Lights off, starlight the only glow, empty plate sitting on the table. Outside, the only sound comes from snow falling and raccoons stealing from cats. Inside is much different, the house trying to tell a story. From the bathroom, a swishing sound, the toilet letting me know of its woes. A sound barges out of the kitchen, the fridge emitting a bass whoosh, alerting me of it's hard work, keeping beer and chicken cold. Seeping from the floorboards, creaking and moaning, the hot air tells me of its dedication in keeping the cold outside. A slithering falls from the ceiling, the language of the roof drips in a whisper down to the bed, speaking quietly of the arduous task, keeping snow suspended off the ground. All parts of the house, speaking in different languages, forming a symphony, only as loud as we allow it to be.
Waking up, cold seeping in from the window next to the bed. The house, usually loud with roommates, sits quite, all having gone to see family. Peace and quiet, so often asked for, and so often appreciated, seems like an unwelcome guest on Christmas day. The loneliness of a quite Christmas, if looked at closely enough, bears just as many gifts as a house full of family. Time to think, to pray, to be thankful for a roof and warm food. Time to be grateful for the loneliness, for people worth missing are a beautiful thing. Learning to appreciate the quiet, to understand the gift of a lively home, to see the beauty in the differences inherent in both.
A Duty Fulfilled
David Fullbright looked up above and saw the endless expanse of stars, where his solemn duty lay. He looked below and saw the dwindling image of Earth, where every last person that he had loved, hated and feared would reside until the end of their days. He could not look back now, could not regret the decision he had made. No, Dave was not on a last ditch effort to save Earth and all the people on it. He was not an interstellar vagabond; he was not even someone with a plan full of grandeur and hope. Dave was someone very ordinary, someone who had worked those menial jobs, who had struggled to pay his phone bill. There is only one major difference between Dave and the rest of humanity. Most people on Earth had heard his name, solely because they had come to the belief that he was completely insane. It’s hard to blame people for thinking that Dave was a crackpot. It is quite difficult to think a man sane if they have said they were building their own rocket to explore the stars after being told to by a man who is not quite a man. Dave’s popular representation is not important, however. What is of consequence is what Dave did in the great expanse that lies beyond the rock called Earth.
As David left the atmosphere of Earth, he finally had a few moments to think after the barrage of responsibilities he had attended to in order to simply survive. During this time, he could not help but reflect on the encounter that had led him to do something that even he himself believed to be an act of pure insanity. It had been an odd day even before he had met Jonathan. Well, as it happened, it was an absolutely beautiful night and Dave had decided to go for a walk to clear his mind. He was walking a path behind his house that he had walked dozens of times before, a path that he could have traveled with his eyes closed. Just as he reached the midpoint of his walk, he looked around and realized that this was most certainly not the path that he had walked so many times before. Before having a chance to contemplate this, the man(?) named Jonathan simply appeared before his eyes, and introduced himself with a bow and a flourish more fluid and graceful than any man should have been capable of. The conversation that followed had seemed to go on for hours on end, with each second bringing a newer and more fantastical revelation to David’s bewildered mind. At the end of that night, when Jonathan brought Dave back to his house, one desire burned with an intensity that would have blotted out the sun; David needed to explore the stars. It was with this thought that David began to prepare for the next step in his journey.
While you may be asking yourself how a man of David’s financial position and humble educations could build a vessel capable of soaring the endless lake of stars, I beseech you to expunge these doubts and questions, as they will accomplish nothing good and bring only confusion.
After snapping out of his reverie, David started to again attend to the duties required of him, if he wished to be successful in his travels. The first thing that he had been commanded to do was to make daily reports on the stars that would be sent back to earth through the transmitter that he had been given instructions on how to build. The first thing that Dave sent back to Earth was a description of the absolutely stunning view that he was so blessed to see; the view of the earth diminishing as he traversed deeper into the cosmos, the light that seemed to be so ubiquitous when one looked to one side and then when one turned their head seemed to disappear into the abyss. Even though David would go on to see things of beauty and wonder that far surpassed those that he first encountered, it was these first moments that would stay with him forever. The spectacles that David saw in the early part of his travels were the ones that truly made him believe everything that Jonathan had told him, from the stories of his greatness all the way to the warnings that he had been given on the horrors that lie at the edges of the stars.
David’s duty was two-fold. It was not one that could be easily completed, but it was not something that was impossible for a mortal man to accomplish. David had been instructed to document everything that he saw and through this documentation process, find a place that he could live on and invite the rest of humanity to join him. Or, at least, the people who were brave enough to believe the words of Jonathan and actions of David.
Many facets of David’s journey through the stars are integral to understanding everything that his story has to offer. One item that holds special import is his willingness to go through with the requests made by Jonathan. To be able to find someone so willing to go through with a request that had such an air of ridiculousness is not a feat to be scoffed at. What is still unknown to the average man, and will most likely never be discovered, is how Jonathan was able to find the right man for his mission the very first time that he asked. David was adamant in the fact that he was the first one to be asked to go on the voyage, and there is simply no reason to doubt this fact.
Another item that one’s eyes should be drawn to was David’s complete and utter dedication to the mission that he had been given. While there are many who would see this mission as something worthy of being completed, there are far fewer who would promise to be the ones to complete it, and even fewer would follow through on the promise they made. This should not be overlooked. The time that David put into exploring the stars was certainly impressive, as it was the bulk of his entire life, but his willingness is far more impressive. For one to dedicate their life to ensure the future of their own race based on a simple faith is just beyond the capacity of most. An action such as this places David in the same realm as men such as Abraham, Noah and other biblical greats.
While it is beyond question that David was a man of special import and someone who caused the path of humanity to switch to a much better one, it would be a dire mistake to say that he was infallible. As one can imagine, even with a tangible destiny constantly present, it could get to be very lonely in the vast expanses of space. As this issue got worse and worse, David came to be angry at Jonathan for placing him in the spacecraft with nothing but his thoughts and duties to keep him company. This anger manifested itself in a rebelliousness that caused the mission of exploring the stars, and David’s mortal life to be placed into serious danger. In this situation, Jonathan again appeared to David to keep him from making a mistake that no one could fix, Man or otherwise. Jonathan came to David just as he was passing by Pluto, on the verge of leaving the solar system that no one had ever left. When Jonathan came to David this time, he looked quite different from the first time that David had seen him. From the genteel and exceedingly regal appearance that Jonathan had exuded back on Earth, he had now transformed into someone who looked much more like a sick man, pale and waxy, in clothes that looked like they had lain in the gutter for weeks and a countenance that suggested nothing more and nothing less than pure and utter exhaustion. When David laid eyes on him in this condition, he was sincerely worried for both the health of Jonathan and how a change so dramatic would affect David. In a way, the obvious difficulty that Jonathan was facing accomplished much the same goal as the message that he had come to deliver. Jonathan told David that he looked like this because he was so far away from Earth, the place of his domain. The message that Jonathan came to deliver was not one focused on sympathy, kindness or any type of message that would ease the mind of David. It was one of pragmatism and honesty, the same tone of voice that had convinced David to go on this voyage in the first place. Jonathan told David that no matter how bad he wanted to go back to Earth, no matter how lonely he was and regardless of how much he regretted going on this voyage, it did not matter. He had made a promise, a solemn oath to perform a task that no other human had been entrusted with. No matter the difficulties, he was honor bound to continue on with his mission. As Jonathan had made explicitly obvious, he did not come to make the decision that David had made any easier to come to terms with, and judging by the appearance of Jonathan, he certainly was not doing it for his own wellbeing.
David was not comforted by this meeting. His mood was not improved, he was not in a better state of mind. What had happened was a steeling of the nerves, a true understanding of the importance of the mission that he was on. At the end of this encounter, there was one item that had slowly gestated and grown in David’s mind. It was not the duty of those above us or greater than us to provide us with meaning, that is the duty of each and every human being. Just because David’s assignment was of much more importance than those of the rest of humanity, this did not excuse him from this simple truth. We all, each and every one of us, must discover the meaning that lies within both the great and menial events of our lives. The importance and grandeur of one’s work will provide some sense of meaning, at least for a while. But, as David discovered, this is not the thing that is most important. Tasks and jobs in life are not hard to find, and all of them can have meaning.
All of the events in the story so far all occurred within ten years; the first encounter with Jonathan, building a craft to explore the stars and even leaving the solar system. Throughout this time, with the encouragement from Jonathan at the edge of the solar system, David continued to send back reports of the great expanse to Earth and kept up his promise to look for a place that he could settle down on and live the rest of his days on, possibly waiting for another person of the human race to join. Waiting and searching for this place was not easy; it took David another thirty years after passing Pluto and venturing into areas unexplored even by robots.
When the day finally came that David found a planet that suited him it struck him like a blow. He had passed by planets that were beautiful before, he had even passed by planets that would be habitable to humans. However, the discovery of this planet was an event that struck David to the very core of his being. It was not something that he could explain, not something that he could describe to the people back on Earth (who, unbeknownst to David had become eager listeners to each and every one of his “broadcasts”) but it was something that struck a chord deep within him. When David saw this planet, this place he could call home, he performed the last of his duties on the ship that had carried him so far and prepared to land, at last, on the planet that he could finally call home.
When David landed on the planet, one thing that he could not get out of his head was the incredible similarity that this planet had to Earth, both when he had been above it in his ship and even more so now that he was on the surface. Within this overpowering similarity, there was something distinctly Other. Not different, necessarily, but something felt more than what David had experienced on Earth. With this feeling permeating every action that David took, he sent one last broadcast back to Earth, disclosing the location of the planet that he had landed on. David knew, even now that the people of Earth could find the place that David had discovered for them, that he would not see another human being before he died. He was now sixty years old, and the trip had taken David forty years to complete and that had been with a ship designed with the help of Jonathan. This did not cause David to despair, however, as it would have thirty years earlier. What this recognition did for David was very similar to the reaction that he had had when Jonathan had come to him on the verge of Pluto. There was no happiness, no sense of a burden being lifted, but there was a sense of meaning. David had not led a life of luxury, nor had he led a life making connections with the people around him. Even with all of the things that David had missed out on, he could not and would not regret the decision that he had made; he would not make the same mistake twice. David recognized that he had led a life of meaning, a life that would give people hope and a knowledge of other places to go, once Earth had finished its time as the home of humanity.
While Dave was undoubtedly entitled to his sense of accomplishment and justified in his sense of meaning and importance, he did not take this route. Left alone for forty years, one is able to learn many things, both about themselves and their surroundings. What David had come to realize, whether it was true or not, was that he had done absolutely nothing different from any other man or woman on Earth. He did not deserve any praise, any prize. No, David had come to realize something that is incredibly hard to come to terms with. We are not here, whether on Earth or otherwise, to serve our own purposes, nor to fulfill the wishes of those around us. We are here to serve a power greater than ourselves, here to perform a task that should serve humanity as a whole. Coming to this conclusion, David was visited one last time, by someone he thought he would never see again. Jonathan came one last time to talk to David, but it was both Jonathan and not. He was the Jonathan of this planet, the denizen of this corner of the Universe. With this last meeting, David was told what he needed to be told, and although the mundane people of this Earth will not know what this message is until the day we leave this planet, we will know. What we must remember is the lesson that David finally understood after forty years among the stars.
7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” -Luke 17:7-10
The antidote to laziness, catalyst of success. More heroic than heroes themselves, an ineffable quality seemingly innate. A tenuous hold, grasping breathlessly, forever evasive, harder to catch than a beautiful woman. A problem in and of itself, the solution teasing us always.
Yes and no, success and failure, anxiety waiting on the cusp of every conversation. No satisfaction, no complacency, relaxation a luxury, stemming from burnout. Where does it come from, this desire to succeed, to push further and further? Satisfaction reserved for the bigger and better. Body slumping, slouching, slithering with apathy when defeat appears, sweat dripping in anxious rivers when success suggests new responsibility. Life fractured, begging reaction, never able to conclude what is better. Stagnation and ease, continued stress and success, or even a recession to less, all begging to be pursued.
Looking back, I begin to understand the horrors that were perpetrated. At the time, back when I was in the thick of it, that was not something that I could allow myself to think about. The only thing that I could let my mind dwell on was the next task at hand, the next order to be attended to. I write this now as a last testament to the power of the regime I worked for, and so people know the price that must be paid in order to achieve law and order.
One of the most vivid memories I have of my time working as a Lawbringer is from early in my career. Lawbringers, at the beginning of their tenures, would typically seek employment from a regional Ruler, and upon working in the employ of a Ruler long enough in order to learn the trade, would often go into self-employment; a far more difficult path, but one that allowed for at least some sense of freedom. While I was not quite fresh meat at this point in my career, I was undoubtedly new blood, and as such, I still worked for a Ruler. This Ruler was something of a dual edged sword, at least in the sense of the people that he was supposed to be serving. In essence, there were two types of people that a Ruler was supposed to take care of – the people that lived in the lands that he ruled over, and the Lawbringers in his employ. Now, as someone working in the employ of Ruler Jonessia, there were very few people in the world, regardless of their wealth or status, who had a more luxurious lifestyle than I did. This, however, was not nearly the case of the people subject to Ruler Jonessia.
Some Rulers looked upon their subjects as children in need of care, some Rulers saw them as potential dangers that needed to be taken care of with caution in order to protect themselves and some saw the people outside of their strongholds as nothing more than a nuisance to be ignored as much as possible. For each and every Ruler, there was a distinct way of managing the people in their care. For Ruler Jonessia, it was quite brutal. Jonessia saw his subjects as a means to an end – people were the means to the end of wealth.
There is something that I should mention, in order to dispel any ambiguity that may be present in my statements. While people born into the role of serf were forced to stay on the land they had been born on, those who were blessed with the role of Lawbringer were given the ability to choose which Ruler they would like to work for. Some of the people born into this position chose where they would begin their careers based on the Ruler who oversaw the lands, some based upon the beauty of the land itself, some based on the cultural peculiarities of each land that they might have an affinity for. (Some other classes of people had rights similar to this – merchants could choose which Rulers to strike deals with, Armorers would work for whatever Ruler could guarantee him safety and wealth and the Priestesses would work with the most superstitious Rulers).
This should dispel the notion that I worked for a ruthless Ruler because I had to. No. I did it because I wanted the benefits that he guaranteed to his Lawbringers. Wealth, comfort, and success at the expense of others. Now, don’t worry, I wasn’t constantly exploiting others for my own sake. Sometimes I would even sacrifice a bit of my own self-comfort in order to make the lives of those serfs a little more bearable. But the story I am about to tell is not about one of those more altruistic moments of mine.
After being in the employ of Jonessia for a few cycles, I had earned his trust – he knew that, as long as I was guaranteed recompense, I would do what was asked. This was important to establish as a new Lawbringer working for Jonessia. There were more than a few men who had come to serve Jonessia believing that they would have no qualms enforcing brutal and draconian rules if it meant that they would live in luxury, only to find out that they had weak stomachs and could not performs the duties expected of them. Well, now that I had at least a fledgling trust placed in me, I was given my first task that was not just brutal, but was important as well. Often, Jonessia would have his Lawbringers engage in brutal practices just for the pure joy of the brutality – if his serfs were brutalized enough without reason, then they would certainly never engage in activities which would cause the brutality to have a reason.
At this time, Jonessia had a bit of a spat going with one of the other Rulers whose land bordered on his, Ruler Kasparak. Now, Kasparak was about as different from Jonessia as one could ever be. Kasparak saw it as his duty to foster the success and happiness of his subjects, allowing them to achieve as much as they could on an individual basis. Kasparak prided himself on the motto of his lands; “Aequalis Potestatam.” This message, written in the language of those long dead who valued such things, simply meant “equal opportunity.” This meant that anyone, whether born onto the land or an émigré from another land seeking fortune (if they were lucky enough to be allowed to), would all have the same chance at success and happiness in life. While this was obviously a good situation for those born without the privileges to seek new lands and opportunities, it even seemed to draw people from other lands. To me, the lands of Kasparak were where one went if they wanted to diminish the power of their birthright, but there were still people who came, from all the different regions, to participate in Kasparak’s experimentation of libertarianism.
Well, as one would assume, the clashing ideologies between Kasparak and Jonessia did not lead to cordial conversations and cooperation. While Kasparak had been engaging in his libertarian policies for quite some time, his ideas were just beginning to spread to other regions, and both the amount and quality of fortune seekers drawn to his land was quickly increasing. Because the lands of Jonessia bordered on the lands of Kasparak, the obvious happened – the people who had been used as a means to an end began to hear of the opportunity just across the border, even though Jonessia did everything in his power to contain any transfer of information, or as he called it, propaganda. Well, with people hearing about a life free of brutality and filled with more freedom than they had ever known, there began to be an exodus of people from the lands of Jonessia. If the classes of people who were born into privilege had been emigrating, while it would have been frustrating to Jonessia, he most likely would not have done much to stop the exodus, for plenty of those in the privileged sections of society sought to be employed in his system of exploitation. However, it was the people that Jonessia relied upon for exploitation that fled to the lands of Kasparak. This is where I came in.
Like I said before, there were many cases where Lawbringers, like me, engaged in pointless brutality just for the sake of keeping the serfs docile. However, now that I had a reason, I began to get creative. I booby trapped the borders, tortured the families of escapees just to make a statement to people thinking about leaving. Everything was going according to plan, until one day when I was in the middle of chasing a family who had escaped my investigations and were able to get a head start on me.
Now, once a group crossed the border, I had no legal right to capture the people who had escaped – however, I often disregarded this if they were still close to the border. Well, in this particular instance, I was far too confident that I could capture this family before being spotted by the Lawbringer’s loyal to Kasparak. After getting reasonably deep into the territory of Kasparak, I did begin to get nervous, because even someone as cocky as myself gets nervous when the possibility of capture and torture begin to increase in likelihood.
As soon as I began to contemplate the possibility of being captured, it happened almost immediately. I was shot in the arm, and taken by the Lawbringers on the other side of the border. Now, even though I had heard plenty of the propaganda that had come out of Kasparak’s lands, and had even seen pictures from the his lands, my understanding of what would happen to a captured Lawbringer would be analogous to the way that I had been treating the people under my rule for the past few years. I could not have been more wrong. After being brought into custody, I was given medical treatment for the wound in my arm, which was absolutely mind-boggling to me. Under the care of Jonessia’s Lawbringers, the wound would have been allowed to fester, perhaps to the point where the whole limb would need to be removed, just for the sake of making the life of a prisoner a bit worse (and for the sake of not wasting resources on an enemy). After receiving treatment, I was put in a cell, albeit one with basic accoutrements, such as a toiled, regular meals, and even basic entertainment. Currently, I am writing this from my cell, and have even been told that I will be allowed to publish my writings, in their entirety, without censorship from those in power. I cannot imagine someone being allowed to write, let alone publish under the rule of Jonessia!
While I will most likely live the rest of my days out in this cell, and I now truly believe that I belong in this cell, perhaps my writings will help those seeking to make a life for themselves, whether from the privileged classes or from the bottom of societal ranks. I do not ask for forgiveness for the crimes that I committed under the guise of Law, but I do ask that my words not be dismissed simply because they come from the mouth of a criminal. Consider not only the rewards that you seek to reap, but the price that others must pay for you to reap them.
Standing up, day after day. thinking one thing and doing another. Questioning why one side showed itself to others, the other subsisting on secrecy. Unsure why one was accepted, one seen with confusion and scorn. Shaking hands, smiling, following society in an odd dance. Not truly disliking it nor feeling particularly genuine, success and failure blending together, possessing qualities worthy of praise and disdain both. In this odd riddle of life, constantly engaged in internal battle, ideals and actions never in alignment, a Question, floating about, understanding lacking on why the two facets of life sat separate and in poor harmony. Did the lack of connection exist as a societal consequence, or stem from a weakness, the kind that defines a person? The misplaced sense of duty, causing abandoned morals, replaced with practicality. An ever widening gap, conjuring up the Walking Contradiction, the ever bewildered Individual.
Scenes, running over and over in our heads, making perfect and no sense at the same time. Images, in full HD and color, spinning behind our eyes, distracting from the person in front. Words and phrases, echoing in our ears, said by people yesterday and tomorrow and a year ago, constantly following us from place to place. Dreams, stepping out of slumber, chasing us through waking hours. Ambitions, the children of dreams, driving us, forcing our hands to run over the keys, our feet over the ground, our lives over the coals. Difficulties, from past and present, dog us daily in everything we do. These turn life into a challenge, and without them life turns into nothing, into something meaningless. Should the challenge be accepted? Should life be conquered? Or should we accept the malaise, the meaningless of ease?
Eastern Washington December Morning
Out of the slumber of night, dawn awakens, light dripping out over white earth. Tendrils of sun, grasping like the wizened knuckles of grandmother, reach out across the snow dusted hills. Frost, claiming the car as its own, dissipates slowly, forcing a decision on sleep clouded minds; show up late to work or get up early and scrape the windshield. Standing at the stove, making breakfast, warmth from the electric stovetop clashing with cold window drafts. Hands warm with cooking, cheeks cold from staring out the window, the disparate temperatures oddly comforting. A magazine, filled with other people’s opinions, two eggs, a hot cup of coffee and a dirty tablecloth. These welcome the new day. The drive to work, radio waves echoing inside the car. The drive, peaceful in the mountains, frustrating in the town. Thick fog, a fluffy white cape, dresses up the cascades. The car pulls into the parking lot, two minutes after eight, the three usual suspects smoking their morning cigarette, the smoke indistinguishable from frosty breath. I walk inside, the day begins.
Transplanted, one edge of the country to another Looking for meaning, through many different avenues. Is the truth I look for to be found in work? Is it to be found living in community? Is it to be found in solitude? The meaning I seek, Sometimes elusive, sometimes close, Never completely out of reach, never totally understood. Meaning to be found in new people, in new areas of the country, in new struggles and new triumphs. Or is it in all the places I left?