Looking Back

These dreams I am having, by now I must assume they are memories, not mere nighttime imaginings. Yet they invariably feel novel and current, as if each morning I am returning from an event that just happened, not merely recalling the shadow of some event from long ago. Still, I cannot recall more, nor find any trace or sense of a store of such memories, such future dreams, locked within my head. Yet night by night they come.

Within each dream, I am in the midst of a broad historical context completely inaccessible to me by day. My only residual knowledge of these contexts is from whatever I remember remembering within each dream. I wish I could dream these dreams lucidly, so I could direct myself to remember a broader history. But I sense I am only a passive observer, albeit in the first person, and can but wait and see what each night brings.

What has me so bothered about this right now is that I want and need to understand what I saw today, or at least the history behind it. I need to know what happened to the human race, for they, we, appear to be gone, all but for this little enclave of domesticated humans right here. Whether gone means dead or just elsewhere, I do not know. What I do know is that Earth is no longer their domain, and this city, this human preserve, is but a vestige of some time long ago, an appendix in the bowels of an organism too grand to care.

I have been to the Moon and back today. Not that I was actually there in body, only in mind. Even still, the Moon is not so far away as I had always assumed. Looking back from there the Earth is, quite simply, massive. Looking back from there I felt I could walk home to Earth--if only there were a road. It might take twenty years, but still it seemed distinctly within the scale of human time and travel, not some unimaginable distance relegated to the domain of fusion-powered space probes or fictional warp drives and wormholes. Human time...outside of this city, I may be its last and only keeper.

I went to Creature-thing's room again today. I hoped that my new-found control of the iris would apply to some doorway or portal along that back wall. No such luck. However, Creature-thing seemed to sense my goal, and helped me out. Cautious to stay clear of any hoppers, I followed it to one of the largest doors. As we sat there and waited, Creature-thing hummed a variety of simple but catchy tunes I did not recognize. My vision could see little through the massive door, but within the door itself, or perhaps on its backside, I could just make out the familiar diamond pattern.

Finally a twinkling glow slid into place, and the door opened to reveal a fairly large, circular room.

"After you," I said.

Creature-thing snorted and motioned with about five different appendages for me to go first. I was about to embark upon a lengthy consideration for my safety when Creature-thing deftly whisked me airborne and into the room, the door snapping shut behind me before my feet even caught the floor. Apparently I was going alone. Once inside, I noticed the room was not just round, but a dome, perhaps even a full sphere divided internally by a flat floor somewhat below centerline.

Without warning, I was slammed to that floor by G-forces that would have killed any biological human in an instant. I rolled over onto my back and straightened myself out to get as comfortable as possible. I couldn't have sat up if I'd tried. The G-forces went up and down but never dropped below some high multiple of Earth's natural gravity except for brief, nauseating moments when the entire room seemed to spin rapidly in near weightlessness. I instinctively scooted toward the exact center of the room, which I was not far off from to start, sensing that if I strayed too far out I would be flung against the walls.

Then, as suddenly as it began, it was over. The high G's dropped almost to zero as the room spun head-to-heels, then normal gravity and complete stillness returned. The door opened without delay, allowing the torrential rains to gust in from the darkness outside. I sat up, mindlessly brushed myself off, blinked at the sight before me.

The world was aglow with heat, the rain itself so hot that in the infrared it looked like a million parallel laser beams shooting down from the sky; except where the gusts would periodically grab and twist this mesh like a transparent taffy or the tentacles of a twitching jellyfish.

I stepped out of my dome. The air was thick with humidity, but too warm to form a haze. Steam geysers erupted at irregular intervals from giant pores scattered about the otherwise featureless, synthetic landscape. I strode into the rain, but not too far as there seemed nowhere of interest to go. The ground I stood upon was some alloy or composite, textured with water channels to gather the rain and swirl it down small, ubiquitous drains. I saw no debris, no leaves or twigs clogging the works, no dirt, no bugs, no algae, nothing. Just clean, hot water falling from the sky onto this endless floor, a bathhouse of infinite proportions with me as its only customer.

"And to think I forgot my soap!" I yelled at the top of my lungs.

Then I noticed it, far off in the distance. It was more of an ethereal sense at first, an intuition, but then through the grey and murk beyond the horizon I could just make out the silhouettes of huge objects slowly ascending and descending between the Earth and the heavens. The ethereal sense that first drew my attention now took on a more tangible form, as I felt multiple emotional presences connecting with me from afar.

I said, "Hello," in my ethereal voice, but felt only curiosity in return. Then one by one they blipped out, shut off their connection with me, returned their focus elsewhere, and I was again left alone but for the faint view of their distant shapes in the sky. I stood there for a while, with my focus turned that way, and occasionally would feel a new connection beamed at me from afar, a moment of emotional curiosity, then indifference and departure. None would respond to my ethereal voice; the only connection I could make was emotional.

I considered how long it might take me to run all the way there. Alas, the randomly scattered steam vents and other possible hazards ruled out any use of time contraction to alleviate the tedium. But if I turned back now, would Creature-thing ever call me this cab again? My curiosity burned. I so wanted to be there, to see these giants up close, to know the whys and wherefores.

Something must have been quietly listening, because I felt an offer of a view, and I took it without hesitation. The communication was clear and crisp even though from far far away, and for just a moment it felt overpowering, perhaps literally, as if my brain circuits would fry. But then it eased off to a comfortable level, and I found myself looking at...myself.

I saw myself from quite close up, which confused me as I had seen nothing in the sky in that direction so near. Then the view changed, zooming out and out and out until my little dome was but a tiny pimple upon a vast, smooth shell. The depth of focus was at first quite tight, so the foreground and background were just a blur, but then this relaxed and my little dome and I were soon lost behind hundreds of miles of rain as the rest of the planet came into focus.

I had no communication with this entity to speak of beyond a very rudimentary emotional connection and this visual link, but it seemed to pick up on my curiosity and direct its view as if its eyes were my own. And oh, what eyes they were. But the Earth!

The entire planet crusted in this shell, no oceans, no continents, no people. As my curiosity drove these eyes deep into the shell, the optical vision was replaced by dynamic schematics, a virtual representation to show me where the eyes could not penetrate. Machinery everywhere; I could make no sense of any of it. Just more of what I had seen with my own two eyes through the second boundary. It had life, a great deal of activity in fact, but none of it biological. It had synthetic life, like my own, but with no nod to the archaic bipeds of the past. And then I found it, my little city, a small black bubble tucked deep in the crust amidst the busy arteries of this living planet. I wouldn't have recognized it but for the size and shape and proximity to my own trancing body on the surface far above. The schematics showed no details here, just a black shape, like a tumor of some foreign substance, a relic from antiquity perhaps flagged at some crucial moment for preservation but otherwise forgotten. I looked long and hard but found none other like it.

I don't rule out that there might yet be others, but my hopes aren't high.

When I pulled my focus back from the crust, I found myself looking from high above the clouds, and finally noticed the cable descending below. Looking spaceward, I could see now a ring about the Earth, frail and distant, tethered to the ground by threads. Patterned like the spokes of a wheel, each thread looked easily long enough to wrap all the way around the planet. It was one of these threads we now ascended.

Laterally, the sky was full of these creatures, these climbers shuttling to and fro between the Earth and its distant ring. And the ring itself, not so frail up close, another vast expanse of machinery, alive, moving materials through its arteries, in an ongoing symbiosis with the climbers on one side, and the free-floating ships on the other. Those ships, I wondered from whence they come and go, beyond this solar system or just within? I still do not know. Such variety, very few alike, each ship probably an autonomous, sentient being, some as small as a car, some as large as a town, and everything in between. My vision could not penetrate the ships, but many of them offered a schematic view. Nowhere, though, did I see any sign of humans, or bipeds of any sort.

I looked to the Moon, and found it also grown over with machines, but not completely like the Earth. Where there were machines, it shone extremely hot in the infrared. Ships flew to and from its surface, as there were no threads to climb. Before I could observe much more, I felt my view being handed off through another stage, as though looking though the eyes of someone looking through someone else's eyes.

And there I found myself looking back at the Earth from the Moon, or at the giant cotton ball of clouds that was once the Earth, surrounded by its delicately spoked wheel. The ensemble resembled a plump egg sac in the middle of a very meticulous spider's web, the climbers glistening on the threads like tiny drops of dew. Honestly, if I hadn't recognized the craters on the Moon a moment before, I wouldn't have believed this was the Earth I was looking back upon.

Without warning, the connection was cut, and I staggered in the rain as I regained my own senses. I realized I was being emotionally hailed, as it were, and when I directed my focus there I found myself face-to-face with a grizzly bear about to slash at my jugular.

Or so it felt. I can't think of how else to describe it; it was plainly evident some entity was about to squash me like a bug, from where or by what means I have no idea. My mind emoted fear like a beacon as I ran instinctively for the dome. Whatever entity was onto me seemed surprised by my fear, as I felt the malice give way momentarily to curiosity. Perhaps it was more than momentary, but I didn't hang around to find out. I literally dove head first into the dome, belly sliding to the center of the floor, rolled onto my back and yelled.

"Go! Go! Go!"

The door snapped shut, the room turned upside-down, and plunged into the Earth far faster than I could fall out of its way. The entity was gone, shielded from me by a mile of steel. I was safe; if this crazy ball could just get me home in one piece, anyway.

Creature-thing didn't even stir when I arrived. I strolled quietly through the iris, and wondered as I crossed that threshold: how far back in time was I traveling? Hundreds of years? Thousands of years? I have no idea. Do I belong in either world, or am I just a piece of debris left over from some transitional phase in history? Is Creature-thing my closest kin? Do I have any kin at all?

I feel I belong here, with Laura. Certainly not out there.

Well, maybe.

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