177 Years Ago
Penzey Rinzler placed the newspaper in front of Valeri, who moved his coffee.
“You picked a good time to retire,” said Penzey.
Valeri stared at it for a moment, caressed the page and admired the text. “I haven’t seen one of these in years.”
Penzey nodded. His expression grave, he nevertheless exuded calm. “State issued. I’m afraid there’s news today that will change everything. It’s why they put it on paper. Security! Humanity will do that. If our perceptions are changed, shattered even, then we use simple tricks to keep our feet on the ground.”
Penzey tapped the paper, his arthritic finger indicating the headline.
Valeri touched his chest pocket and pulled out an old pair of glasses. After placing them low on the nose, he read...
“The Remains of God found in Tolstaya Mine: Radiometric Data Indicates God Died 177 Years Ago.”
Valeri skimmed through the first few paragraphs, though there was little point. He gathered the main idea, speaking once only, a comment that reiterated a simple fact.
“They say one of God’s metatarsals is as big as an arc.”
Penzey shook his head. “An arc? Could they have used another metaphor? How big is an arc?”
Valeri shrugged. People bustled through the busy terminal, their luggage terriers floating, following behind. The expansive glass wall offered an elevated vista of the marshy Siberian tundra in summer. Twenty-two and a half hour days produced skies continuously washed out with light, and though this time of year was but a sliver, it was called the white season.
A row of Oxyl permanganate shuttles rose from the ground somewhere near the horizon. Their combustion burned white hot, neon pink at the edges. Valeri always liked their color. He took off his glasses and pocketed them. Age had long tamped his excitability. Even now, he felt calm. “This does change everything. I think.”
Consortia issued its manifest, “God Does Not Exist,” sixty years ago. There it came to be, official Specie Policy, echoing what everyone already believed.
“Can I keep this?” asked Valeri.
This did have a quietly powerful effect for two reasons. First; until today, the fact of Godlessness had manifested from theory. Now there was evidence. Second; the remains showed unequivocally that once upon a time, God did exist.
“Did God die of natural causes?”
Penzey shrugged. “They don’t know. They won’t know for a long time. It is a very large archeological site.”
Valeri dusted his coffee with a bit of cream and sugar, then took a sip. “Strange,” he thought. Nothing interfered with the pleasure of a morning coffee.
“What are you going to do?” asked his friend.
Valeri reflected for some time, then shrugged. He gave seventy-two years to the Tolstaya Mine as an analyst in Hydroquanta. He’d married here, raised a family, endured the unspeakably harsh and beautiful winters, and loved more than half of every minute of it.
But his wife was dead. Of his six children, one had passed. The other five resettled halfway across the galaxy in various directions.
“I thought I might spend my last few years in quiet enjoyment of books...”
“Books?” Penzey said surprised.
He nodded. “You see, I’m a scientist. And one day, I had this thought. When I get old and my time is short, I will satisfy myself with stories. I will bathe in ideas and people from all types of places, from all over the universe. It will be as if these things are teleported into my head. Imagine that. My career made use of transencryption to cipher quantum dust from one location to another. I have delivered nourishing water to people all over the galaxy. So, I asked myself one day, ‘Valeri, what is it that you do?’ And then I read a story, for I’ve always enjoyed the occasional joke or story. That’s when the thought occurred to me.
"I asked next, ‘Valeri, what has the creator of this story done?’ He has teleported a thought experiment into my head. What a beautiful thing. This author, who knows nothing of my existence, has planted a seed, compact with ideas, in my head.” Valeri tapped his temple with his deformed pinky.
“That is what all stories are,” he continued, “A thought experiment. It is the essential science. So, that is what I intend to do. I plan long days immersed in this type of science, swimming in thought experiments, never again to look at the clock. I will replace time with stories. I hardly can wait... laughing, crying, falling in love again, seeing my children reborn. Courage, cowardice, redemption. Most of all... redemption. I will live many lives during my last days. Yes, this is what I will do.”
Penzey listened attentively, palms pressed to the table. He looked up, “But?”
“Yes. But this,” Valeri agreed. He got up slowly and folded the newspaper under his arm. The luggage terrier by his feet rose about a meter and stopped still, waiting like an obedient pet.
Penzey got up too and embraced his friend. Tears formed in his eyes, but they did not release down the face. “I will miss you.”
They kissed three times upon the cheek.
“Come, I will be just a few hours south. You should think about retiring, yourself,” Valeri wagged a finger.
Valeri was about to go but hesitated. “You know. Between you and me, this is sad,” he patted the newspaper. “I always hoped that we were wrong about the God business. How great it would be to read out my final days, only to wake up and carry on... this accumulation of knowledge.”
Penzey smiled and squeezed his friend’s arm, “They say the femur spans Mount Solon from base to summit.”
Valeri shook his head in amazement.
He departed and shuffled off. At a place out of view from his friend, Valeri paused to gaze out the window. He studied the contours of a shuttle, beautifully rendered in a chrome-like gloss, releasing pastels along scribbled highlights. A voice echoed through the busy terminal announcing the departure for his shuttle. Valeri sighed and felt something new. After all these years... something new, a sad hopefulness. Something... in between.
this story first appeared in Chantwood Magazine, ISSUE 9