At the end of the decade, Rising Stars gives you something completely different and presents to you our special issue. The whole of this issue is one continuous fictional story with each writer contributing a certain angle. So much so that even the Centre is streamlined to connect with the theme indirectly. We hope you enjoy the story!
And I Hear Rumours About Angels
By Tareq Adnan
Illustration: ER Ronny
"Only humans ... only humans centre salvation solely upon themselves."
“One of the reasons 'man' emerged as the dominant species was because he was able to think of tomorrow. He not only strove to survive but endeavoured to live the day after and the day after that.
Once the idea of 'future' became engendered into the species man struggled more and more to make the coming day a little less harrowing; other species lived for their needs, lived for today, man saved for tomorrow.”
- The Natural Histories
The book underneath was one of those over-sized paperbacks, value buys they were called. The cat, stretched, vertebrae clicking, and arched its back. The library was dim, weak fluorescent sunlight filtering in through grime caked windows. The fallen shelves had a rolling visage reminiscent of waves.
The cat had found the library to be safe. Recently it had noticed that the Man-creatures were desperate enough to even start hunting street vermin such as him. No one came to the library though; knowledge was a luxury after all.
The cat's gut contracted involuntarily, the nascent pangs of starvation. Familiar worries. He would have to survive today.
“In our forays into the blasted regions destroyed by the War, we found beguiling evidence of the culture of yesteryears. For one, we found that pre-enlightened human civilisation was a supremely religious one. There were clear indications of how men and women would spend vast amounts of time in deep prayer, before mass distributed “Temple Vestries”, known at the time as TVs.
However our attempts at piecing together the actual religions have proven to be fragmented at best. Epochs and visual testaments on various religions were widely found on “DVDs” (we believe this may be an acronym referring to some religious text) and contained wildly varied material; sometimes with only a tenuous and whimsical connection to human life (For example the fantastical stories of Star Trek). Other times we found, caricatures of human life itself, accounting stories we believe referring to parallel universes (Full Metal Alchemist talks of a non-existent land called Amestris).
In conclusion, we have yet to unearth the true beliefs of history.”
- Post Earth Analysis
A squirming absence in the recesses of the cat's stomach woke him up. He was still hungry. The book he had slept on was a hardcover tome, large, heavy and fallen over. The pages were soft though.
Today he wasted no time. Food was paramount. Climbing a toppled shelf he slipped out of a cracked window in ashen sunlight. This part of town was barely a mile away from the soiled lands where the first bombs fell... and it was safe.
The cat looked at houses abandoned, his ears straining for the slightest of sounds and falling on hushed, lifeless horror. He would have to go into town, where they hunted his kind.
“Oil, in its entirety, from the scant records we have of before the War, was the prime mover in world politics. It is believed petty squabbles and numerous wars continuously broke out in the regions where it was abundant.
However, in the zeal of development, the first, true beginning of the degeneration of Earth began, both politically and environmentally. Once the complete depletion of oil occurred, the nations who had sufficient resources sought alternative means. The others were left to economic rot. The last barrel of oil was burned in a demonstration outside a circus.”
- The Fall of Oil
The town had shuffling nomads listlessly walking about. Most of the shops were closed and the inhabitants were those left behind. The man who always tinkered with his car, trying to make it work was still there, a wrench in his hand. The cat watched his feet shuffle around from under it.
He had woken up before the sun had shown itself, on a book half rotted by damp. It was cool, the rot. The cat, out of despondent desperation, gnawed on one of the tires.
The futility of it never occurred to him.
“The pain is now all consuming. We cannot survive. Behind me, I can hear women screaming, men sobbing, and the sniffles of hopeless children. From hunger, from radiation, from lightless existence. I feel I have been running for days and I have yet to know my pursuer or my ultimate goal. The War has left us lessened and the little mercy we have left has been shorn by paucity. The slight hope now left is to truly mutate, as the scientists say. They have promised us food... at the price of our humanity. Then so be it...
-Excerpt from an abandoned diary.
Time, like butchered hunks of meat, festered and refused to move forward. Movement itself spoke of a tiredness born of deep malnourishment. The leper-like life the cat was leading was starting to slowly show in the way it was ignoring personal safety, walking out in the open in defiance to the reality it faced. A human would eat it.
It had awoken to the smell of musty paper, eaten in places by insects. To the cat's mind, the irony of living in a woodworm's paradise never even occurred. Animals have no place for idle thought, especially hungry ones.
It had ranged even farther today. Outside of town, skirting the edges of the ruined fields. It watched a floating behemoth of a vehicle moving in the radiation-sickened land, filled with people who had accepted the choice of mutation. Even from a distance, he could see the wrongness of them, not born of nature or any God.
“GK Chesterton (the pre War writer), once famously criticised Bernard Shaw (another pre War writer), in one of his writings, that giving up our humanity for the sake of progress and progress alone was like asking for a new baby when the combination of bitter food and the child was left wanting.
I tend to agree with Chesterton. We cannot shrive ourselves of our humanity; it is the one factor still defining us. As our planet implodes, the last place for sanity is within us. I cannot condone voluntary genetic mutation. If Earth is truly on its last gasp, let us then, using the progress the scientists so verbally tout, evict ourselves. And if the Earth is to end, and we cannot escape, we will end with it.”
- Humane: A Purist's View
Hope, is ever the premonition of future despair. The cat had wandered into town again. This time, he found it nearly deserted.
The penchant for survival had reduced the growing gauntness of his eyes to a near madness. The cat now ran on will and will alone. The town smelled almost as dead as the deserted fields it bordered. The few people visible were listless. The life they lead was one that had an inevitable, tangible end. And hope was now anathema to them.
The man with the wrench was gone. The cat felt a certain loss of kinship.
“Man's over obsession with death is easily explained. To us, it is the last unconquered realm. Which is why, we have such fantastical notions of the “Apocalypse”, “Ragnarok”, “The Four Horsemen”, all born out of a complex desire to find meaning in cessation.
That is why in our supreme arrogance, we imagine that with our end, will come the end of the world as well. The idea that the life we live might survive in another species is unacceptable to us. The idea that there might be an animal, an insect, a being out there that will survive us is repulsive. Our life is indivisible and we revel in that notion. And in our misguided self-knowledge we abrogate the evident. Our death has to be the absolute end.”
-Death: An Emotive Study
The library was cool, and the cat regretted the sun and the searing heat instantly as it went out. The town was a long walk away, but survival was a stubborn mistress.
And today, after what seemed an endless pilgrimage to the top of a godless promontory, the cat reached the town to find it empty. The revenants who once roamed its dismal streets had felt the same urge as the cat, and had wandered away in futile hope of survival.
The cat felt a thing it could not profess in words or intelligent thought. But the sight of the empty town, devoid of human life, seemed to signify to the cat a loss of hope, of the need to strive.
It turned its tail and headed back towards the library. A veritable tomb for an insignificant life. But it was cool in there. Blissfully cool.
Debts of Inspiration: Steven Erikson, R Scott Bakker, Cormac McArthy, Diary of Dreams.