A Star Called Resurrection
rating: +13+x

Lights burst before my eyes; a sharp crack split the air and time slowed. Air rushed past my limp feathers and I could not fly; I spasmed, shook, trembled, fell like a bullet from Hell to earth. Rain slapped my face, chilled my skin straight through muscle and bone like so many needles of ice. Tears blurred my vision and I screamed against the wind.

All too soon, I broke the low cloudcover. Buildings flashed like upturned stalagmites and I twisted myself and barrelled my wings open; they snapped in the wind, but they were enough. I fell headfirst, my cheek slapped into sharp gravel, my legs crumpled like split glass, and my splintered wings flopped like damp tissue paper.

I groaned, rolled, tried to get up, and found that I could not. Something crunched to the gravel beside me; I tried to see it, and a metallic click sounded by my ear. I lay still.

I would not have gotten away anyway. A heavy boot was stomped to my back, squeezing my ribs, and breathing summoned stars against the dusty pavement. My ears rang, from the wind and the cold, half-numb flesh on the sides of my head. I drooled spittle and blood, then, broken on the ground with the tang of dust and iron cloying my windripped throat and lungs.

My numb skin, bruised from the rain and bleeding from the fall, barely felt it, sensing more of a pressure than anything else. The boot moved and hands grabbed at my ankles, dragged my legs, and I cried out hoarsely as bone separated from broken bone. They did not drop my legs, kept dragging me, and the roar grew louder. Against my skin, the scraping asphalt was a thousand iron raindrops against my chest. When I contorted, curled away in pain, loose muscles detached from bone shifted against other muscles in places they did not belong, and fear mingled in more horrified screams.

And eventually, they dropped me.

I, a middling businessman who went by the name of Jeb, lay in the sodden dirt, muddy-faced and broken-winged, lying in a pool of my own blood and vomit. I smelled it, tasted it, but could not see because my eyes could not open and were leaking liquid that was not just tears.

The footsteps had gone away; a tinnitus ring sang in my ears as they returned. I twitched; those heavy footfalls sounded by my ear, and when my feathered crest was yanked roughly upward, my eyelids fell open on their own, and I saw through bleary lidded eyes the snotty, puffy face of someone with nothing to lose with a dented iron rod in one hand and sloppy, infection-swollen tattoos decorating the other, I only whimpered my fear, nothing more.

Sounds caressed the air, fell spittle-flecked from lips puffy with injection filler and rub-on Listerium, and when I did not respond, my head was let fall back to the dirt.

The thick rubber sole of a boot stamped roughly between my wings with a sound like a crackling tesla tree. I coughed out a shallow breath, deep pain on my chest, and the weight increased. I found that I could not draw air.

Death, when you cannot feel, is quite like sleep.

My name was Jeb. Pronounced like Yeb, I always told my boss, but she always pronounced it like Jeb, and in company meetings she always called me James, for reasons she gave that I could never quite remember. I had a boyfriend, a man about my age whom I had met through the university, one almost close enough for me to call husband. He and I had not lived together, but we might have. We had discussed it cordially over dinner, in a fancy restaurant called Nook’s Branch in one of the larger skyrise-pines that filled the city.

The sunset that night was like purple wine, filtering in through the titanic trees and aging metal monolith buildings in a picturesque portfolio of the world. The kiss we shared that night had been sublime, and the ring he presented was a soft buttery gold.

Something kicked my temple, the world blackened and my head lolled, and the foot came back down again to rest heavily on my fragile skull. And it was in that sad moment that I, a man called Jeb, a man whose name was pronounced like Yeb, someone with a boyfriend, someone the recipient of prenatal avian genetic therapy and who was the daughter-turned-son of a lawyer and a doctor, the man who became a middle-income therapist of nearly forty first-sun years in experience and twice that in RNA therapy memories, felt a heart stop beating.

“Do you know yourself.”

My head reeled and the street was gone. Spittle and chunky vomit clung to my lips and hair; I drooled on the ground, lips puffy and useless, wings splayed at my sides, but my body was whole.

I was not dead, I was not on the street, and I did not hurt.

The first thing I, a pile of flesh already on the verge of rot, noticed was the quiet. There were no sirens, no humming tesla generators, no whip-whup-whup of the giant wind farms, no whirring of helicopters that flooded the underhang of the city like so many hanging nets and flies. Here, there was nothing.

But for light, red and veiny through heavy eyelids. I was delirious, dizzy, and the world spun in a rare sensation of vertigo as I lay closed-eyed on the floor.

It took a long time for me to start moving. I lifted my head, eyes still shut, slowly moved my aching corpus. The air was dead, flat, and chokingly thick with salt and the smell of rotting kelp in the sun, and I nearly retched from my first inhale. And it was then, half-risen to standing, body aching but not bleeding, that I opened my eyes.

There is a sensation that most visual people know. When one walks through their house with open eyes, there is no memory of how many paces it takes to cross a room, no sensational recollection of the location of a particular utensil, pen, keyboard. When one walks through the house with eyes closed, it is of the opposite manner, and when one has grown almost used to that and opens their eyes, there is a distinct sense of having moved from one world to another, even though they have not changed locations between the extended blinks.

That sense of disconnection was what I felt now. The hall was golden, too bright, and when my eyes adjusted, I beheld something extraordinary.

All my life, I had heard of seas of grain, and each time I scoffed at the idea. It seemed ludicrous that grain, as large as it was, could form something as coherent and seamless as a golden sea, complete with waves, but that is what I saw here.

Only this sea was narrow and located inside a high, endless cathedral.

The hall was grey. There were no tapestries, no wall hangings, no windows. The walls closed in, a carpet of grey and a ceaseless clear sky moving forward, not just upward, through the structure in a vertical horizon.

The strangest thing was the lack of windows. It was strangely suffocating, in that sense. I had never been in a building without them: Architects take great pains to make even the smallest space seem big, be that by putting in windows, installing mirrors, or fitting interior walls such that the space feels enough to live in. Here, the walls were flat, with only support pillars dotted here and there to break the monotony of white steel. Even though the walls – the ones I could see – would take minutes to reach if I walked from one end to the other, where I was felt smaller than the cheapest apartment.

And the wheat. Golden, waving, an endless rustling ssshhhh, though there was no wind. What movement there was, I realized belatedly, was as a result of my movements, my exhales. If I were not here, the place – wherever I was – would remain unchanging, still, eternal.

I breathed, focused, stretched my legs – whole, unbroken, unmarred. Was I in a dream? – and stared out across the wheat. The space felt familiar, in that storybook sort of way, but there was no sign of anyone else: no roads, no parted paths, no footprints. The sky – what sky there was – was of undiluted night, a clean crack from which I could see the barest glimmer of stars beyond the endless walls.

I turned back to the wheat, a trembling starting in my chest, crouched. I brushed over where I had been lying, felt at the crushed stalks where I had writhed in the soil in my – death throes? Resurrection spasms? I did not know – and…

I knew where I was.

I felt at my limbs once again, touched over my feathers and face, examined the panicked ache in my chest, reached deeper and felt at the bubbling, gurgling hate, bile, and fear from my death, and watched myself as those feelings all went away, faded like morning mist before the glory of the sun. I knew where I was, felt it in the golden sunlight from its radiant source and the great metal walls of the endless cathedral.

I was in the loop of Resurrection.

A dizzy spell washed over me; I sat back down in the wheat.

Resurrection was a thought experiment, like Russel’s Teapot or Roko’s Basilisk. Found between cultures, strangely enough, but just an idea. But when one finds themselves in a living idea, it is hard to deny its truth.

I breathed with a chest that was not numb and did not hurt, and the air smelled like grain and fresh-tilled soil.

We called it Resurrection. A simple, elegant name.

I strained my memory, My college education had not, as I was told it would, beaten the creativity out of me, nor had it dried my wellspring of curiosity to seek new and interesting things. Rather, it had made me so busy, so bloated with a glut of fresh information and busywork, that I found myself without the time or energy to be engaged with life in my free time. So, suffice it to say, I did not remember much about Resurrection.

But as I looked about the superstructure with all its reddish-gold wheat, stared out through rich loamy soil and thick air that smelled inexplicably like salt and kelp, I started to remember. Memories trickled back in, slipping into place like I had known them forever.

“Do you remember what happened.”

There was a rumbling in the air, subliminal in its frequency like a whale call, more felt than heard. It vibrated, a low groan that trembled the wheat, making a rattling shshhshshhhhh all the way through the hall until it built and crashed like a tidal wave. I crouched and endured, and then all at once, the roar – that is what it was, a roar – faded away, leaving silence and stirred motes of glimmering dust in its wake.

Too powerful. Whatever it was, I was not ready to hear it.

There are times in life when one gains a sense of direction, a sudden spark of inkling progression that tells you where to go, an almost visible lightbulb above your head. Now was one of those times. With nothing else to do but watch the grain and think my thoughts, I picked a direction – the direction where the shadows pointed left – parted the wheat, and started walking.

This is what I remembered about Resurrection.

Resurrection was a thought experiment from a long time ago. Its idea, like Russell’s Teapot, was that there was an object in space that we could not disprove the existence of and which, therefore, could hypothetically exist. Only, unlike Russell’s Teapot, it was not small.

It was very, very big. It was a ring around the Sun.

The idea had evolved over time, but its origins were shockingly ancient. According to documents from back before we knew the solar system to be heliocentric, Resurrection was a vast citadel, a long elaborate hallway, made of indestructible metal and filled with an infinite amount of food. This hall orbited the Earth as a great spinning ring, too far out for us to see, and held the Sun in alignment, allowing it to rise and set in the right spot every day. Distortions in the ring were, according to those documents, what explained the seasons – the ring had once been a perfect circle, when it was created by the Deities Above, but the Sun was hot and twisted the metal over time until the seasons arose through its warping.

Whole religions birthed and died over the idea that the ring would keep warping, that it would, in time, destroy itself or distort so far that we would have years of chilled darkness and superheated summers, like those found on the poles on steroids, and that we needed to travel to the exterior of the ring – not the interior – to fix it.

The outside, of course, was the problem.

All of the original documents – “original”, of course, because nobody knew whether the few documents we had were originals or adaptations – stated that people went to the Resurrection when they died. After a time, they would then leave Resurrection and be transported to an alternate world, without their memories of Resurrection, to live out a life where they had never died.

The eerie thing that kept archaeologists up at night was that the idea of Resurrection – down to the type of grain growing in the floor – existed across the globe. The idea of gods was understandable, as were creation myths: in the absence of science, we come up with stories, fill the gap. But everywhere in the world, at some point or another, there were stories of Resurrection, detailed through primitive cave scrawlings, handpainted drawings, proto-literature. All detailed the stretching corridor, the great pillars, the black starry ceiling, and the endless sea of wheat.

It kept archaeologists up at night. Or so claimed the teenagers and conspiracy theorists who rambled about unexplained phenomena on the internet. A subculture which, unfortunately, I had recently been a part of.

I thought over all of this as I walked through the rustling grain. Wheat seeds and husks littered my shoes, filled the soles in such a way that I had to stop occasionally to empty them out. I had thought, more than once, that I should try to fly – the air was clear, there were no obstructions – but, hours ago, when I had tried, I had found the air to be too still, entirely unworkable for my city-adapted wings.

All my life, I had flown on artificial thermals and updrafts, and now that I needed to work my own breeze, I found myself incapable. It was rather like if I had only walked my whole life and now had to run a marathon. And so I went, wingtips dragging in the endless golden sea, and I kept walking.

The air rumbled again.

“Do you know yourself.”

I was sitting against a wall, had been for the last few minutes, chest moving softly as I breathed. I was tired, my legs ached. Yet I felt no hunger, no thirst, no need for sleep. It was a bodily tiredness, a deep ache in my legs and back that had no hold on my mind, and I needed but a few minutes to sit and rest before I could keep walking.

I had worried a few minutes (or was it hours?) ago about keeping to the right direction. Both ends of the cathedral looked the same, and the path where I had parted the wheat moved back to meld with the rest within minutes. My actions had no merit here, and I had decided that, in case I forgot the direction I was walking toward, I would know my direction by the lines I drew in the dirt where I sat.

I only hoped that those would last. I kept my feet pointed the way I was going, too, in case the soil was as regenerative and marless as the wheat.

The air rumbled again.

“Do you hear me.”

Whatever it was, it had no meaning. To my ears, the words – if that is what they were – were noises, senseless vibrations. They floated through the still, quiet air like sonar under the waves. But it was a question, and I knew it as such. I just couldn’t hear it.

The sound, though, had renewed my senses. I stood, stretched my stiff muscles, and moved.

Resurrection was said to be a living sun, a great ball of molten plasma that had connected in just the right ways to form neurons, or something like them. It survived by jettisoning material, re-absorbing it, and repeating until movement was fast and its direction was its own. It ate planets to survive, hunting them down through speed and patience over the course of millennia.

But eventually, the stories said, after its millionth or so world devoured to its heart, Resurrection gained enough neurons – enough sentience – to grow a consciousness. And when it had done that, in the midst of devouring yet another planet, it realised what it had done.

Resurrection stopped chewing the planet and slowly, carefully spat it out. In its belly, it could feel the ones it had swallowed, felt their churning broken-plasma bits as they turned to atomic soup, and it knew, somehow, that it had eaten life. Something like itself, but oh so very small. It knew this, knew that it had eaten life, like how one knows on waking that they had had nightmares, that they had cried through the night even when the tears are dry come morning. Resurrection knew it like a forgotten nightmare, and Resurrection knew that it had eaten not one, not ten, not hundreds, but millions of living, thriving worlds. Those planets had been filled with people, animals, bacteria, and Resurrection – though it had not yet earned that name – had carelessly destroyed them, brought itself upon them as a ball of searing flame and plasma, melted them to fuel and devoured even the flickering traces they might have left behind when they crossed themselves out.

Whole people exterminated, works of art eaten, worlds full of potential extinguished with the careless plasma fingers of one who was hungry.

Resurrection pondered this slowly, and wept fiery tears into space over millennia. The rock that it had dropped in its horror cooled in orbit nearby.

A few more millennia came and went, and Resurrection, in its slow, newly ponderous ways, crafted a great metal structure, heavy and dense and strong enough to survive many of its lifetimes and its proximity to heat. Resurrection wove this structure in the net of its belly, spat out great globules of rapidly-cooling titanium close in orbit, and sculpted those globules to form a great hollow metal ring. Resurrection was both an architect and a scholar. Resurrection, too, was thoughtful, and it spat out glass and oxygen, for it knew that living things needed atmosphere, and, finally, when the structure was sealed, Resurrection built a way to get there.

Resurrection remembered with a heavy core the ways it had so carelessly devoured the hearts and minds of trillions, and Resurrection decided that nobody – nobody – in its system would be allowed to die.

“Do you understand me.”

The voice spoke and bile rose in my throat, a loathing summoned from deep in my chest. It was a nauseating feeling, a pooling of blood and bile rising in my belly, acidy, eating ribbons into my tender throat. But it was not my hate.

I was walking, a gentle heart and a gentler mind in a carefree golden field of endless summer, and I listened with the hate of others in my belly.

The voice went on, a dull rumble like the fading roar after lightning’s thunder. “Do you remember me.”

I stopped walking. “Yes,” I whispered, and my mouth gummed with blood as I spoke, sticky and rotting.

It was instant. The walls sucked away and a pinprick of light flared to glory and brilliance before my eyes. Something shattered, broke: the walls crumbled and the glass overhead shattered, sucked the atmosphere and wheat into the vastness of space mere hundreds of miles from the glory of the stars. I opened my mouth to scream, to shout, to yell my horror, but it was too late. I was going, gone.

Who am I?

It was a beautiful day, and I felt the strangest sense of déjà vu. I went to the clinic, as I always did, said my greetings to my coworkers, chatted idly with the secretaries. I listened to the news that day, the talk of a burgeoning population and the new space satellites to seek the stars, and I felt a pulse behind my eyes for a brief, sharp, lurching moment. For the smallest speck of a second, I saw in my mind’s eye a dizzying endless hallway, gently arching, moving so slowly that the curve could not be seen, and smelled a sea of tall golden grain –

And snapped back, disoriented and shaking. I shook my head, settled back into my chair, and chuckled to myself nervously, idly. Something strange was amiss, I knew it, but I did not think too long on it. It was a mere passing fact, that the day was strange, like when one wakes up and knows that the sky will be angry before ever seeing it.

I shook my head again, cleared my thoughts, stretched at my computer, and looked at the clock. I smiled. It was almost time to go home, to a nice warm dinner and bed with the one I loved. With that, I thought about my route from work.

There are times in life when one feels guided, steered, like they have a lightbulb over their head that they themselves did not make. It is a strange, surreal thing, and for some odd reason, it did not feel like the first time that day that I had had the feeling.

I would normally go through the city. I looked out the window at water-heavy clouds. There was a storm coming today; I faintly remembered seeing it on the morning news. A dangerous thing for one like me.

Today, I decided, I would stay beneath the trees. I needed the exercise, and the rainclouds might grow to something more unstable. The city was a metallic path, a bare concrete and steel patch in the forests of the world. An old place, made before the Solar Cities, and dangerous with gangs and unguarded electrical wires. If I landed - or, heavens forbid, fell, I would be lucky to get home alive.

I flew over it almost every day anyway, of course. It was quicker, not covered by the great water-shedding boughs of the towering redwood trees, and my home was just on the other side of it.

The pitter-patter of raindrops started up against the glass, melting the world into a rainbow smear. Today, I decided, I would be safe. It was supposed to rain, after all, and I did not want to fly in a storm.

And something in the back of my mind whispered that I had written this all before.

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