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Central Europe Review
Killing the Buddha
Web del Sol
A Future Story
It was 4,000 years after the birth of Christ and Modred was bored. No, he was more than bored, he was sick unto death of the society that ran around him without a care or a thought. "All they think about is what they will stuff in their mouth and other orifices."
The great colonization of space had finally become old hat and out there on a cleaned up asteroid was a fine population of people who lived a veritable Edenic existence.
Humans now moved through pods that shot them over great distances in a short time. They thought nothing of it and were taught that they lived in the grandest of ages, the greatest of times. "Everything is provided for you as long as you work for it," was the motto. "Every neuron in you will be satisfied by the time you die..." And that occurred, on average, three hundred and twenty-two years after birth if, that is, you were birthed by a human mother, something that was becoming rarer these days.
And of all conflict that remained that was the stickiest for the babes that emerged out of a human mother, now a distinct minority, and those coming from labs or machines of one sort of another were the majority and had a rather patronizing view of the human bred babes. In some circles you did not admit it. Then there were the "effortless children," but he didn't want to think about it.
If you were birthed by a clone or machine you were going to live an average of five hundred years and were tracked along a different path to care for the psychological jolts of living that long. Men were still alive who had seen the death of planets and all their inhabitants. Old events were now a kind of lingering nostalgia since everyone remembered where they were when a world disappeared.
A peculiar thing had happened. Since men and women lived such stupendously long years there was absolutely no interest in history. What matters for those who lived a thousand years ago? They are all dead! They have no tales to tell. That was the thought of young people and once the young turned off to the past it was fait acompli; the society accommodated the sniveling young and so history was discontinued in the vast network of education institutions that, in fact, operated along every phase of development. Even three-hundred year people were going to school to brush up on the new changes that startled even them.
So our hero, Modred, was feeling a peculiar discontent he couldn't quite identify. "It's all good but I am pulled back by my foolish mind to something, who knows what?" The professors had taught him to deny and ignore the brain. "It's a disease, this mind," they said. "Listen to those who have preceded you....the three hundred year olds, for instance...."
He had a vision. "Ah, people like myself, coming through the wombs of a flesh and blood woman, have built a life many, many years ago. I have seen them and felt them. They tell me secrets. They tell me how they die and what excited them and why didn't see the future up above them." This group of people who popped up in him intrigued Modred enough so he had to visit their haunts.
He took a leave from his job and hopped into his pod and headed toward Earth. A beautiful vision of the planet entered his mind as he glided effortlessly through space. It was a living green and blue pearl. It was a vision of paradise from outside its gravitational pull. "Oh, I wish I had been born on your wonderful form!" This thought was in his mind as he glided through the atmosphere and headed to where he wanted to get to: that is, to the isthmus that entered the San Francisco Bay where the Bridge was. The Bridge had entered his vision and he wanted, no, absolutely needed to see it for himself.
Thousands of years have not undermined the beauty and power of this structure! This thought whispered to him on his voyage.
He directed his pod down into the abandoned city, fabled in the past for a variety of reasons, but now empty and without merit. What had happened? The universe, for one thing, had expanded and dense city populations thinned out because of a series of incentives that took people from the cities and into deep space. "Be the new adventurers, " the brochures read. "Found a new Place for Human Habitation," pamphlets had read, written by clever people in offices who wanted clients. And, sure enough, the clients came in by the thousands who wanted out of the city with an opportunity to go out to deep space. They figured, why not? What was keeping them in the city when they had an opportunity to start all over again in the infinite universe?
So, the major cities of Earth had been emptied. Only a few hundred thousand families remained and they were sufficient to keep things humming along. After all, it didn't take a great deal to keep a modern city running.
San Francisco was a low city, low-slung against the red blazing horizon as the sun went down. It went down gloriously and without a sign of guilt from anyone. "It goes down, it has gone down, it will go down," old sages would say.
The few people left in the city still drank. That had not gone away. The population viewed themselves as adventurers even though they had not left the planet. "We are pioneers in living with the past," they would tell others; "We are the Vestiges."
It was a lost phrase on those who had escaped. What was the past after all? It was a meaningless term.
Oh pity them, he thought, those who did not know what had happened thousands of years ago. They had destroyed cities in a flash of light and their jet planes had gone 600 miles per hour. And they did parade around as though they were showing off for the future but, essentially, the future laughed at them and said, "oh, go on with you, we've seen it all before."
He zoomed down to the old fabled city and stood before the remnants of the Bridge. It had turned green after centuries of neglect and the docents of the Bridge only permitted a few people at a time to cross it, fearing that it would collapse at some point. "This is it, " he said excitedly, under his breath, as the huge, looming Bridge towered over him. "Thousand of years old! And still here. I hope the spirits of those who built this or used this Bridge enter into me so I am one with them for a moment of time."
The Bridge was one object that had stuck in him when he quickly reviewed all that human beings had built and thought through the centuries. This told him that those who built the bridge those centuries ago had intelligence and constructive principles since lost to the cruelty of too easy a life in the universe.
We think it and it is so.
We think more to replace what is around us and it is so.
And then we go through that awful disillusionment and empty our brains of any more thought.
Many, at that moment, struggle for that wonderful liberation of spirit from body so the spirit can fly free in the universe, apparently for all of eternity. He had heard, though, that some become avenging spirits and when they leave the body screech like banshees. That kept a lot of the buggers in their skin.
Modred was and was not of his time. He had been fascinated by it as a child and even into adulthood; the first adulthood at any rate, that ended on his fiftieth birthday. There had been a quiet celebration but by that time he felt life to be something spoiled. It was a veritable rotten piece of fruit and stank to him. But, he tolerated it as he tolerated the stupid hijinks of his cohorts who kept thinking nasty thoughts so nasty things were popped out into the reality they shared. One trickster had moved around Modred thinking about cat and dog shit until it was piled up high all around Modred's bed while the poor man slept. The fact was that the man was later deemed dangerous and moved to the "filthy asteroid," a place where they put people who could not control the maleficent thoughts, so the planet was filled with odd-shaped piles of stink, mucous and dead birds, gas, green rivers of snot and fluids that even the scientists did not dare investigate. It was punishment but Modred often thought that it was a simpler way to get control of their awful thoughts.
Through the decades of his education he thought he would become a social scientist or a counselor and seek to get to the bottom of the rotten thoughts that seemed to strike at a particular stage in development; between eighty and one-hundred and thirty. "It would be necessary to study those between these ages to see what morphological changes occur in them to instill such awful, putrid thoughts."
The most dangerous trend he saw and the one that finally disillusioned him completely was the fact that women were now able to birth children through mere thinking. Some women had started this astounding feat centuries before and had become a secret cult that officials had tried to exterminate. But then the rarity gave the feat that kind of magic that enchants people and doesn't intimidate them. A woman with this gift, in some cultures, would do it out in the daylight, in the square, clothed very simply and looking very powerful but humble as well. A crowd would gather. She would think about the baby, not simply what the baby looked like but everything, every cell the baby carried in it, until (and some claimed there was a sound right before the event--it was investigated by a number of people) there suddenly appeared a baby wailing and pissing naked on the greensward named for a great warrior no one knew or cared about. The woman would pick the baby up and carry it off letting the gathered people kiss and stroke the baby and mutter wonderful words of encouragement to the two of them.
Of course lawyers got into the act. One set of law-makers viewed the baby as "human" therefore subject to the privileges of being born to a human mother. No, the other side insisted, this is a non-human birth somewhere between a machine and a laboratory and must be regulated as those types of children were. It was politics and descended into the ridiculous and absurd arguments that flame up a population bored of life and strangely ignorant of the complexity that surrounds them.
They started to become called the "effortless children" and no one knew what to do with them exactly.
"Effortless children" appeared everywhere. They were not a plurality but hired people, lawyers and PR types, to plead their case to the larger population. They said it wasn't their fault; it wasn't their doing. They were the innocent victims of decisions made by other people. But the world was bored with these pleas. The world needed victims to feed its tired conscience and choose these poor fools. The "effortless children" were reduced to simpletons and made to work in the worst places imaginable. They were convinced it was their just due. One time one of them had aspired to political power and broken free of the group, the tribe of "effortless children," only to be hacked down by a crazed person who couldn't stand the idea of an "effortless child" having political power.
Part of Modred's motivation was to escape these conflicts. He had felt twinges of guilt in relation to "effortless children" and other items of his culture. Why? he asked. I haven't done anything wrong. But when I see one of these beautiful children I want to kiss them on the forehead and embrace them. And yet, if I do that I am disgraced among my group. This was one of the motivations he had for searching out the old Bridge that had been hidden from his consciousness by his own culture.
Oh Bridge, how many lives have you seen! He read over the pamphlet they handed out. Back in the old days people had jumped off the Bridge to the churning water below to end their lives. He chuckled and thought it was poignant. "They didn't understand how good they had it back then. They understood not a jot of how things were going to turn out... so leapt off the Bridge."
It was a romantic outrage he could relate to and one of the first things he did standing before the great edifice was to imagine the people who leapt into the cold water below. They wore dark suits and recanted the split moment before they hit the water. Oh well, he thought, we all recant at some point. They peacefully bobbed on the surface before being picked up and disposed of. It was, apparently, a terrible sin back in those days. Ah what interesting and primitive beliefs, he thought. "To never see the heroic dimensions of the sacrifices of those who jumped."
The surrounding hills, dark and heavy, had once been filled with houses, people, and a variety of vehicles but the centuries had emptied them out and they had been overtaken by horrible rats, mutating through time into elephpantine-sized animals, rumbling through the eucalyptus trees and barren landscape. He was told not to venture to the otherside of the Bay but to stay in close proximity where the great city had been.
The videos depicted the fabled cities through the centuries, each generation, the faces and sounds. Do they have feelings like me? he inquired. No, that would be impossible. They were captured and pinned in, thwarted by their beliefs. Their lives became predictable and there was nothing anyone could do but, in the end, pity them.
They smiled, that was distinctive. But why did they smile? Didn't they know that all they loved would be laughed at in the future? And that, for all intents and purposes, their lives were futile? Perhaps they did know. They clutched at packages as if they were babes and wore disgusting, lacklustre clothing that had no significant markings. Ah, they lived for their own pleasures, that was their secret. Well people, he almost yelled into the video machine, we too live for our own pleasures. Then he became depressed because he realized if his people did what those people did there was no meaning. They were the trapped animals he always feared they were no matter how fast they raced around the universe.
The old populations believed in ridiculous stories of how things came about. The children and elderly, especially, were susceptible to these tales and criticized anyone who didn't share them.
He still couldn't believe he was standing before the magnificent bridge he had seen on the tapes! He couldn't help but think about the centuries and centuries of traffic that crossed the bridge and how the people differed from epoch to epoch. There was a brief moment in time when no one wore anything. But that period quickly closed down and was replaced by the most absurd clothing imaginable. There wore garish hats that flopped over everyone's faces and pants that were cut very tightly along the line of the buttocks so everyone looked as though they had a huge buttocks. It was the most prominent feature of that epoch. And the women, once they were disillusioned of everything and saw their time as a kind of plaything, became hard or very cynical; their eyes looked upward as if they were faking it, as if they were simply playing through.......
"They have an odd twinkle in their eyes. And yet perish so quickly. So fast, so terribly and inhuman. Why?"
The Bridge-Builders were different, of course. They had an energy apart from everything he had seen in all the years of his life. They climbed up and down and stood tall against the wind. They were ready to fall into the cold ocean on behalf of what they built. They were, in a sense, distant brothers who would not know what to do if they knew that he would be standing there thousands of years after the fact, looking at their Bridge and seeing the ghosts of those who built it and used it all this time. Wonderful Red Transmitter of Souls! He nearly shouted it out but stayed quiet.
It was eerie that few people were around. He looked at the vast, empty bay and imagined years of life on the bay, with sailboats, tugboats, great freighters carrying trade as it had been carried on for centuries. "And after all, didn't the sailors and captains of these vessels work as hard as we do, now, in this century? They are, in a sense, our comrades, our friends!"
He wondered, as many do, what it would be like to go to the exact center of the Bridge and climb up the railing and throw oneself forever into the Bay below. What would one think about on the descent? Would a person have regrets half-way down? Would he see, his last thing to see, the lights of the great city in the distance? And would he hit in such a way that it hurt; that feeling pain would be the last terrible experience living on the Earth?" Well, he thought about it briefly and decided those who jumped realized they were living in the wrong century. They should have been living when the Bridge was a mere artifact and life had lost its self-complacency. His time. in other words, when life on Earth took on perspective. After all, it was not the only game in town.
The most difficult thing was to imagine and then have compassion for those who lives meant nothing to him. Those, in other words, who lived in such a different milieu that it was impossible to feel any pity for their suffering which, he concluded, must have been great. After all, they had built great machines that killed them off slowly over time. How ironic, he thought. They have escaped the slavery and human sacrifice of old only to build machines that did them in. If they knew how the future was going to experience them something would have been different, he thought to himself. For that he had compassion and then left the spectacular jutty that overlooked the Bay and the Bridge and walked down the long quiet avenue where the city, apparently, had been most active.
Little museums had sprouted up all over the place and period furniture and modes of dress dominated them. They were so small! He marveled. No one had told him this but now, looking at the small suits and beds they possessed he saw that they were much smaller than himself. They must have viewed reality much differently, he thought. People of such stature would view the world as a giant thing that would loom over them at every moment. They were caught in a manner of speaking, without resource, and so blind and ignorant of what the future held in store. People, in other words, that he wouldn't want to change places with.
Their mothers, he thought, were strong and superstitious and so controlling all the activities of their sons and daughters. At turns they appeared monstrous and angelic, depending on the momentary mood of the person. The mothers never relinquished the feeling that they controlled even the most powerful person of the time even when they knew one tenth of the person. It didn't matter. Mothers were powerful in that day and age and cast a spell over all.
If, for instance, the mother had jealousy she did everything to destroy the object she was jealous of. It didn't matter. "I will sacrifice this for the greater good who can't stand the great thing next to them!" More than a few of these victims had leapt from the structure.
"We have learned much from your suicides," he half-mumbled as if he meant to jot down the little phrase and save it for future reference. Where he came from a potential suicide is picked up by a squad of intuitive types and is rescued, brought back to his senses and released only after he passes a series of tests.
There were no other people around except an old docent who didn't seem to want to talk. And Modred had so many questions. The docent gave him a laser brochure and he scanned it quickly seeing, in fact, black and white movies of the bridge being constructed. "And what were they thinking about when working on the bridge? Did they have modern, human thoughts?"
Since Modred and his people lived so long only those objects that lasted more than 1,000 years were given any credibility. How few objects had survived! The bridge was one. A collection of stories discovered posthumously by a writer who lived, apparently, in this same area had come to be the backbone of a new cultural era that, even now, moved Modred with its amplitude. Of course, the art of reading was now a lost art. He even speculated that the black and white figures skittering up the bridge had possibly read the obscure writer. And what did they think? Did they understand what lay just ahead of them? Or, were they like everyone else, living as they new best, letting time pass, tortured out of an early glimpse of greatness and content with their lot in life?
He had scanned this period of time of course and listened to representations of its culture. It made him realize that time's favorite trick was obscurity. Ah, but if the object survives perhaps a bit of those who created the object survive! And so there was hope, even for his forlorn era that he already saw dissembling by a fatal kind of egotism.
The Bridge had survived. That was the remarkable thing. And the few iron ruins of the great city reminded him that human beings had built this, had lived and thrived here and now were buried by salt-sea winds and gray twisting fog. He walked through the ruins of the city. There were encampments on the hill but was warned to stay away from them.
Ruins always moved him. He could feel and sense the ghosts that had been here, in this very spot. And how sincere they were! How life was a wonderful burden they carried and celebrated through games and colorful clothes or imported foods from distant cultures. In the ruins one found the soul of time. The mangled stadium had heard the great cheers of thousands. It mattered. It all mattered. And then it was all gone and they hardly knew what was going to happen. It was always thrilling to him because he felt a strange power. As though, by knowing this, he knew a secret and the secret was a passage to a powerful immunity from the horrors of time; its capacity to lay everything low.
And of course, the people were not responsible for their ruination. It simply snuck up on them like a creeping light in the darkness and snatched everything away. Those who followed preferred something else, they willed it into being, and so the currents changed and the city fell into ruins. It happened every generation from the beginning of time. For one thing, he thought, they must have gotten bored with the sky. The star blazed across it followed by a moon with interspersed stars out where Modred now called home. Day after day, night after night it was the same. They did not experience the great joy that came with living in the places Modred had lived in where a different sky appeared nearly every month and no one could predict it.
Yes, they certainly ran out of steam here it is so strange. They had heads and hearts, legs, most certainly those, hair, reproductive organs, backs with spines in them. ears, brains even. They had been, it appeared, an industrious people and used their crude machines well, with purpose, always cleverly coming up with a new way to use the machine to make more money or get around the region. There talk was bland, that was a bit of disappointment. For all the glorious romanticism of researching ancient people Modred was always disillusioned when he heard representative talk from any lost era. People spoke as though they knew exactly what the other person or persons were saying and yet what they said hardly had any significance. And it seemed very mechanical to him as though their spirit really wasn't into what was being said. "How could the men stand the women or the women the men?" He snorted while watching one of these ancient tapes that showed to him what was actually occurring in real time. He would burst out in sardonic laughter at the antics revealed in these tapes. They would have long parades down the center street of the city for no apparent reason. Occasionally two of their vehicles would collide with enormous impact but it never seemed to frighten them. They almost expected it to happen. And he loved to see how bogged down they were when flying in the big machines, how slow and ponderous it seemed to him and yet he had a very sympathetic imagination. "Well," he thought, "if I were living at that time I would have stood in line, driven the strange vehicles, and waited bogged down to get on the flying machine. So, who is laughing at whom? And besides, isn't it true that there would be no us, without them? No, that is impossible to think." And it created a kind of depression in Modred as he remembered the vast reaches of historical fact, of historical evolution that led to the primitive to the sublime that he was familiar with.
In fact, when the sublime became a fact it lost its sublime nature and was a dull fact shared by one and all. The sublime belong to those who were one step ahead of facts. Eventually the people who accept the fact and destroy the sublime nature that kept the fact alive and before long they were dullards, fact-filled, with no more knowledge or where the fact came from than a cow who understood the salt lick or hay scattered at its feet.
The cow, certainly, enjoyed the salt-lick but understood not a jot of its chemistry or how to form it into a salt-lick. We can say the cow was ahead of the game since he let others figure out how to make the salt-lick. His duty was to simply enjoy it and hope it stayed around some more. And eventually they came to take the cow away and he was always under the strong belief that they were taking him to a room for of salt-licks.
A few cows remained on the planet. A precious few and they were kept on a hillside in what was known as Siberia, a small clot of cows and a generous amount of salt licks. All cows had disappeared from the Earth. Scholars wrote long abstracts about it and published them in scholarly journals. The cow represented evidence of evolution many had written. Others had said it was a terrible shame and human beings had been responsible for the debacle of cows. "After all, the human beings are supposed to know better!" This was argued frequently at conferences and a kind of political split came about because of the different visions of how and why cows had vanished from the surface of the planet.
Oh past, Modred thought to himself. You are a pleasant uselessness to me. A kind of ersatz entertainment since the professionals are on strike. The past was so earnest! It believed so unequivocally in itself! He laughed and wondered down a deserted street where strong, cubicle type steel buildings had been built, followed in the next epoch by light, paper things that emerged out of new fiber technology. The paper structures allowed the citizens to buy a little security and everywhere one looked there was the paper houses and buildings, shifting at times as the local historians wrote it, depending on the "freedom and opportunity of the times." Now this, Modred thought, is something I can relate to. Wealthy nomads! The paper was opaque and no one could look into it and no shadows were cast on the walls. They were a joyful compliment to the iron buildings that had preceded them and people were proud of the softness and poetry with which they lived.
It was disturbing to him how easily a vain life was lost; even a grand illusion that people all lived in collectively was gone in a split second. Did not they know? Were they so hypnotized by what sped around them either outside or inside that they didn't know? Or did they know so profoundly deep they laughed it all off as a silly dream and went for the pleasures?
That was it! Silly dreams and pleasures. It hadn't changed for thousands of years. He was incredulous that nothing, basic, had changed in all these years yet he was always reminded that this animal, this species, had lived many hundreds of thousands of years before settling down between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, another place he had wanted to visit.
It didn't matter then! It didn't matter how far into space one got or how many galaxies had been visited or how the techniques had improved. Ghosts told him so. And a vast entrapment came down on him so that he was one in the environment he had chosen to visit.
A feast of illusions. Time should not be measured but only experienced. That is what the father had wanted to say to him!
Modred felt a weird sensation in him. There was an infinite ocean slicing through him and he felt panic as though he were drowning and what passed him quickly was lost in a green and amber fluid. Heaviness was there and then light. He couldn't remember what he had eaten the day previously.
He was flying now so fast. His breathing was strangely labored as if several ghosts were in him fighting for superior positions. He looked above him to see the bridge filled with festive people against the backdrop of a glittering city, red and silver at turns with the odor of coffee and salt in the air that rushed past him like a bullet.
There is opportunity in this death, he heard himself say.
© 2007 David Eide. All rights reserved.