Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
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“I love to see that Nature is so rife with life that myriads can be afforded to be sacrificed and suffer to prey on one another; that tender organizations can be so serenely squashed out of existence like pulp — tadpoles which herons gobble up, and tortoises and toads run over in the roads . . . The impression made on a wise man is that of universal innocence.”
— Henry David Thoreau
Visions of the pulsing embryo, pumping and heaving against the maternal body.
“When you change scale, not only space changes but time also. We will enter a world in which a miniscule movement may represent the speed of a rocket for half a lifetime.”
The small gathering of students listened with a quiet awe to the wizened professor. Research techniques had become very sophisticated. They were about to travel on a series of levels within the volunteer lying smiling on the surgery table. She looked a little embarrassed.
The flower upon the windowsill was coming into bud. The window of the ship looked as if a wet black gem had pressed its crystal face up against it. There was a faint rocking motion. In the mind’s eye came a series of images in the darkness, of entangling arteries, each carefully labeled. Despite the hum and bustle of this new universe, in the distance could be heard a faint murmur; at moments it was like a crowd, at others the roar of the shoreline. And this sound was drawing closer. It was confirmed that the trackers had positively identified the oncoming spermatozoans. It was easy to think slightly irreverently, and very unscientifically about the orgasm. The mind then fluttered through those hundreds of pages of the damned textbook. For over twenty years this Project had been in progress, and millions of drastic, subtle and impossible-to-learn changes had been preparing for this part of The Process. Skimming rapidly through all the details the overview was of innumerable calculations and adjustments and laborious balancing of fluid levels and synthesis of substances in order to arrive at this point. Growth, the adjustments of behavior, the traumatic urges during puberty — all these provided the hidden scaffold. And of course, he smiled to himself, twenty-three years of work was put into the male.
Three hours ago the final product of those efforts were sent on their journey. Yes, that sheepish smile. On the human-relative scale that would amount to nine years of travelling. The fluttering of approximately 150 million of these elvers nosing upstream darkened the landscape with a great shadow of whispers. The onslaught of these intruders into this other galaxy caused a tremor of excitement to ripple through the gratefully besieged host. This shoal of white rockets illuminated by the craft’s powerful lights had a sense of frenzy about it, each individual as hopeful as its neighbor of fulfilling The Plan. Every now and then their eagerness would be heightened by the encounter of chemicals from upstream, and the millions of tails would take on a renewed burst of frantic speed. Occasionally the professor would take a group of aeronautic experts down to study their amazingly efficient propulsion.
At the various chosen observation stops it became increasingly clear that many of this white migration had perished; acidity and occasional malfunctioning would leave a twitching messenger in the slipstream. There was something terrifying and irrevocable about the determination of the fleet; locked tirelessly upon their objective, with nothing but destruction to distract them, they resembled Kamikaze pilots of bygone eras.
“Each of these creations now contains all the messages and advice that the male parent saw fit to pass on to his offspring.” The professor was fingering a blossom of the plant by the screen. A student was asking inane questions. The individual is more than he seems, and is an amazing creation. So at least the thoughts ran. The craft was trailing one particular spermatozoan, and there was something both sinister and marvelous about it. Illuminated in the white glare of the searchlights, white and glistening as it swam into the blackness ahead, it had something shark-like, prehistoric, about it, in the sheer confident strength of its motion, and the bluntness of its form. It was startling to recall the irreverence with which it was wiped up. All that the male thought worth knowing condensed within it.
They sped on. “There it is. Stop, we are close enough to see everything. The first ones should be arriving any moment now.” The professor was excited and a certain passion crept into his words. Outside, clearly visible, a planet lay immobile. Occasionally a loose cell, or a group of cells, would glide past. The slow drift of the egg cell turned it sufficiently to reveal a number of cells adhering somewhat haphazardly to the surface, which, in the majority of places, was curtained by membranes in an untidy fashion. Through many immaculately spaced pores exuded a steady flow of substances, carried gently downstream. Dust blown from the planet into the void.
“This flower awaits the pollen bee. She will blossom in her own manner.” No sooner than Dr. Ebenhart had uttered these words than the first group of racing sharks were seen, away in the distance, looming down on this prone egg. As if witnessing a murder, or some bestial feast, a horrified fascination took over. The scents were strong, and the journey nearly over. One could almost see the planet adjust its processes and valves, tighten the controls, and zero into the descent pathway. The aegis storm of thrashing meteorites collide. The feeding frenzy begins. Furiously the deadly travellers batter, and jostle the excited cell.
“Watch the ends! The sperm have powerful chemicals to dissolve the egg in the head. Watch for it.”
The ship moved closer. Many more sperm arrived; it was an invasion. Pushing and burning their way in, several sperm had already buried themselves shoulder deep into the egg. By now hundreds crowded behind them, wriggling their chances forward. Occasionally a portion of the egg would be seen enveloping the sperm body eagerly, fusing membranes.
“She’s slow.” The professor glanced at his wristwatch. “Perhaps she won’t, it may be a dud . . .”
One minute of suspense and white fury passed.
A trigger released.
A membrane was inflated, and ballooned rapidly. Only one of those inner voyagers has completed the task. The onlookers are now by-products. Unable to accept defeat or to change their objectives, these pale creatures will weaken and die outside this wall. Their highly specialized task condemns them. These immaculate vehicles of information are now part of the expendable debris of The Project. Late arrivers continue to add to their numbers. Their pilots seem unaware of their fate, or else unmoved by the mask of death. They are only a fraction of all of those wasted. In the entire Project, despite the smallness of them, several pounds must have been wantonly destroyed.
Professor Ebenhart turned to his students with a wry smile. “Either this is an indication of the meaninglessness of death or else we must face a ruthless Creation.” His grey hair shone gently. “Either the individual is an expendable portion of the species, and death for each individual is the end of it all, a cul-de-sac, and the continuity of the species is the prime goal; or else individual death for each individual is continuity for the individual onwards into other realms.” Is this dear old gentleman the individual? Is it each cell, or each replicating strand of protein? Is he merely expressing the stifled hopes of the cells within him, their collective hope, or is he merely a cog, driving and being driven, a mere statistic in the dynamics of the population? If it is the molecule, then is all else but a vehicle, a husk, a temporary resting place into which it is poured before being shunted on? The coy mother lying on that table. A man drawing towards death. Wetness between them. Wetness that you mop up after love.
“Fertilization is occurring.” Dr. Ebenhart stood outlined against the great egg on the screen. “Within, gentlemen, is occurring a cosmic conference. The greatest physical manifestation of intellect is being recombined. Possibly all knowledge of life, past, present and future is stored in such structures. The surface of the globe is the living membrane of mind, memory and intelligence, stretched from creature to creature over our earth.” The outline of the planet came into clear perspective.
A rippling and a slithering sound trembled the entire structure. The light was changed for a deep-penetration beam. The resident sphere’s circular control center could vaguely be seen travelling towards the remains of a sperm within the egg. “Focus,” cried the professor impatiently. A labyrinth of folds and membranes came clear. They were propelling the dark center. The small sperm center meets it. The pilots fuse. The being is one. The Project has achieved its first stage successfully. “Now that the decisions have been made and the plans drawn up, construction begins.” This half-alien center now becomes the focus of attention of the entire host universe in progressively increasing amounts. Materials are needed, special conditions are created. It becomes a bright focus. As it acquires a being of its own, while mechanically dependent upon the host, it increasingly shadows a strange parasitic existence, an unrecognizable creature living within, feeding and respiring within, half of it having intruded.
Now the surface of this planet ruptures along a fissure, divides, and divides again. Into each single isolated division is placed the recombined information from both parents. Communication and combined effort monitors the activities. Individual cells are born, blossoming synchronously across the sphere. Each individual knows its Assigned Task, and like bees in a hive or ants on the anthill, they migrate, rearrange, and specialize. The professor guided the ship onto the surface of the migrating cells; as it was jostled into a deep crevice between them, with cells moving around them the size of trees, moulding around this minute obstacle, they were carried in the urgent drift. Over, within and around they travelled, seeing a scenery of remarkable proportions. Mountainous peaks of cells, rims of cells travelling downwards like slow-motion waterfalls into deep interior places, only to then string out, swim along in the cavity in a chain to form layers. Almost totally unable to explain their observations, the professor lulled into a mystified silence while the students argued. Creation was taking shape before their eyes. “It is undeniable that at all the times in a creature’s life, at no other stage of development will different species look more astonishingly alike. Some believe that they resemble earlier stages in evolution.” The ship had temporarily been taken back from the embryo, to observe it en masse. “At a certain stage each cell will no longer have the possibility of other fates open to them, and they will not be able to become something else in the case of an emergency such as injury. Before then you can transplant, rearrange, and attempt to confuse this creature. But to no avail.” The principle of hidden work is displayed — silent inward and secret work, so characteristic of Nature. Slowly this swirling planet forms the brain; cells specialize, coalesce, form patterns. Roads, buildings, storehouses, transportation systems and communication proliferates. Tendrilous shoots interconnect and forge into the depths of the heaving, living mass. The heart starts to beat. Blood circulates. The embryo rhythmically heaves. From the eye the nerves start their journey to contact the brain. Hundreds of these long shoots curve round, growing their intricate pathway through a maze of living structures. Their achievement is similar to attaching pieces of string to all major buildings in a city, and making them find their way through all manner of obstacles, to attach themselves to a scale drawing of the city in exactly the manner they were initially arranged. As the group watched this process, with the white chords twining and pushing through like roots into the pink, pulsing matter, a deep awe silenced their earlier trivia of questions.
“Survey this cellular scale one last time.”
Cells, with membranes sculptured with pores and filaments, moving tirelessly towards their goals, containing structures within ornate and complex, embedded in a series of fluid membranes.
“We are going briefly to molecular scales now.”
It was almost ludicrous to see the plant outlined against the window. The architecture was seemingly endless. This vast dome of scaffold supports and struts moves into the horizon in seeming chaos. Only at sufficient speed was there any regularity and unity to be seen. And while the ship was still, the molecules were continually moving, creaking, adjusting shape and position, and interacting unceasingly. Vivid swirling mirror-like gossamer sheens shaped these bulbous and shiny structures. These swirling, clicking and humming creatures would sometimes gather and swarm, or nudge their way through seemingly solid walls on their various errands. At times the ship itself attracted them. At other times they would navigate down a passage of empty space, and then deviate suddenly, to cling vigorously onto another structure, and become incorporated or dismantled. Long chains of flickering mirror-bright structures would enter and leave any one of many shimmering domes. Each is carrying a specific portion of a dissembled molecule to the mistresses of all replication. These great mothers wind and unwind, creating replicas, cloning themselves. Once again there is division of labor and each individual knows its task.
“Is this life, professor Ebenhart?”
“To answer that with another question, my dear son, let me take you for a moment one stage lower, and see what a single atom is. We have been dealing with levels of the individual, or scenes of different individuals. Our very presence will affect what we see now.”
“Darkness. Vast aeons of void constitute the atom my friends. Somewhere out here are a number of lobes of that mysterious substance we cannot fathom — the electron. You recall its mirror-like nature. It tends to reflect also whatever method you use to investigate it. In the center of all this are a number of mysterious substances — glittering fiercely with density. Perhaps as the borders of infinite smallness are reached, then will we thread through the eye of the needle into dimensions of infinity beyond knowing. This may be the macrocosm. This, my friends,” gesticulated the old and gentle man, “this is the atom — emptiness separating almost total unknowns. This is what constitutes all you see.” The respected old academic then turned to the student. “Is this life?”
The student went up to the plant, and reached in among its leaves. “Unless there is something radically different, then this also has life.” He opened his palm, and in it was a small pebble. “Conversely,” he continued, “given the necessary atoms, and the necessary machinery to arrange them in the necessary patterns, could we create life, and name it purely a property of pattern and bulk? A glacier is not a snowflake, nor thunder air and water vapor.”
“That is what the years of work spent on The Project are all about. You forget.” The rather shrill voice of the failing professor startled the student.
The craft expanded like a surfacing bubble. The mind saw solar systems recede, coalesce into larger patterns, give the appearance of solidity. The professor was calculating something on a piece of paper. A glimmer was lighting his wrinkled face. “I am old and the work is not yet finished,” he muttered to himself. “Yes, the closer one approaches infinite smallness the closer one comes to infinite magnitude. Yes. Birth without death is purely growth.” Matter and images flashed past on the screen.
The mother surged with contractions pulsing slowly through her.
The bubble fled to the surface.
The child emerged, red and unprepared for the world.
A frozen sequence of still images is united swiftly — and all those mothers are connected to their children by the chord, as they thread out of that loop which stitches beings across time.
All matter is linked through the eye of the needle. The thread unites all.
“Was that dying sperm right, and the rest of creation trampled and wasted? Was it? Was it? Was it?” Dr. Ebenhart’s anxious mind raced.
And then the bubble burst.