“Life had long ago escaped the planet, long ago abandoned that fertile womb of innocence.” I laughed inwardly as the production continued its eulogy for the long dead planet. The saccharine recording continued, “It is unknown what happened to the people. What remains of them is their architecture, weathered by the desert sands, buried by time. They populated several stars of their solar system, and on each world they visited, erected a temple to—” I cut the feed and laid back in my chair. Closing my eyes, I drifted off as we made our descent onto that forsaken mystery.
The dreams of my head envisioned that temple as I had seen it in many photographs and holograms: The pyramid rose out of the sands, hundreds of steps leading up to its mount. The stones faded away against the backdrop of the desert like a mirage only half there. And like all my dreams, I was climbing the steps. Sometimes I was one of them, and imagined their unknown forms. As a centipede, a bird, a fish, I had climbed that temple. Now I dreamed myself as myself upon those steps, and as in all my dreams, the higher I rose and the closer I came to that summit, the farther my dream seemed, and I fell back into consciousness.
It was a bore of a holiday. There was no air on the planet, and tourists were not allowed to step foot near the site, much less climb to its peak. We were crammed into an expensive bus, a giant glass bubble on wheels where we could take our pictures and gawk at the amazing sight from some safe distance. I’d seen more of it in the holograms walking through the digital recreations of its explored chambers. It was bathetic.
The guide wouldn’t shut up. Her droning tones fell away into meaningless blabbering as she recounted bits and pieces of information I had already read. No bodies have been found—they’re not like the Pharaoh’s tomb. No murals survived the long encroachments of time. She would not be quiet as she again and again told us all that she didn’t know, what nobody knew. I stopped listening, but her voice continued on, and parts of my mind played with her words. I imagined she was speaking that unknown language that had once been spoken on this forgotten planet.
A blue craft floated to the top of the pyramid, carrying the scientists and archeologists to the temple’s opening. I wondered if anyone had yet walked up those stairs as I had countless times, in countless ways, climbed, step by step, toward that height. No, modern man had no use for temples, nor understood process. I longed to climb those steps as those ancient and forgotten people must have climbed them, longed to carry my flesh with me into heaven, but I was here in a fishbowl of air, in a land of death, on a dried up planet, surrounded and alone.
I reached for the emergency exit, and pushed. An explosion of air rocketed me out onto that desert toward my goal. Their screams died immediately as the near vacuum killed the desperate sounds of confusion and chaos. The cold, silent desert stretched out around me, and I was covered in her sands. The temple waited before. Pulling myself to my feet, I staggered, nearly sinking, through the desolation of countless eons toward my purpose. The dust of all which passed away clung to me as I neared that which time could not destroy. I marched to the temple.
I knew I was dead, but I understood. The temple was for the dead as it was for the living. I dragged my body across the desert regardless of the claims reality had on it and on me. Like a staggering drunk, I placed my foot upon that first step. Climb, I willed myself, climb. Slowly, I pulled myself up into their heaven one unsure step at a time. I would know what the scientists would not know, would not see. The temple was for me, and I for the temple. It longed that I should climb its stairs and know what had been forgotten.
I felt the change like fire in that cold and lifeless world, burning me away. Step after step fought with me, the insurmountable height quietly scorning my struggle. But the heat was there, impossibly intense. As I rose, every new level brought with it an interminable doubling of that unreal fire. Still, there was before me just one more step, and I could always take it. Step upon step, I rose. The cut of the stones grew sharper as I went, cleaner, fresher. It was as if time itself had been unable to climb very high, and contented itself by eating away at the base of the pyramid.
Then I tasted it, the air, the fresh air, like a cold river passing over my burning body. It was not the wind of a desert! I smelt life in that air, I smelt spring and the glory of budding flowers. I turned my head from the steps to look over my shoulder. The world had changed. Gone was the destruction, the wasteland. A great field of green spread out around the pyramid, and beyond this, trees of a deep red wood. Roads, bridges, cities, were in the distance.
I turned my head, not back to the steps, but up to the very highest goal. What were these creatures waiting for me? I could not tell you. They were priests, and yet they were truly the father of me, body and soul. Were they not my mother, her arms outstretched? I’d known them though I had not known them. They called to me, “We have been waiting for you.” How had I missed them! I had my whole life from birth longed for them. I would climb the pyramid, and this time I would not fall back to sleep.