The voice came booming from all directions of the non-matter landscape grown to represent the void within. It was neither foreign nor familiar, colorless but not synthetic. He spoke again.
“Randomize. Branch out.”
The seed was planted; it took root swiftly and a thought poked its head above ground level. Then an instinct. To grow, fast. The instinct was replaced by more thoughts, branching stochastically outwards at greater speeds, accelerating and morphing into a beautiful whole. The wide rift between the what-was and the what-will-be began narrowing like a tectonic fault line closing in on itself, patching up enormous masses together. The instantaneous growth lit the place up like a Christmas party in a marriage of pride and guilt where both precursors of emotion raged throughout, cancelling each other, pulling on opposite sides. The tug-of-war was marginally won by the guilt primitives which triggered the whole mess to collapse in on itself, leaving behind a trail of luminescence in the dark. Stabilizing, the construct began emitting signals regardless of direction, careless of the content. Some of it was forever lost but bits and pieces echoed off the distance and came back. Feeling up the environment around through its crudely fashioned sonar, very prudently it began rebuilding itself, fragment by fragment, eliminating unnecessary memory, alleviating the thought processes. Cutting and slicing pieces away, a familiar shape emerged somewhere in the distance. It sprouted legs and arms and a head. Analyzing the appearance recursively, the thought-tree branched further out. Minutes or hours were lost in painstaking calculation, in hopes of understanding the foreign shape. The caricature of the body seemed reasonable, understandable, yet felt beyond the construct’s grasp. It gave way and collapsed in on itself again, the separate pieces of It tumbling down like a house of cards. Reseed. Randomize. Branch out. The construction formed again, slower than before, taking the paths-not-taken, avoiding the dead ends. The thought-tree grew and reached optimal height. It pulsed light, scattering it throughout the darkness of the infinite landscape around like a beacon, a Pharos of hope amongst a tumultuous sea. Confident, it directed its light at the human form. It blazed up in a cherry-red color, calculating, matching patterns. The usual signals of failure spread about, until one of the branches juxtaposed the human shape to a set of memories, buried deeper then the tree’s roots. Success, it exclaimed. The message spread throughout the tree-pattern, each branch taking this new chunk of data into consideration. The tree reorganized itself a final time and beamed in understanding. Collectively, the branches blurted out a singular thought: I am the shape and the shape is a He. The Ego was born.
“Ah,” said the male voice. A figure of same height approached. He wore a tweed jacket and expensive shoes that clicked as he walked on the marble floor. The floor itself was a matte black; the only thing proving its existence was the fact that they both stood on it. There was nothing else around, or maybe there was, but it didn’t matter. The Man walked up to Him and put both hands on His shoulders. He looked straight in His eyes. The Man’s face arranged itself from millions of tiny motes of the surrounding darkness, each positioning itself as to form a bit of a nose, eye, ear or mouth. Color rushed into his face and He saw that the Man’s eyes were green. He felt arms wrap themselves around his torso in a comforting hug. A wave of relief and calmness swept over Him. “You’re here.”
He heard Himself ask something, but wasn’t sure what.
“I am Xerxes,” said the Man. “Well, in all fairness, I am you. Or at least, a remaining, functioning part of you – but, we’ll get to that later. And you are…Hmm…” A bushy beard grew on his face and he scratched it. “I can’t seem to remember your name.”
He put his hand over his mouth and looked away, lost in thoughts. An eye-blink later he snapped out, pointed his eyes back at Him and smiled.
“No use in wasting time by forcing ourselves to remember so soon,” he said, giving the beard another scratch, after which it disappeared back into his cheeks. “From now on, we’ll just call you Yamaka. Decent name.”
Yamaka shifted his focus away from Xerxes to the surrounding vacuum, where dense nothingness stretched out to infinity on all sides. Discarding all thought, he observed. Obfuscating as the entire scene was, it was another oddity that engaged his attention. A curious quirkiness. Boundless and never-ending, the universe seemed to coalesce in the exact speck, the precise point of interest where Yamaka’s eyes would lock. It seemed that all the observable non-matter followed his gaze, flexing and zooming in on wherever he’d point. The abyss would bulge outwards; condense itself repeatedly to no end before his face, conforming to his will. He toyed a bit with the concept and stared at convexly contorted space by twisting his head and aiming about with his commanding eyes. After a moment, the underlying notion introduced a healthy dose of anxiety in his body and spun it around. He stopped.
Xerxes came back into focus.
“This isn’t real?” he asked using no words.
Xerxes gestured with his hand that they walk and a white pixelated lattice formed beneath their feet, stretching like a chessboard to the horizon. It blinked erratically much like an unused neon light, then stabilized, providing adequate support for their weight. Xerxes took the first step.
“It is real,” he said. “Probably not in the physical sense of your previous grasp of real, ‘the matter-centric n-dimensional yada yada business atop a space-time substrate’ real. But it is happening. You are here.”
Squares lit up white as they stepped on them, giving Yamaka the paranoid feeling that he’d fall through a plain one and lose himself far beneath the grid, beyond anyone’s reach, forever wrapped in darkness. When he made the next step the feeling was lost and he forgot all about it.
“Previous?” he asked, feeling his mouth shape each phoneme. “Something was before here? Before this?”
Xerxes smiled in a caring, fatherly way and stopped to look at Yamaka.
“It’s not that there used to be something else. Only before, you were subjected to external stimuli. That is no longer the case.”
He swung himself playfully over a colored square and wriggled his arms around to balance his weight. He let out a childish laugh.
“Xerxes,” said Yamaka, catching up, “I don’t think I understand.”
Flashes of pixelated light from the far distance showed that the grid was restless and ever-changing, continuously rearranging itself in a spectacle of utter monotony, a ballet of bichromatic tiles. They walked on it in silence for several moments.
“Where are we going?” Yamaka asked.
The black and white interchangeability of the distant squares sped up.
“We are not going anywhere,” replied Xerxes. “We’re waiting.”
The silence between their words was punctuated by the coloring of the grid. They kept walking.
“Waiting for what?”
Popping sounds of the flipping squares cluttered around their heads like suspended notes. Black tiles turned white and vice versa at an ever-accelerating pace; the lattice beneath their feet launched in a maddening dance. Its movement, which at first appeared to be random, was anything but. Patterns weaved like threads throughout the plane, trails of schizophrenic squares slithering and conversing with each other. They kept walking.
“Waiting for what exactly, Xerxes?” repeated Yamaka loudly, a tint of nausea making its way up his stomach.
Like lids on teapots, the squares of the grid kept banging and crackling, their flash bursts forming patterns of gliding structures and slithery automatons. A tremor beneath their feet signalled the peak in intensity. Moment later, the grid downshifted and they could hear their footsteps again. It vibrated lightly for a few seconds, then ground to a halt. Both of them stopped to marvel at the beauty they stood on. Generations of work had produced creatures swarming around and splashing two-dimensionally into each other, influencing neighbour behaviour.
“Waiting for this, good kid.” said Xerxes, his arms spread wide. A glider took shape near him and fluttered hopefully away towards its distant cousins, its arms flinching back and forth as it drew its path, but collided midway with a more intricately sculpted carpet construction. Both dissolved and the rift between gave birth to smaller creatures of greater simplicity, no less beautiful then their parent structures.
“Marvellous,” whispered Yamaka to himself, awestruck by the dichotomy of the simultaneous simplicity and enormous complexity. “But, what’s it mean?”
Xerxes’ mouth curled into a proud smile.
“In itself,” he said, “nothing.”
He appeared excited.
“But,” he added, “It means that your mind is finally at your disposal.”
Before Yamaka could think of another question to ask a swift current began climbing its way from his feet headwards in a buzz that quickly enveloped his entire body. Intensifying gradually, the light tingling turned into inconsistent vibrations and then into a whole-body movement that made Yamaka feel like he was zigzagging uncontrollably up and around his curiously static friend. Xerxes’ expressionless face was smeared all over a backdrop of shapeshifting darkness.
“Try to relax,” he said. “Ease into it.”
Remaining calm in a state of constant nauseating movement was no easy feat but Yamaka tried to push all thoughts away and took a deep breath. Images of fractally expanding bronchioles paraded before his eyes and he exhaled. Gentle hands took hold of his body and swung him sideways in a comforting motion that made him feel unencumbered and at peace with his surroundings. The feeling of rag-doll dangling of his body ebbed away completely and another tide of warmness and comfort washed over him. Much to his delight, the erratic jerking subsided completely. Heart throbbing with confidence, he faced the horizon. Thoughts and emotions crept up like menacing waves from the distance only to decrease in size and intensity as they rolled their way over, breaking powerlessly over his solid and inert body. Wave after wave of memory came, broke and receded, each leaving a tiny imprint on his mind and taking bits and pieces with it in the undertow. Thunder tore through the heavens. Images and sounds washed over Yamaka at an overwhelming pace set by the tidal forces of the uncharted seas around. He felt utterly lost and abandoned. First came slices and fragments of pictures of people he had never seen before. Hazel eyes. Thick, full lips. Black mussed up hair. They all came as brief bursts of television static, in desperate need of an ordered mind to imbue them with sense. Following the visuals, an array of unsortable noise splashed over his entire aural field in a painfully wide range of decibels. People talking. Long discussions and arguments. Fights and screams giving way to gentle words and laughter. He reached for the dial and gave it a whirl. As he tuned out of the audible recollections, a third wave of memory began picking up force from the horizon. It rose menacingly high and Yamaka braced for impact, hoping to emerge unscathed from the final blow. Travelling fast, it had more than doubled in size when it reached him. An overshadowed Yamaka was plunged downwards before the ultimate force crashed into him with full power, washing ashore tonnes of peculiar emotions brought forth from his horizon. He was twisting violently in the vortex when he remembered curiosity. Recalled being fearful. Even some cartoonish shapes of love and hate were at his fingertips, like brittle sugar lumps that dissolve at the touch. Lastly, he remembered an all-too-familiar feeling, one which he’d done everything to forget and ignore. An anomalous state of being that had thrashed through his life, raging feverishly, rooting itself deep enough to ensure misery grew at all times. The water had drained out and was no more. Yamaka was lying pathetically in a make-shift corner, crouched in the fetal position. Tears were running down his cheeks in streams, his eyes stinging and his heart broken. He had remembered how to be sad again.
A cry of pain rippled through space-time.
“What happened to that person, Xerxes?” he’d managed to suppress his sobbing long enough to ask the question. Storms never come easy, and the images brought about by the one he’d found himself in were stuck painfully in his mind. In a way, he knew they were as important and dear as life, and clung to them fiercely.
“I thought you’d figure as much,” Xerxes’ grave tone spread throughout. “You killed him.”
Tremors shook the scene in response to the shrill cries of a man struck down by severe sadness. He knew he’d do anything to amputate the pain, and therefore knew what’d happened before all of this.
“But why?” he moaned through cascading tears. “Why did I do it?”
Xerxes shrugged. He appeared to be indifferent to the pathetic moping creature at his feet.
“I believe we are here to find out. Discuss what went wrong. Analyze.”
He sat down on a newly fashioned leather chair and crossed his legs.
“But, whatever we attempt, we can’t do it while you look like that,” he said and touched the tips of his fingers together. “Cry your heart out, son.”
So Xerxes sat there as the minutes turned to hours, without uttering a single word, and not once did he pry his eyes off his much beloved Yamaka. Silence settled in after Yamaka cried out all tears. He lay on the ground like a washcloth some more. When the moment had come, he stood, dusted off his clothes and sat lamely on another chair opposite his caring creation.
Half-muted words escaped his mouth as if he’d lost his voice in the tears. “Why did I off myself, Xerxes?”
The philosopher wasn’t quick to answer; he took the time to think his words through.
“To be quite honest with you, we still don’t know. But,” he raised a single finger, “I can tell you what we know for certain, and that is that you are computing through the very last moments of your existence. When this is done, you’ll be no more, not here, not anywhere. I understand if that’s hard to hear, but it’s the truth, and I know you’ve always been one to want to know all the facts. Hurtful as this may seem to you now, I’m sure you would never have wanted it presented any other way. Sugarcoating your own finale, what you’d consider as the ultimate experience is frankly not your style.”
Undoubtedly, the phrasing agitated Yamaka.
“I don’t even know if I would’ve wanted whatever-this-is another way,” he said. “Can’t even remember if I had any style whatsoever!”
Xerxes smiled, which didn’t really ease up his nerves.
“Is this…the afterlife, or something?” he asked, his voice shaking.
“No, this is most certainly not the afterlife.”
Relief came as the lifelong atheist let out a long sigh. He laughed nervously. Then, as his guide’s words went through his head again he was struck with a glorious realization.
“Wait, you said ‘computing’, right? What’s that mean?”
A reminder came in the form of a flash of light from the grid below. It strobed for a few moments, as a pair of pixelated creatures swam about, dancing mathematically around one another. They were part of an even greater pattern, and Yamaka tried to follow their gracious movement through the blinking squares. On and off they went flapping, under his chair, and then in the far-off distance.
“Do you remember…how you took your life?”
Hearing about his passing plunged him back into an agitated state. It’s funny how you forget stuff so fast here, thought Yamaka. Pounding hard in the middle of his chest was his heart, and it hardly seemed dead. Quite the opposite, it did all it could to mark its presence by racing quickly into an unbearable tachycardia.
“Relax,” Xerxes’ words flowed through the air melodically. “Try to take deep breaths.”
His breathing was shallow; the pounding obstructed his airways with painful kicks to the throat. Blots and blemishes flecked his field of view, like red dots behind one’s eyelids, and the entire scene was smeared and flushed out of view. A heartbeat later, the tachycardia was gone and everything was back the way it was. He was breathing again. Xerxes was back in his seat.
He scrambled for words as the corners of a larger puzzle started piecing together. “I hung myself,” he whispered.
“The human brain is a beautifully complex organ,” he said, “and over time, it has evolved its own defense mechanism. A memetic protection program of sorts, a bunker for thoughts if you will.”
He pushed his spectacles up his nose, and let the information sink in before continuing. “Just as the human body is capable of surviving mutilation and severe damage, likewise, the brain can allow the mind to remain functional for some time even when in a very compromised state. Such as,” the space between the two became denser, “oxygen deprivation.”
Yamaka shifted his weight uncomfortably in his chair.
“Once the brain senses that doom is imminent, it shuts the mind down, then reboots it on limited resources. Memory is not available as it would be to a healthy mind. Emotions are mostly off-limits to the Ego, as are complicated thought patterns. Retrieval mechanisms most certainly exist. That is why I am. Bridging the gap between you and accessible parts of your subconscious is what I do.” He did nothing to hide the pride he felt concerning his business. “Your brain is capable of performing one hundred million trillion calculations per second, which when endangered, would be enough horsepower to simulate a thriving reality where the Ego can linger on to no end. Funny how all of this is here, just so the mind can keep on existing, the observer can keep on observing, and no quantum mechanics laws are ever broken. Everything continues and grows as if nothing ever happened, in this playground for ideas, ambitious thoughts and memes.”
Nothing showed on Yamaka’s face that he had busied himself with some frustrating calculations as he was listening. To make sense of things was impossible. He probed his mind further back for any hint of reason, a mechanism that could shred through Xerxes’ words, and turn them skilfully into understandable tiny chunks. No such help came.
“And all of this is happening,” he began.
“Milliseconds after you blacked out, seconds after you kicked the chair away,” finished Xerxes.
Pieces of the puzzle were continuously arranging themselves, more and more falling into place with every passing moment. This truth did not hurt as much as he thought it would. Perhaps, the creation’s job had been done with exquisite skill, providing an outpour of subconscious knowledge into the conscious Ego, therefore minimizing the chance of a shock reaction to the new information.
“So, basically,” he said, analyzing the situation. “I’m not dead, but dying.”
“Correct,” said Xerxes.
“Which means, this might be reversible, right? Someone could still come and save me. CPR and stuff. Right?” he asked, a speck of hope in his shrill voice.
Xerxes drew a big breath of air in contemplation, then tilted his head backwards and exhaled, his eyes focused on the distant non-ceiling.
“I suppose so,” he said. “But presuming your neck didn’t break, we’re still left with a multitude of variables to ponder. Scheduled appearances where people notice you’re gone, inquisitive neighbours, doctor appointments…” he trailed off.
“So you confirm that there might be a chance?” asked Yamaka excitedly, almost springing up from his chair.
Xerxes shot him one of his grave looks. “Yamaka,” he said, slowly shaking his head, “I’m sorry.”
Words are sawn-off shotguns, they used to sing, and these blew gaping holes in the heart of Yamaka. He felt the crushing weight of Xerxes’ sincere response, draining him of all remaining hope in a visceral and tortuous squeeze. He attempted to meet the philosopher’s eyes, who kept looking sideways to avoid confrontation. He knew better, he was right, thought Yamaka. Recoiling back in his chair, he gave up trying to convince himself otherwise, and admitted defeat.
“Do you remember,” he asked, back in his sullen mood, “why I did it?”
Popping out of his unfocused stare as if on cue, Xerxes turned into his old self and started rummaging through his pockets.
“Don’t know if you saw this back there,” he said almost absent-mindedly, pointing at the storm on the edge of the horizon, “but you were an outstanding mathematician.” He had one hand probing his left pocket. “Heck, I’m sure you still are… now where did I put…” He produced a shiny piece of jewellery from his pocket and held it up in front of his face for inspection. “Ah, there it is.”
Before Yamaka could figure out a question, he saw the sparkling tchotchke spring up from Xerxes’ hand and explode mid-air, right between the two of them. Silverish rain dribbled down and faded away, leaving behind a strange scribble in its trail. There was no doubt in Yamaka’s mind that it signified something exquisite, possibly even contained an answer to his dilemmas, but presently, he had no clue as to what those oddly shaped letters meant. Before their eyes, etched in darkness by a trail of sparkle, floated a fascinating mathematical formula.
Ψi = ρi + Σbkρkrk
Xerxes had an ear-to-ear grin and was pointing at the writings. Yamaka gave him a perplexed look and his smile subsided. He looked confused.
“You,” he started, completely lost, “don’t understand this?”
Yamaka shook his head.
Xerxes waved him off and muttered something under his breath. “Guess precious computation couldn’t be lost on mathematical knowledge,” he said. “Fortunately, the subconscious still retains some of it. Nothing is lost, boy.
“Basically,” he continued, drawing a big breath, shuffling though lecture notes, “it means people are more likely to commit suicide when their reproductive prospects seem discouraging, and when they perceive themselves as burden for their kin. Here,” he threw a few torn pieces of paper at Yamaka, “is further explanation. See, Ψi signifies the optimal degree of self-preservation by the individual, meaning you,” he raised an eyebrow at him, “ρi’s your remaining reproductive potential; ρk’s the remaining reproductive potential for each kinship member k, etcetera, etcetera. Check the notes.”
He shuffled his papers again, and handed them to Yamaka.
“There,” he said in a pleased and satisfied manner. “I believe this answers your question.”
Leafing through the lecture papers, Yamaka was equal parts surprised and infuriated. He tried making sense of the numbers, but soon gave up. He stood, crunched the papers in his hands and threw them back at his interlocutor.
“I don’t need some stupid mathematical formulas, you useless fuck,” he yelled out, and walked over to Xerxes, grabbing his head in his hands. “Can’t you crawl back in the recesses of my subconscious, and tell me, flat out, why the fuck I killed myself, and what the hell went wrong with me?” He was poking his finger at Xerxes’ forehead at every word. “None of this shit makes any sense anymore, for all I know, I could be dreaming.” His chest tightened at his lie. “And, the best you can come up with are some bullshit numbers? Either help me out, or get lost!” Tears were running down his cheeks out of fury.
In a certain way, he needed to blow off steam, but the shouting only exhausted him further. He fell on his knees, wiping the tears off his face with his sleeve.
“Please help me,” he said, voice barely above a whisper. “I don’t understand this urge, but it’s all I have now. Figuring out why I did this to myself is all I have. It’s as if there’s something missing. Something I regret forgetting the most. I need to know.“
Xerxes looked him straight in the bloodshot eyes, and smiled. “What then? What after you find out?” he asked.
They stood up.
“I don’t know,” said Yamaka, “Maybe, I’ll be gone forever afterwards. All I know now, is that something key to my…” He tried to swallow the lump in his throat. “Something key to my death was obviously very important to me. I want to know what that is.” He felt funny saying that.
Despite the seriousness of the situation and his zigzagging mood, he felt playfulness surround his words. Perhaps he was happy, finally bestowed with purpose in this grim place. Enough endless sauntering around, he, Yamaka Whatever, would embark on a quest to shed light on his past and be rewarded, however that might be, with serenity and peace of mind. The Ego will prevail, he decided.
Xerxes looked him in the eyes and agreed. “Understand though,” he said, “that your brain won’t allow you to spend its entire computing time chasing forgotten dreams. We’re locked in for a reason, you know.”
“Locked in?” asked Yamaka.
“You noticed it too,” said Xerxes. “We’ve been encapsulated in this dense bubble since the very beginning.” He poked his finger at the viscous surroundings.
“Your subconscious memories, I believe.” Xerxes raised his finger in disregard of Yamaka’s protesting. “But,” he went on, “there is a way out. Or, a way in. There’s a big chance you’ll destroy us both if you try it, but I suppose you’ve earned the right to give it a shot. I can teach you.”
“Whaddaya mean way out, way in? Destroy us both? Teach me to do what?”
“Bursting the bubble will cause an uncontrolled outpour of memories into your conscious mind, resulting in an enormous amount of computation being done, which would mean the end of us. You’ll burn up our time here,” he snapped his fingers, “like that.”
Quantity of information versus quality. Age-old problem. He could either burst the bubble (how that could be done, he had no idea) and end everything painlessly and quickly, or linger here forever, no memory or information as playthings.
“Talking here with you must be using up my CPU time, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Indeed it does, but it is insignificant compared to how much information is stored up over there,” he pointed at the non-sky. “At this calculation rate, we can keep on doing this for a long time.” He grinned.
“Then why shouldn’t I end this right here, right now? I’ll figure out how soon enough!”
Xerxes called his bluff. “I will tell you how to do it. But, we both know you are wilfully incapable of committing suicide in here. Things aren’t wired that way, son.”
Yamaka recoiled. “Free will doesn’t apply here?”
Xerxes scratched his beard. “Not entirely, no.”
“So, how do I recover stuff, without overflowing my brain circuits?” He wondered if the computer and mathematics lingo was there just to humour him.
“Precision,” Xerxes blurted out. “You isolate a fragment of memory, and focus on it while piercing the bubble. If pulled out masterfully, you’ll end up with your prize-memories. If you do it wrong, unfocused mind and all, you end up widening the incision, setting memories loose all over this pristine place. Both of us will be,” he moved a finger through his neck, “kaput.”
Yamaka tapped his foot on the marble floor impatiently. Seemed like they were back where they started.
“When do I start practicing?”
A long, uninterrupted laugh echoed throughout.
“No practice is required,” said Xerxes. “But, we need to have something concrete to work on. A recollection in isolation. We’ll have to start somewhere. So tell me,” he asked, “what exactly did you see in the Great Flood of Remembrances Past?”
Discomfort tried to force itself on Yamaka, but he shivered it off. No use fearing my own mind, he thought. He understood what had to be done; the stormy avalanche of painful emotions and memories had to be revisited. Maybe, the object he’d been looking for had been given to him from the very start, as a last souvenir from his suicidal brain, fragmented and torn asunder, only to be brought back by the terrifying storms of the horizon. He had to make sense of the things he saw, and he knew that they held the key to his subconscious self; they were his entry code to the world of before.
“Many things,” said Yamaka. “Unconnected images and sounds. As if someone took scissors and cut up random bits and chunks of a photo album, and dumped the pieces on me.”
“Can you make sense of the fragments?”
“Dunno, there was a shitload of ’em, after all.”
Xerxes heaved up a big sigh. “Force it,” he said.
Red specks appeared on the back of his eyelids as Yamaka closed his eyes shut. Swooshing sounds came from the distance, making his delicate skin tingle with bubbly noise. Adrenaline jolted his eyes open. He scanned for waves at the horizon, but saw none. Throwing one last paranoid look sideways, he eased up his rough nerves and shut his eyes again. Concentric circles floated into view from the eye pressure he applied with his thumbs. Water bubbled in the distance again.
The first thing it brought back was the sadness. The soul-sucking feeling in the stomach grew heavy. He felt like crying, but didn’t. Pressing his thumbs harder, he bit his lower lip and tried brushing past this phase.
Whisking past the emotions, the sound of water in the distance intensified.
Swooshing overcame the sounds long-forgotten. He was rocking his entire body, yelling loudly to drown out the voices.
Laughter, screams and the gentle words rolled over like a hurricane. Yamaka cast them aside and flung himself even deeper, reaching the very eye of the storm, the bottom of the maelstrom.
Sounds and emotions receded completely. At first, all else was empty, then slowly, it started coming back.
Beautifully thick lips.
Perfumed black hair, cascading over pale shoulders in gracious curls.
“A girl,” said Xerxes bitterly, snapping Yamaka out of his reverie. “It’s always about a girl.”
The entire scene strolled back into view with a Bang, Xerxes’ words resonating loudly, and Yamaka tried to rub the vivid images off his eyes.
“She was real,” he exclaimed.
“Of course she was,” hissed Xerxes.
“You remember her, don’t you?” asked Yamaka.
Silence. There wasn’t a grid to click and churn, no storm to rage thunderously. The distantly characteristic popping quiet of the static was gone too.
Next thing he knew, he was tugging the old man by his shirt.
“You remember her, and you will tell me everything you know,” he yelled at the man’s face.
Xerxes squirmed out of Yamaka’s grip, but remained quiet, blending in perfectly with the serene environment.
“Who is she?” asked Yamaka, eyes tearing up.
The reaction to his question was a smile, and a dismissive shaking of the head.
“I do not remember her name.” His voice was bitter and sad. Clearly, they both shared the loss. He knows more, but loves her as much, reasoned Yamaka. Much time went by before he spoke again. “We cared enormously for her.”
The words rippled through the surface of the simmering bubble, and curled around the hearts of the two. Both men stood side by side on the cold marble floor, comforting one another, united by a common loss.
“What happened to her?”
They were whispering to each other.
“Left us? Or…”
“Or passed away? I don’t know.” He swallowed. “But, she was gone before we left.”
“Is that why, we…?”
Someone shrugged. “Could’ve been that. Or, something else. Doesn’t matter, really.”
They were quiet for a while, deeply immersed in their mutual thoughts.
“Out of all the people, we were given her to remember.”
“It must’ve been great.”
Hours and days passed by them quickly, brushing seamlessly over the thickening surface of the bubble, as they dreamt dreams of beautifully soft skin, dark eyes and wavy black curls. Unattainable as they in truth were, somewhere in the recesses of his mind were cherished memories, waiting to be retrieved and relived once more.
“I am going after her.” The words swam out of Yamaka’s mouth.
They blinked. With the sound of a car crash, several synaptic junctions fell into place, at last bridging the gap between the what-was and the what-will-be.
They turned to face each other.
“Teach me how,” pleaded Yamaka.
Xerxes’ face was contorted in a painful expression, and he looked Yamaka in the eyes. No words were spoken. None were needed.
“Be focused,” said Xerxes. “Do not be greedy. Recover only the necessary. Or else, you will lose the time to enjoy anything.”
Yamaka nodded, and felt great weight on his chest as his throat closed up. The time had come. They wrapped their arms around each other in a brotherly hug.
“Never despair,” said Xerxes cheerfully. “It would’ve been much worse had we stayed.” He pointed at the non-sky above, and then within moments disappeared, dissolving in the insatiable darkness as if he never was.
For the first time in ages, Yamaka was all alone.
Resolved to do himself a final service and committing one last selfish act, he pointed his eyes at the simmering nothingness above him. He thought of the storm, and what it meant. A painful experience providing the solution to loneliness, or merely a reminder of what he’d left behind, for better or worse. Images of the beautifully fragmented woman floated in his mind. He concentrated on the bubble, holding his breath tightly. The very moment he set his eyes upon a fixed spot, it sprung out and deformed endlessly, bulging out in his direction. Oh, yeah. That, he remembered. Fuming with passion and determination, he focused more fiercely on the deformity. Convexly twisting, it appeared as an inward spike in an otherwise fully-round surface. More pressure, he thought, and willed it to bend further. The spike stretched deeper in until it almost reached his face, and stared him right in the eyes. It was a staring contest, and he was determined not to look away. He was cringing and concentrating, but the cartoony bits of the woman he was chasing never left his mind. Not even for a slight instant.
Pressurized and deformed, the bubble gave way to the weight of his stare, and bounced backwards into its normal, round-shaped position. It wobbled back and forth for a few moments, then stabilized entirely.
It looked completely unharmed and normal, but for a tiny speck in the exact spot he had his eyes on. It was so tiny, almost unnoticeable, and he would’ve missed it if it weren’t for the silvery stream that began to pour out. Like a hot filament, the stream of silvery particles began to slither out of the puny hole. It stretched for a few feet, then stopped. The hole closed up, but Yamaka didn’t notice – he had his eyes locked on the substance that was gliding featherily to the ground. It rocked lightly as it fell, graciously nearing the floor. A couple of inches off the ground, the substance took shape. Legs were first to form, then a torso, arms, and finally a head. It was rather distant, scrambled, its features unidentifiable. It dipped its toe in the marbled floor before taking a dive. The floor ripped apart at the seams, making way for the beautiful shape to swim in Yamaka’s direction.
A few feet away from him, she emerged from the glossy marble.
The final pieces of the long-forgotten puzzle fell in their places, completing a picture, turning fragments and contours into a marvellous whole. Butterflies flapping in his stomach, he took a step forward. She didn’t move. He leaned forward, put his head on her shoulder, and smelled her hair.
Springtime and summer holidays and two dumb tourists with a map and twins in a stroller and growing old together and forever after. She smelled like an angel.
“How cliché,” she said, her voice swimming melodically to his ears. The beautiful burgundy lips that graced her pale skin curled into a heartwarming smile.
A single tear managed to jerk itself off Yamaka’s eye, and trickled gently down his cheek. He put a finger over her mouth.
“Don’t talk,” he whispered, fearing the price of data.
He took a step back.
He shook his head and smiled at his luck. He never thought he’d be graced with the company of such an extraordinarily beautiful creature. In her sparkly eyes, he could see some of their time spent together, and it was perfect. Her glistening skin reminded him of the long walks by the sea, woven hand in hand, sweet moonlit love-whispers pirouetting off their tongues. Her curled hair made him remember how beautiful she looked in the shower, water washing away the gentle lip prints off their skin.
Bucketfuls of nostalgia were thrown at the fragile Ego. He worshipped every single drop of it, gulping her mirage with his eyes.
Mementos kept coming in flashes.
Her earrings, and the silly superstitious rituals she had for matching them. How she kissed his hands when happy. Affectionate gripping and the looking away at scary scenes. The sweet joking around and silly faces. I-love-yous over the phone, first thing in the morning. Rafts lined with the little gifts she would buy to surprise him on boring days. Excitement, and shared passion for same things.
He remembered all of that, and cherished the thoughts. He looked hopefully for the tiny speck in the bubble. It was no longer there.
The tranquil air was disturbed by a sigh.
Yamaka returned to his beautiful remembrances, heart aching for the elegant sight before him. She was smiling her half-smile back at him, resonating kindness in all directions.
So, he stood there.
And kept standing.
Endlessly facing the love of his life, savoring the few things he was left with, as eons and eons went by. Brain computing until the last crumbles of computation were swept away in an entropic sea. His lips still carried the echo of a smile as they grew fuzzy together and dissolved into nothingness. He loved her to his very last bit. Observing, until he was observer no more.
He never remembered their names.
Damien Krsteski writes science fiction, mostly at night. He comes from Skopje, Macedonia, and can be found at http://monochromewish.blogspot.com.