David felt chilly. He wondered whether to turn up the humming heater. He rolled himself closer into his coarse and faded couch. He did not want to move from this comfortable position. The couch had been threadbare when he had first brought it at a garage sale. That was a long time ago. David looked at the digital clock hanging on the wall. It read ‘1012 years’. That is one with twelve zeros after it; a trillion years!
David knew he was not actually lying on a couch in what was once his favourite room. He was well aware that he comprised of electron flows, antenna arrays and machinery, drifting amongst intra-galactic space. But he liked to recollect about the time when he was of organic form; a man who walked on two legs, digested food and excreted waste, and heard with ears and spoke with his mouth. His experiences from those times were embedded in his vast memory banks. He could recall ideas with absolute fidelity; recreating the emotions and doubts that entangled a human mind.
David was not alone. Across the Galaxy there were countless sentient beings; some of organic form, others electronic or combination of both, changing, combining and adapting to suit their purposes. An overweight man with ruddy completion, wearing a turtleneck sweater and sports coat appeared across from David. He personified David’s galactic neighbours. Multiple communication links opened up and exchanged volumes of information across chasms of thousands of light year.
‘How are you, David?’ greeted the man.
‘I’m well. Can I get you anything - coffee, tea?’
‘Yes. Coffee. Thank you.’
David got up and went into the kitchen.
‘I’m concerned about the Galaxy,’ said David as he returned carrying a tray with coffee, milk and some biscuits.
‘Why are you concerned?’
‘The Universe is getting colder. There are fewer stars. Do you want milk, sugar?’ David pored a cup of coffee.
‘None.’ The man took the cup from David’s hand, took a sip and placed it down.
‘We are running out of hydrogen to fuel the stars.’
The man pulled out a pipe and tobacco pouch. He scoped the pipe to fill it. ‘I guess so. I’ve not particularly noticed.’
‘We need energy to survive.’
The man struck a match and lit his pipe. David winched at the acid aroma. ‘It seems like it has always been this way,’ said the man as he puffed.
‘No, the Universe was warmer, brighter,’ replied David as he picked up an ashtray and passed it across.
‘We need to concentrate our resources, conserve, master new forms of energy!’ intoned David
The image of the man distorted. ‘Maybe we could create some long lived stars.’
‘Yes. We could bring together some brown dwarf stars and so they’d burn their unspent hydrogen,’ added David.
The man’s image flicked then blanked out. David guessed that with stars becoming spread out, sentient entities in the Galaxy were having difficulty communicating among each other. The man’s image returned.
‘What were you saying?’
‘Long lived stars – we could surround them with a Dyson sphere to capture all their heat.’
‘I’ll ponder it some,’ said the man as he tapped out his pipe on the ashtray. ‘Good to hear from you David.’
‘I’m still cold,’ thought David. He got up to adjust the gas heater. At another level of his consciousness he made subtle change to the orbit of an asteroid so that over a long period of time it would combined with stellar dust and help bring a fledgling star to fusion. Over the thousand billion years, since David had journeyed from Earth, he had seen much change. He had explored strange worlds, met amazing life-forms and discovered new things. He had watch the Sun balloon up and engulf Earth before shrinking to a dim white dwarf; Stars, nebula of gas and dust had drifted to form clusters, then super clusters. Supernova explosions from dying giant stars mixed with stellar gas and condensed to form new stars, new giants, and new supernovas, starting the process all over again. The Milky Way had merged with Andromeda, then with Magellic Clouds making one huge Galaxy.
From the couch David reached over and turned on a CD player. Somewhere in his disembodied memory a connection was made to a recording of Pachelbel’s Canon in D along with the background hash that he was so familiar with. David looked at the photographs of family and friends on the mantelpiece. One was of himself, with his arm across the shoulders of his son, Stephen. This image, along with every other cherished memory of Stephen was always at the top of his consciousness. He remembered the day Stephen was born, changing his nappies, crying at night, first steps, going to school and playing in the backyard. He also remembered Stephen running outside to go to the park, crossing the road without looking, a screech of breaks and a dull thump. David wanted to hold on to these memories; both the joy and pain. He did not want to forget, ever!
The cosmos seems very dark. David looks toward a pinkish ball embedded in a sparse haze; the dimming ruin of the Galaxy. Gas streamers, speckled with yellow dots, twirl towards the huge black hole at the centre. David ponders combining gas to farm new stars. He notices a woman sitting across from him. She is mature and handsome with a rounded figure and an attentive smile.
‘Jan, isn’t it?’ asked David.
‘Yes, Jan. You came to see me for counselling a few times.’
‘Is it really you?’
‘I suppose so. I’m an amalgam of many, but I’ve memories going back as long as your own. You cancelled your last appointment and I didn’t see you after that.’
‘I was going to come back, but there were things to do.’
Jan looked at the clock. 1014 years . ‘You certainly took your time. Anyway, how can I help?’
‘I’m not sure. I can’t remember things. Important things.’
David gestured to the photo of Stephen on the mantle piece.
‘I have to really look at that photograph to remember what Stephen’s face looked like.’
‘He was a charming boy. Look, its’ just the age of the Universe. Its to be expected.’
‘I speak with others sometimes. They seem to remember less than I do. They only care about today.’
‘Everything is spreading out, connections lost, disorder. The Universe is 10,000 trillion times its size when you were born. I’m not surprised that memory is failing. There might come a time when everything is forgotten.’
‘I can’t forget Stephen. Never!’
‘Why can’t you forget him? I know you loved him.’
A tear formed in David’s eye. ‘I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Maybe later.’
‘When you’re ready, David.’
The room was very quiet. David walked to the window and watched as planets detached from stars and stars evaporated out of the galaxy.
Figures materialised in and out of David’s lounge; an elegantly dressed woman, an older man, a chatty couple and a teenage girl. They spoke about the latest fashions, trendy restaurants and gossip. They cared little for the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and that all closed systems must run down. Lovers came and stayed a while with David. He enjoyed their warmth and passion, but their eyes were more that of strangers. He watched as two far oft white dwarf stars collided and sparkled as a supernova.
David existed as plasma bonded around a giant black hole. He could dwell on an individual thought for millions, billions, or trillions of years. Perception of time bore no resemblance to what he knew when he was of organic form. He read from a tatted paperback novel, Fisherman’s Hope, which had been one Stephen’s favorites. He recalled them both sitting together while he read it aloud of an evening. David got up to look out the window. He noticed the faint haze of distant galaxies in the sky disappear from view, one by one. With the accelerated expansion of the Universe, galaxies were moving away at close to the speed of light. David pulled the curtains across to keep in the heat.
‘You are so self-centred and obsessed,’ said Stephen who was standing in the lounge room. David looked at the tall young man, with firm angular features and wavy brown hair. He was not the child of David’s memories, but he clearly recognised him. David fathomed that Stephen had transcended his higher levels of consciousness.
Stephen sat along side David on the couch.
‘I don’t understand?’ responded David.
‘No, I guess not. That’s the problem. You have survived all this time; obsessed about remembering me. There was no need.’
‘I had to remember you. If I didn’t, who else would.’
‘You only feel you have to remember me. It is a compulsion; a defect in your personality. You were offered help. Jan could have helped you to deal with your grief.’
‘If I’d had therapy I’d have lost focus. I might have forgotten you.’
‘Others knew me too! Mum, grandma and grandpa, my mates at school.’ Stephen picked up some CDs and started flipping through them.
‘They all died. Who else would have cherish you.’
‘Maybe it was a genetic imperative. You were frustrated that you would not have children to pass on your heritage. You could have remarried after divorcing mum, had other children.’ Opening up the CD player, Stephen put on a Jimmy Barns’ compilation.
‘I didn’t want other children. I wanted you.’
‘Look at yourself. What you put yourself through; cryogenic, replication, mind downloads.’ Stephen started nodding to the beat of Working Class Man – ‘He an’t worried about tomorrow …’
‘I have to give purpose to your existence.’
Stephen snapped off the CD player and got up in huff. ‘This isn’t purpose!’ You’re a twirl of gas and stuff in space.’
He turned towards the mantelpiece. On it was a model train. He picked it up to examine it closely.
‘An F Class loco. My first one.’
‘You love your train-set. You used to play with it for hours.’
‘I’m glad you kept it. Well, kept this simulation in a prime position in your consciousness.’ Stephen carefully replaced the model train.
‘Can you stay awhile?’
The light in the room flickered and went out. Dead stars withered into white dwarfs, giant stars collapsed into neutron stars. David got up and lit an oil burner and placed a few drops of Brazilian Rosewood oil. Quickly the balmy aroma flooded the room. Along the expanse of David’s complex whole, he mustered black holes together so as to siphon off their gravitational energy. The digital clock on the wall read ‘1024’ years.
Stephen started looking over the bookshelf and picked out a leather bound volume of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
‘Dad, your problem was that you thought Horatio was more heroic because he had to endure, but it was Laertes who had cause, a purpose.’
‘So what was your purpose?’ said David as he stood and walked over to the window. He peered between the curtains and tried to discern charcoal-grey pattern that spanned the cosmos, channeling stellar remnants into black holes to ward off complete decay.
‘I wanted to play in the park.’ Stephen sat down again. ‘I liked our evenings at home together; watching football, playing computer games and drinking hot chocolate.’
‘I love you Stephen.’
‘I know Dad. I love you too. I just wish you could understand that I existed. I had a purpose.’
‘It doesn’t feel enough.’
‘I guess that is it. You can’t feel it.’
The heater flared. Soft pink light emitted from giant event horizons that were light years across. Ninety percent of objects in universe had evaporated away. The clock read 1032 years. The history of Universe to the time when David was born was the equivalent of fleeting nanoseconds compared with the Universes’ current age.
‘Can you do anything about the heater?’ asked Stephen.
David got up and fiddled with the knob. He could not get the heater to relight, but there was still warmth radiating from it. He and Stephen sat together on the floor next to the heater. David brought together ever-larger black holes, which emitted feeble Hawkins radiation. The digital clock dimmed. David could scarcely make out ‘1045 years’.
‘Have some blanket,’ David said.
‘Thanks.’ David and Stephen huddled together. They watched as ordinary matter behaved as if it was liquefied and the last of the giant black holes decayed away. David shed his redundant functions and reduced his energy needs to near zero; just enough to hold onto his consciousness. The clock no longer showed the time. David estimated it to be ‘1065 years’.
David reached over to hold Stephen’s shoulder. He dozed, woke and dozed some more. He embodied a vast cloud where electrons and positrons occasionally met and formed ‘atoms’ larger than the Universe of David’s birth time. ‘10117 years.’ Stephen held David’s his hand. The Universe was cold, dark and eternal. David was content.
Authors notes: In 1929 Edwin Hubble announced that spectral analyse of galaxies showed they are red-shifted, from which he deduced the Universe has been expanding since the ‘the big bang.’ This is about 15 billion years ago. There has been much speculation as to whether the Universe would eventually contract under the force of gravity into a ‘big crunch,’ perhaps in 50 billion years time. Theorists have speculated about the presence of ‘dark matter, ’ which makes up the bulk of the matter in the universe. A crucial question has been how much ‘dark matter’ is there in the Universe. In April 2001, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey gave firm indication that there is too little ‘dark matter’ to break the Universe’s expansion. While the Universe will expand forever, the relentless effects of time will eventually see all energy dissipated and matter decay. The range of estimates on this is between 1080 and 10 to 1076 years, depending on the stability of protons. Regardless, these are ludicrously large numbers for which we can have no real reference point.
References: Fred Adams and Greg Laughlin’s The Five Ages of the Universe, John Gribbin’s In Search of the edge of time and Paul Davis’ The Last Three Minutes.
Russell Miles resides in a suburb of Melbourne, with his partner, Judi and their respective brood, works with child protection and aspired for more time to write. Some of his published efforts include articles on defence policy, reminisces of his dysfunctional family, with occasional short stories. See his web site for some examples: http://www.hotkey.com.au/~rmiles
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