The Goat (Part 90)

I had to go to the hospital yesterday for another eye poking (i.e. glaucoma check-up). Lots of fun, as always.

Got there at 14:30 and waited. They call me in after half an hour, and I think ‘that’s quick!’ But no, it’s just for a glance at the eye chart, then back to the waiting room. I wait and wait. It is meltingly hot, and all the black filth on the sticky, nasty chair melts in my sweat and soaks into my clothing. I am now sticky and nasty. I wait.

After four o’clock, I get called for a visual field test. For those unfamiliar with such things, you essentially look into a box where a light is shone at random locations and you press a button if you can see it. The idea is to map any blind spots on the retina. I also have this test when I go to my regular optician, and because he is a wise and excellent professional there is never a problem.

At the hospital, however, someone has decided that you cannot wear your own glasses during the inspection. Instead, they take your glasses away and use a machine to measure their strength. Then they munge together some old lenses from a tray in order to give you something with the same prescription. This bodged copy is what you look through, while your good glasses sit on the table. It is very efficient.

Anyway, the man does his thing and I peer into the machine. I can’t see anything. The man fiddles about, and still I cannot see.

“Oh,” he says. “It’s plus. Supposed to be minus.

So he inverts the prescription, fiddles some more and I see a blurry mess.

“It’s no good,” I say.

“Yeah, we don’t have any lenses strong enough.”

I look at my glasses sitting on the table.

“But this is no good. I can’t see it properly.”

“Ah, don’t worry. Just press the button and I’ll keep going until you get it right.”

So that was a good and accurate test.

I then go back to the waiting room and wait. And wait. A man comes in, stinking of faeces. He sits next to me. And I wait.

It gets to five o’clock. Everyone in the room has been waiting for hours. Everyone is hot. There are no cups left for the water dispenser.

The time approaches six. Nothing is happening. Everyone is complaining. An elderly lady shouts at a nurse:

“I wait since half one! Where is doctor? Look! All doctor go home! You want me sleep here? Okay! I sleep here! You bring me dinner!”

Like old war veterans, everyone starts recounting how awful it is every time they come to this department. It is the black hole of the hospital. There are shorter waiting times in the morgue.

And still we sit. Or stand. The corridors are empty. We wait for someone to turn the lights off.

Then at last I get the call. I go in to see the doctor.

“Sorry,” he says. “I’m afraid I can’t find your medical records. Um… What’s supposed to be wrong with you…?”


Anyway, it’s time for some story. I had every intention of finishing the scene today, but it got too hot in my office (35°C) and I passed out. So here’s the fragment I managed to complete:

Other life.

The creature could taste its imprint on the vacuum: vague and teasing—at first no more than a confusing scent of uncertain origin—but growing stronger with sharpened awareness; the subtle distortions taking shape as the creature began to understand the implication…

The speck of filth on which it lay was not the end. Not even the beginning. All around it, in space that had offered no promise of survival, now it could see the hidden constellations: webs of vitality spanning the horizons; galaxies, not just clusters of stars, but teeming hives dense with population. Even in grief the creature saw its potential: more life than its brothers could have ever comprehended; energy to last until the end of eternity.

But as the true abundance of minds became apparent, the creature stumbled to a realisation: with unlimited channels to feed upon creation, there was power enough to do anything it wanted… even to bend the laws of the universe.

Again, but now in panic, it reflected on the stranger—trying to interpret the knowledge it had gathered: the science of a unified field theory, of subatomic gravity, exotic matter… resorting to instinct as it struggled with the alien notion of equations…

Then all was clear. The creature understood how to save its brothers.

With the life distilled from a galaxy, it could focus itself and far exceed Planck energy—enough to boil the quantum foam… to make unstable the fabric of space-time, forming bubbles in the vacuum and opening a gateway…

It knew how to travel to a past dimension, a parallel reality: one in which its family had never met the stranger.

It could be with them again—and this time protect them: warn them of the poison of other kinds of life; tell them always to keep to their home, to seal themselves from the evil outside. Never would its kind learn the misery of hunger. Never would they lose the innocence of peace. And though it had no place in this pure dimension—its taint must be destroyed lest it spread to its brothers—the creature felt only elation at its fate: if it saw its family together and alive, then it knew it could find the strength to starve itself and die. It would be content. It cared for nothing but the safety of those it loved.

For an instant—a span of a dozen years—the creature relished the joy of hope, its roared ululations shattering the ice floes. It thought of its brothers playing in the stars… but then began to register the feat it must accomplish. To reach another galaxy…

Straining with all the focus it possessed, it probed the resonations of distant life—seeking the nearest, trying to grasp the vibrations with its mind…

And its hope expired.

More than two and half million light years. That was the journey it would have to undertake. On its own. With nothing to sustain it.

The creature weighed its wretched powers: barely enough to leave the planetary system. Had it still the ability to feed from stars, it could have harnessed a number and carried them in transit… but to cross such a magnitude of space without energy…

Almost in an act of self-flagellation, it started to reckon the power it would need: a billion times what it had on this planet. A hundred billion. A thousand billion. It looked at the worthless microbes that surrounded it—their non-existent minds—and cried in despair. To even begin to attain sufficient strength, it would need organisms that rivalled the stranger: a quality of consciousness unique in the galaxy; a world of the best, the most perfect lifeforms…

And after a spell of woeful contemplation… the creature decided to make them.

Using models from all the life it had consumed, and drawing on the stranger’s understanding of geology, ecology, planetary science, it set to work creating an Eden: slowly, so slowly, so frustrated by its weakness, relying on microbes to do the heavy lifting.

First it addressed the state of glaciation: breeding black mats of cyanobacteria to coat the ice and absorb the warmth of sunlight, then letting them die, compounding vast quantities of inert organic matter that stripped the atmosphere through oxidisation. Taking strength from the spent lives—and from those of eukaryotes that died of suffocation—it cracked volcanoes to release carbon dioxide, and encouraged methanogens to feast on decay, loading the air with greenhouse gases. At length the planet melted, the heat and water triggering diversity, increasing the gene pool: more DNA for the creature to manipulate…

For the next billion years it created microbes that digested rock and metal, liberating compounds and generating minerals, enzymes: raw materials for future kinds of life. And all the while, taking sips of power—all that could be spared—until it had enough to break apart the single continent: dividing the earth and flooding it with water, constructing a world of tropical wetlands; accelerating the growth of organisms, and driving weather patterns to erode the soil, releasing more compounds…

And starved by its exertions, it brought another ice age: feeding off extinction, but also making niches for further evolution, and promoting photosynthesis… then cycling again, warming and freezing the surface of the planet as it fumbled like a child with a chemistry set—trying to find the perfect state of balance, screaming at the sluggishness of bioengineering as it grew overwhelmed by the layers of complexity.

Yet two billion years after losing its brothers, it had the climate, the materials it needed: the variety of compounds; the silica and calcium for skeletal structures; oxygen enough to build an ozone layer; the weak and floppy multicellular masses of its first productive ventures in forced speciation…

And activating networks of silent genes, it began to encourage more advanced formations: beasts with organs, shells, muscular function. It enticed them from the ocean and watched them struggle—then tried again: developing insectile land crustaceans, and crawling things of flesh with hard internals of bone… and slowly, as the life grew stronger and stranger, as the creature observed and mutated what survived, it started to feel the awakening of consciousness.

Almost it succumbed. After so many ages of feeding on refuse, of expending itself in perpetual exhaustion, the creature ached for the taste of true power. It saw the beasts, and needed them, craved them—wanted to slay them and gorge upon their minds. But thinking of its family, of all it had endured under so much hardship, and knowing now there was a chance to succeed, it threw itself into high orbit and screamed and screamed until fatigue numbed its longing…

And then it returned in devotion to its flock, tirelessly working to hone each genus: selecting the finest and breeding endless changes—trying to enhance the structures of the brain; to identify which species would become its salvation. Needing energy it turned to subtle measures, only culling lives and inflicting torture through means sustainable within the ecosystem: creating diseases to ravage the inferior; establishing relationships of predator to prey. On the weakened minds of the wounded it fed freely: the beast tormented by infection or cancer; the animal thrashing in terror and pain as pitiless carnivores ripped into its body.

Through millions of years the creature mastered husbandry, refining organisms of exquisite potential… then reaching stagnation. But never relenting, at each evolutionary plateau it forced mass extinction—by unbalancing the climate with microbial activity, and plants and volcanism, cooling, heating or poisoning the planet. Again and again it wiped the palette clean, providing opportunity for new and different strains—and with each annihilation gaining vast amounts of power to further enhance the emerging lifeforms.

At last it was born: the beast of its desire. A squat and ugly biped, grossly weaker than the animals that preyed on it and those it preyed upon, yet surviving—nay thriving—by raw wit and cunning. A beast with self-awareness and compelling curiosity, an impulse for invention, a broad capacity for imagination…

All the creature saw were the tissues of its brain: the unique folds, the abnormal connections that rooted it so deep into the well of quantum consciousness; the pulsing arterial thickness of its mind, so rich and juicy with the power of creation.

Again, temptation nearly ruined the creature: its body yearning with excruciating hunger as it bled itself into the fabric of the beasts, touching, tasting their beautiful minds… yet with self-control that gnawed it close to madness, it fed not but gave unto them visions—dreams of wonder, of fire and machines, of a world that was theirs to own and command…

It coerced them to grow: even suppressing basic instincts of survival—greed and promiscuity—allowing cooperation in place of domination. As groups began to share ideas and resources, it turned them from hunting to the concept of farming: abundant and easily accessible food, spurring reproduction and freeing time for thought and language, rapidly increasing their quality of mind.

From camps to villages, towns to cities, it watched them settle and swell across the land… while constantly injecting them with notions from the stranger—of civilisation—pushing them to make their lives easier and safer… making of the planet a contained breeding pen…

Yet even as it saw its plan come to fruition, the bounty of life broke its restraint. It looked upon the precious beasts and could not resist them: taking by the hundred, the thousand in fire and flood, and epidemics of disease, drinking sweet power through the channels of their agony. Swiftly it learned that the simplest way to break them was to use the pain inflicted by one against the other. With nervous apprehension it dabbled with their instincts, stirring rivalry, spawning intolerance, repressing their empathy: small experiments leading to hatred, oppression, suicide and slavery, murder and riot, the insanity of war…

Time and again its control slipped completely, plunging whole races into bloody conflict: empires falling in revolt and insurrection; genocide and conquest; nation fighting nation in rabid killing frenzy. All above the battlefields the creature felt them dying: the blades in their bellies, the bullets in their bodies, their limbs severed by the violence of explosion. In raptures of pleasure it feasted on their energy—then more as survivors were captured, tortured and dragged to the gas chamber…

And in each aftermath the creature wept, looking at the damage it had done to its creation, counting the effort it would take to recover…

But the beasts it had made were scheming and resilient. No matter their wanton foulness to each other, always they endured, always they replenished, raping the natural resources of the planet to fuel their insatiable need for expansion: multiplying faster than their evil could kill them til they numbered in the billions, their cites spanning the face of the globe…

And after aeons of labour the creature, so tired, gazed upon its work, trying to decide if it could finish and be done: gauging the concentration of minds, estimating power, again reviewing the journey ahead…

Then its heart lifted with a hope near-forgotten as finally it realised the time had come.

© 2015 - J. D. G. Leaver

To be continued…