This Week’s Prompt:36. Disintegration of all matter to electrons and finally empty space assured, just as devolution of energy to radiant heat is known. Case of acceleration—man passes into space.
This Week’s Research:The Gate To Nothing
A rock floats in a dark jetsam of nothingness. In the distance a dim, dying red light lands on the small rock. In prior ages, describing stone as rotted would perhaps be inappropriate. But by now, the general gradual decay and disintegration of the world has left us with few words for the crumbling state of existence then rotting. Holes of un-reality work their way through the foundations as I watch the solid stones laid long ago turn into ash and dust.
Such is the state of the world.
Randolph and I have grown up in the world this way. It was a bigger rock, and when I was little there were more stars. Stars that were all colors, stars far away and near. This last one was the one we ended up on, one of three scientific bets. We had a chance to fix things, and there were enough people back then for bets without certainty. Now there’s just the two of us, on this rock. We saw the last, glorious light of the distant blue star ages ago as it siphoned away into the void.
Such is the state of the world.
The state where our little garden, the New Eden of a New Jerusalem, has died. Died within months, actually. Ranolph was disappointed, he was hoping to see the pure red that happened when a dying stars light played on the blossoms of a rose. I expected them to die. But then, I expected him to die. That part isn’t true yet, not all the way. His limbs are only now starting to decay, the skin flaying as radiation takes its toll. But he’ll die.
There’s no way to reverse, yet. It’s the state of the world that’s causing it. Something got broken back when there were hundreds of stars, when as a little girl I could wake up and count them in the sky, and needed more than fingers and toes. Back before that even. I grew up on a world that wasn’t, in the beginning, ours. Our world was a heap of burning refuse by then, long forgotten at my birth. Maybe that’s what broke the whole of existence.
“There’s really no need for all this.” Randolph mutters, as I strap on his servo arm. “Arm’s still gonna catch it and my hand feels fine.”
“Feels fine, sure. But there’s more left of the bushes then your fingers, and I need a functioning assistant.” I say, frowning. He wasn’t wrong though. The energy released by the slow decay of his skin would wear it out too. Calling it a disease might be wrong, but decay and disrepair spread with no other good analog.
“You still think it will work then.” Randolph said, following me down into the basement.
“It can’t make things worse, can it?” I said, flicking the light switches on. Three buzzed on out of the twenty or so, barely lighting the room. They’d been going out one after another for weeks now. Some had broken down cords, others had shattered glasses. A lot were just that much more dust in the wind.
“It could make it faster. That’d be a bit worse, I think. Give us less time to enjoy things, wouldn’t it?” Randolph said, walking over to the console and flicking it on. The multiple redundancies kept it running well enough to appear normal. We only replaced a few buttons a week, most with the somewhat more intact duplicates. We’d get another two months out of it before it collapsed into dust, dust into component atoms, and finally atoms into particles, which would vibrate into the cosmic soup and void.
But for now, the console clicked and beeped. The great fans began whirling above us, grinding to life. They served the simple, if fundamentally necessary, purpose of clearing out all the rot and decay from the larger more elaborate machinery. The glass tubes took longer to decay, having been designed as self repairing on the atomic level. Eventually, a few particles too many would fall away, and that would be the end of that.
Then the actual mechanics began to buzz with light. Elaborate webs of tubes began to glow with flashes of energy, collisions of captured particles, thousands of careful combinations of the very foundations of reality.
“In all honesty, I wonder if this is causing things somehow.” Randolph said, as I examined the digital display. Paper couldn’t be wasted out here, there wasn’t enough stuff to keep permanent records. Our minds would last the longest, we hoped, so we memorized all the negative results.
“Yeah, maybe. But the alternative is that we just let it happen. And to hell with that. I want to see the stars again.”
“You think this is it then? That there’s really nothing else out there but us?”
“We haven’t heard anything from anywhere else.”
“Maybe their quiet?” he said, leaning on the wall. When I turn to look at him, I can’t really argue with him. Randolph’s back has been hollowed out some, like a burnt or collapsing tube. The flashes of decay are like sparks off a burning log.
“Maybe.” I said, looking up at the roof. Another hole has rotted in the supposedly perfectly stable crystalline. Dug by invisible termites and worms. “But we’d see them, wouldn’t we? So far away, you’d think they’d want to see us too.”
The whirling is gaining speed, the flashes are on the last few combinations.
“When things are falling apart,” Randolph continues, looking at the rapidly rusting hand of his, slowly turning green and red. The copper wires were becoming almost as thin as spider webs. I couldn’t keep looking at him. “When things fall apart, when the center cannot hold…sometimes things wind down and that is that. I don’t know. It feels far away.”
He’s getting far away, fading fast. I’d offer to replace more pieces, to rebuild his back and his arm, but we’re already short on matter. I have another hour. I have another hour of hoping the random blasts of particles and smaller things, things I can’t conceive, will create something again. Will reverse the trend.
We figure, we figured I suppose, with the rest gone on to that side of the sea that no one ever comes back from, we figured that if something as spontaneous as the Apollo missions could cause the world to collapse then something as small could set it all right again. Some small cancellation of the equation, a slight change in the balance would do the reverse.
And yet, for decades, centuries, who knew? Time didn’t work right without points of reference. For however long, nothing happened. Nothing changed. But we had time. We had generations to figure it out. My parents and their parents and their parents all saw the attempts to undo whatever harm our ancestors had brought into existence unwittingly. Theories at the exact cause were thrown and forgotten. Aether made a comeback as a possible source of the failure. But nothing.
Nothing. And now, we couldn’t hold much more than a few particles.
And I watched as nothing continued to happen on the screen. I felt slight pulses of heat as Randolph faded to nothing behind me. He wasn’t gone yet, as long as the dim heat continued. He wasn’t gone yet. He wasn’t gone yet.
“I wonder if we could adjust the speed by repairing the feed.” I said, keeping my eyes towards the machinery. You can’t look at someone leaving. It’s rude to stare. And what do we have left, here at the end of the world, if we don’t have are decency.
“Not much broken.”
“Maybe breaking it would help?” I say, ignoring the faintness of his voice. “Feed more particles, increase the odds of a reversal.”
Of course, really, I wonder if were looking through an infinite desert for one needle, one gleaming diamond in a great rubbish heap. It might come, it might come yet.
“Doubt it. You ever wonder if something comes next?”
“You remember butterflies?” I say, ignoring the question. “I wonder if they’ll be back first. Or if life’s too complex to come back like that, so soon.”
The heat was fading now. I could step closer, I could try and persist in pretending a little longer. Randolph certainly wasn’t moving any time soon. But I could. But I couldn’t. There was a weight. A weight that seemed to root my feet and eyes. It had been growing and growing and growing, and now it transfixed me to my spot waiting for what I knew was coming. I waited.
And I felt the heat stop.
Not suddenly. For a moment, it stayed as a memory. A residual touch, a distant feeling that worked its way through my skin.
And then there was a flash on the tube. And I watched as the minus, a minute late, became a small illuminated cross. And felt the dust began to build itself back together. And alone on that island in the deepest darkest of seas, I wept while the world was reborn.
I had trouble with making any horror in this. I settled on abandoning horror entirely, and writing something of a tragedy. Or maybe just something contemplative. I don’t know, honestly, what to call this thing I’ve made of bones and sinew. It’s strange and familiar, but painful to see. I suppose there’s something simple dour about what I’ve made. A feeling that I’ve had, knowing something dreadful was coming. But we’ll see.
Next week, a new topic. Something more…cheery. Something more innocent. Almost more…childish. Come and see!
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