Vade Mecum
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You come out here every day.

A rare emptiness, a sliver of empty marble on the edge of a platform. Past the layer upon layer of slanting monoliths, the labyrinths of wreckage, the fabrics dyed and re-dyed until their colors are unrecognizable, draped across every surface; everywhere someone’s trash, everywhere someone’s precious bauble, the air thick with voices, with debris, face and feet and beak and antenna protruding from every corner.

It all unfolds into the haze like an obscenity, like defiance, like utter randomness. Something with no reason for existing, yet which exists all the same.

It is like a flower, you think, or compost. A flower of the lost, many-petaled and fruitless. Compost for what comes. Three days ago another ship crashed in the eastern quarter. The sole survivor had leapt from some exit just before impact, and fallen into a roll that saw only all her limbs broken. Something in her arms. A pod, a flower inside. Peony or chrysanthemum maybe.

It is like that flower, but—no. The metaphor is insufficient. You cross out what you’d jotted.

If you lean out far enough, here, you can see Eleu’s crown, the patterns elaborate, stretching out below the platform until it meets her head. A human had called it corinthian, once; he had been dressed in a waterlogged toga and shivering slightly. His eyes looked yellow; oily, like the eyes of fish. He left briny tracks on the marble.

And it really is marble, beneath it all. Marble, smooth and perfectly circular. Few ever think of the circle. The platform is so large.

Beyond, a blue haze. Clouds in the sky of skies. It is never clear. Other islands loom like shadows in the distance, their bearers descending into the fog.

Eleu is short for Eleutheria. She’d mentioned that it meant freedom, and you had wondered how her kind conceived of freedom, bound to a single duty until the End.

Your species possesses… well, you possess a limited psychometry. You are the last of them. It had been useful on your ancient homeworld, where the skies had thrummed with a web of ghosts, living and dead, ghosts of people and things and ideas, before they had cracked like glass and let the void come flooding in. That is what permits you to speak with her. Else her voice would shake the ground, risk dislodging the island.

How fares the project?

In your mind, her voice. Cold as stone. All the words come at once, like a pebble into water. Beneath your palm, the marble is likewise cold.

It fares. You know how it goes.

Your species had possessed a limited psychometry. But the Nihl had given you spores. They drift around you now, invisible to the eye. You guide their movements with your mind. One of the perks of ideology.

The Nihl hold that an ending is desired. That all things end. That it is better to love inevitability if it is by nature inevitable. This is well known.

But do endings, too, contain a grain of rebirth?

This is where you begin to divide.

Few would deny that decay gives rise to life—for what else are the organisms on which you base yourselves? Yet if all life is as microbes accelerating existence to its End, would anything emerge from the universe-corpse itself?

The Terminus speak of unending silence, an eternity of nothingness in mourning for what had gone. The Cyclics sing rebirth, and hold out hope. They are further divided into those who believe the new reality could be anything, and those adamant that this one would repeat forever, unto eternity.

All agree that there should be no trace of this reality—as it was now—in what comes after.

All, except you.

You do not know when you made this decision, only that you made it. You decided that something of this multiverse should live on in the next.

Not for nothing did you join the Nihl; you revere the End as any other. But there cannot be one before the part that came before. It would lose its meaning, if one could not know what came before.

So this is your project. Every night (you call them day and night though there is no sun to speak of, only periods of greater light or darkness at varying intensities, intermittent, as though space itself is flickering) you send off your spores. Each to alight, very gently, on a different person.

There is no shortage of people. Sometimes they land on chitin, sometimes scales, occasionally metal or something like rubber, or fur, or skin. But always on someone.

Your spores, which contain a little of you and therefore your psychometry—for you had undergone the mycoconversion long ago—collect things. Bits of memory and feeling. When they return to you, settling on your hands, you take these in.

This, alone, is useless. They are raw data, unable to be absorbed by anyone save those who possess your psychometry. That is where you come in. Through careful barter you have acquired a book with infinite pages. An empty book, its pages blank and inviting. A thing that should not exist.

And every day, you come out here to write the stories of every being who lives on these isles.

You use the trade-script of the outer cosmos, the most common one. And if reality is cyclical, then perhaps the same script will develop again. Perhaps someone will recognize it. This is why you began your acquaintance with Eleu.

At the End of everything, you had asked her, will your kin be the last of the last?

I do not know, she had answered. But we have not gone yet.

Indeed, they stand straight as columns, still as stone, bearing up the last of the living cosmos. Each in different poses: hers as the water-bearer, lifting the platform overhead with her hands. No one knows for how long they have stood. No one knows on what they stand.

You’d asked her that, once. The answer was the same.

It feels… solid and not solid at once. There is no texture. It is as though we are suspended. Fixed onto space.

She had agreed, then, to take your book into the End with her, as far as she could. It is the best you can hope for.

Day after day you come to this place, to write and speak with her. Mostly to write. Your mind had been designed to process information like this, but not to translate it into words, and it is hard to draw narrative out of scraps of sense-memory and everyday feeling. Some are more inclined than others to think of their lives as narrative. I am the hero. I am the villain. He jettisoned my father from the ship, and I will have my revenge. My life is tragedy: my love is doomed. My life is comedy: I’ve this fuchsia rash along my shell!

Sometimes you would speak of ethics.

Do you think yourself entitled, Eleu would ask, flatly, to the stories of all these people? Every one, no matter how different from you? Some of them may wish to be forgotten.

You'd reply with conviction. No, but the End is entitled. The End, and what comes after.

On this day the dawn is blue. Bluer than usual. You have been doing this for years; the pages in your book are ink-choked. How unfortunate that for the last few days, you’ve been crossing out all you write.

It must have been that human; the one with the flower. Ever since you saw her crawl bloodied through the street, begging anyone to take the pod—no, ever since you walked over yourself, plucked it from her hand, and saw—

A dry planet that had once been verdant. A family and childhood, happy but lean. They planted flowers in memory of the dead, so their spirits would live on in the seedlings and the seeds of the seedlings. When the ground below started to pull apart, when the magma came up to greet them, when gravity itself came undone… she had been on the last escape ship. Her family had not. They had not known what course to chart. She did not know who the flower was, but whoever it was, they would be the last of them all.

The flower, and its pod, now sit on a shelf in your cramped tenement. You have recounted all this to Eleu.

I feel, she says suddenly, that I finally understand the meaning of my name.

Is that so, you reply. Just to say something.

At the moment when it all unravels… The sense of a sigh, like a footstep’s echo on old masonry. That is when we will be free.

You glance down. So you’ve finally come over to our philosophy.

You don’t sound pleased, she observes.

At that moment, you realize that you will never be able to capture with your words the full span of existence. You could never have hoped to capture it: life that burns bright with pain and pain that blots out the sun, all the soaring joy and giddiness of hope, albatross-winged, the memory of a drowned city in the eyes of a man weighed down by water, the moment a world tore itself apart, a thousand thousand worlds across innumerable, uncountable realities. You could capture it no better than the smell of a flower from the hands of a dying woman.

I am pleased, you tell her. Thank you, truly. For everything.

Far off in the blue haze, there is a faint sound of shrieking. A bird, perhaps. One of the many brought from all manner of worlds, and there are a variety—birds that walk and talk, birds with scales and sixteen eyes, birds with other birds living in their feathers, little mechanical birds that drink oil and breathe fire. Or else one of the entropy trawlers malfunctioning, careening fatally off into the sky of skies.

Tell the End I’m on my way, you say to Eleu, and lift your hand from the marble.

You give yourself to failure. You give yourself to freedom. The sky of skies unfurls like a yawning mouth and you know its name is comfort.

After you, the invisible silhouette lingers, for just a little longer. Your book lies open. Its pages flutter in the wind.

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