PUNDIT: What do you recall about the darkness?
THE OLDEST LIVING ASTRONAUT: Absolutely everything.
Between commercials for brain insurance, the only major news channel still remaining reports the discovery of a significant new planet: one, they say, that on its surface looks exactly like our own. It seems ridiculous at first, seeing photos so much like those we have come to know as Earth presented onscreen as somewhere else, somewhere unknown, and alongside infographics that explain its present distance of hundreds of millions of light years away from where we are; and yet the longer that we look and listen, absorbing the information, we can’t help but grow concerned. As though the planet appears to be exactly like ours, visually a perfect copy, so it appears, average surface temperatures on the twin are estimated at an average of just under 200 degrees F. Furthermore, in zooming down to surface level through animated cells accessed onscreen, though we do find certain remaining manmade structures— lengths of scaffolding organized around large pale windowless cubes; long strips of railways devoid of markings, exits; remainders of cities that resemble ours but never quite the same in their design—no life has as yet been recognized, the pundits report. It is like our Earth, but remodeled, and then evacuated, or exterminated, at least so far as we can tell.
More important than its matching image, they inform us, is the path and rate of the twin planet’s present approach. It is aimed directly at us, by all most scientific of ac- counts, moving at an unprecedented speed for what an object of its size should yet be able. The planet has, since first becoming known less than a month prior in only our most protected sectors, traversed nearly a third of the distance remaining between us and it, continuing to gain ground by the hour, showing no intent of wavering. Within weeks it will be visible to the naked eye, and not long after, barring an adjustment in its approach, it will pass our planet at a distance closer than halfway to where the moon was believed once to have been, right through all that empty space we’d been trying for so long to pass the laws allowing advertising to command, said stalemate about which has nothing at all to do with anything.
But so there is no need right now to panic, the anchors submit, bearing the same flattened expressions by which they’d told us of the War for Empty Space, of the out- breaks of immediate aphasia among survivors, of the patterns of disappearance and reappearance of major landmarks. We have come to rely on their poise amid these times, their refusal to overreact, the plastering feeling of how their voices set onto us, settle in. And though we know the planet is approaching, we do not anticipate it to wreck into us head-on; we only expect for now it might affect our weather systems, and so our crops, and so our ways of life amid its presence. We do not believe that we will die, only that we will be significantly affected in numerous and unpredictable ways of being, some of which we have already long foreseen, and are preparing in the near future to remedy in equally unprecedented fashion, to the benefit of all.
And so the last thing you and your family should be sure to know about the approaching planet, they continue, is that no matter how close it grows, how hard any one of us might wish to understand and accept the present science, not all persons will be able to see the planet with their own eyes. Something about its light, its all too familiar shape and brand of color, based on their testing, allows only, they estimate, one in seven citizens to see and understand that it is there. Only citizens of exceptional intelligence and keenest sense, they submit, are expected to be able. Do not be alarmed if you are among those who for whatever reason yet cannot; it does not mean you are any less a person than the rest, only that you might require their assistance in application of prevention behaviors as we come together as a nation to deal with this unprecedented threat, which we surely will, because we must, because we have the gift of information.
Going forward, the following PSAs take over to explain, all citizens are advised and bound by Congress to extend the periods through which we wear our National Masks, which had been previously only required during working hours, throughout all hours, day and night, mostly because we are not sure yet of what effect the approaching planet’s makeup and decorum might have on our atmosphere, our future outlook. Additionally encouraged are an array of presently non-mandatory products by the makers of Error Gel and X-All-Eyes-Out, ranging from swimsuits that simulate the presence of actual water to peppermint candies known to have mostly pleasant-dream inducing and extra-spiritual effects, all of which each household will be auto-subscribed to in lieu of manually opting out by handwritten statement of hesitancy, some of which you may or will still be billed for and have installed without permission; as by the time we realize there is something we should fear or prevent, it may be too late, a grinning model offers through her expensive silver teeth, it may even be inside us; it may have become us.
That night again there is no moon. There has not been a moon in at least weeks, nor any other planets, though we can hardly remember other planets, but it is still the absence of the moon that hurts the most; it had been ours. The space remaining where the moon should be seems fuzzed up, buzzing almost, perhaps slightly caving into itself surrounded by all the nothing—as if the thing had become swallowed into a hole right where it stood. Some are still able to persuasively describe the day of the moon’s recorded disappearance: how whole crowds of people fainted and frothed in hordes in open air malls across the continent; how our limbs thereafter felt heavier than usual, paler than usual, dizzying to have to lift; how then when days later the sale of snake eggs artificially went up, we all began to eat the eggs for all three meals whether we’d even ever liked eggs of any kind or not, and always in separate rooms, hoarding our intake unto ourselves, wanting to hear the sounds the chewing makes inside our head again, like private music, ours and ours alone; like falling and falling.
There are those, within mere hours, despite previously reported estimations, for whom the new planet in open sky is as clear as day. Some calmer folk might mistake it for pending aberrations in the weather, they imagine, a smear on the seeing visors; and yet surely there it is; or so say even certain major figures both of science and of cloth alike, creating immediate ideological disturbances in each field, the loudest among them raising the highest beams. It is right there, they cry into the rolling re- corders, and growing larger as we speak. Look out and try again to see what we can see already, ahead of schedule. I mean really try.
Try as they might, many others less incensed or bound to wish, when told precisely how and where to look and what to see, see absolutely nothing beyond the sky as it had always been in recent years; that is, so silken and untouchable; so now. Even new viral photographs of the horizon said to clearly depict the planet stark and bright against the curvature of blank to others evoke only a continuity of empty space, and thereby serve as proof of fact of the idiocy of both the seers and the believers. It’s just a fucking picture of the Earth, they type into threads of countless forums, all cut and paste; my kid could do it; my kid, who just like me, shall not believe.
So there are those who have witnessed the twin planet, and those who want to, and those who believe those who have claimed to are insane. There are those who don’t want to hear any more about the twin planet already, tired enough as they are in just trying to continue to get along, to be a person at all during such vicious onslaught as it is to simply stand in daily life. Congressmen and bloggers alike hold their positions, heads of family and youngest toddlers; each are incorporated each in some way into the fold. And so on, and on and on, the flux of information takes its shape, upend- ing boardrooms and homes alike, embroiling each individual person in a would-be shell of their seemingly unique state of belief; who is wrong and who is not wrong; what can be trusted and what is bunk; all of it a silent gore of rampant interruption. As these days no one is an expert. No one believes what anybody says, regardless of position or condition, adhering only exactly ever to who we already are.
By the end of the first week, research shows the factions of those who see the planet outnumber those who do not see it at a ratio of nearly 15:1, a rate quite off from the original prediction, and off too from what seems true by asking around in the streets. It seems much more rare to find a person who believes than who does not in actual barrooms or at parties, despite the precedence of the opinions offered in the media and online. And yet, in time, those who don’t see the planet will begin to say they see the planet because they are afraid of the repercussions, and therefore the ratio will rapidly grow more sharp. And regardless of who believes what, what is real will remain real.
Amid the fervent state of speculation, prodded by the President, Congress unveils its plan to build the National Ceiling, a project long known to be under works; to protect us; for our protection.
“Despite those who don’t see what those who can claim could destroy us, there remains a constant state of Coming Death,” the missive states, “and so it can be agreed at least that more protection is always necessary, that even an unseen enemy can be the most likely to kill. Along these lines, we now officially submit the fact of how the installation of a proper barrier, a shielding ceiling hiding the whole sky, could protect us not only from possible impending rupture but also other sorts of strike we have yet to consider.”
The document fails to address how the presence of a National Ceiling would pre- vent or even limit damage from a possible collision with a planet-sized object, nor does the impending national discussion following the directive somehow ever seem to light for long upon this fact; immediately the conversation turns instead to what supplemental features such a ceiling would enable, as if any debate over whether the construction should actually take place or not has been wiped out from any logic, a black hole of understanding around the cusp of which we can’t even realize we aren’t addressing.
Within the same day’s office hours, an official design is brought to light. Official sponsors champion the concept’s undue pulchritude, often stipulated in abstract language rather than in visualization, utilizing dramatized advertisements starred in by athletes, praising the structure’s ulterior specs; as in addition to its levels of protection, the ceiling will allow climate control and better weather, not to mention surveillance of public domain on harried streets; and for a change of pace, sometimes, the panels may be used to construct other acts of previously unpredictable magnificence; panes of color clean and old in place of stormy skies; panoramas of historical significance we as a nation cherish, those of all walks; and in general a completely predictable out- look, including scheduled periods for precipitation and of heat, a mechanization of the facets of our atmosphere we’ve been previously forced to live out at the mercy of, no longer. Every day will be a day worth wandering around in, if not remembering. Every day will be all ours.
The ceiling is voted on unanimously by the national governing officials, who by definition represent the wishes of those who put them where they are in perpetuity.
And so then the conversation turns toward collaboration with the remainder of the the world. Petitions are put out to neighboring countries across the globe requesting their cooperation and their funds. Whatever countries do not commit now will be left out, with no room to spare when the time is nigh. And anyway, it mostly doesn’t matter who comes on board with us as long as we are covered. If anything, the non- cooperation of aliens, many of whom are said to claim to not see what we can see, refortifies our passion for our beliefs, whether we believe in them or not, the question of coming impact or effect now not so much a fact as a conclusion already passed, such that soon those who once had claimed to not be able to see the approaching planet now live fully complicated by its needs, can see it up there day and night across the land, as plainly as if there’d never been a time they ever hadn’t.
Construction of the National Ceiling proceeds apace. It was already underway from the beginning, the president announces live on closed circuit tape, because we knew; indeed, in some higher valued districts the ceiling is seen to have already appeared, as if by magic, curving up and long over the more paltry constructions, pre-installed to run a nightly background bearing the most beautiful of sunsets, the quickest sunset of all time.
As a people, we first witness the construction of the structure above and around eleven major cities, and from those junctures spreading out in all directions. The work is done at night, by crews of thousands, and thereby along a timeline unprecedented to federal practice. Once installed, the National Ceiling is indistinguishable from prior sky. Even in the midst of being built, sensors in the fibers are designed to reflect the face of atmosphere around it seamlessly, so that we might forget how far the so far partial ceiling actually extends. It is illegal to photograph the process of construction, or to be caught staring too long at the general area of ongoing commotion, by penalty of treason.
Only in our legally enforced sleeping hours can the real work be done, we know, a psychic sort of healing accompanying the application of the translucent panels and beams forming the network hardly hundreds of yards over our heads, under which the dying cloud within us rises, clusters, forms the skin of the ground of the nameless future, so says another pundit on TV, whose face appears now against the new night like a moon there watching from above, a complimentary broadcast shown to all in demonstration of the Ceiling’s powers, replacing virtual weather, before Full Death Football comes on in its place, helping us to relax again, go loose, feign some small rest before again relinquishing ourselves to the strange rhythm of the masks breath- ing, so our breathing, in the transition between waking and whatever else there is.
Occasionally, as if for old time’s sake, instances of inclement weather will be programmed into the feed, following the old trope that to truly enjoy the greatest times one must remember worse ones, if here now minimized to quiet glow. And otherwise, all there is time for now is beauty, calm.
“Time does not exist,” a popular, local webcam weatherman reports the morning before his disappearance, still operating among old networks already being forgotten in favor of those who’ve already updated into the Ceiling’s subscription package, already underway. He is one of only hundreds whose face so soon we won’t retain, much like our natures. “It is nothing to anyone but god. And god doesn’t want to share his ideas. He is silent and only as large as every face knitted together, in one skin. There should be no punctuation in our language. I want a household of the blood I never wasn’t.”
But time does go on, we know, in claps and packs. Moving from one room to anoth- er in the same house might feel like ages passed and bodies shifted, though one can never feel what was once and what still is; where as the words come out of the mouth of any they do not mean what they meant to be said saying and in their reception in the next they are again not the same as what seems to be perceived, as if there are always several hemispheres to the same context in any understanding. One sees anything and cannot correspond it to his or herself, without having appeared along beside it, become touched. It does not matter which part of the storylines you absorb and which you leave to fester on without you.
It is unclear how long the Ceiling’s construction in total takes. Unclear also what regions when and where have been affected and to what extent and when, under the measure of the concurrently in-voted Nonawareness Mandate, allowing creation of the location to go unmapped and without protocol for further assessment beyond the eye test, which appears at all points to integrate onto the public with flying colors. And though there are rumors of those who claim the construction of the ceiling is a myth, like the twin planet, and that the difference we see between the new and old sky as the edge of construction passes is in our hearts, or in our minds, these people are also disappeared, or otherwise do not believe their own beliefs really enough to actually believe them, and so remain silent.
As such, the extent of what remains clear or unclear to whom or how to know continues onward unassessed, without regard, as it is generally agreed upon now that the approaching planet, whether it exists or not, can no longer hurt us, no matter what; that today is the day for which we live, and so soon we can not remember or speak at all about the occurrence of the approaching planet hereafter or at all, nor would would we wish to, remember having ever. All future threat, we agree, must be an illusion.
It follows therein, too, that we shall never again to recognize a need to think about or certainly disclose the process of installation of the ceiling, nor retain any impression whatsoever of what alien terrain our outdated societies might have once theorized could have existed beyond its edge, as it no longer has an edge now, no longer has any feature but to have always been as it now is, the way a miracle requires no corroboration with eternity when actual fate is on the line.
Such that when the new moon rose to fill the place of where we’d lost the old one, it was without fanfare, another night like all the rest. This was how the moon had always looked, we knew, covered up almost in full with advertisements, the largest of which was for the group that owned the very ground on which we stood. There had never not been a moon like this in any version of any history.
No child is born during the November of this year. In long white halls the youthful obstetricians stand with arms down at their sides, attending not to queues of patients bringing new faces to the planet, but to a sound inside their own unending Face, the very Face they have woke up with behind every day now for as long as they’ve acknowledged having life, going on without the question of what the cells had been before they took hold to form the mouth, the eyes? The hair growing off their heads like waiting wires, feed out from their skulls into what else. Each instant, as it passes, becoming that much more difficult to remember to associate as touching with the instant just before it, and the next instant to come.
What children do already exist within the present, as we regard them, begin speak- ing less and less, later and later, their vocabularies stunted in favor of a new range of expression they possess.
“It is as if sometimes there is something inside my daughter that cannot get out and is growing trapped inside there,” a mother writes in a comment on her local care provider’s webHelp.
“My child was asked to draw herself for class and she drew God,” another mother writes. “I do not know how I know that she knows that the drawing is of God, that it is now my duty to punish her completely, that this is the one strike against her for which she will be given a free pass. And yet the drawing is so beautiful. I feel so much about it. I want the world in full to know.”
The included picture, flagged by the bots for publication in the corporation’s daily Insider mailer, subscribed to by default unto billions, is of a stick figure with no facial features, hardly anything to separate it from what could be a portrait of any person. The stick figure will within minutes become the most notorious image of the next two hours.
What is even God now? a preacher says before his longstanding congregation during this window, standing beside a holograph of the child’s God image. And the congregation only laughs, believing they already understand the absent punchline usually provided to them in the midst of sacrament, which is precisely why they came. It is their laughter alone that stands in their future memories restructured once the feds catch up and capture each and every one of those among the pews that morning, flagged as an outbreak of national security.
Because there are no books printed in the new year by subsequent mandate, the creators of infotainment-based desire turned to speaking into their own palms, hardly recognizing any sort of trait they’d spent years studying over how to form a marketable commodity from corporately compensated private pain. Every new sentence
as such appears no longer in a language, but as viral waves of refuse that clogs the open air, leaking out to engorge all local skies with brutal color, free of charge for all who still might find the nerve yet to look up, and supplemented by a calming pink noise generated from our smallest fungible motions, which felt like meat more than like sound against our ears, tiring us out in lieu of want for taking a role in our own motions as from point to nearby point amid the grid we wandered amid the longest daylight, miming our workdays, which though without purpose now we could not forfeit for fear of loss of all propulsion.
Alone, inside our homes while we still had them, the light of the sole surviving web- site lit our brains. No one could remember who’d designed it or maintained it, or for what purpose we logged on, what semblance of interface there was at all about the color coming out of the locked-down browser allowing us to look at only it. Some- times the light would appear gold-colored or gray-colored without any other content, while other times it would offer instructions, definitions, maps, any of which we felt obligated to obey regardless of how the instructions often made no sense—go now and stand now in the corner and close your eyes and never open them again; the next time you fall asleep you will sleep for seven centuries, this is the end of your life; I love you and you alone and always have and always will—while even more often the commands could not be read or seen at all, and only felt. We could feel it creep- ing through our orifices like a weapon, making us stronger, or becoming stronger in us, the way our muscles seemed no longer to be ours, and how components like the machines alone might live on forever in our image, the only blessing.
What windows must have been spinning in our hearts as we clicked the codes that closed the browsers for the last time before their dissolution, closed over in us like new wounds that no longer needed any elapsing before it was again as if they’d never been, no matter how completely we still felt them in our faces, in our futures, in our language as it remained. Where throughout our down-time yet thereafter, once called sleep, we dreamed of blood. Blood up to our necks and even higher. Blood in the fruit we bought not to eat but because it was so well marketed by the machines we couldn’t think of any reason not to buy it even though it didn’t taste like fruit. Blood in any memory of vision, screens upon screens in our outdated childhoods depicting only scenes of ruby red tidal waves of LCD, gushing out across the face of glass boxing out the rooms of our memory like sugared sacrament. Blood wherever any remnant of the experience of prior art was, oceans upon oceans floating in the open warmth that filled our skulls behind our Masks, if not the Masks themselves, which by now no longer had the means for removal, recognition; seamless as seas in which we’d drowned, yet no less itching than the way the daylight seemed to leak its way between the verboten notion of such layers above bone, soon to beget mold, corrosion, creating seizures, human ruptures by the billion.
I do not know what happened then and cannot imagine. I know years began to seem to pass in every day. I know every day was shorter than the one before it, while seeming longer, full of cavities, parades. Every construction promised to stand forever until it no longer happened.
And still the Universal Ceiling shone without our knowing. Its electronic program strobed waves of cold deep blue in place of darkness, striating the condition of the buildings with a wild glow, like blacklight neon in a cave. Wind blown from weep- holes cut into the firmament and funded by wind engines fueled by tax dollars.
I know I love our programmed constellation of an axe. If one connects the dots to the nearest other major constellation, the axe appears to be cutting the head off of a lion. The lights that represent the stars that would be the lion’s heart, burning in its chest, are a more pale yellow than the rest, throbbing and throbbing.
I know I felt I wanted you to live forever even when you weren’t me, when you were my worst enemy in history, above all, because to feel you do so steeled the remain- ing firmament of my imagination, my ferocity of citizenship. We walked the edge of death unknown hid in our hearts, every hour only ours as much as we could stand to remain mesmerized by nothing more than skin on skin again, wire on wire.
All the tokens in our brains. The feeling of having hands alive there like the hands of someone we believed in without knowing who they were or why, the perfect image of ourselves. Each way we weren’t that person was how we aged more. Every carriage full of loam and bubbles, the clicking teeth, the writhing.
I’m afraid I know the first baby birthed on the first day of the period in which birthing was again temporarily allowed had three fingers on each hand. On its back, between both shoulders, a birthmark of what appeared to be a cross, or otherwise an icon in a language lost of its context, any tongue.
And I know at first this child seemed like a miracle, as did each that appeared thereafter, each subject to a miniseries of its own, which would play only in the sky above the house that’d done the birthing, inspiring a legion of flocking believers back to source; as if there might from the new release of protocol release a legal stream of inspiration; a way to exist within the confines of our own lives in such a way that we might coexist with fund and faith in tandem, allowed again a code by which we’d flourish.
Though shortly, onward, the defects streamed like springs on infant bodies, by the batch: eight total fingers, seven, six; two toes, or no toes; ears without holes, holes without ears, no ears at all; eyes much smaller in the face than any ever, the flesh impending inward from all sides; cleft lips and mouths so cleft they must be cut upon to allow speech; no teeth, no tongue, hipbones; and soon no genitals, no exit orifices for feces, or for speech; soft and softer; pale and fatter; small and small. They will not learn to speak a language we recognize or even acknowledge, though this will not mean they aren’t speaking, all and always, through and through us, through the very air in which we believe we still might breed. Behind their skin the sound will grow and fill their eyes with absolute silence.
I know the world beyond the world revolves. Time becomes time, it was once said, or perhaps written, or just conceived in thought and let to drift off; each the same. What really was the time before or had been ever is as crystalline as putty, a surface beyond senses to our hearts. Every day shifts away as if it had never even had a chance to happen, such as right now, where stored unseen behind the fortress of our future household no science invents new logic to describe what once would have hung profane, the final straw in a house of millions of the same, of what goes on goes on regardless, in the image of any god. Who turns the keys in the locks rolled on wherever begets no secret not already demonstrably innate, blood in the bales of flesh put down beneath the earth to walk on while the scentless eye of time unwinds.
And I am in here, and you are also in here, yes, the people pray, only asking with wholly open understanding what might wind above them with their eyes closed when they no longer slave to think. In beds on beds the rooms revolving as the world does, right along with it, and so the heavens, and the flies. Seas on seas in the lather of forever. Rising broken on the cusp of an old job, where in the cubicle you believe you had been born in you find another person on the anniversary of your birth, a person who looks just like you remember you had once in your seat, reading your messages, eating your lunch, breathing your paste. Seas on seas in the leather of a pleasure borrowed, burnt like blood in a cyst removed and boiled to become putty indistinguishable from rouge, so that when who awoke before you on the day of a great change in your beliefs had also changed in similar fashion, without either of you having known at all what kind of life the other led. Beautiful fireworks rewound on the horizon so many times the way they looked as backwards felt more correct than any explosion in real time, not that you could feel the rapture of that with so much ground between you and the brains of the dead where the real reactions rapped and pulled apart even what little remained of anything like what the world had been like in any account we could be reading, even as it happened, if such a story could be thought. Light over seizures as the land changed with us upon it, born because we couldn’t stop the plunging.
And what grew in beneath the bile, beneath our minds. Whose cracking cavity transpired maturation in the place we’d just been standing, having moved to the window for what sounded like the calling of our voice and turned out again to be only the animals, or demolition, misheard like every sentence ever gnawed in this life or another, all the doppelgangers spent to kernels. As now the archive was the point of plummet, and the knowledge of the color of it another temporary plume like the kiss of a stranger in a nightmare you won’t remember even having under the razing moonlight of our all, with no compassion and none desired.