Aphelion Issue 283, Volume 27
May 2023
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The Dichotomist

by Kai Calo

There was nothing more incredible to him than what these creatures called a piano. Throughout time he watched them invent, watched them build; saw their society flourish from his little, unnoticed seat in the corner. They were just as every other species in the universe; they ate, they slept, they dreamt, they lived. Their development was no more impressive than the last civilization to squander existence under his gaze--as all inevitably did and would do--but somehow, some way, they managed to design a machine that could make the sound of mathematical harmony by a series of simple touches, transcending the bounds of their three-dimensional world to the celestial vacuum that was his own.

Call him a God, call him immortal. Call him alien, sorcerer, spirit, devil. It did not matter; it was all wrong. He was what he was, and at best could be described as an apathetic witness of life and death, a fragment of time itself come to consciousness, but these creatures invoked in him dynamic forces that were not, by any means, possible.

At least, not until now.

It was a dark era, one of little advancement, a period where invention and creativity were rare, but was eventually brought about by intrepid individuals able to think past cultural norms and laws. Instruments were created long before his adored apparatus whose strings were plucked with quills or hammered with felt tools to make vibrations in the air. It was not until time stretched--do not ask how long, there was no mark or measure from which he could tell; somewhere between then and now--that a particular machine was molded to be the later version's gateway. The case, as well as the bridge and keyboard, became more effective in its purpose, shying from the original design like a creature plodding through the stages of evolution.

For him, remembering was like asking mortal life to describe being born--he simply could not do it. Being conscious, 'living' if you will, made events blur and fade; they became abstractions that sank like stones in an endless sea, there and then gone, forever descending until they breached the surface--unrecognizable--at the other end of the spectrum. And yet, there was a profound moment in human history he could actually recall--yes, recall; and on command even--the gentle melody of this man-made beast as it ripped him from his ethereal summit amid the phases of the moon, tethering him to the realm of the tangible.

Time expanded, coiling around itself like a perpetual spiral, and these creatures advanced the machine beyond its previous model to something further matured, though it would not compare to its later rendition at the fork between now and then. Still, he felt for that earlier version the most, as it was the version to awaken him from his mysterious solitude. A mixed blessing as it was; it tore him from the safety of indifference and dropped him to flounder at the two extremes of love and hate, but every entity has its place along the lines of destiny, and even he, as multitudinous as he was, was not above fate's demands.

Still, he could not help but wonder why. Why this object? Why this and not that? Why, for all reasons, now rather than before, or even after? Why such a bare and basic apparatus, akin to the simple and inevitable inner workings of life and death?

As it happened, he was not granted the answer, but was instead entangled ferociously in this ebony widow's web as would be a star in the voracious power of a black hole.

He loathed that machine, that thing that tormented him, and yet his hate thawed with the equal influence of love so that the torment was not torment at all, but bliss that drew both together like binary stars around a center of massive gravity.

Then, as the moon grew full, he was whole.

He drifted down, weighted, and became a prism in its presence. Six walls encased him. Windows cast existential light from worlds created by hands and oil and hair. There was warmth that came blazing from a hollowed cut in the cube's side, and a rumpled silhouette rocked in the corner. He sensed the figure rise and followed it like cosmic dust in a comet's wake, from point--infinitesimal--to point--immeasurable.

The figure sat, its worn and tired hands sweeping across the keys. It was arranging dichotic harmony.

Another creature, small and four legged, with soft, midnight fur and legs of starlit white, made a rueful sound, and he fell into its soul. Fingers traveled the length of the keyboard, and his eyes glowed with a crystalline blue of ice chipped from a distant, frozen planet. He meowed and jumped up to the figure, brushing against it only to pull away when it stopped to stroke his head. A silent pause, then the continuum of sound, and he crawled under the heavy, propped lid to curl in the space between the frame and the cast iron plate, purring while the hammers struck the chords.


2016 Kai Calo

Bio: Ms. Calo enjoys sharing her love of aliens and science fiction through her writing. She is currently working on a science fiction novel as well as other short stories. Her website is at kaicalo.com.

E-mail: Kai Calo

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