Daphnis, Chloe, and the Cornucopia Eternal
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O Daphnis, my softly feathered light
Won't you leave your herd and flock to me?
My hiding place knows not of your duty,
And the morning hilltops shimmer with plenty.

I've longed to play with you again, my love;
Catch me if you can…

We are pirates. We carve the skies, siphon the oceans, rake the land, and seize the stars. No glittering reservoirs of mineral, nor ancient, forgotten technology, nor cultured wonders of biology remain in the tail of our plunder. Even those intangible pearls residing under tongues of naked oysters our crew will eventually find and claim. The properties of a clawed, antennaed creature optimal for faring the open seas; the memory of an ageless folk tale about Reunicle the Challenger; the concept of "gratitude"; the impossibly harmonious, wailing dirge a species of great iridescent birds sings for the death of each and every one of their kind, the tears we wept after.

Where we have been, we sever. Completely. But, while the ship consumes the spoils of our journey through ceaseless time, none of it is digested. That is the act of a far more sinister beast.

What began as a distant knock on that faraway door in our minds grew and grew until it outgrew the beginning of the knock it was. If this realm is a sandbox, ripe for our aimless play, then this beast is the sand that surrounds us, spirals through the wind, coats our skin, buries into our pores. It is formless, but its psychic tendrils assume forms that reach through to your steadfast soul. How do you overcome a voice in your head, that is so convincingly a partner to reason who assumes the right things, a familiar face that always seems to know better, or a dream that ceaselessly revolves, further and further from its center? This beast is the essence of our reality; we are merely guests within its loathsome belly. And unlike anything else with which our vessel crosses paths, we cannot steal this beast, for it is the first thing any of us have, in the crudest sense, acquired.

It's been three days since The Captain fell into that abyssal slumber. Or, so I'd heard. The news only reached me yesterday, from The Engineer…or maybe it was The Architect. I couldn't quite remember.

At any rate, it was no secret to any aboard the Cornucopia Eternal that this was induced by the beast. As the word spread throughout the ship, so did more fervent fear, caution, and even prayer. The most surprising news to most, though, including myself, was that we even had a Captain, as it always seemed the Cornucopia, whose size and function was comparable to that of a mountain and its unforgiving ecosystem, commanded itself.

As if there had been any doubt, it's been that same amount of time since the Cornucopia last moved. Until The Captain awakes, it seems we are docked between our means of survival and an inescapable drain, pulling us faster and faster by the heels of our perception. Our consumption has halted, and the beast's hunger grows, for now we languish in a name unknown to us, though one that seems to cause the beast an indigestion that rumbles through the air and picks at my brain like a surgeon.

I must travel to the Inner Core of the ship and find The Captain, before everything unravels. Before I become so enraptured that I want it to unravel. Although, how quiet it would be without—

“How long have you been out on deck? Get back inside, the Organism is viciously hungry today.”

The hand of the crimson sky overhead, peppered with whispers of psychic wind, only released its grip upon me when The Medic spun me around to face him.

How grateful I am, O Chloé,
To awake in a land that reveals your way.
I'll leave these bleating goats and come to play;
Lamon can take over for the day.

I know your laughter, like the warbling stream
Your fingertips, tickling my ankles like the grass
(In the bale we slept, telling stories
under starlight dimmer than your eyes.)

The berries, the branches, where two becomes four
Your footprints these must be.
Aloft the wings of your voice from sunken shore,
I'll follow you through the winding trees.

How beautifully cruel to leave me only reminders,
Though your song alone arrests my heart.
All concepts of you, but still
I wonder how your face looks, bathed in the unique glow of today.

Only sweeter is the permanence of your embrace
Than the journey into your arms, again and again.

I've been sent to Quarantine Grandeur 6.6. Something about the chatter of my fellow inmates sounds blurry, and every time I look to the bed next to me, I see a different face look right back. The floor heaves and funnels to a singular point, like a prairie dog taunting a bobcat in an empty plain. The Medic is gone.

Needles of buzzing, gray light from bated lamps above assault my eyes, reflecting back a place far below my purpose as I leave it behind. Bulging, bloated tubes pumping that grease made of song, sorrow, ecstasy, mold, run along the scaffolded hallways, sucking up even the gilded patterns on the ship's cold, congealed walls and converting it into the grotesque glow that guides me forward. What a pity it would be to remain distracted. If the ash-shaped flakes of the space between air crumbling around me were any indication that soon, the ship would run out of reserves, I must hurry.

My, my, so serious today! Oh, how I wish
To rest with you against a mossy stone
And share a drink of cloudview.

O Daphnis, my vision is blocked by secrets
So won't you be my eyes?
While I hide away in a mid-day chrysalis
Won't you walk for me?

At least for now, until we can listen to the oscillations
Of this land of shade and light together
And join hands, knowing it is the same.

Somewhere through the overlapping, tangled grid of the Mantle I passed The Analyst, who was trying everything in her power to move in the opposite direction. Her frantic, vibrating pace left aftershocks from where she came, like the trail of a dying comet, and occasionally she would snap to where she was a couple steps ago, in the old computational chamber, to her original home four years ago serving on the Black…something I knew before its theft, frames of time trying to find their original order before her form stuttered out of my recognition. After another step, I realized that happened two weeks ago, the memory suddenly puncturing my awareness as though always being there, and after another, it was gone.

In a chamber near the heavy, dark gates to the Outer Core, a group of old Stoics gathered around a thing that writhed. Burning sand, deep within rugged saplings once dared to grip their roots, flurried and quaked to their perverse worship, searing with a hypnotic, unnatural shame. The toiling figures took turns leaping through one another, through the sacrum and out the crown, faster and faster as anadromous salmon spawn in a swirling pool of tar, until together, and as one, they had no more identity than static. They reveled and taunted, all behind some impermeable barrier, at the swarm of flies hurling their bodies against it. I can't look away. It's my own fault, I must give more to the ritual, I must take more to spread across the Cornucopia, I—

They've noticed me.

The afternoon sun's golden palms
Stroke the feathers of chittering birds.
A gentle intonation supported by
A distant mountain's bass.

Deer in their mahogany robes elope
Through tall, whispering grass
Officiated by earth and shadows that lean
Toward a hidden, sparkling edge.

Why is it that such calm follows my gaze
When my heart is so restless to find you?
We are creatures like any other,
So why do I shift out of balance?

I stared out in horror against the four horizons of the Cornucopia's hull. Water with no taste and no temperature, contaminated with memories of paper and plastic, flooded from some non-source and swallowed at my ankles, whispering and hissing in my own words for my undivided attention.

As far in this vast, blinking field as my lost gaze could claim, there were monsters.

Rows upon rows of horrible, monolithic towers lined the metalscape, constructed by cage-like lattices that ascended farther than the Cornucopia is tall. Each one had a singular arm of iron and rust just as large that creaked and moaned with impossibly booming strain at each grotesquely contorted flex, all together coordinating as an entity like a giant scorpion trapped on its back, writhing in the desert sun. In front of each of these towers was a pit the long, threaded cables attached to the arms dangled into, but there were no visible holes in the ship. They reached and pumped and prodded, with each run down into the pit and strain back up fishing out…

I mustn't look inside. I can't be confronted with this, not now.

But, the water below ran too deep, and soon, I was swept off my feet, gasping for air as the rushing torrent tossed me in the direction of one of the towers. Treading hopelessly against the current for what seemed like hours, eventually a wave grabbed my body like a fly-swatter before flinging it against the wall of a pit, such that my head lurched over the side as the cable roared down the chute.

The endless addiction to coherence. The bottomless shame when it all falls apart. I can't look away. I could feel it gnawing between my eyes, like friction without heat or texture. These creatures of iron and rust mined the basis of our life on the Cornucopia, our life in the Organism, showing me how to embrace such screaming nothing in a great, pious shroud and move forward at any cost. Down there, down there I see something, glimmering in black, the light without a source, and if I could have it…

The flood sent me over the edge, and I grabbed the cable so I would not fall. But the light promised it would catch me, so I let go.

Daphnis…Daphnis, is that you?
Why do your sweet hands look so sore?
Have you overturned every last stone under the riverbed?
Have you stuck them on every parted tree branch?
Have you held them up at every angle to the voyaging sky?

Ah…I can hear your laughter, Chloé!
I must be close!

No, slow down, my darling!
Sit underneath that pine,
we are so close…

I cannot see you, where…
Oh, this pine?
But now I am not searching.

Rest and let the world fill your eyes, my love.

Yes, when I stop looking, the world


creates itself before my eyes.
But my unrest causes clouds
Unlike you, reason for the rain.

You've been my eyes, you've been my ears,
You've been my stories while we play our games.
Now, for you, I'll share the secrets of my hideaway,
A story, if you'll make room under this blanket of pine…

Oh Chloé, how grateful I am…

"Where is The Captain?!"

Spat from the mouth of a psychic hurricane, I found myself stumbling into a room surrounded by windows, breathless. The distant, festering sores of anti-reality over the horizon, entangled and writhing, dared me to form some conclusion to be gobbled up by the Organism. This would clearly be the heart of the Cornucopia, even if just for moments longer, although the control panels, the viewers, the power modules, already looked cartoonish, like someone stuck a page from a catalogue over my mind's eye. The Organism is hiding something from me.

"Careful, don't go searching, now…"

An individual with a mane of silver hair released their grip on the helm and turned to face me. Their eyes flared with the passion and color of stained glass, and the front of their mouth curled into a smirk of juvenile ambition as my footing scrambled. They turned away again.

"You've been on quite a tear, haven't you?" they noted. A deep, primal snarl echoed off the void the distant mountain spires left. "You must be tired. To race around aimlessly in the confines of a nightmare is in many cases more exhausting than never sleeping at all. Do you know why that is? If you never knew sleep, you'd never have to convince yourself, or anyone else, that you or they are awake. Even if others are trapped in nightmare, it wouldn't ever occur to you to reason your way out, to irresponsibly create something new to agree upon that takes on a life you could never handle. The conditions would be entirely pure, and you would be forced to accept them."

"Don't…don't talk like that…you're…you…Organism…"

"Am I?" they asked, turning and walking a mile in place, before suddenly appearing inches from my face, knelt down to my body as they drained it with every word. "No, you must be mistaken. I'm The Navigator of the Cornucopia Eternal. It's my job to steer her where she needs to go and, ideally, anticipate that location before the need arises. Lately, those needs have been rather…gluttonous, as you know, but I trust in this vessel to provide us life, at any cost."

The Navigator paused, tilting their head slightly. "Ah…and, who might you be?"

They're responsive, actually responsive…how burdenous it's become in this twisted providence, no wonder I'm withering away. "I…I'm…I'm looking for The Captain…"

A smile, brittle as an abandoned bird's nest, with something behind them casting some brief shadow I couldn't determine the source of. The Navigator stood up. "The Captain is safe. Don't worry."

The ship rumbled violently from some lower boiler. The Navigator continued, "Soon, all of us will be somewhere else. The Cornucopia Eternal already is…I wonder if you'll join it. After all, how loathsome is this Organism, really, if you managed to reach this place at all? If you, or I, can imagine something new? For what purpose is there for someone like me, a guide for and guided by survival, to imagine something that isn't prey, that isn't predator…is it just a reflection, its opposite? No…it's coming to me, slowly…can you hear it?"

The Navigator was right. I hadn't known how I was able to hear their words through the roaring vacuum in my ears as the last crumbs of sound fell into…fell into silence. What would make the first sound in that empty space? What would that sound be?

A pan flute's aubade1, somewhere.

"I…I can."

The pressure built around the walls of my vision until they began to collapse. Tears of determination welled up in The Navigator's passionate eyes, their fist clenching before my vision, and The Cornucopia, no, The Cornucopia's absence, went

"Then maybe I'll see you there."


Your golden fingers through my hair,
The radiance of your face in the setting sun,
The tune of your stories
The trail of your voile2 as we chase
Through the dusky hills
It's exactly as I remember.

But what's this? The moonlight brings out
Wrinkles in your face!

As in yours!

May I trace them with my aged fingers?

Please…your cheeks crumble
like the fine earth
below, that's right…

This night is so quiet, my love.
Before, the sun was so bright
I could hardly recognize the shadow of your smile.

Now, as we share a flame more subdued,
I am blissfully lost in every crease
of your divine sculptor
even as the clay reworks.

We could fly away, you know,
upon the wings of a more perfect song.
To creation of a new material
A mirror unclouded
Together, and I could see you clearly

Oh, but can't it wait one more day?
There's a magnificent place just over the horizon
You've never been…tell me one last story
And I'll steal away by dawn.
I bet you twelve woven seashells you'll never find me…

Daphnis and Chloé, eternal children of Pan, burst into harmonious laughter, reaching for each other's hands before the aging night wind overtook their bodies, dissolving into the earth below and stardust above as an ornate hourglass. But, they continued dancing in an ethereal pocket all their own, spinning and dipping and caressing each other in an intimate corner between their dreams. After the echoes of their songful praise and adoration of the land faded over the hills, lightning crickets, bushes of mist, and jumping pine nuts slowly gathered, enjoying the fruits of the lovers' playground tucked away.

For two, it was maybe ten-thousand years, for one, it was merely a moment, but through the mouth of a small cave with crimson walls, surrounded by dark pines, the individual once known as The Captain emerged, between their own blinks and immediately noticing the difference.

After each step they noticed a strange give to the ground, as though something in this fabric held them. They found the continuity to their gaze odd, the purple and gray fog of the dormant glen seamlessly drawing to the seawater's edge, to a shimmering transient far away that they could not cross, no matter how long they wandered. Echoes of a purpose continued to throb through their heart, a sole perturbation under the silken shroud of night, draped over a land barely oscillating beneath.

Then, something changed.

The reverberations of an incessant monologue, an unforgiving sentence preached by a decaying organism condemning those it infected to cure themselves, parted to something extraordinary that climbed over the horizon. As a magician's cape, the shadows pulled back to faint streaks of red-orange, making room for the grass to stir. Spiders scuttled from between the brush to sew gleaming dewdrops into their silk. Mirrors to the moonflowers, petals unweaving to the light from which moths tucked away stretched their capricious wings into the coming wind. Blowing through blossoming boughs, leaves of green undulated in the rhythm of gold, stirring warblers and nuthatches, alpine swifts and black-headed buntings, who painted the sky awake with iridescent trills, and a great blue heron whose reflection streaked across a radiant lake, rippling at the snouts of fawns, drinking as morning radiance renewed the rusty spots on their fur. One craned its neck upward, tracing the shining rays unto the valley breaking and cracking through the shells of rose-gold clouds; first two, then four, then eight, as the wind collected in the sky's magnificent sails, unfolding and stretching and ascending…

And the sun was born.

I closed my eyes for a moment, and I felt the love of life continue to oscillate against my skin, a humble warmth. But, I didn't want to look away, so I opened them once more, and the sun still rose. What a gift, I realized, to have nothing to do with it. Or, maybe I did, but the shared responsibility of every creature in the land, every grain and fiber of this sustenant Organism, made the weight of such an omniscient love a little lighter.

I walked a while before I sat by the riverbed, noticing every curve in the clouds, counting every color in the leaves, sharing silent stories with the passing ducks while they washed their feathers. At some point, the sky turned gray, but the green of the leaves deepened, and it was with awe I beheld the river, unobscured as its reflection diffused by the gentle rain. When the last few drops tapped against the ground, I fell back, sinking into a cushion of grass to watch the sun reemerge, coquettishly from its dampened cover.

Maybe once, maybe twice, I'd feel a pang at my heart, a need to dig further into the depths of this sultry, glorious pasture, a need to find and verify with the creatures of the land that they felt the same, but that would require me to depart from this soothing nest. I wasn't tired, but somehow I felt, even in the break of day, that I hadn't felt rest in some time. Maybe, just for a little while, I'll sleep. I'll sleep, and the secrets will unveil themselves upon this wanton guest, whose passions dissolve in a truer communion, among the flowers cuddled at their sides like water in an antique vase and the stories of love woven into the earth below and sky above. For what would I share that isn't plain to see, even if I could?

And guiding open the faraway door to my dreams as I drifted off, a pan flute's aubade, somewhere.

O Chloé, my softly feathered light…

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