NEON & CONCRETE — Story #02

Empyrean Voids

There is a moment of reflection. It is a must after everything that has passed, all the time that has come and gone. A moment to look back on the landscape that I carry around inside myself before I am taken to them. Before I have to answer for myself and that which was done, the actions that were performed.

There is an infinitesimal amount of these moments throughout the course of my history, each one that spiralled into another, off another. Each little moment that was a life, my life, all part of it. Those who held me in their arms to experience love or hate, fear or joy.

“What am I supposed to do here?” I turn and ask my brother, who has been dead for many, many years, but here in this moment, in this memory, he is alive again. “I have come to the place where the straight-way is lost. I need your guidance.” I turn to him with a tear in my eye, and he just stares at me.

We’re standing in a small steel room. There’s a long window along one of the walls, above shoulder height, letting in the dawn light, weakened by the automatic tinting of the glass. His robes are white, pristine, his head shaved, and the usually unshakable look of dedication to our cause is beginning to quiver.

“What are you really looking for, brother? Are you not satisfied with what we pursue? Are you not dedicated to our cause?” he says to me, looking at me with his dark brown eyes, juxtaposed to the white serenity of his attire. Those eyes, they always saw right through me, saw everything I had to offer and how pitiful I was.

I bring a hand up to my eye and wipe away the tear, trying not to show the shake that’s pushing itself up and out of my body from the deepest place in my heart. “I’m not looking for any happy place,” I say and steady myself. “I seem to be looking for a hopeless place. This pursuit, it was always yours. I have only ever followed.”

“Have I been false to you?” he asks, turning his back to me and looking up at the window. “Have I not been true with everything I have said to you, with everything I have taught you? And now, you come to me like this, with this?” There’s anger in his voice, accompanied by a slight wave of disappointment. Never could I satisfy him and his requirement for such levels of dedication. I could never live up to what he expected from himself, and in turn, what he expected from me.

How long ago was that? I’m not sure if the time matters really, here at the end of it all. I’m not sure whether it’s better he died so long ago or if it was yesterday. We always thought he would be the one that would make it here, to the end, to be one of the chosen.

His life, led in such a particular way that it was sure to lead to greatness. It was to be something that would be hailed and talked over and thought upon for as long as history could last. But no. He died, and I am here.

Ozhichige: LONELY // GIANT

“No, Harlow! You can’t do it like that,” he says to me, and I’m back there with him, another memory, another moment of reflection, and we’re children. Children playing and I’m winning, streaking ahead as I would, but of course, it’s because I’m cheating. He’s so angry and so cross with me, but he pauses, and he breathes, and he looks at me and through me as he would for the rest of our lives, and he controls himself, giving me that stern look of his, with those dark brown eyes.

“Why, why, why, Ishmael?” I say back to him, taunting him, grabbing the small holo-projection unit off him, dialling multiple illegal moves into the little game and laughing wildly.

We’re outside and running around the old habitat; its concrete walls are lined with erosion and moss. It’s spring, and the sky is clear, and we’re playing in the light before the war came and blew all this to grey dust. Before we had to rebuild, beyond the old concrete and into the future with white and steel. Before the new sects rose out of the ashes and showed us a new way, a new light that we could follow. Ah, one that he could follow and that he fell into so easily and one through which he tried to guide me.

“Because Harlow.” He catches me and grabs my arm with a strong grip and stares at me with his furrowed brow, panting slightly after the chase. “If you never learn to play by the rules, you’ll never get along in life. It’s not enough to break the rules whenever you can. You have to understand them first and then understand which ones you can break in order to win.” He restarted the game, and I remember thinking, ‘How does he know such things, how has he got this in him, where does it come from, and why can’t I have it?’

That jealousy ran through me all those years when we were young. It was one of the reasons I cheated so often because I was simply trying to keep up. Trying to hold my own in the only way I knew I could, against his strength of will, against his intelligence. Even when he caught me, and even when I tried to deny it, it was all I had, and every time, he forgave me. He was angry, but he always forgave, and he always tried to help, to teach me a little more so I could get better, not at cheating, but just get better. Then the war came.

I was no longer jealous after the war. I had no reason to try to cheat then, only to help him and be thankful for his wisdom, for his protection. We were alone then, the rest of our family wiped out. We survived among the ruins, and it didn’t matter where it came from, this wisdom. It only mattered that he had it, and he was able to protect us, which he did so well. For so long, he protected us, as the new Sects rose out of the ashes of that old world, that dirty war. We were able to cope in a time where so many others fell. The new Sects grew and grew, and their teachings captured the minds of those that didn’t, and we fended for ourselves until we really had no other choice, and we were brought in for salvation, and this is where he flourished. He grew and scaled their ranks so quickly, but for everything he did, for everything he could do, there wasn’t anything that could save him in the end.

“I don’t want you to go,” I would say to him. “Can’t you see? You have to wait for it to come to you. If you leave with the rest of them — ”

“And what would you know, Harlow!” he snapped and grimaced at me with an unknown rage in his eyes, something I’d never seen before. He’d been changing for so long. The Sect, their teachings, they had been changing him for so long. He had been so strong for such a long time. What had they shown him in the upper echelons of their order? Something beyond him, beyond us, that he had so craved for so many years. Answers of some sort?

Then they left, thousands upon thousands of them on their journey that only true believers were allowed to take, to a place they thought would bring them salvation, and they thought they would be allowed to bring it back to us that were left. Decades went by, and our technology grew, and centuries went by, and we continued to understand more, then millennia, and still the Sect survived, and still they took people, and still they never came back. But like he said, all those years in the past, what did I know? What do I know? I’m a good follower. I’ve been allowed to continue, to have access to the technology that keeps us alive to try to help others take their chance, take their journey on the path to awe, with the idea that one day, he may return.

He was my brother. He will always be my brother. Still reflecting on those thoughts and memories, here and now, as I prepare myself for my own journey. My life has been extended as long as possible by our technology, and it is time for me to take my own walk. To try to gain my own insight, my own understanding.

I kneel at the altar and finalise my absolutions, rinsing my shaved head with water and sponge before I rise and pull on my white robes. I walk down the path of the righteous that so many before me have taken, the way my brother did with the first wave of the Journey Men. My naked feet on the black, iron floor, the vast scale of the hall reigniting my old sense of wonder, lost with time. It’s back now, and I turn and lean back onto the vertical bed, and two members of the Sect approach from either side and place the crown upon my head.

My eyes slowly close, and there, a moment of darkness and everything seems to pause, all that was and all that is, and I’m left with nothing for so long, in the void for an eternity before a voice calls.

“Rise.” I open my eyes and see them before me, these gigantic beings, three of them, these floating cubes of black and neon.

Ozhichige: FOLLOWERS

Another world, another universe, another plane of existence. I kneel before them, and I place my hands on the warm floor, obsidian black, and I push myself up to my feet. I am in my robes, but as I look down at my hands, I notice they are young again.

“We have been waiting for you for some time,” one of the huge beings says to me, its voice reverberating through me, washing over me in waves that shake the very pit of my soul. My soul?

I swallow on a dry throat, and my eyes become wide. This cathedral for the universe, these beings, lit by vast orange waterfalls behind them, contrasting on the polished black, all of which emit a dull glow. All I can think of is to say, “Have I died?”

“You’re beyond death now,” one of them says, all of them say. I cannot tell, their heads in silhouette, the molten orange waterfalls behind them.

“Who are you?” I ask, pinned to the spot, unable to move, unable to understand.

There is a pause that seems to last forever, then breaking the silence, it says, “I am your brother. Harlow, it was all true; we completed our journey. We have waited for you for so long, but I am thankful for the wait. I am so glad you held on for me. Your faith is stronger than you know. Your will is potent, and now you will join us, here and together, for the rest of time.”

“My brother,” I whisper. “I will join you.”

Artist: Jon Ojibway AKA Ozhichige

Artist Bio: Hailing from La Crosse, WI Jon Ojibway is a 3D artist who creates new art every day as “Ozhichige”. With influences deep-rooted in science-fiction Jon aspires to bring his audience a sense of the uncanny through a mix of surreal landscapes and otherworldly structures.

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Writer: Richard Galbraith

Writer Bio: A science-fiction writer with a penchant for cyberpunk, neo-noir and existentialism, Richard hails from the UK and currently lives in Denmark working for LEGO while hammering away at short stories and his latest sci-fi manuscript.

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