallic self.
Duality. The feeling of having four eyes, four legs, four arms and two voices. The pairing of the old with the new. The dying seeing the newborn. The newborn seeing his decadent past.
“Sir, please continue looking at ceiling.”
But he could not. The sound of the man’s voice passed through his old set of ears and through the new ones. He listened to the individual waves of sound in the air separating it into its components, savoring the intonation of the man who had spoken. So clear, so crisp.
“Wow.” He whispered, and he saw his old self whispering. The sight of the bronze synthetic began to fade and the feeling of a beating heart began to disappear. The eyes on the old body rolled back into its head and a stream of saliva drooped from its wrinkled mouth into the white sheets below it, and by the time the breathing had stopped Paul could no longer feel his tired feet. He felt nothing, he stared only at the motionless body of a tattered old man.
“That’s it! How do you feel?”
Paul lifted his hands and stared at the shiny metal surface. If he had said the truth Paul would have said “I don’t know”. He didn’t know. He wasn’t sure he felt anything at all. There was a sense of rigidity in his innards and a sense of weightlessness in his head. Instead he said, “I feel good.”
“Good, good. Then you’re all set. Take this manual. It’ll teach you everything you need to know about your new body. Congratulations sir, you look great. There’s a mirror to your left. Check yourself out!”
Paul obeyed once more. He got up from the gurney and stared at his reflection. A bronze almost gold-colored synthetic stood inside it. Blue glowing eyes looked back at him, wondering if they were his own. He touched his featureless face. His mouth and nose were gone. In their place an angled chin and smooth straight cheeks shined. Stylistic dents took the place of his eyebrows and a perfectly round half-sphere stood in the place of his skull. He touched his face with his new hands, he felt the separation of the atoms in its surface with his fingertips and he knew the temperature of his new skin as if by telepathy. 21.23º celsius.
“Where’s my face?”
“This is your new face, sir. It will take some getting used to, and if you want to change it for a more personalized one you can order it custom-made from various suppliers, it’s all in the manual.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
“Please tell the next person in line to come in.”
Was that it? Did his ninety year old body have so little significance? Would it not be buried? He guessed not, it was not the loss of a person after all, only a body. A body without a soul. A body with no purpose. He glanced at it again.
“Goodbye, old friend.” He said before stepping outside, and at the sound of his voice the old pale body lifted its right arm and reached for him, opening its mouth as if wanting to tell him one last word.
“What! What’s that?” Paul yelled.
“Oh don’t worry. It’s just the remaining electrical impulses in the body. Please sir, let the next person in.” The man in the white coat asked him again, firmly, as the assistant covered the old body with a white tarp and took it away through the back.
Confused, Paul walked outside and stood silent before the other thousand people waiting for their turn. The sick and the elderly. The hopeless, the desperate and futureless.
But what had just happened? Did he see something he was not supposed to? Was his old body still alive? Was he Paul or not? And if the real Paul was still inside, was his new body the soulless one? The one that needn’t be buried in its time of demise?
What was worse was that he didn’t want to find out. Old Paul had had his life. It was time to start anew. A new life for a new Paul.
I’m leaving Earth behind
I left Earth. I no longer found it suiting. It reminded me of myself. It reminded me of old Paul. Of the man whom I left to die beneath the white ceilings of my womb. I could have saved him. I could have helped him, but I did not. He reached to me, to his other self, and his other self did nothing. So I left.
I had certain expectations of what it would be like to leave the only world I had ever known. I would watch the shrinking trees and streets and people, and I’d be overwhelmed by the nostalgia of the memories that would rush into my head. It would occur to me that in the time I lived on Earth I had said “hello” many more times than I had said “goodbye”. The faces of the people I never bade farewell would flood my thoughts, and tears and sorrow would inundate my being. I would look outside, through the window on the ship, and I would place my hand on the glass that separated me from Earth.
The wish to stay behind would make me question my decision to move on to the red world. I’d imagine my arrival. The unfamiliar spaceport and the barren ground of the planet would make me hesitate to leave the ship. Someone would ask me if I was okay, and I wouldn’t know how to reply. The fear would, for an instant, be paralizing and I’d seem to them to be a synthetic body with no mind, mistakingly put on a one way trip together with the people with a purpose.
But the truth is I felt nothing. I don’t feel anything.
I left Paul Meridian in the care of a man who took him for dead. They told me I was Paul Meridian, but whatever walked out the white tents that day was not human. It was not him. Paul Meridian is dead and a bizarre intelligence has taken his place. They say a person’s past is what makes them: Their memories, their experiences, their lives. Well, I have his memories and I have his experiences, but I am not him. I cannot feel. There is no beating heart inside me. I am metal and plastic, structured sand and electricity.
I am not Paul Meridian.
I am Paul Meridian, the synthetic.
Mars is not red
He left Earth and never went back, and though the ride to Mars was comfortable he noticed the stares from the other passengers, the organics. It was a stare that would accompany him through his life on the new planet. Glares of displeasurable acknowledgement. Acknowledgement of his status as a citizen of the world, but nothing more, not animal, not human.
They didn’t understand he had no choice, and every time he looked into a mirror he saw his featureless face. A reminder of who he was, the copy of Paul Meridian. The man who gave him his life and who now had left the realm of existence, the man whose reach for help was ignored.
During his first years in Mars he tried to live the life Paul had wanted. He moved to Mars 1. To the cavernous capital of the red planet, to the busy streets and the glowing billboards. To the swarms of people and the stink of human sweat.
He found a job at the spaceport bringing in the ships and guiding them out. They told him his body was perfect for it. If there was an accident, he would be provided a new one and no harm would be done. And this is the way he spent his time. Hopping on Train G, working at the port, checking out and going home to his apartment on the 433rd floor on the Harriette Superbuilding. An apartment that contained no bed, no kitchen, no table and no showers. He didn’t need them. He didn’t need sleep, or food, or hygiene.
Every day he came to his empty place and stood motionless in the middle, staring at the blank walls, listening to the distant shuffling of the city and the creaking groans of the planet. He thought, on most nights, of the way he should be living. He saw himself standing at the top of the forgotten mountains of Mars that Paul wanted to visit. He saw himself smiling, with the mouth he didn’t have, to a green-eyed girl on the stormy atmosphere. And every day he would laugh at his life, the life of a nobody, working days and wasting nights, watching the tiny ant-people from his balcony scurry around the grey city.
If Paul had been there with him he wouldn’t have cared for this life. The great cavernous city was not a source of never-ending possibilities. The jobs were not as fulfilling as they promised. The people were no different from Earth, and Mars was not actually red. It was a farce. It was the lives of the people who walked behind the protagonists of the advertisements. The life of a man who got an occasional glimpse into the rich and fancy locales. The life of a man who worked tirelessly for a dream he knew to be unreachable. The dream of being content.
The one whose name was Paul Meridian, but whose identity was another, left the city. He left the humans to their ever expanding populace and their all encompassing desire for more and walked the desert world. He walked it like Paul had wanted. Perhaps this time he would find the peace he so much desired, the peace of knowing that his old self’s dreams and hopes had not all been wasted on a cheap replica of a person. For twenty years he walked the surface of Mars, watching the sun rise in the grey horizon and then watching it go down again after crossing its rocky grounds. The stars came out and he tracked their progress through the sky. He visited the forgotten mountains, a recurring destination of his long walks, and one day as he stood atop the tallest, as he watched the far-away stars, a voice made itself be known. It was the sweet voice of a synthetic female body. Paul had been so lost in his thoughts that he had not seen her sitting on the ground, reflecting the dim light of the nocturnal sky off of her silver skin.
“Are you lost?” She asked him that day, atop the tallest peak of the Forgotten Mountains of Mars, eighty million miles from the place where he was born, from the place where he had died, with a featureless face and with a shining gaze.
“Yes.” Paul replied, staring at the first synthetic being he had encountered. He sat next to her in the dry ground below the black sky where the stars twinkled and the Earth shined blue. The air was still and the mountain quiet, far away from the underground cities. Distant enough to feel alone, distant enough to feel at peace.
No other words were uttered through the night, and none were needed. The two remained at the top of Mars like overlookers of the world. Sitting in silence, watching the stars and the lands. Feeling their own vibrations through the ground and studying the winds that passed around them, detecting the movements of the other without looking their way. And when the sun came up on the other side of the world Paul stood up, ready to continue his endless walk through the dull valleys and the empty deserts. But when he tried to walk away, the voice made itself be known again.
“Where are you going?”
Paul was not prepared for the question. He spent his days wandering the planet, walking around until he found himself standing again in the place where he had started. He was trying to find something perhaps buried under the rocks and the mountains and the storms and the night, something which did not exist.
“I don’t know.”
“Come with me?” She asked.
But it’s no Earth either
Paul walked alongside Loren, the silver synthetic that had saved him from his wandering trance, to the city of Mars One. He watched the mountains and the ground and the sky. He had been looking at the same things for decades and never had he appreciated their beauty. The fine dust that rose from the ground with the passage of wind danced through the air and caressed his sensors. The tall mountains were standing firm like titans watching over their lands, always there, always ready, monuments of the world, masterpieces of time, and beacons to the cities of humanity. And it seemed that he had opened his eyes for the first time since his rebirth. Loren’s hand in his own made his past a distant one, and as they went down into the bright darkness of the city he turned to her and said: “Thank you.”
Paul Meridian stepped into the city with Loren Miura and together they walked back to his long-abandoned apartment on the Harriette Superbuilding. He had always thought of his apartment as a kind of prison, a place where he waited out the nights, where he waited for the day to start again. It was a place to be when there was nowhere else to go, a last choice, like a homeless man seeking refuge under a bridge, but when Loren saw it she congratulated him for it.
The day and night cycle began again, but now, with Loren by his side, the hours on the clock weighed less. He was able to bear them with her. He got a job again and he purchased the commodities he had ignored before. Paintings on the walls welcomed visitors, a comfortable bed made for restful nights, a kitchen made for happy guests and the faux skylight made for a luminous living room. Life resembled what he remembered it to be in his youth.
He got a job as an assistant in the field of space travel, and in his spare time he studied the physics of how it worked. After a long day of work, or even a short one, he returned to his place with an eagerness that hadn’t been there before. It was a craving for his Loren. Every night they sat down and took each other’s hands. They talked of their pasts. They talked of their futures. Paul confessed his fear of not fulfilling the ideals of his past self and she confessed her fear of growing bored with life, of living a dull reality. Everything she said, Paul stored in his memory, and everything she wanted, Paul wanted for her.
Her desires took her to extreme activities. They jumped from spaceships into the atmospheres of the giants of the Sun. First into Neptune, then Uranus, Saturn, and Jupiter. They sailed the seas of methane and they kissed below the shine of the stars in Pluto.
Seventeen years after they met Paul asked her to marry him. He didn’t plan anything out. He grabbed her hand and said he wanted to be with her forever. She said yes. By that time it was merely a formality, and every day that passed Paul distanced himself from the darkness of his past and laughed with joy the further he was from it.
It was the life he wanted. It was the life of a simple person. A life where he experienced the spectrum of humanity inside him. At times he laughed, at times he cried, at times he shouted in anger and at times he fell silent in thought, but he always loved. The everyday chores gained a pleasure to them. The cleaning of the floors and the windows, the making of the bed and the disposal of the trash. He was connected to them. His human mind could reach across the technological boundry and be one with the world. He was one with Loren, one with her smile, her laughter, warmth, voice and smell.
For a hundred years they lived on Mars One. Like little children having just discovered a place for new adventures. Walking the streets, singing in the city’s bars, dancing in its parks, listening to its music, befriending people Paul would never have thought he could meet, and every few decades they went out and crossed the deserts again, to recall old times. When they had grown old and tired in their minds they sold everything they had and gave away their possessions. They walked to the city of Juno, and there they spent a hundred years more. Together they lived many lives. Moving from one city to another, becoming young again and old again, growing apart in myriad ways and falling in love in myriad more. Together they traversed the planet and its citites. Building, creating, growing and forgetting. Their lives ended a thousand times, and every time they said goodbye they walked away towards the setting sun, holding each other’s hands, ready to become kids once more, ready to begin again. So it was a surprise to Paul when he came home that day to find her standing in the center of the room with the lights out.
He asked her what was wrong, but she didn’t answer, and when he asked her again, she remained silent. For forty-two days she remained that way, unmoving. For forty two days Paul worried her body had malfunctioned. He called a builder, and when he said nothing was wrong he called another. The result was the same from both. Her body was working correctly, she simply didn’t want to talk and didn’t want to move, and after forty-two days, she spoke.
“My love. I fear my time has come.”
At the top of the Forgotten Mountains
Paul sat down next to Loren at the top of the place where they had first met, at the top of the tallest peak of the Forgotten Mountains. He knew this day would come and he thought he had readied himself for it, but now that he sat there, in the silence and the darkness, he realized he hadn’t. He stared ahead, towards the empty surface of Mars feeling only Loren’s hand and the rocky ground below him. He dared not turn to her, afraid of what he would see. A simple silver face, one like many others, but one unlike them all. It was the one he cared for, and out of the millions just like it, it was the one he didn’t want to face.
“Is there nothing left?” He asked, almost unaware of it himself.
“There is nothing left.”
The answer was absolute. It was not what Paul was expecting. It was the answer that answered all the questions he had yet to ask. He wanted to understand. He had tried to understand. He had, in his mind, lived the life she had lived. He had made a recreation of it. He had chosen all the best moments and all the worst moments, and not a single scenario led him to the same decision she had made. No scenario would lead him to end his life. There was never an end to the universe. He might have seen it all on Earth, he might have seen it all on Mars, but he looked towards the empyrean and he saw the countless twinkling stars. There would never be enough time to run across all their planets, to watch their mornings and their nights, their skies. Why, then, had she made that choice? What was so wrong with life? What could possibly be worse than the eternal void?
“Will you ever come back?”
“I will never come back.”
Paul knew she could not be one hundred percent sure of her statement, but she had said it all the same.
“Didn’t we have good times?” He asked.
Loren turned to him. He could see her through the corner of his eye, but he didn’t want to turn. It would be too much for him. It was not yet time. He didn’t have to face her yet. He didn’t yet have to feel the weight of a million stars upon his virtual heart. He didn’t yet need to feel broken, so he did not turn.
“Do you remember when you met me here? You were lost back then… but you found your way. You found it with me. We lived a good life and it’s not something I regret. It’s not something I want to forget, but life has run its course. Don’t you see? It’s been lifetimes. More lifetimes than I ever thought I would see. We’ve had quiet times, we’ve had good times, bad times and just… normal times too. We’ve had them all. Don’t you see? We’ve had it all Paul. You talk to me about the stars up there, of the planets out there and the future we have yet to live, but I am happy. What better way to end it? Nothing lasts forever… and I want to go away while everything is still good. I want to go while those blue eyes still shine twice as bright at the sight of me. I know you want to live forever. I know you want to take me with you on your journey through the future of mankind and through the cosmos. But it is not a journey that is mine to make.”
“Will you remember me once you’re gone?” It was a question that didn’t need an answer. Once Loren was gone there would be nothing to remember him. She would cease to exist and with her, her memories of him would disappear. Her perspective would be lost for all time.
“I don’t know what awaits me in the afterlife, but know that when I go, the last thought to be recorded in my mind will be of you. There will be no trailing empty bytes, there will be no empty space in my memory. My mind will explode with the lifetimes I have lived with you, with the lifetimes I have imagined with you, with the lifetimes that we might have lived in other futures. It will all be you… my journeyman.”
She held his hand tighter and he felt the time approaching, its never ending passage. The future coming to him at a speed faster than it had ever run. He didn’t want it. He didn’t want her to go.
“It’s time.” She said.
The last rays of sunlight hid behind the plain horizon of the planet that, many lifetimes ago, Paul watched on the sky of the blue world. How could he have imagined that the red dot would bring him his happiest days? It seemed so distant, so impossible. How could he have imagined it would bring him his saddest day?
“Wait. Please. Let me just…” Paul turned to her, “Don’t go. The possibilities are endless. Please. I love you.”
“The possibilities are endless Paul, but I have lived the ones I cared for.”
She grabbed a plate from the right side of her head and ripped it off with ease.
“Say goodbye, Paul.”
“Goodbye Loren.” He said.
With a quick motion she slid her memory module out of place and Paul watched it drop next to her. The body that previously belonged to Loren became stiff, its eyes lost their glow and it fell to side of the mountain. Paul watched it slide down the steep ground, lifeless, rolling with the bumps with its face looking up. Dull, like every other silver synthetic, an empty body.
Paul took her mind module in his hands. Inside it resided Loren, frozen in time, no longer a slave to it, but fixed in an instant of happiness. The last instant of her existence, and there she would linger for eternity staring at his face, listening to him saying goodbye under the dark sky and the shining stars. Maybe it was not a bad way to go, maybe she was right all along. And Paul understood that when she said she would never come back it was because she knew that he would not bring her back. He would not rob her of her end.
Paul stood up and looked at the vast lands of Mars one last time. The lands that had once seemed to be filled with adventure, love and warmth were again empty. For the first time since old Paul had died, he missed his organic body. He wished he could drown the valleys with his tears. He wished he could choke on his own spit as he cried for the love that he had lost. He wished his heart would give out as he remembered her life.
The world looked sterile, and under the black sky and the dim glow of the galaxy Loren’s body drifted towards the ground below, but Paul did not care for it anymore. Her mind was in his hands. Was she real? He asked himself. If he could hold her entire being in his hand. If all of it could be represented by a dark slim slab, how could she be? What was the purpose of his long thought-out journey through the galaxy if everything he could experience was simply a combination of previously known data. Once he had seen the complete spectrum of light he had seen everything, unarranged perhaps, but everything nonetheless.
It was unacceptable, his mind could not cope with it. Why had Loren chosen to end when an end was not necessary? When would he choose his end? He stared out into the infinite black voids of space, and in an instant the planet Mars revolted him. The bustling underground cities seemed to reek through the cracks in the ground and he could almost smell the rancid smell of life. The shallow color of the dirt infuriated him. Paul kicked a nearby stone and watched it shoot across the air, and even the air seemed putrid. Too thin for life, thick enough for sandstorms. It was all forced. It was not meant to be. People should not ever have come to this forsaken rock. Humans should have ended when it was their time, back on Earth, under the pressure of their own greed. Now they lived forever, now there was no erasing that mistake. Out of all the worthy things that lived on that blue world, humans had made it out and were now evading the only rule of the universe. To end.
As he watched the distant stars shine in their orbits, he knew his thoughts to be incorrect. Humans did not fool the universe, for when the time came for the universe to end, it would end everything within it. He had only to wait for that moment to understand it, to cherish it. He needed only to wait for that moment to end naturally, to end the way things were meant to. How many trillions of years? No, he would search for it. He would traverse the universe’s empty space, he would cross it the way other men have crossed deserts, the way he crossed Mars. He would reach its borders and there, at the end of all things, he would end as well.
One last time
Paul crossed the tunnels to the city of Mars One. He walked through the overpopulated streets, through the screams of protesters and the blaring sound of the advertisements. He watched the news of murder, and he watched the shows of comedy. Sometimes they made him laugh, sometimes they made him cry. Week after week, month after month, he sat in his place below the ceiling of his home and watched the world through the broadcasts. He felt the emotions he was told to feel, but they were artificial. Each time he ceased to be distracted by the busy world that surrounded him he could hear the silence in his apartment. He saw the empty hallway and the empty chairs. He looked at the paintings that had lost their charm, and at the half-walked floors. There was an emptiness inside his home that permeated him as well. One that could not be filled, and every time he looked outside to the rock ceilings of the city he felt as if his chest would cave in. His electronics somehow imploding, bringing him inside himself, turning into a singularity that would absorb the planet, all in a vain attempt to fill the endless void within.
In spite of the emptiness inside, he worked hard for his goal, for his journey across the galaxy and the universe. He joined a team of scientists funded by the governments of the people to find a way to move beyond the solar system — a system that had been overrun by humans. It didn’t matter to him, the motives behind his investigation were not important. It was the outcome he was pushing for. A means of transportation that would take him away.
Before he had become Paul Meridian, the synthetic, he had envisioned immortality as something unthinkable, as something grand, and he could not imagine himself as an immortal. It would be a release from a prison of time, he thought. The reality was that time still passed at the same rate, and the routine of going to work, and the time he spent walking across hallways and doors, and the streets and venues in the grey city had occupied his mind. For a few moments every day he seemed to forget the tragedy that had occurred not far from where he was, a few kilometers away, above the city where he resided, at the top of that mountain he so wished to forget. And every night, when everything became quiet, and the air sometimes stood still, he took out the dark slab that contained the frozen consciousness of Loren and he relived his last moments with her.
It never made things better. He stared at it for minutes, sometimes for hours, and he tried to imagine what it must be like to exist in such state. It was death. There was no Loren. She couldn’t stand up and tell him how she felt, or how she wanted to go for a walk, or that she was uncomfortable. She couldn’t tell him she felt sad, or happy or mad. She was gone. Except that she was not. In his hand, in a dark small slab, she resided. Had time stopped for her? Was she still looking at him at the top of those mountains under the dim light of the stars? Was she still smiling? Was she listening to his goodbye? He could never know. Not until it was his time.
Paul made attempts at being normal, and even, on one occasion, went out with a woman whom he worked with. A woman named Sara that had become his friend. They talked occasionally about the life they had lived on Earth, about the difficulties of transporting people across vast distances. “Why can’t they settle for transporting particles?” She had once said as a joke, and for a time he thought he could be with her. He thought that perhaps life didn’t have to be as sad, and that perhaps he should let go of his past. But every time she smiled at him from across a table, every time she held his hand, and every time she looked into his glowing eyes, he could only think of Loren. And every night, after coming home from his job, the void in him grew larger.
It didn’t work. It had ended with the death of Paul Meridian. It was he who should have lived forever, it was he who would have been able to forget his past and move on. It was that Paul Meridian who would have started new lives. It was he who would have smiled at everyone and run across the streets shouting in joy at the thought of living forever. It was that Paul Meridian and not him. So he stopped trying to be the old Paul and instead he did as his will dictated.
He poured himself into the problem of space travel. All of the people he worked with left the project after several years to pursue other works and other opportunities. He said goodbye to all of them and wished them well, and he meant them well. Let those who can enjoy life, enjoy it, but he never left, intent on finding the way to move people across the empty areas of the universe. Paul witnessed through screens, holograms and virtual realities the way his advancements in the field of interstellar transportation helped humanity. They reached many other planets with the help of his research, they reached the other end of the galaxy with a ship he had designed, and astronomers for the first time probed the black hole in the center under his supervision. He had become an icon of humanity.
Every new child that came to life knew of his feats by age four. He was a hero for the people. Overpopulation became a problem of the past and beautiful worlds and the grandest of cities were built during his time helping humanity. Immeasurable resources existed in the galaxy, enough for everyone and everything. It was a golden era. It was the doing of the man whose name was Paul Meridian, and every new planet people reached received a monument to him. A statue of the golden metallic man staring out into space, reaching for the stars. It was a shame to many that Paul never saw humanity’s progress with his own eyes, and it was a shame to most that he never looked upon the monuments the people had built for him, for after four hundred years of work, Paul discovered intergalactic travel and he left them all behind.
To the people,
I want to say goodbye and I’m afraid it isn’t hard for me to do so. I will write this short letter and when you read it maybe you will have an idea of why I left, or maybe you won’t.
I have lived a long time. There are young ones out there right now that have no idea what it’s like. To you I say, don’t despair. My troubles are my own and my circumstances for leaving are not your destiny. The future is filled with endless possibilities, do not fix your sight on a single goal. Keep your eyes open, live the lives others could not and make us elders proud. There are also others out there like me. Men and women who have lived long past what we once thought was possible. Men and women who were born with the idea that death was natural and that there was no escaping it. To you I say thank you. It has been you whom I have grown with, and though I’ve never been too much of a people person, I’ve encountered you throughout my many years. It is on top of us that this world has been built, and we continue to bear it. All before us are now dead, and all those born after seek us out for guidance. Live many lives of joy.
Why am I leaving? I’m leaving because I am in search of something. I’m leaving because the world we have created for ourselves, will never give me that which I seek. You don’t need to know what it is. I have gained many things in my life, knowledge on many different subjects and I’m glad I have been able to help you make life better by eliminating the boundaries that confined us to our place in the cosmos. But I have lost many things too. There are unique things out there, things for which there is no replacement. I have lost one such thing, and for this reason I have lived in isolation for much of my life on the red planet. This is the reason I’m leaving, to embark on a one way trip across the universe.
I must confess that I’ve been selfish. I have worked to reach a goal that just so happened to be in line with yours. I am sorry I was not more a part of you. Part of me wishes I had been. I wish there was more to say.
Perhaps we will meet again in the future, in a place too distant to be seen, in a time too far-away to be conceived. Perhaps we won’t, and I have seen the last face I will see.
Goodbye humanity, I wish you greatness.
– Paul Meridian, the synthetic.
On the other side
I have crossed the abyss.
Looking back at the darkness behind me I can’t tell where I came from. There is an empty place between me and my people. This empty place is larger than the entirety of the world I used to know. Larger than what the universe looked like. Many times I was shown photographs of the milky way and many times I stared at it from the inside. What an impossibly vast arena we have been awarded, I used to tell myself, all is possible out there. What does it mean? Now that I have crossed an emptiness so large, and so vast, that the very light of the milky way galaxy is lost.
In between me and the people I have lived with, a million worlds could thrive, an innumerable number of species could live without ever knowing of the existence of the others, and yet there are none. There is only space and its mysterious energy is pulling us apart. Were we not meant to meet, the people of the milky way and this? Are we so different, so incompatible that there need be a barrier?
It looks the same to me. The light of the stars fight the darkness that surrounds them. The planets cling to them, trying to keep warm. Their peoples look at the darkened sky and wonder what’s out there.
It doesn’t matter. I am here, and through it I will continue. I thought I could see everything in the galaxy where I come from, but I can’t. Not in that one, not in this one. So I will go on through it and the rest until I find what I seek, until I find the end, and maybe there I will understand. Maybe out there in the border of the universe I will see her again.
For the first time in fifty billion years Paul looked at the sky above him and saw only darkness. On the other side of the world he inhabited, the last star of the universe shined. The star beyond which there was nothing else. It was a lost star. One which had been flung out of its galaxy, floating in the infinite abyss, accompanied by a sole planet. Together they traveled through the emptiness and together they would join the shadows.
Paul crawled through the black sands of the world. His legs having ceased to work many millions of years before, and now, on the last world of the universe, having no place left to go, he lost himself in thought.
He recalled the colors he had seen. Each planet, each star. They all seemed to shine a little different. He stood on many red worlds, on many brown and yellow ones too. But none were like the rest. Each glowed a different hue. Each told a different story. Each held a different history. Sometimes, sitting at the shore of an ocean, or at the top of a sand dune, or in the deepest place of the caverns of a world, he would lose sight of his goal. Staring into myriad stars and having gone through myriad too, he could not envision an end. A long time ago, when he had lived but a few thousand years, he had dreaded the thought of thousands more. But on those places, billions of years into his journey, he could barely remember the red planet, or the blue. It’s as if he always had existed among galaxies. It’s as if he never had been born, as if he never would end. In an infinite state of pursuit. A state that went back across eons, a state that seemed to speak to him from across the future. Everywhere he looked he saw himself. On every shining dot. On every hidden orbit. On every lost world. Before he even thought of going to another place, he was already there, and the place where he had been turned into a half-remembered dream. The ever-changing present, paradoxically stayed the same. Each unique dirt, each unique atmosphere, they blended with the next, and he became a creature swimming in a sea of intergalactic sludge.
Now the sludge was gone. Now he crawled across the dirt into the end of the cup where he had been, looking into the massless void between the multiverse. Having no means of crossing it, he had reached the end.
Paul took the dark slab in his hand, and he remembered her end. He had come this way to understand. He had moved from Mars, and into the last planet hoping that somewhere along the way, at some point, he would understand her end, and as he stared into infinity he thought about his own.
With his physical self deteriorated, he could not dream of returning to humanity. Sitting at the edge, he saw no hope for a future. Would he crawl across that surface until his eyes turned black? Would he scream on that uninhabitable place until his voice died out? She and Paul had been together for hundreds of years, and they had been enough for her. She had jumped into the atmosphere of the worlds of the solar system, she had climbed the mountains where they met, she had worked, she had loved, cried, laughed, feared and dreamed. She had done it all. Why then, did he have the urge to continue? Why had he moved through space and time? His mind was empty of humanity. He had left a little part of it on every planet that he walked. He had asked the same questions for what seemed like eternity, and every time they went unanswered he lost a little of himself. Now, at the end of all things, he had lost the last part. He had ended. He lay flat on the ground, wide-eyed, on the last dirts of the universe. No photons reached his sensors, no winds caressed his tattered body, no sounds vibrated in him, no thoughts crossed his artificial mind.
“This is me, Paul Meridian, the synthetic. This is the end of my journey. This is the end of time and space.”
He spoke the words he needed to, and then he gave his travels up. Like a machine with an impossible task, like a light bulb attempting to illuminate the universe, like a blade of grass standing in an endless desert, he ended his hopes. There were no more destinations, and he waited for his energy to run out. Years turned to centuries, centuries to millennia and Paul lay on his back staring at the darkness. He wondered at times if he was still alive, feeling no motion, listening to nothing but his own thoughts, engulfed in black, and he spoke a word or two out loud to make sure he was still part of reality. The gravity of the distant world, across the many thousands of years, pulled on his body, and with time it sunk into the ground, burying itself into its grave.
“We missed you Paul.” A voice erupted from the heavens, its power cracking the mountains across the valleys Paul chose for his demise.
“We have been looking for you.” A blinding light illuminated the universe, and his eyes were burned from such glow.
“We are sorry to have taken so long.” The sound of a trillion trillion voices exploded from above.
Paul listened. His body shook with the planet where he lay, and for a small instant he felt life back in his useless legs.
“Join us.” There was pause, as if the voices were expecting a reply. “Humanity has come for you. We are incomplete without you, we feel desolate, alone. You will make us whole. Together we can live forever, gliding across the multiverse, never-ending, always commanding, in a journey to explore realities far beyond our radix.”
Somehow humanity had survived. The people had became an entity, a collective of minds. Powerful, ethereal, everlasting.
“I’m sorry.” He said, breaking in his hand the dark slab that contained Loren. “It is tempting to leave with you, and I’m very happy to see you once again, I didn’t think it could be. It has been my mission to search, and for countless years I’ve searched, and now that you are here I feel I understand. I know the possibilities are endless, moving through realities, but I have lived the ones I cared for.” And then Paul took his head into his ancient golden hands, and he pressed with all his might. His mind exploded with his thoughts of the past, filling every empty byte with the face of his love, with the sound of her voice, with the glow of the green eyes he had met long before, in another time, in another place.