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In the Twilight of That Empire

Dan Kelley

Distractions spawned themselves until the original interest was forgotten. Distracted by distractions, it was an empire of trivialities. Of recycled novelty and threadbare enthusiasm. Robots took care of everything, the harvesting of crops and the seeding of crops, and the designing of the seeds in automated clean rooms, and the killing of men and pigs alike. No one knew where their food came from, nor their siblings, nor their responsibility. The environment they created outran them. They abolished scarcity, and only pretended to believe in it. They lost their self-preserving wariness. They had no use for it. Unquestioning of themselves, the con men gained their own confidence, stopped believing in mathematics, and forgot that things were ever otherwise.

Perhaps a flash of nostalgia played like lightning across their minds and they thought, I really should remember. I should write this down. But then again, I'm sure it's all being recorded somewhere. Someone else will sort it out. A professional. What do I know, after all? What do I know of history, of plants, of engineering standards? It's not my job.

The governors, when they left their bomb proof offices, went in entourages through empty cities. The citizens were herded behind fences prior to their arrival. The powerless railed against their so-called rulers, imagining they were kept down by these human seeming gods. But the rulers themselves were powerless to rule, and having attaining their positions, found that they merely stood at the helm of a ship steered by a robot, They were hemmed in by an arbitrary policy. An imperative. The source of which remained obscure, while the necessity of heeding it was very clear. We cannot know exactly what it was. It convinced them that their condition hewed to some natural law, like gravity.

Something made them disappear. We call it "the event" which sounds like an explosion, but it might have been an age. A slow burn. It destroyed them. But their civilization had so decayed that we guess they welcomed it. Perhaps they were relieved. Their self-recorded history is incomprehensible. A monoglot gibberish they spewed at one another with increasing desperation, approaching panic as the darkness crept over them. Oblivious, they went on and on. Jibberjabbering like monkeys, believing they were serving progress. Their confusion was so exhaustive that their language became useless. A tool they continued using, but which had acquired an alien purpose. The point of talking was not understanding, but only more talking. They started using icons, hieroglyphics, to communicate, however crudely, that spark of complaint that remained in some part of them. Then the symbols themselves decayed, driven by an obsession with simplicity, and they began to resemble each other, until they were indistinguishable from one another. And then they became one.

And we find this symbol in the survivor camps outside the dead cities. In every imaginable scale, from a carving on a rock no bigger than your thumbnail, to a scar in the desert, miles across, invisible to all but the satellites.

posted: 1/18/2006

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