A TWISTED JOURNEY
Jerry was floating through the weightless space at a constant – that is, non-accelerating, non-decelerating speed – towards the light-streaked blackness of the whirling Void. Of course, the dizzying rotation was just Jerry’s perspective as his heading’s space remained still. Well, ever-faster expanding, if you want to get technical about it. Therefore, what lay ahead was moving, but wasn’t really, depending on who was looking. Relativity and all that.
None of that mattered now. Jerry’s life was over. He was without a spacesuit, oxygen, food, or water. Yet those were the least of his worries. He would try to flap his arms and kick his feet. Nothing happened. He continued swirling from the rotation he unwillingly left his vehicle at. While he could reproduce his own material to retain nutrition and temperature, prevent suffocation, and cared little for the lack of pressure in the vacuum, Jerry could not control his movement.
“Damn oxygen-hogging, pesky, five-fingered aliens throwing me out of my own ship…” he complained to no one. Scratched-up cargo truck was quickly distancing, its blinking orange and purple lights blending with the stars. “Goodbye, Lady N,” Jerry let out to the airless fill of the universe.
After a few more minutes of trying to coordinate his movement, he gave up, knowing quite well some things were just out of his control. “Peculiar,” he mused. Always in the first wave towards the uncolonized worlds, Jerry was there to utilize his charm and dapper looks. His inherent chemistry worked wonders, being the singular language of the universe. In other words, everyone liked him. Until a few minutes ago, they did, anyway. Now, with all the work out of the picture and him out floating freely, his means of transportation stolen, he was forced to reminisce.
“Am I getting nostalgic?” He was.
Jerry missed his forcefully-removed symbiotic partner, Gill, who he unnecessarily named, as one would name their vehicle. Attached to one’s body, these tiny creatures bridged the undefinable gap in the chaotic nature of The Void. Musings, you could call it. Craftspeople got an insight into what they would hardly ever consider, while politicians and soldiers sought a second moral opinion. The host was provided with all and more, relative to one’s investment into the unique relationship. Sometimes it took decades to find the right fit - but so what? Jerry’s kind had no clock ticking away their doomsday. Who wanted to live, lived.
Jerry’s kind also did not get nostalgic. Quite the opposite. Growing up fast, physically and mentally, was part of the rapid metabolism and adaptation his people were famous for. Over undying generations rose a stigma of looking back: “Live today for the future, not the past,” the proverb went.
Hours passed. Jerry relived youthful days of grasping, playing, and working. The euphoria he felt conflicted with the facts of the time. The recollection was intriguing, and in surged emotions, Jerry had never observed in the past. After all, he was not supposed to. But why? What’s the hurt in a bit of reminiscence? he thought. The further back he searched, the less accurate the maze of memories became, and with no one around to reassure him, he had to both trust and distrust his own memories. It was maddening.
Nostalgia had Jerry clasped in a vice-like grip from both ends, the great and the awful. The more he remembered, the more he resented what he had found. That exact moment, he heard the calling to start anew. To rekindle his life’s purpose. Dreams he put aside for later when he’d have enough money, energy, experience, and when he would tire of his current endeavors. But he could not. The twirling hollowness trapped him for eternity.
Sorrow washed over Jerry as he continued floating in his little twisty motions. Never to stop. Never to die. Never to leave his memories.
Centuries passed since Jerry had started his impromptu voyage. Probably a few, maybe several, perhaps not even one. A space vehicle had cruised by once. The luck! Of course, the meeting lasting a fraction of a fraction of a second had no opportunity for greetings. For the first time in his life, he felt the gravity of relativity.
Along the way, he saw two planets: one light hue of blue, the other brownish. Poetic descriptions were not one of Jerry’s strengths. Every few, what he assumed were decades, an asteroid neared and collided with other celestial bodies, resulting in a flying rock and gravel spectacle.
The activity-free environment kept Jerry repeating the same question: “Why?” bringing the face of his fellow trader Brik to mind. A rough veteran of the beloved shared vocation and an undecided hero or a fool. The everyday load of household items, tools, and food sitting in their cargo hold was in contrast to their grandiose devotion. Sometimes alongside the toilet paper, they picked up people, too. And these people talked- a lot. Strictly speaking, they did not shut up, creating a constant annoying hum a good goods hauler practiced to ignore.
“Why would I ever be alone when there’s always someone around?” Jerry practiced his hauler riposte in private. Oh, how this sentence stung him now. Solitude was unattainable, since depending on their personal choice, everyone lived for centuries, millennia, or forever. Most picked forever. Add to that the symbiotic partnership Jerry was harnessing with Gill at that moment, and describing his species as addicted to a company wouldn’t be far off.
One of the passengers, a preacher, name, and appearance lost to time, talked in the colorful language of someone confident in their ways. Her speeches centered on the power of the Inner Self and the untapped potential of Individuality. She was a gifted worldbuilder with the notion of what lay beyond physical and mental senses. Jerry grew fond of The Preacher over the voyage for this realization alone.
“Tell me, Preacher, since you speak of this idea of finding your Self… what’s life’s purpose?” Jerry asked, poorly mimicking The Preacher’s tone, diction, and vocabulary to impress her. The Preacher leered at him and said faintly: “To be fulfilled, of course.”
Brik, on the other hand, resisted every word The Preacher had to say. Life without an expiration date had not changed his inclination to be set in his ways. “Do I have it covered then, with my usual jolly!?” he yelled out from the pilot cabin, revealing him eavesdropping. The Preacher laughed in a practiced colloquial way, making Jerry question her seemingly few accumulated years.
“Individual existence is conditioned by awareness of my own thoughts and unique perspective. Such will always be the only way I perceive this universe and The Void surrounding us.” She gestured in front of herself with four arms waving in a circular motion. “One’s ability to gaze within is both the greatest inner strength and weakness. Whether it is you, you, or me, each of us possesses it.” The Preacher closed her sermon by reaching toward the individuals near her.
A pause filled with questioning looks of the listeners.
“As you look inside, you find truths beyond speakable measures - a strength. At the same time, you become less present in the world you stand in - a weakness. The more you find inside, the more difficult for others to understand, as they are absent in your world. Just as I cannot be you, you cannot be me. As grand as we are individuals, we are bound and locked to remain individuals. Our strength and our weakness.”
“My friends, I have traveled deep within to discover fulfillment comes at the cost of happiness.” Brik half-jokingly, half-defensively retaliated: “I’m filled, alright. From my stomach to my throat with your lousy speeches!” He continued at an aggravated pace, “I might be too thick to get you, but I know that I’m satisfied. Satisfied! That much is for sure… friend!”
Before her opponent’s last syllables stopped resonating in the air, The Preacher replied. “Is it not true you’d like to have more? More life, more wealth, more adventures? Aren’t you infinitely curious as to what lies ahead?”
“Then we agree.”
Stumped, Brik slowly produced two words in a small voice: “We do?”
“Indeed, my happy friend.”
“But…?” Brik retreated, scratching his head.
The Preacher continued with a smile. “The young always set happiness on a pedestal, and when satisfaction comes, they are fulfilled. Yet it is but a brief flash since satisfaction is a mere reward for reaching happiness, a temporary loan from our body. Seeking fulfillment in happiness does not differ from repeatedly winning the same race. It always leads back to the starting line.”
Jerry lauded her remark: “I wouldn’t mind all the fame and glory from constantly winning.” Brik added, “…and the money.” “And the money,” Jerry agreeably repeated after his partner.
“Indeed,” The Preacher agreed once more. “But…“
“Here we go…” Brik couldn’t hold back another snarky comment.
“Once you collect dozens of millennia, everything repeats. Fame fades into lost memories. Money vanishes. The details shift, but the overall scheme stays the same and has stayed the same for eons. I have lived eons, and seen and tasted all.” The Preacher collected herself, enjoying the solemn silence of nothing but the hum of the ship, and Brik’s pretended disinterest contrasting with Jerry’s pricked ears. When the silence became too loud, she finished her point: “Seek to find your purpose.”
“Well, what do you still seek then?” Jerry pushed The Preacher with his stare to carry on. “You found the bane of my happiness. I have exchanged happiness for love and care. Then love for artistry. Then spirituality for knowledge. A thousand ventures for other ventures. I would seek if there was anything more to seek. Alas, there isn’t.”
“Why do you continue living, then?” Brik brought up. Death despite unutilized was a choice. “As much as I am unhappy, I am not indifferent. Speaking from experience, a life without purpose is better than no life at all.” “Scared, then?” the veteran trader scoffed at The Preacher, but she remained unfazed by his tone and replied: “I have died – countless times.”
Curious, Brik posed his question before Jerry had a chance: “And how was it? Death that is.” “Not as interesting as one would have hoped. Ultimately underwhelming.” A heavy silence fell.
“Don’t you think it’s sad to see it all like that?” Jerry’s voice broke the dead air. The Preacher decisively answered, “Sad it may be, true it is still.”
Disembarking, The Preacher left Jerry with parting words: “Trading away happiness for fulfillment might seem to you like a punishment, but I am stronger for it. This very strength fills my body with the will to exist and await the slim chance of an unexpected to happen.”
Death made another appointment with The Preacher quite a bit sooner than expected, only a few minutes later. In the end, Brik proved to be of the courageous sort when he turned Lady N towards the impending attack of the five-fingers. He was also first out of the airlock before Jerry tried for himself when the aggressive aliens overtook the old scratched-up hauler ship.
Centuries more mature, Jerry spent all his willpower remembering these talks letter for letter. The uplifting and liberating tone of the words inched him towards his Inner Strength and drove him forward. Although it was the initial force and lack of friction in a vacuum that literally propelled him forward.
Time became a unitless idea as Jerry witnessed the last dim light of the faintest faraway stars. Adrift on the same course, he reached interstellar space- the palace of the removed light, imaginable only by the blind. Inside, the last of distractions disappeared. Really, everything disappeared.
Jerry looked inward. The novel experience of the first and final solitude allowed him to sink into the darkness of his mind. Jerry traveled deep. At every new bottom, he found a different crevice to crawl through. Deeper. Depths turned endless as he bottomed like an anchor cut from a naval ship. The lower he sank, the more his body adapted, pulling itself out of the expanse that Jerry’s mind plummeted to.
Then unprecedented, Jerry’s body and the mind shook hands in a partnership for own survival culminating in power over matter. The sensation was familiar, inherently ancient as if once lost and now recovered. Gently reaching out, Jerry touched the matter filling the invisible space. Where before he was helplessly flailing, he was now sifting through a thick fill of space. Were it possible to see him, you’d call it flying.
Jerry instinctively stopped and countered the twirling motion. At first unsure of the result, but assured by his stomach, woozy from the long-forgotten stationary default. After countless millennia, Jerry was standing still. Still within The Void.
Fueled by regained control over his life, he thought of his birthplace – not home, as out here was his home now – and what became of it. Since time played no role, every route was simultaneously near and far away. Once more, the light of familiar stars reflected in Jerry’s eyes as he left behind the overflowing depths of his mind and the vast emptiness. Just like that, Jerry traveled between the pompous gas giants of the universe in a blink of an eye.
Seventy-seven thousand years later, Jerry had found his way back. He distrusted his sight, looking around the unchanged microscopic dust of a neighborhood where he started his life’s journey. A sliver taller, wider, and shinier, but apart from that, everything remained the same.
Jerry even recognized several people and, in between them, the last friendly face he expected. Brik – content, as usual, no less the same expert hauler. The smiling face stared at Jerry in return, taking its time to recognize someone it figured gone forever. Brik ran towards the former space drifter in crime, yelling and talking over himself: “…saved… …can’t believe… …you’re back!” As they both stood on a little patch of a yellowing lawn, Brik talked and shook Jerry’s attention for a little while but eventually walked away. Agitated, as one would naturally be when ignored face-to-face; confused, as one would be when sure of their sensibility and see a phantom of the past.
Every syllable reached Jerry’s ears, but the words wheeled by. The reason was not ignorance; rather, the opposite. “The others are living in the bliss of ignorance,” echoed through his mind. The revelation then set in. Just as one floats through space with nothing to grasp, unable to direct one’s movement, one goes through life, attaching oneself to whatever one can. It is the same twisting cycle of emotions and events outside of one’s control. Through the learnings of his undistracted solitude, he could no longer connect with others.
He realized the shortsightedness of both The Preacher’s and his people’s teachings. How can you tell you’re moving forward without ever looking back. You might just as well be stale stranded in place. And the unending search for fulfillment relied on existence so heavily it hindered any chance to grow beyond the individual I. Detached from the world, he had lost the purpose for his body. The end of the journey lay outside.
Jerry pushed. A nanometer of movement of his non-physical from his physical being took everything. The body called for Jerry to be in it, to be with it, as a symbiotic partner called and demanded to share the love and a union for life. He had resisted for eons upon eons, giving it his everything until the kaleidoscope of stars and the naked strings of The Void became tangible.
Primal urges attracted him back, tempting every fiber of the encasing he already lacked. He stayed outside. The yearning stopped. A lonely body drifted, suspended in the nothingness. Tingling senses disappeared, exchanged for a fresh, indescribable experience. Eyeless, he saw everything tangled up but then straightened out by a simple thought.
Freed from the bounding shackles, he lived billions of variants of the same past, present, and future. His mind was his own, just as of everyone else. Jerry was desired, broken, alive, abandoned, achieved, famous, satisfied. He was fulfilled, and he wasn’t. None of that mattered now. Jerry’s life was over. The rushing necessity to search had succeeded, replaced by the simplest serenity.
Jerry ceased to exist within a measure of time or location. He became of The Void - of the space, the matter, the center of all. Stretched from a star to star, from galaxy to galaxy. Unbound, wise, present, yet intangible. Chaotically giving and taking, with little intent and purpose.
Personal site of Ondřej David
curious creator, writer, designer, futurist
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