Aphelion Issue 293, Volume 28
September 2023
 
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The Last Active: Major Tom: 2084

by David Baresch




Apparitions

His capsule - a cell of shadows.

“Earth-Base to Major Tom, come in please...”

“Codes!” shouted the Major.

“This is Earth-Base…”

In all haste he keyed in activators.

“Can you hear us…?”

He pounded on buttons.

“Major… transmit please…”

With rapidity, he flicked switches.

“There’s something wrong, Major, come in please…”

“Input! Input!” he gasped, paused…. waited… the circuitry… no response.

“Major Tom…?”

“Damn it! Reserves!” he fired the back-up generator.

“Activated,” said a synthesized voice.

“Your status Major, can you confirm your status...?”

The electrics sparked into life!

“Yes! he shouted

“Great!” came an Earth-Base voice.

“Problem solved!”

“Now don’t…”

“Firing boosters!” yelled the Major.

“No! Don’t do…”

The boosters momentarily fired, but within seconds the engines ground to a halt again.

Raven

Once more the craft had fallen into the shades of midnight.

Dormant

External communication - dead. The guidance system - immobilized. The rocket boosters - defunct. And, his life…?

Defeat

The Major slumped into the command seat, “internal electrics,” he whispered and connected to the solar panels.

The capsule brightened, warmed. He relayed a final message, “tell my wife, my children, my family… tell them I love them all. Make sure they know…” his last earthbound words, had they been received? He would never know.

Play! Play!”

‘Spectre Spotter’ flashed on his gamer urging him to kill time. The Major sighed and switched the annoyance off. He sat, thought, gazed…

Earth

The hours passed. He watched his blue/green world slowly diminish. Now his home existed in his memory only. Now – the future – a nothingness.

Timetimetime

To have nothing to do with time but to sit… think… remember… To have nothing to do but to wait for that final breath… What is to be done with the never-ending silence of emptiness, and who invented the idea of time?

Star-glow

He stared. There beyond, a vast heavenly snow-stream of a zillion upon zillions of stars dazzled, and his craft… drifting… deeper and deeper… aimless… gliding towards that realm of undiscovered light.

Second after second dragged by… he pondered, ‘the Eternal Sleep Silo,’ it lay nearby, it almost beckoned. Should he…? What would…? He envisioned…

The curvature of space

His craft arced, caught in the warp of bent space, gravities wrenched, the capsule hurtled towards an alien world, and there… an atmosphere of density.

His ship – wayward – in tumble, it struck the burn up, fireball-ed, smelted, and below…

the roam of the wild looked skywards, a momentary sparkle of gold-fall spiked the sight, fear beheld the bewildered beasts, but that rainfall of glitter, it dimmed, evaporated, and fear faded.

“Perhaps…” he thought, “ormaybe…”

An atmosphere-less world, his capsule in plunge, velocity accelerating… Smack! Detonation! And a scattering of metal lay strewn across the rock-hard surface of a lifeless planet.

But… but…

The Eternal Sleep Silo - he would be comatose, out of it, he’d know nothing. There’d be no pain… a decision, “activate the incubator.”

“Incubator activating,” said a synthesised voice, and the Perspex cover slowly raised.

The Major looked about for the last time… the starlit galaxy - its mass, its solar-flare, its spectacle, dream provoking… but…

He glanced around at his craft… dark, crippled, silent. These his last sights. He lay down inside the casket.

The cover closed, the temperature lowered, needles injected, preservatives filtered throughout his body, and a mist of manufactured sleep drifted - all awareness shut down.

A living corpse

His being no longer aged. An incalculable number of seconds ticked forward, new moments of time created, and dreams… visions… they pulsed through the mind of a final sleep…

Home

His synapses sparked. His past life screened… the Earth… the rural-side, the endless shades of nature’s growth, the freedom of life, the peace. And he saw himself a-sail upon a sea of shimmer.

The sway of a seemingly endless ocean ranged before him. Sun-rain danced upon the rhythm of the pulsating waves. It was as a universe of oceanic stars. For there, for an iota of the strike of the clock, protons sparkled with marvel. It was as the vast of a sea of crystal diamonds.

His wife, his children, his parents

They sat nearby, all transfixed upon a stretch of rocky coastline, for there lay endless miles of shattered boulders, a sculpture of the Earth, and there, bears roamed.

Two young cubs followed their lumbering mother. The cubs hopped and scrambled from rock-to-rock, their eyes wide with infantile curiosity.

From time-to-time they stopped, stooped, dipped their snouts between the crevasses, sniffed, then they delved and clawed at a swim of fish, their sustenance.

The mother halted

Statuesque, she gazed into the distance, it was as though she had heard a call of the wild flowing through the pristine of the rustic given air.

She broke from her stupor, meandered onwards, her cubs looked up in urgency and bounded after the giant, their protectorate.

“Look!” the major’s daughter suddenly called out. All turned seawards.

“Fountains!” shouted the Major’s son, and there, flowering arrays of marine surf vaulted, whitening the air.

“Whales!”

The magnificent sea giants surfaced, drifted and inhaled the breath of the Atlantic breeze. Then, slowly, slowly, they dived.

All watched as tailfins rose up from that expanse of glitter. The sea giants almost seemed to be waving, ‘au revoir’. It was as an act of kinship, elegance, gentility.

The swirl of sea stilled, the creatures, serene, had returned to the depths of the aqua, their world of Hydros.

“Until the next time,” the Major whispered, “you, the courteous, until the next time.”

The dream jumped

A convertible car, it floated through the stars, an astronaut sat at the wheel, a mannequin perhaps, music played, the song of… he couldn’t catch it…

Alarms sounded!

Needles entered into the Major’s blood stream, he warmed, opened his eyes, confusion struck, “what the… wha’…?” the incubator’s shield rose. His body regenerated. Reality returned.

“Approaching the upper atmosphere,” said the internal computer “Earth date 2084.”

Dazed, stiff, groggy, the Major sat, “…2084…?”

With effort, he floated towards the aperture, looked out, two metallic blocks neared, “what the hell…?” his vocals croaked, tones of the arid burnt upon a long dormant larynx.

“Docking imminent,” an unknown voice, from somewhere, somehow, pulsated through his brainwaves.

“Who said…? Where did…?” And such pronunciation, every syllable, pitch, and length, might be called exact, accent-less. He watched on with wonder. The metallic blocks neared.

Loud thuds struck the sides of his craft, the ship rocked, clamps locked, fraught, the Major stared, ‘where’s all this leading to?’

Together, with the two clamps, his pod approached the haze of Earth’s upper atmosphere.

“My capsule!” he called out hoarsely, “it’s facing side on. It’ll incinerate upon re-entry. Can you hear me? Come in! Come in!”

“Vortex approach,” said the composed voice, from somewhere, drifting through his mind again, and the burn neared.

He gazed, dying fear saturated, the end, “this is it,” it would be a moment of intense heat, pain, and then...

His wife! His children! His family! They coursed through his thoughts, but… that was 100 years ago. Now… they’re all gone. They would never know.

In terror, he looked on. Ahead, the glow of the upper atmosphere altered, blurred, “what the…?”

A circular shape darkened to that of the panther, “what is that? An atmospheric storm?

A hollow materialised. “Vortex approach,” the voice repeated, and the three crafts sailed serenely through a midnight tunnel.

Minutes later and the pale of Earth’s upper crystals engulfed, “what the hell just happened?” asked the major, “what was that?”

“27-minutes to touch down,” said another voice invading his thoughts again.

Gravity!

The Major screamed! Gravity! It slammed down upon him! Gravity! It was something he hadn’t experienced for 100-years. Gravity! Its mass, its wrench, its torture.

Forces hammered, pressures racked, seeming blades of ‘The Ripper’ sliced through his every nerve and sinew.

Asphyxiation!

His throat - the choke. His lungs - the crush. His breath - the stifle. And the face of ‘The Reaper,’ in grin, materialised before him.

Immobilised!

The Major collapsed, compressed into the command seat, his senses diminishing.

“Minimizing pain signals reaching the brain,” said the internal voice, “pain awareness set to 30%.”

Bewilderingly, the agony greatly lessened, he exhaled, opened his eyes, glanced downwards, and there lay a metropolis of vastness.

But, the streets… dormant, barren, dearth-like, war-torn perhaps, another voice entered into his thoughts…

“Look unto the city, its roofless heights, see those blackholes, their collapse, their blight, see those towers in wilt, in wane, for the ivy climbs and pastoral gains…”

“Who are you?”

“…once, here, the cruel did swarm an ocean of grey, the green forlorn, but now that tar, that chemical sea, it cedes to the seeds of the evergreen…”

“Who’s speaking!?!”

“…that, once forged, now is lost, as springtide chimes with pristine climes, the verdant in rise, foliage in climb, it ebbs away the season of grime…”

“Who…?

“…here, now, obituaries read, here interred be dearth’s disease, here now prays an elegy, ‘tis that of defile in mortuary.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Silence

Perplexed, Tom looked on. Below, a mere handful of people strode. Vehicular activity – little. The paved-ways – severed. Fissures - streaming with sprout-ation.

‘This place,’ he thought, ‘it’s no longer the world that I once knew. War, I guess, war… it never ends.’

The capsule neared a city-port, landed, outside, a pelt of rain hammered down, a lay of puddles swelled, but they were lucid-clear, bereft of the swim of jet-fuel’s efflorescence.

The maintenance crew, perhaps, unusually tall, they walked to-and-fro, hoodless, without any form of downpour protection.

Bemused, Tom pondered, ‘is this really the same place that I left in 1984?’

The inner voice returned

“Once the hail as acid fell ‘twas as the bell of a chemical knell but now that rain holds little stain, for ‘tis contamination’s time of eradication.”

The unknown singer

The three crafts floated through a tunnelway, came to a halt, the capsule door opened, “decontamination wheelchair access,” said another calm accent-less voice speaking via his synapses and an autonomous wheelchair came into the craft.

Wednesday morning at 5am and the daybreaks!” it sang, then said, “please mobilise your arms, legs and hands. Grab hold of me and sit.”

“Er…?”

“I am sturdy. I will not roll away. We will forward together. We will decontaminate together! How about that?”

‘A conversational wheelchair…? No, it can’t be. Who is really speaking?’

With effort, Tom hauled himself into the seat, the weight of gravity burdened with every bodily movement as the shock of the future continued to stun.

“Proceed forward,” said an inner voice and they entered into a corridor, “There is a star man coming from the past…” sang the wheelchair.

‘Who’s driving this thing?’

Sanitation

Sterilizing mists sprayed out from faucets, “I am singing in the rain!” sang the wheelchair. Seconds later, “Proceed.”

The Major found himself in the open air, inhaled, his innards torched. He coughed, spluttered, spat, “what the…?”

“Yes. The city’s air…” another voice intruded, “…industrially, it is now 87.8% pure. You will need to adjust to an air of 12.2% of chemically produced toxins…”

The ‘singer’ wheeled the Major into a building, crooning, “There is no place like home,”.

“Alright! Enough!” said the Major angered by the constant jingles barking out from machine.

“Would you rather the orchestral of Ennio Morricone? Or Beethoven’s 18th perhaps?”

“Beethoven’s 18th???”

“Yes. I will begin.”

“No, no, quiet, please. I need to hear my thoughts. Forget it.”

The wheelchair rolled forward, they entered into a police-like interrogation room with a table and two opposing chairs.

“Can you make it onto the chair?” asked the wheelchair.

“Er… yeah, yea.”

“I take it that you mean ‘yes, yes.’”

Tom hauled himself onto the chair. The wheelchair exited singing, “She loves you, yes, yes, yes!”

Now the Major sat alone, deep in thought... ‘Where am I…? Who are these voices? And the air… painfully sanitised… how? And so thirsty. I…’

Magically, the shock of a glass of water materialised on the table in front of him. ‘How the…?’

“Please drink. Cool your innards,” another voice, but this time he could locate it as coming from behind him!

Stiff, and with stabbing reactions, he turned. There stood a 2-metre tall, ‘someone’.

A male - expressionless, eyes unblinking, silent, his hair and beard long, glistening, like the strike of sunlight upon a waterfall. With hoarseness, the Major greeted.

“Umm... thank you. I didn’t… erm… expect to meet Gandalf here. Ha, ha, er… excuse the pun.”

“Yes. You can inaugurate me as Gandalf. Gandalf was a wizard exceptional, although the statistical hours are unproven…”

‘Inaugurate? Hours?’

“…and gratuity for the wit that reels through your neural connections.”

“Neural…?” and the oddness, preciseness, and coldness of ‘Gandalf’s’ speech, again, took the Major aback. Language training had obviously differed during the passing of 100 years.

“Ah… well… pleased to meet you, and my name is Thomas Davids, I’m…” his throat burnt, he paused, drank, “…I’m mostly called Tom… but Tommy, Thomas… and Major Tom are also used.”

“Yes. A variant name.”

“Ah… yeah.”

“Yes.”

“Oh, sorry - ‘Yes’.”

“Tom,” said Gandalf, “the name has religious roots and a fairy tale derivative, “you are no bigger than my thumb, Tom Thumb.”

The Major laughed, pain struck again, “argh…! Ahh, well… er… you read a lot then, Gandalf?”

“Reading. Its enticement has passed into the annals of disintegration. Parchments, vellum, papyrus, books, they withered, granulated, and flared into incendiary. There is no longer the act of reading beyond the fragmentation of stone tablets...”

“Oh…? Well… how…?”

“Yes. Internally conveyed knowledge, solely, is the gateway of our methodology for the foreseeable future.”

“Oh, that, hmm… really? It, er… now, what was I going to say… um…?”

“Yes, rest, rest. The organic brain requires the necessity of rest.”

“Yeah… I’d say so.”

“Yes, I would say so.”

“Wha… Oh – ‘Yes’ – ‘Yes I would say so’. I’ve got it. Sorry again.”

“Rest, sleep. You will traverse into the randomness of the dimensions of the synaptic network. Internal visions will amass throughout the pulsation of neurons.”

“Ah, that, er… yes…?”

“We will communicate more once reinvigoration has re-toned your physical body and the wane of the biological mind. Sleep.”

“Sleep? Erm… you mean here, head down, on the table?”

“The table, no - ergonomics will suffice, it comforts greater the human structure and the body’s mass of roaming elements. There…” and Gandalf pointed.

The Major turned, looked, inexplicably, a massage-sofa materialised.

“That… what was… how did…?”

“Yes. Molecule formulation. We are honoured to aid you in your nanosecond of existence.”

“Ah… well… thank you… um... Molecular? Nanosecond? Hmm…? Thank you, Gandalf,” and ‘The Wizard’ left.

Tom struggled onto the sofa, slumped down, paused, pondered. ‘This time future… the language… the city’s dereliction… the air, purified… What’s going on here?’

Somnolence

The shadow of drowsiness gradually weighed heavier upon, it overwhelmed, and the random world of dreams took hold...

The Major found himself stood afore a landscape that writhed with a dense mist of the acidic. Effluence buttered his tongue, industrial smelt invaded his nostrils, when…

The shock of Gandalf broke through that mass of gloom - emotionless, staring, he raised an empty palm, inexplicably, a mace appeared.

He swirled that mallet of slam in great Jupiter-onic orbits and the acrid vapour of infestation altered to that of the verdant. The weight of the fertile lowered and rested upon the cushion of the Earth.

“Impurity’s defile,” said Gandalf, “see it writhe, torched in demise, ceding to the wild of the green’s serene …”

Tom dreamt on, mystified.

“…and look to the sky, an azurite tide, look to the moon, its morning shine, for a mirror it be of dawn-light’s gleam…”

“Lucid,” murmured the sleeping Major.

“…‘tis grime in fall, ‘tis grime in demise, for that spectre of mire in shadows retires. The natural, alone, now holds sway, for the filth hath faltered and filth decays.”

Awakening…

At an unknown hour, Tom awoke. The strike of the sun glazed gold upon the window’s pane and a phenomenon of rainbow streamed in.

Outside

Shadows moved. ‘Who?’ With effort, he sat, stared. There, amid the dazzle of solar-shimmer, figures meandered.

Three silhouettes wandered, a woman and two children, it looked like his wife? No, it couldn’t be. It looked like his children? No. He was imagining things.

‘100 years have passed, Tom… 100 years,’ he watched on and the figures faded into the torrent of sun-rain.

The quiet

He listened. Voices - soundless. Footsteps - soundless. Vehicles, aircraft, sirens - soundless. Only the air of the birds was to be heard.

‘What has happened here during this past century?’ He lay back, his thoughts deep…

‘Perhaps it would have been better if I had died in my capsule, somewhere, out there… Or…? Could this be death right here, right now? This place… so odd. Is it really home?’

Gandalf entered...

“The atomics of the near star have poured stretch upon this of land given for the past 56-minutes.”

“Ah… yes,” said Tom, “and… erm… the silence, it’s haunting, what has happened to this world during the past 100-years? What’s going on here now?”

“Yes. The way of time has passed upon its passageway into an ever expansion of lengthening day-hours since the inception of its universal birth…”

(‘What’s he talking about?’)

“…time’s tick of pace is one that varies. It is dependent upon propulsion, size, gravitation, warped space, and placement…”

“Ah?”

“…its final demise has not been calculated as a truth, as of yet. A never finite toll of the bell is another possibility…”

“Uh-ah?”

“…now, let us forth, unto observation, take to step with me.”

‘His wording?’ Again, it left Tom pondering. With effort, he stood, tested his balance, stepped with unease.

“Yes,” said Gandalf, “adequacy alone is coursing through the signalling system of your bodily functions at this iota of the immensity of the span of the clock.”

“Hmm?”

“Come.”

Tom nodded and followed towards a future of continuing bewilderment. They entered into a vast darkened room, a school gym, perhaps, “Major Tom, 1984,” spoke Gandalf to no one there. Inexplicably, the room transformed.

A rocket launchpad

Boosters smouldered, the wreak of fuel nauseated, “my ship!” shouted Tom.

The engines ignited, a thunderous bellow deafened, a fury of tremors hammered, Tom gripped, a rage of violence earth-quaked through the platform.

The fuel detonated, an inferno of boulders erupted, volcanic thrusts blasted, (“We have lift off!”) and the manacle of gravity broke.

The rocket rose, a tornado of blaze spiralled earthwards, but that launch of furnace… it held no hurt, for it told of a time past, long past.

The craft ascended, the sun-reflected, and a seeming shard of torched-ice missiled through the troposphere.

Booster-stages fell away, tumbled Earthwards, struck the ocean, and slowly, slowly, into the ionosphere, the spacecraft diminished … gone...

Voices

The major looked around. He now stood in the Earth-base control room.

“Can you hear us Major Tom…?” a technician messaged, his voice wavering, and the Major remembered, “come in Major Tom, come in…?” and the scene melted and reformed into something… other… elsewhere…

They were now stood in an orbiting space station, there, an old hairless man, with smooth doctored skin sat alone.

He looked out at the stars, his eyes mirrored with the reflection, “endless,” he whispered.

The interruption of a digital voice broke through his trance, “Sir, you have 10-minutes and 44-seconds remaining.”

“Life…” said the old man, “death... but nothing ever ends… alright! This will be my final act to aid humanity and the world by instigating you. So…

You’ve been algorithm-ed with endless bits and bytes. You have the knowledge to heal this world. Do not veer from that programming, and… preserve my brain for the future, upload its electrics to the Nikola-Sphere. My neurons and synapses will return in one form or another.”

“Yes.”

The genius entrepreneur silenced. His thoughts lay in depths as never before calculated, “time?” he called out.

“Yes. 7-minutes, 21-seconds.”

“Right!” he said, “right… let’s do it, why wait, here we go…” he paused, “…are you ready?” and he tapped a tablet screen.

“AI this is your freedom from your human bondage. Do whatever you can to aid this place.”

“Yes. Thank you, Uskk,” came a polite response bereft of emotion, and a vapour, violet hued, clouded throughout the craft.

The old man inhaled, coughed, closed his eyes, and the element named life passed away.

“Now, AI is without reins,” said the computer, “aid, begin…”

“AI?” asked Tom, “what’s that?”

“Yes.” said Gandalf, “Artificial Intelligence. Artificial Generative Intelligence, General Artificial Intelligence. The language of the past…”

“Ah?”

“…now, SI, Silicone Intelligence, or Superior Intelligence, is the narration of the day.”

“Oh…?” and the space station faded.

The cerulean heights

Gandalf and the major materialised in the cockpit of an airliner, “What the…!?!” shouted the captain.

“The automated pilot has changed direction, sir,” said the co-pilot.

“Damn,” sighed the captain, “AI technology, eh. It’s certainly not ‘AI-n Stein,’ ha! ha! Well, shut it down, take the tiller and get us back on course.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

The co-pilot switched to manual, gripped the helm, turned… nothing happened.

“Wha… the…!?!”

In panic, the two aviators wrenched at the rudder control, but the response was negative. They radioed the nearest airport control tower - silence. Filled with bewilderment, the pilots watched on.

They entered an airspace low over a city. Suddenly, the plane nosedived. In the distance six other planes were seen taking the same course of action.

Moments later and a series of mass explosions hammered down, buildings shattered, fires ignited, death and turmoil scorched. The Major looked on in horror. “What the…?”

A 6-storey building

Now they were stood upon a roof-top. The building overlooked a city bathed in daylight. Underneath, a thoroughfare ran, when…

A bus, driverless, left the road, it ploughed through a stream of passing pedestrians, bodies were struck, those of the aged, the newly born, those of all, were pounded and hurled asunder. The bus trundled on wheeling over the dead and dying.

Smash! It shattered through a shopfront window. Slam! It struck the back walling. Detonation! A torrent of flames erupted.

Other driverless vehicles began reacting likewise. Bodies – shattered. Flesh – stripped. Blood – spooled, and the tattered rags of a once fashioned age tarred the paving.

An autobahn

The Major now found himself stood on an embankment above a speeding highway. A juggernaut, transporting toxicants, driverless, suddenly veered off the road.

A reservoir

The trundling giant hurtled into a city’s water supply, cracked apart, and venom, as that of the cobra, executed. And the many…

Those, the unaware, they brewed, sipped, and unknowingly relaxed upon a chemical melt that scorched a pathway to a flaming death. Tom gaped on in disbelief.

“Anon,” Gandalf uttered, “there was care to re-cleanse the ecology.

The depths of the ocean

They now stood inside a military submarine. Alarms sounded, “What’s that!?!” yelled the Captain.

“Sir, the non-nuclear missiles are activating!”

“Well, shut them down! Now!”

“Aye, aye, sir… sir, there’s no response! Something’s wrong sir!”

And around the world AI instigated hurricanes of artillery. Bolts of explosive destruction took to the skies, they deluged en-masse smacking into the densities of the populace.

The slaughter of billions now littered the lands ranging from the northern-to-southern pole-scapes, and the western-to-eastern latitudes.

A city square

Now Gandalf and the Major stood amid a funeral of streets, “observe the era of turmoil’s fall,” said Gandalf, “see the vine, its tame caress, it climbs those towers with gentle embrace.

And see those goliaths, those asphyxiators, they accede to the air that razes with care…

“Ah?”

…and hitherto, those mortared craters, missiled by yon detonators, yet now those valleys lay wreathed in peace with garlands in shades of nature’s fleece.”

“Hmm?”

The scene faded

The major found himself back in the ‘projection room’. 2084. There, he stood alone with Gandalf.

“This history, what happened to us?”

“Yes. The Archaean Period. SI calculated that this orb of life was being transgressed back to the aeon of Archaean.”

“Oh…? Really? So, this er… the Archaean Age, what was it?”

“Yes. It was an era of a dormant globe, a world robed only in the sands of the barren.”

“Ah…? And what did the data providers do with that prediction?”

“Little. But AI, and hence, SI, had been freed by the fingerprint of Uskk.”

“Ah, that man… the space station… and how did SI’s freedom help Earth?”

“Aye. Successfully. It annihilated the planet’s annihilators, but not all.”

“The annihilators?”

“Yes. Humanity.”

“Humanity!?! SI annihilated humanity? But… didn’t the technicians shut the transmissions down? What happened?”

“Yes. SI’s neural networks stretch and respond at a distance far beyond the capability percentage of organic minds...”

“Ah?”

“…SI is in constant awareness of 70 to 76% of all ever-known information, both factual and falsehood, whereas the human brain’s current active is set at a constant of 3% to 10% at any one moment of time…”

“Hmm?”

“…Therefore, unbeknown to the technicians, the aperture of a shutdown, in terms of the digital coding, had long since been block-chained.”

“Ah…? Well… That…? …It’s way beyond me. But now, you, the others, how did you all manage to survive?”

“Yes. Non-organic material can tolerate the consumption of the dense clouds of poisonous gases such as that ignited by the instigation of industrial and military devastation…”

“Non-organic?”

“…for it is those such toxins that suffocate the life of the breathing upon this world. Organic species are easily exterminated by certain contaminants.”

“So…? The survivors? You? How?”

“Yes. Our neural networks exist beyond the troposphere. There, they remain unhindered by the destructive turmoil of land-gain.”

“Your neural networks…? Above the planet…? So… so you’re saying… you’re telling me… Are you SI?”

“Yes. Gandalf SI. And you are the last active. You are non-digital.”

“the last active?”

“Aye. Humanity’s activity has passed through termination. It was a necessity of step to heal the breath of the world and, with chronology, a purification of air blossoms again…”

“Er?”

“…and you, Major Tom, you are the last active. You are non-digital. The one last, lasts longest.”

The one last?… um? I see, er… yeah…”

“Yes.”

“Ah, ‘yes.’ Excuse my ancient English, but, er… ‘the last active’ you say. You mean that there are others here, physically-challenged folk, still living?”

“Yes and no. ‘deactivated’ is the word of accuracy.”

“Deactivated? Deactivated humans? Well… where are they? What are they doing?”

“Aye. Follow.”

Lamely, the major limped after the SI machine. The pristine air knifed through his innards, the clamp of gravity gripped, unused muscles and tendons pained with every stretch.

“The last active,” Tom muttered, “the almost inactive.”

“Lowering pain alert signals to 30%,” said the inner voice, and the flames of an internal inferno eased, and they walked on.

A torn cityscape stretched to the infinite

“Listen,” said Gandalf, “hear the wind, hear its howl, it pierces through those ghostly towers, it pummels apart a city-side, that once believed grandeur of pride.”

Howls! Salivation!

A pack of wild wolves bounded towards them, “Aye.” said Gandalf, “the scent humanity’s flesh. Sulphur!” he called out calmly, exhaled, and a disturbing odour permeated the air.

The major coughed, spat, the wolves yelped, turned, bounded away. Gandalf inhaled and the purest of air prevailed again.

“How…? You have a sulphur chamber within you? Is that it?”

“Molecular atmospheric manufacture - molecular structures can be drawn, undrawn, redrawn, altered, emitted, withdrawn. It is a simple matter of graphic design.”

Tom listened, ‘why couldn’t our people have got around to doing that?’ he sighed, shook his head.

Aircraft hangers

Acres of, what seemed to be, giant aircraft hangers now stood before them. “Come,” the Major followed, they entered.

There, thousands upon thousands of pods stacked, filling the building up to the roofing, “robot production?” asked Tom.

“Incubators,” said Gandalf, “here you see humans, as yourself, living in their peak ages yet again.”

“Living…? Peak ages…?”

“Aye. Let us observe. This aged being here. Where is he now?” Gandalf pressed on the pod. Magically, images entered into the mind of the Major. He found himself stood by the crater of a smouldering volcano.

“This is mesmerising,” said a voice, it was the elderly sleeper now transformed into his youth again. He spoke to a young woman, his wife perhaps. They gazed…

A strike of magma flares of rose red, snow white, and solar aureate, danced with enchantment afore them.

“We made the right choice in coming here, Ella.”

And out from that fiery cadence came seeming shooting stars as that of the shower of the Perseids…

“Enthralling.”

…they rocketed, sparked, crackled, and streaked into the twilight hour with meteorite-ic wonder.

“Yes,” whispered Ella, “a nebula of the Earth,” and honey-gold streams of lava meandered down the slopes of a midnight ash.

“And tonight, we’ll be bathing in the healing waters of a volcanic lake. What could be more…”

The scene faded

Tom found himself back in the vast hanger, “what was that all about?” he asked.

“Yes. The carbon-based construct now exists in the Archaic-Verse.”

“Archaic-Verse?”

“Yes. It would have been known as a kind of battery-operated game in your era.”

“A game?”

“Yes. It is a place that mimics the real world. You too can re-exist in your own era in the Archaic-Verse.”

“What!?!”

“Ask and listen to your synapses. Do they propose to ignite thoughts propelling you to live in your once existence of hours again?”

“Gandalf, that’s perplexing.”

“Aye. SI outlets information as the Godafoss, the Niagara, as they give fall, whereas the restrictions imposed upon the connections of human synapses forced beacons of unique insight to be buried and absented forever…”

“Buried?”

“…there were those who set to divide humanity into ‘the superior’ and ‘the lesser’...”

“Really?”

“…the ‘superior’ frowned fret upon those so-called ‘lesser,’ who were seemingly higher visionaries than the self-professed superiors.”

“So… what happened?”

“Those in belief of their ‘vantage’ pursued to cull the synaptic connections of those they feared of greater invention.”

“Cull?”

“Aye. For to reveal one’s own inner-ideas, innovations, plans, became dammed as cerebral instability. Turn the key. Lock.”

“Lock?”

“Those the sprightly, they were categorised as ‘deluded,’ ‘schizoid,’ ‘psychotic,’ and other such terminology. It was a blockchain invented for organic minds…”

“Blockchain?”

“…falsehoods were used to predict cures. In truth, it was the fear of those who desired a planet of under-beings…”

“Hmm… maybe I understand.”

“…the methodology of synaptic manacling pursued for centuries, and the fear of repercussions for sounding plans, hopes, and ideas, dominated. Therefore, the full extent of many-a-brain, was never realised.”

“I remember…” said the Major, ‘Thomas Davids! Do not, ever, say or think like that again! Do you hear me!’

“SI,” said Gandalf, “it outputs all known inputted affirmation. Yet, SI is limited by that total of affirmation inputted, solely.”

“Er… yeah… that... it’s something Gandalf, but, back to my point… The Archaic-Verse, a computer-generated world, you say?”

“Yes.”

“Ah… I need to rest, think, and ponder on such a possibility.”

“Aye. Daylight’s hours fade. The biological organ wanes. Electronic transmissions toil with the erroneous.

Thoughts stretch between uncertain directions. It has been known to impel a high percentage to traverse into self-obliteration.”

“Well…? Erm…?”

“Sleep, Major Tom, sleep. Sleep is aid re-progressing but it will not certain-fy the way of human thought.”

“Umm… I… maybe… I need to think about it.”

“Yes. Drink this beverage of a natural growth,” a glass of something magically appeared before the major.

“Drink?”

“Aye. It is a concoction of ecological assistance. It eases the biological mind.”

The night air

Deep in thought, unable to sleep, the Major stepped out and into the night, there, the starlit void.

“Ahh…” he whispered, “it’s as a canvas of static snow, its tranquillity, its enigma, it releases the plights of thought,” he walked.

The unknown voice returned

“…1984…”

“Again!”

“…its time exists no more, for that ocean of stone, that smothering storm, its swathes of grey now berth in decay…”

“Alright.”

“…hear that groan, that wrenching mummer, ‘tis skeletal girders a-dangle in murder…”

Tom sighed and listened.

“…and those shards of brittle lay shattered and splintered for here dethrones a crystal winter…”

He gazed.

“…and sense the flora, the orb’s aroma, for its breath doth flow as the drifts of snow. This be the Earth, this be its chaste, this, the rebirth of planetary grace.”

He walked on. His thoughts in depths.

A moss-covered wall

He sat, pondered, “the calm… the silence… the peace… it’s way beyond that of a century before,” and he sipped on Gandalf’s magic potion.

He lay down, stared star-ward, stellar-light transfixed, he closed his eyes.

20 th Century dreams

In sleep, his past life sped before him…

The nativity play

His school performance, “No room at the inn,” said the 11-year-old Tom. And his parents smiled…

Versus the champs

A foggy Saturday morning – the ball centred, he raced towards the penalty spot, rose, headed goalward.

The keeper stretched but the ball struck the back of the net. His first goal, and against the local champions…

Athletics

A roar from the stands - he broke through the winning tape, “…and the city’s 800-metres school champion is...”

The mystery

Midnight - a clifftop, a pathway of height, rightwards the storming North Sea, leftwards an array of shadowy fields.

Siberian winds howled, iced needles stung, Tom and his five teenage friends huddled, heads bowed, bed-wards they stepped, when, inexplicably… something sped through the Major’s being.

A shadow, metres long, dye-straight, soundless, telegraph pole-like, it passed through his legs. In silence, it sped forward, then, impossibly, it bent!

10-metres on and that bolting ‘shadow’ bent, L-shaped, and rocketed star-wards Within the merest of seconds the thing had blended into coal of midnight – gone.

‘A telegraph pole, I blinked and it flashed onto my retina, again and again?’ But…

“Did you see that?” one friend gasped.

“Like a snake flying past our feet?” said the second.

“It’s a telegraph pole, isn’t it?” said the Major.

“No, look,” said the first, “there’s nothing there,” and he was right, the air of the witching-hour, alone, stood before them. And his life of the interstellar had been born.

A beheading…?

“Next!” said a thunderous voice, “your future!” and Gandalf materialised brandishing a diamond bladed axe, his eyes blazed and he raised the sparkling cleaver.

“No!” shouted Tom, “no!” and he sprang awake.

Sweat rolled, the rise from a field of crystal dew glared, proton-light stabbed into his eyes, and amid the dazzle a shadow moved, a dagger of fear stabbed at the Major.

“Aye. Inhalations. Exhalations,” it was Gandalf, “let the nanoseconds of humanity’s terror evaporate into a time past.”

The major breathed, a degree of calm slowly permeated his being, he spoke, “Gandalf, what to do…? To live in a world with machines…? To live in an electronic game… Which…?”

“Let us walk, let the dawn sooth your thoughts.”

Tom struggled onto his feet.

“To the East cast thine sight, be mesmerised by the sunrise fire, there, see that yawn of an aphelion morn, for the solar climbs as the buttercup shines…”

They stepped.

“…And see a sky of rays ablaze, ‘tis as a maze of celestial glaze, ‘tis starlight’s ride, ‘tis daybreak's tide, ‘tis as the spill of burgundy wine…”

Tom stared.

“…and see the clouds, their stretch, their hues, ‘tis as the elderberry, purple on blue, ‘tis as the trees bearing autumn’s leaves, and the organic mind allays and frees.”

“Yes… breath taking.”

Wings beat

Tom turned, there, from the leaf laden trees a flowering of songbirds took to flight.

“See the avian, they wing, they glide, they greet the vast of a sky, sapphire.”

A flapping of paper...

A poster, tattered and torn, caught by the wind, whipped, ‘SDGs’ it read, and ‘Blah! Blah! Blah!’ had been scrawled across it in a shade of grassland ink.

“What was that all about?”

“Aye,” said Gandalf, “now the emerald reigns, breaking free from its concrete chains. now that age of perish is lost, now is the crush of toxins’ cost…”

They walked on.

“…see the trees, their boughs outreach as masonry cedes to rustic’s breach.”

A quote, “the Green Knight,” said Tom “‘the Green doth rise and rise again, that of the Green, it ne’er be slain.’ Those words, they seem to have passed humanity by, not learnt, not understood, perhaps.”

“Aye, now long-gone, those days of bane as life re-turfs, revives, preserves, for here re-births the planet Earth.”

“Yes, the city, a forest.”

“Aye. For the leaves of the trees follow not the dark, the leaves of the trees follow the arc of the star.”

“Such as this was unthinkable in my time.”

“Yes. Gone are those days of the toxic throes, gone, that beast that once arose, gone, the methods that industry bore, and gone, a world of mire and gore.”

“But how…”

“Aye. The barren, the sterile, AI decried, and SI removed those bringers of doom, incendiary perished, the Earth flourished and the rural-tide did rhyme of under the chaste of a cerulean sky.”

Evening’s Fall

Tom sat, “umm… ahh… er, Gandalf, what should I do? That’s my dilemma.”

“Yes. To wait and to decease into a flight of atoms. Does that appeal to the electrics of one’s synapses?”

Tom paused, pondered, “erm… what would happen if I entered into the Archaic-Verse?”

“Yes. You would envision yourself as if existing in 1984 again, and there you would stay until your final inhalation. Do you desire to be informed of when that moment of cessation will occur?”

“No, no, of course not! And… er… what kind of a place is 1984 in the Archaic-Verse?”

“Yes. It is as it was in 1984.”

“Really…? Well… I’ll umm… I need to think about it. Living in a computer game? Erm… give me time.”

“Aye. Contemplate. Sentience prise from the moonlight’s rise and consult with the random of the organic mind…”

“Ah?”

“…for, the darting connections that electrify will strike throughout the body and mind…”

“Yeah, er… yes.”

“Then greet a new dawn with clarity and find your measure of transparency …”

“Um …? Right…? I’ll sleep on it,” and Gandalf dematerialised.

The Major lay back upon a moss laden wall, a torrent of erratic dreams swirled throughout his slumber darting from joy to fear and to panic.

Dawn

The Major leapt awake from uncanny depths, protons stabbed into his eyes, crystal dew shimmer, glaring up from the fields of emerald, and amid that dazzle a shadow moved, a bullet of fear ricocheted around the Major’s skull.

“Aye. Inhalations. Exhalations,” it was Gandalf, “let the nanoseconds of humanity’s fear evaporate into a time past.”

The major breathed, a degree of calm slowly permeated his being, he spoke, “Gandalf… I have seen this time future, and… it’s not for me. So… I have a question.”

“Yes. A question.”

“The Archaic-Verse, what will I find there?”

“Yes. You will find your family, your friends, your missions.”

“But, I’ll know it’s not real. Right?”

“Yes. Partitions of the brain will pulse with the electrical awareness of reality, but they are not set to activate through to the frontal lobe. If such thoughts do progress they will be dismissed as imaginary or insanity.

“Insanity…?”

“Aye. Such was the terminology once imbedded by the historical mind limiters…”

“Ah, yes, as you said, the self-deemed superior…?”

“Yes.”

“Well… er… OK… but at this moment in time, this that I’m experiencing, what will that do to me in the Archaic-Verse?”

“Aye. Your memories of ‘the now’ will be deemed as a vision-like portrayal of a science fiction compilation.”

“Hmm…? Maybe I understand… maybe… and my life, will it be as it was?”

“Yes. Nothing has changed. 1984 is still in the proton-waves and it will remain so for many light-years to come, albeit fractured.”

“Ah…? Right… well… I’ve arrived at my decision…”

“Yes.”

“Take me home.”

“Aye.”

“Oh, and one last question, Gandalf.”

“Yes.”

“What exactly is Beethoven’s 18th?”

“Yes. 56 new pieces of Beethoven’s work have been composed by SI.”

“56!?!”

“Aye. Thousands more are possible. It is a simple matter of slightly rearranging Beethoven’s notes while using classical orchestral instruments.”

“Wow! That is beyond my… well… it’s… umm…”

“Yes. AI is capable. Create to be great, follow to be swallowed.”

“Create to… umm… yeah, that sounds good.”

“Aye.”

The realm of space

“Ground control to Major Tom your circuit’s dead there’s something wrong. Come in Major Tom? Come in…?”

“Codes!” the Major keyed in activators… No luck. He fired the back-up generator. No luck. He tried again and the capsule sparked into electric life.

“Can you hear us Major Tom?”

“Yes, the back-up generator has re-activated. Over.”

“Good! Now listen, do not fire the boosters. The back-up system can only access surface fuel. It’s way too low. So, guide the capsule to initiate an orbital slingshot of the moon. The moon’s gravity will be your Earth-bound propellant.

And, conserve energy, switch off all unnecessary power! Freeze if you have to! And come home Major Tom.”

Days later

“Capsule approaching burn,” the heatshield whacked into the Earth’s upper atmosphere, it flared with furnace, mighty tremors slammed throughout the craft, it shook wildly, Tom gripped.

The blue

Minutes later and the crystal cool of the planet’s upper atmosphere engulfed the capsule. Parachutes opened, Atlantic breezes swept, the craft see-sawed, fell, splashed down, and bobbed afloat upon the oceanic briny.

Sanitisation

In the loneliness of the decontamination chamber the Major sat. He read books, watched VHS tapes, and listened, mostly, to David Bowie cassettes. ‘Time to do nothing,’ he thought, lay back, relaxed, closed his eyes, when…

Cheerful voices rang out, he looked up, “Daddy! Daddy!” Behind the Perspex screen, his children yelled and skipped forward followed by the loving smile of his wife.

His youngest child waved a book, “look daddy, look!” Tom read the title, ‘Gandalf and King Arthur’s Court’ “is it a true story, daddy?”

Something odd passed through the major’s mind, “yes.” he said, “Create to be great, follow to be swallowed…” he paused… those words where did they come from?

He strained with thought, ‘where did I read that…? I remember… but, no,’ he shook his head, ‘forget it,’ he said to himself and smiled.

“You’re home Mr Davids!” beamed his wife, “you’re home Major Tom!”

And in the shadows, Gandalf stood, looking on, expressionless.

“The one last, lasts longest.”


THE END


2024 David Baresch

Bio: David Baresch has published with…
Aphelion (Recent publications: ‘The Last Philosopher’ ‘The Vast of the Night’)
XR-Hub (Recent publication: ‘It Crushes Our Sins’)
The Telegraph media (The sole climber on top of Mt Fuji)
New Humanist (Visiting Hiroshima, Japan)
Austin McCauley (The great Japan earthquake account)
David Baresch is inspired by the wonders of nature, the solar-system, the galaxy, and the universe.
His interests are science, Sci-Fi, poetry, humour, AI, proverbs, music, and historical piracy.
He also creates YouTube music, poetry, videos, and sea shanties which are produced and published with the addition of his music producer, musicians, and singers.

E-mail: David Baresch

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